Posts Tagged ‘demonstration’

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Legalizing the Jerusalem Lie

July 1, 2010

A great article written by a friend of mine who works for Palestine Monitor (palestinemonitor.org):

Three months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “spat in Obama’s eye” by timing high-level diplomatic visits with the announcement of sweeping development plans in East Jerusalem, the city is about to codify into law an even more ambitious master plan for taking over the entire heart of the stateless Palestinian nation. And once again, Bibi is off to Washington.

In symbolic microcosm, construction began this past weekend on the controversial grounds of the Shepherd Hotel. The compound lies in the traditionally Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on the Palestinian side of the green line in Jerusalem, just north of the old city. The hotel itself was considered property of the Jordanian authority (having passed from the erstwhile ownership of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini) until it was purchased in 1985 by Irving Moskowitz, a wealthy American Jew and a major financier of the Israeli settler movement.

In the wake of dramatic 2008-2009 settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah — recall that several Palestinian families are now living in tents outside their former homes while protected Israeli settlers sleep inside — plans were floated to construct 20 Jewish-only housing units on the large property of the Shepherd Hotel. The plan was met with international condemnation and was silenced more than once, but it never went away. On Sunday, construction work began. The new development will see upwards of one hundred Israelis wedged into the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

“You see, they want all Sheikh Jarrah,” says local resident Muhammad Sabagh. Muhammad has problems of his own, because a legal claim against his house is currently grinding through the Israeli courts. He hopes to be luckier than some of his now-homeless neighbors. “We don’t accept settlers in our neighborhood,” he says.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was no activity at the hotel site. A security guard present said that construction work had never begun. The heavy-duty digging activity on the weekend, he explained, was just to test the support strength of the ground.

For decades, East Jerusalem has been the intended capital of a future Palestinian state, but in recent months, Israeli officials have pumped up the volume on their propaganda slogan that all Jerusalem is “open and undivided.” In this view, the east-west distinction is no longer relevant, and Israelis should be able to build and develop on the occupied Palestinian side as freely as they do on the Israeli side.

In a statement issued this week, city officials cleverly obfuscated, “Just like any other municipality in Israel, Jerusalem Municipality hands out building permits in the entire city based on their compliance with professional criteria only, and without checking religion, race, or sex, which is against the law.”

This statement, however, includes a massive lie of omission, because it implies that Palestinians have equal building rights. While the city may not discriminate on “religion, race, or sex, which is against the law,” they in fact discriminate on the basis of citizenship. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem have been deemed “permanent residents” by Israeli authorities but specifically excluded from citizenship. This distinction is crucial because only citizens can legally obtain building rights from the Israeli Land Administration, which has jurisdiction over most of the city’s residential landscape — both East and West Jerusalem.

As a report issued by an Israeli non-profit organization, Ir Amim, concluded: “Of all the land designated for housing development in West Jerusalem and in the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem [35,000 dunams], at least 79% [27,642 dunams] is ILA land, and therefore theoretically off limits to the city’s Palestinian residents.”

This means that outside of traditional Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Palestinians have the official legal basis for building or owning in just 20 percent of combined Jerusalem by virtue of their non-citizen status. And within that sliver of the city, along with their own already inhabited neighborhoods, obtaining legal permits is notoriously difficult, both financially and bureaucratically.

As important as these details are, we must be careful not to lose the forest for the leaves. The fact is that Israel holds East Jerusalem by occupation, taken by force in the war of 1967. Like the rest of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem was never meant to be a part of any Israeli state. Under international law, to which Israel is bound as a signatory, the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory is a war crime. East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians.

Despite this inconvenient truth, just this week, the city’s right-wing Israeli Jerusalem Municipality approved a provocative and self-styled “Master Plan” for urban development. The new document codifies into law the formerly talking-point view that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” providing the legal framework for unlimited Israeli expansion in occupied East Jerusalem.

Under the new arrangement, projects like the Shepherd Hotel compound in Sheikh Jarrah would require no special authorization. There would be no difference between East and West Jerusalem.

Further, the plan appears to allow residential development on previously protected land. In the past, Israel has softened the perception of its appropriation of Palestinian territory by declaring certain areas off-limits to housing development of any kind. Now even these so-called “green areas” are fair game, rendering many previous points of contention irrelevant.

For example, according to Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz, “Despite the National Planning and Building Committee’s decision to designate the City of David – which sits in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – as ‘a national park,’ the new master plan allows for the construction of residential units in the area.” So while Israel buttered the Silwan bulldozing announcement with promises that Israeli settlers would not move into the cleared neighborhood, the lie has been revealed.

Under the false banner that Jerusalem is “open and undivided,” the peace-killing initiatives underway in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan will become the new normal and predictably the basis of tomorrow’s bloody conflicts.

There may be a prospect that America will reign in its rogue state, to reign in its rogue municipality, but even with Israel’s premier knocking on Obama’s door, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Michael J Carpenter is a post-graduate student of the University of Victoria in Canada with a special focus on human rights and security issues, currently residing in Ramallah.

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=296074

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Weekly Post:

May 15, 2010

Teenage Boy Shot Dead by Israeli Settler:

My friends and I went out on Thursday night to a bar called La Vie in Ramallah. We listened to some live music, had some drinks, and were having a very nice night. When we decided to go home, the road we walk on leads through the Ramallah Hospital. As we walked through at around 1:30 am, we noticed that there were about a hundred men outside the hospital—which is very unusual for that time of night so we knew something was wrong.

I assumed there had been a fight or something, but my Palestinian friend stopped to talk to some of the people there and ask what was going on as we continued walking. He caught up with us and told us that a teenage boy had been shot by settlers after throwing stones with some friends at the settler cars as they passed. They were near the village of Mazra’a Al Sharqiyya.

My friend looked upset and I asked him if he knew who it was. He told me it was a friend of his…

The boy, Aysar Zaben, had been shot in the back after throwing stones at his shooter’s car. His friends ran away when the settler stopped his car, and apparently Aysar had been running away as well since he was shot in the back. No one found his body until hours later—and Aysar by then had bled to death.

We didn’t know that it was settlers at the time; we assumed the boys had been throwing stones at Israeli jeeps that were raiding in the area. I got a call from one of my friends in the PA and he told me the type of ammunition they found in the boy wasn’t from an M-16—they type of weapon most IDF soldiers carry. Later, we found out it was a settler who killed him. For throwing stones at his car—since when does that warrant killing someone??

Two Settlers Injured by Palestinian Fire

On Friday, two young female settlers were injured as their car was fired on when they were driving in the same area that the Palestinian boy was killed. Again, I got a call from my friend in the PA who asked me if I knew what was happening near Ramallah. I hadn’t heard because I was at the weekly protest in Bil’in at the time.

He told me about what happened and I was very surprised. It’s not common for Palestinians to shoot at settlers or soldiers because most Palestinians do not have guns…just stones. Even the PA soldiers who stand on the streets with Kalashnikovs are not allowed to fire any bullets unless they have already coordinated with and got permission from the Israelis (strange? Ha). So shooting bullets is a very big deal.

Today in the news, I saw that the Imad Mughniyeh Group of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had claimed responsibility for the attack on the settlers. They said that the attack was in response to the killing of Aysar the day before by settlers.

They also said that the attack symbolized their rejection of the indirect peace talks that have begun between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. I don’t blame them because so far, every time there are peace talks, the Palestinians end up making all the compromises and fulfilling the demand s of the Israelis, while the Israeli government gives nothing, and usually takes more land and more concessions from the Palestinians.

IDF Forces Gather Around Ramallah

As my PA friend was telling me about the attack on the settlers, he mentioned that hundreds of IDF soldiers were massing near Ramallah in an attempt to capture the people who shot at the settlers.

That night, there were flares in the sky near Ramallah. Flares are a pretty good sign around here that kind of Israeli military raid or attack is about to begin. So that was kind of scary. Killing of Israelis is not taken lightly by the Israeli government and military—since the two settlers were only injured by the glass that broke when the shots were fired at their car; it was only a raid and not an attack.

There were 3 young Palestinian men detained last night from the village of Sinjel near Ramallah. It’s not clear yet whether they were detained because of the attack on the settlers or whether it was “just another” Israeli raid.

Bil’in Weekly Protest Against the Wall

I went to the Friday protest in Bil’in yesterday, it was a pretty small group of demonstrators, but there was a big percentage of Israeli activists which is always a good thing (despite the fact that a few of them were most likely spies…).

We marched to the wall together and after about 5 minutes of standing at the wall (without throwing one stone…) the IDF started shooting gas grenades at us. Most of the first-time protestors and internationals retreated to the back of the protest, but all of the Palestinians from the village and a small group of internationals and Israelis stayed.

They kept shooting the teargas grenades—the gas they used this week was extremely strong and focused mostly on the eyes. My eyes stung for about 10 minutes after I got out of the gas and were half shut. My face also stung a lot.

Then over a dozen Israeli soldiers came through the fence and chased us down the hill towards the village while shooting teargas at us. They also set off a huge gas bomb that caused a bigger cloud of teargas than the teargas cannon (which shoots out over 30 teargas canisters simultaneously into the air). In that cloud, they caught one Palestinian journalist from Al Arabiyya. Luckily, the rest of us ran fast enough to not be caught in the teargas and we were able to get away from the soldiers.

The soldiers made one more run at us and we went back even further. Then the Palestinian boys from the village started moving towards the soldiers as we all ran away. They started picking up stones and throwing them at the advancing soldiers. The soldiers shot teargas grenades directly at the boys but luckily didn’t hit any of them. The rocks were still flying at the soldiers (in full riot gear and armed to the teeth…) and the soldiers got scared and started to retreat.

The boys followed them back to the fence, still throwing stones at them and being fired at with teargas. Then the soldiers turned around and made a run for the wall and they all went back to the other side. Victory! Haha.

Fire in the Olive Fields

After the soldiers went back to their side of the wall, the boys started throwing stones at the side fence where there were soldiers. The soldiers responded with teargas grenades shot at head level. The gas grenades caught the dry brush in the olive fields around where we protest on fire. Within minutes there were several small fires. And soon after that they turned into a big wildfire that was threatening to burn down olive trees. The people at the front started shouting for everyone to come up and help put out the fire because the weather had been so hot and dry that the fire kept getting bigger and bigger.

We ran up to the fields by the side fence and grabbed olive tree branches to beat the land that was on fire to put it out. Then the soldiers started shooting teargas at us! As we were trying to put out a fire they started! The men ran straight to the fence and started yelling and arguing with the soldiers, who eventually gave us about 15 minutes of ceasefire to try to stop the fire.

We were all beating the fire with the olive tree branches, inhaling regular smoke and teargas at the same time. Eventually, we saved the olive trees and got the fire under control when another fire near the front fence started. Luckily, a fire truck finally arrived at the scene and started to put the front fire out as we took care of the small fires that kept popping up in the first area.

After that the ceasefire was over and the soldiers began shooting teargas at us again and we had to go back. The boys stayed and kept throwing stones at the soldiers for a while longer. The protest organizers declared that the protest was officially over and the demonstrators should leave. Only the boys stayed, the rest of us headed back to the village.

In the end there were a couple of people who were injured by being shot with the teargas grenades, but no serious injuries.

World’s Largest Keffiyeh

And to end on a positive note, Palestinians recently reveiled the world’s largest keffiyeh at Al Muqata (the main military and political headquarters in the West Bank).

The Friend’s Society (a Quaker Society here in Ramallah) organized this event and volunteers began weaving the keffiyeh months ago. The keffiyeh is 500×500 meters and will be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.

They plan to put the keffiyeh up on another “world’s largest”—the Separation Wall between Israel and the West Bank and then bring the keffiyeh to Palestinian refugee camps outside of Palestine.

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Weekly Update—3/7/10

March 7, 2010

This week the Israeli military, police and settlers stormed Al Aqsa mosque…afterwards they boys from the Old City started protesting and throwing stones. There were a couple people injured. When will Israel stop provoking the Palestinians????

Abbas is supposed to be starting negotiations again soon because Mitchell is coming back to the area to force Israel and Palestine to start talking again–despite the fact that settlements are growing at 6% (way more than the natural growth in Israel that is 1.5%) and thousands more housing units in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were just approved. So which side doesnt have a “partner for peace”?

This is how it goes, its all for show. Abbas will throw something back at Israel that he knows they won’t agree to like “Without Jerusalem there are no negotiations”…in the meantime, Israel is just confiscating more and more land and building more and more settlements.

This Friday I didn’t go to the protests. But in Nabe Saleh a 14 year old boy was hit in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet- it hit him right in the forehead and entered his skull. Does that sound like a RUBBER BULLET to you?? A few others were injured as well but not seriously. Didnt hear anything about Bil’in or Ni’lin so they must just be the usual teargas inhalation injuries.

We planned a trip to the Dead Sea for Friday afternoon since everyone has that day off. We were planning to go to the monastery by Jericho thats up on the hill (the place where Jesus was tempted by the Devil after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights). Now there is a cable car that takes you from Jericho up to the top and theres a nice restuarant up there too….

Anyways, we didn’t make it there because we got stranded at this “Israeli beach” on the Dead Sea. The northern half of the Dead Sea is technically in the West Bank, but most of the Jordan valley has been occupied by Israel…besides the city of Jericho the land is unofficially Israeli now all the way down the eastern side of the West Bank. So the good beaches have been occupied by Israelis as well.

So we went to one of those, because the Palestinian beaches dont have showers or anything at them. The one we went to was called “Lido” and is surrounded by like a million Israeli flags–just to make sure people realize its Israeli. ha.

It was really crowded with lots of Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans, Indians/Pakistanis, and Japanese tourists. Haha it was such a random mix of people. We stayed there all afternoon for lack of a car….but at 5 our friends finally came over from the waterfall they were at thats a little before Jericho.

They picked us up and we drove further down the Dead Sea towards Ein Gedi. We stopped right before the checkpoint that leads into actual Israeli territory at the Palestinian beach I went to like 6 months ago–the one infected with West Nile virus, ha, because the official Ein Gedi beach was closed since it was sunset.

So I was pretty much the only one who had made the trek down that steep rocky mountain to get to the beach and I tried to tell them it was a bad idea and that since it was sunset there would be billions of west-nile infected mosquitos…but they wouldnt listen.

I stayed up at this little picnic area right next to the soldiers at the checkpoint while the rest of the group went down in the dark. I was being eaten alive by mosquitos and finally asked my friend who stayed up with me to ask the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint for mosquito repellent.

So he walked straight over to the checkpoint manned with Israeli soldiers armed with M-16s and chatted for a minute. Then they gave him their military strength mosquito repellent and made sure to tell us to “put it on our faces too”. hahahahahaha…one minute they’re pointing a gun at you because your in a Palestinian car and the next they’re worried about you getting bitten on your face. If we could all just unite against a common enemy like mosquitos all the time!

Next weekend I am going to the “Roman cave”…one of my friends knows a Palestinian man who discovered roman ruins on his property, in a cave and under his house. He hasnt excavated or anything. There is a small ministry of antiquities in Palestine but they are really ineffective. Most of the time priceless artifacts are found by people building houses, or whenever they dig into the ground for any reason. I met someone in Bethlehem that has a whole collection of artifacts in the space under his stairs. Haha…he is an engineer and whenever they build he finds new artifacts. I know another guy in Hebron who found a very very old human skull and he keeps it on his desk in his office, sometimes painting it different colors. Who knows how old that is!

The Roman Cave guy (and the others) can’t really get anyone official involved because if they find something valuable and the Israelis find out about it, they will confiscate his land. So we are going to document the ruins and everything, without exposing who he is and where he lives.

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Weekly Report….

March 1, 2010

This week there was a lot of trouble in Hebron–a city in southern West Bank. Hebron is notorious for having crazy and aggressive Israeli settlers, even the Israeli soldiers hate being there to protect the settlers because they are provoking the Palestinians all the time. I read in an article that a soldier stationed in Hebron said that it was the place they send soldiers to punish them.

The settlers have been becoming more and more of a presence in the old market place in the middle of Hebron because of the Ibrihimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs–to Jews the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob along with their wives are burried there. For Muslims it is a mosque built by Abraham and his and Sarah’s tombs. It is holy for both religions.

The settlers have been slowly taking over the market place because that’s where the Ibrihimi mosque is located. So an area that was almost 100% Palestinian and an important economic center for Hebron has been almost entirely shut down by the settlers. They have taken over the upstairs apartments of the stores in the market, along with whole areas of the center (H2) around the market.

The settlers throw garbage, stones, glass, sewage water and other things on the Palestinian stores, homes, and people below. They have forced many stores to shut down. The Israeli army, who is required to be there to protect the settlers from themselves, has set up checkpoints within the market, so walking from one store to another you have to go through a checkpoint where the soldiers almost always mess with the Palestinians–many times making them wait 30 minutes while they “check” the IDs.

Meanwhile, you walk through alleyways with chainlink fence hung above to protect the shoppers and Palestinian shopowners from getting hit with debris thrown down by the settlers.

Now, they have taken the judaization of the area around the mosque to a new level. The Israeli government has declared that site, along with Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to be National Israeli Heritage Sites. Both sites are ouside of “Israel”, they are in the West Bank in the middle of Palestinian towns. Israel seems to be claiming the sites. It will probably make it more difficult that ever for Palestinians to gain access to these sites now, which are holy to them too. The Israeli government will say they want to do “renovations” on the sites, then deny access to everyone while they’re repairing things, everyone except the settlers.

And the government’s timing on this was impeccable as usual. It is simultaneously the annviersary of the Intifada, the Prophet’s birthday, and the anniversary of the Goldstein massacre of Palestinians while they were praying in the Ibrihimi mosque. About 50 people were killed and 100 wounded in this joint operation between Israeli settlers and the IDF. In the following days about 20 more Palestinians were killed when clashes erupted around the West Bank.

After the declaration of the mosque as an Israeli Heritage Site, the Israeli government was just waiting for the Palestininas to react. There were some clashes between the Palestinian youth and the Israeli police/settlers. Teargas, soundbombs, rubber bullets…A couple dozen injured.

My roommate Lazar went down there for a couple days to take photos and he told me that the Palestinian Authority was working with the Israeli police/IDF to control the Palestinian youth. The PA and the IDF…working together against Palestinians protesting a new aspect of the occupation. Its completely ridiculous–and its the guys who the US have been helping to train in Jericho and Jordan.

The clashes ended up slowing down despite Haniyeh (Hamas) calling for a new Inifada. I think thats what Israel wanted anyways, a lot of my friends agree with that too. Israel is getting so much pressure from the international community to restart the peace process that they are looking for any excuse to say “We dont have a partner for peace”–even while the PA is working with them to punish their own people.

Luckily, the Palestinians are either too tired from the still fresh memory of the last intifada or just being patient until they can actually stand a chance in an Intifada.

Just another proof that the Israeli government is trying to provoke the Palestinians into reacting in an Intifada, as soon as the Hebron mess calmed down, the Israeli settlers and police in Jerusalem stormed Al Aqsa mosque (the third holiest site in Islam). They clashed with Palestinians inside and more of the youth that came to throw stones after they invaded the mosque.

Anyways, the situation is getting tense because of all the Israeli provocations but so far the Palestinian people seem to be staying as calm as possible. An Intifada would be the worst thing for them right now, and Israel knows that. Soon, hopefully, the world will put enough pressure on Israel to continue negotiations, final status negotiations.

The EU is working on an initiative to support Palestine in declaring statehood. Israel came back at them saying if the Palestinians declare a state then they won’t have to negotiate anymore so that couldn’t work for anyone. But obviously, declaring a state doesn’t make the Israeli soldiers, checkpoints, and settlements disappear. It doesnt bring back the refugees either. So there will have to be negotiations, it will just prevent Israel from occupying more of Palestine as they pretend to negotiate.

Hopefully this initiative will work…

The protests this week were pretty much washed out by the weather, I didn’t go because of the hail and rain. But there were still small groups of demonstrators at Bil’in, Ni’lin, Nabe Saleh, Al Masara, and Sheikh Jarrah.

The protests were focused on the Israeli takeover of the holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem. The injuries were mostly gas inhalation, except in Nabe Saleh where a boy was hit in the head with a rubber bullet. I dont know exactly what his condition is, but if it was the rubber coated steel bullets–which is what the IDF almost exclusively uses now as “rubber bullets” then he should be in pretty bad shape.

In Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem protestors dressed up in Purim costumes to demonstrate against the house demolitions.

My roommates and friends and I also went out to celebrate Purim. We went to Jerusalem on Saturday night with wigs and checked out a few parties. The weather was pretty bad so there werent hundreds of people out in the street like last year but it was still fun.

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Experience a Nonviolent Protest in Palestine

February 24, 2010

Experience a  Nonviolent Protest in Palestine:

We gather at the center of the village in time for the Friday noon prayer.  The men and women from the village gather at the mosque to pray while Palestinians, Internationals, Israelis, and press arrive from Israel and all over the West Bank.

We wait outside the mosque in a growing crowd as the khutbah finishes in the mosque and the people pray. There are  familiar faces for those that go to the protests regularly—most times people that you don’t see any other time that at various protests around the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Everyone chats and mills around until the prayer is finished.

There’s always some new people—usually Americans or Europeans—who have never been to a protest before in their lives. They make sure their camera batteries are charged and adjust their colored kuffiyehs around their necks. They seem excited and a little nervous.

Then the shabab from the village and other places around the West Bank show up…usually wearing kuffiyehs or some other kind of scarf or shirt over their faces. They do this to avoid being photographed by the Israeli army and subsequently arrested, and of course to protect themselves from teargas. A few hold slingshots and some are gathering stones from the side of the street. They are making jokes and relaxed, but ready for the soldiers.

The village popular struggle committee leader arrives with a loudspeaker that he tries, usually in vain, to control the protest. We start by marching all together towards the site of the Apartheid Wall.

As we march, the leaders chant slogans in Arabic, Hebrew, and sometimes English like “La, la al jidar”…phrases about the wall falling, Israel being fascist (chanted most emphatically by the Israeli activists), and an end to the occupation.

We get closer to the site of the wall, and the soldiers come into view ahead of us. (In some villages, there is a fence between the soldiers and the protestors, in most though, the soldiers meet the protestors in the street, fields, or even inside the village before we even have a chance to march to the wall).

In most cases, we go as far as we can, still shouting for an end to the occupation, and the leader with the loudspeaker has managed to keep the shabaab from throwing stones so far. The Israel military is usually the one who starts the violence first—either because we walk “too close” to them or make it across to the villagers’ stolen land (which is now used as a security buffer zone, or for a settlement to be built on, or for a “Jewish only road”).

Sometimes the Israeli military ‘warns’ us over their own loudspeakers that our demonstration is “illegal” and that we are in a “closed military zone” and that if we don’t leave we “will be hurt.” These phrases pretty much mean that we are demonstrating at our own risk and if anything happens to us, the Israeli army, as usual, has its ‘out’ because they ‘warned’ us.  

They have a range of ‘sound effects’ to use during the demonstration if they are bored or just in the mood. One is a piercing high pitched sound that is emitted over the loudspeaker and forces you to go as far away as possible or else your ears will be in a lot of pain. On the humorous side, they also have what sounds like the sound effects from a military training video game or something- from the Americans of course.  It has an alarm noise, then an American-accented military official says “Warning, small boat approaching a navy vessel!” It’s so strange.

IDF Response

The military usually opens up with some teargas grenades shot straight at the protestors, not at the internationally agreed upon 45 degree angle for civilian crowd dispersal. At the first shots, we usually lose about half of the protestors—the ones that have never been teargassed before and aren’t excited about trying it.

So even though the grenades and canisters land nowhere near them, those demonstrators are halfway back to the village in seconds and don’t come back to the front.

After that, the man with the loudspeaker can’t do anything to stop the shabaab from throwing stones at the Israeli military. They are the ones in the front, the ones who aren’t afraid of being face to face with a soldier who is aiming a gun in your direction—that situation is familiar to them even for preteens.

They fan out to different areas in the fields to get some kind of protection from their position behind a rock terrace or near an olive tree. They sling stone after stone at the soldiers behind the fence or behind their riot gear (including a full length plastic shield, padded uniforms, helmet and plastic mask for their faces.  The soldiers seem scared. SCARED behind their gear, not to mention ammunition. They are literally scared of a 10 year old boy holding a slingshot who is more likely to hit another boy than a soldier.

But every once in a while we hear cheering and “Allahu Akbars” when the shabaab hit a jeep or a soldier’s shield with one of the stones. Sometimes they throw balloons full of pink paint at the soldiers too…which is funny because I see Israeli jeeps every once in a while on the roads with pink paint splatters on the side.

Darban Truck

After the first volleys of stones and teargas, the Israeli army gets serious. In the summer time, they bring in the ‘Darban’ truck. This is one of the most ridiculously base and evil thing the Israelis have created—it is a white truck that drives up and starts shooting a huge spray of what looks like green water. For someone who hasn’t experienced the darban, they would think it was basic crowd control with a water hose.

Not in Palestine—imagine the worst smells you can think of, ones that would make you want to puke. Now mix all of those together and you still have no idea what this is like. We don’t know for sure how they make it, but the theories are that it is a mixture of sewage water (from settlers), sulfur and other chemicals, and animal parts (cow intestines is a popular rumor).

Regardless of what it is made of, it smells like shit and skunk mixed together and multiplied by a million in terms of foulness. If you get a drop on your skin you will smell for days. If you step on the ground where it has been sprayed your shoes will smell for days.

There are always a few people who either don’t know to run as fast as possible or think it is just water or who are just trapped and can’t get away. They get completely drenched in this shit water. I will never forget the scene from last week at Bil’in after the soldiers shot the shit water.

Bil’in 5 Year Anniversary

It was the beginning of the protest, the soldiers were not even at the wall yet. And it was the 5 year anniversary of Bil’ins protests against the wall, so there were about a 1000 protestors (usually a couple hundred) and lots of international press. The more press and internationals there are the safer the protest because the Israelis wouldn’t want to get caught doing anything too crazy by someone who can show it around the world.

So the shabaab took advantage of that fact and started literally tearing down the two fences that are the future site of the wall. These are strong metal, barbed wired, razor wired tall fences with surveillance cameras on them and everything. The boys just started pulling the fence, then jumping on it, and eventually pulled down both fences and made it to their stolen land on the other side!

When the soldiers saw this, they went crazy and drove up in jeeps and brought the darban truck. It was too fast for the press or the shabaab in the front to get away and about 50 people got completely showered in the shit water! It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before at a protest.  Mass retching and puking. People pulling off their clothes to try to get rid of the smell. I saw one very tall Palestinian man walking around dazed without his pants—he had the longest legs, and short boxers, and big hiking boots. It was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in my life.

The smell of the shit water dominated the entire area, and got worse as the people who were soaked in it mixed in with the rest of us. Just when we started to recover from the darban attack, the IDF shot “Al Thuletheen” the teargas cannon that shoots out over 40 teargas canisters simultaneously. They shoot in all directions, like rockets with teargas smoke behind them in trails.

When we hear the popping noise of 40 gas canisters being shot within seconds of eachother, everyone panics. The ones who have never seen that type of teargas attack run back to the village as fast as they can and don’t dare to come back. The more seasoned protestors have two options. You can try to outrun the canisters and the huge teargas cloud that occurs after it, or if you know you can’t outrun them through a cloud of teargas and falling canisters all around you—you find a spot by a wall or something out of the way, crouch down, put a scarf over your face and wait.

You will feel panicked, and you think that you can’t breathe. But the trick is to stay calm and remember that within minutes, the cloud will disperse.

Israeli Army Targeting Nonviolent Protestors

Other times the IDF will shoot individual teargas canisters or grenades or bullet shaped high velocity canisters like missiles at the shabaab and press. You can see them flying right past people’s heads. Sometimes they hit people though. And if they hit you in the head, it can cause at the very least a severe injury, if not coma or death.

Tristan Anderson, an American protestor who was demonstrating at Ni’lin last spring, was hit in the head by a high velocity teargas canister that was shot straight at him, instead of up in the air at an angle. Typical.

After he was hit, his head was bleeding profusely and he was knocked to the ground unconscious. People came to help, but they were in a field and the Israeli army had invaded the village and wasn’t letting any ambulance in to help. His friends were screaming for help, and the IDF was STILL shooting teargas at him and those trying to help him. When the ambulance arrived, the IDF shot teargas that hit the ambulance and created a cloud of teargas around those trying to get Tristan into the ambulance.

He’s just now coming out of his coma, after almost a year. They aren’t sure how much of “Tristan” is left though.

Ni’lin Deaths

Another time in Ni’lin, this past summer, during a particularly violent protest where the soldiers were shooting live ammunition instead of the rubber coated steel bullets (which can still kill you if they hit you in the head or neck, or break a bone in another place).  A young boy from the village was shot in the stomach with live ammunition. Yousef Aqel Srour ran out to where he lay to take him back to the ambulance. As he tried to pick up the boy, the IDF sniper shot Yousef directly in the heart with live ammunition—killing him instantly.

A total of 5 nonviolent protestors have been killed in Ni’lin so far, the youngest was just 10 years old and was shot in the head with a so-called rubber bullet.

Bassem Abu Rahmeh

I wasn’t there for either of those events, but I had one terrible experience at Bil’in about a year ago. It was a small protest, it was cold so a lot of people didn’t want to come out and protest. We had no ambulance because it wasn’t a special protest with lots of internationals or important people.

This was the last protest where most people felt safe in the front, standing face to face with the soldiers.

I was already a bit back behind a wall because I had been shot in the back of the legs with a teargas grenade a week or so before. And the soldiers were shooting the high velocity teargas canisters that are shaped like bullets. As I was waiting for the shooting to slow down, I heard a lot of shouting all of a sudden and thought maybe a stone had found its mark.

Then I was able to understand what the guys were shouting. “ASA’AF!” and “SAYARA!!”….over and over and over in upset and desperate voices. The guys in the front yelled it back to the people in the back, and then they would shout it to people further back towards the village until someone with a car got the message.

This went on for what seemed like hours, but was really about 6 minutes. Then a little beat up 2 door car came speeding down the road towards the wall and by this time I had gone further towards the wall (there were only about 20 people left at the protest at this point).  I saw what I thought was one of the boys from the village laying on the ground surrounded by people. The fucking Israeli army was still shooting teargas at them.

When the car got to the front, the teargas canisters were shot at the car too. The men from the village were completely freaked out. I thought maybe the boy had been shot in the leg or something. But then I saw them pick him up to bring him to the car. He was completely limp. He was wearing a neon yellow jersey and it was covered with bright red blood. Absolutely covered. That’s when I realized that this guy was probably going to die.

They finally got him in the car; men were crying and shouting trying to get him to the hospital. The car sped off in a shower of teargas canisters and the men from the village ran up to the fence and started yelling at the soldiers in Hebrew and the boys threw more stones than I’ve seen before. The soldiers just took it. They knew they had fucked up.

The older men from the village ended the protest as news started making its way to the village that someone was badly injured. On the way back, I was really shaken up. I didn’t recognize who it was but I had never seen someone injured that badly in front of me before, that much blood.

 A minute later, I found out it was a friend of mine from the village—Bassem Abu Rahmeh. He was the first person to say hi to me when I came to the protests and he came over to shake my hand every Friday and ask how I was. He was a big and strong guy, but with the heart of a child and a huge smile always on his face.  He used to yell at me to be careful in Arabic every Friday, yelling but winking and with a huge smile, carrying his cell phone blasting Arabic music.

As we got closer to the village, women from Bil’in were out of their houses, crying and trying to figure out who was shot. I saw my friend’s mom crying and walking towards us, asking about her sons. We told her they were fine, but Bassem was on his way to the hospital (the nearest is Ramallah hospital, half an hour away and not that great).

A minute later the sheikh started talking and reciting the Quran over the mosque loudspeaker and we realized Bassem had died. The whole village was weeping in the streets and wandering around looking shocked and confused.

My impression of the villagers of Bil’in is that they are some of the strongest, most resilient and brave people, but still with a sense of humor. That day I saw them falling apart and it was almost as disturbing to me as knowing a friend of mine had been murdered in cold blood in front of me.

Bassem had been standing in the very front of the protest, in front of the fence, with the soldiers on the other side. The soldiers were shooting at some Israeli activists in between the two fences and they injured one with a soundbomb that went off right under him. Bassem was yelling in Hebrew at the soldiers “Reka!” (Hebrew for ‘stop’). He had never thrown a stone in his life; he didn’t even have that capability in his personality.

As he was yelling for the soldiers to stop shooting, in a BRIGHT yellow jersey, less than 20 feet away, he was shot in the middle of his chest with a high velocity teargas canister that is shaped like a bullet. He fell on the ground with a huge hole in his chest and died less than 15 minutes later.

Targeting Protest Organizers and Village Leaders

After Bassem was killed, the IDF killed Yousef in Ni’lin. Bassem was one of the leaders of the Bil’in protests, always in the front. Yousef was also a protest organizer. A few months later the IDF started a massive arrest campaign in Bil’in focusing on the Bil’in Popular Struggle Committee leaders and teenagers in general—whether they had thrown a stone or not. They arrested at least 40 men and boys from Bil’in over the past summer, most were detained but never charged.

Just now, 6 months later, are some of the teenage boys being returned to the village and their families. Of course, the families had to pay tens of thousands of shekels for lawyers and the bail.

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Hebron Clashes Over Israeli-takeover of Ibrahimi Mosque

February 23, 2010

This week, the Israeli government assigned two more places in the West Bank “Israeli Heritage Sites”—the Ibrihimi Mosque (or Cave of the Patriarchs, a mosque that Abraham built and is buried in along with his wife Sarah) in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem.

 This is a provocative move from the Palestinian point of view because the sites are in the West Bank, and this action seems to be the Israeli government’s way of claiming these sites for Israel and the Jewish people while denying the Muslim connection to the sites.

 Israeli PM Netanyahu reiterates that this is a way to prove the “Jewish” connection to the land—a point Israel has been trying to prove since its establishment in 1948.

 The sites will now be much more difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to access.

 After the announcement and Israeli take-over of the Ibrihimi Mosque, about 100 Hebron youths clashed with Israeli police and military in the streets. They burned tires and threw stones, while getting shot at with teargas, rubber coated steel bullets, and soundbombs.

 Many Hebron shopkeepers closed their shops and declared a general strike in protest of the Israeli action.

 This move by the Israeli government comes at a very sensitive time. Within the next week are three important anniversaries: the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday, the Intifada, and the massacre of around 20 Palestinians by Israeli military while they were praying in the Ibrihimi Mosque.

 These anniversaries make this a very tense and politically and religiously charged time in the West Bank. Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas has already called on the Palestinians in the West Bank to start a new Intifada.

 This mosque-takeover could be the spark that ignites the Palestinians, but of course the Israeli government already knows that….

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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….