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Going to Palestine. A unique experience for a right cause
by Silvia Cattori November 2003
Transl. from French by V.Itani

Please come to Palestine ; we need your help.
Please be here with us
Please be here for us

Taking off from Europe or Australia to land here, in this part of the world we think that we know all about but in reality, we know nothing of ; is not an easy task. It is the starting point of a reflection that will assuredly move you.

The pain of the Palestinians ,locked up in this rough jail that is Palestine, is inconceivable. They suffer atrociously. They imperatively need us by their side.

Left off by the international community to the slaughters of the army and the settlers 'violence who are widely influenced by the fanatic Israeli government: the Likoud ; the Palestinians turned to the international civilian community with the hope that a wide mobilisation could help them come out of their isolation.

Let's not leave them out to the barbarity of the Israeli. Our moral duty is to protect them.

The Palestinians are afraid: terrified to be left out to the mercy of this racist state that is Israel. A state leaded by criminals of war ,like Sharon, Mofaz, Yaalon .The Palestinians are all the more anxious as the United states have refused the UN to send an interposition force. In other words, it means that the Israeli can go on killing Palestinians with no imputation whatsoever . Their fear grew as the Anglo-American war against Iraq - a war strongly wanted by Israel- concretised.

We are loosing time. We can not wait any longer for Israel or The United-states to do justice to the victims of their imperial politic. Any day that passes by, Palestinians loose men and lands over to Israel.

Separated actions that have been taken until now, are not enough .In 50 years of isolated solidarity, we did not succeed in preventing Israel from setting up its politic of Apartheid nor could we hinder its expansion.

Intimately share a terrifying daily life

Going to Palestine, 2 or 3 weeks or even 3 months; to try, with the Palestinians NGO, to prevent the Israeli army from murdering innocents, destroying dwellings, deporting countrymen , ruining cultivated lands; is the most needed solidarity.
We must go there without hesitation.

The reward we get is not only the generous hospitality of the Palestinians or another approach of a new world; but it is far more a deep reflection about our inner side that we need in order to progress as men and women.

Going massively to Palestine is a task that can not be taken lightly: the country is cross ruled by the world most dreadful army . The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) (1) is a Palestinian non Governmental Organisation that works with other NGOs.
The ISM guides and trains the newly arrived for 2 days to the application of the non violent resistance, etc.

The ISM needs all the men and women with a sense of justice, ready to get involved on the ground, in order to ensure a massive and constant presence wherever the Israeli army threaten civilians.
In 2 years time, thousands of volunteers went to Palestine; but many more were needed.
Nevertheless, for the victims of this heinous crushing machine that is Israel, it was much better than nothing.
The inhabitants of Jenin, Naplouze, cried in gratitude when , in April 2002, men and women finally came to them after the dreadful massacres and caging up had taken place.

The BBC describes them as Human Rights Activists, their heart is set on filling in the emptiness left by the international community, to take on humanitarian actions and assist the Palestinians in their civilian disobedience against the abuses of the occupying force.
Very quickly , the activists who filmed, recorded all that they witnessed, gained the sympathy of the population.

Pursued, injured, arrested, deported by the Israelis that does not want any witness; they never gave up and go on denouncing the evictions of the population, the destruction of their homes that the construction of the wall generates.
Israel desperately tried to shut them down but in doing that , they only reinforce their determination.
After the atrocious death of Rachel Corrie - who was crushed down by a military Israeli bulldozer -The movement did not stop growing. The families of the 3 ISM members that Israel badly injured and killed , immediately joined in to continue the fight lead by their children, convinced that the cause they were fighting for was a just one.

A moving human experience

Going to Palestine is a direct way of saying no to the illegal occupation, of refusing the apartheid, of rejecting children 's murders, of resisting the state 's terrors…
One does need to be escorted by international politic professionals or by an association.

One does need to have diplomas or wealth. One does need to be young or adventurer : Anyone of us , whatever the skills and qualifications is able help : wanting justice and being able to open up to others in the respect of the traditions is far enough.

Whatever our nationality and religion, we can and must unite to express ,any way we can, to the most dreadful army, that nothing can prevent justice and freedom from winning over.

The Hamas ,the Fatah or the Jihad's resistance are not the genuine threat for Israel, nor are these children killing themselves in Tel Aviv : but it is Israel itself that is the cause of all the Troubles.
With its arsenal, the collective punishments that it continuously inflicts on the Palestinian people, Israel knowingly generates the process of violence - repression.

Tamar ' sister -a 19 years old Jewish girl killed in an attack in Jerusalem - was not mistaking on who the real enemy was , when she yelled her rage to General Mofaz, coming to present his condolences: " you only have violence and slaughters to offer us. What else did you do in all these years apart from killing civilians? You were the Chief-of-Staff, and now our defence minister, What else did you bring us? You killed my sister and you are an accomplice…"

And that is were the real problem is: The Israeli do not want peace. They want to gain time, they want to expend their settlements and to succeed; they need to destroy the Palestinians.

Those barrackslike settlements lay enthroned in the middle of Palestinian lands and since 1967, swallow up bit by bits; the human history's most beautiful sites. They only stir up hatred and endanger lives of the Palestinians.

How to actually help the Palestinians in their desperate search for justice

They are different ways of helping the Palestinians. But as we said before the first one, is to encourage people to get to Palestine to fill the emptiness caused by the inaction of the international community - except for the UNWRA-.(2)

The second way of helping them ,is - we will never say it enough - to engage with the media that dis-inform us. How? By incessantly sending e-mails of protest to the dishonest journalists and demand well balanced and fair information. By boycotting newspapers as long as they do not answer to our need of impartiality.

If we do not go on with this battle and win it; people will go on being the victims of their mortal trickery : they enable Israel to go on with its never ending and growing violence.

The third way of helping - but not the last- is to send protest e-mails to the governments main leaders each time Israel violates the human rights ; to demand a formal and public condemnation . We must go on putting pressure on them until they force Israel to respect the international laws.

Many of you, in the Arab Muslim side are telling me about the love you have for Palestine and you describe to me the pain you endure of being unable to help your Palestinian brothers because Israel forbids you to get in the country.

I can easily understand your frustration, nevertheless you can be of great help outside Palestine: by going to the refugee camps in Lebanon for example. Those are places where anguish is the daily bread of the inhabitants: Palestinians in great numbers have been waiting for our recognition for over a quarter of a century.

Going there is not only important for us to get a clearer understanding of the situation, but it allows us to get to a more human sensation of this tragedy: a vision based on a real understanding of the "other" and its complexity, and not on a cold simple and caricatured view the media give us.

The situation is serious. If we really want to help our brothers and sisters of Palestine to get as soon as possible the cessation of the assassinations , the withdrawal of the military , the end of the apartheid to rebuild a state where they could live in dignity : we must be twice as inventive as we are now , we must invest in cultural and political projects, we must open up, whatever our differences, to new ways of solidarity .

Our duty is to convince all publics that Israel is a colonial state which politics is based on ethnic purge and lies , a wanted state that every day violates the international laws, and that states like it must be condemned as long as they maintain such politic.

For that we need to go on giving more conferences, exhibit more pictures, broadcast even more films ,etc…

We, as ordinary citizens, have the duty of filling the gap left by the political forces. We need to put even more pressure on them and express our indignation each time they keep silent about the violation of the Palestinians' basic rights.

Strangely enough, political parties and associations did not react to Israel's extra judiciary executions .

During all these years, we did not hear anyone ; not from the political right parties nor the left, rising publicly against Israel 's many "targeted killings". Leaders of the Palestinian resistance have been murdered: Palestinians have as much right as any other people to resist to occupation . What they ask for , that is freedom , should be in the heart of any claim for justice. These " terrorists" that Israel assassinates are human beings, not animals. They are resistants that gained the trust and the love of their people. They deserve our respect and our support.

Associations, political parties , supporters of Human Rights should systematically denounce these murders; they should explain to the public who really are those fathers, those heroics sons who have been giving their lives for over half a century to get their rights re established. They should honour and give justice to these patriots victims of Israel barbarism.

Their right to militarily defend themselves against military occupation has to be recognised.

Violence under state control is much more serious than violence committed by groups under no state control. Palestinians are fighting lawfully.

The real guilty part has to be pointed at for justice to come out and the suffering of this people who are in an uneven situation be revealed.

When Israel claims that it is "eradicating" (sic) terrorists; it is in fact, murdering civilians.

In November 2002, in Jenin, they killed a man as gentle as Ian Hook, because he was imploring the soldiers to not shoot at children .They assassinated and savagely injured thousands of children: this must never be forgotten.

One must go in Palestine with humility. One must go in Palestine unprejudiced, full of generosity and tolerance .One should really be prepared and it should be done carefully with the Palestinians ( their site is a good source of information).

The managers of the ISM are trustworthy. They have the enthusiasm and the honesty of truthful activists and clearly understand the needs of the people who we, internationals, come to help and support.

There are associations that set up so called missions or projects from Switzerland or France with representatives of the Palestinian authority - with whom the majority of its people has been disagreeing for over 10 years - , with other associations based in Israel or Jerusalem and therefore are not under occupation and are less endangered : that is diminishing the hopes and wills of a suffering community that deserve to handle its own destiny.

The kind of solidarity that has been manifested up to now , was not profitable to them in the whole : Money did not always end up where it should have and it brought up injustice and corrupted some very good men. It is a fact; a lot of money has been issued by a huge number of some kind of "apprentice sorcerers".

Discovering…witnessing…Going through this land that the brutality of the Israeli soldiers completely harried; you will quickly understand that Palestine bears on its own , the injustice and cowardice of the rest of the world. Everything is upsetting. Starting with biblical landscapes that you can not gaze at serenely: thinking of those thousands of Palestinians and olive trees crushed out by Israel to build up settlements, ethnic separation walls, jails or military camps. But when rage seizes you ; keep bearing in mind that you did not go to Palestine to take the side of one part or the other :but because for you ;the respect of the international rights is the only way.

Not everyone can get in

One morning in April, I landed in Ben Gourion airport in Tel Aviv. I was asked to wait on the side while others were going straight ahead to the exit doors. I was interrogated by the customs officers, looked at with suspicion, driven from desk to desk. They went through all my things, and I understood that there, nothing is free, nothing smiles to you, nothing is like anywhere else.

I was hardly bearing the arrogance of these young officers, but I did not show it . I knew that the fact of them knowing anyone could secretly want to get to Palestine makes the crazy.

At one point, 2 Police women came up to me, not convinced that I could have come to there for the beaches or for religious reasons. One kept asking , the other kept watching me. Then , they went to discuss the matter :if they agree on the fact that you are lying ,you will go through another questioning.

The only thing to do is watch them right in the eye, feel confident , do not modify your answers and not be surprised if they ask 30 times the same question: seams as if it was for them , the right thing to do " for their security".

It is a difficult task , but Palestine being the objective, gives you the strength to overcome the hardship .

Of course, the fear of being thrown out of the country is present as you are driven from office to office . Was it this page of your passport with the entry visa to Morocco that is the problem? It is absurd .Very fast, you understand that religion takes over everything: If you are not Israeli , if you are not Jewish , if you do not have any family member or Jewish friend : you can be an enemy ; you belong to an "under race"….They can humiliate you, brutalise you, arrest you, throw you out of this Country under ethnic purification. There is no other no choice but to go through it to get to Palestine... If other countries had in mind to treat their visitors the same way , it would raise a general outcry! Is it the fear of being called an Anti - Semite by those extremists that scrutinise all what is said by the media and that makes everyone deaden their openly racist behaviour ?

Israel behave with the non Jewish visitors with an inconceivable arrogance and no journalist ever mentioned the subject as it should have been done: it's incredible !

I had nothing to hide . They just wanted to show me their superiority. I had to keep my head low and they did not find a thing that could justify a refusal of entry.

When I finally left the control area and passed the exit door , I was relieved: I could at last get to Palestine : It was like having taken out a victory! But other volunteers was not as lucky as me and had been locked up a few days before to be taken manu militari in the first plane.

Palestine is a puzzle and the Palestinians have lost all the pieces.

The real Palestine only exist in the memory of those who never put away the idea of going back to where they had been chased out. Palestine is there, bitter, poignant, hurt, bearing its beauty ,bearing the silence : you are moved , you are upset , you are bound.

To say the truth; Palestinians are dreamers : Their only dream is to see the end of the Israeli occupation. This dream ended with Sharon taking up the head of the government and the expansion of the settlements.. Israel possess 78% of the Palestinian territory. Palestinians indulge themselves with the 22% left. Soon as racial walls are narrowing faster and faster; they will have 10% of their old territory left. And between those walls; it's apartheid , racial segregation , Bantoustans.

Everything here is bewildering! Wherever you go , you are confused and never know in which of the A , B , or C zone you stand.

But one thing is certain; where there are wire fences , savagely lacerated hills; there are armed settlers stealing lands and bustling about.

Split into tiny plots , with plenty of aggressive settlements overhanging : Palestine has no continuity , no precise border. It is unbelievable ; Palestinians of Gaza are not allowed to go to the West bank or to Jerusalem, not to mention these livestock corridors called check - points made only to humiliate and degrade ,as the road blocks are ( roads going around Palestine lands for Jewish settlers only ).

Going from one place to another in Palestine is very difficult. The one who does not have the green card or the orange card can not get anywhere : It is the way the racist state of Israel , from one check - point to another, makes sure the identity of the Palestinians is degraded. Without any jurisdictional authorisation , the soldier will decide if you will take the road or go to jail. And the people queuing are not asking for the moon; there are labourers , workers getting to work , students going to school : without arguing they will let the soldiers knock them about. You look at them with love ; they give you a sad glance back that moves you deep inside. You are upset of course because you are not able to take them away from these barbarian's hands, but it is better to be there than not to be.

The soldiers who decide of the life and the death of the Palestinians just turned 18 for the majority. Among them their are brutes wearing the kippa.

Give back to Cesar…

The Arabs are violent , the Palestinians have a savage nature, Israeli are threatened by the Arabs who only want to drown them in the sea : that is all we hear on the Israeli side.

Today even children could easily understand that these merciless colonisers are regularly throwing the Arabs " to the sea". But the truth takes a very long time to be spread out.

Palestinians are peaceful people who love life. Peace , true friendship , dialogue is natural and fundamental. Violence , despair , death , racism are not their natural bents and do not belong to their culture. Their whole history is marked by peaceful resistance that Israel repressed with blood. A striking example is the first intifada. Israel sent battalions of reservists escorted by ranks of tanks to kill with real bullets children with catapults.Some of those children , who grew up in the military occupation's violence, are the young men who have been committing the attacks that we have witnessing for the past few years.

We have to say it out loud ; Palestinians came down to resist with bare hands to an army which destructive means and murderous ability have no limit. They are not fighting for ethnic reasons but to get their freedom back. What is "terrorist" in Palestine is but only the terror organised by the state of Israel. Whereas Palestinian recognised the Israeli state, the latest - how arrogant -never recognised the right for the Palestinians to live.

What appears at the end , and it is not insignificant, is that the Palestinians have, like all the innocent victims, the right , the justice, the beauty on their side. The Israeli, despotic as they can be , definitely lost what is important: that is dignity.

And that to preserve theirs that the Palestinians resist the oppression…we must not deceive them, nor hurt them.

Nota bene:
You have expressed your will to go to Palestine after having read this text in its 2002 version. That is why I have decided to write down a new version this year.

Silvia Cattori
Swiss independent journalist
Silviacattori@yahoo.it Notes:

(1) Quick historical recall:

The ISM - a NGO founded by Ghassan ANDONI; teacher of physics at the university of Beit Zeit -, was set up in response to the Israeli army 's growing exaction in Palestine. The idea of Ghassan ANDONI was that the Palestinians must not be left without witnesses. In the beginning of 2001, a terrible year had ended and Palestine was in agony: people remember the numerous episodes when Israeli soldiers pulled down hundreds of houses, crushed down hundreds of young Palestinians and the consequences on health , employment, education and people 's daily life was beyond calculation. Seven long years after Oslo's agreements, the anguish was growing. What did they receive in return ? Israel did not give them a thing and on the contrary ,the Oslo treaty helped Israel sweep away the Palestinian authority and assassinate the leaders of the resistance. All the ingredients were there to help foresee the worst. The frustration of the Palestinians was at its peak as mush against the Israeli occupant which was reinforcing its repression process , tightening its apartheid regime and going on with the settlements; as the Palestinian authority who , compromise after compromise with Israel leaded the people to a dead-end. The population 's spirits was at the lowest: people were disappointed from Arafat who , after he had disarmed its people ; left them to the mercy of the Shabak. His mistakes and betrayals made the people distressed and agitated.

Of course for the Israeli , they were getting what they were waiting for: the split among the Palestinians only to bestow their tyranny , smash everybody and everything in a bloody flood and take away any hope of peace . This strategy has always been of great profit for the Israeli.

Ghassan ANDONI by setting up the base of a non violent but active movement, wanted to square the conflict as well as give hope to growing despair. It is in this depressing context that hundreds of international volunteers , moved by the suffering of the Palestinians, arrived in Palestine to support the actions of the ISM. They expressed a new reality : men and

women 's-of all ages, all political views, all nationalities - ability to assert their authority as witnesses and whose quality of their testimony can not be denied.

The activists of the ISM - mostly Americans, British, Danish, Swedish and Irish , proved that they were able to share their experience. Their originality is that they live among with the population , are exactly where the Israeli army is, immediately inform the media of the violation of the human rights they witness, remind the soldiers that one day they will have to justify the crimes they commit.

During the long months of the unilateral war started by the government Sharon - Peres, the Palestinians under siege saw in the arrival of these civilian volunteers , a real opportunity.

For the internationals, meeting for the first time a population so welcoming, magnificent in despair, dignified in fear ;was a human experience , it was very harsh but so moving.

This enriching experience that they shared, gave a new orientation , another meaning to their life and they were able back home, to talk about the injustice they witnessed, thus add another link to the unbreakable chain of solidarity ,thanks to all these human beings that never miss to take up the torch…

I am convinced today more than ever that this movement that does not take position in the internal conflict, but is actually involved for the needy, the most persecuted by Israel to spread a message of love ; is essential and I am certain that we will hear about it more and more.

A movement that can overcome Israel and give hope to all the oppressed populations, if we give it a chance…

(2) These institutions did not fulfil their duty to assist a population in danger: they bent in cowardice to the interdiction of Israel to enter in their military controlled zones in Palestine and left many victims of the Israeli violence without help.

Only CIA agents and US soldiers are allowed to get in the numerous towns and villages called military restricted areas. The Palestinian case was for them a urban guerrillas training to apply the methods in Iraq - a war that was planned a long ago. Palestine was the perfect training camp to train on the methods of man- hunt and the so called house to house raking ...
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