Thursday, March 28, 2013

Palestine/Israel through ebony eyes

Yesterday I attended a presentation at Northeastern Illinois University made possible by the Students for Justice in Palestine. Called Palestine/Israel through Ebony Eyes, it was a talk given by Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan, an adjunct professor at NEIU and veteran of 43 trips to over 20 countries around the world. The talk was for the purpose of spreading to the general public what had been discovered in a trip by a group of 15 African-Americans hosted by Interfaith Peace Builders.

Though Americans may have decided views on the situation there, these views, unfortunately, are rarely informed by facts or experience and frequently come from hearsay or a story provided by supporters of Israel who themselves are not knowledgeable on the situation. If one depends on what one hears from American politicians, including the President, a distorted, if not completely false, idea of what is happening there is likely.

Dr. Logan stressed to us that he was not expressing only his own take on the visit, but a composite of the findings of all who went with him, a group of six men and nine women.

The room was filled. Extra chairs had to be brought in to provide enough seating. I was pleased to see this amount of interest. At one point, Logan asked how many in the audience had heard of Rachel Corrie, the young woman killed by an IDF bulldozer in 2003. About a third raised their hands. This was another encouraging sign to me, because those who follow events from Israel/Palestine would certainly know of Rachel - this talk was accomplishing its purpose in spreading the word.

There was little in the talk that I did not know about from previous exposure. I expected that because I make it my daily business to know what is happening over there. But I know the impact initial impressions can have - one of the first images to open my mind to Israel/Palestine reality was of giant bulldozers (like the one that killed Rachel Corrie) clearing Palestinian land to allow for new Israeli settlements as an elderly Palestinian helplessly watched his land seized by others; a microcosm of the entire history of Israel. I hope that those attending this talk will be equally incensed at the injustice related by eyewitnesses. The prolonged, intrusive and disrespectful treatment Dr. Logan received on entry to and exit from Israel was distressing to hear about, but common practice.

Since Interfaith Peace Builders is a human rights organization, it's no surprise that on this visit other such organizations played host for the group. A short video was shown of Jeff Halper (who I'm happy to say I have met) of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, offering an overview of the situation in which the powerful abuse the powerless. Ruth Hiller of New Profile, a group that opposes the militarism of Israeli society, was also mentioned by Dr. Logan. Surprisingly, the New Profile website in English will not come up when I try to access it, but Jewish Voice for Peace has an extended interview with Ruth Hiller online.

An aspect of Dr. Logan's presentation that I appreciated was his habit of pausing when text was displayed so that we could all read it for ourselves or write down some of the information. Nothing is worse that a presenter droning out text that everyone can read. I suspect he knows this from painful experience in the classroom. But text was rare, people and places usually filled the screen. We saw the infamous wall and barbed wire, the screens of Hebron that keep settler refuse from falling on Palestinians, children playing amid rubble, a row of female IDF soldiers with automatic weapons slung on their backs, and a nice selection of pictures showing Dr. Logan posing with those he met, all part of the human family that we are. He told us that the Palestinians repeatedly refused to take monetary contributions, instead asking only that their story be told....exactly what Dr. Logan did for us (and them) in what I would call an act of public service, out of respect for the human rights that we want all to enjoy.

That Americans be told what is happening is vital because of the undeniable fact that only American support allows Israel's injustice to not only continue but expand. The careful tip-toeing that our president did in his recent visit to the area, where he was at pains not go beyond giving the tiniest bit of unease to those who forcefully abase the native population, should be a frightening example to all Americans of how our foreign policy regarding Israel/Palestine is held captive to a Zionist outlook which has no place in a country that claims to support liberty and justice for all.

Dr. Logan and SJP, not only at NEIU but nationwide, should be praised for acting in the tradition of the America of justice and human rights, not the one of arms sales and compromise on fundamental principles. To pay no attention, to not inquire, to do nothing is always a great support for tyranny.

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