Feb 19, 2014

Another world is possible

A visit to the Galilee just emphasized to me that we are on the right track to one democratic state where we live together in equality, peace, and harmony.  Another world is coming.  As you will see below, there is no difference in colonial settlement activity inside 1948 or 1967 occupied areas but that is all temporary phenomenon. Since my trip was focused on environmental issues and science (biodiversity), I was more concerned about time passage that makes the environmental destruction in the Galilee irreversible.  

Haifa was the first planned Palestinian city built in 1761 by Daher Al-Omar (Zedani) who is credited by many as the first Palestinian ruler who managed to develop an independent modern government inclusive of all religions that covered much of what is now northern Palestine (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daher_el-Omar).  Most of the citizens of Haifa were removed in 1948 and the 3000 remaining were squeezed into Halsa and Wadi Nisnas against their will (now they number some 35,000 due to natural increase).  Today the highest Israeli court in the north is built on top of ruined buildings but also overlooks abandoned Arab homes and businesses.  It must be some sight from the windows of that glittery building looking down on to what is left of Arab Haifa.  The historic train station built in 1905 to take pilgrims to Macca through Jordan is slated for demolition.  Next to Al-Istiqlal mosque, there is a monument with a faded inscription: "Faisal (emir Faisal who dreamt of Arab Unity) said that no freedom is given but it is to be taken by struggle.."  More on Haifa http://www.palestineremembered.com/Haifa/Haifa/index.html

While I was in the north, a three story building in Akka collapsed killing 5 Palestinians including one child. There are various stories about the causes but it is clear that Israeli authorities prevent the remaining Palestinians from repairing or rebuilding their houses in the old city in an attempt to further impoverish them.  We cried for the victims but we were also impressed by the generous and resilient spirit of those remaining family members.

Sakhnin is 30,000 people reduced to use of only 9,700 dunums.  The 16,000 colonial settlers of Misgav which took the land of Sakhnin and other nearby Palestinian villages in the Galilee control 183,000 dunums (population access to land of 39 fold more given to new settlers from the land of the natives). The settlement of Karmiel is billed as a model of tolerance even though it was built to increase Jewish presence in the Galilee because Israel is not happy with natives who remain in a “Jewish state.” When we visited, we noted Bedouins who are going to be kicked out of the land now allocated to “Karmiel” even though those Palestinians have lived there since before the Zionist state was established.

The house we stayed in has a demolition order just like tens of thousands of houses throughout historic Palestine built on private Palestinian land that Israel covets and does not allow building on.  Palestinians in historic Palestine are now 6 million people living on 8.3% of our historic lands (these are also in disjointed enclaves in the Galilee, the Triangle, the WB, Naqab, and Gaza) while 91.7% of historic Palestine is off-limits to us and dedicated for the use of the 6 million Jewish Israelis (most of them immigrants from other countries).  Why not justice and equality where we all prosper together?

But let me move to environment.  If you want more on politics you can see my report and video from my 2010 trip to the Galilee here

This time I was studying biodiversity and the preliminary scientific observations I made were extremely worrying.  The Jewish National Fund recruited hundreds of millions of dollars from Jews around the world in the 1950's and 1960's to “plant trees in Eretz Yisrael.”  This was simply an attempt to hide the destroyed Palestinian villages via large scale planting of pine trees.  Even Israeli environmentalists recognized this as an environmental catastrophe.  The pine forests that now cover much of the Galilee destroyed the natural plant cover (primary oak and scrub forests and green fertile valleys) used for thousands of years by native Palestinians as rangeland as well as agricultural lands.  Conifer trees do not allow much to grow under or around them since their needles increase soil acidity and impoverish the soil.  So even species of snails I noted in the Galilee were so much fewer than I expected.  There are no good scientific studies to predict if such damage can be reversed when done on such a large scale.  There are pockets of natural habitats still existing and they could be used to reclaim the artificially forested areas.  But time is not on our side in this situation.  The problem is compounded with Israel building massive infrastructure like expanding roads, drying up more springs (to control the water and prevent Palestinian access), schemes like the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal and more to destroy this ancient land.

For a detail history of what transpired and continues to transpire in the Galilee and the rest of Palestine in terms of populations, see Ilan Pappe’s book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”  If you are interested in environmental issues, write to me and I will send you material.  Politicians on all sides do not address these issues. 

But we have positive signs all around us: 1) more and more Israelis are joining the struggle for environmental and political justice, 2) more and more global civil societies are adopting the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions movement, 3) the Palestinian generation of Oslo is passing on and a new generation is coming up that is taking matters into their own hands.  Examples are many: from the bus freedom riders to successful challenge to the Prawer-Begin plan designed to finish ethnically cleansing the Naqab (Negev) to Kufr Qaddoum to Majd el Krooum to Sakhnin.  An example of resistance in the footsteps of Land Day of 1976 is the return to the two villages of Iqrit and Biram.  These were Christian villages which were ethnically cleansed and the houses destroyed leaving only the village churches.  This did not happen in war but by a process long after the ceasefire lines were declared in the relentless effort to “Judaicize” the Galilee.

We were gratified to visit some young people from Iqrit and Biram who returned to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.  Even Zionist leaders like Moshe Arens struggle to twist things to explain Israeli policy with respect to these two villages (see http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.545977).  While we were in Iqrit, a group of elderly Jews from Tel Aviv showed up with a guide.  They were “left Zionists” who get a distorted but still better version of history than that taught at Israeli schools and universities).  I saw the puzzled looks on their faces and lack of answers to basic questions that came as a challenge from the Palestinians around who technically hold Israeli citizenship but who are treated as unwanted non-citizens.  These 1.6 million represent 25% of population inside the Green Line.  They were everywhere we looked:  from the bus station in Jerusalem to the University in Haifa to the gas-station attendant at the road to “Karmiel.”  I wondered why I could see and interact with them everywhere as a visitor but most of those Jews who walk pass them daily either ignore them or do not know they exist (many “Palestinian-Israelis” speak Hebrew more fluently and without an accent).  Why couldn’t we all intermarry, live in one country without discrimination, with justice and human rights to all?  We saw a glimpse of that future in a demonstration of 150+ people of all faiths including many youths in front of Haifa municipality.  They were objecting to the deputy mayor who called the sound of the Muslim call to prayer as “squealing like the sound of a pig!”  We saw it in a young and kind Jewish waitress working in a Palestinian owned restaurant in Haifa.  We saw this future.  As Arundhati Roy said: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

For tours in the Galilee including Palestinian villages present or ethnically cleansed, I recommend Galilee Today Alternative Tours www.galileetoday.com (galileetoday on facebook).

Note: Israeli policies forbid people like me to visit the Galilee even though my grandmother is from Nazareth and it is still our country; these restrictions apply to me and millions of Palestinians similar to the restrictions on blacks under apartheid in South Africa.

Haifa video from a refugee