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Miscellaneous Stories from the West Bank…

May 13, 2009

 Ni’lin and Bil’in:

 There are two villages near Ramallah that have been badly impacted by the “Wall”—Bil’in and Ni’lin.  Both villages have organized weekly demonstrations in protest of the construction of the Wall.  The Wall is being constructed through the villages’ land, stealing a lot of their agricultural land mostly—which is how the villagers make their living.  The people in Bil’in are some of the most amazing and hospitable people I have met so far in Palestine.  They firmly believe that one day they will get their land back—and they are willing to take the risk of attending the demonstrations to do it.

 During the Bil’in demonstrations—the less dangerous of the two—villagers, press and internationals march together from the center of the village to the fence, which is the future site of the Wall.  Before we even arrive at the fence, the Israeli soldiers (on the other side of the fence, where the 3 illegal settlements are) shoot teargas and sometimes rubber coated steel bullets at us.  Then the boys start throwing stones.

 Every week is different, sometimes the Israelis shoot a lot of teargas—to the point where some of the protestors collapse is they are caught in a cloud of it.  Then, usually, the Israeli snipers take their positions—hidden behind rocks—and begin to shoot rubber, rubber coated steel, and “killer” bullets at the peaceful demonstrators.  This is when most of the demonstrators return to the village.

 Ni’lin is a completely different kind of demonstration—its basically urban warfare.  Instead of staying on ‘their’ side of the fence, the Israeli soldiers chase the demonstrators back from the fence and into the village.  Every Friday afternoon Ni’lin becomes a war zone.  The demonstrators in Ni’lin are at a much higher risk of being shot, injured or killed, and arrested. 

 Since August 2008, four protestors have been killed in Ni’lin.  And last month, an American protestor was shot in the face with a ‘high-velocity tear gas canister’ and had to have part of his brain removed.  My roommate went to the demonstration in Ni’lin the next week and was shot in the chin with a rubber or rubber coated steel bullet—she is miraculously OK. 

 The obvious trend in the demonstrations goes beyond targeting and killing Palestinian stone-throwers.  The soldiers are targeting the press.  They are also targeting the internationals that join in the demonstrations.  They don’t want people to know about what they are doing to these villages. 

 PIZZA:

 So there is this bakery that makes the best pizza I have ever tasted except it’s close to this huge wall that Israel is building through the West Bank and now loads of people can’t experience the incredible tasting pizza.

Never mind the thirteen hundred dead. Never mind the two year long siege on Gaza or the dehumanizing occupation that the Palestinians must endure for what is supposed to be their daily lives. Never mind the fact that millions of Palestinian refugees around the world are denied the right to return, a founding pillar of state of Israel- the right to return to one’s homeland. Only, however, if you believe in the right god it would seem.

 Never mind all these injustices that have been written  about and reported upon for years without, seemingly, having any impact on the West as it seems to chose to remain powerless and ineffective in helping the Palestinians as they have helped others around the world. Never mind all of that, but maybe this is something people in the West could relate to. I just want, but can’t have, some really good pizza!

 Hebron:

 Hebron is one of the most aggressive cities in the West Bank in terms of the relationship between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.  The settlers have basically taken over the Old City—which used to be the center of commerce for the Palestinians.  It was full of people and shops selling traditional Palestinian embroidery, spices, fruits and vegetables, meat, coffee…

 Now it looks like a war zone. 

 Since the Israeli settlers invaded the Old City and took over the upper apartments over Arab shops, many clashes have occurred between the settlers and the Arabs.  The settlers in Hebron are known to be the worst and most uncontrollable settlers in the West Bank.  During the Muslim call to prayer (adhan), the settlers will go out on the roofs and bang pans or play loud music to try to drown out the Adhan. 

 Even worse, the settlers also throw garbage, stones, and sewage water down from their apartments onto the shops and people below.  The shop owners have been forced to put up a chain link fence above their shops to catch any projectiles that the settlers might throw. 

 The Israeli government decided to set up a military presence in the Old City—including checkpoints, road blocks, and watch towers with Israeli soldiers with guns—to protect the settlers from threats they themselves create. 

 The soldiers don’t want to be there—the soldiers that are sent to Hebron are the ones who are being punished for something.  The Israeli government and the soldiers both consider the settlers to be out of control in Hebron, but they have to protect Israeli citizens.  So grudgingly, the Israeli military protects the settlers. 

 Since the beginning of the settler and military presence in the Old City, most of the Arab shops have been forced to close because they got the ‘mark’ on the door of their shop that means “If you open your shop today something bad will happen to you”. 

 Does this sound familiar?

 Random Beatings:

 A friend of mine, Wajdi, was over at my apartment having a drink and talking about how his situation is just getting worse and worse.  He has been trying to leave Palestine since he was released from Israeli prison a couple years ago.  He was telling me about how Israeli soldiers were at his family’s house in Deir Estia village a couple days before asking about where he was.  They also came to his apartment when he wasn’t home the day before. 

He started getting emotional—he has given up politics and the resistance—his dream in life is to live for one week without receiving bad news, without being stressed by the Israelis.  But now he was worried that they might want to arrest him and take him to jail for something—he had no idea what.

 He said he would rather die than go back to prison—he was tortured in many different ways by the Israelis.  Thrown off a high wall over and over—breaking his leg.  Hands tied to the top of a heavy door so that he was hanging from the door, off the ground—then the soldiers slammed the door, and him face first, into the wall—over and over, breaking his nose many times.  There are many other terrible things they do the Palestinians in prison, but I won’t go into it. 

 He said if they tried to arrest him again he would start a fight and be killed.

 Just as we were talking, his friend called him and told him the Israelis were at their apartment looking for him.  He looked lost, scared, and completely overwhelmed—and then calm.  Then he said he was going to the soldiers.

 He got beaten up so badly (by 30 soldiers) that he couldn’t move for days—internal bleeding and more.  Luckily, he didn’t have his ID on him, and the soldiers didn’t even know it was Wajdi. 

 They just saw a young Palestinian man walking down the street in the middle of the night and decided to start something.

 I went after him and arrived at his apartment after the soldiers had gone.  He was in so much pain I decided to run back to my apartment and get pain killers for him.  On my way back, I heard gunfire, aimed at me. 

 I turned around and saw the same group of 30 Israeli soldiers shooting at (or near) me and coming towards me.  Before I knew it I was flying head first towards the ground.  When I turned to look them in the face they realized I was not a Palestinian.  They took my passport and put me in the back of their jeep.  When the passport checked out, I was released.

 Maria Amen: 

 Maria is a Palestinian child whose family car was hit with an Israeli missile.  Maria survived the attack, but the other members of her family in the car were killed.  She was paralyzed in the attack—and can only receive the medical treatment she needs in Jerusalem.

 Unfortunately, Maria has a ‘green ID’—which means she is not allowed to leave the West Bank to enter Israel.  The Israeli government has been trying to evict her and her father out of Jerusalem back to the West Bank because they don’t have the right ID. 

 This is effectively a death sentence for Maria.  She can only stay alive if she is in the Jerusalem hospital.

 What do the Palestinians want?

 Israel must go out from the internationally recognized 1967 borders that define the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  That means that the wall must be destroyed or at the very least be built on the Green Line—NOT inside it. 

 The hundreds of checkpoints must be removed, along with the other forms of road obstacles. 

 The hundreds of thousands of settlers living inside the West Bank must leave and go back to Israel.

 The borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip need to be controlled by the Palestinian government, not the Israelis.  This will put an end to the illegal Israeli night raids where they arrest, beat, and sometimes kill Palestinians.

 The refugees must be allowed to return to Palestine.    

 The Palestinians want their own, sovereign state where they can live in peace and security.

 Balata Refugee Camp:

 “Balata Refugee Camp, close to Nablus in the West Bank, is known for being very political and the heart of the Palestinian resistance, many leaders of both Intifadas came from the camp and in 1987 and when people in the Gaza Strip ignited the First Intifada, Balata was the first community in the West Bank to engage in violence.

For this reason, the Israeli military has been especially hard on the people of Balata. Imposing curfews, conducting nightly raids of the camp – in which they break down doors to the houses and destroy things inside, beat people, men and women, arrest, and sometimes kill people for being active in the resistance.

For example, only some weeks ago, during a night raid, several Israeli soldiers came to the apartment of Abu Mahmoud Harb, a 75 years old father of 9 boys and 4 girls, at 2am. The door was locked so they started kicking it while screaming and swearing. It woke him up so he opened the damaged door and immediately had an assault riffle put to his head by a soldier.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this and are you really going to kill me? I’m just an old man living here with my family! And I opened the door, I don’t want any problems so why are you putting a riffle to my face?”, he then asked to talk to the officer in charge and the guy pointing the gun at him said that he was the officer in charge

Abu Mahmoud was very surprised, because the person in charge should be someone smart and well educated, he asked him to at least have some respect and treat him as a human. The officer answered that he didn’t deserve to be threated as a human because he’s a terrorist and that he teaches his children how to be terrorists.

“Who are the real terrorists here? Who kicked who out of their home and stole their land? Look at how many people have died at both sides, look at the weapons used by both sides, look at all the past massacres and at what just happened in Gaza and tell me who the real terrorist is?”, shouted Abu Mahmoud, who indeed has a lot of things to teach to his children and grand-children: his personal story, the story of the family and of the Palestinian people in general, the fact that they are not living in a city but in a refugee camp, in a place that is their house but not their home…”

 Rachel Corrie: ISM volunteer who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she was trying to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished…

 “I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity–laughter, generosity, family time—against the incredible horror occurring in their lives…..I am also discovering a degree of strength and of the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances…I think the word is dignity.”

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