Archive for the ‘occupational hazards’ Category

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.

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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.

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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September 16, 2007

“They’re to waste your time. It costs money: half an hour, that’s half an hour of work, of your life gone,” the Jerusalem ID-carrying Palestinian told me. From just outside of Jerusalem, to get to work in the old city, where he sells hand-made jewelry, he must daily travel in the opposite direction, to Qalendia checkpoint, to then travel anew in the correct direction. Before the checkpoints and the Wall, his trip to Jerusalem was an easy one.

He, too, sees little security in the so-dubbed ‘security barrier’: “If there’s a will, there’s a way. If somebody wants to go over the Wall, they can.”

He talks about how the Occupation has changed not only daily life for Palestinians, but also life related to surrounding travel venues: “When my father was young and went to Damascus Gate (in Jerusalem), the taxi drivers called ‘Amman, Beirut, Baghdad….’ When I was younger and went to Damascus Gate, the taxi drivers called ‘Eriha (Jericho), Nablus, Khalil (Hebron)….’ Now, when my son goes to Damascus gate, the drivers call ‘Machsom Qalendia, Machsom Bethlehem (Qalendia checkpoint, Bethlehem checkpoint)….’

It gets smaller and smaller and smaller, our permitted area of travel.”

The road from Qalendia to Jerusalem normally involved a delay, in which the Border Police do another security check. Then, it’s just a matter of traffic…

Today, that stretch of road has a flying roadblock, possibly in place because of meetings with Condi Rice. If so, that is another irony in the endless, fruitless, staged peace talks: disruption of even an already disrupted journey.

The roadblock entails re-routing a re-routed entry to Jerusalem. The detour means that people already detouring from Ar Ram to Beit Hanina –just around the corner but out of reach due to the Wall and checkpoints –must further detour. The bus then has to backtrack to drop of these greatly-delayed passengers.

Back, all the way to the Dahiir al Bariit back exit, all because that particular exit is closed. It is closed, and yet one can evidently get dangerously close to it.

August 27, 2007

The road is ridiculously pot-holed. His servis threadbare: drivers mirror cracked but functional; bare minimum of upholstery with trivial bits of frill dangling around the ceiling edges. He’s working on a Friday –the holy day –and literally getting no breaks.

Just outside of Fawwar refugee camp we approach an impromptu roadblock (a “flying checkpoint”). Rather than risk the potentially long wait, he turns up a road, chugging up, up, up, and nagivates this pittance-earning servis over crusty roads.

He stops to ask locals for directions, alternative roads, then shares his new expertise with servis drivers passing in the opposite direction.

It isn’t about security, this flying checkpoint. A rambling and coughing servis can easily dodge the checkpoint. So, too, could those who supposedly want to commit terror attacks.

August 16, 2007

A phone call from M in Rafah leaves me dumb and numb.

He thinks the recent IOF slaughter in Khan Younis is the start of something big.

“How can I use my privilege?” I asked him. “How can I influence my governments, my people, bring awareness and change?”

“I don’t know.” There was a long silence. I told him to take care, then immediately apologized for coming off so trite. How do you take care when being air and land bombed?

And I remember the Abu J family dancing in midday heat under the shade of their tent; I recall countless instances of young children touchingly concerned for even younger kids –or for me, offering tea with such graciousness. Memories of kids making do with barren, dusty, potholed surroundings, smiles bigger than I remember from my own safe childhood, playing football, sledding down a Tel Rumeida hill on a push-dolly, flinging out Dabka steps, shimmering to pop music from Egypt and Lebanon…

And I’m sure, Fatah or Hamas, kids and people are the same in Gaza, which is currently –yet again –being pounded by Israel.

There’s the family who, last week, welcomed me and another volunteer into their Hebron home, though we arrived after 10 pm and not actually knowing anyone present.

Sultan had earlier in the day told me of his sister’s wedding to occur the following day, minus significant family members stuck in Gaza. The sister was heartbroken, he said, that the family wouldn’t be together. He’d asked me to stop by the pre-wedding celebration that night.

But they graciously welcomed us, showing more interest in and hospitality to us than we deserved, unexpected strangers crashing a wedding party in tragic times.

I look at the words M brings together from his observations and from other news. It gives me deeper insight to the largely unreported tragedies occurring daily in Gaza, as well as the sporadic positive events and celebrations.

When I see the photos he takes, I cannot image seeing death like that on a near-daily basis. I cannot imagine the futility and bitterness that must grow with each click of the shutter. I can’t image how he gets any sleep at night, or gets past his own personal tragedies.

July 30, 2007

A smooth ride into Tel Aviv, as to be expected, on level, wide, roadblockless and checkpoint-free roads, pass lush treed scenery. It is no wonder many Israelis are unacquainted with Palestinians real and daily suffering: on these roads, life continues as normal and one can exist in the bubble of a car, oblivious to life on the Palestinian side. There, on the other hand, it is simply a matter of adjusting. Even someone from a comfortable Western developed country can get used to slow services, bumpy dusty roads, long lines, lines which often result in waiting in the heat of the day for movement…

The bus driver, the Interior Ministry clerk… perhaps not fair to generalize, but, in general, Israelis lack the social graces I’ve encountered every day among Palestinians. On the other hand, it is a question of privilege, (lack of) awareness, and indoctrination, rather than by virtue of being Jewish Israeli.  I’ve certainly met like people in Canada, and have equally met wonderful Israelis among the more honest and activist groups, Israelis who recognize their country’s culpability in the killing, torture, and abuse of so many Palestinians, and who resist being a part of the system of racism.

So unlike Palestinian roads: narrow, inevitably pot-holed and under construction, roadblocks and checkpoints abounding, masses kept back waiting, masses squeezed and honking.

The cafes, restaurants, cities: Westernized, modern clean, expensive.

Israel is so much greener than Palestine. A vibrancy like Nepali rice paddies. Much water has obviously been diverted to these trees and crops –lush areas. Visiting Tel Aviv, where Palestinians live under Israeli ID but without Israeli rights, and seeing massive development and utterly non-Arab culture is heartbreaking and insulting. And I know that uttering these thoughts leads to attacks and criticisms of anti-Semitism and bias.

This transparent strategy of defeating criticism of Israel is, while obvious, effective.

[see: Academic freedom doesn’t extend to those who speak out against Israel ]

My scorn, uncontainable, for the brutal manner in which Israel was founded and has been continually expanded, and its brutal continuation of racist policies cannot be subdued to appreciate Israeli cities where Palestinian rights are non-existent and Palestinian culture verging on the same fate. They repel me with their injustice.

Qalendia Machsom was full this morning, traffic from Ar Ram’s Dahir Al Bariit Machsom diverted here.

“It’s not fair. You can go to Qalendia. We can’t. We can’t leave here.”

“Where do you work?”

“All over, in many cities.”

“So you cannot work today?”

“No.”

“What about that space in the Wall just over there that people climb over…Can you use that?”

“The police are watching it. From 7 until 5.”

“Working hours.”

“Yes.”

They closed the Ar Ram Machsom (“checkpoint”) to foreigners and to Palestinians without Israeli IDs. Qalendia is the other option, and for me is not a real problem. A foreigner can sail through on a servis without even getting out of it (while Palestinians, particularly young male Palestinians, must get out and go through the turnstile security system.). Even if going through the turnstile system in solidarity with those who have no other choice, foreigners still face relatively few problems, save at times excruciating lineups. The woman who wants to visit her grandmother around the corner from the Dahir al Bariit Machsom must now travel at least 1.5 hours –if the lineups are tolerable and the waiting masses are permitted through the System –to reach her grandmother in what should have taken a mere 5 minutes in a direct route from her home.

The soldiers are non-plussed: “I’m just following orders.” The old song and dance that slides morality through immoral situations. The passing of the buck, the shirking of responsibility.

S was there. We caught up and joked morosely about the system, about the need to push our ways through the crowded Machsom lines but both our unwillingness to do so. Unwillingness to fall prey to the set-up: to forget our neighbours, to turn against (or turn ignorant of) the people in the same situation around us, in the desperation to get through the system. I hate to push my way through in this fucking situation, where people going to work are stopped, squashed into a caged space, and taunted with a small opening to ‘freedom’ [temporary and confined as it is]. It isn’t the same as pushing through a crowd in east Asia, where that is an everyday situation and cultural norm. Here, the mobs are created by the oppressors.

S got caught in the turnstile, the next in line after I’d passed through. He took it in stride [halted stride], as they do, but it hurt me again. As did his having to take off his belt to pass through security. Every security metal detector means taking off belts –seems like I’m always seeing well-dressed Palestinians re-adjusting their pants, tucking back in their shirts…

And the Palestinian man from earlier at the Dahir al Bariit closed exit was right: it isn’t fair. Not one aspect of the punitive and degrading Occupation is remotely just or fair, including my very own freedom to pack it in and give up, to leave when I choose, to say I’ve had enough of Israel’s belligerency.