By Jody Williams
Sunday, 3 October 2010, 12:20 am, back in East Jerusalem
Hello. I’m behind in commentary – well, written commentary (or well-written commentary!). When I first started this to try to catch up, two days ago, we were in Haifa, after two days in the West Bank – the first in Ramallah and then in Hebron, Ni’lin and Bi’lin. The experiences the two days in the West Bank could take pages. I don’t have time to write that and you might not have the time/interest/whatever to read a long perhaps rambling piece. I’ll have to try to focus on just a few things – especially because there is already more to write – about our meetings in Haifa.
I think what I’ll say about Ramallah is the more than inspiring conference of 300 grassroots Palestinian women who have been involved in an empowerment program and for the first time ever came together in a conference to which we were witness. We were there to hear their experiences and feelings about that program and their own places in the future of Palestine.
I loved listening to young women who described their feelings of empowerment. Through that, they have come to understand that they can and must be part of the process of building democracy in Palestine even in the midst of extreme tension, occupation and a growing system of “apartheid” – as described by our friend and Nobel colleague Archbishop Desmond Tutu who does not use that word lightly.
For the most part, the image of women in headscarves and mostly covered from head to toe even in the extreme heat of the desert has been promoted in the US a negative one. Add to that the image constantly drummed into our heads of Palestinians who blindly and universally accept and advocate acts of terrorism. And then add to all that the negative images of Arab peoples that have for so long been subtly and not-so-subtly projected in the US.
Palestinian women are immediately perceived as oppressed, illiterate, almost unable to speak with any degree of eloquence to express their own views of their own situation. I wish we could have brought those who choose to reinforce that negative image to listen to these women of all ages.
These are women who, in the midst of the overall oppression of occupation, are not waiting for peace to begin their work now to better the situation of Palestinian women and through that all Palestinians. Like women all over the world in difficult circumstances, they are taking up the task of trying to build a better future when no such future seems remotely possible. They are in the forefront of work for peace. Personally, it is women like them who give me inspiration in my own work every day.
From that we went on to other examples of nonviolent response to violent occupation when we visited the villages of Bil’in and Nil’in whose inhabitants have carried out weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall being built to isolate the Palestinian people from the Israeli settlements and in the process confiscate more Palestinian land. These villagers came to the determination that meeting Israeli state violence with violence was not the answer and they began a movement of non-violent protest and resistance. They have been protesting the wall thusly for years.
We had our own exchange with Israeli military at the wall in Bil’in after we watched them unlock the gate in the wall while we were standing there to let the Palestinians who had been permitted to go out that same gate in the morning to work their land come back inside the gates to be locked in again for the night.
The soldiers were hostile to our presence, even though we were inside the gates on the Palestinian village side, and they called in reinforcements in two vehicles. They only backed off when we made it known we were an American delegation. They radioed for instructions and were told to return to base and not confront us more directly.
How can a society call itself “free and democratic” in the face of segregation and occupation to ensure that “freedom”? How can a people who see themselves as the prototypical historical victim find any moral and ethical justification for the victimization of others in their quest for “strength” and “security”? These are questions that we all – including the people of Israel – must confront if there is ever a chance for real, long-term peace – a peace that can only be gained through justice and equality.
More tomorrow. It is now 1:15 in the morning and I best go to bed or I will be falling asleep in tomorrow’s meetings. Thanks for following the delegation’s travel and through the blogs seeing a bit of what we are seeing and which the American people rarely hear from our own media and our government about the conditions here. We have an obligation to cast aside our willful ignorance and confront what is being done in our names and with our tax dollars. ###