Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: December, 2012

End of Peace Volunteer Camp, plus positive observations about the peace process

31 December: final day of the Peace Volunteer Camp which I’ll follow with some positive thoughts I’ve been observing and reading about the peace process, plus some comments on last night’s ‘What we do when we get home’ lecture/discussion, for those who want the serious stuff., all making for a longer and more policical post the usual, but I’ll enjoy it and I hope my readers do too.

Today’ work was in the lovely ancient Battir village, moving stones to make a park. We were helped by a very excited bunch of Palestinian kids, who were out of school early as it was the last day of term. Our work is always fun, but these terrific kids made it even more so. Tonight a farewell dinner/party at 1890 restaurant , which has become my home from home, and not entirely because it has free wi-fi. I’m off to Ramallah tomorrow, which is the defacto capital of Palestine.

Tpositive thoughts about the peace process come from my observations, discussions and reading (including but not limited to Michael Broning’s ‘The Politics of change in Palestine: state building and non-violent resistance’, e.g.

* The Palestinian Authority and Fatah have in recent years dropped their policy of ‘liberation before state building’ and instead , under Pime Minister Salam Fayyad is very actively working on state building.

* Hamas now recognises Israel’s right to exist, has quietly dropped its absolutist, dogmatic (and to be frank, racist) Charter of 1988, and is prepared to i) enter into the peace dialogue, and ii) use non-violent means to negotiate.

* There is a definite move in Palestine to favour non-violence as the preferred way to negotiate a just peace settlement.

* Palestine has fullfilled its obligations under the terms of the ‘Roadmap for Peace.

Of course, all this is no guarantee of success. The international community (ie the West, especially the USA, including Obama) seem oblivious to these positive changes, and Israel seems to be adopting ever more a strong siege mentality. Also, surveys show, in both the USA and Israel, that Israeli propoganda painting Israel as the party working hard for peace and that the Palestinians are the intransigent (?) ones  is even more successful now than in the past. Go figure, as they say, or read Broning and others who show without a shadow of doubt that it is Palestine that has bee steadily working for peace, especially since the PLO and Fatah recognised Israel and the two state solution in the 1980s.

There are other flies in the ointment too, one of which is the growing popularity in Palestine and amongst some influential commentators of a ‘one state’ solution, which Israel will never accept as it would mean the end of the Jewish state

The other impediment to a just peace is the refugees, who have been in camps since 1948/67/82, and, enshrined in a UN resolution, the Right of Return, which again, Israel won’t accept.

Last night’s lecture/discussion by an IPYL Board M ember and UNESCO staffer about ‘what we do when we get home’ included the things I have previously mentioned, plus becoming a very vocal ambassador for Palestine, continuing to volunteer here, working in Palestine in short or long term placements, lobbying, complaining to Israeli agencies and our own politicians, adopting BDS, studying Palestinian issues at university (including at home, overseas, and in Palestine) and getting scholarships to do so, and so on. IPYL can help with contacts.

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More useful volunteering work, and more musings this time mainly on what I can do

‎30 December: Peace work at Battir village again, all good, and tonight a lecture on what to do when we get home to help the Palestinian cause. More of this below.
 
My work today was to paint the framework for street litter bins that our team was making. This is part of a project by the municipality to smarten the place up, encourage tourism (and it is an ancient site certainly worth visiting), which has taken a bit of a battering due to Israeli military action, and so help boost the local economy – a very worthwhile project.
 
Today was Sunday, and though I guess Palestinian Christians were going to curch, it felt like a weekday. The same could be said for Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, though more so, as there are no Jewish people here – they and their synagogues are all over on ‘their’ side of the Separation Wall. Fridays, the Muslim holy day, is different in that some, but by no means all, businesses are closed, and instead of the call to prayer being broadcast five times a day from the minarets of the mosques, there is also an hour long sermon ringing out over the streetscape. During the time I have been here I have noticed only two of our team take any notice, and they prayed standing up, for if there is no room to prostrate oneself this is allowed. The rest blithely ignored it all, so I guess they are part of the secular West Bank Palestinian majority.
 
Now, as to what we can do to help the cause when we return home, though I hope I’ll be able write more tomorrow, after tonight’s lecture.
 
Firstly, to continue to support my political party, the Greens, make sure it increases its already strong support for Palestine and peace. I can increase my efforts in the party’s ‘Conflict Transformation Working Group.
 
I can also coninue my membership in organisations such as the Sydney Peace Fondation, Get Up, New Internationalist and so on, and try to become more active in them.
 
Having joined an organisation such as Australian Peace Advocacy Network I must continue my membership-(its not cheap) and try an become more active in it.
 
And I must become an advocate for Palestine, and for a just and peaceful solution, by speaking out, even holding public events,and enlisting supporters.
 
And of course alwayslobbying, lobbying

Parrales beteen Israeli Settlers and White Australia

December 29

Please read further into this post for my elaboration of today’s ‘Headline’, for as usual I’ll begin with my diary account of the day.

Today’s activity was a work visit shifting stones to build a dry-stonewall in the ancient pre-Roman village of Battir, notable for its ever flowing spring, which used to supply Bethlehem and Jerusalem by aqueduct, and today (I think I’ve got it right) provides water to the village and surrounding farmland for irrigation. After the 1948 Armistace the village was just inside the Palestinian side of the ‘Green Line’, separated from Israel by the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line. Back then the villagers could cross the railay line to till their fields, which were in Israeli territory, but since 1967 that access has been completely denied them, with devastating economic and social consequences. 

Even puny little old me was able to shift a heap of stones.

This work visit was organised in conjunction with the Palestinian Landscape Museum, housed in a beautifully restored/renovated old building, where we were welcomed and shown a movie of the village’s (largel) political 20th century history.

Now for my thinking brought to the surface by today’s visit , tough these thoughts have been firmenting for quite some time. Observing, as I did today and as you do where ever you turn, the infamous Separation Wall and the ever sprouting Israeli Settlements made me think how we non-Aboriginal Australians are in a similar way ‘Settlers’, and as Australia certainly wasn’t ‘Terra Nullis’ (have  I got the spelling right?) we too have siezed the land illegally. 

My current reading, the previously mentioned ‘Peacebuilding and Reconciliation’ brought these thoughts into sharp focus, especially Chapter 6 about the Canadian practice of ‘stealing’ Indian children and attempting to get rid of their aboriginality by bringing them up in Residential Schools , and thereby in time ‘solving’ the ‘Indian problem’, which freely and to my mind accurately used the term ‘settler’ to describe non-indigenous Canadians.

So yes, I will freely acknowledge that we non-inigenous Australians are ‘settlers’, and furthermore, decisions and actions such as Land Rights, Mabo, Paul Keating’s Redfern speech,Kevin Rudd’s ‘Sorry’ speech, films, music, and mass media screenings such as ‘The Saphires’, ‘Living Black’,  ‘Yothu Yindi’ and the new indigenous TV station don’t alter the fact that we committed a dreadful wrong and continue to do so, day in, day out, because the mindset of almost all non-indinous Australians is still emphtically ‘colonialist’ – just winess the appallinly conceived and implemented ‘Intervention’ policy/program of sequestering payments to Aboriginal Australians if the don’t toe the establishment’s colonialst line. This really is blaming the indigenous people for a problem we white fellas caused in the first place.  

I’ll reflect more on this in future posts, including wrestling with what to do about a truly appalling situation. But acknowlidging that I am a settler and part of a society with an entrenched colonialst mindset is a start. My personal ‘next steps’ are also in place, i.e. active membership of The Greens, including being NSW rep to the Australian Greens Conflict Transformation Working Group (AGCTWG), my planned university Peace Studies courses, and my membership of peace and conflict resolution organisations such as the Sydney Peace Foundation.. But of course I can’t rest on these things, and won’t. I’ll begin whenIget home by trying my best to make the AGCTWG active because it seems to be moribund.

On a change of subject, though partly related, in some free time this afternoon I undertook my first independent activity since the Peace Work Camp started. The first bit is quite trivial, in that I headed into town to find a place to do much needed laundry, and after succeeding, went to the Peace Centre’s bookshop in Manger Square. What a wonderful treaure trove (and apparently the Educational Bookshop is even bigger and better), so I had to work hard to restrain my want to buy up big, and restricted myself to buying three books: ‘The Politics of Change in Palestine – State Buildin and Non-Violent Resistance’ by Michael Broning; ‘Our Way to Fight – Peace Work Under Siege in Israel-Palestine’ by Michael Riordan; and ‘The Case for Sanctions Against Israel’ edited by Audrea Lim. Though extravagant they weren’t particularly expensive, but I deliberately bought books about Peace rather than mateial on Pales. I think, seeing as the first leg of my Thai International return flight is in fact and disappointingly, flown by El Al I’ll read the latter book on the plane, just to be provocative – though I’d better not let the Israeli exit military police see it at the airport. Seriously though, I will become a BDS activist 

Peace Work of political significance

28 December: peace work today was cleaning up a beautiful cemetery near Bethehem  of graves from the Second Intifada, which was the second anti-Israeli spontaneous revolt by the Palestinian people, brutally put down by the Israeli military.

The Intifadas are characterised by an image of children throwing stones at Israeli militrary hardware, such as tanks, but as I guess everone knows and I won’t try to hide, they became much more violent.

The graveyard was well laid out, elegantly simple, and very, very moving – a fitting resting place for some very brave martyrs.

I do so hope we can move on to a just and peaceful solution. I suspect that as I undertake hoped for and planned university level studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution my focus will be on Palestine, and I also of course plan further on the ground volunteering work here.

The practical work was followed by a Cultural Evening, exchanging gifts we brought from our homes, which the organising paperwork asked us to do. I’m typing this before the actual event, but here I’ll briefly mention that my gifts focussed on Multicultural and Aboriginal Australia.

The Multicultural offerings included books such as ‘Don’ Go Back to Where You Came From’, DVDs such as ‘East West 101’, and brochures from Wagga’s Multicultural Council.

The Aboriginal gifts included a DVD about the 1960s Freedom Rides and subsequent Aboriginal history, a map of Australian Aboriginal nations, and an Aboriginal flag.

And I couldn’t resist pointing out that we have been eating Australian food all week – Sunwhite rice from the MIA, no less. But I had also to be true to my environmental politics and note that, in the driest continent on earth, growing water hungry crops like rice poses real issues of environmental sustainability.

To conclude today I’ll note that the book I am currently reading, Darweish and Rank’s ‘Peacebuilding and Reconciliation’ (Pluto Press) includes in its References section several books Iwill try and buy and of course read, and two journals I will subscribe to, the ‘Journal of Peace Studies’ and the ‘Journal of Refugee Studies’. The book is also fascinating reading and helps confirm to me that I am cut out for formal peace studies.

27 December at Aida refugee camp

27 December

Today on a group excursio to the Aida Refugee Camp, the largest in the
Betlehem area, sanwiched between the Separation Wall and the city, and
housing 5,000 refugees, but originally set upfor 1,000.

Another heartbreaking experience, given the crowded condions, scarcity
of facilities and resources, and most importantly the fact that there
is no hope of chang. The fact that concrete buildings (a very few
faced with Jerusalem stone ’tiles’) have replaced the original tents
creates a depressing sense of permanence.

We visited some of the perimeter,saw a DVD titled Aida, had a lecture
from Kahled, a resident refugee, then a tour of the camp, and a final
discussion.

There are several UN agencies, such as UNRWA and UNESCO, providing
basic services, including education. It is possible too to go on to
University through the one Palestinion public (open, incldig online
and DE) university, or one of the 8 private ones.

Apart from the appalling living condiitons, depressing sense of
permanence and general hoplessness, there is a strong sense of
defiance, which is shown by way of a lot of really powerful political
street art – political cartoons, slogans and so. I took lots of
photos.

I noticed also a fairly strong Israeli military presence, again on
Palestinian land! Apparently on this occasion it was because children
had been observed, from the Israeli watch towers that overlook,
throwing stones, presumaby at the ‘Separation Wall’. Overkill, surely,
as a few stone throwing kids in a camp is hardly the start of the
third Intifada!

In conclusion for today, the heartbreaking permanence of the all too
solid buildings brings very strongly to mind the issue of the ‘Right
of Return’ for all the refugees, not just in this one and other camps
in Palestine, but also those in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. This issue
must be satisfactorilly addressed and solved as part of a just peace
settlement.

Oh our day concluded with another good lecture, this time on refugees.

Aheartbreaking visit to Hebron

Today we went on a trip to Hebron, a city of 100, 000 that is technically part of the Plestinian Authority, but is in fact under internal military rule as an H2 zone.

Soldiers, separation walls, gon towers, guard posts and checkpoints every where – we passed through at least half a dozen.

This is the city where the Settlers actually live in town, above the Palestinians, and throw shit, urine, bleach, acid and so on down on them. Itook photos of the netting and tarps the Palestinians have put up to try and protect themselves.

Because of the Occupation once thriving shopping streets are now dead and deserted.

The one bright spot of the trip was a visit tothe Abraham Mosque, where he is (supposedly) buried. An ancient exterior and a very welcoming, warm and beautiful interior. But even it is infringed on as the Israelis have commandeered half of it as a synagogue.

We finished our excursion with a visit to the Palestinian Centre for Media Research, where we saw the ‘Occupation 101’ DVD.  I learned a great deal from it, and one useful fact was that the USA gives as many $ in aid to Israel as it does to the rest of the world combined – about US $65 billion a year! It was encouragging to see a number of Israeli speakers condemning their government’s policy and actions, but depressing to hear it referred to as ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ so often.

I also bought my own copy of the ‘Our Story’ DVD, which we saw the other night and which I have permission to show in Wagga.

Altogether an eye opening educational day, but depressing, even heartbreaking.

The it is possible to avoid Christmas Day type post

Free today as it was Christmas Day, so a group of us organised to go on a no-cost tour of Jerusalem, which was notable for exploring the four quarters of the Old City: Muslim, Jewish and the two Christian ones, as well as having a good look at the old city walls and some of its gates. All useful background when Ihave my week there after the Peace Camp.

Despite the importance of Christianity to Bethlehem and the churches in the Old City of Jerusalem, today isn’t a public holiday in either Israel or Palestine, which is why I was able to, thankfully, avoid the whole charade.

Also today, as always when entering Israel, I had to contend with the oppressive Israeli checkpoints in the ‘Wall’, complete with machine gun-toting Israeli soldier/guards. “Welcome to Israel” it ain’t – unlike at well-heeled and very public Western tourist locations such as Ben Gurion International Airport, though I also found that on the ‘heavy’ side.

Back crossing the ‘Wall’, somehow to me, though Palestine is noticably less afluent, it feels freer and politically more progressive. Crossing out of Israel feels like a relief.

Which leads me to today’s politicaal comment, which I read about today in ‘Haaretz’, an Isreali newspaper, the gist of which is that right wing Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, would welcome a Hamas take-over of the West Bank, indeed are both openly and covertly are working towards it, because it would give them a big, fearful ogre to frighten the Israeli electorate with, and so bolster their election prospects for the foreseeable future. That is why Israelt let Hamas leader Khaled Meshal into Gaza recently, and why they do everything they can to ensure the failure of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah led government in the West Bank, which is working hard for a peaceful two state solution – including currently with-holding all the Palestian taxes they have collected, thereby denying Abbas the opportuniy to provide services and pay public servants.  This does not bode well.

And, as a by-the-way, I suspect that Hamas seems to be able to provide public services in Gaza because it seems to be comparativel well funded from Muslim religious organisations

Christmas Eve up-date

It’s Christmas Eve today. In the morning we worked again on Abed the cave dwelling man’s property near Hebron, rest of the day free for Christmas type socialising, and given our location there’s a lot of that going on.

Though Bethlehem purports to be, according to two of the Christan gospels, the place where a man known subsequently as Jesus Christ was born it was only when the Byzantine (i.e. Easter Roman Empire) Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and his indefatigable mother (St) Helena went on a church building spree journey (Church of the Nativity here, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem)  that Bethlehem became a Christian holy site and honey pot for the faithful or gullible, or both at the same time, I suspect.

I’ve discovered how the Hebron Settlers can throw shit down on the Palestinians – its the only Israeli settlement actually built in the centre of a Palestinian town, the rest being on stolen land outside the town centres, usually on ridges or hill tops.

Though the work we are doing won’t of course immediately, if ever, bring a change of heart from the Israeli government we are at least doing something to help the Palestinians, however ‘small’, and showing solidarity with them is a very important part of our presence too.

Last night we had a lecture from a Palestian professor in what has become my ‘home from home’, the next door ‘Restaurant 1890’, named for when it was built (partly because it is so welcoming, comfortable, ‘authentic'(six foot thick Jerusalem stone walls and arch-domed stone ceiling, but not touristy, and has free wi-fi), and the night before we watched a Palestinian DVD, ‘Our Story’. Both were excellent, and though I’ve read all (or most of the content before it was great, even inspirational, to hear it in an authentic voice.

Somehow I pressed the wrong button on my trusty little tablet and all the text I had typed about Christianity in Bethlehem disappeared, but to sum it up it started in the 4th Century CE when the Byzantine (ie Eastern Roman) Emperor Constantine converted and his mother (St) Helena went on a cathedral building spree at as many so-called Holy sites she could lay her hands on including the Church of the Nativity here, and the Holy Sepuchre in Jerusalem. Today I read that Bethlehem has the largest proportion of Christians in Palestine, and cerainly most of the women I see around aren’t wearing Muslim dress, but that may well also be because of all the Arab countries Palestine is very secular.

An update on my impressions

Hopefully this post will get posted, as some don’t seem to have been. No doubt that’s due to my IT incompetance.

So here are some observations:

* The ‘Separation Wall’ is oppressive and quite obscene in its intrusive brutality. I do though appreciate the way the Palestinians usetheir side of it as a billboard for political slogans, cartoons and grafiti. There is some great Bansky poltical street art, and Ibought some copies. There is also a recurring cartoon of a boy in a variety of situations always with his back to us. Apparently we will only see his face when Palestine is liberated. I took photos.

* The Israeli ‘Settlements’ are also an oppressive worry. They are illegal, built on seized Palestinian land , the taking of which breaks all international laws and conventios. They are built on hilltops and and ridges, looking down on Palestinian villages and suburbs, and so are threatening and oppressive. The Israeli government subsidises their construction, and the deposits and mortgage repayments of home-owners, or the rents of renters. Given their high elevation it must take huge resources to get water up to them – all ‘stolen’ from the Palestinians, of course. Despite international condemnation they continue to grow like topsy, sprouting all over the place.

* To me it is encoraging that Hmas is now talking about dialogue, though it remains to be seen if they will accept a two state solutio.

* And of course the current territory grudginly allocated to Palestine under the way Israel has twisted the Oslo accords is a mockery of a state, given that Israel has sepaated Palestinian towns by stealing land, building highways that only Israelis are allowed to drive on, building the Wall on Palestian land and so on, so Palestine is really nothing more than a series of separate ‘Bantustans’, as in Apartheid era South Africa. Apartheid is an appropriate word to describe Israeli policy.

* So is’ethnic cleansing. Many commentators have noted that the Israeli aim is to drive the Palestians out completely. Appalling.

* The Israeli claim that they were here first is nonsense, and that should always be ponted out. Archaeology tells us that humans have lived here for at least 10,000 years, with the first recorded civilisation being that of the Canaanites, way before the Jewish people arrived, fought them and seized their land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. Still a young civilisation by Australian standards – Aboriginal, that is, of course

* Sometimes I think the Palestians, in hinsight, would have been better off to have accepted the 1948 UN two state partition plan, as it would have given them much more territoy than they have had any chance of having ever since. But then again, the Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc) thought the Zionists would bea pushover, easy to throw into the Mediterranean. How wrong they were!

* Many thought then and are increasingly doing so again, that the best solution would be one state, with everyone having equal democratic rights, and I agree. But the Israelis will never allow it, especially as, to be a just solution, it must include the right of return for the refugees.

* What happens when Iran gets its nuclear bomb? Will it be an atomic war between Iran and Israel (which already has thebomb) over Palestine, or will it be like the situation between the West and the Soviet Union during the ‘Cold War’, i.e. a nucler stand off because of the fear of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, known as ‘MAD’?

Thats enough for today. Hopefully this post will actually go.

First entry from the Peace Work Camp in Bethlehem

Arrived on Thursday at the Peace Work Camp in Bethlehem on after a complex trip through Israel, the ‘Wall’, Israeli soldiers as border guards two buses and two taxis and all. A bit fraut, but I made it okay.

The ‘camp’ is a  crowded flat but very friendly and the hosts really hospitable. Friday was the first day of ‘work’, cleaning up an old stone house for the Centre for Cultural Studies and Preservation with a gaping hole caused by an Israeli bomb, in the Old City.

The Centre restores old and damaged buildings, but is also engaged in research and education.  Buildings need restoring largely because of Israeli military damage but also because of decay from age and wear and decay