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.

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