I am hopeful that others will see the value of sharing there personal experiences and stories here without discussion, without challenging the other. I would be willing to pass my personal stories here. I would be even more interested to hear the personal stories of others (especially those who may dislike me ;-). This is especially intersting when teh stories are of encounters with self perceived "others". For example, last weekend Gathering at the everest hotel (I would love to hear from those who were there their personal experience (not political commentary). Below is an example of a personal narrative of experiences of meeting the "other". I give this as a first time example but hope hope that we actually just give our own personal experiences. If I see interest in this, I will post my own experiences meeting "the other" (e.g. an interesting adventure meeting Rachel, a Zionist women, at the seam line in Al-Wallaja). Otherwise, this, like other trials of new things can be closed and you can go back to the comfortable status quo :-).

Susya and Khirbet Safa by Prof. David Shulman's (HUJI)
June 6, 2009

It never, and I mean never, rains in the south Hebron hills in June. Days are counted on a simple continuum of hot-hotter-hottest. But here I am standing in the steep road at Khirbet Safa at 9:30 in the morning under an almost cloudless sky, and raindrops are splattering against my skin. It's no storm, but still a kind of miracle. I put it down to Obama's visit to Cairo this week and to his speech which—probably for the first time in decades from an American president—spoke the cooling, simple truth about Israel and Palestine.

Israeli settlements in Palestine, he said, are wrong and have to go. Years of willful blindness and sordid prevarication were washed away by his words. I don't know if he's determined enough to force the change. I hope so. On the ground, in Palestine, needless to say, there's been no change.

We were planning to help with the grape harvest in Khirbet Safa, and we were expecting trouble. For the last seven weekends in a row, violent settlers from neighboring Bat Ayin have attacked the Palestinian farmers here and the Israeli activists who came to defend them. Last week they were particularly vicious. Along with the usual punches and kicks and curses, they overturned Ezra's car and left it on its back, beetle-like, on the path near the field. It took quite a lot of effort by the villagers to get it back on to its wheels. The settlers also stole Jesse's camera and used it as a blunt weapon, and the soldiers, as usual, took no action against them. We were expecting more of the same today.

But the army is ahead of us this time. But the time we arrive, still early morning, the soldiers have turned up with the standard document declaring Khirbet Safa a Closed Military Zone (CMZ) from now until June 21st. The order is illegal—the Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that the army has no right to use this device in a blanket fashion, to keep farmers from their lands; and the army's own legal advisor adopted this ruling as binding and issued orders to that effect. But out here in the hills, the Court's writ has little purchase. The local commander does what he sees fit, and you can't do much about it—except defy his order and get arrested, as we often do. But today we have other business ahead of us. The grapes of Khirbet Safa will wither on the vine.

On to Susya, to Nassir Nawajeh and his family and the other seventy or so Palestinian shepherds hanging on to what's left of their lands in their tents and shacks perched on the dry escarpment across from the Israeli settlement of Susya—another cruel and toxic site. Here, at Susya, there's a new "illegal outpost"—that's the standard Israeli term for settler expansion without direct government approval, although the new outpost is, like all the others, backed up by the army and the Israeli police. Last month when we marched up the hill to the new outpost to reclaim, for a brief, heady moment, the Haraini family's well, stolen by the settlers, the soldiers chased us off with the inevitable CMZ order. There's no doubt they'll repeat this maneuver today. Here's the plan. Once again the Combatants for Peace are here in force, maybe a hundred of them, a mixed group of Israelis and Palestinians slowly being welded into a single force. It's their initiative. We're going to climb that hill again, right through the Special Security Zone the settlers have declared (illegally) with the army's support, and we're going to erect a Palestinian "counter-outpost" right there on the Nawajeh and Haraini family lands. We don't expect our outpost to survive more than a few minutes (the settlers' outposts always turn into permanent settlements) . But there's the principle involved, and the necessary protest, and the symbolic gesture of defiance, and the potential visibility of all the above. If we're lucky, a video clip of our adventure will be shown tonight on the evening news. Everyone in Israel watches the 8:00 news on Channel 2.

Shie has brought the pre-fab structure we're going to put up. It's a bona fide succah, one of the little "booths" the Jews build every year in October to remind themselves of the fragility of things in the world and of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Perfect, in my view, for Susya. In the end, everything has its usefulness. There are the long metal poles, and Amiel hunted all over Jerusalem for the cloth panels, in the color of the Palestinian flag, to tie the poles together. If we get the damned thing up before the settlers and the soldiers attack, it will be a bright burst of red-green-black- white against the stark backdrop of the brown, baked hills.

High noon. It's very hot. I'm not feeling very well—I've been sick for some weeks with a parasite infection—but I'm very glad to be back in Susya with my friends. Ready to go. After the long, mandatory briefing in Hebrew and Arabic, Ofra gives the sign and we set off quickly over the thorns and rocks, first down into the wadi, then up the hill. Jesse has twisted his ankle but he's climbing beside me without complaint. My colleague David Loy, philosopher of Buddhism from Xavier University, in south Hebron for the first time, smiles at me: "I haven't had so much fun since the 60's!" We pass the well—last month's goal—and keep going into the Security Zone, and by now we can see, not far from us, jeeps unloading heavily armed soldiers and groups of settlers in their Shabbat white, all converging on us from above.

But not before we get our succah up and standing. The nice thing about these modern ones is that they're quick and easy to assemble. First the poles go up; then we need the cloth panels—but where are they? Have we forgotten them in the tents? No, one of the combatants races up the hill with them bundled in his arms. We attach them to the poles, and there it is: our own outpost, a brilliant splash of Palestinian color, the wind on the hilltop puffing up the sheets of cloth so that the whole flimsy contraption looks much bigger than it really is, bigger than we imagined it to be. People are clapping their hands and even singing and the photographers are firing away and by now there's a furious argument going on with the soldiers, wispy, wiry Ofra holding her own, lashing them with her tongue, scorning them and shaming them, telling them again and again that their stupid order is illegal and we can prove it, and the soldiers are looking baffled and more and more impatient, one in particular seems to me to be aching to lash out with fists and stick, and they're growling out the usual threats and telling us we have three more minutes before they attack, and the settlers are sitting on the hilltop certain that soon their victory will be assured, and Nasser Nawajeh seems to be unable to believe his eyes, he is back on his land, and the fierce sun is beating down on us and I'm thirsty and bemused and elated and a little distant and discordant all at the same time.

It's one of those moments—a longish one, by our standards. The succah, amazingly, is still intact, for all the soldiers' barking and snapping. It's a sight I'll remember, a little slit in reality where you can catch a glimpse of the truth, a faint shadow of hope. We are doing something worth doing only for its own sake, out of the intrinsic rightness of it, however transient it proves. We brought two families back to their ravished land, we even built a little "house" for them, we staked their claim and we're not about to relinquish it, no matter what happens, not now and not tomorrow or the next day or the one after that, not until the settlers and the soldiers and the policemen go away for good and something like peace comes back to South Hebron.

Finally, as we knew (and indeed hoped) would happen, the senior officer gives the order and his men move in and, though our people hang on to the poles and the cloth panels for dear life, in seconds the succah is undone. Poles and billowing panels collapse over the activists inside, and the soldiers trip and stumble through the ruins, weighed down by their helmets and their guns. A great cry rises up to the sky. "What heroes you are," we scream to these soldiers, "you deserve a medal for this noble act." The Israel Defense Force has overcome another enemy bastion. They are stronger, it might appear, than this motley bunch of unarmed civilians (so many of them ex-soldiers themselves) who came here to erect the succah on the hill.

Or are they? Upon reflection, I suddenly doubt it. I seek out the commanding officer, a heavy-set career soldier, now standing a little apart, and I say to him: "Look at what you've just done, look at the absurdity of it. Forget about the Closed Military Zone and your piece of paper with or without the signature of your superior. Just look at the facts. These settlers have stolen this land from its rightful owners, and you've helped them do it. It's totally crazy. They have no right to be here, and you know it." He looks at me—not quite angry; it seems something has unnerved him. Was it Ofra's eloquence? Was it the sight of these hundred activists milling around on the hill on a quixotic mission of peace? I seize upon his silence. "In six months or twelve months," I tell him, "you'll be ordered to come back here to demolish the outpost, and a year after that you'll be sent to demolish the whole cursed Susya settlement." He looks me in the eyes. "I'll do it," he says.

There it is again, that odd happiness that courses through me at such moments. I'm introduced to Joshua Cohen, a political philosopher visiting from Stanford. I try to define this by now familiar feeling. I tell him I've been reading Kant on freedom, and I think Kant knew the feeling, too. "You mean," he asks, "because of the spontaneity he writes about." Yes, I say, that's exactly it; there are the moments like this when spontaneity strikes, and a person might feel free, immensely and genuinely free, though the feeling may not last more than a few minutes. It has nothing to do with some abstract, universal notion of the moral. It's entirely contingent, and all the better for that. He nods; I can see he knows what I mean. While we're having this little conversation about freedom, the soldiers behind us, apparently in dire need of a Palestinian victim, suddenly pin one of the Palestinian activists to the ground and then march him away uphill. A random choice, no doubt; the man's only crime was to be himself. But then, what use is it to knock down a succah of peace if you don't make an arrest?

Occasionally, even a symbolic gesture of defiance can do the work. I think of Martin Luther King's principle: always you have to bring the situation to the point of open conflict; and you have to be sure that when that happens, there is someone there to take a picture and get it into the news. We succeeded in this today. And tonight many thousands will be marching in Tel Aviv to call for an end to the occupation: tonight, 42 years after the 1967 war, when the occupation began. Maybe something is, after all, beginning to change, like rain in June in the desert. Maybe we can help it happen, in the small ways that finally count. On our way out of Susya, the police swoop down on Ezra and arrest him—for no apparent reason. They put their prisoner in their van and head north toward the police lock-up in Kiryat Arba'. Probably they're angry that today we got under the soldiers' skin, and for a split second they weren't sure what to do, or maybe even what was right. It's enough to make a man a little angry, or sick at heart. So these policemen also spend their fury on our gentle driver, Zaidan; they take away his identity card, they threaten him in all the usual ways, they even wait in ambush for him on the road, hoping he'll make some minor mistake and open himself up to a fine, or worse. You need cops for such things, to keep the world on a steady course. No one said it was going to be easy.

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Do we need to save you from yourself?

You just joined us and you need to attack Sophie?

I think you were here before, did you?
An Israeli women I will call Sara is on my email list for nearly a year. She gets my weekly reports. She considers herself a peace activist and is pained by a lot of what she sees going around her. She finds my phone number somehow and calls me up. She says that she was a bit uncomfortable calling out of the blues and expressing her opinion. Some things she knows we disagree on (e.g. Palestinian refugees returning to their homes and lands, evolving Israel to a post-Zionist discourse). She wants to talk. I suggest that the phone is not the best form of communication. I explain I have limited time with my schedule especially as I will be leaving to the US soon. I ask whether she ever ventures into Palestinian areas. She says her daughter lives in the settlement of Maale Adumim and she is coming this weekend to visit her. She mentions Abedrabou, a Palestinain man who lives alone in a cave on his land that he want to keep. She says it is his birthday the next day and maybe we can meet there. I agree even though I am really short for time. I ask what time and was told 8 PM. I think it is kind of late for a Birthday party. I have never been to his place so maybe it will be an adventure. I will have to ask. I start out early while still light to look for the place during day time. It takes me a very long time anyway and I arrive at night time. Sara calls to tell me she is just leaving and will be late. I had to park my car behind a block in a dirt road and walk down a hill towards his encampment. As I do this, fear runs through my vains. I am alone in a deserted area, settlements all around and comping based solely on information from this Israeli Jewish women. Maybe this was a way to get me to a place where I would be taken, tortured, threatened etc. I dismiss these fears from my mind and replace them with tranquility as I walk down the hill aided only by the week moon light. I see yellow license plate cars and hear some noices. My heart races again. But then as I walk down further, there is a tent and a cave and a kerosene lamp. There are a few people gathered there, Israelis and Palestinians. I am relieved. Of those there I know Abedrabou (I did not connect that I had met him at a function a few months before) and one other Palestinian. I sit, chat, drink. A while later, another Palestinian approaches and asks me if I was Mazin. I said yes and how did he know me. He said no he was just asking because an Israeli women asked him to ask. So I meet Sara. The music plays. Dancing, singing happy birthday, bowing candles eating cake. I get itchy to leave (worried about my car, uncomfortable in a party with mostly strangers etc). I tell her I should leave since it is getting late. The place is noisy anyway and we can’t talk. She decides to walk me to my car. As we walk up the hill, I learn more about her and her thought process. We get to the car and spend maybe another 30-40 minutes talking. Her views are classic labor Zionist. They are inundated with the same fears and particularism that characterize many Israelis who work in “peace groups” like peace now. They want to maintain the gains of 1948 (and are against refugee return for that) but are willing to compromise on the areas occupied in 1967. But even the latter becomes problematic when we discuss places like Maale Adumim that cut the West Bank in half and that now houses tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis (including her daughter and her young religious family). Sara seems interested inwhat I had to say. She seemed like a caring person who is struggling with internal conflicting desires: humanism and parochialism, empathy and protectionism. We agree that this was a good beginning and we should continue after I return. I think her and drive home. On the way, I pass by the Israeli military base and its vigilant soldiers. I am thinking what complicated, complex and fascinating is Homo sapiens.
fascinating is Homo sapiens, my friend, this is our life research inside and out side, who we are and why we fight instead of party as friends.
Neri: Did you serve in the army? If so what branch? What did you do and what was your experiences (personal, no political commentary please).
I worked as engineer building computers back then.
I worked for many years in semiconductors design.
Where these weapons related? What was your thoughts about what you were doing then? Have things changed in the way you view such activities? Would you now do anything different if you had to do it again?
I avoided the army as going to study, I spent two month in reserve duty at age 18 in pre-intifada Beit Lehem.

one day I was on the Bus, it stoped near Rahel tumb. one Palestinian kid climb up from the back door, he sells Cooca Cola cans. The settlers on the Bus took the kid stuff and throw it away. It was a 11 year old boy attacked by ~30 year old settler.

I was shoked, I stood up (with uniform) and asked how do all the bus were silenced with that. few month later the Intifada started.

I still think of that boy, I guess he is still with us. I still think on that settler - I know they are with us.
Homo sapiens is not always that much sapiens... Especially the Zionist kind! It is like if they underwent a sort of lobotomy... But you have to keep the hope that some of them will join back, sooner or later, the regular human kind...
What causes me to pause long enough to comment is Shaul's idiotic and bigoted statement at the end.

"Zionists are incapable of thought."

Give me something that actually shows people working for something practical and I'll lend my support.
I think Shaul was referring to political Zionism (not the cultural or eligious one ala Martin Buber and Judas Magnes). I disagree that they are unable to think critically in an organic way because I do see many of them actually becoming smarter and wiser (but then those are the ex-political Zionists who broke away from the herd). So I see hope indeed.

As for practical things to do, we get together and volunteer to build and plant and teach kids. Join us in Bethlehem area any weekend. I would be happy to connect you (when I come back in mid July).
Mazin, I was going to be in Israel this summer for my usual volunteer work, but can not make it due to the economic situation.

In the past I have been active in multi-cultural educational programs where I live in southern California.

I would not mind meeting with you just to get a different perspective, etc.
Homo sapiens is not always that much sapiens... Especially the Zionist kind!

Is very rude and arrugant remark, can you see it.

It is like if they underwent a sort of lobotomy...

This text aim to triger emotional reaction, it ment to make some people feel attacked and ashamed.

See how Shaul bigoy created fight between Sophie and HTaari ... this is a victory for him.



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