July 22, 2007

Jim Crow and the Hebrew University

Here are a couple of report backs from the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. They are actually from two people who studied (or study) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I received them from the Just Peace UK list but maybe they're doing the rounds elsewhere.

Here's a piece of the first:
Curious students cautiously raised their hands "What kind of bags should we be looking for that might be bombs?" one asked. "Any bag could be a bomb,"he replied. "Even if you can see through the bag and see that it is just a loaf of bread. There could be a bomb inside the bread. Arab terrorists have been known to do that." Another queried, "What if we want to go to Eilat (a Red Sea resort)? Doesn't the Israeli highway to Eilat go through the West Bank?" He reassured her, "Yes, but you'll be okay as long as you stick to good Jewish transportation." A third student wanted to know about Jerusalem itself. "Where is it safe to go in East Jerusalem?" (East Jerusalem is the older, Palestinian part of the city.) "As for the Old City, you'll be all right in the Jewish quarter," he explained. "The Christian and Muslim quarters however are iffy, and at night they're not safe. As for the rest of East Jerusalem, stay away. There's just nothing for you to see there."

At this point, I'd heard enough. I took my bag and left. If students follow his advice, they'll never see most of the fascinating historic parts of Jerusalem or get a sense of its unique character, shaped by thousands of years of history and culture. They'll never see the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus is said to have been crucified, or walk the grounds of the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. They'll never hear the live Middle-Eastern music at the Jerusalem Hotel on a Friday night. They'll never see the sun set behind the golden Dome of the Rock from the Mount of Olives. They may as well not have come to Jerusalem at all.

If Israeli universities are disseminating this type of misinformation and racism, then they are indeed complicit in the growing apartheid regime taking hold here, making it harder and harder for Palestinian society, thousands of years in the making, to survive.

From the edge of campus, if you look out east, you can see the apartheid wall snaking through the West Bank, cutting through Palestinian land, splitting families apart. However, the human ability not to see what one doesn't want to see is phenomenal, especially when you've been told not to look.
And here's the second:
One American student listed a dozen or so organizations dealing with things like Arab-Jewish coexistence and reconciliation with which she was involved. When I mentioned that my organization supports Palestinians who engage in nonviolent resistance, she looked at me warily. She began to inquire about my experiences with Palestinians. "What is it they want? Along with rights, do they have a sense of responsibilities?" I explained that their sense of responsibility to one another and to their guests under harsh conditions is more than admirable. I knew my response wasn't what she was looking for.

Israel and its friends abroad need to start asking themselves about their responsibilities to Palestine, instead of always about the Palestinians' responsibilities to Israel. Under the current status quo, the responsibility of the Palestinians to Israel is that of African-Americans to Jim Crow and of non-white South Africans to apartheid. None.

The Palestinians' responsibility is to engage in a struggle that respects common humanity and seeks to dismantle the current state and replace it with one in which Israelis and Palestinians are not cast into the roles of oppressor and oppressed. The responsibility of Israelis is to stand with them in that struggle.

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