Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

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.

dabka3.jpg dabka.jpg

**[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.


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.

abed2.jpg      abed-small.jpg

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.

August 22, 2007

8:40 am

A round of walking to survey morning activities. Many of the problems reported by shepherds have occurred in the morning and at pre-sunset hours while they graze their sheep.

We sit atop a hilltop off the main highway. It is again a lovely scene, with rolling fields beyond and the angled morning light catching the white of the sheep –at sunset this is even more incredible.

Beyond these arid hills that somehow manage to nurture plants and harangued Palestinians, the expanse of Yatta stretches far, expanded by former residents of the older, greater Susiya, before the days of settler menance and IOF house-demolitions.

As with so many settings and incidents seen already, it is the harsh contrast of this serene environment and the local Palestinians’ brutal reality that stuns me again and again.

One can lose oneself to the wind, the birdsongs, the lulling heat, and pleasant view. And one can snap rudely awake to the absurdity of the settlers, soldiers, and the situation.

Days ago, we visited families across the valley, far west, moving from boy Suliman’s tent, where the women ask about bread in Canada [I’ve promised to bring a photo of my friends’ outdoor cob oven], to a cave where a young mother nursed her 2 week old boy and cared for her sullen, timid 2 year old son. The cave –quite cool in the heat of the day, and surprisingly functional –is isolated and seemed vulnerable to settler/soldier attacks and harassment.

We headed for Abu Malesh, whom we’d heard has had problems with passing settlers who stealhis figs, pilfer from his well, and assault even his sheep. Along the way, we were pulled into the tent of Aziz and his brother Abd’ Rachman who were assaulted, along with their young children, only last year by armed settlers, some wearing rifles, wielding a knife .  We later saw the house his family had been terrorized into leaving: a compact stone building overlooking the terraces of agricultural land below. Idyllic.

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.

August 15, 2007

The young man at an Ar-Ram convenience store –always smiling and welcoming, this time giving me a cold glass of juice after a hot walk uphill –told me today, still smiling sadly: “I don’t want to live. What can I live for?”

He described finishing university and lamented the Occupation. Having seen its effects and heard the trauma from countless Palestinians, I still don’t personally know the Occupation. All I could do was say I knew about its effects and restrictions, that people around the world know about it and despise it. My words felt empty, as empty as the countless UN resolutions and international condemnations which, in the end, do nothing to prevent Israel from doing and taking what it wants to Palestinians.

The young boy, 9 or 10, beside me in the servis caresses his sleeping sister’s hair and cheek absentmindedly. His mother had shifted the 4 year old child over onto his lap, he accepting her uncomplainingly. And like so many I see, he displays the open affection and care for younger siblings that I rarely see to such a degree back home.

tired of peace talks

August 14, 2007

I’ve just come from an Israeli-organized Israeli-Palestinian peace event, where many of the Israeli participants were young, funky, dreadlocked men and women who talk of peace.

Combatants for Peace  
spoke there, Osama and Shimone giving their testimonies, Wael and Itimar fielding questions.

A few older Israeli women threw out accusatory questions on suicide bombers and Israeli military-resisters.

I drifted away.

Down roads lined with healthy fields, past a gas station and a military memorial museum –between which no less than 20 sprinklers tended a vibrant patch of grass –and along a trail.

Paused to admire some unusual bird calls, sniff the unfamiliar odor of moisture in the air –from the 20-sprinkler-strong lawn irrigation, the lush growth all around, the reservoir ahead –and watch the sunset illuminate trees and distant hills. Was struck by how far away, within this small stretch of land formerly known as Palestine, Hebron and Susiya were, with their thirst for water.

Gaza is on another planet, so cut off and unimaginably different it seems. Followed the path around, turning up another just as a small fleet of IOF jeeps trundled past.

The Israeli peaceniks, some do appreciate Palestinians’ daily trials and obstacles. And a great many are oblivious.

I admire Orr, and even Itimar who today talked of having vowed he would kill 200,000 Arabs with ease in order to defend Israel. He is, of course, changed, aware, fighting non-violently via education and dialogue to awaken other Israelis. They take on the hard-liner patriots, like the women of today.

M sent me an edit today. More Gazans killed in another IOF alleged hunt for “wanted men” and targeting of bystanding civilians.

It is all so tiring, all this Occupation and denial of history. And the re-playing of history, where the once-occupied become the Occupiers.


August 4, 2007

Another nice visit to Yaata. Zayid brings Zain, a bundle of baby chortles, to me to say good morning. Ayid himself is only 7 or 8 but (as kids do here) assumes responsibility for the little one.

Zayid is a handsome boy, with upwards arching fuzzy eyebrows and a classic nose. His smile is innocent and knowingly confident at once. Yet he is gracious.

25 minutes from Yatta and out of the servis playing religious discourse, I’m suddenly in hot, dry landscape which, apart from the olive trees, could be Tibet leading from Samye monastery. Brown-green earth, open spaces, quiet, and over-arching Occupation. So similar.

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?”


“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.”


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.