En Camino volunteer Misha Laban is in the Occupied Territories, and will be spending a bit of time there. Misha was asked to contribute a journal/diary/weblog/blog. Misha's insights, photos, and observations will be collected here. We hope you find them as exemplary as we do.
All Palestine, One Prison
Report from Nablus, Tubas, and Jenin
March 12th - March 15th, 2004
Today the IOF rolled into Balata camp once again, occupying two houses and declaring curfew on the residents who suddenly -- once again -- found themselves trapped in their homes. Today a ten year old boy was arrested by the Israeli military for allegedly carrying 'explosive materials' from the agricultural village of Zawata into Nablus. Today, the IOF deployed an APC, a Border Police jeep and razor wire, while issuing an order declaring the Salem crossing/base a 'closed military area' (CMA) to the 30 Palestinians and two internationals that had come to hold a peaceful vigil in solidarity with political prisoner Hussam Khader.
On Saturday, we witnessed an Israeli military raid on the village of Taluza. For six hours IOF and Border Police jeeps enforced a curfew on the village. Occasionally the bored soldiers would simulate sex over the loudspeakers installed in the jeeps, or make screeching noises. Off in the distance on the road towards Assira Shamaliya one could see a group of soldiers, in two jeeps, jumping up and down on the roof of their vehicles, which were parked near two Palestinian homes. Such antics were occasionally punctuated by the sound of gunfire in the village, coming from the barrels of the soldiers M16s.
A driver who had the misfortune of driving down the road at that very moment was detained by this same group of soldiers for half-an-hour. He was made to get out of his vehicle approach one jeep, then the other, then sent back to the first jeep and then back to his car, and on, and on, and on. While sitting in the car, waiting for these 18 year old kids with guns to determine if they should let him go or if they'll detain him, the soldiers would flash their roof-mounted spotlights into his car and play with the intensity of the beams or the pitch and volume of their sirens.
Eventually, it seems, the troops got bored with the cruel power that they were exercising over the driver and let him pass, although not everyone in Taluza was so fortunate on that day. Ali Shoukad El-Fares, 35, died in his home of a heart-attack after the Israeli military called his name over the loudspeakers, making him the villages thirteenth martyr during the intifada. The local Imam, Sheikh Mazen, told us that the heart-attack was probably induced given Ali's fear of returning to Israeli military prisons were he had suffered greatly at the hands of his jailers. That night Ali was buried in the dead of the night. Like in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, this was yet another death that current history - which is shaped by the international corporate media these days - would pass by without a mention.
In Jenin yesterday, at the offices of the General Union of Palestinian Women, we attended an exhibition of traditional Palestinian needlework. Two sisters explained to us the story behind a corner of the room infused with intensely political pieces. It seems that their sister Arij Mustafah Uruq one of the 78 Palestinian women held in the complex of IOF prisons that span the length of the area from the Mediteranean to the Jordan river , was arrested on the 27th of July, 2003 for alleged involvement in militant activities. Her military trial will be on the 13th of April of this year and they hope to see their sister then. The occasional letters that the family receives from Arij inspired the older sister to make a needlework piece depicting a chained arm pulling at a wall within which a map of Palestine seems lodged. The slogan above the piece sums up the feelings of many in Palestine: "It is better to die than to face the hell of these prisons."
And all over Palestine, the confinement of a prison has increasingly become the norm for ordinary workers, peasants, teachers, students, men and women of all ages and political affiliations. Palestinians confined in the Gaza strip. Palestinians confined in Al-Mawarna (?), a ghetto within the larger ghetto that is Gaza. The Palestinians caught in the new enclaves created by the wall, like Qalqilya, behind Um al Rihan, the villages around Baqa ash Sharqiya, the Palestinian villages near the colonial settlement of Alfe Menashe, the people of Azzun Atma and so on and so forth. Not to mention all the villages in Palestine that are closed to vehicular traffic and cut-off from the main urban centers of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians trapped in 'closed military areas', in areas designated as 'Area C' during Oslo. Palestinians trapped in Hebron's old city. Palestinians trapped in Nablus under closure. The Palestinians trapped in their homes during curfews. The Palestinians detained at checkpoints. The Palestinians in prison, including hundreds of child prisoners like Tareq Mahazne (12), Jafa Dararme (12) and Ibrahim Sawafta (14) who were arrested on February 26th of this year in the Tubas region.
There is hardly a man one meets in Palestine who hasn't been to prison at some point in his life. There are 600,000 such stories since the beginning of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. There are also more than 3.8 million such stories from the Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed from their homes in 1948, who suffer from another form of confinement , unable to return to their villages, their lands, their pastures, their homes that they were forced to abandon in haste. Maybe this is why Hussam Khader is so threatening to the Israelis? A refugee, from Balata, a critic of the occupation, and someone who persists in resisting even while in prison or brought before a military tribunal that is a travesty of justice.
Yet there are 7,500 cases like Hussam's at the moment. On early Thursday morning, 5 more men were arrested in the Balata refugee camp, three brothers from the Assi family and two members of the Harb/Odi family. One of them was Ahmed Ismail Harb Odi (21) who has never spent a day in prison, as his father explained in a state of shock. Ahmed was an accounting student at Al-Quds Open University in Nablus. He was also a local organizer with the Youth Charitable Care Society (YCCS), which seeks to improve the condition of youth in the camp. In so much as helping set up safe spaces like a women's-only Internet Café, working on creating a youth centre and hanging out with friends or studying is a 'security threat' Ahmed seems to have fit the bill of a typical 'subversive' for occupation regimes. It's now more than four days since the arrest and his family and friends have still barely heard a word from their son and why he was arrested, other than the fact that he's being held at the Huwwara detention facitiliiy.
There are more statistics like the ones cited above, more figures, more additions to the calculus of occupation. Each figure with a human face attached to it, a name, a story. These are the stories of the occupation, and they continue every day. "If you remember all the sadness you will be suffering all your life," says a student from the Al-Quds Open University in Jenin as we pass a shot-up falafel shop aptly named 'New Beirut.' Amira Hass recently wrote that words have failed us, that the surreal fantasy that is life in Palestine cannot be conveyed to those who have never tasted it, who've never had to drive through olive groves, and off the main roads, with lights turned off in the dead of the night in order to bring one's wife to the nearest city in order that your child could be born.
This is a reality in which Umm Mohamed adopts internationals visiting her home with great care and generous portions of home made bread, cheese and jam because she hasn't seen her own children in months, even though they study less than 10 km away. A reality in which Wadi-el-Bidan, the main thoroughfare from Taluza to Nablus, is sealed off by earthmounds, crushed roadway and guarded by a tank. A reality in which a new watchtower, colonial settlement, military base, by-pass road, wall, gate, fence, barrier, is being built, erected, expanded, moved, etc. every day in order to further hem you in. A reality in which these processes are dubbed 'democratic', 'visionary', 'moderate' and 'peaceful' - a reality in which a largely non-violent resistance to these acts is dubbed as 'terroristic' and in which those opposing such policies are branded with all sorts of epiteths. A reality in which patients at the Red Cross clinic in Tubas weigh themselves on a scale that is punctured by a bullet hole, in which bullets occur as frequently as change on the street, and in which the streets are punctured by the markings of tank-threads.
It's a pity that those peddling justifications for colonial domination are currently given more space in public debates in North America and Europe than are those voices demanding justice. Justice not only for Palestine, but for the entire South, which is being systematically stripped of the fruits of hundreds of years of anti-colonial struggle and is being denied meaningful forms of self-determination. This is a tragedy that is not only besetting Palestine, but is also infusing the logics of occupation in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti. It is a logic that informs the relations between conqueror and conquered, between oppressor and oppressed. It is a logic in which the native inhabitants of settler-colonial societies must be prevented from exercising real freedom, in which the logics of apartheid dominate, in which a system of global and borderless capitalism imposes a regimented order of confinement and militarization on a burgeoning and impoverished mass of humanity. It is these logics that are at play here, with both their regional particularities and their universally relevant lessons. Can all these tragedies be recorded without registering any note of doubt among their authors?
Given the current 'peace initiatives' and 'peacemaking' projects on the table, initiatives that leave no room for real Palestinian self-determination, that have resulted in the invasions of Iraq, the overthrow of Aristide, the left's silence during the US-backed genocide in the DR Congo, one can only pause and wonder what the next steps need to be in building true international solidarity that can stem this threatening offensive. As the colonial logics that informed the disposession of Palestinians in the early part of the 20th century are being revived and globalized the call to globalize the intifada has never been more pressing....
The Siege of Tell
February 22, 2004
Since the last report there have been two Israeli military incursions in Balata and three in Tell. An ISM delegation met again yesterday with Mayor Abu Faruk who requested international volunteers in the village. "We have many problems, not just the taking of the two dunums on the Tal hill in the west, but also everyday problems since two years. People cannot get their produce to Nablus and there is no medical assistance in the village, people cannot get any medical help during the nights. There are also the checkpoints which make travel difficult. This is our problem, and it is the same for the people in Iraq Burin and Sar'ra," explains the mayor.
As we're discussing the difficulties confronting the village someone spots an olive green IOF Humvees heading up the main road. Discretely we attempt to record the incursion by snapping photos and recording some video footage. Within seconds we're suddenly beset by armed Israeli soldiers who enter the mayor's offices and are demanding that we delete the footage that was taken. They are rudely demanding to see press-credentials and when presented with some nevertheless demand that the images be deleted. Our group grudgingly complies.
After completing the not so subtle act of censorship, the soldiers return to their Humvees and continue their actual 'mission' in the village. There is no discernable purpose to the incursion other than to terrorize Tell's residents by firing tear-gas indiscriminately, accompanied by occasional bursts of gunfire and the lobbing of concussion grenades into the villages numerous alleys and subsistence agricultural plots. The lack of an organized military threat to the soldiers is demonstrated by the fact that they feel confident enough to patrol the streets on foot. Occasionally, they hop into the Humvees which takes them to another part of the village where they repeat the terror exercise. This lasts for about 30-45 minutes.
During the incursion one of the soldiers tries to arrest an ISMer simply for attempting to prevent him from firing at local children. "Do you want to die," the soldier growls threateningly as he points his gun at the unarmed ISM volunteer - the question is obviously rhetorical given the fact the one asking the question is holding a lethal weapon. Soon shebab show up and the soldier is distracted by calls from the Humvees. He gets back into the vehicle which then departs from the village, returning to the military base on the eastern edge of Tell. Later we return that such incursions are the norm in Tell.
The siege of Tell is similar to the general situation in most Palestinian villages. Takuya, one of the ISMers that is in Balata - who walked with a Japanese delegation form Jenin to Hebron last summer to collect accounts of the occupation - says that almost every village he visited had similar stories to offer. "All the villages where blocked with roadblocks or earthmounds," he recalls. Around Nablus alone, the situation is the same for the villages in the north like Der Sharaf, Beit Iba, Assira, and those to the east of Nablus like Salim, Beit Furik and Beit Adjan.
There is a palpable frustration in these villages that is becoming increasingly evident with each passing day. The students in Sar'ra are discussing the possibility of organizing a demonstration at the main checkpoint linking them to Nablus, given the increased harassment they've been receiving at the checkpoints. In Beit Furik, local activists are talking about doing a road-block removal in order to rid the city of the countless earthmounds that close-in residents from all directions. In Assira, they want to do the same. And then, of course, there is Tell, where the villagers are now looking for ways of challenging the new military confiscation orders concerning lands on the Tal hill. There is a mix of skepticism among some that anything can be done with a dose of optimism among others given the inspiring example of places like Budrus.
Before heading home, we decided to stick around in the village and make sure that the IOF won't return in greater numbers to make arrests. At a local kebab shop we're talking to a group of young men that have gathered around us, curious to talk to the internationals and welcoming the break in the daily routine. H, a 22 year old student who lives in Tell but studies at An-Najah University in Nablus, explains why its important to resist, "They say they are taking this land only 'temporarily' but they may make a settlement here," the base 1km away from the new site lending credence to the speculation. He continues, "If we don't oppose what is happening they will take two more dunums, then maybe twenty, then two-hundred and then we will be left without anything. This is how the military does it."
As we drink the dark-Arabic coffee offered to us the men ask many questions that our group will discuss later that night. Why do the soldiers not want pictures taken of what the IOF is doing in Tell? Why can the Israeli military take peoples land on a whim? Why do they need to build more installations in a region that is already heavily militarized? Why are ambulances not allowed to enter the village? Why is it that the Palestinians are the ones that are called terrorists? Why does the world continue to be silent in the face of this daily litany of human rights abuses and injustices? We go to bed with few answers ourselves, but with a greater determination to spread the word and lend a hand to the growing determination in the villages to end this intolerable situation.
Incursions and Land Grabbing Around Nablus
February 19, 2003
At 9am we're woken to Hebrew spoken crisply over loudspeakers and gunfire under the ISM office window. Curfew is being imposed on Balata, again. Outside the window are 3 armored IDF jeeps and another belonging to the Border Police. Soon we're in the streets, along with UPMRC volunteers, Palestinian mothers and teachers all of whom are escorting children from the UNRWA-run schools to their homes. We're negotiating a stream of terrified faces, crying children and panicked mothers amidst wisps of tear-gas and the sound of flash grenades and rubber bullets being fired. Local kids are resisting by throwing rocks at the 9 jeeps, an APC, troop-transport, and tank that are deployed throughout the camp. By the time the last jeep pulls out of the camp at around 10:15 am, three children are left injured and one woman is shot in the chest by a rubber-coated bullet.
Since the formal end of Operation 'Stagnant Waters' in Nablus on January 6th - which claimed 19 lives, 15 of them civilian, and resulted in over 350 injuries (mostly children) - the IDF has been staging almost nightly incursions into Nablus and the surrounding refugee camps. On many nights people are woken by the sound of IDF convoys rumbling through the streets, occasional detonations and bursts of gunfire that can be heard in the late hours. In the morning we touch base with ISMers, coordinators and other locals to take stock of how many jeeps entered the city, whether or not there was resistance, and how many young men were arrested in the night.
After the chaos of a Balata morning, we find ourselves on the road leading from Nablus to Tell village. The road is broken up by dozens of earthmounds, forcing Palestinians traveling to and from Tell - and beyond - to walk for several kilometers. An ISM delegation is heading to the village of 6,000 for a meeting with mayor Abu Faruk in order to obtain more information on a recent IDF military order, dated February 10th, expropriating two dunums of land on a strategic hill overlooking the main settler bi-pass road bisecting the area. The land has been designated for a 'temporary' and unspecified IDF military installation to be constructed there, even though there's already an Israeli military base 1km away near a school on the eastern fringes of the village.
Since the intifada began, Tell - and neighboring villages like Iraq Burin - have been closed in on all sides to vehicular traffic, suffering the customary deprivations of sieges as a result. Goods are laboriously brought into town by foot, makeshift carts, and vehicles drawn by donkeys every day. Travelers frequently experience long delays going to and from the village, and are often detained at the floating military checkpoints controlling major access roads. The road from Tell to Nablus, which took five minutes by car before the intifada, is now populated by families carrying sick children to the hospitals of Nablus, old women lugging heavy loads, or university students hoping to reach their classes without being turned back.
In the mayor's spartan office, he patiently lays out the situation for us. He notes the future sites proximity to the Rejal Arbeen - a pre-Ottoman holy site - and the way it controlls access to hundreds of dunams of agricultural land on which the villagers depend for their livelihood. Tell, famous for its figs, also produces subsistance crops for local consumption and for small-scale export to Nablus like olives, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, potatoes, as well as a variety of dairy products and livestock cultivation. The new military installation stands to cripple the village's economic base.
"Under the pretense of 'security' they can do anything. This new order will make our lives more difficult than they already are and will prevent us from reaching our lands. The people will be frustrated and the world will not care about their pain, the soldiers will not care, the Israeli government will not care," explains the mayor.
We encounter similar concerns in the offices of Professor Mohamed Salim Shtayeh, a professor of biology at An-Najah Univeristy and President of the Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center in Tell (BERC). The two dunums in question are on Prof. Shtayeh's land. In another era, he was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the environmental working group during the Oslo negotiations, now he is facing an uncertain future.
He informs us that the military order specifies that the site will be 'temporarily' confiscated until 31st January 2005. The two dunums will be used for an unspecified military installation, probably a watchtower, and the building of a road 218 m long and 4 m wide. He notes that the two dunums are only for the physical infrastructure of the military installation, but don't include the broad 'security perimiter' and 'closed military areas' that usually accompany such installations.
"This is a strategic position that controls the western approaches to the village and all the movement of people in the valley from the village of Djet to Huwara. They say the military position is designed to prevent 'terrorist' attacks on the bipass road in the valley, even though there have been no such attacks. People's main concern is that it will limit movement and prevent people from reaching their land, as well as the possibility that this 'temporary' position will become permanent and that it will be expanded. Who knows, maybe even a settlement will be built here."
The order specifies that affected villagers can apply to the Civil Authority's courts for compensation, but none are willing to do so, given that most fear such a move would legitimize the wholly illegal expropriation of occupied Palestinian lands. Furthermore, affected farmers will be forced to apply to the DCO for 'permission' to cultivate their own lands beyond the new installation - a process frought by well documented abuse, the whims of local military commanders and unecessary delays. Many are simply denied access.
BERC's own projects are also threatened by the confiscation order as two of them are located on lands lying beyond the site of the future IDF installation. These include an educational botanical gardens project (15,000 sq m) and the rehabilitation of a rainfall pool with the capacity of 7000 cubic m of water. Dr. Shtayeh informs us that BERC had hoped to expand these projects in the coming months, but the center's work is now threatened by the increased military presence in the area.
"I'm a lover of peace, but it's not peace when I feel I can't go to my work and when my colleagues can't visit me. Our mission here is to preserve biodiversity and play a constructive role in the community, but we can't fulfill it under these conditions. These are local, but also in many ways global concerns. All I can say is that I'm frustrated at the moment. I told friends that the military order on my lands was like cancer or AIDS. You never think you'll be affected by it, but suddenly it's there."
To express your opposition to the order, contact:
DCO-Nablus - +972 (0)2 548 6218
For more information contact:
Zeiad - 059 385-885 (Arabic, English)
Kole - 066 458-978 (English, French, Spanish, Serbo-Croat)
Tak - 065 587-954 (Japanese)
You can also contact Prof. Mohamed Salim Shtayeh directly at + 972 (0)52 518-630, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Journeys Through Divided Jerusalem
January 19-24, January 30-31
Leena Dhalesh, of the Alternative Information Center (AIC), is giving us a tour of Jerusalem and it's surrounding 'neighborhoods' - i.e. the euphamism deployed by right-wing Zionists to describe Jewish settlements in the city's greater metropolitan area. The goal of these 'neighborhoods' is to 'thicken' the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and envelop the cities occupied Palestinian neighborhoods, with the eventual aim of creating 'facts on the ground' that will result in the cities wholesale annexation by Israel.
As we tour these settlements - from Pisgat Ze'ev in the North, to Gilo in the South - the marriage of civil and demographic engineering that has been the norm among successive generations of Israeli urban planners becomes obvious. According to the AIC, the aim of local zoning regulations, construction projects, settlement erection, and barrier construction is to maintain at the very least a 72-28% Jewish majority in the city and to foreclose any possibility that occupied East Jerusalem and the Old City - seized in the 1967 war - will ever be ceded to Palestinian control.
This desire to cap the Palestinian presence in the city and prevent its growth reaches the absurd at certain moments. Along the main bi-pass road that bisects the Palestinian community of Beit Hanina - linking West Jerusalem to the northern settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev - and on the section of the Apartheid Barier which seperates the settlement of Gilo from Beit Jala across the valley, one can see what Dhalesh calls the "Israeli fantasy of a land without Palestinians" as she motions to murals on the seperation barrier in these places where the Palestinian communities on the other side of the wall have been erased and replaced with painted images of uninhabited green-hills.
Yet this denial on the walls of the Apartheid Barrier, is symptomatic of the deeper segregation that is reflected in the broad denial of Palestinian identity and suffering within mainstream Israeli society. While the Palestinians have no choice but to acknowledge the presence of their neighbors - given the constant incursion of their military forces into the daily life of Palestinians - Israeli's can manage to live largely without thinking about the native population, cocooned as they are in the typical acoutrements of suburban North American society. The only exeptions are the rare instances in which a suicide bomber wreaks havoc on the familliar patterns of Israeli life - like in the recent and horrendously bloody attacks on Gaza St. that claimed 10 lives (a day after 8-11 Palestinians, depending on sources, were killed in Gaza City by the IDF). However, far from disrupting the dominant forms of denial, such attacks only serve to reinforce the dominant image of 'the Palestinians' - in so far as the category exists in the general Israeli consciousness - as a dark force, beyond rational knowledge that is bent on the destruction of Israeli society. The disconect between the Israeli imagination and the realities of the situation are sometimes staggering. Frequent expressions of shock and concern for my safety from ordinary Israeli' when
I mention that I'm staying in East Jerusalem are only the tip-of-the-iceberg of a more generalized psychological seperation from any contact with the Palestinian population. This type of radical stereotyping, based on only the most superficial contacts - if any - with the 'Other' has continuously reminded me of the attitudes I frequently confronted among familly and friends in Serbia during the late-1980s/early 1990s with relation to Kosovar Albanians. This racism is not new, but it seems to have been reinforced in recent years with the total seperation imposed on the two warring communities by Israeli government policies advocating hafrada (separation). Yuval, a young sociology student living in Jerusalem, spoke to me and a group of amateur Canadian filmakers honestly about his own racism towards Arabs. He echoed views that I had encountered on numerous occasions in both the Israeli press and in daily conversations with Israelis. As he tells it, for most Israeli's the Palestinians occupy a subordinate role in the popular imagination. Growing up, Yuval only saw Palestinians as people "who wash our dishes and build Israeli buildings...now it's the Chinese and Romanians that do these jobs for us" [refering to the displacement of Palestinian labour within the lower-echelons of the Israeli job-market after the outbreak of the second intifada by a small army of 200,000 migrant workers]. Yuval expressed revulsion at what he sees as the "docility of the Arabs in the streets, the men with moustaches who just sit there and watch us pass by instead of hating us for what we're doing to them." In our conversation he kept slipping back and forth from an understanding of the Palestinian plight, to his own observations of having grown up within a context of white-settler privilege with respect to not only the native Palestinians, but also 'eastern' Jews like the Misrahi, Sephardis, and Russians (all the while acknowledging he had little personal contact with any of these groups).
This is not to say that all Israeli's share these attitudes, and the efforts of groups like the AIC, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Ta'ayush, Yesh Gevul and others are worth noting. Yet, unfortunately, in the current climate, these brave humanists represent a small fraction of the Israeli public. The majority of which are currently caught up in debates on demographic engineering, and fantastical solutions to the "Palestinian problem" such as the erection of the current Apartheid Barrier, the widespread discussion of the "Jordanian solution", the discussions of land-swaps in order to 'maximize the Jewish population, and minimize the Palestinian population' to paraphrase Ehud Olmert's words, and a range of other 'solutions' that never once take into consideration the desires of the native Palestinians.
I don't think it's necessarily my place to analyze other societies, especially when the societies I come from engage in similar politics of denial, but I think it's worth repeating how dissident intellectuals in their own societies choose to represent the situation. One of my Israeli friends, who is a refusenik sent me the following Leonard Cohen poem because he found that it captured something about the current moral crisis confronting the Zionist movement. He told me that Cohen's words are perhaps truer now than when he first penned them in the 1970s - a time that was marked by the rise of the most reactionary strains of the Zionist movement inspired by the likes of Ze'ev Jabotinski and his political heir Menachem Begin:
QUESTIONS FOR SHOMRIM
By: Leonard Cohen
And will my people build a new Dachau
And call it love,
For dark-eyed children
Burning in the stars
Will all our songs screech
Like the maddened eagles of the night
Until Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Vietnamese
Are a thin thread of blood clawing up the side of
Unspeaking steel chambers
I know you, Chaverim
The lost young summer nights of our childhood
We spent on street corners looking for life
In our scanty drops of Marx and Borochov.
You taught me the Italian Symphony
And the New World
And gave a skit about blowing up Arab children.
You taught me many songs
But none so sad
As napalm falling slowly in the dark
You were our singing heroes in '48
Do you dare ask yourselves what you are now
We, you and I, were lovers once
As only wild nights of wrestling in golden snow
Can make one love
We hiked by moonlight
And you asked me to lead the Internationale
And now my son must die
For he's an Arab
And my mother, too, for she's a Jew
And you and I
Can only cry and wonder
Must Jewish people
Build our Dachaus, too?
-- Leonard Cohen
January 22, 2004
There's something about the image of seemingly tranquil and idyllic villages that just doesn't sit well with the actual history of these places in many parts of the world. So too with Budrus in Palestine, which for a long time sat on the so-called 'green-line' of the 1948 war seperating Israel from the Jordanian controlled West Bank. It was in the nearby village of Qibbya that a young Ariel Sharon first inscribed his name in the history of the region, carrying out a massacre of 61 innocent civilians. In 1967, Budrus - like the rest of the cities and villages in the West Bank - was seized by the IDF during the Six Day War in an operation that many locals still remember vividly.
During the first intifada, the region was a locus of resistance. Now, Budrus is once more confronted with the movements of regional history that occasionaly disrupt its seeming calm.
Slowly but surely, this small village of winding alleys, green pastures, and old stone-houses is emerging as the new epicenter of Palestinian non-violent resistance in the occupied territories - just as Beit Sahur set the tone along these lines during the first intifada. Out of Budrus' 1,300 residents, more than 75% of the population has directly participated in demonstrations against the uprooting of the communities olive trees by the IDF (aimed ultimately at clearing a path for the eventual construction of the Apartheid Barrier in this region).
Anyone you talk to in Budrus will tell you directly that they are determined to prevent their village - and the neighboring communities of Nihilin, Qibbya, and Medea - from becoming a walled-in ghettoes like Qalqiliya. The impressive local resistance - led by community leaders such as members of the Hussein Morrar familly (including Ayed and his brother Naim, not to mention Ayed's two daughters Eltezam 15, and Adiya 11) - has engedered a campaign of fierce military repression by the IDF. Both Ayed and Naim have been detained by the military, and Naim has recently been convicted to serve 4-months in administrative detention by the Civil Administration of the Israeli Military in the region (Ramallah DCO).
Budrus has also won the hearts of many internationals who have flocked to the village to show solidarity with the threatened community. There are at least half-a-dozen long-term volunteers working with the community on a day to day basis, while frequent actions to show collective opposition to the construction of the wall have attracted hundreds more. The community has welcomed the efforts of international solidarity activists and has taken steps to integrate long-termers into the social-fabric of the community by building close personal ties with these people.
Although I've largely been based in Nablus, I readily accepted an invitation from a friend in the ISM to head down to Budrus on the 22nd for a big 'replanting' action. During the last major demonstration in the village on December 31st, the IDF had fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd. Some international and Palestinian friends were either injured or came very close to it by the shooting, while the Arabic-language satellite-TV channels we were watching in curfewed Beit Furik at the time, kept showing images of local women being subjected at close range to tear-gas grenades being thrown by soldiers into their midsts. Seven people were shot and many were arrested in this action, including four internationals (among them, young Swedish Green Party activist and parliamentarian Gustav Fridolin).
What has been most inspiring for observers of the struggle in Budrus, is the sheer scope of the resistance in the village, drawing as it does on vilagers from all generations, sexes, political orientations and classes. The images of young girls and women pushing against armored military jeeps, standing infront of bulldozers, leading chants and even jumping into holes where olive trees were uprooted - to prevent the advance of the IDF's machinery - has empowered all those who've witnessed these scenes with a renewed desire to resist the occupation and the construction of the wall. These tactics have also given a hint of the potential power that lies in this form of Palestinian resistance - explaining perhaps why the IDF has sought to so brutally repress the leadership of the local struggle.
For today's action, Rabbis for Human Rights donated some 500 olive-tree sapplings in order to 'replant' the trees that had been uprooted by Israeli D9 military bulldozers in late December and early January. Despite the rain, over 500 people showed up for the demonstration in this relatively isolated community, and after a few speeches began negotiating the path to the affected area. The mood was optimistic and half-way down to the uprooted orchards the procession was joined by a busload of Israeli activists and anarchists. As the crowd moved through the cactus patch on the hill leading down to the construction zone, the Israeli bulldozers working the grounds stopped their operations and withdrew briefly. As a result the villagers, Israelis and internationals set about re-planting the olive trees - placing a half-dozen or so in the ground before the IDF and Border Police forces showed up (as well as a soldier from a settler militia unit).
The demonstrators were given 15-minutes to clear the premises by Uzi and M16-toting soldiers or the military declared it would begin repressing the demonstration. On the advice of local activists, the crowd collectively decided to withdraw. As a local organizer explained, "The point at the moment isn't to get arrested, but to build confidence within our community and in neighboring villages to show that people can come out against the building of this wall. Once we have the numbers we can begin engaging in more direct forms of non-violent resistance."
As the crowd withdrew, the IDF staged a minor incursion into Budrus firing tear gas and rubber bullets at local shebab, while the bulldozers resumed their activities in the destroyed olive groves, uprooting the days symbolically planted trees in the process. The stakes for the affected communities are considerable as their very sustainability is being threatened by the construction of the Apartheid Barrier, which will confiscate roughly 90% of the fertile agricultural land in the region. Out of the 12,000 olive trees in the community, 10,000 are threatened by the construction of the wall. The nature of the resistance is currently non-violent, but faced with the prospects of Qalqiliya's ghettoization it's not clear that this will be the case forever. Again, the stakes for the affected communities are enormous, and solidarity with the non-violent resistance is crucial in the coming weeks and months.
To protest Naim's detention call:
Ramallah DCO - +972-2-997-0284/5
[Note: Naim was released from prison after a massive outpouring of international support.
Nonetheless the number is still good to use in order to express your revulsion at the detention and treatment of Palestinian political prisoners in the Ramallah district.]
And write to:
Israeli Defense Minister
Fax: 011-972-3-6916940, or 011-972-3-6976990
Ministry of Justice
Minister of Justice Yosef Lapid
29 Salah al-Din Street
Telegram: Justice Minister, Jerusalem
Fax: +972 2 628 5438
This Side of the Wall
January 7 - January 18, 2004
UPMRC Ambulance held up at Qalandya checkpoint outside Ramallah
I'm at the Huwwara checkpoint again. A chill wind is blowing. I'm waiting to get back into Nablus. I wait for an hour-or-so watching the tall IDFer harrass the men in the line up. He slaps a boy in the face several times, taunting him now he slaps the back of his head before deciding to push him down a hill with his red military boot planted firmly on the small of the boys back. In the ditch into which the boy is pushed there's about a dozen other young Palestinian men being detained. Nobody knows why they're being held.
The other soldiers are carefully checking the growing row of cars and trucks trying to get into Nablus. They take their time inspecting each one, a UPMRC ambulance waiting to pass is held up in plain sight of the soldiers. Instead of trying to hurry up the process, they occasionally pause to chat, dragging out even further the frustratingly long wait at the crossing. People are getting restless and I'm trying to remain calm so that I can get back into Nablus. The go-teed IDFer occasionally yells at someone, or waves his hand to bring forward, push back or move a Palestinian to either the right or the left. He relishes the control he has over these people and often grins at the realization.
I'm turned back at the checkpoint. I'm told the DCO has given orders that foreigners are not to enter Nablus.* I forget to ask to see the order, and after some pleading decide to take off so as not to hold up the row of people behind me that are waiting to get in. At the taxi/service stop nearby I find a mini-bus that is taking an alternate route into Nablus through Tell village a route that goes over and above the mountains. I don't realize it, but this isn't a direct bus that is until the three young guys that I'm talking to motion towards me so that I'll hurry off the bus with them. The driver slows down along the bi-pass road he's illegally driving on as a stream of Palestinians suddenly runs out of the bushes heading for the bus and a number of passengers on the bus run-out of it, quickly heading towards the same set of bushes. We continue running through the bushes and up a steep mountain path until we're safely out of sight from the main road, including the army and settler patrols that use it regularly. There's another row of taxis waiting at a clearing some ways up. One of them drives us for about five minutes up a bumpy mountain path, through Tell village, before we again hit a muddy roadblock manned by four IDF soldiers.
UPMRC Volunteers in front of a tank during Curfew in Nablus (January 2004)
There I watch more people humiliated. Another girl is crying as her mother is turned back by a yelling soldier - this is already becoming a familiar sight. Another soldier freaks out as a little girl is standing near the muddy earth-mound he's manning with a plastic shopping bag on her. All he can see is a potential terrorist concealing a bomb and not the girl that is standing in front of him, reduced to tears as she clutches a bag full of groceries. The boy on the donkey is yelled at, his eyes project worry as the donkey refuses to listen to him and heads towards the soldiers anyways. I'm finally called forward. To my surprise I'm let through the crossing. On the way up the mountain I watch old men and women carrying heavy loads up and down the steep road. Some heading to Tell ask me if the jaysh are up ahead, I nod affirmatively and note the sudden look of despair that settles on their faces.
First they Came for the...
The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for me, especially when it comes to processing the implications of all the shit that is present in the dominant discourse pervading the Israeli public sphere. Last weekend some 120,000 settlers and their supporters - many of them bussed-in by the current government - marched in Tel Aviv to protest any accommodation with 'the Arabs' (Palestinian identity being routinely denied in these circles). The march dwarfed many times over all recent actions and marches held by the country's fledgling peace-camp. The right-wing here in Israel, just as in North America and Europe, only seems to be getting stronger as it feeds on the racist and xenophobic hysteria being wiped up globally against 'terrorists' 'Arabs' 'Muslim-fanatics' and any number of selected 'evil-doers' that all happen to be located in the spaces of traditional colonial domination. As if to illustrate the new mood, posters of the late-racist Rabbi Meier Kahane are sprouting-up all over the place, not only in settlements and military outposts in the occupied territories, but also within the green-line itself.
On the 'liberal' end of the spectrum, respected Israeli historian Benny Morris considered for a long time a leading 'dove' was recently interviewed by Haaretz's Ari Shavit in the daily's Friday Magazine. In the interview, Morris engages in long and blood-curdling calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (whom he variously calls 'animals' and 'barbarians'). He even goes so far as to paraphrase Hitler's reference to the genocide perpetrated against North America's natives as a justification for the attempted conquest of lands inhabited by 'inferior' peoples. The fact that even Israeli 'liberals' no-longer have time to waste on Palestinian untermenschen came as somewhat of a shock to me - although the record and continuity of such a position has been amply documented (for the full interview with Morris see here; on the history of the overt racism of Israeli liberals see Noam Chomsky's "Fateful Triangle").
In a further outbreak of the currently reigning 'tolerance' and 'diversity' that holds sway in the Knesset, an installation piece displayed in Stockholm by Israeli artist Dror Feiler was vandalized by Israel's own ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel. Instead of distancing itself from Mazel's impulsive actions however, the Israeli government condonned them, with Ariel Sharon taking it upon himself to personally thank the ambassador. According to the Israeli government, the installation - which made a nuanced and ambiguous statement on the actions of a recent Palestinian suicide-bomber - was an instance of the 'new anti-semitism', as it violated an implicit understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be kept far away from an upcoming conference on 'Preventing Genocide' in Stockholm. ++
And yet it is important to note that Mazel's actions were targeted at a fellow Israeli. In the past month it has been hard to miss the growing trend towards the establishment of an increasingly lower tolerance threshold being set for Jewish Israelis who dare divert from the current party-line. It now seems that left-wing Jews have become the newest targets of Israel's fascist security apparatus. The mainstream media-flak that has been targeting the young Israeli anarchist Gil Na'amati shot twice by his own government for non-violently opposing the construction of the Apartheid Wall - is indicative of such trends, as are the longer prison sentences being handed down to the latest generation of brave Israeli refuseniks who refuse service in the IDF.
Pool of Blood left behind after Gil Namati's shooting Dec 26, 2003
As if to confirm the fact that some Jews are more equal than others in the new Israel, Kate Raphael a Jewish ISM activist from San Francisco (recently arrested for her participation in the non-violent resistance to the wall that is taking place in the village of Budrus) was just denied her right to make aliyah under Israel's 'Law of Return' because the administrative judge in her case, under pressure from the Interior Ministry, ruled that her application was made 'without good will.' Apparently, demonstrations of 'good will' are limited only to those who blindly support the racist aims of the current government. It now seems that Jews who do not line up with the aims of an increasingly racist Zionism on steroids are also becoming fair game for Israel's security forces.
Operation Earthquake, Psychological Warfare, and Routines of Repression
This Saturday, at the Hostel in Jerusalem which kind of serves as an informal hub for international volunteers - I tried to catch up with news from other parts of Palestine (after having spent the last week in Nablus working with student activists from the University there). Sonya from BC told us about the IDF incursions into Tulkarem, where she had spent the last few days watching the IDF emptying out the Tulkarem refugee camp, rounding up hundreds of men, and pushing out hundreds of women and children from the camp into the cold streets in order to blow up their houses. The ISMers on the scene were apparently trying frantically to reunite families and to provide them with assistance. Sonya told us how the women in the camp where protesting these outrages strongly before being taken into the UNRWA building by UN staff who insisted on 'keeping them out of danger' - effectively preventing them from showing their opposition to the IDF's kidnapping of their husbands, brothers, and sons. Jessica, another ISMer, told us more about Budrus, which as already mentioned has been resisting non-violently for the past several weeks. She left just before the IDF rounded up yet another of the local Palestinian community leaders who had succesfully organized the the villagers of Budrus to resist - bringing the number of local activists from Budrus still in detention to seven.
All the internationals I spoke to also noted the tightening noose that seems to be enclosing and strangling all centers of Palestinian life in the territories. In Nablus I'd seen much to support these claims, not the least of which was the methodical strangulation of the traffic arteries leading into and out of the city. According to Dr. Ali Abdelhamid of the Center for Urban and Regional Planning at An-Najah University, health services in the villages surrounding the Nablus district have been severely impaired by the system of roadblocks, checkpoints, earth mounds, concrete blocks, ditches, trenches, military installations and settlements that control Palestinian movement in the region. This was confirmed not only in a OCHA report from the summer of 2003 stating that about 50-65% of the medical delays reported by the UN have occurred in the Nablus District, but also in the testimony of Jareel - a UPMRC volunteer and ambulance driver who was recently held up by the IDF at gunpoint as he rushed to save the life of a boy shot by the IDF while studying on his roof. By the time Jareel's delayed UPMRC ambulance made it to the scene, the teenager was already dead.
More evidence that the IDF is tightening its noose around Palestinian cities came from the frequent low-flight-level 'training runs' that Israeli F16s were carrying out over Nablus while I was there (these 'exercises' routinely last two to three hours, understandably leaving Nablus' residents on edge given that any overflight could potentially unleash a lethal payload on the city). I immediately remembered a recent press-conference, in which the Pentagon spokesman for US forces in Iraq, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, openly stated that similar over-flights of populated urban centers by US jets in Iraq served no military purpose other than a 'psychological' one aimed at reminding 'our enemies' that 'we' are close at hand. Given that the population of these centers is overwhelmingly comprised of local civilians, one wonders who the real 'enemies' of US and Israeli forces are in the territories they are occupying?
Last Sunday Apache helicopters also dropped leaflets over Nablus warning of an impending operation dubbed "Operation Earthquake". It's still not clear if the operation refers to the recent spate of IDF night-time raids targeting alleged 'militants', which included extra-judicial executions in which men were dragged out of their beds by soldiers in places like Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem where Sonya claims that the IDF round-up was also called by the same name or if the announced operation is the name for a broader military campaign that will target all Palestinian population centers in the next few days/weeks.
Certainly travelers to the territories have noted that the entry points to many villages have been surrounded by a ring-of-steel, including tanks, armored jeeps, etc., while an eerie calm has prevailed in most cities. In Awarta village near Nablus, locals have reported that the IDF has been practicing quite intensely at the nearby firing-range. Emily and I had the 'pleasure' to witness how the calm of the area was disrupted as we tried to negotiate the path leading from Nablus to Awarta. Along the way - flanked by the firing range and an IDF base - we could hear high-velocity rounds wising-by in our general direction from the barrels of the conscript's M16s. The military activity that people have been noting across the territories may be a prelude to a major offensive, or it may just be a means of further increasing the psychological pressures on Palestinian society to relent from its insistence on 'radical' things like dignity, self-determination, and freedom. For now, everybody is waiting to see what the IDF's next moves will be:
* A new military order, dated January 4th has recently come to light, that apparently bans internationals from entering Areas A i.e. cities under nominal PA control without the express permission of the Interior Ministry (in an application process that could take up to five days). It doesn't seem like the measure is being uniformly enforced as of yet, but it does mark a further slide towards a direct parallel with the Apartheid model in South Africa (where similar restrictions were imposed on travel to the black 'homelands' during the 1980s).
++ The aim of such pressure, it seems, is to avoid the conference's 'Durbanization' - a code word that has come to mean that when issues of genocide prevention or racism are discussed at international conferences, delegates aren't to address the actions of the Israeli military in the occupied territories. Evidence that such dicussions are timely - given that the IDF is being guided by a political class in which even 'moderates' are calling for extreme solutions like 'transfer' (i.e. ethnic cleansing), closing in millions of people behind a wall, and imposing a system of apartheid that denies Palestinians any form of self-determination - are simply ignored.
Activists throughout the occupied territories are planning actions against the wall on January 23rd in conjunction with the beginning of the International Court of Justice's hearings into the legality of the Apartheid Wall at the Hague. Solidarity activists throughout the world are invited to hold actions in front of US and Israeli consulates worldwide. For more information on this and other actions please visit the ISM website at: www.palsolidarity.org.
Students from An-Najah University in Nablus are organizing a National Student Conference on the Situation of Youth in Palestine that will be attended by students from all over the Occupied Territories. They are calling for endorsements and statements of international solidarity with Palestinian students and especially the besieged city of Nablus to be sent to the organizers before January 24th, 2004. Statements should be sent to: email@example.com.
PART I ' Painful 'Concessions' and Painful Realities
December 7, 2003 to January 7, 2004
I left Nablus with another international from California yesterday morning as the IDF temporarily relaxed its grip on this long-suffering city wedged in the northern West Bank valley that lies between the 'Ibal and Gerizim mountains. Since I've arrived in Israel/Palestine, I've been reading almost daily reports on the atrocities committed by the IDF in Nablus and the surrounding refugee camps of Balata, Asquar Al-Quadim, Askar El-Jadid, and Al-Ain Beit El-Ma. Most of the dead and injured as a result of the IDF incursions into these areas have been civilians, with an inordinate amount of the casualties being youths under the age of 18 according to local volunteers of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC). Despite these painful realities, people have been resisting bravely and creatively - even though thousands of the city's residents are under virtual house arrest due to military imposed curfews and closures.
It's been a month since I've arrived in this contested landscape once known as the British Mandate in Palestine, where imperialism has left its indelible mark; where the world's longest standing military occupation continues; where a racist and messianic settler colonialism is still practiced; where the dispossession of 4.9-million refugees continues; and where a new bread of 21st century racism, fascism and militarism is flourishing. As most people who've spent time in the occupied territories can attest, it's often hard to know where to start when trying to relate the daily experiences of repression, humiliation, and degradation of basic human rights experienced by the Palestinians to North Americans who have had no direct experiences of such things.
In writing the first entry to this blog, I spent a lot of time asking myself where to begin: Do I start with Emily, an international trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who's been volunteering with the UPMRC in Nablus, and who on Monday had to hold together the jaw of a 13 year old boy that was nearly torn off by the bullet of an IDF sniper as she took his comatose body to the hospital, blood coagulating on her hands? Do I begin with the suffocation of Hebron's Old City, where some 3000 Palestinians are held hostage to 400 settlers and at least 2000 IDF troops where every day, there's a de facto curfew that imprisons the Palestinians unfortunate enough to live in the area of the city designated as 'H2'? Do I talk about the residents of Qalqiliya and the urban squalor that has seized the Middle East's newest ghetto, now completely encircled by the Apartheid Wall, military watchtowers and razor wire fencing? Do I talk about Walid, who works with the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC), and was beaten at random for being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Do I talk about Givaat Nimaati, the young unarmed Israeli anarchist, who was shot by live ammunition fired by his 'own' government's security forces, tearing apart his thigh and leaving behind a bloody mess at Mas'ha, simply for expressing his opposition to the construction of The Wall?
Do I talk about the settlers in Kiryat Arbah, who are expropriating Palestinian lands to expand their settlement and to build more by-pass roads whose paramilitary forces pushed local Palestinian children before our eyes? Do I talk about the taxi cab, with a baby on board, that was rammed by a speeding, armored IDF jeep in Nablus, which simply drove on, leaving the infant behind with a bloody gash on its head? Or about 3 1/2 year old Majd, who cries every time her father Yousef leaves the house for fear of what the 'jaysh' might do to him? Do I talk about the repression that the IDF has meted out to the villagers of Budrus, who've been non-violently resisting the bulldozing of their olive groves, along with international solidarity activists? Or do I simply talk about the countless stories I've heard of lost brothers, sisters and fathers, who've been killed, tortured, and imprisoned over the years?
New Israeli military outpost at Kiryat Arbeh December 2003
Do I discuss the lost generation of Israeli youth, who sink into despair, alienation, escapism and drug-use after their time in the IDF and are desperately seeking to emigrate? Or the small children shot at by an IDF sniper playing not far from our group of volunteers, the shot ringing from an occupied third story window in a corner of Nablus still under curfew? Do I talk about the imprisoned residents of Beit Furik, collectively punished because one of their number blew himself up near Tel Aviv on Christmas Day? Or the two Palestinian girls who were turned away from attending a friends party that same day at the main checkpoint leading into Bethlehem, simply because their blue Jerusalem 'resident' ID cards had the word 'Muslim' printed on them?
However, it was standing at the checkpoint at Huwwara, waiting to leave Nablus that the futility of the exercise struck me. In front of me a girl was being brought to tears because a soldier was yelling at her mother, haphazardly waving his M-16 around before turning the whole family back, while throngs of Palestinians whose smiles and warmth are infectious were being reduced to somber shadows, shuffling beside barbed wire, in the sight of fully armed soldiers, in two columns, one for women, one for men. Since I first crossed the Kalandia checkpoint dividing occupied East Jerusalem from Ramallah - and the numerous trips throughout the West Bank since then - I've felt the most rage at the daily and often random system of checks and controls deployed over every aspect of Palestinian movement in the occupied territories. It is perhaps because this daily ritual is designed to encode the unequal power relations that pit Zionist colonizers and native Palestinians in relation to each other that it has come to represent, at least at some basic emotional and psychological level, the most potent symbol of all that is wrong with this relationship. It is this daily ritual, with its embedded codes of privilege, that makes 21 year old Falesteen look with awe at the freedom of the black birds swirling any-which-way-they-please through her families fields in the besieged village of Salem and that makes middle-aged Mohammed yearn for the sun-rise he once saw from his window on the edge of Qalqiliya before the Apartheid Wall put an end to that.
More importantly, it is this ritual that most directly represents the way Palestinian life has been hemmed in, controlled, and organized by a foreign military power in such a way that it leaves no room for the exercise of any meaningful Palestinian self-determination. It is this ritual that cannot be described until it is experienced first hand that captures why these amounts of suffering and pain cannot be captured within a few sentences, or the random observances of a traveler passing through the region. It is the rituals of occupation, captured so vividly in Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention, that make it hard for one to even begin describing what it means to be a Palestinian outside of the horrifying scenes visited by the occupation that occasionally creep into the headlines.
Palestinian mother and child in a grape orchard slated for confiscation, December 2003
Painful Concessions and Painful Realities
Yet every time I look at the North American press, I fail to see any of these stories hitting the headlines in a major and sustained way. Instead, and especially in recent months, all the talk has been of a pending 'peace' agreement, about how everything is so calm in the region, and the 'painful' concessions on settlements and withdrawal that the Israeli state is considering 'offering' to the Palestinians. Sharon's musings that maybe, at some point, somewhere, he might dismantle an illegal and often uninhabited 'settlement' or two usually a collection of a few trailers parked outside of a much bigger settlement (that have cropped up here or there over the past few years since the Likud returned to power) - have been getting so much space in the media, that one might be forgiven for believing that we are now at a qualitatively new stage of this seemingly interminable conflict.
Yet for every 'potential' settlement rhetorically 'dismantled,' the plain reality is that more space is in fact being created for the further confiscation of Palestinian lands and the further expansion of settlement schemes (perhaps to relocate and appease the handful of settler households that are threatened by Sharon's recently announced unilateral withdrawal scheme). If anything, what we are witnessing on the ground is the approaching legitimation of the logic of apartheid to appease an increasingly xenophobic and chauvinistic Israeli body-politic. The accolades of the international press corps for the recent 'movement' on the 'peace' front are only a reflection of its own racist disdain for Arab and Islamic societies (with a few notable and brave exceptions including Robert Fisk, Amira Haas, and unsung local press heroes like Hazem Baader).
The evidence that the long-term goal of total Israeli control over the entire space of 'Eretz Israel' is still being pursued is not only illustrated by the Israeli cabinet's recent declaration that it intends to increase settlement activity substantially in the Golan Heights thereby putting a chill on tentative peace talks with Syria but also comes from personal observations of the crude realities being carved into the lyrical topography of the West Bank. As I've already hinted above, there's a considerable settlement expansion scheme currently underway just to the east of Hebron's city limits (and bordering on the much coveted Old City). According to the HRC, the land of some fifty families is threatened by plans to build another by-pass road and to expand the nearby Kiryat Arbah settlement. Furthermore, the planned construction of a 'Worshipers Way' that would link this settlement with Abraham's Tomb also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims (currently under IDF military control) threatens a dozen Palestinian buildings. The fact that Israeli military bulldozers and IDF troops are instrumental in providing 'security' for this project thereby fulfilling the program of Hebron's settler-movement, which has spawned the likes of Baruch Goldstein (responsible for the February 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians, who were worshipping in the mosque, and the subsequent deaths of 26 Palestinians and 2 Israelis in the demonstrations that followed) is telling.
This fact was also evident in the presentation made by Jad Issac of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem which is incidentally based in Bethlehem on the implications of the IDF's 'matrix of control' in the Bethlehem district. Through the use of GIS technology and satellite imagery, Issac who served six months in administrative detention during the first Intifada for his role as a community organizer illustrated how planned and already completed sections of the southern Wall in this region stand to absorb several thousand dunums of agricultural land that will be made available for the expansion of the nearby settlements ringing Bethlehem and its environs.
And the sad fact is that these few cases are being echoes in the observations of community leaders in every corner of the West Bank, from the smoothly groomed landscapes of the Jordan Valley in the east, to the rippling geography of regions currently threatened by the Apartheid Wall in the west. In the coming months and years, it is the fate of the popular local struggles against these 'painful realities' - and not the chimerical 'painful concessions' coming from the Knesset - that will shape the future of the region. It is incumbent that international solidarity is extended to this movement for a just peace, and that the horrendous Apartheid that already grips the region not be legitimated by an 'international community' seeking to secure its own corporate and strategic interests in this geopolitically vital region.
For more information on some noteworthy local movements and ways to help visit the following websites:
Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC)
Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC)
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ)
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)
International Solidarity Movement (ISM)