Build, Demolish, Rebuild
Former CIA Analysts
We’re again in Jerusalem and the West Bank to help rebuild a Palestinian home demolished recently by Israel. As we did last year, we’ve joined a two-week work camp sponsored by an Israeli opposition group, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, to rebuild the house. This one is practically next door to the one we rebuilt last summer, in the same village_Anata, just outside East Jerusalem. This is actually a small two-story, four-apartment building where one very large family lives_something like 23 people, including grown children and their families. The house was destroyed in June, forcing all the 23 inhabitants to live with other family members. Our work camp is only rebuilding the first floor during our two weeks. Presumably, if the building isn’t immediately demolished again, the rest will be rebuilt later.
This is the usual story in Palestinian East Jerusalem and nearby areas of the West Bank: in an effort to discourage expansion of the Palestinian population and encourage emigration, Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain residential building permits; Palestinians build anyway, usually after multiple unsuccessful attempts to obtain a permit; and then the Israelis demolish the home, sometimes immediately after it’s finished, sometimes months later, sometimes years later. This capriciousness is a further attempt to make life so miserable and unpredictable for Palestinians that many will leave.
This has been a pretty intense trip, as always seems to happen here. The sheer magnitude of the oppression of the Palestinians is almost overwhelming_far greater than last year and getting worse. It’s hard to find words to describe.
On our first full day in Jerusalem, before the camp began, our favorite taxi driver drove us around East Jerusalem to see the wall, which hadn’t been started in this area when we were here last year. It winds its way through his own town (the Bethany of biblical fame) and other neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem. It’s truly horrifying. They’ve completed a section of the wall on a hilltop just a few feet behind our friend’s house, so close that it even cuts out much of the breeze that used to blow through his property, and the Israelis are talking about routing the wall down the hill just past his house, so that he’d have trouble even getting out of his driveway. If this happens, it would cut right through his brother’s house next door, meaning that would be demolished altogether. The neighborhood has some lawyers protesting this in court, and at the moment the Israelis have stopped construction in this area, but this sort of thing is happening all over, and most villages and neighborhoods don’t win their appeals. The extent of destruction and upheaval in everyone’s lives is appalling.
One evening, we stayed late at the camp to see an Israeli movie, "Arna’s Children," about an Israeli woman who in the mid-1990s helped set up a theater group for teenagers in the Palestinian town of Jenin. The woman, Arna, who has since died, was married to a Palestinian man, and it was their son, Juliano Mer Khamis, who made the movie, and who came to the work camp to talk to us after the showing. It’s a very powerful movie, the upshot of which is that all but one of the Palestinian boys shown in the movie in happy times has by now been killed, either fighting the Israelis during the Israeli assault on Jenin in 2002 or, in two instances, in suicide attacks. Mer Khamis is quite a charismatic guy, who spoke forcefully against the Israeli occupation and in support of the Palestinian kids’ resistance to the occupation, saying such things as that their death is "the price any people should pay to be free."
We have a very interesting cast of characters at the camp, much more diverse and more numerous than last year. The International Coordinator of ICAHD is a young Mexican woman who has a law degree from Mexico, as well as a master’s and <Ph.D>. in philosophy from England, who converted to Judaism about five years ago but only later learned the facts of what’s really going on in the occupied territories and moved to Israel early this year specifically in order to work against Israeli policies. Most of the volunteers seem to have had lots of experience with Israel-Palestine, and most have been here before, working with organizations resisting the occupation. The regulars include four people from France, an Argentine, a couple of people from Spain, three from Italy, a Scotsman, and three from London, including a young woman who converted to Islam a couple of years ago and wears a head scarf. Americans are greatly outnumbered, although there are several of us_including, surprisingly, four from New Mexico.
In addition to these "regulars," other groups and individuals join us for a day or two of work. Lots of Israeli "refuseniks," the military reservists who’ve refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, and other Israeli resisters have come, and a couple of days ago there was a Japanese group here for a full day of very hard work. We have group discussions over lunch and dinner most days, and it’s amazing to hear how casually so many people_and, interestingly enough, particularly the Israelis_talk about being non-Zionist and can do so without automatically being labeled anti-Semitic or Israel-hating. It’s a refreshing change to encounter so many people who can look at Israel’s policies honestly and critically and who recognize Israel’s effort to squeeze the Palestinians to death and are trying to stop it.
Jeff Halper, who founded and heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, was out of the country on a speaking tour until yesterday, so his return should further liven things up.
There are a few pictures on the ICAHD website and a brief description of each day’s activities. The pictures were all taken by us and, unfairly enough, often include one or both of us, as if we were the most industrious. (This is clearly not the case.) The site is at: http://www.icahd.org.
Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s new history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kathleen Christison, a former CIA political analyst, is the author of Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy and The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story. They can be reached at: email@example.com.