Mid-morning people in Beit Lahem found the earth shaking as there was an earthquake, I think it was around 4.0. I did not feel it because I was Yaffa collecting soil for my friend Sharif in Beirut. The weather in Yaffa was strange. It was alternating intense winds with brief rain storms. That weather has now come Beit Lahem. We can hear the wind through the windows at Ibdaa and it is intense. The soil I collected today was damp from the rain. I picked it up next to one of the old mosques next to the sea. After bringing it home and comparing it to the other soil samples I noticed how each one smells, looks, and feels different. I tried to find Sharif’s house, but I had no luck. I spoke briefly with an older Palestinian man in Yaffa who knows a lot about the history of the families and homes in Yaffa, but he didn’t recognize the family name.
I drove south from Yaffa to the Palestinian village of Najd, which the Israelis re-named Sderot. This is a settlement that is one of the closest to Gaza. I saw the Erez “border” crossing for the first time, which is enormous. I saw the Apartheid Wall along that border, along the border that imprisons the world’s largest population. I talked with a man from Najd, who now lives in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza who directed me to an Israeli settler living on his land. The man from Jabalia actually is one of the handful of Gazans who has papers to leave Gaza, but he is a doctor and needed so he couldn’t meet me to show me the remains of his village. So instead I met the Israeli. First he took me to a lookout point where I could see a view of Gaza only a few miles a way. I saw the fence that separates Gaza (before the wall) and I saw a wide open field that used to hold rich agricultural lands of Palestinian farmers. The Israeli told me that the land was bulldozed by the Israeli Occupation Forces because Palestinians were conducting resistance operations from among the trees. One more way Gazans are starved as Israelis find new ways to torture them through slow starvation.
The historic land of Najd, and what is now Sderot, is the site where the Qasem rockets land on a daily basis. In the last seven years only around 10 Israelis have died in such resistance operations, but it makes people’s lives there difficult. But nowhere near as difficult as the daily arrests, extrajudicial assassinations, bulldozed homes, agricultural lands, and system of checkpoints and regional imprisonments. These people can still move freely. These people have an offensive army, which creates the problems to begin with. When I found the heart of Najd I saw no remnants of any homes. I just saw the very sparse remains of a Palestinian cemetery. Right next to this cemetery is the beginning of a new one created by none other than Ariel Sharon. He owns a farm on this land and he built a cemetery for his wife Lily who is buried on top of the Muslim cemetery. Just off in the distance is Osem Foods, Nestle’s Israeli counterpart and the reason for my visit to this village. I took photographs for the boycott campaign of the factory on this destroyed Palestinian village and of the settlement that supplanted it.
I returned to Deheishe through a new road, one that connects the West Bank with a road that, in theory, could connect the people of Gaza with the people of the West Bank but that in reality does not as all Palestinians are systematically separated from one another. Some people will find themselves reunited with families on Thursday, however. Around 450 Palestinian political prisoners will be released as a part of the game that is Annapolis (i.e., most are Fatah prisoners). But two of those prisoners are brothers of friends in Deheishe (so far 4 from Deheishe will be released, but the list is not yet complete). We’re in the process of combing through the list online to see who we know who will be released. Constantly updating and refreshing the screen to see who else has been added. It’s a relief, but there are thousands of prisoners who remain in the jails. Last week my dear friend’s niece was released from jail. She lived for 3 years and 7 months in horrendous conditions where she was tortured (as is normal in Israeli jails) and where the women are kept in far worse conditions than the men. Flashpoints did a story on Iman’s release, which is extensive and detailed about her homecoming and about the conditions in the jail.
I wish I could stay for the prisoner release on Thursday. There is so much I have not been able to do here. So many people I have not had enough time with. I always worry that it will be my last time here when I leave because I never know when the Israelis will stop letting me enter. Tomorrow I go back to Jordan en route to the U.S. Leaving is always the most difficult part of coming to Palestine. But insha’allah I will be back.