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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One day from start to finish

Life in Palestine is best described on a daily basis. Here is my Wednesday February 24, 2010:
The sun was warm and strong as it woke me from my couch pillow bed on the floor of the Al-Kurd tent. Normally, the children from the house next door are up and about, screaming and playing beginning around 7am but today I either slept through it or they were inside sick. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, found my shoes (hidden from the settlers under a couch in the tent), checked my watch and walked out into the Al-Kurd/Settler shared walkway. Trip and Bridget were already circled around the remaining warmth of the fire on the sidewalk Gawi camp. Nasser was off to the side chatting with another neighborhood guy. It was almost 11am and the previous night I had made plans for Trip and I to smoke hookah and drink tea with my friend, Hiba, who lives in Sheikh Jarrah.
I gathered my toothbrush, change of clothe, cell phone chargers and Trip for our morning tea party. We walked down the block, past the ever-present police vehicle, took a left at the home that was recently defaced with a tag translating to “Death to Arabs,” continued up the hill, turned right at the now settler-occupied Hanoun house and made our way to Hiba’s home.
Hiba was just getting her morning started so we waited on the deck, picking lemons from the tree, carving off the sweet smelling peel, and dipping the sour flesh into a bowl of sugar. When Hiba emerged from her home, she surprised us by presenting us with chocolate cake with sprinkles! “College! Cake for breakfast!!!” Trip and I laughed aloud in tandem. This was the running joke at the Lorax, where we often had housemates working at local sweet shops and would frequently wake up to day-old delights. Hiba had saved us some cake from last night’s dinner and we were oh-so-happy. We ate cake, sipped tea and smoked hookah. Either the shesha is stronger here or I am so out of practice because while Trip was off practicing smoke rings, I was getting super light headed.
We were soon joined by Hiba’s aunt who fed us nuts and seeds. I impressed everyone (or at least myself) with my ability to crack sunflower and watermelon seeds open with my front teeth, Palestinian style. She told us about her life as a teacher in Ramallah and then about her fear of receiving “the papers.”
In Shiekh Jarrah, “the papers” is an ominous reference to an eviction notice. Unless court battle outcomes change, or international law is adhered to, “the papers” mean imminent loss. I learn that a few weeks ago two more homes in Sheikh Jarrah received “the papers.” A sad silence fell over us all that went unbroken for some minutes.
When the shesha was spent, we went inside to charge our electronics and freshen up a bit. The previous day, Hiba had given me a bag full of her old clothe (the woman in Sheikh Jarrah seem to disapprove of my traveler free-pile-style). So now I am wearing super tight light washed jeans, a blue stripped linen shirt and a pink cartagin with a hood. Later in the evening, Ayman, the 19 year old oldest son in the Gawi family would walk up to me and say “You look beautiful….what’s wrong with you?” hahaha
After the relaxing morning, Hiba and I set off for the market to buy food for the weekly Wednesday night dinner I started back in January. This week, we are making kosahart or summer squash. We buy the squash from one of the old woman who sell produce on the sidewalks. I’ve always wanted to buy from them but have never really needed anything that they sell; squash, grape leaves, zatar spice, leafy greens. Hiba negotiated a good price for the squash, 8 shekels for 2 kilos. We also bought the seasonal delicacy, green almonds, for 5 shekels.
For the past month, almond trees across Palestine have been in full bloom. Filled with small white blossoms, the trees speckle the terraced Palestinian country side and beautifully contrast with the grey-green olive trees. Until now, I have only heard of green almonds and was always a little bewildered by the idea. The whole thing is green, the outer shell and inner baby almond. They have a texture that is not quite as strong as a carrot. The flavor is accentuated by copious amounts of salt and is fresh, slightly bitter and crisp.
We arrive back in Sheikh Jarrah to meet the municipality as they attempt to destroy the Gawi sidewalk camp. They manage to grab a table (I am sad because now we need to find a new table for the dinner that evening) but we act quickly enough to move most of the plastic chairs and benches into a neighbor’s yard.
After the municipality leaves, we are disturbed by the settlers occupying the Gawi home. They have caught on to the idea of having cameras on hand and were standing across the street filming us. Nasser sets the tone by standing up, placing one foot onto the plastic chair, bending forward with his hand under his chin and smiling for the camera. Next, he turns around, lifts up his long jacket and gives them a nice butt shot. The children are rolling on the ground with laughter and Hiba and I decide to join in. We do a few Madonna poses and set up a catwalk. I end my catwalk with a handstand that I was able to hold for what I think is an impressive amount of time.
By this point, the settlers have gotten the point that, in their attempt to mock us, we have turned the tables. They leave but the fun continues. I put a mattress on the ground and show the kids how to do headstands, backbends and other fun flips. Soon, roller blade and bikes are produced. This scene is sadly missing hula hoops because the previous day they were confiscated by the municipality, AGAIN!
Around 4pm we go back to Hiba’s house to cook kosahart. I chopped, she directed. In a few hours we had a delicious squash, tomato and rice dish to serve. I am not one to brag, but I am becoming quite a good Palestinian wife…at least in the kitchen. Hiba also makes popcorn on the stove-my favorite food in the world.
At 6pm we bring the food down to the Gawi camp. By 6:15 everything is ready to eat, including super super delicious malfoof, a rice stuffed steamed cabbage roll made by Nasser’s wife. I am really excited about the malfoof because it takes for-fucking-ever to roll and stuff each one so it is a special occasion food for sure. I’m glad that she thinks of these dinners as special occasions. It makes me feel like we are doing good things here. In about 20 minutes the crowd of neighbors and internationals have finished all the food. In 20 more minutes, the Israelis show up with their dishes.
The atmosphere is really wonderful. We meet Israeli activists working for Sheikh Jarrah, a doctor from the UK that just got back from a weeklong intensive training session in Gaza, internationals who have come to just check things out and more neighbors who are slowing being drawn out of their homes by the community activities.
When dinner ends, Maisoon, Nasser’s wife, schools us all in jump rope. Adam, their second youngest son, who I recognize as the canary for stress levels at Sheikh Jarrah, is jumping up and down screaming with laughter.
In a few confusing moments later, everything has changed. Adam isn’t laughing. He is crying. A line of 20 settlers, teenage boys and young men, file into the occupied Al-Kurd house. They are preparing for Purim, a big, multiday religious holiday that involves a lot of alcohol consumption. Their egos are high and after a great community dinner, so are those of the neighborhood residents.
Insult slinging rapidly escalates into yelling matches, which escalates into something more physical. Roughly 30 settlers, 30 Palestinians and 60 military and police descend into the 40x40 foot front yard of the Al-Kurds. What happened for the next few hours can only be describe as a riot. A full on riot.
Media, internationals, Israeli activists join the crowd to document and deescalate. Neighborhood kids find empty containers and sticks and drum out what seems like war beats. Chaos can be found in every corner.
Each child in the Gawi family is reacting differently. 19 month old Sara is silently watching everything from her mother’s arms. 4 year old Adam is screaming with tears running down his cheeks. 6 year old Abudullah is drumming. 10 year old Muhammad is wandering around and 19 year old Ayman has so much rage in his eyes that he must get out of Sheikh Jarrah as soon as possible to avoid what could easily be a very bad situation.
I’m taking video and photos of the events. I take a short break to explain what is happening to a Swedish couple who came by to learn more about the situation (nice timing, eh?) and again later to a few Israelis who are on their way home from the gym and saw the police vehicles clogging the streets. I ask the gym-goers if live in Jerusalem. They tell me yes. I ask if they have ever heard of Sheikh Jarrah. They tell me no. I start from the beginning, repeatedly encouraging them to read more about it online. I am unable to finish my discussion because police interrupt us and tell us to disperse.
The other thing distracting me throughout the events is this idea that something must be done for the kids. After this thought nags me for a few minutes, I rush to the corner market and fill a bag with candy bars and juice boxes. When I get back to the Al-Kurd lawn everything is more or less the same. Fight here-fight there-people rushing from one to the other. I seek out the children in the mess of it all and pass them the treats. The first girl I see is peeking over the 2 meter tall wall that divides her home from the Al-Kurds. She seems confused by the offer, but after a few words in Arabic, accepts the candy. Next, I find Adam. He is still crying. I make eye contact with him and hold out a candy bar and juice box. He continues to cry. I place it in the kangaroo pouch of his sweater.
The riot more or less ends when police spray pepper spray into the face of a Palestinian mother holding her one year old girl. Neighbors produce bags of milk (yep-milk in bags, not cartons here) to counteract the sting. We are all coughing. I see the police chief and yell at him “who sprayed pepper spray? why did you spray her???” He flips me off and tells me he doesn’t speak English…in perfect English.
After the riots stop, the Israeli activists gather in a semi-circle around the entrance to the Al-Kurd house and lead pro-Palestinian, pro-Sheikh Jarrah chants. This lifts everyone’s spirits and calms the mood significantly. I make up my own words based on the Hebrew that I hear: Sheikh Jarrah la ki lu-la la leeta sha she shuuuu!!!
After this, I make my way over to the fire where we have been instructed by the police to go if we do not want to be arrested. I take a seat next to Abdullah who was hit in the knee by a settler and now has a bandage going from his mid-calf to mid-thigh. I offer him a juice box and candy bar. He accepts but shows me with a frustrated and exhausted look that he can’t open either because his knuckles have also been bandaged, preventing him from bending his hand. I open the juice and candy and pass it back to him. Soon, his brother Adam emerges and pulls out his candy and juice from where I stashed it earlier in his kangaroo pouch. They sit together, sad, exhausted, hurt. Sipping juice and munching on treats. Maisoon, their mother walks up and asked where they got the snacks. In unison, they look up at me. She and I make eye contact and she gives me a sly wink and a grateful smile. By 11pm, Adam and Abdullah are asleep in the plastic chairs by the fire. A neighbor drives up shortly after and we load them into the car so they can go back to their rented home.
By 1am all is calm in Sheikh Jarrah. The solitary police vehicle is in its spot, the moon is bright, the shebab are smoking cigarettes around the fire and absolutely no sign of the evening’s chaos remains.
This is Palestine.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Storm after the calm

For five days earlier this month, I physically removed myself from the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem for a vacation with my sister. What I found however, is that it was impossible for me to mentally separate myself. To cope with my physical absence from the occupation, I found a book to read called In the Company of Soldiers; a book about the first months of the invasion of Iraq and how it rapidly evolved from a war to an occupation. Normally, I’m not sure I would find this book so interesting, but being in the state of mind that I am in right now, I ate it up. I couldn’t put it down-it became my lifeline for sanity. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by thoughts, fears and hopes about Israel, about Palestine, I found solace in this book. It served as a way for me to indulge my military-occupation-war-resistance focused mind without thinking about Israel or Palestine. In a previous update, I wrote about the nervous hum I have developed and how I’m starting to wonder if my characteristics now are indicative of lifelong personality traits. I now wonder if after being here my mind will ever fully unwind from this militerized mentality. When Kasey and I were together, I noticed that most of my conversation topics focused on some aspect of the conflict. For me, the conflict topics seemed logical because we were in Israel, rather than Egypt so daily life was not just reminding me, but rather, blinking neon Las Vegas style signs in my face-how could I not think about this?? Dead Sea=boycott campaign against Dead Sea beauty products. Did you know that all of these mountains behind us are Closed Military Zones? Do you think the Border Police would stop me if I floated to Jordan?
Don’t get me wrong, I am so eternally grateful that Kasey came to visit me. It has been a long time since I’ve seen family and I was very glad to spend a large amount of uninterrupted time with my sister. These are just my observations about myself.
Friday evening, after Kasey had safely crossed back into Egypt and was en route back to America, I returned to Sheikh Jarrah in occupied east Jerusalem. It was around 5pm and the weekly demonstration was ending. Police were still blocking access to the street where the tents/homes are located (to guard the settlers from the 500+ nonviolent protesters against the ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem). I met up with some activist friends and one offered to show me the back way in so I could reunite with the families. We walked up the road, down a few steps, over a wall, down the grassy hillside, over another wall and out the front gate of a neighbor’s home. Military was present in the streets and trying to clear people away. My big backpack and I managed to grab their attention and they started walking towards me. Luckily, I also grabbed the attention of the neighborhood kids and before the military had a chance to speak with me, I was surrounded by a handful of kids under the age of ten showing me their new hula hooping skills. Hula hoop blockade! An extra hoop was produced for me and I set down my pack and joined in. I kept an eye on the military folk and they seemed a bit confused about how to navigate this situation. Eventually, the hoop blockade wore down and they approached me and asked for ID. At this moment, a neighbor and wonderful activist, Salah, saw me and interrupted the military man to give me a hug and welcome me back to the neighborhood. Despite Salah’s insistence that I was a neighborhood resident, the soldier wanted to see ID anyway. Salah and I walked with him to the military truck and I showed him my passport. All the while Salah is still insisting that I live there and they should not bother me. After a few minutes, they got distracted with something else and I just walked away.
I was welcomed back to Sheikh Jarrah with smiles, hugs and hula hoops. It was one of the most heartwarming welcomings of my entire life. I didn’t realize how connected to the community there I had become until I left and I didn’t know how much they appreciated me until I returned. It was an amazing moment and feeling that I will never forget.
I spent 5 of the next 7 days at Sheikh Jarrah. Usually, people get too exhausted after two or three days on the streets but I was so happy to be back there that I remained energetic and excited to be there for almost the whole week. I have really become attuned to the atmosphere at Sheikh Jarrah. When I left for vacation, tensions were high and harassment was commonplace. However, this past week has been very light and calm. The young settler boys seem to not be hanging out so much anymore, severely decreasing the amount of clashes. There were no Zionist real estate settler tours this week either(yes, they are showing property in Sheikh Jarrah before the families are even evicted.
The best night was Wednesday. The weekly Wednesday dinners we host have really taken off and this week was super special because it was the first one after Nasser Gawi was allowed back into the neighborhood after the settler M-16 incident. His whole family was there, neighbors and friends too. All the shebab or young boys showed up as well.
I went to the Shufat refugee camp earlier in the day to cook a main course for the dinner with a friend. This was my first experience in a refugee camp and I was really surprised by what I saw-houses, apartments, shops, bus stops, cafes. I guess it is silly of me to think that after 60 years people would still be living in tents but I guess I didn’t know what to expect. The camp is just like every other neighborhood, except this one has a wall around it and a checkpoint to get in and out. The wall is The Wall (to separate Israel from Palestine) even though Shufat camp is legally in Jerusalem, due to its demographics (Palestinian), Israel has put it on the West Bank side of the barrier. So even though this area is in Israel, it is physically excluded by the Wall and a full military checkpoint (similar to the one you go through getting from Ramallah, Palestine to Jerusalem, Israel. My attempt at dinner was not totally successful and after 5 hours of cooking had only produced 8 vegetarian calzones. Out of time and patience, I slopped the meat calzone ingredients together and called it good. As I was doing this, I remembered that Palestinians eat everything with pita and I asked myself why I went to all this trouble putting things in individual breaded pockets when they would just do it anyway?
Well, the food proved too “hippie” for the neighborhood residents but they ate some of it anyway and still expressed gratitude. Luckily, one of the neighborhood girls made devils food cake and that really saved the meal. The kids brought out the hoops again, the shebab started playing anther one of their super creative and slightly violent games of tag and the little neighborhood girls let me pick them up and spin them around. Overall, this evening was another time when I felt very connected to the community and very glad to be here.
I ended my marathon stay at Sheikh Jarrah with the Friday demonstration. It was smaller than normal because thousand had flocked to the West Bank village of Bi’lin for their 5th anniversary protest against the Apartheid Wall which stole over 60% of their land. I went up to the demo for a bit, then back down to the Gawi camp (the back way, of course). It was a calm demo, without the tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets, Skunk water, sound bombs and live ammunition that I have become accustomed to on Friday Demo Day. When it ended I went to a neighbor’s house and we made another devils food cake and smoked hookah.
That evening, I did what I’ve wanted to do for the last 6 months-dance party!!!! I went out with some of the Israeli activists and shebab to a bar in West Jerusalem (Muslim east Jerusalem is not surprisingly lacking in the bar scene). We danced to old hip hop, took shots of arok (a licorice like liqueur common in the Middle East) and talked activist talk. By 3 though, the music quality had deteriorated significantly and now they were trying to get us all to the Macerana. Nope. I’m leaving.
After a super long and rewarding stay at Sheikh Jarrah I’ve made it back to Ramallah where I’m working on the ISM volunteer schedule for next week. We are sending people to Nabalus where ISM mostly responds to settler violence, to Bir Al-Eid where two Palestinians were shot at a checkpoint a few days ago and now villagers are afraid to access their fields unaccompanied, to Hebron where there is a demonstration Thursday to open the main road, Shuhuda Street to Palestinians instead of just settlers (in a town where the Palestinian to settler ratio is 4:1) and of course, Sheikh Jarrah.
This is the second night that I’ve stayed here since the raids occurred. When I finish typing this I will prepare for bed. This includes not just brushing my teeth but also putting my shoes where I can access them quickly, taking the SD card out of my camera, putting my passport within arms reach and lastly, stashing this computer so it does not get stolen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top 40s Will Bring Us Together

Things of mine that the Israeli police stole after a raid on our apartment in direct violation of the Oslo Accords: laptop, two cell phones, my ipod. Last week they stole my hula hoop from Sheikh Jarrah! BOOO!
Story time:
It is raining. I am in Ramallah donning my head-toe northwest certified rain gear. I’m on a street corner across from the Stars & Bucks Coffee shop waiting for someone to give me some money to deliver to someone else in Jerusalem for an ISM volunteer in Gaza. I have her passport in my pocket, by the way. Across the street, Akron’s Right Now (Na Na Na) plays from the shoe store speakers rapping about things I know would be so unspeakably inappropriate in Arab culture and probably not allowed on the loud speakers if the songs were translated. I however, am indulging myself in this top 40 ear paradise, singing along in my head because, yes, I know all the words. Then without warning, in the middle of the chorus, the music stops. Quickly replacing Akron in the shoe store speakers is the Muslim call to prayer, a 5 times daily moan set on a volume so high that everyone in the entire city, inside and outside of buildings, can hear it. Just a few moments later, a fellow in his mid thirties approaches me. “Are you waiting for something?” he asks. “Yes” I reply. Without another word, he pulls out a handful of Euros. “One, two, three….ten, one thousand Euros. You count it.” I do. I nod. He walks away. The call to prayer still blares from my top 40 speakers.
Fast forward four days-I’m sitting at a super posh hostel in the super posh border town of Eliat, Israel with my sister (she is still sleeping). The sun is shining and I’m in sandals. Britney Spear’s new video is playing on MTV on the television mounted to the ceiling.
Perhaps pop music diplomacy is a strategy we should try.
I am still spending most of my time at Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem. Winter has arrived in full force and I’m more grateful for the treated-wood bonfires than I ever thought imaginable. The chemical scented smoke is in my hair, jacket, and jeans and I love it…to an extent. There seems to be an ongoing battle at Sheikh Jarrah between those of us who do not think a smoky fire should be brought inside the tent and others who want the fire to follow them wherever they go, including inside a poorly ventilated tent. It usually plays out like this: I go inside the tent, sit down, make myself comfortable, then a few minutes later a smoke-loving guy comes in and tells me I must be freezing. He will fetch the fire. “No no no I’m fine. I promise!” I say. But, in just a few minutes, he has dragged in the fire barrel and I’m putting on my shoes to go back outside, into the cold.
The tents are not holding up so well against the wind and rain. We have resecured them with wood boards, duck tape and even string. Luckily, lashing and knot tying is one of Trip’s favorite activities, so he is right at home and I have a chance to practice my newly acquired knot tying survival skills!
When the tents do manage to withstand the night’s wind, they must next withstand attempts by the municipality to take them. Last Monday, they were not so lucky and the police took the site and cleared the site. Police took the tent, a couch, chairs, and HULA HOOPS! Damn them. Hula hoops have no security threat whatsoever! Boo. Trip and I were not there the morning they were taken but we got the call the moment it started and got to work on a media push to get media and activists to come to the tent building event later in the day. An awesome press release was written and sent out to an extensive list. By 4pm at Sheikh Jarrah there were over 2 dozen media outlets covering the event. A few settlers were in front of the house in the pre-tent building period and the press were addicted to them like they were endangered species at a zoo. It was so funny; 20+ journalists snapping photos of the settlers in there “non native” habitat.
I have started to do more community organizing in Sheikh Jarrah. This has been great, however it is a change from the environmental work that I’m used to. I find that I cannot hold onto my environmental values so tightly. When I try to do this, my intentions are lost in translation (figuratively and literally). For example, we started doing Wednesday community dinners in Sheikh Jarrah. I spent all afternoon a few Wednesday’s back cooking maklube or “upside down.” It is a rice dish that you flip over at the end onto a big tray and everyone eats from the tray. First, you deep fry all the veggies, then you soak the rice, then you put the veggies and meat on the bottom of a big pot, cover in rice and add the super special and tasty Palestinian rice spice and cook. While I have taken to eating meat that is cooked for me in situations where it is rude to turn it down, buying and cooking meat is a whole other level. For the first weekly dinner, we made a vegetarian maklube full of super great veggies. While the Israeli vegan activists were pleased with the meal, the locals in Sheikh Jarrah were not so keen on it. Most just ate at their homes and milled around politely. Upon evaluation, we decided that at the next dinner, we would cook one chicken and one veggie maklube. The dinner was much more successful, despite the near freezing temperatures and rain. Score one for community organizing, minus one for the environment and giving into the factory farmed animal torture industry.
One Israeli activist told us that he was glad to have come to the dinner because he does so much work against the occupation, but rarely has an opportunity to just hang out with his Palestinian peers. This made me feel really good about what we had organized. We also had face painting and I made a bunch of new hoops for the kids. But it was too cold for parents to let their kids come out and play. Maybe next week.
This week in action news included a settler/solider starting a fight with the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah by throwing rocks at the tent then grabbing a kid. When Nasser Gawi pulled him off the kid, a fight ensued that led to the settler/solider (living in Nasser’s home) to loading, cocking and waving his M-16 at everyone, including me. I filmed it all. To see the video and read the full report: http://palsolidarity.org/2010/02/11104
Upon review of the rest of the video (not posted) from the incident, I learned that I have developed a nervous hum. Great. I hum a Rainbow song that I learned from the Germans I met in Spain. It goes like this:
Deep inside my heart I’ve got this
Everlasting love that’s shinin
Like the sun it radiates on everyone
And the more that I give
The more I’ve got to give
It’s just the way that I live
It’s what I’m living for..na na na….repeat.
Ohi. I wonder if this is one of those things that will stick with me forever. I’m probably old enough to be developing habits that will stick with me throughout my lifetime. I remember my parents telling me I hummed a lot as a kid. Perhaps this is just my old trait coming back out again and in that case, I will probably do it for the rest of my life. hummhuummmmhummmmmmmmmmm. goodbye.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The day-by-day

I realize that the last two blog updates have been more political rants rather than life updates. I’m sorry for this and thank you to those who stuck it out and read them anyway. The first two weeks here were total shock and a head first, hands dirty and deep in the I/P conflict. I have been thinking of a proper way to share my daily experiences and observations and have yet to come up with something that resembles a coherent chronicle of events; so I think I will just share and not worry about the calendar.
My week usually looks like this: most days at Sheikh Jarrah, a night of uninterrupted sleep at the ISM apartment in Ramallah and Friday a demonstration in a West Bank village. Shekih Jarrah is good, but I don’t sleep well here. At most, you get five hours rest because there is night watch to be done. Recently, the sleeping part of the evening has become more stressful because the settlers have taken to stealing things from the tent where we sleep-sometimes while we sleep. It is small things-shoes, chairs, shelves and the families don’t really complain. They sigh and put it into perspective for us, “they stole our house, why should we care about a shelf?” I can’t argue with them. Fucking sticky fingered settlers…stealing shoes, furniture and houses. It is such a messed up situation. The Al-Kurd front home was built by the Al-Kurds without a permit (building permits for Palestinians are extremely difficult to obtain) nine years ago. When the home was completed, the Israeli government slapped them with a 90,000 Shekel fine. Upon full repayment, the government then took them to court saying that the house did not belong to them and gave it to the settlers. There is so much racism here. I can’t stand it. So at night I think we all sleep a bit lighter, in case they try and bother us more. Winter has also arrived and with it comes the rain and wind. There are downpours at night and gusts of wind against the tarps. We must be very vigilant about keeping things dry. We have made some sketchy repairs to the tents. Right now, the Al-Kurd tent is held up mostly by string-bound boards.
There are positives to being here, heaps of them. I made two hula hoops for the kids in the neighborhood and it is a huge success. There seems to be only one girl in the neighborhood, Mona, 12 years old. She picked up hooping really quickly and I’ve been teaching her tricks. She then turns around and teaches the boys in the neighborhood (a big role change, I think). When Mona sees me, she goes to get the hoops (which she thankfully stores in her house or else the neighborhood kids would destroy them) and we hoop in her front walkway, which is the same shared path that the settlers use to get to their stolen home. It makes for a nice obstacle for them. Mona is the youngest in the Al-Kurd family and we sleep in her family’s tent at night. She and I have a good friendship and I accompany her on firewood-finding missions. Her mom feeds me tasty Palestinian food too. The other day she gave me spinach, phylo dough pastry right out of the oven. When I finished it, she gave me another, and when I finished that, another! It was a very happy panda.
We have also started doing weekly dinners at the Gawi tent. I teamed up with another girl my age from the neighborhood and together we made maklube. Maklube is Arabic for “upsidedown,” and that is pretty much what it is. A base of veggies (usually chicken too) and then rice, all cooked together with tasty spices. Then you place a huge platter on top, flip them both over and pull off the pot! Viola! The dinner was a success, with 10 internationals and Israelis joining us but there still are some challenges. We want to outreach to the neighborhood residents who don’t normally come by the tent, and the wives of the men who do. There are some social norms that I’m learning (mostly about how men and woman interact here) and trying to incorporate into the weekly meals. I’ll keep you posted.
I don’t mind being at Sheikh Jarrah so much. I feel like we are actually helping here. We offer the international presence the neighborhood wants while also allowing them time to rest while we take watch. Trip and I were just talking about how our skill sets really are designed to be outdoors, not in offices, so for us, this is good.
In Ramallah, ISM has an apartment that keeps out the rain, has hot water (but no household heating system) and a kitchen. After a few days “on” in Sheikh Jarrah, an evening in Ramallah is very nice. It is a fun place to be because at any given time there are between 5-15 activists staying in the two bedroom place. ISM activists are super cool-I mean, they’ve traveled around the world and are working for free. If that doesn’t weed out the unmotivated slack-tactivist, I’m not sure what does. So everyone is cool and works super diligently until about midnight or 1am every night. Mornings begin early too, around 8am with everyone back in the living room converted office space sharing a pot of tea or coffee.
It is great to have a kitchen and I’ve been trying to experiment with Palestinian food. This is a bit difficult because going to the market is stressful. It is loud, crowded and chaotic. Those things actually don’t worry me at all but what does get stressful is the purchasing part. Apparently, Palestinians buy in bulk and anything not in bulk is considered worthless. So for someone like me who only wants 5 carrots or two tomatoes, it is hard to pay for anything. They just give it to me for free. At first this was a nice surprise, but now I feel like it is an abuse of privilege. The other challenge is the Battle of the Plastic Bag. Trip and I go to such great lengths to bring our own bags or not accept bags for three bananas or two apples. Vendors really do not understand this. They insist on giving you a bag and as I’ve experienced can get pretty heated and offended if you refuse or offer your own. I do not understand this. The other day, we had successfully escaped without a plastic bag for our bananas only to have the baker where we were buying our fresh-from-the-wood-fire-oven, bag our bananas! Gggrrrrr!!!
Buying spices has also been interesting since I am mostly unfamiliar with the spices here. This means I sniff out each spice and on more than one occasion, inhale something well…spicy! This makes the shopkeepers laugh and I usually end up buying that spice just to get the whole thing over with.
The main challenge with the apartment is that it makes me miss living with environmentalists. Social activists are always plugged in, electronically-minded and on the go. I miss the forest part of activism and going places without cell reception. Keeping lights on, or forgetting about the water heater being on are foreign and difficult for me. Also, everyone but Trip and I smokes….inside! This is commonplace in Palestine (and probably the rest of the world, but very different for us west-coast’ers).
Fridays are special days in activist world here in Palestine. FYI: the weekend here is Friday/Saturday. Friday after noon prayer, many villages across the West Bank hold weekly demonstrations. The topics vary slightly but always center on some aspect of the occupation. There are some against the Apartheid Wal,lwhich in the village of Bil’in, takes over 60% of their land, denying access to fields, orchards, homes and other employment. Lots of other demonstrations focus on settlements-settlements taking over villagers fields for their own propagation, settlers uprooting 500 year old olive trees, settler violence against nearby Palestinian villagers, etc. For the past two weeks, Trip and I have been attending the demonstration in a small village called An Nabi Saliah. If you read my last blog post, it began with my report for the ISM website about the demo. The Popular Committee has decided to make the demos weekly until the land that the settlers have illegally taken and are illegally propagating plants for an Israeli nursery is returned to the villagers. This week, like last week, we were turned away from the village on Friday morning at an Isreali checkpoint. This time, the checkpoint was only 30 meters from the village! The soldier stuck his head in the car, looked at us and said “if I see you with the Palestinians, I will make trouble for you,” and he motioned up to the village center were we were all to meet. Slightly unnerved by this interaction, we asked the taxi driver to drive us the back way to the village which involved a one hour detour.
We arrived in the village and Trip showed me to the house of a woman he had interviewed earlier in the week for a short film he wants to make about the stolen land and the village. He told them I was his wife (I bought him a 33 cent ring to make it official) and he would bring me to meet them before the demo on Friday. We knocked and entered into the house, which had a perfectly disgusting view of the cookie cutter condo settlement on the opposing hillside. I was greeted as “Trip’s wife” and they told me how much they looked forward to meeting “Trip’s wife.” Hahahah. Oh well. They were all really cool women who are involved in the demonstration (pretty unusual for Palestine). We drank coffee and stashed our stuff at their place and met up with the march of hundreds of demonstrators as they walked by the house. We didn’t get more than 50 meters before military came at us from both directions shooting tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets. For the next few hours, full on warfare ensued in the village. The main street turned into a battleground, shabab (young boys, literally translated as “spirited ones”) slung rocks from behind gates, houses, fences, walls, and military reacted with more tear gas, more sound bombs, and more bullets. This demo was supposed to be a march to the fields, but it never left the town.
I was really unsure about my role in the demo. I don’t have a nice camera to capture the action, nor am I going to throw stones. At first, I went up to the rooftop to watch and take photos from above with the woman from the village. This turned out to be a good idea because Trip was down below shooting video and a slew of soldiers came running up behind him and I was able to shout a warning to him to get out of the way, this came just in time for him jump down into a yard to avoid tear gas canisters flying in his direction. I returned to this house towards the end of the demo, a few hours later. This time, I was brought inside by a girl who wanted to show me a sound bomb that broke thorough the fourth story window of the house. While I was up there, a tear gas can flew through the living room window and we had to evacuate the 7 toddlers who were supposed to have found refuge in this home. I carried a boy, no older than 3, down the four flights of gassed stairs as he cried, his nose ran and mouth drooled due to gas inhalation. The mothers of the children, irate with the soldiers, went up to them and began yelling at them for nearly suffocating their kids. They were all arrested. Three days later, I have yet to hear of their release. So… that was a pretty intense day.
Other things I’ve been up to here are:
Taking a 14 hour field trip to Tel Aviv and Israel’s finest immigration detention center to bail out an ISM’er who had been in for one month.
Wishing I had cleaner socks as I sit down to a delicious dinner on traditional floor cushions in Palestinian homes.
Learning to speak a few words of Arabic.
Spending at least two hours at the checkpoint into Jerusalem crammed together like cows, at the pure will of the 19 year old Israeli military guards EVERY time I enter (usually once ever two days).
Eating at least one falafel. Everyday.

Love to you from my falafel-filled heart.

Monday, January 18, 2010


First, I will paste the report I wrote from the demonstration at An Nabi Salih. Below that will be my blog entry!

An Nabi Salih: Resistance to Settlement Expansion Met With Military Violence

Israeli forces must have anticipated the large response to the An Nabi Salih Popular Struggle’s callout for international solidarity in their 4th consecutive Friday demonstration on January 15th. Three International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists were turned away from the seldom-staffed partial checkpoint of ‘Atara, between Ramallah and An Nabi Salih. Fortunately, a back route was established and the group made it to the village, joining 10 other internationals, a dozen journalists and over 300 Palestinians.
The hilltop village of An Nabi Salih has a population of approximately 500 residents and is located 30 kilometers northeast of Ramallah along highway 465. The demonstration protested the illegal seizure of valuable agricultural land and the January 9th 2010 uprooting of hundreds of the village resident’s olive trees by the Hallamish (Neve Zuf) settlement located on highway 465, opposite An Nabi Salih. Conflict between the settlement and villagers reawakened in the past month due to the settler’s attempt to re-annex An Nabi Salih land despite the December 2009 Israeli court case that ruled the property rights of the land to the An Nabi Salih residents. The confiscated land of An Nabi Salih is located on the Hallamish side of highway 465 and is just unfortunately one of many expansions of the settlement since it’s establishment in 1977.
The plan for the demonstration was to march from the hilltop village and down to the seized fields in an attempt to reach the land. Less than one kilometer into the march, demonstrators met military jeeps, Israeli soldiers and unsparing amounts of tear gas blocking the road. Occupation resisters successfully forced the military to retreat a few hundred meters and an avenue to continue the march towards the fields through a valley between the road an the An Nabi Salih village was created. Military forces defended the settler-confiscated lands from multiple points including the road leading up to the village, highway 465 and a hilltop in An Nabi Salih using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition.
Major struggles to reach the land occurred in the valley and on the lower portion of the access road to An Nabi Salih with sporadic outbreaks of force throughout the area. By 4pm, soldiers were forced into retreat to the base of the road (tear gas canisters rained intermittently until dusk) and a deal was made between the Popular Committee and the military for the release of the seven Palestinians arrested during the demonstration, three of which were woman arrested at the demonstration’s inception. Accounts of military violence during their detention at the Hallamish settlement were reported by multiple arrestees. One Palestinian resister was severely wounded by a tear gas canister resulting in a large gash in his head requiring emergency evacuation and medical attention by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
Seven International Solidarity Movement volunteers participated in the demonstration by shooting video, taking photos, offering medical aid and witnessing frontline violence and arrests.


Alright….and now time for MY update:
Trip and I have spent pretty much every night at the sidewalk camp across from their occupied house in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah located in Palestinian East Jerusalem. We take shifts with other volunteers to ensure that the tent is staffed with internationals 24 hours a day. The days are chaotic and stressful for the Gawi family of 6 (3 kids under the age of 10 and one who is my age). The family does their best to maintain a consistent level of normalcy. Obviously, this is very difficult when your living space has been reduced to one pop up tent, a couch, table, plastic lawn chairs and a fire pit.
As the Gawi family shares a delicious Palestinian breakfast of fuul (fava beans), cheese, eggs, avocado and bread, the settlers occupying their home also start their morning routines. The house is a 7 unit apartment that housed nearly 50 members of the Gawi family. To me, it appears that there are probably two settler children for every adult and it looks like almost every women in the house is pregnant.
There is a campaign amongst Zionist Jews to “win the population war” against the Palestinians who tend to have large families (this has only increased with advancement of the occupation leading to the high unemployment rates in the West Bank and Gaza). While reading an article on Haaretz, I saw an advertisement that simply read “HAVE MORE JEWISH BABIES” in neon block letters. Ok, this is a tangent. If you’d like to continue along this path read this http://samsonblinded.org/news/have-more-jewish-babies-1610 Now back to the daily life of the Gawi family…
After breakfast the three youngest children are taken to school and the eldest goes to work for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (ie Red Cross). Almost immediately after, a never-ending stream of journalists, local sympathizers, alternative tour groups and solidarity organizers show up and join Nasser Gawi, asking him questions about the expulsion, court cases and history of the land. Nasser speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English fluently and is always so polite to the guests, even when they try and challenge his take on the situation. For the most part, the visitors ignore me and the other internationals stationed at the tent. I always try and ask what they are going to do with their Sheikh Jarrah info and put in a plug for volunteers. So far, I have not yet found a person who is interested in putting down their camera/pen and staying a night with us. I know that movements take all kinds, and I do not have any idea what these people’s histories are, but I strongly believe that personal experience and the I/P conflict speak volumes.
As the strong Middle Eastern sun heats up the pavement and the tent offers no respite, the three Gawi children return from school with the accompaniment of their mother. They are usually tired and the youngest two get are brought to tears easily. On one occasion, a bulldozer passed by the tent and paused for a cruel amount of time (the Gawi tent has been demolished five times since their most recent eviction began August 2nd). This presence of the bulldozer terrified the children; even at their young age, they have learned quite well what bulldozers mean.
This moment, above all others, has been the most saddening in my time in Palestine. It seemed like nothing could consul the terrified children, even after the bulldozer continued on. The family did acknowledge that the children were upset by the presence of the bulldozer but I got the impression that things like this happen so frequently in Palestinian life that the parents and neighbors thought it best to “toughen up” the children, rather than comfort them. This probably sounds like a critique of Palestinian parenting however it most certainly is not. First, this was only my interpretation of the situation. Second, this is daily life in Palestine. “That’s life in occupation,” Palestinians say with a frustrated sigh as we discuss the conflict around the Gawi fire pit every evening.
The Gawi children make futile attempts at napping in the tent in spite of the visitors. They play with their neighborhood friends and have informal English lessons until dark. Sometimes the family eats dinner at the tent while other times they go to the hotel where the rest of the family has moved to. The mother and youngest 3 children usually do not stay a the tent must past 7pm however the eldest son hangs out until midnight and Nasser stays the entire night.
I enjoy the evenings in Sheikh Jarrah very much. Neighborhood boys around my age come every night to be at the Gawi tent. Trip and I have made friends with these guys. I brought my hacky sack and hula hoop, both of which are very popular. They help us with our Arabic lessons and keep us company until around midnight. On nights where there is anticipated tensions, the guys take shifts, like we do, to protect the Gawi and Al Kurd tents. I have to admit though, it is quite a brofest. Haha. Well, it’s true! There is very little “purpling” in Arab culture; even in harmless social settings things are pretty much segregated. As an “international,” I am of course, exempt to this and take every opportunity I can to unload firewood, stoke the fire, sit on the concrete instead of taking a guy’s seat and other acts of Arab gender bending.
Generally there are between three and five internationals that are stationed at Sheikh Jarrah during the night shift. We split the night into shifts of 2-3 hours, usually beginning at 11pm and ending around 7am. The sleeping tent is the Al Kurd tent which is set up to block the walkway between the settler-occupied Al Kurd front apartment and the rear house that the family was able to defend. Couch cushions are lined up and a mattress is brought out for one lucky night-watcher. My favorite shift is the 4-7am shift. I have probably seen more Sheikh Jarrah sunrises than any other place in the world. I also like being around people when they just wake up. Everything is slower, quieter and more thoughtful.
Life is a hectic blurr most of the time here. It is really wonderful to be surrounded by smart, motivated and dedicated activists. But the truth is that there is so much to do in Palestine. Every day there are military raids, settler attacks, demonstrations, court cases, and anything else that occupation life can throw at you (including waiting 2 hours at a checkpoint, daily!!!). Trip and I are trying to take a rest one day each week. Last week we went to Bethlehem and saw the EXACT place that lil baby Jesus was born. Sure, we took pictures but Trip was more excited about the Holy Shit(er)! Hahaha.
If anyone wants to know more about the Israel Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign, I just learned this interesting fact: any product with a barcode that begins with 729 is from Israel! Focal points of the boycott include: Ahava beauty products, pretty much all Dead Sea beauty products, and Motorola.
Here is a brief overview of the other things I’ve done: Demonstrated against the Apartheid Wall is Bil’in, Demonstrated at An Nabi Salih (see above), stayed the night at with a Palestinian family were the Wall was built, putting them on the settler side and caging them in on all four sides, where they are frequent recipients of settler harassment and violence, and said my first two intelligible sentences in Arabic!
Tonight I am back in Ramllah. I made a tasty Palestinian-esq dinner and caramel corn for dessert!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let's talk about Sex ba-be, lets talk about you and me...jk...Let's talk about something more controversial

Back home, I live in a bubble. Not just one, but multiple bubbles that insulate me and my fellow bubble-dwellers from much of the critique and happenings of the outside world. The coops are a bubble, the University of Oregon is a bubble, the activist scene is a bubble. I like bubble life.
In BubbleTopia, I have a community that not only approves of a radical/alternative lifestyle, but actually lives it. BubbleWorld residents suspend close friends from a single rope that is connected to a gate which provides access to logging roads, endangering their dear friends life, but protecting the forest. Residents actively eat from the garbage, cheat the government for food stamps and enjoy riverside meals of liberated expensive cheeses from green washed stores. If it’s yellow, we let it mellow.
The topics of conversation in BubbleWorld is vast but very left leaning. You are welcome to join these conversations if your views are also counterculture (if they weren’t, how would you even get into BubbleTopia???!) Sure! Let’s talk about gender, swap riot stories, break down hierarchies, and laugh at the ladder climbers outside the bubble and oh-how- they- will- fall in The Fall. Let’s discuss direct action tactics ranging from protests to sabotage and property damage. Above all, let’s stay up all night, sitting close together, drinking PBR, eating homemade vegan food and talk about creating the world we want to live in.
BubbleTopia sure sounds great, right? I miss it. I miss it a lot. Yet, something that is not right. There is one topic that stands out as still too taboo to discuss in an open, rational, healthy, and fact based manner: the Israel/Palestine conflict. But if we can’t even talk about Israel Palestine issues in the most radical, liberated house I’ve ever been in, where can we? Or must we wait until Israel is pushed into the sea or the Palestinians are all in jail or dead?
For this reason, I came to Israel/Palestine. I needed to see this conflict firsthand, talk to people who live it everyday, see the resistance happening on both sides. I want to know why a love-thy-neighbor person can still live in settlements. I want to understand the emotion that causes young boys to throw stones. I want to articulate my opinion on the conflict not just because of the books I’ve read, research I’ve done, or news I’ve followed. I want to include the world I have witnessed. Actually, I believe that I need to include the my own personal experiences because this issue is such an emotional trigger, that it is very difficult to find the truth (especially if you are looking through religious (Islamic, Jewish or Christian) goggles).
Here is what I see:
Trip and I are working with a group called International Solidarity Movement (ISM). ISM has three guiding principles:
ISM is a Palestinian led organization comprised of well respected, nonviolent activists from both urban and rural areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem
ISM is a nonviolent organization and supports the nonviolent resistance to the occupation (yes, even the UN Gaza and the West Bank an occupation) of Palestine.
ISM operates with consensus.
We have found that many Israelis and Israel supporters feel that ISM is “too radical.” I have thought a lot about why ISM is labeled as such. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is one of the only grassroots, Palestinian led organizations that effectively involves internationals. There are lots of groups working in the West Bank for Palestinian human rights, however, I have not yet encountered another group with the capacity that ISM has. In a world of international bureaucratic NGOs, a grassroots Palestinian led organization can be dangerously effective.
So what does ISM do? Trip and I have been working with them for the past two weeks and we plan on staying with the group for the remainder of our three months here. It is an activists dream, actually. Intelligent people from all over the world come to the West Bank all with a common goal. People are first fueled by passion and then refueled daily with the experience of unjust Occupation in Palestine.
ISM maintains a 27/7 presence in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jerrah in Arabic East Jerusalem. In August, Jewish settlers with the aid of military police, forced two Palestinian extended family households out of their homes leaving over 20 people houseless. It is a well known fact that Israel wants all of Jerusalem for the Jews and the main thing stopping are the Arabs legally residing in East Jerusalem. Both the Al-Gawi and Al-Kurd families have erected tents outside of their former homes. The Al-Gawi tent sits across the street from their home which is now decorated with Israeli flags and protected by multiple locks and gates. Throughout the day, the Al-Gawi family of 6 tries to go about their normal life, eating meals together, playing with neighborhood kids, completing their schoolwork under the streetlights. All the while across the street, Jewish Zionists come and go as they please in the comfort of the Al-Gawi’s home and with the protection of the military police which park outside of the home at night to protect it’s new residents. For the Al-Gawi family, we help by doing night watch so the family can get some much needed rest.
The Al-Kurd family also has a tent but their situation is a bit more bizzare. Settlers were only successful in taking the front portion of the house. The Al-Kurd family now shares their home with the Jewish settlers. The only thing blocking the settlers from accessing the rear portion of the house is a tent that ISM’ers occupy 24/7 to prevent them from entering.
Frequently, there are clashed between settlers, armed and backed by police and the Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. International presence helps document these attacks and ISM volunteers have successfully “unarrested” Palestinian residents. There is a price however, a handful of ISM’ers have been arrested at Sheikh Jarrah, including Ryan Olander (who has been in jail for almost three weeks while $5,000 bail is collected). ISM is providing organizing both his legal team and doing jail support for Ryan.
There are also ISM volunteers in the town of Nabulus and surrounding villages. The Palestinians in this region are frequently targeted during night raids because of their successful non violent resistance to the occupation and the Wall. ISM’ers will stay in the towns under siege, often in the homes of nonviolent organizers, in hopes that an international presence will persuade Israeli military to comply by international laws which classify their raids illegal. Currently, we are seeing an increase in the arrest of nonviolent occupation resisters (remember, the UN calls it an occupation too!). Each night more organizers are taken including the ISM media coordinator who had her apartment surrounded by Israeli military. Eva lived in a town that is out of Israeli jurisdiction so this makes her arrest illegal. Now she has been deported. She is just one example of the repression of Palestinians and their supporters.
So there it is. A small group of Palestinians and international volunteers. That is ISM. Now that you know what we do, I challenge you to ask yourself and others why it is such a “radical” organization. Why is night watch, documentation, nonviolent resistance to illegal occupation too radical to talk about in our own radical community?
I strongly encourage everyone to check out the ISM website, www.palsolidarity.org. The international media picks up stories on Gaza and peace “negotiations” but rarely is the West Bank mentioned. We update the site multiple times a day with interesting news from the West Bank. You should check out their side too and make the comparison.
If anyone wants to talk about Israel, Palestine or their feelings about the SCA benefit party proposal, please contact me. I’d love to hear your opinions and perhaps start removing the taboo of this topic.
From my pumalo sized heart to yours.

Ps, they have pumalo trees here. Have you ever seen an edible something the size of a soccer ball hanging from a tree?? oh! and photos take a really long time to load here so I'll put them up on the rot-yer-face-book. xo