June 27, 2009 - Normalization of the Occupation

Dear Friends,
I returned to Hares after taking 2 days to go to Deir Ibzi'a and Jerusalem to pick up and mail embroidery home and also to see Arla off to the airport. That meant that I missed going to one of the Friday demonstrations against the wall. (I usually go to the one in Bil'in and I was especially sorry that I missed this one because Naomi Klein was there!) I just read the reports about them and they seemed to unfold as usual, fortunately with no serious casualties.

So the demonstrations continue week after week. As does wall construction, land confiscation, settlement building, settler/army violence. Every week the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) issues a report and from week to week they are depressingly similar. (Here is a link to the one for this week which actually is relatively tame:
http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/W_report/English/2008/25-06-2009.htm )

The occupation has become normalized. Horrible, intolerable circumstances have become the substance of daily life in Palestine.

Last Tuesday Israel's internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonivitch, a member of an extremest right-wing party, made an unannounced visit to the Temple Mount (3rd most holy place in Islam), supposedly to assess the adequacy of police deployment in the area. He was accompanied by Israel's police commissioner and senior police officers. His spokesman told Reuters that the visit was coordinated with the Muslim Waqf, however, the Waqf foundation called the visit a "provocative entry to the holy site, which may complicate the sensitive situation."

You may recall that it was a visit to the Temple Mount nine years ago by Ariel Sharon that sparked the second Intifada. This time, the provocative visit was tolerated with nary a response. Did the story even reach U.S. media?

The checkpoints have also become normal despite the fact that they choke the economy, restrict education and access to medical care (even in emergency situations) and basically keep Palestinians in an open air prison. On my way to Jerusalem with Arla, we had to go through Qalandia, the major checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. It is a huge and high-tech processing station where Palestinians are required to proceed through incredibly narrow cage-like aisles to incredibly tiny cage-like turnstiles that are completely controlled by soldiers who are virtually hidden behind steel and bullet-proof glass. Often, with a push of a button and a sickening click, the turnstile will lock with someone inside. The soldiers bark orders through an intercom that is turned up to a decibel level that I'm sure would violate OSHA standards. Furthermore, the soldiers routinely belittle and humiliate Palestinians as they pass through. (Of course it is only the Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs that even have the privilege of passing through this particular checkpoint.) As Arla and I followed the Palestinians off the bus to go through this disgusting labyrinth I marveled at the acceptance and matter of fact attitudes around me. Surely this is insane. But, no, I told myself. This is just their ordinary daily life.

This link is a video of it, not the best video, but it gives a small sense of this monstrosity.

For me, the most heinous normalcy is the routine arrest, detainment, imprisonment and torture of virtually the entire male population of Palestine at some point in their lives, sometimes even as children. Just a few weeks before I arrived in Hares the army came through and rounded up 150 boys, blindfolded and handcuffed them so tightly their hands turned blue and beat many of them. The story can be found at this link:

And no Palestinian man is immune to this. A young award-winning Palestinian journalist who was even under diplomatic escort was beaten and tortured upon his return home to Gaza after having accepted a prestigious award in London.

http://desertpeace.wordpress.com/2008/07/17/mohammed-omer-the-truth-and-nothing-but /

The picture at the top of this posting was taken yesterday. Beth and I were traveling on a bus to Ramallah to hear Naomi Klein. We saw 3 jeeps and soldiers ahead blocking the road. We assumed it was a flying checkpoint, but to our surprise the bus just veered around it. I randomly stuck my camera up in the air towards the window on the other side of the bus and snapped a picture, figuring I might get a good picture of a flying checkpoint. But when I looked at the picture, I saw that this wasn't a flying check point at all. There was a young man, blindfolded and handcuffed being detained. Although Beth and I were immediately alarmed, everyone else on the bus seemed to just grimly go on with their ride.


June 25, 2009 - A Day in Hebron

Hi Friends,
I don't have time to write up about Hebron but here are some pictures.
One is of the many settlements that permeate the landscape on the incredibly breathtaking ride down to Hebron. In the foreground is an Arab Village. The settlement is on top of the hill in the background.
One is from the rooftop of the CPT apartment in the Old City of Hebron. Notice the watchtower and military outpost at the top of the hill.
One is of kids in the Old City.
One is showing the netting put up to catch the garbage that the settlers throw down from the settlements build on top of the Old City.
A correction to my previous post: It was not 100 trees that were uprooted in Wadi Qana. It was 600. These 600 were from 1000 planted recently with a loan from PARC (Palestine Argricultural Relief Committee.) The 400 that were not uprooted were harder to access or hidden. The farmers still need to pay the loan back on all of the trees.

June 24, 2009 - Hike in Wadi Qana

Dear Friends,
Yesterday I went on a hike in gorgeous Wadi Qana. I mentioned earlier that IWPS will be participating in a nonviolent campaign to defend Wadi Qana which is being organized by the PPP (Palestinian's People Party). Our friend and PPP member, Riziq, was our guide.

Wadi Qana is a breathtaking fertile valley with over a dozen natural springs and the Wadi Qana river running through it. It may very well be one of the most beautiful places in Palestine. It was certainly once one of the most fertile in the West Bank, producing olives, figs, plums, almonds, and a variety of citrus fruits. But it has been severely degraded environmentally by sewage from the surrounding Israeli settlements, which now number eight.

Wadi Qana is also the name of a village that was emptied of its inhabitants because life became simply intolerable. Its former residents now live in Riziq’s village of Deir Istiya, immediately north of Hares in the Salfit Governate. Salfit has the distinction of being the only governate in Palestine where the settler population and Palestinian population are roughly equal. This is due to high density of settlements, including Ariel, one of the largest settlements with a population of roughly 30,000.

Besides pollution, Palestinians must deal with other factors harming their land or preventing access to it. Settlers have often raided the land in the valley, uprooted trees, damaged and destroyed irrigation systems, greenhouses, and especially expensive water pumps. Palestinian farmers cannot even prevent land damage caused by wild pigs that locals say were introduced by settlers: villagers are unable to kill or use traps to control the pigs as it would fall under the prohibition of Palestinians to possess weapons.

The construction of settler roads, which Palestinians are not allowed to use, has not only confiscated some of the land but has also prevented access to it. Once, the mayor of Deir Istiya managed to build an alternate road to Wadi Qana, supported by the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), however, in 2001 the outpost Doron Yaqir was built and blocked this new road as well.

In the Oslo Accords of 1993 Wadi Qana was made a nature reserve. It is now prohibited to ''change the natural character'' of the region, meaning that Palestinian landowners are not allowed to plant new trees. In May of this year, Israeli conservation authority workers uprooted over 100 olive trees planted by Riziq and other farmers from Deir Istiya. The trees were not destroyed, but removed in vehicles.

Four days after this incident, two youth picking sage in a wooded area of Wadi Qana were arrested and taken to nearby Qedumim settlement, where they had to promise not to pick sage again before being released.

On our walk we ran into another hiker, a settler. The customary greetings that hikers exchange as they pass each other were conspicuously omitted.


June 21, 2009 - Yearning for Jerusalem

Dear Friends,
A friend of mine responded to my last post remarking how easy it seemed for me to travel around. It’s true that in this moment the checkpoints inside the West Bank are very open. Especially two of the major checkpoints that I frequent: Zatara which is on Highway 60 North leading to all the major West Bank cities, and Huwarrwa which is the major checkpoint into Nabulus. Additionally, my international status gives me the privilege of travelling to areas that Israelis are forbidden (Palestinian areas of the West Bank) and also where Palestinians are forbidden (Israel proper and Jerusalem, unless they have a Jerusalem ID).

The Palestinians I have talked to about the current ease of passing though checkpoints say that they are enjoying the relative freedom of movement. At the same time, they are acutely aware that soldiers are still staffing the checkpoints, just two steps away from the road and in less than a nanosecond the ease of travel between West Bank cities and villages could come to an abrupt end.

It is important to understand that this current relative freedom of movement is just that. Relative. Roadblocks, settlements, and bypass roads (on which Palestinians are not allowed) still mean that a 15 minute trip could now very well take 3 or 4 hours. Additionally, West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to go outside the West Bank unless they have the proper permits, which are extremely difficult to obtain. That is one reason why Gaza and the West Bank are often referred to as open air prisons. A permit to Jerusalem for West Bank Palestinians is nearly impossible, especially for males. I’ll share the stories of three young men regarding their dreams of visiting Jerusalem.

Abdullah is in his early twenties. He is a sweet young man whose eyes light up when he speaks of going to Jerusalem and visiting the Dome of the Rock which he has not been able to do since he was a very small child. He confided in me that once he snuck into Jerusalem. However, he was so terrified of being caught he didn’t do much. Even just being on the street with friends who have a Jerusalem ID was dangerous because if you look around at things, “they” can tell that you don’t belong there since you are acting like a tourist. You’ll be arrested. So Abdullah just stayed inside his friend’s house and went home the next morning.

Sadaam, our scholarship recipient, had also been to Jerusalem only once, as a small child. His mother is very ill and she obtained a permit for a hospital visit in Jerusalem. The permit allowed her an an escort. So Sadaam was able to take his mother into Jerusalem. His face beamed when he told us he was able to visit the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Amjad, my former student was given a permit to go to Tel Aviv with his wife. (His business buys goods from Israel and that is why he was given a permit.) He and his wife had an enjoyable day at the beach, another location that Palestinians yearn to visit but are denied. They decided to try to visit the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on the way home. For some reason, Amjad was allowed to go but his wife was turned back. So they both went home together, neither having seen the Dome of the Rock.