Conflict & Hope: Day 4, Speaker 1

The next day we listened to those who are not necessarily pro-Palestine, but do fall more on that line of the spectrum. Our first speaker of the day is from the states, Jewish, made Aliyah to Israel, and is a Rabbi. He is in a group called “Rabbis for Human Rights” which on paper says they “Champion the cause of the poor in Israel, support the rights of Israel’s minorities and Palestinians, work to stop the abuse of foreign workers, endeavor to guarantee the upkeep of Israel’s public health care system, promote the equal status of women, help Ethiopian Jews, battle trafficking in women, and more.”

We toured the South Hebron Hills with this Reform Rabbi where we learned about his group and what they do. On the bus ride there he spoke with us about the settlements. There are three areas within the settlements. Area A is under Palestinian control, an area heavily populated by Palestinians in the center of the West Bank. Area B is under both Palestinian and Israeli security control. Area C is under full Israeli control. He then reverted back to the Torah and spoke of olive Groves and the stealing of olives. Israelis stole land from the Palestinians. He asked us, remember “Don’t steal from thy neighbour?”

This Rabbi said that anything that was not recognized by Jordan was considered state land. “State land is really privately owned Palestinian land, and this does not mean Israel should take advantage of this. Our legal team works on when settlers have used their guns on Palestinians trying to work their land. State land should go to everybody.” He then spoke more about evictions, and just how poor the area is.

Soon enough, we got to see the area for ourselves. We received a pamphlet on the area which described it. “The South Hebron Hills are situated far away from the inquiring eyes of Israeli society. They are almost completely ignored by the media and in public discourse. This large region and the many Palestinians who live there are forgotten in the conversations conducted about the future of the conflict.”

We then met a man who is a Palestinian living in the settlement. He is very brave, and puts himself out there every day to try and fix his, and everyone else’s living situation. He feels forgotten about, like is no one is watching out for him, and has trouble identifying himself.

In the settled area there is water, cable, electricity lines, and a wind turbine, all of which Palestinians can not use. It is there only for the Israelis. He said that, “Israeli’s don’t provide solutions.” Though I do have to add that his cell phone rang while he was speaking and we asked how he charged it. He said they have enough electricity to charge their cell phones, and be provided with a little bit of light at night. Would he have mentioned this to us if we hadn’t heard his ringtone?

He then showed us a cistern that in 2001 the IDF destroyed and then talked about caves. He said that each family living there gets three very developed caves. One is for the family, one is for storage, and one is for ? (I couldn’t catch what the translator said, I apologize.)

One of us Otzmanik’s asked if the children go to school. They do, in a nearby town called Sussiya. When they walked there in the past they used to get beaten with baseball bats on the way. Now IDF soldiers walk with them to protect them. The schools have the teachers and curriculum provided by the Palestinian Authority.

He proceeded to show us the “end point” of their land, and said if they go past that then they will get attacked by settlers. We asked what happens when someone gets hurt or sick, and he said there is an Israeli hospital nearby they can go to, but was quick to mention that they weren’t allowed to go there during the second intifada … (insert sarcasm here) I wonder why?

The speaker for the Rabbis for Human Rights said that if there are no Israeli advocates for this then everyone will just turn a blind eye to these human beings. We asked the Palestinian what his dream living situation would be. He said that in 1986 families were kicked out of the area but a few remained to fight. He was one of the remainders, and since, they have spread out through the area. He said he wants to be here, where his mother was born, where the archaeological site was born. He dedicated his life to helping the land of Sussiya. His family is here and he doesn’t want to live anywhere else. He recognizes that Jews need to be here too.

In ten years, “G-d willing we’ll have peace, but I am pretty optimistic that we won’t and there will be more war.” He would rather work doing something rather than agriculture, but there isn’t anything else. There is no infrastructure. In the past there was more development there than in Jordan, but now there is more in Jordan.

He also said when there was a Palestinian Authority he, and others, were upset with them. Now there is no one, so who can they be mad at?

When asked what he wants as a solution to the conflict and he told us he is worried that if there are two states then there will still be a lot of war. He doesn’t know what most Palestinians want as a solution, but he doesn’t think the problem is religious and dealing with the the Qur’an or the Torah. He just wants to live here peacefully, but that never gets put out there in the news. According to him, only the extremists are ever shown, not people such as he who ‘simply’ want to live on the land that they want to live on.

The Rabbi then spoke, telling us just how dangerous his work is. He has been arrested, beaten, and Palestinians have stoned his car. But, “We must work together in a coalition of hope.” He said how the larger majority of both sides want a better future, but an even larger majority says the other side doesn’t want peace — “which is just simply not true.” He then proceeded to get really angry and started screaming, saying he is doing this for the future so that his kids can one day see peace. I would say I commended him for his passion, but I couldn’t help but think that the anger (which came on so suddenly) was all a big show and part of a ploy to get us to be on his side.

After my visit I reflected in my head and could not help but be surprised by everything I saw. I didn’t leave the settlements feeling happy about how these people have to live every day. It is very sad to me that they are forgotten about. Now, I don’t think this is Israel’s fault as much as it is the Palestinian Authority choosing to not recognize that they have citizens living in the West Bank. But what really shocked me the most was that here was a Rabbi, a man who not only studied Judaism, but made Aliyah to Israel, to advocate for Palestine. I think this is a good place to say we shouldn’t ever be stereotyping anyone.

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