Two full days of driving all around the country of Palestine in and out of the 1948 territories. Yesterday I woke up early and set out for the north to collect soil for more friends in Beirut who cannot come here. I can come here, they cannot. They are Palestinian. I am not. It saddens me to no end knowing that it is relatively easy (aside from the Hiteresque border hassles and checkpoints) for me to enter this country and they cannot. It makes me miss them even more than usual. I can move around freely and travel to 1948 and none of my friends here in Beit Lahem can. They cannot even go to Al Quds (Jerusalem), which is only 10 km away. Certainly there are checkpoints all around that I am also subjected to, but less so with my Israeli license plates on my rented car. Even though Palestinians from Al Quds or from 1948 have these license plates it is somewhat easier to get through checkpoints with such a car.
Driving to Akka, Nasra (Nazareth), and Al Tira yesterday I was struck by how ugly the Israelis have made this country. Their style of architecture is hideous. It is especially so when one sees what there is left to see of the gorgeous stone Palestinian homes in Palestinian villages that remain or the remnants of those destroyed by the Israelis. My first stop was Al Tira (Judaized by the Israelis as Tiryat Karmel). There is an enormous set of factories and major global corporations there like Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and General Electric. I went to photograph the Johnson & Johnson company building because it is one of the top companies on the boycott campaign. Afterwards I drove around looking for the remains of the Palestinian village of Al Tira so I could photograph that as well. I followed the architecture lines of the area to see where the older looking homes were, which took me to the foothills. This is where I stumbled upon the ruins of the village of Al Tira. There were corners of the homes left along the side of the hill. I wondered which refugee camp they are now living in. What their lives are like. And I wondered just when world leaders (including the PA) will allow refugees return to their homes.
The same feelings stayed with me as I traveled up to Nasra, where Jesus was from, to this lovely Palestinian village on a hill. The homes are of that traditional stone style and snake up the hill in a majestic way. My friend Ziad is from this village and I collected soil for him. I also stopped for lunch in a fabulous shwarma cafe. I had forgotten to eat before I left and I didn’t get to a Palestinian area until 2 so it was late for breakfast/lunch, but I’d rather starve than spend money in an Israeli establishment. It was well worth the wait. I saw a few Christian pilgrims wandering around, but not nearly as many tourists as I encountered in the Old City of Al Quds the other day. And I’m sure that Nasra could use the tourist dollars. My next stop was Akka, a city that is so close to the Lebanese border, but yet so far. It is the city where Ghassan Kanafani is from. Here I was to collect a stone for Tamara in Lubnan for her grandfather, who is quite ill right now. I found a beautiful stone from a destroyed home overlooking the sea. I wandered around the sea side for a while and through the Old City there. It was beautiful–especially the buildings. Fortunately, there were many Palestinians strolling along the seashore. There were also many Palestinian businesses inside the Old City, but I fear they also do not get nearly the tourist money they need and dserve. There were also, of course, Israeli businesses inside selling Palestinian pottery, food, and other such items, which of course they were selling as “Israeli.” It is so unbelievable to me how culutre-less these people are. They have stolen land, food, culture, homes. Selling the world on the idea that these are all specifically Jewish/Israeli things. I even found a postcard that they were selling picturing ka’ak, a specifically Palestinian bread that they wrote “bagel” on and it had many Israeli flags on it (ka’ak looks NOTHING like a bagel). Their entire “culture” is based on theft and erasing Palestinian culture and society at the same time. It made me smile when I saw new graffiti on the Apartheid Wall that said: “Still Applies: ‘Thout Shall Not Steal.'” It struck me that the Jewish state was built entirely upon ignoring the 10 Comandments.
This morning I went to Ramallah early because I had an interview on the radio about Nahr el Bared. I also was asked about the Annapolis talks and I spoke about the necessity of al awda (Palestinian right of return) as being the only issue that should be up for discussion. The radio station is primarily an English language music station, but they do interviews in between songs during morning and evening drive time. They then take pieces of these interviews and clip them into news broadcasts later so I heard myself in the car afterwards, which was a bit strange. As I was leaving the radio station I saw Mahmoud Abbas’ car going to the muqata’a, which is right next to the radio station. I would love to get 15 minutes alone with him and shake him up a bit. I’d love to know what he really thinks. Especially with respect to what’s happening in Gaza–what he is allowing to happen in Gaza. People are starving to death there and he’s in cahoots with the Israelis on this. People are dying because there is no proper medical resources (I heard Human Rights Watch is doing a report on the Israelis who knowingly do not allow people to cross the Erez border to go to the hospital even knowing that if they do not they will die. They are tracking these cases, whcih have mostly ended up in deaths). Friends of mine who can and do go to Gaza smuggle in resources as best they can; books are especially a problem because the Israelis do not want people in Gaza to study. Cigarettes are okay because Israelis are perfectly content with allowing Palestinians to smoke themselves to death.
Thinking about Gaza, 1948 Palestine, friends in the camps in Lebanon, friends in the West Bank and in the diaspora is a constant reminder of how disconnected Palestinians are. It is the reason why al awda is the only issue because once it is honored as international law then Palestinians will be able to build a society with all who have a right to live here and who choose to do so.
By contrast I spent the afternoon today going to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Having Israeli license plates seems to be enough to get inside. I wasn’t asked for ID and there was no checkpoint to get inside. I drove around photographing American businesses inside for the boycott campaign (and I was surprised by what I found: Ace Hardware and Tower Records were two). But I also drove around photographing the living conditions (the extremely ugly living conditions: think white flight American suburbs where everything looks the same. think: the television show “Weeds”) in comparison to the Palestinian villages nearby that all these settlements overlook. All of them are on hilltops occupying Palestinian land. And, in one case, Palestinian homes, literally. In the illegal settlement of Gilo, near Beit Lahem, some of the houses were not ugly, but that is because they were the old, historic Palestinian homes that for some reason were not demolished, but rather occupied by Israelis. The rest were the typical boring, same apartment building structures that have no elegance, no beauty whatsoever. And they are growing like monsters upon these hills as we can see from below in Beit Lahem. Spiraling around the mountains, destroying olive trees and Palestinians’ agricultural land. This is what “peace” seems to mean to Israelis.
One final note: I hear in the news that there will be another prisoner release soon. While the media seems to love jumping on this issue of Israelis releasing prisoners as if to show they are making an effort, what NEVER seems to get into these stories is the fact that Israelis are arresting Palestinian political prisoners on a daily basis. All you have to do is stay up all night and watch from your window. Or, as was the case today, they came into Deheiseh refugee camp and did it in broad daylight. This is the real face of Israeli peace.