Archive for November, 2007

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.

local-toffees.jpg **locally-produced toffees, given by a Nablus teen who works in the factory.

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.