On the ground in Palestine with Joseph Dana

Jewish activist Joseph Dana is a strong supporter of an end to the exclusionary Zionist policy of segregation in Palestine. He spoke with Lynda Renham-Cook and recounts a typical day in Palestine.

Embracing Judaism

I am Jewish, not from birth but by choice. I converted to Judaism in 1984, partly because my then husband was Jewish, but also because I felt something of a calling.

Twenty-five years later and my Jewish identity remains as strong today, as it did all those years ago when I recited the Shema in the Synagogue and fully embraced my then, new faith.

I later taught Jewish studies and spent a great deal of time in Israel, a country I came to love. Even today my heart and soul is always there and at times I miss the Middle East with such deep longing that one could equate it to the pain of being apart from a loved one.

I always defended Israel, and at one time was a strong Zionist. I now have to admit to being naively deluded.

I could only see Israel as a small country, surrounded by aggressive Arabs who constantly threatened Israel’s very existence.

As time went on, I spent more and more of my time defending Israel. How could people criticise such a small defenceless country? Why were these Arabs complaining so much? There were other Arab countries where they could live. The Jews only had Israel.

I am now ashamed and shocked how naive I was. A few years ago I went to Cairo for my stepdaughter’s wedding. Her husband was Egyptian. I had no idea what to expect during my visit.
What I encountered were courteous, well-mannered, pleasant, intelligent people who were very accepting of my beliefs. I went to bed that night realising I had never been as accepting of theirs.

My views on Israel and Arabs were dramatically altered during that visit. I met people who treated me with the highest respect while maintaining their deep passion regarding Palestine and the social injustice delivered to their fellow country-people there.

However, I still continued defending Israel no matter how inexcusable its behaviour. I would argue with people, even when I knew my argument was somewhat flawed.

Letters from Palestine

After a second visit to Cairo I began to look at the news with a different perspective. For the first time in my life I read the history of the Israel/ Palestine conflict. I began to read every book I could lay my hands on about the plight of the Palestinians and I became ashamed.

I was ashamed of my ignorance and ashamed of my arrogance. I now know that Israel’s occupation of the West bank and the Gaza strip is illegal and violates the fourth Geneva conventions.

Worst of all, Israel’s human rights violations since 2000 have left more than four times more Palestinian civilians dead than the total number of Israelis killed by Palestinians.

I could go on and on. But there are numerous books to read such as ‘Witness in Palestine’ by Anna Baltzer from whom the facts above were quoted, is only one of many books detailing true stories of Palestine.

Another amazing book that opened my eyes and also introduced me to many wonderful Palestinian friends is ‘Letters from Palestine’ by Kenneth Ring, a remarkable man with a big heart, a man I am blessed to know. I am blessed also in knowing many Palestinians. This book brought me closer to the Palestinian people than I have ever been in my life. Their stories have brought me to tears and my admiration for them holds no bounds.

I do not forget those whose lives were lost in the Holocaust. Both the Shoah and Israel’s occupation are anathema to me. However, it is important to remember one does not cancel out the other.

The Holocaust does not give the Israelis the right to break UN resolutions, which it does do, in fact more than any country in the history of the UN. Palestinians are not victims and would not wish to be viewed as such but they do need our support and help in highlighting what is clearly a social injustice.

Joseph Dana

Many writers, photographers, and activists risk their lives every day to bring us photographs and news, as it happens, on the ground in Palestine and next year I hope to be one of them.

One of those people is Joseph Dana, a journalist, blogger and filmmaker living in Jerusalem. Joseph has a following of over 1,000 on his facebook profile and an even larger following on Twitter.

His coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focuses on the Palestinian unarmed resistance movements throughout the West Bank and the impact of Israel’s occupation on Palestinian life.

With two Master’s degrees in Jewish History, one from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one from the Central European University in Budapest, he often draws on his knowledge of Jewish history to analyse Israel’s current political/social situation and relationship to the Palestinians.

A contributing editor of the Israeli web magazine +972 and member of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Dana’s writing has been featured in The Nation, Electronic Intifada, Le Monde, New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Alternet, Pulse, and Haaretz.

Dana is active in Israeli direct action groups such as Taayush and the Anarchists Against the Wall.

Joseph is Jewish.

I spoke to him about his work.

Q&A with Joseph Dana

What was the reason behind your immigration to Israel from America?

My immigration to Israel was based on a number of reasons. I have been travelling to Israel since a young high school student when I studied in Hod Ha Sharon for sometime. I did a first degree in the United States in Jewish history and it seemed natural that I would continue my studies in Israel.
You are a strong supporter of the Palestinian popular struggle. Can you define clearly what this represents?

So I immigrated and beginning studying Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I have also had a deep relationship with my Jewish identity and while I have strong feelings against Zionism, I feel that it is necessary to be in Israel wrestling with her issues based on my Jewish identity.

It is also important for me to have fluent knowledge of the Hebrew language and I feel it necessary to be able to impart the knowledge of the language onto my (future) children.

Based on my feelings of deep identification with my Jewish identity and also my feelings against Zionism, I believe that there are natural connections between Israeli (and all Jewish people) and the Palestinians. Thus, I view Israel’s occupation and the tragedy of Zionism as important to both Jews and Palestinians.
The work you do in Israel is inspiring. Can you tell us more about how it started?

Naturally, the popular unarmed struggle is an example of non-violence in action and my support comes from the relationships, which I created, on the ground. I have seen and experienced co-existence and co-habitation on the ground in the West Bank.

I have made friends, which I cherish on the other side of the green line based on shared interest, respect and commitment to popular unarmed struggle.

If this means that I am strong supporter of the Palestinian popular struggle then so be it but I would frame it in another way by saying that I am a strong supporter of co-existence, an end to exclusionary Zionist policy of segregation and a move towards a one state solution where the conflict will be based on democratic rights for all the citizens of the state.

My work started from living in Jerusalem while working on my second degree in Jewish history. The city is a mess of religious and nationalist fury and I came to the realization that I could travel to the West Bank easily and literally break down the physical and psychologically barriers between Israeli and Palestinian society.
The Palestinian people in their non-violent response to their oppression must often feel very misunderstood. Would you agree with that?

I began with the Israeli-Palestinian solidarity group Ta’ayush in the South Hebron Hills by helping Palestinian farmers reach their farmlands and documenting settler and Israeli army violence against them.

Eventually, I began joining unarmed demonstrations against the Israeli separation wall and the occupation in general. Because of my native English and knowledge of the American Jewish community, I began to write about my experiences in English and making short clips for you tube.

One thing lead to another and my voice grew stronger as someone on the ground involved in the daily events in the popular unarmed struggle.

I do not believe that it is a question of being understood but rather not heard.

Israel is afraid of a centralization popular non-violent resistance to its occupation. Thus, it does everything in its power to crush the popular struggle and force the Palestinians into armed resistance, which Israel is designed to fight and understand.

The recent film Budrus carries with it the possibility to expose the fact that Palestinians want to resist non-violently. Also the work of international and Israeli activists can help push this along with the media and various cultural channels.

During your time as an activist and journalist in Palestine what have been the most difficult things for you to overcome?

The most difficult things to overcome have been the loss of personal relationships with some of my Israeli friends and family. When one decides to break down barriers between Israelis and Palestinians, personal relationships in Israel suffer greatly as the society is simply not ready for the necessary revolution that must take place in the heart of Israeli society.

Perhaps this could be called a process of radicalisation. Don’t get me wrong, this process has been worth the costs and I have made amazing friendships with both Israelis and Palestinians, which I deeply cherish as a result of my work.

Can you describe a defining moment in your work?

It is difficult to pick just one moment. My initial reaction is the countless times in the course of demonstrations or midnight house raids where I have found myself together with my Palestinians friends dealing with the effects of tear gas and sound bombs.

I can remember so many times in which we are standing together with tears coming down our faces from the tear gas and helping each other. I can remember the families that have taken me into their homes and prepared food and endless tea despite the fact that I am Israeli while the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is invading their homes or villages.

These incidents have bonded me, emotionally, intellectually and psychological, to my Palestinians friends and colleagues in a deep and profound way. I am inspired by the moral clarity of the people that I have met while doing this work and it provides me with a deep sense of motivation.

One day in the Life of Joseph Dana

Sharfaf and I were taking a small break from the day’s events in Nilin. He is a photographer with activestills and one of the veterans of this dangerous protest against the occupation.
Although I agree totally with Joseph, regarding an end to exclusionary Zionist policy of segregation and a move towards a one state solution where the conflict will be based on democratic rights for all the citizens of the state, I do wonder will this ever now be possible? Are there just too many tensions to make this a reality?

Today is prisoner day and the weekly protest featured hats and t-shirts for everyone involved that were adorned with pictures of the various Palestinians sitting in Israeli jails for planning and participating in the weekly act of resistance that Nilin has become known for.

The actual protest begins violently. Before even reaching the wall, the gate separating us from the Israeli side is open. The soldiers are waiting for us. When we are in sight the first shots of tear gas come raining down. Almost immediately, an Israeli is lightly injured when an aluimin tear gas canister, which was shot directly at him, bruises his butt.

The soldiers enter the village shooting live bullets in all directions and cover the area with tear gas. The protest moves up, climbing a hill close to the village entrance, the protesters on top of the hill and a group of Israeli soldiers at the bottom.

The Palestinians throw rocks and the soldiers respond by firing tear gas canisters directly at the protesters. Eventually, the soldiers run up the hill. It is not too hot this day, so the soldiers have no choice but to make the extra effort.

Eventually I get caught in a cloud of tear gas. It always happens at least once and the only positive thing that I can say is that it clears one’s sinuses.

I find a rock to recover on for a moment and survey the situation. I look to my left and see Palestinians throwing rocks, soldiers firing tear gas/live bullets and off in the distance the wall in front of the settlement of Hashomin. I look to my right and see planes descending into Ben Gurion Airport and the skyline of Tel Aviv in the hot haze that always blankets central Israel.

The situation is once again bizarre. At the point in the protest, all of the Israeli cell phones begin to buzz. We have news that an Arab Israeli resident of Jaffa has been seriously injured in Bilin. The news is that he was hit directly in the forehead with a tear gas canister and is being rushed to the hospital. Yoanthan Pollack, the Israeli spokesman of the Popular Struggle committee, is with us today in Nilin.

He immediately goes to work on his blackberry and small laptop writing press releases, calling lawyers, and connecting the media. The resistance is now high-tech. Activists are carrying laptops to demonstrations and protests in order to get an upper hand on the all-important media war.

Eventually the protest is moved back into the village. The tear gas keeps coming mixed with live bullets.
After half an hour of violent exchange between the soldiers and the Palestinians, the soldiers begin to depart the scene. At this moment, I notice three United Nations observers complete with their light blue uniforms on the roof of one of the houses. I had never heard of the UN doing anything connected to the popular struggle and so it was confusing to see their presence.
The protest ends.
We get back in the car to Tel Aviv. Yonathan is in front always on the phone, writing emails on the computer about the incident in Bilin. We pass through the villages asking locals where the army checkpoints are located. On this day, the army gambled that we would take the back way through the village leaving the main entrance free of a checkpoint. We stroll back to Tel Aviv on the proper roads of the occupation.

Joseph Dana is currently doing a series of speaking events in New York City on behalf of the Anarchists Against the Wall and the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee Anarchists.

More writings by Joseph and his photography can be found on his website.

Lynda Renham-Cook is associate editor at The Scavenger.

All photos by Joseph Dana. Taken from the scavenger article which can be found in full with photos at
http://www.thescavenger.net/people/on-the-ground-in-palestine-with-joseph-dana-212675-html

Advertisements

Supporting Palestine

Why I support Palestine

On a cold, wet night, in February 1994 I entered the home of Rabbi Laurence. He was the first Rabbi I had encountered. My upbringing had been devoid of religion, unless you count the odd Sunday school visit, my small leather-bound bible and a few odd, colourful texts of Jesus that I had collected along the way.
My relationship with God came to an abrupt end at the age of thirteen when our local vicar had damned me to hell for not attending school. I had been suffering from school refusal, – a condition more understood now- and my parents had thought a visit to the local vicar might help, it didn’t. Now, almost twenty years later I was considering religion again, although this time I felt as though God had sent this to me. The man I was about to marry was Jewish. I had read a great deal about the Jewish faith and I felt it was calling to me. My father talked often of the grandmother he had never known and of whom he understood had been Jewish. My future husband had no interest in his faith at all. In fact he was disgustingly ignorant of his heritage. This did not deter me. I asked him about conversion and he admitted that this thought had entered his mind, as he knew his family were not happy about him being seen with a Shiksa (non- Jewish woman). A phrase I would later come to view as very derogatory to myself and all other non-Jewish women. That evening, however, I learnt it would not be that easy to convert. Non-Jews were not encouraged to embrace Judaism and if they did, they had to prove themselves worthy. So, began my introduction to regular Shabbat services, as well as High Holy Day services and festivals such as Pesach (Passover). I became very emotional about my conversion. My partner could not help me with my essays or my Hebrew studies and his family refused to assist. I attended every class and wrote twenty-six essays, learnt fluent Hebrew and later went on to teach Jewish studies and head a small private Jewish school. I married my then fiancée and made sure he followed all holiday and Shabbat practices. I became involved in Synagogue affairs and found myself on many committees. I went to Israel and spent a lot of time there. I viewed Israel as I might my own child, in that it could do no wrong. This was a small country, surrounded by aggressive Arabs who constantly threatened Israel’s very existence. These Arabs were no more than dirty interlopers. They had started wars, lost parts of their land and now wanted Israel to pay. Already, I had been brainwashed. The Jews had suffered the horrors of the Holocaust, how could anyone resent them having a small piece of land. When my husband and I accidentally found ourselves in an Arab quarter when leaving the wrong gate out of Jerusalem, I was terrified, such was my fear of these people at this time. As time went on, I spent more and more of my time defending Israel every time they were condemned. How could people criticise such a small defenceless country. Why were these Arabs complaining so much? There were other Arab countries where they could live. The Jews only had Israel. I am ashamed and shocked how naive I was.
Some years later I divorced my husband. I still continued to practice Judaism but in a smaller way. I still admired Israel and continued to defend it. I met the man who was to become my husband and soul mate. I accepted he was an atheist but was not prepared for his feelings regarding Israel. He would make it clear he did not agree with me but never pushed his opinions upon me. Then I learnt his daughter was to marry an Egyptian. I really felt odd about this and kept asking my husband how he thought her fiancée would feel about me being Jewish. I did not relish meeting him or having an Arab under my roof. However, he came with a friend and I learnt my husband had agreed they could stay the night with us. I had no idea what to expect. But certainly what I encountered was far from any expectations I may have had. They were courteous well-mannered, pleasant, intelligent and accepting of my beliefs. I went to bed that night realising I had never been as accepting of them. I Finally agreed to go to Cairo for their engagement party. My views on Israel and Arabs were dramatically altered during that visit. I met people who treated me with the highest respect while maintaining their deep passion regarding Israel and the social injustice delivered to their fellow countrymen there. I was astonished when a friend of the family offered to show me the oldest synagogue in Cairo. Before we left he gave me gifts for my family. I was deeply touched. I am still in contact with him and consider him a good friend. However, I still continued defending Israel no matter how inexcusable their behaviour. I would argue with people, even when I knew my argument was somewhat flawed. Again, we were invited to Cairo. This time I discussed politics with the friend I had made and also with my future stepson in law. I began to look at the news with a different perspective. For the first time in my life I read the history of the Israeli and Palestine conflict. I began to read any book I could lay my hands on about the plight of the Palestinian and I became ashamed. I was Ashamed of my ignorance and ashamed of my arrogance. I am now reading so many books on the Israeli/Palestinian situation. I can finally see that Israel’s occupation of the West bank and the Gaza strip is illegal and violates the fourth Geneva conventions. Worse of all, Israel’s human rights violations since 2000 have left more than four times more Palestinian civilians dead than the total number of Israeli’s killed by Palestinians. I could go on and on. But there are numerous books to read and you only need to Google to check the facts.
‘Witness in Palestine’ By Anna Baltzer is only one of many books detailing all the facts. Another wonderful read is ‘Letters from Palestine’ by Kenneth Ring, a wonderful man with a Jewish background and a big heart. I am blessed to know you Kenneth. I am blessed to know many Palestinians.
I do not forget those whose lives were lost in The Holocaust. Both are anathema to me. However, it is important to remember one does not cancel out the other. Israel often quotes the Holocaust. If anyone criticises them they are automatically accused by Israel of being a Holocaust denier. The Holocaust does not give the Israeli’s the right to break UN resolutions, which they do, in fact more than any country in the history of its organization. Something a country cannot be proud of doing surely.
Palestinians are not victims and would not wish to be viewed as such but they do need our support and help in highlighting what is clearly a social injustice. I hope I am now doing that.

A day in the Life of an NHS worker

A day in the life of a part time NHS worker

Nearly half of NHS staff feel so overstretched they fear they cannot do their jobs properly, a survey shows.
The Healthcare Commission poll of 160,000 workers across England also showed many did not feel valued.
If one wishes to write for a living, one also has to do something to pay the bills. I did consider taking to the streets but the fear of scandal once I became famous haunted me, so I opted for the next best thing. The NHS. You get a good pension and everyone admires you for some inane reason. I have worked my way through several NHS jobs; I have been receptionist, administrator, dog’s body, health care assistant and many others.

I am one of the chosen people. Oh yes, I am one of those special people. Working for the NHS entitles me to feel overstretched that I fear I cannot do my job properly. I am one of those people who defiantly deserve an MBE or some award at least if only for managing to stuff my face full of the biscuits and cakes handed over by patients at Christmas. Of course these should last a full year, but in a job as stressful as this they are gone by Easter.
No one fully realises the stress in working for the NHS and how undervalued one can feel. While the rest of you are trying to avoid swine flu, I face it head on every day.
A day in the life of an NHS worker is not pleasant to read. If you have the stomach for it, read on.

Opened up the clinic today. All dark and gloomy inside, but it will liven up soon with the regulars. Switch on the computers, which take all of thirty minutes to start. Pop two painkillers, in case. Always best to be prepared I find. Check which Doctor is on call, can’t work it out, phone practice manager who manages to make me feel two inches small but she is good at that anyway. Pop two more painkillers, different ones this time, the ones you can mix. I work for the NHS so I know which you can mix. Check the clock and debate whether I have time to run to the loo before the phones start ringing. I dive in and just sit down and yes the phone rings and I know it is bound to be an emergency. I pull everything up rapidly and answer it. Once I came out of the loo with my skirt tucked in my knickers, not a pretty sight. I see the queue of patients outside. Oh yes, they queue nice and early. A bit like Sainsburys on Christmas Eve except not as merry.
‘Have you opened the door?’ asks practice manager. Obviously I haven’t, else they would not be shivering outside. But I hate to mention that she states the bloody obvious.
I answer the phone.
‘Tree elms surgery’ well, obviously it isn’t really called that is it? But I had to think of something. I do want to keep my job in the NHS believe it or not.
‘Is that the surgery?’
Didn’t I just say so, idiot.
‘Yes’
I am getting edgy now. People are peering at me through the window. I am two minutes late opening up.
‘Oh I am sorry to phone so early, are you doing the flu jab this year?’
‘Yes’
‘Is that the normal flu?’
No, it’s the abnormal flu.
‘Yes, shall I book you in?’
‘Well I was wondering…’ When they start wondering I start to switch off. I put her on hold and unlock the doors.
I come back to the phone and wonder why the queue isn’t descending upon me.
‘Can I have my blood test at the same time?’
‘Not really, it is a flu clinic so the nurse will be injecting one patient after the other.’
I have not unlocked the bloody door. I turned on the automatic switch but did not unlock it. I dive out and let them in apologising profusely.
‘I will call back’ says my phone caller.
Great! I begin checking in the patients. This is the fun part of the morning.
‘ Can I see the ‘Nurse please?’
‘Is it for bloods?’ I ask sounding like Dracula’s assistant.
Next patient.
‘Doctor Roberts please’
‘He has quite a long waiting list are you happy to wait?’
‘How long?’
How long is a piece of string? All patients expect you to be psychic.
‘I have this pain in my chest but I don’t want to bother the Doctor if it’s nothing’
‘I can book you in to see a doctor this morning’
‘It probably isn’t anything is it?’
Sigh,
‘I’m not a clinician, I can’t really advise. If you are concerned you should see a Doctor.’
Two patients with potential swine flu phone, one is sitting outside in her car with her whole family. They are visiting from Sydney and want to see a Doctor.
It is decided they will be seen. I am elected to fetch them in. I search for a mask, can’t find one, give up and fetch them totally exposed. I try not to get too close to them and quickly close the door of the treatment room. Ten minutes later one of the Gps looking like an astronaut goes to see them. He comes back, confirms swine flu and asks me to take them their invoice.
‘Private patients have to pay’ he informs me.
I gingerly enter the treatment form with the invoice and a chocolate biscuit hidden in my hand, well someone has to eat them. They go to give me a credit card.
‘We only accept Cheques or cash’ I inform them. I wait for over five minutes while they raid purses and pockets to raise the money. Meanwhile, I try holding my breath.
Back to reception where they all sit in the waiting room chatting to each other or reading old copies of country life magazine. I hear Dolly come in before I see her, hearing aid whistling a jolly tune for all to hear. A new receptionist asks loudly,
‘Where’s that music coming from? Can you hear it?’
District nurse phones, she can’t get into Mrs Tulley’s house, would I be a darling and phone her.
NO! Do I have to??
I turn up Terry Wogan to glares of hatred and phone Mrs Tully.
‘The district nurse is outside could you let her in?’ I shout
‘What’s that about my purse?’
‘No, district nurse, can you let her in’ I scream
‘I have my purse, who are you anyway?’
I hang up and turn the music down.
I am getting stressed.
‘Excuse me could I have some water I think I am going to faint’ asks a patient.
You and me both, I think. Then, I remember the chocolate biscuits, and the minstrels and the last piece of chocolate cake. Just the thing for my stress, something to lift my blood sugar. Not so stressful, you may be thinking. Ah, but this is an organised surgery, now the previous one I worked in…

Well, lets not go there.
An hour later I take a call from ‘Manor house’ the local home for dementia patients.
‘Can you check some patients for me?’ asks the deputy manager.
‘Yes certainly which ones?’
‘Michael Lomas, can you tell me did you do a repeat script for him yesterday?’
I stare wide-eyed at the screen where the words patient deceased screams at me.
Does the deputy manager not know one of his patients died only yesterday?
‘erm’ I mumble.
‘Or maybe it was Margaret Dunn, did she have a repeat for her sleeping pills?’
‘Which one do you want me to check?’ I ask getting a trifle confused.
‘Well. Both I think’
I debate whether to remind him that one of them died and decide against it.
‘Oh, we also lost some medication for Joe Turner, we have found them now can we continue with them?’
Please God do not let Andrew put me here! Note to self, keep doing the mental exercises.
‘Let me put you through to dispensary?’ I ask passing the buck.
Then as the afternoon drifts aimlessly on there are the usual weird phone calls, which go something like this.
‘’Tree Elms surgery good afternoon’
‘Is that the Doctor’s surgery?’
I am sure I just said that, but never mind.
‘Yes can I help?’
‘Who’s that?’
‘Lynda, how can I help?’
‘Do I know you?’
What the hell does it matter?
‘Are you new?’
I usually end up passing this to someone they know.
Or…
‘Tree Elms surgery good afternoon’
‘Do you have an appointment with Dr Roberts this afternoon?’
‘He is not here today’
‘Oh, hold on’ calls to someone else ‘He is not there today she says, do you want to see someone else?’
The moron who can’t speak for himself, yes gentleman it is always the man who gets his wife to phone for him and henceforth we have a three way conversation.
‘Who is there today,’ she asks
I give her the names and she shouts them to him, he asks what times. I tell her the times, which she shouts at him. There is silence from us all why the twit makes a decision. I book the appointment and hang up in disgust.
As I make my way home I seriously consider my first option of life on the streets.