Last week, I published a column in Arutz 7 about my day tour with MachsomWatch, a far-Left NGO that considers Settlers the enemies of humanity. Here is the article in its entirety:
I knew a publicly advertised tour with the Arabist, far-left NGO, MachsomWatch, would be my only chance as an Israeli Jew to enter the Palestinian Authority.
Signs read: “This road leads to Palestinian village. Entrance to Israelis is dangerous”—that is, unless you're Israelis travelling with MachsomWatch. They love the Palestinian Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs love them.
MachsomWatch's tagline is "Woman Against Occupation and for Human Rights." Daniela Gordon, the Israeli matriarch of the movement, is clearly passionate about her work, believing she's fighting the good fight.
I joined a tour with a group of college exchange students from Singapore, a Spanish journalist, two French consulate employees, and some Brits—all for a mere $15 and few questions asked.
The tour focused on the “seam zone,” the "no-man's land" between the “green line” and the security barrier Israel built to ward off terror. Gordon lamented that Arabs living there are "trapped" between the "West Bank" and Israel.
Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Gordon. Yes, the security barrier is a monstrosity. Gordon even cited an article by her political opponent, Moshe Arens, entitled "Tear Down This Wall." It has undoubtedly created hardship for Arabs. To me, it's a cop out from truly crushing Islamic terror at its source.
I also agreed that IDF soldiers shouldn’t be obsessing over checkpoints. A few yards away from a bright, well-stocked Arab nursery stuck in the seam zone near Qalqilya, soldiers lethargically got out of their jeeps at the designated checkpoint patrol time. A few Arabs waited underneath an awning as it took the soldiers about 20 minutes to unlock the gate. Traffic consisting of donkeys and shiny Palestinian SUVs built up on the litter-filled road. Israeli soldiers should be warriors, not have to be "prison" guards.
Gordon was quick to point out that checkpoints along the green line should remain intact— what she sees as the de facto border. She blamed internal checkpoints on "settlers," whom she submits are not all evil. She pledged not to touch politics, but hinted her support for a "democratic" Israel living alongside a judenrein Palestine.
“One state or two states, doesn’t make a difference to me as long as we live in dignity,” said Omar, the owner of the nursery, with Gordon looking upon him like her own son. She beamed as Omar called her a “princess.” But, he added, any land division must be performed under the auspices of the United Nations. A passionate cry for a humanitarian solution, except that in the Muslim world, which dominates the UN, "dignity" translates into living under an Islamic state.
"Jews and Muslims can live together," he assured us. Sure they can, when Jews are as naïve as Gordon.
The love between Gordon and local Arabs was also felt in the town of Jayous (spelled three different ways in the signage) where we met with a Palestinian Authority representative. He tugged heartstrings describing the farmers' difficulty reaching their fields beyond the barrier, land that Israel is purposefully "stealing."
I was more taken by a different wall: the one outside City Hall which featured a map of Israel being showered with blood next to another labeling all of Israel "Palestine." Graffiti asks: "Will my home be free?" Inside, flyers announced events for Nakba, the Arab holiday mourning the "catastrophic" founding of Israel.
Next, in the "village" of Kadum, we drove down windy roads, all decorated with Palestinian flags, passing houses that never seem quite finished, as a local accused the neighboring Jewish town of Kedumim of choking their freedom of movement. He conveniently ignored the wall painted with a swastika.
"We hope for a better future for our children, and freedom and peace for everyone," he concluded with true pageantry. Except that "Freedom and peace" in Islam is synonymous to submission to Islamic law.
No one asked hardball questions—is it because they were afraid of being labeled right-wing extremists?—except for one British gentleman.
"Do you have any power to influence the education system to remove references to Jews as apes and pigs?” he asked.
“We don’t have that access,” Gordon replied, undisturbed.
One of the best parts of the tour was dirt cheap falafel. By dirt cheap, I also mean the joints were dirty. Dust from the main road of Harara blanketed the floor where we ate lunch. 3 shekel falafel!
Too bad my freedom of movement is also constricted. I'd shop there more often. Household appliances, like falafel, are three times cheaper.
But the real treat is supposed to be the town's "knafe," which Gordon raved about.
I was anxious to try this famous delight until I got to the bakery. Posters of Yasser Arafat, responsible for the murder of hundreds of Jews, were plastered all over the exterior glass wall. I boycotted the place.
As we passed the progressive city of Ariel that I call home, we were asked to close the curtains so that we could watch a propaganda film about the crowded conditions at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
“Checkpoints are liable to create terror,” Gordon concluded. In a speech she must have given hundreds of times, she passionately implored us to support her work for the sake of a better future for Israeli children. She meant it. Unlike Americans and Europeans who tell Israel what to do, her children are affected by what happens here.
Maybe, just maybe, her loyalty to Arabs will save her progeny. As their "princess," she'd be spared the violence that will no doubt plague Israel if land is ceded to create a Palestinian state. Unlike most Israelis, she may be free to find refuge in Jayous, or Kadum, or Harara.
But all of us will be spared violence and constricted movement if Gordon leverages her Arab friendships to tear down different walls: the wall seeking Israel’s destruction, the wall marked with the swastika, and the wall celebrating a mass murderer. It's those walls that are truly liable to create terror.
I received the kind of comments common for talkbackers on A7: "Jordan IS Palestine" and "Time to get rid of the NGOs and their foreign agents." But one comment stood out. It came from "Ramallah." He wrote: "It is phenomenal. Your inability to see beyond your narrow minded narrative begs the question, why even go on this tour? I am sure the tour sucks because Machsom Watch sucks, but not for the reasons you said. Ridiculous, what a waste of an article, and a day of your life."
An apparently "pro-Palestinian activist" that thinks MachsomWatch sucks? He had my attention. I invited him to elaborate over e-mail, and he kindly provided me with one of the freshest takes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I've read in a while. We'll call him Michael, and he's an American living in Ramallah who works to improve humanitarian conditions for Palestinians. Here's what he wrote (verbatim):
Why does Machsom Watch suck? Well they are a foreign funded and driven generic Liberal-Zionist organization meant to pull at your heart strings about the "poor Palestinian farmer" and the checkpoints. This to me, is generic activist orientalism. Treating Palestinians like they are all peasants farmers who are strangled in every direction by the Israelis. They work on a moral platform to try and make you as an Israeli feel bad for this old Palestinian, wearing a keffiyeh just trying to harvest his olives, as if that is the biggest problem for him specifically or Palestinians as a whole. It caters to a specific group.
Now, regarding your ignorance. First, I don't use this term to attack you, I know the term is meant as one to do that, but in fact the real meaning of the term is rather accurate. First you say this might be your only chance to visit Area A. First, IDF orders are what stops you from going to Area A, and those expired years ago. Next, I bring Israelis and American Jews all across the West Bank, areas A, B, and C on a regular basis. It is more about your mental block than about laws and regulations that stop you. I can understand that, truly I can. But don't present it like laws and regulations are what is stopping you. We both know the enforcement of this is political more than security and meant to separate Israelis and Palestinians more than anything else because god forbid we all see each other as human beings, maybe we would think twice about pulling the trigger or throwing the stone.
Palestinians do not love Machsom Watch, in fact, I bet you 95% of Palestinians don't even know who they are and if you were able to have an "off the record" conversation, those that do know them would say they do more harm than good.
Regarding the wall, I don't think you and I will ever find agreement on it. You think it plays a security role, I think it plays a political role. Many tens of thousands of Palestinians "illegally" cross the wall everyday in search of work or to buy things, and yet terrorism from them is almost non-existent, riddle me that. I could smuggle 4 in my car right now and go through Hizma with a trunk full of suicide belts, yet suicide bombings and attacks of the such have not been around for years. So security? No, refer to my point above about separating the peoples.
Regarding Palestinian maps, this to me is just generic hasbara. Israelis and Palestinians both have maps that show the same thing, their state minus the other. You'll find some Palestinian maps with Israel mentioned, and the West Bank/Gaza marked as Palestine, and you will find some Israeli maps showing Area A as "under the administration of the Palestinian Authority," hence your stone throwing in the glass house is shattered. If you want, we can have the send emails back and forth of pictures of maps, but I studied in an Israeli university, "the beacon of liberalism" and they are no different.
The Nakba is not meant to recognize the catastrophe of the establishment of Israel. It is meant to commemorate the refugee crisis that occurred before, during, and after it. Let us not pretend like the refugee issue began when those "HUGE ARAB ARMIES" invaded. Almost half of the people who became refugees were already refugees by May 15, 1948.
Swastikas in the West Bank. First, they don't do this for idolization of Nazis, they do it to equate the star of david with it. Now, do I disagree with the analogy, sure, fine whatever, it is lazy at best. When the IDF invades Palestinian villages, they like to spray paint all sorts of horrific things in houses on a regular basis, why don't you mention that? Do we need to have the email photo war back and forth on that as well? I would like to think not.
Regarding Palestinian textbooks, you may want to read Oslo and its compliments. Israel has full control over Palestinian textbooks and the curriculum in Palestinian classrooms, so if there are derogatory things, take it up with your own government. Palestinians don't need textbooks to have antagonism towards Israel, they exist, that is enough. They see settlements expanding on land their parents used to work on, they have the army invading their villages on a daily basis,they see their services as being lackluster as compared to settlements, even those built by the ICA, you really think they need textbooks to feel angry at Israel and to insult them? Please
For you Arafat is a terrorist that is responsible for the death of hundreds of Jews, fine, no argument. But to Palestinians, Begin, Sharon, Ben Gurion, etc are the exact same thing. You have the privilege to boycott those things that are offensive to you, Palestinians do not. They still have to drive on roads named after these people, they are ot allwoed to fly in an airport named after them, etc, etc ,etc. Most Palestinians do not liek Arafat for his politics, like most Israelis probably do not like any of the aforementioned leaders for their politics. It is their symbolism for one or another thing, that might have little to nothing to do with what YOU think they mean.
Kunnifeh is delicious, I agree, although I think the best is in Nablus, not Qaddum.
I have since taken him up on his invitation to try some kunnifeh in Nablus (more on that later), and we discussed some of the points in his letter. Stay tuned for my written response to Michael, and see how a "peace process" should really go down. Bibi, Abbas, Kerry: take notes!