YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE PAYING FOR THIS

The following story came to me from my friend Flo in San Francisco, who got it from her friend Barbara Michel, who got it from the Bay Area Women in Black. Since I couldn’t find it on the web, I’ll just reprint it in its entirety here:

Dov Waxman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political
Science at Baruch College, City University of New York. He specializes
on the politics of the Middle East, especially Israel and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He received his undergraduate education at Oxford University, and his
Masters and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University. He is the
author of The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity:
Defending / Defining the Nation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
His articles and reviews have appeared in The Middle East Quarterly,
Current History, World Policy Journal, The Washington Quarterly,
Commentary, Israel Affairs, and Israel Studies Forum, among others.

He is currently on sabbatical in Israel where he is a visiting scholar
at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.
Here is an article about his experience there.

Outside the Bubble

After only a month of living in Tel Aviv, I had comfortably entered
“the bubble.” This is the popular expression in Israel for life in Tel
Aviv ¨C laidback, relaxed, hedonistic, far removed from the piety of
Jerusalem, or the dangers of the West Bank and Gaza. Just as New York
feels so different from the rest of America, so too Tel Aviv feels cut
off from rest of Israel and, especially, from the Palestinian
territories. An oasis of sorts.

Comfortable and pleasant though it is to be in Tel Aviv, I didn’t leave
New York to go from one bubble to another. I had to get out, at least
occasionally. So, I jumped at the chance to go on a trip to the West
Bank city of Hebron led by recently discharged Israeli combat soldiers
who served in the territories during the recent Intifada. They are part
of a group called “Breaking the Silence,” and their mission is to
educate Israelis about the reality of the occupation and the terrible
things that Israeli soldiers do towards Palestinians on a daily basis.

A group of about 30 of us left by bus from Jerusalem and drove along
the main highway that runs the length of Israel and cuts through the
West Bank. Along the way, I could see little of the beautiful
landscape of the West Bank because of the massive cement blocks lining
the road — known by Israelis as “the security barrier” and by
Palestinians as “the wall.” Further into the West Bank, the wall ended
and along the road I saw Palestinian villages, farmers in their fields,
and men selling grapes and vegetables by the roadside. Due to Israeli
restrictions on Palestinian movement, it is not possible for
Palestinians to move from one area of the West Bank to another. Hence,
they cannot easily trade their goods. Since it is grape harvesting
season, I saw vineyards with trees with bunches of grapes rotting in
the midday sun. The only way to sell the grapes is to Israeli settlers
who use them to make wine — a sin for Muslims. Thus farmers must
violate their religious beliefs and sell their grapes to “the enemy” at
discount prices, or else do without selling their only
produce. Most choose not to sell their grapes.

After a 45-minute drive, we reached the Jewish settlement of Kiryat
Arba on the outskirts of Hebron. This settlement, of about 6,700
settlers, is notorious for being the place where Baruch Goldstein lived
— the perpetrator of a massacre of 29 Muslims worshippers in Hebron in
1994. Today, his burial site is there — a local shrine for the
residents and other settlers — in a park named after Meir Kahane, the
Brooklyn Rabbi who founded “Kach,” a racist, quasi-fascist organization
that support the expulsion of all Arabs from the Land of Israel. After
being held up at the gates to the settlement (the armed security guards
didn’t want us to enter — contrary to Israeli law), we were eventually
allowed to enter, but not to disembark from the bus. We drove through
Kiryat Arba, which looked like a nice suburb — green landscaped lawns,
children’s playgrounds, clean streets. After leaving Kiryat Arab, we
arrived in Hebron.

Hebron, the second largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, was the
first West Bank town Jewish settlers moved into after the territory was
captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The settlers there are among the
most fanatical of all the settlers in the territories, and the city is
a hotbed of Jewish right-wing religious radicalism. Since 1997,
control over the city has been divided between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority, with the latter controlling about 80% of the
city (an area known as “H1”). The remaining 20% (“H2”) is held by
Israeli troops who protect the approx. 600-strong Jewish community
living there, surrounded by about 30,000 Palestinians stranded in H2.

As soon as you arrive in Hebron, past a checkpoint entering the city,
you feel like you have entered a war zone. Heavily armed soldiers are
everywhere, and checkpoints and roadblocks are at regular intervals
along the roads. There is barbed wire, demolished buildings,
camouflaged military installations (some on the top floors of
Palestinian houses). As we walked along “Martyrs Street” — the main
commercial thoroughfare — we were accompanied by a patrol of eight
soldiers who walked ahead of us and by our sides, their fingers at the
trigger of their machine guns in case we came under attack from
Palestinian snipers in the Palestinian-controlled areas on the
hillsides (the Israeli-controlled area lies in the valley). The
soldiers looked so young — just 18 or 19 year-old boys — and I felt
sorry for them as they nervously glanced around to protect our group.

We walked past shuttered shops that had long since been forced to close
or whose owners had been intimidated to leave. Imagine walking down
Broadway in the middle of the day, and every shop is boarded up, no
one is walking on the street, there are no cars. This is
Israeli-occupied Hebron. It is a ghost town. Eerily empty and silent,
except for the occasional noise of an army jeep speeding along. The
reason there were no Palestinians on the street was because they are
now forbidden from driving or walking along it. Indeed, many of the
streets in Hebron have now been “sanitized” of
Palestinians (the term used by our guide). Whenever an attack happens
such as a stabbing or a shooting — whether by a Palestinian or a
settler — the army’s response is to close off another street to
Palestinians. Hence, street-by-street, Hebron is being “cleansed” of
its Palestinians residents. They cannot move around the city, they
cannot walk or drive down many streets, or open their shops, or even
leave their homes due to the frequent 24-hour curfews imposed whenever
violence occurs. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of a young
Palestinian child in a window above us as we walk by. A prisoner in
their home.

There is graffiti on many of the boarded-up shops ¨C “Jews only,”
“Death to the Arabs.” It makes my skin crawl, reminding me of the
anti-Jewish graffiti once daubed by Nazi thugs on Jewish shops. On
some walls, there are also memorial plaques to Jewish settlers killed
by Palestinians — the most famous such murder was that of a
10-month-old baby shot by a Palestinian sniper in September 2001.
Neither Jewish settler nor Palestinian is safe here. They both fear
and loathe each other.

We passed one of the many checkpoints in the city and I watched a few
Palestinians pass through it. One man was stopped and three soldiers
questioned him as he showed them his ID. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But the tension was palpable. It felt like something might erupt at
any moment. The silence broken by gunfire or an explosion.

Further along our route, passed rubbish-strewn empty markets, abandoned
homes with broken windows, we reached an area where settlers lived.
Strangely, for me, this was the most nerve-wracking part of the tour as
we were told to walk quickly and quietly and keep to one side of the
street. “If they scream at you or insult you, don’t respond,” we were
instructed by our guide (a former army sergeant in Hebron). “Be
careful in case rocks are thrown at you.” Everyone moved in one long,
silent procession. Suddenly, somewhere in the distance, we heard what
sounded like a gunshot. Some people jumped, others hunched up in
fear. I walked quickly, trying not to panic. At least, the soldiers
were with us.

We then walked up a rocky hillside to visit the home of a Palestinian
family. As we scrambled up the dusty path, past piles of rubbish
(empty boxes of donations from the International Committee of the Red
Cross), I thought of what it must be like to do this every day, to and
from school, work, or the market. This is the only route that the
Palestinians living in the area can take since the road is off-limits
to them. Even when they are sick, they must be carried down the
hillside. We reach the house of the Palestinian family who will tell
us about the violence and harassment they endure from the settlers.
Their garden is filled with trash — thrown down by settlers who live
up the hill above them — their windows are covered with metal grating
and bars to stop the rocks that are thrown at them. They have had
their electricity and phone lines cut, their water tank broken. Their
daughter — a very pretty young girl — needs an escort to get to
school on Saturdays because the settler kids (who do not attend school
on Sabbath and thus are free to hang out) throw stones at her and her
fellow students. The Palestinian man greets us all warmly and briefly
recounts the intimidation and attacks his family and him face. He
speaks calmly, without anger, just a quiet determination to not give
in, but to continue to live in what was previously his father’s house.
I feel ashamed. I want to tell him that I am a Jew and that these
people (the settlers) do not represent me, or many others like me. But
I cannot speak. As I leave, I say to him and his wife and children,
one by one, “Salaam Aleikum” (“peace be upon you”). I mean it so much.

We scramble back down the hillside to the main road. The sun is
beginning to set and the Muslim call to prayer beckons from the
minarets of the mosques in Palestinian-controlled Hebron. We gather
by the side of the road and our guide tells us about his time serving
as a soldier in Hebron just a year earlier. He was a grenade machine
gun operator and each night he had to fire grenades in the direction of
Palestinian gunfire. But they were never sure of where the shooting
was coming from, so he simply fired his grenades at Palestinian
buildings in the distance. Maybe he killed a “terrorist,” maybe a
civilian. He couldn’t know, and after a while, he ceased to care. He
told us about the moral numbness that soldiers develop serving in the
territories. How their once clear moral values become confused.
“Right” and “wrong” become meaningless concepts. He tells us that
Israeli society can’t bear to know what is being done in its name.
When your husband, son, or brother has served in the territories, do
you really want to know what they did? For the most part, Israeli
society is unaware of what is really going on in the territories and
the moral corruption of their young men it entails.

I was asked to read to the group the following testimony by a soldier:
“I was ashamed of myself the day I realized that I simply enjoy the
feeling of power. I don’t believe in it: I think this is not the way
to do anything to anyone, surely not to someone who has done nothing to
you, but you can’t help but enjoy it. People do what you tell them.
You know it’s because you carry a weapon. Knowing that if you didn’t
have it, and if your fellow soldiers weren’t beside you, they would
jump on you, beat the shit out of you, and stab you to death¡ªyou begin
to enjoy it. Not merely enjoy it, you need it. And then, when someone
suddenly says “No” to you, what do you mean no? Where do you draw the
chutzpah from, to say no to me? Forget for a moment that I
actually think that all those Jews are mad, and I actually want peace
and believe we should leave the territories, how dare you say no to me?
I am the Law! I am the Law here! And then you sort of begin to
understand that it makes you feel good. I remember a very specific
situation: I was at a checkpoint, a temporary one, a so-called
strangulation checkpoint, it was a very small checkpoint, very
intimate, four soldiers, no commanding officer, no protection worthy of
the name, a true moonlighting job, blocking the entrance to a village.
From one side a line of cars wanting to get out, and from the
other side a line of cars wanting to pass, a huge line, and suddenly
you have a mighty force at the tip of your fingers, as if playing a
computer game. I stand there like this, pointing at someone, gesturing
to you to do this or that, and you do this or that, the car starts,
moves toward me, halts beside me. The next car follows, you signal, it
stops. You start playing with them, like a computer game. You come
here, you go there, like this. You barely move, you make them obey the
tip of your finger. It’s a mighty feeling. It’s something you don’t
experience elsewhere. You know it’s because you have a weapon, you
know it’s because you are a soldier, you know all this, but its
addictive. When I realized this… I checked in with myself to see what
had happened to me. That’s it. And it was a big bubble that burst. I
thought I was immune, that is, how can someone like me, a thinking,
articulate, ethical, moral man¡ªthings I can attest to about myself
without needing anyone else to validate for me. I thought of myself as
such. Suddenly, I notice that I’m getting addicted to controlling
people.”

After I finished reading, nobody spoke, and in silence we boarded the
bus to take us back down the long road we had walked to the Tomb of the
Patriarchs or “Cave of Machpelah.” This is the place containing the
tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their three wives — a shrine
for Jews and Muslims. I entered the synagogue after passing through a
security checkpoint and metal detector. Inside a few religious Jews
were praying and studying religious texts. Is this what it is all
for? Is everything I have seen and heard today for this? Surely,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jewish “patriarchs”) would not want
this? After all, Jews and Muslims are both the descendants of
Abraham. Standing in front of Abraham’s tomb, I wondered what he might
think about the modern city in which he lies buried.

Finally, it was time to return to Jerusalem. As we walked back to the
bus, a few local settlers had gathered to see us off. They shouted at
us “Nazis,” “anti-Semites,” “Arab lovers.” One was even filming us
with a video camera, perhaps to intimidate us. I didn’t respond to
their taunts and insults. I didn’t want to be drawn down to their
level.

I sat on the bus full of outrage and sadness. I cannot just forget
about everything I have seen. I cannot do nothing. But what can I
do? What difference can I make?

Later that night, I arrived back in Tel Aviv. At first, I felt a
relief to be back in carefree and fun-loving Tel Aviv, such a contrast
to the oppressive atmosphere of Hebron. But as I walked past bars and
cafes filled with young people, down streets with young couples making
out and teenagers hanging out, suddenly it all seemed slightly sinister
to me. How could all this happen while not very far away there was a
place like Hebron and an occupation in which both occupied and occupier
are paying a terrible price? For a moment, it was unbearable. How can
I live like this, in this place, of such terrible contrasts? Walking
home, I felt so removed from my surroundings, as if I had arrived from
a different planet. And then I realized why people in Tel Aviv do not
leave their “bubble.” Because they know that outside the bubble, there
is fear, hatred, suffering, and death, and they feel helpless to do
anything about it. So how else can you live? Only by shutting
yourself off from that other reality and enclosing yourself in a
bubble.

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