by Jim Morekis
Abraham’s Children, Too
02 . 1 6 . 05
FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, world history has revolved around events in the Middle East. It’s not hard to see why. The cradle of civilization is also the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Those religions are tied together for all eternity by a single common ancestor, Abraham, acknowledged by all three faiths as the first prophet of God. Despite this common ground -- or perhaps because of it -- the great Middle East melting pot shows no signs of simmering down. With the latest dramatic news out of the region -- a peace summit of sorts between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- comes a small, shimmering candlelight of hope. We’ve chosen to mark the occasion by interviewing a peace activist with longtime local ties, Dave Reed. The 26-year-old spent the summer of 2004 in the land known in the Bible as Palestine. He spent time with local citizens and took part in a “Freedom March” along the path of the massive “Green Wall” the Israeli government is building to contain the Palestinian population and shelter a growing number of Israeli settlements, which seemingly spring out of the desert overnight, often right in the middle of established Palestinian neighborhoods that are powerless to stop them. Reed’s trip was under the auspices of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of Palestinian rights. A full diary of his trip can be found at his website, davereed.org/. ISM is not without controversy. Its outspokenness against Israeli policy has provoked accusations of anti-Semitism, despite the fact that a large percentage of its members are Jewish. The group has also been accused of outright support for Palestinian terrorists -- though this accu-
An American's life among the Palestinians
Hani, a Palestinian teenager, stands in front of an Israeli-built ‘separation barrier,’ called by some an ‘apartheid wall’; note the Israeli jeep on the other side of the fence and the Israeli settlement that can be seen on the hillcrest just behind him sation is belied by the fact that the Israeli government has not outlawed the group, and ISM activists continue to more or less come and go in Israel at will. (An ISM spokesman says that “the root cause of the violence in the region is the illegal seizure of Palestinian land and the violent oppression of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. We are working to end this so that counterattacks against Israelis may also stop.”) We spoke to Reed recently about his 2004 trip and his thoughts on more recent developments in the region.
Connect Savannah: Is it unusual for a Jew to make that 180 degree turn to support Palestinian rights and nationhood?
Dave Reed: I don’t think I’ve gone 180 degrees at all. When I grew up the focus in our household that I came to Judaism from was that of a humanist religion with a strong emphasis on supporting the underdog and looking at things critically. There’s a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility. I’ve been concerned and interested in the conflict in the Middle East for quite a while. Growing up Jewish, a strong connection to that part of the world is central. I guess around high school I began to read different things and expand what I know, and I came to a different perspective. What I see as going on over Dave Reed at ‘Abraham's Spring’ at Tel Rumeida, there, and what the ancient city of Hebron
motivates me, is the sense of injustice and oppression. That applies whether the one being oppressed is Israeli or Palestinian or whatever. The membership of the International Solidarity Movement is at least 20 percent Jewish.
Connect Savannah: You say you were the subject of a lengthy interrogation when you landed in Israel. Dave Reed: I guess I wasn’t answering the questions at Passport Control in Tel Aviv very well. So they pulled me aside into another room and asked more questions. I guess I fit the profile -- a young college student, it was my first time over there, I didn’t know any Israelis personally. I guess in that case they automatically ask more questions. And then when I mentioned I was Jewish they just waved me through.
Connect Savannah: Just like that? Dave Reed: Yeah. But there have been Jews they have refused entry to.
Connect Savannah: Where did you stay during your trip? Dave Reed: I stayed in hostels, mostly. My trip was not at all objective. I didn't go to spend a lot of time in Israel proper. At the beginning of August I was required to go through a two-day training program run by the Christian Peacemaker Team. That’s a group that’s funded by the Mennonite churches, the Quakers -- Christian groups that are strongly associated with nonviolence and pacifism. They’ve been in Hebron for ten years now. After I did that, most of us went to join the Freedom March that happens every summer. It follows the path of the Green Wall from the north where they began construction, to right outside Ramallah in
the south. I spent about a month solid in Jenin living in an apartment, talking to people, documenting things.
Connect Savannah: Jenin is the town where an alleged massacre of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) happened. Dave Reed: That was back in 2002. The IDF called it Operation Defensive Shield. The military invaded the main refugee camp. I talked to lots of people about that. Almost a quarter of camp was completely flattened over the course of 18 days. When I went to Jenin, I expected to see this giant hole in the ground. But there’s so much construction in the camp now, it seems like almost every other building is brand new. And most of the construction is done by local people, funded from abroad.
Connect Savannah: You apparently had some close calls in Jenin yourself. Dave Reed: Jenin’s the birthplace of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. It has a history of very strong resistance, both nonviolent and armed resistance. I went up to Jenin three days after the IDF attempted to assassinate some senior leader of Al Aqsa. They dropped two bombs from an unmanned aerial vehicle. One bomb missed the car he was in and hit a building off the road that was home to two families. The bomb blew a hole in the roof right over the kids’ bedroom. It just so happened that both families were in the front part of the building at that time, so no one was killed. I was also in Jenin when there was an Israeli Special Forces operation to kill another Al Aqsa leader. They were in a car following the car the Al Aqsa guy was in. When the car came to a stop, the Special Forces got out of their car and sprayed