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Freedom Summer report back #2: From a Free Palestine Now! activist in Palestine

This is the second report back from Free Palestine Now! activist and Richmond resident Chris Lucas who is in occupied Palestine with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) for Freedom Summer 2003. More of his journal entires and pictures will be posted as soon as we recieve them. Stay tuned to the Free Palestine Now! website (www.studentorg.vcu.edu/fpn) for more updates and info.
This is the second report back from Free Palestine Now! activist and Richmond resident Chris Lucas who is in occupied Palestine with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) for Freedom Summer 2003. More of his journal entires and pictures will be posted as soon as we recieve them. Stay tuned to the Free Palestine Now! website (www.studentorg.vcu.edu/fpn) for more updates and info.
June 2nd
Attached are pictures from our meeting yesterday, Sunday 1 June with Jewish settlers/colonists in the settlement of Efrat, between Bethlehem & Hebron, but nearer to Bethlehem. This is apparently one of the largest W Bank settlements (you might want to check the validity of this, they didn't say this, a Jerusalemite Palestinian told me this). We were invited out by this settler, “Ari”. He has invited members from our group out before.

Efrat is a settlement of about 9,000 Jews. Driving into the settlement, you notice a lot different once you pass the soldier-manned checkpoint. The drive past Bethlehem shows an arid landscape, not quite desert, but there is not a lot of green, and very little land is cultivated. We passed a Palestinian shepherd in the field on the drive out.

There is a dramatic change of scenery once you enter the settlement of Efrat--a Richmond parallel would be driving through a vacated, desolate part of the East End or North side onto the grounds of moderately nice country club, not the hyperbole of the Country Club of VA, but a more meager, toned-down compound. Once you're in the settlement, there is grass, trees, shrubs, flowers. There is so much vegetation that you can't help but be amazed by the stark contrast to the land you had to drive through to get there. The difference borders the surreal. Now you're in a constructed suburbia. That is very much the image--you've driven into a very large, well planned West End condo/apartment development. Except this is its own mini-city. There are malls with shops, coffee shops, nice community swimming pools (swimming pools which are so out of place in a land with precarious water resources is such a cruel joke, but such an excellent absurdity of the situation).

The place is plastered with Israeli flags from the checkpoint on. Settler-colonists have Israeli flags hanging off of their balconies, out of their windows, on their cars (tons of VW's and Subaru's, Honda's a some nice European cars).

We meet in the colony's synagogue and talk with “Ari” and his fellow colonist, “David”. Both were born, grew up, and were educated in America--one in NYC, one in Chicago. Both have dual Israeli-American citizenship. (“David” lamented having to pay taxes in both countries--yes, my heart goes out to him in his struggle!)

“Ari” began by telling us when he first came to Israel, 1982. He moved his family to Efrat in 1985. That's how he started the story of his time in Efrat, but then he gave us his necessary prelude: "well, it started with us here [on this land, specifically] about 2,000 years ago." (It was interesting how many places “Ari” considers his homeland--he's a self-describe American, Jew, and Israeli. But, later in the conversation, he also related to a member of our group, who said that he's of Irish ancestry, as a "fellow Irishman." Truly he considers himself a consummate world traveler, via his lineage.)

“Ari” gave us a history primer of the area. In his reading, since the mid-1800s, Jerusalem was predominantly Jewish. It is a false history which tells of a modern, predominantly Arab Jerusalem. According to him, this is just made up by those sympathetic to Palestinian lies.

A member of our group asked, "What is to be done with these 'other people' (Palestinians) since Israeli Jews are taking over the land?" “Ari” said, "we are the original indigenous people here." According to him, Jews came to this land (beginning in the 1800s), and purchased land. They did not come in with invading armies. In 1948, the UN said that the two groups--Arabs and Jews--were to live side by side in peace, in a partitioned land. "Ask them [the Arabs] why they don't want to live in peace." "In 1948 we [although his family was living in America, nonetheless 'we'] attempted to live in peace with the Arab population."

I asked a question about the economic and political make up of the settlers. He answered my question and then lamented how bad the Israeli economy has been lately. Another member of my group asked him why, in his opinion, was the Israeli economy down. As it turns out, it is because of the Palestinians (I don't think that he's an economist, or a historian for that matter, but nonetheless, I'm giving you what he gave us). He began to explain the economic downturn quite lucidly, giving a tripartite answer. First, the world economy is down. Second, September 11th greatly affected the Israeli economy because of the trade between the US and Israeli. Third, terrorism--that is, acts of violence committed by Palestinians against innocent Israelis. The Palestinian terrorists have damaged the economy very efficiently. Yes, the Palestinians, who live somewhere in-between First and Third World conditions in terms of their poverty and lack of access to services which Americans taken for granted, are the true cause of Israel's economic plight. So, in just under five minutes, “Ari” revised his own economic assessment of the situation. There is not a three-pronged problem with Israeli's economy; there is only one problem, the Palestinians.

The most interesting views came from “David”. He is very concerned with "the roadmap" for a two-state solution to achieve peace. What concerns him is that the Palestinians have focused on the term "viable." Palestinians want a viable Palestinian state to achieve a viable peace in this land. They have, in his opinion, hijacked this term "viable." He stated that, now everyone is focused on granting a viable Palestinian state. He cautions that Israel is being neglected in the roadmap because "Israel is a Jewish state and has to be viable [also]." His fixation on the term viable made me wonder, Is Israeli a viable state, and has it ever been one? Has it ever been able to support itself? A necessary part of the definition of "viable," in terms of a state, would, to me, mean that an economy can sustain itself, its population. So, to test Israeli's viability, we, the US, should unplug what seems to be the life support we give in direct financial aid and not-to-be recalled loans. So, I agree with “David”, Israel should be a viable state. It should be able to stand on its own two feet, feed itself, clothe itself, and quit relying on welfare handouts of US benevolence--that it, if it wants to be truly "viable."


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