Subject: report 1 - balata
Date: Thu, 05 Dec 2002 11:15:11 -0500
left chicago monday. arrived in tel aviv tuesday, visited with new friends elena and david wesley, original detroiters, moved to israel in 1955, lived and worked on a kibbutz. attended a concert with them tuesd eve at t-a art museum. 50 singers, 10 instrument players, two soloists, high culture for this Soprano's fan.
weds traveled by bus to central bus station, on the way a lady was exceedingly nervous and spoke to me in hebrew. another woman translated that she was made nervous by my travel suitcase. i unzipped the cover to show her my underwear, and she was relieved, a trick i dare any man reading this to repeat. then on a sherut (semi-private vehicle) to jerusalem, old city to buy cell phone and on to Al-Ram where i met John Reese, who i think already mailed you.
john conducted about 3 hours of training for me and lynn cohen from LA, silver lake. then to his apt for the nite. got a late start today from al-ram, john has assigned us to tulkarem. problem was that no services (ser-veeses) were going there. today is the feast, a day after ramadan ends,
lynn and i waited for 1.5 hrs, and after that took a ride in a shared cab to some checkpt, which did not allow the cab to pass. a short soldier scolded lynn and me as to how dangerous and unsafe it was to continue in nablus, the whole time i'm looking at his m-16 and feeling the danger. the people in the cab were most friendly as has every single person we've met. just said goodbye to achmed, a man travelling with us. he and 2 others were told to expose their midriffs at the short-soldier checkpt, but they didn't ask me. disappointing - wanted to show them my bypass scar. really, both lynn and i felt the incredible shame and anger at the difference in treatment.
so we walked a mile down the road with the others who were booted out of the cab. another cab came the other way and picked up the man-wife-baby combo and said he'd return, achmed doing the translation. sure enough he picked us up and took us through a ghost town (curfew?) on the way to the huwwara ckpt - these people are INCREDDIBLY nice! how come this never makes the news, the millions of Pals that treat foreigners like kings... the cab driver last nite to john's house stopped and picked up his friend who came into the cab sucking on a bottle of pop. not only did he offer it to me, he wouldn't take it back, and they dropped us off before i finished the drink. where are stories like these written?
anyhow, we ended upwalking the rest of the way. south of Balata refugee camp, there was an apc - little tank, which had stopped and ambulance going out and a reuters press car going in. very rude soldiers - give me your passports - no 'please'. passed by. met by paul who guided us to this place - 'titi house', named after the owner, and probably as nice a place as you can expect in a refugee camp. the apc was joined by a real tank at the ckpt before we started walking into camp, and, for those of you who have never witnessed a huge, engine-gunning turret turning menacing thing rumbling by you on an asphalt pavement, it's not a pleasant experience - dare i say threatening? terror inducing?
how these people live their lives with this constant transportation harassment and inability to travel - we spent all day going about 80 miles - is beyond me.
will see what tomorrow brings... later.
Subject: report 2 - balata
Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2002 12:54:36 -0500
made the swap with linna and vigo from sweden so that they went to tulkarem and lynn and i stayed put. this am we went to a checkpt in nablus, just a quick cab from balata. got some of the taste of what it'slike to be an International: a couple of tanks, a jeep and what the regulars called a slow time - usually there are schoolchildren to walk through the chkpts to reduce their hassle from the soldiers. a little unnerving, seeing the massive machinery assembled to 'observe' a city's population. we had to climb over huge road blocks, made from tearing up the street and placing all the dirt, ashphalt and anything else they can into these piles that stop traffic cold, and are cutting the city in many pieces.
then an ISM meeting where we planned out the afternoon, about 10 people in attendance. lots of brits, lots of talent, 3 Pals. we chose to do 3 things, which was too much, and settled on one: and that was visiting the homes in a section of Nablus that have been commandeered by the idf to be used as headquarters.a tank and an apc were literally parked in the driveways to this house, and the owner and his friend, with 5 children invited 4 of us in for tea and discussion. Samir was dressed in a suit - all the people here are dressed better than me - because of the post Ramadan holiday which lasts thru sunday. his story is one the press misses, of course. an industrial engineer by education, he had an eng. job in Jordan, then got a job in Saudi selling medical supplies, finally moving back to his home in Nablus and now sells and distributes L&M cigarettes! My age, maybe older, his story is one of incredible coping that would make Job envious. He took us back across the street to show us his incredible garden which stretched from one side of his house, around back - he showed me where he planned an addition - and over to the other side where the olive trees were. He was so proud, and so hopeful (in-shallah) of a better day. it felt awful looking across the street from his side to see all the machinery, the soldiers washing the tank and cleaning out the huge turret. and to add insult to injury, the soldiers hoisted an israeli flag on the top corner of this rectangular building. like 'take that!, mr. samir'.
then down that same street to another house where the soldiers USED to call home. This particular family was 'asked' to move to the basement while the soldiers occupied the living quarters. after living there a while, the soldiers thought their present location would afford them a better military advantage, but since they're not sure, this basement dwelling family has to remain sequestered in the own basement while the idf big wigs make up their mind which location better suits their purposes. the family was too afraid of repercussions (i.e. attacks) to allow us even to go upstairs and take photographs.
The woman was knitting a small sweater as she spoke, then brought her granddaughter down to show off her new dress which gramma made. i took their picture and saw the situation... here we have the best machinery US money can buy, a force unimaginable in its ability to wreak damage. And here also, in the image of this woman and her beautiful granddaughter, was this irresistable force which says 'we will always be here, no matter what'. incredible bravery. incredible world ignorance - no one i know wouldn't intervene if they saw the conditions here, and the people these conditions affect. and not only to they tolerate it, they are actually happy to be greeted in the street, the children often initiate the greeting: 'what is your name' 'hallo' 'how are you'
the evening was more difficult. back to the chkpt of this am, many people detained by tank and two jeeps. eden, a ism'er from cal, was negotiating with the idf when the rest of us arrived. shortly after, we heard pained yelling from the back of the jeep. a kid was wearing a martyrs necklace, and the soldiers were choking him with it. Susan, one of our coordinators, was talking hard with the soldiers and removed herself because she felt it was escalating the sitch. i stood there, very weak kneed, and saw the kid holding a very red wrist. this is not fun, and the countless reports i've read, just as you are reading this one, cannot convey what the reality holds. knowing that these soldiers are capable of much muscle and weaponry just puts the fear of a very unfriendly god into you: it gets dark, cars pull up, the speakers scream on the jeep, shouting hebrew commands, people don't know whether to stop their walking? go back? approach the jeep? what? the spotlights on the tank and jeep shine right in your eyes. where are the guns pointing? we walk children through - there is fear on the part of some ism'ers that they will be targeted - israelis wouldn't target children, would they?, so we walk next to families as they pass by. felt strongly that i'm not cut out for this stuff, but also couldn't move away.
then, in a surreal moment, had a chicken pita sandwich at one of the shops across this sewage filled street. a small bit of luxury in a very crazy world.
Subject: report 3 - askar/balata
Date: Sun, 08 Dec 2002 12:46:28 -0500
computer at "titi" house, oscar titi family member who owns house, and ism main member, has not been responding. now in internet cafe 1 block away, hoping i'll survive the cig smoke! didn't get to report yesterday, so the memory will be stretched a bit.
note:terry can you forward messages to fred alexander for me? thanks
a story never reported: Lynn and i walking around into nablus proper, stop at a cell phone store, ask the guy for a 230v-120v adapter. he says he can't help. i ask for directions to an open restaurant, as the holify eid is still in progress. he says please, sit down, we will get you a sandwich, five minutes... the manis twin brother leaves and comes back with a bag of 4 huge sandwiches that he made himself; we in the meantime chatted brother 1 up. he says typically, that in-shallah, this situation will end one day. i rise to pay and they won't have any of it. i'm living in the midst of incredible poverty, checkpoint humiliation, bombed out buildings, and these people have the hearts of angels. and people in tecumseh, michigan complain about the price of a gallon of gasoline. the sandwiches were delicious, to boot, i had one and distributed the rest.
then to a checkpoint, and waiting for the soldiers to release palestinians who are sitting on the ground. sometimes children are also delayed, and for them i whip out a tennis ball and we play catch in front of the tanks, soldiers and apc's. it's wonderful, they enjoy this little piece of fun. lynn got some pics of me and the kid with the huge merkava tank in the background. it's also a little pitiful, when the inevitable missed catch or bad throw has the ball skittering past the soldiers, the kid stops dead in his tracks. i jog over to retrieve the ball and the game begins again.
we isms talk to the soldiers. i remember the words of elias chacour from our trip last yr, when he told us that beneath the helmet and flak jacket of the soldier is a heart, and we must speak to this heart. it's difficult to remember this as we witness the bull of them detaining these people and cannot name a single "terrorist" this checlpoint has produced.
last night, we get a call that the idf is holding some people in the mountains. cab ride and a lot of walking north to the askar camp then north
some more until what appears to be the end of the earth. down this dirt road, as it twists into darkness illuminated only by the stars. me scared? i cursed every one of you, except Rose, who encouraged me to make this trip - she wouldn't have let me turn back. anyhow, we started chanting 'we are internationals' 'we come in peace' as we marched with outstretched arms, not wanting to spook the guys with enough firepower to level a neighborhood. we were with a cousin of one of the guys being held. the soldiers were real pissers, nervous as could be, i assumed that being at the bottom of this valley was in military terms a vulnerable position. a little negiations with them, then compliance with their command to leave out of their sight. back to an uncle's house and tea and conversation until 3 out of the 5 detainees appeared at the house. much celebration, big crowd, felt like being in tony soprano's house. detainees thankful to us for our efforts.
then a walk to the occupied house where the remainiind two detainees were held. this was surreal. a 3-story structure, this is the same place we visited 2 days ago. samir's house was dark and i only imagined that he was holed up in his family, too frightened to even turn on a light. soldiers are 'parking' the tanks and apc's from their days 'work' and one comes out to talk. can we see the detainees? they bring them to the 2nd fl. so we can see them. the cousin speaks hebrew, as does lynn, the soldiers some broken english. spent rifle shells on the dirt drive and street, one soldier talking from 3rd floor. he seems like a little more human than his companions, and i strike up a conversation. the pals are more than ok with this, the thinking is that more conversation will produce their friends. i'm there talking to this guy, shouting up to him, it's getting late, there is giddiness, and i tell him the ribbon seller joke. it actually goes well. then farouq calls me from ann arbor. crank surreal up a notch.
then a crabby seargent tells us to leave and to come back tomorrow. it seems proper to go. walking down the hill, martha calls me for more surreal, and we pile into this car, 7 of us, and my head is smished against the windshield to yet another home. we sit around ala tony again, and then the most wonderful meal is served. 11:00pm, and i eat way too much and have payed today. we sleep there, after playing with the parakeets.
a plan was formed to remove a mostly dirt roadblock, 10 minutes fromm titi house. the job is to not completely remove it as that will agitate the soldiers, and we sure don't want those wonderful fellows upset, do we? only make a passage for a car, we are asked. so a gaggle of us, with a double sized gaggle of kids watching, some helping, go at this mound for 45 miutes. then the first car starts up and grinds his way through. i hold up both arms and start shouting - the kids start mimicking the behavior, then get into it, and one next to me catches my eye, and we high-five, then the kids who all know how to hi five, now see the connection to a job well done, and i spend the next 5 minutes high fiving every kid there. no paycheck will match that.
then back to the local checkpoint, and another conversation with a soldier. oh, a memory from yesterday: this soldier talks with me for 15-20 minuts, and at the end says he agrees that he shouldn't be there. his family agrees too, he doesn't want to refuse service in ot's, because he's only got 6 months left. he would never say this to his army friends - i thought this an incredible revelation. maybe fr. chacour has a point.
today's checkpoint found 4 men being detained. they were there for 7 hours! sitting on the curb (median). we sit with them, talk with the 20 yr old green guy with the big gun, finally they release 3 of 4. they are so appreciative of our efforts. then another half hr and they release the 4th - he's driving back to J'lem, and to how many other 2- yr olds and their phony chkpts. stomach got the better of me this aft, and i took a nap. let's see what the evening brings, he wrote bravely.
later and love,
Subject: report 4 - balata
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 07:43:52 -0500
yesterday was pretty much a bust, as i nursed an upset stomach - was only able to walk out to check the roadblock which remains open to traffic.
walked to the jerusalem road checkpt just south of nablus to find and apc with 3 soldiers holding 30 people against a wall, where they were slightly shielded from the intermittant rain and cool temperatures - 4 layers for me.
these people were all adults, they were permitting schoolchildren to pass. they were students and professionals, and had been held there for almost 4 hrs when we got there. we tried to speak to the soldiers and got nowhere. we call the idf phone numbers and got the shuffle - normwill call me back, but a half hour later i call the same number and norm is gone. the other guy tells me that he doesn't speak with individuals, so lynn calls back and claims she represents "international people for peace", and he tells her that reports are being made.
very cute, and all, until you realize that this is utter B-S, and a complete humiliation being foisted upon decent people (one gets permission to walk across the road for some juice and pours me a cup), and is a daily occurance. Hello? Is anybody listening? Does the world care? Can the world be informed?
One success occurs: a man with a wound to his wrist is permitted to pass for his appt with his physical therapist upon our nagging. and we're supposed to be thankful?
after 2 hours of hangin around, the boys in green decide to let the women pass. i speak with one to assure her that not all Jewish people are like the soldiers. Of course, she knows this, and just the same, with the clarity of one who's been through this many times, she calls the soldiers "criminals", and it's impossible to disagree. they bring a pal over one by one, ask a few questions, then "permit" him to rejoin the group. the woman says she's grateful her parents aren't here, she couldn't bear to have them humiliated in this fashion and would not know what she would do if that happened. sometimes the soldiers march the entire group a few hundred yards to another building, is this for more shelter, or just because they can do it?
some interesting items. None of the soldiers I've spoken with have any Palestinian friends. and i've found out that jewish israelis cannot enter area "A", which is palestinian controlled areas. ostensible reanson is for their safety, but i'm sure that it's because the israeli gov't cannot afford the risk of allowing jewsih people to meet their occupied brothers. they might actuallu place a human face and heart on these people, and find them much harder to hate, to call them disparaging names. My orthodx cousin from pittsburgh has never met a pal, and refuses my offers to come to ann arbor to meet my friends. this is not conspiracy theory - this is the incredible reach and power of a blind zionism, that never meant to come in peace to this land. and nablus is the result, nablus along with countless other towns and villages.
and while i'm on this rant, where is the US Congress today. Are they here in the occupied terrotories? Does Debbie Stabenow still believe there's no occupation. Debbie, tell me, what word other than occupation would you use to describe just this mornings events? what word do you use to describe the army forcing a family into their basement, so they can use (occupy???) their house for their military purposes. maybe each member of congress should be required to visit balata before they're allowed to cast their next vote on affirming more us aid, or resolutions supporting israel in "her" right to self defense - such incredible delusional thinking.
and something else. it was pointed out that Nablus is under curfew - i didn't know that until today - but the people just go about there own business as if there were none. Why isn't this story, of absolute non-violent resistence to the occupation printed in our newspapers? this is the real story. the fixation american media have on violence has undermined this story. people are more content with the lie that palestinians are violent, that their religion makes them violent. the real violence is occupation, every hour every day. slower than the burst from a gun, but just as effective.
Subject: report 5 - balata
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 18:54:54 -0500
last nite idf soldiers conducted another search and assassinate operation here in balata, about 50 meters away from the house i'm staying in. 2 days ago, they shot a woman near the nablus - amman st. chcpt, details sketchy, one story was the cab she was a passenger in made a u-turn and drove away from chkpt - big crime here.
so today, the talk was all on this martyr on the streets. a procession started, his body was in the mosque for prayers, a man borrowed my camera to take photos of his body in mosque, because i couldn't enter. they are good photos, if i ever get them past the boys at ben gurion. the body on stretcher proceeded up the main drag to the cemetary just down the alley. funny, the islam custom of burying the dead asap is the same as jewish custom - the irony of so many, many customs being similar never fails to amaze me. the 2 cultures should be brothers,such a waste that the israeli govt cant see this.
then the action started, and i can tell you now, i'm not cut out for this crap. lynn says there's a tank at north end of camp. we go down to see, and sure enough there it is, with kids pelting tank with stones. the cross street also has an apc on it and both vehicles are cruising up and down. lynn on phone with other ism'ers, says we're to walk with the crowd, try not to get between stone throwers and tanks, but that they won't shoot internationals. she drags me down the street, warning shots are fired, some are not so warning, as a kid winds up with a bullet piercing his side, he's ok in hosptial. the kids are unbelievable, 4 feet away from an advancing tank, throwing stones, a few bottles.
a few blocks down this street is a newly occupied, by idf, house, and from the rooftop snipers work their deadly magic, and it was reported that one of these snipers shot a man at start of evening curfew, just to give campers a message. now i'm not one to use the 60's term pigs, but now the word just flows and the younger ism'ers get a laugh. anybody that doesn't think the word terror applies from state supported weapons - thanks, US taxpayers - you should have been in my boots this afternoon.
then an afternoon meeting - a dialogue between balata youth and int'ls, including ism. topic - martyr bombings. troublesome concept for us westerners - reported that kids here think that at any time a bullet from a sniper can take them out, their lives are made so useless by the idf and settlers, who can snipe also. so they figure, why be controlled in this manner, why not take control of when i die, because it's a crap shoot anyway that i WILL die, and take out as many 'enemy' lives as i can? and even if a sniper bullet doesn't get me, what kind of a life do i have anyway.
the house ism'ers stay in are houses that have been targeted for demolition, homes that have housed martyrs. the titi house is an example: omar's brother jihad was martyred, the details of which i'm not certain. the idf came one day to demolish this house, but a camera crew happened on the scene, and they left. there are chains on the wall of the room i sleep in, so that the braver ism'ers can chain their necks to the walls if the idf demolition squad appears. notice: brave - some of these people has cahones the size of texas, and the bravest are women. note: women are incredibly effective at dealing heads up with the idf. please, any fence sitters, consider coming over and lending your abilities...
rant for the day focuses on media. where's the new york times reporters? Associated press anywhere? ann arbor news? do they know how little it costs to get here? $1000 from detroit? then they might be able to add a little context to their reporting which now is just - this side committed this horrible act, then this side committed this horrible act, israel retaliates, blah blah, always portrayed as the victim. tell you this, a week in this place and thomas friedman would never make that claim again. where's linda gradstein? sitting in J;salem, reading idf reports and calling them into NPR? THIS is what people go to journalism school for? this is bravery? reporters here might embarass the us congress to place a visit, who knows? does anyone in govt or media have gut number 1?
note: elena, friend in tel aviv tell me she uncovered a buried story that 900 israeli families have sought pysch help for dealing with their fam members in the military who are having difficulties living a life and oppressing an entire people. this occupation - please come here, ms. stabenow and replace the word with yours - is cruel and hurting everyone.
Subject: report 6 - balata
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2002 07:50:34 -0500
yesterday, thurs dec 12, we spoke with 8-10 palestinians being held for 5 hours by idf soldiers on jerusalem road, south of balata camp. we tried speaking to the soldiers for their release, and were told the same thing: these people are being punished for their breaking the curfew. hasn 't their punishment been enough? that's not for me to decide. when will they be released. i don't know. same game. we left after 45 minutes, to proceed to the prison facility near hawarra and awarta, as that was the task of the day. as we left the 2 women that were being held were released.
got to the huwarra chkpt, which according to brit Dave, has grown enormously since his april visit: concrete barriers, like on our highways, chain link fence, military vehicles, elevated guard shack with israeli flag, settlement visible on hilltop. lyn said the other settlement not visible was site where they went the day i was sick. they actually went to the site of the proposed jewish-only highway that would connect these settlements, the checkpt below a reminder of the iron fist that make these velvet gloved living quarters possible. the link could not be made more clear.
at the chkpt 200 palestinians were being held. some young guards were present, the main one barking out orders for the civilians to follow: "move, move, everybody turn that way and walk. now stop. now face the other way. the women may pass in between the two lines. you (us internationals) don't youo understand? the women may pass, but the boys (sic) must line up agains the fence. two lines!! whay don't you understand??" shouting, pointing gesturing, pointing his m16, that i bought for him, at times.
we meet. and decide to wait in line with the palestinians, even though we need to get to the prison to ask about recently admitted men. then a man approaches lynn and advises us to move to the front. i think he was trying to use us to get himself through. one man holds me back, his friend says they've been there 5 hours. i lose it, get angy with the man who's trying to con us, when i know my anger is really directed at the thugs with the weapons that are treating these people like animals. this is horrible. i decide to stay in line, to wait as long as it takes to get through, even though it means missing our visit, just to return through the chkpt after i'm approved to pass. like, that'll show 'em. fortunately cooler heads prevailed, esp tom, the 18 yr old, and convinced me to walk around the checkpt, about 1.5 miles out of the way over farm land to the prison area. had to negotiate this huge ditch that the idf dug just to disrupt the farm fields.
reached the prison, and didn't get anywhere. the guards played dumb: they had no authority, didn't know who did, didn'e know if there were other gates that we should enter, etc., etc. around back was a palestinian structure, poss some remnant of the PA? two men greeted us, invited us in for tea and conversation? i asked what his feelings were on the attempt by israel to change the name of nablus to shekem. he said it makes no difference what they call it, it's still palestine. not comfortable with his answer ... what if they decided to change ann arbor to 'little columbus' would us wolverines be ok with that?
only good part was meeting the soldiers at the dirt road chkpt. 2 were giddy, and when they saw my ubiquitous Michigan shirt, starting shouting for us to take them to america. i said we should both leave palestine and have a beer in america, and he was all for that!
left for the 2 mile walk back "home" as lynn now refers to balata camp. felt better after a kebob sandwich.
today, fri the 13th, so far also a bust. a noon rally was planned by local residents where the idf has installed this massive gate cuttin the city traffic in half. we were available at 10, but by the time the rally was to go, the main folks didn't show, so we walked away. this afternoon plan is to help the people in the occupied house move their belongings back, whether that actually happens is anyone's guess.
looking to sunday's respite in jerusalem. plan to check into imperial hotel, find the bar that odile described to me, and drink until they throw me out. will take up rachel's sugg to call linda gradstein and invite her to accompany lynn and me back to balata. any bets?
Subject: report 7 - jerusalem
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2002 12:55:41 -0500
was not about to send a report today, this being day 1 of respite, but the unrelentling crush of occupation won't let me.
saturday is the Jewish sabbath. Lynn and I leave Balata at 7:30am, taxi to huwarra chckpt, produce passports on demand after leaving taxi. he, of course, cannot continue. and why should we americans care? we're not him, are we?
we pass through this wire-fence-and concrete-block chpt replete with guard shack, rifles, the usual. 150 meters later is the chckpt going INTO nablus under the hilltop settlements. 50 to 75 people are informed by a yelling soldier that nablus is closed today (soldiers celebrating shabat?) and will also be closed tomorrow.
why should we care? we're headed south to Jerusalem. We don't have the doctor's appointment that some of the people headed into nablus do. we aren't the teachers who cannot get to their schools. we are not the young children sitting in their classrooms waiting for these teachers. we are not the mechanics headed for a days work and wages in town. we're not the businessman who cannot check on the day's activities. we're not the uncle who just wants to visit some family members.
think about this: would we like to explain to a nineteen year old with a machine gun WHY we want to visit our family members? WHY we want to go shopping here or there? WHY it's imperative that we see the doctor and cannot wait another 2 days?
Occupation is an unimaginably cruel phenomenon; just a word until you witness it - i cannot say until you live it, because, really, as a Jewish American, I won't have lived it.
So on the south side of the chkpt, we pick up an 8-passenger mercedes cab, and those vehicles are built! a mile down rte 60, the driver makes a sharp left and goes into the nether world of dirt roads along mountain cliffs, rocks, removed roadblocks, little villages. I mean these roads require a BMW GS (i.e. off-road) motorcycle to negotiate. Miles later we reattach to rte 60, and we assume that a temp chkpt was inplace that the drivers knew about and took the circuitous and dangerous rte to avoid. then dropped off at the ramallah (?) chcpt, we we coffeed up with scores of taxis, cars and locals, and looked over the Jewish-only bypass highway: a beautiful road, 4-lane divided highway, with ONE CAR on it!
Not to complain, but the 40 mile trip to jerusalem (i thinnk i earlier reported 80 miles, but was wrong) took 3.5 hours. Not to complain, because we don't live here.
But real people, with real daily lives, do...
Subject: Report 8 - Bethlehem
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002 07:57:06 -0500
The Jerusalem days, excepting the Taybeh beer, were disappointing as relief. The vendors pitifully place you into an obligatory relationship, where refusal to enter their shops is a high insult. I exploded at one upon our arrival, then lynn chastised me (rightly) for my angry outburst, then we saw the young man towards the first evening, then i apologized, then he accepted my apology and forgave me, then we embraced, then, after lynn left for nablus, i went to his shop and blew 1300 shekels that i didn't have. but now waiting for me upon my return home will be a care package that will contain items i otherwise never would have purchased.
my plan then was to visit Maha Saca, daughter of ann arbor resident Elaine Rumann, a termendously warm hearted person, who thanks me profusely for any small effort i make in regards pal/is. Maha is equally warm hearted and has many stories to tell. in fact she was telling her stories to a Sewdish film crew when i cabbed from j'salem to beit jala, her town. so we visited as best we could between her facing the camera and getting interviewed. she is director of the Palestine Cultural Center, and her home (actually Elaine's home) is beautiful, and a living remnant from the past. The cultural center is equally beautiful, and she is very proud.
she's also quite sad, living an upper middle class life under the effects of this ubiquitous Occupation: all three adult children now live in the U.S., driven out with the 300 other beit jala families by the economical conditions of real, live people under Occupation. She kept reminding me, as we travelled in her 25-yr-old Mercedes, that curfew begins at 4pm, so we need to be off the roads by then. Think of the nicest, kindest person you know, then think of an army that chases them indoors at night, every night now for almost 30 days. Today, as I left, MAha told me on the phone that the IDF has extended the curfew today to include the daylight hours as well. She thinks they are planning to demolish a man's house, and wants as few spectators as possible - these Zionists don't miss a trick.
So her sadness revolves around spending Chirstmas without her family being with her. We drove to Manger Square, and entered the ch. of the Nativity, and the area was bare of the celebratory atmosphere (trees, stores open) that should have been present, 9 days before the holiday. a few vendors, some begging children.
Jesus would not be happy. He couldn't have wanted this Occupation for his people, or for any people.
4pm - she whisks me back to her home for a bite, then calls the Bethlehem Hotel for me - i'd insisted that i wanted to be alone and independent.
Oh, I forgot... the reason I needed to spend the night in Bethlehem, was because it had gotten to 1:00 in the afternoon, and by then, thanks to the Occupation, I couldn't have made it back to Balata by nightfall, and under the IDF's infrared glasses I look frightfully like yet another human target. Again, think: at 1pm I couldn't start a journey of 30 miles for fear of not averaging 10 mph!
OK, so she calls the hotel and no answer. She then calls her neighbor who is the owner of the hotel, and he agrees to pick me up and take me there. On the way he explains (a) that i am only the second guest in the hotel and (b)"there'll be hot water in the morning". What he didn't explain that his hotel is modern, has 11 floors, and 240 rooms available. The 130 shekels i paid couldn't have even covered the electricity. You think your life is tough making ends meet? try being a hotel operator when you're forced to close at night, and there are no travelers then anyway, even if you were open. So you'd eliminate room heat to cut expenses - so henry climbs into bed with hat and longjohns on.
Please don't think that I'm comparing my life here with life of local pals - it ain't even close. Today, tuesday, I catch a cab in bethlehem just to get to the soldiers' chkpt - the cabbie doesn't want to do it and charges me 15 nis for the task. he begs me to hurry out of the cab, as he is in rifle range of the soldiers. i walk through and show my passport, catch another shared vehicle into j'salem - 3 shekels. then into another servees to calandia chkpt - 3.5 shekels, then a shared taxi back to huwarra chkpt - 25 shekels. again, since there are soldiers on the road, the cab is forced to take the overland road, now completely muddy by last nights' apparant rains.
dropped off at huwarra. stand in line with the rest of the pals - my little political statement - and 40 minutes later we're allowed to pass. i get to tell the soldier to be nice to the people. he seems a nicer sort, and says he's always nice - right. in the cab to balata, 2 young pals ask me why i waited there at huwarra, and i tell them that I'm not any better than they. it was a tiny, yet great moment. they talked about people vs. governments. they get it.
4 hours after pushing off, I'm home again in balata.
Subject: meanderings - jerusalem
Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002 14:24:57 -0500
I have been thinking on my days off about a piece that Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote in November, about a lethal attack on an Israeli kibbutz, which enjoyed excellent and peaceful relations with a neighboring Palestinian village. He was saddened because of the loss of innocent lives. He was additionally saddened by this particular attack, because of its negative effect of the chances for peace. I believe, since I don't have his article before me, that he was also angry at the attack and for the lack of condemnation suicide bombings and attacks on innocent Israelis by mainstream Palestinians.
Ten days in the Balata refugee camp has allowed me another viewpoint for
this tragedy among countless tragedies. This view grew from an open
discussion held last thursday between internationals and residents, mostly young, from the Balata camp. Martyr bombing (suicide bombing) was the point of discussion, and one of the internationals asked why aren't there more suicide bombings. This question plays on the minds of all internationals, as we experience the dark side of Occupation. The reverse question is how can these people resist, day-to-day, in their NON-violent manner?
A young man offered that increased Israeli security methods was a cause of the reduced number of attacks, that the tightening of the screws, ever tighter, was producing effects that were felt on the streets.
Other members of the discussion offered reasons as to why young people
would give up their lives to become martyrs. So many attacks are perpetrated on the locals by IDF and settlers alike, that many youth think that it's not a question of "if", but of "when" a shot will come from nowhere, a bomb dropped from the invisible F-16's flying overhead - and you can only hear them, folks, every 5 minutes some days - or an arrest on trumped up charges will never let them see the light of day.
They also fear the collaborator network that the IDF creates and fine tunes with money, threats of imprisonment, torture, you name it. Someone they trust may rat them out on any plan to avenge their miserable lives, avenge their fathers' humiliations by young soldiers in front of their families. If death is their certain fate, why not take out as many enemies as possible with you? Instead of the IDF determining when you die, why not exert the pathetically limited
choice of determining for yourself when your last breath will be?
So, back to Rabbi lerner's article, and a lengthy speculation: Here's a
kid, who's thought all these ideas through a million times - Occupation, humiliation, danger, imminent death. And remembering that many martyr bombers are often formerly nonviolent people, he makes himself a plan. Maybe he will enter the far reaches of the military state of Israel and wreak havoc. Maybe he will shoot, maybe he will plant a bomb, maybe he will martyr himself. But maybe he's spoken of his plan to another person, and now regrets doing that. Maybe that
person will turn out to be an IDF collaborator. Maybe this young man sets out but fears, possibly from information his own sources provide, that the IDF are on to him, and are closing down. Maybe he has to act fast, that his options are limited and are shrinking rapidly. So maybe he dashes his plan to travel far into Israel, and takes his 10-15 years of wrath out on the nearest town to him, maybe the local kibbutz.
This is just one possible scenario out of thousands. The point is that I
don't know what happened prior to the attack, and neither does Rabbi Lerner. But I do know the relentless cause of these attacks, and so would anyone who comes to Balata and spends 10 days with the people and with the Occupation. This is not a chicken and egg situation; this is absolutely a situation of cause and effect. The Occupation,in all its degradation, humilation, violence, and hatred, is the CAUSE, and the
ensuing reactions, non-violent and violent, by the oprressed people are the EFFECT. To see this in any other light will cripple any attempt at solution.
Rabbi Lerner is a decent human, and has taken extraordinary risks, that beg and receive my respect. He wants me to condemn suicide bombings.
My reply to him is that I will absolutely condemn suicide bombings immediately AFTER Ariel Sharon andGeorge Bush:
condemn 35 years of an incredibly destructive and violent
condemn the true and horrific history of the creation of the
state of Israel, comparable only to the creation of the
condemn the financing by the United States - now a greater expense than the Vietnam War - of this Occupation,
condemn the violence and terror that their wars create.
Remember, this isn't chicken and the egg. This is cause and effect.
They go first.
Subject: report 9 - balata
Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 11:30:08 -0500
visited Rafidia Hospital in downtown Nablus, and was reminded of my hospital visits in Baghdad and Basra, except that the kids we visited today will recover from their stay (gunshot wounds), whereas the children from iraq were not so "fortunate". Go, get 'em, George!
sorry - another outburst, and they just get easier...
took a few snapshots, passed out a couple tennis balls, and apologized to the hospital director, a kind and busy man, for his surgeon's having to remove my country's manufactured bullets from their childrens' bodies .
went to a temporary chckpt - 2 soldiers who we were able to engage in a realatively decent conversation. complimented them on their willingness to think and to engage internationals in discussion of the occupation. it's too bad these soldiers are too young to have appreciated casablanca, they always ask why i decided to be a tourist here, and miss their cue, when i say i came for the waters.
back to the city center of nablus, saw 2 military jeeps and a humvee driving around this block, and the kids grew wild with the vehicles' approach, then encouraged enough to throw stones, then yelled jubilantly when the trucks turned away. a terrible cat and mouse game. we internationals try to be visible to the army in the hopes that they will not shoot live ammo at the kids. it's not as fun as it sounds. twice loud blasts came from the jeep - lynn and i argued whether it was gunshots or percussion grenade. later in the day it was reported that 13 kids were shot at this location.
then the time came for the roadblock removal effort, and i was outta downtown nablus. the location was the same roadblock we had opened before, and the IDF just re-created the mound of dirt. Except this time the dirt was mud, the kind that, when you do mangage to get a shovel full on the blade, it doesn't leave the blade as you try to pitch it off. so we're at this pile of non-compliant dirt, and up drives you-know-who. stop digging. this is an open area. no, it's a closed area. where is the paper explaining that? i don't have to show you - you aren't an authority to me. of course i'm an authority, i'm a u.s. taxpayer. please leave the area. no movement. then another vehicle pulls up with 5 more greenclads, one a young woman. the lead dog shows lynn the paper describing where we are as a closed area. he says he will confiscate our picks and shovels if we do not stop digging. i place my shovel down, and start clawing the wet dirt with gloved hands, probably more effective than the shovel anyway. young dog not amused. start flirting with woman soldier, her fellow soldiers order her back. then lynn starts flrirting with her, though, in truth she denied this, and said the woman was incredibly scared, but well trained. finally group meets and decides to leave, consensus rules, and frankly, my arms are rubber. we leave, the trucks leave, and of course the kids try reaching them with rocks as they pull away.
we may return tomorrow - there's another nearby roadblock that we could certainly plead ignorance of its being in a closed area. tony soprano would be proud of these wise-guy tactics, but this is a land where success comes in tiny packages, spaced far apart.
tomorrow also another demonstration is planned around the "iron gate" checkpoint near balata. stay tuned.
Subject: report 10 - balata
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2002 11:41:27 -0500
woke up at the insitance of Dave, who said we were needed at the outskirts of a local village - Salem is it's name. The army was detaining some teachers on their way to work.
so into 2 cabs, where we again are taken to the outskirts of east NAblus to meet 32 women, dressed in traditional garb, many speaking english, all dressed in impeccably clean clothing. embarassing to us internationals in our weeks-dirty jeans and jackets. they tie plastic bags around their shoes to keep the mud from them. they plead with us to do what we can, but are afraid to descend the blocked road we are standing on, to the lower road. they are afraid because the israeli soldiers told them they would shoot them if they went down the hill again.
they agreed to walk with us down the hill, and we dispatched 4 members to go ahead and speak with the soldiers, while the rest "protected" the women by intermingling. it was clear from the body language that our 4-person committee was having no success with the soldiers, and as they came back and reported their non-success, the jeep guys started yelling at us and rushed the jeep in our direction to scare us into leaving. Yelling in hebrew or arabic, gunning the jeep's engine.
why won't they let us teach? asked the women. there were no palestinian men present. they could not possibly have presented a threat to the state of Israel or anyone else for that matter. what reason did the soldiers give? no reason, we don't have to give a reason.
we're now slowly walking with the women down the road, backing off from the jeep and apc. a soldier walking near me says to get along. i ask why he's doing this, that these women just want to teach school. he says this is his country. i ask what international legal body says it's his country. he says many. i say, a little louder, what international body, name one. he says he doesn't have to answer to me. i say i've purchased every piece of clothing he's wearing including his rifle - he does have to answer to me. can you answer the question? what international body?? carey pulls me aside, and as many people before him, tells me i'm doing no good. i mutter effing bastards under my breath as i turn away, just to hear the soldier in the back of the apc say "you're the bastard". carey now has his arm around me, escorting me up the hill. henry needs protection from himself - he's not that tough.
This village of salem, has, with 2 other villages, been cut off from nablus by a 9 kilometer long ditch, according to the teachers. 2 meters deep, they say sometimes the soldiers make the men stand in the water which has filled in the ditch. if you were there, you would believe these women, too.
a light moment, when we observe on the road below, 3 loaded donkeys walking purposefully. a soldier approaches one of them. let's hope he has his papers straight. and where are their owners? the women suggest they have been held up at an uphill chkpt out of our sight. 2 donkeys go straight, one turns left. he will turn around when he reaches the ditch, claim the women.
back up the hill with the women, now standing around in the rain. we're now in the follow their lead role. they decide to go, we return to attiti house - balata camp. this is occupation at its worst. denying women the ability to teach children. does the world know? i call reuters news agency. the woman explains that they've already covered a "blockade" in nablus this week and is certain that our story won't sell. that's how it works... think the new york times wants a story like this? certain to ruffle AIPAC feathers, no? and what about advertisers? henry is so naive...
now it's time for the demonstration. we meet at the UPMRC (union of palestine medical relief communities) offices with signs. they provide a fair number of people. we number approx 125. and march toward the checkpoint on Amman st., the one where we've witnessed many road closings, and kids getting roughed up. the march is very effective, though traffic gets snarled, and cabbies, truck and bus drivers get angry. but the passengers and passersby get it, and are very enthusiastic. then the people start jump up and down on the gate, trying to remove it. way back on the mountain top is an army post and it's a sniper's view from the people, so many are quite concerned, except for us brave ones.
after much effort the "iron gate" is removed. i'm taking some snapshots, get real excited when it gets lifted out of its mooring, and shout "Yeah, baby!".the kids next to me crack up, and want me to repeat it, and they start yelling it, and giggling.
the crowd now takes this heavy gate, and with more effort, tosses it over a hill. much cheering. doesn't dawn on me until afternoon converstaions with local pals, that this was democracy in action. at the time, the discussion was about western democracy, and internationals were explaining the lack in our countries. i pressed chomsky's point that in palestine, order and control are provided by the barrel of a gun, and in the US, they are provided by corporate control of government, and a bought-for press and congress.
still want to know how separating teachers from the students provides security for israel? want to take a stab, debbie?
Subject: report 11 - balata
Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2002 06:50:34 -0500
today is saturday, my last day here, feeling very mixed about leaving, but won't miss this current weather. went back to the checkpoint where the army had previously blocked the teachers in a windy 40 degree rain. this time the women were allowed (thank you, idf) to climb over the dirt roadblock down the road, past the apc, then down the second road on their way to work.
then back to the house for meeting, with wet clothing, and breath visible. the sun came out for our foot journey to huwarra chkpt, which was processing the people in a relatively rapid (read: 20 minute wait)
right after noon, we were called to the new aska refugee camp: the army had just demolished a building containing 4 or 6 families, i think 30+ people, and a garage, which the army labeled a bomb factory. we cabbed over, took pics, looked for bombs, found none, came back. the connection between ism and this camp has not been formalized yet, and there were recriminations on the inside whether the locals want an ism presence there - one of many ongoing issues with peace groups. another example is ism and ta'yush - some locals think the israelis in ta'yush are somehow related to the idf. in some cases former israeli peace activists get called up into the army and serve in the same places they visited as activists. makes for distrust. and why shouldn't these people mistrust foreigners? trust Bush to serve as peacemaker between pals and israel?
a lesson... yesterday my sandwich shop closed early, i went to another. the owner spoke pretty good english, invited me in to sit by a 12 inch by 15 inch pan containing burning charcoal. very welcome in the cold, kinda like gathering around a campfire. 2 other men and a young boy present - boy gives me his chair. i ask the man for a meat and kibob sandwich, he skewers the meat and veggies right above this little pan. now we're really camping.
he excuses himself to prayer. i sit with the others mostly in silence, munching the sunflower seeds which they offer, and i enjoy. man comes back pretty quickly, says he's done praying, that friday is their holy day, and mine must be sunday, for christian celebration. moment of truth - do i tell him?
i say, slowly, that in truth my holy day is saturday, for i am jewish. he says "welcome". he explains to his friends - another man has joined the ranks, and there is a few minutes of arab conversation, with me sitting there pretty clueless. then the sandwich - very tasty - and conversation about the world's ignorance of what's going down under occupation. he wants me to tell their stories to the world. i promise i'll do my best, but that so far, my experience is that i speak in front of 50 people, whereas george bush gets to speak in front of 50 million. this man understands the working of the US government more than I do. he understands how powerful the Jewish lobby is in controlling the US congress. some of his phrasing was downright eloquent.
the men looked older than they were. one tough looking guy turns out to be a banker and still has his job. they point out with pride that they hear of homeless people in America, but that there are no homeless in Nablus, not even in Balata. And if I'm here to witness, the man spoke the truth. kids maybe try to shuck you for a shekel, but no adults. the men were proud that palestinians look out for each other, i felt the pride right there in this little shop.
he showed me an aerial photograph of nablus in 1944, and described how beautiful it must have been, him being only 39. anyone can see the former beauty of this city, and there are many structures in progress, halted at the start of the intifada and israeli crackdown.
he then showed me a picture of his store front after an idf tank smashed through it earlier this year. it's now rebuilt, with a brand new door. again the incredible pride.
now dinner is done, and he brings out the omnipresent tea with sugar. and we talk some more. another man has a brother in chicago, and sent him a cell phone and other electronics which were confiscated by the idf. they ask if i heard about the gate removal, and i whip out my digital camera to show them photos. they are knocked out, the owner says nablus doesn't have such devices.
oh, yeah, where's the lesson? the lesson is that the next time someone in your community tries to tell you that Arabs hate Jews, or Palestinians really hate Jews, you tell them that this Jewish American spent two and a half weeks in the lowest ground out city in the occupied world, told the locals he was Jewish, and they welcomed him with open arms. They understand that there are good Jews and bad Jews just as the owner explained to me that there are good Palestinians and bad Palestinians.
They understand that they're resisting the policies of the Israeli government, and the controlling, humiliating actions of the Israel "Defense" Forces. And if the kids get it confused, and scream death to the Jews, scribble a Jewish star in flames on a wall, the lesson is that it's not they who are conflating Judaism with the State of Israel, it's the Jewish State itself that's doing that.
This conflict has nothing to do with being Jewish. Lynn looks more Jewish than Rabbi Schneerson, and we walk down the street like a king and queen. Jewish people who come here in peace will always be welcomed by the generous Palestinians. Jewish people in riot gear, screaming out commands at a wilted population, herding them like cattle, will always be hated. Jewish people that take the beautiful mountain tops to build their condo settlements with their superior, exclusive, highway system will never be welcome.
That's the lesson.
report 12 – ann arbor
Sunday morning, up bright and early to leave Balata for home. Ceri and Eden walk with me to the Huwarra checkpoint, 1.5 miles from Balata camp, as they want to walk through some Palestinian ISM workers coming from Jerusalem. We arrive at 8:00 am, and join a crowd of about 200 people trying to get south through the chkpt. An equal number are coming north. The men have been separated from the women, and are lined up against the side of the road. At times the soldiers come down and re-align the group as some natural crowding has occurred. They do this by barking out orders; Eden reports that the northbound soldiers use bullhorns, and us south bounders have it “easy”.
Some English speaking Pals tell me that I can go straight through; I tell them that I probably will at some time, but choose to wait with them to see how fast the line is processed. Turns out, the line is processed hardly at all, my place is not measurable any closer to the front.
I wait in this line for 2 and a half hours, it hasn’t moved. A few cars a let through, a few trucks, some trucks are turned away and must head back toward Nablus. The women, after an hour, are let through. The men encourage me to take photos, and in spite of having my “tourist” memory card (disk) inserted in my digital camera, snap off a few damning shots of the men in line, the soldiers, the elevated sentry gate. It’s now not an innocuous disk – my potential cover to be used later at the airport is now not available.
Now it’s 10:30, and Eden comes over and tells me I should be going. I apologize to the men around me, and leave them. Some have told me how they wish they could travel to America, they’ve heard so many wonderful stories, but they cannot get the proper paperwork. A young guy says he’s going back and will take an overland route to get past the chkpt – Palestinians can always find a way out.
I’m frustrated and angry at this situation, a typical day in the life of Palestinians under Occupation. Eden and I walk down the gauntlet, an open space past the guards. One shouts at me to stop. Robert DiNiro turns and says: “You talkin’ to me?” He says he has some questions, and I say that’s good because I have a few questions of my own. Look into your heart, I tell him, and ask yourself if this is a humane way to treat people? They might have a gun, he replies. I might have a gun, my voice is rising, she might have a gun, you’re not worried about us? If you’re only checking people because of their skin color, can’t you see that as racism? You don’t know what you’re talking about, he huffs. I know what you’re doing is BS. Get out of here – he gets the last word.
Now we’re on the south side of the chkpt, with the northbounders, held tight against their fence. A young soldier catches and holds my eye; I don’t avert my stare. He says what do you want. I repeat my question of the looking into your heart. He says I only see this from one side. I tell him I’m Jewish and see things from both “sides”, repeat that what he’s doing is wrong. He tells me to shut up. I tell him to at least process these people, so that they may get on with their lives. How many terrorists has he caught today, using these tactics. He tells me to shut up again, Eden has drifted away, not wanting to be associated with the psychopath I’ve become, who can blame her? Some of the men in line are encouraging me – I’m waving my arms and shouting. There must be some humor in this, but I cannot see it. The soldier turns away. My plan for just dropping an older man’s hints of looking into the hearts of young soldiers has been self sabotaged. I leave the chkpt, too and head into a southbound bus.
The bus stops at the chkpt that the previous days’ cabs bypassed by going overland. A soldier boards the bus, and from the front eyeballs every passenger. Some young men are removed from the bus, their bags searched, then are allowed to re-enter. No occupation here, Debbie.
At Calandia chkpt, I board another van, and we proceed around a corner into, you guessed it, another temporary checkpoint. The 70 year old woman sitting two over from me doesn’t have her paperwork. Too bad, this soldier gives her the royal boot, she might be a terrorist, no? Absurd and terribly sad.
Back at Elana’s house in Tel Aviv. She makes arrangement for a taxi to take me to Ben Gurion at 3:30 am. Don’t want to give them too much time at the airport to go through my things. I’m now pretty nervous: I give Elena all my photo disks to mail back to me. What if they ask about why my camera has no disk in it? What about the mud on my pants and boots? What if they ask where I’ve been?
Elana counsels that I must lie to get through: just visited friends in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Do NOT mention Nablus, not even my time in Bethlehem or Beit Jala. Better to also give up my Arab music CD that I bought in the Old City. Tell them I didn’t want my camera disks to be exposed to X-rays, don’t tell them I just forgot disks, that would raise suspicion.
Time out. Here I am, plotting out how I’m going to have to lie to get through this Police State’s interrogators when it’s THEY WHO ARE LYING. Lying to the world as to what their military apparatus is doing to the 3.5 million people in the West Bank and Gaza. Lying about their territorial conquest plans, their torture, assassinations, house demolitions, holding back schoolteachers from their jobs in the interest of “security”.
Who said Truth is the first casualty of War? It’s right in front of me. George Orwell is still laughing – truth has become lies, up is down, right is wrong.
OK, I’m in the airport, and it’s packed at 3:30 in the morning. This is a good thing, they have to process many people quickly. A man asks for my passport, then leaves me standing there while he takes it away. Do I even remember what he looks like? He returns, scrutinizes my photo and face. Then he observes that I’ve been to Israel twice this year, why is that? he wants to know. I put on my best Tony Soprano blank face, look him in the eye, and quietly say: “I’m Jewish – I love visiting my country”. He knows I’m jerking his chain, but what can he do? I get through without one zipper on my bags being opened. Victories are indeed tiny.
Back home on the first snowy Christmas in a long time. It feels like the past 3 weeks have been just a dream. Will take a while to settle down, and at least 10 days before the photos arrive.
Many thanks to all for wading through these highly editorialized reports. I always felt you were with me, your support fundamental to my sanity.