Tuesday, March 16, 2010

With Brian in Jenin, Jit and Khalandia

On Sunday I traveled to Jenin with Rabbi Brian Walt, the co-founder Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza, to visit the Palestinian Fair Trade Association and Canaan Fair Trade facility that produces the wonderful olive oils, Za'atar, olives and couscous now available in the US through Whole Foods. After a tour of the facility we visited one of the farmers who is a member of the cooperative. As we introduced ourselves our host said (through a translator) "I do not understand how a people who have suffered so much can turn around and inflict that same suffering on others." Later, after coffee and apricot nectar had been served, Brian responded to our host. I'm sure I don't have his exact words, but he told our host that he shares his sadness at the suffering of the Palestinian people and wants him to know there are other Jews who are deeply sorry for the suffering they experience. It was a privilege to be present at a moment of such honesty and compassion.

Brian had been in touch earlier in the day with a Palestinian friend in Jit, a small village west of Nablus, who is field staff for Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization Brian headed in the US. He told Brian that he and one of his brothers had been attacked by settlers the previous Friday and asked us to visit on our way home from Jenin. Zechariah told us his story but not until he had fed us a sumptuous meal and introduced us to all seven of his brothers who gathered in his apartment to meet us. Zechariah is a large man who in addition to his native Arabic speaks fluent Hebrew and English. The story he told is typical of so many incidents in which settlers harass or attack Palestinians. In this case both he and his brother were injured, two video cameras and cell phones were stolen, and the police said there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. Israeli authorities frequently comment that these ideological settlers are out of control, but it seems far more likely that they function as shock troops to push Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves.

From Jit we were driven by a generous neighbor of Zechariah to the Khalandia check point through which we would reenter Israel and catch a bus to Jerusalem. I had walked through this check point before so was accustomed to the routine. Brian, however, had not, and was stunned. At one point there is what can only be described as a cattle chute through which everyone must pass waiting to be admitted to the x ray machine and the soldier to whom permits and visas are presented. We passed without incident, but with a painful reminder of the humiliation Palestinians experience daily.

Brian and I talked the following day. We acknowledged the emotional impact the experience had on both of us and and our decision to give ourselves a day "off" to recover. Our Palestinian brothers and sisters never get a day off from an occupation that is now at 42 years and counting.

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