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.