Israel, February 2006
I am here accompanying my sister, doing some work while she tours.
I had a number of email addresses of People Who in Israel and sent notes to those in Jerusalem. The first day I met Efrat Reiter and we both felt an instant meeting of the minds and souls. She is interested in mobile outreach, recovery, preventing the trauma of hospitalization, and encouraging research to demonstrate that this intervention works, thus encouraging health care to fund these kinds of peer programs.
As we waited in Efrats living room, a couple, the woman (blind) with guide dog and a young man, walked in the door and through the apartment as if they were at home (though I knew they were not Efrats children). Later Efrat explained the young man was her cousin and "the girl with the dog" was his fiancee. Because I would have said "the blind girl," I was struck by the more functional inclusive wording.
Hagai Aviel was willing to come from Tel Aviv to meet me and we spent several hours discussing our institutional and advocacy experiences, why we each have chosen the path we have, a possible counter-conference in Dresden at the WPA coercion meeting, and the rifts both in Israel and in the US in user/survivor organizing. His idea for the counter-conference is to have presentations from many different countries about the experience of force in each of their states - so far on board are Germany and Israel. He gave me a well-designed magazine (black and red on white background) to share with others here who could read Hebrew and told me the name of IAAPA in Hebrew, explaining that Hebrew doesnt use acronyms and abbreviations in the way English does. (I learned a little Hebrew years ago and could read and write a little and when I started to write the words down my fingers didnt know whether to put the pen point to the right or the left, to write in Hebrew or English characters - those seconds of vacillation and confusion were an interesting experience of how my brain works, or doesnt.) IAAPA is a registered NGO, has statutes that establish a democratic process, and isnt explicit about membership criteria, instead using its mission statement as the selector. I was impressed with Hagais clear focus about his own rights as a human being and his unwillingness to accept the slightest effort at dehumanization, of himself, or of others, under the guise of psychiatry.
Daniel Cochavy had encouraged me to again connect with Ahmed Alami. Ahmed and his wife came from East Jerusalem one evening and we and my sister spent time visiting until rain interrupted us. Ahmed describes himself as having chronic schizophrenia, was an eye doctor, has three children and has been twice divorced, has written 40 books about the history of Palestine, has just completed, and now needs transcribed, an Arabic dictionary, and told me his doctor is so impressed with his recovery that he introduced Ahmed and Daniel and Daniel arranged for Ahmed and his wife to come to the WAPR meeting in Milan last year. Ahmed told me he didnt understand the Milan meeting at all and that he is not interested in helping start a clubhouse for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, as Daniel is urging him to do. He thought it would just be another "madhouse" and that the mentally ill should have "courage" and move on with their lives and not tell anyone their diagnosis. He thinks, until both Palestine and Israel have different leadership, the conflict will continue, even escalate.
We went to Tel Megiddo (Armageddon), a historic strategic site which got its water through a 120' shaft and a 215' tunnel (the engineering dating to 9 BCE) to a secret spring outside the walls, today a still pool, pebbles and rocks algae green. If one takes, for instance, a kefiyah (the traditional head scarf men wear, cotton white with black or white with red, and dips it into the water so the scarf serves as a filter, the water is sweet and pure to drink. Visitors to this national park are able to descend to the tunnel, walk through it and then ascend the stairs and exit to a paved road. At the top of the exit stairs is access for people using wheelchairs, a grooved railing to which one would attach a part of the chair and descend two flights and then a vertical lift to descend another two flights to the spring itself.
I didnt have a cell phone password nor know how to access the voice mail of the phones we rented, I most reluctantly. By the time I asked someone who spoke Hebrew to help, found the access numbers, learned that here * is used where I am used to #, by the time I mastered all that I had 14 messages. 14! Thats why I didnt want a cell phone. Here everyone communicates by cell phone, all day, everywhere.
Im noting how much I enjoy finding my way with a map, using tools creatively (plastic bags for this and that, ways to hang washed clothes, scrounging note paper, ...).
We drove through northern Israel, through hilly fields where sparkling light shone on glorious yellow green leaves, green grass, and yellow mustard flowers, and along the border with Palestine, around Jericho, and back to Jerusalem.
I have corresponded by email for several years with Elliot Lazerwitz from Malam, an Israeli consumer advocacy group. He lives outside Tel Aviv and he has come to the hotel to meet me this afternoon. We talked intensely for almost two hours. He is thoughtful, philosophic, considered in his views and direction.
Shula Alperovitz, a co-founder of Benefshenu, and I, played persistent telephone tag and finally arranged a meeting time. She picked me up, introduced me to the director of Shekel, a cross-disability services organization with 11 programs, including Benefshenu, a consumer and family member operated services program. Benefshenu's understanding is medical but their programs and actions are recovery oriented. A dozen of us introduced ourselves, told brief versions of our stories, and talked about differences and similarities between the US and Israel. I noted Israelis support for the UN Convention. They asked me to tell my own story, what helped, what People Who was about. I felt very connected to the people in the room and cried remembering the hard times I, we all, have been through. I especially wanted to protect two women in their twenties, both hospitalized for more than a year when they were mid teens. I promised to find out average length of stay for adolescents in the US - I dont know much about youth programs.
Eliott phoned to wish me safe travels home, everything fit back into my suitcase, I had time for a few minutes early walk to see again the morning light revealing the centuries old city walls the stillness broken by the trash collection truck behind me noisy on its morning rounds.
Security at El Al was thorough and it really was useful to arrive, as instructed, 3 hours ahead of flight time. I am going to New York and then connecting to Los Angeles for a PAI board meeting before returning to Santa Cruz March 5.
I didnt access email and all, and at Benefshenu plugged into their broadband and downloaded 250 messages to my laptop, the next activity for this 12 hour flight and 5 hours of battery life.