B’Tselem, an Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, is loosely translated in Hebrew as “take a picture and document this.” This is exactly what associate professor of education David Shutkin did when he started blogging about his trip to Israel, where he participated in acts of civil disobedience.
Shutkin left for Israel on February 12 and returned on February 22. Last summer, Shutkin heard on the radio that the war in Gaza had escalated. Soldiers were going door to door looking for tunnels death squads in Hamas were using to kidnap and kill Israelis. In the process, Israeli soldiers killed many innocent people who were not involved in combat. “This made no sense to me,” said Shutkin.
Shutkin began to read up on the subject and came across the Israeli newspaper “Haaertz.” Journalist Peter Beinart wrote that the only way to end the occupation was for people in North America to join in acts of civil disobedience. If North Americans went, Beinart believed the media would not ignore the problem.
Shutkin began to correspond with Beinart. He was directed to speak with Ilana Sumka, creator of the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. Shutkin then joined the Delegation of North American Jewish Activists and Center for Jewish Nonviolence.
This group is comprised of 22 people from multiple organizations, such as Truah, a Jewish voice for human justice; #IfNotNow, a group formed through social media that calls for action in the Jewish community to fight to end Israeli occupation in Palestine; and a member of the United States Agency for International Development who was stationed in West Bank. “We had an amazing cross-section of people,” said Shutkin.
The group moved around the Bethlehem area in the cities of Hebron and Ramallah. There, they performed an act of civil disobedience by planting trees at the Tent of Nations farm that was destroyed by the Israeli Defense Force in May 2014. Israel is broken up into areas controlled by either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Area C, controlled by the Israelis, is where the Tent of Nations farm is located.
As a resident of Area C, farm owner Daud Nasser is not allowed to build on the land. Though his farm was destroyed, he may not build wells or plant orchards. He uses solar panels for electricity and has cisterns to collect water. Nasser and his family live in caves in the area since he cannot build housing. The Israeli government’s goal is to make life so hard that the residents leave, making it easier for them to expand their territory.
“Tree planting has a lot of symbolic and religious significance,” said Shutkin.
As a child, Shutkin would collect money and send it to the Jewish National Fund, which would use the funds to plant forests in Israel. As a teenager, Shutkin spent a year in Israel. In the area of Ben Shemen, he saw the forests planted by the Jewish National Fund and how the trees covered the villages where the Palestinian refugees who had been dispossessed of their homes were living.
Shutkin said he realized, “I have a connection to this.” According to Shutkin there are even prohibitions against destroying orchards in the Torah. Before leaving on the trip, Shutkin celebrated Tu B’Shevat, which is a Jewish celebration of the birth of trees.
Palestinians are facing more than the loss of their farms. During his trip, Shutkin noticed there were roads for Palestinians and roads for Israelis. The Palestinian roads were long and went through checkpoints, while the Israeli roads moved much faster. The Palestinians are also struggling with restrictions on family, marriage, business activities and movement. Shutkin said that these injustices bring about the question, “If we were in that position, would we decide to stay or would we leave?”
The group did not just plant trees, but had conversations with Palestinian political activists such as Nasser and others who perform acts of civil disobedience by continuing to farm, partaking in government nation building, forming protests and building economic opportunities for people through entrepreneurship.
The delegation of North American Jewish Activists and Center for Jewish Nonviolence wants to have educational conversations in America so that people will understand the sufferings of the Palestinian people. Shutkin said we need to take action by letting Palestinian and Israeli activists know that we are here to support them. Shutkin said, “Is Ilana Sumka trying to build an organization or a movement? I think it might be both.”
Editor’s Note: Shutkin’s blog can be viewed at davidcivildisobedience.wordpress.com.