Israel & The Occupied Territories 1990
Looking back, there are three signposts of particular significance in my journeys toward justice. The first was simply beginning to experience the world beyond Australia. The third was the encounter, described later in this book, with indigenous Australia. On the way there was a second encounter of deeper than usual significance -- my first visit to Israel.
For me this represented a real loss of innocence. For a start I realised that I had been deceived about Israel. This hurt. I had believed the common Western myths surrounding the creation of the modern Israeli state. To these had been added some beliefs about what the Bible said on the matter. All of these were to come under challenge over the next few years as I tried to understand what the experiences of Israel and the Occupied Territories really meant.
If ever I had experienced the impact of social engineering, I encountered it in Israel and the Occupied Territories -- on both sides.
If ever I had wondered how to operate effectively as a development aid agency in a complex and contradictory world, I found more questions and fewer answers here.
If ever I had experienced that truth is not always what is presented to you as truth, I discovered it more distressingly here.
Playing the Security Check Game
'Welcome to El Al Airlines. We have to ask you a few questions for security reasons.' The man at the security counter before the check-in counter was about twenty years of age. There were five of these counters. The others were attended by women who seemed teenage. Everyone carried a clip-board.
'May I see your passport, please?'
'Sure.' It went under the clip on his clip-board. He laboriously read the first page, looking up to see if my face resembled the photo. He was apparently satisfied that new glasses and a trimmed beard had not obscured my identity. He flipped through the passport pages. There were forty-eight of them, with visas on forty-four from all over the world. Even I thought it was interesting reading.
After five minutes of silence he said, 'May I see your ticket, please?'
'Sure.' It went under the clip on his clip-board. He studied the ticket. He was reading everything -- even the notice that suggested one should not take hair spray on board.
Roll Out The Welcoming Committee
'Is this your first trip to Israel?'
'Yes. First time.'
'What will you be doing there?'
'I'm a tourist.'
'What do you plan to see?'
'Well, I'm not sure until I get there.'
'Is someone arranging your itinerary in Israel?'
'Who is that?'
'My office there.'
'Ah, you have an office in Israel. Do you have their address and phone number and the names of the people there?'
'Sure. You want to know that?'
I got out my digital diary and tapped in W-A-R-N-O-C-K. I gave him this name, and the office phone number. He wrote this information down on the pad on his clip-board.
'What business is this?'
'World Vision.' I had to spell it (it was my accent for sure).
I offered him my business card. It went under the clip on his clipboard.
'And what does this World Vision do?'
'What is that?'
'Well, you know, we work with kindergartens, health programs, agriculture.'
'And what will you do in Israel?'
'I will visit some of these places where we are offering assistance.'
'Do you have a letter from this organisation inviting you to Israel?'
'No.' Although I wasn't surprised, I tried to sound surprised. Since when did you need a written invitation to visit Israel?
'Where are these places you will visit?'
'I don't know, frankly.'
'Jerusalem? Haifa? Tel Aviv?'
'Maybe. I really don't know my itinerary until I get there.'
'This Bill Warnock will meet you at the airport?'
'Yes, and he'll know what we are doing.'
'Yes, me and my companion.' The Rev Graham Beeston, a French citizen who also happens to be my wife's brother, was travelling with me.
Please Describe Every Step Of Your Journey. EVERY Step.
'Who paid for your ticket?' I was just getting used to the other line of questioning and he was off on another tangent.
'How have you come to the airport?'
'You mean right now? Or from Australia?'
'From Australia.' I was sorry I asked.
'Well, first I went to a conference in Germany, then ...'
'What was this conference?'
'It was a meeting of all the directors of World Vision from around the world. We meet irregularly, and this was one of our meetings.' I was starting to get bored. We still had a long way to travel.
'Do you have a brochure of this meeting?'
'I have the conference notebook. Do you want to see that?' I was sure he would. He did.
I laid my large aluminium Zero Halliburton suitcase on the floor, dialled the combination code and opened it up. Inside, near the top, was my bulging conference binder. I took it out and handed it to the interviewer. Amazingly he managed to get it to stay under the clip on his clip-board.
'Close the bag please.' I closed my bag.
Now he took a long while to look over the notebook list of contents. He tried to look knowing. Then he returned his attention to my ticket. Whenever there was a lull his eyes and fingers fell on my ticket. He would scan it with his index finger as if proofreading. Suddenly he would spot something.
'How did you come from Frankfurt to here?'
'Well, that's a bit complicated.' Bad answer.
'You flew to Lyon. Why is that?'
'My brother-in-law lives near there.'
'So you stayed with him last night?'
'No, I stayed with his brother-in-law last night.' To his credit, his eyes did not flicker.
'So what did you do in Lyon?'
'I just got off the plane and my brother-in-law picked me up.' I took pity on him and continued. 'Then he drove me home to his place in Romans-sur-Isere, and I stayed there on Wednesday night. Then we came to Paris yesterday.'
'How did you come to Paris?'
'You have the tickets?'
'No, he has the tickets.' I nodded in the direction of my bon frere.
'Where did you stay last night?'
'At his brother-in-law's place.'
'Where is that?'
'I don't know. I just went with him.'
'You don't know?'
'Well, it was not far from a station called Mairie D'Issy.'
'Then how did you get to the airport?' This was even more complicated. Graham's brother-in-law could not take us at the time required, so he rang his son, Michel, and then Graham's brother-in-law's wife (following this?) drove us to Michel's place, where Graham dropped off a gift for Michel's new baby, and then Michel drove us to the airport in his car.
'His son drove us.'
And, By The Way, Some Questions About Security.
'Who packed your suitcase?'
'No. When did you last pack it?'
'And where has it been since?'
'In the boot of the car.' He seemed to understand 'boot'.
'Has it been out of your possession any time since you packed it?' Now these were sensible security questions at last. He had stopped a line of questioning that presumed I was a terrorist. Now the presumption was that I might be used by a terrorist.
'No. It has been locked. And it was locked in the car.'
'Are you carrying any gifts for people in Israel?'
'Did anyone give you a parcel for you to carry for them?'
'Think hard.' I thought hard. My brain started to hurt.
Back to the ticket. A long silence. I inspected the seat allocation counters behind. Most airlines let you walk right up. El Al is security paranoid. Even if such paranoia was justified, it subtly reinforces the image of Israel as a beleaguered state. At this stage I was convinced that the security questioning was sincere, based on a real danger. Later I wondered whether other matters of a more political nature were the main motivation.
Back To Each Step Of The Journey
'Why are you going to Athens after you leave. Israel?' I had been told to expect this question from others who had received this treatment. He was not reading the ticket as carefully as he pretended. The answer was under his thumb.
'It's on the way home.'
'Because that is where I connect with the Singapore Airlines plane that will take me to Singapore, then to Melbourne.'
'Just transit.' Ah-hah. 'Why did you go this way?' Persistent fellow.
'I don't know. Because it's the quickest way home, I suppose.'
'The travel agent made this choice for you?'
'Please wait a moment.' All during my interview he had repeatedly checked the progress of a similar interview being done with Graham, two desks away. He noted that this interview had now concluded and Graham's female interviewer was standing in the middle of the waiting area talking to a more official, older person.
Sorry Sir, Your Car is Worthless
Our two interviewers huddled with this first man for about five minutes. They referred to their notes and looked back at us from time to time. I felt like I had a second-hand car as a trade-in and the salesman, after kicking the tyres and tut-tutting his way around the car, was now having a mock conversation with his manager, from which he would return to tell me, very sorrowfully, that the car was worth only half its apparent value.
The result here was similar.
'Would you mind waiting over here for a few minutes? It will take a little time.'
Somewhere in the next thirty to forty minutes the phone rang in our Jerusalem office. Bill was out. The accountant took the call from a person who asked abruptly about me and my visit. The accountant verified that World Vision was indeed expecting me. More than that he did not know. They should wait for Mr Bill.
At the same time in my office in Melbourne, a colleague took a call from a person saying he was ringing from Israel. He asked to speak to me and was informed that I was travelling overseas. The caller hung up.
After half an hour another woman came and took me off for a second interview. The questions were all the same. The interview was much shorter, and she seemed unconcerned about how I had got from Frankfurt to Paris although Graham and I thought this by far the best part of the story. After all, why had two Middle Eastern looking fellows been sitting in our reserved seats when we got on the TGV in Vallence? And why, when we went to the Buffet Car, had a third swarthy chap taken over our position? Was this a clever PLO plot to sneak a bomb into our bags?
The young woman who had interviewed Graham came over to us as we waited and apologised for the delay. 'It takes a little time', she said. Meanwhile, others were being slowly processed. The queues were getting longer. One young American was taking as long to get going as we were. But then he looked like a hippie. We seemed to be in a role play about stereotyping.
Maybe I'm A Stooge For Someone
After more than an hour I was invited for a third interview. Now she concentrated only on the possibility of us 'being used'. 'You charity people are targets', she said. I agreed this was a possibility and said I was aware of the risk and was very careful. My suitcase was always locked unless I was present with it. I did not accept parcels except from family, and then only if I knew what was in them. She seemed satisfied and asked us to wait again.
At last, some minutes later, we were ushered to the check-in counter, our bags and tickets stamped with brown security stickers. We received our seat allocation and walked away. Then, loudly in French, a policeman with a loud hailer announced the area was being evacuated. Two other gendarmes held a long tape and gradually moved the crowd back. We went upstairs to the departure lounge. We never heard an explosion.
What's This All About Really?
The whole process had been strangely curious. At no stage was our baggage searched or, as far as I could tell, X-rayed. I was asked if I was carrying a weapon, but they just took my word for it. Would a real terrorist be less convincing? I was not searched. Perhaps we walked through a metal detector but I cannot recall doing so. There were booths for doing body searches but they were not used.
Why had it taken them more than an hour of simple questioning to decide my security risk to El Al? If they were concerned about whether we were carrying weapons, there was a very easy way to find out. They could have asked to search our bags. We would have said yes. No-one seems to mind a little inconvenience to know that bomb-carriers have little chance of getting on board. But this was clearly not what it was about.
What if your real aim was to create in the traveller's mind an image of insecurity and threat? Since you wanted to concentrate on image creation, you must concentrate on the person. See how carefully and in how much detail they checked me? I was scrutinised; my bags were not. I came away with an impression of security rather than the fact of it.
After that, No Welcoming Committee
After that, the flight was unremarkable. We arrived on time in Tel Aviv to find no-one waiting; apparently the message that we had changed to an earlier flight had not been received by Bill. I said to Graham, 'We'll wait until 7.30 p.m., then we'll take a taxi to Jerusalem'. I think I was more relaxed about this than Graham, but mix-ups of this kind are part and parcel of travel. Bill arrived at seven, and we enjoyed the drive in the dim evening light to Jerusalem, where we fell into bed in a pleasant room at the YMCA in East Jerusalem.
At 4.00 a.m. the room echoed with the Islamic call to prayer from the speakers of the mosque across the road. 'Come to prayers. Prayer is better than sleep.' It is a noble sentiment, but we were humble of spirit at such an early hour.
Don't Plan To Do What You Plan
We planned to go the next day to two Palestinian villages in the West Bank, but plans had to be changed. The day before someone had allegedly thrown a stone at a settler's car in a town named Biddu and the army put a curfew on the town. No-one could come out of their houses.
The problem for us was that this town was a key crossroads. Access to the villages on our itinerary was via Biddu. We would not be allowed to pass through.
Nevertheless we set out by bus, the driver saying we would take an alternative route -- the 'World Vision' road, an agricultural road (read 'dirt') built by the community with support from Save the Children Fund and World Vision.
Hello? Here's Richard Nixon!
On the bus was 'Richard Nixon', so named by his friends because of his likeness to the former US President. Bill said the kindergarten teachers loved him because he worked so willingly at the kindergarten. Nixon had been shot in the legs during an incident in his village some months before. Israeli soldiers had fired tear gas until it ran out, then rubber bullets until they ran out, then live ammunition. One of these bullets hit Nixon. Finally, the soldiers were separated from their vehicles long enough for women to set their jeeps alight. Once reinforcements arrived, twenty-five men from the village were arrested. Four of these were still in jail. (Seven others from this village were already incarcerated.)
Richard Nixon told us he was now '100 per cent'. 'I am made of iron', he said.
It's An Ancient Land
We passed olive and fig groves in terraces on hills whose size surprised me. These were major hills, rivalling the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne. Some of these terraces were 5,000 years old. The ground was very rocky and it was easy to see why the Palestinians threw stones. They were an unlimited resource.
First Introduction To Collective Punishment
We left the highway by an unmade road, then we joined the 'World Vision' road for a slow and rough grind up and over the hills to the village that was our destination. The journey took over an hour. 'If they had not put Biddu under curfew it would take us ten minutes', said Bill. 'Also, when Biddu is under curfew that means there is no school for the teenagers from the whole district, because that is where the only high school is.' Everybody got punished, including us, when someone threw a stone at a settler's car.
At the village we discovered the soldiers had been the day before. Women had been required to paint over pro-PLO slogans on the walls. Children had been made to pull PLO flags down from the mosque and overhead wires. Windows were broken in some houses. One soldier took a pot-shot at a roof top water tank. The speaker on the mosque was taken away. A new one had already been put up.
Teaching The Kids ... What?
The children in the kindergarten were gorgeous. They sang unmelodic chants. Some words were translated:
We are the Palestinian children,
The Flag expresses who we are.
We shall not stop until we have our freedom, our state.
If the Israelites don't give us our land,
The Jews will break themselves.
I was a bit troubled by the blatant indoctrination of the children. This was a highly politicised education program. I was not surprised, however, as I had read of this in David K. Shipler's book Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in the Promised Land. (Viking Penguin 1987) It appeared that indoctrination of children was an important part of the struggle both for Arab and Jew. But is this World Vision's business? I wondered.
I Meet A Cave Man
We began to meet people. One man, Mahmoud, told us he had spent only three nights at home in the last year. He went out and slept in a cave or on a rock, for fear the soldiers might come and arrest him. 'The night is not special for you', he said, 'it is for everyone. Thieves, soldiers.' During the day he could see a kilometre in any direction, but at night he hid. Many men of his age did this. So far he was not on a wanted list. Later we heard he was.
I asked if the soldiers had ever come to Mahmoud's wife when she was alone. 'Yes', she said, 'and our little son, who had mumps at the time, sat up in bed and said, "Go away. I hate you." And they went away!'
People had ID cards that identified where they were from. Blue for Israel. Orange for the West Bank. Green was a special card preventing the owner from going to Jerusalem.
The Men On The Wanted Posters
A group of wanted arrived. All but one of about six men said they had been in jail at least once. Some were bingo people: at times the army would stop people, line them up and go along the line looking for people they wanted. When they recognised one, they said 'Bingo!' The Arabs had never seen a game of Bingo, but they understood the rules.
'How long are you staying?' asked one man.
'Is it enough? You need to put yourself in the people's place.'
Normal Gets Redefined
We asked this man if he had been in jail. He replied, 'Yes. It's normal.' I found this shocking -- the extent to which life under occupation had become normal. Questions about being arrested, about curfew, about beatings, about harassment, about confiscation of land, about anything that seemed extraordinary to me, were treated with a perfunctory dismissiveness that was disarming and bemusing. At first I thought they didn't want to talk about it. Then I realised that it was so commonplace that talking about it was itself unusual and extraordinary.
Torture -- It's Normal
One man told his story.
It was at the beginning of 1988, one year into the intifada. At 1.00 a.m. there was a knock on his door. They called his name. There were twenty soldiers at the door, and another forty surrounding his house. He had one wife and one child. He opened the door. The Captain, named Zuheer (they always seemed to use this name), announced, 'I have a licence to arrest you for six months'. They asked him to sign a paper in Hebrew. He was afraid they might have been settlers disguised as soldiers; they were sometimes more violent. He was in his pyjamas. They would not let him get dressed, nor to put on shoes. His hands were tied behind his back with 'American' rope that got tighter if you struggled.
His mother hit a soldier. They fired a shot in the air. He was walked (no shoes) one kilometre over sharp rocks. Two soldiers punched and kicked him as he walked. They stopped him by a pole on which was a picture of Arafat. 'Who is that?' they asked. 'I can't see', he replied, knowing perfectly well who it was. 'Do you have a light?' They produced the light. As he craned his neck back to look up, they bashed his head forward against the pole.
At the end of the village there were thirteen jeeps and one large truck. He figured he must be a Very Important Palestinian. He put one foot up onto the jeep and they threw him head first onto the floor. They climbed in and put their feet on him. Each time he spoke they kicked him. Another three were arrested at different villages. They were all on the floor of the truck now, under the soldiers' feet. Any noise, they were kicked.
At the prison they tied him kneeling with a sack over his head. The sack smelled of donkey manure and urine.
'What's that feel like?' I interrupted.
'It feels normal.'
'Good answer', his friends said, wryly. I admired their black humour -- the good humour of the oppressed. 'No-one can reach freedom without some pain. So this is normal.' Here was the willingly paid price of a liberation struggle. The oppression was simply creating heroes and martyrs. It was back-firing.
He was taken to an interrogator, who began pleasantly, 'Tell me your story'.
'I have no story. No problems.'
'If you won't, I will.' The interrogator mentioned an incident in which one of the shebab, the young men of the village, had been killed. 'Where were you?'
'In the field working. I heard about it from my mother when I returned.'
Then the interrogator began using bad words. He described the man as the 'brother of a bitch' and 'the son of a prostitute' -- words, he said, that hurt the Arab Muslim to hear much more than the Israeli Jew to say.
Next the interrogator brought his file. This contained information from 'dogs' (collaborators). There were twelve allegations -- member of Fatah, threw stones, bottles, many things. His brother was out of the country and a member of Fatah. 'What do you get from your brother?'
When there was no answer, the bad guys came in. They hit him. He said there were three kinds of interrogators -- the nice man, the one who hits, and the half and half. For ninety minutes they beat him. Punched his face, chest and back. Whipped him anywhere. They kicked his genitals twice.
At this point another man reminded us that this happened early in the intifada so this man had been lucky. Recently, one young man had been repeatedly kicked in the genitals. Now he took one hour to pass urine.
This treatment went on for forty-one days: questions and beatings, the same every day. For six days more they put him in a cupboard about one metre square. It had nails in the walls and water on the floor. Once a day they let him out to go to the toilet, but only after he had cried out for an hour.
The story seemed incredible later as I went over my notes. Yet there was no guile or dissembling that I could discern. Here was an ordinary honest man, telling his story in an unremarkable way. It was normal.
Meanwhile, Kids Watch TV Propaganda