Pride and Occupation, Propaganda and Borders, Doctors and Ethics: Dispatch Number Seven, from My Home on Native Land
It's been a while, and she's obviously back home now, but here's another dispatch from my comrade who recently went to Palestine:
i didn't make it to lesbian and gay pride, ubiquitously known as "pride," this year in toronto. that was the date of my return to town. i had school the next day. i was cutting it close. for palestinians, trying to go to the next town for whatever reason is often cutting it close, as israel's occupation forces are always cutting things off.
no, this year i went to pride in tel aviv. a nice city, eh? situated on the mediterranean, supposedly modern and so unlike anything you will see in what remains of palestine. like the settlements, it really doesn't belong. how can i, neither an israeli or a palestinian dare such a judgement? perhaps knowing that the zionist establishment considers itself an outpost in the region, a western outpost against eastern barbarism,* contains a clue.
three years ago i also went to pride in tel aviv. marched then as i did now with the small but lively group of anti-occupation israelis. in each instance, i didn't really feel like a parade. there is something about going through checkpoints and watching eighteen-year-old boys rudely demand ids and these same boys entering buses with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders that nick the passengers as they "inspect" the vehicle and sometimes remove young men like themselves (except that they are palestinian) from the bus or servees to sit in the sun awhile (like for hours) - there is something about all this that makes attending a parade just miles away from all of this absurd and...insulting.
but i also had a sackful of books and magazines with me that i wanted to post from tel aviv, thinking it the easiest place, and i could use someone's return address there. the bag weighed at least twenty pounds and felt even heavier, slung about my shoulders. after a late start from ramallah - it was nice to have a leisurely breakfast with friends - i finally got to tel aviv, but just as the parade was starting, and after the post office closed. it was friday. so there i was, trudging proudly with my books and publications about how israel controls all the water supplies in the west bank, and how minority rights fare in the israeli state, and how the occupation is ever-expanding. surrounded by the small clutch of israeli activists i wondered why they hadn't grown into a larger group than three years ago, as it was roughly the same amount of people. as we reached the sea, a small group of us cut out and headed to a café having, in the words of one, done our civic duty. at this point, bag still stuck to body, i was happy for a chance to sit down.
and have a drink.
we were six women, maybe seven. food was ordered. i had my beer. all of the women
were young israelis, and i was interrested to know what they thought about the situation. i got the sense that most of them didn't wish to address the issue. one women, sitting to my right, told me she was from jerusalem (translation: west jerusalem). she said "i don't know any palestinians and i don't try to know them."
"why" is all i could muster, so dumbstruck was i. these are the anti-occupation israelis? it's not as if i don't expect this sort of thing from even activists, but during the marching i noticed a woman i knew was palestinian because she had been interviewed in a video made by a toronto film maker about queer relationships between palestinians and israelis. was this woman someone this young woman wouldn't try to know? in jerusalem was she scared of palestinians? whenever i am in jerusalem, i stay in the old city - a part of the city full of palestinians. how could she not know any palestinians, unless she makes the effort not to - or - unless the apartheid is pronounced and people are divided from each other, unable to or unwilling to bridge that widening gap.
another woman sitting across from us, in the righthand corner of the table was listening and asked me what i thought about sderot. sderot is the israeli town just east of the northern border with gaza that is the frequent recipient of the qassam missiles that palestinian fighters often send over after an israeli bombardment of gaza. her parents live in sderot. i carefully annunciated each english word, saying it must be horrible to have ineffective missiles dropping on your yard and your homes. it isn't that i don't think it's terrible, it's just that it isn't equivalent.(1)
we grew silent. i was sure they were uncomfortable with this jew who wasn't israeli.
but i didn't ask. i had said i was an anti-zionist. that was met with silence. it isn't always met with just a stare, but it depends on the israeli.
when my contact told me she was still couch sufing, in lieu of finding an apartment in tel aiv, i was relieved and took my twenty pounds of propaganda back to east jerusalem for the night. i was happy to be back at the hostel where many of the activists who work in the west bank pass through. there are also many christian pilgrims stopping over, en route to beitlehem or touring through 48 and al quds (jerusalem). at least here i could have a discussion and feel that people were willing to pay attention. it isn't because everyone has the same opinion about things, even among the activists. my experience was that many of the christian travellers, particularly the fellas i met who had been living on a kibbutz in the naqab (negev), were unfamiliar with the many circumstances of the occupation. these two guys had never been through a machsom (checkpoint) and were leaving on saturday for beitlehem. they were in store for at least two.
it occurred to me that here i was, the only homosexual in sight at this youth hostel full of activists, tourists and pilgrims. and yet i felt more comfortable (was it the ever-abundant supply of free tea, or the two cats, mish mish and her daughter?) here than in the midst of thousands of queers. not that i don't get tired of the homo-blindness or the homophobia that people outside the community are sometimes so brilliant and capable of...but in the context of the colonial state of israel, i was feeling distinctly at odds with all things israeli, queer or not.
i lit a cigarette and left the bag of books on my bed for the night. as the next day was saturday, there was no chance of mailing things out as everything israeli and official is closed for shabbes. so it got left for the trip out.
and when i was taking my leave of the country, i went to the post office in east jerusalem, and mailed a box full of books, including my journal, periodicals, a usb key, some gifts. i filled out the form. put down the addess of the hostel where i stayed, but as i often do at home, i wrote only the street address, and not the name. that was my first mistake. the other mistakes would follow. what little i knew as i left with the tracking number carefully tucked into the inside compartment of the backpack with its zipper, behind the enormous plastic bag full of filthy clothes - since the weather was warm, they were extra aromatic. a last purchase from the educational bookstore not mailed with several other things purchased there, "the myths of zionism" by john rose, also behind the pungent laundry.
the reason so many people mail things is not because the israelis will confiscate things at the airport (although sometimes they do), but because people want to be able to enter the country again. so many activists have been prevented from re-entering or have been deported. so it's important that you make the proper impression: you are merely a tourist or a jew visiting israel, not an activist who is critical of the israeli state. that could show up in a file the next time you try and enter. though many people, if questioned, choose to make a point of saying what they saw and did.
the day of my flight out was a saturday. i figured that the buses wouldn't be running, but the sherut (shared taxis in 48) would be. again, i was wrong. at the hostel, h--- called me a taxi driver he knew, so i was set for saturday's trip to the airport.
when the driver and i reached ben gurion airport, just south of tel aviv, we had to pull over and show our identification. see, my taxi driver was palestinian and in israel, if you are palestinian, you are suspect. i was thinking about how this daily occurrence of being treated as untrustworthy could lead to feelings of inadequacy and anger. after all, most palestinians are guilty of merely being palestinian in the eyes of most israelis. it brought me back to that word that so annoys israeli and diasporic jews: racism. if the idea of zionism is essentially a state for jews, how is that not racist? how do you maintain an ethnic majority without discriminating?
the driver showed his blue huwiyya (essentially a passbook) and i my canadian passport. the soldier glanced at my name and looked up and asked me "you're jewish?" to which i replied "well, the name is goldstein." it was the kind of question in the kind of context where you knew it was because i was in a car with a palestinian in israel. like so many times at the checkpoints in the west bank, when soldiers ask don't i know that it's "dangerous" where i am. why "dangerous"? because there are palestinians around.
but they are not the ones toting automatic weapons openly and with abandon.
we got through the "checkpoint" at the airport, and i waved so long to my driver and entered for my exit.
the airport felt open and empty. unlike my previous exit from israel, there was no questioning, just several points of security, not unlike other airports. there was something wierd about all this. it struck me that the occupation is so cemented, that the israelis are relaxing into it. they are dividing the west bank into small little pieces. they seem to be able to do whatever they please and seemingly, on the international level have no penalty to pay. israel seems to have endless impunity. the expansion of settlements is endless and shows no sign of abating. there will be no contiguous palestinian state. (for more info. see: www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/peace.asp?pi=51)
i went through without any problems. membership does have its privileges. it is so blatant.
we landed in london, and as i waited to go through "passport control," i noticed that a few passengers from our flight were getting a rough go from the customs official. they were palestinian. some of them had sat near me on the flight. this tall white jewish man commented to me, i didn't feel comfortable when i saw those guys get on the plane," thinking as a white girl, and a jew, that i'd see his point. i asked him "why? because they're palestinian?" he quickly said "i don't now what they are." but they looked arabic, and their blue jerusalem huwiyyas were very visible. another jew who just doesn't see palestinians. i told him loudly "they are palestinians" and turned my back to him, not wanting to engage him any further. after i passed through, i tried asking the customs official who let me through why the men were being harassed and she shooed me away - clearly not wanting to comment, telling me there ws "nothing to worry about."
as this dispatch draws to a close, i think about how not long after i left london to return to north fucking america and this new "terror alert" with cars loaded with explosives and nails and the whole thing put together by doctors. regardless of the conspiracies and who did what, what stood out for me was the "surprise" that it was doctors or medical students who were involved in the planning. whatever the real story behind the actual event is, the propaganda is stunning. why be stunned that doctors could be involved in such a plan? were doctors not involved in guantanamo bay with the torture that is perpetrated against the prisoners held incomunicado there? were doctors not involved in the tuskegee syphillis experiment on african american men from 1932-72? were doctors not involved in nazi germany?
the other thing that occurs to me is that by casting doubt on professionals from other countries, in particular, any muslim country, paves the way towards allowing anyone through the border. for a tightening of and for additional prohibitions on immigration. for a justification for security certificates and administrative detention. oh, and perhaps to draw attention away from an economy going towards the toilet because all the money is earmarked for the "war effort." support your troops. support your imperialists. this kind of patriotic claptrap clears a path for continued colonial strategies in those countries. if they are our enemies, we have to fight them in any way we can. this is the war on terror, is it not? more aptly the war of terror. ask any iraqi.
*see: www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=10709, www.countercurrents.org/pa-avnery080503.htm , and www.al-awda.org/zionists2.html for more information. and if you require a zionist source, try www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/herzlex.html and you can click on the links for the full texts of hertzl's book on der judenstaat (the jewish state)
(1) see: http://tabulagaza.blogspot.com/2007/05/sderot-created-gaza-strip.html for an idea of the difference. for statistics on who gets killed in this war go to:
www.btselem.org/english/Statistics/Casualties.asp though there isn't a breakdown in how many in sderot, or how many in, say, beit lahiya (a nearby refugee camp in gaza), the numbers will give you a sense of proportion, if you are willing to see it.
n.b. this is not the last dispatch. i wait for my notebok, which i hope to receive sometime next week or the week after. but more on that in the next missive.