REFLECTION OF TRIP
Having spent the last ten days in Palestine and Israel, where we met with the most compelling Palestinian and Israeli speakers, I was blown away by the diverse perspectives and their articulated hope for a just and peaceful resolution.
It started with the visit to an olive farm where the Palestinian family that has grown and sold olives for three generations has been under an order of demolition for ten years. They have resisted by remaining on the farm and fighting it in the Israeli courts. They have also enlisted international support and have volunteers come and stay there in caves and tents to help with the farm. Nonetheless, they still espouse hope for justice and equality and want to live on their land in peace with their neighbors.
Because of the 1948 war, approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land and homes, and became refugees in the West Bank and surrounding countries. Others were displaced by the 1967 war. The UN recognizes them to this day as refugees with a right of return under international law. What that means in practice is unclear, but could be negotiated in a peace process if all sides really wanted to.
We visited 2 of 59 Palestinian refugee camps, and saw the extremely dense living quarters and very difficult living conditions. But the Palestinian refugee speakers we met were passionately committed to resist the occupation and help their community survive and return, if they want, to their ancestral lands.
So too, we met with a Palestinian businessman who expressed his resistance by moving from the US to Ramallah with his family, and working on businesses that create jobs for locals who will then stay and resist non-violently the injustice of the Israeli occupation.
In Hebron, we met with a Palestinian activist who had planned to give us a tour of the town and take us to an olive grove to help with the harvest. But as we walked down a street near a fortified Israeli section, the military soldiers carrying automatic rifles stopped him and would not let him guide us in that area nor even allow us Americans to walk down the street. But young Palestinian children left school and walked home that way.
We traveled to Sderot, an Israeli city just next to Gaza. Though the residents had for the 12 years prior to 2014, been bombarded by rockets shot from Gaza, we met with two Israeli peace activists who still protested the occupation and worked with Palestinians from Gaza on peace activities.
Although the Israeli settlements in the West Bank have significantly grown, and the massive apartheid like wall has been constructed around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other areas, the Palestinians are still resisting and will not give up their struggle for justice and equality. So too, Jewish Israelis would like an end to the war with their neighbors, and to live in peace.
Overall, I came away with hope for peace and justice in the mid-east, but it will take a sea change in the leadership on both sides, other Arab states, and our country. A massive project for all!