Saturday, December 26, 2009

Goodbye West Bank

Tonight I sit in my living room surrounded by three Palestinian women who are explaining to me, in a mixture of Arabic, English and gestures, the best way to make the traditional Palestinian dish of Makluba. Tomorrow I leave the West Bank for Gaza. My route will take me through the Negev Desert and across the Sinai Peninsula to Cairo where I will meet up with 1300 other internationals who are gathering for the Gaza Freedom March. Our plan is to travel from Cairo to Rafah where we will cross into Gaza. On December 31st we will join the 50,000 Gazans marching from the town of Abu Drabo, virtually flattened by Operation Cast Lead, to the Erez Crossing with Israel demanding the siege of Gaza end.

Israel’s attack on Gaza, targeted civilians, children, schools and factories and is clearly a crime against humanity. The ensuing year-long siege which has prevented basic humanitarian necessities, everything from medicine to cement from entering Gaza by land or by sea could not have happened without the tacit (and sometimes active) support of the Western international community. According to a friend of mine, paper, basic office paper, is in such huge demand that there is essentially a futures market in paper.

Unfortunately Egypt, most likely under Israeli and US guidance, has now, less then a week before our scheduled departure from Cairo decided to deny us access to Gaza. Hopefully in the coming days as internationals gather in Cairo their position will change, perhaps it will not.

So tomorrow morning I say goodbye to the West Bank and head, hopefully to another front of the occupation. I’m sure I’ll be able to muster something a bit more insightful at a later date. Perhaps during my 22 hour layover in Zurich? But I just wanted to post a little update before I head out. Keep the pressure on Egypt and the US to let us in. Talk to you soon.

-Jo

Monday, December 21, 2009

Palestinian Joke #134

Question: Where can Israel find the Palestinian Gandhi?

Answer: Exactly where they put him, in administrative detention.

Not that I’m in any way playing into the Palestinian Gandhi dialogue, I think its actually pretty diversionary/racist. But sometimes you have to laugh in order not to cry right?

Jamal Juma’, the director of the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, also known as Stop the Wall, was summoned for interrogation on the night of December 15th. Jamal has been detained by the Israeli military and has not had access to a lawyer since the 16th of December. I was in the Stop the Wall Office on the 15th of December. I said hi to Jamal. I’ve met him on a couple of occasions. He is a quiet man with a commanding presence.

I read the news of his arrest last night, sitting in the home of another non-violent Palestinian activist, Mousa Abu Maria of the Palestine Solidarity Project. He was not surprised to hear about Jamal’s arrest. He told me the story of his first arrest and time in prison. An IDF commander showed up at his home and asked him to come with him for a few hours to talk over a cup of tea. Musa asked if he could have a minute to say goodbye to his family. He knew what tea and talk were code words for. He was nineteen years old.

If past actions set precedence and they do. Jamal will likely not be charged with any crime (because he has not committed one) but will be held in prison for a long time (interrogated, tortured) without charges. Israel does this through a process called administrative detention that allows the state to hold Palestinians for periods of three months at a time (renewable indefinitely) without charges.

Mohammad Othman, another Stop the Wall executive member has been detained by Israel since September. His first administrative detention order expires this week. Jamal is set to be brought in front of a judge today.

Mohammad, Jamal and many of the scores of other Palestinian’s with orders of administrative detention, are in Israeli prisons not because they have committed a crime but because they are non-violent anti-occupation activists. Israel has begun to understand that non-violent activism in Palestine is a serious threat to the occupation. Those engaged in non-violent struggle often have an excellent analysis, they are determined and they are gaining traction domestically and platforms for spreading their message internationally. It scares the shit out of Israel so it is not surprising that they are responding with repressive military actions. This is a military occupation and it maintains itself by using the tactics of military oppression.

Originally posted on Mondoweiss @ http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/where-is-the-palestinian-gandhi-in-israeli-prison-of-course.html

Monday, December 14, 2009

Persistent Memory


YOU CAN SEE THE SHOP AT THE VERY END OF THE STREET, BEHIND THE CHECKPOINT

Inside a Palestinian shop across from the Ibrahimi Mosque/Patriarchs Tomb. My friend and I (because she is Palestinian) have to walk halfway down the street on the narrow “Palestinian side” of the road before we can cross over and walk back to the shop. Inside is an IDF solider, full combat gear; huge gun, the works. I’m confused and a bit nervous. He’s trying to chat up a Palestinian girl from Hebron. It turns out he’s Druze, Israeli. He explains that he’d rather not be doing this. “This” being participating militarily in the occupation of Palestine. But that life is tough, especially if you are not a European Israeli Jew and that being in the military affords some benefits. He asks the Palestinian girl if he can come by and visit her later, no she says. He asks if he can come by if he takes off his uniform first. No, she says.

I wonder if she didn't walk on the right side of the street, would he arrest her?


WHEN I'M WITH A PALESTINIAN WE HAVE TO WALK ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE CONCRETE BARRIER

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Settlers


THE SPACIOUS MANICURED STREETS OF THE ILLEGAL ISRAELI SETTLEMENT KIRYAT ARBA. (PHOTO: ALESSANDRA GOLA)

Originally published in Mondoweiss on December 5th at http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/there-are-settlers-in-hebron-because-israel-wants-them-there.html

I’ve been to al-Khalil a number of times. I’m intentionally using the Arabic name for the city because every time I’ve visited it has been to the areas populated by Palestinians. I’ve visited on my own, with Palestinian friends and with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) who maintain a presence in the old city. Every visit is a new lesson in the occupation.

Today for the first time I visited Hebron rather then al-Kahlil; the streets where Palestinians cannot drive and sometimes cannot walk and the illegal settlements of Kiryat Arba on the periphery of the city and the inner city illegal settlements of Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida with B’tselem an Israeli human rights organization.

Driving to Hebron from Jerusalem was mind blowing. Living in Bethlehem I associate “going to Israel” with a combination of checkpoints and slow public transport. This is not the case if you are Israeli or traveling with Israeli’s and are going to the West Bank. Driving from Jerusalem into the West Bank was seamless. We got all the way to Hebron and unless you knew what you were looking for there was nothing, no signs or road changes that would tell let you know that you had entered the West Bank.

We entered the old city of Hebron through the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba. I know I am probably annoying you, maybe even alienating you, by prefacing all of these settlements with illegal but I don’t have a choice. International law and foreign consensus is pretty unanimous on this point. Israeli settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal.

Traveling by private car or bus from Bethlehem the last part of the journey into the old city is always a set of narrow busy streets. Not so coming in through the settlement, it was easy to drive our huge tour bus right up to the convenient parking lot outside of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah.

Hebron is one of the largest Palestinian cities, home to 250,000 Palestinians. As part of the “Road Map to Peace” coming out of the Oslo Accords Hebron was supposed to be gradually turned over to Palestinian Authorities. As a step towards this in 1997, the city was divided into two parts – H1 and H2. The Palestinian Authority would control H1, and H2 would remain under Israeli military control. H2 is home to 25,000 Palestinians, 500-800 illegal settlers (shouldn’t we be a bit worried that no one will confirm the exact number) and at any given time around 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Check out this link for more information about Hebron including excellent maps: http://www.btselem.org/english/Hebron/Index.asp.

These numbers are bit misleading though. While there are only 500-800 settlers in the four settlements located in the old city of Hebron, the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba is perched right outside Hebron and flows seamlessly into the old city. Kiryat Arba is home to 7,000 settlers and is part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. This large settlement bloc falls within Area C from the Oslo Accords, which is an area of land covering some 60% of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli control. When you look at the Hebron settlements in this larger context they appear not as wild outposts but as a continuous part of a larger colonial settlement system.

In H2 Israeli settlers are subject, as citizens of Israel to Israeli civil law, their Palestinian neighbors, as an occupied population, are subject to Israeli military law.


THE APARTHEID STREET SYSTEM IN HEBRON, PALESTINIANS CAN ONLY WALK TO THE RIGHT OF THE CONCRETE BARRIER WHILE ISRAELIS AND INTERNATIONALS ARE FREE TO WALK OR DRIVE IN THE WIDER LEFT LANE. (PHOTO: ALESSANDRA GOLA)

Walking within through the parts of H2 Hebron that are not illegal settlements was a heart wrenching mixture of post-war zone and ghetto. The former Palestinian markets were vacant, crumbling and desecrated with racist anti-Arab propaganda. There were posters of “Israel” that showed it occupying large chunks of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Palestinians unlucky enough to live in this area are subject to the worst living conditions I’ve seen in the West Bank. You can’t tell me this is not apartheid when Palestinians have fenced off lanes for walking. When Israeli settlers are allowed to drive cars on a street Palestinians can only walk down. When on certain streets Palestinians have to turn right, if they continue straight they will be arrested. When settlers can carry guns.

In the settlement of Beit Haddash we met with David Wilder. The name should be familiar to some of you. David is the “spokesman” for the illegal settler community in Hebron. A native of New Jersey, David has a degree in education a great Jersey accent and a leather jacket. He showed us around the settlement’s museum, a series of dark rooms with exhibits meant to establish a continuous Jewish history in Hebron and persecution of Jews (highlighted by the killing by Palestinians in 1929 of 67 members of the tiny, 500-700 out of a city of 20,000, Jewish community of Hebron during the early stages of the Zionist movement within historic Palestine)


A FORMER OPEN AIR MARKET NOW COMPLETELY OFF LIMITS TO PALESTINIANS. (PHOTO: ALESSANDRA GOLA)

David Wilder will not use the word Palestine or Palestinians. He refers to his Palestinian neighbors categorically as Arabs. Their lack of equal rights is to him, simply “the price of war” a phrase he repeated often. His line is that since “the Arabs”, all of them evidently in consensus (even Ben Gurion’s own diaries show this to be a lie, Israel was the undoubtedly the aggressor in 48) decided to attack Israeli in 48 and 67 and lost, they deserve what they get. Of course Israel as a benevolent nation has tried to give them “gifts”, he wasn’t clear as to the exact nature of these “gifts”, but “the Arabs” won’t shut up and graciously accept so what is to be done? He very clearly tried to build up Iran as a threat and link Iran to Palestinians.

The kicker for me though was when he framed the illegal settlements in Hebron as something, which is widely accepted throughout the world, civil disobedience. The irony of a man with a gun on his hip, part of a community that routinely physically and verbally abuses their Palestinian neighbors and their children (Please check out the photos and videos at B’tslem, CPT and even the NYTimes for examples of this) calling their actions civil disobedience was hard to stomach.

I had a very visceral reaction to visiting the settlements; fear, for myself and Palestinians and outrage, the kind I always feel when people try to put a PR spin on injustice.

However, that is not enough analysis. I’m not writing this to tell you that the illegal settlers deep inside of the 1967 green line are a bit off-kilter. You know that already, or you should. It was the Palestinian counterpart to the tour, Issa, who helped put the settler phenomenon in context. He met us the end of Shuhada Street. As a Palestinian he was not allowed to walk any farther to meet our group.

So you just met with David Wilder? He asked after welcoming us.

Yeah we mumbled warily

Did he show you his gun? Issa continued.

Which is really the perfect question to highlight the hypocrisy of a man who plays himself off as just this regular Jersey guy who hopes for a good life for his family and justice for his people. And Wilder as you can see if you goggle him does indeed wear a gun or at least poses for pictures with one prominently displayed on his hip.

You know, Issa said at the end or our tour (and I’m not quoting directly but basing this on my notes) David Wilder talked a lot about the Massacre in 1929, right? It was a horrible thing that happened to those Jewish families he said. Did he talk about the 19 Palestinian families who took Jewish families into their homes to protect them. By some accounts over 400 Jews were sheltered by their Palestinian neighbors. My wife’s relatives were one of those families, that Palestinian family living in a cage up near Tel Rumeida, they were one of those families. We have more of a connection to the Jewish community in Hebron then David Wilder does as an American from New Jersey. Yet we live under terrible conditions and he moves freely with a gun on his hip.

All of this is very true of course but nothing revelatory. But what he said next helped to remind me of the larger perspective and get past my own disgust.

I don’t hold the settlers responsible for this he said. This is not the settler’s fault. This is the fault of the Israeli State, they use the settlers as a political tool. Most of the new settlers now he said, they’re no religious fanatics, they’re poor people from Russia and now even from India. They don’t know that they are going to end up in this situation.

And I think this is an incredibly important point to remember. The settlers may or may not be crazy. But they do not have control over the Israeli state. Israel removed 8,000 illegal settlers from Gaza in less then two weeks. If there are settlers in Hebron, in the West Bank they are there because they serve a political purpose for Israel domestically and internationally. They are there because Israel wants them there. If the Israeli state did not want them there, they would not be there. When we reduce any aspect of the occupation to the rational or irrational actions of individuals we over look the fact that they are operating as part of and often in service of a system.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Because They Can


Bethlehem Checkpoint (photo courtesy of Alessandra Gola)

For two days in a row I’ve had to make the trip from Bethlehem into Jerusalem. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are, depending on your map and politics, between 6 and 15 kilometers away from each other. However, the prospect of a shared taxi to a Palestinian bus to the checkpoint to an Israeli bus all combined with traffic and witnessing everyday oppression is always a physically and emotionally exhausting headache. Of course it is a headache I am privileged to have as my Palestinian neighbors can only travel to Jerusalem with a special permit or by sneaking in.

A word about Palestinians sneaking into Israel. It’s easy, very easy for them to do it. Any argument Israel puts forward that its wall is about Israeli security is completely undermined by how easy it is for Palestinians to get into ’48 (Israel) surreptitiously. And I’m not talking about people who are willing to use any means necessary and want to blow themselves up. No sneaking under fences in the night here. I mean folks who are separated from their family in East Jerusalem and have no desire to die or spend years in prison going in through the checkpoints. My friends do this, it causes them and their family anxiety and concern but they want to see each other. If these otherwise law abiding, normal, cautious folks can get in so easily (but not without risk of prison or fines)… The security argument is bull. Like I and others have said before: it’s not about security it’s about occupation.

But back to the checkpoints. Even though it is time consuming for me as an international to travel between Israel and the West Bank, that is usually all it is time consuming. When I go through the Bethlehem checkpoint after walking through the metal detectors and turnstiles the solider sitting in the bulletproof booth, usually with his or her feet up on the desk, just waves me through without even looking at my passport photo. At the Gilo checkpoint I get off the bus like all the other Palestinians, we stand in line, their documents are collected for inspection. My passport is given a cursory glance and we get back on the bus.

Today, at the Gilo checkpoint, when they saw my passport I was instructed to step out of line. What now? I thought with a slight bit of trepidation. A female solider was called over, glanced at my United States passport, asked if I spoke English and then proceeded to tell me that this checkpoint was no longer open to foreigners. She was so sorry but I would have to go back to the Beit Lahem checkpoint if I wanted to get into Jerusalem. It took me awhile to realize that Beit Lahem meant Bethlehem but once I figured out what she was talking about it still didn’t make sense. Since when, I asked her. It’s a new thing she said but its been a long time coming. That’s interesting I said I traveled through here yesterday. Yeah it went into effect today she said it’s a military order. Can I see the order? I asked. She skirted around the request and kept apologizing. I kept asking to see the order. It was in impasse, Palestinians on the bus were waiting, held up by this power play. I asked her where exactly I was supposed to go seeing as we were standing in the middle of the highway, was I supposed to walk back to Bethlehem? Oh no she said, just go stand by that hill there (the intersection of the busy highway) a bus going back to Beit Lahem will pick you up…

I didn’t want to make the Palestinians on the bus wait any longer so I began hiking my way back to Bethlehem. Of course there was no bus, they don’t come through that often because not that mnay Palestinian’s have permission to go to Jerusalem. A kind Palestinian family saw me walking after 10 minutes and offered me a ride back to town. I tried in my incredibly inadequate Arabic to explain my frustration to them. They listened kindly, clearly didn’t understand either my broken explanation or why I was frustrated (Israeli soldiers making your life difficult, what’s new about that? I imagine they might have said if they were less polite) and offered to drive me to the other checkpoint.

At this point although something seemed fishy, especially the part where they wouldn’t show me the military order, I thought that perhaps this was at least temporarily a real thing. The Israeli military does have a history of enacting orders which don’t stand up in Israeli courts of law which after they become public are quietly brushed under the carpet (see the incident of fining Palestinian farmers for inviting internationals to help them harvest their olives). I wondered if this meant there would be additional security at the Bethlehem container checkpoint, questions about why I was in the West Bank for instance.

This was not the case. I got to the checkpoint and wound my way though the caged maze and turnstiles to find the place empty. It was the middle of the day. The busy hours are in the morning and late afternoon when the lucky few with work permits wait in long crowded lines.

I wandered around awhile trying to find which lane was open. They all seemed closed. Another part of the “make life difficult” aspect of the occupation. How hard would it be in a multimillion dollar facility with state of the art “security” equipment to have a sign that says “open’ or ‘closed’ in front of the processing lanes? A Palestinian woman and I joined forces and eventually a solider opened up one of the lanes and I was waved through without much more then a glance at my passport.

When I mentioned this at my meeting, to which I was late, with Gershon Baskin director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) he was incredulous and managed to immediately confirm with someone very high up the military checkpoint chain that there was no such official order. I was very much within my legal rights to freely use either checkpoint.

So why was I turned away? Both my and Gershon’s guess is it was because I was traveling on a bus with Palestinians. And officially and unofficially Israel as a state and many Israelis want to dissuade internationals from visiting Palestine and Palestinians. And I’d add to that; because they can. Because when you create a racist, apartheid state what you create are many citizens who internalize those same traits. And then you give them a gun and a boring job. It is not surprising that they don’t strictly adhere to all the sanctioned forms of oppression but invent new ones of their own.


Bored with Guns

UPDATE 12/7/09; It's an actual operational order. I tried to go through the checkpoint again, they wouldn't let me. Would not show me the order. Soldiers tried to refuse to give me their identification information, which they are required to give by law. Threatened to arrest me if I tried to get on the bus. Gershon, from IPCRI drove down and talked with them/called lots of higher ups. Its a real thing. At the discretion on the area commander, or however the military chain of command goes, he/she can prevent foreigners from traveling through the checkpoint if they are in a car or bus with Palestinians coming from Bethlehem area. If I was in an Israeli bus or in an Israeli plated car coming from the direction of the illegal settlements I would be allowed through. Operational orders are supposed to be used in emergency situations. Evidently foreigners with Palestinians is an emergency for the Israeli military/state.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Any Given Friday

This article was originally published in the Electronic Intifada at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10920.shtml on November 30th



Today we were clearing land in the Palestinian village of Um Salomona and it is a beautiful crisp, clear fall day. Um Salomona is located in the occupied West Bank's Bethlehem District and is one of nine villages, with a combined total of 9,000 residents, that borders the illegal Israeli settlement of Efrat. More accurately, Efrat borders the nine Palestinian villages, seeing as they outdate the illegal settlement by hundreds of years. Efrat is the largest part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and is the fourth-largest settlement in the occupied West Bank with some 9,000 Israeli settlers. Israel plans for its wall in the West Bank to tuck Efrat comfortably into Israel. A road for settlers which Palestinians are only allowed to use during daylight hours has already been built and cuts Palestinian residents off from their farmland.

Recently, after years of land appropriation and harassing Palestinian villagers, Efrat's residents have decided that they want to acquire more of Um Salomona's farmland separated from the village by the main road for a cemetery. Raed, a resident of the village, owns the land targeted by the settlers. He knows all too well that without strong action (and quite possibly, even with strong action) it is likely that his land -- like thousands of other acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank -- will be seized by the settlement.

So we as international volunteers have responded to his call and the call of the local Popular Committee to work the farmland. We provide a daily reminder that this land, like all the land in historic Palestine, is not, as the colonial Israeli narrative would have us believe, "without a people." Although our agricultural skills offer little help to this community of farmers, we bring a physical presence, foreign passports and cameras. It is a small degree of witness to curb Israel's policy of violence to dissuade Palestinians from accessing their land.

Still, the Israeli military comes every day. The green military jeep pulled up literally seconds after our taxi of internationals arrived. They were clearly watching us -- a task they perform very well. The soldiers watched us from the side of the road. They summoned Raed and asked him the same questions they ask him every day. Then they walked up to our small group and asked the usual questions: "Where are you from?" "Why are you here?" "How long are you staying here in Israel?" Notice the colonialist language of "here in Israel" -- when we are well within the West Bank, considered occupied territory by the international community and international law.

They didn't like it when I responded that I was "helping my friends clear their land." The solider asked incredulously, "They are all your friends?" It is clearly unimaginable that I, a young white American woman, could be friends with Raed's extended family of one grandfather, three middle-aged men and four boys who were with us that day. They left after ordering us not to burn anything, which makes our task more difficult since controlled burning is an essential part of clearing brush. The jeep returned later and the soldiers watched us again. On the spectrum of responses by the Israeli military, their actions were benign that day.

After a morning of work we headed over to the village next door, al-Masara, for their weekly nonviolent protest against Israel's wall. Since 2006, village residents accompanied by Israeli and international solidarity activists have been walking the few kilometers from their village to the main road where they are met with a line of Israeli soldiers and barbed wire. The Israelis claim that this show of force is needed to protect Efrat's 9,000 settlers living in open violation of international law. In reality it is the typical disproportionate Israeli military response to nonviolent Palestinian actions that is essential to perpetuating the occupation.

Soldiers and villagers alike know their role in the demonstrations well and the illusion of equality that this perpetuates is disturbing. There is no equality when only one side is holding the guns. The children of the village are able to take the most active role in the protest, mildly shielded from violence or arrest until they are a bit older. However, this is also dangerous as Israeli soldiers have shot and killed or wounded Palestinian youths under the age of 14 at similar demonstrations against the wall in other villages. Yet with children under the age of 18 currently in Israeli administrative detention, it's clear childhood is no real protection.

On this day, the kids used thick plastic cords to pull on the barbed wire blockade. In response, the Israeli soldiers cut their cords with small, colorful scissors. After an hour or so of speeches against the occupation, chanting and drumming, the protest was called to a close. The young Palestinian men who had been keeping an eye on the children hustled them away from the barbed wire. This day, the children had the freedom to protest in this small way. When they get older the very same behavior will likely get them beaten and arrested.

We headed back to al-Masara and the soldiers headed back to their jeeps. In a couple of hours the barbed wire will be removed from the road -- but the occupation will continue, as will the construction of the wall. Palestinian land will continue to be appropriated for the illegal expansion of settlements, and Palestinians will continue to resist through protest in the streets and on their land -- on any given Friday in Palestine on any given day of their lives.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Right Age



Al Khalil, Hebron, the day before Eid al Adha (Holiday of the Sacrifice). You know the story. Abraham willingly offered up his son to god only to be told by said god that sheep would do as sacrifice in his son’s place.

My friend Alessandra and I wanted to buy some embroidery and scarves to send home to our families. So with the well wishes of our Palestinian friends but without their company, they knew better. We braved the crowds they had warned us about and made our way to the old city of Hebron.

Tatreez is traditional Palestinian embroidery, beautiful needlework with unique styles for the different regions of Palestine. Hebron also is home to the last Palestinian factory producing keffiyehs, you know those checkered scarves you’ve seen on all the hipsters the past few years. Keffiyehs are a traditional Middle Eastern scarf, colors checkered with white. Some colors have political associations and some are just for fashion. Red in Jordan is a symbol of Jordanian nationalism like the traditional black in Palestine. Politically within Palestine black is also the color for those supporting Fatah, red for the left PFLP and green for Hamas. The keffiyehs you see for sale at Urban Outfitters are produced in Chinese sweatshops and the exploitation of workers in these factories has resulted in unnaturally low prices that have helped put factories like Hebron’s out of business. Revolutionary consumption akin to the Che t-shirt phenomenon.

Getting to Hebron was time consuming. The crowds were out full force, getting in their last minute holiday shopping. Hebron, especially the old city is always a lesson in the occupation, see my earlier posts for background and prior experiences. Today was no exception.

First off some of the city had flooded the previous night. From Bab al Zaway, the old city of Hebron slopes downward on cobblestone streets with no gutters. A perfect channel for rainwater. Combine that with the situation from illegal settlements:



Where a Palestinian street is blocked off from the “settler’s only” street and illegal settlement by buildings and gates. When the city floods the settlers plug the few holes on their side of the gate so there is no where for the runoff water to go. The Palestinian woman who runs a cooperative shop showed us how high (a couple feet) the water came in her store, destroying products.



One of the everyday injustices of the occupation.

Later, we were sitting in another store chatting with the owner, a man who has kept his tiny shop open continuously despite settler and solider violence against residents and particularly shop keepers. Suddenly there was shouting.

What is it we asked?
He peeked outside to look

The Israelis are arresting someone he said uncertain whether to downplay the incident and continue with the sale. He gets very little business because of incidents like this and no sale is taken for granted.

However, when we grabbed our cameras and headed out to the street he supported us. Here, stand here. Don’t worry about your cameras just keep filming, he said when we tried to hide them from the soldiers, they won’t take them here.

And there in the street the soldiers had a young man up against the wall and were beating him with their guns and kicking him. He was screaming in pain. Another young man tried to intervene and a shouting solider put an ak-47 to his head and herded him away. They stopped beating the young man and cornered him and another shopkeeper who had tried to intervene.



The photo is Alessandra's. Check out her blog at http://2come2.wordpress.com/, however it is in Italian.

We stayed and filmed, getting as close as we could. As the crowd swelled the soldiers ordered us back casually moving us along with the barrels of their guns.



Ten minutes later the IDF brought the two men down through the street under heavy guard.

Twenty minutes later we saw them outside of the gate of the Beit Romano settlement at Bab Ab-Balidiyah. There was a large crowd and the young man they had been beating was unconscious and being loaded into a Red Crescent ambulance.

We talked with two volunteers from the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) who had joined us at the scene earlier and have been monitoring the city. Check out CPT, they do amazing work and are public about the atrocities they witness unlike the neutered Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) which only provides Israel and the PA with their findings. The soldiers, CPT said had been “patrolling” up and down the jam packed street all day.

He was the right age, said the elderly CPT volunteer. Referring to the fact that young Palestinian men are targeted for harassment by the IDF daily.



The right age? Look you can barely see the wisps of his facial hair as they load him into the back of the ambulance.

Read more about the incident here on Maan News (excellent Palestinian news source): http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=243019

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back again in Dheisheh Refugee Camp after a trip to Jordan to facilitate visa renewal. My three months was almost up, can you believe it? As any of you who know me will attest to I border on ridiculous in terms of being worried about following “the rules”. So it has been a new and slightly nerve wracking experience for me to have to not follow the rules here, i.e. not stop taking photos when the military orders me to do so or lie about why I am visiting Israel in order to get another visa.

There is no law against visiting the West Bank (and if there was it would be an unjust law of which there are many here) but even still if I said I was entering Israel to visit the West bank 9 times out of 10 they would not let me into the country and there is no way to enter the West Bank without entering Israel.

The reasons for this are pretty simple. Israel does not want the international community to know what is really going on here because it is so unjustifiably unjust, so they make difficult for people to come see. We, the internationally complicit Western we, have a reasonability to know what is going on in Occupied Palestine, especially coming from the United States (3 billion a year in military aid to Israel, remember that) so I put aside my own discomfort (but not the butterflies in my stomach) which, pales in comparison and lie my heart out.

Jordan was beautiful. Lots of hiking, I can’t really do that in the West Bank. Those pesky closed military zones, checkpoints and the separation wall kind of put the kibosh on freedom of movement. It was a little sad to be so close to Palestine and realize a bit more of what is lost under occupation.

So here are some photos of touristy me.


Our guide in Wadi Rum, Ibrahim. Most of the people we interacted with in Jordan were from three different Beduin communities. The Beduin in Jordan have certainly, like indigenous nomadic people in all parts of the world, gotten the short end of the stick from their governments in many ways. But it was also heartening to see some situations where they have managed to maintain control over their land and way of life to some degree.


Camel riding. It's an acquired skill as my bruised backside can attest to.


Petra, it is amazing. The throngs of tourists who visit are out of their minds. The friend who I traveled with got a picture of some chickens wondering around the ruins and then realized that in the background was a group of tourists. The metaphor was too perfect.


This goat had quite the racket going on mooching from picnickers. Also some plump cats ruled various sections of the ruins and meowed for their ample lunches. The cats aren't nearly as chubby here in Dheisheh.

On returning to Israel through the border crossing at Arava I was reminded again of the racist nature of the Israeli state. There is really no other way to describe it.

I got through the border extremely quickly. In part because after the lying I was able to say I was going to visit a Kibbutz (true, for one night, more about that in my next post) partly because the last three questions passport control asked me were my father’s name, Jerold, my grandfather’s name “Abraham” and my families religion “Jewish”. If my answers had been Mohamed, Ibrahim and Muslim I may very well not be sitting here in the West Bank writing this now.

Mostly though I think getting through so easy was just luck. If Israel wanted to know why I was really here they certainly have the capability of seeing through my weak tourist façade. However, the nature of the occupation is not complete control, which is impossible but a inconsistent unknowable control which helps to reinforce self-policing by citizens. Like I’ve been told by many, the border control, separation wall (which remains incomplete) and IDF presence don’t keep out potential suicide bombers. If someone wants to kill themselves, they can get in and kill themselves. What it does is destroy any ability of citizens (Palestinians) who don’t want to kill themselves, who want to try and live their lives, to do so.

The occupation is at its heart not about Israeli security it is about, like what all apartheids are about, subjugation of the colonized population (Palestinians) and maintenance of inequality between colonized and colonizer.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

This is also Palestine

A trip to the village of Battir today. A beautiful fall day with our wonderful hosts and a chance to learn about traditional Palestinian terrace farming. Living only 10km away in the the densely urban Dheisheh Refugee Camp which pulses with the past and present of the occupation, it is easy for me to forget that most Palestinian's were and the few who can still are, subsistence farmers. Maintaining control of farm land has been one of the most difficult struggles for West Bank Palestinians. Israel controls most of the best agricultural land in the vast Zone C.

Battir, home to 4,000 Palestinians is designated by Israel as composed of both Zones B and C. Remember; A is area controlled by the Palestinian Authority (see my photo of this in action in the post Night Raids), B is controlled by both Israel and the PA (which means it is controlled by Israel) and C is Israeli controlled. Zone C is over 60% of the Occupied West Bank

Spending the day in Battir was a bitter learning experience for me of the beauty and control that Palestinians have lost.


Almost all of the hilly areas in historic Palestine bare the traces of thousands of years of terrace agriculture.


Terracing for olive trees is less precise as the trees, with their incredibly deep roots, do not need an irrigation system.


However, for vegetable gardens there is an amazing system of flat terraces and a roman era irrigation system.


Water from a spring is carefully guided down through the fields with a system of open aqueducts that can be opened and closed to allow just the right amount of water to flow through the channels in each plot of land.


Of course even here The Occupation's presence is felt. Battir is right on the border with 1948 Israel. The villagers have had to struggle to keep their land and for a time the village was split in two. See the top of the hill to the left in the picture above? That's where Israel plans for the Aparthied Wall to run through Battir.

Monday, November 2, 2009

“genocide, ethnocide or a one state solution”


Illegal settlements surround a West Bank farm on four sides

I should have posted this earlier but I was out and about picking olives in Nablus and then in bed with a nasty case of bronchitis, which seems to be on the mend thankfully:

Martha Myers, The country director of the West Bank and Gaza for CARE International, a standard BIGNO (Big International Non-Governmental Organization) operating with a multi-million dollar budget in the West Bank and Gaza, said something incredible recently. Well, what she said wasn’t incredible, what was incredible was that she said it in public. Though by public I mean inside the Occupied West Bank so maybe she figured it wouldn’t get reported internationally anyway…

The setting was the International Conference: United in Struggle against Israeli Colonialism, Occupation and Racism that took place in Bethlehem on the 24th and 25th of October. Check out audio from the seminars here:

http://www.alternativenews.org/english/2234-audio-of-seminar.html

Two days where grassroots activists, international solidarity activists, Palestinian and Israeli academics, NGO workers and other internationals in town talked and listened about the economics’ of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The conference wasn’t particularly riveting; too many internationals, not enough Palestinian voices, go figure, but there were some great moments. Like what was said by Ms. Myers. She had just spent the last half hour or so talking about how international aid is doing nothing for the future stability of Palestine and supports the occupation. Examples: Israel destroys a water system, a road, a school, Gaza and BINGOs rebuild it 3, 4, 5 times.

She also made a pretty good case for the larger role of aid in supporting the occupation; it allows Israel to pawn off all potential costs to the willing international community and undermines Palestinian sovereignty by usurping the responsibilities (education, health, infrastructure) of a state. Of course the end of such an analysis begs the question, ‘so why are you working within this system you just trashed?’ After all this women runs CARE in Palestine. And, unfortunately she took a route all too well traveled with aid apologists; ‘I’m just too afraid what would happen if we left’. * Sigh * classic copout.

Anyway the really interesting part came during the question and answer period. I don’t even remember what the question was but I perked up when she prefaced her answer with (and I’m basing this off my notes) “Well I’ll probably be escorted directly to the airport by Israel or the PA for saying this but…just drive to Ramallah, there’s no room left. The only choices are genocide, ethnocide or a one state solution”

I took this to mean either a) Israel wipes out all the Palestinians (genocide) or b) Palestinians give up on Palestine and move to other countries (ethnocide). Now obviously neither of these is likely to happen which leaves us with c) one state for all. And Martha Myers is not saying this based on an ideological position, after she made her statement there were cheers among the crowd, which did seem to ideologically support a one state solution and she chastised us, saying “you shouldn’t be clapping you should be crying”.

But the facts are clear that a one state solution regardless of what you think ideologically is what we’re left with. Driving between Bethlehem and Hebron today I was reminded again just how entrenched the settler presence is in the West Bank as I passed the massive settlement of Efrat. It cost Israel 2.7 billion dollars to move 8,000 settlers out of Gaza. There are 500,000 settlers (200,000 of these in East Jerusalem) in the West Bank. You do the math.

The facts speak for themselves even if those involved directly and indirectly in supporting the occupation aren't often willing to own up to the reality.

Friday, October 23, 2009

dis-portrayal

I thought this was approprite given my previous post.

From Amira Hass, Israeli journalist, on receiving the lifetime achievement award from the International Women's Media Foundation. I encourage you to hear Amira's full speech and subsequent interview on Democracy Now! at

www.democracynow.org/2009/10/21/israeli_journalist_amira_hass

"It’s not about achievement that we should be talking here, but about a failure. It is the failure to make the Israeli and international public use and accept correct terms and words which reflect the reality, not the Orwellian Newspeak that has flourished since 1993 and has been cleverly dictated and disseminated by those with invested interests. The peace process terminology, which took reign, blurs the perception of real processes that are going on: a special Israeli blend of military occupation, colonialism, apartheid, Palestinian limited self-rule in enclaves, and a democracy for Jews.

It is not my role as a journalist to make my fellow Israelis and Jews agree that these processes are immoral and dangerously unwise for all of us. It is my role, though, to exercise the right for freedom of the press in order to supply information and to make people know. But as I’ve painfully discovered over the years, the right to know does not mean a duty to know. Thousands of my articles and zillion of words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media and is used in order to dis-portray the reality, official language that encourages people not to know. Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A word (or many) on language



Umm A returns after climbing through barbed wire to follow the border police jeep which carried her husband, arrested as he tried to access his olive trees

This should have come earlier.

I'd like to pause for a minute and talk about how I talk. Why I use the words I use and the tensions and implications in the use of those words. This is an ongoing conversation I have with myself as I struggle to be both honest and accessible in writing about my time here. So now I'm gonna go all wordy and honest and hopefully not too inaccessible.

How do I tell you where I am living?

Do I say that I am living in the West Bank, a banal identification that while not a lie very much overlooks the reality of the occupation of the Palestinian people? Do I mention the “occupation” and say the Occupied West Bank, Occupied Territories or Occupied Palestine? Personally, I think that “occupied” must preface any indication of geographic location here, it is after all the defining feature of people’s day-to-day existence. However, I worry if I say “occupied” some readers, maybe not you open minded folks interested in my blog, but others, will dismiss me out of hand as someone writing emotionally rather then factually, which frustratingly is exactly the opposite of my contradiction. I worry that “occupied” will raise readers emotions distracting them from the facts at hand. But I think regardless of the potential for emotional involvement, in the end, I have to use “occupied” because otherwise I spiral down a path of vagueness/news-speak/“political correctness” that obscures the very reality I hope to explore.

So now, finally, I can take the quotations away, occupied. Occupied what, Occupied West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories? Both these designations muddle the scope of the occupation to the West Bank and Gaza, implying that if Israel pulls out of these places then the occupation will cease to exist, while simultaneously denying the historical existence of Palestine. It; a) doesn’t address the tension over the geographic contiguity of the West Bank itself, pre/post 1967 and pre/post the separation wall and b) accepts the legitimacy of a state, Israel, based on the forceful displacement of the indigenous people and continued abuse of individual and group rights in an effort to maintain a religious majority/supremacy in said state. Because I believe in the equal rights of every single individual, as a member of a community living within the borders of the place I’m trying to name the only conclusion is that the creation of two states is inherently flawed both justly and practically. More on that loaded run-on sentence later.

To simply say Occupied Palestine is appropriate and yet possibly too obscure for an audience who doesn’t have this narrative, that you have just been forced to read, running through their heads at all times. It is also possibly alienating, “you deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel!?” “Anti-Semitic” “naïve” “fool”, . But unfortunately any conversation about this topic will be, by its nature, alienating to some. Not surprising, considering that the facts on the ground are alienating to many.

So here I am in the West Bank of Occupied Palestine struggling with language, a privilege as others struggle for their lives.


Her mother in-law helps her back through the barbed wire fence separating "Israel" from the West Bank and Umm A's family from their land

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Night Raids



IDF in the camp again. It might help to click on the photo and it will get bigger. The tail-lights are an Israeli military vehicle. The smoke is tear gas. It burns even from far away. I wonder what the long term health effects of exposure are? Especially on children. This was not an isolated incident geographically, Israeli raids on Monday and Tuesday were reported throughout the West Bank or historically, IDF have come into the camp at night as often as not since I've been here. We are supposedly in Zone A meaning Palestinian Authority control and no Israeli presence...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Um Salamona

The camera (and a foreign passport) is mightier then the ak-47? Unfortunately no, but sometimes they can scare the guns away for the time being. Such was the case today in the village of Um Salamona, a small village in the Bethlehem District, which has the misfortune of occupying land desired by Israel. Some of Um Salamona’s fields are now situated between the foundation for the separation wall and the illegal settlement of Efrat both well inside the borders of the 1967 Green Line.


Here we are walking toward the road and wall foundation, you can see them right above the first hill

Last year villagers told us, with no internationals or film crews present, when they attempted to harvest olives from their trees on the land across the settler road that hugs the walls foundations soldiers set off a noise bomb, scaring them away, they thought it was a tear gas bomb, often used by the IDF to disperse Palestinian crowds and ran. While the villagers waited on the other side of the road, settlers came in and stole all of the olives they had already picked and their tools and supplies. They complained to the soldiers who did nothing.
This year, they were accompanied by a group 8 international volunteers and a host of Palestinian journalists and Ministry of Agriculture workers. In fact in the beginning it seemed like there were more folks documenting the harvesting of the olives then actually harvesting the olives.



At first I was a little put off by this show but put in perspective it makes a lot of sense. What the villagers needed was not our hands, they have plenty of their own and know how to harvest olives a hell of a lot better then us novices. What they needed was our white faces, funny clothes, foreign passports and cameras. Sure enough after a few minutes of harvesting two Israeli soldiers showed up.


IDF! I was a little too nervous to get a good shot at first...


I don’t think they were expecting the heavy press and foreigner contingent because they tried to hide their faces as we gathered around, filming and taking pictures. Very quickly they retreated into the olive trees and we were not bothered for the rest of the day.

Now I don’t have any disillusions of grandeur here. I think the two very young soldiers were just caught a bit off guard as it were and weren’t prepared for the onslaught of press. There are plenty of occasions when the IDF is more then willing to kick people off their land, fire tear gas, shoot and arrest, in front and onto foreigners and press. But of course it felt good to see guns turn away in the face of cameras. We spent the rest of the day picking olives and then relaxing with coffee, bread and grapes under the olive trees where the villagers showed us their documentation of prior confrontation with the IDF and one lucky young Italian woman received a marriage proposal from an elderly widower. When the separation wall is completed, and Um Salamona just received notice that it will be soon, there will be no way for them to access their farm land, with or without cameras and foreign faces.


The serious business of olive harvesting


The serious business of relaxing

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hebron


Can you see the illegal settlement in the photo above?

A follow-up on my post from yesterday: On Monday, Sukkot, I visited the city of al-Kahlil, known to us English speakers as Hebron. I knew going in that Hebron is a very different city from the relative calm and openness of the Bethlehem area where I live (if you can call grinding poverty and illegal nightly visits by the IDF into zone A which is supposedly off limits to Israeli’s calm and open which, I after visiting Hebron I would).
So anyway, I went to Hebron. I caught I ride in with a friend of mine who works with a large NGO on the outskirts of the city and spent a few minutes getting to know her colleagues around the office. The receptionist/intern, a young women with a degree in chemistry who has been unable to find any work after graduation except an unpaid position answering the phone in an office, asked me where I was going in Hebron. When I told her that I thought my meeting was near the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah she expressed serious concern as to whether I would be able to get anywhere near my destination. “It’s a Jewish Holiday today”, was her explanation. And she was right. When I got to the old city I was, fortunately able to get to my meeting but the mosque was off limits, of course the Jewish section was open to the large number of Israeli visitors who flooded the city with a full complement of IDF escorts.
Hebron is a unique example of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. The illegal settlements I’m used to (a word here, all settlements are by their nature, Zionist Israeli enclaves inside of the 1967 Green Line, illegal) ring Palestinian communities often occupying the top of hills around the Palestinian city/town in a valley. In Hebron however, the settlements are within the heart of the old city itself. Some 400 to 800 settlers, it’s hard to get an official number live next to and over the homes of Palestinian residents. There is no talk of peaceful coexistence; the settlers stated aim is to drive all Palestinians from the city. To this end they act in a way reminiscent of some white communities in the American south in the 50’s/60’s, openly harassing/humiliating Palestinian residents. Take a look at this telling photo from the NYTimes of a young settler throwing wine on a Palestinian woman: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/09/13/world/20090913SETTLERS_6.html
This is unfortunately the way it goes in Hebron and such racist actions on the part of the settlers are unconditionally protected by the IDF stationed in H2. Hebron has been divided since 1997 (read: post-Oslo) into 2 zones; H,1 home to over 120,000 Palestinians and H2, home to over 30,000 Palestinians and the above mentioned 400 to 800 Israeli settlers. H2 falls under Israeli control, which means restricted mobility for Palestinians, there are over 16 checkpoints in this small urban area. The main street, beautifully rehabilitated with money from our very own USAID, is off limits to Palestinians. Many Palestinian residents can now only access their homes, which abut the street by ladders going up the back of the house.


IDF on the USAID furnished restricted access street

Economically Hebron has been devastated by these restrictions. Once the most important city in Palestinian commerce, now shops are shuttered, especially on a day like Sukkot. Palestinians who can afford too have been leaving the old city because of how difficult life has been made for them by the settlers and IDF. Amazing organizations like the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee have been working to refurbish abandoned and damaged homes and provide subsides to poor Palestinian families to move back to the city. Solidarity groups like the Christian Peacemaker Team, in Hebron at the invitation of Palestinian residents provide international witness and report abuses. I’d just like to highlight a little of the irony here; the US proclaims that their goal is a two state solution for Israel and a viable Palestine. And yet US money goes towards making a street beautiful (and it is a beautiful street) in the heart of the future Palestine that ends up as being restricted to Israeli use only. While it is a Palestinian organization, Hebron Rehabilitation Committee who I believe as policy accepts no USAID money, that supports Palestinian residents in their own city and Obama chastises Palestinians as the squeaky wheel in his famed speech to the “Muslim/Arab World”?… Forgive me if I remain skeptical about the US’s sincerity in supporting any solution involving Palestinian independence and self-determination.

On a final note, because of the unique nature of Hebron, settlements are literally towering over Palestinian homes and streets. Settlers have unique vantage from which to further torment their neighbors.



The picture you see above is the metal screening that Palestinians have been forced to erect above their streets because of the rain of garbage, everything from plastic bottles to cement bricks from the settlers upstairs. Of course screening cannot protect from liquids thrown down. The settler response? The screening has actually been placed there to protect THEM from items Palestinians throw UP. Take a look at the photo folks. If the Palestinian’s can bend the laws of the material world and throw things through metal fencing then, I mean, wow, they should find some more useful applications for that amazing ability!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Holidays


Hebron's storefronts closed on Sukkot

I’m starting to see a trend here and it is leaving a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. On Jewish holidays violence against and repression of Palestinians by IDF occupation forces and settlers increases dramatically in Israel and the West Bank. Personally, in the month I have been living in Occupied Palestine I’ve witnessed the actions surrounding Yom Kippur in Jerusalem and Sukkot in Hebron. On both occasions Israeli military presence increased dramatically, Palestinian freedom of movement was repressed and Israeli groups were allowed/encouraged by the IDF to invade Palestinian places of religious significance, prompting protests by Palestinians and a violent repression of those protests (shooting, beating, arrests, closures) by the IDF.

From my conversations with Palestinians here and research into events in years past these actions seem par for the course. After all, the Second Intifada, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, was initiated by Sharon’s grandstanding at Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock with a supporting force of hundreds of riot police. Basically every Palestinian I’ve talked to in the West Bank now associates Jewish Holidays with violence and oppression of Palestinians, because, on Jewish Holidays the Israeli state supports and perpetrates violence against and repression of Palestinians.

As someone coming from a Jewish family in the states this makes my heart hurt. The idea that The Day of Atonement would somehow cover as justification for instigating violence against another religious group seems sacrilegious. That Sukkot, which I always understood as a joyous occasion to celebrate the abundance of the earth and to welcome guests results in the repression of the freedom of movement of your neighbors seems equally disgusting. For obvious reasons when celebrating your faith becomes synonymous with violating others human rights we, the global we with a stake in social justice, should be more then a little concerned.
A Sukkah in one of Hebron's illegal Israeli settlements and the military post 100 feet away "protecting" the settlers.  Hebron is home to 400-800 of these illegal settlers and they are "protected" by more then 800 soldiers

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Volleyball



I’ve been doing translating work for some of the midterm grant reports here at Ibdaa with R a lovely women who is studying dentistry at al-Quds University. Really, R translates while I type and together we try to negotiate some of the many Arabic-English language discrepancies that prevent direct translation, health-smooth video anyone?

Anyway, R is a member of Dheisheh’s championship volleyball team and she invited me to come watch their practice the other evening. So, a bit weary that I might be asked to join in and having not played volleyball since middle school gym class, I donned flip-flops and a skirt and trekked over to the gym where they practice. Once at the gym I was engulfed by R’s teammates, 11 young women between the ages of 14 and 21 wearing a mixture of uniforms, jeans, converse sneakers, headscarves and ponytails who practice 3 times a week a standard school gym, albeit with broken lights, crumbling siding and under the watchful gaze of former president Arafat, that is the only space available for all of the areas sports teams.



Watching the girls practice was great. There was a huge range of abilities and interest among the team members and their coach, a middle aged man in a tucked in striped polo shirt: the absolute essence of a school coach, spent much of the time yelling at them in a good natured way to pay attention. ‘They like to talk too much’ he told me with exasperation in his voice and a smile on his face.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

East Jerusalem

Did a bit of traveling. I tagged along with a bunch of older Swedes from The Swedish Christian Study Group on a tour of Jerusalem run by ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. I think that ICAHD does a very effective job of presenting the dramatic disparities between Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The other thing they do pretty well is to show how planned the disparities are. So I want to talk about that a little bit.
You can see in the picture below the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank, although really it is more the appropriation wall because what has ended up on the “Israel” side is a substantial amount of land, though not as many people (but we’ll talk about that later) that according to 1948 UN maps is absolutely not part of Israel. So back to the picture, look for a little house standing alone right next to the wall? Israel had planned for that house to be on the other side, part of Abu Dis rather then Jerusalem but a right-wing Jewish group bought the house, Israel re-routed the wall and now provides the two family settlement with its very on checkpoint and security curtsey of the state. Now just so we don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just an example of a government caving to religious extremists lets put this in context.

One of the biggest “obstacles” to a two state solution is Jerusalem, I put obstacles in quotation marks because for something to be an obstacle it actual has to stand in the way of something you wish to achieve and I don’t think Israel in any way wishes to achieve a viable Palestinian state any time soon. Now this is in reference to talks over a two state solution, which, regardless of past feasibility is no longer, a possibility, when demographics, economics and justice are considered, in my uninformed and others very informed opinions. But I think it is worth talking through this example to fully understand a) Israel’s disingenuous participation in any action to resolve the issue of Palestine and b) how Israel has since its inception as an idea in the nineteen teens been very consistent in working towards the creation of the largest Zionist state possible with the least number of non-Jews.
So anyway the two big “obstacles” to a two state solution were always Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. So Jerusalem, how could there be two states when this one place was so important to both groups of people? The UN had suggested that Jerusalem be an “international city”, administered by the UN which is pretty ridiculous so lets kind of forget about that for now. So how could two states share one city? Actually for a long time it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. When you looked at a map ten years back or so the city was pretty split into Jewish and Palestinian sections, it was pretty clear where the boundaries between the communities were. So anyway when this was pointed out to Israeli authorities they were like ‘you know, you’re absolutely right, we’ve got to do something about that’ and they promptly started promoting and supporting Jewish settlements, like the little house above, in the heart of Muslim Palestinian communities. In fact there is now kind of a ring around the old city of Jerusalem of such settlements and while communities in Arab East Jerusalem can get no building permits, I mean zero, none, absolutely no chance of a building permit, have few school, terrible roads, lack basic sanitation services, sewage and waterlines, these settlements are beautiful, sport parks and public swimming pools and can get whatever building permits they like.
Additionally, and I haven’t had a chance to research this as much as I would like so I’m going by what I’ve heard here; Tel Aviv had always been the defacto capital for Jews and Jerusalem the center of Muslim cultural life and commerce. Even today, young Jews want to move to Tel Aviv where everything is happening and Palestinians want to get to Jerusalem (on the Palestinian side this certainly seems true all the young people I’ve hung out with talk of Jerusalem the same way my friends talk about Brooklyn). So Israel has a very hard time maintaining what they call the “demographic balance”, read not too many non-Jews, of Jerusalem.
Pretty terrifying language from a community that knows what kind of evil banal language can be a cover for. But the parallels here between past and present, victim and victimizer are so obvious that you would think is was a brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin science fiction satire, except, unfortunately like many of our best current events satires it is so very real and so very horrific that we (and by we I mean the we of the demographic I come from western, white, middle class which is such a very tiny we but is the we who is probably reading this) like to pretend it is not really happening.
So anyway I have a lot more to talk at you about East Jerusalem but I think there is a limit to how much blog you can read in one sitting so I’ll leave off with the heavy stuff there. On a lighter note the weather is beautiful here, I’ve learned to make Arabic coffee without it boiling over and at the center we are preparing for the arrival of what has consistently been described to me as ‘500 Italians’, I am skeptical but curious. This Friday I’m looking forward to a picnic with food in the nearby village, because picnic here has nothing to do with food and is just an outing something I only learned recently, before that I just thought everyone here really liked eating food outside on a blanket…

Tours run on scooters by right-wing groups, they don't show them East Jerusalem

Friday, September 11, 2009

O.P.

I’ve been in Dheisheh for about a week now. Of course, like with most important things it seems like I’ve been here for both more and less time. My luggage mysteriously appeared at a small unidentified airport in Europe, I’m serious, they don’t know which airport, just that is will arrive in Tel Aviv tomorrow.
So I’m already falling a little bit in love with Dheisheh. I think you have to fall in love with anything that breaks your heart. Israeli soldiers have come into the camp the last three nights to make arrests and exert control. They are not supposed to be here. Dheisheh is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian authority but they saying is from morning to midnight the PA is in control of the camp and after midnight the Israeli army takes over. The UN seems pretty much to have removed itself from the situation. They offer extremely limited services within the camp, like a clinic with one doctor open from 7am until 1pm. But they have an impressive array of new, white UN vehicles, pictured bellow, which go on no end of errands outside of the camp…


Clearly here, like anywhere aid is big business. However, what I’ve heard articulated by Dheisheh residents is that they really have very little need for traditional “aid” services. They have enough food, children can go to school, there are medical services and people have homes. Obviously they would like a high standard for many of these “basic needs”, but what they want, what they struggle for, where they look for internationally solidarity is in their struggle for their human rights; the right to return to their lands, citizenship, freedom of movement. You know, all that social justice stuff. Unfortunately, in a global aid system, that regardless of whether it is public or private, that is most often an extension of western foreign policy, self-determination most always takes a back seat to a plethora of understaffed clinics and new white cars.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

O.P.

I’m getting settled into my new home at Ibdaa Cultural Center in Deheishe Refugee camp. So far, so good. It’s Ramadan so things are a bit slow. I was forced, truly, into a successful phone buying adventure this morning, so I am now a little poorer but a little more accessible. I’ve also been set up on my first assignment for my job, duel translation with a lovely dentistry student from Beit Jala, a nearby city. I’ll update more on Ibdaa later but for now I want to go back to Jerusalem.


As I left the hostel I stayed at in Jerusalem early Friday morning, in a futile attempt to receive my lost luggage before traveling into the West Bank (where are you all of my clothes?!), I faced a tide of older Muslim men and women flowing fast down the street into the heart of the old city. I thought that naively it must be people arriving for work or shopping. As I made my way the bus station I sort of bravely tried out my small, I will refer back here to how my mother speaks of her Italian, baby Arabic, and asked a number of women the way to the bus to Bethlehem. Ok I’ll admit to the first two women I think I asked ‘where is the bus IN Bethlehem’ to which they, rightly so, were a little unsure. However, even once I got my vocabulary straight it took a really long time for someone to help me. I thought that was a little strange as the bus station ended up only being a few blocks away.


However, my new boss, Areej, put both these events in perspective. She explained to me that Fridays during Ramadan (which is now) are the only time when Muslims who live in the occupied Palestinian territories, the West Bank, can visit the Al-Asque Mosque (within the Temple Mount). And get this, even then, on those 4 or 5 Fridays out of the whole year, not everyone can go. Women have to be older then 45 and men have to be older then 50. They, the Israeli army/government, don’t want any “trouble” from young Palestinians. Evidently even the age restrictions were not enough to put the armies mind at ease as the street was lined with soldiers (yes they are just as young looking as everyone says) weapons at the ready. Of course looking back this new information put the response to my directions inquiries in perspective. Obviously, you would not have a detailed understanding of the transportation network in a place that you are at best allowed to visit 4 times a year…


When Areej explained this to me and I told her my story adding that I was surprised just how overwhelming the signs of occupation were traveling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and walking around the old city, she agreed, and added that, in her words “you don’t need to go anywhere else to understand what’s going on here (the occupation), not to the West Bank, to Tel Aviv or Hebron, just go to Jerusalem the story is so clear there”.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jerusalem




I arrived in Tel Aviv after nearly 24 hours of traveling. I was singled out for additionally questioning and bag search because, it seemed, of the Tanzanian and Indian visa stamps in my passport.The questions ranged from the staple ‘who packed your bag?’ to the less often used ‘do you speak Hebrew?’ ‘why don’t you speak Hebrew?’ ‘what is your Jewish name’ and my favorite ‘do you celebrate the Holidays?’. After swabbing down all of my luggage and my feet I was allowed to leave the well concealed little room they had led me too (which had lovely posters of Israel’s tourist attractions) although my bags were under detention until I boarded the plane. I was sure that after that pre-israel experience going through passport control in Tel Aviv would be hell. However, all I was asked there was the purpose of my visit: tourism and how long I wanted to stay: 3 months, stamped and done. Of course nothing is ever that easy and one of my bags evidently didn’t make it out of Zurich with me… We hope to be reunited soon.

Anyway even with the bag delay stuff I flew out of the airport, got in a shared taxi and was at Damascus Gate by 5am. Which was a problem because I had nowhere to go in Jerusalem at 5am. I decided to walk to my hostel and hope someone was at the front desk. And as luck was with me two Austrian tourists who had made arraignments with the hostel to arrive early got there just at the same time as me. The teenager in charge of the desk took pity on me and let me sit on one of the couches (I was not allowed to fall asleep or he would be in trouble) until 7am when I checked in and promptly conked out till 11:30 when I forced myself out of bed.

The rest of the day I spent walking around old city Jerusalem. There are four quarters to the old city, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian (evidently a religion unto itself, actually I believe that community is Armenian orthodox). My hostel is right at the intersection of the Muslim and Christian quarters, directly across from the 3rd station of The Passion. I set out to get lost in the city for the day, but it is a surprisingly easy city to navigate and I always had a very good idea of where I was.

So about the occupation, while I had a good idea, intellectually, of what that meant, walking around through different neighborhoods, seeing soldiers, seeing the disparities in wealth, the architecture, the predominance of Arab Muslims throughout most of the city and the way people do an do not interact with each other.The occupation vibrates through the heart of everything.
While walking down one of the main roads in the Muslim quarter I was inadvertently swept up in a large tourist group of Jews. I had no idea where they were going and I couldn’t disentangle myself so I figured I’d just ride it out. A wake of stillness and quite followed us down what had moments before been a bustling bazaar. No one made eye contact no one called out. Guns and turnstiles and security checks are casually slipped in around the city. “Neutral” language reinforces the Israelis as victims/brave prevailers and simultaneously seems to humiliate the Palestinian population. Even though I found Jerusalem unexpectedly beautiful I was profoundly uncomfortable all day. If this is what Jerusalem is like, well then…