12 June 2010

Breaking a Promise - Refusing to Apologize

I’ve been putting off writing about the following issue, as it’s been very difficult for me emotionally. This is to all my friends who don’t live in an armed-conflict zone and who have no idea how the conflict gets under our skins, affecting all areas of our daily lives.

Someone dear to me was coming from England to visit, and we arranged for my daughter to come wait for her at the airport. She was arriving at around 19:00, which was already quite late.

Getting to the airport from Haifa is quite easy by train, which takes about an hour and 20 minutes, and it goes all the way to the airport. So of course I was a bit worried about my 15 year old daughter traveling alone, but not too much. I had everything arranged – meeting point for them, telephone numbers, exact instructions for my daughter, etc.

And then, as life happens to unfold, something unexpected happened. The woman arriving (let’s call her Maria for the sake of convenience here), sent us a text message from the London airport that the plane is one hour behind schedule. This one seemingly insignificant hour threw me off balance (this is the whole point of this post, so bear with me and read to the end. I need to get the facts out of the way first before I start dealing with the conflict and how it’s connected to this). I immediately sent her a text message that my daughter will not come to pick her up, but apparently the message was lost in cyber-space and did not reach its destination.

Needless to say, and understandably, Maria reached Tel Aviv and was surprised that my daughter wasn’t there waiting for her. (Just for clarification: Maria knows her way around Israel, she’s been here several times and knows how to arrive by train on her own, which she did in the past).

So Maria arrived in Haifa alone by train, my father and my daughter were waiting for her at the Haifa train station. I didn’t come to the train station because when she arrived in Tel Aviv, she called us and said that she didn’t want to see me. Why? Because I promised that my daughter would wait for her and I broke my promise. Simple logic.

Upon arrival at my parents’ house, she attacked me, screaming between her tears that I am selfish and that I broke my promise. (I was also accused of playing the victim – but to this day this remains a mystery to me. I’ve never played the victim in my life, nor do I see myself a victim in any way.) I was not allowed to explain why I decided not to let my daughter come to the airport. I told Maria that when she is ready to hear my explanation, I am here and willing to explain. Throughout her whole stay in Haifa, she did not approach me once to demand an explanation.

Now back to the reason why and how it’s connected to the conflict. The one hour delay in the plane schedule – as I already said – threw me off balance. Different scenarios began running through my head. Many times, foreigners coming to Israel would be delayed by security forces for anywhere between 1-4 hours upon arrival. Recently, a German woman coming to do her internship at Isha L’Isha was taken to an investigation room and held there for 3 hours. The famous Spanish clown, Ivan Prado, was recently detained for six hours at the airport, following which he was denied entry and put on a return flight to Spain. More recently, the great linguist Noam Chomsky was not allowed entry either. Last month, Druze women who received permits from the Ministry of Interior to visit their relatives in Syria were denied entry back into Israel, of which they are citizens. The Occupation is built on arbitrariness. This very arbitrariness is a systemic policy designed to instill chaos into our lives.

I didn’t want my daughter to wait at the airport into the night. Another image – that of my daughter being beaten up on the bus by a grown woman just because she spoke Arabic on the phone – also came to my mind. Acts of violence on a racist basis have become rather the norm than the exception in Israel. I didn’t want to expose my daughter to unnecessary risks. This is my right as her mother. And nobody can take this right away from me.

I was asked to apologize, but I refused. I refuse to apologize for a decision that I made and for which I take full responsibility. It does hurt me that I didn’t get the opportunity to explain my decision. Looking back, I would have made the same decision again.

So if I am selfish by protecting my daughter, so be it. No, I can’t protect her forever from the conflict. She will get her share of it in due course. But for now, let her enjoy being a 15 year old as much as possible.

As for Maria, in her eyes I am still selfish. She hasn’t approached me since to demand an explanation. Maybe it’s convenient for her to think in a superficial black-and-white way in terms of me breaking a promise.

Many people who think they know everything there is to know about armed conflicts disregard the fact that the conflict is inherently connected to our everyday experiences. Every day, we have to make new decisions and negotiate our personal and private spaces according to the unfolding political reality. They refuse to see these connections, because then all their clean theories (anchored in a certain type of discourse that is not applicable to us) would collapse. They refuse to see, for example, that violation of women’s health rights are – in our case – connected to the conflict as well as to socio-economic issues. But this is for another post.

And lastly, you might wonder why I initially did agree that my daughter go to the airport. Well, for the very same reason. We do our best to live as much a normal life as possible in this insane, absurd reality.

2 June 2010

While I slept

While I Slept

I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together and write something cohesive – a glimpse from the inside. But I feel so overwhelmed by all the disinformation, secrecy and lies. Trying to piece together a complete picture out of the fragments. I started writing last night, and I actually spent three hours writing, getting all the information from the various Israeli and international media together – but at the end, it just didn’t make sense to me.

So I decided to share with you my own day. A day in the life of one feminist activist. The day of 31 May 2010.

As I suffer from insomnia, and I’m used to work at night, I spent the night of the 30th working all night, writing. Before shutting the Internet, I got a last update on the www.witnessgaza.com website, and everything was fine. They were on their way, supposed to arrive in Gaza in the afternoon of the 31st. Then I opened my “Life in Fragments – Novel in Progress” file and started writing. At 8:00 in the morning, I went to bed – without getting updated on the web before shutting the computer.

And while I slept….

I woke up at 14:00, and a quick glance at my phone told me something was wrong. More than 20 unanswered phone calls: from my partner who is currently in Sweden, from my dad, from my colleagues at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, from one of our Swedish donors located in Jerusalem, and other friends. My phone also informed me of 7 new text messages. Upon opening my email, I was shocked to discover 45 emails! And all this before drinking my two cups of “morning” coffee!

I got quickly updated from my feminist friends. An emergency meeting was held at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center (while I slept, but of course), and they formulated a statement of solidarity with the women activists on board the Peace Flotilla. I was also told that a solidarity demonstration is planned for 17:00 in front of the Rambam hospital in Haifa, where they were supposedly bringing some of the injured activists.

Now I have to share with you the implications of this location on demonstrators. Haifa is a mixed city, but with clear division between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods (like in most mixed cities in Israel). Traditionally, most of the demonstrations take place just above Wadi Nisnas, in the heart of the Arab neighborhood. On the one hand, it is not a hostile environment for us, while on the other hand it is still a quite central location, as we stand on a main junction where many cars pass – both Jewish and Arab. The chances of violence breaking out are not high.

Any other location in Haifa constitutes a threat and is a hostile environment for us. Why? Most of the Israeli public backs all government policies and military actions 100%. They see the demonstrators as traitors. The Palestinian citizens of Israel are seen as traitors and enemies, while the Jewish demonstrators are viewed as “ochrei Israel.”

Thus, the demonstrators face hostility from two sides: passersby and the police. The police are usually very brutal and violent – in most cases initiating the physical outbursts of violence.

Back to the events of the day. As I said, I got all the information before being able to start my brain working. So I didn’t think about the location of the demonstration. Usually I try to avoid demonstrations with potential violence. I quickly got updated on the brutal attack of unarmed peace activists bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza by Israeli commando in International waters – through different websites. The Israeli media was very vague. No official reports of the number of killed. Everything was engulfed in secrecy. There was a lot of disinformation. I don’t own a TV, but my dad told me that the running caption throughout the news was that five Arabs from Haifa were killed, and that their families have been informed of their deaths. Needless to say this turned out to be not true – but only later during the day. I was also told by someone that the ship carrying Haneen Zuabi was being towed into the Haifa Port, which is close to the Rambam hospital. This rumor also turned out to be not true.

While getting updated I had my three big cups of coffee, then took a shower, and headed for the first demonstration. I arrived a few minutes after 17:00, to find 4 or 5 women friends at the entrance to the hospital. We waited for more people to arrive and, after about 15 minutes, we were a total of 20 people, feminist women, both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a few men. At this time, I thought we really looked pathetic. I was still not thinking about any risks or possible violence. We got out our posters and situated ourselves on the big roundabout close to the hospital. A few minutes after this, about 10-12 young people, I would say they were between 15-18, with Israeli flags and posters in support of the Israeli Defence Forces, situated themselves on the other side of the street, right opposite to us.

Two journalists were there to cover the demonstration. Some minutes later a small number of men and women joined the right-wing demonstrators. One man was particularly violent. He came close to us and started screaming at us: “Do you know Arabs? Do you know Arabs? Show me one Arab who doesn’t want to kill us and destroy us and take over our land. All they want to do is kill us. They don’t want peace.” He continued like this for a while, I guess he didn’t think there were any Arab demonstrators. He actually hurled at me the “Do you know any Arabs.”

At this point there was still no police in sight, and I was beginning to be afraid. I just stood there in silence. I didn’t want to provoke any physical violence. Call me a coward. If courage means getting beaten up, then I refuse to be courageous. I don’t want to get beaten up. I don’t want to get arrested. I don’t need to brag that I spent the night being investigated. I don’t need or want a “badge of courage.”

After a while the police arrived. And I do have to say that unlike their usual behavior, they were actually nice to us this time. The demonstration went on.

We were called names and we were cursed. Some of the verbal violence included words and phrases like: prostitute, disgusting, stinking, you get fucked from your ass (I am really sorry for these obscenities, but these are the actual words we were subjected to).

My Mizrahi friend (Mizrahis are Jews originally from Arab countries) were called names and my Russian speaking friends were told to go back to Russia, because “who needs you here? We don’t need you here! Who told you to come here?” We were also told that if we love Arabs so much, we should and live in Gaza or go to Lebanon.

I can’t remember right now all the other name calling and cursing, but these words remain in my memory.

At 6:20 we dispersed, and we all went to the second demonstration, the one in the usual location in Haifa. This one was a much bigger demonstration, I would say there were several hundreds. This time, there was quite a big presence of religious men. The demonstration began at 19:00 and it went smooth until we left. We left earlier because we had a collective meeting that night at 20:00 in Isha L’Isha. At the collective, we went over the statement that was formulated in the emergency meeting and in email correspondences throughout the day and changed some of the wording until every woman present felt that the statement is in line with her convictions. Then we had our regular discussion of the issues on the agenda.

It was a long evening for me, with quite a lot of confusion. I arrived home after 22:00, and got online hoping to get some facts. Still, no facts. Still, the official bodies of the state of Israel were silent. Until now, we don’t know the names of the murdered. We don’t even know the exact number of the wounded and the murdered.

The last two days have been insane for us all.

I want to thank all the support we received from our feminist friends around the world – Australia, Philippines, Uganda, Canada, the US, and others. Thank you for forwarding our statement. It is so important for us to get the word out that there are feminist women in Israel – Jewish, Palestinian citizens of Israel, lesbian, bi-sexual and Russian women who are working together in solidarity for peace, fighting injustice.

At this moment, the last ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, is making its way to Gaza. They have received the full support of the Irish government at this stage. However, Israel claims that it will be better prepared in the future for these ships. They also say that they will take all the necessary measures to stop any ships in the future from entering the Gaza port. And I really hope that nothing will happen to the activists on board the MV Rachel Corrie as I shut my computer and head to sleep. Because I really don’t have the energies for another “while I slept.”

The above picture was taken by Marie Dion

1 June 2010

Statement of Isha L'Isha - Haifa Feminist Center

We, the women of Isha L'Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, express deep shock at the continuing and deteriorating consequences of the siege on Gaza. We express our solidarity with women peace activists who acted to break the inhuman siege on women, children and men; a siege that has been preventing basic human freedoms, health services and essential materials.

We extend our support to our sisters in the feminist movement, especially those who went out to exercise their right to protest against an outrageous injustice, and found themselves facing a military attack that was a result of a violent state policy.

We call on women and men in Israeli society to resist the assault on the most basic human values, and to join our call – the attack on the peace flotilla is an attack on me. The siege on Gaza endangers us all.

Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center is a multi-cultural feminist collective established in 1983. Our aim is to bring about social change by promoting values of equal rights and equal opportunities for all women; eradicating discrimination, violence and oppression of women; and fostering solidarity among women.

Isha L'Isha - Haifa Feminist Center
118 Arlozorov St. Haifa 33276 Israel
Tel: + 972 4 865 0977