distant confrontations

February 20, 2008

As I review my 8 months in Palestine, each face vivid with a distinct story to tell, I revisit also the pain of seeing the daily indignities, and also the pain of losing a friend.

I’ve hesitated to dwell on this, as losing a friend, loved one, family member is far too common in occupied Palestine. But it was new for me, aside from beloved pets and distant relatives. This was someone who only the day before I had seen and teased, whose sisters, mother, wife, and baby son live on without him. That abrupt loss of a friend was made worse by the fact that I was within blocks of his home –and heard the explosions –the night he was killed.

Explosions are normal in Nablus. Not because Nablusi are inherently ‘militant,’ ‘terrorist-minded,’ ‘extremist,’ or any of the other key words which are used to defame a resistance to a decades-old occupation (and deter from that fact)… Rather, explosions are normal because Nablus is in occupied Palestine and is still an area that actively resists, something which in almost any other nation would be supported and applauded. Terminology. Rhetoric. Words at the expense of lives.

I heard the bombs that killed Abed that night. I awoke to them. Sat up a bit, looked out the window of the central old-city Palestinian friend’s apartment I was sleeping in, and knew there was nothing I could do that night. Oddly, already accustomed to loud bombings and gunfire at night, I thought about it a while, then went back to sleep. Tomorrow was another day, of army confrontations and potential settler assaults, which was fruitful in both regards.

As I speak to people back in my own country about what I saw, experienced, felt, lost… it seems so distant. Life here has its own complications, but many in comparison seem engineered to distract from those very real, daily, debilitating, and horrific problems of life in occupied Palestine

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killing gaza

January 15, 2008

what do you say to someone who is living under siege, where 19 can be killed in half a day and it goes unnoticed by the world? what do you say when that person is subject to death, regardless of whether out on the street or inside his home, regardless of whether a civilian, a farmer, a resistance fighter resisting the helicopters, tanks, and resultant shelling of the world’s 4th largest military, one well-funded and backed by the US and the West…?

and how do you comprehend hearing directly from civilians in Gaza that the latest bout of Israeli army shelling and gunfire has killed 19, injured over 40, and yet is being reported –if at all –as an operation against militants, justified by the war on homemade rocket-fire, the war on terror, a lying president’s overtures –make that two…three…and the fact that an Islamic group was elected into power.

I spoke on the phone with my friend, a journalist, who doesn’t know if he will be shelled outside or inside his home, whose daily worries extend past giving a shit about Brittany Spears or Reality tv, extend instead to worrying about a mother who needed surgery for her critical disease…surgery in a prison where most medicines have long since run out, thanks to Israel and the West’s siege on civilians… His worries include that his mother didn’t even have enough blankets to keep warm in a hospital without sufficient power, food, and basic necessities.

aside from his mother, his worries extend to his neighbours, to the entire strip, who will inevitably be injured or killed by indiscriminate Israeli shelling which will be justified as an attack on militants. And even though Israeli human rights groups along with international bodies are condemning each fresh massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, each fresh bulldozing of agricultural land, each fresh demolition of homes, each fresh shelling on fishing boats… even though the condemnation is there, does it matter?  does Israel stop? does any body in power really do anything to hold Israel accountable.

George Bush feigned concern over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) but said that Gaza was another matter altogether.  Written off.

how does one write off the humans who have less than 8 hours electricity a day, if that, have limited drinking water resources, if at all in some areas, are not permitted to leave their prison for medical care in Egypt, are not permitted to fish in their waters, are not permitted to live with dignity?

what did I say? I’m sorry. It’s wrong. It’s criminal. We care. These atrocities have to end.

what did that do. nothing. I’m sure it gave him no comfort whatsoever, nor did it comfort me.

temperment of soldiers

November 27, 2007

While I have not become immune to the tragedies of life under Occupation, hearing daily of the latest Israeli army inflicted deaths, injuries, and invasions becomes somehow ‘normal,’ although no one should be subjected to this sort of life as a ‘normal’ reality. But some things shake up these perceptions anew, awakening one to how truly abnormal and terrifying Palestinians’ lives under occupation and invasions are, as used to them as Palestinians may be.

Meeting this latest batch of soldiers in the West Bank village we are in has done that today. The village has been assaulted with invasions, curfews, roadblocks and flying military checkpoints near-daily for the past month, and on a regular basis for the past year, with overall Occupational problems since the start of this Intifada over 7 years ago. These latest Israeli soldiers are jumpy and nervous, very aggressive and seemingly ready to fire and hit at any provocation, or perceived provocation.

Yet it is they who are doing the provoking, loitering at schools at the end of classes when kids will be walking home, roaming the streets looking for potential trouble (rather, inviting stone-throwing by repeatedly invading residential areas in their heavily armed military jeeps and hummers), nabbing boys of 13 from the streets to rough them up before dumping them back out, and scouring the area even in the early hours of the morning, flashing search lights down residential lanes and into windows.

This evening around 5 pm they occupied a hilltop, surrounding the lone house atop it and from their vantage point firing flares, sound bombs, and live ammunition off in the direction of the homes below. Presumably, they were ‘searching’ for some one. But more likely they were searching for the pretext to arrest and terrorize the residents.

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Terrorizing. What else can it be called when families are terrified awake on a near-nightly basis from the loud noises of Israeli soldiers setting off sound bombs, firing live bullets, and unleashing tear gas on the streets and even inside homes.

These families are people whose resistance entails not running away from the harassment, not moving out, continuing to work/study/live in the West Bank town they know as their own. Why should they leave? Where should they go? The Israeli army is trying very hard to encourage them away, but where would they go?

How old are these boys in uniforms who roam the streets by day and night, terrorizing the citizens? What really goes through their minds: do they really believe that they are in a highly dangerous area, that the residents are militants, that the 12 and 13 year old boys they haunt, handcuff, blindfold, and beat are suicide bombers? More somberly, are these soldiers aware to any degree of the needless and massive collective fear they engender with their nightly invasion antics, in which they shoot flares, sound bombs, tear gas, even bullets in the sleeping hours of the night, shocking residents awake? How lightly must residents sleep here. We foreigners start at every sound, not particularly because we fear they are directed at us, but because we want to be awake and ready if need be.

Ready to do what… we don’t know exactly in this situation. In theory, to document, to prevent assault and arrest, to de-escalate, to diffuse the IOF potential fear of being surrounded by terrorists and the Palestinian civilians’ feeling of being abandoned by the world to the world’s bully’s younger sibling.

In practice, we are finding that these particular soldiers are more on edge, more inclined to shun recognition of human rights, rights violations, and the international standing which normally affords observers relative safety from soldiers. Except at Bil’in. Except for Tom Hurndall, Rachel Corrie, Brian Avery…

Clearly the soldiers do not appreciate our presence here. In most places that the army romps, HRWs are seen as meddling where we don’t belong, in what we don’t understand, despite our solid grasp on international human rights norms, IOF violations of said norms, the desperate longing for peace and justice by the vast majority of Palestinians, and the denial of such justice and peace by the vast majority of IOF soldiers and Israeli politicians.

The IOF disdain was made evident when earlier they threatened us, told us not to be seen here again, in this village they impromptu called a closed military zone.

How, yanni, does life continue amidst this terror? Just 1 hour ago, the army prowled the streets, shot flares at the homes of sleeping villagers, shot flares at our apartment, shot the transistor supplying electricity to this side of town, and rumbled off in their military hummer and jeep. 20 minutes later, one intrepid man turned up solo in the centre where the transistor stands, fished out his flashlight, and worked on the problem, re-supplying electricity to the quarter. The mosque re-alit in its neon green, and home lights came on in dim glows. He ambled seemingly unaffected up and down the street where 30 minutes before soldiers had stationed their vehicles and played their war games. Did he know the IOF had been there, were the cause of the power outage? Did he care? Is he resigned to such antics? Is he determined not to resign to such antics?

Jumping a little more this evening at street sounds, each passing car brings us to our feet and the window. A taxi. The man to fix the transistor. A distant truck jangling with its load but out of sight. A long empty flatbed truck brazenly rolling down this invaded town’s road.

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The night is long, the week is long, the months are long, the Occupation and its deadly games are long, have gone on far too long, are long overdue for the world to see, grasp, and act upon to render a very late semblance of justice to a very maligned group of people recipient of injustice after injustice, rendered refugee time and again.

In a sad irony, this quest for justice will go discussed but not discussed in Annapolis later today.

Mural Painting at Amary Camp

November 20, 2007

The kids were fantastic: excited to transform sparse grey walls to a rainbow of images.
An elephant, sheep of varying sizes, giant birds and butterflies, flowers bursting with colour…These animals, stenciled by R, an international volunteer with artistic flair and little discretion for scale, gained bright fur and clothes by kids who handled their responsibility very well.

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The Amary refugee camp play centre hosts about 50 children aged 5 years every day from 7:30-12:00, working with them to teach them language skills and play games, but moreover to provide a place where in the unpredictability and difficulty of life under Occupation, they receive the patient attention vital to traumatized children.

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The effects of the stress of children’s lives was epitomized by one hyperactive little boy who ran about expressing himself noisily and none-too-gently with the other kids. He was a pipsqueak bully with a huge smile demanding attention. From the headmistress, he was treated fairly but without hostility, catering to his desire for attention but not further playing on his emotional traumas.

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Three teachers work daily at the play centre, one of whom has been there for 20 years. Funded by both the Friends schools and UN funding, this Amary Camp play centre began in 1975. The centre is modest but the attention great, making up for where finances fall short. Nonetheless, the teachers try to provide milk for the kids 2 or 3 times per week and, the morning we were there, laid out a snack of the makings of a falafel sandwich.

The Friends schools serve approximately 1,100 students, from elementary to high school age.

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Pavarotti

November 17, 2007

I’m sitting in Iman’s internet café and suddenly notice the vibrato tenor of a familiar voice. The music wafts amidst the sounds of different video games being played, their players egging each other on.

Iman sits behind his desk, headphones on, eyes half closed, a dreamy look on his face like that which many people around the world get when listening to fine classical music.
“Do you like Pavarotti?” he asks me. “Go to You Tube B (his pronunciation) and type Pavarotti. You can find anything about him there.”

I’m so used to using You Tube for reporting purposes that it seems a nice alternative use for the site.

nablus musician

November 13, 2007

I stopped in a Nablus cultural centre to visit with friends I’d met months previously but hadn’t seen since. This is the same centre I once entered feeling quite glum about the situation in Palestine and what was happening to the people of Gaza with the Israeli incursions and the world-wide siege on Gaza.

I recall going into this cultural centre not feeling sociable and just generally miserable with humanity. And once inside, I was swarmed by the youths of Askar refugee camp, one of Nablus’ three main camps, who frequented the centre during summer months out of school. Soon they had the music going and were dancing Dabke steps like professionals. The music switched and they were throwing hips and shoulders like an alluring woman, grins on their faces.

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**[Dabke photos from Tulkarem peace event in June]

The other day when I went in, two young men were practicing oud and singing. Quite beautifully. One had an amazing voice with the scrapes and sorrows in it which mesmerize.

Their music instructor came out of his office and was soon coerced into playing a bit of oud for the visitor, to my delight:

So it was that once again Palestinians lift me from glumness, when they of all people have the right to dwell in the daily sorrows inflicted upon them. For the most part, the majority I’ve met shirk this right, instead reveling in laughter, teasing, music, and life.

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others’ thoughts

November 2, 2007

[Thoughts from Bruce Taub, delegation member of the Health and Human Rights Project from Jewish Voices for Peace and co-chair of the PDA Israel Palestine Task Force.]

On Saturday, I joined with over 100 Israeli Jews and international activists to help Palestinian farmers harvest olives in the Qalqiliya district of the Occupied Palestinian Territories where farmers have been isolated from and/or denied access to their agricultural lands by the Separation Wall. I worked on the farm of Shareef Omar Khalid and his wife Siham in the village of Ja’ayus, an ancient Palestinian village of about 500 homes originally built over caves that have been lived in since at least the pre-Christian era.

Although Ja’ayus lies six kilometers on the Palestinian side of the Green Line the Separation Wall that the Israelis have constructed runs right through the village and separates the farmers from their lands. It consists of a series of fences and ditches, razor wire, gates, a trench of 2-3 meters depth, an unpaved road 3 to 4 meters above the surrounding ground, then a main fence 4 meters high supplied with electronic sensors, then a paved road, then another trench and razor wire with a gate. The whole of this separation barrier ranges between 40 and 80 meters wide. It isolates 8,600 dunums (75% of Ja’ayus’ land) from the villagers. Its construction alone destroyed 650 dunums of Ja’ayus land and over 4,000 trees were uprooted.

Shareef, who has worked this land for over six decades, as did his parents and grandparents before him, was recently denied access to his fields. So, too, his sons and daughters. Hence we are here helping to harvest. Can there be any purpose to this denial of access other than the theft of his lands, his trees, and his livelihood?

Musab – a poem written after visiting Musab at the apartment house he lives in in Nablus.

I am Musab, six years old

Two days ago Israeli soldiers surrounded our house at 2 A.M. shooting

Helicopter gunships illuminated the night

Their rotors like giant fans hung from the sky

The whine of rockets like angry birds

Here 4 bullet holes through the door of the room where my brother sleeps

Here the shattered windows

“Take your clothes off, all of you,” the Israeli soldiers yell

Then father was handcuffed

Taken as a human shield to the apartment of uncle Hussan

Where bullets pierced another door

Pierced the chest of the old man opening it

Who bleeds to death for want of an ambulance

His body is removed

The soldiers withdraw

But brother is still crying

My city Nablus is still occupied

The old man remains dead

And I am Musab, six years old.

sorrows

October 31, 2007

Two days ago, Iyad’s home was raided for the ninth time. The IOF punishes him for leading non-violent resistance in Bil’in. These house raids, in the late hours of the night, which terrify his 3 young children, are in addition to the assault he and other Bil’in villagers take for not lying down to Israel’s expansion and expulsion tactics.

Abdullah from Bil’in has a roomful of spent Israeli teargas & sound bomb canisters, rubber and live bullets, all used against non-violent demonstrators. Adeeb and Ibrahim have marks and scars from their various ‘rubber’ bullet injuries taken while walking dangerously unarmed on their own land. They’ve all been detained and arrested numerous times for their peaceful protests.

The line at Birzeit checkpoint extended down the hill, at only 9 a.m—morning rush hour, when people are transiting to work or school. It is truly miraculous any finish their education in Palestine, let alone arrive to work.

A was martyred last night. The injuries he received two weeks ago, became fatal yesterday afternoon, finally claiming his 24 years. He leaves behind a 2 month old baby boy and lovely young wife; and his mother, wry and anxious, who must have been expecting this for years. Her stony face today didn’t belie any strength acquired in this expectation, and his sister’s sobbing betrayed the real child behind the toughened 11 year old exterior.

This is one more resistance fighter whose assassination Israel and the West will chalk up to a victory in the name of security, if it’s mentioned at all.

I will remember his smile, his teasing way, his reprimands each time I returned to Nablus after too-long away, him taking my phone one day to prevent me from leaving to work, his pride, his boyish ways watching tv or teasing others, him cradling his newborn son.

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What is it that makes Palestinian, Arab, lives expendable, so much so that we blink, at best, at their death toll, starvation, harassment, and torture by Israel and the US.

This is my 1st personal loss. Qadaffi’s assassination two weeks ago saddened me greatly, though our meetings numbered only a handful.

I sit in a taxi full of people who have likely lost more than one close friend if not a sibling or child. And am treated the servis fare by an older woman, pre-1948 aged, who cannot be ignorant to loss. This is soon confirmed as, learning my reason for heading to Nablus –the funeral –she pulls her martyr necklace from under her robes, showing me the photo of her son, martyred years before at the hands of the Israeli army. She takes my phone number, tells me to call her if I need anything, gets out and returns quickly to the taxi window with a red flower for me.

growth

October 15, 2007

months ago in ar Ram, i came across two older men working a dirty plot of land.  The surrounding area was old tires, rubbish, rotting trash, and rocks.  they plucked useable stones gingerly from the mess, pushed and dug aside much of the heap, imported new, rich soil, and laboured for days leveling and smoothing the land.  they bought plants and trees, laid stones and protective, decorative tires and barrels, staggered levels artistically, had coffee breaks, and worked to create what has grown into a side of the walk beauty that catches me each time i pass by.

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little to do

October 14, 2007

Iman welcomed me.  It had been a few weeks since I’d been to his internet cafe.

“Eid mubarek,” I wished him, this, the third and last day of Eid.  I asked if it had been a good one.

“Good, yes, but not like in other countries. you see, there’s nothing for kids to do. They can play computer games, but they can’t go anywhere… even getting to Al Aqsa to pray is difficult to impossible for many. We have West Bank IDs; we can’t go to Jerusalem.”

I thought of Christmases as a child, of going on mini-vacations, going across the country to see relatives.

I saw the lines at checkpoints, particularly Qalendia, separating Jerusalem from Ramallah and leading away from most West Bank destinations.

A week earlier, passing through the Dahir al Bariit exit from Ar Ram, an older man befriended me en route. From Salfit, in the north half of the West Bank, he had come down for an eye doctor’s appointment. His clouded eye quite clearly needed attention, as his doctor’s note testified. He was sent away, sent to Qalendia checkpoint where he stood little chance of entering forbidden Jerusalem lands without the difficult to attain permit necessary for West Bankers.

I always feel wary of being trite when wishing a happy Ramadan, happy Eid, nice day…to Palestinians who would be most happy if they were allowed to move freely in their own land.
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