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The snow report

So what i wasn’t expecting from palestine was snow.  it contradicts every image i had of the middle east.  local people kept telling me that it would snow – with the kind of glee that one often gets from imparting information that is at once unbelievable and verifiable.  it wasn’t that i didn’t believe them, i was sure they were telling the truth.  it was just so far from my ability to conceptualise that i, like so many others, thought it would never happen to me.  how wrong i was.

last tuesday i was in ramallah, when a friend warned that we should go out and stock up on food because the forcast was for snow (coming from the north pole apparently) and that everything would shut-down for the next three days.  naturally, as is my wont, i dismissed him as a fear-monger.  for starters, i didn’t really believe it would snow.  weather forcasts being unreliable as they are, combined with my (inappropriate) belief in my own ability to ward off snow, rendered me exceedingly skeptical.  also, it seemed to me that if it did snow, being the middle east and really not far from the coast, that there wouldn’t be much – surely not more than a bit of slush on the road.  as such, the suggestion that everything would come to a screeching halt for 3 days seemed slightly outrageous.  although it did appeal to my sense of drama – a sense i suspect is shared by many palestinians.   

so depsite my reservations, as the weather clouded over, i decided that it would be worth it, just in case, to head out on a shopping mission.  as i said, i have a strong sense of drama and am also somewhat superstitious, so i figured i had nothing to lose.  i persuaded others to join me, at which moment it started to hail.  not the kind of hail that you see in sydney, in which it’s just dangerous to go running about, but small and steady, and painful in a gust of wind.  this is it, i thought.  this is what passes for snow around here.  but we braved the elements and stocked up on some basics that would be enough for a couple of days.

the hail came and went, and as night descended without a single flake, i figured it would be worth having the food just to avoid the felafel pit for a few days (the felafel pit being the rut of only eating felafel sandwiches that occurs when you can’t be bothered buying food to cook and fresh felafel sandwiches only cost between 60 cents – $1).  then my friend opened the door to go out for cigarettes at 12:30am and announced that it was, indeed, snowing.

about 6 inches of fresh, puffy snow had fallen, so, excited, we grabbed some warm clothes and ran out to play – unfortunately for me without thinking to take a hat and raincoat.  in the hour that we spent exploring the mostly-empty city, replete with snow-covered palm trees, i managed to collect enough snow in my hair to make multiple snowballs.  which would have come in very handy had the PA (Palestinian Authority) police accepted our snowball challenge.  alas, the commander declared they had work to do (at which point one of the guys in the back looked really disappointed), despite the fact that, clearly, there was no work to be done – everyone was inside asleep, except for the crazy internationals who were wandering around with snowdrifts in their hair.

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it kept snowing throughout the following two days, dropping a couple of feet at least.   and whilst not everything shut down, the city largely ground to a halt.  the issue, however, was not so much that of the lack of availability of food (although, to be fair, most food shops were shut) but the danger of venturing outside.  the lack of convincing drainage meant that stepping off the kerb could plunge you up to the knee in icy water – not an enticing proposition when the electricity kept cutting out.  but more fearsome were the gangs of small boys who had taken up positions on roofs surrounding our office, emitting war-cries that led to a barrage of snowballs whenever they would spy an international.  on the first morning they attacked a couple of new volunteers so visciously that they were forced to retreat back into the office, cowering with hands covering their heads.

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so we essentially stayed in bed for two days, our lives stymied perhaps moreso than the locals’.  not leaving the office/apartment, however, it was difficult to know.

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Last night a friend told me a story that, he says, more than anything he has experienced in his life, is the image that lives in his mind. 

One day he was out in Nablus and a young boy came up to him and asked him for ten shekels.  My friend said, “Yes, but tell me first what it is for”.  The boy replied, “I want to by you some cigarettes”.“But I already have cigarettes” said my friend.“Show me”, countered the boy.  He looked into the packet and saw there were about 10 cigarettes.  “I think it is empty” he said.“Okay, okay”, laughed my friend. The boy ran off to buy the cigarettes.  Minutes later my friend heard gunfire from where the boy had run to.  Instantly he ran in that direction, and found two boys on the ground, a bullet having entered the forehead of one, passed through completely and exited out the back, where it entered the head of the other boy.  They must have been standing close together. Not knowing which to carry first, and realising that he needed two arms to support the bodies, my friend took one boy and lay his body on top of the other, and carried them like this to an ambulance.  In the ambulance the boy who had gone to buy the cigarettes, Adameer, asked “Am I alive”.  “Yes, Adameer,” replied my friend, “you are alive”.

“But I don’t want to be alive – I want paradise”.  He died on the way to the hospital.

  He then told another story about a time he was taking a tour of internationals around the city and encountered two boys.  He caught one of the boys and asked him “What do you want to be when you are old?”“I don’t think I will get to be old,” replied the boy sagely.“But just imagine that you do – what do you want to be?”“I want to be a doctor”, said the boy. “I do not love you in this moment” said my friend, intimating there was a resistance to be fought.“I know you don’t,” said the boy, “but let me tell you why I want to be a doctor.  Because my friend here wants to be wanted [a resistance fighter], and when he gets hurt, I will help him.”

100 children were killed by Israeli soldiers this year

So Annapolis peace talks have brought an extra 3000 Israeli soldiers to the West Bank.  In Azzoun yesterday, a small town in the Qalqilya region, where i have been spending quite a bit of time of late, three teenagers were shot during an Israeli army invasion – one, aged 16, was shot in the chest and is still in a critical condition; another, aged 13, was shot in the stomach; and the third, also 13, was shot in the calf and arm.  I had forgotten how small 13 yr old boys are before i came here.  The thought of bullets in bodies so small makes me shudder with sadness and impotent rage.

The invasion brought over 200 soldiers to Azzoun, a town already overrun on a regular basis.  They invaded homes, shooting them up, beating women and arresting young men.  Young men in Azzoun are in a very dangerous position.  They’re arrested randomly, because of their gender and age.  One family told us of soldiers invading their home, demanding “Give us all your sons”.  A couple of days ago I was in a carpark with kids playing football when soldiers drove in and grabbed a sixteen year old boy just because he was slower at running away than the rest.  Actually, i reckon he’s probably pretty fast, but that he stuck around to see what was happening.  I fear he stuck around because we were there, and he thought he’d be safe with internationals present.  He wasn’t.  He was taken into the back of the jeep, beaten and then thrown out of the moving vehicle half an hour later.  I guess after that they drove back out on to the main street, because we saw them out there, waiting, and as a couple of twelve year old boys were walking by with their dad, they opened the door and beckoned them at gun point.  My friend and I implored them not to get into the jeep, or to get within the soldier’s grasp, which afterwards seemed kind of a stupid thing to do.  But one of them could not resist the fear of the gun and so went forward and was grabbed and abducted.  Beaten and released later.  

The area has been under intense pressure for many weeks now, with curfews, roadblocks and “flying checkpoints” – the kind that just consist of an Israeli jeep parked in the middle of a road, stopping cars, checking ID and searching.   The entrance to the main road of Azzoun has been closed mostly since 31st October (blocked with concrete cubes put in place by Israeli soldiers), forcing people to enter through a nearby village, the entrance to which has now been blocked by an earthmound (a big pile of earth and rocks put in place by a bulldozer).  So now to drive in your own car to Qalqilya, a village 9km west, takes about 45 mins as you go via an extremely round-about route to the south.  Of course, if you’re taking a taxi you can go directly, but you have to change taxis twice – once to get past the earthmound at Izbit at Tabib, and then again when you go through the main checkpoint to get into Qalqilya.  That’s when road 55 is available for Palestinian use.  Of late that’s been pretty intermittent too.  

About 9 days ago a settler was shot and killed in a nearby village of Al Funduq.  The soldiers admitted that they knew the shooter wasn’t from the village (the villagers have historically had really good relations with settlers, even to the point where settlers would do their shopping in Al Funduq, which is generally unheard of) but they still imposed a 4 day curfew on the town, during which time people weren’t allowed to be out on the street; drive on the street; or open their shops.  Given that it’s an industrial town (in that it has a lot of factories), this was pretty devastating economically. 

Nearby settlers decided to get in on the collective punishment act, and set up a road block of their own, blocking traffic.  Of course, because the road was already blocked to Palestinians, it was only other settlers they were inconveniencing.  Whilst it was clearly stupid, I recognized too much of my own history of activism in their actions – I had no sympathy for their cause, but their tactics hit close to home.  The army was there of course, but stood by watching most of the time – it’s not really their job to interfere with those doing God’s work.  The settlers then turned their attention to the shops and cars lining the street.  Windows were smashed and houses were attacked.  It wasn’t until the local council turned out the street lights that they left, heading up to the nearest major intersection to stop cars there.

A couple of nights later about 300 of them went on a rampage through Al Funduq, again smashing homes and cars.  One Palestinian was arrested and a few more beaten by soldiers.

So while everyone knows that the shooter is nowhere in the region, the army are using this as an excuse to further implement repressive measures.  Such as invasions, road closures and curfews.

Whilst Israeli apologists deliberate over whether it’s better for there to be more or less troops in the West Bank over Annapolis, (the trade off between a show of good will and leaving oneself open to “showy attacks”) the pincers of the occupation draw closer, squeezing the West Bank to the point that life becomes untenable.   

gee, it’s been a long time between posts.  the reason being, ultimately, that i left hebron, where i had 24 hour internet access in the penthouse (that’s right, we had two apartments – the penthouse and LA [lower apartment]).  actually, to say there was 24 hour internet access was a lie, i’m guessing it was roughly 12 hours a day that we had access – the other 12 hours we couldn’t connect.  it seems to be the most reasonable to suggest that this was because our internet connection was shared with one of the palestinian coordinators, and our modem cable ran from his apartment to ours – which was across the street and up the block a bit.  kindly, one of the neighbours allowed it to be passed through the bars on their window, so it didn’t sag too much.  i left hebron about two weeks ago, hence the silence, but there are still lots of interesting things that happened before i left that bear recounting.

The Virtual Hebron Tour

Hebron is a strange and tense place, i may have said it before.  it has a reputation that precedes it as being an intensely hot-spot of confrontation between settlers and palestinians.  or of the settlers in hebron as being especially crazy.  aparently they lack support from more moderate zionists, and most residents of ’48 – the palestinian-centric term to refer to the land that was taken from them by the UN in 1948 and named Israel. 

There are four main settlements within Hebron city itself, and many more in the surrounding district.  The three of them that are downtown have largely crippled the once-booming business of the old city – with 1300 palestinian shops forced to close under military orders, in order to ensure the security of the settlers; integral streets, such as shahuda st shut down, except for two entries – one Israeli only, the other through checkpoint 56 (meaning palestinians can only enter on foot); and a history of settler violence that has led to the famous wire cage lining the top of the market place because of the rocks (sometimes boulders), garbage and other crap the settlers throw down at the palestinians from their stolen homes above the market.  Not that this wire stops them from flooding the market below with whatever liquids take their fancy – often chemicals in order to ruin the goods that are displayed outside the shops and to drench whatever palestinians they can.   they’re good people.

closed Shahuda St

old city

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Beit Romano, as one of the settlements is called, appropriated a palestinian boy’s school in the process of their occupation, and has now turned it into a jewish religious school; across the road the Israeli Occupation Force took over a women’s centre.  Women and children first.

 old school, new school

post-feminism - what used to be the women’s centre

 About once a week the army will invade someone’s house in the old city and takeover their roof.  we were called to one such incident 2 weeks ago, where 6 soldiers entered a house where the only person home was a 14 year old girl, who, understandably, started screaming for help.  They stayed on the roof for about 3 hours – we got there after they’d been there for two hours already.  The army DCO (district coordinating office) claimed it was for “security reasons”.  it’s always for security reasons.

despite the overbearing presence of settlers in the old city (and it is an old city – it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – dating back to 35th centuary BCE) there are active attempts to reclaim it.  The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is doing just that, stone by stone rehabilitating ancient dwellings that are on the “front line” – the ones that back right onto settler houses.  Out of fear of attack, they work at night to make the homes safe for people to move into – often climbing in through the windows, which might then become the door of the premise.  They’ve renovated over 640 houses in the old city, in order to bring back the palestinian population.

 At the end of the old suq (market) is the entrance to the Ibrahimi mosque known as the cave of the patriarchs – where the tombs of abraham, sarah et al are.  And where Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 people and injured another 150 while they were face-down praying.   one man told me it was a river of blood.   obviously, if jewish settlers were upset enough to do something like that, then the situation needed attention.  the response of the Israeli government was to divide the mosque into two parts – one jewish, one muslim.  Not equal parts, mind you.  despite the fact that within hebron itself there are less than 500 settlers and 167000 palestinians, they divided it up 65/35 – jewish/muslim.  access to ibrahim’s tomb, however, is equal.  it stands in a room with grated windows through which the fervent can beseach the lord.  in the middle of the room is a pane of bullet-proof glass that effectively divides the stares of the jewish and muslims.  the glass is not so much to protect the jews, as the muslims have to pass through a number of checkpoints and searches before they are allowed to enter the mosque, it’s to protect the muslims, because it’s good behaviour for jews to relinquish their firearms before entering the mosque, but not compulsory.  released on their own recognisance. 

The new mosque dividing wall

i wish that i was bullet proof

Strange Palestinian Authority incident

 So on 30th October, Gloria and i were sent to check out a house in Wadalharia that had been the site of a major soldier incursion the day before.  Upon arriving there, we found out that it was actually the PA (Palestinian Authority) who had been the perpetrators.  Without really telling us what was going on, a young palestinian boy took us through the ransacked house, pointing out the blood splatters, the bullet holes, the trashed living room.  He took us into the toilet, where there were chunks – whether blood or flesh it was difficult to tell.  We obediently photographed the scene, not really knowing why, but presuming it was a pretty fucked up situation. 

Then we were told, in a round-about, incomplete and infuriating way, that hundreds of PA had turned up and invaded the nearby houses.  They had dragged a 4 yr old neighbour out of her house and used her as a human shield, as they killed one man and arrested two others.   

The neighbours, who had all been subject to “terrible violence” in their homes, couldn’t understand what had happened, except that maybe someone wanted had come into the house to hide from the PA.  After all, the residents were all good Fatah supporters, and no one knew the man who had been killed and then dragged from the house.  It came out that a PA policeman had been killed the day before, and they presumed it was related to this. 

Now i have a whole host of photos of the house, the blood, the spent shells found that i can’t bring myself to erase.

You will be executed

On 2nd of November I went along to the usual Friday protest of working on the Jabarri family farm, that i have written about previously.  We planted some new olive trees – only 8 – to see what would happen to them – ie whether they would be immediately ripped out by settlers.  There were a couple of settlers around, but it was a pretty quiet morning.  We were ready to call it a day, when one of the palestinian coordinators decided that we should have a go at clearing the land at the bottom of the slope – the land that lines the road across from which is the entry to kiryat arba – one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Information dissemination in Hebron ISM is particularly bad, you need to ask a lot of questions to get any real answers, and even then one is left with the feeling that half the story remains untold.  I understood that this was a rare situation of which we were taking advantage, but i wasn’t sure why.  possibly because the soldiers were less overbearing than usual. 

so we started to clear the land of rocks and debris, in order that it too could be planted with olive trees, when someone came up with the bright idea of using the rocks and tires to make a barricade of sorts at the edge of the road – preventing the settlers from parking there, which is obviously very bad manners.  soldiers grew very nervous at this, and threatened to arrest us if we moved any more rocks.  we continued to move rocks, but some stopped to negotiate with the inexperienced soldiers, waiting for those who had a better idea of the situation to turn up.  and they did, as did more police and security guards.  it became apparent to the authorities that we had every right legally to be doing what we were doing, with all the appropriate paperwork at hand, and so we continued under the condition that no more fires were lit (they set fire to particularly noxious and painful weeds).

i quite enjoy it when the cops turn up at the Jabarri farm.  Mainly because of the appearance of some of the female cops.  we have a few favourites in particular – one is naughty cop.  these are women who would never be able to get away with their presentation in any other police force in the world.  naughty cop, for instance, has hair cascading most of the way down her back, pants slung low, shirt buttons open immodestly.  sadly, naughty cop wasn’t there at that action, but there was one with  whom i was particularly amused.

Not-so-Naughty cop

and then the settlers turned up.  incensed, some of the young boys started to yell at us that “jesus was gay”.  their numbers swelled, as they realised what we were doing.  one of them shoved an international, but for the most part their rage was impotent.  they were incredulous about our presence – that we would be working with palestinians.  “Don’t you realise they’re animals?”, one female settler called to me.  “you’re as bad as they are”, she also said, not realising it wasn’t an insult.  And then the young boys (maybe 16 yrs old) started on me, culminating in the threat “you will be executed”.  They then proceded to ask if i knew what that meant, which diminished the potency of their threat somewhat.

We left the farm after building a reasonable barricade, but the family, who declined internationals’ offer to stay the night with them were subject to  settler attack overnight.  One man was beaten and the rest of the family was terrorised.

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/

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…

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…