Written on June 10th, 2009

After six days of packed actions I am finally having the chance to sit down and write a short update on our incredible trip in Israel so far. This will be a far too short update but I want you to know that we arrived (well quite a few days ago actually) and are doing well (thought intensely processing this heart-filled and heart-breaking witness). The moment we landed Infinity and I felt compelled to go to the Old City in Jerusalem for sunrise. Entering the familiar and ancient walls felt both sacred and profane. How can my people pray to a wall that separates us from another holy site, the beautiful Dome of the Rock? And how long will we stuff our tiny paper prayers into the crevices of rock before they billow and catch in the wind and rise above this wall?

Last Friday we began our delegation with an opening orientation that was both joyous and somber as only hours later a Palestinian activist in Nil’in had been killed by the IDF. This is the reality of being here in Israel–feeling surrounded in one moment by happy, laughing families in a cafe, and just over the hill knowing there are people starving and in desperate need of life-saving medicines, trapped behind a concrete wall. Medea, Ann, and the rest of the folks coming from the Egypt-Gaza delegation to join us in Israel were detained for 8 hours at the border between Egypt and Israel. With some quick pink work, thanks to Jodie, Congresspeople called the Israeli Embassy to support them getting into Israel, and by Saturday night they reunited with our delegation. With their exception, everyone else on the delegation got into Israel with ease. Before I go any farther, I want to say that the best way to get the gist of what we are doing here is to see the photos and there is a group pool of vibrant shots.

Saturday morning we had a legal briefing to know our rights as activists; we met with a Palestinian Member of the Israeli Parliament who talked about how there can be no peace without equal rights; we held a clowning workshop with famous doctor-clown Patch Adams and the Israeli radical clowning troupe (I learned lots of fun new mixers and ice breakers!) (see more pics); and in the early evening we attended a demonstration as Saturday was the anniversary of the 1967 war. Our CODEPINK contingent added a bright pink splash to the stream of activists marching through the streets of Tel Aviv. Saturday night we boarded our bus and journeyed south to the Adamama farm in Nir Moshe an hour and a half to the south of Tel Aviv, where we’ve been staying for the past three nights. Adamama is a rustic ecovillage with a strawbale house, large tents, and a sweet staff who live on the property and make delicious meals (a vibrant array of peppers and tabouli and homemade rugelach). From our Adamama base camp, we have gone out every day to take a stand for freedom in Gaza at the checkpoints. On Sunday we arrived with our humanitarian aid for the children, including a bright playground and school supplies, and submitted our passports for entry. Patch and the clowns hammed it up in front of the border guards and even got them to smile quite a bit. In the end we were not allowed in and so we held a rocking vigil outside the gate, complete with an Israeli samba troupe, Kasamba.

Read about the Erez Border action on YNet news.

Sunday afternoon we participated in workshops organized by our Israeli delegation partners, the Coalition of Women for Peace, and great orgs like Physicians for Human Rights and Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. In the evening a small group of us went to Sderot to meet with folks who lived there and were enjoying a film festival, and to listen to their stories of living in constant stress and fear of attack. Monday we went again to the Erez checkpoint, this time carrying with us contraband items that are not allowed into Gaza. Scary, dangerous items like pencils, coffee, chocolate, paper, pumpkins, and light bulbs! We did a street theater action with the goods and then headed onward to Kerem Shalom checkpoint where we again brought out the contraband, this time including our playground. Kerem Shalom is where the trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter Gaza. We created an altar at the gate with all the goods and sang songs loudly while fastening tea bags (also totally not okay in Gaza!) and balloons (another no-no) to the fence. Under the hot sun, we managed to hold quite a presence at the checkpoint that we had thought would be very militant and confrontational. During our morning actions Ann Wright heard back from the Israeli authorities that we had been officially denied entry into Gaza. This was disappointing, though highly expectable, news to our delegation and we took action at once contacting congress and trying to push the issue. We returned to Adamama in the afternoon for two excellent workshops, one from Who Profits? on corporate illegal operations in occupied Palestine and successful boycott campaigns, and the other on radical feminist activism. In the evening we had the amazing opportunity to listen to a panel of shministiot–the brave young women (shministim means 12th graders) who refused to serve in the Army. Their words were incredibly inspiring and down to earth and we hope to create a tour for them in the US.

Today, Tuesday, was an absolutely remarkable day. By 10 pm tonight we had done three actions, heard a presentation on Gaza, and packed our bags to depart for Jerusalem tomorrow morning. We started the day with a demonstration with kites at the Erez checkpoint, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza who organized hundreds of people to demonstrate at the border with kites as well. It was beautiful to see the kites, constructed in the West Bank, soaring high above the concrete walls surrounding the open air imprisonment that the Israelis have created out of the seaside land of Gaza. After flying kites we wrote notes to the people on the other side of the wall and ritually tied them to the chain fence around the gate, with flowers and more balloons. We were joined by Israeli activists and were able to talk on the phone with the people protesting on the other side. From Erez we went to Tel Aviv where a group of 15 people from our delegation met with the US Embassy to vocalize outrage about not being able to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza via Israel, and discuss the siege and the US role in occupation. A smaller group of PINKs created a vigil outside the embassy with free gaza and end military aid signs.

This afternoon we staged our first ever protest action inside an Ahava store! Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories is a privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea. The Hebrew word “Ahava” means love, but there is nothing loving about what the company is doing in the Occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. The Ahava store in Tel Aviv is located in the oceanfront fancy Hilton hotel. Six of us women covered our bodies with mud and then put our nice clothes on over, so that we could disrobe in the store to bare our signs and mud. Our chants included: “Ahava you can’t hide/We can see your dirty side!” “Your product’s made in stolen lands/We’re here to show your dirty hands!” “Don’t Buy Ahava!” Meanwhile the other members of our delegation swarmed into the hotel mall area outside Ahava, and posed as tourists gawking at our action, flashmob style. We had a good turn out of press photographers and journalists (many of whom took boob shots of my “No Ahava” mud job) and made such a splash in the hotel that security came and SHUT DOWN Ahava for the rest of the day! (If I only had to put on mud and wear a bikini to get a military recruiting center to shut down!)

Check out this great Ahava action video on Israeli news. And there are great photos on the local activist media flickr page.

It felt really powerful to be taking a stand against occupation in this very tangible way. We chanted and marched out of the hotel and continued to hold a muddy vigil outside the hotel for quite some time. When I was a teenager traveling to Israel on delegations I used to think Ahava was a cool gift to bring back for friends and family at home, and standing in such drastic opposition today made me realize just how much my awareness has changed, transformed.

There is so much to say about the incredible people on our delegation, the hard-working outstanding organizers at the Coalition of Women for Peace and their member groups, and even the way that we have been treated by Israeli police and soldiers. Our joy, humor, and creativity seems to slice through meanness at each turn; after all, we are CODEPINK activists. While I know that we enjoy the privileges of these fun-filled actions, there is an ever-present awareness of the reality for the people who are suffering at the hands of occupation, and actually the people on all sides who are involved in a battle that fewer and fewer people seem to see a peaceful or amenable end to.

I so look forward to sharing our action stories, and the stories of the people we are meeting, with you when we return. Helping to lead the logistics on this trip definitely keeps me busy. You can find our delegate blogs at www.codepinkalert.org/blog. For now it is approaching one am so I am going to send you all love from southern Israel and bid you laila tov, good night!

xx
Rae