Today was an amazing day, despite all that is going on around me. Around us. Us here in the West Bank, in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Ghaza, in the Middle East. With four other Americans I took a group of Palestinian refugees to their villages located in 1948 Palestine, what most people think of as Israel. We rented a bus to take a group of 10-14 year olds; these are children who are young enough that they do not yet have hawiyas (Israeli issued ID cards) and can move through checkpoints as a result. We were lucky with the checkpoints today because we didn’t even get stopped at any of them. But the punishment if we had smuggled in someone older than age 16 would have been dire, especially for the children so, of course, we didn’t take a chance. On our drive towards the villages, south and west of Beit Lahem we noticed that a new checkpoint/international border is being created on the Al Quds-Khalil road which looks exactly like the Apartheid Wall, but this one looks like they are add a roof on it. One of the kids remarked, “see they are going to completely imprison us.”
All of these villages are less than 20 km from the refugee camp where they now reside awaiting for al Awda (their right to return to their villages under UN resolution 194). The first one we visited was Al Qabu and Ras Abu Ammar, which are now located in what is called Begin National Park (named after the Irgun terrorist leader turned prime minister Menacham Begin). At the bottom of the village we found one Palestinian home relatively in tact and some Israelis backpacking around the area. They were even going inside the Palestinian home and I would have loved to know what they thought it was. We hiked up quite a ways to try to find Ras Abu Ammar and although we found its land, it was hard to find some of the destroyed homes. Right after the war of 1948 Israel (with plent of help from American Jews) planted a forest here so that you cannot easily see the death and destruction that the Israelis left in their path. It was horrifying to see many Israelis using this “nature preserve” as a mountain biking/hiking area, one of whom had a gun tucked into his butt crack, which was in plain view when he bent over. I could not help but think about Suheir Hammad’s poem “In America” (on the amazing CD Free the P ), which begins:
“Right now you are standing on stolen land
No matter where you are hearing this poem
I promise you
is stolen land…”
There were plaques announcing the generous support of American Jews who funded the creating of this forest, though, of course, not stating they were doing so to erase the fact that they had to ethnically cleanse a people to do so. I thought about all the ways in which Jews in America use these tree planting campaigns–still, today–as a way for them to support Israel. It became a particularly sinister memory for me to imagine all the trees people have planted in my “honor” through my life. It’s horrifiyng to imagine that a tree planted as a gift to me was done so to erase Palestinian life from 1948. Despite the difficulty of finding the forest through the trees, so to speak, the kids whose families come from Ras Abu Ammar were able to instinctively find an area where they would see remnants of their village. It was amazing.
Part of this project of taking kids on this trip is related to a film project led by French and Nabulsi filmmakers who are teaching the children here how to make films and what they filmed today will be in this movie. The other part is the Ibdaa radio project, which can be heard in the U.S. on the fabulous Flashpoints radio program and it is also archived online. The girls from this village inscribed their names on the trees “so peole would know we were here.” All the kids picked sage which was abundant in this village, and which is a common herb to put in tea in Palestine.
The second village we visited was Zakariya which has more visibile remnants of the Palestinians who used to live there, including a mosque with a minaret, though as you can see from the photograph today there is an Israeli flag flying on top of it. Another sign of the ways in which Israelis must Judaize everything in sight. If they don’t destroy it or coopt it or steal it they must mark it in some way. This village now houses Israelis, including in visibly Palestinian homes. The village is really poorly cared for with trash everywhere and overgrown plants and trees, though this was great for the children who had a field day picking grapefruits, lemons, pomegranates, figs, cactus fruits, and, of course, olives. We tried to find the home of one of the girls who is from Zakariya, but it seems to have been destroyed recently as she had been there before and seen it in the past. At the entrance to the village is an old Palestinian school, which is now some kind of office, which the children marched into and took a load of photographs.
Our final village visit was incredibly challenging to find; it took us over two hours of driving right past it before we happened upon it. The village of Jeresh was particularly amazing because there were many ruins of the homes there and you have a much better sense of the village because the Israelis didn’t plant trees there and they are not building on it…yet, that is. There was zaatar (thyme) everywhere, an essential herb for Palestinian cooking as well as cactus fruits and fig and olive trees. Below the village are Bedouin families, not Israelis, which may also speak to why it is fairly well preserved. While we were driving and hiking around looking for it we found many fascinating things, including a sign for the American Bicentenniel Park (another Palestinian village masquerading as a “nature preserve”). We also saw a plaque that was a map of Israel–including the West Bank and Ghaza and erasing everything except for “Israeli” cities and towns. Unbelievable, in some ways, given how often this is precisely what the Israelis accuse Palestinians of doing (though, of course, it is Palestinian land–all of it–so for Palestinians to claim it is quite a different thing). Part of the challenge of finding Jeresh was a good thing in some ways because it showed the children how hard the Israelis work to erase Palestinian villages off the map and on the ground and make it difficult to find.
While we were hiking around Jeresh for a couple of hours we were quite high on top of a mountain and could hear and feel the echo of a sonic boom. At first I thought they were F 16s breaking the sound barrier, as it sounded so similar to what I’ve heard in Lebanon before. But then I realized we were not that far from Ghaza and I am not sure if these were actually bombs going off. Or maybe it could have been both. But these sounds, which were quite frequent made it far to easy to connect the dots of Israeli wars of aggression, bloodshed, and terror that have never ceased in its history.
Once we returned I tried to catch up with what I’ve missed in terms of the latest death tolls in Ghaza, Nablus, and Lebanon. I keep meaning to post some excellent articles here each day as I’m overwhelmed with reading and following everything that is going on. Here are some highlights for today:
Also, there are a few more actions to report on for people who want to do something to help. The first is a related to the petition from yesterday’s post, a site that has some very interesting analogies on it: From Israel to Lebanon.
The next is for any readers who might be in Canada: Tadamon is organizing a statement and protest.
For those in my hometown, Los Angeles, Code Pink is organizing a demonstration and vigil:
Join CODEPINK Los Angeles & others in speaking out against the raging attacks from Israel that are creating a tragic humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. The LA Times reports “Lebanon is facing a vast humanitarian crisis, with the displaced estimated at 500,000. The frazzled refugees who have flooded Beirut are struggling to find food, water and medicine.”
Make time today to protest Israeli bombing of the Gaza & Lebanon. Our silence implies consent to the violence.
When: Today, Wednesday, July 19th, 4:00- 6:00 PM
Where: 6380 Wilshire Blvd. (near Wilshire & San Vicente)
A peace vigil will follow, 8:30-9:30 PM, at Crescent Heights & Sunset.
Finally, and most importantly, for those with money, please consider helping the Lebanese refugees by donating to Sanayeh Relief Center. Here are some details about the situation and what is needed and how to help:
The Israeli offensive against Lebanon is an act of aggression
against the collective Lebanese civilian population. The IDF claims
to be attacking an “infrastructure of terror”, but the attacks on
bridges, roads, airports and ships are cutting the country into
pieces, threatening to create a disastrous situation by impeding
the transportation of food and medicines, and terrorizing everyone.
Besides the hundreds killed and injured, thousands of people are
fleeing the country, and thousands of people are fleeing from the
areas where the bombing is heaviest into central Beirut. Even here
in the “safe” parts of the city we can hear the bombs throughout
the day and night, and electrical and water supplies are tenuous.
Political and civil society groups on the ground are organizing to
help people deal with the effects of the invasion, but there is
only so much we can do on our own. We are calling on our brothers
and sisters in the rest of the world to do two things to help us.
First we call on you to protest at Israeli embassies and consulates,
as we hear some groups are already doing. We also ask you to send us
information about any such protests you carry out.
Second, we are asking you to help us with our work with displaced
people here in Beirut. The group we are part of, the Relief Center
– Spears, is working in 32 displacement centers in the central
areas of Beirut, which were housing more than 7,000 people as of
the night of July 17th (we don’t know how many thousands more are
in other areas). People are sleeping 10 or 15 to a room without
enough mattresses, and they are only receiving food and water
irregularly from the government. There is a shortage of medical and
sanitary supplies. Many of the displaced are children and the
We urgently need money to buy supplies to help the internally
displaced population here. We ask everyone who can to send
donations, however small, the Relief Center – Spears by bank
transfer. Please contact your bank to find out how to do this.
c/o Bassem Chit:
– Bank Name: Société Générale de Banque au Liban – Hamra Branch
– Swift Code: SGLILBBX
– Client Name: Bassem Chit
– Account Number: 007004362092875014 or 007004367092875014
These are difficult days for everyone in Lebanon, but we are
confident that with your support we can overcome this situation as
we have others before.
For more information, please contact: +961 3 647 605, +961 3 670