A couple of days ago, twenty Europeans and U.S. citizens began rebuilding a home for a Palestinian family here in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. These individuals, this writer included, are part of an international activist endeavor organized by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The rebuilding camp concept has been developed by the ICAHD director Jeff Halper. Halper, an anthropologist and a world-renowned pioneer of the critical Israeli peace movement, has been a key figure in developing joint Israeli-Palestinian non-violent resistance that takes place under the occupation.
Participants of the ICAHD rebuilding camp have traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories to carry out an act of resistance against the Israeli occupation regime. We rebuild a home for a Palestinian family, visit and get to know key sites of the conflict and talk with a number of experts on various aspects of the tragedy in Palestine. Our base camp is called Beit Arabiya, an ICAHD peace center located in ‘Anata, West Bank. For many years, Beit Arabiya was the home of a Palestinian family called the Shawamreh family. Beit Arabiya has been demolished by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt by ICAHD several times.
This year, three other participants from Finland have joined me in the camp. In this piece, I will discuss their reasoning behind paying a substantial camp fee and investing their vacation time and energy for political activism with ICAHD.
In this year's ICAHD rebuilding camp, like in previous camps, one can instantly notice how Israel's oppression of the Palestinians keeps mobilizing a growing number of quite different sectors in Western societies. Even the Finnish delegation of four people sheds light on this diversity.
Jorma Larinkoski, a secondary school teacher from Helsinki, Finland, ended up questioning his long-held Christian Zionist convictions, a process of learning and unlearning that has led him to directly challenge Israeli policies towards the Palestinian people.
”For three decades, I didn't see any reason to question Israel's right to the Promised Land because of the Christian Zionist take on the conflict that I had internalized. However, four years ago, I got a chance to spend a couple of months among Palestinians in the West Bank. This experience forced me to rethink the Biblical basis of Zionism. This led me to the inescapable conclusion that such a basis is lacking. Jesus specifically refused to give his followers any other political agenda to advocate for than to always stand in solidarity with and help the oppressed. In Palestine, it is the Palestinians who are the victims. The occupier cannot be granted any divine privileges based on Jewish or Christian Scriptures. This is why I am participating in this camp, to express my solidarity and also to learn more of the situation on the ground,” he said.
Miira Oksanen, who has been to Palestine once before, describes the reasons behind her decision to travel to 'Anata, “I had been reading articles and reports on Palestine and the human rights situation in the occupied West Bank but it was only last year I actually visited the area. It was an eye-opening experience even though I don't speak Arabic and thus cannot completely freely interact with the Palestinians. One of my main reasons to participate in this camp is to try to get more insight on, and a better understanding, the situation on the ground. But I also wanted to make a political statement, even if it is a symbolic one.”
For Miika Malinen, a long-time activist for the Palestinian cause, the chance to witness the reality of Israel's military occupation was among the primary reasons for him coming here, ”I have read multiple human rights reports about the occupation of Palestinian territories, but I wanted to see the situation for myself. To witness the effects of a house demolition first hand and to meet a family that has lost their home and livelihood is heart breaking. But to see the family resisting an illegal occupation by rebuilding their life from scratch and to get to be part of the rebuilding process myself is deeply inspiring.”
The Israeli Jewish population continues to move further towards jingoism and ultranationalism. Simultaneously, the mainstream political culture in the Western world is growing ever more weary of Israel's violations of international law. As Western attitudes towards Israel-Palestine are finally shifting, direct political activism is currently more important than ever.