Monday, June 11, 2007

Nablus, An Historic City That Refuses To Die: Dispatch Number Six

This came in on July 8th from my friend in Palestine:
a demonstration was called for 5 june in nablus. well, at one of the checkpoints for nablus. the idea was to plant trees at huwarra, the infamous checkpoint where the iof has a reputation for being particularly cruel...not that they are particularly nice at za'atara, qalandiya or surda - three checkpoints i have gone through several times. there are, according to a recent ocha (un office for coordination of humanitarian affairs) paper there were, as of april 2007, 537 checkpoints and roadblocks in the west bank (see here and click on "closure update april 2007" for more information). this makes travelling from one village to another a game of chance and creates a life of insecurity.

the three of us caught a servees almost immediately. it was going directly to nablus. the van wound through the back, or, palestinian roads. huwarra loomed in the distance within 20 minutes. we got out and walked through, noticing the long line of cars on the other side, waiting to get out. it was once very difficult to get in and out of nablus for palestinians. now it is somewhat easier to get in. the problem is getting out. huwarra is on the southern border of nablus, where as the beit eba is on the north side. nablus has been surrounded by six checkpoints since 2002. for men between the ages of 16-35, in order to leave nablus to travel anywhere in the west bank, they must obtain a permit. of course, in order to get this required piece of paper, they have to leave nablus. and so it goes, a ridiculous system of restriction after restriction that for me is reminiscent of the thirties.

the thirties in germany.

on the other side of the checkpoint we found a car to take us to the baladiya (municipal building) where people were going to meet for 10 a.m. eventually there were two busloads of us that headed back towards huwarra. we disembarked and massed into a thick line that inched towards the checkpoint. not long after we were met by a crew of the boys in green with their automatic accouterments. chanting broke out and hands pumped into the air. the plan was to plant trees and take over the checkpoint. a glorious idea of empowerment that was obviously not to be realized. eventually, a local organizer for the ism (international solidarity movement) began to speak to the issue of the checkpoint itself. he told the army to go home. we all took up the slogan and repeated and repeated as m. then jumped the low concrete barriers that divided the checkpoint. he approached the people crammed inside the fencing, waiting to pass through the first turnstile to see if they could, perchance, go where they wished. m. talked about the restrictiveness of the this system of control and dispossession. a word was put in about how they would be back. then came the planting of 6-8 trees.

the buses let us off back at the baladiya and we went with m. and several others from ism to the al-yasmeen hotel. walking up the stairs and into the restaurant, there was a beautiful stained glass window pocked with gunshot. this is a theme in nablus. after a leasurely small lunch we set off on a tour of the old city. gunshots graffiti many of the walls. each step took us to another place where s explained who had died there, how and though he seemed monotone, a certain stress was visible. how many blown up bodies your friends and neighbours would it take to strip you of your faith in humanity? in several spots, s told of how he found the head here, and the torso there. bombs in pay phones. cars that ignite when you turn the ignition key. the walls are lined with shaheed posters - the martyrs. these are people primarily assassinated by the israeli occupation forces. there are names. names named so the people will not forget what happened here.

each place we go and stop, local folks stop as well, watching us watch m and s. i wonder what they are thinking...whether we are just another set of more internationals on a tour of doom and devastation, weakly smiling because we know we can't promise much.

we stopped in on a spice factory, and sampled nabulsi za'atar - the fragrant spice mix of palestinian thyme, sumac and sesame seeds. zaki - delicious. in the back were artifacts of an earlier life. the room was a dusty capsule of history longing to be animated, like the rest of palestine that strains through the israeli restraints that tighten and loosen at the whim of the occupiers. we went to a bathhouse that was over 1000 years old. it had been damaged in recent israeli invasions. m and s told us that the iof nightly invades the city, claiming to be looking for militants. what they are doing is creating militants.

and what exactly is wrong with militancy? if you are under siege, is that not what is called for? it is a word misused. i've met many a militant non-violent activist... and they get quite militant with you if you say you are not a non-violent activist. but do people not have a right to defend themselves when a foreign army invades, steals your land, murders people at will under the rubric of "security"... do people not have a right to stand up for themselves?

the hightlight of nablus was, of course, kanafi. kanafi is a nablus creation. you can get it elsewhere, but in nablus, it is supreme. a delectible combination of white cheese, sugar, semolina and rose water, we had it fresh and warm. ah, nablus. ah, kanafi.

our day in nablus ended with a meeting at a palestinian cultural centre where we sat and talked about the situation. there has been news coverage of nablus. iof troop tromping through an occupied city like it was theirs. stories often playing with "balance." there is nothing about balance here or anywhere else in palestine. we were encouraged to write to our government officials, to catch their ears and tell them to stop funding this occupation and dispossession. they spoke about the factionalism. nablus has always been unified but with recent intra-palestinian fighting in gaza, there has been an effect here.

the centre's organizer commented "what's going on in gaza is very israeli." he's speaking about the fact that no one is getting pain in gaza. supplies aren't making it in to gaza. palestinian fisherman off the coast are constantly under attack by the iof. and the u.s. and israel have been funding and arming fatah and sending them into gaza from egypt. many palestinians in gaza cannot crossand re-enter. but these newly armed fatah members can.

when mahmood abbas and fatah were the "government" in palestine, the israelis said there was no "partner for peace." once hamas was voted in, the israelis would only deal with abbas. coincidence?

there is much more to reflect on and to write about. there are demonstrations that began on the fifth - the day of al naksa, or the setback, israel's invasion and occupation of the remainder of historic palestine - the west bank, gaza, the golan and sinai. there will be demonstrations all over the world as well as all over palestine and in 48.

there will be another dispatch.

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