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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Devorah Brous

Devorah Brous founded Bustan, an environmental justice organization working primarily in Israel's Negev region with Jewish and Bedouin communities, and was its executive director for nine years. The word "bustan" (fruit orchard in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian) reflects traditional and diverse indigenous planting patterns of the region. Bustan plants and builds with low cost, sustainable technologies and advocates sustainable development that serves both Jewish and Arab populations, and promotes fair allocation of clean natural resources and community self-reliance.

  • Please introduce yourself. Where are you from and how did you get involved in this work?

    My name is Devorah Brous. I'm from New Jersey, and I spent a few years living in Burlington, Vermont. I became active while at university there. It was a period of multi-culturalism. I found myself believing in the need to diversify our white university and to be more inclusive than the very linear way that we were learning history. I didn't have any sense of my own heritage, my own history or roots, so I went on a quest to learn more about what was happening in Israel. I became extremely impassioned by the gathering of exiles from all over the world who came to live here in this most inhospitable, dry climate, this desert region that has seen so much bloodshed over the centuries.

  • When did you come to Israel?

    I came in 1993, when I finished university. I thought I was coming for just a year but I found myself volunteering on a kibbutz, studying Hebrew, and working in the kibbutz's dining hall. I was cleaning the floors, sweating out the Zionist dream of collective labor, and learning and dreaming.

  • What made you stay?

    Israel, for me, is a magnetizing place. It gets under your skin; it's a place of magic and at the same time a lot of poison. That dissonance compelled me to stay and become deeply involved working for social and environmental justice.

  • When you came here, did you know that social and environmental justice would be central for you?

    No, I didn't. I've gone through a 180˚ change, as a lot of Jewish Israelis and Americans have once we open our eyes to what was previously invisible to us in the region.

  • What does that 180˚ change mean to you?

    I was extremely impassioned with the vision of Zionism and with redeeming the land, returning to learn more about our roots. I grew up as a Reform Jew believing in this return and in the dream of learning about our past as a road to our future. The 180˚ change was the un-learning process which followed, which has brought me to where I am today. That un-learning process opened my eyes and my heart beyond the fears that we're fed through religion, history, politics, and the rhetoric of society.

  • Was there any particular experience that you associate with this change?

    I can't point to one particular experience. It built up. I was studying peace and conflict, investing a lot of my time and effort in these issues at the time of the al-Aqsa intifada. I realized that while one half of the populace's discourse deals with peace, the other deals with rights and injustice. There's a clash between them-- not to mention the people that aren't even discussing it because they are promoting the war agenda. I'm talking about the peace-making field, which has become more and more of an industry, a machine raising funds. This helped open my eyes to the story that wasn't being told. Barak's generous offer of 95% of the land to the Palestinians is what we were told. You need to dig to unpack the historiography that we all believed at the time. What has to happen for us to move beyond our comfort zones? I made aliyah to this country, returned to this motherland which is not where my mother was born. I have the right to live here and I have water, as much of it as I want. Electricity, sewage, a house-- this package of basic amenities that are gracefully provided to me. It is difficult to move beyond these privileges to examine what is perhaps the most painful aspect of it all: maybe these privileges are helping perpetuate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. There is so much asymmetry between the rights I'm given because I happened to have been born Jewish, compared to the rights the Palestinians are given.

  • You mentioned the al-Aqsa intifada. Would you point to that as a turning point for you?

    I think I was already aware of the different kinds of language being used, but I didn't own my own role, as someone involved in the peace-making movement, in maintaining this imbalance. For years I was involved in dialogue projects in Gaza, and spent time in the West Bank; I was aware of what was happening. For years the Palestinians were saying, "We don't really need your help in struggling for peace, we aren't looking for friendly relations with you as Israelis, as our occupiers. There is such a difference in what happens after this dialogue breaks up. You [Israelis] go back to your comfortable place, sit in your cafés in Tel-Aviv with your friends and describe an exotic experience in the Palestinian Territories. We [Palestinians] go home, are detained and searched, hurt and humiliated at checkpoints, then subject to closure in our own homes inside our communities. So we're not here as equals." We knew about this imbalance, but I think at many dialogue meetings there was a feeling that we weren't politicians and couldn't change structural injustice, and that the best we could do was come to listen. It made me realize that that wasn't our best. We needed to demand much more of ourselves. We needed to go to our communities and work to shift the consensus. It shouldn't be about trying to relinquish our own sense of guilt about what's happening to the Palestinian population at the hands of the Israelis. What it's really about is going beyond the need to purge our own consciences. For me that was eye-opening. The conflict resolution classes I was taking and many projects in the field focused on creating symmetry so the Palestinians and Israelis working together are perceived as equals in the eyes of the funders and the community they are working for. This symmetry was so imposed, so artificial. For me it was an eye-opener that made me realize we were part of a masquerade to warm the hearts of the rest of the world to keep the funds flowing while maintaining status quo. This is what the Palestinians refer to as normalization. I had my heart and hands deep inside this world of normalization, and was blinded by the Golden Oslo years until 2000, because I thought it would be effective to bring groups together to point to problems, address injustices, and work on proactive, tangible and vitally-needed infrastructure projects. But the problem is, that much of the work that was getting funded began to feel like a vehicle to bring groups together for photo-ops without addressing the injustices of systemic discrimination or impacting policy change. By "normalizing" relations between Jews and Arabs we could achieve objectives together. Then I realized that this is normalization. This led me to really take a break from co-existence projects and the focus on this illusion of peacebuilding and peace-making. This isn't the time for it.

  • Where did that realization lead you?

    It caused me to go back to working inside Israel. I had been involved in humanitarian projects collecting medicine, blankets and food and bringing them into villages under siege in the early stages of the intifada. I realized I could be a stronger ally by trying to effect change in my sphere of influence, which is inside Israel. More specifically, it is by working within the North American community that lives in Israel and that funds projects in Israel. I began to look at this country's institutional discrimination and its impact on peripheral populations inside Israel.

  • Please tell me about your work. What do you do?

    Within the framework of the land of Israel being "Judaized" and "de-Arabized", Bustan is looking at how many of the areas that are densely populated with Arab citizens of the State are the exact areas in which Israel is running most of its hazardous industrial infrastructure. We are examining the impact this has on the health of the people living within the borders of Israel, the kind of access they have to healthcare institutions and whether it's the same access that their Jewish counterparts have. We're looking for ways to put the discriminatory allocation of public resources on the Israeli public's agenda and bring it to the attention of the funders of this development work in the United States. How does Israel treat its Arab minority? How does that relate to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories? These are some of the questions we are looking at.

  • Please talk about how you do advocacy, specifically amongst American Jews, which you mentioned as a primary target.

    That's a good place to start. One of our most successful programs is called Negev Unplugged Tours. We've brought 8000 people into the Negev to examine the different types of settlement,1 and the paradigm that's applied in this area as opposed to in the Sharon area, or in Tel Aviv for example. What's happening inside a densely populated Arab part of the country can be examined and understood. What is creating this clash between the indigenous Bedouin and the state authorities? And what is behind Israel's drive to bring tens of thousands of settlers2 to this last frontier of the country? On tours, and on our programs, we speak to Americans about the need to examine our unsustainable role in establishing an ethnocracy that serves us with privilege at the cost of building a thriving democracy that would offer both peace and justice for all the region's inhabitants. It's interesting how fear is used in this region. I've become extremely cynical from living here, but I feel that fear is a tactic that's used to control the population. It also generates a lot of funding from Jewish communities around the world, to strengthen and buttress the state. When you live here and you realize how much fear is fed to you-- it's in the air. One of the major aspects of life here that I'm inspired to discuss with other Israelis and with Jewish Americans is that it has been paralyzing to be fed fear all the time. It's not an effective way to run a country and build sustainability. We want to teach people how to live together but this fear is so deeply engrained and entrenched in our history and literature and in the holidays and in the media - news every hour on the hour with these beeps that feed you everything that is happening.There is a notion that we will provide security by continuing to develop Jewish settlements inside densely populated Arab areas, by creating roads to gain as much access to this public resource as possible, by dividing, grabbing, pulling. But we are destroying open public space by rampant overdevelopment and construction for political and strategic reasons. This is being done under the auspices of this poetic idea of "making the desert bloom." Money is being spent on new communities and new pockets of settlement, to provide new jobs and tourist locations for the people that come through this country. But what about the people that already live in this country? What about creating something that is going to be sustainable and healthy for the future?

    • 1Devorah uses the word "settlement" here to refer to Jewish communities within Israel, in contrast to the frequent use of the term in the Israeli-Palestinian context to refer to Jewish settlements within the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
    • 2See previous footnote.

  • Overdevelopment is common all over the world and isn't always related to this idea of security. What makes you think it is here?

    Many of the aspects of what we're looking at here are happening all over the world. The same is true for the push to transform indigenous populations into modernized people, to turn traditional pastoralists into urban proletariat that live in townships, and drive to work instead of dwelling in their fields with sheep and goats. This is too "primitive" for a state that can spend over a billion dollars to create a new airport; this is not the image we want to give people who arrive in Israel, this high-tech vortex of the world. I think what sets this place apart is an underlying fear about the demographics of Jews and Arabs. In this limited space that is a mere 12 miles wide in some parts of the country, surrounded by 22 Arab nations, we are allegedly living under threat. The notion of needing to develop in order to preserve our autonomy is happening within this paradigm of Judaization. I don't think it's like any other country that is using too much asphalt and concrete: here we see that the largest budgets allocated for development in many cases happen to correlate to places with the highest population of Palestinian-Israelis.

  • Could you give an example of some of the inequalities you are talking about?

    In terms of geographic locations, I'm referring to the Negev, the Galilee, and the Triangle region, not to mention the geo-political transformation taking place in Jerusalem. The clearest example of unequal distribution of public resources relates to water. Many NGOs have researched the distribution of water. Now there is talk of privatizing water, putting it in the hands of corporations. The Negev has some of the wealthiest and greenest communities. Omer, a suburb where a lot of professors from Ben Gurion University live, is a stunningly beautiful community, flanked by a Bedouin community that's not recognized by the Israeli government. The amount of water that is used in Tarabeen al-Sana versus the amount of water used in Omer is a ratio of 1:5. Twenty-four cubic meters per person are used annually in the Tarabeen al-Sana communities, compared with 124 cubic meters in Omer. This is based on data from Physicians for Human Rights in Israel. These communities live side by side; people who don't have access to water for their kids, who live in the dry, dusty desert, stare everyday at Jewish communities that continue to expand all around them. In Omer, there is a water tower, a swimming pool, and grassy, beautiful gardens tended by Bedouin people. A lot of money is spent on the public gardens and public services of Omer. This contrast has got to be taken into very, very careful consideration when we are allocating so much funding for future development.

  • What is Bustan's role in that situation you described?

    We want people from all over the spectrum to hear both sides of this story. We invite them to a community like Omer to hear people describe their conditions and what it's like to have the Bedouin living so close, and then to go to Tarabeen al-Sana and listen to the perspective of the Bedouin in an unrecognized village and what they have to say about their neighbors. Our objectives are awareness-raising and advocacy. We obtain as much information as possible on the distribution of resources. We put this information on our website, give lectures, go on speaking tours and print materials on these issues. There is an educational aspect to our work that ties into everything. We also meet with village leaders, government officials, industrial management, lawyers, and grassroots advocates. When we bring groups of people together in a village to plant trees and do direct action, we're not just there to plant the trees, we are there also to talk about unequal distribution of water. We bring kids from a Jewish community to plant trees in an Arab village, and bring the Arab Bedouin kids into a Jewish village to see the differences and discuss these issues. I find this provocative. It's an effective way of organizing. Instead of a bunch of numbers or dry statistics, issues are transformed into a visceral experience. Instead of a bunch of numbers or dry statistics, issues are transformed into a visceral experience with Bustan as both Jews and Arabs plant and build sustainable projects together and learn to steward water by planting native species, building greywater systems, and implementing other cost-cutting, practical water-saving techniques.

  • What kind of groups do you bring on those tours?

    Usually human rights delegations, groups of rabbis, students from university programs, or peace groups from all over the United States, Canada and sometimes Europe.

  • What do you hope people from those groups will take away from the tour or do?

    Many groups are interested in going beyond the black and white of newspaper print, and beyond their Zionist educational programs, beyond the exoticized portrait of Bedouin, to learn about the conditions of living in Israel as a doubly marginalized-minority. They come with faith-based groups to a land they view as holy-- that we also see as holy-- and they want to learn from different people what's happening that is making this land feel very unholy. What can concerned communities, who keep Israel in their prayers, offices, hearts and homes, do when they go home? I think they can do a lot with community advocacy. There is a real interest on the part of communities abroad to show solidarity with people in unrecognized villages by becoming their sister community, as if to say, "If the Israeli government doesn't put you on the map, then we will." There are groups that have brought parliamentarians over for meetings with the regional council of unrecognized Bedouin villages. The issue of Bedouin rights made it to the House of Commons, spawned by some groups that have come on our tours. Bedouin rights traditionally fall between the loop holes when groups study the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We hope people will become more engaged in challenging discriminatory development that is funded in North America and Europe. We also hope people will donate the funds or their time as an intern/volunteer with Bustan. Each of our programs has its own objectives and goals. For example, our Bustan TV program aims to give voice to Bedouin, to enable the world to learn their narrative without being filtered first through the Jewish lens. We trained and graduated 18 amazing Bedouin women who learned to film/edit human rights and environmental issues from their perspective.

  • What is the end goal?

    I think that international advocacy can be a very, very effective arm of pressure on the Israeli government. To date, going through the Israeli courts and the judicial process here has not proven to be a terribly effective means of leveraging change.

  • Are you involved in legal struggles too?

    We monitor court cases and relevant Knesset discussions and have joined other NGO's to file High Court appeals. I'm a little cynical; I'm not sure that's the most effective channel.

  • How come you do not believe that legal action is effective?

    Structural change is integral, however, it is not possible for just the lawyers and judges to want change. I have a lot more faith that change will come when the people are catalyzed, and that it's going to come from the bottom up, from the street. Some are advocates in the courts, some are advocates in the villages. This is the diversity that keeps social change movements vibrant: different groups working together with a similar agenda and different mechanisms for achieving that agenda.

  • Most of what you have talked about is informing international audiences and hoping they will pressure Israel. What are the challenges of this strategy?

    It's not only that they'll pressure Israel. My sense is that if you go straight to the funding sources, you help people understand that there are more effective ways of supporting Israel and supporting social change in this region. In the power relations between the Jewish Israeli majority and the Palestinian Israeli minority population there are more effective ways of building a secure future than creating an extremely one-sided development paradigm which is destroying the land, gobbling up all the resources and killing the potential for a future that will be fruitful for both peoples. It's interesting, the Bedouin community living inside Israel, the Palestinian Bedouin living inside Israel... or the Bedouin of the Negev, or Negev Arabs... there are so many different ways that they refer to themselves and that the world refers to them. For simplicity's sake, we'll call them Bedouin. The Bedouin living inside Israel are not fully qualified to receive international aid funding from development agencies and firms because they live in a developed country! However, they are a developing population that is not able to access funds in this country. There is a very neat fracturing: the Bedouin living inside Israel down south are different from the Bedouin living in the Territories, and they are separate from the Bedouin living up north, not to mention the Bedouin in Gaza or in Sinai. It's simple for the funders to make these distinctions but very challenging for people, who in many cases come from the same background and maybe from the same region, in some cases even from the same tribe. Some have access to funding and some don't, because of borders that were arbitrarily drawn. We need to go to the sources of funding, as opposed to just approaching legislators. People who are centrally involved with collecting tremendous amounts of money to develop the Negev, the Galilee, and the Jerusalem area have to take a lot more into consideration, not just geo-politics and the demographic question. Sustainability has not yet made it to the top of the agenda. People don't speak about doing environmental assessments before settling populations in a given area. For example, now there is talk about creating 25 new Jewish communities in the Negev, but no talk about strengthening the existing development towns which are extremely marginalized. The focus is on creating brand spanking new communities and expanding single-family homes to prevent Bedouin encroachment, as though the Bedouin were intruding on state land. Just like with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government's policy is to concentrate the maximum Palestinian population on the minimum territory. In the Negev, this goes beyond moving the Bedouin into recognized towns and touting it as modernization-- because wouldn't everyone prefer to have air-conditioning? Enough camels, they want Toyotas today! It isn't that simple, there's a land war here. We have to demand that sustainability is part of development policy for these very fragile regions, where Jewish and Arab citizens live side by side. Equal distribution of resources, access to information, to transportation services and to decision-makers should be a fundamental part of the development paradigm. Many political analysts say the next intifada will surface in the Negev, and some of the issues we are examining in this region could sow the seeds. The Bedouin are citizens that in some cases serve in the Israeli Army or work in the police force. They demonstrate their loyalty, work or are looking for work in Israel, and yet are treated as if they are outside Israel because they are not Jewish. The question that continuously resurfaces is about the authenticity of the democracy we are striving for. That's the question that needs to be discussed with the Jewish-Americans that fund development work to make the desert bloom here.

  • What is the connection between environmental stability and political stability?

    It's a fascinating question. Most people think that when you plant a tree you plant it for shade, because you want to see more green. But what are the covert reasons for planting that tree? In this region, planting a tree is political. Trees are often planted to create a boundary, a border between Palestinian-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis. The municipal blue lines that demarcate cities, towns or kibbutzim are not fenced off with a separation wall. Planting policies in Israel are used to create a distinction between communities of different ethnic origins. Creating a nature reserve or a forest is a way of holding a tract of land in a sort of land bank which is not accessible to Palestinians to build on. There is no process whereby Jews and Arabs decide together how land should be developed. Rather, decisions are made in a strategic and political way about where trees should be planted and why, and when those trees should be uprooted and for what purposes. Trees are often used to demarcate land so that Palestinians can't access where their former villages or burial sites were. The new trees don't represent what that their olive trees did for them before '48. Jewish communities in the Diaspora plant trees in Israel to represent a connection to our memories. We do it with our families, for someone's Bar Mitzvah. [In this case], rooting serves the political purpose of uprooting, or de-Arabizing, that same parcel of land from its previous Arab inhabitants. After it's turned into a forest or nature reserve, often in the future it is developed as a Jewish-only community. Forests are created to provide shade until new Jewish communities are erected. From my perspective, today there is no way to separate the political and the environmental. I think they are inextricably interwoven; the policies here are created within the context of a war between the Jews and the Arabs over the land. The policies related to developing the land are geared to having as much control as possible, entrusting the land into the hands of the state authorities. Over 93% of the land inside Israel is controlled by Israeli Authorities.

  • What do you hope to see in the future and what should policies concerning land in the Negev look like?

    The question of whether the Bedouin will be growing their own lentils and wheat or purchasing it in a shop that's run by a Jew down the street relates to the transformation in the global market. Today people are less agrarian and more industrialized. The bustanim [orchards] that Bedouins-- and Jews in our history-- had outside their homes have for the most part been replaced by industrialized mono-culture and farming for export. The transformation to industrial agriculture is an economic equation. It's happening all over the world. You can't struggle effectively against the tide of globalization. I'm specifically addressing what we can hope to transform: the struggle between the State authorities and the Bedouin that live inside Israel. It is not our business to move people from villages into cities and to tightly girdle them in small cantons of land so that we don't feel our security threatened from a potential threat. This threat is the non-Jewish entity, a potential cancer living amongst us. This kind of thinking is bringing us closer to disaster, in the Negev and in other places in Israel. It is not up to us if people decide to use traditional medicine or if they decide to use Acamol, the Tylenol equivalent. It's not our business how people in the Bedouin villages choose to raise their families and graze their livestock and teach their children how to increase their yields. This is more of an internal question and I think it's become oversimplified today. We have unanimously decided that it is better for the Bedouins to have access to computers and higher education. They need to give up their traditional and "primitive" ways of working on the land because civilized people don't bake their own bread or make their own cheese anymore. People can buy them down the street from "Tnuva" or one of the other conglomerates that are running the show today. I don't think these are issues that Israel needs to meddle in. I would prefer to see Israel focus on strengthening the infrastructure that the 170,000 Bedouin citizens have access to, education, health, clean water, and clean air. The government criticizes consanguineous marriages in Bedouin families and how this is getting them sick because their genes are all twisted and tangled. We should instead be critical of the extremely hazardous industry that is being erected outside the area where the Bedouin have been contained in the Negev, between Beer Sheva and Dimona. We need to demand that industrial management meet international standards for pollution monitoring. We need to work with state authorities to ensure that the Ministry of Environment doesn't accept handouts but actually fines factories that violate environmental codes, factories that are getting people sick with cancer. The highest rates of cancer in this country are in the peripheral populations, and while you could say this is true all around the world, there is a war over land here. There are ways of correlating environmental hazards, social justice issues and health problems. According to the Ministry of Health report from 2004, in the Negev cancer and mortality rates are over 60% higher [than other places in Israel]. These are issues that can't be ignored anymore but we're still finding ways to ignore them. We put them on the back-burner because what's happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians is much more pressing. People are getting sick, and this indicates a larger sickness in society: refusing to recognize all of your populations as citizens of state, preventing equal access to the benefits the state has to offer.

  • How do you think Jewish settlement in the West Bank is related to developing the Negev?

    I think it's very, very similar. In the West Bank you see bypass roads to link the different settlements' infrastructure. In the Negev, there is talk of a new transportation system, which will include a railway as well as the trans-Israel highway coming from the north straight through the Beer Sheva area right near Wadi Al Na'am. When the state makes this type of investment, is this railway line and super-highway going to help people who live off the land have better access to the center of the country? Or is this going to help Army bases that are blossoming all over the Negev? Is this going to help the expanding industry? There is talk of 60 new factories applying for permission through the Manufacturers Association of Israel to set up right in this area, exactly where the Bedouin have been contained. All these factories, and all this military expansion and commercial enterprise are growing and providing new jobs. But will Bedouin have access roads to get on the highway, will the railroad stop inside the Bedouin villages? Or will the new transportation routes bypass these communities because they are not people who can pay what the Jewish industrialists (who live an hour or two outside the Negev) can pay. Often, when creating new infrastructure, the major variable for the constituency of industrialists and people from the wealthier communities is comfort. The idea is to have new people come and settle in the Negev, and for them to easily access their workplaces, in high-tech, in Herzliya so they can travel down to the Negev more quickly and live in a beautiful blooming garden. Is this the best way of creating a harmonious, balanced relationship between the Jews and Arabs that share the Negev? Is this the most effective way of planning for settling the future population there? No, it's not. It's not the most effective way. The reason it's being done is to keep a very strong distinction between the ruling regime, the ruling class, and the marginalized people. It's done to constantly hold up this separation, which is what keeps people feeling more secure. Those with power will feel more secure knowing the state is there to take care of their interests, our interests, I should say. I am part of the state and a citizen here and this is very problematic until we begin to really unpeel how our privilege is affecting our relations with the Arabs that live in this country, as well as with the Palestinians who share this land, and with the land itself. We're in the mire, the solution isn't just to pull out of Gaza and everything's better.

  • Tell me about Bustan. How did it start?

    Our headquarters are based in Beer Sheva, at the Green Center, where we host our programs and having sustainable living arrangements for our interns/volunteers. I founded it in 1999, and its membership hails from all over the country. We have chosen not to spend our limited resources on an office so we have more of a virtual organization; we work over Skype and have meetings in the field. We have six people from all over the country as part-time staff, which is new for us. For the past six years, we've worked without funding. The people in Bustan have volunteered, our supplies were donated or recycled, and we use second-hand resources. We have a pretty diverse group of people, ranging from academics and architects to eco-builders, technology engineers, and clowns and artists.

  • With whom does Bustan work?

    Jews and Bedouin, who are all based in the Negev. We have worked with Bedouin in the Jerusalem periphery, in the E1 area by Ma'ale Adumim, called the Jahalin tribe. For the most part, we work in partnership with Bedouin from the Negev area as well as Jews from development towns in the Negev.

  • What are some of the challenges you encounter in your work?

    I enter this landscape as a woman that was born in the United States, a Jewish-Israeli, holding a blue identity card that gives me privilege. I have access to be in some ways the outsider and in other ways the insider. I can cross into the West Bank or Gaza as an American and come right back as an Israeli, or I can go inside a Bedouin village as a Jew. I can cross between worlds because of this privilege. I'm conscious of how this type of access creates an ugly paradigm. When Israeli Jews are involved in the struggle for justice, working with the Palestinians on human rights issues and land rights, on one level we are the heroes, going into their communities because we want to challenge our own government and the institutions of discrimination that we live within. On the other hand, we are the enemies. We are the occupiers and we can't separate ourselves from this. We are part of the enemy because we are the occupiers, and it is impossible to distinguish ourselves from the apparatus of the State of Israel. The Palestinians don't and we shouldn't either. Just because I am part of a camp which is openly critical of the policies of the government, this doesn't set me apart in the eyes of the people I am working with. I still have privileges beyond anything they will ever have in this country, because it is run as an ethnocratic state, which privileges its ethnic majority, the Jewish people.

  • How does this awareness change your approach to your work?

    This dilemma is part of every discussion, every action, and every measure in every campaign. This is the essence of my struggle-- how do I remain authentic? I'm openly challenging aspects of apartheid and fierce discrimination in this country but still I'm a [religiously] practicing Jewish woman living in a community that is mostly not a part of the struggle for social change. Many people inside this community are very comfortable and happy with the way things are, and are very aware that things are this way for a reason. We have systematically created a situation so it works to our advantage, therefore we are not interested in changing it. My community is not outraged against the Israeli government because of human rights violations perpetrated against the Palestinian and the Bedouin populations. I live in a community that is in some ways very satiated; those things are done to make me feel more comfortable when I get on the bus, when I go to university, so that when I'm with my partner at a café I feel safer. There is an element of justification in every conversation with my community, and it's very, very present. I am not among a whole bunch of warriors who see the need to change the conflict situation that we are living. Every day I re-examine myself, asking, how can I do this work from a more authentic place and still hold onto my Jewish faith? How can I have faith that the State of Israel-- that I'm now a citizen of-- can rectify its position in the eyes of the international community as well as our Palestinian citizens and neighbors?

  • Are you saying that because of the unequal distribution of wealth in the Negev your friends in Jerusalem are safer getting onto busses?

    Well first of all, we aren't looking just at economic status or distribution of wealth, we are looking at the distribution of public resources-- absolutely everything that the government is responsible to give to its citizens. Not just economic and employment opportunities, which is something I didn't really mention; by drawing factories down south, bringing so much heavy industry down to the areas where so many of the Bedouin live, how many of the Bedouin living in these areas have jobs in the industry down there? Intel's running their corporation out of Kiryat Gat, it's vast; how many Bedouin are working there? If the Bedouin make up about 25-27% of the total population in the Beer Sheva region, they probably should be about 25% of the staff in these industries. They should be receiving the benefit packages, but I don't think that's happening. There is talk now about creating yet another military base, for career families to settle in this area of the Negev. About 13,000 new jobs will be created on this army base but not a single one for an Arab citizen of state. The electric company, the water company, a water terminal site, the munitions factory site at Ramat Beka, as well as Ramat Hovav, an industrial zone, have all been erected on the lands of the El Azazmeh Bedouin who are living in Wadi al-Na'am, but they don't have access to the electricity that's being created on their village grounds. They live in shacks, they're not able to roam anymore, they've been made sedentary as a population. I don't know if we can say that maybe some Jews feel more secure knowing that they have amenities provided for them. I think this is the kind of question that has to be directed to more of the mainstream Jewish population that has agreed to move into these brand-new settlement communities. I think many of them feel as if they are redeeming the lands from the Arab enemy, so they are doing something to help further the interest of the state. They are putting their lives on the line to live on lands that will break apart contiguous Arab villages or enclaves, but I don't know if they feel safer. I think this is an interesting question to raise among some of the Jews who have agreed to move their families into these communities. I don't know how to answer that.

  • You had mentioned a couple of times that people's fears are used to justify the ways policies are molded. What is the connection between real security issues and fear?

    The mainstream Israeli population's attitude is complacent even though they have full access to what's happening. We have information, excellent coverage from inside the Territories from NGOs and from critical voices, as well as the supportive approach of the media positions. It's not that people are blind to what is going on today. They choose to respond in an apathetic manner and I don't know if it's because they feel extremely insecure or whether they do feel an element of security. Maybe it's just that this is such a challenging place to live that when you go down the street and purchase your tomatoes you encounter the gruff or aggressive way people relate to each other. Not to mention the economic struggle: there are bread handouts here, one out of every three children is impoverished in Israel. 33% of the children under the age of 18 live under the poverty line in Israel today. This is a statistic that just came out this week. It's hard for people to make ends meet and so you could say that explains why people are apathetic, because they are just trying to get by, move from point A to point B in their lives. But I don't buy it. I don't know what exactly to say about this fear question, except to say that it is paralyzing. You don't really begin to feel as if you can get out there and make change because you don't want to upset the apple cart. You don't want to shift the tide too strongly because then you will be deemed a traitor, an Arab-lover, or an anti-Semite, for criticizing state policy. You don't want to say too much to challenge what is pretty much accepted by the mainstream: that we are doing what we need to do to protect the security of the state. Breaking apart contiguous Arab enclaves is something that we need to do because at some point they might amalgamate or turn into an autonomous body that declares independence from the State of Israel. The fears are everywhere. We know what the positions are from the demographers and the geographers, but do we know what it's like to move beyond injecting fear in every policy and piece of legislation in this country?

  • Are you referring to the ability to be analytical about how fears dictate policy?

    You are asking me about the challenges, and I think that one of the challenges is that we are not operating in a time where the mainstream thinks what's happening is absolutely repulsive. People don't think we need to get out into the streets and activate, you don't have 400,000 demonstrating today in Rabin Square or protesting against the Wall.

  • Where do you feel you are in relation to the mainstream?

    I don't think I'm on the radar. The issues that we are looking at and the idea of applying the principles of perma-culture as a tool to bring Jews and Arabs together to work towards sustainable land use in development is something that you don't have in mainstream developers. We can't have such small circles that the human rights activists only work with other human rights activists, and peace-builders only work with their small circle of peace-builders, and the feminists are separate from the environmentalists, who are separate from the environmental justice activists who are separate from the more social, civil rights activists. Separation and fragmentation is not serving to create a more united movement struggling against aspects of expansionism that we find so apparent in the landscape here.

  • Do you have ideas for how to deal with that kind of fragmentation?

    I think now we have a need to go into the more mainstream circles and pull resources from the people who are strong. We are now working with architects and engineers whose strengths and skills can be taken inside the villages that are not on the grid. When we bring off-the-grid technologies, like solar power, or bio-gas applications, I think that this is a way of expanding the discourse, so that the circles don't remain so small that they choke us to death. The idea of bringing more environmentalists, who work together with human rights' organizers, is an interesting idea. It means a merger between people who are interested in learning more about traditional medicine and people involved in the social justice struggle. If there is a place to learn about traditional medicine where you can learn in the framework of examining land usage, where those traditional medicines are grown and harvested now, this contextualizes it. I think that this is the way of moving beyond these fragmented circles that have been created.

  • How can the mainstream be approached and engaged to move beyond and care more about what's going on?

    This is a huge challenge. A lot of my colleagues in the field believe that it's not really an achievable, attainable objective at this juncture of the protracted conflict here. Actually, it's much more effective to be working with the international community or with the sources that fund the discriminatory institutional structures that run this country. What we're looking at is a more realistic sphere of influence because I don't think that the average Israeli family is very likely to be moved by our kind of analysis or actions.

  • Can you describe your approach to funders to get them to re-prioritize?

    I think that there is a desire on the part of the Jewish community to help to reduce the gaps between the Jews and Arabs living inside Israel. I think organizations like Adva, Sikkuy and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and various other organizations are doing incredible advocacy work, printing publications that really break down the injustice between the different populations of Israel. I think they have helped to document very clearly and I think what we need are ways of struggling for social justice that are actually more pro-active in their nature. We are not working to fight Israel and the Jewish institutions that have been running this region, we're looking to find ways of shifting their priorities. I don't think we've managed to do this; I can't say that we've had major achievements in this area, but this is what we're working towards. Over the next couple months, the Jewish National Fund is going to be bringing over tens of thousands of students, Jewish students from the United States, to come over and do community service in the Negev. Who wouldn't come, if a project like that is subsidized? Come during your spring break and join us. But I think what's missing here is information: community service projects and contributions to develop the future of Israel and make the desert bloom. They have severe repercussions on the landscape and on Jewish-Arab relations, which are so delicate to begin with, even if these projects nominally provide some kind of job opportunity or a cosmetic transformation in maybe one of the Bedouin villages or Jewish development towns. What's in question is how to bring out information in a proactive way before it's too late, before all this money has been spent developing infrastructure that's not justly distributed among the Jewish and Arab populations. Before we make more of a mess here we need to raise awareness in the eyes of the donors from the United States and Canada so that they see their money is still needed in Israel, that there is a need for employment, that there is a need for better health infrastructure and better educational opportunities and more settlement options and industry that is going to provide jobs for Jews and Arabs. But it should be a clean industry. While there is a need for an army, and I'm not suggesting that Israel should completely disarm, to appropriate 85% of the Negev for the IDF's use is insane. To then pack the Bedouin in to some 2% of the land in order to have open spaces for firing zones is dangerous. It's dangerous having so many firing zones next to so many industrial zones, and then to have people living inside all of that is a huge stain on our state.

  • What are the challenges of trying to get funders to see this?

    It would take me sixteen hours to discuss this. We have yet to really address these challenges, this is where we are at now. We're trying to open up a dialogue, not just among the converted and not just to increase our activist base. We have a couple hundred people that will come out if we are doing actions but this is not what we are trying to get to. We're trying to find a way to package or understand that this type of development is dangerous. I think there's some place inside me that believes that my family and friends, and my parent's friends who are making donations to the Jewish National Fund want to help the future of Israel and honestly believe that their funding is going towards improving the state. I think just presenting another voice that says there are other ways of working towards improving the state that will also enhance the living conditions of the Bedouin, who are consistently at the bottom of the state's own socio-economic indicators. Slamming them into urban ghettos so we can free up the land from the unrecognized villages, even if we are giving them the opportunity to educate themselves and progress is a very flat, superficial, one-sided way of looking at an issue that actually benefits the Jewish population. Again, these issues are at stake because I think they are the same as those in the West Bank, the relation between the Palestinians and the Israelis are very similar. When Israel builds a settlement, a hilltop outpost [in the West Bank], it's very similar to creating a single-family farm [in the Negev]. You want to withhold the land from the Bedouin, who are encroaching and gobbling up the state's dwindling land resources. [In the Negev] it's touted as part of the Wine Route, a great tourist initiative that will bring more funding down into the Negev. It's difficult to criticize this to the funders and say we don't want more tourism down in the Negev. That's absolutely insane! Everybody wants more tourism in the Negev and more economic opportunities, but everybody also wants a more sustainable formula for developing the Negev and I don't know if this is an intrinsic part of the development plans that are being so widely funded by the American community. We are obligated to look at the mistakes that the North Americans have made with the indigenous peoples and our treatment of their land and their resources because the mistakes that were made today are understood.

  • You are referring to North America?

    In the United States we are obligated to ask when looking to invest our money in Israel, what is the most beneficial way of not making the same mistakes that we have seen in our own history in the United States? Is there a way of not replicating the cycle of dispossession that will leave people in reservations with crime and drug abuse and alcoholism in the United States? What can we learn and how can we be more proactive in working not just to develop this country for the Jewish population, but for all of the people living here, for the Jews and Arabs that are living here?

  • Are you also working on a project in Gaza?

    We were developing a small urban farm in Gaza in one of the refugee camps. We aren't working there anymore because we just didn't have enough access or ability to enter. This project collapsed but we have seen that urban farming is a very valuable way of helping people grow their own food and hold onto their land for that purpose, connecting with the land referred to as the Holy Land, growing our own food as opposed to letting it be marketed by huge conglomerates. I think this project is beautiful and necessary, and when the time is right it will hopefully be picked up again. This is not the right time for us, we're spread too thin and we have our hands full in the Negev. It's a very challenging time and a very challenging place to work. In addition to the challenges I already mentioned, I also think it is very hard to be a woman organizing in a mostly male society down south, in general in Israel, but particularly inside the villages. I think one of the benefits is that I have the perspective of living in the U.S. and knowing that many of the people coming to this country come from the same place that I came from of just wanting so much to be part of a tribe living on the land, with the land, and that means living with the neighbors. This dream inspires me to continue to work with the North Americans that come over here, to give them an alternative to programs like Livnot U'Lehibanot, where they do community service projects inside Jewish villages. We give them opportunities to do these same projects to affect social change inside Arab villages as well. Jews and Arabs work together on community service projects rather than Jews coming to work on a Jewish state in Jewish villages to provide Jewish resources in Jewish-only communities for Jews. This is an archaic formula, and if you want to learn about what is causing the conflict to perpetuate and mushroom, I think this is one thing that we have to pay much more attention to.

  • What would it take for you to work with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza again?

    It's a question of strategy at this point. Many of my Palestinian colleagues were saying over and over during the early years of the intifada, "Listen, there is a need to have Israeli allies, but we don't need Israeli allies to run our struggle with us. What we really need is for the Israelis to go back inside their own country and change the policy, change what's happening on the streets, the perception that the mainstream people have of us, as Arabs." I thought the most effective way of doing this is working with a population that the mainstream in Israel regards as an ally, a Biblical image of itself, and to work with this population that is seen as a friend. In some cases, I have to say, some of the Bedouin are more Zionist than I am. I've gone to another direction of unlearning everything I was taught. I don't identify myself as a Zionist today, and many of the people that I am working with in the Bedouin communities that I would think would be natural allies with the Palestinians, who are struggling with land confiscation, house demolition, destruction, uprooting of trees, containment, all of these aspects of discrimination of absolutely A to Z, everything in between, I don't find that there's a link today between the Palestinians and the Bedouin. In many cases, the Bedouin are more closely allied with some of the mainstream Zionist state mechanism.

  • What do you give up to do this work, personally?

    That is such a hard question. Everything from peace of mind, not being connected to the political discourse, just living, financial stability, partnership. There is the issue of finding a life partner. My focus the past few years has been getting Bustan off the ground and to master a way to deal with these issues that are just burning in me, raging from within. My creative energy goes towards this field - I realize it has its price.

  • What do you think you gain from doing this work?

    I get a sense that I'm part of a Jewish tradition of working for social justice, working to root out the injustice within us. We've become a strong, independent nation and I have a kind of comfort knowing that I'm involved now, that I'm not a bystander allowing all this to happen around me and just going about my day to day life and looking for a date. I feel honored to be among the people that are helping to change the way we understand conflict in this region, and peace, and what relations between Yitzhak and Ishmael mean. Also, some of my colleagues are just extraordinary people and to just be involved in this field at this time is one of the perks.

  • What would an ideal future look like for you?

    I'm very interested in living off the land and sharing the traditions that the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Jews and the Bedouins have for working the land, living close to the land. I'm very inspired by the idea of growing food together and creating a place where people can come and have workshops or seminars where they learn from people who have had a tradition of having their hands in the earth, both Jewish and Bedouin, with regard to medicine and growing food. I want us to live with each other, side by side, this goes back to the dream that provides me with inspiration. I don't know if it will happen in my lifetime, I don't think I'll have the strength to organize something like this. I feel extremely burned out from what I've seen over the past few years. It's an extraordinarily challenging landscape to work in but this is something that is very colorful for me, it gives me food for thought.

  • What do you do when you're burned out?

    I'm in this place very, very deeply. I guess it's challenging because I want to have so much fire in me and to be able to channel that fire in the most productive possible way but I feel like I can't. I don't even have strength to write poetry, and I'm not sure that I have the formula for what to do with burnout. I'd like to live quietly, sit in silence in the desert and not speak for some days, this gives me a feeling of being rejuvenated, which is something I hope to do, not next week but the week after. But the biggest challenge of all is feeling we are like the blind leading the blind. We don't know what's working or what isn't, so we are sort of stumbling all over one another out here and you could say that we are all blind. It's like the paradigm of revenge; an eye for an eye makes everybody blind. I feel that we are blind today. Some are choosing to close their eyes and stay blind and apathetic, and others are blind just because we have no idea what the hell we do out here. It's like the theories that you learn about in the conflict resolution textbooks or different areas. There are similar paradigms for conflict, like in Sri Lanka or in Ireland, similar to what's happening here in Israel and Palestine, but they are not really replicable. Nothing really makes very much sense when you're looking for the formula for right kind of action; when trying to organize a coalition things are just so dry and tough here. I think that one of our biggest challenges is that we don't really have the ability to step back and analyze the effectiveness of our actions nor do we have enough time to sit down and write. We are just out there in the field all the time doing some of the most elementary relationship-building and we don't have the benefit of having time on our hands here. I think it feels as though there is a burning pressure to get something achieved, which will allow you to feel as though real, tangible change has been impacted on a very concrete level. Not that something down the road will feel different, but that something today makes sense, and you can feel the effectiveness. One time I found myself sitting with friends doing a puzzle, a 1000 piece puzzle. The images looked the same, the colors, it was a beautiful forest, and I sat there for fifteen minutes and linked puzzle pieces together. I felt more effective in those fifteen minutes than I have felt in the past seven years of organizing because it's challenging to know where to go or whom to learn from, to figure out who's done this right. I really wish that the funding agencies, the institutions that are working in this area would help us to stop time for half a minute and pull people together that are engines of change in this region to sit together and learn from elders from different movements around the world that have been engaged in these kind of struggles. This is not new in so many ways but we feel as though we are re-inventing the wheel. The role of the funders here, it in some ways, could be so much more effective if they would take some of the pressure off the organizations; in addition to running projects under the most challenging conditions, there is writing these PhD type applications for funding. It's so time consuming, and if there was a way of helping the organizations on the ground here get these applications, reduce the size of the applications or something that means the funding agencies do more of the work on the spot, this would be helpful. It would also help the different NGOs see each other as allies and teach us, remind us how to work together in coalition. We are in need of being guided by experts in the U.S. that have led movements such as the Civil Rights Movement, indigenous rights movements all around the world, people who can teach us to move from this crazy, crazy conflict and breathe some more. I'm hungry for this kind of teaching from the outside. We're trying new things that haven't really been tried before. We have no idea what's working, and it could also be effective to have students assessing the different projects, not only the projects Bustan is involved with, but projects run all across the region and have people take assessment evaluations and apply them to the different projects that have been tested here.

  • How could people in the US help organizations on the ground?

    There are people at home in Oakland, Berkley, Texas, New York City, they aren't in the field out here and they want to help and join in this struggle for social change. There are things that are very draining for the organizations here to do, in some cases it's resource development, writing applications. It would be great to have a stronger allied connection with organizations or individuals in the US to help write grant requests, help organize speaking tours so that the work is done from the people in the US. It takes Bustan about three months to organize a speaking tour; it's very time consuming and extremely laborious. We need our resources here in the field and I wish there were ways of also being encouraged more, fed, or nurtured more from our partners, individuals and organizations in the States, who could encourage us more to engage in coalition building. I feel like that's what's missing from the field today.   There are so few organizations left after this tsunami - this intifada has been like a tsunami for the movements for social change here. There are so few organizations that are still plugging away. If I tell you how many problems we have just working together on the smallest little initiatives, you wouldn't believe it. Maybe you would. We need help. This as a cracked-dry desert and if supporters from the US could just bring water, and pour water into this dry, cracked desert then maybe organizations that are working together in the field would be able to see each other and collaborate more easily together. Today it feels as though the exact opposite is happening because we are competing for a tiny sliver of this pie. You're not coming from a place of abundance and there is also no mechanism for us to truly restore ourselves. I learn from people who have gone through burn-out; almost every single person I know involved in this field is burned out. People who are in California probably have a much stronger sense of what to do with burn-out than people who have been living inside this conflict for so many years and working limitlessly for so many years on end. We lose perspective here. The biggest contribution from outside is to help to feed, not just financially, but spiritually, and socially-- teach us how to work together. I wish and pray for this kind of guidance. There's a program in the US where you have young, very strong activists in the Jewish community guided or taught by the elders of the Jewish community. I also think that this kind of thing needs to happen here, where we learn from the mistakes of the past and from the wisdom that was generated by successful strategy in different movements, in different countries around the world. I just wait for the opportunity to be invited to a forum where this kind of thing would be discussed at a roundtable because we are falling flat on our face. I know how to do some community building organizing, but that doesn't mean that I know how to organize against the expansion of a military base or the creation of a new industrial zone. People in the United States and urban areas throughout the world have successfully fought against incineration. We are dealing with issues that are commonplace, and while we do have some skills here, it doesn't mean we know how to challenge the whole enormous load that has been slammed on this region. People are just trying to find a way to live in a more healthy way here together. When I started to do this work I found myself surrounded by visionaries, artists, healers, musicians, very talented people that were drawn to the social aspect of reaching out and dialogue with the other, breaking the taboo. The 90's were the golden age of dialogue. We thought that the kind of political discussions that were happening before this period were flat. It was like, if we come in just with will, just with hope, that a little more heart and a little less politics we'll go a long way. The field has changed today so dramatically. It's not enough to come at this work of social change from a place of heart, from wanting to see if we can live differently or affect change. It's not enough. I feel that so many people that come to do this work really want to see this change. We have to have some kind of assessment or scaling of what's going on, what needs to be replicated and what are some suggestions for strengthening it. We have tried things that have never been tried before here. We built a clinic in an unrecognized village. Our intention was to catalyze discussion of access to health services among Jewish and Arab populations. There is an area of the Negev flanked by the industrial zone Ramat Hovav; about 500 meters from a toxic waste incinerator lives a population of close to 6,000 Bedouin. The incinerator ash affects people living in a 20 kilometer radius, not just those 500 meters away; there are hundreds of those 250,000 people that are impacted from toxic poison that is being spewed from Ramat Hovav. We wanted to do something proactive and go in and work with the villagers, not just a co-existence product - that's a by-product. We wanted to go inside on one issue, which is the allocation of public resources, by building infrastructure together. We built a clinic using traditional Arab building practices. The Bedouin have been made sedentary so they no longer weave tents with goat hair, they are living in shacks made of zinc, or in cement block houses, and these houses are very hot in the summer because there is no insulation. Because the walls are not insulated, it is unbearably hot in the summers, and extremely cold in the winters. We built using affordable and accessible materials already in the villages: straw bales, mud, and we brought together eco-builders from all over the country. There were architects and a team of really solid engineers and visionaries who have a sense of how to apply perma-culture and how to use renewable resources. We brought them to what's referred to as village number 32 and worked with the villagers to build this clinic and today it is up and running. There's another NGO which Bustan has outsourced the management of the clinic to; there are 22 Jewish and Bedouin doctors running our clinic. I have absolutely no way of measuring whether this project is a success and whether we should be doing this kind of initiative in other villages as well. This is the kind of thing I believe the international community could be really helpful with. Help be our glasses, our lenses are very foggy now and fuzzy. It's difficult to gain insight as to the effectiveness as new approaches like this. It could be effective to have students assessing the different projects, not only the projects Bustan is involved with, but projects all across the region. Graduate students could use assessment evaluations and apply them to the different projects that have been tested here. If people wanted to come over for two weeks and analyze a program or spend time doing phone calls or interviews, or Skype, instant messaging things like this, it could help trigger more a in depth, strategic analysis of what can be effective and how to make it more effective. There are places where organizations can get strategic counseling and advice, like Shatil, and lots of places to turn but I think that this is definitely something that could be more developed.

  • What is unique about Bustan's strategy?

    I think one thing that inspires so many environmental justice activists is the idea of looking at the land as a bridge. Both peoples love this land, both peoples need this land to be healthy. What needs to change is the idea underlying our policies. What makes Bustan unique is that we are making principles of sustainability, perma-culture, working the land and loving it in the way that is indigenous to Jewish and Bedouin and Palestinian traditions. Loving the bustan, the orchard of fruit trees in people's yards is present in both traditions. Growing food from a formula of diverse crops, where a lemon tree is right next to an olive tree, which is right next to a pomegranate tree, a date tree and an orange tree. This land and these fruits will provide your family with everything you need. This is a notion of self-reliance, of not depending on purchasing the food, factory farmed for you by the companies that are so enormous in the state, you never see the faces of the farmers anymore in your neighborhood. The idea is going back and trying to work inside villages to reveal traditions of working with the land, in balance of the land, and to replicate the systems of nature in building. This means building with natural building materials, in planting, gardens that will be healthy in fiercely strong contrast to mono-culture, pine forests that have transformed the landscape of Israel. I think what makes us different really is our approach to traditional knowledge of working the land as something which is very progressive and futuristic. It means having people live in a healthy way, side by side, sharing the resources of the land, the wealth of the land, the milk and the honey of this land. We're learning and trying to create opportunities for Palestinians who remember how to build water catchment troughs, and Bedouin who remember how to remove pebbles from certain areas in the desert to uncover roots that can be used to heal different ailments. We're trying to learn from Jewish grandmothers how to take certain plants and heal from ulcers and things like this. This knowledge is getting lost today around the world, but here we can use it as a bridge for bringing people to have a more fruitful discussion. We don't need to discuss whether we should go back to the '67 borders, or what the final status of Jerusalem should look like. The politicians aren't checking in with us. If we look at traditional knowledge and appropriate technology, bringing technologies as two sides means working towards a more sustainable and healthy future. There's unbelievable knowledge that can be shared and preserved stemming from Middle Eastern traditions. We're working in a region where there's a conflict over land and it seems most sensible to me to use the land as a tool for what would pull us together. I hope that one day the kind of work we are doing inside Israel will be transferable and replicable for Israeli-Palestinian work inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories, when these territories are no longer occupied, obviously. I'd like to think our work is doing is helping catalyze people to affect change within their own communities. There's more symmetry today between Jews and Bedouin living in the Negev than among Israelis and Palestinians, because one group is living under occupation while the other is purveying the occupation, even though today there is more consciousness, which has come out of the cooperative groups of the left that are working together. I still believe that the most important work that we can do today is inside Israel. It's ugly, hard work, but this is what is critically needed today. I want to emphasize the need for us to step outside of this place where we come to save the Palestinians or the Bedouin. This is so ugly, and often times the way the work is toted has kind of an orientalist undertone: peace building projects are bringing Israelis and Palestinians together because of their need to understand the other. I don't think we need to get stuck just understanding each other today. That's a privilege that we lost in the 90's during the Oslo years. Today there is a need to really point out the institutional injustice inherent in our cultures today, in the way we relate to each another today. It isn't enough just to relate to each another in good conversations over the phone as Israelis and Palestinians. It's a start, dialogue. Dialogue projects are important, but I want to demand more of ourselves, as demonstrators and activists. I want us to go very far beyond what feels right to what is actually going to strategically transform the institutions perpetuating the injustice and the differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

  • You mentioned your concern about social justice work that involves people with unequal power. How do you address that?

    This is the single hardest thing in the world. Of course some of the other people in our organization are white, like I am. We need to examine this issue constantly in order to keep our integrity in check. We need to make it very clear that we do not do humanitarian projects but work to change structural injustice. In many ways the vehicle we use to address this is environmental justice. We are not activists coming in to help the poor brown people who are suffering from the evil Israeli imperialist entity that is creating aspects of the Israeli occupation inside Israel. Being anti-corporation, anti-industry, and anti-military in a place where there are people who are very dependent on some of those structures isn't the most effective. We have to start to form new alliances and coalitions with people that are inside these power structures. The more diversified we become, the more likely our achievements will have integrity. The more Bedouin and Jews from all different classes and from all different perspectives on the political spectrum work together to affect change to these discriminatory institutions, the more likely we are to see that our objective is one objective. It's not good for me that my water company does not provide water to the Arabs living in the unrecognized villages. It's not good for me that I have electricity and heating in this winter's cold Jerusalem night but Bedouin living 14 meters from the turbines that emit radioactive poison into the air, their air, don't have electricity. We don't have integrity if I'm fighting for them against these institutions. But if we're fighting the institution together against these injustices, I think our integrity is in place. Too much of the field today is thinking, we are coming to help, or they are coming to help. This is what needs to be broken: asymmetry is the force keeping us separate. It's a dualist force keeping us divided and we are the ones keeping ourselves divided in keeping up these roles that have become very comfortable. This is something that we need to fight for very strongly: not to allow ourselves to come in as the privileged ones. We allow ourselves to come in as equals and we really beckon equality from our colleagues, Bedouin, Palestinian, Israeli. Working together is critical if we are to do some kind of sustainable work. Too many of the efforts over the years have been unsustainable: demonstrate in a village and never return to that village again because there are too many other places you have to run and put out fires. Put out fires and extinguish messes throughout the country, but try to do something that is sustainable. It has to have balance to it.