Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coming home...

I felt blank during my last days in Palestine. Yes, I would miss the people and places terribly. But I could not bring myself to feel sad or excited, for that matter. I had a plane ticket, there was no way around it.
For my last Friday demonstration (tear gas Friday, as Trip liked to call them), I returned to the village of An Nabi Saleh. This village began its demonstrations about the same time as Trip and I arrived in Palestine. Its second demo was our second demo. An Nabi Saleh is notorious for experiencing the most military violence and repression during the Friday demonstration. This week proved no different. We marched towards the land, illegally confiscated by the expanding settlement, Israeli Occupation Forces came towards us, invaded the village and started firing tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets.
My demo buddy was Ellen. Six weeks before she was shot at point bland (4 meters) with a rubber coated steel bullet. She still wears a cast on her right arm which was broken when the bullet penetrated her skin and lodged between her bones. When the Israeli munitions began flying at the nonviolent demonstration, an Israeli activist was targeted. A tear gas canister wizzed by his head, barely missing his face. Targeting International and Israeli activists is usually rare, but not in An Nabi Saleh.
Soon, the village was surrounded on all sides by soldiers and Border Police. Ellen and I were nervous, to say the least. We held hands as we tromped across olive fields, up side roads and through the town center, making ourselves visible but not targets (inshallah). Positive highlights were building a bonfire roadblockade with the little shebab and talking to Anarchists Against the Wall member, Kobi. It was quite a sight, two Internationals, one with a broken arm, and a few eight year olds, throwing boulders onto the road and carrying anything flammable ( and carcinogenic, if possible) to keep the tire-fire going. As for Kobi, I was glad to finally able to tell him how much I admired his activism and that AATW was one of my first introductions not only to the Occupation but also to anarchy.
The lowpart of the demo (besides the muntions and being chased across the fields by soldiers) came while Ellen, me, three Israeli activists and four shebab were taking refuge from the tear gas and foot soldier invasion in a walkspace under a deck. Just after small talk began, Border Police in full riot gear and gas masked came around one corner, guns up, hugging the corner, movie-style. We looked to the other corner for a getaway. Nope. Replay. In a few seconds, Border Police had us surrounded from both sides. I grabbed Ellen’s hand. They immediately went for the shebab and an Israeli activist closest to them and attempting to de-arrest. The ratio was not in our favor for de-arresting. Holding hands, Ellen and I backed away slowly.
While I write this update, it is Friday and I’m stuck in the Chicago airport. Across the world, in my old life, this scene, or something similar, is replaying itself with different shebab and different International activists. Not me. That is not my life anymore. No tear gas today.
I suppose now that I’m home, I will use Friday as a day to welcome the weekend rather than a day to join the local Palestinian resistance to the occupation.
After showering off the gas and changing into something a bit more haram (shameful in the eyes of Allah), the ISM crew headed to West Jerusalem aka Israel to meet up with friends for a going away celebration for me, Ryan and Jamie. After 4 months of not drinking more than a handful of beers, I was wasted after 4 shots and 4ish beers. I was also drunken Party Princess, making people dance, smashing bottles on the streets, etc etc.
My AM hangover was met, not with pancakes or pizza, but with a phone call informing me that the Israeli secret police had broken into our office/apartment in Hebron, stealing two computers, memory cards and flash drives.
I’m looking forward to not being woken up with reports of night raids, arrests or settler attacks. That said, I’m glad I was there to help and would do it again in an instant.
The last few days of my time in Palestine were spent mostly in Sheikh Jarrah. Throughout the past four months, especially after Trip left, I was welcomed like a member of the family. In the mornings, after doing a nightshift and sleeping in the Al-Kurd tent, Nadia Al-Kurd would wake up me by pinching my cheeks, smiling, and rambling something pleasant in Arabic. Myasser would bring us warm tea at midnight, Nabeel would welcome me with a full-face grin, the kids all knew my name and let me play with them and the shebab gave me enough respect to boss them around a bit.
My last night in Sheikh Jarrah coincided with the Wednesday night dinners that Trip and I started in January. I couldn’t be happier about what they have evolved into. On Wednesday evenings, activists and Sheikh Jarrah residents, full of delicious food, fill the streets. Our presence (there presence, now), shows the strength of the neighborhood and the support of both Israelis and Internationals.
For my last dinner, I made maklube, and it turned out perfectly! The evening was also full of dessert. Chocolate with biscuits, courtesy of Ibrahim; devil’s food cake, courtesy of Hiba; and chocolate cake with a very very nice going away speech, courtesy of Saleh.
I don’t think I gave proper goodbyes. I couldn’t think of how. I left a lot of people unthanked. Time didn’t allow me to see everyone, and over the phone seemed strange. Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe it’s because I think I’ll come back. Probably it was my way of blocking potential emotional moments and the bitter realization that I may never see the people who shaped my life so strongly over the past 4 months.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On buses through Palestinian countryside, walking through Jerusalem, standing in checkpoint cues and shopping for vegetables at the market, I’ve thought of about a dozen blog entries. There is a lot to update everyone on both occupation-wise and general life-wise. I can’t think of a way to make this all flow, so I’ll just jump around below.

Honeysuckle-someway, somehow, Palestine has managed to plant a blossoming, sweet smelling honeysuckle plants everywhere I need them. Numerous times, I’ve been feeling sad or tired and walked past these scented plants. They have served as a great means to wake me from my mood.

Wednesday night dinner-When I arrived in Sheikh Jarrah with my bowl of taboli I was quickly reminded that I forgot the parsley! This made all the Palestinians laugh uncontrollably and they sent a young shebab to the market asap to remedy my mistake. In a few minutes, I was presented with a bag of greens and a pretty rose. Everything was beautiful this evening in Sheikh Jarrah; all the roses are in bloom, the fruit trees drop “the most tasty thing in the world” fruit (literal translation) and the sunset gave everyone, including the people (but not the settlers), a nice pink glow.
Perhaps all this beauty gave a settler in the occupied Al-Kurd home a tummy ache because late in the evening one visit the protest tent where we sleep and threw a bag of his own vomit onto an Israeli volunteer. Yes, these people are sick, literally and figuratively. Not only do they force people out of their homes claiming the moral highground, religious justification and police protection, they terrorize the families and volunteers who resist. When the vomit victim went to the police to file a complaint, she was nearly arrested for having an art Exacto knife in her backpack. No settlers have been questioned or arrested.

Roasted Garbanzos!-I remember a driver in Mexico who picked Trip and I up a few years ago while hitching stopped and bought us these local tasty snacks. They are grilled green garbanzo beans still in the pod. I remember loving them and assuming that I never encounter them again. About a week ago, at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City in Jerusalem, I was pleasantly proven wrong! For 5 shekels and a few words in Arabic, I got myself a heaping bag of these little things! I was so so happy to encounter a food that I never thought I would again on the other side of the world.

3 hour bulldozer blockade-This experience was wonderful, painful and devastating all at once. There is a village called Al-Walaja near Bethlehem. In 2006, when the final route for the Apartheid Wall was released by the Israeli government, Al-Walaja was placed in a bubble, completely surrounded by the internternationally-illegal Wall and without 5,000 dunams of land. Wall construction has begun. Eight ISM, myself included, were asked to join the village in their demonstration against the Apartheid Wall. We awoke early in the morning, ate lightly, and walked in silence towards the destructive noises echoing throughout the valley.. Near the edge of the village we made eye contact with the Caterpillar D9 as it tore through the agricultural lands. This is the same machine that killed Rachel Corrie. It is a lot bigger than I expected. The pusher/blade thing is taller than me. A Palestinian flag was produced and we all looked at each other in silent agreement. We ascended the hill towards the machine, hands raised for maximum visibility. We walk towards it, it roars towards us. We walk, it roars. At five meters, our bodies have proven enough. It stops. We stop. We link, We are joined by village residents. For the next three hours, what ensues is a mix of unrestricted passion, an honest fight for land rights and survival, police violence and tear gas. Village woman join the blockade and their strength and determination hold off soldiers and de-arrest village shebab. I have been inspired few times before in the way that I was watching these women. Military came, broke our blockade, we sat back down. Blockade broken with physical force, blockade rebuilt with passion and rage. The bulldozer retreated 300 meters. Sound bombs wouldn’t explode on the soft, former olive grove. Soldiers are frustrated. Tear gas is thrown directly into our sitting, linked, unit. I cough, some collapse. The gas stays in my stomach all day and I slowly burp it up, re-gassing myself each time until I vomit 8 hours later and it all comes up. But the woman, the strength of the woman. I am so inspired. In traditional Muslim dress, they persisted better than any of us in an emotional and sometimes physical battle for their land. I will never forget watching their fight.

For three hours, longer than any blockade in recent times, the evil D9 was not only stopped, but forced into retreat.

The sunrise- I sit again, this morning, listening to the birds wake, watching the daylight come and waiting for the call to prayer. I’m reflecting on the past four months. Sheikh Jarrah has changed a lot. Mostly for the worse. Apartheid Wall construction continues, defina


A young settler boy with his face wrapped in a Jewish prayer shall exits the occupied Al-Kurd house and walks quickly towards me. In his right hand is a plastic bag filled with vomit. Two nights ago the settlers attacked an Israeli volunteer, ambushing her with a bag of vomit. I stand up, point at him and yell “STOP! STOP! STOP! GO BACK INSIDE!” He is startled by my aggressiveness, halts his step, turns around and runs back inside.

----- disgusting disaster averted---

I opted not to finish the update that morning during my shift at Sheikh Jarrah. Instead, I waited, camera in hand and eyes fixed on the door to the occupied Al-Kurd house, waiting for another fucking brainwashed settler boy to come out with more bodily fluids intended for me and the other volunteers.
The ISM apartment in Hebron was broken into by the shebak, Israeli secret police. This is what we think, at least. No one was in the apartment; they were all in Jerusalem, at a going away party for me and two others. In the morning, my hung-over body receives a phone call telling me that all the computers, cameras and memory sticks have been taken. Cash and other material valuables remain.

In my time in Palestine, 4 computers, dozens of cameras, multiple memory sticks and 3 volunteers have been taken by Israeli forces.

I think of the saying “no matter how dark the night, the sun will rise.”It has been dark in Palestine for 62 years. Every bullet, settlement, checkpoint, bulldozer, makes the night even darker.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Brighter. More Relaxed.

It wasn’t until concerned emails and phone calls, plus comments from multiple friends here in Palestine started coming in that I realized just how “not okay” I was. As I was writing last week’s update, the experiences seemed normal and I felt like I had handled everything and it was all under control. In Palestine-sense, I think it was pretty normal and for life under occupation, I was dealing with it all quite well.
Reading my face, a few friends of mine here reached out. At first, I was resistant and stood strong, telling myself (and them) that it was all under control that I’m fine and nothing is wrong. Luckily, one of them saw through it. He convinced me to take a break one night from my night shift at Sheikh Jarrah. Despite my overly maternal feelings about the tents, new playground, ISM volunteers and residents, I took him up on it. We met at a restaurant a few blocks from the tents. For three hours we sat and talked while smoking hookah and eating pizza. I talked about my weekend, the feelings of too much responsibility, Trip leaving, and my impending departure from Palestine. He talked about his family, job and girlfriend. It is hard to describe the feeling, but after that night my mind felt clearer and I was more capable of both thinking and interacting.

I had a few other really nice experiences this week that have really brought my spirit up. On Wednesday, I met with a woman named Fatima. She is from Gaza and now lives in the village of Quarot Benni Hassin in the Salfit district. She runs a woman’s action office that organizes woman from around the region in resistance movements. We met in her office and she told us terrible stories of settler violence (Salfit has more settlers than Palestinian residents) and the women’s movements against the occupation. It was so refreshing to be near such a radical and amazing woman. Better yet, she took us on a hike (yes, Palestine physical exercise!) to the spring she and others have begun to reclaim from the expanding settlement on the hilltop. It was a short hike, just a few kilometers, through some of the most beautiful Palestinian hills I’ve ever seen. The air was quiet, clean and hot. She told us stories of the resistance movement as we walked. When we reached the last spring, we sat in the shade and ate oranges. I got to pleasure my inner science-nerd and caught cute little green frogs in the spring. I also learned the word for tadpole, abudunyba. Since I’m leaving soon and my Arabic is still shit, I’ve taken to learning fun, senseless words instead. Sitting in silence amongst nature was so nice. I would wish this experience upon everyone.

On the way back to Jerusalem that evening for Wednesday night dinner I opted to hitchhike instead of waiting for a service. Hitching reminded me of being back in Europe and the thrill of it made me happy. Thus far, I have usually been lucky, but always smart while hitching. Today was no exception and shortly after passing the driver my phone with a Palestinian guy friend on the other line just to reiterate where I was going, when I was expected to arrive, etc, I found myself in Sheikh Jarrah with over 30 international, Israeli and Palestinians for a tasty community meal. The evening turned into a bit of a photo shoot at the end, as ActiveStills (check them out on Flikr!) snapped shots of us for their upcoming exhibit of Sheikh Jarrah. We made funny (mostly gangsa) poses with the shebab and a few cute girly ones with just ladies.
On Thursday, I talked myself out of doing volunteer training and stayed in the apartment all day napping, doing laundry, and working on a few long overdue reports. At 4pm my friend from Jerusalem came to pick me up and we left for a hip hop and bboy show in Nablus. Just being in Nablus is relaxing. It is a city in a beautiful valley with clean sky. The show was my first live music in months and watching girls in hijabs and boys with enough hair gel to endure a hurricane getting down Palestinian style (boys on one side, girls on the other) was great. After the show we went out to a café for fresh squeezed juice and ice cream. A few of the shebab had janib (international) fever which I describe as an intense interest by Palestinian boys 13-30 in international women. It is a funny game.

After the café we went back to the ISM apartment in Nablus. The apartment has a beautiful view of the countryside. Unfortunately, if you sit in a certain spot (the spot we were in), the neighbors below have a very disrespectful view of the bottom of your feet. This, combined with the “cigarette incident” five months ago, where an ISM volunteer threw their spent cigarette off the edge not realizing there was another level below, was enough provocation for the neighbor man and his very very irate sister to come to our flat, start yelling at us and call the police. Yes, the police.
After about 30 minutes of back and forth arguing with this man who seemed sure that the police had to be called (this would be really bad for ISM’s image in the region), I sat down on a stool, lowered my eyes, and began the most culturally appropriate (ie submissive) apology I could manage. Without raising my head, I told him that we were unaware of the disrespect we caused his family and now that we understand how disrespectful we were being, thank you for telling us, it will never happen again.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!! Ok, he accepted and the police never arrived. I (still) love Palestine.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Weekend that Wasn't

I accept that while in Palestine my life operates on a very different schedule. I accept that on Friday afternoons, instead of wrapping up the week’s tasks and making plans for the weekend, I will be chocking on Cyanide based tear gas, unpopping my ears from the sound grenade explosions, running from rubber bullets, anrunning even faster from live ammunition. Friday aside, this weekend I went to great lengths to have a “normal weekend.” Let me share with you how I failed.
After the demonstration in Ni’lin Friday, where they shot live ammunition at us and we ran away and ate ice cream (I ate two), I decided that a break from Palestine would be helpful to my mental state. My friend Yotam who lives in West Jerusalem (the Jewish side) had invited me over to cook dinner with him and his roommates that night. I accepted the offer and after a bit of debriefing about Ni’lin and receiving updates from other demos, got on a bus and left the West Bank.
The dinner we were making turned into Shabbot dinner, a religious (but not so much in this case) potluck for Jews. Yotam and I made a really delicious Bundt cake and his roommates made risotto and salad. Friends came over to eat, and then friends of friends joined us. Around midnight, a group showed up with one guy that I got a small strange feeling about. He began with normal introductions then went into normal conversation about where people were from, what they did, etc. I asked the housemates if I should lie about what I do here or tell him the truth. They didn’t know him too well either, and since it is a leftist house, they instructed me to tell the truth.
“I live in Palestine, working with the nonviolent resistance to the occupation,” I replied confidently and calmly. His response was also confident, but not anywhere close to calm. Before I knew it, I was being attacked with unfounded, Zionist and terrorist fueled propaganda about Palestinians, statements like “Palestine isn’t occupied! Israelis are living a mental occupation due to terror attacks!” and the beginnings of a history lesson dating back 2,000 years.
After maybe 13 minutes, and multiple failed attempts by others to rescue me, I found myself sitting on a floor cushion with two 30 someodd men standing over me, pointing in my face, telling me how stupid and uniformed I am. This was not a discussion (obviously), and my participation beyond giving them a direction to point their fingers at was minimal. I thought to myself, “less than 12 hours ago I was shot at, and you are trying to tell me about 2,000 years ago?” This put me over the edge and in a few seconds, tears and hyperventilated breathing overtook me and I ran out of the room.
I was essentially inconsolable for nearly half an hour as I tried to slow down my breathing and use words rather than sobs to express my emotions. I was so overwhelmed by the amount of anger, hate and racism that was being pushed on me. It is too much to come to Palestine, work 7 days a week, sometimes 16 hours a day, always be on call, abide by Palestinian cultural rules, live under occupation, learn a new language, wait hours in checkpoints, visit friends in hospitals, jails and courtrooms only to be told that everything that I do is wrong.
So at 2am on Saturday morning, I found myself in Jerusalem wanting nothing more than to return to Palestine. I remembered earlier in the day when Ellen and I were speaking before the Ni’lin demonstration and I boasted about how I had not had a Palestine breakdown in over one month.
Saturday morning I restarted the “breakdown calendar” and left Yotam’s house around 8, after I got a wonderful wakeup call from Trip back in the States. I made it back to Ramallah and to the new volunteer training for ISM. I presented about sexual harassment in Palestine, cultural miscommunications and watching out for each other.
Since Friday night turned out not to be the “Palestine escape” I was hoping for and one of our volunteers was leaving next week, we decided to go out Saturday night. Again, unfortunately, Israeli Zionists had another thing in mind. The original plan was for me to go to Sheikh Jarrah from 7-10pm, and then have a few other volunteers take over for the rest of the night while some of us went to a queer rave at a local activist bar. Queer parties always play the best dance music and that is what I’ve wanted to do for so long.
When I arrived in Sheikh Jarrah, I found that the day had been really tense and saw a group of young settler boys congregating at the entrance to the occupied Al-Kurd. Apparently, something was wrong with the doorknob and they couldn’t enter their stolen clubhouse. Recent developments to the Al-Kurd property include a playground for the neighborhood kids, olive and fruit tree landscaping and a fence dividing the walkway from the new play area. From its establishment two weeks ago, the fence has been a major point of contention. Settlers have tried to dismantle it several times.
Last night however, their numbers were large and their egos bigger and they began to jump on the fence and play on the children’s toys. Conflict erupted and two settler boys, plus 60 year old Nabil Al-Kurd were arrested.
During a few moments of calm, I found the highlight of the evening. Passing my camera off to 5 year old Elia who’s face is always smiling and every word is sandwiched with a giggle. We walked around snapping photos of shebab, activists, army and settlers. It was amazing. I might have to make a facebook album just for her.
After this, I began collecting video footage showing the illegality of the arrest and property destruction committed by the settlers. At midnight, two hours after my shift was supposed to end, I found myself with a group of Israeli activists, Sheikh Jarrah residents and settlers outside the police station. The activists and residents were there to show our video footage to the police investigators. The settlers waited about half an hour to tell their stories while we waited three and were never allowed inside.
I took a few short naps outside the police station in Ayman Gawi’s car until we finally gave up around 3am and went back to Sheikh Jarrah. I pulled some cushions off a couch, lined them together on the floor of the popup tent, and crawled into my sleeping back for what I hoped to be a few consecutive hours of sleep.
At four, I was awakened by ISM volunteer Robyn yelling my name and telling me to get my camera. Masked settlers were not just dismantling parts of the fence; they were taking down the whole thing. As we filmed they put towels in front of us and physically pushed Robyn back. They took down the fence, then the posts, then removed all of the reusable materials so we could not rebuild in the morning.
With Nabil Al-Kurd in jail, and Nasser Gawi banned from the neighborhood, we didn’t know what to do. It was an angering, frustrating and helpless moment. I was supposed to be dancing to Toxic or Hey Ya!, not pleading with settlers in my socks to stop destroying Al-Kurd property.
I sat awake with Robyn until about 5am and after one hour of sleep was woken up by neighborhood residents who wanted to know what had happened the night before. We spoke carefully, not to say that Nabil had been arrested around his children and tried to clean up the destroyed yard a bit.
And this is the story of my weekend and how the occupation forced me into complete, utter failure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Silence You Create in Me

My latest frustration is my lack of appropriate responses. Really, this is a symptom of a greater illness-the reality of the occupation. I feel like so frequently I am at a total loss, appalled to the point where my body and mind cannot create what would be interpreted as a “response.” I will share with you the escalation of violence, of occupation, of apartheid, through my incapability to react to those around me.
1. Ellen Stark, 20 years old from Washington State, my friend and fellow volunteer with ISM, shot at point blank range (4 meters) with a rubber coated steel bullet while standing with medics at a demonstration in the West Bank village of An Nabi Saleh. What do I say to someone who has just had a bullet surgically removed from their arm and has broken wrist from the impact? “I’m sorry that the army chose you to ‘make an example of you’ in an attempt to deter internationals from supporting the nonviolent resistance to the occupation?” “I broke my wrist too! Last summer, only I was drinking and fell off a roof; yours is way worse.” “At least they didn’t shot you in the head, like they did to the boy later in the demo. Isn’t he still in a coma? What about the boy last week who was shot in the head, is he still in the hospital? I’m glad that wasn’t you.” “Have you told your parents that the Israeli military shot you?”
2. Ayman Gawi, 19 years old, eldest child in the Gawi family of Sheikh Jarrah, evicted from his home in August, protesting by living on the street since August, working at the Red Cross, attending culinary school, acting as the head of his family when his father is yet again, arrested for their protest by the racist Israeli state. What do I say that doesn’t just state the obvious points that I know he is overworked, overstressed and under more pressure than anyone I have ever met? How do I convey just how fucked up it is that his family watches random settlers walk in and out of their home while they sit, shivering in the cold, on the sidewalk?
3. Nick, 24, friend and ISM volunteer who went into full shock after being with Ellen while she was shot and accompanying her to the hospital and continues to have nightmares about the ordeal. How do I convince him that he did everything right, everything he could do, to navigate Ellen to safety through the raining tear gas canisters, military blockade of her ambulance and medical advocacy in a hospital lacking so much that the doctors used a cell phone flashlight in the surgery room?
4. Mohammad, 3, his father was killed in a car crash near their village of Al Ma’sera. His father was in the car with two others: the driver died instantly, and a French international activist who was swept away immediately in an ambulance from a nearby settlement. The Israeli ambulance refused to take his father because he was Palestinian. His father waited for thirty minutes on the side of the road until a Palestinian ambulance arrived and was further delayed by the military blockade. He died on his way to the hospital from preventable injuries. Mohammad is fully aware of the situation and has developed an intense fear of both internationals and Israelis. When he saw me, he broke out in tears and high pitched screams of fear and anger. No one could console him. I left the room.
I’ll close this overdue blog post with a poem. It conveys an image of the occupation in a way that is strong and beautiful. For this I love and hate it. I love it because Palestinians have every right to convey the unique and intense emotions of occupation in whatever way possible. I hate it because it is beautiful. There is absolutely nothing beautiful about occupation. I feel the same, two-way-dead- end-street emotion about graffiti art on the Apartheid wall.
Sometimes a people is caught in the dream of another people
Zionism is such a dream
Here the dreamer is Israel
The prisoner of the dream is the Palestinian people
Caught in the dream of the oppressor

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Palestine Realization

“Soldiers have entered the village on foot, I am in hiding, don’t turn on any lights.”
The text message was from my friend Omar, who lives in the tallest house in Al Ma’sera. His 3 story home, combined with his personal experience of being taken in a night raid six years ago and kept in prison for five years without sentencing (he is now 25), means that Omar doesn’t sleep at night. Instead of sleeping, Omar sits awake, on his roof, watching-waiting.
It was nearly one AM and I was in the village of Al Ma’sera near Bethlehem. My body was going through Middle Eastern Montezuma’s revenge (which, in my experience puts its Latino counterpart to shame) and I was up every few minutes, visiting the bathroom. The text came while I was in bed. I read it, looked over at the open window, contemplated waking the ISM volunteer sleeping near me, and listened for the sound of steel toe boots sneaking through the olive orchard. I needed to get up anyway, so I closed the window, walked to the bathroom with only the dim illumination from my cell phone and looked out the small window.
When I looked out the small window of the community center bathroom, I was fully prepared to see a tall, masked man with an M-16 staring back at me. I was not afraid. I kept looking, waiting, expecting.
When no soldier appeared, I relieved my gurgling stomach and tiptoed back to bed. This is when the realization came to me. I have changed. This place has changed me. I better understand the Palestinian struggle, what it means to live under occupation, to see more M-16s in one day than bicycles. But it goes further, I have learned how to speak, yell, plea with soldiers, I have learned how to test my limits, read their uncertain 18 year old eyes, tactfully refuse showing them my identification, treat the wounds from their “nonviolent” weapons and leverage my international activist privilege to support Palestine’s liberation.
I laid in bed, waiting for further instructions regarding the soldiers presence in the village, and thought about all of this. When did I change? My mind flashed back to one night, three weeks ago at Sheikh Jarrah, east Jerusalem.
Ayman Gawi was being led away by a military officer. His mother was trailing him, yelling at the officer. I walked up and started yelling too, slowing the officers step significantly. Moments later, a crowd had gathered and Trip and I had successfully pulled Ayman out of the officer’s grip and were sheltering him away to safety.
I was shaking with adrenaline after Ayman’s de-arrest. I felt strong, scared and slightly invincible. Invincible probably isn’t the right word. I don’t think there is a proper to describe it. It is feeling that justifies your actions in a greater picture. Not illegal vs legal, but occupation vs freedom.
Other moments came to mind, like earlier in the day when I crossed under the barbed-wire barricade at the demonstration, sat down with a group of activists and refused to move until the demo was over and every Palestinian had a chance to speak. And a week ago when I de-arrested a guy all by myself. And two weeks ago when I helped lock a certain someone to an olive tree in the path of the Apartheid Wall. The list goes on. It has been a whirlwind.
Since that night in Sheikh Jarrah, I have experienced Palestine differently. I think, in a more personally empowered and occupation exhausted way (I understand that this probably doesn’t make much sense). But what remains constant, is that I really like being here. I think everyone should come here. The third intifada is brewing and things are political relations are deteriorating fast but, inshallah, resistance is growing faster.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trip's Proxy blogpost

Hello ya'll, so I have a half finished post and no time to complete it. Trip has been a bit sick lately so he had time to compose a nice mass email. Enjoy! xoxo

Hello family and friends! I’ve been promising myself and many of you that I would send out meaningful updates on my travels. I’ve pretty well failed at this. I apologize, and offer the following 24hours of events to sum up my life for the past few months.

I arrived in Palestine in December and have been working with the International Solidarity Movement since. It has been amazing and very very difficult. The following is not an abnormal 24hours, but it is an average active one. I’ve written the background on Sheikh Jarrah for those who I haven’t told about it yet as well as some background on the wall. Here goes:

Sheikh Jarrah – A neighborhood of East Jerusalem that I’ve spent most of my time in since arriving in the middle east. 28 families were relocated here by the UN and Jordan after being kicked out of their homes which were in what is now Israel in 1948 when the Israeli state was created. In August three families were kicked out of their homes again on the basis that Jews owned this land before 1948. Some of the family members are staying with relatives while others live in a tent on the street outside their house. Ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers now occupy all three homes in an attempt to change the ethnic balance of the neighborhood (ethnic cleansing) to establish a Jewish stronghold around the old city (holiest part of Jerusalem) and connect Jewish West Jerusalem to a Jewish settlement east of the city. This is all on the Palestinian side of the green line and therefore the settlements are illegal under international law. I have been staying with the family on, living on the street, documenting settler violence and aggression, supporting the families, holding night watch. By staying on the street in protest they are the front lines fighting against ethnic cleansing in one of the holiest cities in the world.

The Wall – The wall has many names. Separation fence, separation wall, apartheid wall, etc. It separates people who live on the Israeli side from people who live on the Palestinian side. It steals Palestinian land and cuts through people’s fields, separates people from their olive orchards and their communities and it is a constant reminder of the racist occupation. In some places it dips 5 to 10 kilometers into the West Bank, stealing thousands of hectares of land which Palestinians used for their lively hood. As a result, it is illegal under international law.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010:

6:30PM Dinner is served on the street in Sheikh Jarrah. I’ve been making lasagna all afternoon for the community dinner that Jasmine and I started two months ago to bring Israeli, Palestinian and international activists together. There are 30 or more people here with a mix of dishes from all over the world. Food is delicious and this is the one time each week when everyone smiles for a couple of hours. I love it. It makes me very happy.

7:15PM A car pulls up and plays Palestinian music. People are dabke dancing and a game of hand ball breaks out. Five year olds and 30 year olds play side by side. A few settlers come and go from the Ghawi house but there is little tension. Spirits are high.

7:45PM Settlers are seen on cell phones at the gate of the Ghawi house. This usually means they are calling the police. Fun and games continue.

8:00PM Police arrive and announce on a loud speaker that there is to be no more ball played in the street. People argue with them. The game almost continues but the police arrest a neighborhood teenager. Seriously? It’s illegal to play ball if you’re Palestinian? Have these children not suffered enough, kicked out of their homes, living on the street while ultraorthodox jewish settlers live in the houses they were born in? A cop tells us that this dead end road is a “highway” and no ball is to be played.

8:10PM A neighborhood teenager sets the ball down but before kicking off he is grabbed by two soldiers who walk him towards their car. I am irate. I run in front of them and snap a photo but can’t bare the thought of writing one more report about one more arrest. They’re holding my friend. I loose control; I snap. This is unusual. I jump in front of the soldiers and let out a string of profanity that would make any sailor proud. Jasmine stands by. The soldiers stop and a small crowd gathers. An argument breaks out. I’m bear hugging the 19 year old they want to arrest. Jasmine is picking apart the soldiers grip one finger at a time. A few seconds later we’re walking briskly with our friend towards… anywhere there aren’t cops. He disappears.

8:30PM I’m so angry I’m still shaking, taking deep breaths to calm down, pacing. Kids are crying. How can they understand? Seeing this every day here has gotten to me. I sit around the fire barrel and smoke a cigarette. The occupation has gotten to me.

9:00PM All is quiet. This is normal. This is an improvement from the years of the second intifada, much less violence. We drink tea.

9:15AM Daniel, an Israeli activist arrives and asks us to come to a place where they’ve started construction on a new section of the wall for a demonstration the next morning at 7:30AM. Here, the wall goes through people’s yards. It separates houses from their olive trees, children from their swing sets. Here the wall is a few kilometers from the green line. This means it confiscates hundreds of acres of Palestinian land and is illegal under international law. We’re already planning on going and make plans to meet at 6AM.

10:30PM We go to sleep behind the protest tent. The cops confiscated the tent where the Ghawi family lived making them refugees for a third time. Now, there’s no separate covered space for those who stay up for night watch and those who catch a few hours of sleep before their shift begins. We sleep poorly; young Palestinians are loud.

5:30AM Brush teeth and go. It’s a long walk to the meeting spot.

6:15AM Downtown in the holy city. That means we’re on the Jewish side, west Jerusalem. We meet Daniel and joke about what the popular committee could have meant when they said a “creative” action was planned for this morning. We never know until we get there.

7:30AM The crew coalesces. A mix of Palestinians, some leaders of the non-violent movement, some supporters, a handful of Israelis and eight internationals. We discuss who can and cannot get arrested. A bulldozer is scheduled to uproot dozens of olive trees today. 100 year old trees that will die before they are replanted, roots torn out of the ground. Volunteers are requested to lock down to the trees. More creative than we expected.

8:00AM I’m chained to an olive tree. Two close friends hold sets of keys. The plan is to create a giant bear hug around the tree until I am eventually alone. Seems reasonable.

9:00AM Soldiers gather on all sides. They load tear gas canisters. I laugh about the witty comments I’ll try to make as they try to get me to unlock. I’ll tell them that they’re committing war crimes, that I’ll see them in the Hague, that they’ll come for the soldiers, not the presidents when everyone is tried by the war crimes tribunal. I don’t believe any of this, but I’m not planning on unlocking so I may as well think about something that will make me feel good. Cameras click everywhere. Video cameras roll.

9:30AM We get a call that the municipality has gotten the construction delayed. The bulldozers are called off. This makes me happy because my laptop power chord died and I have to find a mac store. That could take the rest of the day if I have to go to Tel Aviv. I’m glad this action ended earlier than expected.

12:00PM Back in Jerusalem and exhausted. Jasmine and I find a park and lay down in the sunny grass for a nap.

1:00PM We hear children… recess maybe? Roll over. Too tired.

1:30PM Children are too loud… must be surrounding us. Time to sit up. Eyes adjust to the light and HOLY SHIT! Javelin practice. There are 15 12 year olds with Olympic sized spears in front of us and we’re uncomfortably close to their target. We move. This place is crazy.

3:00PM Almost back in Sheikh Jarrah, I eat my daily falafel. I eat two every day, one at breakfast with sweet bread and an egg, one at lunch in a sandwich with veggies and hummus.

3:10PM We are recognized by a journalist from Turkey that I met 4 weeks ago. He and his camera man jump out of a car, they say they’ve been looking for us all week. They want to do a story on us staying in Sheikh Jarrah and supporting the struggle. They think people in Turkey will be inspired. I’m sad to learn that he means now… I’m still exhausted. I finish a coke and realize he’s already filming. Very embarrassing. Occupation makes us do things we wouldn’t normally… like drink coke products.

3:20PM Game on – be charming, convincing, focus on the children, hit all the buzz words – convince the world that the ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah is worth paying attention to.

3:30PM Interview over, journalist gone. Damn, it’s getting late and I still don’t have a charger.

3:40PM Charger located by another journalist who knew of the only mac store around but it’s on the West Bank side of the wall. That means I’ll have to wait through the line at Qalandiya checkpoint. I hate the checkpoint.

5:00PM I have the charger and I’m waiting in line at Qalandiya. This could take 20 minutes but if the soldiers decide to go on break or mop the floors they could close the checkpoint for hours. What if you have work to get to? Doesn’t matter. This is occupation. There are two kids (6 years old?) that latch on to every white person. If I don’t buy gum they’ll grab my water bottle from my backpack, maybe my cell phone from my pocket. Their parents won’t let them come home until they’ve sold all their gum.

5:15PM I buy “cola” flavored gum. They don’t leave. The others in line help me shoe them away. I hate the occupation.

5:20PM Qalandiya is fast today. The bus leaves.

6:00PM Off the bus, I turn off the main road to Sheikh Jarrah excited about another dinner invitation by a neighborhood activist. There is a TV truck in front of me. This is bad. Something is happening. Something big enough to warrant a live broadcast. Shit shit shit. I’m running.

6:01PM I arrive at Sheikh Jarrah in time to see 40 or 60 Muslim men finish praying. This is odd. People I know usher me into a friend’s yard where everyone has just sat down to dinner. What? Who are these people? I thought there would be 6 or 8 people talking about the demonstration scheduled for this weekend. I’m confused and happy. I eat a ton of food. Muslim leaders from all over Jerusalem have come tonight to support the families of Sheikh Jarrah. A prayer and dabke dancing followed.