Living with Palestinians for Years….Art Gish

Letter to Family and Friends VI
January 6, 2010

I arrived home yesterday after spending two months in Jerusalem and the
West Bank.

When I arrived in Bier Idd on November 15, 2009, it was obvious that international accompanyment was needed. There was daily harassment from soldiers and settlers. The villagers were not allowed to use the only road. They were officially restricted by the army (DCO) to five acres of land around the village.

With support from internationals living in the village (usually two of us) and daily visits by Israeli activists, plus legal support from Rabbis for Human Rights and larger groups of Israeli activists coming to the village on Saturdays (and sometimes other days as well), the villagers engaged in nonviolent resistance by not accepting the restrictions the Israeli military had put upon them.

They grazed their sheep far from the village. They continued to use the road in spite of continual harassment from soldiers and settlers. They installed water tanks where they were forbidden. Gradually the military backed down and eventually agreed to villagers using the road and to grazing further from the village. Recent settler harassment has been token, like stopping village tractors for 15 minutes. We can celebrate the victories the villagers have won.

To round out my experience before I came home, I spent my last day in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, back with the Palestinian families I learned to know my first week in Palestine. As I walked down the street I noticed more Israeli flags on the Palestinian houses and a huge menorah up on the roof of the Ghazi family house, which settlers have now completely taken over.

Israeli settlers have also taken over the front newer building in the Kurd family courtyard. Now settlers and the Palestinian family members must pass each other as they go in and out of the gate to the courtyard. The Israeli settler takeover of this Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem is inching forward.

I greeted the family members I learned to know two months ago. They were eager to hear about Bier Idd. We sat together in their tent on the street. I tried to open myself to the pain of the people who watch settlers go in and out of their homes. I was particularly struck by a young settler mother with her baby and two-year-old child trying to make it up the steps of the Palestinian house. How is that possible, I wondered? How can she take those little children into a stolen house while being watched by the very people she dispossessed? How can she look her children in their eyes? How can she live with her conscience? She probably can. People do it every day.

The struggle continues. There is much work to do. I am glad to be home and to get back to work here. I hope to spend much of my time writing and speaking.

Thank you again for your support.

Peace, Art Gish

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