yesterday on my drive down from nablus to ramallah i encountered an extraordinary number of checkpoints and delays resulting from them. here are some of my checkpoint photographs. the first two checkpoint photographs are within 1 km of the other. i made it through the first one without having to show my passport at the huwara dco, but 1 km later, right after the israeli terrorist forces army/jail, i was stopped by a soldier who kept me waiting for 30 minutes. the following one was a flying checkpoint where a huge line of cars was held for at least an hour in the middle of the highway. then it was on to beit el dco, which is there because of an enormous colony on the land of al bireh. there i was turned away even though i normally use this checkpoint when i’m driving in this particular direction. i had to head down through jaba’ checkpoint and then through qalandia checkpoint in order to reach ramallah (essentially drive all the way to the southern end of ramallah when i was trying to enter from the north).
all of these checkpoints are there to terrorize palestinians, to force them into submission, and to provide cover for israeli terrorist colonists who steal palestinian land and build their settlements. nour odeh reported on al jazeera yesterday about the expansion of these settlements which are expanding every day. it is aptly put in this video that the occasional outpost dismantling is no more than a media event for the west to see and think that the zionist entity is doing something about its colonial expansionism when it never does:
meanwhile netanyahu makes no attempt to hide his plans for further expansion:
yesterday was palestinian prisoners day, but it did not feel like it. or did it? under normal circumstances i would have gone to one of the demonstrations. instead, i spent the afternoon with the jaber and karaki families in their house in the sa’adiyya neighborhood of the old city. there were many people in the room from the neighborhood and from the family who had recently been released from prison, though. 7 of them had been in prison for protecting the home from the israeli terrorists who have now successfully occupied one room in the house along with their m16s. and so the house itself feels like a prison. i can imagine if i were in this family feeling like i couldn’t leave–even to go to the market–so as to make sure more colonists don’t invade and steal more rooms of the house. one of the men who had been in jail had his hand broken by israeli terrorists. while in jail they beat his hand some more.
the settler colonists who have stolen a room in the jaber family house is an racist organization called ataret cohanim that has been stealing land in al quds since 1978 and now illegally occupies over 70 palestinian homes in the muslim quarter of the old city. this group is famous for forging papers alleging that they bought property from palestinian families as a pretext to steal houses. some of the houses have also been stolen because of pressure put on palestinians to collaborate with israeli terrorists, though oftentimes these dealings are also illegal because they are done under false pretenses.
ben white wrote an article for electronic intifada a couple of years ago entitled “bureaucratic dispossession” in which he explains the illegal practices of ataret cohanim:
On 20 August 2007, a story appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz about the disputed ownership of a piece of land in East Jerusalem. The “land in question,” the report said, is “an olive grove called Kerem Hamufti” and part of the “Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.” According to Haaretz, the “Israel Lands Administration (ILA) is working together with the Ateret Cohanim association to wrest from Palestinian landowners control of 30 dunams (7.5 acres) of land in East Jerusalem and to transfer it to the association without a tender.” Petitioning the High Court, the land’s owners, the Palestinian Arab Hotels Company, described the purpose of this expropriation as “extraneous, illegitimate, racist and discriminatory.”
But who are these groups responsible for the attempted robbery, the ILA and Ateret Cohanim? The latter, is a religious, ultra-nationalist organization, whose main objective is “Judaizing” Jerusalem. Coincidentally, they had in fact already hit the headlines earlier in the month, when one of their private security guards shot dead a Palestinian who, it was claimed, attacked two guards in the Old City before being overpowered and killed. The juxtaposition of these two stories is striking. Unintentionally or otherwise, the alleged shooter, Ahmad Khatib, struck out at a para-state organization whose symbiotic relationship with the powerful colonizing state embodies the agent of his people’s Catastrophe.
Ateret Cohanim are represented in the US by the Jerusalem Reclamation Project (JRP), who sponsored a dinner in May celebrating the 40th anniversary of “the reunification of Jerusalem.” The work of the JRP includes “purchasing and renovating buildings for young yeshiva families, renovating destroyed synagogues, and by supporting nurseries, playgrounds, and children’s recreational facilities.” All of which would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that East Jerusalem is both illegally annexed, and, more pertinently, already populated with Palestinians — a classic example of how Zionism attempts to render invisible the indigenous population of Palestine.
Allegations of illegal construction work and forgery against Ateret Cohanim had been previously documented by Haaretz, and in their editorial on the Sheikh Jarrah affair, the paper likewise sharply criticized the “underhand manner” in which a government body like the ILA had sought to take over Arab property in cooperation with a “national-religious” NGO. As well as noting that “governmental bodies such as the National Housing Company of Israel (Amidar), the Custodian of Absentee Property, the ILA, certain ministries and the Jewish National Fund have issued funds” to ultra-nationalist groups, the editorial bemoaned how “the practice of placing the settlers above the law … has reached East Jerusalem.”
thus this is one of the many ways israeli terrorist colonists create facts on the ground and try to legitimate their theft of land. like all criminals, they used various devious and illegal methods for securing what does not belong to them. this is how two other homes on the jaber family’s street were confiscated by israeli colonists as well and why the battle over the jaber family house is so crucial. they also pray on the system of palestinian collaborators as part of the system of colonial divide and rule here. as my dear friend said to me the other day, “it is easy to rebuild a home. we need to rebuild the people who are deeply damaged. this task is far more difficult than rebuilding a home.”
clayton swisher did a story on al jazeera yesterday that shows the same group–though he doesn’t name them–occupying a palestinian home in nearby sheikh jarrah and forcing a new family out of their home:
but the occupation of these homes in the old city is also what makes it feel like a prison. this coupled with the fact that everywhere you go you see israeli terrorists in uniform as in the photograph below.
of course these israeli terrorists in uniform are those who make sure that their prisons are heavily populated with palestinian prisoners to help with their colonial project. while palestinians are in prison they cannot have babies so it is a mechanism of controlling demography. and while palestinians are in prison their homes can more easily be demolished and land confiscated. ma’an news reported on prisoner’s day events:
“This year’s Prisoners Day comes at a tense time,” organizing official Amin Shoman said. “Following the Israeli war on Gaza the Israeli prison service has cracked down on prisoners in Israel; cutting off television access, the number of books prisoners are allowed to have and the duration of family visits,” he explained. “Prisoners are no longer allowed to receive fresh clothing from their families, and are prohibited from shaking hands with their fathers.”
Secretary General of the committee Hilmi Al-Araj sent a message to prisoners Thursday morning, saying, ”we promise our detainees that their cases will be solved when the Shalit issue is solved; we will make all efforts to free the 11,000 imprisoned at Israeli jails and we call the international community to seriously deal with this case.”
Minister of Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs in the Palestinian Legislative Council Ashraf Al-A`jrami said the day would be one to express solidarity with Palestinians in jail.
“Recognizing the detainees’ rights is part and parcel of recognizing the Palestinian people`s rights,” Al-A’jrami said in the lead-up to Prisoners Day events. He urged international institutions to recognize the illegal Israeli practices and put a halt to them.
of course i think it is necessary to support palestinian political prisoners–all 11,000+ of them including the 400 children–but i feel like this year the day was marred by a number of murders. i first learned about one of the murders while i was in my service at the qalandia checkpoint heading home friday night. the checkpoint was shut down and it was getting late and i knew that if there were any services left heading to nablus there would only be one more. eventually, the checkpoint opened, but it was shut because israeli terrorists had murdered a palestinian:
A youth identified as 16-year-old Muhammad Nuwwara received a fatal gunshot in the chest, and was evacuated to the governmental hospital in Ramallah. A second boy, 19-year-old Muhammad Balasha, was hit in his thigh and transferred to Sheikh Zayid Hospital in Ramallah. Both boys are from Al-Jalazon, a refugee camp just south of the illegal Israeli settlement of Beit El.
another palestinian was murdered in khalil by israeli terrorists:
Residents of the Hebron-area settlement of Haggay reported that they were patrolling the area when they saw a Palestinian walking around the Israeli-military secured area. Two settlers approached the man and reportedly struggled with him, at which point he pulled out a knife, according to one account.
Both men then tried to shoot the Palestinian, who was identified as 17-year-old Rabah Hejazi Seder, they reportedly said.
However, local sources told Ma’an they doubted that the teenager had attempted to access the settlement, due to its high level of protection and number of guards. They suggested that the Israelis killed the man outside the settlement and then took him inside.
but the murder of basem abu rahme from bil’in is one that received quite a bit more coverage. he was protesting the theft of his land when israeli terrorists fired at him as nour odeh reported on al jazeera in the context of george mitchell’s arrival in the west bank:
and here is clayton swisher reporting on basem’s funeral today:
and while palestinians mourn the loss of these new martyrs, lauren taylor on al jazeera’s “focus on gaza” this week highlighted the murder of mohammed al durra who was martyred when he was 11 years old in the year 2000 at the beginning of the second intifada. his family, who live in the gaza strip, managed to survive the recent savagery on gaza, but just barely:
all of this left me feeling overwhelmed the fast couple of days. it is so difficult to take all these stories in every day. and it is particularly difficult to feel like there is nothing you can do to stop it–to stop the imprisonment, murder, land and house theft. and the united states and its israeli terrorist ally want to keep it that way.
in palestine, that is. in gaza to be more precise. it is difficult for me to describe how i’m feeling, especially given the day i’ve had. the latest news report from ma’an and al jazeera is that 220 palestinians in gaza have been murdered by israeli terrorist forces (itf). the death toll continues to rise. bodies are still being removed from the rubble. the itf continues to strike. many people in the hospitals will likely not survive given that essential drugs are now at level zero according to al jazeera. i have so much i wanted to say, so much i want to say. so difficult to do given the very surreal day i’ve had. i debated for the last few hours about what to write–whether i would just unleash the rage i feel about what is happening in gaza. or whether i would also write about how my day unfolded amidst the news of the latest war crimes committed by the zionist entity. but my life, like so many people’s lives here, is a constant mix of trying to go about living while there is so much death and suffering around you. so i am going to share my day as it unfolded mixed in with news from gaza as it unfolded.
7:30 am: i checked the news to see what was happening, specifically, in gaza. i was worried given the ominous sign of egypt lining the border with gaza with its troops yesterday. but there was nothing going on and i left the house with my friends who were visiting me to the nearby village of till. till has been victim to 35 martyrs in the second intifada whose posters line the homes of the small, lovely village. it is a village that is famous for its figs. they have 17 different varieties of figs (there are 71 varieties globally) that they grow there. they even sell them to the zionists at quite a markup (here figs cost about 5 shekels for 1 kilo; there they charge them 30 shekels per kilo). there is something called the biodiversity and environmental research center (berc) there and i wanted to go in order to learn more about berc’s seed bank. they also maintain a garden of 200 varieties of plants on 15 dunums of land. this is in contradistinction to the village itself which grows predominantly rain-fed plants like squash and cucumber. i was interested in meeting with these people and learning more about their work, in part, because my friend basem mentioned to me a few years ago how upset he was that palestinian seeds were dying out. he told me that there are older people in certain villages who save the historic, traditional or heirloom seeds, but that there is no network for them to preserve these seeds and keep them from being tainted by israeli seeds. israeli seeds are genetically modified and, like american seeds, have been played with in the laboratory to create hybrids, which makes the varieties of each plant extinct. this is dangerous for the environment in general, and it also destroys the nutrients and flavor, but most importantly here: saving seeds is a way of resisting zionist colonialism intent on destroying palestinian life and culture. berc is the first group to intervene in this process in a number of ways. the seed bank is both a traditional and community seed bank meaning that it goes around palestine collecting heirloom seeds from palestinian farmers who have those older seeds. they dry, store, label, and conduct research on them to decide which varieties are important to save. those seeds are then given to farmers so they will use historic palestinian seeds and then after the harvest those seeds are returned to the seed bank. this process enabled them to save a tomato seed here that was on the verge of extinction.
berc also has some other important projects under way. one is to catalog, research, and write about medicinal plants in palestine that were used historically in order to encourage people to use them now. the director of the center also recently wrote a paper about wild edible plants in palestine. and they are experimenting with solar energy to help farmers in till dry figs because they produce so much and the season is so short. they also grow some plants that can also be used in treating waste water. in fact, one of the researchers who showed us around is a specialist in waste water treatment. he uses a membrane to treat the water with a very expensive machine, meaning that it has limited use in terms of scale at this point. but he is conducting research to figure out a way to reduce cost. interestingly, when his machine first arrived at the zionist airport in occupied lydd it took 4 months before the zionists would let it out of security clearance.
9:30 am: we said goodbye and we were given all sorts of amazing publications about the work at berc, which i wanted especially for rami. we picked up felafel sandwiches for breakfast and drove back to my apartment. on the way i got a phone call from a friend of a friend telling me that i could come to lydd today to pick up a gift for some friends like yassin in lebanon and drop off yassin’s amazing cd-in-progress as a gift from him. it was last minute, but my friends were heading down to al quds anyway so i decided to join them knowing how much my friends will love this gift (i am going to have to be a bit vague about some of the next part of the story in lydd given that i want these gifts to be a surprise).
10 am: we leave my house and head down to the new huwwara checkpoint. i haven’t been through it on foot since they built it to resemble qalandia’s permanent-international-border-crossing style checkpoint complete with the new sniper tower and israeli flag as if we were entering the zionist entity (see photo above). it wasn’t too crowded, however, this morning. on the other side we got into a service heading towards ramallah. we were held at a checkpoint, which had an enormous menorah centered amidst the sniper towers, for a while in a long line of cars so we didn’t arrive until around 12 pm. we took a short walk to an atm and then walked back to the bus terminal to get in a service to al quds. we see a normal day in ramallah: people packed in the vegetable market, people walking, shopping, enjoying the respite from the rain. my friends sami and wasef called to tell me that he wanted to drive me to lydd so we could hang out and they asked me to get out of the service at the qalandia checkpoint and hop into their car.
11:30 am the itf begin their air strikes in gaza with american-made f16 fighter jets. the radio is not on in the service. no one seems aware of this fact. but within 15 minutes over 200 patients flood hospitals, like al shifa hospital. orthopedic and maternity wards are turned into make-shift emergency rooms. from 10 month old babies to 55 year old women, palestinian civilians are massacred. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
12:30 pm: we arrive at qalandia. our service is one of the last cars allowed out. qalandia gets shut down intermittently throughout the day. i hop out on the other side and walk over to sami’s car. he tells me what has happened in gaza. i wasn’t shocked. i expected it, but i did not know when it would happen. we drive to al quds to pick up wasef. at 1 pm as we arrive in al quds, we learn that everyone in al quds has closed down their shops because of the massacre in gaza. streets are quiet. very few cars are on the road. we head towards lydd. we listen to the radio. alternating reports from gaza–there are 140 dead now–with the music of marcel khalife.
1:30 we arrive in lydd. we know we are in lydd now because we are greeted by the zionist’s infamous ramla prison stretching across several city blocks. we call the house to get more specific directions. we are guided to their neighborhood and i notice israeli flags on people’s homes. i thought that lydd was an entirely palestinian city. like all palestinians living in 1948 they are forced to live with daily reminders of their dispossession through the street names like herzl or jabotinsky. but the house we were driving to was on a street named–brace yourself–“the heroes of israel street.” one all encompassing horrific name. shocking. it should be called the khara of the zionist entity. we go inside and instantly inside and are welcomed with coffee and images of the horrific massacres in gaza on al manar tv. there are 155 palestinians massacred. these are the bodies of palestinians: not the bodies of fatah or hamas. they are all the same. i am stunned by what i see. the images of the death, the massacre, is unimaginable and yet it is real. i’ve seen it before. in gaza. in lebanon. in iraq. in afghanistan. the zionist entity and the united states are one in the same. the person we came to visit is online. he is chatting with friends in gaza. they are safe, for now. they are going to the hospital to donate blood.
3 pm: we head back to al quds. all afternoon wasef has been receiving sms messages from the un because he works for them. messages about protests in khalil. in qalandia. we saw protests on television: in ramallah, in amman, all over lebanon (there were 5 there today in beirut and in various palestinian refugee camps).
4 pm: we arrive in al quds and drive through the streets to see what’s going on. all the streets are closed down. all the shops, except for pharmacies, are closed on salah ed din street, but we see people walking down the streets. we see itf on horses on the streets of this palestinian neighborhood. we are hungry. we see that the only place to get some food is at the jerusalem hotel on nablus road. we park–not an easy task on a normal day–and go inside. we order some kibbe, salata, kofta, hummus and chat. we see itf helicopters circling above. there are protests now in al quds, in multiple places. sami becomes happy. he tells me: “i am happiest when there is a protest in the old city because it unifies everyone. it is like we are one family.” they are flying overhead in order to photograph those who will likely be kidnapped tonight. perhaps as i type right now. we see itf cars with sirens storming down nablus road. garbage bins are on fire all around. my friend amany surprises me by walking into the restaurant. she had a hard time coming through the beit jala checkpoint. wasef gets another sms. protest at qalandia and fighting ensues between the itf and palestinians. we wonder if i will be able to get home. the restaurant is short staffed. the waiter tells us the other three who were supposed to come to work for the evening shift cannot; they live in the old city and it is shut tight.
5:30 pm: my friends walk me across the street to catch a service to ramallah, through qalandia, to see if i can make it home, although they cannot because they are from the old city. it seems that services are still going there so i get on. but the roads we take are different. ar ram checkpoint is closed. we must go on some back roads. as we reach qalandia my phone begins to get a signal again. i start to receive a back log of sms messages. ayah tells me she’s going to a protest in beit lahem. she says the palestinian authority policy have reached before them and are trying to shut it down.
6 pm: i arrive at qalandia and must get out of the service and walk through the checkpoint. there are itf jeeps everywhere in qalandia. i get in a new service and head towards ramallah, where i arrive a few minutes later. some shops are open, but the streets are very quiet. i go to the bus station to catch another service to huwara checkpiont. we drive through birzeit. we stumble upon a candlelight vigil and march for gaza. after we pass the birzeit checkpoint the entire drive to huwara checkpoint is tainted with the sight of itf jeeps every few meters, at every intersection. we listen to the radio. more news from gaza: 205 massacred now. some ahmed qabour music in between the reports.
7:30 pm: i make it to huwara checkpoint and hop in a taxi to my apartment. i come home and begin sifting through the news of the day. i turn on al jazeera. more news of the massacre: 220 dead. i start blogging. i chat with friends. i try getting in touch with sameh in gaza city. i learn that the itf bombed over 40 locations.
More Rockets in Gaza. The night of Gaza turned hot as Israel hits more places. A workshop is hit now, mosque, minstireal office, a bulding near al shifa’ hospital. Many families went to streets due to thousands of Israeli phone calls threatening to bomb their houses. A house is targeted in Jabalia, 1 injured. Bombing in Al zaytoun kills 3. Now more bombings in Unknown places.
this is the bloodiest day since 1967. i have lost track of time. i have been watching al jazeera–english and arabic–for hours. it is now 3:08 am. the itf bombed a mosque a couple of hours ago across the street from al shefa hospital. i think that was at 1:10 am. i cannot keep track. 225 palestinians massacred. more in the rubble.
tomorrow is the eid al adha holiday so i have the week off from school. i left my house yesterday morning to head towards beit lahem, but i decided to spend some time in al quds so i could visit with a friend, see an art exhibit i had wanted to see, and go book shopping. when i went through huwara checkpoint i was shocked to see that in the last week a new sniper tower had been put up in the last week or so since i had been through that checkpoint. it’s always mind blowing to see how fast colonialism works.
when i got in the service and we started to drive away i had thought i entered the wrong service as we began driving in the wrong direction–towards the illegal settlement of beit el, which was nerve wracking a bit given that this is one of the settlement that has been organizing its residents to come down to palestinian areas and throw stones at palestinian cars. but the israeli terrorist forces (itf) closed down the main road between ramallah and nablus so and forced us to take a detour. fortunately, most of our driving turned out to be through palestinian villages so we were safe. the situation is very tense right now since the illegal israeli settlers were removed from the palestinian home they occupied. the media is calling this an “eviction,” which is technically correct, but it is a bit frustrating to hear this word, which has as its synonym expel, a word that is more in line with the sort of ethnic cleansing the israelis have been forcing upon palestinians for the past sixty years.
when i went through qalandia checkpoint, outside of ramallah, on my way to al quds, i was waiting in line in the car to pass. before the checkpoint was transformed into the sort of international border crossing–far from any legal sort of border–this had quite a vibrant marketplace that you would walk through after you made it through the itf checkpoint area. most of that is gone now–the stands selling various odds and ends, the carts selling all sorts of foods (huwara is like this now a little bit, but i fear when the israelis are finished turning that into an international border crossing style checkpoint these small businesses will disappear too). but now at qalandia what you have instead are many small children who rush the cars, cleaning your car window, selling you gum, begging for money. and it’s heart breaking. yesterday the children seemed particularly desperate as they were wanting money for eid. poverty is increasing here. even yesterday in al quds i saw a child in a garbage dumpster on salah el din street, searching for objects of value that someone else had finished with or rendered useless.
i had told my friends in beit lahem that i would be in al quds for the day, but i think they thought i was spending the day in ramallah. there is a big difference between the two in the sense that they were calling me all day and my phone was off. they got worried–started calling people in nablus trying to see if something went wrong. and apparently there were disturbances at huwara: settlers turned a palestinian car over and the itf closed it down about an hour or so after i made it through. but i was fine, in al quds. but they didn’t know this because one of the ways that israelis configure borders is to ban palestinian telephones from working in al quds. even though every square inch of this city belongs to palestinians, i cannot use my phone there so it was as if it was turned off. and they couldn’t reach me.
i went to see rana bishara’s “homage to childhood” exhibit at the french cultural centre yesterday. it was dedicated to palestinian refugee children. it was an amazing and unique exhibit. she filled a room full of white balloons, and the floor had white carpet on it. there were barbed-wire halo ornaments hanging from the ceiling. in the balloons there were various objects like seeds, black and white photographs, and palestinian national symbols. here is how bishara describes her moving installation:
after the exhibit my friend took me to sheikh jarrah to meet um kamel al kurd. she is the woman who was expelled from her home in sheikh jarrah one month ago so that an illegal israeli settler can occupy this house which is decidedly in east jerusalem. she has been living in a tent below the house as an act of resistance. she’s not fighting for her right to go back to this house, though. instead she is fighting for something much more radical and amazing: the right to return to her house which is in al talbyieh near the yaffa gate of the old city. she was a refugee in 1948, like her husband who was from yaffa, though he died shortly after the expulsion. yesterday they marched with a group of people from al quds and internationals to the area where her house is. she actually doesn’t know exactly where her house is, it turns out, but of course she has the papers and the original key to it. in order to keep um kamel going there are all sorts of activities every day such as painting for neighborhood children, many of whom have painted beautiful images telling the story of what happened to um kamel (as seen here). there was also a film screening last night of short films–these are open to the public and one of the ways that they encourage various neighborhood people to come to the house and sit in solidarity with um kamel and her family. yesterday they had a film by larissa sansour. i had recently seen one of her amazing films called “soup over bethlehem” and i loved it because it was about mloukhiyya, which of course reminds me of baha’a. because as baha’a famously said: “mloukhiyya is resistance because i love it.” he, like um kamel’s husband, is from yaffa. please sign the petition to let um kamel return to her original home here.
after i left sheikh jarrah i drove on a jewish only road (i had yellow plates on the car i rented because my friends and i had planned a trip to 1948 this week). to get to deheishe. it was particularly scary to drive on this road yesterday. it was filled with itf: in jeeps, on foot–even in the tunnels near the illegal settlement of gilo they were marching on foot. as i drove up to beit jala after the checkpoint there they were standing outside their jeeps on the hill. they were everywhere. because i was headed in the direction towards khalil. and yesterday illegal israeli settlers set fire to a palestinian home. so tensions were high. but of course who gets the brunt of that? palestinians. they are the ones who the itf clamps down on.
when i arrived at deheishe my friends and i were trying to figure out if we should leave yesterday night or this morning. we decided that maybe it would be easier to make it through the checkpoint if we did it at night. that way the roads would have fewer people on them and maybe it would be easier to make it through. and, amazingly enough, given all that is going on, we did. we made it through the checkpoint into 1948 right behind a car with new york license plates (because so many illegal israeli settlers are really americans occupying palestinian land). we arrived in nasra at 1:30 am, though if we had been allowed to drive in a straight line from beit lahem to al quds that could have been cut down quite a bit. but my friends are here in 1948. again. refugees are returning, if only temporary. i hope that refugees like um kamel get their right to return for real. soon.
until then here is the film about mloukhiyyeh for baha’a & his creative resistance:
This is why I love the rain. This is a view from my apartment last night after the rain stopped. It’s hard to see, but that is the Mediterranean Sea in the background. I’m told it’s a straight shot of 30 minutes down a road, when those roads are not occupied by foreign occupiers.
That was yesterday. The beauty of this place. Today, leaving Nablus for the weekend, I had to drive through the ugly part: the checkpoints, the illegal Israeli settlements, the foreign Zionist occupiers and their terrorist soldiers. Huwara checkpoint was crowded as usual as I left when school was over along with so many students as well as other people leaving the city. The women’s line was packed with a few hundred people. There were a number of women standing near me holding infant children in their arms. At one point the Israeli Terrorist Soldiers (ITF) decided that they didn’t want us waiting up to a particular point and they pushed us all back (we were already shoulder-to-shoulder) and smashed our bodies against each other attempting to move a line back that was almost impossible to push back given the number of people and how tight it was packed. Of course, no thought was given to these babies and what would happen to them. They just arbitrarily decide the line must begin further back and so they aggressively push us back.
There were many checkpoints I crossed tonight to get to Deheishe refugee camp in Beit Lahem. Qalandia was packed, too. And way too many illegal Israeli settlements, like the one below.
I spent too much time hanging out with friends and having fun tonight so I’m too tired to comment on the news of the day, but some must read items from here and near are:
In the village of Umm Al-Kher, south of the city of Hebron, Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by some 60 soldiers destroyed Palestinian homes near the Karmel settlement. Workers employed by the Israeli military removed the furniture from the structures before the demolitions. As a result, 95 people were left homeless, including a woman who had recently given birth.
He added that the Israeli soldiers assaulted several students and faculty, including 43-year-old Dean of Students Issa Al-A’mlah and 22-year-old employee Mohammad Az-Zaghareet. Israeli troops also searched the lecture halls, damaging furniture and the buildings.
Soldiers riding in four Israeli jeeps invaded the college campus firing live ammunition and stun grenades, witnesses said. Twenty students from the adjacent agricultural school, and two from the technical school, were seized and taken outside the university. Fifteen were ultimately arrested and the rest released.
I received an email this morning from my comrades in the Brown Berets in Boise, Idaho. Boise is the city where I lived for five years when I was a professor at Boise State University. These friends, some of whom are affiliated with Boise State University’s (Multiethnic: it used to be “Multiethnic,” the university deleted this phrase so as not to offend the white folks on campus) Cultural Center. For the last few years the Center has put on what is called “The Tunnel of Oppression.” In brief, the Tunnel is a theatrical experience that sets up different scenarios dealing with racism and oppression and puts the viewer in the position of experiencing expression, if only for a few fleeting moments. I helped with last year’s Tunnel on a couple of scenarios: one dealing with refugees in a global context, including Palestinian refugees; the second dealing with racial profiling in American airports. There were other scenarios last year including one on ICE raids targeting Mexican Americans, one on rape, and one on the Zapatistas.
Apparently, this year they are making one scenario about Israeli checkpoints in Palestine. A student wrote in and complained about it. I quote her letter below in its entirety. Following the letter will be my reply, one that first outlines problems in this letter, and then explains exactly what checkpoints are, how they affect Palestinian lives, and why it is not one-sided. Here is the letter:
I am a senior at Boise State majoring in Business. I am writing this letter as a response to the proposed theme of this year’s “Tunnel of Oppression” that is put on yearly at BSU by your students. I am an Observant Jew and not only a supporter of the State of Israel but also of the proposed Palestinian State. The Palestinian people have lived in the land of Israel for a very long time and deserve a sovereign nation of their own. I have studied both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian situation and feel that I can write this letter in complete confidence of my knowledge.
A reliable source contacted me and forwarded me both the Youtube video entitled “Pregnant Palestinian Stopped at an Israeli Checkpoint!” which was apparently shown to the students in your class, and the proposed outline for the ‘Checkpoint’ scene in your tunnel. After reading the proposed idea and viewing the Youtube clip, I felt alarmed at the blatant one-sidedness and appalling misinformation that is portrayed by your project. You are portraying an Israel that only exists in western (and eastern – the blood libel has reappeared recently in Arab newspapers) media, the great “Zionist oppressor” that only the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talk about. (I have personal friends that are Israeli and have served with pride in the Israel Defense Forces and they would be the first to tell you that none of it is true. I have personal friends that have lived in and visit Israel regularly and who are equally comfortable around Israelis and Palestinians.)
You are forgetting the other side of the story. Why don’t you tell your students to imagine Idaho being hit by several thousand rockets fired by a fringe-group of extremists from Canada? Why don’t you tell them the truth, which is that the checkpoints exist only because they must? There is a reason that every mall, Synagogue, school, and Mosque requires armed guards; it’s not because Israelis like being searched at every destination, it is due to the very real, everyday threat of terrorist attacks funded and supported by Islamist fanaticism. Why don’t you tell your students to imagine being killed by a suicide bomber during Christmas dinner at a local hotel? You’re forgetting that part. You also fail to mention that the Palestinians are regularly cared for at Israeli hospitals by staffs that comprise of both Jews and Muslims that work together seamlessly on a daily basis, treating peoples of all races, religions, creeds, and political affiliations. But I don’t need to mention any more because there is no truth to the portrayal of Israel and Israelis suggested for this farce.
This presentation is not only one-sided but also blatantly anti-Semitic. The representation of American Christians as being duped by a hidden cabal of Shylock-esque Israelis is clear. The Muslims are clearly supposed to be the helpless victims in this caricature, the Christians clueless but well-meaning, and the Jews are left to be characterized as bloodthirsty thugs “aroused by the sudden chaos” into beating civilians at random. I believe any Jew would be offended by this.
I have already made Boise’s small but very close-knit Jewish community aware of this atrocity along with the Idaho Statesman and the Arbiter. If you decide to allow this presentation to continue as it is written, I will contact the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU for blatant Anti-Semitism on a college campus. I am in the process of forming a group of Israelis, American Jews, and fellow supporters of Israel of all faiths to protest your Tunnel of Oppression and hand out fliers from standwithus.org that show in plain fact, the truth in the Holy Land.
Second, the student argues that the Tunnel is only presenting one side of the story. I think what s/he really means is not that it’s one-sided, but rather that it is not the side that s/he wishes to have at the forefront. The fact of the matter is: if you live in the U.S. and you breathe you get the other side of the the story on a daily basis. If you watch the presidential and vice presidential debates you not only hear the word Israel numerous times, you also hear the candidates’ profession of love for Israel. In contradistinction, the word Palestine or Palestinian is never mentioned. That, my dear comrades, is one sided. The reason that some of us who do work in the U.S. trying to educate people about Palestine do not tell the so-called other side of the story is that we are working to bring to bear a side that is not represented, that is vigorously silenced. The only way one can understand the issue of sides is to think about the fact that the two sides are of colonizer and colonized. Of occupier and occupied. Imagine, for instant, that we wanted to present a narrative of slavery in the U.S. Would we (meaning those who oppose human rights violations, oppression) tell that story from the point of view of the slave owner? Or what if we wanted to tell a story about what happened in to gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, handicapped people, and Jews in Nazi Germany–would we tell that story through the eyes of Adolf Hitler? Or if we wanted to talk about violence against Mexicans crossing the U.S. border would we use Chris Simcox of the Minute Men to tell that story? Or if we wanted to narrate a piece about the Native American genocide would we rely upon the words of those who conquered and colonized the Americas? I think you get my point.
The analogy s/he tries to draw with a made-up scenario of Canadians firing rockets into the U.S. doesn’t quite work. One would have to tweak the scenario a bit. It would work as an analogy if about 60 years before the rockets started firing Americans had invaded, stolen and conquered Canada. If Americans massacred thousands of Canadians. If Americans made 750,000 Canadians refugees for 60 years. If throughout that time Americans stole Canadian homes, water, agricultural lands, murdered innocent civilians on a daily basis, built a 20 foot high concrete wall to confiscate more land and water and displace more people. If Americans set up a system of controlling Canadians through over 650 checkpoints on a daily basis. If Americans invaded Canadian homes, villages, and refugee camps every day, killing civilians and kidnapping them to warehouse 11,000 Canadians in American jails. If all of these things–and so much more–were true, then we would understand, I think, why Canadians would be firing rockets on to American soil. They would be using armed resistance and they would be legally allowed to do so under international law. (Oh, and by the way, there are no rockets being fired by Palestinians in the West Bank, where all 650 checkpoints are into Israel.) Moreover, armed resistance in Palestine has only in recent years had become Islamic. Over the course of Palestinian resistance for the last few decades it has been predominantly secular, and oftentimes Communist. The rise of Hamas after the first intifada had a lot to do with the state of Israel itself bolstering Hamas as a way to weaken the then-stronger Fatah movement. This should come as no surprise as colonial regimes have always relied upon the tactic of divide and rule. The latest phase of this meddling in Hamas-Fatah politics, including U.S. involvement, was revealed in an article in Vanity Fair last year.
A third point the student brings up is about Antisemitism. S/he compares creating a scene about Israeli checkpoints in Palestine to blood libel. First, blood libel is certainly anti-Semitic; it involves a mythology about Jews using the blood of children for their matzah during their holiday Passover. The mythology is just that. Anti-Semitism actually refers to prejudice directed at any of the three peoples who speak or spoke one of the three Semitic languages: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic. But over the course of the last century–and more specifically, since World War II–Jews have worked to dislodge the original meaning of the word to only mean anti-Jewish. But even if we take this Zionist definition of the word at face value, through this student’s logic being anti-Jewish is the same as being anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist. These are three distinct categories. I think the first is self explanatory. The second, being anti-Israel, means critiquing the state of Israel and its policies. It is no different than critiquing the U.S. for its policies. But because the state of Israel is a Jewish state by definition (legally speaking there is no Israeli nationality; on Israeli Jews’ identity cards it reads “Jewish” and some Israelis have tried to change this in court without success) some people choose to conflate the two. Importantly, there are many Palestinians who also live inside what is now Israel, all of whom are subjected to a set of laws that resemble Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. One must be Jewish to have equal rights in the state of Israel. The third term, Zionism, is an ideology. People who believe in Zionism believe that Jews have a right to conquer and settle a land even though that land, Palestine, belongs to an indigenous population, the Palestinians. This ideology began as a secular one, though there are of course religious Zionists today, many living in illegal settlements in the West Bank. One of the primary tactics used to silence people who wish to speak about the reality here in Palestine is to call them anti-Semitic in order to get them to shut up. It is worth noting that this tactic is especially used by the Israel lobby (organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] as well as the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] this student refers to in her/his letter) to force politicians to submit to unconditional support of Israel. Barack Obama is a perfect example of this as before he ran for office he had strong personal and political relationships with Palestinian Americans in Illinois. In any case, those of us who are committed to justice and human rights for Palestinians and all oppressed people around the world, the issue is not bashing a state. Rather, it is asking that state to comply with international law and uphold human rights; when a state violates these codes it deserves to be critiqued and challenged at the very least. The organizations this student is working with in the threats directed at you are Zionist organizations of the worst order. The ADL and Stand With Us disguise work that they do as upholding human rights. In fact, these organizations are stealth. In Congress and on American university campuses alike they work on a number of levels to ensure that nothing negative is ever said about the state of Israel. They work to silence student activism on the subject and by equal measure they work to fire or make sure faculty are not tenured if they conduct research on Palestine or are critical of Israel. Just following the ADL’s campaign against Jimmy Carter for writing Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid, which was in many ways very tame and did not go far enough to explain the horrors that Israel unleashes on Palestinians every day and you may get a sense of what I mean. These organizations try to work with people of color in the U.S. united under some kind of “we’re all oppressed” banner; but the reality is that most Jews in the U.S. are white folks like me. They have white privilege and use it to their advantage. I’ll give you an example. The “Tunnel of Oppression” originated at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I went there a few years ago thinking that it would be a museum highlighting the oppression of all peoples. I was horrified to see that in fact 90% of it was about a history of anti-Jewish persecution and the remaining 10% about African Americans and Native Americans; this is especially appalling when you measure the number of indigenous people who suffered genocide under the hands of brutal European colonialism. No other genocide in history can quite match this. For me what this is all about is a kind of Jewish supremacy (I use this term with a nod to white supremacy). What I mean by this is that such organizations like the ADL which feign interest in the suffering of other people always do so with an eye towards making sure that no one ever compares their suffering to what happened to Jews during World War II. Take a look, too, at the Washington DC Holocaust Museum. They have a genocide watch page which tracks more recent genocide around the world. But they are very clear that the world holocaust can never be used again to describe the suffering of any other people. And it is worth asking the question: why is it that we have a museum about something that happened in Europe in Washington DC? This museum was erected before the Native American museum was built and we still have no such museum about slavery or the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. But you don’t have to go that far to see how this works. The Idaho Human Rights Education Center chose to build an Anne Frank memorial. Why is that exactly? The land on which Boise as a city, or the monument more specifically, is land that once belonged to tribes who were forcibly removed, ethnically cleansed, massacred, and who now live on reservations in Idaho. Why is it that we are not looking at those human rights violations? And on the adjacent memorial wall, why are there no quotes by any Arabs or Muslims?
So the checkpoints. From the letter I gather that you all chose to do a scene this year about the checkpoints here in Palestine. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) released a report this week updating the number of checkpoints in the West Bank. As of this week there are 630 such military checkpoints. These checkpoints take various forms. One is a permanent structure that is like a land border crossing as if you are crossing an international border. Right now, as far as I know, these only exist if you are going to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is part of Palestine (however the Annexation Wall has annexed Jerusalem in such a way that if you want to go there you must cross through one of these checkpoints. If you are on foot, you walk through a maze of steel turnstiles, each one locking you inside the next space (there are several such spaces you must walk through in order to pass). The first one checks your ID card (Palestinians have several kinds of IDs: 1) if you live in 1948 or what is now known as Israel; 2) if you live in Jerusalem; 3) if you live in the West Bank; 4) if you live in Gaza. Depending on your ID you may or may not be allowed to cross. And even if you have proper papers, you still may not be allowed to pass (sometimes even if you have legitimate papers from an embassy or from a hospital in Israel the soldiers will most often turn you away). After the double ID check you are locked into an area where it resembles an airport as you are required to walk through a metal detector and then put your bag on a metal detection machine. Only here in some of these checkpoints there are armed soldiers pointing guns at you from planks above as you do this. Then there is yet another hoop at the end where you must put your hand on a computer-generated hand print machine before you may pass. And even then, you still may not be able to pass. Everything is at the whim of the soldiers. There are not any laws here; even Israeli laws do not apply to the West Bank. The law is basically the whim of a soldier on a particular day.
A couple of examples. A few years ago I was taking a friend to the American consulate in Jerusalem because she was going to study in the U.S. We had all the proper papers and an appointment at the consulate. She was 19 years old at the time. We went to the checkpoint, but they refused to let us go through to Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Another example, from a couple of years ago: I was with a couple of girlfriends in a rented car driving from Ramallah to Bethlehem. We drove through a checkpoint, known as the Container Checkpoint, which is in a neighborhood of Jerusalem called Abu Dies. We were told we could not pass because I there was a foreigner in the car with Palestinians. On that night–it was around 9 PM–we were told that it’s illegal for foreigners and Palestinians to be in the same car. Another example: a few weeks ago a student invited me home for iftar (breaking the fast during Ramadan). The checkpoint near Nablus (the city I live in) is called Huwarra. By all accounts it is the worst (meaning the soldiers are the most lethal and violent with the people and are least likely to allow you to pass in either direction) checkpoint in the West Bank. This checkpoint is outdoors like the old ones used to be when you would go to Jerusalem. You just stand in line and wait for hours, especially if you are a Palestinian man, and this waiting is entirely a form of harassment. Most of the time we stand and watch the soldiers laughing, talking on the phone, eating, hanging out, even playing cards, rather than allow us to cross. This checkpoint, by the way, is deep inside the West Bank. It is nowhere near the Green Line or the Israeli-imposed border. Crossing Huwarra means crossing from one Palestinian area to another–which is the case for at least 80% of these checkpoints. On this day the soldiers were standing on the railing above us, threatening to shoot us. One of the women in line asked me to go speak to the soldier. I did, though I lost my cool, and called him a name he didn’t like. He told me that my choices were either to go to prison or home.
Why do the checkpoints exist? The student who wrote to you would have it that they exist for “security” reasons. But for whose security? United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, written at the end of the 1967 war in which Israel conquered and annexed Gaza and the West Bank, it was made clear that:
Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,
UN Resolution 242 has been the main document used in all negotiations between the state of Israel and Palestinians. However, since 1967 the state of Israel has been in direct violation of this UN Resolution, as well as a host of others (most importantly UN Resolution 194, which states that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes, and which UN Resolution 242 upholds later in the document). One of the ways it has violated this resolution is by building illegal settlements. These settlements, or colonies, are illegal because they violate UN Resolution 242. It is also illegal because it violates the Fourth Geneva Convention which states:
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
A second set of controls derives from Israel’s policy of “creating facts on the ground” – virtually all of them in violation of international law (including the Fourth Geneva Convention signed by Israel itself). These include:
* Massive expropriation of Palestinian land;
* Construction of more than 200 settlements and the transfer of 400,000 Israelis across the 1967 boundaries: about 200,000 in the West Bank, 200,000 in East Jerusalem and 6000 in Gaza (the latter occupying a fourth of the land, including most of the coastline);
* Carving the Occupied Territories into areas — Areas “A,” “B,” “C,” “D” in the West Bank; “H-1” and “H-2” in Hebron; Yellow, Green, Blue and White Areas in Gaza; nature reserves; closed military areas, security zones, and “open green spaces” of restricted housing over more than half of Palestinian East Jerusalem – which confine the Palestinians to some 190 islands all surrounded by Israeli settlements, roads and checkpoints;
* Carving the Occupied Territories into areas — Areas “A,” “B,” “C,” “D” in the West Bank; “H-1” and “H-2” in Hebron; Yellow, Green, Blue and White Areas in Gaza; nature reserves; closed military areas, security zones, and “open green spaces” of restricted housing over more than half of Palestinian East Jerusalem – which confine the Palestinians to some 190 islands all surrounded by Israeli settlements, roads and checkpoints;
* A massive system of highways and by-pass roads designed to link settlements, to create barriers between Palestinian areas and to incorporate the West Bank into Israel proper;
* Imposing severe controls on Palestinian movement;
* Construction of seven industrial parks that give new life to isolated settlements, exploit cheap Palestinian labor while denying it access to Israel, rob Palestinian cities of their economic vitality, control key locations and ensure Israel’s ability to continue dumping its industrial wastes onto the West Bank;
* Maintaining control over aquifers and other vital natural resources;
* Exploiting holy places (Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and others in and around Jerusalem) as pretexts for maintaining a “security presence,” and hence military control.
You asked me if these soldiers are armed and if they wear uniforms. The answer is yes to both of these questions. And their weapons are often pointed at you when you are in the checkpoint. There are certainly Israeli soldiers (who I prefer to call Israeli terrorists because they literally terrorize people who live here every day) who invade Palestinian villages and refugee camps in plain clothes, but as far as I know they are not at checkpoints. The checkpoints also serve as a base of operations for nightly invasions into each city, village, and refugee camp. Where I live, in Nablus, they come into the area almost every night and kidnap Palestinians and take them to jail or murder them (there are currently around 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners). Huwarra checkpoint by my house also contains a prison across a parking lot and an Israeli military base. I’m sure that it is difficult to imagine what this all looks like from Boise, Idaho so I’m going to end with photographs that give you a sense of the images to accompany my words. I will begin with a map of the West Bank Apartheid Wall (above); on it you will see the path of the wall is confiscating a tremendous amount of Palestinian land in order to include the illegal settlements within what Israel hopes will be its permanent borders (most of Palestinians’ water sources are included in this confiscated land too). Also notice the blue triangles, which denote illegal Israeli settlements. The second map (below) shows you most of the checkpoints inside the West Bank. Following the map are a series of captioned photographs that I took at various checkpoints over the past three years in Palestine. And one note on the Apartheid Wall, which will be of interested to the Brown Berets: Al Jazeera aired a documentary, which you can watch on their website or on Youtube, called “Walls of Shame.” It looked at four walls around the world and it included one on Palestine and one on the U.S. Mexico border. Incidentally, Bet El, an Israeli company, has been contracted to help build the wall along the U.S. Mexico border (Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine talks about this and gives specifics).
There is violence that targets Palestinians every day. Some of it comes from these illegal Israeli settlers that the Israeli army is here to protect. Some of it comes from the army itself. Here are some recent links about the checkpoints and also about its context.