h1

Weekly Post: 21-2-10

February 21, 2010

This week I began working on an awareness campaign for Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) about women’s legal rights with respect to sexuality and domestic violence. Unfortunately there are more problems related to those topics here in the West Bank than I expected. Some say that the occupation is one of the reasons that domestic violence has been rising here—because when a man can’t protect his family or even make a living because of the effects of the Israeli occupation, he is more likely to be angry and short-tempered.

Anyways, it’s a weak excuse for hitting a woman but it’s something we’re going to be working on raising awareness about. So far, honor killings and domestic violence have stayed very private, family matters. But nothing will change if there is not widespread awareness and education about this. We will also be campaigning on a national level with Palestinian women to get their rights legalized.

On Wednesday I went to visit a friend in Jenin—a smaller conservative city in the northern West Bank. Its about 2 hours in the service from Ramallah—this time it was longer because we had to take some back roads; I don’t know if that was because of Israelis or just normal road detours. We crossed 3 checkpoints, and we didn’t get stopped at any of them.

I arrived in Jenin around 6 pm in the center of the city, and called my friend Frida—a Swedish girl who’s working in the Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee Camp. She told me to meet them at the Flavors Café; the only “mixed” (boys and girls) café in Jenin. I met Frida and Lazar and some of the other Freedom Theater volunteers and we had a nice dinner and some coffees afterwards.

After that we walked back through the city center to the refugee camp. The Jenin Refugee Camp is one of the most political—and took the hardest hits from the Israeli army during the Second Intifada. It’s extremely conservative as well—it wouldn’t be appropriate to walk down the street with a guy unless he’s my husband or brother/father and I would be stared at if I walked alone.

It’s obviously not my favorite type of place but Frida and the other volunteers have a little “western oasis” in the middle of it at the theater. They have an apartment building next to the theater that’s just for staff and volunteers; it has a nice big roof on the top for smoking arghile or getting some air on a hot day.

We watched some of the Palestinian actors and actresses from the refugee camp as they did a run-through of a play they are working on. The theater is very impressive and so are the students there—they have a lot of talent.

There are still some problems between the more conservative people in the camp and the theater. It has been burned down a few times since Juliano (half Israeli-half Palestinian) started running the theater. Many Palestinians living in Jenin and other conservative villages in the West Bank are uncomfortable with boys and girls working together in the theater—especially with Western teachers and volunteers. The Palestinian girls who are learning and acting at the theater have to be very determined and very brave to stand up to their family’s and the ever-watchful eyes of the neighborhood.

We were supposed to be staying at my friend Frida’s house instead of the volunteer apartment, but at 11pm we couldn’t find a taxi. Frida’s house is up on a hill overlooking the camp—it’s owned by Zachariah Zubeidi’s brother. Zubeidi was a very active member of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the second Intifada, but since then he has given up armed resistance and signed the “Amnesty Agreements” with Israel—which says he will give up violence and Israel won’t assassinate him. Of course, in many cases, Israel ends up assassinating the people anyways—but Zubeidi has been keeping a pretty low profile these days and is even working with the theater now. Anyways, I didn’t get to meet him this time, but hopefully next time I will.

I got back to Ramallah in time for the 5th anniversary protest in Bil’in. It has been 5 years since they started protesting the construction of the wall on their land and the theft of their land for illegal Israeli settlements.

There were about 1000 people there on Friday morning from all over the world. The villagers and other Palestinians from Ramallah and nearby villages, Israeli peace activists (including Clowns against the Occupation hahahah), Salaam Fayyad—the PM of Palestine, Mustafa Barghouthi—my boss and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, the mayor of Geneva, Switzerland, and international activists from all over Europe and the US.

There were speeches at the beginning from the Bil’in Popular Struggle Committee and all of the high profile guests for about an hour. A Palestinian marching band as well as an Israeli marching band lead the protestors to the fence. The line of protestors stretched all the way from the village to the wall—there were so many people there.

When we first got to the fence, we were surprised to see that there were no Israeli soldiers standing on the other side waiting for us. We thought maybe because we were so late that they gave up and went home. So the villagers went straight to the fence and started destroying it. There are two rows of fences, one on the Bil’in side with a gate and a bigger one on the settlement side.

The boys from the village (the ones who hadn’t been arrested by the IDF for protesting yet) opened the gate in the first fence then went straight to the second one and pulled it down by pushing, pulling and jumping on it. Around that time, the soldiers realized the guys were on the settlement side of the fence and they came with the Darban (sewage-chemical water) truck.

The photographers were all trapped on the settlement side and had to run through a shower of shit water to get to safety from the IDF. Most of the boys that destroyed the fence also got showered in the foulest smelling water only the Israeli army could invent. It’s a mix between skunk smell, sewage water smell, and offensive chemical smells. If you smell it at close range, you will feel the urge to puke. If you are covered in it, you will retch and puke and tear off your clothes (as we saw this past Friday at Bil’in).

My friend Lazar got completely soaked in it because he was one of the photographers on the other side of the fence. He couldn’t even function for about a half an hour because it smelled so bad. And by the way, this smell will not come off of plastic or rubber (Lazar had to throw away his helmet and gas mask because the smell wouldn’t come off, and smelled up our entire apartment). Lazar took about 3 1-hour long showers and scrubbed off many layers of skin before we could stand to have him within 50 feet of us!

Only in Palestine…

After they shot the shit-water on everyone in the front, they shot the teargas cannon (Al Thuletheen- “The thirty”) and all of a sudden the sky was full of teargas canisters falling everywhere around us. I did my usual routine of just sitting down and covering my face near a wall—if you run, you can’t see, you inhale more teargas, and you run the risk of tripping or falling or running other people over, and getting hit by the falling canisters.

While I was sitting there in huge cloud of teargas watching people’s feet running past me a guy stumbled down next to me by the wall, panicked and gasping for air with nothing covering his mouth or nose.

I patted him on the shoulder and said “everything’s gonna be ok! Stop breathing and put something over your face!” He ignored my advice to take off his knit hat and put it over his mouth and nose, but seemed to be a little more comfortable knowing he wasn’t going to die. After a few minutes the gas cloud dissipated and I found out this kid was from Galilee (northern Israel) and had never been to a protest in the West Bank before.

He followed me to a safer spot for a post-teargas cannon break—there are two ‘fronts’ at Bil’in where you get shot at by the Israelis. One was at the fence that got torn down, at the end of a road leading from the village. On one side of the road is a small wall (my safety wall…haha) and the other side is fields with olive trees.

The other ‘front’ is when the wall on the right side of the road stops, and there are just fields there. About 100 meters from the road on the right is the Israeli wall where soldiers shoot from as well. So we were sitting on the right side of the road when the small wall stops. On our right is the road where there are protesters getting shot at or throwing stones, and on the left is the other Israeli wall with protesters getting shot at or throwing stones again.

So we were sitting there with our backs against the small wall, watching as teargas canisters were shot like missiles at protestors—straight at them at head level, instead of up in the air at a 45 degree angle like the international standards require. Hmm…

Luckily no one was seriously injured that Friday.

As I was getting a little too comfortable in my safe spot, I noticed everyone running down the hill towards the village. That can mean 3 things: the darban truck, the teargas cannon, or soldiers running at us through the gates onto the Palestinian side.

All of a sudden my roommate Lazar ran past yelling “Run! The soldiers are coming!” So my friend Ahmed that I was sitting with and I were off like a shot down through the fields, jumping over the stone terraces and dodging olive trees and the teargas canisters fired at us from the back by the soldiers.

Soon enough we were running through a cloud of teargas—which is NOT fun at all. My lungs were burning and I couldn’t even open my eyes anymore. But luckily Ahmed and I had outran the soldiers and avoided getting arrested! As I stopped in the fields and collapsed basically due to lack of oxygen and too much teargas I noticed another person laying on the ground about 20 feet away. He was trying to ask for the ambulance but couldn’t yell. I went over to him, he was one of the boys from the village who was throwing stones at the second ‘front’…and had been teargassed pretty badly.

A second later the paramedics were there giving him oxygen and I decided to head back to the road. There were literally only 6 people left at the protest, less than an hour after it started, out of 1000! And most of the people who left were still waiting half way back to the village just watching. It was so lame; they should either come back or just leave all together. And as we walked back to the village, the last of the protestors, there were the “important” guests standing there getting interviewed by all the big media saying “Oh yeah, I got teargassed!” and this and that. Stupid.

But we went back to my friend Jaber’s house afterwards and sat on his roof in the sun and unwound a little bit after the demo. His mom made us some amazing food as usual and Lazar took the first 10 of many showers, and threw away his shirt. By the time we got into the service to go to Ramallah, the smell was hardly noticeable—but maybe that’s just because we were all too used to smelling it!

Anyways, that’s it for this week….

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: