This doc follows a native Peruvian who once studied to become a priest, but eventually converted to the Jewish faith, after a temping offer that included Israeli citizenship benefits.
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The Jewish people are said to descend from 12 tribes, corresponding to the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob. After ancient Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Israel in year 722 before Christ, ten of the 12 tribes disappeared from all biblical accounts. Many Jews believe the descendents from these ten lost tribes are spread across the world, and should return to the land of Israel.
Twenty years ago Yedidiah converted to Judaism and relocated to Israel, place where he practices his faith in an orthodox way.
Born in the Peruvian Andes and with no Jewish roots or background, before moving to Israel and changing his name, Yedidiah used to be called Rolando Gonzales.
Like Rolando, Gamliel was also born in Peru. Over 50 years ago, Gamilel’s parents decided to follow a man called Segundo Villanueva on his search for spirituality.
My parents were there since the beginning of this story, they were disciples of Segundo Villanueva and they were Christians, as everyone else they knew.
After years of studying the bible in a very profound way, they realised that what is written in the bible and what the Christians practice is not the same.
So they renounced Christianity and started their own group, following the festivities and traditions written in the bible.
This went on and in year 1967 their group, comprised by some 200 people, travelled to the Amazon jungle.
In a region of the northern Amazon rainforest they started a kibutz something that was very popular in Israel at the time.
A kibutz is a group of people who work together in agriculture or technology.
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The kibutz the aspiring Jews founded in Peru’s Amazon rainforest has since disappeared.
However, many of those who established the kibutz can now be found 8000 miles away.
Victor Chico is Gamliel’s uncle. He is also one of the first members of the congregation of Segundo Villanueva and his adopted Judaism.
In 1967 I got circumcised, because I could see it was a healthy Jewish practice and in the bible it’s written that those who don’t get circumcised cannot celebrate Easter.
In year 1980 I heard on a radio dubbed “Call Israel”, which transmitted in Spanish from Jerusalem, that they were inviting people to participate in a biblical contest that was to be held in every country that was a friend of Israel. There was an Israeli embassy in Peru, so I signed up for the contest.
As first prize Victor Chico was given a two-week religious tour of Israel.
Naturally the tickets and the money for the trip was paid for by the State of Israel.
In Israel I had the opportunity to go to the wailing wall and write on a piece of paper: “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, please allow me, my family and my people to be able to come to live in Israel”, because we were already living in accordance to the law of the bible, we observed all the Jewish festivities and we were already circumcised, the only thing we needed was to learn more and live as real Jews... and I believe our God listened to us, because here we are.
Our studies of the bible lead us to love Israel so much that our will was to live here. We went to the Israeli embassy in Peru, and also to the Jewish Agency and asked them what could we do to make an aliyah (immigration to Israel), even if it meant coming to a kibutz, I had four children who were young enough to work in a kibutz, but they told us that their hands were tied, as the policy stated we weren’t entitled to go to Israel because we didn’t have any Jewish ancestry
Based in Peru’s capital, Lima, the Jewish community is mainly composed of well-educated people who enjoy a particularly high living standard.
It was difficult to approach the Jewish community in Lima, it’s a very closed community and not just anyone can come and pray with them at their synagogue.
At the beginning there were families who welcomed us and some other families who didn’t, but that’s a very natural thing.
A possibility for the aspiring Jews to convert finally emerged, but the interference of the local Jewish community would stop this from happening for the time being
When the Lima Jews heard that we wanted to convert, some of them wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have their non-Jewish partners converted too, but they couldn’t, because the partners didn’t practice Judaism.
the rabbi found himself between a rock and a hard place, because the local Jews told him: “you don’t receive money from them, but from us, and you live in the community with us. How can you not give us a hand by converting my niece, whom my son married but who is not Jewish, and instead you are going to help these outsiders who just came out of the blue?” Because of this we couldn’t convert.
we met a lot of Jewish families in Lima, amongst these were some who wanted to hear our story. They kept telling the story from person to person until our story was heard in many places, in the United States, Peru, Israel...
Until it reached Rabbi Eliyahu Avihail.
This rabbi has been in charge for over 50 years of investigating about the ten lost tribes, and bringing them back to Israel. But, because we don’t belong to a lost tribe, our story didn’t really fit in with what the rabbi did, but he though it was something special.
After carrying out his investigations the rabbi became interested and brought in his organisation, and that’s how we managed to come to Israel.
Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein is the main Jewish religious authority in Peru. Like rabbi Eliyahu Avihail he has also converted large groups of indigenous Peruvians to the Jewish faith.
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The conversion wasn’t organised by the Rabbinical delegation, but by a group backed by them. This group was called Shavel Israel, which means “those returning to Israel”. It is a foundation of orthodox Jews, and the rabbinical delegation of Israel gave them the go-ahead for the conversion.
The ascension of a Jew back to the promised land of Israel is known as an ‘aliyah’. With such high number of new converts willing to emigrate from Peru, mass aliyahs were necessary in order to settle the newcomers in Israel.
Thanks God, in year 1990 we did the first aliyah and opened the doors for all of those who love Israel and want to live in here respecting the laws of Israel.
This is not politically motivated. We have always loved Israel, now we live here and our sons and daughters go to the army to defend Israel.
Like Victor Chico, Augustin was also amongst the first disciples of Segundo Villanueva.
Unlike most of his peers who have relocated to Israel, Augustin still lives in Cajamarca.
When the first aliyah was organised Victor Chico went with them, and so did Segundo Villanueva. In that aliyah went the people who were very dedicated to the religious practice, besides me: I stayed here.
For various reasons Augustin stayed behind, taking care of the small synagogue his congregation had built in Cajamarca.
A year later we had a cholera epidemic across the whole of Peru. A rabbi named Betzalel came from Israel and told us he had been fastening for three days in order to get funding and buy medicines for his people. So he brought the medicines, and also organised another aliyah, so that all of those who followed Judaism could leave for Israel.
News came that there was a possibility for another aliyah to take people to Israel, but it was necessary to pass an exam, so my family and I took it and passed it. But that is not the real test, that’s just a theory assessment, the practical test was living here, fitting into this society, learning the language and communicating with the people around us.
Besides passing a 30-minute exam on the basic traditions of Judaism, there was another requirement for the new converts.
They were to settle in a place where the local community was willing to absorb them and that provided an adequate environment for the practice of the orthodox Jewish faith. The rabbis where to suggest this place.
For me it was difficult not to know which was going to be my home, I needed to have my own home to feel secure. They (the rabbis) only told me the place where I was going to live was called Elon Moreh.
Elon Moreh is one of the 121 Jewish settlements built within the Palestinian territories.
The United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League consider these settlements to be illegal.
When we first arrived in Israel we came straight from the airport to this place: Elon Moreh, and they rabbis did us a favour choosing a similar place to the one we came from, in terms of weather, geography and people. They did this so that our adaptation process would be easier, and we wouldn’t break our schemes and visual parameters.
(Shots of Cajamarca: rituals, festivities, houses and scenery)
But, is Elon Moreh a similar environment to the town where Rolando comes from?
The city of Cajamarca is surrounded by mountains in every direction.
It’s located in the northern Peruvian Andes, at 2,700 meters above sea level, where winter temperatures can plunge below cero degrees.
Local folk dressed in brightly colored scarves and Catholic churches built hundreds of years ago, make Cajamarca’s distinctive scenery.
Hard to think of a place less similar to a Jewish settlement within a conflict zone of the Middle East.
In Jerusalem I met with Dr. Mahdi, a renowned Palestinian scholar who has a different explanation as to why the rabbis thought it was easier to relocate the new converts than to leave them in Peru, with their newfound Jewish brothers.
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If they were honest and sincere and they wanted to spread the message, as the missionary groups, and to convert people to become Jews, at least they should assimilate them and blend them with the Jewish community in Peru, in their own country, but they wouldn’t because there is a special standard, a special way of life, and they don’t want to distort it for the Jewish community with poor and unemployed people.
Sometimes we would hear in the back of the synagogue: ‘the Indians are coming’ or ‘look at those Indians, how they wail’, but I took that as a joke.
I believe they have a very different cultural identity to that of the Jewish community in Lima, but also with respect to Israel, and we have to be clear on that. However, Israel is a country that has the elements and the infrastructure to receive immigrants and to help them adapt, and they specialize in that, while the Lima Jewish community does not have this capacity.
This is some shocking news for these people to realise that in their own country they were not allowed to be part of the Jewish community, they move them to what is Israel and what is Palestine: occupied territories, and put them in a culture of war culture, a confrontational culture, and empower them with the message that there is an enemy, and that the enemy is the Palestinian.
Do you know why I decided to buy a gun?
My family and I had been in here for three months when we were standing at a bus stop, waiting for a bus or for a car to give us a lift, when at the opposite side of the road we saw an Arab passing by.
He looked to one side, then to the other, then he stared at us, looked both ways again and he then headed towards us.
I thought: “What is he after?”
I lifted my coat and put my hand in my back, pretending I was carrying something.
The Arab then looked both ways again, turned around and left.
During all that time he had his hand in his pocket and wouldn’t take it out. So I thought that if a miracle had just happened right there, I shouldn’t wait for another miracle to happen, so I had to be prepared, to defend my family and to defend myself.
It was then when, from that first-hand experience, I understood what are the frictions and the problems that exist in here.
For five years I was responsible for the security around my settlement, we had a mixed team of civilians and soldiers and we had a vehicle with which we patrolled the area, in order to defend our families and the Jewish people.
This is a Glock, 17 bullets, light-weight and very special, because it doesn’t have a safety catch that you need to move in order to shoot, you can even cock it against your trousers and the bullet is ready to be fired. We always used to carry it with a bullet in the chamber, ready to shoot in case we needed to.
After having spent a few days in occupied Palestine, it was clear that not only the Israeli security forces, but also many settlers are heavily armed.
Being Israel a democratic nation, it would only be fair to assume that its Arab residents also have the same right to bear guns. I asked Dr Mahdi about this
If you carry a knife you’ll be killed on the spot, not searched or stopped. And you have 600 check-posts, you have ½ million armed settlers, controlling the West Bank, and you have Israeli army all the time around you and mayor cities as Jerusalem becoming a military city.
Rolando came to Elon Moreh in 1991, when the rabbis and their organisation made the second mass aliyah of native Peruvians.
The State of Israel doesn’t take them to Tel Aviv or Haifa, to show them a shared city, Haifa is a shared city, shared between Arabs and Jews, they move them directly to occupied territories, to military areas, to outposts, to check-posts, to settlements and settlers..
The technical name of the territories of Judea and Samaria is ‘territories under dispute’, until a concrete and final agreement is reached.
The point is that ‘territories under dispute’ doesn’t mean that the territories belong to Israel either but, for the time being and while the dispute lasts, the territories are administered by Israel and, if someone wants to settle there, they have the right to do so.
When someone wants to come to Israel it is because they have a Zionist ideology. To love Zion means to love the land of Israel, and that ideology is not going to take you to Tel Aviv or to any big city.
I wondered since when had Rolando been a Zionist.
I used to be in the seminary, I studied for two years towards becoming a catholic priest, but I didn’t find myself, there was a disparity between the written theory and the practice.
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After that I went back to cero and didn’t believe in anything. Then I met who now is my wife. After we got married she started to follow Judaism, and I never opposed that.
One day they invited me to visit their synagogue and I went there to have discussions with them. I would go with my bible in hand and argued with them about what I believed and they believed, and this process of discussion, which took years... well, which took some time, something new started to elucidate, I put the pieces together and build something new and different, something I shared with them.
In the second aliyah went many who had only practice Judaism for a week or two, the rabbis didn’t look for anything, they didn’t even take a test. You only had to say you wished to practiced Judaism and off you went. Rolando had been with us for about eight and fifteen days before he went to Israel. He only began practicing with us because he knew there was going to be another aliyah, he learnt about Judaism once he got to Israel.
Of course we knew that there is an abysmal financial and social difference between Peru and Israel, but you have to be prepared to integrate to the Israeli society, and they ask from you that you go through an adaptation process.
In here we learnt to change our mentality, to leave the Peruvian mentality behind in order to get closer to the Israeli one.
Undoubtedly the living standard we have in here is far better, but it took its own process to get there.
We promote Peruvian music, we have our group and we get paid well. For example, we go to an exhibition of Latin American art, organised by one of the embassies, and we sing for two hours and get paid 1200 dollars. Is that good or bad?
Of course it’s good, it’s perfect!
But not all of those who came in the second aliyah of 1991 adapted as well as Rolando.
In the second aliyah many young people came to Israel and they found it harder to adapt, so they took things lighter and started going out and partying a lot, so the rabbis decided to stop the process for a while until they could asses how this second group behaved, so that they don’t make the same mistakes with the third group.
They didn’t make any exceptions, they took to Israel anyone who said: ‘I practice Judaism and I’m willing to convert’, so many people who didn’t practice the religion went with them. Once there, many have spent their time working, so it’s obvious they went there for the money, and not for the religion.
I wasn’t aware of any desertions. A desertion means when people leave a religious environment and go to a more relaxed and secular environment.
After a bad experience with the second aliyah, the migration of converted Peruvians was stopped, while hundreds of others waited for the opportunity to migrate to a better life in Israel.
This opportunity finally came when, in year 2002, the rabbis suddenly changed their minds and decided it was appropriate to bring more converts to live in the Jewish West Bank settlements.
Coincidentally or otherwise, this happened a year after the start of the second intifada, after the ongoing violence had originated a five per cent decrease in the settlement’s population.
To have people, who have faith and a strong will to live in these areas, and who don’t care about the consequences, despite the fact that there is a conflict going on in here, is very important and necessary, it’s part of a strategy.
If people arrived in here coinciding with the intifada, either by chance or otherwise, that’s a good thing anyhow.
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This people will continue to serve three purposes: shield for Israeli army or soldiers, as testing experience in this settlements, to build the community over there and to develop it, and to use them to confront the Palestinians whenever they need to confront the Palestinians.
There are many ways in which one can serve in the army. Many Peruvians have carried out combat duties, but some others became aircraft technicians, tanks technicians...
One of the guys who came here when he was very young went to the last war in Lebanon, and not only him but a few more.
Not only the Peruvians went to the war, but also the Peruvian llamas. They were used to carry weapons and bombs. It was a great surprise to see the headline in the front-page of the newspaper: ‘The llamas of the Israeli army’, and a picture of them entering into Lebanon. It was beautiful.
Many years ago, a group of people from the Peruvian Andes decided to follow the old testament and live like orthodox Jews.
Despite the fact that they had no Jewish roots or blood lineage, they set off on a long journey, in pursue of a formal conversion to Judaism.
Eventually, 20 years ago, a group of 90 men and women were converted by a rabbi and sent to Israel, to relocate in the Jewish settlements within the Palestinian territories.
Since then, many more native Peruvians have been converted, some of them after only days of practicing Judaism. At present there are several hundreds of these converts living in what the international community considers illegal settlements in occupied land.
Rolando arrived to Israel in 1991, with the second wave of indigenous Peruvian converts.
While driving from Jerusalem to the Jewish settlements of the West Bank, we go through a routine check while we pass through the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories.
As Rolando is considered a Jew, he has none of the impediments that many Arabs would face if they wanted to cross the barrier that the International Court of Justice has declared contrary to international law.
Try not to let him see you (filming)
While Rolando lived in Peru he held no grudge against the Arabs.
Now, however, this seems to have changed..
We’re in the northern zone and over there you can see the separation wall that divides the two cities, there is the big Arab city called Ramallah, and back there in the distance you can see where Jerusalem starts.
If it wasn’t for that wall things would be much more difficult, there would be terrorist attacks every minute, every day, every hour. That wall prevents more deaths from occurring, because the Arabs have been taught a culture of death, they don’t care about exploding and dying, and killing a few others with them, while for us it’s the opposite, God tells us to chose life, not death.
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What you can see over there is Jerusalem, which belongs to the people of Israel, as everything else that is written in the Bible with its limits clearly defined.
This could be a paradise but instead it’s a paradise with a few terror bombs that spoil it. We get these bouts of terror because we disobeyed God...
(Rolando chats with security guard in Hebrew)
They asked me what were we doing.
In 1949 the Israeli government proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital. However, up to the present day the international community largely refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
While Jewish settlements, shopping malls and apartment blocks continue to spread across the city, Jerusalem's Arab residents find it increasingly harder to build a house and, in many cases, to even stay in the homes they have been inhabiting for generations.
Restrictions of movement prevent Palestinians who live in the West bank from visiting their relatives in Jerusalem.
200,000 settlers in Jerusalem, 13 settlement colonies in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian community is shrinking inside the city, surrounded by settlers.
Look at us in Jerusalem, no-one from the West bank can come to Jerusalem, the Arab world cannot be in Jerusalem as before, our tourism is crippled, our hotels are closed, our economy does not exist and we’re are limited to few numbers, few institutions, yet we survive under Israeli occupation with dignity and pride and national commitment.
The systematic discrimination against the Arab population in Jerusalem has been openly criticized by Palestinians and Jews alike.
Recently, professor Elie Wiesel, a famous American holocaust survivor, publicly told US president Obama that "Jerusalem belonged to the Jewish people and is what binds one Jew to another”.
According to Mr Wiesel, in Jerusalem Jews, Christians and Muslims were all free to worship at their shrines and allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.
Even your own holy places you cannot get into them until you’re searched and naked and submit all your papers and you have to be over 50 years old to get into the holy sites.
You are facing an apartheid, racist regime governing what is left of Palestine today
Elie Wiesel’s letter to President Obama prompted a group of one hundred Jewish Jerusalemites, including academics and political activists, to reply to such claims.
A former Israeli cabinet minister then joined the response with his own thoughts.
What follows are extracts of the letters of response written by these prominent Jews:
GRAPHICS (read out)
“Not only may an Arab not build ‘anywhere,’ but he may thank his god if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out onto the street with his family and property”
Yossi Sarid - Former Cabinet Minister
“Our Jerusalem is populated with people...who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity - not of hubris, inequality and discrimination.”
“We invite you [Mr Wiesel] to our city ...You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You will see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood...”
“Nothing can be holy in an occupied city!”
Just Jerusalem - Activists Movement
Yet, for Rolando, Jerusalem’s holiness is not only unarguable, but also exclusively Jewish.
The most sacred place for us is the temple. The most sacred place for the Arabs is in Mecca, not here in Jerusalem.
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They might have built their mosque in here and covered it with gold, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t have to disappear one day. We believe one day the Third Temple will descend from the sky, remove everything that is now in here and will then remain there, risen in all its magnificence.
From an Islamic perspective this is an Islamic holy site, prophet Mohamed on the seventh century came all the way from Mecca to Jerusalem, ascended to heaven, and no-body can deny that, there is over one billion people who believe in Allah.
You cannot bring these faceless, nameless people and convert them in hours, in one day or two, to become Jews and at the same time use them to protect what they call exclusive Jewish-ness, and between A and C educate them that there is no Arabs, no Palestinians and that nobody is here and it should all be exclusively theirs. This is today’s problem and it’s a scandal.
Rolando drove me to the Jewish settlement of Efrat, located within the occupied Palestinian territories, only a few miles south of Jerusalem.
In here, we were to meet some of the other converted Peruvians.
As you can see the Jewish settlements can be distinguished because they’ve got red roofs.
But the area over there, where the houses don’t have red roofs, is an Arab area, so we know we shouldn’t go in there, as we run the risk of never getting out.
In Efrat the crowd is preparing the pitch to play some football. The flags, football t-shirts and even the food they are eating are all from Peru.
As they are celebrating the religious holiday of Passover in full orthodox fashion, none of them will be working for the next seven days.
I only work with Israelis, there are very few Arabs where I work.
And what kind of work do you do?
I build houses
There is a lot of demand for that in here and, thanks God, it’s well paid .
It’s very well paid, really well, it’s actually the best paid job
Thanks God we earn well, we live comfortably, with our children and family, we get enough to fulfil all our needs. There are plenty more work opportunities in here than in Peru.
But the job opportunities and the chances for prosperity don’t seem to equally apply for all of those who live in this region.
In the company I work for there are no Arab workers, nor Chinese neither Thai, only Jews. The gentleman I work for only wants to give employment to Jews, not to Arabs.
The West Bank settlement of Efrat is located opposite the Palestinian villages of Um Salomonna and Beit Fajjar. Palestinian journalist Fouad Abu Gosh took me to visit the mayors of these two villages.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
The houses that you see in front of us are the Efrat settlement.
Mayor of Umm Salamuna:
It’s like a snake, around all the settlements in here, they take all the land from Gush Etzion and the wall come and take all the other land, we’re talking about agricultural land, and add it to the Israeli sites.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
This land were the settlement stands right now is the farming land that used to belong to Umm Salamuna, this village, and the few farms that we can see from here belong to this people who live in this village and who won’t be allowed to reach their farms and also they will be separated from the main road that links Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. They will be disconnected or cut-off from the water wells that they have at the other side but that belong to this people, so basically they are scared and concerned about what the future is holding for them.
Israel keeps mentioning security all the time and under the name of security they took all the Palestinian land. This mountain were Efrat is built now, the Israeli Supreme court had ruled in favour of the Palestinians, but the defence Ministry broke this ruling and they took it, built on it (on the land), and designed a path for the barrier, under the name of security.
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Fouad Abu Gosh:
This is the green line that separates. The West Bank from Israel, but there is a second wall that runs deep into the West Bank, the distance between here and here is like 30 km.
This is the land that has been confiscated by Israel, and you can see the blue dots, which are the settlements. Basically if the farmers want to come to their farming land near Efrat they have to go through the separation barrier. As soon as they see farmers in the land, they will dispatch security forces, they will dispatch security personnel to the scene. These people, these security people who like to check the identity (of the farmer) and that really this man owns this land and also the security people will be backed up by the Israeli army, and it will take the whole day to confirm and to verify the identity of these people and that they really own this land, plus sometimes settlers could join the crowd and make trouble for us, so for now it’s very difficult for us to go there and the next time we will think twice if we really need this kind of a problem to go back to the farm or not.
Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein:
Sometimes the Israeli governments, particularly the right-wing ones, take land away from the Arabs and build settlements on it. Most times they buy the land or use land that is vacant, but sometimes they just expropriate the land, and this, I believe, should not be done, should not be allowed.
The expropriation of land for security purposes has dramatically affected the livelihood of the villages of Umm Salamuna and Beij Fajjar.
However, no reported attack on Jews has ever originated in neither of these villages.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
He says that the problem with the farming land is that Israel plans for the long future, basically there’s a strategic plan, they will take the farming land first and prevent the farmers to get to it, until the farmers give up on it, basically they lay down obstacles and difficulties and this is the next step for preventing the farmer to get to the farm. Then they lay down caravans and this is their plan, this is how they confiscate land gradually, this is how they expand their settlements.
In the near-by settlement of Elon Moreh, Rolando explained to me about the expansion strategy used by the settlers.
We, the religious people who live in these areas, want the nation of Israel to expand.
All settlements begin as camping sites, covered in mud and with no heating during the winter, but now, look at them, three or four storey houses with all the comforts you need.
These houses over there, which have no roof yet, are being built over-night. This is a response to the US policy of Obama, who wants to freeze the constructions in the territories. Neither Obama nor 100 US presidents will prevent Israel from expanding, they can’t, they are only trying to put some pressure but you see: this is only a tiny evidence of what Israel is building. That’s how we do it in Israel: the more pressure they put on us, the stronger we respond.
See the way they talk? The vanity, the arrogance, and they feel themselves superior, nobody can stop an Israeli in any place, not even Obama to stop the settlements, not even the Europeans to stop the killings.
And you see this wave of Israeli government, Jewish Agency, Jewish lobbies, colonies and settlers and funds coming from Jewish millionaires to take more of the land, to build more colonies and to kick the Palestinians out
Jewish housing projects and businesses continue to proliferate throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, with their own economy in tatters, Palestinians find no other option but to work for their prosperous Jewish neighbours
The Arabs are always looking to work for us, particularly in construction. In Israel there are no Jewish builders, most people want their sons to work in IT, or to become doctors or lawyers, so the bulk of the work force in the construction business are the Arabs.
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In Israel is the only place in the world were you have a situation where they (the Palestinian builders) are earning some money while they dream that one day the house they are building for a Jew will be theirs in the future, this is something almost incomprehensible, but they don’t do the job with hatred, but with some kind of hope that one day that house will be theirs.
We have to admit publicly and officially at all levels, that the Palestinians shot themselves on the foot by building the settlements because there was no other option for them for earning their lives under occupation, they were living in a prison culture, cut off from everybody, surrounded, sealed, and the only option for them to survive in the prison culture was either to build here and there for your own survival, or you become a slave in your own community which means waiting for humanitarian aid or support. We have more than 50% of our society unemployed, in poverty and scattered around the villages. On the top of that, believe it or not, these people were not allowed to cultivate their own land, and the only thing that was offered to them was to build something, and these buildings they took it for granted that this was the American fund for a two-state solution, for co-existence, for sharing the land...
But the hoped-for two state solution seems increasingly less realistic. The obstacles faced by the Palestinians not only concern the cultivation of their land, but in some cases they are also being kept from running the businesses they have owned for generations.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
We’re approaching Beit Fajjar now, and BF is famous for its stone-cutting factories
The production of the Jerusalem stone that characterises most buildings of the ancient city, has traditionally been the main source of livelihood for the people of Beit Fajjar.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
This (factory) here is also shut down because of restrictions on cutting the stone
We went to visit one of the quarries in the outskirts of Beit Fajjar. Like several other quarries and stone-cutting factories that have operated in this area for centuries this one had also been recently shut.
After a day’s work we went back home. Then, at five in the morning I was woken up. We were shocked because the Israeli army were attacking the stone quarry in the area of Khalit-Heji.
When we went to the area of Khalit-Heji to get our equipment, we tried to speak to the Israeli Army, but they didn’t let us.
Fouad Abu Gosh:
They came with almost 20 army jeeps to this area, they confiscated all the equipment, they took all the equipment to their position and he was told this was an Israeli area and he had no right to be here.
Basically this document explains that they have taken two digging machines and one compression machine. The only reason given is that because of the location of the land around here, it felt in an area called “C”, which is Palestinian area occupied by Israel, but they are controlling this area and they must provide licences, even though he owns the land and he’s got the deeds, as this land used to belong to his grandfather, so he can show documents that he owns the land but they want to take it (the land) for themselves, so that’s why they took over the equipment
They asked him to pay 70,000 shekels, equivalent to 20,000 dollars in order to release the equipment that he owns.
Area C comprises almost 60 per cent of occupied Palestine and remains under full control of the Israeli government and military.
This area contains all the Jewish settlements and other huge portions of it are considered “buffer zones”, destined to protect the settlements and main roads from possible Palestinian attacks.
The Israeli government continues to expand the illegal settlements in Area C, while increasingly restricting Palestinian access to this same area.
Mayor of Beit Fajjar:
The level of unemployment has become high in the area; there are two reasons for this: The primary reason is that raw materials are not reaching the stone-cutting factories, and the second reason is that it is very difficult to export the goods produced at the quarry. In regards to the Palestinian people the siege has a big effect in the persistence of unemployment, and it has imposed on us debt and other big things.
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Mayor of Beit Fajjar:
I want to tell the people from abroad to not believe in Israeli propaganda, and I want to tell them that the Palestinian nation does exist and this nation does have people with a land, and there are rights violated when the people are denied of their land and forbidden to move freely, all this, together with the building of the wall, has fractured the Palestinian nation in many pieces.
We came to Israel with a spirit of love towards God, the land and its laws, we live accordingly to its laws, that was our compromise and therefore I want to tell the world that we didn’t come here to take an inch of land from anyone, the land that we’re living in is the land of Israel, the land that God promised Abraham and its descendents. For the time being the Arabs are like birds of passage, in due time they will have to allow for Israel to expand to its original frontiers.
In year 1947 the United Nations gave Israel the right to return to their land and take possession of it, but what did they find in here: invaders. Whom? The Arabs, who are not the owners of this land.
The Jewish settlements of East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the river Jordan have for decades been the source of mayor conflict.
Orthodox Jews from across the world, supported by right-wing Israeli governments, continue with the expansion of these settlements, a move widely condemned by the international community.But, in recent years, increasingly more non-stereotypical Jewish types can be can be spotted populating these settlements, and following the orthodox Jewish traditions.
Rolando belongs to a group of several hundred native Peruvians whom, without any Jewish ancestry, were converted to Judaism and emigrated to a territory which Jews call Samaria, but most of the world calls Palestine.
As we’re celebrating the Jewish Passover holidays, everything you see here is only to be used during the coming eight days, that’s the pans, the cutlery, the dishes... If any of them were to get in contact with yeast then it couldn’t be used, you would have to use it for the day-by-day, but not for the Passover holiday.
The aluminium foil prevents the things we use for Passover from being in contact with the other things we use during the rest of the year.
We purify everything with boiling water.
This is the Passover bread, which doesn’t have any yeast and has been made and baked for less than eighteen minutes.
With a bit of chocolate it’s absolutely delicious...
Having time off work due to the Passover celebrations, dozens of Peruvian converts are enjoying a day out in Efrat, one of the many Jewish settlement built within the occupied Palestinian territories.
Jewish settlers have much better work opportunities, government benefits and altogether a considerably higher living standard than their Arab neighbours.
The newly converted Peruvians enjoy all the same advantages than those who were born as Jews.
I wanted to know how these native Peruvians were entitled to convert.
I’m Betzalel, all my family of nine made our aliyah, in 2005
You have to live as a Jew and descend from a Jewish family. Others might try to join in, or get to hear about it and try to make an approach, but they won’t be able to come to Israel as the orthodox Rabbis are very strict with the exam to be converted, if you don’t fulfil all the requirements you won’t be able to convert.
The strict conversion exam Betzalel’s family of nine took together, lasted less than 30 minutes.But, besides the test, isn’t having a Jewish ancestry a requisite to become a Jew?
We descend from a Jewish family, amongst us there are families with surnames like Mendoza, Reyes, Perez...
Perez is actually the most common surname in the Spanish language, equivalent to Smith in English.
Back in Lima, Peru, I asked Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein if anyone whose surname is Perez comes from Jewish descent.
Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein:
That’s just preposterous, Perez actually means “the son of Pedro”, just the same as Petrovich in Russian language.
There are some people who believe that because their surname is Spanish they are from Jewish descent, but that’s completely wrong. The only surnames that are originally Jewish are Cohen, which means “priest”, Levi, which means “the priest’s helper” and comes from the Levi tribe, Israel and a couple more.
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As a matter of fact, none of the many indigenous Peruvian converts I spoke to could give me a single shred of evidence to prove any Jewish ancestry.
The essential requirements you need to fulfil the conditions to become Jewish are.... err, it just slipped off my mind
Somehow Betzalel’s explanation didn’t seem to make much sense, so I decided to enquire a bit further.
We are the peoples of Israel, since we were expelled from this land, our ancestors went to all four corners of the world.
That’s how we all feel. It’s more like a spiritual feeling, a way in which each of us feels. We don’t have any evidence to prove that our parents went off to this place or our grandparents went off to this other place, there’s no way of asserting anything like that
It seemed as if many of the Peruvian converts had deliberately chosen to re-draw their pasts, and the line between spirituality and history was rather blurry.
Efrain came to Israel less than three years ago. All his family were already living in the settlements, so he decided to join them.
All of us who came to Israel and that you can see here, grew up without a Jewish blood lineage, ok? But God knows the reason why and so do we. The rabbis know that I don’t have a Jewish blood lineage, as a Levi or a Cohen would, but thanks God I’m here and I’m part of this, with or without the Jewish blood my soul is Jewish so that’s why I’m here.
I approached an Israeli young man, who belongs to an orthodox Jewish family and lives in Efrat. He wasn’t aware that his football friends were not originally Jewish.
They live here, they come here, so I thought they were Jewish, they come to Israel, because this is the place for Jewish people to be, so I guessed they were Jewish, I never knew they were converted, that’s surprising for me, I never knew that.
The Jewish people are told by God, there’s a commandment to love people who convert, so good people, and thank God they came here...
Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein:
To be a Jew you need to either have been born from a Jewish mother or, the other way in which you can be regarded as a Jew, is to have adopted Judaism at some point of your life and in accordance with the Jewish law.
Although a few of the Peruvian converts had practiced Judaism for decades before being able to convert, many others had only followed the Jewish traditions for a few days before being relocated to Israel.
I know for a fact that there are families who went through the whole conversion process just in order to get out of Peru and to find a better quality of life abroad. I also know that a sector of the rabbinate did not want to convert the last groups because of this reason.
In Peru I had an off the record conversation with one of the leading rabbis who asked not to be mentioned.
He told me that he categorically disagreed with the mass conversions that had been taking place. According to him, the mass conversion issue had been highly divisive amongst the rabbinate.
I asked Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein about the disagreements within the Jewish religious community.
You will see all over the Jewish world, particularly in Latin America, that there is controversy and that there are different opinions to this respect.
That is why these conversions were not supported by the Jewish community of Peru, instead they were vouched back by an institution in Israel that is linked to the Israeli rabbinate.
And, of course, there’s plenty of controversy about this.
Despite the disagreements amongst the rabbis, since year 1990 mass conversions have been steadily bringing new Peruvian Jews to live as settlers in the Palestinian territories.
For several of these newcomers, the price to pay for a comfortable life in their promised land was a stint serving in the Israeli Defence Forces.
In various cases this implied a tour of duty in one of the several armed conflicts fought by the Jewish state over the past few years.
Brothers Gershon and Isaac Valderrama arrived in Israel during the 1990’s.
As young men in Peru, they had both been drafted to serve in the army.
At that time, the Peruvian state was fighting a bloody conflict against the Shining Path insurgency. This conflict lasted over 13 years and claimed almost 70,000 lives.
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We used to dress as civilians because if the Shining Path would see we were soldiers they would blow us up with a bomb.
Child-bombs were being used at the time. Kids as young as five were used for that. Once we were walking through a town when a mother looked out of a door and stared at us for a while and then left. When three of my friends opened the door the kid exploded.
The army didn’t feed us while we were over there. If you find a goat, a sheep or whatever else you just kill it and eat it, you become a savage.
Gershon and Isaac were clearly no strangers to conflict zones. However, after having spent several years fighting the most brutal conflict in Peru’s history, the last thing they wanted was to put on an army uniform once again.
I didn’t want to go, I told them I had already served in the army in Peru. My brother and I got photos of our time in the Peruvian army, but they said we had arrived to Israel at an age when we had to serve in the army, at least for 6 months. I still didn’t want to go, so I quickly got married, only after a month of being in Israel, because someone told me that if you were married you won’t get drafted, but married and all they still drafted me. Once in the army they told me I was going to serve for a year and a half. I said: “For a year and a half!”, But then they told me I was going to get paid, so I though, “well, if I’ll be paid then there’s no problem”.
I ended up in one of those squads that hunt for Arabs, a prestigious squad. If we know that an Arab is about to blow himself up we go after him, if we catch him alive that’s it, but if we believe that our lives are at risk then we just kill him.
There are several other Peruvians who are in what they know in here as “elite squads”.
Sometimes the Arabs would fire against civilians, so we would go after them, sometimes we would catch them but some other times we wouldn’t, but yes, I’ve had a few confrontations against terrorists, Arab terrorists.
Sometimes you’ve got to go to war, and in wars people die, but we go there not thinking we might die, but trying to collaborate among all of us in order to reach our aim.
Back in Peru, Gershon and Isaac’s family lived in El Alambre, a notoriously dangerous neighbourhood in the north of the country.
I now find it hard to believe that I used to live in a world like that, it’s been 20 years since I left and I realise it was quite hard to live there: the drugs, the crime, the deaths. I realise that the decision I took to jump on a plane and come here was a good one, Peru is in a bad situation, both morally and financially.
Gershon and Isaac’s younger sister, Lucy, still lives in El Alambre.
Like a few of the convert’s relatives who are still in Peru, she runs a lodge for Israeli travellers who visit the country.
This is a very dangerous place, too many criminals, drugs, prostitutes, but I don’t know how was it that we managed to live here, we were the only family who practiced Judaism around here.
We were so many children in the family, and when there was no food to eat that made us feel even hungrier. Sometimes things were so bad that my dad would buy a bag of oranges and we would have to cut them in halves and have only half an orange for each of us.
Almost a as reminder of El Alambre’s reputation, while I was interviewing Lucy a fight between drug-addicts broke out just outside her home.
See? That’s how thieves behave...
That house over there is a rehab centre, for drug-addicts
Beat him with a stick, just how you did last night!
When I was young, after finishing school I wanted to study agronomy. When I went to sign up for college I was told I wouldn’t be accepted because of the neighbourhood I came from: El Alambre
After some time the conversion came and my dad told me to come to Israel.
Some years ago, Lucy and her family moved to Israel to join her brothers. Soon after moving, she split with her husband and came back to Peru, leaving her eldest son behind.
The one things Lucy is proud of is the time her oldest son spent serving for the Israeli Defence Forces.
I know that not all Arabs are bad, it’s the same with Israelis or Jews, there are bad people amongst them too,
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For Rolando there is a more clear distinction between bad and not-so-bad Arabs
I’m going to take you to meet my mechanic, he’s an Arab, and he’s going to check something that’s wrong with my car. You’re going to meet a different kind of Arab, not the extremist Arab who just wants to kill people, but the Arab who has bettered himself. He studied mechanics at an Israeli university, and his wife is a chemistry teacher.
(greets his mechanics)
The gentleman over there is sending his children to get educated.
This garage belongs to Mottas, it’s close to where we live and he also speaks Hebrew, he studied in Israel and he’s good at what he does, so we should give him a bit of work, you know...
I’ve know these guys for quite some time now but, as I told you before, we have to keep our distance: we cannot go too far inside their areas and we need to know where are we getting to and get out quick enough... that’s all.
I’ve got my own way of looking after myself... there’s not such thing as total safety
Many Palestinians who live in villages that neighbour the settlements, have learnt to speak Hebrew, in order to attend their Jewish clients, taking the jobs that the better-off Jews don’t usually go for.
The Arabs who have chosen life are like my mechanic, but the ones who feel pressurized by foreign interests, from places like Iran or Iraq, are the ones who become extremists.
For all of us who live in these areas, every three years the government gives us these type of windows, they are for protection against stones.
Our friends the Arabs throw stones at us, at night-time, when we cannot see where they are coming from; or they can also throw us bottles filled up with burning gasoline.
All those protests have a financial incentive. The ones who carry out the protests receive money for it.
If it was something they felt strongly about, it would happen everyday, but it doesn’t, so they throw stones for a day or two and that’s it.
The problem is not with the Palestinians, they only fight us because they’ve got their allies from Iran and Syria who stir things up and encourage them to not let Israel live in peace.
Don’t tell me that the Palestinian resistance, the Palestinian steadfastness, the Palestinians throwing stones or putting a belt and sacrificing their lives for their cause is because somebody outside in the region is supporting them.
What supports us are two simple things: our commitment to the cause and our belief that this is our right and we will sacrifice our lives for our rights.
Since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 and until the present day, over 1000 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attacks. During that same period, over 6400 Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians.
My friend’s gun is completely different. He will explain you.
You tell him
This is the best balanced handgun ever made. When you shoot the kick... wait, I’ll explain... but, they can’t see in the telly that I’m the owner of this gun...
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His gun is more precise and is very special, it’s an extraordinary gun.
Am I drunk or what?
(laughs) He has only taken out his gun so that you see it.
Now, let me tell you something: this friend of mine, who is sitting to my left and whose name I cannot say, is an specialist sharp-shooter in the Israeli army.
Hold on, I’m trying to assemble your gun...
A specialist sniper, I couldn’t even tell you how many has he taken down...
Why do we need to solve the problem of the Arabs? No one wants to receive them.
Don’t film my face!
We’re not going to expel them just like that, what will happen is that, at some point, we will have to defend ourselves and push them away and finish with the problem.
Who wouldn’t like peace? Not so much for me, as I’ve been in Israel for 20 years and have served in the army for almost the whole of those 20 years, so I’ve been living in a constant war.
But I want peace for my children. If at the end that implies leaving our homes that’s OK by me, a home is not worth more than a life.
At the end of the day both sides have a valid point, because the Arabs have lived in here and so have the Jews, but both sides want it all, so I don’t know how many years need to go by for someone to come and, as painful as it might be, just split the land, half for each side. I believe that’s the only possible solution, otherwise it will all have to end in a war where one of the sides will perish.
While the peaceful solution that people like Gershon and Isaac hope for seems to be a distant dream, more people are being converted to Judaism, and continue to arrive in Israel from all over the world.
We are doing well, thanks God, what could I say? Better than in Peru, as I’ve even put on some weight since arriving here.
We have what we want, we’re living where we want: the love for the land of Israel...
What do I want? I miss Peru, what could I say? You cannot imagine how much I miss it, and I miss my friends too. Thanks god I’m ok and I’ve got new friends, but it’s not the same, I grew up in Peru until I was 25.Peru is Peru, Peru is who you are.
This is a land of miracles, if you ask for something, the eternal God will grant it to you. You’re in the holy land, whatever you desire, if you are in Israel, just ask for it, and God will give it to you.
Is it ok to film?
Israeli soldier: No!