Pre-Conference Thoughts about yesterday’s events in Jerusalem-speaking truth to the powerful

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Hi There,

I’m reviving my Blog to cover my travel to Israel and Palestine from 17-29 November. In it I’m including a preview of excerpts from  an article I’ve just written for Jewish Socialist about my experiences her earlier this year and my views before travelling to the area again.

When I watched the evening news on BBC World I have to write that my initial feelings about the killings yesterday in Jerusalem was that I wanted to be physically ill, 14hours afterwards I’m still feeling like that. It’s the savagery that makes me feel ill because the killers used guns and knives to kill their victims, also that the killings took place in a Synagogue which I’d thought up until now would have been a safe place. I was reminded of the London killing of a British soldier Lee Rigby on 22 May 2013 when his killers murdered him with knives and a meat cleaver in full view of bystanders. The ISS executions in Syria are similar because the victims were beheaded and the killings filmed for downloading onto the internet. In my view to kill someone like this there has to be deep hate because of the personal nature of these murders.

What I realised later last night is that the BBC World images of the killings were the same as shown on Israeli TV which suggests to me they were the source of the BBC World Report and not obtained independently. BBC World News interviewed Tzippy Livni, the Israeli Finance minister for their Report, I was surprised that she was able to suggest with being challenged that the Palestinian leadership collapsed the peace talks earlier this year which I think is incorrect. From what I know Israel withdrew from the talks after the Fatah and Hamas leadership agreed an alliance between the West Bank and Gaza. I’ve thought that the situation in Israel and Palestine has deteriorated since I left here in March, with a rise in tension, particularly in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Yesterday’s random killing here is frightening and I think risks from random killings are impossible to predict which raises concerns about personal safety here and in Palestine.

Political responses to the killings since yesterday concern me because nobody is speaking unequivocally for peace, if anything Israeli politicians are escalating the tension by their response. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine has been ambivalent, condemning the killings, however also raising the issue of problems about the Temple mount in Jerusalem. It doesn’t help either for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to threaten retaliation to the killings. Additionally Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy, and the leader of the  religious, political party Jewish Home, as well as the extra-parliamentary movement My Israel has inflamed the situation by suggesting that Mahmoud Abbas was directly involved in inciting the killings. Their views have escalated tensions here which I think need to be calmed. On a personal level one of my colleagues in the Union of Palestine Social Workers and Psychologists has told me the visit here by the Palestine-UK Social Network can proceed safely which has reassured me.

I’ve inserted excerpts from  the Jewish Socialist article draft below, please feel able to respond to what I’ve written which I’ll add to the Blog.

Regards,

Steve Mendel.

My time in Palestine was towards the end of peace negotiations through John Kerry, the American Minister of State who was seeking a Two State solution. My initial feeling in Bethlehem was shock at its poverty, similar to what I’d seen in South Africa when I lived there. I was very aware of Israeli power through the way that the separation wall winds itself though Bethlehem, its height made it feel oppressive.

As its name suggests the separation wall prevents most Palestinians from visiting Jerusalem and Israel which leads to a restriction in their contact with Israeli’s. Their main experience therefore is meeting Israeli’s in conflict situations, at protests, passing through checkpoints or being stopped by soldiers. What I noticed on the one occasion when I was in a taxi was stopped by soldiers was how rude they were to the passengers and the driver. The obsequious placatory behaviour of the driver reminded me of how black people responded to being stopped by Police in South Africa, he must have been frightened to act like that by the power these soldiers have. I was shocked by the routine of Palestinian bus passengers at checkpoints having to get out while I and other foreigners remained inside. My colleagues in Palestine, Hebron and Jerusalem were never able to predict when or if they would be stopped and how they’d be treated at these times. In comparison with South Africa my view that is the level of oppression in Palestine is much higher because the country is so small. Palestinian have different coloured identity documents which determine where they live and their rights of travel to Jerusalem or Israel. There are heavy penalties for infringing regulations, with regular checks on buses and other transport.

Seven months since returning from Palestine the effects of my visit are still strong. My memories include my sense of a subconscious connection with my Palestinian colleagues which I realised came from our common refugee experience and a joint commitment to a free Palestine. I felt welcomed by the professionals with whom I worked. What was more complex was to be upfront about being a Jew who supports Palestine when the Israeli and Jewish identities have been combined on the West Bank in their campaign against occupation.

My regret after leaving has been that the social work supervision model which had been agreed wasn’t tested because there weren’t the resources needed for the commitment. What I left was the chance that the model developed by the Palestine Counselling Centre would be rolled out over the West Bank and for Bethlehem University to work on a practice based supervision qualification. I never felt proprietary about the model and I think there are others who can take the concept further. I’m looking forward to returning to the West Bank for the Palestine-UK Social Work Network Annual Conference to meet and catch up with the people with whom I worked.

Based on my experience in Palestine my view remains that Zionism which is a racist ideology still drives Israeli policy and that Israel is not a ‘partner for peace.’ On the ground the peace process led by John Kelly was collapsed by Israel, if anything the West Bank situation has deteriorated since I left because of the continued settlement expansion on the West Bank. I think a 2 State solution isn’t possible any longer and the only peaceful option is for 1 progressive State made up of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel which is unlikely.

If anything the West Bank is in a worse situation than when I left, with the consequence from the killing of 3 Israeli teenagers near to Hebron being a land annexation between Bethlehem and Hebron, collective punishment for everyone. The last direct link between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is being cleared. Active opposition to the occupation has resumed, with a wounding and recent  killing of 2 prominent Zionist activists in East Jerusalem resulting in Israeli authorities closing the Al Aqsa Mosque on 30 October which prompted serious civil protests.  The Financial Times on 31 October had an article about Israeli settlement policy which showed continuous Israeli settler expansion in East Jerusalem and the last direct link between Bethlehem and Jerusalem being cleared.

I still think the passive resistance opposition to the occupation remains effective because it has led to increasing Palestinian support abroad. There is now increasing support for the United Nations recognising the right for a Palestinian State. I’m so proud that the British Parliament voted in October 2014 to support a Palestinian State. A General Election will take place here in May 2015. What Palestine supporters in the UK have to do now is to ensure that the political parties have manifesto’s to recognise Palestine if they get into power.  Salam u Aleikhem.

9 November 2014.

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4 thoughts on “Pre-Conference Thoughts about yesterday’s events in Jerusalem-speaking truth to the powerful

  1. steven my friend.describing zionizm,as a “racist movement”is going
    abit too far.Are the jews who were ill treated during history the only
    race who is not entitled to a independent state?didnt you learn a lesson from
    the hollocust?is ther one law in israel which discriminates israeli arabs
    in the way that law discriminated blacha in south africa?i suggest
    you have a second thought.
    eli

    • Dear Eli,

      Thanks for your response above, thought we’d agreed not to speak about politics anymore! Quite clearly there were strong issues about the holocaust at the time Israel was established. My view is that the expulsion of Palestinians from what became Israel from 1946 onwards and the expansion of Israel’s borders since then have been the application of Zionist policies which have discriminated against Palestinians in way which I think is racist. I’m cautious about using the South African example because conflict there centred on black and white communities which had lived in the country for a long time. This is different from Israel where the Zionist settlers drove the fight for independence based on ‘Eretz Yisrael which had ended 2000 years before.

      I’m very worried about the current situation here which has worsened since I was here in March 2014 because there’s no longer a peace process. In my view this has inflamed the situation in Jerusalem as the Israeli government is in the process of permanently embedding the illegal annexation of Jerusalem as evidenced by an article in the Financial Mail on 31 October which shows how the last direct land link between Jerusalem and Bethlehem by approving building of 2610 settler homes on Givat Hamatos. This effectively places in question a two state solution between Palestine and Israel based on joint capitals in Jerusalem. I’m also concerned about the conflict regarding the Temple mount because what it risks is conflict between Palestinians and Israelis becoming a religious battle too which could internationalise the situation here.
      I’m not able to suggest a way forward but like I wrote in my blog yesterday none of the leaders on either side are advocating peace which I think is very dangerous. From what I know the last option available for a brief time is a two state solution based on Israel pulling back to the pre 1948 borders, time is of the essence and any delay could in my view threaten in time the continued existence of Israel.

      Regards,

      Steve.

  2. frances heywood

    hello Steve, just to say briefly that we were very glad to hear from you but not surprisingly sad that you should have arrived amidst that new horror and about what you say about no-one committed to peace. I hope that in the midst of all this you will be able to have some good personal encounters at the conference. I was thinking also about what you said about Bethlehem and , again sadly, about how it will be impossible to sing the carol ‘O little town of Bethlehem , how still we see thee lie’ this year, as in other recent years except with an extreme sense of irony and even betrayal. This may seem a trivial point but Christmas and all it is about matters so much to me that this little matter becomes a symbol; carries with it a concentration of the pain you are witnessing and bearing witness to. To Jesus himself I guess it is all too familiar. He was born into such a situation, and maybe part of the point of our faith is to look the worst things in the world in the face and assert that a little baby from a poor family can heal and overcome it all, but only at great cost. Only right now it is YOU,Mr M who are looking things in the face, not us. we love you and respect you and are with you in spirit much love, much love Frances and of course mr H – who has just brought me a cup of tea, there’s a good healing act

  3. John Heywood

    Hi Steve, Of course I endorse Frances’ comments above; and think how brave you are being. It is really worrying when you say there is no talk of peace. Maybe the Israeli government is looking northwards to the attitude of ISIS, who will take no prisoners. John.

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