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, 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):

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 fa├žade. 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:

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.