June 28, 2007 Nablus under invasion - Sounds like an afternoon outing for IWPS

Dear friends and family,
Despite the relative calm in the immediate vicinity of Hares, the occupation is intensifying in other areas.

More than fifty military vehicles raided Jenin refugee camp late on Tuesday evening. Army confrontations ensued with resistance fighters from the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Brigades and the Islamic Jihad-affiliated Al Quds Brigades. A Palestinian man was seriously injured and three Palestinians were arrested during the incursion.

Israeli tanks invaded the southern Gaza Strip while Israeli fighter jets bombarded Gaza City early Wednesday morning. Thirteen Palestinians have been killed.

Heavy Israeli forces invaded the city of Nablus on Wednesday night blowing up an electricity transformer, placing many hospitals under siege, turning more than 30 Palestinian homes into military bases. Additionally, dozens of Israeli military vehicles invaded Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus.

Did any of this make the newspapers in the U.S.?

This may sound trivial in the larger scope of things but this all comes at a particular bad time as high school students are being prevented from taking their final school exams. This exam, called the Tawljihi is extremely important as it will determine whether or not the student can continue to the university. The results of the Tawljihi are awaited breathlessly by the whole of Palestine and much celebrating (or mourning) occurs when they are released. (The mourning is much quieter.)

Here in the vicinity of Hares the occupation continues in la ess dramatic manner but equally devastating as the daily lives of Palestinians are constantly filled with humiliation, limitation and harassment. Since Tuesday afternoon the army has erected a roadblock at the entrance of Kifl Hares, the village just to the east of us. We are to meet with the mayor this afternoon and try to negotiate with the soldiers stationed there to remove it.

We also got a call from farmers in Deir Istiya, the village to our north. They reported serious harassment from settlers and soldiers while trying to herd their goats. (The IWPS Human Rights Report No. 328 that describes this incident will be posted on our website shortly. http://www.iwps.info/) So we also have another appointment this afternoon to go to the military encampment outside the settlement of Yaqir and negotiate a cessation of this harassment.

However, I received a call just ten minutes ago from the ISM coordinator in Nablus. He very politely told me that Nablus is under invasion (as I had mentioned at the start of this email) and he would like to invite the womyn of IWPS to come there and be with the people. He sounded like he was inviting us to tea! I am alone in the house right now, but two others will return soon, inshallah. We will probably cancel the other afternoon appointments and go to Nablus.

I’ll let you know what happens.

P.S. OK. Now you can worry, but just the tinest tinest bit. Really.

June 27, 2007 Hamas: terror network or safety net?

Dear friends and family,
In my last message I wrote that Abbas had issued a presidential decree suspending the Palestinian law relating to NGOs and that the move was widely seen as an attempt to undercut Hamas affiliated NGOs. What I forgot to mention is that although the military wing of Hamas is what gets international attention, the majority of their work is welfare and social services administered through NGOs. In fact one of the men on the Deir Ibzi'a Cultural NGO has a full time job with a Hamas NGO that gives aid to widows and orphans.

Just thought it was important to mention this since many of you wrote to me objecting to my assessment of Hamas.


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.


June 23, 2007 A powerful form of resistance

Dear friends and family,
I mentioned at the end of my last email that the group I truly support in Palestine is the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall (PCAW).

Bil'in is a small village in the West Bank located approximately 12 kilometers west of Ramallah and about 4 kilometres east of the 1967 Green Line. It is home to about 1600 Palestinians. The construction of the wall will result in the theft of 60% of the village's farm land upon which Modi'in Illit is being built, a new illegal Israeli settlement.

The Bil'in PCAW has made Bil'in famous for their creative and non-violent demonstrations that they have organized every Friday since January 2005. They have perservered despite the harassment of its leaders (arrests, death threats, beatings) and the certainty of tear gas (with the canisters shot directly at protestors such that they become a potential lethel weapons), rubber-coated steel bullets, sound bombs and injuries at every demonstration.

Last Friday four of us from IWPS went to Bil'in to join with about 30 other internationals, 20 Israelis and 50 villagers in marching to the wall. It was a smaller than usual demonstration, however, typical of what usually happens each week. We all gather at the mosque and after the Friday prayers march to the wall, singing and chanting. A barbed wire barrier stops the crowd about 300 yards in front of the wall and there were about 30 Israeli soldiers stationed half way inbetween the crowd and the wall. Sometimes they wait a bit and let the crowd chant, pray and sing, but this time they advanced immediately and started shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. The demonstrators retreated and then advanced again after the gas cleared. Then this dance repeated itself many times until the soldiers finally chased everyone back into the village.

Medics from the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee are always standing by to deal with the inevitable injuries, hoping that none will be too serious. (Over the course of these demonstrations there have been some fatalities and critical injuries resulting in brain damage.) Yesterday the most serious injury was a bad reaction to the tear gas and burns from where the canisters hit. One of the IWPS womyn was hit twice which caused her to believe that she was being targeted. (I agree that the chances are pretty low of being hit twice.)

Two Palestinians were arrested. As of Saturday night one is still being detained. He will probably be held a few days longer and released with no charges brought. His release is more likely because of the internationals who will monitor what happens to him.

Near the edge of the village there was a house under construction, in complete view of the demonstration and the soldiers. From the roof top of this house construction workers shouted to the demonstrators to tell them where the incoming tear gas was coming from. I couldn't believe that they scarely stopped their work throughtout the entire demonstration! (Except maybe at the height of the tear gas clouds.) They refused to let the Israeli occupation stop them living their lives. It reminded me of a beautiful quote by Edward Said that I use in my slideshows. I can't remember the exact words but he talks about the fact that Palestinians going about their everyday life, going to school, going to their jobs and raising families is the most powerful form of non-violent resistance.


June 22, 2007 Forget Hamas. Forget Fatah. Support the PCAW!

Dear friends and family,
I am not sure what the U.S. media has been reporting regarding the Hamas/Fatah fallout but I am outraged by the spin put on it by Israel and the U.S.

Before I explain my outrage, I'll outline briefly the sequence of events.

For months there has been internicene fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah culminating in clashes last week which left more than 110 people dead and hundreds wounded. Hamas, after enduring kidnappings, bombings and assassinations (including an attempt on the life of the elected prime minister) by paramilitary groups loyal to Fatah, staged what it called a "pre-emptive" strike against Fatah aligned Preventative Security Forces headed by Mohammed Dahlan who is widely viewed as a CIA collaborator. Depsite the fact that these Security forces have received millions of dollars in financial backing and military training from the US, Hamas easily gained control of Gaza. Abbas, the US and Israel have accused Hamas of staging a military coup in Gaza, with Dahlan denouncing Hamas as "an occupying" force in Gaza.

On June 14th Palestinian Prime Minister and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency. A few days later he outlawed Hamas affiliated militias and swore in a new unelected emergency government ousting the National Unity government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose Hamas party won the 2006 Palestinian elections in a landslide victory. Despite serious questions about the legitimacy of this new government, Israel, the United States and the European Union have welcomed its formation and Bush even went so far as to accuse Hamas of "assaulting" the potential democracy of Palestine.

So now to explain my outrage.

First of all, correct me if I am wrong but if Hamas won the elections in 2006, how is it assaulting democracy? And how does a government in power have a coup? And why is the U.S. giving millions of dollars to just one of the political parties of a government rather than the government itself for its security forces?

The truth is that the division between Hamas and Fatah serves Israel’s purposes since a Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority is much more pliable than one headed by Hamas. Carter said that "The United States and Israel decided to punish all the people in Palestine and did everything they could to deter a compromise between Hamas and Fatah".

The upshot of all of this is that my life has been made ever so much easier. Getting through checkpoints is a piece of cake right now in the West Bank and the soldiers are being somewhat well behaved and keeping their distance. At least for the moment.

My brother wrote to ask if I had a preference between Fatah and Hamas. I want to say that I don't like either. Fatah is corrupt and short-sighted and although I do not at all buy into the terrorist label that the world has painted on Hamas, their religious fundamentalism does not bode well for womyn or democracy. However, they are relatively honest and I believe that they truly care about Palestine. Fatah only cares about retaining its own power.

My real preference is for the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall (PCAW) but they don't get any press coverage.


June 18, 2007 Report from Deir Ibzi'a

Dear friends and family,
Mary and I have spent the last two days in Deir Ibzi'a meeting with our Palestinian partners of the Friends of Deir Ibzi'a.

We met with ten of the womyn who make our embroidery. We talked some about details of the project but mostly just visited and got to know each other better. Over many cups of tea and coffee, of course. They told us that they are very happy with the project and are grateful for the income.

We also met with the people who judge the scholarship applications and administer them. They have now successfully established an official NGO that is recognized by the Palestinian Authority Welfare Department and the UN. It is called the Deir Ibze' (there are 100 ways to spell the name of the village) Cultural NGO. (NGO means non-governmental organization.) Without going into too much detail, I want you to realize that this was an extraordinary accomplishment since they refuse to identify with either Hamas or Fatah. There were six of the seven NGO members at our meeting. Deeb, Dr. Marwan, Husam, Naim, Nabil and Ameen. There is one womyn member but she wasn't able to come.

The meeting was absolutely wonderful and uplifting. They have a vision for helping poor children and womyn. They told us about computer classes that they had offered last winter semester, one for girls, one for boys and one for the womyn of the village. One of the members is very religious and insisted that they have separate classes for male and female. However, they have now all decided not to continue this practice as a policy. And they did have a field trip at the end of the classes that included everyone, male and female.

They told us that they do not want the NGO or anyone affiliated with it to be political at all. If someone wants to have opinions about politics, that is OK. But they can't be active in politics. I asked if participating in a non-violent demonstration, for example the weekly Friday demonstrations in Bil'in, would be okay. They said absolutely it would be okay, and in fact that kind of activity would be encouraged. However, any association with one of the organized political factions would not be tolerated.

They told us of their need to buy a property for the computer center which is in a very small rented space for the time being. They need to get a bigger space (about 1000 sq ft) and they need to own it because this will make it much easier for them to get funding for more programs. They want us to help them raise the money. About $15,000 - $20,000. We didn't really have any ideas. If any of you do, please offer them!We also met with the students that we are supporting with scholarships right now. Amir, Mazen, Shadi, Samia and Ahmad. As usual, Samia was outgoing, charming, talkative and engaging. The boys were a bit quieter and their English was not quite as developed. However, the time together was rich and poignant. We asked if they had hope of getting jobs in their fields after graduating and if they intended to stay in Palestine. All except Samia had pessimism about finding jobs after graduation. (Our first graduate, Saddam, is still driving a taxi.) Nonetheless, Shadi was the only one that said that he wanted to leave Palestine after graduation.

After the rest of the students left, Ahmad stayed to give Mary and I an incredible gift. It was a drawing of a Palestinian womyn with many images in her dress and a complex expression on her face. It turns out that he is a very gifted artist. (His major is Agriculture.) The drawing is so absolutely beautiful that I almost cried. He is truly a lovely young man.

We are off to Hares tomorrow morning to join the other womyn in the IWPS house.


June 17, 2007 To Ramallah and back in less than a day

Dear friends and family,

Some of you have written that the news from here is not good and expressed concern for my safety. I agree that the breakdown of the Palestinian Unity Government is really bad news. And now that Hamas is in control of Gaza and Fatah the West Bank, Israel has eased restrictions in the West Bank and started allowing some money to flow in while making life in Gaza even more miserable that it already was. The strategy is to make life look better in the West Bank and blame Hamas for the misery in Gaza. That way the world will know that Hamas is evil and anyone who cooperates with the U.S./Israel is good and gets rewarded. My friend Deeb explained this to me and I think that he is right. After all, since when is Mahmoud Abbas a friend of Olmert?

All of this is to say that I expect that my time here, at least for a day or two, will be a bit easier and safer than usual. This was manifested this morning by the incredibly easy time Mary and I had traveling from Jerusalem to Ramallah and then back again to pick up the embroidery and then mail it home. We were able to do all that, visit with Deeb, visit with my former student Amjad and even do some shopping, all by 4:00 pm!

So stop worrying! I do not feel in any danger. From Palestinians anyway. The Israeli soldiers are another matter....


June 16, 2007 We got through the border!

Dear friends and family,

With much relief I can report that Mary and I made it through the border and into Israel this morning. Al hamdulallah! (Thank God.)

Although they held Mary up for about 1/2 hour they didn't ask either of us any serious questions. I have to say that although I am immensely relieved and grateful, I also have other contradictory feelings. Regret that I didn't get to utilize our many hours of strategizing. Disappointment that I missed out on the fun of sparring with the interrogator. Insult that they don't perceive us as threats.

We will be visiting in Deir Ibzi'a for a few days, meeting with the scholarship students and the embroidery womyn. Then off to the IWPS house in Hares on Wednesday.

Love, Wendy