Tag Archives: Beit Jala

Standing together, standing in one another’s shoes

IMG_20160605_234815For this first time (June 3, 2016) I’ve been able to participate in the monthly Palestinian-Israeli “Freedom March” held at “machsom haminharot,” an Israeli checkpoint on Route 60 to the south of Jerusalem, just by the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. The march is organized by a coalition, in which Combatants for Peace are a key partner, called “omdim beyachad” in Hebrew (standing together). The group has operated since an upsurge in violence in October 2015, offering a clear alternative to the usual pattern in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians each increase their antipathy to and fear of the other.

Being who I am, I had already seen video clips and photos of the event posted on social media, and was expecting the colourful cloud of balloons in the hands of the marchers when our bus from TDSC00067el Aviv arrived at the meeting point. The protest procession crossed the main road slowly, but did not block it, and amid the shouting of slogans and the displaying of placards, found shelter from the sun under the monumental concrete overhang of the separation barrier at this point.

DSC00079The protest ended with short speeches (translated into Hebrew and Arabic) by MK Aiman Oudeh, the charismatic leader of the Joint List, Leah Shakdiel, a long time feminist and social activist who represented the religious peace group Oz v’shalom, and representatives of Combatants for Peace. But I won’t talk today about the content of the speeches, the formulation of slogans (also translated and transliterated between Hebrew and Arabic), or even the ritual of releasing the balloons from under the concrete canopy into the freedom of the skies.

Instead, I want to focus on another part of the protest, the performance of a short scene in which Palestinians and Israelis role played soldiers and themselves in a typical encounter at a checkpoint, an encounter which involves verbal and physical violence, detention, constriction, humiliation, pushing people to the ground. The performance ends with a call for non-violence, to the applause of those who had gathered round the scene. An upper level of the walkway by the separation barrier served as a stage, and some but not all  of the demonstrators gathered together to watch – although it was difficult to hear. Yet, the point is not the production or acting quality of this performance.

DSC00094“Standing together” itself performs the vital political position of “refusing to be enemies” at a time of hightened tension, and in the context of a conflict to which no political resolution can be seen on the horizon. Combatants for Peace, along with other groups participating in the freedom march, such as the Bereaved Families Forum, and the Jewish-Arab parliamentary bloc Hadash, have performed this partnership, including acts of co-resistance, for years now. Combatants for Peace has also turned consistently to the “theatre of the oppressed” as a key element of its activities, often in more rehearsed ways and in settings in which the audience could participate more easily. They have documented some performances, and I have written about one I saw a few years ago.

In the setting of the demonstration the performance has particular significance. We can stand together, we can march together. But we can do so meaningfully better when we have learned to stand in the shoes of the other, whether through role play or dialogue or hearing each others’ stories. Combatants for Peace is a partnership if Israelis and Palestinians who have seen how their armed force and violence of the other feel from the point of the other. They stand together by seeing themselves from the other stands, When you have stood in the shoes of the other, and experienced with them what it’s like to commit or be subject to violence, then standing together just feels a whole better than standing against each other.


A Stony Field, An Olive Grove, An Iron Dome: Researching Peace in Israel/Palestine at a Time of War

[Click title above for video]

While researching images of peace produced and performed by Israeli activists, I found myself in a pastoral olive grove in Jayyous, in a stony field by Umm el-Arayes, then under an Iron Dome in Tel Aviv as another round of explosive violence erupted between Israel and Gaza. What peace was to be found in these sites? And which war was being fought?

This presentation is a reading that draws on my blogs (http://israelipeaceimages.com) and field notes from my research semester in Israel, fall 2012. It is not an academic analysis of my research material, but a personal reflection on some of my experiences and encounters. This presentation speaks to my motivation for and some of the challenges of undertaking such research. At some points I use ‘we’ to refer to Jewish Israelis, reflecting my own identification within my research context. The visual material you see includes my photographs, along with stills and video footage that activists groups circulate on social media, and other illustrative material.


The reading takes place across several scenes:

Scene 1 – Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Defense (Israel-Gaza War, November 2012)

Scene 2 – Iron Dome (Israeli missile defence system)

Scene 3 – Composing peace as a picture (Combatants for Peace demonstration by Beit Jala, West Bank)

Scene 4 – The Stony Field: Partnering in Justice (Ta’ayush activity at Umm el-Arayes, South Hebron Hills, and clip from Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer)

Scene 5 – Pastoral Peace: Olive harvesting in Jayyous (West Bank)

Scene 6 – Café in Tel Aviv (activist interview)

Scene 7 – This war here, that war there (clips from Waltz with Bashir and Towards a Common Archive: Video Testimonies of Zionist Fighters in 1948)

Scene 8 – What peace? (Imagination)

Composing peace as a picture

Combatants for Peace rally in Beit Jala

Peace-making is an art, an art that demands much skill, patience, a deep, empathetic understanding of the human material of which is peace is made, and willingness to try and fail many times before succeeding. The bi-national Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace practiced its art of peace-making in its rally against the “Pillar of Cloud” war on Saturday evening, 17thNovember 2012. The movement was started jointly in 2005 by Palestinians and

Israeli contingent marching to Beit Jala

Israelis, who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army and Palestinians as part of the armed struggle for Palestinian freedom. Not only have members of the group renounced violence in favour of dialogue and reconciliation, but they have also committed to working together, as former enemies, to achieve an end to the occupation and independence for Palestine alongside Israel.

Before the latest Gaza war broke out last week, Combatants were planning a remarkable event for that evening, a screening on the separation wall of Shelley Hermon’s documentary film, Within the Eye of the Storm. I blogged on another occasion about the Tel Aviv premier of that film. But to show a film about how two former fighters, bereaved by the violence of the occupation, came to be close friends on the very structure that embodies all the forces separating Israelis and Palestinians will be a deeply symbolic event. The war caused the postponement of the event, and in its place Combatants organized a joint demonstration calling for a cease fire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Organising such an event in short time is no easy feat. Israelis may not enter Area A of the West Bank, which is under full Palestinian Authority control, without a special permit, while the movement of Palestinians other than within the “islands” that Area A is composed of is restricted by the Israeli military. But a point was found in Beit Jala, by Bethlehem, that enabled access to the Israelis coming for the Tel and Jerusalem area as it is in Area C and which the Palestinian members of Combatants could also reach.

So, we marched separately, about 100 Israelis from where the buses dropped us off on a rural road on the outskirts of Beit Jala in the hilly countryside around Jerusalem, and about 100 Palestinians from within Beit Jala. With only a few onlookers, we Israelis (and others) chanted in Hebrew to those ancient hills: “The people demand a ceasefire,” and “War is a disaster, only peace is the solution.” But along the way, a little peace making had to be done. A couple of Palestinians saw the Israeli flag one member of the group was carrying, and signaled that it be taken down. The Israeli and Palestinian organisers had it seems agreed between themselves that an Israeli flag would be there, but not everyone present was happy with that, or knew about it. The Israeli flag is a symbol of occupation and oppression to Palestinians, not a symbol of Jewish freedom. But by the time we arrived at the meeting point, an acceptable arrangement was found: the two flags were held together. Yet, they were both dwarfed by a huge Palestinian flag being held by the youth across the road at which we met, a fabric affirmation that we were now in Palestine.

Short speeches were read out in Hebrew and Arabic, calling on both sides to cease fire, stop targeting and hurting civilians, stop the incitement, and reach immediately the same agreement that will be reached later in any case but after more casualties and pain. Then the chanting began again, the drummers got their rhythm going, and bodies began to move to it, relaxing the stiffness of two sides standing with placards, banners and flags. One Palestinian kid who was enjoying the rhythm was holding a placard with Netanyahu’s picture and the slogan “Peace refusenik”. Waltzing with Bibi. Maybe the bored Israeli soldiers standing in a line to stop us spilling over into other roads wanted to dance too. It was a Saturday night, after all.

One can’t say we all made peace with each other that day, or had a chance to make friends. The activists of Combatants in their grey tea shirts already knew each other, had worked together, consulting each other frequently to keep the event running as planned. But there we were together, Israelis and Palestinians, at a time of war when it is easiest to care only for one’s own pain and injured and dead, to use it as ground to hate the enemy, to demonize them, to believe that they don’t love their children as much as we do, or that they won’t stop until they’ve killed all of us. There we were, determined to find a place to insist together that the violence stop. But even before it stops, Combatants continue the painstaking work of making peace out of the ruins and desperation that the conflict and occupation have left. Last Saturday night, they another added another quick sketch to their portfolio. With much effort, many more helping hands, disagreements about flags and colours and exactly where to place lines, these sketches could become a tapestry of peace across those hills.