This talk (by Edward & Eunic Ordman) is about how many Palestinians and Israelis see the present situation in Israel and in the West Bank. If we want peace, we need to understand the needs of all parties.
Talk given January 27, 2007, by Edward and Eunice Ordman at Temple Israel, Memphis, Tennessee
Hello. I'm Edward Ordman, this is my wife Eunice Ordman. We want to welcome the many visitors to Temple Israel that we see here. We are particularly happy to see so many of our Muslim and Christian friends.
The senior Rabbi of Temple Israel, Micah Greenstein wrote a wonderful essay "Between You and Me" in the Jan. 4, 2008 Voice newsletter of temple Israel, about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In encouraging us to give this talk, he encouraged us to quote two lines from that essay as applying to Arabs and Muslims as well as Blacks. He wrote "The animating idea of Judaism is the Tzelem Elohim, the image of God inherent in every human being." and "The Passover story of our people points out that the God, to Whom our thanks are due, is a God who wants all people free, not just some."
Rabbi Micah urged us to tell you about some groups we met with in Israel and the West Bank and to show pictures of places the Temple Tours do not go. On tours of Israel, Jews, the American press, our legislators, and our diplomats usually see only the Israeli view. Normally not even Israelis can go where we went. We will show the unpublicized view: the Israelis and Palestinians who are working non violently toward peace.
This talk is about how many Palestinians and Israelis see the present situation in Israel and in the West Bank. If we want peace, we need to understand the needs of all parties.
In the part of the Talmud called Pirkey Avot, which means the Ethics of the Fathers, it is said "The work is not ours to finish, but neither are we free to take no part in it". We need to start thinking about what we can do to promote peace..
I'm 83 and I have 13 grandchildren. I hate to leave them a world so filled with problems, so ridden with wars. I wanted to try to do something to improve things. Talk of bombing Iran and wars with Afghanistan and Iraq make a war between the West and the Muslim world more and more likely. Religious wars are the longest of all wars.
Peace in Israel would do a great deal to make peace in the world far more likely. Peace in Israel would do a great deal to improve the image of Jews in Europe especially. In 1988, while in Paris, we watched a parade in support of the Palestinians. It may have been an early sign of the danger of increased antisemitism in Europe. Peace in Israel would diminish antisemitism.
Last summer we went on an Interfaith Peace Builders tour to Israel, and the West Bank, "Judea and Samaria." We met with Israeli and Palestinian groups working non violently for peace. Polls show that a vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians want peace. We visited many groups of Israelis and Palestinians working nonviolently for peace and justice for all, but it isn't happening. I was very discouraged until I remembered that after World War II, the US occupied Japan and Germany. We helped them form democratic governments, AND we built up their economies. We gave them hope of a better future for their children. They have been our staunchest allies ever since.
I have served as a Citizen's Dispute Mediator in the Memphis court system. Two people are boiling mad at each other. They want to drag each other through the court and punish each other. But they are told it will take two years to get a court date. Would they consider mediation? Well, very reluctantly. So they come to me. Each gets to tell his story. My main job is to keep them from interrupting each other. Each one in turn tells his story in detail. They go back and forth until they are both talked out. When I ask them what they want in the future, they become sweetly reasonable in their requests. Each agrees to what the other wants. I write it out, they sign it, and I turn it into the court. 85% of the time that is the last the court hears of it. Being heard and understood is extremely important to all of us.
In the book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, he writes, "I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." An improving Palestinian economy would be reason for hope for a better life.
Today we need to talk about the situation of the Palestinians.
I have been to Israel before. My first trip was in 1971, and I've spent a total of around 12 or 13 weeks in Israel. I was first at a lecture by Ben Gurion about 1968. That doesn't make me an expert. But I have lectured at the Hebrew University, I have been to Sharm el Shaikh when there was nothing there but a few Israeli army tents. Now there is peace there, and there are fancy hotels. I have stood in an abandoned Syrian gun position on the cliffs of the Golan Heights. No one who has stood there ever wants to see enemy guns at the top of those cliffs looking down on the Jewish villages below.
We were at the Jaffa gate to the old city for the 40 th anniversary of the 1967 war which created more refugees and was not celebrated by the Palestinians.
The group we traveled with was mixed. There were Jews, Christians, and one American Muslim. One of the first places we went was the Yad VaShem Museum, the Israeli museum of the Holocaust. Eunice and I were able to be of considerable help to the others in our group there because we have previously been to Auschwitz and Treblinka, as well as to the Wannsee museum in Berlin, in the building where Hitler laid out with his aides the plans for dreadful events of the Holocaust. It now displays many pictures of the Nazi dreadful treatment of the Jews. There, unlike inside Yad VaShem, we could take pictures.
We went to the Western Wall, the surviving foundation of the Second Temple at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is the holiest place for Jews. On top of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, erected by the Muslims to mark the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son. We think it was Isaac and they think it was Ishmael, but the story is the same. Also on the Temple Mount is the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. We Jews are very proud of the fact that access to this area for Muslims is much freer now than access for Jews was when Jordan controlled the area between 1948 and 1967. We also know that there are still serious problems of access and we want to see peace and free access for all.
In September 2000 Ariel Sharon, who was then an Israeli Cabinet minister, came to the Temple Mount with over a thousand police and armed guards. He claimed it was a tourist visit. Tourists don't travel with armed guards. It was one of the events that set off the second, more violent, intifada .
As Muslims leave this area after Friday prayer, they walk down a street in the heart of the Muslim quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. On an archway over the street is a house with a giant Jewish menorah and an elongated Israeli flag. The local Muslims told us that this was the house of Ariel Sharon. I know that Ariel Sharon was a very in-your-face kind of man. And this lets me talk a little about what people believe.
In Genesis and again in Deuteronomy, God tells Abraham that his seed, his descendants, will possess the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. That is what was taught in the schools when Jordan controlled the West Bank. A Muslim we took to Temple Israel thought that the two blue lines on the Israeli flag stood for those two rivers. He'd learned in Jordanian school textbooks that the two blue lines on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates, and that Israel claims all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. A lot of the people in Hamas went to school in Jordanian controlled schools in the West Bank.. They think when they are being asked to recognize Israel's right to exist that they are being asked to give it everything from the Nile to the Euphrates.
When a Muslim in Memphis, Tennessee, told me he thought that the two blue lines on the flag meant that Israel should extend from the Euphrates to the Nile as he was taught in school in Jordan, I looked it up and found that the two blue lines on the Israeli flag are from the two blue lines on a Jewish prayer shawl. It was a very interesting experience to bring someone from the local mosque to Temple Israel to show him our prayer shawls.
Let's say something about the Palestinians who left their homes in 1948. It is hard to get a firm count on the number of refugees. The best estimates I have seen suggest that three-quarters of a million became refugees in 1948 and as many as half a million more in 1967. A 2005 estimate by the UN said that at that time they had multiplied to nearly four and a half million refugees. In the Gaza strip, the most crowded place on earth, there are about one and a half million, about half in extremely crowded refugee camps. Maps show most of the refugee camps. The biggest concentration of large camps is in Gaza. There are a lot of camps in Lebanon where the refugees have been very destabilizing for the government. They extend into Syria and Jordan. And of course, there are the camps in the West Bank which was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 and by Israel since 1967.
As far as I am concerned, a refugee camp is a school for hatred. We need, in the interests of peace, to get those people out of those camps, into homes and jobs and schools.
We visited a refugee camp just south of Bethlehem, Duheisheh Camp. When the camp was first established there were first tents and then small concrete buildings, two rooms to a building, one extended family per room, sometimes that meant 12 or 15 people in a room. Latrines were some distance away.
Some of the wall and the UN office remain today. Parts of the wall are down, and since Oslo, the gates are open and people can come and go. A college student who took us around told us that living in a camp under Israeli occupation is heaven compared to living in a refugee camp under Arab occupation. They have been allowed to build their houses higher. The UN still provides a little bit of schooling and some basic sanitation. If you think of the UN as big buildings in New York, it is strange to see a UN garbage man carrying garbage to a UN dumpster. A few people have found laboring jobs outside the camp, but of course the economy is very bad. We were told that even those who could afford houses outside the camp did not want to move out, for two reasons. First they like living next to their old neighbors from their own village. Second, they still hope eventually that refugees will be allowed to return to their original villages or will be paid for their original homes. They don't want to fall off the UN refugee list.
The refugee camp is very crowded. There are about 11,000 people in an area of one third of a square mile, that's about the size of a large Memphis city block. The passages are narrow and as you can see there is not much place for children to play.
A Refugee student showed us around. He had grown up in the camp and who is now attending college in Italy. The Palestinians, like the Jews, value education. This young man comes back during the summer to work for a charity in the refugee camp, called IBDAA. They operate a small storefront in the camp. They take children out of the camp to play athletics and have a room full of trophies. They also have a room to teach children about computers.
Wi'am is a Palestinian charity we visited near Bethlehem. Zoughby Zoughby, the director, teaches negotiating skills, mediation, and how to solve problems nonviolently. He used to have meetings here between Israelis and Palestinians, to learn about each other's lives and each other's problems. He can't do that any more. When Israel turned Bethlehem over to Palestinian control, and put up the security barrier which we'll come to in a few minutes, Israelis were forbidden to come to Bethlehem. And the residents of Bethlehem can't visit Jerusalem, except sometimes by a special pass, for some holidays. It's about 8 miles away. In 1971, when there was very little violence in the area, you could hop the corner bus and it took 20 minutes to get to Jerusalem. Back to Jerusalem.
West Jerusalem is a place the synagogue tours do go. Kol Neshamah is the large Reform synagogue in Jerusalem. We went to services there and we also had a meeting there with a rabbi from an Israeli organization called Rabbis for Human Rights. Rabbis for Human Rights is a broad-based organization of Israeli Rabbis which tries to defend human rights and Jewish principles where it finds them being violated by Israeli policy, in the courts and through activities on the ground. Rabbi Ascherman, the director, speaks movingly of both Jewish principles and of the many ideals held in common by the citizens of Israel, who include members of many religious groups.
Most Jews know this line of the Torah, the Bible, it occurs regularly in our prayers:
Exodus 22:21: Thou shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Perhaps fewer know this line. I learned it when "defoliation" was a US policy during the Vietnam War:
Deuteronomy 20:19: When you besiege a city to make war against it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof...
One of the main elements of the old Palestinian agricultural economy was olive orchards. A single mature olive tree can yield hundreds of pounds of olives. When Israelis initially began to travel in the West Bank, for example when I was there in 1971, things were quite peaceful. But when terrorism began in earnest, snipers began hiding behind olive trees and shooting at automobiles. Israel responded by destroying the olive groves in question. As Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew, more olive orchards were destroyed and there was increasing dispute centered on the olive groves.We saw a 100 year old olive tree in a traffic circle in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank; the Palestinians say it was stolen from them. This destruction and transplanting of olive trees deals a real blow to the Palestinian economy.
One consequence of the separation barrier is that there is far less suicide bombing, and far less sniping. Recently many Palestinian leaders have told their people that suicide bombing is not effective. One of the projects of Rabbis for Human Rights is to organize groups of Jews to help Palestinians harvest the olives, and to help protect the olive groves from right-wing Jews who sometimes attack Palestinians trying to harvest their olives. The Rabbis also help replant olive groves where that is allowed. Rabbi Ascherman leads mixed group of Jews and Palestinians in replanting Palestinian olive groves.
Another issue that Rabbis for Human Rights works on is the issue of home demolition. We met with another group, The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition. Once houses were demolished in neighborhoods where suicide bombers lived. That proved ineffective, and the practice has largely ended.
The shape of Jerusalem.
Let's back up, and look at Jerusalem from the south. In the center you see the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Look at the city beyond them. To the left is modern West Jerusalem, the Israeli city with high-rise buildings. To the right is east Jerusalem, the low rise Asiatic city which was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 and annexed by Israel in 1967. One of the jobs I would least like to have is city planner in Jerusalem. That Eastern part of the city had poor roads, poor water supply, poor sewers, poor electricity. You know that someday there will be a border, but where? Bringing services up to snuff is going to be very expensive. Israel wants to make this a Jewish city. They want more Jews here, they want fewer Palestinians.
On a poor street in downtown East Jerusalem there are low rise buildings. Many are two-story buildings, or even one-story buildings with false fronts. Over time a Palestinian family grows. The children marry and have kids themselves. Land is hard to come by for the Palestinians, so they want to enlarge the house. Applying for a building permit can cost as much as $20,000. And almost always, the permit is denied. What do people do? In many cases, they build anyway. A new room, or a new story on top of the old one. When they do, the house is put on the demolition list. It may stay on the demolition list for three months or for two years. But eventually, a wrecking crew shows up, perhaps at three in the morning and give the family half an hour to get out.
A lot of Israeli Jews think that some other solution has to be found. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has raised enough money from Jewish sources that they plan to rebuild every Palestinian house demolished in Jerusalem in 2008. We are talking well over one million dollars. I'm not sure that's the best way to spend money. But for every house they rebuild, there is a whole Palestinian neighborhood and a whole Palestinian extended family that realizes that not every Jew is against them, that this is a political squabble, a problem the present government hasn't solved, and not an eternal religious conflict.
Let's talk about West Bank Jewish Settlements. The Jews, of course, are proud of making the desert bloom. We visited a settlement in the Gush Emunim block, east of Jerusalem, built almost cantilevered out over the Judean Desert. It is very convenient to Jerusalem, as a suburb. It also pretty effectively ruins the chance of a good road from Northern to Southern Palestinian areas that doesn't go through a Jewish settlement. These are pretty communities.
The community we spent the most time in was Efrat, in the Gush Etzion block south of Jerusalem. Efrat is within the bounds of the 1948 to 1967 "West Bank", and is regarded by its Jewish residents as a suburb of Jerusalem. The "security boundary" includes it on the Israeli side. From the point of view of an American developer or city planner, working without regard to politics, it is a very logical place to have a suburban development. The population of immigrants from the US is large enough to make it attractive to Americans, and the residents we talked to said that most of them have come because they find it an attractive and convenient suburb and a good place to raise children. We visited one of the synagogues there, where we talked with local residents.
The Palestinian view of these settlements is, of course, different. Many object to any settlement of Jews in areas Israel conquered in 1967. The Oslo Accords, which Israel agreed to, prohibited new or expanded settlements in the West Bank. Israelis point out in reply that the borders of 1948 to 1967 were never recognized by any of the surrounding countries; why is Israel supposed to be bound by them now?
Land titles are often obscure: between 1918 and 1948 the British never developed a system for recording the old Turkish land titles, and deeds may well be disputed. For example, Israel prefers to expand Jerusalem suburbs onto land not being actively farmed. They can show you photographs showing that "this field was abandoned, not being farmed, when we rezoned it." The locals retort: "Hey, grape vines can get a disease. When they do, you cut them down and leave the field fallow for a year or two before replanting. We can show you photographs showing the grape vines here two years earlier."
Everyone agrees that Efrat sits on the wellhead of a major aquifer, and controls a major source of water for the area. Water is one of the big problems of the region.
Where are these Israeli settlements? They are scattered around like raisins in a pudding connected by Israeli only roads. Road blocks keep Palestinians from crossing the roads except at specific points, and then on foot only. This breaks the West bank up into small disconnected fragments. The Israeli super highways have walls on each side which look from the Israeli side like attractive sound barriers. They make travel easy for the Israelis and difficult for the Palestinians. But if a Palestinian is trying to get from a village on one side to a village on the other, he is likely to come up to stones or barriers. He has to go to a legal crossing point, often he has to leave his car, walk across, and take a taxi on the other side. The World Bank has estimated that these road closings alone cause nearly a 50 % reduction of the Palestinian economy.
There are also a lot of temporary roadblocks, called "flying checkpoints". We encountered one on our way to visit the East Jerusalem Women's Center, a place that does discussions and job training classes for Palestinian women. US Aid had been cut off to it, incidentally, because the US discovered it gave job training classes to women whose husbands were in prison. As you know, the United States will not aid criminals, or their families.
The Security Barrier.
Many of these checkpoints are associated with the "security barrier". The barrier, and the checkpoints, are working in one important respect - there has been a major drop-off in suicide bombings in Israel. Even the very radical Palestinian leaders are now saying suicide bombings are not effective and shouldn't be done. It doesn't stop rockets from coming across the barriers. In the area around Gaza there have been thousands of rocket hits in the last few years. The Qassam rockets you hear so much about are rather small primitive, but obviously dangerous and disruptive to the communities where they strike.
Israelis object when the security barrier is called "a wall" since, in terms of miles, most of it is a fence rather than a wall. But most people see it in urban areas, where it is, often, a high wall. In places it runs right through an urban area, dividing family members from one another. Transformers feed the electrified razor wire coils on top. The graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall reminded us of the Berlin Wall. We admired a particularly well executed drawing of Gandhi, who first showed the power of nonviolent action. "We will bring love to this place." "Justice". "Freedom".
We went through a major check point, the major crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Only Israeli cars can go through. Palestinians cross on foot, if they have the right identification or permit, and the wait may be several hours. These long waits also impact the Palestinian economy. Like at the Berlin wall, there are imposing watch towers.
One thing that the Palestinians praise Israel for is improvement in education. Jordan did not allow Palestinian Universities. Israel does, and there are now some excellent Palestinian Universities. Al Quds University, the Palestinian University, is located in Abu Dis, a near-in suburb of Jerusalem. It is of interest in part because some people in the Israeli government have suggested that maybe the Palestinians would be willing to have their capital in Abu Dis instead of in Jerusalem itself. The wall has been built to put Abu Dis outside the city of Jerusalem. It threads directly passing the front gate of the University. The trouble is that this puts the University outside the city of Jerusalem; most of the students live inside. It takes them several extra hours to get to class - they have to go to a checkpoint and wait to get through there. The wall twists around the campus behind the gym. I'm sorry, I was a student at Berkeley in the 1960's; I can tell you from first hand experience that seeing this wall every day makes students more radical, not less radical.
We talked with a mathematics teacher in another suburb of Jerusalem, Sur Bahir. He is relatively well off. As a teacher in the Jerusalem schools, he was being paid in the spring of 2007 - unlike the teachers in the Palestinian Schools, who were not being paid. After the Palestinians held a democratic election, which we had insisted upon, and elected some Hamas representatives to the Palestinian Parliament, the US and Israel had cut all funds to the Palestinian government. Thus there was no money for Palestinian schools, which do keep students busy and off the streets.
He has several children and has managed to send them to University. When Israel started building the security barrier, it was planned to run right through the center of his village. The village petitioned and convinced Israel not to divide the village. Instead, the fence runs along one side of the village. We stood in front of this man's house and looked at his olive orchard which is now on the other side of the fence with its electrified rolls of razor wire and a road for Army vehicles only. He has to drive an hour to get to the nearest gate where they may or may not let him through to his orchard that day. It is an hour back home. It's not very practical economically.
In downtown Ramallah we visited the Quaker meeting house and the demonstration garden of the secondary school there. The Quakers sponsor some excellent programs to encourage initiative among Muslim girls and women in the West Bank. Some of the girls they worked with, from a remote village, managed to found a library for their village. Ramallah was a prosperous place in better times, and now most of the cars can't get to anywhere else. A lot of young men are on the streets during the day, because there is very high unemployment.
Do people recall a few years ago, when Yasser Arafat was under siege in Ramallah and the Israeli Army was knocking down buildings around him? We visited the Parliament building, now being rebuilt. It looks more like a parking garage than a parliament building. Across the street is a large monument to Yasser Arafat under construction.
Hebron is not typical of Israeli Palestinian relations. It does illustrate that the various branches of the Israeli government do not agree on what should be done. The various segments.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs or Cave of Machpelach which Abraham bought to bury Sarah is in Hebron. Isaac and Ishmael came together in peace and buried Abraham there and later the other patriarchs and their wives were buried there. Rachel, who died in Bethlehem giving birth to Benjamin, is buried in Bethlehem. In 1971, when Edward visited Bethlehem, Palestinian and Israeli women, who were having trouble getting pregnant, prayed together at Rachel's tomb. Due to the separation barrier - which at this point is a tall wall almost surrounding the tomb - this is no longer possible.
The building at the Cave of Machpelach is called the Ibrahimi Mosque by the Muslims. This Mosque is where Dr. Goldstein, a Jew who had come to Israel from Brooklyn, shot and killed 29 Muslims at prayer and wounded many others. Israelis in Hebron consider him a saint. After that the synagogue and mosque were divided by a wall. Those entering the synagogue or mosque are searched much more thoroughly than at an airport checkpoint.
The building has now been divided inside between Jews and Muslims. The symbolic tomb, or cenotaph, of Abraham, is located on the Muslim side. Those on the Jewish side see it through a barred window. From the Jewish side, I (as a Christian with a US Passport) could visit both sides. On the Jewish side I saw the Ark with the Torah Scrolls, and Jews wearing tefillin and praying. They spoke with me about Jewish prayer practices.
On a map of Hebron you can see the Tomb of the Patriarchs near the center. Many of the streets in the city are now forbidden to Palestinians. Originally this was done to provide access to the Cave of Machpelach and the Jewish cemetery for the Jewish settlers at Qiryat Arba, on the outskirts of Hebron. Muslims must make a long detour from most of the city center to get to the mosque or the Palestinian cemetery. More recently, Palestinians have been forbidden in more and more streets to protect the Israelis in tiny settlements established in the center of town, near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Elaborate system of fences and gates, and check points guarded by Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons, restrict movement through the city. Elementary and preschool children on the way to school have to go past check points without their parents. Many refused to go. We visited with the Christian Peacemaker Team, an interdenominational group originally organized by the Mennonites. Members of this group walked with the children to reassure them. After a while settlers beat the women Peacemakers with chains and clubs and broke their bones. The Peacemakers had promised not to use violence even in self protection and kept their promises. The Israeli newspapers told the story. The Knesset, or Parliament, decided this had to stop. The Soldiers should take the children past the checkpoint. In that the drawn rifles of the soldiers may have been what frightened the children in the first place, that did not seem like an ideal solution. The Peacemakers are still there, and are watching to see if the children continue to go to school. The Knesset is more fair to the Palestinians than the army. The courts are even more fair, but the Army does not always obey court orders.
Soldiers in Hebron say that Israeli children who throw stones are just children. "You can't do anything about it." But if Palestinian children throw stones, they are terrorists and should be put in prison.
We walked along Shahadah street in Hebron. The new awnings on this former main Palestinian shopping street are part of a recent UN sponsored rejuvenation. When the Israelis closed the street to Palestinians, the modernized stores had to close and people went to a less central shopping street.
In the center of the historic old city, near the Cave of the Patriarchs, is a narrow pedestrian shopping street that was the thriving heart of the pilgrimage and tourist area when Edward visited it in 1971. Now many of the shops are closed, and there are few visitors. Radical Israeli settlers have occupied the upper stories of buildings adjoining the street, and they throw their garbage down on the Palestinians below. The Palestinians have put up chicken wire above the street. It catches, shall we say, the solids in the garbage. The ultimate insult!
There is an excellent article in the December 2007 National Geographic about Bethlehem, you can get it in the library or on line. The Church of the Nativity is in Bethlehem. It is very old and rather a fortress-like structure. Inside it is all chopped up into the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic sections. A silver star on the floor marks the spot Jesus is supposed to have been born. A sort of cage like thing is supposed to represent the manger where Jesus was laid. A manger is an animal feed box. No animal would eat out of that thing. In the church there are some lovely spots, such as a stained glass window of the holy family, and Saint Jerome's Cave where he spent 20 years translating the Bible. We watched Ethiopian Pilgrims praying in one of the crypts. But there are many fewer visitors to the church now than thirty or fifteen years ago, and the businesses in the town are suffering. The security barrier seals off all but one road to the town, which is largely surrounded by Israeli settlements.
There is still a little tourist business. We were reminded of the importance of olive trees to the economy when we saw olive wood carvings of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, and of the Last Supper, which tourists can buy. In that tourism was the source of Bethlehem's prosperity, many of those who can, leave. Only the Christians can leave, in practice, and the Christian population has declined dramatically. It is very hard for a Palestinian Muslim to get a visa to go anywhere else, even if he wants to. Last Christmas (2007) Israel even refused to give many Christian priests visas to come and perform services at Churches in Bethlehem where they had been doing it for years.
Returning to Israel, we visited the lovely home of an upper class Ashkenazi family in Herzliyah, just North of Tel Aviv. The owner told us about her daughter who served loyally in the military and about her son who said he couldn't morally serve. She supported both children and hired lawyers to help the son to do as he wished. She said that having all young people serve time in the military at a formative age, produces a population that thinks only of military solutions to all problems. The group she is active in, New Profile, has a good web site where you can sign up for e-mails of recent events in Israel.
In Jerusalem, we met with two representatives of the Bereaved Families Association. One was an Israeli whose daughter was blown up by a suicide bomber. The other was a Palestinian whose father was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The usual response is to hate each other, but these two turned to each other in sympathy, empathy and love. It was most impressive. They frequently speak, together, to school groups and others on both sides of the barrier.
Many things we have mentioned produce lower incomes for Palestinians: home destruction, Settlers picking their olives, destruction or moving of the olive trees, being cut off from their olive trees, roadblocks so that raw materials, finished products, and farm produce cannot get to where they can be sold. Olive growing is one of the main sources of income for Palestinians. Executive and engineering jobs are often not open to them. Chinese and Filipinos have been imported to do many of the laboring jobs in Israel formerly done by Palestinians. When people see no future for their children, they become suicide bombers. But if they have hope for a better life for their children, they'll work hard to bring it about. Let's convert the enemies of Israel into its allies by helping them build democratic governments and helping improve their economies.
This text was provided by Edward and Eunice Ordman, who have pointers to the pictures they used during the talk, and other information, at http://ordman.net/Palweb/index.html. The trip they took was one organized by Interfaith Peace Builders, http://www.ifpbdel.org/
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