I'm in the ISM media office in Ramallah right now, where there is a heater and insulation that actually works, so I can type without feeling like my fingers are going to freeze and fall off! So here comes a slightly longer update...
First, a few things I wanted to touch on before but kept forgetting to write --
When I first got to Hebron and told someone that I was from San Francisco, he responded by asking me why men on the buses in San Francisco always yell things out at women, and the proceeded to do something like an impression of obnoxious men yelling things at women. I laughed, and told him I had no idea, and he said something like "it's not good," and I said something like "I agree." It struck me though, because people in the U.S. always talk about how "Arab & Muslim women are so oppressed," as though patriarchy isn't alive and well over there as well...and then here I was in Palestine and was hearing a Palestinian man talk to me about how terrible it was for women in San Francisco! And of course I agreed....anyway, just food for thought....
Also in Hebron, I don't remember if I mentioned this already or not, but me and some other Internationals arranged a meeting with the headmistress of the boys school there. She talked to us about a lot of things, including how the situation has gotten significantly better since the arrival of groups of internationals, including ISM. It was amazing to hear that, and to feel like what we are doing really is effective, even though it seems to go so slowly and step by step. I have realized that contrary to what I might have thought instinctually, organizing in the most desperate and the most urgent situations takes an incredible amount of patience.
Oh! And the other day in Hebron, when I wasn't there because I was in Bil'in (which I will talk about shortly), the Palestinians marched down a street which had been closed off to them for six years due to the Tel Rumeida settlement! Quite a breakthrough, and very exciting.
So, Bil'in - On Friday, M & I went to the protest against the wall in Bil'in, a village near Ramallah. Bil'in is an amazing village. The land itself is beautiful, and there are all these amazing olive and cyprus trees. The people are incredibly welcoming of course, and also incredibly organized. They have a "popular committee" which has worked closely with ISM and has planned amazing actions in order to resist the building of the apartheid wall in their village. Every Friday there is a protest against the wall, where Palestinians, internationals, and some Israeli anarchists (which, by the way, I was impressed with, it would be great if anarchists in The States would be involved in such good solidarity work with oppressed communities!) march to the wall, which is currently just a bunch of fences all in a row, try to cross, etc. Apparently, the Supreme Court or its equivalent here will soon make a decision as to whether or not they are going to build the wall right through the village as planned. It looks like they are going to move the location of the wall closer to the line it was originally intended to go along -- and also legalize a nearby settlement in the same court agreement, so it's some sort of "compromise." But still, the wall might not be built through the village, and that is definitely a positive thing. As Neta pointed out to us the other day, it's a victory -- certainly not justice -- but a victory.
The protest in Bil'in was good - intense, but not as intense as I thought it might be. I've never been tear gassed so much in my life, but tear gas is only a temporary inconvenience, and after a shower later that day I felt fine, and happy to have participated in such an amazing form of resistance. I know a lot of people in the U.S. who consider themselves radical and really throw around words like "grassroots" and "community." I think that a lot of people who use these words don't really understand the depth of what they actually mean. In Bil'in, what is happening really is grassroots, community resistance. And it is a beautiful thing.
We also interviewed a couple of kids in Bil'in about the situation there. A 12 or so year old boy and a 13 or 14 year old girl (I forgot the exact ages, but they're on the tape) talked to us about their feelings and experiences of the Occupation in their village as well as their hopes for the future. I was so impressed. They were both so articulate! And they both seemed to know more about politics- including U.S. politics- than the average U.S. adult. Amazing. And hopeful. Which is always good and important.
Then on Saturday, M & I headed back to Hebron/Tel Rumeida, because Saturdays are the days the settlers there are most violent. They come out of synagogue, where they hear all about how all this land was promised to them by God, and some of the kids, with their parents' encouragement, routinely decide that it's God's will for them to throw stones along with insults at the Palestinian children and sometimes the Palestinian adults. I've heard that the newest trend is for them to throw eggs at them, but I haven't seen that yet. Today was especially extreme, I think, because it was also Eid (I have no idea how to spell this, because I have only heard it spoken), a huge feast for Muslims which corresponds to the hajj people are making at the same time to Mecca. So we had a bunch of settlers walking around (they are religious so they don't drive cars on Saturdays and thus they walk everywhere- but apparently, while they are not allowed to drive a car, it's perfectly okay for them to walk around with guns slung over their shoulder) and also a lot of Palestinians walking around, because for Eid, they all go around and visit lots of the other families in the community. Within about 15 minutes of arriving from Ramallah, where we had spent the night, back in Hebron, we went outside our house to discover the soldiers holding a large group of people, mostly men, but also some women, trying to go visit their family for the holiday. Because the settlement was built in such a way that Palestinian houses fall in its same district, those Palestinians were "not allowed" to have visitors for the holiday- eventually, they let the "blood relatives" through, but still refused to let most of them go by. A lot of the groups of Palestinians who came and tried to get through to visit those families in the "Israeli military controlled" district just eventually gave up and went to visit other families instead. Here, this is just how life works. A bunch of us internationals stationed ourselves outside right near our house all day, where a bunch of soldiers were standing - usually there are only two, but this time they had a lot, probably a combination of Saturday and Eid. When they weren't temporarily detaining people, they were standing there asking the Palestinians where they were going (as though they didn't know) and asking to see their passports. This wasn't even at the actual checkpoint, where they also usually have to show their passports, it was just at the soldiers station at the top of the hill. It was incredibly frustrating to watch them ask the Palestinians for their passports fairly consistently, and then just say "shabbat shalom" to the settlers as they walked by, or just nod hello to them, without asking them to see anything. It was also frustrating to watch the actual checkpoint, the way they would stop a lot of the young men and search them with their metal detector wand and make them take off their belts and empty their pockets, and open their jackets, etc...it seemed so wrong and invasive- I mean, these "young men" were really kids, some of them young teenagers- - but yet we couldn't do anything about it, because it's legal for them to do it. Frustrating. Very frustrating.
The same day, some settler children hid on the side of the road and attacked one of the men- one of the ones from the family the group we saw in the morning had been trying to visit- with stones, while he was on his way home. The parents were there, but they did nothing and did not even pretend to be telling the children to stop. The police and the soldiers actually responded to the situation and got the settlers to stop eventually, but not before they managed to break down part of the fence between the settlement and this man's house. Supposedly the soldiers are going to fix the fence tomorrow. While I don't know how trustworthy they are, it seems that one thing they are good at is building walls and fences, so maybe they'll actually do it. Besides, even though the fence really serves primarily to protect this family from the settlers, I think the soldiers and the settlers see it as a security necessity for themselves.
So this, then, is Occupation. I don't claim to understand what it is like to live like people do here, or claim to understand how they survive and resist and even thrive despite what they are facing, but right now I have the privilege of bearing witness to this survival and learning from this resistance. And it is amazing!
I'm exhausted, so that's it for now...the next few days should be pretty calm because I'm back in Ramallah for the ISM training which I haven't actually had yet...so more updates to come later, and for now, maa'salaama.
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