Saturday, June 23, 2012

Seattle Solidarity meetings

It's the end of the school year. For a post-grad wanderer, that doesn't mean much. For a teacher kid, that means lots of cookies on the kitchen table. So...still a good thing.

 Tonight I went to two meetings. One was for Northwest BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli Occupation) and the other was a film screening at a church in Wallingford, followed by discussion. On Israel/Palestine. There's a reason this post might be kinda long. I'm not as stoked about pouring over the details of my Seattle. But I'm starting to get acquainted with the social justice/palestine solidarity/equal rights/awareness/what have you movement in Seattle and I'm still coming across this really interesting people and conversations. And I have to record them because they are not recorded enough. I feel very strongly about this.

So here goes. The first event I was horrendously late for, but it turns out Seattle time sometimes resembles Arab time, so I was fine. It was a potluck. Everyone was really friendly. One couple had come all the way from Vancouver, WA, and were looking to move to Palestine together. Another girl my age was just about to leave for a two-month tour. Making salmon-cream cheese dip was Kit Kittredge, whose name I already knew; she was on two flotillas to Gaza. Ed took me around and introduced me to people. The first person we met was Judith.

We did all the hey's, how are ya's, and she said she just got back from a trip to Eastern Europe. There was a moment's pause, and me being the awkward person I am, I had to tell myself to keep the conversation going (some people just naturally do that, you know)

"So! What were you doing in Eastern Europe?"
She explained that she was on a trip with her daughters. Her family was Polish, so she wanted to go and see the Jewish culture there, or what remains of the old Jewish culture, because Poland used to be the heart of it. I asked her what she found, and she said most of it is gone. There used to be three million Jews there, and now there were something like 70,000. I told her I'd just heard of an art project that created a campaign to reach out to Jews who had left Poland and re-create a Jewish Renaissance...(the link is here), thought she might find that interesting. She told me about one of her friends who moved from Poland to Israel, then decided to move back. Not because he hated Israel, he just missed Poland. Judith and her daughters went to Germany and Auschwitz and she said everytime she saw pictures of children she thought of Palestinian children, and her mind kept going to the wall, and Gaza....and she didn't want to bring her politics on her family so she mostly kept it to herself.

I stayed for about an hour of the meeting, then had to run to the film screening/discussion in Wallingford. Suffice to say, I met some wonderful and courageous folks at both events, and felt like I really had something to contribute, though I'm not sure what that is yet...

I arrived 40 minutes late to the second event, but luckily Arab time still held, and the film screening of Encounter Point was just ending. I caught the last 5 minutes, and paid attention to the camera angles and how the filmmaker was presenting her conclusion. Could I really be a professional filmmaker?

The credits rolled and I saw that Julia Bacha made the film. She made Budrus! She also did the Ted Talk on paying attention to non-violence...

I loaded up on coffee and bread, and perused the tables. There was Amin at the solidarity table, and another table for JStreet. I thought about asking them about their 2-State platform, but I just sat and sipped my coffee until the discussion started.

Right off the bat I could tell there were some solidarity folks there. The guy next to me started off talking about how Jews and Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully before Zionism, and how the solution shouldn't be in dividing the people up. The woman next to me responded that that is a nice idea in theory, but we have segregated populations over the world, and the other guy responded, yes, but not segregated by law, and the moderator had to put her foot down. There was a no talk-back policy.

The rest of the discussion flowed pretty smoothly. It seemed that the 1-state/2-state bit was the only real controversy, because there were a lot of Amen's on the idea of co-existance and democracy and equal rights, but that didn't fully conform to the J-Street 2-Staet platform. Jewish state next to Palestinian State. Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace. I have a lot of respect for the work they do politically. They support candidates who are willing to advocate openly for peace with the Palestinians, not pretend they don't exist or follow the Israel Lobby blindly, like Republicans and most Democrats. I like keeping track of their work, though I don't think 2 States is the only solution. When one guy in the discussion asked, "Don't we all agree that the idea of states and borders should disappear someday?" and people hoorah'd, I got the impression from one of the women from J-Street that 2 States may be the best short-term solution...

But one of them shared, "I went to Israel and the West Bank, and I came out more sympathetic towards the Palestinians..." and "as an American Jew, I have no problem communicating with Muslims, or Christians, or the interfaith community. What's hard for me is communicating with someone from a pro-Israel group like StandWithUs, someone in my own community with different views..." At the end of the discussion I realized I hadn't said anything and thrust my hand up desperately and finally got called on. I told everyone that I'd just gotten back from the West Bank, where I was running a guest house where people could come and see the situation, and what I found was that the definitions in this conflict are too rigid. It's not about being on the Israeli "side" or the Palestinian "side." Instead I saw a conflict between forces of unity and forces of separation. An Israeli who breaks Israeli law to visit friends in Ramallah...what do we call them? What side do we put them on? There's not enough light being shined on these "in-between" scenarios, and that's why people are so disillusioned about the prospect of coexistance.

Anyway, I got a really good response, and several people went up to my afterward and wanted to know more about the work I did. The woman from J-Street next to me seemed really enthusiastic about it, and we exchanged numbers before I left. She said the last time she was in Israel was in the 70's, and she's still unsure of a lot of things.
"Some of those guys in the discussion seemed alright with there being no Jewish state, but I'm not sure I am!"
I responded that it was really valuable for me to travel in Israel and meet Israelis and visit Yad Vashem, not just stay in Palestine. I don't say this stuff to shmooze, but it's coming more naturally now because I recognize that even in circles like this, where everyone is mostly on the same page with love and peace and justice, there's still that tendancy to see other opinions as a tragic result of miseducation....I won't fall into that. I can be educated, and positive, and listen, and tell people what I've seen, why I'm hopeful, and remove the threat from the conversation...I still have a long ways to go, but I have a lot of other people to thank for making me comfortable with talking about the implications of a one-state solution. The idea is equal rights, but you have to be able to respond to "what are you saying?!" To think how many people are thinking it but don't say it outloud...

So it was a very good evening. Tomorrow there is an art presentation about Gaza at St. Marks. Coinkidink, I'll be on Cap Hill tomorrow night....and Sunday is Pride. I'll need a fabulous umbrella for all that...rain. wah wah. or are Pride parades better wet?


This song was playing on the radio as I drove down I-5 in the rain. It reminded me of Phoebe from Friends. "Isn't it...hold me closer Tony Danzaaaa...?"