Golan for Development

Tree of Life    Yobo Member
December 28th, 2010

On March 4, 2010, 32 members of a US-based interfaith group traveled to Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine to take part in the 7th Tree of Life Journey. The purpose of the journey is to seek out and celebrate the work of Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Muslims and Christians – who have exemplified themselves in their efforts toward peace and reconciliation. This entry in the group’s travelogue appears as part of Your Olive Branch’s Best of 2010 series, which highlights the top stories submitted by yobo members and readers over the past year.  All stories in Best of 2010 came from organizations and people like you.  To submit a story for publication consideration at any time of the year, click here.

Upon waking up yesterday (Wednesday) morning, we were greeted by the news of Joe Biden’s visit to Israel. As the New York Times reported, Biden called Israel’s announcement to build 1600 new units in an “ultra-orthodox” neighborhood in East Jerusalem, “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” However, at the same time, Biden was adamant in affirming the United States’ “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”

I wonder what Vice President Biden actually believes. He seems to contradict himself, saying that Israel is wrong, but all the while giving them the United States’ full support. Why is he content to publicly support Israel while privately condemning them?
He seems to need to justify the United States’ position and uses the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to appeal to a racist, anti-Islamic, anti-Arab sentiment. I wonder why the Vice President feels he needs this justification—why he needs to defend the American government, American people and Israeli people?  Why can’t we act on what we believe in? Only a few hours after learning of the 1600 new settlement units, we were on our way to Golan Heights—a territory formerly part of Syria—that has suffered from Israeli occupation since 1967.  The irony seemed fitting.

As we drove into Golan Heights, reminders of the occupation surrounded us. Barbed wire fences lined the side of the road and bright yellow signs warned, “Danger, Mines!” An Israeli military training camp showed us our tax money at work and all the while, Joe Biden “made a concerted and highly public show” in asserting the United States’ commitment to Israeli “security”.

We arrived at the hospital where Dr. Maray Taisseer, general director of the organization Golan for Development, works. He established a hospital, facilitating the promotion of healthcare and drastically changing the quality of medical services. It is equipped with examining rooms, x-ray machines, and a novel check-in system that expedites the process of interacting with insurance companies and guarantees service in 5 minutes. Since the hospital opened in 1991, the ratio of doctors to patients has increased dramatically: from 1:8,000 to 1:800.

After a short tour of the hospital, Dr. Taisseer talked about living in the occupation. He described the military presence, the land mines, and the struggle over control of water. Of the 9 million cubic feet of water Golan Heights needs to sustain its land and crops, it receives only 3 million cubic feet—only one third.

Imagine having only one third of the required amount of a resource essential to life: one third of the food you need to sustain you, or one third of the shelter needed to protect you. What would your life be like? Dr. Taisseer stated “I am not looking for justice on earth; I do not believe justice exists”. In his practical manner, he expressed his concerns about finding a peaceful resolution. He said, “you can give all the money you have, make it the best in every aspect of life, but people still will not love the occupation.” Based on principle, alone, the Arab people will never be satisfied with being the puppets of Israel.

In continuing the conversation about water, Dr. Taisseer told us about the water tanks that collect rainwater. When the Israelis began routing water from nearby rivers and lakes, including the Jordan River, the people of the Golan developed huge basins to collect rain so they could use it for their daily needs. Despite their efforts, the Israeli government plotted to combat the water tanks, asserting, “water that falls over Israel is owned by Israel.”

Dr. Taisseer’s hospital serves, without question, Israelis and Palestinians–Muslims, Jews and Christians. As a young man, he traveled to Jerusalem to study and work. He went with preconceptions about Israelis—he went hating them. They were the people responsible for separating him from his two brothers—family he has never met before. They are in Syria, a country whose border is only a few feet from Taisseer’s town, Majdal Shams, separated by a barbed wire fence and Israeli impositions.

On one day each year, April 17th, Syrian independence day, the people of Golan Heights and the people just across the Syrian border gather at the cease-fire line that lies between Syria and the Golan. They yell through the fence with bullhorns. These are brothers who have never met, mothers who have not seen their sons for 42 years, and grandparents who will never meet their grandchildren.

Despite this disturbing situation, Taisseer examined the root of his hatred, as he realized the humanity of Israeli people. Taisseer’s introspection, while deeply troubling, allowed him to change his opinion of the Israeli people, separating them from the government and respecting them as people. He worked to question their motives and understand their position. He asked why the Israelis act as they do.

In his investigation, he recognized the “self-censorship” that occurs subconsciously among Israelis and noticed the “brainwashing” to which the Israeli people are subjected. In a conference on violence in the state of Israel, no one discussed the conflict as a source of violence against women—wives and girlfriends—and children.

Taisseer, though, raised the question: how does a violent environment personally impact human beings? He argued that violence only breeds more violence. Additionally, he recognized the contradiction that Vice President Biden eloquently implied. Taisseer asked, “How can you make peace when you continue to build settlements?”

I would ask the Vice President the same question.

Below are links to The New York Times article on Biden’s visit and more information about Golan for Development:

Peace from the Holy Land,

-Eliza and the Tree of Life Group.

Visit Tree of Life’s yobo profile here

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