Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bethlehem & Rossmoor: Justice, Jesus' home town & upscale senior living

I actually got out to visit Rossmoor last week. Somehow it always seems harder to get to Walnut Creek than it does to get to, say, Argentina or Iraq -- but I did it. And I was also pleasantly surprised. Rossmoor is a planned senior-citizen gated community that was built back in the 1970s, but I had never been out there until now. Not sure what I had been expecting the place to be like, but was rather overwhelmed by the luxury of it all -- wide boulevards, lakes, streams and ponds, golf courses, pleasant and pretty homes and even some weeping willows and geese.

"Good grief!" I commented to one of the residents. "To afford a place like this, you probably all gotta be Republicans living on the corporatist dole!"

"Not necessarily," he replied. "It may surprise you to discover that many of us are actually liberals -- or even progressives." And he was probably right about that because the whole reason for me being out there was to hear a speaker from Bethlehem brought there by the Rossmoor branch of the Jewish Voice for Peace.

"But it must cost an arm and a leg to live out here," I exclaimed, "unless you can find some homes in foreclosure."

"To the contrary," answered the resident. "It's actually rather affordable. For instance, we have some very nice one-bedroom apartments selling for just $59,000. And the rate of foreclosure here is very low. Plus there are all kinds of things to do out here -- hobby clubs, biking trails, swimming pools, gyms." Sorry but I still can't afford it -- although it really does look nice.

Plus I could never leave my current home, located right across the street from the Berkeley Bowl fresh produce market ( I'm a big fan of salads.

And then JVP's speaker
for the event, Professor Mazim Qumsiyeh, began his talk on the recent history of Israel and Palestine. Professor Qumsiyeh used to teach genetics at Yale Medical School and Duke University but returned to his parents' home town on the West Bank in order to teach at the University of Bethlehem, a highly-respected university badly in need of quality teachers who aren't afraid of living dangerously.

When the Israeli army invaded Bethlehem back in 2002, they blasted a huge hole the university library wall, using weapons bought and paid for by the United States. Now, however, this ugly hole has been turned into a conversation-piece. I've seen it myself and was highly impressed by what a few resourceful librarians, two large sheets of plexi-glass
and some nice exhibit labels can do. Jesus would have been proud of His old home town

Anyway, Prof. Qumsiyeh's talk was very informative and interesting and so was Rossmoor. Out in the senior-citizen planned community of Rossmoor, they are still living the American Dream -- but apparently in Bethlehem they are still living the American nightmare.

PS: Here is the basic gist of Prof. Qumsiyeh's talk -- and if I didn't get the quoted sections here exactly right, blame it on my inability to write really fast.

"Our village, Beit Sahour [translated as Shepherds' Field after the shepherds who saw the angel in the New Testament, and is located just outside of Bethlehem], was one of the lucky ones," began Prof. Qumsiyeh. "It was not destroyed in order to create space for a Jewish state. How can you have a Jewish state when the majority of its residents were Palestinians? So Palestinians were, literally, pushed into the sea."

Prof. Qumsiyeh's father was a Greek Orthodox Christian and his mother was a Lutheran.

"After 1967, Palestinians lost 22% more of their land. Jerusalem used to be a multi-ethnic community but Israelis moved everyone that wasn't Jewish into East Jerusalem, including Aramaic, Christian and Muslim families." But now apparently even East Jerusalem isn't safe and, in the last nine years alone, over 25,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed there and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories.

"Now Israelis have built settlements on 87% of the area of Bethlehem alone, forming what Israel calls a 'Western Segregation Zone' that includes that area's aquifer. And the Zone's Separation Wall is three times as high as the Berlin Wall.
And the Israeli settlements in this Zone are illegitimate and an obstacle to peace. Everyone admits this, even the United Nations and Hillary Clinton."

Not only that, but 1,500,000 olive trees as old as when Jesus walked the land have been uprooted in order to build this Wall.

"Five and a half million people have been squeezed into 'Concentration Areas' consisting of only 8.3% of the country, giving Palestinians less land than even the Blacks were allowed in South Africa. The South African Blacks were allowed on 12% of the land. And the Israelis actually do call these Bantustan-like camps 'Concentration Areas'." [Not very tactful of them, say what.]

But this police-state situation is not unique to Palestine. "The United States has supported dictators all throughout the Middle East. And America actually shields these dictators from international law. But the face of the Middle East has changed. 18 million people turned out in protest in Egypt. And the people of Egypt were also very upset with conditions in Palestine."

Prof. Qumsiyeh is also the author of a new book entitled, "Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Empowerment and Hope," and is a record of the large non-violent movement within the Palestinian state. "But you don't hear about our non-violent movements in the U.S. media because Israeli leaders are trying to sell you a product -- that Palestine is bad and Israel is good. And that is their product's marketing strategy." And it appears to have been working very well for quite a while.

Having written a book on Palestinian history, Prof. Qumsiyeh then gave us a brief history of the Palestinian occupation. "Palestinians have been uprising against Zionist ideology since the 1880s, when Zionists first announced that they wanted to get rid of the residents of Palestine. The uprising back then was a success because the Ottoman empire supported it. And Germany was an ally of the Ottoman empire at that time." So the Zionists, who had been located in Germany originally, then moved their operations to London.

"Then in 1929, after the British occupation was in place, Palestinians organized one of the first nonviolent protests against the take-over of their land -- and the British then opened fire on the protesters. However, the non-violent protest did cause the British to change some of their policies in the area."

And by the 1930s, Palestinians even had their own radio station to support their cause. And during the violent period when Israel was founded, the Palestinians' motto became, "We Palestinians resist simply by existing on the land." And this motto is still viable today.

"Bethlehem University has been closed 12 different times by the Israeli Army. Kindergarten teachers at one point faced six months in jail for teaching children to read. And schools have been bombed in Gaza. However, hope still has remained alive in Palestine despite all this and we are 100% confident that this story will have a happy ending -- against all odds."

Prof. Qumsiyeh stated that the next generation of Palestinians is still committed to attaining their freedom. "Even though we have lost tens of thousands of Palestinians due to violence and non-violent resistance, we continue to cling to our land. However, the Israelis have no hesitation about killing thousands and thousands of Palestinians. Israelis have stated their belief that 'The old will die and the young will forget,' but this hasn't happened because this our land."

Apparently there are more apartheid-type rules in Israel now than there ever were in South Africa. "I was involved in the South Africa movement against apartheid in the 1980s -- and the situation there then is very much like the situation in Israel now."

Professor Qumsiyeh said that all he could do to combat the ever-present Israeli version of what is going on in Israel/Palestine is to represent his own experiences in his own village. "You get the Zionist perspective every day on TV. What I am trying to show you today is my own perspective -- that this situation is a classic struggle against colonialism. This is a classic anti-colonial situation. I am going to skip over talking about the over 250 massacres by Israelis or the ten-to-one ratio between Palestinians civilians killed and Israeli civilians killed. However, these are the symptoms of a disease, not its root causes. Colonialism is the root cause and must be dealt with."

Prof. Qumsiyeh further stated that the two-state solution offered under the Camp David accords would have practically eliminated Palestine. "How could Arafat possibly have signed that? But Israel is not interested in negotiations.

"Then came Oslo, which put forward the new idea that peace could not be built on basic justice, as we had hoped, but rather on Israeli security." And by accepting this premise, the Palestinians blew it. "Negotiations have never gone anywhere since then -- because they ignore human rights, justice and international law." And none of these three vital factors were even mentioned in Bush's famous Road Map.

"Basically, the Israelis are saying to us that 'If you let us keep all the natural resources, the land, the airspace and the gas rights offshore from Gaza, then we will let you keep your flag'."

The Arab League first proposed a comprehensive peace initiative in 2001. This plan would have given Israel 70% of the loot that they already had plus the recognition they craved, but Israel turned it down. "Israel has everything now already. It would be as if you are a thief and now own the whole house that you stole and the sheriff is in your pocket. Under these circumstances, why let the original owners of the house live in the basement?"

Prof. Qumsiyeh then pointed out some of the similarities between Netanyahu and Gaddafi. "And don't ever think that America is supporting Netanyahu out of love for Israel. Today, 25% of all Israeli children live in poverty. And many Israelis are also beginning to realize that it is all a lie -- look who is benefiting from this occupation? It is not the Israel public."

As for America's role in all this, hypocrisy seems to be the rule of the day. "Bahrain was just invaded by the Saudis and the United States does nothing -- yet when Iraq invaded Kuwait, America was there. But now the world is changing and [both Israeli and international Jewish] people are now starting to click -- that Zionists are lying to the Jews and that Zionism is the second-worst thing that has happened to them in modern times. Jews are safer today in Berlin than they are in Tel Aviv."

Then Prof. Qumsiyeh made the Palestinian diaspora personal. "There are seven million Palestinian refugees in the world right now -- and in my own family alone, I have relatives in 30 different countries."

"So what is the preferred solution to this problem?" someone in the audience asked.

"My preferred solution? I think we can have a 'one person, one vote' situation just like they have in South Africa." And then I drove home back to Berkeley, leaving Rossmoor's beautiful willows and streams and golf courses behind.

PS: When I woke up the next morning and read about the deadly new Israeli air force bombing campaign that has just started up again in Gaza, another question came to mind.
How come there isn't a no-fly zone over Gaza?

The Israeli air force is at it again, dropping their terrible super-high-tech bombs down on defenseless people trapped in Gaza -- like shooting fish in a barrel. They even have a name for this particular massacre: "Operation Scorching Summer". With a name like that, it looks like Israeli war-hawks and American war-profiteers are planning to be bombing unprotected women and children trapped in Gaza for a long, long time to come.

According to a PressTV article dated April 6. 2011, "Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked Gaza during the last two weeks. Dozens of people, among them children, have been killed and injured in the airstrikes. Tel Aviv has continuously attacked the besieged territory from the air, land and sea since the end of its devastating war on Gaza at the turn of 2009. The 22-day offensive left more than 1,400 Palestinians killed and thousands more wounded."

How come the UN, the United States, the EU and NATO aren't demanding a no-fly zone over Gaza as well as the one over Libya?

Could it be because there is no oil in Gaza -- like there is in Libya and Iraq? Or could it be because Gaza, unlike Afghanistan, doesn't produce billions of dollars of heroin revenue each year?

Perhaps when the oil recently discovered offshore in Gaza swings into full production, maybe Gaza will get a no-fly zone then? Or will Netanyahu, like Gaddafi, also just snag up those oil profits for himself too?

Or am I just being cynical (once again) regarding the way that this world really works?