A Simple Journey

The final installment of Jane Harries’ blog series concerning her recent visit to  Israel and Palestine. 

Beitar Illit the largest city in Gush Etzion

Beitar Illit: the largest city in Gush Etzion

Friday 14th July.  On the face of it we had a very easy journey to make.  Firstly we would visit R., an Israeli (originally from the US) living in the Gush Etzion settlement and an Alternatives to Violence Project(AVP) facilitator to discuss how she might like to develop AVP workshops in the future.  We would then cross over the Israeli-controlled Route 60 to visit the Palestinian grassroots leader Ali Abu Awad in his compound before returning to Bethlehem.  All these places are within a few kilometres of one another.  The difficulties we had getting from one place to another highlights the complexities of negotiating human encounters in a land characterised by segregation and military occupation.

 

Our journey began when we picked up a taxi from Manger Square in Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territories.   When we told our driver that we wanted to go to the Gush Etzion settlement, he was already nervous, and explained to us that he could only take us to the Junction, but wasn’t allowed into the settlement itself.  We explained that we knew this, and that we would be met by a friend from the settlement.  As we set off our driver told us that there had been army incursions into Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem that night, and that a resident had been killed.  This was causing a lot of delays at checkpoints.  Armed with this knowledge, he did what Palestinians are used to doing all the time: he found a way round that avoided the checkpoints.  So much for security, we mused…..

We were dropped off near to the Gush Etzion Junction on Route 60, not far from a settler-only bus stop.  Here there was a group of armed soldiers, who were initially wary of our group: five Westerners – strangers – all with ruck-sacks.  (The Gush Etzion Junction has seen a number of violent incidents over the years, including as recently as November 2015).  We soon got into conversation, however, even if this was at quite a superficial level, and one of them showed interest in what we were doing on the West Bank and Israel, supporting people to deal with conflict better.

We were picked up by R. and taken to her house.  Gush Etzion has an interesting if controversial history.   It is in truth a cluster of settlements comprising at least 70,000 people.  The core of the settlement block is the site of what were four agricultural villages, established between 1940 and 1947 on land purchased in the 1920s and 30s.  These villages were destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and then left outside of Israel at the 1949 Armistice.  After the 1967 Six-day War and the occupation of the West Bank, the villages were rebuilt and reclaimed by Israeli settlers.  The extent of the present settlement, however, far exceeds the original site, taking in swathes of privately-owned Palestinian land.  Israeli settlements on the West Bank are regarded as illegal under International Humanitarian Law (Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and by most of the international community.

I was surprised by how small R’s house is, and found myself wondering how it must feel to live in this gated community, constantly guarded by soldiers and with the knowledge that the legality of one’s existence in this place is disputed by international law.  How could one feel comfortable in one’s skin?  We didn’t go into this, although the elephant in the room remained (for me) during the whole of our conversation.  We sat at the table in their small kitchen drinking coffee whilst preparations were taking place for Shabbat – a lot of chopping and putting things into large cooking pots and the preparation of dough, which R’s small son delighted in and tried to share with us in small balls.  R. shared with us that she had been involved in the organisation Kids4Peace which aims to promote integration and understanding between Palestinian and Israeli children through summer camps, but that she had left because she didn’t feel that the interests and concerns of Israeli Jews and Palestinians were treated equally.  She also expressed interest in developing AVP work in hospitals.

I have no doubt that R. is sincere and really wants to use her knowledge and experience of AVP in some way that will be beneficial to society.  At the same time, this visit raised many dilemmas for me. How can we resolve conflict without looking honestly at its root causes?  R. and her small family – like many others in Gush Etzion I presume – have now put down roots in this place and feel that they belong, but at what cost to others?  If injustice and inequality aren’t addressed, what hope is there for a real and lasting peace?  How can this happen if the two communities never come together, ready to really hear one another’s experiences, deepest feelings and aspirations?  How can it happen without a political solution?  As we re-crossed the busy Route 60 and headed towards Ali Abu Awad’s compound on the other side, all these questions were rankling in my head.

I assure him that it’s perfectly safe, but how can I convince him?  The whole of his upbringing and training as a soldier tells him differently.

Ali isn’t at home.  After a phone call we find that he has gone to a family wedding, so we now face the journey back to Bethlehem in the midday heat. Back out on Route 60 we come across another settler bus stop on the other side of the road.  We know there is no point waiting there to get back to Bethlehem – so close and yet on the other side of the political divide.  A soldier approaches us and asks where we want to get to.  We explain that we want to return to our hotel in Bethlehem.  ‘I wouldn’t go there’, he says ironically, his gun poised ready for potential use: ‘it’s not safe’.  I assure him that it’s perfectly safe, but how can I convince him?  The whole of his upbringing and training as a soldier tells him differently.

Route 60, with Gush Etzion in the background

Route 60, with Gush Etzion in the background

We trudge on a little up the slope and start hitch-hiking, looking out for the cars with green Palestinian number plates.  We have only been there a short time when a rather rickety car pulls up.  When we explain where we want to go, we are immediately invited in.  We pile in and – squashed up together – feel relieved to be in a welcoming space.  During the journey the driver tells us of some of his experiences – familiar stories of hardship and injustice.  He drops us not just anywhere, but right on Manger Square, yards from our hotel.  True, it may not be safe on the West Bank: one might just suffer from too much generosity.

Jane’s own blog can be accessed here.

The News that Everyone Ignores

In the penultimate installment of her series, Jane Harries offers first hand account to counter the media’s association of East Jerusalem with violent mass movement.   

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City

Tensions around the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem had already reached a critical point whilst we were in the area.  On 14th July two Israeli police officers were killed at the holy site by three Israeli Arab gunmen, who later died in a shootout.  But it was the reaction of the Israeli authorities to this event which really sparked off mass protests, in particular the installation of metal detectors around the entrance to the site.  Palestinian worshippers refused to go through the detectors, and instead chose to pray en masse in the streets around the compound.

Although this was reported on the news here in the UK, there was little if no attempt to explain the significance of these events or the sensibilities surrounding them.  In fact the snippets of news I heard on my return were astounding in their shallowness and by the fact that they were misleading – be this unwitting or otherwise.  There was talk about ‘violent protests by Palestinians’ and ‘security’.  UK citizens, well acquainted with the language and dialogue used around terrorist attacks, could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that Palestinians are largely violent, whilst the Israelis have legitimate security concerns.  Whilst not wishing to deny either that individual acts of violence happen on both sides and need to be condemned or that there are some security concerns in the area, I would like to offer a more in-depth analysis, backed up by reports of what really happened.

The old city of Jerusalem is of importance to all three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam because of the religious sites which stand within its walls, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa mosque.   The Dome of the Rock or the Temple Mount on which the Al-Aqsa mosque stands is particularly sensitive: tradition has it that it is from this place that Mohammed ascended into heaven.  At the same time Jews believe that this is the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.  The site is also sacred for Jews as this is the presumed location of both the first and the second Temples, the Western Wall being all that remains of the latter.  Some Jews believe that more remains of the two Temples are to be found under the Dome of the Rock and archaeological excavations are ongoing, provoking fears among Muslims that the very foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque could be threatened.  This site is therefore in a way a microcosm of the larger Israeli- Palestinian conflict, in that it is in essence about ownership and the importance of the same piece of land to different religions and populations.  Sensitivities around the Temple Mount also need to be understood as part of the wider political context.  East Jerusalem, previously under the jurisdiction of Jordan, was occupied by Israel in 1967.  Palestinians regard it as occupied territory (as do the UN) and the potential capital of a future Palestinian state, whereas for Zionists Jerusalem is the potential capital of a future Jewish-only state.

In practical terms an uneasy status quo is held in place between the Israeli authorities, who control security around the site and the Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem Waqf who control what happens at the site itself.  (In Islamic law, a person may decide to donate a property and its revenues to the public for charitable or religious purposes. This property then becomes a waqf, or holding, in perpetuity). In a region where religion is of the utmost importance and where rival claims to land are so bound up with identity, it is of vital importance that the delicate balance between the Israeli authorities and the Waqf remains undisturbed.  Evidence of what can ensue if this happens can be seen from recent history: the Second Intifada was sparked off by a visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000.

The main element that the media missed, however, was the overwhelming non-violent nature of the mass protests in East Jerusalem.  Despite calls from the Palestinian leadership for a ‘day of rage’ worshippers gathered each day for mass prayers at the security cordons around the Old City, and maintained calm and dignity.  There was very little violence.  Another element that was barely commented on was the fact that Palestinian Christians joined in the mass protests, showing solidarity across religious divides.  This is a reality that belies a narrative that would have us believe that the conflict in the region is in essence a religious one, between Jews and Muslims.  Although religion plays an important role in the region, the crux of the conflict is in fact about the dominance of one society over another, about sovereignty, identity and human rights.

East Jerusalem has once again fallen out of the world news, and no doubt an uneasy status quo has been re-established since the removal of the metal detectors leading to the al-Aqsa mosque.  However, the central imbalance and injustice between Palestinian and Israeli society remains, meaning that peace is at best precarious.

Worshippers gathered at the Lions Gate, at the entrance to the Old City- overseen by security forces.

The devout gather at the Lions Gate- whilst overseen by security forces.

The violence paradox

It is a fact that the world is less and less violent. So why do we have the feeling that the world is more and more violent, when it is more and more secure?

By Mailys

I. The decline of violence

A. The decline of homicides

The common method to measure violence is to look at the homicide rate- war, murder etc. If you look at the homicide rate over a very, very long period of time, there is a clear trend: a steady decline. This is the observation reached by the economist Max Roser who, in studying the evidence of homicides on the skeletons of 26 archaeological sites, calculated the following rates:

violence paradox

Let’s take the United States and Europe from 1900 to 1960 — during the period of the two World Wars, which together accounted for several tens of millions of deaths. Will this be higher or lower on the graph?

violence paradox graph

Despite their weapons of mass destruction and their world wars, when compared to prehistoric societies, Americans and Europeans of the 20th century seem almost like pacifists…

In tribal societies, where the state was almost non-existent, revenge and self-defence was enacted through  violence.  Gradually, as societies evolved, states built their authority by assuming what is called the monopoly of legitimate violence. It meant that only the state has the right to resort to physical violence .

In his book The Civilization of Morals (“La civilisation des moeurs” in French), sociologist Norbert Elias shows how this control of violence has been gradually internalised by
humans. This is what he called the pacification of manners. In the Middle Ages a knight could kill without remorse or even sometimes without being punished. Little by little, however, this violence has become less socially and legally acceptable. And it is a phenomenon that translates in the figures, as shown by Steven Pinker in his bestseller The Better Angels of our Nature:Better of our nature

If we zoom into the 20th century, the rate of homicides linked to wars is also rapidly declining. Since the end of the Second World War, there has been an unprecedented period of peace, when no great power has entered the war with another great power.

‘In 2016, one is 500 times less likely to die from a homicide than during prehistoric times.’

B. The decline of other violence

 

Delinquency (excluding homicides) is quite difficult to measure. This is because complaints or convictions are not very reliable indicators. For two reasons:

– Today, people complain more easily for facts that they would previously haven’t even talk about.
– The policy of governments changes according to the time (increase or decrease of the
forces of the order, tightening or softening judicial processes, etc.), which impacts the
number of complaints recorded.

Then to measure this evolution more reliably, we must turn to another tool: victimization surveys. The idea is to interview each year a representative sample of the population on the violence they have suffered in the past year.

The United States (National Crime Victimization Survey) and the United Kingdom (England and Wales Crime Survey) were the first to use these surveys. What we are seeing is that after an increase in violence in the 1970s and 1980s, violence has drastically fallen since the 1990s…

The fact that delinquency is going down has been studied extensively in the United States but not every scientist will totally agrees. There are a lot of factors that come into account such as:
– Increase in Police and Prison Population
– Ageing of the population
– Securing our property
– Development of contraception and legalization of abortion (thesis advanced in the bestseller Freakonomics; the legalization of abortion in the 1970s avoided the birth of unwanted children, who would have been raised in more family difficulties context and therefore potentially more likely to become criminals).

II. Why do we feel that the world is more and more dangerous?

A. Reduced tolerance to violence

When Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the precursors of sociology, visited the United States at the beginning of the 19th century, there was something he did not quite understand. Indeed, at the time, Americans lived in a much more egalitarian and democratic society than Europe.

And yet: they are all very worried about the future. Why?
Here is his analysis:

“In a society, the lower the inequalities, the more intolerable the
remaining inequalities become”

What is the link with violence? Because a lot of sociologists (like Laurent Mucchielli for
instance) say that it is the same with violence. In a global context of pacification and where violence declines, this decline of violence is accompanied by a decrease in tolerance towards violence …

In other words, paradoxically, the more violence is diminished, the more sensitive one is to residual forms of violence… and the less one feels safe. Today, we are much less victims of physical violence but we are much more exposed to violence than in the past (through the news, TV,…). The systematic emphasis of sensitives and violent subjects distorts our perception of the world.

For example, look at these images and ask yourself what do you think is most likely to kill you this year?

stats

B. Terrorism

On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked at home on their territory for the first time in their history.
Where terrorism is scary, it is also that it changes the nature of violence. Before, the violence was perpetrated according to what an individual possessed or did. Terrorism, on the other hand, targets identities: it aims at what one is … and as it is random, one has the impression that it could all touch us.

And yet —
In the UK, over the last 10 years there’s been 1.4 deaths due to terrorism – which, means
you’re more likely to be killed by dog, hot water (100 deaths per year) or using your
phone while driving (2,920 deaths per year).

Indeed, speaking outside Downing Street, Theresa May condemned the London’s attack-
when a group of three terrorists used a van and knives to kill seven and leave dozens more injured – stating that “enough is enough”. But despite this latest attack, relatively few people have been killed by terrorist attacks in the UK in recent years.

terrorism.png

In fact, there can be even more dangerous than terrorism: our reaction to the terrorist attacks.

 

“Terrorism makes relatively few casualties, does not damage the
enemy’s infrastructure, and yet it has maximum impact.” Noah Harari, La Stratégie de la mouche (The Fly Strategy) 

Because in fact, terrorism is like a fly attacking an elephant in a porcelain store. Its means are a little derisory but, if it does well, it can provoke a catastrophic reaction …
In fact, its impact depends less on the damage inflicted objectively than on the way in which people are reacting to it.

C. But why do the media talk so much about violence?

A journalist will never talk about trains arriving on time. They
want a story to tell.

And with our smartphones, we are increasingly exposed to medias, fake news and bad news. According to Mediametrie’s Media in Life study, with the appearance of smartphones, we are 30% more exposed to the media than 10 years ago, with more than 44 contact points per day.

D.Why this feeling of insecurity is dangerous

Because it is a risk of making the world really more violent. Indeed, by believing that our world is more and more violent, one could end up making it really more violent. I don’t known if you have realized, but after the last elections, these are the main leaders of the UN Security Council.hard line