It’s an intense trip (Rabbis for Human Rights, Jaffa, IDF Soldier)

Today we met with Rabbis for Human Rights in the morning. RHR might be able to use a photographer for some of its trips to the West Bank, and I’ve volunteered for that position. Meeting the Rabbi was interesting – I was surprised to learn that RHR is a zionist organization. I asked him if he thought it was actually fair to call the situation a “conflict”, and that it could also be called a situation of colonization. He said I might be right, but he gave his perspective which was in terms of a conflict between two parties. I later got the chance to ask him how he felt about zionist terrorism agains the British mandate forces, and he said they were justified because the British were limiting the numbers of Jews entering Palestine after the holocaust.

Our session with RHR was filmed by some French documentary film workers. I started speaking with them afterwards in French, and they ended up interviewing me, in French. I told them about Operation Groundswell, my academic project, and my connection to this place through my grandfather.

We then took some buses to Jaffa, where we met with someone from the group Shuk. We sang some songs, and were talked to about the importance of a pluralistic Israeli identity. This took place in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa, which is the Arab quarter but also very mixed between Jews and Arabs.

We were lucky enough to get a tour of Jaffa as part of another documentary film being made – which was given by someone doing their PhD on the history of Jaffa from a Palestinian perspective. Actually, this guy tries to give both sides perspectives, and openly acknowledges the problems with the historiography on both sides due to lack of access to the “enemies” language and archives. The history of Jaffa during the ancient period and middle ages is interesting, but the history during the mandate period and 48-49, and afterwards, is just sad. In ’48 many Palestinian Arabs left Jaffa due to the war, and atrocities commited by zionist paramilitaries against Arab populations. In ’49 any resident not in their house at the time of counting was dispossed of their property. Many of these Arabs had not fled the country, but were simply not in Jaffa while the counting of the houses happened. Those who had managed to stay in Jaffa were then forced to concentrated in the Ajami neighborhood, which had a fence around it and was guarded with soldiers and dogs. The next period was called “co-existence”, where Arab families (both Christian and Muslim) were forced to give up rooms in their houses, and apartments were divided up, so Jewish families could move in. There were many incidents where Arabs lived with soldiers who were committing acts of terrorism against their friends and family in other regions of Palestine/Israel.

After the tour we had coffee with the guide. I spoke with him about the idea of “conflict”, and about the way approaching things with a positive outlook can be dishonest and oppressive. He was very agreable to my questions. He suggested I come visit him in Jaffa and he can introduce me to other activists there. I think I will do this.

After coffee, we met with Zach, one of David’s (one of the trip’s leaders) friends, who just finished his service with the IDF. This session was intense. I confronted him on the violence done to Yonatan Shapiro during the Jewish Boat to Gaza. Zach said he didn’t believe Glyn or Yonatan’s explanation of what happened – but said that if this narrative was correct, then what happened was illegal according to his understanding of illegal orders. My friend Sadiah confronted him on Cast Lead and the collective punishment that happened there, but it was no use – he has his own understanding of the Gaza Massacre and it’s iron clad, or at least well defendable against the kind of criticism it is appropriate to make in the context of many different people in a group who are at different levels of knowledge and engagement.

I actually managed to relate quite positively with Zach, and I think I will email him to continue our discussions. He told me he wasn’t sure how he felt about refusenicks, and he agreed with Obama’s recent speech that a settlement must be based on the ’67 borders. On the other hand, he believes that no ethnic cleansing ever happened to the Palestinians, and that a settlement will never look very different from the one that the PA offered and Israel rejected, as per the Palestine papers.

I’d like to write more, but it’s late and I’ve had a very long day. This trip is not always easy – there is a lot of moral weight to hearing about the history of what happened here, and a lot of pathology in the zionist narratives. Trying to weave things together, while being respectful of people’s experience, is tricky in a situation where “people’s experience” needs to be balanced against the realities of oppression which support for the status quo perpetuates.

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