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Archive for October, 2007

Things have been pretty intense in the old Hebron of late.  There was a strike called on Thursday to protest the attack on prisoners in the Ketziot prison – where one man was killed and up to 250 more injured by prison guards during a 2am raid.  The strike was called by the Islamic National Forces, which Israeli propaganda deride as being a militial wing of the PA who stage public violence in the guise of popular uprisings.  From our apartment in Tel Rumeida (Tel meaning “hill”) we could see the fires that had been set in the streets, with people just walking past them, going about their business.

There were sounds of shooting, so we ran down to checkpoint 56, where Israeli soldiers were on the roof, shooting into the marketplace.  My first experience with shooting up close.  They were rubber bullets, but the sound was still enough to shatter me.  The video footage i took flies around as the bullets crack and echo through the built up streets.  The checkpoint was closed (obviously) and so we ran around another way to get down into town.  It was all pretty chaotic, most of the shops were shut, but the people in the market were still selling food.  There were loads of people in the street.

It became apparant pretty quickly what was going on.  The kids, ranging in ages from about 10-16 were throwing rocks at the checkpoint – a closed, bullet proof structure.  And so the soldiers were shooting rubber bullets, tear gas and sound bombs.  Sound bombs are something new for me – they’re a canister that is shot and then explodes creating a really loud BANG.  That’s it.  They’re just to scare and scatter people.  They’re dangerous in so far as they are hot and when they explode you can get hit with bits of the canister.  Apparantly Palestine is a bit of a testing ground for new types of munitions, whether they be classified as deadly or non-leathal.

There was a bit of a lull when we got down there, so we took the opportunity to shepherd some school kids across the road, in front of the checkpoint, acting as human shields.  i wasn’t quite sure what to do in that situation – one of my friends held up his passport, but the rest  of us just waved our arms in the air as we went past.  Some of them thought it was a bit scary, but it seemed to me that the soldiers were making advances, and then retreating, and that they probably wouldn’t just randomly shoot at us as we walked by.  It’s hard to know, though.  One of them who was shooting from the roof was Mr Pig, and as i have mentioned before, he hates us.  In fact, yesterday he threatened to kill Gloria (the Swedish boy whom he particularly hates).  Repeatedly.  Insisting that he was going to do it.

After a while of the kids throwing rocks and running away, the soldiers started firing tear gas into the marketplace, and advancing not only from the checkpoint, but also from the other side of the marketplace as well.  Some kids were hit with rubber bullets and one older man seemed to have been hit in the chest and collapsed.  Tear gas canisters were flying through the air, but i couldn’t see them landing.  We rounded the corner and i was struck with the all-too-familiar pain in my eyes, nose and throat, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  Then i looked across the street to see the silhouette of the building we were standing in front of, with tear gas billowing up from it.  We headed back to the main intersection of the marketplace, where one of the guys with a fruit stand gave us some apples.  After a few bites, i turned to billcosby and asked “is this making your mouth burn?”.  We forgot that they would be covered in tear gas…

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The surprising thing was, though, that the military assault was totally fine and easy to deal with – it was the extreme harrassment by the local men that really fucked with me.  Even though there were a lot of people still in the street, there seemed to be a really high concentration of dickhead men and kids drawn to the action.  As one reasonable-seeming older man said to me, whilst he was sitting in front of his shop observing the action, “those kids are bad”.  “The ones who are throwing the stones?” i inquired.  “no”, he answered, “these kids who are smoking” – many of whom were the same ones who were throwing stones.  it got to the point that i was being so physically and sexually harrassed (including a really wrong incident of sexual abuse) that i had to leave.  i was starting to seriously fear for my safety as some kids started to get really aggressive and threatened to throw rocks at me.

of course there were some kids down there who were really great – including one young boy (maybe 10 or 12) who kept following us around.  And when we were in the marketplace, with soldiers advancing and us filming, i felt kids pressing against my bag.  they’re stealing my shit, was my first thought.  Then i looked around and realised they were hiding behind me, and my heart melted and i felt really, really bad for being so suspicious of them.   

That night there was a lot of talk amongst Palestinian ISMers about whether this was the beginning of another intifada.  Some argued that it was, whilst others argued that the 3rd intifada (as they were counting it, starting in 2001) was still going.  The question of what constituted an intifada came up, with the suggestion that actually only the first intifada was a true one – one where 90% of the population participated in throwing stones, and that the subsequent ones had all been motivated by certain groups for personal political gain.

Kids kept throwing rocks at checkpoint 56 the next day, and a few were thrown yesterday, but mostly it’s back to normal, but with the street in front of the checkpoint littered with spent rocks, glass, ceramics, potatoes, onions and the odd eggplant.

Here’s our report about it, with footage too…

http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2007/10/26/demonstration-against-ketziot-raid-in-hebron/

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One of the Israeli Occupation Force soldiers told my friend the other day that when something is really great they say “That’s Goldstein”, referring to the American-born settler who entered the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque in Hebron in 1994 and killed 29 Palestinians and wounded between 125-150 more. There are tours to his grave run by supporters, just as there are tours to see the settlements, and the important work they are doing in reclaiming greater Israel.

Last night 3 Palestinian kids were attacked by Israeli soldiers outside our apartment – the soldiers kicking them and striking them with their guns. Apparently a few days ago a kid had called out a racial slur to one of the Ethiopian-born (it’s amazing what you learn about people when you’re sitting at a checkpoint) soldiers, and since then the soldiers have been attacking kids each night.

From the roof of our apartment, one of my friends witnessed a soldier known as “Mr Pig” – as much for how he acts as how he looks – kicking one of the kids. When a couple of the elders of the Tel Rumeida community approached the soldiers to ask them why they did it, Mr Pig said he wouldn’t speak to them while we were present. After we moved back a bit, he told them that we had been paying the Palestinian children to start trouble with the soldiers so that we could film it and then sell the footage to international media.

Mr Pig hates us – he particularly hates a Swedish guy whom we now call Gloria (after Gloria Estefan – obviously). He tells us he wants to break our cameras. When asked why, he says it’s because they are Japanese, and he hates the Japanese. When we ask him why he hates the Japanese, he says “because of Pearl Harbour”. Never forget.

Earlier in the day, we were coming back from market when we came across Gloria and some Palestinian guys stuck at checkpoint 56 (we don’t know why it’s called checkpoint 56, we’re considering changing it, maybe to checkpoint 57).

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The guys, an older man and his sons, were wheeling a couple of gas bottles in a trolley, but weren’t allowed to take them through the checkpoint, in case they’re going to blow something up. The Israeli settlers, of course, do not have to pass through this checkpoint with their gas bottles in a shopping trolley, they’re allowed to us a car to take whatever they want into the area – gas bottles, guns, bombs – no one stops them and no one cares. But I guess that’s the upside of being protected by an occupying army. The Palestinian family waited at the checkpoint for over an hour, before finally being allowed to pass. Seconds later we saw the son returning with the empty trolley – their house being about 20 metres past the checkpoint.

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Afterwards, Gloria and i got into a bit of an argument with the TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron – an alliance of international observers from Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, installed by UN request after the Goldstein massacre) folks. One of the TIPH guys was claiming that the incident was the Palestinians’ fault for a number of reasons. One reason was that they are only allowed to bring one gas bottle at a time, and these guys had 3. When i pointed out that the Israelis are allowed to bring as much gas as they want, he agreed, but said then that it was the fault of Palestinian fighters and suicide bombers, for making the Israelis think that all Palestinians are a threat. Gloria and i suggested, quite firmly (perhaps too firmly, at one point i told the TIPH guy that what he was saying was insane) that actually, the fault lay in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I think TIPH try to cultivate some kind of neutrality – the “it’s everybody’s fault” syndrome – which of course refuses to take into account that one party is an occupying govt/army and the other is a people who have been driven from their homes and not allowed to return; had their land taken away bit by bit over the past 60 years; had their freedom of movement severely curtailed; and live with the constant presence of a military who regularly kill them.
Two days ago, when the soldiers at our checkpoint demanded that one of my friends, known as Bill Cosby, leave the checkpoint and head 50m up the road because he didn’t have a stamp in his passport, I challenged him, arguing that he didn’t have the authority to decide where the occupation begins and ends. Yesterday, we saw them with black paint and a sponge, drawing a line in the sand. Now we know exactly where the occupation begins and ends – i can only feel proud of the part i played in that…

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I made people pose for photos too

so i’ve been in the west bank for about 4 days now, and it feels like a lot more.  it almost always does when i travel, and for most people too.   i’m staying in hebron – the one place i said i’d never go.  i was scared by all of the stories and footage i’d seen of rabid settlers – the one that stuck in my mind most strongly was a scene of young settler boys attacking an international volunteer – smashing her across the face with a bottle – chanting “we killed jesus, we’ll kill you too”.  i was understandably concerned about coming here.  but even before i left home it had occurred to me that i would probably end up here – specifically because of that fear.   it was along the lines of a piece of advice i once heard someone give to someone else – that your path is generally towards the thing that you most don’t want to do.  i’m not sure how much i agree with that (would that mean that my path is to work in a call centre for a multinational for the rest of my life?), but it stuck with me, as such aphorisms are want to, and now here i am. 

 The past couple of days have been really intense, and busy, but a slow kind of busy, where there’s always something to do, but nothing happens quickly.  i had two days of direct action training in ramallah, which was at once extremely tedious and extremely informative.  of course, a lot of it fell out of my head shortly thereafter, but people keep reiterating the same facts, stories etc and it’s starting to stick.  it makes me think about the way in which we use the repitition of stories to learn – that we each tell each other that which was told to us, and it goes around and around reinforced everytime it is heard from a new person. 

the view from here

so hebron is a strange, tense place, largely due to the presence of Israeli settlements – illegal as they transgress the Green Line of Israel’s pre-1967 border.  in the city of hebron there are only 500-700 Israeli settlers, but 1300 Israeli troops to protect them.  this protection takes the form of the division of the city into two parts – H1, the palestinian area which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority police; and H2, the area under official israeli control – in essence land that is considered annexed to israel.  In these areas Palestinians are not allowed to drive, carry weapons, fireworks or toy guns – although settlers may do all of these things.  The apartment we’re living in is in H2 – Israeli controlled but in reality a mixed settlement that requires us to pass through 2 checkpoints in the 3 min walk to the market.  We’re often waved through as internationals – in part because we’re internationals and in part because we live 20m from the first checkpoint, so they know us.  The extremely irritating counterpoint to this is that a couple of folks i’m living with don’t have visa stamps in their passports, and so are often refused passage out of our street. 

The Checkpoint near our place

The past couple of days i’ve been picking olives with locals.  sometimes just to help, but today there was a real desire for international presence, because the family farm that we were harvesting is located between 2 (illegal) israeli settlements.  the settlers have been extremely violent in the past, making it impossible for the family to get to their farm.  Even when accompanied by internationals, there have still been many incidents where settlers attacked both Palestinians and internationals (as we’re known).   The last time was at the end of August, and the family haven’t been back since, so they were expecting the worst.  Everyone was, it seems.  i wasn’t, though.  i had a good feeling it would be okay – that not much would happen.  and it was okay.  some settler kids came and started picking olives and flinging them away.  and some other kids threw a few rocks as we were leaving, but that was pretty much all.  Al Jazeera English, as well as some local media turned up, and seemed a bit disappointed that we weren’t getting smashed by settlers.  we did get to pose for a lot of local media olive picking photos, though.  “just reach up there and pretend to pick an olive.”

Ahmed

Apparently Shabbat (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) is the worst time around this area, because settlers are on foot, (driving being forbidden on Shabbat) and that means they have far more interaction with the Palestinians – often agressive.  But we’ll be up on the hill picking olives, at a house that was invaded by the Israeli Occupation Forces for its vantage point, but was reclaimed by locals and is now apparently in the process of becoming a social centre…  although that’s just one of the stories i’ve heard about it…

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I’m in Jerusalem – i’ve been here since wednesday.  Before that i spent a couple of days in Tel Aviv waiting for my luggage, which had decided to spend a few days in Zurich.  Or perhaps it was being held against its will – if the media sensationalism around Schappelle Corby taught me anything, it was that baggage handlers are not to be trusted.

I’m finding it quite surreal to be here.  I’ve been planning this for so long that it seems strange now that i’m here – in some ways it felt like it wasn’t actually going to happen.  Like it was the story i would tell about my future, rather than an impending reality.

A nice camel i met

 What i’ve been up to…

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Yesterday i went to the dead sea, lowest point on earth.  I’m not sure what i was thinking – clearly, clearly i wasn’t thinking – because i decided that it would be fine to wear my usual swimmers.  (For those of you unfamiliar with my bathers, they’re not overly skimpy – i think the top is referred to as a tankini, but i can’t be sure.  anyway, they’re the swimmers equivalent of a singlet and a pair of undies.)  I’m still not sure why – i spoke to a few people, i read some stuff, and nothing indicated that more modest clothing was appropriate.  I think the number of images i saw of women in bikinis washing the mud off influenced me also.  But it was a mistake.  I’m not sure if i’ve ever experienced harrassment at that level before (probably, i did live in Wagga for 2 years as a teenager) but it was intense.  The staring was a bit intimidating, but was nothing compared to having pods of men surreptitiously move towards me and encircle me, in the water and when i was ashore covered in mud, asking to take my photo, offering to help with my mud application, telling me to lie on my back in the water, or just generally swarming.

It was interesting to notice, though, that there were other women there in bikinis (European and Korean tourists) who weren’t enduring the same experience i was, seemingly because they were in groups.  So while I felt stupid and like in many ways it was my own fault, i was also still really angry at being targetted because of my vulnerability.  I also wondered to what extent it would have made a difference if i had been fully clothed, as the muslim women were.  It doesn’t make much difference when i’m on the street, fully covered up, except for my face and hair.  i still get endlessly harrassed. 

What’s going on in these parts…

So Condi arrived in town yesterday (Condoleezza Rice).  She’s here to prepare for the upcoming Israel vs Palestine conference in Annapolis next month.  I’m not sure if she was greeted with any rabble-rousing activist fanfare or not.  It’s the sad thing about travelling – that you get to go to amazing places where there are great people doing interesting things, but, unless you already have an in, you don’t know about it.  It hasn’t been reported in any of the English language newspapers, but i’m not sure if that means anything.    

The conference looks like it will probably be more of the same – with Abbas currently demanding that the agenda be set around specifics, like borders and the right of return of Palestinian refugees; whilst Olmert is refusing to discuss such practicalities and has already vetoed the possibility.

Reading about it, i came across a really disturbing quote from the Israeli President Shimon Peres.  He was paraphrased in the Jerusalem Post as saying that Israel cannot agree to a demand of Palestinian right of return, because that “would radically change the demographic ratio and Israel would cease to be a Jewish state”.  I know it’s all been said before, over and over, but it still makes me shudder to read something like that, and to consider the implications. 

Condi also managed to surprise me with one of her quotes, in regards to the recent US congress resolution to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, when she said “The Turkish government…know how hard we worked to prevent that vote from taking place”.  Tell it like it is, Condi.

That’s enough of my polemicising.  

Tomorrow i’m heading to Ramallah to do ISM training for the Olive Harvest that started yesterday.  I’m not sure what kind of internet access i’m going to have after today, but i’ll try to keep this updated.

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