Posts Tagged ‘settlements’

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Life in Area C…..

May 27, 2010

Oslo Accords and the Creation of “Area C”

After the 1993 Oslo Accords, the final status of the West Bank was deemed to be subject to “upcoming” agreements between Israeli and Palestinian leadership. In the meantime, the authority of the West Bank was divided between Israeli and Palestinian through the creation of three different types of “areas”—A, B, and C.

Area A, which makes up 17% of the land in the West Bank, and is home to 55% of West Bank Palestinians, was put under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B, 59% of the land and 41% of the Palestinians, was put under joint Israeli-Palestinian control—civil authority for the PA and security for the Israelis. Area C makes up 59% of the land and 4% of the Palestinians, is under full Israeli control. There are 150,000 Palestinians living in Area C and 400,000 Jewish settlers living in 120 official settlements and 100 illegal outposts.

Area C contains all of the Israeli settlements, settler roads, security buffer zones, strategic areas, and Israeli military bases and zones. The places in the West Bank that make up most of the Area C are the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the Judean desert.

While the majority of the Palestinian population lives in Area A and B, much of the land around these Palestinian built-up areas, villages, and cities is defined as Area C. Therefore, many Palestinian communities have lost farmland—vital to the economy of many villages, and the land that their communities would naturally expand into as the population increases. The Israeli military retains full control of the land, roads, water, airspace, security and borders for the land in Area C.

Ethnic Cleansing Via Bureaucracy

Life is made almost impossible for any Palestinians living in or near Area C because of the complex bureaucratic system the Israelis set up for that very reason. Palestinians in Area C need a permit from the Israelis in order to repair their own homes and infrastructure, to build new homes on their own land, to access water, and to access their own farmland. Needless to say, these permits are not given out in a timely manner, if at all.

The Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, especially the bedouin communities, have been facing the most intense Israeli policies aimed at cleansing the area of Palestinians so that Israel can take over full control of the resources there. Another Israeli aim in taking over the Jordan Valley (30%  of the West Bank territory) is to unilaterally establish an eastern border of the West Bank that would isolated it inside Israel–without any borders leading to other, more friendly countries.

Since 1967, Israel has been carrying out a “creeping” ethnic cleansing on the residents of the Jordan valley through its permit system and other policies–taking the Palestinian population down from 320,000 to only 56,000 today. 

One example of the irrationality of the permit system is in Jiftlik, a village in the Jordan Valley—which is almost entirely Area C. In Jiftlik, they have had to put electricity poles in concrete blocks which are placed above the ground instead of digging a hole for them because according to the Israelis, digging holes more than 40 cm in the ground is illegal.

Sometimes you will see corrugated tin roofs camouflaged with plastic covering because building a roof out of metal counts as “building a second storey” in the Israeli system. And of course, they would need an impossible-to-get permit for that.

“Breathing is the only thing we don’t need a permit for—yet!” Said Abed Kasab, one of the residents of the village.

Economic Damage in Area C

The economies of the villages and cities in or near Area C have been very negatively affected by the restrictions placed on them. It is the same for Palestinians living in communities near the Separation Wall—which has isolated them from other cities making economic trade and travel to access services such as health care almost impossible. By 2008, over 3,000 businesses were forced to close in the West Bank because of the Separation Wall’s construction through or near their communities.

Qalqilia and Tulkarem

In Qalqilia,  the Separation Wall has completely surrounded the city, leaving just one Israeli-controlled gate to allow any people and goods in or out. The isolation of Tulkarem due to settlement blocs and the Wall has also been significant. 37% of the West Bank agricultural land is found in the Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqilia governorates.

The damage done to the land in these areas by the Separation Wall is severe. At the beginning of its construction, 83,000 olive and other fruit trees, 615 dunams of irrigated land, 37 km of water networks, and 15 km of agricultural roads were destroyed systematically.

In addition, 238,350 dunams of land were isolated between the Green Line and the Separation wall, 57% of which was cultivated and is now almost inaccessible to the Palestinian farmers.  The worst effect of this land confiscation is poverty—by isolation and fragmentation.

 Nablus

Economically, Nablus has been under siege since the beginning of the Second Intifada. Huwwara checkpoint, just outside the city of Nablus, was the only way to get in or out of the city. This made trade and business almost impossible for years, strangling the economy.

To make matters worse, the Israeli military would arbitrarily close the checkpoint for different amounts of time—causing normal life to stop in Nablus. When Huwwara checkpoint is operating “normally” the line of cars waiting to leave or enter Nablus can be kilometers long, and the people must wait for hours.

Hebron

In Hebron, the Israeli settlers took over apartments right in the middle of the city. This area is now referred to as H2—and has caused extreme damage to the economy of Hebron because it is located in the central market of the city. Here, around 800 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians.

The settlers’ presence has been slowly choking the economy of Hebron. The settlers are protected by the Israeli military—who have set up checkpoints throughout the marketplace to ensure the safety and freedom of movement for the settlers while denying both to the Palestinian residents.

More than half of the shops in the central marketplace have been forcibly shut down, or gone out of business due to the presence of settlers, military, and checkpoints in the market. Palestinian shop owners have to put chain link fencing above the alleyways outside their shops because the settlers, who have taken over the upstairs apartments, routinely throw garbage, glass bottles, and even sewage water down on the shops and people below.

Violent Effects of Settlements on Area C Palestinians

Hebron

The settlers in Hebron are the most violent in the West Bank, they systematically attack their Palestinian neighbors with complete impunity. Of course, they are allowed to carry automatic rifles and are protected by the IDF, so they can beat any Palestinian they want, or rip the veil off of any woman with no consequences.

South Hebron Hills

In the South Hebron hills, which are in the middle of Area C, the settlers constantly attack the Palestinian villagers. Sometimes they send dogs on the Palestinians, other times settlers wearing hoods or masks wait for the school children or shepherds to walk home where they stone them, beat them, or steal from them.

Recently, a 6 year old child who was grazing his sheep in an area isolated by the barrier near the settlement of Shani, was physically assaulted by a settler. Also, the settlers destroy olive and fruit trees as well as burning entire agricultural fields.

Nablus

Nablus is surrounded by settlements—which are built on the tops of the hills around the city. These settlers are constantly attacking the Palestinians in villages near settlements. Recently, West Bank settlers have been following a “Price Tag” policy in response to international pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction and dismantle illegal outposts.

This policy requires that for every outpost or building in a settlement demolished, the settlers will organize an attack on neighboring Palestinian communities. This policy has been very obvious in the Nablus area.

Recently, Israeli settlers from the Yitzhar settlement entered Huwwara village near Nablus and vandalized the municipal park—damaging the park lights, sound amplifiers, children’s toys, and olive trees near the park. They also threw stones at a nearby house, breaking several windows.

In addition, on May 4th, settlers set fire to a mosque in Lubban Al Sharqiyya—one day after the Israeli civil administration demolished 5 structures under construction in the settlement of Shave Shomron; a clear Price Tag policy attack. This was the 3rd act of vandalism targeting mosques reported in the northern West Bank since December 2009.

Salfeet

In Salfeet, a city which is surrounded by 17 settlements (built on land confiscated from the city and villages around it), the settlers prefer to send wild boars down on the Palestinians below. These wild boars are huge and very dangerous—in addition to destroying farmland and agriculture, they could also seriously injure or kill anyone who gets in their path.

Environmental Damage Caused by Settlements

What’s more, the surrounding settlements are causing a great deal of environmental damage in the West Bank. Israeli factories that are not within the standards of environmental and health protection of Israel move to the West Bank to bypass these regulations.

Near Salfeet, settlements and factories are causing major environmental damage. They dump chemical waste from factories onto Palestinian fields—which contaminates the produce. The settlers also drain their sewage water into nearby villages and land—causing severe health effects on the people.

Water War

Water availability is another complex issue in Area C. The wells in Area A & B are not completely under Palestinian control, and the ones located in Area C are not available at all to Palestinians. Israeli use of West Bank water is 7 times what the Palestinians use. Area C contains 280 out of 597 wells, and of these only 51 are owned by Israel.

Yet, somehow, Israel’s annual yield of water equates to over 66% of the total water yields in Area C. This is why the Israeli settlements have green grass in every yard, swimming pools, etc…while in Palestinians cities and villages, people can go weeks without water in their homes–especially now, during the summer.

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“A Cloud Over Jerusalem”—Uri Avnery

May 6, 2010

EVERYONE HAS the right to change his or her mind. Even Danny Tirzeh.

Colonel Tirzeh was responsible for planning the wall that “envelopes” Jerusalem – the one that cuts the city off from the West Bank in order to turn it into the United Capital Of Israel For All Eternity.

And now, suddenly, Tirzeh pops up as the main opponent of the wall he himself planned. He wants to move it, so as to leave the lands of al-Walaja village on the “Israeli” side.

The Colonel has ceased acting on behalf of the Israeli army and now represents private entrepreneurs who want to build 14 thousand housing units for 45 thousand Jewish souls. All this, of course, for the greater good of Zionism, the Jewish people, Israel’s Eternal Capital, and many tens of millions of shekels.

COLONEL TIRZEH is not just anybody. He is a symbol.

For years I kept meeting him in the halls of the Supreme Court. He had become almost a fixture: the star witness, the expert and the moving spirit in scores of hearings dealing with the Separation and Annexation Wall.

He knows everything. Every kilometer of the Wall and the Fence. Every hill, every stone. He always carries with him a large bundle of maps which he lays before the judges, earnestly explaining why the Wall must pass here and not there, why the security of the state demands that the Palestinian villages be separated from their land, why leaving an olive grove in the hands of its owner would expose Israeli soldiers to mortal danger.

Generally, the judges are persuaded. After all, he is the expert. He is the man who knows. How can they take upon themselves the responsibility for changing the route of the Wall, if this could result in Jews being killed?

There are exceptions. At Bil’in village, the court was convinced that the Fence could be moved a few hundred meters without causing the security of the state to collapse and heaps of Jewish bodies to litter the landscape.

So the Supreme Court accepted the plea of the villagers and decided to move the Fence and — nothing. The Fence has remained where it was. The government and the military just ignored the court order.

In vain did the President of the Supreme Court admonish them that her decisions “are not recommendations”. Like dozens of other court decisions concerning the settlers, this one, too, is gathering dust.

The case of Bil’in is especially conspicuous, and not only because protesters – Palestinians, Israelis and others – have been killed and injured there. It is conspicuous because the motive trying to hide behind the Fence is so striking.

Not Zionism. Not security or defense from the terrorists. Not the dreams of generations. Not the vision of Theodor Herzl, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated now.

Just money. Lots of money.

The area lying between the present Fence and the alternative path has been earmarked for the Orthodox settlement Modi’in-Illit. Giant corporations are to build many hundreds of “housing units” there, a business worth many millions.

Everywhere, the areas stolen from the Palestinians immediately turn into real estate. They pass though mysterious channels into the jaws of land sharks. The sharks then build huge housing projects and sell the “housing units” for a fortune.

HOW IS this done? The public is now receiving a lesson in the form of the Holyland affair, a lesson in installments – every day new details emerge and new suspects turn up.

On the site of an old and modest hotel by this name, a giant housing project has sprung up – a line of high-rise apartment buildings and a skyscraper. This ugly monster dominates the landscape – but the part of the project which can be seen from afar is only a fraction of the whole. The other bits have already received the blessing of all the relevant municipal and government authorities.

How? The investigation is still going on. Almost every day, new suspects are being arrested. Almost everybody who has had anything to do with the authorization of the project, up to the highest level, is suspect – ministers, senior government officials, the former mayor, members of the municipal council, and municipal officials. At present, the investigators are trying to trace the bribe money all over the world.

Holyland is located in West Jerusalem (in what before 1948 was the Arab neighborhood of Katamon).

The question naturally arising: if things are done this way in the West of the city, what is happening in the East? If those politicians and officials dare to steal and take bribes in West Jerusalem – what do they allow themselves in East Jerusalem, whose inhabitants have no representation in either the municipality or the government?

ONLY A few minutes drive separate Holyland from the village of al-Walaja.

One could write volumes about this small village, which for more than 60 years has served as a target of abuse.

Briefly: the original village was occupied and annexed to Israel in the 1948 war. The inhabitants were expelled and founded a new village on the part of their land which remained on the other side of the Green Line. The new village was occupied in the 1967 war and annexed to Jerusalem, which was annexed to Israel. According to Israeli law, the houses are illegal. The inhabitants live in their own houses, on their own land, but are officially considered illegal residents who can be evicted at any time.

Now the land sharks are ogling this succulent piece of land, which is worth a lot of money for building projects. They follow the proven Zionist routine. First of all, the Arab name of the place is replaced with a pure Hebrew one, preferably from the Bible. Much as nearby Jebel-Abu-Ghneim became Har Homa, before the eyesore monster housing project was erected there, thus al-Walaja has now become Giv’at Yael. Clearly a place called Hill of Yael must belong to the Jewish people, and it is a divine duty to build another settlement there.

So what if this necessitates the moving of the Wall? One can always find a used army officer who will justify this on security grounds.

FOR YEARS now I have been suggesting that this side of the settlement enterprise should be examined more closely.

The public debate was always about lofty ideals. The divine promise as against the human vision. Greater Israel as against the Two-State solution. Zionist values as against the value of peace. Fascism as against humanism.

And somebody was laughing all the way to the bank.

The settlements are growing rapidly all the time. All over the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements spring up like toxic mushrooms, poisoning the prospects of peace. In this matter there was never any difference between Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu.

Among the settlers there is a hard core of ideological zealots. But many of the builders are just clever businessmen, whose only god is Mammon. They easily make friends with the leaders of Likud and the chiefs of Labor, not to mention the Kadima crowd.

The massive settlements in East Jerusalem – those already existing and those still planned – are proceeding along the same lines as the monster on Holyland hill, and they need the same permits from the same municipal and government authorities. Jerusalem, after all, has been united. Therefore, the same dark cloud is hanging over them.

What is needed is a judicial board of inquiry to investigate all the permits issued in Jerusalem in recent years, certainly from the beginning of Ehud Olmert’s term as mayor. Olmert fought like a tiger for the establishment of Har Homa and the other large settlements in East Jerusalem. All for the sake of Zionism and Jewish rule over the Holy City. Now he is Suspect No. 1.

Everything must be investigated from the beginning. And every new project must be stopped until its propriety has been established beyond any doubt.

THESE THINGS are grave enough in themselves, and they are even more serious when they are located at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israel-US crisis.

For the sake of the Israeli housing projects in East Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government is endangering our lifeline to the US. The extreme-right mayor declares that he doesn’t give a damn for government orders and will continue to build all over, whatever Netanyahu may or may not say. The Palestinians understandably refuse to negotiate with the Israeli government while building activities in East Jerusalem go on.

Shall we endanger the future of Israel for generations, just so that land sharks can make more millions?

Do the patriots who are sharing out East Jerusalem include elected and appointed officials hoping for large bribes from the builders?

Is there a connection between the rampant corruption, of which the Holyland affair is only the tip of the iceberg, and historic national decisions?

In short, will we allow the future of the holy land be sacrificed on the unholy altar of the profits of corruption?

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Weekly Post:

March 14, 2010

 West Bank Closure Extended

 Well, for part of this past week, the Israeli government decided to seal off the West Bank checkpoints. Internationals and those seeking medical treatment, or who have jobs in Israel are technically allowed to pass. I went through Qalandia checkpoint on Friday and Saturday and they were turning away most of the Palestinians, even the ones who had the permit to go to Jerusalem or a blue ID (that means they were born in Jerusalem and are allowed to cross into Israel).

 The closure was supposed to end on Sunday but has been extended to at least Tuesday.

 Tension at Al Aqsa Mosque

 This extension is most likely due to the recent tensions at Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Israeli settlers and police have invaded the compound at least once in the past week and have stated that they will enter again.

 Whenever they invade the compound, the Palestinian youth defend the mosque by protesting and trying to prevent the settlers from entering. Israel usual has a few undercover guys who mix in with the Palestinians and incite the crowd by throwing stones, glass or other objects in the direction of the police. After that, the Israeli police and military can respond in whatever way they want.

 Old City Restrictions

 Israel’s assault on the Old City’s Palestinian residents doesn’t stop there. The IDF stormed most of the Old City’s Palestinian stalls and shops, confiscating the IDs of anyone not living in the Old City. Those people are then supposed to go to the temporary checkpoints at the Damascus and Herods gate to collect their papers—and they will most likely not allowed to return to their shops.

 There are already strict restrictions on which Palestinians can enter the Old City because of the tensions over the Al Aqsa Mosque. Only those Palestinian males over 50 or young children are allowed into the Old City. These restrictions have been in place for a few days now, and prevent people from reaching their jobs and their homes.

 Nablus Mosque Receives Demolition Order

 Claiming that the construction of the Salman Al Farisi Mosque is illegal because it does not have the correct building license, Israel has issued a demolition order on the mosque. The residents, who contributed their own money to build this mosque—which is already 3 floors tall, have the option to demolish it themselves or let the Israeli IDF demolish it (which residents will have to pay for!).

 Nonviolent Resistance

 Iraq Bourin

 In Iraq Bourin, a village near Nablus, 6 people were injured as they nonviolently protested against the theft of their land. On the march towards their stolen land, Israeli settlers entered the village to provoke the villagers. The IDF came “to intervene” and fired teargas; rubber coated steel bullets, and sound bombs on the demonstrators. One Danish national was injured.

 Testing New Weapons on Demonstrators

 Many protestors from the past weeks protests have claimed that the IDF is using new weapons—and perhaps even testing these new weapons on West Bank protestors. In Sheikh Jarrah, the IDF soldiers were wearing their ammunition strapped across their chests—instead of bullets it was the high-velocity teargas canisters that killed my friend Bassem in Bil’in, except now the tips of the bullet-shaped teargas canisters are blue. Don’t know what the difference is in practice between the two.

 I also heard that the IDF is testing new explosive devices, but no more details on that yet.

 Sheikh Jarrah

 In Sheikh Jarrah this Friday there were about 300 protestors—mostly Israeli activists. It was the most boring protest I’ve ever been to! We couldn’t even walk down the street to the houses that are supposed to be demolished, which is the point. The police blocked the street with some barriers and that was enough to stop the protest.

 So when the Israeli group arrived from West Jerusalem we all just stood on a little hill by the police barriers and shouted slogans. Then about 5 police/military vans showed up full of Israeli soldiers with the high-velocity blue-tipped teargas canisters strapped across their chests like Rambo. As if they could use those in such a close space, and on Israeli activists?

 I think just to mess with us; they had the police-soldiers push us across the street. This was the only time there was trouble. Some Israeli activists resisted and the police carried them off to be detained for 5 minutes—making a big show for the photographers as they were fighting and being carried away.

 After that, we stood on the other side of the street doing nothing, surrounded by the police who wouldn’t so much as let us step off the sidewalk. Some settlers showed up later and threw stones (the ONLY ones who threw stones at Sheikh Jarrah this week –and normally). They also attacked some people eating in restaurants in the area by stoning them. One was injured.

 Beit Ummar

4 protestors were detained in Beit Ummar protests, including at least one journalist. Several internationals that have been living in the village were assaulted by the Israeli military for no apparent reason.

 Ni’lin

 The protest in Ni’lin this week was in honor of Tristan Anderson, an American activist that was shot in the head by the same high velocity teargas canister that killed Bassem in Bil’in. He was in a coma for about a year and just recently woke up—it’s still not clear what kind of damage the injury and coma have done to his brain. His parents have brought a case against the Israeli military for his injuries.

Rachel Corrie’s parents recently brought a case to the Israeli Supreme Court suing for damages after her death a few years ago when an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer ran her over. So far, the Israeli government has not accepted any responsibility for their crime.

Bil’in

Bil’in villagers and international activists protested in solidarity with the residents of the Old City in Jerusalem. Dozens were teargassed and 2 children were shot with rubber coated steel bullets.

Nabe Saleh

It was a very violent protest in Nabe Saleh this week. There were reportedly 20 injuries from rubber coated steel bullets, including 3 in the head that required hospital treatment. All of those shot were under 25 years old.

Ehab Barghouthi, 14, who was shot in the head last week with a rubber coated steel bullet that entered his skull above his right eye is now breathing for himself and slowly recovering.

Netanyahu’s Slap in the Face to the US

On the exact day when US VP Biden visited the region to try to advance indirect peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israeli government announced the approval of 1600 new housing units in illegal settlements around East Jerusalem.

The US has made its position on settlement expansion perfectly clear to the Israeli government–and has agreed with the Palestinian government that peace talks are impossible without a settlement freeze. The announcement and its timing were a slap in the face to the US–who is Israel’s closest (and only?) ally. Without the 7 million dollars a day in military aid the US gives to Israel, the country would be completely insecure.

The arrogance of the Israeli government knows no bounds! Hopefully the US will teach them a little respect. But I doubt it…

Side Note:

Since the West Bank is seriously lacking in nice parks to lay out in the sun in during the summer, my roommate discovered a park in West Jerusalem that has a stream running through it and some trees and everything. We went there yesterday to celebrate the beautiful day.

Today I found out its built on top of an old Palestinian cemetery?! In 1965, the Israeli government decided to relocate the graves of some of the most important leaders and Arab residents of Jerusalem back to 1000 years ago.

During the construction that involved relocating the graves and remains to another site, human remains were reported to be strewn across the site. The Jerusalem authorities were unresponsive to Palestinian outcries against this desecration.

So thats where I was laying in the sun yesterday. #*@&!&! Only in Israel…………

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Biden’s Visit with Abbas in the West Bank

March 11, 2010

So yesterday, when my friend from the PA told me it was the VP of Brazil, he was JOKING.

The real visitor, as I found out soon after, was the VP of the USA, Biden. The PA didnt want to announce his visit beforehand because of the security risk. Now at least I understand the need for the huge military presence in all the streets of Ramallah.

Anyways, I had low expectations of the impact of Biden’s visit to the region. But he did do a couple of good things. He showed up an hour and a half late to his dinner meeting with PM Netanyahu in Israel. Hahaha. Then when Netanyahu announced the government’s approval of 1600 new housing units in a settlement near Jerusalem, on occupied Palestinian territory, he snapped and “condemned” Israel’s decision.

Of course the word “condemn” has been thrown around so much about Israel’s activities, and never followed by any concrete measures, so it doesn’t mean anything on the ground. But at least he condemned them. And he did an interview with Al Jazeera explaining the irrationality of Netanyahu’s behavior and how it was only serving to break the “trust” between the Israelis and Palestinians who are trying to restart negotiations.

I think he might be starting to get the point. ha.

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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….

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Weekly Update:

February 8, 2010

 NONVIOLENT PROTESTS:

 Nabe Saleh

 So last Friday in Nabe Saleh it was pandemonium. The villagers blocked all the roads into the village so that the Israeli army jeeps couldn’t enter the village. The demonstration started out very violent—the soldiers shooting tons of teargas and rubber coated steel bullets. Before long, the boys from the village were throwing stones. Then the Israeli army called in the Border Police.

 The Border Police are called in when the army expects a lot of arrests to be made. They are also a more violent version of the soldiers who are usually stationed at the protests. My roommate Lazar said he saw one of the border policemen shooting rubber coated steel bullets like a machine gun at the kids while screaming and yelling like Rambo—completely enjoying himself. All that was missing from that picture was the “born to kill” written across his helmet like some of the soldiers have.

 The soldiers were spread out on a road that leads to the village while the boys and other demonstrators were on the hill that sits over the road. Lazar was taking photos with a few other press guys (wearing the bright press vests) about 50 meters away from the closest boys throwing stones. For some reason, the soldiers decided to shoot him in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet. Now, although it has “rubber” in the name, this bullet is metal and the size of a large marble. It has a paper thin coating of rubber over it—that’s the Israeli’s version of rubber bullets I guess.

 If one of them hits you in the head, you will either be severely injured with likely brain damage, in a coma, or dead. My roommate Lazar, for the entire year he has been here in Palestine and going to these weekly demonstrations, has never invested in a helmet. He has a gas mask and a borrowed bullet proof vest but never found a helmet—until a few days before last Friday’s protest. He bought a plastic construction helmet for 25 shekels (8 dollars). And it saved his life!

 Later during the protest, Lazar was talking to a friend of ours, Ahmed, in the field behind the boys throwing stones at the soldiers—who were shooting at the boys with rubber coated steel bullets, teargas, soundbombs, and some live ammunition. As he was chatting with Ahmed, another rubber coated steel bullet hit him in the stomach. Luckily, he was too far from the soldiers for it to do much damage. But it was definitely a dangerous day to be at Nabe Saleh.

 About a dozen were hit with rubber coated steel bullets on Friday, none serious. One boy was hit 5 times!

 (For pictures from Nabe Saleh this week, look on Palestinemonitor.org)

 Bil’in

 In Bil’in, the demonstration is a lot smaller now because of the arresting campaign the Israelis have carried out against the village. Over 40 boys and men have been arrested so far for “participation in an illegal demonstration”. Ha. What’s illegal is the settlement Israel built on their land. What’s illegal is the wall the Israelis built on their land, and to steal land.

 The court decision that was made when Bil’in brought their case to the Israeli Supreme Court and won looks like its finally going to be at least partially carried out. They won another 100 meters of their own land back a couple years ago in that court. But so far, the Israeli government has not acquiesced to that decision and has kept up construction on the existing route.

 One of the guys from Bil’in that everyone told us was a spy got arrested the other day by the Israelis. Don’t know why that happened? He was always in the front of the demonstration throwing stones at the soldiers, never taking cover or running away when they started shooting—it was so obvious that he was a spy. And he was never arrested even when all the others who regularly went to the protests were arrested—especially being in the front of the demo all the time where soldiers can easily take his picture and arrest him later. So, he will probably be kept for a few days, maybe weeks, then released. It could be a game by the Israelis to make the village trust him again, or it could be he wouldn’t cooperate with them anymore.

 Ni’lin, Al Masara

 Dozens were injured by teargas but there were no serious injuries.

 International Solidarity Movement (ISM) Arrests

 The ISM is an organization that was created at the beginning of the Second Intifada to get internationals over here to witness what was happening to the Palestinian people. At the beginning, they were a valuable group for Palestine because they would go and actually live in villages being oppressed by the Israeli military and see things first hand.

 However, now, the ISM people mostly gravitate towards the areas with the most “action” and where they have the greatest chance to fight with Israeli soldiers. For many of them, getting arrested or deported is a status thing—and its like a game to them to see how many times they can get arrested until they get deported. After that, they change their names and come back through Israel with a new passport.

 They chain themselves to olive trees and generally just increase the violence and anger from Israeli soldiers in any given situation. So now, I would say they are doing more harm than good—which would be different if they followed stricter rules on what they are allowed to do here.

 Anyways, there are a lot of them in the West Bank who have expired visas now because they know if they try to leave and come back on a new visa, the Israelis have their names and pictures from times when they were chained to olive trees and such so they have no chance of renewing their visa. So instead, they stay in the West Bank as long as they can.

 The Israelis have caught on to this—first by arresting ISM people at protests and looking at their passports and seeing they don’t have visas—unlike the rest of us who have jobs here and either have work visas or leave every three months to renew our ‘tourist visas’. Now the Israeli military has taken it so far as to raid Ramallah in the middle of the night to arrest these ISM people with expired visas.

 Last night they raided the Ramallah ISM office and arrested two ISM people—one from Spain and one from Australia. They will probably be detained for a few days then deported and banned forever from Israel (and thus Palestine).

 Al-Shufat Refugee Camp Arrests

 The Israeli military raided Al Shufat Refugee Camp—a camp on the outskirts of East Jerusalem that holds 25,000 Palestinians who were driven from their homes in Jerusalem. The military arrested up to 60 people from the camp—most with political affiliations and some that the Israelis claim were ‘wanted.’

 Goldstone Report

 Israel once and for all dismissed the Goldstone Report “without apology.” They have won, because of the American veto on UN actions. So now, they will most likely get away with all the war crimes and murders of innocent men, women and children in Gaza. And they didn’t even apologize. Ha.

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Videos from Nabe Saleh Demonstration: House Teargassed 1/29/10

February 3, 2010

Nabe Saleh is a village north of Ramallah in the West Bank. About a month ago, they began organizing weekly protests against the illegal Israeli settlement that is built on their land. In addition to taking agricultural land from the village, the settlers recently took over a natural well that is on Nabe Saleh’s land. That is why the villagers decided to start protesting regularly.

PART 1:

PART 2:

click here:

PART 3:

3 weeks ago, the women in the house from this video were arrested for nonviolently protesting the theft of their village’s land. They were released on the condition that they would stay in their house during the Friday protests.

The next Friday, the women were in their house when the Israeli soldiers shot a teargas grenade through their window. Their house began to fill up with teargas, so the mother went outside to get some air and ran straight into the soldiers waiting for her. The soldiers started hitting her in the stomach with their automatic weapons, and her 2 daughters came outside to help her.

They started fighting with the soldiers and the rest of the villagers came to help. The women ended up being arrested and released on 10,000 shekel bail each (over 3,000 dollars) and that they would not attend the demonstrations.

The next Friday demonstration (1/29/10) is when I took these videos. I went into the women’s house to interview them as the demonstration was going outside. Suddenly, a teargas grenade came through the window and started filling up the house with teargas. There were about a dozen young children watching TV in the nursery.

Since the gas cloud was blocking the exit, we couldn’t get all the kids out of the house (plus the demonstration was right outside now, soldiers were shooting teargas, rubber coated steel bullets, the skunk water, and live ammunition….so you can’t just run outside blinded by teargas into that situation…).

We got everyone into a room and closed the door to wait out the teargas….