Saturday, October 18, 2014

Profile of a Palestinian Woman

In order to protect my new friend, I will not use her real name. I will call her Noura. I asked her to start her story with her grandparents and parents, but she started with her birthdate of February, 1948. She is the 6th of 7 children. The five older ones were born in Haifa where her parents lived in an apartment provided by the private school where her father worked as the watchman. Her mother was married at age 13, and had a total of 9 children, two of whom died. Sometime in January, 1948 the British military came to their door and told her father to take a week's vacation. They packed a bag and went to Zebabdeh, on the other side of Palestine, where they had relatives. A week later, her father started the trip home but was stopped in the city of Nazareth. He was told to sign a paper, which he did, and in return was handed a card which said he was now a refugee and couldn't go home - ever. His brother refused to sign the paper, and as a result had no status and was forced to leave to Lebanon.

Shortly after, Noura was born in Zebabdeh while her parents became farmers. Noura went to the village school which went up through grade 6. To continue her education, she was sent to a charity boarding school 3 hours away because the family could not afford a daily commute to the nearest public school in Nablus, which was only an hour away. For three months Noura endured a feeling of total abandonment. The other children received visits from their parents, who brought them gifts or treats, but Noura's parents did not visit. Finally Noura broke the rules and secretly scaled the surrounding wall and asked a passing stranger to mail the letter she had written to her father saying, "I am dying." Her father was alarmed when he received the letter and came immediately. Though this clever and suffering child was scolded for sending the letter, her father visited regularly after that. In three years, when Noura completed 9th grade, she returned to Zababdeh. A year later, her older brothers were able to pay for her to attend 11th grade in Nablus and 12th in Jenin, where it was a little cheaper. Perhaps her parents and brothers realized that Noura was a gifted child, because her eldest sister never went to school and married at age 13, and the second daughter married at 15 or 16.

After high school, Noura had to find work. She moved in with a sister in Beit Jala near Bethlehem and got a job taking care of children in an orphanage, but didn't like it. She became a receptionist at a nearby large guesthouse/conference center. Soon she was able to rent a room in order to be independent of her sister. At about this time, when she was 23, a local man noticed her and proposed to marry her. She met him under supervision of her sister, and agreed to his proposal. So she called her father, who came to give his approval and make wedding arrangements. However, Noura's brothers said that their cousin Saeed, then teaching in Hebron in the South, was also available to marry, and would be preferable to a stranger. When Noura heard this, she felt the same way as her brothers. She would rather marry her cousin, whom she had known since birth, as they were born in the same town on the same day, just two hours apart!

Noura and Saeed got married the next year, 1973. They lived in Bethlehem, each continuing in their work places while having their first two daughters. Then Noura was able to get a job at a church in Jerusalem, where her brother was working. Again she was a receptionist, at the church's guesthouse, in addition to cooking, cleaning and serving as a guide to the guests. During this time she had two sons. She worked there for 30 years, achieving through the church, permanent Israeli-issued permits for her and her husband to travel between the West Bank, where they live, and Jerusalem, even though Noura no longer works in Jerusalem. Most West Bank residents cannot get into Jerusalem because Israel wants to reduce the Palestinian population of occupied Jerusalem. Until today they have this rare flexibility, which also facilitates Noura's latest line of work.

Noura now works with fair trade women's craft cooperatives. The women do the beautiful Palestinian emboidery, and Noura does the finishing work, fashioning purses, wall hangings, place mats, pillow cases and so on, using the emboidered pieces. She receives some of the handiwork by mail from women in Gaza, and she exports special orders to Europe. Being able to get back and forth to Jerusalem makes this work possible. After all, to do "fair" trade, one must be able to "trade," something that is harder and harder to do under the restrictions of the occupation.

In 1967 Noura was still in Zebabdeh but not going to school. She was harvesting wheat with her parents when someone came running and crying out, "The war has started!" The village government issued guns to her brothers, without any training. On the third day of the Six Day War, they saw warplanes overhead and suddenly a massive wave of people came running over the hill, fleeing the bombing. Noura's father told his sons to take the girls and go to Jordan, just a short distance away. But the son's refused, saying that if they were to die, they would all die together, not like in '48.

Soon a tank drove up. Noura thought it was Arab military who had come to save them, but it turned out to be Israeli soldiers, who ordered them to put up a white flag. Her brothers threw their guns into a well in order not to be caught with weapons. Nevertheless, two of her brothers were taken away by the soldiers. Shots were heard, and then no news for 21 days as to the fate of the two brothers. Noura feared they were killed, but finally one and then the other returned home.F

During the First Intifada in 1987, Noura kept her children in the house and did not allow them to go out and throw stones at the soldiers. She did not believe in such violence. But at one point soldiers came and searched the house, believing stones had been thrown from there. Noura met them with calm disdain and invited them to search the house. Finding no evidence, they left without further incident. At another moment, during the 45 days of curfew that Israel imposed to crush the Intifada, there was no bread in the house. Noura sent her 10 year old son to the store around the corner, hoping he could make it out and back without being seen. But the soldiers did see him, stopped him and came to the house with him. Noura was terribly frightened, but refused to show it, and argued with the soldiers until they backed off. "I didn't break the curfew, just we didn't have any bread, and the children are hungry. I sent a boy, and all he has with him is bread. But go ahead and do whatever you have to do." Actually, she was ready to die to protect her son.

One final example of the fortitude of this Palestinian woman: Even with a permit to go to Jerusalem, she has to go through the crowded checkpoint along with hundreds of men trying to get to their jobs. One day the mash of men pushing and screaming and fighting for their place in line was more than she could bear, and she started to cry. When she finally got to the soldiers who checked permits, she asked to speak to the checkpoint officer in charge. They told her to come back at 4:00 p.m. and the officer would be there. Of course, when she returned, they pretended that the officer was not there. She insisted they give him the message that there must be a separate entrance for women. Evidently he did get the message, and a separate passage for women was created; but it functions according to the whim of the soldiers on duty that day.

I think Noura has another 100 stories, but with these we know that this Palestinian woman will continue to defy the odds, speak up for her rights and not give up easily - or ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Days 2-5: Homecomings

Days 2 - 4,  October 8 -11
Having successfully written and posted my first blog from here, I am up to day 2. (Today it is day 9).  As I don't have to head to Nablus until noon, I am able to take my traveling buddy Doris to see the YABOUS CULTURAL CENTER in East Jerusalem, but outside of the Old City. It is open, but there are no funtions or exhibits going on so we look for signs of life in the basement offices.  Mona, the office manager, welcomes us and offers to show us around.  While we see the conference room (under rennovation) the movie theater that seats 80 in comfortable chairs complete with cup-holders, the exhibition hall where local artists can hang their work,  and the lecture hall, I ask Mona some questions. Their many cultural projects receive funding from abroad, but salaries have not been paid since last June. Norway had been covering that cost but had to shift its priorities from this center to the urgent needs in  Syria.  So the 11 staff members are living without any income, which is hard to imagine.  In spite of this hardship, they refuse to solicite money from any U.S. organization because they boycott the U.S. - an interesting twist on the BDS movement. (BDS is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a campaign launched from Palestine in 2005 and picking up steam in the U.S. in the last couple of years. It is based on the South African anti-apartheid model of the 1980's and 90's.)
Next on my agenda was to get to Nablus to see Mohammed and his family, take care of PHF business, and be with "my family". Mohammed picked us up at the bus station and we went directly to the offices of the PALESTINIAN HOUSE OF FRIENDSHIP (PHF) to sort out how to spend our two days together.  Since I am a member of American Friends of PHF, I came with a list of tasks to accomplish with Mohammed. But first I asked about his now adult children. Raya was home from Turkey with her twin baby boys and 3 year old daughter last summer for one month. Now she is back in Turkey and has started her coursework for her PhD in public health administration. Her husband has not yet found work there, but provides essential child care while Raya studies.  Yazan, now 27, graduated from An-Najah University on September 18, with a major in business administration.  His graduation was a significant victory for him, since his studies were interrupted twice by arrests and jail time for the crime of being a young adult male in a country under military occupation.  Prison and torture took a toll on Yazan's outgoing personality, but I am happy to report that he has recovered his ability to smile, and that he has confidence in his ability to persue a career in business.
Majed, almost 20 and a junior at the university, was not home because he was in Germany for a 10 day student exchange program. He was one of only four students selected to represent An-Najah University in this program. I talked to him on the phone and could hear that he is loving this opportunity to be with his German peers, be interviewed by local newspapers and meet members of Parliament.  Twice before this he traveled alone to Turkey to visit Raya. He is coming into his own as a mature, cosmopolitan adult as well as having achieved popularity among rap musicians in the West Bank.  He and 3 friends have a  band called Behind Bars Band which has performed in Ramallah and Nablus. Majed is very serious about his music, which he sees as an essential avenue for expression of thoughts and feelings of youth under occupation.
After completing our PHF work together, Mohammed drove me to my Palestinian sister's home on the other side of the city. She is Ensaf, but prefers to be called Im Wafa, or Mother of Wafa, her oldest son.  Her husband, Yaser, is Abu Wafa, father of Wafa. Abu Wafa speaks a litte English and I struggle to communicate with the whole family with my few words of Arabic.  But love conquers all, and we have a great reunion.  Abu Wafa once told me that he would never have met Mohammed if it weren't for me, because they are from different class  backgrounds. He was deeply moved that "Doctor Mohammed" would honor his family with a visit to each other's homes.  Now they routinely speak on hoidays and inform each other of major family events, like Yazan's graduation and the injury just sustained by Abu Wafa's yougest son, 18 year old Mohammed.  He broke his foot at the construction site where he was working, and had to wait almost a week for a surgeon to come to Nablus from Ramallah to operate.  Luckily, the operation went well in spite of the delay.  Because I am part of this family, Im Wafa allowed herself to break down and cry when only I was present- a brief release of tension over her son's accident - a brief demonstration of the emotion that lurks under the surface, hidden from self and others as they endure the pressures of their daily life.
News in this family, whom I have known for 12 years, is that the eldest daughter is pregnant with her 4th child; Deena, 24, the next oldest daughter and my favorite, finished her teaching degree last Winter , another great achievement for this working class, refugee family, can't find work as a teacher, so is thinking of going to beauty school to learn hair dressing and make-up, where there is always a demand. She is married, but has no children and is bored at home alone.  Her younger sister, Diana, is pregnant with her second child. Dareen, age 9, at the top of her class in 4th grade, is very smart, so I hope she will learn English easily and can then translate for us!
Abu Wafa was working 5-6 days a week last year in his trade as a clothes presser,  but this year has little work due to a decline in the economy from the war on Gaza and the flood of Chinese products in the markets. Im Wafa continues to work full time as a Religious Studies teacher in a public school.  I didn't see Wafa, 32, this year, but assume he continues to work in construction to support his wife and 3 children.
Abu Wafa on the current situation in the West Bank:  He is not afraid, but is fed up with Israel. Checkpoints and travel restrictions have been reinstated since Gaza.  Meanwhile, there have been many demonstrations in Nablus against Israel's attack on Gaza, and people have collected blankets, food and money to send there. When injured Gazans have come to Nablus hospitals, people here visited them, since their Gazan relatives were forbidden to come.
When it was time to leave Im Wafa and the family, Mohammed came to drive us to the bus station to depart from Nablus.  We were assisted to get a seat in the crowded public transport van by a tall thin man who happened to be going, as we were, to Ramallah and then on to Bethlehem.  We eventually started talking to him and learned that he is a tour guide who had just dropped a group in Nablus and was returning to his home. Doris asked him if he knew Johnny A., a tour guide from Beit Sahour, and, sure enough, they are best friends!  Part of his story is that he had been a student at the American University in Jenin ( in northern West Bank), but did not continue there  because the checkpoints between there and his home city of Bethlehem (southern West Bank), made the travel time of 8 or 9 hours each way unbearable.  So he enroled in the Lutheran College Tour Guide program in Bethlehem and received his certification after two and a half years. It is a rigorous course to prepare to tell tourists accurate details about all they are seeing - whether historical, religious or political. Ramsi also told us that one of his two brothers just completed undergraduate studies in Cyprus and now must decide whether to come back to Palestine, where there are no jobs, or stay in exile in order to make a living somehow.   These are some of the difficult decisions that face young Palestinians today, and one always wonders how it would be if there were no military occupation placing limits on opportunity.

First Day in Palestine: Old City of Jerusalem

It is impossible to know where to start.  Whether to go over my notes from the last 10 days or tell the stories from my host family or write a blog about changes here since last year, etc.
It is a sunny, warm Fall day in Beit Sahour, and I took the day off by not joining the group's tour of Hebron where I have been many times.  I needed to write, and for that I need to concentrate. I will go  back to day one.
October 7 - My first morning at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of East Jerusalem I sat at the breakfast table with a young blond woman from Ireland who is teaching piano at the Edward Said  National Conservatory of Music's Nablus campus.  So I started to think about connecting her with Mohammed and PHF.  She lives in Ramallah, and commutes 5 days a week to Nabus.  I told her about PHF and she said she would welcome the possibility of volunteering her skills. Later, I gave her info to Mohammed, who was also pleased with the prospect of bringing another resource to PHF.
After breakfast I started my chores of renewing my 2 cell phones (one for Israeli-controlled E. Jerusalem and one for the West Bank telecommunications system) and changing money. My usual money changer was no longer there, so I had to accept whatever rate I was offered at another place. Oh well. My Palestinian newspaper man was not in his stall due to the Jewish holiday of Shucrot (sp?)which interrupted publication of the English language Ha'aretz and International Herald Tribune.
When finally free to enjoy the rest of the day, I wandered around the Old City. First I stopped to greet the man who runs a small shop selling lose cookies and candies. He surely makes a meager income from this place, but is always pleased to see me and chat a little about the occupation and U.S. politics, and I am always pleased to pick out about 10 of the most interesting or yummy cookies which serve as my snack food for a few days.  From there I strolled along the bustling market street, trying not to bump into too many people or carts using the same narrow space.  This took me through the Muslim Quarter and on into the Christian Quarter. I ignore the souvenir shops as they change from Palestinian Muslim to more Christian trinkets, and anyway I am not wanting to buy anything, now that I have already found a bracelet that identifies me as favoring Palestine.  I walked slowly, taking in the products of ordinary life, from kitchen utensils to meat to vegetables to clothes.
At a crossroads I take a right turn and decide to seek a small museum I have visited  before. It is harder than ever to locate it, as its single door to an old residence is almost hidden by the shops on either side. I ask a shopkeeper for help, find the place and ring the bell. Luckily, someone is there and  buzzes me in, even though they usually only open by appointment.  This is Mujoud Cultural Center & Museum under the auspices of the Arab Orthodox Society, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Waqf of Jerusalem, and it preserves many artifacts and photos from Palestinian life before 1948. The director, Noura Kort, knows the history of each object and the value of protecting her heritage in this way. I ask about the space behind the museum, and she shows me that it is still there - about an acre of open land (!) that at one time was a water reservoir serving the whole community including the Patriarch's private  bath which was adjacent to the pool.  The water was piped in from the beautiful Suliman Pools, a few kilometers away, now an archeological treasure that is in ruins.
In 1967, when Israel occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem, it drained this pool and left it empty, to fill up with garbage until last year.  Finally, the museum's supporters prevailed upon the Jerusalem Municipality to clean up the lot, and it now appears as bare land surrounded   by apartment buildings on all sides. If my technological skills and time allowed I would insert a photo here for you to better appreciate the victory it is that this tiny enterprise has managed to keep this space out of settlers' hands.  Noura comments that Obama has not deserved the Nobel Peace Prize and it should be revoked. She tells me, by way of criticizing U.S. policies, that yesterday a U.S.  bomb killed a leader of the Kurds whom we are supposedly supporting against ISIS.  In contrast to this behavior she tells me the story of the first Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem, Omar, who had the option of enslaving and/or killing the captured Christian population or taking a nonviolent approach. He chose the latter, and signed an agreement which is still visible on a stone monument, that Christians could continue to live and practice their religion under his rule if they would pay a tax or tithe. In his wisdom, he refused the invitation to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pray, as he knew this would set a dangerous precident. Instead, he picked up a stone, threw it some meters away from the Church, and built a mosque on that spot.
As I walked back towards the Austrian Hospice, a shopkeeper stopped me, saw my bracelet, and wanted to talk. Usually this is a trap to get you to buy something, but somehow he communicated an honest desire to chat, so I accepted his invitation to enter his store and sit down. After about 10 minutes of reviewing the politics of the occupation, he said was impressed and surprised by how well informed I am.  He hoped I would stop by again, and maybe I will.
At this rate, I will never get though my jounal, but I love to tell you these stories, and I hope they make Palestine and Palestinians  become real to you. To be continued.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jesus and I were in Taybeh

Three weeks ago I was in Taybeh, a tiny Christian village famous for its beer brewery, the only one in Palestine. But I didn't see the brewery. Instead I saw a place where Jesus is known to have been. I cannot say I have had a personal relationship with Jesus, nor even certainty of his divinity. But I do believe he existed and that he was a Palestinian Jew. And now that I have been in Taybeh, I feel closer to him.

Only 1100 people still live in Taybeh, while 10,000 former residents have left the village in search of employment. As usual in the West Bank, there are Jewish settlements and military bases stealing land that belongs to Taybeh and in general undermining the economy so as to prevent development. Traveling with my friend, Gay Harter, we were invited to spend a night in Taybeh with the family of Jerias (ponounced JERias), a medical school graduate who had stayed two months last summer at Gay's house while he did a residency in Boston. Luckily for Palestine, Jerias is determined to finish his medical training here and not to leave his homeland in search of a better salary. Jerias showed us around his village, and I could see why it would be a good place for Jesus to rest. It is on top of a hill with great views of farmland in all directions. At the highest point, 900 feet above sea level, Jerias showed us the ruin of a Crusader church, which was built over a Byzantine church. (Archeologically verified). He said this is not a ruin, but still a church, and all 3 of the local catholic sects come here to pray together whenever there is a festival or a protest against the occupation. From this spot we watched the sun set and evening star appear, lending an air of mystery to the crumbled foundation and facade.

So, as Jesus stayed here, and I stayed here, I felt a kind of closeness to the person who brought a revolutionary message of love and resistance to a troubled world. I am bringing home a symbol of this felt connection -- a ceramic dove, made in Taybeh as an income-producing craft. The back of the dove holds a glass dish in which one puts olive oil and floats a wick - both supplied with the dove. I hope it ends up on the alter of my UCC church in Ashfield, Mass to replace the little votive candle we light for peace every Sunday. Jerias and his family gave us each a dove - so typical of the generosity and welcome that infuses the culture of Palestine. I suppose Jesus received the same welcome in Taybeh.

Friday, November 1, 2013

There is hope for Palestine

We turned off the main highway that was taking us from the Sea of Galilee South through the Jordan Valley toward Jericho and Bethlehem. The road became a dirt track strewn with bits of refuse left by a heavy rain the day before. The homes we drove past looked very like the temporary shelters we had seen bedouin living in, and likewise there were large herds of sheep and goats among the shelters. But our guide, Mohammed, said these were not bedouin. What we were seeing was poverty and homelessness caused by State policy. Israel has been trying to drive the Palestinian farmers and villagers out of the Jordan Valley since 1967 when Israel's army occupied the whole of the West Bank, including this area of rich agricultural land and abundant water. We had arrived at the village of Fasayil.
We stopped our van in front of a crumbling adobe building, and Rashid came to meet us. He is one of the organizers of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign ( Rashid explained that the community is renovating this building, which looked like the back side of it had been ripped off. Although they are in Area C where Israel does not grant permits to build or renovate anything, they are able to do it to this house because it was orginally constructed befoe 1967. And, since permanent structures are very few in the village, they are determined to hold onto this one. They will use the original materials - mud and straw bricks sealed with plaster - and be able to house income-producing guests and international volunteers.

I thought to myself, "Volunteer here? There isn't a single comfort of modern living in sight." But I kept listening to Rashid and then follwed him toward the school. We had to pick our way over rough and littered ground, skirtiing the muddy places left by the rainstorm. The school was painted a bright pink, had a mural on one wall and a small playground. In 2007 the Solidarity Campaign had built the school where there had been none, in defiance of the above mentioned prohibition on building. When Israel said it would be demolished, the community mobilized enough support including from a university in England to ward off the demolition order. Of course, everyone knows that there are no guarantees for the survival of the school structure, but the Palestinian Ministry of Education has recognized the school and assigned teachers to it. It now provides an education to 150-200 children.

Before the Solidarity Campaign, homes here were routinely destroyed, and there was no electricity in this village and no access to the underground water. Palestinians in Area C are allowed to drill only 200 feet for water, but at that depth there is no longer any water because the nearby Jewish settlements drill 500 feet and take the water. (Settlements are all built on stolen Palestinian land, illegal by international law.)

Rashid supplied us with these vital statistics: The Jordan Valley is 30% of the entire West Bank. Prior to the Israeli military occupation in 1967 300,000 Palestinians lived here. Of these only 56,000 are left. Ninety percent of the Valley is in Area C where no permits are granted for construction, wells, irrigation, etc. in order to force people to leave. There are 6400 Jewish settlers who control 98% of the water. Where Area C meets Area B (larger towns where Palestinian civil authority supplies services and granst permits) Israel drew the lines so as to put the water sources in Area C, i.e. under Israeli control.

On the second floor of the other half of the adobe house which is being renovated, we met Rashid's sister, Muna. She was well dressed in a black outfit and head scarf. Earlier this year she had been arrested at a demonstration and put in solitary confinement for 22 days, in a cell 4' by 5' with no windows and with one place in the ceiling for air to come in, and one for exhaust. She was denied access to a lawyer or anyone else. It is unusual for women to be arrested, so it spoke volumes about her degree of activism. Muna continued educating us about this grassroots effort to defy the Israeli occupation with its infrastructures of permits and restrictions. She said that many inernational NGOs do not invest in Area C for fear their contributions will be demolished, but in this way, they are actually supporting the occupation by going along with its artificial and segregationist policies.

The Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign's primary purpose is to help the indigenous population of Palestinian farmers to stay on their land. They enlist the support of international volunteers like the young woman from Australia who sat with us. She was living on the premises and will stay for 3 months, but many others come on a daily basis to help with the construction tasks and to join protests such as is planned for this coming Saturday. International volunteer labor is needed because the village men and boys have to go to jobs outside the village. (Sadly, the only jobs available are inside the Jewish settlements.)

We left Fasayil at dusk, driving back along the imperceptable "road", past the boys playing soccer in an open space, past the penned goats and sheep, and onto the smooth asphalt of the highway built for settlers. (We could drive on it because Mohammed has Israeli license plates, but that is another story.)

In spite of the desolation of the physical space in Fasayil, I felt an energy and fearlessness in the people that gave me hope for Palestine. Their willingness to stay put and defy the odds by putting facts on the ground is inspiring. And, by the way, the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign supports the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS), giving us in the States a way to connect with the spirit of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

If you lose your sheep, you lose your life.

"How did you learn English?" I asked the man walking beside me as we were leaving his camp. "I have a Masters in history," he answered, "from Jerusalem University, and my wife is American." This is not the story I expected to hear from a Bedouin who has just endured the loss of his entire community. Israeli bulldozers destroyed their homes and animal shelters on September 11 (is this date cursed?), leaving a tangled mess of corrugated iron, boards, mattresses, clothes, blankets and basic foods such as flour. Another man picked up handfulls of flour to show us what had become of their supplies.

The man with the Masters, Ahmad Abujalia, is a member of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. He grew up tending sheep and goats, which is the life of most Bedouin, and he acknowledged that it was difficult to study at the same time as caring for the animals, especially when the goats ate his books! This bit of humor contrasted starkly with our surroundings. Palestinian Bedouin have been so persecuted by Israel that the area where they can still graze their animals has been reduced to the driest, most barren soil. They must buy hay and grain for the herds because the vegetation is long gone. In fact, I felt that this land I was walking on could not support life. Yet here 47 people including school children, plus a large number of goats and sheep, a very handsome tom turkey and some chickens had lived until a month ago.

Well, they still do live here but now in three small tents provided by the Red Cross. However, this meager shelter won't last long. Israel has decided that the Bedouin must leave this area to make way for settlement expansion. Even before they lost their homes and barns to the bulldozers, the Bedouin were denied access to water and electricity. They solved these problems by stealing a minimal amount of electrical current from a nearby town and by trucking in water. The water truck was parked there by the Red Cross tents.

When we first entered the camp I detected a bad smell, like something long abandoned and left to die. Maybe it came fom the heap of discarded animal skins which covered some animal carcasses, or maybe from the insecticide that Ahmad told me they have to spray in order to control infestation by rodents or insects. But I couldnt shake the sense that it was the smell of destruction.

Three little boys, about 5 or 6 years old, sat near us on some rubble. When we talked to them, they were all smiles, belying the fact that they had witnessed the flattening of their homes. Our guide for this visit, Angela, explained that children like these become chronically traumatized and cannot heal from the experience because the occupation is an on-going trauma.

I took pictures, which I am sorry not to include here, of the sheep and goats in their make-shift corral. Because without a shelter for the animals, their babies will die in the winter cold. Without the babies to sell for meat, the owners will have to kill the larger animals and thus reduce the herd. In this way, the livelihood of the Jahalin Bedouin is stolen from them, and Israel succeeds not only in cleansing them from the land but in forcing them to give up their culture and way of life.

Our guide, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, has creaded an organization to defend the rights of the Jahalin who number 2,000 in this area near Jerusalem. ( Jahalin She urged us to tell our politicians about what we saw, and to ask our media why they didn't cover this story. (Philip Weiss did cover it: Two other Jahalin camps were demolished on the same day as this one, so the total displaced were 88 persons. One of the places Israel offers to relocate them to is on top of a Jerusalem landfill, where others of their tribe have already been condemned to live.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A visit to Yazan

Palestine is celebrating the 4th day of its biggest holiday - Eid Al-Adha, akin to our Christmas, complete with a shopping frenzy right before it starts. Then each day, after dressing the kids in their new outfits, the family sets out to visit each and every relative, and everyone tries to forget about the occupaion. Which works up to a point.  If the extended family lives within the confines of the village or city, they can move easily from house to house or neighborhood to neighborhood, carrying traditional sweets and gifts for the children, and a festive mood prevails.  But not so easy if their aunts, uncles and cousins live in another town.  Then the experience can be like it was for my friend Mohammed and his wife, Samar.

The day before the Eid they needed to go to visit their older son, Yazan, about 30 miles north of their home city of Nablus.  The Israeli soldiers, whose duty it is to monitor the movement of Palestinians in the spaces between the cities, towns and villages, were of a mind to interfere with family visits.     So they were operating the checkpoint with a heavy hand.  They pushed Mohammed, his wife and several other families into a small room where there was hardly space for them to stand, and made them wait, and wait and wait while the soldiers checked their documents, and their packages, and their handbags.-- as if this were the border with another country. The process of checking IDs is easily accomplished by computer in only a few minutes. But as if to show maximum disresspect for the native population whom the solders now held as virtual captives, the security measures were prolonged enough to cause babies to cry and adults to argue.

Finally that miserable ordeal was over, and the captives were released back into their own land to continue their journeys.  Mohammed and Samar headed a bit further North to reach Magido Prison, an Israeli prison located right on the border btween Israel and Palestine.  For the convenience of Palestinian families who want to visit their sons and brothers, there are a set of gates on the Palestinian side of the border.  And for the convenience of the Israeli guards there are gates on the Israeli side also.

Hence my friends could eventually see Yazan, and the 45 minute visit was extended 15 minutes by the benevolent authorities in recognition of the Palestinian holiday.  However, gratitude for this gesture was tempered by the fact that the entire journey took 13 hours instead of the 6 hours usually required for such visits, and it was peppered with intentional acts of humilation along the way.

Yazan had been arrested last February 11 for failure to report the fact that an Egyptian man had tried to recruit him into a terrorist group.  As Mohammed said, the Israelis should have thanked Yazan for his refusal to accept such an offer. Instead, he was accused of the crime of not going straight away to the occupying army to inform them of the enemy in their midst.  After his arrest, he was scheduled for court appearances 6 times, and his parents made the difficult and exhausting trip to be present to offer support and hopefully to bring Yazan home.  But each time his trial was postponed . The last and final court date was for the day following this visit.

And so it was that Yazan was finally sentenced to 11 months, including time served, for his "failure to report".  His family will continue to suffer the necessary humiliations in order to visit him until he is released, free to return home to the larger prison that is Palestine under occupation.