Friday, September 25, 2009

Gush Katif Museum/ Israeli Disengagement of Gaza

Yesterday, as part of a goal to visit a different museum every week, I went to the Gush Katif Museum. Gush Katif was one of the Jewish settlements in Gaza that was forcibly dismantled by the Israeli government in an one-sided effort to proceed with the peace process.

The museum did not take a political stance- and the rights of which people to live where is not what I would like to discuss here. I left the small museum with very strong impressions- not on government, political definitions or territory lines- but rather on the nature of the Jewish Israeli population. The part of the museum that struck me most was the video of the forceable removal of Jews from their homes by Jews. Yes, it was the fact that it took place- but I didn't need a video to tell me that- but more so, how it took place.

As I said, the hot political argument is not what I want to share or discuss here. I recognize that the question of land is a hard one. There is another story here that I would like to try to tell in words, although the video footage was so powerful I do not think myself properly capable.

Start with the settlements. For clarification points, settlements are not made by taking Arab families out of homes and then putting Jewish families in. They are built, from scratch, on, well,- controversial land. The neighborhoods of the many now-dismantled settlements in Gaza were lovely white houses with red tile roofs that give one more of the impression of a beautiful beachside suburb in California. Obviously, the people who chose to create these settlements felt very strongly about their right to the land on which they build - again, a point that I do not choose to discuss at the moment- but so strongly that they were willing to stay there regardless of the years of living under quassam rocket fire.

Then take the police and military personal that were required by their government to take these families out of their homes. They were following orders and had to take the hardest job in, the most personally trying aspect of, a very emotional decision. Everyone was told this was for the sake of peace. Whether or not dismantling the settlements in Gaza has taken us a step closer towards peace or set us back is a thorny and complicated issue that I do not want to discuss here.

So- What do I want to talk about? What impressed me so deeply? Not the "How did we get ourselves into this position?" Not the "What is politically right" Not the "What is morally right?" Not the "Who has rights to which land?" I'm sure if you care to explore those topics, you can find plenty of perspectives on these issues floating around. What impressed me is this: two groups of people, the settlers and the military sent there to remove them, whose very specific goals in this moment are exactly opposite- to stay, and to remove those who try to stay. Two groups from one people- the Jewish people. A hard place of strong beliefs, masses of people, right next two each other who are pulling in opposing directions.

What would one expect to see? What happens when two groups clash like this in many parts of the world? Rock throwed? Knifes yielded? Guns fired? How many people in the world, individuals and groups, value their own belief structures more than than human life? How many people are willing to kill or be killed for their idea? To not listen to "The Other" because their own ideas are right- Think of protests, mob scenes, terrorists, suicide bombers, war- It doesn't even have to be a life or death matter for people to die- how many people have been killed or injured due to sports fanatics? My team, your team, burning cars, we lost, kill the player that accidentally scored on his own team? When emotions and beliefs run high, bodily injuries and body counts can too.

But, that is not the story here. First- start with the government that let the entire process be filmed. (In fact, all Israeli military units are filmed constantly- there are video cameras on all the vehicles, one on each side.) Then take the settlers, who were literally pulled from their homes, carried out by the military as they hung onto objects, door frames and each other. Each person, thousands of them, carried out, yelling their perspective. But, did they try to physically harm the people tearing them from their homes? No. It was peaceful resistance of the most compelling sort. And the removing forces, did they try to beat the resistances into submission? No. Both sides, opposing, value life and agreed to no violence.

I feel my words cannot capture even 30 seconds worth of the footage filmed- of screaming, yelling, crying, praying, morning, weeping, pulling, carrying, lifting, removing, clinging, hoping, resisting- settlers holding onto settlers, weighted bags on their backs, bodies wrapped together, holding onto each other, clinging to their beliefs, yelling them out- military men and women reaching down, trying to pry their hands away, to pick up the resistant individuals, again removing hands that had once again grabbed on, four military personal per resistance individual, carrying them carefully so with all the kicking, resisting and trying to break free, to go back to the ground, injuries would not result. The moments before- trying to break into the buildings, to gain access, soldier next to soldier listening as settlers mourned and prayed. Settlers crying out the Shema, praying with all their might, tears streaming, clothes rent in mourning- and the soldiers standing there, some crying, some stone-faced, as they too said the Shema, praying. United and divided, divided but still united. Emotional torment, beliefs crashing, conflicts rising. And in the heat of the moment, in the sea emotions tormented in a storm of conflicting ideas, maintaining respect for human life.

One film I saw focused on a specific family being removed from their home. The father of the family also wore his army uniform. Why? As he explains to his children- yesterday when a soldier approached you, you ran away in fear. You mustn't be afraid of this uniform. Although we don't agree with the actions of these men in removing us, people in this uniform as also the ones that will protect and defend Israel. This film segment also includes the stricking moment of the father of the family and the head military commander hugging and crying together- not just dripping tears- clinging to each other and sobbing, gasping for air. Then they both do what they feel they are obliged to do- to remove the man you have just cried with by physically carrying him out of his home and to resist as much as non-violently possible every effort to be removed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Raging for a Woman

As I read the email I had to keep tears back- not tears of happiness, not tears of sadness- tears of RAGE. The sender is was just passing the information along and had no idea that her little tid-bit fit into a much larger, much more complex story.

Where is the line between yelling for Justice and Lashon Hara (Evil Tongue)? In this whole event, I've been careful to guard the name and identity of the person I think is playing foul- To not drop hints to others but rather to address him directly; to not expose his identity, to not spread rumors. I am just so upset! I'm not raging because any injustice has been done to me personally- but rather the injustice that is habitually committed against women in many places in this world. The part of the story I loath at the moment is this- the underlining expectation a specific man has that a certain women who is routinely beaten up by her husband- even as she works to provide food for him, his parents and their children- should just remain silent and take the abuse. How dare she bother anyone else with her personal problems? The woman in this story lives in a world where her voice has no value, her gender, no rights and consequently, today, her children have no food.

Misogyny is not just an irrelevant textbook word- it's a foundation, a base assumption, a unquestionable cultural norm- all over the world- it's simply the depth of misogynistic beliefs that vary from place to place. A quotation on a t-shirt without attribution reads, "When men are oppressed, it's a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it's tradition." Ironically enough, the t-shirt was being sold in Bangladesh. Why are some societies so reluctant to value women? I'm even more saddened that some of the worst reports about women's rights come from countries where Islam has a strong influence on the culture. "Cultural clash" cannot even come close to summing it up. More like cultural non sequitur that leaves me shaking my head in confused frustration.

I am so proud of women who are fighting for their rights. In many places, their insistence and persistence is a life-threatening and arduous battle. Even simple rights, like wearing pants or more dramatic ones- like repercussions for attacking and deforming women with acid. Unfortunately, the world as a whole is silent to the culturally accepted bias against women that leads to bride burnings in India, marital abuse all over the world and ridiculous restrictions on women's movements. The control exercised by men over women in Saudi is appalling- women cannot even travel short distances without the consent of their 'gaurdian' male!

I have no illusions about the control exercised over grown women or the advantages given to young boys (education, access to health care, food) over their sisters. At one point in my world wonderings, I was discussing female genital mutilation (FGM) or "female circumcision" with my host father in Mali, West Africa. He was very blunt about why he was going to circumcise his newborn daughter: "Women must be controlled to prevent the perversion of society." Still, seven years later, his words burn and I rage.

Where are the protesters? The meetings at the United Nations? The voice of world leaders? Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not apply to women? Why is the world so silent?

Here's one of the monologues I wrote about my experience living with a host family in Mali.

N Bah

This is for my mother
The second wife
I don’t know
How to thank you
I don’t know how to comfort you
Because our worlds don’t touch
And I can’t bring them together
Because we don’t speak the same language
Nor the same culture

This is for my mother
The house servant
I tired to say thank you in bambara
I ne ce
But I don’t think you understood
Because you just smiled a smirk
Your husband explains that I don’t need to thank you
For cooking my food
For washing my clothes
For drawing my bathe water from the well
For fanning me when I was sick and hot
Because that is your life
To serve
Without thanks

This is for my mother
Whose beauty is hidden away
Under rags
Next to my sister’s new clothes

This is for my mother
The first to rise
The last to bed
Who sells the food she makes by the open sewer
So that she can provide for her family
And listen to her jobless husband
Complain of fatigue

This is for my mother, n bah,
Who is half the age of her husband
And who carries his child
Yet never relaxes from work
I don’t know if you want me here
Yet another child who is not yours
But you have no choice
Because your husband has decided

This is for my mother
The second wife
The household servant

i appreciate you
i recognize you
i see you
i thank you
i love you