Sunday 25 November Ragini Kistnasamy, a leading member of LALIT, gave a report-back to LALIT and the MLF (Women's Liberation Movement) on her recent weeks when she was living in Palestine under military occupation. Her experiences during this the 40th year of Israeli military occupation of Palestine were particularly interesting as she had volunteered through the Women's International Peace Service on a similar experience just three years ago, in 2004, so her report was both of what she saw and experienced in 2007 and also on the changes over the past three years. (See her diaries in Kreol on our News Archive, just click on the home-page on News.)
The event held at the LALIT Hall in GRNW and which coincides with preparations for the US-called Annapolis Summit, was jointly organized by LALIT party and the MLF, just as three years ago, a similar jointly organized report back was held. Alain Ah-Vee, another LALIT member who also volunteered (to the International Solidarity Movement) to go to attend a three-week hike along the illegal "Apartheid Wall" built by the Israeli occupiers, was also present and participated.
The event was presided over by agreement between the two organizations by Lindsey Collen and Cindy Clelie, on behalf of both organizations. Cindy Clelie put forward the multiple historical reasons as to why the Palestinian people find themselves without a country, while Lindsey Collen explained the reasons why LALIT finds the issue such a key one today.
Ragini Kistnasamy then listed the main issues involved in the Palestine struggle today, which we need to study, and which are the backdrop to her experience in Palestine: the 7 million Palestinian refugees who seek the right to return, of whom part are living outside Palestine, part displaced within; boundaries not only between Israel and Palestine, but between Israel and Jordan, Syria (the Golan Heights are occupied), the Lebanon (the Shaba farm region is still occupied), Egypt, all of which have their borders controlled by the Israeli army; the question of Jerusalem, a city like Berlin was, divided; water resources controlled and stolen by the Israeli State; the issue of colonies, outposts and further expansion of Israeli-controlled land; Hamas, which is the elected Government of the Palestine Authority, has seen enough of its elected members kidnapped by the Israeli army to have lost a majority, to Fateh, which has lost support; the siege of Gaza, which is being strangled; the issue now, with the rise of fundamentalism amongst Palestinian parties, of two religious States, one Jewish and one Islamic; access to land; the illegal apartheid wall and apartheid autobahns; work for Palestinians and foreign capital.
Ragini said that when she told people she was going picking olives in Palestine, they seemed to say, "Mank lokipasyon?" which translated literally means "You short of an occupation?" And at once the double meaning of the word "occupation" came to her mind. What does living under occupation mean when the olive harvest time comes? Her speech replied to this question. How, in order to pick olives, Palestinian families have to face up to the Israeli army and bands of armed and marauding Israeli colonizers from outposts. How olive trees which can live to over a thousand years, "Roman trees", and how there are avenues of 500-year old trees, are precious to Palestinians who tend them. How the people of Palestine see the shoots of a new olive tree coming out of that hard rock-like arid ground, as being, like themselves, persistent, and bearing beautiful fruit of life. How, according to an old Ottoman law (Cindy Clelie had spoken about how the British had "won" Palestine from the Ottoman empire in the First World War, as part of its drive to control the sources of Middle-East oil and routes to and from it), if for three consecutive years you don't tend your olives, your land can get declared "abandoned" and taken by the (Israeli) State. What riches in terms of olive oil and olives for canning and bottling the orchards are. All that she described, from narratives about different confrontations with armed men.
Because the volunteers like her respond to requests from Palestinian families having difficulty with their harvest. So, she only went to places where there was already a confrontation. They were often accompanied by women's movement representatives from Palestinian and Israeli associations, as well as by members of the organization Rabbis for Human Rights, who support the Palestinian people against repression by the Israeli State. She, Cindy Clelie and Lindsey Collen all put emphasis on the fact that this is not a struggle between different religions or races, as the media often makes out, and as the right wing parties want to make it into.
Once again we learnt, during the lively question time, the truth about the siege of Palestine. It is impossible to get to Palestine without crossing an Israeli military point, and in any case, once in Palestine, there are 800 "check-points" or military installations that act as barriers to free movement. But Ragini said it is not like the television shows it, with suicide bombers and actual war. It is the hidden, slow, strangling of a people. You are not free to move. There are army towers all around, fixed check-points and increasingly flying check-points. There are colonies, with armed colonists, and their "outposts". Outposts are the sign that a new colony is being built. They start with a container-on-wheels on top of a hillock. The container then develops windows. Then people go and live in it. Three years later it can be a whole town, with highways, water, electricity and elected representatives, all recognized by the State of Israel.
The talk was in the midst of a two-part exhibition. First, there were maps showing the situation at the time of the British annexation of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire and the Balfour Declaration (1917), the situation in 1948 when Britain was pulling out and the Zionist movement was terrorizing the British and the Palestinians to get them both to leave, the situation after the Israeli annexation of land in 1967, and the situation today with the further insidious colonization.
Second, there were photos from the web, of olive trees being harvested, or the donkey loaded with the harvest, of old ladies picking olives, of men up ladders in their trees, of a one-thousand year old tree, and of an orchard cut down by the Israeli army.
And Kisna ended by saying that despite everything the Palestinian people continued their lives, eking out their livings, working, going to school, having big weddings (with loud music just like in Mauritius), and enjoying sharing a cup of very sweet tea on and off throughout the day.
Cindy referred people to a book worth reading on the subject of Israel and Palestine is Prof. Norman Finkelstein's "Image and Reality in the Israelo-Palestinian Conflict" (c 2002.)