Saturday, December 30, 2006

slightly longer post from a room with a heater in ramallah

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, 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 more updates to come later, and for now, maa'salaama.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

thoughts from tel rumeida

don't wanna spend too much time on the computer right now, because people are talking and drinking tea and also it is much warmer by the heater than at the computer, which is near the door.

you know how in my last email/blog i mentioned how it doesn't snow in Jerusalem on Christmas? Well, today it snowed!

I'm not in Jerusalem anymore I'm in Hebron, by the Tel Rumeida settlement. I didn't realize until I got here that the settlements are literally across the street from Palestinian neighborhoods. So one side of the street is Palestinian and the other is under Israeli control...which means that the Palestinians can be arrested for "trespassing" (ironic, isn't it?) on Israeli land when they are just walking down the street to their house, if the soldiers decide that the part of the street they're on is Israeli.

When I have more time I want to write about the interesections of privilege and time for processing. Those of you with time on your hands right now, think about it...

I will send more details later, but for now a few short thoughts....

people here are incredibly hospitable. i have been welcomed here so many times i can't even count.

because we're working sort of on the border of Hebron and Tel Rumeida settlement, there is a checkpoint literally around the corner from the international house here. and their are soldiers stationed basically across the street. to people here, this is normal. to me, it is incredibly strange, and kind of scary.

also right outside, a star of david is spraypainted on the wall. on the cement. it is not so different from the way i have seen swastikas spraypainted in nazi germany or other places...i heard that this happened here, but it is different to actually see it.

"i heard that this happened here, but it is different to actually see it" could probably sum up the majority of my experiences here so far.

i've met a bunch of people so far who are from south africa. i interviewed one of them today about the comparisons between apartheid there and the situation here. he had a lot to say, and i will bring the footage home with me, but he ended on an incredibly hopeful note about how nelson mandela was once seen as a terrorist and then became a nationally recognized hero and leader.

i have so much more to say but don't feel like i have time to say it..later, i promise. in general, i'm doing fine, meeting amazing people, and drinking a lot of coffee and tea.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A few stories for contemplation, from East Jerusalem

I've been in East Jerusalem for the past couple of days. Hisham, the owner of the hostel M and I are staying at, had a birthday party last night, so we stayed an extra day here in order to go to that...M knows him from his last trip. There was music and dancing and cake. And lots of people who either lived here in Palestine or had stayed here at the hostel in the past and were doing all kinds of activist work all around the West Bank. It was great to get to talk to all of them and hear their stories and learn about their projects.
Yesterday was Christmas. It was interesting to realize that while this is where Jesus was (supposedly) born, and thus where Christianity began, all the images we get of Christmas in the States come from this totally European paradigm- M pointed this out to me actually-- snow, for example. Yesterday was cold at night, similar to SF weather, but there was no snow, and there were no pine trees, but palm trees instead! Another example of European hegemony being invisibilized I guess.

Some short stories for contemplation:

While wandering around the suuks (markets) in East Jerusalem, in the "Old City," M and I come across this one Palestinian man from near Hebron, whose name I think is Isaac, or something like that, who has a huge collection of what were basically Palestinian antiques. Turns out he used to be a professor, but now he is old and retired and is selling his own collection of things in order to put his son through college. He explains that he started collecting in 1947 or 1948, i don't remember which, because he "realized that eventually there would be nothing left" and he wants to preserve the memory, if nothing else. He has amazing things, old keys, beautiful dresses, mirrors with silk weaved into beautiful patterns...he tells us about them and his life. Two of the mirrors were from a refugee camp and had been made in 1948, right after the "nakba." He tells us that he wants us to buy them and then write the stories of where they came from next to them and hang them up in the States so people there will hear their stories.
As we are talking to him, two Israeli soldiers come by. Neither M nor I can understand their conversation, which I guess was probably in Hebrew. He talks "politely" with one of the soldiers and the other one just sort of stands there and looks at me and M suspiciously as though he is trying to figure us out. Then the soldiers leave.
Isaac goes right back to the conversation he'd been having with us before...he sells me a bag. I ask him about two strings of coins which are hanging up on the shelf, telling him there is no way I will be able to afford them, but I am curious if he doesn't mind explaining. He tells me they are Turkish and then takes out a book to show me a picture of people wearing the strings of coins.
As he does this, he leans closer.
"I was afraid of those soldiers," he says, his voice quieter than it was before, as though it were coming from a different person. A complete different tone.
I nod. "Yea," and I hope that the generic "look of understanding" from the States also translates from English to Arabic. From the response on his face, I am glad to see that it does.
"What did they want?" I ask.
"They wanted something to cut wood," he answers.
We look at each other for a moment. I want to hug him or run screaming after the soldiers or simply take his hands and say "I'm so sorry, this is so fucked up!" but I do not know if that would be culturally appropriate. So a shared look for a moment is enough.
He moves back to his original position with the book and continues telling me about the Turkish coins. His voice goes back to what it was before, strong, boisterous.
I realize that to him, this is normal. normalized.

Later on, M and I go to the Israeli post office to mail stuff to ourselves - we have to, because we can't take our Palestinian souvenirs back with us through the airport. On the way in, there is a guy who searches us. I beep because I have metal on my belt and coins in my bag. He asks "Do you have coins in your bag?" I say "Yes," and I begin to hand it to him. "Oh no, that's okay. Go ahead." He says. I am struck by the intense amount of privilege in this interaction. And I do not even live here. Fuck. I am angry. But I realize this is not the time to argue, as I do really want the packages to get to the States safe and sound. M and I speak in English loudly on the way in, no longer particularly concerned with being respectful. And also, we have to remember not to accidentally use our limited Arabic, and to say "thank you" instead of "shukran" when the guy behind the window gives us our change. They are disgustingly nice to us, and we realize why- - we are US Jews -- the Israelis want us to have a "great time" in "Israel," don't they? Damn. We have to write a return address on the packages we're sending. The guy behind the counter says to M, in something like broken English "Do you live or are you staying in Israel?" I wonder how M will answer. "I'm staying here," he says. I hear the "here" as emphatic (because "here" is not "Israel"), but M says it was just coincidence. Overanalyzing I guess. But everything here seems to take on so much meaning.

Now I need to get going because M and I are going to Tel Rumeida, which is near Hebron. We are going to stay with families there and help kids get to school, which is hard, because of all the settler violence. Mostly, Israeli kids throw rocks at the Palestinian kids, and the Israeli army looks on, nodding, saying "What harm can they be doing? They're just kids." Of course if a Palestinian kid throws a rock, the Israeli army sees it differently, says their a threat, sometimes even shoots. I forgot who it was, but someone who was telling us about the situation in Tel Rumeida, telling us how the Israeli kids throw rocks at the Palestinians on their way to school, said "The only good thing is, at least they aren't as good at it as the Palestinian kids." It is important to find the only good thing, the "at least," in a situation like this.Okay, I'm off to the West Bank.
Will report again soonish.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

marhaba (hi!) from falastin


After a long flight, a layover in Amsterdam, and another, but shorter flight, here I am in East Jerusalem.

M & I are staying at the Faisal hostel tonight, where lots of activists, especially ISM-ers stay. Tomorrow we have a birthday party to go to- the owner of the hostel has a birthday on Christmas! We spent today wandering around, doing errands, and getting pulled into stores filled with interesting things and people persistant to sell them.

The computer keyboard that I'm using is really interesting, it has Arabic letters on it as well as "English letters" (what are they actually called?). Everything written in Arabic looks beautiful. It brings a whole new perspective to the idea of literature as a form of art, and literature as form-based in general, because in Arabic, it's not just that the sounds that the letters make can be beautiful, the letters themselves can look like art on a page. The letters English uses are so hard and boxy in comparison. And I can already tell that a cultural comparison might yield similar results. People have been so welcoming and kind here...when I was in a store buying some gifts for folks, and I glanced over at the food two of the owners were eating, they offered me some! It is amazing the way such simple things can feel like a huge embrace, or maybe it is the combination of a lot of simple things. I want to learn how to act so that I too will be giving that feeling of embrace to the people I interact with, not just here, but in my life in general. I think that is another level of solidarity.

Then there is the contrast with the fact that there are Israeli soldiers walking around on the street, who look like a bunch of young high school kids who got given guns for some reason. And the way this is totally normalized.

And I haven't even been to the West Bank yet, I'm just in East Jersalem, by way of Tel Aviv...

There's not much more to this update, except to let folks know that I got here okay, and I feel a lot more grounded than I did in the past few weeks. I am here, on the ground, literally, so maybe that is why.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Never Again What?: Perspective of an Anti-Zionist Jew

I wrote this article in response to an email I got through the SFWAR (San Francisco Women Against Rape) listserve, requesting contributions to a blog, seeking to "foster understanding" between Jews and Persians in light of the recent Holocaust Conference in Iran and the events which took place there.

"Never Again What?": Perspective of an Anti-Zionist Jew

I am an Ashkenazi Jewish-American woman. On 12/22, I am going to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement ( When I saw an email requesting contributions to this blog, I was confused and angered by the opening line "given the state of affairs between Jews and Persian and/or Israel and Iran…." This sentence reinforces the notion that Jews are, always and inherently, tied to the State of Israel. As an anti-Zionist Jew, I strongly disagree.

The question of Israel/Palestine is not one of religion. It is one of European colonization of non-European land. In 1948 alone, over 530 Palestinian villages were completely destroyed. To date, approximately six million Palestinian refugees cannot return to their homes and about 250,00 are live as second-class citizens in Israel but are also prevented from returning to their homes and villages ( Israel is a racist, colonial, apartheid State. It does not speak for all Jewish people. Anti-Zionist and Anti-Occupation Jews have been saying for years that the equation of Jewish people with the State of Israel as well as the implication that anyone who speaks out against Israel is automatically "anti-Semitic" will eventually lead the term "anti-Semitism" to lose meaning, thus discrediting real instances of anti-Semitism in the world, past or present. In the president of Iran's denial of the Holocaust, we see this prediction coming to fruition.

Both the Israeli and the U.S. media bombard us with lies about Israeli self-defense against "Muslim and Arab terrorists" in the Middle East, and deny the real causes of the conflict: Occupation, denial of human rights, theft of land. The buzzword in the media, when it comes to the Palestine, is "terrorism.". So let's talk about terrorism. If terrorism means the use of violence to cause entire populations to live in fear then I can't think of any act of terrorism more extreme than military occupation. If we want to talk about terrorism in the Middle East, we should be talking about Israel's Occupation of Palestine, the constant presence of soldiers in the street, indiscriminate killing and arrest, torture in prisons, checkpoints, and denial of free speech and freedom of movement to Palestinians. Israel's Occupation of Palestine is terrorism. It is the worst kind of terrorism, because it is enforced by the fourth largest military in the world.

The European Holocaust was one atrocious example of genocide against a People. It is important that we remember this. Yet if we want to challenge the denial of the Holocaust in instances such as this, our goal should not be reconciliation between Israel and Iran. Is it even reasonable for us to expect other nations to acknowledge genocide against us while we continue to deny the current attempts at genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people? It is important for all people, but especially Jewish people, especially Jewish people in the United States, which gives $15,139,178 dollars in aid to Israel each day (, to speak out against the racist policies of Israel and the media's attempt to silence all voices which resist those policies, calling them "anti-Semitic." As Jews, we have a unique place in this struggle, because simply by raising our dissident voices we disprove this accusation.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

a poem...

I want to start this blog off with the poem that inspired its title...

Another "Dayenu"

I wasn't there, but I remember
barbed wire fences. And in the shower,
my lungs tighten,
and I cry and gasp for air.
I wasn't there,
but I can see their faces,
because when they burned bodies in ovens,
the faces on those bodies etched themselves
in the minds of future generations
so the memory would never fade away
as the unborn had yet to remember
and thus they could not forget.
I wasn't there,
but the hands of the dead plead through the decades,
to touch my face,
pull tears from my eyes,
and when that is not enough
to paint images before them,
And at night when I cry,
they gather together and watch me
and I think they are thankful
that I wasn't there
but I remember.

And I remember the other story
the one to give us hope
once we were slaves, but now we are free
rocks against dynamite and poison gas
in a ghetto in Warsaw
and a pronouncement that
"the Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists,"
but it wasn't true. we were still there.
Because a Prounouncement canNot erase a People
and neither can dynamite
or poison gas
or ovens
or bulldozers and checkpoints.

Once we were slaves, and now we are free
this is not a victory song.

To be free
It would have been enough.
Then why,
on this night,
do we build barbed wire fences
call bulldozers protection
and pour a sea of soldiers into the desert,
while another People fights with what they have
and wishes for someone to come
and part the sea
so they may pass through
and find liberation


Even Pharoah responded to the killing of his first born son
but we dress our first born son in army green,
and tell him that at 18 he can have his first real gun
and yes, perhaps he will be killed,
but it will be in the name of justice.
But a death by any other name is still a death,
and a Holocaust by any other name is still
too much pain for words
and the name of justice loses meaning
and I struggle not to lose hope
or lose myself in shame
simply because if I am lost
I cannot speak up.

If I am lost
I cannot ask why
why on this night do we build barbed wire fences
and shoot those who try to cross them
even if they are children
and force women to give birth on jagged rocks
because the hospital is on the other side
of the checkpoint
and bulldoze homes
and sometimes people
if they are in the way
and why
don't we all remember
being on the other side
of barbed wire fences.

So I answer the hands
which plead through the decades
and tell them yes,
I will work to tear down the walls
because this time it is my people who build them
and when I tell them this
the hands
the eyes
the faces
let me be
to do my work.