Wednesday, January 6, 2010

got some 'splaining to do

Looking over my past few blog posts, I feel like I should explain myself in case there are some who are misunderstanding me. This conflict, particularly the environmental dimension of it, is an asymmetrical conflict. Over the past few days I have been interviewing both Israeli environmental activists and Palestinians (who live in israel) environmental activists to understand what exactly we are dealing with in this dimension. It is very important for me to make a distinction between the Israeli state and policies and the Israeli people themselves. Everyone I have met here has been incredibly honest, generous and friendly, more than I had anticipated. I don't view anyone as being inherently evil, narrow minded, backwards or vengeful (regardless of the fact that many americans who have aligned themselves with people in this conflict often do portray the opposing side that way). In fact, there are some situations that I have encountered where I was surprised how level-headed and even-handed the activist's analysis of the situation has been. I have been trying very hard to reflect upon what I've learned with the same level-headedness and maintain an unbiased standpoint.

At the same time, please understand that it is generally accepted by both israeli and palestinian activists that this is an asymmetrical conflict (a conflict rooted in structural oppression against a minority) that cannot be viewed separately from its geopolitical origins. The right to own and occupy land is tied to the right to access water and waste infrastructure. All activists I have interviewed, including Palestinian and Druze, have acknowledged that the problem is not with the average Israeli citizen, but rather with the policies that are unequally distributed and applied to Jewish Israelis. Even the Jewish Israeli activists I have encountered and interviewed agree with this perspective. So I'm sorry if my field notes come off a little one-sided. It is not that I am supporting one side over another, it is that the consensus tends to be that there is a systemic problem of discrimination against the minority population within israel that directly impacts their access to natural resources, and ultimately creates a destructive natural environment for everyone in the region.

As far as the political climate here goes, I would like to make a note about the exaggeration of the conflict between israelis and the 1948 palestinians (those residing within israel). Yes, there are many tensions and I'm sure there are a many cases of discrimination and violence. But, unlike many americans and members of the diaspora or people, I would not go so far as to say the state itself is an apartheid state. Coming here, I had expected road blocks, constant israeli checkpoints whenever we travel in and out of arab neighborhoods and a restriction on speaking arabic on the streets. In the few days I have been here and observed the situation, this has not been the case. Granted, I understand that I am american and though I am staying in the Arab neighborhoods, I am not privvy to everything that goes on. But I can say that I have been walking down the street in Jewish cities alongside Hussein, who is almost constantly shouting into his cellphone in arabic, and no one has even looked twice. So while his speaking arabic may be making people uncomfortable, we haven't witnessed any direct discrimination because of it. Our bus driver, who only speaks arabic, has walked around with us freely, and to my knowledge has not encountered any acts of violence or explicit prejudice. There are separate schools, separate neighborhoods, have a harder time taking out loans, it is next to impossible for them to acquire any land, have a difficult time getting to some places in the country and they are, without a doubt, constantly suspect-citizens. But, just from talking to the 1948 palestinians about their rights as citizens, the policy seems to me less South Africa and more United States pre-1950s civil rights movement. Which isn't to say it's alright. It's not alright. It's appalling. But it's not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.

Similarly, the anger and resentment on the part of the 1948 palestinians towards the israelis isn't nearly as radical as some would like to make it out to be. Many of the activists I have spoken to have openly acknowledged the Jewish Israeli narrative with exceptional understanding. In fact, I would go as far to say that it seems like the Palestinian activists have humanized the majority more than the majority has humanized them. This is, in a way, understandable. As a minority living within the nation, they have no choice but to understand the dominant narrative.

This, however, is coming from the palestinians living within israel, who are legally citizens of israel (although they will be quick to point out that didn't have a choice about that). The 1948 palestinians are in a radically different situation than the palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and those who are in refugee camps in the surrounding countries. I will not be going to Gaza, Jordan Lebanon nor Syria, so those perspectives I cannot speak for. But i will be going to the West Bank next week, and I will be sure to report back both what i see and what people tell me.

All this being said, I don't mean to say that everything is peachy in Israel for the 1948 Palestinians. There are some situations that are just astonishingly bad. The prejudice, particularly regarding the ability to acquire and maintain land and access to equal infrastructure is appalling. Judging from Haim's (the Israeli guide)reactions to these situations, I would venture to say that not many israelis-- even the environmental activists-- are not aware of how bad some of the towns and villages are. My trip to the Golan Heights was both depressing and eye opening-- even Haim, who is incredibly patriotic, said that he was ashamed of the situation there. Children should not have minefields as backyards, people should have access to water and medical facilities, people should not be forced to move from their homes or have their land sold without their permission and there should not be a military base in the middle of a town. These are very simple and obvious things that are being neglected. I simply am writing what I see, and if it is offensive to you, believe me, it is even more offensive to witness first hand.

When I see Haim's face when we are in these places, he gets a look that I am very familiar with. It is the realization that you, due random cards of fate, have been dealt an unfair amount of privilege. I know that feeling well. But guilt is not enough, nor is outrage nor simple awareness. It is we-- the ones who are the majority, the ones who have the power to affect change-- who are responsible to take the first steps towards correcting the injustice within the system. This is not just for the benefit of the minority-- it is imperative for the existence of a fair, free and equal society that we all dream of achieving.

So in short, I am going to continue to write what I see and hear. We are switching hotels and will be in East Jerusalem beginning tomorrow. Hopefully there will be internet there, and hopefully it will have a stronger connection so I can upload some of these pictures and video. I feel like if you get a chance to see it for yourself, maybe you'll understand what I'm talking about a little more.

No comments:

Post a Comment