By Ali Moossavi
Originally published in The Arab American News
If a Palestinian and an Israeli walked into an Orthodox church, most people would expect a punch line.
On the evening of Nov. 7th at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Berkley, Michigan, that’s precisely what happened, in front of 60 participants wanting to listen and learn. What the Palestinian and the Israeli had to say, however, was no joke.
As the audience gathered to listen, the odd couple – the Palestinian farmer Ayed Morrar and the 23-year old Israeli punk rock scenester/anarchist activist Jonathan Pollack – brought to life the struggle against the separation wall Israel has constructed allegedly to prevent suicide bombings.
Many critics in Israel and throughout the world counter that it’s an apartheid wall, to control and stifle Palestinian society, while illegally annexing land inside the “Green Line,” the internationally recognized border between the Jewish state and the Occupied Territories.
It was when the non-violent struggle against the wall erupted in the village of Jayyous in 2002 that protests spread to other West Bank villages. The protests garnered international support, from activist organizations like the International Solidarity Movement as well as organs of international law, most notably the 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which ruled the wall illegal.
In response to the protests, which have been non-violent, the Israeli Defense Forces and Border Police have used tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, live ammunition and batons in efforts to suppress the actions. Pollack himself was hit in the head by a tear gas canister in the village of Bi’lin from approximately 20-30 meters at the end of a demonstration.
“I heard a shot and I turned around,” he said, in the stairwell after the event, “and I saw the canister flying towards me and I had the time just to turn my head and it hit here, above the temple.”
In addition to the tear gas canister, Pollack was also shot four times with the rubber bullets at various times.
“I couldn’t walk for two weeks because of internal hemorrhaging,” he said during the presentation.
The presentation began with Tel Aviv-born Pollack explaining the foundations of the present conflict with a PowerPoint display, from the origins of Zionism and the 1948 war to the beginning of the settlement project and the current intifada. He described the three levels of citizenship: full citizenship, permanent residency for East Jerusalemites and orange IDs for Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.
After that introduction, he proceeded to break down the official propaganda surrounding what he called the marketing of the wall.
According to him, only 5 percent of the wall is a 25 foot high concrete structure, about twice as high as the Berlin Wall, while the overall length is “double the length of the Green Line,” he said. The rest of the “wall” is a series of barbed wire fences and other obstacles. Additionally, 80 percent of the barrier is built on Palestinian land, making the seam line a permanent military zone.
“That means, if you want to enter the West Bank, then you must have permission from the military authorities,” Pollack noted.
He went on to describe the effect the wall had on Palestinian life. Qalqilya, once the richest city in the area, is now caged from four sides. Unemployment has risen from 13 percent to a staggering 80 percent since the wall was built. As a result, after one year of the wall’s construction, one-third of Qalqilya’s residents have left, according to official statistics; Pollack feels the number is higher.
“The wall is not a means of security, but as a means of ethnic cleansing,” he said.
The impact that Pollack described on the Palestinians was further elaborated by Palestinian farmer and Budrus resident Ayed Morrar.
Morrar made clear that the Palestinians want peace, but on the condition that peace cannot occur in the absence of freedom. The occupation, he said, is a catastrophe not only for Palestinians, but for any nation and the catastrophe can be felt in the destruction of Palestinian culture, economy and in their lives overall.
To give an example, Morrar described his daily routine – to go to his job in Ramallah, he has to go through two different checkpoints. Another routine is suffering the treatment meted out by Israeli soldiers.
“One time they arrested me in 1989, and they put us in the military bus. I saw Hebrew writings by Israeli soldiers,” he said, writings that said the best Arab is a dead one.
He went on to describe the impact the olive tree has on the Palestinian economy and life, especially when the Israelis uproot them. The olive tree is mentioned in the Qu’ran and the Bible, grandparents pass on proverbs about the tree’s wonder and that a 5,000 year old tree stands in Jenin, the sight of an Israeli assault in April, 2002.
“We really cry when we see them uprooted,” Morrar said.
Afterwards, the speakers showed a video of non-violent protests from the past two years, where unarmed demonstrators were beaten and concussion grenades were used, sometimes exploding right beside what appeared to be children. In one shot, Palestinian protestors were viciously beaten, only to have their ambulance windshield shattered by a tear gas canister and explode inside the vehicle after they had been placed inside.
Despite having endured violence and attending hundreds of protests, both Pollack and Morrar were in good spirits. Their tour had already lasted three weeks and they have two more weeks to look forward to. Morrar summed up their optimism this way:
“This is our slogan: ‘We can do it.'”