Queries into my presentations

1) Israel is a fulfillment of God’s prophecy to the Jewish people, so we should support the state.

But is Israel in her current manifestation really the fulfillment of God’s prophecy? Who is to say that the state is the state that God really wants? Especially when the state does everything that is contrary to what is deemed Christ-like behavior?

Plain and simple, the current state of Israel is a political construct. It is not a nation under God, and never was one to begin with. The Zionist movement – which led up to the creation of the state of Israel – is a secular, political movement. It was – and still is – comprised predominantly of secular Jews.

Is God’s promise to the Jews unconditional, and that He will bless a nation that is rife with human rights abuses and ungodly ways of dealing with others? And did God call on a political project that would destroy the lives of thousands of Palestinians?

I think one way of supporting Israel is to make sure that she is upholding God’s principle of love, mercy, compassion, and justice – things that she is not doing right now.

Moreover, God never called us to support certain political parties or governments – these are all man-made. All we know for certain is that God called us to be loving and merciful to others.

To quote a pastor from Jerusalem, “To idealize the religious significance of the State of Israel is to close one’s eyes to the spiritual, religious and moral realities of the modern Jewish state.”

2) Israel provides a safe haven for Christians, unlike all the other countries surrounding it.

Missionary activity is highly discouraged within Israel. In fact, some Messianic Jews are persecuted within Israel by other Jews.

An article by Amira Hass paints a different picture of Israel as a “safe haven” for Christians.

3) Injustices happen in other countries too, so why should we point out all the wrong things in Israel? Why should we single out Israel?

Just because these injustices happen in other countries doesn’t make what Israel is doing okay.

It’s the same thing as saying, “This person is doing drugs, so it must make it okay for my kids to do it too.” There are certain principles and values that you cannot backslide on – you uphold them wherever you go.

Shining a light on injustices is ever so important – not only in autocratic regimes, but also in democracies. We become lazy and falsely presume that democracies are well-oiled regimes that need no checks and balances from others – that they are infallible and moral constructs.

But wasn’t it a 21st century democracy – with the implicit and explicit backing of many other Western democracies – that led to the deaths of thousands in the Middle East?

Israel self-identifies as a democracy that upholds democratic principles and adheres to human rights conventions. When there is a disconnect between what the State says, and what its actions are, we need to keep the government accountable.

Martin Luther rightly said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

4) But you have to admit that these barriers, fences, checkpoints, etc. – though unpleasant – do help keep terrorists out.

Is it more important to secure the lives of your own citizens, at the expense of the liberties, freedoms, and lives of others?

Answering positively to this question translates to ill-conceived policies and security procedures, like pre-emptive wars.

Could you live in peace, knowing that your security is bought at the expense of thousands who had no choice but to submit to the Western world’s imposition of “justice” and “security”?

And who is to say that these security and pre-emptive measures really solve the root of the conflict? They may end up perpetuating the hatred and animosity in future generations.

Put simply, they are bandage solutions to a gushing wound. They not only fail at resolving the conflict, but perpetuate it.

Staring at strangers

Staring on buses, streets, Carmelit – I miss that aspect of Haifa. There is something comforting with being acknowledged by others that you exist – that they can see you with their own two eyes, and that they recognize you as having a mind and a soul.

Here in Vancouver, no one would dare to make eye-contact with you. The other day, I was on the Skytrain, and I suddenly felt alone. So very alone.

Why all the gloomy faces? Why all the effort placed on avoiding a simple contact with another?

We lead such separate lives here in North America. No one would want to go up to a stranger and genuinely ask them, “How are you?” Or even just to smile at each other.

I bet if I went inside everyone’s head on the Skytrain, each of them secretly want others to reach out to them and connect with them.

And that’s exactly what happens when I go on the Skytrain nowadays. Yesterday, a woman approached me because I was holding a Jerusalem bag, and she asked where I got it. By the end of our conversation, she was really eager to come to my presentations on Israel and Palestine. What a lovely lady, whom one might have simply dismissed, avoided eye contact, or just plugged in your ipod to avoid “small talk.”

Temptations

People have different values and beliefs system.

One would be led to believe that everything is not absolute, and that everything is relative to your own derivatives of what is right and wrong. In other words, you are the boss of yourself; you set the rules and you play by your own rules.

It takes a lot of guts to admit that, “Hey, maybe you don’t have the best system” and instead submit to higher authority. It also takes a bit of humbleness and humility to admit that you might not have it all together – that you need someone else to tell you what is right and what is wrong.

I’ve been there many times, and I’ve resisted higher authority.

But I guess it takes a couple falls – scrapes and bruises – to realize that, yes, I don’t have it all together.

Migrant women

It’s my first day of volunteering with Kav LaOved, and I already saw many cases of women being abused by their employers.

Some examples:

  • An Indian woman was beaten so severely by her employer that her vertebrae disk got dislocated. She can’t get compensated for it, because her employer is dead now.
  • A Filipino woman was sexually harassed by her employer (being asked for sex, being groped and touched by him), but she can’t do anything about it because she is scared that she will lose her job.

I realized that many workers simply do not know their rights: for instance, their right to minimum wage, vacation days, annual recuperation pay, severance pay, notice of release prior to one-month dismissal, etc.

Many simply believe and trust what their employers say. For instance, one woman wanted to go back to the Philippines for vacation, but her employer says that she cannot because of the work contract (in reality, she has the right to take vacation or leave her job).

There is lack of services for migrant workers, especially women. Many do not have social workers who make monthly house visits (even though this is required by law), though this is especially important for domestic workers. They are often confined in their employers’ house for long periods, with no outside supervision over their working conditions.

Many do not have the family and friend support network to see them through these hard times; simply put, they are in isolation.

This shows the unequal power relation between the employers and the migrant workers. Because of the migrants’ low socio-economic status to begin with (that is why they are in Israel in the first place), they fear getting reprimanded by their employers whenever they complain about abusive workplace practices. Compound this to the migrants’ lack of knowledge of their rights, and you have an exploitative system.

Yet, they are so strong to overcome these struggles. They do everything out of love. Many of the women show me pictures of their loved ones back home – husbands, children, parents.

I feel privileged and grateful that I got to know these women. They are my role models for patience, perseverance, integrity, and love.

Where is the “local” in development?

Zleikha and I had an interesting talk on development.

Often, development “experts” from the West would impose their goodwill on the locals, telling what their needs are, and how to implement projects from an “enlightened” Westerner’s perspective.

I was caught playing the role of the (misguided) Westerner savior during one of my meetings with Zleikha. I explained how we should emphasize “cultural and religious diversity” in our programming and volunteers, and publicize the heck out of that. I did not realize how North American-centric this value was, nor did I think about the local context that we were operating in.

To “emphasize cultural and religious diversity” in our programming would certainly raise a lot of eyebrows in this area. For one, it could be interpreted by locals that our work seeks to:

  • appease local authorities and international partners
  • normalize relations with the Israeli settlers

That is not to say that we won’t strive for an intercultural/interfaith exchanges. Hardly that. Our core group of volunteers come from all parts of the globe.

But we have to always keep in mind the local context that we are working in.

Ghost town

Shops and front doors of homes are welded shut by Israelis.

We went to the Old City today to check out the International Conference on the Rehabilitation and Economic Revival of City Centers.

The picture exhibit was striking. A particular photo is forever ingrained onto my mind. It showed a street demonstration in support of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. One particular placard read, “Hebron was a Jewish town when Europe was a swamp.”

There was also a map of Hebron at the exhibit.  Among the many consequences of the occupation was the forced closure of Arab stores. Whole streets would be emptied out, all because the Israelis deemed it a “security risk” for Arab stores to be open in these “security corridors.”

I was appalled. How could anyone living in the settlements not empathize with the many Palestinians whose livelihoods were destroyed by the occupation? How could one’s right to settle in the land be at the expense of another’s freedoms and rights?

Tears

I cried.

I cried for the Palestinian children who could not know Israelis other than the soldiers. I cried for the Israeli settlers who could not see past the “security threat” that Palestinians pose. I cried for the Palestinian men and women, whose reality and sense of normalcy are distorted by the occupation. I cried for the Israeli children who were taught to have no empathy for others.

———

Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

First Encounters

A wall that separates "us" from "them"

I was introduced to Zleikha. She is undoubtedly the most defiant and strongest woman I have met in my life. The view from her rooftop was breathtaking – as was the view from the Israeli soldiers perched on the rooftops of the adjacent buildings to her house.

Indeed, the highest vantage points were taken by Israelis. Standing from the center of the roof, I was surrounded by Israeli watchtowers on four sides. Zleikha pointed out settlements to me: “One here, another one there, and look, another one over there.”

Zleikha told me that many times, the soldiers would tell her to “Go back home” whenever she is on her own rooftop – an obvious denial of her right to stay in her own home. This is a habit of the Israelis – to repeat untruths in order to erase others’ memories of the injustices. They would normalize injustice so that they could resolve their own cognitive dissonance.

The privilege of using space is exclusively reserved for Israeli settlers. Zulaikha described how a 30-sec walk to the cemetery (one which we have a lovely view of from her balcony) now takes 30 minutes by car.

This latter injustice is particularly disturbing: I saw groups of internationals and Israeli tourists take pictures of the wall, all the while laughing and smiling.  It was sickening, the oblivion of those who are privileged to walk on Shuhada Street.

But perhaps that is why the wall is there: to shield Israelis from the Palestinians’ narratives, lest the suffering of the other side pull at their heartstrings.

Looking around the houses, I noticed many balconies had wire mesh to protect the occupants from stone throwers.  What breaks Zleikha’s heart is that many of these stone throwers are children – many no more than 8 years old. How could parents perpetuate such hatred?

There was a hopscotch set up beside the wall – symbolic of how the conflict is going to be perpetuated by the next generation.

And then there is Mahmoud’s store – broken into by Israeli soldiers.  An Israeli soldier now perches on top of his store.

I did not have much time to reflect upon the multiple sights, because a Jewish settler on Shuhada street soon pointed us out to a patrolling soldier. The soldier gave us a piercing stare. I stared back, defiant of my position on the roof. I am a guest of Zulaikha, and this is Zulaikha’s house – do we not have a right to be in our own house?

In retrospect, it was probably a very irrational action for me to stare down at the Israeli soldier. He has a gun. I don’t. At the moment, I need to tell him – not through words, but through a simple gesture – that he has no right to restrict Palestinians’ movement. But more importantly, I needed to tell him that he is implicated in oppression – an injustice that my eyes have borne witness to.

Fourth day in Hebron, and already it is hard to erase the memory of an Israeli soldier from my mind.

Rites of passage

I sat in on a class with Flor, who taught English to eager 6 to 15 year olds in Hebron. I was later introduced to a 13-year old Palestinian girl. With a confident handshake, she told me her name. Samal would be the first of the many Palestinian refugees who would pass by me everyday. Her status is not obvious – one would not first guess that Samal is living in a UN refugee camp, where running water is not a given, and checkpoints are a part of everyday reality.

I could not imagine the psychological pressure that must have on young children.

Yet, she has the strength to excel in school. As she tells me proudly, she is the best student at her school, which is evident from her fluency in English.

We later went to Hebron’s Old City market, where we bought headscarves and sunglasses for Samal. She doesn’t often go to the market, since it is far from her refugee camp. However, the shops started closing at around 4pm. I later learned that it is because the Israelis have imposed a curfew on the shop keepers. Samal was happy nonetheless, that she got her prizes from the market.

Later that evening, I had the opportunity to hear from an imam. Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment are part of their life – a twisted rite of passage that many Palestinians have to go through.

I got lucky

“You are lucky to be in Palestine. You are in the Holy Land.”

Bless the man who said those words to me, as I held the key to his house in Haifa. I tried to hide my embarrassment and shame.  Here I was, a privileged Canadian, who can go rambling about Palestine as she pleases, while a Palestinian – whose house is merely a half-day’s drive away – cannot even visit his own house.

Yes indeed, I am lucky – lucky to have a passport that labels me as a friend of Israel instead of a threat to the Zionist project.

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.