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One American’s awakening

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Editor’s note: A vital function of this site is to inform Americans about fellow citizens who are discovering the issue and struggling to engage on it. Louise Ross of Washington, D.C., has visited Israel and Palestine twice. She is a longtime Republican who voted for Obama and is now disappointed in his Middle East policy. What follows is a Ross’s notes to Weiss following her return from the area:

Just back from my trip with my Episcopal church.  We stayed in East Jerusalem, just outside the Damascus Gate. Big surprise was seeing an Israeli flag hanging above a home in the Old City, showing another Israeli family had moved into a Palestinian home right along the route of the Way of the Cross  The settlement freeze is really such a farce.

Most dramatic sight was the Nasser family’s Tent of Nations outside Jerusalem.  The family’s compound is surrounded by settlements and their land would be taken as well if they had not gone to the trouble of documenting the ownership of the property back to the Ottomans.  The family lives in a tent and meet in caves because the Israeli government threatened to invade the property and force higher taxes on them if they built a house. The site is truly emblematic of the settlement issue – the acreage is on the top of a hill and you get a 360 degree view of the settlements moving closer and closer to the barbed wire that the Nasser family has installed to protect their land.  Settlers and police creep around at night and the family members take turns covering the place 24/7. 

I feel as though the problems will get worse before they get better. The funds we send over there are guaranteeing that the Israeli government will ignore every thing the international community is trying to do because of US dollars. 

No one wants to fight the Israeli army. I think that the BDS work is still not accomplishing much because no country wants to get on the bad side of this country.

Since my last visit 18 months ago, the troubles in Silwan and the City of David made them too dangerous for us to visit. We might have been confused with the Israeli archeologists who were digging up the place. We saw a lot more of the security wall this trip – the part where the Israeli side is not too awful looking and the Palestine side looks like … words can’t describe it. I just wanted to cry my heart out seeing the wall where there’s barbed wire and cages for people to climb through. 

Little boys climbing through these areas as we walked around the roofs on top of the Via Dolorosa – the scene made me feel so useless because I would go home to such freedom and safety.

Louise, what got you going on the issue?

My father and my father-in-law died in one year, 1988, and I went to try to figure out why these things happen.  I did two Bible studies at 2 different churches and realized what I was missing. Then I had wake up call at Washington National Cathedral when I volunteered to provide volunteers for a neighborhood group serving the homeless.

I feel a strong connection with Christ and I am not evangelical.  I feel He is by my side 24/7. 

A friend of mine told me about the Holy Land trip from the Cathedral and I went in April 2009. Then my church decided to go again this past November and I was thrilled to go back. There are a lot of places I still want to see.  Some of the people on my last trip went to see the King David Hotel and Mamilla Mall – that’s not what I want.  I would like to see Nablus and Ramallah.

Do you kow about the Tent of Nations and the Nasser family?  I wonder why there is no coverage of this story in the US press.  The Germans and other countries have sent volunteers and some aid to them – it would be an eye-opening story for any American journalist.

What do you do when Jews say you’re singling out Israel, that your interest in this question is anti-Semitic?

Great question! You cannot imagine my Jewish friends who are thrilled to hear me!!! My old friend from NYC school days, Andra Oakes and her brother John, are extremely sympathetic to  the Palestinians’ political position, and strongly oppose Israel’s settlement policy and actions in the occupied territories.  Andra and John think that Netanyahu and thre right wing in Israel are destroying the country.  They are the daughter and son of John Oakes who was the editorial page editor of the NYTimes – John, co-publisher of O/R books, published the book about the Mavi Marmara boat – the stories of the flotilla to Gaza last year.

It’s the Jewish friends that keep me going. I took Andra to the J Street conference last year – that has proved a disappointment.

Also, Phil, the crowd I hear at the Palestine Center down here – Steve Walt, M.J. Rosenberg, Joseph Dana etc.– many are Jews.  One of the most interesting Palestinians I heard speak was the woman who was on the Jerusalem bureau of the NYTimes who spoke at the Palestine Center. She finally quit her job when Ethan Bronner, the person who runs the bureau, announced his son was in the IDF.

Weiss. That’s Taghreed El-Khodary, a very impressive journalist. [She said, “I’m sorry that I left Gaza, but my bureau chief’s son joined the Israeli army and I felt like it’s not wise of me.  I don’t want to risk losing my sources that I have been establishing for many, many years. It’s a very sensitive issue, as you all know, not only that, but it’s also risky and you have many small groups who would like revenge and I can be a great person to get a hold of. It’s very sensitive and I was really disappointed that they took this decision but they understand why I left.”]

Sadly, the only person I have trouble with is the executive director of the homeless group I started. Ten years ago, a group of us bought a building downtown. It took 10 years to raise the money to renovate it. Finally we got all the funding and got 16 formerly homeless, mentally ill women in the building and hired an exec director. Turns out she is a devout Jewish woman who left for Israel the day after I got back. She was sympathetic to my thinking at first but now she won’t discuss the situation reasonably at all and quite resents my view.

Homelessness is my life’s work and I cannot let her get to me. I dropped out of the master’s in social work school to do outreach and community organizing to work on this. The family she is visiting lives in a settlement….

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