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.