Report by Tarak Kauff
Team Members: Ellen Davidson, Ray McGovern, Miko Peled, Chris Smiley, Matt Hoh, Mike Hanes, Ken Mayers, Will Griffin, Tarak Kauff
What did we learn/experience?
We met with popular resistance leaders, some who have an international following, like Iyad Burnat from Bil’in, whose sons have been shot by the IDF (please look at that link); Munther Amira from the Aida Refugee Camp; activist and writer Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh from the Palestinian Museum of Natural History; Issa Amro from Youth Against Settlements in Hebron. We had a great lunch meeting with Jeff Halper, the brilliant founder of ICAHD; spent an afternoon and were fed sumptuously by Aziz Al-Toury in Al Araqib (a village in the Negev that has been demolished 110 times, including right after we were there); we visited our friends Manar Wahhab and Milad Vosgueritchian of the Vision Association for Culture and the Arts; and we stayed two nights with Bassem Al Tamini, from Nabi Saleh and met with some incredible woman leaders from Nabi Saleh (this link is amazing) – all the popular resistance leaders are doing everything possible to empower women and women are in the forefront and leading many of the struggles.
The days were packed with more experiences than I can remember, one of the most profound was our visit to the Tent of Nations, arranged by Ray McGovern who had been there 11 years ago. It is an amazing educational and environmentally sustainable family farm surrounded by settlements in the West Bank. We received a talk from one of the brothers who runs the place on their concept and use of nonviolence principles that was, for all of us, like a graduate course in nonviolence. Chris Smiley filmed it and it will be transcribed and printed in PIOT.
We participated in protest actions in Bil’in, Nabi Salah and Hebron, getting tear gassed and having tear gas canisters fired at our heads in Hebron and being physically attacked by settlers in Nabi Salah. It was a good thing all our team, including three Marines and two paratroopers are well trained in nonviolence.
After the tear gas at Hebron, talking to the soldiers, telling them to put their weapons down (Ellen Davidson photo)
Many of these leaders mentioned are people we also met on our previous delegation in 2013. Some have stayed with Ellen and me when they were in the U.S. on speaking tours and Ellen coordinated events for them in Woodstock and NYC.
This repeated contact helps cement strong ties of solidarity and shows VFP’s commitment to supporting the Palestinian struggle, which is greatly appreciated.
We were taken to the Knesset by Miko, who was invaluable in many ways, and met there his friends, Palestinian members of the Knesset, Ahmed Tibi, who may some day be Prime Minister of the country, Haneen Zoaby, a Palestinian woman member of the Knesset, a true revolutionary in the most profound sense, perhaps the most charismatic person we interacted with on the entire trip, among many notable people. She is so feared by the Israelis that they are trying to muster a vote of 90 to throw her out of the Knesset.
We experienced and participated in great examples of courage in nonviolent resistance and sumud – a Palestinian term for steadfastness, never-ending perseverance. We saw great resiliency, solidarity and creativity in the Palestinian resistance to the daily horrors of the occupation and the settlements – settlements that steal their land, water and resources. And armed settlers who and angry and violent.
We also met and spent some time with two former IDF soldiers, Yonatan and Itamar Shapira, co-founders of Combatants for Peace and passengers onThe Jewish Boat to Gaza (the link is about that story). We deepened our already long-time friendship and relationship with them. Unfortunately, things did not work out for a formal meeting with Combatants for Peace this trip, but they are eager to continue their ties with us and we will try again next time.
We experienced the great warmth and hospitality of the Palestinians as contrasted with the rather cold, aloof and arrogant general nature of Israelis, not to mention racist, both institutional in terms of an apartheid state system and personally from individuals. Trump is popular among the Israelis.
In general, everyone’s knowledge and commitment to peace in the Middle East, especially Palestine was deepened and strengthened. The members who had never been to Palestine got a crash course in the history and current reality of the occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people, and those of us who had been previously widened and reinforced our knowledge of the situation.
We also learned that having film and social media people, like Chris Smiley, Ellen Davidson and Will Griffin in the delegation is essential.
And while we were lucky this time, next year we would like to have a trained medic along. I think every member of the delegation can also vouch strongly for the necessity of carefully picked, reliable VFP members in good physical and emotional condition who can face and handle stress well together.
Each member of the delegation is someone who now has direct in-depth experience and as such is a more powerful force for peace.
What is the follow-up plan?
Delegation members have already written articles, see Matt Hoh’s great piece on Mondoweiss, Ellen’s reports with photos have been circulated widely, Ray McGovern has been on KPFA radio (starts at 22:00) speaking about the VFP delegation to Palestine. Will Griffin has also been on the radio and will be on again. He also features a video from the protest in Hebron on his Peace Report and has had over 25K visitors to the site. Ken Mayers has written a great piece on Sumud Inside and Out.
All members of the delegation can now speak with more authority on the issue from first hand experience, and with more emphasis on the negative effect on peace of U.S. aid to Israel. We will have additional photos and stories in PIOT.
Miko Peled, an internationally respected speaker and writer on Palestine/Israel and another member of our advisory board, will never forget this experience and the same goes for the entire team. There was a bond formed of deep respect and love between all of us that must be like the bond formed during combat but perhaps deeper in the sense of a shared, eyes wide open, and very real commitment to justice.
All the members will give public presentations including slides and videos, Chris Smiley, a filmmaker, will be editing countless hours of truly amazing footage into a movie, maybe more than one. We hope to have something by August.
We will probably return to Palestine next year again (there is nothing like it) and I hope to form a second carefully picked squad of 7-8 members, that number is optimum. I would like to see us expand to two teams next year.
Was there interest in VFP chapter forming?
We did bring this up with Yonatan and Itamar but even though they recognized the value (or at least did not disagree), the time does not seem ripe. That said, VFP is becoming better known as a solid anti-Zionist organization with people who are willing to put themself on the line for the Palestinian cause and so we are gaining the respect and trust of many. I would not rush the process.