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Weekly Update:

January 30, 2010

FOR PICTURES FROM THIS WEEK, GO HERE:

Things here have been pretty low-key this week…

I went to Jerusalem with some of my roommates to check out a mall we heard about called the Malkha Mall. It’s just like the malls in America—I was confused looking around I felt like I was back in the states!

Then we went to the Old City and had an arghile at a friend’s bar and walked around the Old City afterwards.

There wasn’t too much going on around Ramallah this week. On the day we went to Jerusalem we saw a caravan of Israeli jeeps and humvey’s driving through Ramallah in the middle of the day—which is unusual. The next day we saw on the news that they raided Nablus that night and set up a few extra checkpoints around the city. They arrested like 5 or 6 boys…and never said why. “Normal.”

In Bil’in they arrested Muhammed Khatib again, one of the protest organizers, in the middle of the night. They still have most of the leaders, like Adeeb—the guy who was always in the front of the demos and has been shot 5 times or so. They have started releasing the boys gradually but force their families to pay an outrageous bail to get them out—up to 10,000 shekels (around 2,500 dollars).

I didn’t go to Bil’in on Friday—instead I went back to Nabe Saleh, the village I went to last Friday. This week was even crazier, but in a different way. The villagers blocked all the roads into the village with boulders and dumpsters so the Israelis couldn’t drive in and invade the way they did last week. So this time we met them on the road, barely outside of the village. For about 15 minutes there was no rocks or teargas or anything. Then the protestors gradually started moving forward towards the soldiers—to try to reach their stolen land.

As they got closer, the soldiers warned everyone on the loudspeaker that this was an “illegal protest” and we “will get hurt”. So then the soldiers shot teargas at the protestors, lots of it. Then the boys started throwing stones and the soldiers came back with the rubber coated steel bullets, sound bombs, live ammunition, and the darban (the sewage-chemical-cow intestines liquid they spray on the protestors that makes you puke when you smell it and won’t wash off for days…).

I was in a gas station with some other press when the soldiers started shooting too close to the massive containers filled with gasoline, so I decided to move away from there. As I crossed the street that the soldiers started running up towards the protestors and me so we all ran towards the center of the village. I got trapped between soldiers, teargas, and a house.

Luckily, the women in the house saw me and the others with me and told us to get into their house. So we ran in, and realized these were the women that were arrested and beaten the past weeks. They told us what happened last week—that the soldiers shot teargas into their house, breaking a window. When the women came out, the soldiers started hitting them with their rifles in the stomach. When the women fought back, the soldiers arrested 3 of them (all sisters I believe). They were let out on 10,000 shekel bails each. After we talked, I went up to the roof to watch the demonstration from a “safe” spot…then the boys from the village came behind the house and started throwing stones at the soldiers down the road from there.

That means when the soldiers shoot at the boys, they shoot at us too, because we were behind them. A lot of teargas came our way…and then we heard a really loud, sharp bang, and heard a hissing sound to our left. It was a live ammunition round—we were on the top of a 3 story house and the boys were on the ground, so I don’t know how the bullet ended up so high unless they were aiming there….either way it was crazy.

We went back into the house after that, and they told us a window was broken from something—maybe a rubber coated steel bullet. Soon after, a teargas grenade came through another window and started filling the house with gas. There were about 15 children in the adjoining living room watching cartoons (most under 10, smallest were toddlers…) and the grenade was between us and the exit, so we had to gather all the kids and hide in a room away from the gas.

The grenade started a fire on their curtains when it detonated, so the men went in to put out the fire. I went out to make sure there weren’t any more kids in the other room, and went into a different bedroom that had a lot more teargas than the first room. There was a girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old who was choking on the gas. Her mother and grandmother couldn’t calm her down, she was so scared. So she was hyperventilating and inhaling more teargas that way. She was crying a lot and we finally decided to move back to the first room.

When we got back there, the gas was still coming out of the grenade in the living room, and there was no way we could get all the little kids out through it, so we tried to seal the door but the gas was leaking in slowly and it was stinging everyone’s eyes by this point and the kids were starting to get scared. We couldn’t open the window or try to run out through the living room because the main group of soldiers and protestors was outside the house and you can’t just jump out blind into that. Plus, we were on the second story.

Finally, people outside realized that we were trapped inside with teargas and they gathered around, the soldiers retreated, and an ambulance came. They got a ladder and started handing the children out the window. But by this point we were in the teargas for like 20 minutes, and I was trying to stay calm and keep it together for the kids but I was about to crack. The kids were crying and screaming because the teargas was hurting them and they didn’t know what was going on. It was really sad and frustrating…

Finally some guys with gas masks came inside to help us since we were just trying not to breathe or move much. We got all the kids out, and the rest of us ran out through the living room to the exit through there. Outside the kids were laying on the ground with their parents trying to calm them down. A few of them had to go in the ambulance because they were teargassed so badly.

After that, the demonstration pretty much ended, I think the Israeli soldiers realized they messed up again (after last week’s pictures of soldiers beating women…) so they went back down the hill towards the settlement. Some of the boys from the village followed them throwing stones, but nothing major happened there.

After sitting down for a while and breathing some pure oxygen, we waited for a service (minibus) back to Ramallah. Again, the soldiers set up a checkpoint on the main road to catch the demonstrators so we had to take an old road which added half an hour to our trip. Anyways, it was another crazy week at Nabe Saleh.

In addition to the kids injured by the teargas, there was one boy shot in the stomach with a rubber coated steel bullet (imagine a marble sized metal ball covered in the thinnest possible coating of rubber…that’s the Israeli version of rubber bullets). There was a second boy shot in the knee with the same ammunition, and they said his knee might be broken.

Ramallah has been pretty quiet.

The settlers around Hebron have been crazy as usual, trying to take over the central market of the city and destroying Palestinian farmland.

In the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, the settlers have been taking over houses left and right. Yesterday they had a big demonstration there, with residents, internationals, Israeli peace activists and settlers. These demonstrations with the settlers are the craziest. The Israeli police have to protect the settlers, even when the settlers attack the police for not letting them get too close to the other side of the demonstration.

The settlers throw stones, glass, and pee-filled bottles at those demonstrating for the Palestinians, and even at the Israeli police if they get in their way. So that is a really crucial place right now, Sheikh Jarrah, because the settlers are on their way to being able to take over the whole neighborhood—they just go in the night and kick the family out in the street. Then they destroy or throw out everything in the house. And the Israeli police escort them.

Well, just your average week in Palestine…

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