Monday began with a meeting at the Consulate with the Consul General and a briefing by a security officer who reiterated the warning against becoming involved in the frequent West Bank protests. Later in the morning, through a link with Al-zhar University, I participated in the Gaza videoconference (the State
Department “urges U. S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a terrorist organization”). In this and subsequent meetings, the discussion was facilitated by a skilled translator (George), although many participants were conversant in English. Although physically separated from the approximately 15 Gaza students, professors, and activists, the discussion was cordial as well as frank. As in subsequent sessions, I briefly outlined my
personal involvement in the African-American freedom struggle and explained my scholarly emphasis on bottom-up organizing rather than top-down leadership. I mentioned that, although I am closely associated with the King legacy through my editorship of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., I still greatly admire the grassroots perspective of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced snick), the brash, youthful group that challenged the system of white supremacy by mobilizing black residents of communities where segregation was most entrenched. The group in Gaza seemed receptive to suggestions based on my experience in and study of the African-American freedom struggle. Mohammed Abdalhadi later joined the Gandhi-Community, becoming the first member from the Gaza Strip.
I spent Monday afternoon in Bethlehem, where I noticed the dramatic changes that had occurred there since my 1991 visit. The Israeli security wall can hardly be ignored, although I heard that most international visitors are prevented by
Israeli regulations from getting a close-up view. The moment I arrived
at the offices of Zoughbi Zoughbi, founder and director of the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Centre “Wi’am,” it was difficult for me to avoid staring at the wall while trying to understand its significance. Although it was justified as a security
wall, I quickly noted that it was placed far from Israeli settlements along the boundaries of Bethlehem’s residential areas, separating its residents from the orchards where I was told Palestinians once went for family picnics. Land that once was part of Bethlehem was now part of the Israeli settlements that have been established since my previous visit atop the hills of east of Jerusalem. From the balcony of Zoughbi’s office, I could see the pastoral setting that was now
accessible only from the settlements and noted the contrast with the nearby apartments crowded together in Bethlehem. As I talked with Zoughbi, we watched a group of young students walking beside the wall until they began throwing rocks at the guard tower. Zoughbi commented, “We have to offer them better alternatives.”
After a discussion with the nonviolent activists invited by Zoughbi, I talked with youthful camp leaders and a visiting group of Argentineans that included a young
woman who had been born in Palestine but grew up in Argentina. The group then toured the Aida Refugee camp for young people whose families were displaced by the 1967 war, but my visit was cut short by the next event on my schedule. As I talked beside the wall to the camp, I noted the graffiti expressing anti-war sentiments and especially the misspelled message, “We Have Dreem.” During my previous visit, a tour of the Yad Vashem holocaust museum set a somber tone for the entire visit; this time, my first view of the wall served as a context for
everything that followed.