Wednesday, May 23, 2007

another day in palestine (actually a few) - dispatch two

This was received from my comrade in Palestine on Sunday:

i've been studying the map today and i realized that in my first dispatch, i made a brief mistake. petah tiqwa is not a settlement in the west bank. it was, however, the first modern jewish settlement in palestine, colonized originally in 1878. thus, though i was wrong in originally lumping petah tiqwa in with modi'in and ariel, two west bank settlements, i wasn't wrong in classifying it as a settlement. and you'll note, i use the word "colonized" to represent the ideology behind the establishment of the town. it was a beginning. a beginning of the colonial enterprise that we now call "israel."*

thursday, iwps (the international women's peace service) was called to the village of al-funduk because a family there had received papers saying they had three days to leave their house because the israeli army was going to demolish it. and why? they didn't have a "permit" to build it. now understand, dear readers, that the property in question is in a place still known as palestine. how is it that another nation's army can come into another country and decide that people need a permit to build their homes on land that they own? the answer is not because they are occupied because there are rules for occupying nations. so how can israel demolish homes of people in a land that they technically do not own? it's a fair enough question, particularly when an occupying nation is forbidden by international law from moving occupied people out of their homes or acquiring land through occupation. it is stated clearly in the fourth geneva conventions. (see: and for more information)
the owners of the house that may be destroyed have a copy of a deed to the land from 1964, before the military occupation of the west bank in 1967. it is a jordanian deed, which i wonder if israel would even recognize as legitimate. they also have copies of the two previous orders to leave their home from 2006. the three of us from iwps took photos of all the papers and the deed. documenting, documenting. pictures were taken of the house and emailed to a lawyer retained in jerusalem. just beyond one side of the house lies the ruins of another. it was the home belonging to the man's brother. it was bulldozed last year. we have been asked to come and document the army destroying this home, as the man and the woman who live their with their two young children are certain their house will be demolished. the wreck of the other house is a constant reminder.

so they continue their wait, not really knowing if there is any way to prevent this act that the israeli occupation forces are quite practiced at. we wait, as well, for their call with that awful feeling of the inability to stop this. sure, we will record it. we will witness. but somehow it seems like madness, documenting the inevitable, as if that is all we can do. and i'm not thinking we shouldn't do it. i'm just hankering for a way to be more effective.

the next day, k--- and i went to a demonstration against the wall in umm salamouna, a village near beitlehem. when we arrived, we had to walk by a phalanx of israeli occupation soldiers. looked like the border police were already there as well. we waited inside the gate to the land for about 30-45 minutes as people gathered. there were many palestinian men, quite a few israelis and internationals also. as we waited, many of us took photographs. the international and local press, in their glaring yellow press vests came in shooting also. at a certain point, there were so many cameras, it seemed we were only taking pictures of each other. then came the signal for us to coalesce. when it began we numbered 70-80 people, with perhaps 10-20 members of the media. and there were at least 30-40 soldiers. behind us lay a pastoral scene, scarred by where the bulldozers had ripped the land. stones lay like scabs at the base of the foundation of the wall to be built. we began with some of the palestinian men praying. once they were done, we were to walk through the gate, but the soldiers had another plan. linking their arms, they surged (a familiar word these days, no?) forward in a line, preventing us from going through the gate. they met the front line of the protest pushing violently. we pushed back, hoping to get out of the door. the army kicked some, punched another, and just tossed people aside. this went on for a time until the boys in green just stood the and we stood facing them. one of the local organizers of the demonstration got up and said we would not be able to go through the gate and that this is a non-violent protest. so we would walk back towards place where the land was torn and demonstrate there. once there, several of us began to pick up the stones and small boulders and toss them. some of the men ripped at the red plastic piping. this didn't last very long, as the army came round from the other direction. we turned to face them, linking arms. we then sat down in front of them. again, one of the organizers came forward. he spoke to the army, asking where is the one in charge. he then told the soldiers they were merely relying on power - where was their culture? what is their culture? a culture of power. eventually, he stood to face us, declaring the demonstration over. we were relying on love and peace, not power, he said. we walked away en masse, waiting to make sure there were no stragglers. we walked up the road towards the village. we stopped while transport was arranged for people. meantime, villagers came round with several large bottles of pop and cups and began to pour and hand out the soda. k--- and i learned from one fella from artas that the iof planned to bulldoze 300 dunams (4 dunams = 1 acre) of trees starting any moment now (it's almost three a.m. as i type, and rumour has it the army will be there at 4 a.m. they wanted to organize as large a demonstration as they could. a--- said that they had two problems: the israeli army and palestinians in the village that didn't come out to protest what is happening to their land. he mentioned they had already started to camp on the land a few days prior, as they want to stay there to protect their land. "we don't want them to change the land, we like it as it is." the army had shown up the night before at 10 p.m., claiming they were there to protect the villagers. a---said he informed them that they felt safe except when the army was around.

yet another village that israel wants to destroy, first by uprooting the trees, then by building that blasted wall. 25 feet tall and snaking its way through the west bank, grabbing land and water rights as it goes. destroying peoples lives and livelihoods. robbing them of their history and their home.

we stopped in ramallah after umm salamouna. we each visited with friends, having dinner, catching up against the backdrop of dispossession. it got late and we spent the night, vowing by mobile phone to leave early on saturday morning. far earlier than either of us could bare we were waiting for the bus to fill up with passengers. we left near ten-o-clock, i think. we'd be back soon enough. but at the checkpoint in bir zeit, a town just outside of ramallah, two soldiers got on. they looked russian and out of place. and aggressive and cocky. they rifled through the couple of overnight bags stored in the racks above the bus seats. they looked about, went back up front and asked the bus-driver to get off. they had him open up the bottom of the bus. they got on again and begain to stroll towards the back of the bus. they stopped in front of one of the younger men and asked for his huwiyya (identification card that palestinians must carry at all times). once it was handed over, the soldier left the bus and walked back towards the checkpoint. k--- asked me if he was taken off the bus would we get off as well? we both agreed we would and turned to watch the checkpoint. the army boy who'd taken the id card handed it to another and then began to play his game with the traffic. stop a few, ask for hawiyyas, check the trunks, let them through. turn his back towards traffic checking no one, talk with his buddies, abruptly turn round and pick a vehicle and make it stop. is this "security?" or is it the random terrorizing of a captive population who every day wonder "will i make it to work, school, my home, the hospital?"

we were there maybe 30-40 minutes before the young man without his id got off the bus to see what's what. k--- approached the driver to ask if he wanted us to see if we could intervene. he said okay, if we want. we got up and went to leave the bus. we were joined by an american who spoke fluent arabic. we went towards the soldier boys. the american fella asked in arabic what the problem was. the soldiers refused to answer. one of the boys in green got up and began to tap him on the shoulder repeatedly and roughly saying to go back to the bus. the american told him not to touch him at which point the soldier started to push him. k--- and i asked what was the problem in english and were pushed as well and told GO BACK TO THE BUS. as we walked back telling them not to touch us, the american said that in 5 minutes they would be retuning the hawiyya. and so they did. the bus closed its doors and we resumed our journey. another day in palestine.

did we make a difference? it's hard to know. does it make a difference sending this out to y'all so you have a brief blow-by-blow of the occupation and dispossession of palestine? where will these stories land? i feel committed to telling them, and many palestinians want them to be told. but see, the israelis have guns, god and capital on their side...and i'm wondering if we need to do more than just document this.

* Historical Background

The Zionist movement arose in late nineteenth-century Europe, influenced by the nationalist ferment sweeping that continent. Zionism acquired its particular focus from the ancient Jewish longing for the return to Zion and received a strong impetus from the increasingly intolerable conditions facing the large Jewish community in Tsarist Russia. The movement also developed at the time of major European territorial acquisitions in Asia and Africa, and benefited from the European powers' competition for influence in the shrinking Ottoman Empire.

One result of this involvement with European expansionism, however, was that the leaders of the nascent nationalist movements in the Middle East viewed Zionism as an adjunct of European colonialism. Moreover, Zionist assertions of the contemporary relevance of the Jews' historical ties to Palestine, coupled with their land purchases and immigration, alarmed the indigenous population of the Ottoman districts that comprised Palestine. The Jewish community (yishuv) rose from 6 percent of Palestine's population in 1880 to 10 percent by 1914. Although the numbers were insignificant, the settlers were outspoken enough to arouse the opposition of Arab leaders and induce them to exert counter pressure on the Ottoman regime to prohibit Jewish immigration and land buying. from:

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