Weekly Update:

January 23, 2010

I’m back at Palestinian Medical Relief Society, writing project proposals. But I just finished writing an article for the Al Jazeera English website!

I have a friend who has been working over there in Qatar with Al Jazeera and he mentioned my name and what I’ve been doing over here for the past year to the person in charge of the ‘focus’ section. She emailed me and asked if I had any ideas for articles since I’m living over here, so I pitched her a few and she wanted me to write about the Iron Wall that Egypt is building between it and Gaza.

It was an interesting topic that turned out to be much more complicated than I originally thought. Also, from the beginning I assumed Egypt was building it because Israel and the US pressured them to, and that it would be horrible for the Gazan people if they closed all the tunnels. After talking to some people in Gaza, I found out that the tunnels are mostly bringing unessential items, and marking up the prices (triple or more). So the Gazan people have lost most of their savings on these products—which are taxed by Hamas. While Hamas can get money, weapons, and people through to make them “stronger” and endanger the Gazan people more—if they get a long range rocket and shoot it at more Israeli cities, then the Gazan people are going to be the ones to pay for that when Israel flattens Gaza again.

Other than that, I’ve just been hanging out with friends, going over to Tel Aviv a couple times on the weekends…and demonstrations…

On Friday I finally went to my first demonstration since I got back. I was thinking I would go to Bil’in but my roommate told me about a new village that just started making demonstrations a few weeks ago—named Nabi Saleh. Its north of Ramallah, on the way to Salfit. So I decided to go there and check it out.

First of all, when we left Ramallah there were some checkpoints set up by the Israelis all over the West Bank meant to keep activists and Palestinians from getting to the various protests. We got to the first checkpoint, which is usually empty, and there were soldiers all over it, stopping all the cars. And the road to Nabi Saleh was blocked off.

So the soldiers motioned to the driver to pull off to the side, and they were pretty aggressive until they opened the door of the service (minibus) and saw there were three internationals in the back waving their passports at them. Then they let us go on…down a different road that would add 45 minutes onto our trip.

So the driver continues, and we get a little tour of the central West Bank. It is really beautiful right now; it’s been raining a lot so everything is turning green. We drove through some really beautiful valleys and saw some cool villages on the way. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

We finally made it to Nabi Saleh and we were a little early so we walked out in the fields and watched the soldiers set up the checkpoint outside the city and looked out at the settlement that is built on the village’s land.

Then we went back to the center of the village and started the march to their land. We didn’t get 400 meters (and were still in the village) when the soldiers appeared in front of the march and started shooting out teargas canisters at us. It was really strong and made a really thick cloud of teargas around all of us. I hadn’t been teargassed since before I left in November so I definitely wasn’t ready for that much at once. Everyone ran back towards the center and out of the smoke because the soldiers were still coming forward.

I didn’t know where the soldiers came from or where they were headed because I’m used to Bil’in where there’s a fence between the soldiers and us, and we can escape to the back and get away if we need to. But in Nabi Saleh the soldiers come into the village in small groups and are everywhere, so there’s no safe place.

Since I couldn’t open my eyes, I did my usual find a wall and sit against it with my scarf over my face until the cloud dissipates. It was really strong gas and there wasn’t any wind so I had to blindly walk towards clearer air. I still couldn’t open my eyes so I sat back down again and waited a few minutes. When I opened my eyes finally there were like three journalists filming me! Haha….I’ve done it before too of course, but when you’ve been teargassed really badly you definitely don’t want to be on camera.

Anyways, I looked around and everyone had scattered. I was near an intersection with a cement bus stop so I went in that for cover while I tried to figure out this demonstration. Up the street from me where some soldiers chasing the demonstrators back to the center of the village. Down the street to the right were the Israeli army jeeps and more soldiers. Down the street to the left were some boys from the village throwing stones at another group of soldiers who were on someone’s balcony. They were yelling insults back and forth at each other, and the soldiers would shoot a teargas canister at them every once in a while but other than that it was pretty calm for the moment.

I was with some other journalists from Reuters and AP, who were filming the demonstration, but they left half an hour after the demonstration started. I was still pretty teary from the teargas and a woman from the village tried to convince me to go to her house and recover. I told her I was fine where I was (and relatively safe…haha) but she grabbed my arm and tried to take me out in through the intersection where on my right soldiers were aiming at kids on behind us to the left. I was like “No!” and she was like “It’s ok, no problem.” But after seeing the soldiers aiming their guns at me I somehow released myself from her grip and ran back to my semi safe place at the bus stop. I waited there and had some soldiers run past me shooting teargas and rubber bullets at the boys and some other random exchanges.

Finally, most of the press had followed the other demonstrators and soldiers back to the center of the village while I waited in the bus stop with a few people because the street up to the center was full of soldiers.

While I was sitting there watching everything, some Israeli jeeps brought some soldiers up to a house about a 100 meters from me. They teargassed the house until the women inside came out. (These same women were arrested last week at the demonstration, and to get out had to sign a paper saying they wouldn’t be out of their house from 12-5 on Friday. But after their house filled up with teargas they went out the front door and ran into the 12 soldiers waiting there.

The women started screaming at them for teargassing them in the house. Then it turned into a fight where the women were pushing the soldiers and the soldiers were shoving the women. It got really out of control and their screaming attracted the attention of the rest of the demonstrators who tried to come back down from the center.

But the Israelis shot the teargas cannon and 30 canisters fell on the road between the people coming to help and the soldiers who were fighting with the women. So they continued shoving the women, some fell on the ground and were kicked by some soldiers. Then finally they arrested at least one of them, shoved her in the back of the jeep and drove off with the women and the other demonstrators running after.

Then it turned into a huge brawl because the women were fighting the soldiers and the men caught up so it was like a 100 person bar fight except one side has guns and the other side is women. Ridiculous.

To stun the people into not being able to fight the soldiers kept throwing sound bombs under people so they would scatter. They threw one under my roommate and his ear is all messed up now. They can also send shrapnel and injure people.

So finally the fight broke up because whoever was in charge of the soldiers decided it was getting too out of control so they drove the jeeps up and the soldiers retreated away from the group.

Then the demonstrators went down the hill throwing stones and the soldiers kept retreating and shooting as they got towards the checkpoint. Then gradually it died down and ended.

There were a bunch of people injured through…from being hit and kicked, teargassed, and “friendly fire” –someone got hit with a stone in the head. So he had to go to the hospital but he will be fine.

Anyways, afterwards when we tried to get back to Ramallah the soldiers blocked the main road and were detaining the activists so we took the long way back again to avoid trouble.

Well, that’s pretty much it for this week. Let me know how everything’s going and what’s new!



One comment

  1. Renee, I continue to be so impressed and amazed by your life and how you choose to live it. I’m so proud and honored to be your friend, and I lucky to be able to view and learn from your perspective, insight, and the experiences you have.
    I can’t believe what you go through while you are in Palestine, and I hope it continues to open the eyes of many otheres. Obviously if Al Jazeera is having you write articles for them, then you know you’re amazing. And thank goodness for this blog so I can follow your every move. 🙂 Be safe and I miss you. 🙂 وحشتيني

    – Morgan

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