June 26, 2007 All Quiet on the West Bank

Dear friends and family,
Last Saturday Mary and I went to Deir Ibzi'a for a short overnight trip to meet with the Austrian funders of the Cultural NGO. The meeting went very well and the funders were very pleased with how the NGO is functioning. They were especially pleased with the computer center.

On Saturday evening the board threw an elaborate party to show their appreciation for everyone who has participated in the project. They held it at a new country club of sorts in the next village called An Erik. The place was beautiful and there was a swimming pool for the children to enjoy. (Separate times for the girls and boys of course.) It was lovely. The best part was that the men of the board (the one womyn on the board only showed up for 10 minutes and then left - I'm not sure what her story is) served the meal and waited on everyone else. Including the women! I took many pictures. And of course I had to tease Deeb about it. Actually he does like to cook and will often do so in his home. (But I've never seen him clean.) And Naim, one of the others on the board has a Yugoslavian wife who works for the Ministry of Agriculture and they seem to share household responsibilities in a more equitable way than most families here. Anyway, the men explained that they were just so happy that their wives had been supportive of them, letting them be away from home for long meetings, serving the board tea and coffee when the meetings were at their houses, etc. It was a wonderful and happy day celebrating a successful project. And they have high hopes to do a lot more.

A recent development that is of concern is that Abbas has issued a presidential decree suspending the Palestinian law relating to NGOs. So now the Ministry of Interior can close or ban NGOs or demand that they change their internal procedures. The move is widely seen as an attempt to undercut Hamas affiliated NGOs. Both the Palestinian National Initiative and the Palestinian Committee on Human Rights have condemned the move as an attack on democracy and a crackdown on civil society. Of course, I am concerned about how it will affect the Deir Ibzi'a Cultural NGO. They had such a hard time getting recognition in the first place. It would be such a shame if it became a casualty of the new emergency government.

Meanwhile things at the IWPS house in Hares have been very quiet. Since Mary and I arrived last Wednesday we've mostly been doing office work and house cleaning because the situation is so calm right now. The house hasn't received any calls to come help a village being invaded by the military or marauding settlers. And travel is incredibly easy right now. I've never had such smooth riding through the check points and most of the road blocks seem to be cleared. In fact of all the time I've spent in Palestine, this is inarguably the most relaxed.

I've been told that one reason that it is so quiet right now in the West Bank is because the Fatah controlled Preventative Security Services are currently doing most of Israel's work, arresting Hamas militants. They arrested 120 in the last week. I think another reason for the quiet is that the people seem pretty beat down and hopeless. Most of the Wall has been completed (although there is still more to do around Ariel which is the large settlement only 3 km from Hares) and the nonviolent demonstrations against it didn't get them anything except tear gas, injuries and army incursions into the village at night. So there don't seem to be any nonviolent demonstrations for us to support except for the weekly Friday ones in Bil'in.

Nonetheless, the occupation continues and in the last week 5 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and a young man at a checkpoint in Hebron.

Tomorrow I will start helping IWPS on a project in conjunction with ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions) documenting home demolitions in the Salfit region. We are also meeting in the evening with some farmers in a neighboring village (Deir Istiya) to talk about organizing a Peace Camp. A Peace Camp is not a children's summer camp. It is a permanent encampment in the farmers' fields to prevent wall construction. There was one in the village of Mas'aa a few years ago and it didn't end too well.


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