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