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” “na├»ve” “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.