Friday, 2 March 2012

Apartheid Israel

Whilst growing up, Israel/Palestine wasn’t on my radar at all. I didn’t pay notice to British politics, let alone foreign conflicts in seemingly distant lands. All I knew was that Israel was the Jewish state, and with Jewish heritage in the family and Tottenham’s visible Jewish community, it seemed like a great thing – a proud nation born out of a horrendous act of genocide.

At my university (Goldsmiths) there were lots of pro-Palestine activists, and a strong solidarity campaign, but I never really looked into it. I didn’t understand the reasons for the conflict, and I never tried to – I always felt that if anything, my ‘side’ should be with Israel. If the issue ever arose I would trot out misinformed statements like “there are loads of Arabic/Muslim states, the Jews need and deserve one too”. I never went much deeper than that, because I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I felt that Israel was probably a good thing.

When I knew that we were going to the region for the next instalment of Football Beyond Borders, I started to actually research the subject, and read a couple of books about it – one general history, and one by Thomas Friedman. After reading these, I realised that I had definitely been misinformed before, and for the first time my sense of justice and humanity made me feel pro-Palestinian. However, I still had a lingering feeling that some Palestinian solidarity movements within the UK bordered on anti-Semitism (which I despise, having read about it after I discovered my great-grandfathers had fled Germany for the UK to escape the Nazi regime, and experienced it in Tottenham). So going into the trip, I was keen to maintain a balance which I felt was often overlooked, and was one of the few members who advocated us playing a game in Israel as well if it was logistically possible.

However, as soon as we entered Israel via the Taba/Eilat crossing, my feelings started to change. I think border guards and police forces across the world are all intrinsically institutionally racist, and never to be trusted or liked anyway, but the IDF at the border took this to a new level, with their policy of open racial profiling meaning that Omar and Joseph (the Arab-looking guys in the team) were immediately separated and heavily questioned, with a further seven of us also held behind for 6 hours and questioned intermittently for no apparent reason other than to punish us for having been to Syria or having non-white skin. The worst part of this experience though was not being held but the obvious contempt in which the non-white members of the group were held, especially Omar and Joseph, who both handled the situation with quiet dignity.

Cab drivers are another bad measure of a country’s levels of tolerance and respect. But both drivers who took us from the border to the Bus Station were particularly contemptible racists, spewing their hate from as soon as we stepped in the car. In addition to this, we were also pretty sure that we were being followed to the bus station by the IDF, who presumably were checking or story. All of which added up to create a really unpleasant first impression of Israel. It was the first time for me personally that I had felt so uncomfortable and unpleasantly about a place I had visited.

Throughout our short time in Israel, the contempt in which Muslim or Arabic people were held was clear for all to see – with Joseph and Omar garnering nasty looks, and with some Jewish Israeli’s refusing to speak to Joseph, give him directions or answer his questions.

Then came the most obvious symbol if Israeli Apartheid – the wall. As British citizens in an Israeli bus we breezed through, but this is obviously not the case for Palestinians – when we told our hosts in Balata and Farkha that we were going to Jersualem to see the old city, for example, they all told us of how envious they were, as they had never been allowed to go.

On the Palestinian side of the wall, the divide between Palestinians and Israeli’s was even more evident than in Israel itself. This was evident not only in the clear divide which the wall signified, but also in the architectue of the space, which was once again visibly Middle Eastern, making the weird North American/European mesh of Israel seem even more out of place – as if a medium-sized American County and a large Belgian city had both been dropped simultaneously onto the land from a great height., smashing and mixing into one generic ‘Western’ place as they landed.

After just a few days in Nablus, we then experience a small slice of Apartheid first-hand, as we were denied access to ancient Samaria by an IDF roadblock on the hill. We had forgotten our passports, and anyway had a Palestinian driver. When Joseph went to speak to the soldiers at the roadblock, who told him to wait for a short time, when we would then be let through. Speaking in Hebrew, they then joked to themselves that they would make us wait for an hour or two before denying us entry. Unbeknown to them though, our driver understood Hebrew, and thus turned us around, saving us the humiliating wait.

And so after just two days in Israel/Palestine, the evidence of Israeli Apartheid was smacking us in the face. In Balata and Farkha, we also experienced the sudden turn from enjoyment to panic and worry which Palestinians must feel far too often, as the IDF came through the area late at night. Although we could barely begin to empathise with the lives of our hosts, the small slice of life in Apartheid Israel that we experienced was more than enough evidence that the way that our generation reacts to the injustice faced by Palestinians on a daily basis will more likely than not define how future generations judge us.

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