Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We are Like Firemen

We are Like Firemen.

31 of us, representing national and international NGOs, gathered in the Hebron RC conference room earlier this month.  The increasing number of children being seized here by Israeli soldiers – 27 in one day, last month – drew us together.  What could we do to reverse the trend and end the IDF’s abuse of Palestinian children?  The Israeli military pays no attention to Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- which are supposedly binding on all member states of the United Nations -- or to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the government of Israel in 1991.

The US government pays scant attention to Israel’s violations of those agreements or to the organizations that have reported on what happens to children held in Israeli military custody. Most other UN member nations do little more than mount the podium occasionally and call on Israel to stop violating the rights of Palestinian children.  Does the fact that this charade has been going on for decades send any message but that Israel can – with impunity – do whatever it chooses with the lives of children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Governments continually fail these children. The NGO representatives seated round the table were struggling with ways to help.  Proposals like “expose the Israeli violations against children”, follow up legally on behalf of the children who were seized, and provide “treatment and therapy for the children” were discussed.  Listening to these ideas that have been discussed and acted on over the years, it struck me we were like firemen trying to douse a raging fire, while other more powerful actors pour fuel on that fire.

Of course, it’s important to continue trying to put out the flames; but isn’t it time to stop those who add fuel to the fire?  In addition to the Israeli government, two major arson accomplices are the US government, which funnels three billion of our tax dollars to the Israeli military every year, and the corporations that support and profit from the Occupation.  When other nations condemn the apartheid policies of the Israeli government, the US government is silent.  When the Israeli government imposes collective punishment that hurts Palestinian children, the US government is silent.  When respected international organizations like UNICEF, Defense for Children International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the YMCA and Save the Children expose the damage done to children by the Israeli government, the US government responds with little more than finger shaking.

We write letters to politicians and to newspapers, we share information far and wide; but we have to do more to make those who are feeding the fire change their ways.  We need to apply economic pressure to end the occupation and the IDF’s presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Boycotts and divestments can stop those who are fueling the fire.  Don’t buy items like Ahava cosmetics and Soda Stream carbonation units…products produced in illegal Israeli settlements.  Contact those who sell such products and ask them to sell alternative competing products instead.  If you or organizations you’re part of, hold stock in companies profiting from the occupation and its illegal settlements (Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Cement Roadstone, for example), divest from those companies and tell them why you’re divesting.

Do we now have the will to stop those responsible for torching the lives of Palestinian children?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From Jenin to Ramallah

After a few days teaching in Tel Aviv I have some time today to return to my notes from the West Bank.

We left Jenin a week ago, April 11. I’m driving with my friend and student W, who’s come to join us from his home in Haifa. Also in the car is H, who lives in Jenin and is the brother of the Freedom Theatre’s artistic director. He’s come to support us and also to see family members in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, where he was born. L, a photographer from Finland, is squashed into the back seat with H along with some of our bags.

The outskirts of the town are very green and beautiful, with olive trees and eucalyptus. Hills on one side of the road, flat cultivated fields on the other. A camel saddled with a carpet ambles along on the main road amid anarchic traffic. I comment on the greenness and W thanks me for noticing—it’s one of the Zionist myths, he says, that the land was arid and neglected before the Israelis came. The Arabs have always been a farming people.

Most of the hills are topped by villages. Or settlements, with their red-roofed houses in neat rows. In the Arab villages all the houses have big black rain barrels on the roofs.

W is talking as he drives, eloquent, poetic, measured but heartfelt. He talks about how the Palestinian identity has been fragmented by the events since 1948. He feels that Juliano Mer-Khamis’s contribution was to help to rebuild identity, with people standing beside each other and feeling commonality.

He mentions internal refugees—people expelled from their villages “inside,” meaning within Israel (everyone here says “inside” to refer to Israel), but not sent to refugee camps in the West Bank. His family was among them. They were compelled to leave their home and ended up in a village where 10 people had to live in one very small room. They and others were dependent on the goodwill of the people who already lived there, sharing their already sparse resources of food, water, and housing. Some welcomed them, some did not.

W’s elderly car crawls up the long hills at not much more than walking pace. There are not many cars on the road, fortunately. Other drivers honk and pass us in exasperation. We are trying to get to Ramallah by 11am. W, philosophical, thinks we’ll make it.

We pass by more olive groves. H in the back seat says that 10,000 trees have been cut down. This particular brutality, like the demolishing of houses, seems entirely sadistic to me. W says that when the army demolishes a house, the family is billed for the demolition—many thousands of shekels. They also have to pay for the rubble to be carted away, or do it themselves.

W is looking back to how it all started. After WW2 the Europeans just wanted to “lose the headache” of the displaced and traumatized Jews, he says. And the Jews wanted and needed somewhere to go. Other places were considered, not just Israel. Land in Uganda was approved by some of the Zionists, but those advocates were assassinated.

I ask them W and H what they see in the future, and what they would like to see. “Palestine has no future,” says H passionately. He is 42 but looks much younger. “I see no future for myself. I can see the present, and the past. But there is no future.”

He has lived all his life in refugee camps. He tells me that he has not seen the sea for eleven years, though it is so close.

I try, and fail, to imagine what it might be like to live with no sense of a future.

W says: “I don’t need a country. I don’t need a flag. I want to live without fear. If the Israelis want to control, let them. If they recognize my narrative, my dignity, that is enough.”

He does not see the viability of two states. He predicts that if a clash will come it will be with the Palestinians inside Israel. They are 20% of Israel’s population and they are like a volcano. Palestinian citizens of Israel have rights, but there is discrimination. Their ID cards are a different color from the Jews’ cards, proclaiming their difference.

H says, “We don’t have problem with the Jewish religion. We have problem with the occupation.”

As we drive through another village W points out a garage called “Haifa Garage.” “That means that it’s run by refugees from Haifa,” he says. “They remember their home with the name.” This village, like the others, has mostly rather stark, utilitarian cement houses, but in a few favored spots there are imposing houses with arches and pillars. I also see many buildings that appear to have been abandoned before they were completed.

We drive by another small village surrounded by fields and olive groves. W and H explain that this is a 3000-year old village, populated by Palestinian Jews—a living embodiment of this ancient and shared history. They are Jewish by heritage and religion, but culturally they are Arabs.

Then a new-looking settlement, surrounded by Arab land on which the settlers have cut down all the trees.

A donkey, escorted by Arab women, pulls a cart laden with garlic.

We drive through Bir Zeit—“well of olive oil.” In the town square there is a photo of Saddam Hussein. H says, “I like this man.” W, sensing my surprise, reminds me that before Saddam turned into a murderous monster he achieved good things for Iraq, including supporting women’s rights. In the distance are the large, modern buildings of Bir Zeit University. Most of the students are Arab, but there are also Jews, Christians, and internationals.

We finally arrive in Ramallah, cars and people jostling each other on the busy streets. It is high up and you can see nearby Jerusalem from some places. “We can see Jerusalem but they can’t see us,” says a woman I meet later, smiling ruefully. Some of the women on the street are in tight jeans and stiletto heels, along with their fashionable-looking headscarves. A few have uncovered heads. They look very different from the women in Jenin in their elegant but stiflingly hot head-to-toe garments. We pass Mahmoud Abbas’s residence, which is also the seat of the Palestinian Authority. W and H are sarcastic about Mahmoud, as they refer to him. They say that opinion is divided about him: some say he is a collaborator with the Israelis. Others respect his leadership.

After the performance I go to meet a woman who is a distinguished Palestinian theatre director. We have been in email contact and looking forward to meeting each other. She is waiting for me at the door of her theatre. I feel as though I’ve known her for years. We have dinner, along with her husband and professional partner, and two friends from Jenin. Soon she will bring her production of Richard 2nd to the Globe Theatre in London as part of the Globe to Globe festival, with 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages. She lives in Jerusalem, a 10 or 15-minute drive from Ramallah if you have an Israeli passport: an hour--or more, depending on checkpoint delays--for any Palestinian no matter how distinguished, because they are not allowed to use the four-lane highway that connects these cities.

Friday, April 13, 2012

On the hill top

I am sitting under an olive tree in an open space on top of a hill, partly open field, partly rocky outcrops with deep holes that might be wells or caves, I’m not sure. It is sunny but there is a cool breeze and the air is delicious. Around me are red and yellow wild flowers, daisies, anise. Just down from this beautiful wild spot are the houses and terraces of an ancient Palestinian village. Does this sound idyllic? Looking out a little further, on most of the hilltops around there are settlements, and there is one so close to the village that they could talk to each other without raising their voices. If they wanted to, and if they spoke each other’s languages. And if they could bear to talk through the barrier of razor wire that fortifies the settlement. Down in the valley you can see the wall under construction. When it reaches up here it will surround this village, all but cutting it off from the world. And on this rocky hilltop, a little distance from the rest of the village, there is a Arab family’s house which will have a special curl of the wall all to itself, four meters high, ten meters from the house, making it a prison within a prison.

I am here with the Freedom Bus crew who will do a performance right here on the hilltop for people from the village, other local people, and a large group of internationals led by Luisa Morgantini, the former vice president of the European Union. A band that is famous in the Arab world is also here and will play before and after the performance.

Wandering around as the team prepares the stage area, I cross paths with two Palestinian women who are gathering anise. One of them speaks some English and we talked, out there in the soft breeze. She says that her daughter lives in the house that is about to be surrounded by the wall. I’ve already met her son-in-law: the sound system for the performance is plugged into his house with a long cable. The woman tells me that one of her sons was recently released from prison after five years. Her other son is currently in prison. She says they do not know why. I encourage them to come to the performance.

People start gathering—children, young people, men and women. They find places to sit on the rocky ground. Except for the sparse small olive trees there is no shade.

S, the local community organizer who is translating, announced that the army has arrived and set up a checkpoint down the road. They are turning people away, and taking the IDs of anyone who objected. There is a flurry of alarm. Everyone knows what the army can do, and this village has received a lot of aggressive attention at their weekly protests against the wall. “Stay calm,” she said. “We’re not doing anything illegal.”

The show begins with three songs from the band—beautiful songs, accompanied on the oud, and much appreciated by the audience who clap and sing along. The Playback show is not so easy, with kids wandering onto the stage area, the audience straining to hear, too many camera-wielding people stepping in front and blocking other people’s view, even walking right up to the actors. It’s important to document these extraordinary events--but this is too much.

In spite of the challenges, the stories flow. A young boy is the first person to speak up in response to the conductor’s question “How does it feel to be here today?” “Belonging,” says the boy. It turns out that he lives in the house that will become a prison. Later, his father raises his hand. He looks around at all the people gathered and said, “Today I feel we are not occupied.” Everyone cheers.

There is a story about a 3,000 year old olive tree, a symbol and proof of the ancient Palestinian culture. There is a story told by a middle-aged man about the suffering of the child next door to him, who came home after school to find his house demolished. And then the woman I had met picking anise came to tell her story about the army raid on her house five years ago, when they took her son. They destroyed many things in the house, she said, and they used sound bombs, to create terror. She could do nothing but hold the children. She felt completely alone. “Now I don’t feel alone,” she says, gesturing to all of us.

By now the soldiers have appeared at the entrance to the field, five trucks parked uphill so they are very visible. A threatening presence. The word is that they won’t do anything as long as the internationals are here, so the organizers make sure they do not leave until the event is over and everyone can leave together.

There was more music after the Playback show—joyful, releasing music after the somber stories.

From Bethlehem:

From Bethlehem:

We arrived in Bethlehem last night in the dark and I haven’t yet had a chance to look around yet. “We” means the Freedom Bus team―the five Playback Theatre performers, the artistic director, myself, and A, a young Canadian who’s with us this week. Yesterday we were in Ramallah, along with twelve boys, ages 11 to 14, from Jenin and a neighboring village, plus a videographer and two photographers documenting this whole project.

The children had taken part in a photography project exploring and recording the problems of water in their community. In Ramallah we went to the headquarters of a large foundation where they had arranged a video hook-up with a group of children in Gaza who’d just completed a similar project. We could see the Gaza children on a large screen―about ten kids, a little younger, and half of them girls. The visual contact in itself was amazing―these children at the moment have no possible way of ever meeting, although they live in the same country not much more than 100 miles from each other.

The Gaza children presented their findings―no municipal water system, very little water available by any means, most of it contaminated. They can use seawater but it is inadequately desalinated. People get sick. They said Gaza is becoming like a dump because there is no system to deal with garbage. The kids speaking about it were confident and well-informed, passionate but measured. “We can’t clean ourselves!” said one boy. The Jenin children watched, rapt, and asked questions. One of the boys presented what they had prepared: photos of wells that are useless because they are not permitted to drill deep enough; photos of the luxuriantly green fields belonging to the settlement the other side of a razor wire fence, thanks to a spring that used to be on village land. (The name of the village means “spring.”) In the summer they run out of water altogether and have to buy water from a truck which shows up every few days. Even this water is not guaranteed to be clean.

Again, questions and discussion. The kids asked each other about swimming pools―no one has access, of course, to a place to swim that’s nearby and clean. One of the adults asked what it was like to see the Israelis with their plentiful clean water. “We feel we are not free.” “We feel it is injustice.” “We feel abused.”

After a lunch break the Freedom Bus team did Playback Theatre for this audience of children separated by distance and rigid political boundaries. Sitting in the audience it was all I could do not to break down in tears, both at the tragedy of the situation and at the extraordinary spirit of the children. They listened to each other’s stories, watched each other on the screens, laughed and clapped together. Amazingly, the process worked. A little girl in Gaza, radiant in her red sweater, neat brown ponytail and delighted smile, told a story about getting 93% on her science test and how she was going to solve her country’s water problems when she grew up. A boy from the village near Jenin told a story about seeing a fire in a field and trying to get help. It took an hour for the truck to arrive.

The Freedom Theatre’s ace videographer captured the enactments so that the kids in Gaza could see―at some cost to the audience who was present, since he had to be on stage with the actors, sometimes blocking our view. But it was worth it.

The last story was told by W, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who had traveled from Haifa to join us. He is a former student of mine, and it turned out that he knew several people in the Freedom Theatre world, including Juliano Mer-Khamis, the legendary director of the theatre who was murdered a year ago right outside the theatre. In the show, W offered a story about knowing Juliano when he (W) was a child, but somehow never visiting the theatre until now. It was a story about Juliano’s vision of the arts as a way of creating freedom.

And here we were in Ramallah, giving children the chance to use theatre to transcend the walls between them.

(name withheld while in the West Bank)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

H & N in West Bank Day 7

MECRresource : Message:

Friday Dec 16

We started with a delicious breakfast of Zatar on bread with Laban and tea.

We get into Mohammedís car, which wonít start and needs to be pushed. We are carrying 2X4ís with which to make a ladder to climb to the top of the wall to see where soldiers are and put Palestinian flags on top. We wait in the garden until 11:30, when the Palestinians go to pray near the path to the wall. H & I sit and talk about our plans, once again. H decides to stay back in the compound with the women, who, because they are treated the as brutally as the men by the soldiers, are no longer allowed into the fields during the demos. I decide to go to the demo, but stay at the very back, and decide on an incremental basis, just how close Iíll go. H is very nervous about my safety, as am I, but Iím determined to stand in solidarity with them. There has been absolutely no pressure from anyone to make any particular decision. My mind is racing. Maybe I shouldnít wear a hat so that the Israelis can more easily see Iím an international etc., etc. I know itís just anxiety. Who knows whatís provocative or not. A man had been shot just outside the garden weíre sitting in, just for sitting there.

I go out to where the Palestinians are gathering with 6 Israeli activists that have come from Tel Aviv.† All but one, a woman, has participated before. We wait outside the prayer meeting and talk among ourselves. We share information about our activist work and organizations that we belong to. They are from Anarchists Against The Wall, New Profile, Artists Against The Wall, and JVP (Israeli moved to Arizona). As 75-100 of us walk to the fields, chanting, an ambulance drives in back of us.

The Israeli woman and I stay at the very back. All but a few Palestinians go right to the wall in different places, as do the Israelis.† I see Mohammed climbing the ladder and placing Palestinian flags on top of the wall. A small group sets a tire on fire, and black smoke billows and billows and blackens the wall. Palestinian youth have leather thongs that they use to fling rocks over the wall. We hear live ammunition being shot, but no soldiers are in sight, and one of the organizers comes to tell us that the shots were only fired in the air to frighten people. The Israelis are firing tear gas, and I smell it, but they land far away. I venture closer to the wall, now about 100 yards away and take lots of pictures. Mohammed waves to me and beckons me to join him, as he is still 100 yards from the wall.† As I walk to him I see many, many spent tear gas canisters and rubber projectiles on the ground. I am, at all times, very conscious of where I am and what the best escape route is. The wind has picked up from the west and Mohammed and I walk west so that the tear gas will blow away from us. He points out a sniper in the distance as well as the soldier who shoots the tear gas. He explains that the sniper is only interested in the people near the corner of the wall. I believe him and continue to watch and photograph. I watch as a Palestinian youth stands behind the corner of the wall and flashes his hat to draw the fire of the sniper. The sniper doesnít respond. By this time maybe 50-60 tear gas canisters have been shot over the wall. Everyone is so used to it, that no one is particularly bothered. Mohammed is clearly keeping his eye on me and I express my deep appreciation. ìNo worry, you are welcome.î The soldiers stop fire the tear gas and It becomes quite quiet. Mohammed says that it is a sign of danger and, that, since I am an old man, who cannot run fast through the boulder strewn field, I should head back to the compound. He leads me back to where we entered the fields, and then asks a youth to walk me the rest of the way. He believes that soldiers may come from the east and itíll be hard to escape.

I go back to compound to see H, who has been told Iím okay. I sit down and am spent.† Some tear gas remains in my nose, but no problem. We have tea and bread. While I wasnít aware of feeling afraid in the field, I breathe sighs of relief. Saeed comes to help us figure out how to get to Jerusalem. Itís a Friday, the Sabbath, and most busses arenít supposed to run after 4 pm and itís now almost 2:30. He had tried to arrange a taxi, but the man who had agreed, had his phone turned off and canít be reached. Mohammed figures out a series of different transports that he thinks will work. Of course, we have warm goodbyes and thank yous with everyone. H & I decide to commit to buying another computer for the popular committee. We tell Saeed who is more than appreciative. Just a note to all who read this. Weíll be looking for small donations from many of you.

Mohammed tells us about a museum in Niílin that is about the Holocaust and the history of Niílin and its occupation. The people here clearly make the connection. He says that the Palestinians stand in solidarity with the Jewish people of the Holocaust, but Palestinians shouldnít have to pay for the crimes of the Germans. We are thrilled to hear this. Unfortunately, we donít have time to see it.

We go back to await the service at Mohammedís and pick up our bags. We take the specially called service to Ramallah. An uneventful trip and exhaustion sets in. A very kind man, who we donít know, leads us for ten blocks in Ramallah, and then flags down a bus that is going to Al Quds (Jerusalem). We are alone on the bus until a Palestinian youth, maybe 13, gets on. On leaving Ramallah, the bus is stopped in a long line at a check point.Eventually, itís our turn and the soldiers come on board. They first check the youthís papers. Weíre not sure why, but he is taken off the bus, to we donít know where. Our imaginations run wild. As we were waiting, we concocted a story of where we had been and I change out my memory card for a blank one The soldiers check our passports, cursorily look in our bags, and send the bus on its way. It goes for 5 seconds and turns into a bus transfer station. No one speaks English, but I get lots of head shakes when I say Al Quds. Weíre off again. The bus lets us out only a block from our hotel. We check in, very, very pleased to be here and alone for a change.

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n & H in West Bank Day 6

MECRresource : Message: n & H in West Bank Day 6
Thursday Dec 15
No Wednesday diary-H & N sick

Today we are in Niílin, a small village 25 km to the west of Ramallah and located right at the wall. We are very fortunate to have been hooked up with the organizers of the popular committee, who have welcomed us with open arms. It is like this where ever weíve been; people taking care of us, sharing their food and homes, and their stories. They have many needs, but I think the first of which, is for the world to know about their struggle. For it only with the cooperation and support on the international community that will they be able to end the occupation. We leave Beit Ummar by taxi for Ramallah and then get a service (shared taxi) to Niílin.† It takes about 3 hours, even though they drive like crazy and, while there are small check points, we are not stopped at any of them. The service drops us right in front of the house of Saeed, with whom we are staying.

Saeed is a 20 year old man, who has just returned from a 3 month speaking tour of Europe. He was invited by the Sweedish Parliament. He speaks nearly flawless English, self-taught by using Google translator, and is clearly very bright. Before we know it, we are sitting in a small area outside his office (more like a 2 room concrete bunker in back yard) and in deep conversation over the obligatory tea. He has much to share. His father, Ibrahim, is one of the three main leaders (those who have responsibilities) of the Popular Committee of Niílin. The popular committees are in almost all Palestinian towns. They are the non-party affiliated grass roots movement that leads the resistance to the occupation at the local level. These committees cooperate informally with each other, but they make their own decisions. In Niílin there are 15 people on the committee, plus many volunteers. The different community constituencies all send one member to the organizing committee: each political party; each of the five families that live in Niílin; farmers; woman; youth; and the municipal govít. No votes are taken; they decide all issues by informal consensus. They sit around and discuss what forms the resistance should take. They are totally committed to non-violent resistance, even though they are faced with violence on a daily basis.

The resistance in Niílin started with the building of the wall in 2004. The farmers would go to protest in the fields. The Israelis, for unknown reasons, discontinued building until 2008. On May 27, 2008 the building started up again and Niílin had its first organized demonstration. It was put down very quickly, but the popular committee decided to have daily protests for 1 year. Since May of 2009 there has been a weekly Friday demonstration. The demos have met with fierce violence from the Israelis. Since May of 2008, 5 people have been killed,† 50 others shot with .22 caliber bullets that explode in the body in order to cause extra damage, and almost another 500 shot with regular or rubber-coated bullets. This is in addition to the use of steel covered tear gas projectiles like the one that hit Tristan Anderson on 3/15/09, and stink-water (sewerage, chemicals, and feces). The Israelis have also declared curfews, the longest of which was 4 days in July of 2008, put snipers on roofs to keep people indoors, shot at water tanks on top of houses and invaded homes during the day and night. Saeedís home has been invaded 25 times since 2008. They also put gates at the ends of town to limit access and jailed hundreds of people, mainly male youth.

Saeed himself was jailed at the age of 17 for 4 months in 2009 because his father was one of the leaders of the popular committee. During his time in prison, there was a demonstration that started because of the mistreatment and humiliation of prisoners. They shouted and knocked on walls and the nearest enclosing fence. There was no real threat to the prison or the guards because there were 3 sets of fences surrounded by a concrete wall. The guards shot hundreds of rounds of tear gas and hot stink-water into the compound and sent in guard dogs. At the end of the day, 83 prisoners were beaten, 3 eyes were lost and 4 legs were broken. Saeed was sick for 8 days as were many of the others. All prisoners were in solidarity with one another. All prisoners shared equally the resources and food provided by money sent from individual families. Saeed was the youngest in his jail section. His final words on the experience were, ìIím not a kid anymoreî and ìJail is a school. Political prisoners teach a lot.î When prisoners die in prison, their bodies are not released to their families until the completion of the sentence.

His father, Ibrahim, has been arrested twice; the first time in 2008 and the second in 2010. Beyond the punishment of prison, the Israelis took his work permit and now heís unemployed, as is 75% of the population of Niílin. While we were sitting there, his 17 year old brother returned from a 4 hour interrogation at the prison. He was obviously relieved, as interrogations often end with imprisonment. His brother said that he was asked to spy for the Israelis. When he refused they threatened him with serious jail time the next time they caught him. We then go up for lunch to the family house, which is in the middle of a family compound. There are 40 people living here ranging from the 82 year grandfather to the youngest nephew of 1 year. The family had always lived in the old city of Jaffa. In 1948 they were expelled and lived in Jordan in a refugee camp. In 1967 they moved to Niílin, where they are one of five large families. We eat communally with parents, siblings, aunts and cousins. Chicken, rice w/pasta, beans in liquid, couscous-like wheat and onions, and spinach tasting soup which was very bitter. They encourage us to eat a lot, and we, out of politeness, eat more than we want. After lunch we go out into the fields directly behind the compound to see the wall. The family is left with only 6 of its original 600 durams (duram=100 sq. meters) of farm land. The rest has been taken by the settlements or declared under military rule. The Village has only 7000 of its original 57,000. We walk not more than 5 minutes through olive groves when we start to see settlements in three directions. There is a great deal of incongruence in the visuals. We are confronted with high rise apartment buildings and town houses that donít belong in this environment. And of course we see the wall separating the two very different lives that are being lived on this land. This is where the weekly demonstrations take place. This is where the tear gas has been used. This is where people have been shot and brutalized. This is the very spot that weíve come to stand in solidarity with these oppressed people. As we walk back Saeed points out various markers where people have been killed. We are shaken. We are in awe of this peopleís bravery and fortitude. I wonder if Iím brave enough to stand with them. At the moment Iím not sure.

From a high spot he points out Tel Aviv in the distance and mentions that he always wanted to see the sea beyond, Itís only 25 miles, but it is impossible for Palestinians to get to. At least he saw the sea in Sweden and Italy on his trip. He was almost speechless during his first weeks in Sweden, and he cried a lot. He was overwhelmed by the difference between his home and Europe. ìFreedom, it was like heaven. People had respect for me as a human being. When I saw how well animals were treated, I wanted to be a dog in Sweden. Many people offered to have me stay, but I just became more determined to come home and fight for my country. Now I know the taste of freedom. Itís everybodyís duty to stop this occupation. Every day we are dying. There is suppression for everything in life. What about all the generations to come? Itís not impossible. The struggle will continue. Itís our destiny.î We arrive back at the ìofficeî, which houses his computer. He wants to show us the presentation he used in Europe and other videos that can be found on the net at nilin-village.org. Saeed, being the gracious host, asks if we want to rest. Although we are desperate for a break, we soldier on, both because of our need to witness and our feelings that our attention is the least we can give. After a half hour, I am in total overload and gingerly tell him that I need a break for a short while. No problem for him. He will go to the internet cafÈ to check his email (his internet down). Clearly honesty is best. I think we owe him that. We fall into an instant sleep and awake on his return sometime later. His father and 2 other of the older organizers of the popular committee join us. There is a round of introductions, thank yous on both sides and we settle in to watch. Very partial list of what we saw;

Ahmad Mousa, a 10 year old boy is shot in the head and killed on 7/21/08. People cry out for an ambulance, but are denied by soldiers. We see Saeed carrying Mousa in his arms to try to get him to a hospital. Saeed sees Mouasís brains spilling out of his head and faints. Others pick up Mousa, but it is too late. Saeedís cousin, and best friend, Yousef, 17 years old, is shot and killed on 8/4/08.

Agil Srour shot in heart and killed while attempting to rescue another who aws shot on 5/6/08.

Niílin demos in solidarity with the people of Gaza during the 2008/09 massacre of Gaza. Niílin is the only town to have solidarity protests.

2008 demo in which Saeedís father is being dragged from his fields shouting, ìKill me, kill me. I was born here, I want to die here. I want to die now. I want peace. Peace can give us peace-you and usî

Saeed takes us to† Mohammedís house in the village, which is where we will sleep for the night. Israelis have been at Mohammedís only 2 hours earlier looking for a boy that they want to arrest. Weíre with Mohammed and his wife and 4 kids, aged 4-9. This is a very happy family. There is lots of laughter and affection. The younger kids get a horsey horsey ride on their fatherís back and the kids and parents are very physical with each other. Itís a joy to be in their midst. . After the kids go to sleep, Mohammed shows us a bullet wound on the underside of his arm. He was shot with his arms raised in peace. He tells us, ìthere is a connection between your spirit and the land. When you are on your land, you forget your problems.î What a sweet man and a sweet family. 1 of 1 File(s)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Message: H and N in WB

December 11, 2011

Today was our first day without Zleika as our guide and companion. We have grown very fond of her and happy that she is now treating us as family and not as honored guests. We left her (our) home by the front door to walk down Shahada Street, a Jewish-only street and a short-cut, which is something neither she nor her mother are permitted, as Palestinians, to do.† We easily went through the checkpoint at the end of the street to leave the Old City to meet Yaesr J., who was going to drive us to the Bakaa Valley to meet his brother, Attta J.† Zleika had told us that this experience was going to put into perspective the ethnic cleansing aspect of the occupation.

We drove about 5 miles, turned off onto a steep and rutted uphill dirt road, made it about half way up and then walked the rest of the way. Yaesr introduced us to Atta, who was working in the family garden with his wife & middle daughter. Atta appeared to be a man in his late70s/early 80s, and his wife substantially younger. We sat down, with the obligatory tea and then coffee, served by his very shy daughter, and started to talk.

Atta started by talking about the history of the three religions in Palestine and how he considered all people as brothers, all people entitled to practice their own religion, all people to peacefully co-exist.† Some quotes to give a sense of the man: ìWhen you open your eyes and recognize peopleís humanity, you must stop the suppression of people. Everyone, everywhere.î ìHow much does a bullet cost? How many billions have we wasted on weapons of suppression and oppression? We must take it and spend it on peopleís needs. We need schools and hospitals and doctorsî ìYou canít talk to settlers, theyíll kill you. I wish I could talk to them.î îAre we stones? Do we not have blood. Give me my humanity.î

Attaís extended family, now numbering between 1500 and 2000 people, he wasnít sure, has lived in the Bakaa Valley for 1000 years. They were quite wealthy and by the 1940ís owned the entire valley, which is very fertile. During winters they lived in the old city of Hebron and in the planting-harvesting seasons lived in the valley, first in caves and then houses. During the late 1960ís and early 1970ís, Israeli settlers started to move into the valley with numbers of outposts and by 1971 Keriyat Arba, a full-fledged Settlement, was established on lands owned by Attaís family. Many of Attaís familyís homes were bulldozed and their lands confiscated. And then in 1998 Attaís home was bulldozed and Atta himself was thrown into prison and beaten badly. I believe itís documented in The Washington Report in Sept 1998.† Although he still bears the physical scars on his body, his spirit is not broken. He is a man of great hope for the future. Attaís home has been bulldozed and rebuilt three times with help from the Israeli left (ICAHD) and international organizations. By now all of the Palestinian homes in the valley have been bulldozed at least once. When we first drove into the valley, all we could see were new homes, and we assumed these were all settlersí homes. But now we understand that the Israelis have attempted to remove any and all remnants of Palestinian existence from the valley. Walls are one thing, ethnic cleansing is another.

At some point we moved into the house for the viewing of videos that had been taken on cameras donated by Bítselem for the express purpose of recording settler violence and protecting Palestinians from false claims made by settlers and the IDF. We saw a number of different videos: settlers destroying the plants in Attaís gardens; settlers destroying the pipes that bring water to the fields; armed, young settlers from the USA coming onto the property, right up to Attaís windows and threatening violence. The most disturbing moment was to see his youngest daughter, aged 11, screaming at the settlers out of her window. As we ate lunch, that same daughter got up continuously and went to the window to look out. Now maybe she was looking for friends etc, but we assumed it was the scars of the violence of two months ago that haunt her still today.

And then we all shared a lunch of stuffed grape leaves and salad that his wife had cooked. It was truly a communal meal; forks supplied to all and all ate out of the same bowls and tore off pieces of bread from larger loaves. He continued talking throughout, and we listened, often in horror. His brother played solitaire on the computer and his wife laughed with the kids. We also were shown a video of the younger kids dancing the Debka to the great amusement of all. We always apologize for the actions of our government for which we take responsibility for. Attaís response: ìYou see how much the policy of the US kills us. Itís the government, not the people.î Thatís Atta. By the way, he turns out to be in his mid ñfifties. What a physical toll his life has taken.

We get back into the car, head down the hill and are stopped by a goat herder with his goats, who turns out to be Attaís uncle, Ali. He has just gotten a 10 day confiscation order for his land on which he herds his goats. He asks for our help and, of course, we are helpless. The only thing we can think of is to call Israeli peace activists to ask for a lawyer. It turns out this has already been done and weíre truly helpless. I suppose this is what Palestinians feel on a daily basis, only on a much deeper level. After all, we are going back to the states in 10 days.

We start again to go across the main road to visit Attaís and Yaesrís mother and brother. Their home is at the base of a 40 ft. stone wall that was built on their property by the Israelis to separate Kiryat Arba from any possible Palestinian presence. This was a very different experience. Jawed, the brother, is in his early fifties, and looks it physically. His experiences were similar to Attaís, but he describes his heart as black. He says that he canít find enough love to give to his children. He is very bitter and demoralized. He says that his kids ask him ìwhy did he ever bring them into this world.î H is in tears and Iím close behind. On his site are the original caves that his grandparents and ancestors lived in. He shows us where the Israelis brought in bulldozers to destroy the caves, which he has refortified and now uses as part of his house. . He says ìhow can they destroy caves.î We are unable to respond. There is no response. Who can understand what is in the minds of people who do this? I canít. He asks for us to take a picture of him next to his one remaining olive tree. We are happy to do anything. We would do more if only we could. We promise to let everyone know the horrors he has endured and how this has marked him. It never feels like enough.

We go back to Hebron exhausted, emotionally drained and furious. I canít find a place to be. We pass through the check point and I glare at the soldiers, barely keeping myself in check. We retrace our steps up Shahada Street, passing settlers and soldiers. We shouldnít have listened to Zleika and should have walked the long way through the old city, in solidarity with the Palestinians who could not use that short cut. We will never do that again. She opens the door and we scoot in, happy to be off the Jewish-only street.

At five oíclock we get into a service (shared taxi) and head for Beit Ummar, about 15 miles away. All seats are taken and yet the taxi stops for yet one more passenger. I squish over, the man next to me, who doesnít speak English, in an attempt to gain some room, puts his arm around me on the back of the seat. I put my head on his shoulder and say ìshukrun ((thank you) papa and everyone in the taxi breaks up, even the women who are usually so reserved in public. I canít tell you what a relief it was to laugh after our day. What a release.