Re-Occupy Wall Street- November 16th

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Images taken tonight at Occupy Wall Street after Zuccotti Park was cleaned and a judge ruled no more sleeping in the park.

Between Israel and the West Bank (my second 2011 trip to Israel and Palestine)

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I’m not denying the need for empowerment amongst Arab women in northern Israel. However, it was difficult for me to classify these women as poor and then to visit their materially wealthy homes. Yes, because of cultural traditions of patriarchy these women are less educated and less inclined to stand up for their rights and needs within their communities. On the other hand, these women can move freely, have access to Israeli healthcare, are well fed, and live in nice homes. I understand need is relative, but it was extremely hard to travel back and forth from Jericho where I’d encounter women who not only lacked empowerment, but also suffered from poverty, little access to good healthcare, and the inability to move freely amongst their own people and villages. As a result, I began to view empowerment workshops as somewhat of a luxury.


Moving regularly between the West Bank and Israel became extremely traumatizing for me. Articulating this is difficult. In Jericho, my emotions were heightened. Not only from being with someone I love, but seeing and living his and his neighbors struggles every day. In Haifa, I felt the need to guard my emotions. People aren’t warm and welcoming, in fact they are often cold and aggressive. I also wasn’t surrounded by willing friends, caring family and homemade food.


I tried to like Haifa, I really did. But I felt alienated by my inability to speak Hebrew, and I felt defensive about my sensitivities toward the West Bank and my Arab friends. While Haifa is mixed, I soon came to realize that just because Israeli’s can name a token Arab friend, doesn’t mean they politically accept Arab rights to any of their land. Speaking to Israelis in Haifa, I experienced a lot of contradiction. People who believed they were open-minded and indiscriminate, in fact subconsciously bought into the political propaganda that had been so deeply planted most likely in their military years. I have some wonderful Israeli friends in Haifa, but I felt the need to avoid politics whenever in their presence.

Understanding the population in Israel (my second 2011 trip to Israel)

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I like the fact that Haifa’s population is so mixed. Arabs and Jews live relatively peacefully. However having spent most of my time in the West Bank, the concept of wealthy Arabs, living in Israel with little travel restrictions, was pretty foreign to me. While dining in Haifa I came in more and more contact with the upscale Arab world. I met a Catholic Arab from a very wealthy northern village who clearly othered Muslims living in the West Bank. In general when Arabs in Israel talk about those in the West Bank, except for those working in advocacy, they talk as if they are this far away people with very little relation to their own cause and struggles. Most Arabs I met in Haifa knew very little about the West Bank and didn’t seen themselves visiting anytime soon. The first thing they’d always ask me when I mentioned I had been, was “they’re really poor over there aren’t they?”


According to Khalil, a translator and former BBC produer that I worked with in Haifa, this is Israel’s biggest success: creating a social dynamic that divides the Arab population by developing an Arab elite and an internal concept of “other” amongst Arab groups. This prevents Arabs from the ability to unite as one Arab people against Israel. He says Israel does this by favoring and giving benefits to certain Arab populations over others. This allows for a natural division to arise organically.


I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Arab identity and culture while shooting this film. As much as many Arabs living in Israel seem to be disconnected from those in the occupied territories, they aren’t entirely separate. For example, after a suicide bombing, Jews stop shopping in Arab towns until things settle back down. This reaps financial hardships on those have absolutely no relation to the terrorism that often occurred on the other side of the country.


Reem, a woman I worked with on the film, began to explain the relationship between Israel and its Arab populations. We discussed the involvement of Arab soldiers in the Israeli army. Palestinian Arabs are not required to go to the army because of a conflict of interest. Although it is illegal to deny someone a job because he is Arab, most employers circumvent this law by requiring military service before hire. However, Druze and many Bedouins have remained loyal to Israel and serve in the army because of an agreement made by their ancestors. The Bedouins’ inherent nomadic sense is highly utilized by the Israeli military. Yet according to Reem, if all hell breaks loose, there will still be a division under the surface. Israel will still see Arabs as Arabs despite their allegiance to the Israeli nation.


Furthermore, Israel continues to strangle Bedouin and Druze villages by purposely building communities that surround the Arab villages limiting their expansion as populations continue to grow. Even in northern Israel, Arab’s feel that any or all of their land could be taken away at any time. Though they legally own it, somehow they have no rights to keep hold of it. This creates a lingering feeling of impermance, fear and discomfort in ones own home.


I met two Arab guys from the Golan who began to explain their own identity confusion. As Syrians living in Israel, they are banned from returning to Syria, though are denied citizenship by Israel. They have no passports, no citizenship, and therefore are not recognized internationally. They don’t necessarily identify with Palestinians, and though they speak Hebrew and grew up in its northern tip, as minorities, they also don’t identify as Israelis. Their parents fought hard to prevent them from mandatory military service and though live amongst land mines and dangerous reminants of war that the Israeli government takes little responsibility for when problems arise.


As one comes to realize, especially in the north, the division between Arab and Jew is oversimplified. There are different groups of Arabs with varying viewpoints and experiences toward the Israeli state. In fact, the same goes for Jews. Jews of Arab decsent, despite the beliefs of many Ashkenazi’s, are often treated somewhat lower on the totem pole. This was confirmed by the Syrian on the plane and by my 21 year-old Yemen Jewish Couchsurfer during my first 2011 trip to Israel. Many non-Sephardic Jews don’t ackowledge the discrimination, possibly because they don’t experience it firsthand.