Thursday, May 17, 2007

Remembering the Nakba, and Calling for Solutions

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions:

Anti-Apartheid Organizing Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine

Over the past five years, I have written countless articles in the Bard press describing in horrible detail some of the most destructive and pervasive policies of Zionist colonialism in Palestine.

A short list of Israeli abuses against the Palestinians include: the massive ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-1949, during which over one million Palestinians were forced from their homes, and to this day are prevented from returning, even though a UN resolution was passed supporting their unassailable right to return and reclaim their properties; water confiscation and well destruction en masse; agricultural theft and destruction en masse; cultural imperialism and colonialism (i.e. language, culture, food, relationship to the land); mass imprisonment and torture of civilians, including children; the wholesale destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, many of which now lie under so-called “Israeli National Forests” composed of post-1949 planted pine trees (an invasive species); and complete Israeli domination over Palestinian time and space, executed through control over personal and commercial freedom of movement, identification systems, surveillance and brute military force, among many other means.

Another, central element to Israeli oppression in Palestine is terrorism, marked saliently by the Israeli tendency towards collective punishment. Israel ignores international law as it does all of these things, and continues to press towards the complete de-Arabization of all of Palestine through its government and right-wing supported colonial movement in the West Bank, which comprises only 22% of historic Palestine. That is to say, although Israel took more land than it was offered and much more than it needed for its minority population, it has never once stopped taking more from the Palestinians.

As it has since 1948, Israel stands on the brink of formal apartheid, which will occur when the Palestinian population surpasses the Jewish Israeli population. In order to counter this so-called “demographic threat,” the Jewish state offers generous packages to potential Jewish immigrants to beef up the Jewish population. In other words, the Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed to make room for people who have yet to become Israeli citizens, or even express an interest in wanting to move to Israel. Today, the ethnic cleansing campaigns that began in 1947 continue, albeit through less obvious means than forced expulsions and massacres. Now, mystical, meaningless military orders and permit regulations are held up as “legitimate” means towards the de-Palestinianization of Palestine in its entirety.

I am one of billions of people on this planet who find Israel’s behavior, historically and through to the present day, unacceptable, illegal and immoral. For various reasons both real and imagined, US Americans, particularly whites, have a very skewed perception of what happens (and what happened) in Palestine. As Ilan Pappe cautioned in his groundbreaking new work, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” I hold no illusions that telling the truth about Zionism and Palestine will change the views most Americans hold. It is incredibly difficult, approaching impossible, to convince the public that a people who have been colonized, dispossessed and oppressed for 60 years are not the victimizers. Equally difficult is convincing people that those who do the colonizing, dispossessing and oppressing are not heroes.

Noel Ignatiev, author of “How the Irish Became White,” argues that the goal of “those commonly associated with whiteness” (i.e. white people) should not be to convince other white people of the ills of white supremacy. This is a waste of energy and time. Instead, white radicals should make every effort to find other whites who are “dissatisfied with the terms of membership in the white club” and develop solid bases from which to organize meaningfully against white supremacy.

In the same vein, I do not believe that educating the Zionist masses about Palestinian suffering under their boots will do much to stop the domination or reverse the racism inherent to Zionist ideology. Instead, people who are already committed to real and lasting justice in Palestine, with peace to come later, must band together and call in a loud and unified voice for a widespread “BDS” campaign. Boycott, divestment and sanctions worked in South Africa, and there is no reason to suspect that it cannot work in Palestine.

White South Africans did not want to be boycotted or divested from. In the USA, the racist bus companies in the South did not want to be boycotted, either. Obviously, the Zionist organizations and individuals who “support Israel” will reject the “BDS” strategy from the outset. And this is good. The moment radical justice organizations are praised by the powers that be, we should all quit and go home. Only real economic and political pressure from the outside will force Israel into complying with international law and UN resolutions. We must act now…before it is too late.

For information on various boycotts, see

For a Palestinian perspective on the necessity of the boycott campaign, see Omar Barghouti’s article “Why Boycott Israel” at

For an Israeli perspective on the necessity of the boycott, see the debate between Israeli historians Baruch Kimmerling (opposed to the boycott) and Ilan Pappe (in favor) at

Monday, February 26, 2007

Re-occupation of Nablus

Early Sunday morning, before the February 25 dawn, Israeli army bulldozers, armored personnel carriers (APCs) and jeeps began to roll into the Palestinian city of Nablus. The personnel and heavy equipment came from two military bases on either side of the valley city, from atop mountains that surround it to the south and north.

At one in the morning residents of Nablus’ impoverished Old City began to hear the noises of screeching, clunking bulldozers building make-shift walls around the medina. Large trash receptacles and cars were destroyed on top of one another, blocking all paths and roads in and out of the winding streets and alleys. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, “Soon after, [Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF)] bulldozers placed sand barriers and cement blocks in the middle of Faisal Street in the east of the city, dividing the city into two parts. IOF then besieged the National Hospital in the center of the city and Rafidya Hospital...”

Soon after they had sealed the city, the Israeli army exercised their control of the electro-magnetic waves by interrupting local television and radio broadcasting. The local news was stopped short by a broadcast from a commanding Israeli military official, who told viewers and listeners to stay inside their homes. Under no circumstances, he said, were civilians to go to the street. The total curfew, he said, would keep the people “safe.” He then told people that the army was occupying the city in order to rid it of “bad elements.” He warned civilians not to leave their homes, and not to hide wanted men. This marks the first time the army has used their control over the airwaves to deliver messages to the Palestinian public in Nablus. Previously, they have used the less effective and more expensive method of dropping leaflets from the sky.

The army also arrested Sheikh Nabegh Nafez Braik, 43, the owner and manager of Sanabel Television, after they broke into the television station. The Sheikh’s wife reported that the army took her husband and also “confiscated a number of computer sets and video recorders and cassettes” from the station.

Meanwhile, the army had begun to do what are euphemistically called “house-to-house searches” throughout the Old City and the Rafidia neighborhood. These searches, many conducted by 18 and 19 year old Israeli soldiers, involve military units breaking into homes in the middle of the night, screaming to get everyone in the house into one room, and then thoroughly ran-sacking the house or apartment. Palestinians frequently report having money and gold stolen during these searches, as well as humiliating behavior such as soldiers defecating on mattresses, and destructive behavior, like shooting into electronics and breaking china.

Each and every home would be searched until the eight wanted men are in Israeli custody, the Israeli official said in his broadcast. Thus far the army has not found any of the men, though it has arrested at least six others. As usual, no charges have been made against any of the arrested men beyond affiliation with an Israeli-banned party or organization. The army has also occupied the Jamal 'Abdul Nasser School, and is using it as an interrogation center for young men between the ages of 18 and 35, who they are rounding up for questioning and perhaps arrest. Both Nablus universities and all schools were closed on Sunday and Monday; a local superintendent said that schools will remain closed for the duration of the curfew.

In addition to occupying the Jamal 'Abdul Nasser School, the army has also occupied several homes and rooftops in the Old City, locking the homeowners into one room and using the homes as temporary military bases and sniper positions.

Home occupations and house-to-house searches have been proven to cause severe post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly among children. Extraordinarily large numbers of children wet their beds and have fitful nightmares of the army invading their homes. Fifty percent of Palestinians living in Nablus are under the age of 18, and for many children this invasion is not the first they have experienced. The re-traumatization of children caused by the recurrence of home occupations and searches cannot be overstated for its deleterious effect on the psyche of child, family and community.

For the duration of the siege, children are forced to remain indoors along with the rest of their families. In Israeli occupying language, ‘curfew’ means constant, 24-hour siege during which civilians are prevented from leaving their homes. Defiance of the curfew by Anan al-Tibi, 50, and his son brought them death and injury. Israeli soldiers shot the father in the neck and killed him on impact; his son, walking next to him, was shot in the leg and then denied access to medical assistance. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that they were both unarmed and shot without any provocation or warning.

The raid is the largest in Nablus in the past year or so. Over 100 Israeli vehicles are taking part in the invasion and re-occupation of the ancient city. All public commercial, civic and educational life has come to a complete halt for the more than 205,300 people who live in the metropolitan region.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Saying Goodbye

Leaving Palestine is like nothing else. There are so many unanswered questions and unfortunate truths in my mind as I gather my belongings. Sorting through my things, I make sure that there is no sign of Palestinian life in my baggage. Passing through the airport is difficult enough; I don't want the Israeli authorities to have any excuse for their rude behavior. It is so sad, this erasure of my friends and their culture. It is such a symbol of what Israel has done and continues to do. They cannot be reminded of the existence of the Palestinian people. They will be angry to see that I have not removed my kuffiyeh (Palestinian scarf) from my bag. I guess this is a small act of resistance. It is both the least and the most I can do under the circumstances.

Leaving Palestine is always difficult. The last time I left, I took pictures of the 'progress' of Israeli construction of the apartheid wall. Upon my arrival one month ago, I was dismayed but unsurprised to find the monstrous, life-taking barrier had grown immensely while I was gone.

A few nights ago, after watching a documentary on the violence in
Iraq and then news programs describing the fighting among Palestinians in Gaza, I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamt that Palestine had become like Iraq, with people of different factions causing chaos and wreaking havoc on the peace-seeking civilian population. There were explosions everywhere; one's only thoughts focused on bare survival. When I go to get bread today, will I come back? Should I go to the market now, or wait a few hours until the inevitable bomb strikes? Will my children come home from school today?

I hope that this nightmare will stay forever in the realm of the subconscious. My greatest fear for this land is that the Americans and Israelis will succeed with their plan to destroy the Palestinians from the inside. If the power-struggle catapults into all-out war, how will people here continue to have even a glimmer of hope to get them through the worst of Israeli ethnic cleansing policies? How will people resist Israeli occupation if their guns are turned on one another?

So this time, in January 2007, leaving
Palestine worries me in manner that is completely new and terrifying. We activists in the West, and all Palestinians at birth, understand well that Israel is not a benevolent partner for a just peace for all people in the Holy Land. Leaving Palestine has always been difficult; I have always expected that the occupation's mechanisms of control will be more difficult, more crushing, when (and if) I return. But this time it is different. Now, the unknown is the greatest fear.

Antonio Gramsci once wrote of the "pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will." He could not have better described how I feel today, packing my things to leave my friends in their open air prisons.

My pessimistic side, apparently manifest in my subconscious as well as the nagging thoughts in the forefront of my brain, sees the worst. It knows full well what will happen. The Israelis and Americans will get their wish: the Palestinians will kill one another and this place will spiral out of control. Resistance to the occupation will come to a virtual halt as civic, education, peace and intellectual leaders scramble to put bandages on the US-sponsored gunshot wound to the heart of
Palestine, solidarity among the people.

In the
US, my government is sending more than 17,500 troops, most of them reserve soldiers, to Iraq. Bush continues to terrorize the American public, cutting social and education spending and fattening the pockets of the fat-cats who bought his election. One in three homeless Americans is a war veteran. Ninety percent of soldiers being redeployed to Iraq are heavily sedated, taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. The divorce rate among veterans of the Iraq war is over seventy percent. The war on the poor and on people of color continues unabated. Over two million Americans, most of them people of color, languish in prisons where torture is commonplace and access to health care virtually non-existent. The fastest growing prison population is Black women. Most of the incarcerated are serving time for non-violent crimes.

My optimistic side, that which allows me to rise in the morning hopeful for a better tomorrow for all of the world, clings to positive developments. Palestinian leaders are calling for calm; they are calling a spade a spade, denouncing nefarious American and Israeli involvement in intra-Palestinian affairs. They are pleading with the factions to end the fighting, and the majority of the Palestinian population (as far as I can tell) support these pleas and add their voices to the cries for solidarity.

Washington DC this weekend, half of a million people demonstrated against the illegal and immoral war against the Iraqi people. Four congresspeople made courageous statements to the effect that Bush is a liar and a coward, and that they will see to it to do all in their power to follow through with the American public's demand to end the occupation. Organizations representing the poor, people of color, and women rallied together to denounce American imperialism and demand that we fight poverty and AIDS instead of Middle Eastern people. Slowly, Americans are beginning to realize that the terror/security paradigm so flagrantly abused by the US and Israeli governments is simply a veil, covering their lofty plans for domination and violence.

These things are all well and good. But, as the Palestinians know after nearly sixty years of occupation, talk is cheap. It is time for justice and peace seeking Americans and Israelis to stand up, to denounce firmly the actions of their governments, and to turn the tide away from violence and towards reconciliation. It is the responsibility of people of European descent to combat the racism that lies at the heart of so many of the world’s problems. It is the responsibility of all Americans to end the
US siege of the Palestinian government, as it is ours to demand and work towards an end to the occupations of both Palestine and Iraq. Palestinians and Iraqis are capable of defending themselves up to a point. But, due to extraordinary biased American involvement in the region, they cannot do it alone. We must stand in solidarity with them, for them, for ourselves, and for our collective future.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Palestinians fight and Israelis smile

Israel's plan is working. Nineteen Palestinians were killed in internecine fighting yesterday in the Gaza strip; seventy-something were injured. Here in the West Bank, twenty-five Hamas activists were captured by Fateh armed men. I'm sure you've read this, or will read it, in American or European press. I will therefore tell you some things you probably will not read there.

Firstly, in a development that I cannot quite understand yet, as soon as it became apparent that Fateh was going to do their dirty work for them, the Israelis slightly eased travel restrictions on Palestinians traveling throughout the West Bank.

Second, an arms race, led, as usual, by the United States and its ally, Israel, has begun in the Palestinian occupied territories. Ha'aretz reported today that in yesterday's fighting, Fateh men were able to ward off a group of Hamas militants using 'armored vehicles and personnel carriers' (in other words, military jeeps and small tanks). Never have the Palestinians, any of them, had access to such weaponry. The arms race is a central part of the United States' and Israel's plan to overthrow the Palestinian elected government in a violent coup. Like many of their most brilliant and sinister ideas, this one revolves around the age-old colonial tactic of employing one faction of the dispossessed to do their bidding for them and crush those who are slightly more radical in opposition to the colonists. Fateh is this easy-to-control faction, and they are indeed following through with the Bush-Olmert plan to destroy the legitimacy of the Palestinian government---and along the way, distract the Palestinians from doing what they should be doing. That is, fighting the occupation and developing, not demolishing, their society.

I wrote a while back about how this is happening but for simplicity's sake will say it again. The US has pledged 80 million dollars to the Palestinians. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, ALL of the money will be controlled not by the Parliament, but by Abbas himself. Most of it is earmarked for the military training, by American commanders, of Abbas' 'Presidential Guard'. Death squad, anyone?

Meanwhile, as the US beefs up Fateh's so-called 'security' services, Iran and Syria are reportedly following suit in increasing their military aid and weapons shipments to the Hamas fighters.

Sounds like Afghanistan, huh? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if, and in fact will predict here for the world to see, that these weapons, both those of Fateh and Hamas, someday end up killing or targeting the occupation. Unfortunately, that day is not today. In the meantime, Palestinians are engaging in a West-driven power struggle over the keys to the government. Meanwhile, Palestinian citizens are still under occupation, and the government seems to have forgotten about its responsibilities to its people.

Finally, and most horrifyingly, I read today on the Israeli Ha'aretz newspaper the following headline, 'A Relative Win', followed by the byline 'For the first time since clashes began, Hamas casualties outnumbered those of Fateh'.

I click on the link to the story, nervous about what I assume I will find therein---Israelis gloating about how this one tactic in their larger strategy to destroy the Palestinians is succeeding. (Hurrah!) Unfortunately, my assumption is mostly correct. And even more disturbing are the comments left by Israeli and foreign readers. Just a sample of the racist remarks: 'Sadly, this is how the Arabs of Palestine communicate' and 'May it continue to be a back and forth battle'.

Check out the article for yourself if you like:

But! If you are going to read those half-truths, please also see this brilliant piece by Hasan Abu Nimah, the former Jordanian representative to the United Nations:

And see this one, too, by longtime MidEast reporter Jonathan Cook:

Or, for a primer of the 'civil war' situation and how it developed, see the ElectronicIntifada sourcepage at:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One Dead, 7 Injured in Nablus Raid last night

The Israeli occupying army invaded the Old City of Nablus last night, looking for wanted men. They didn't find whoever they were looking for, but perhaps as a consolation they killed one man and injured seven others, one critically. We here in Balata didn't know about the invasion until this morning, but it apparently raged on all night into the morning.

The streets of the Old City were quiet today for a Thursday. Shops closed their doors, and the few that remained open left only small signs that they were in operation. Since the beginning of the second intifada, shops have closed their doors on days following operations during which people were killed, out of respect for the dead. This was the first person Israel has killed in the West Bank since the January 4 invasion of Ramallah, which left four dead and twenty-something injured. Inshallah he will be the last, though this is an unreasonable hope.

In the past year, during which the intifada has basically ended, Israel has killed more than 400 Palestinians. In this time, the Palestinians virtually ceased all violent attacks on Israeli civilians (minus, of course, the silly rocket attacks launched from Gaza, which rarely do any damage at all, usually landing somewhere in the desert).

In other developments, it appears as if Israel is going ahead with its master plan to divide the West Bank into three separate cantons (or bantustans). No one in the American (or European, for that matter) press will mention these developments, and it is hard to be sure of exactly what they mean for the future of this country. But from the ground, up, one cannot miss the unmistakable signs of Israeli construction and cement laying.

The plan involves taking away most of the 100-something barriers and checkpoints that prevent Palestinians from moving within their ever-shrinking territory. Instead of operating all of these costly checkpoints, the Israelis are opting for a simpler solution. A 'Final Solution,' if you will. If the plan goes forward to completion, there will soon be only three or four, major checkpoints in the West Bank. They've already finished construction on the first, the Kalandia checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It looks more like an international border crossing than a checkpoint. Apparently the Israelis will construct two more of these monstrosities, dividing the West Bank into three. Passage between the cantons, like nearly everything else here, will be arbitrarily decided by the occupiers.

Each time I return to this scarred landscape, it is changed for the worse. I can't imagine what it will be like the next time I come.

Meanwhile, discussion of the conflict here is in 'official' America reduced to the following:
do we wait until the PA has completely destroyed itself, or should we intervene now and help it destroy itself? No discussion of occupation exists. There is no historical context for what occurs here, unless of course the discussion returns abruptly to the ancient Kingdom of David or the 20th century Nazi holocaust of the Jews. The two-thousand years between these two events have disappeared from the record.

Fortunately, not everyone forgets these years. Perhaps this is why Israeli scientists have for years been attempting to prove that Jewish and Palestinian DNA strands show a close, nearly familial relation. Unfortunately, this science is not read as we may hope it would be---you are brothers! You should unite! No no no, it is instead used to justify the presence of a racist, Zionist state inside of Palestine. Instead of serving as an opportunity to unite the people of this land, this science, and numerous others, is used to erase Palestinian history and cover it with the however thin skin of Jewish right to the land---and even to the extermination of the people in it. 'See,' the Israeli media and scientific establishment proclaim, 'we were here! They are our relations, and that proves that Jews have a right to kill them and take their land!'

The Palestinians, and most other people in the world, do not see it in this light. When will American foreign policy-makers wake up to the realization that our official support for Israel does nothing positive for anyone? All we can do is continue to work against racism in every form---in our hearts and minds, our government at home and its exportation to other lands. It pains me to see racism tear apart communities in the US, and the same thing happening here, three thousand miles away. What began in Europe during the so-called 'Enlightenment' is spiraling out of control in an age we euphemistically refer to as 'globalized'. If we are only globalizing neo-liberal economics and European racism, I vote against it.

Luckily, here in Palestine I witness a different kind of globalization. This one revolves around concepts such as peace based on political, racial, social and economic justice. I am fortunate to have been able to travel here and witness this other, explicitly political form of globalization. It is my hope that oppressed peoples all over the world will be able to take back what is theirs, building a better world together through a united front against all forms of oppression and for a better world for all of the world's children. Meanwhile, we white people (even those of us who are among the oppressed) need to confront ourselves and our institutions and call them what they are: racist, dehumanizing and wrong. Then we've got to step aside, for once, and stop being in control.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tomatoes, Coffee, Gas, Horror and Silence

Every single object carries significance that goes far beyond those things we would normally associate with them. Here, in occupied Palestine, life is hard. Objects tell stories just like the people do: constant, beating stories. Like fierce monsoons, they pelt at you, daring you to challenge their significance. And yet like individual raindrops in a monsoon, each story is but one of millions. They ultimately roll off your back; you must shake them from your shoes when you enter the house. Like raindrops, each story takes a slightly different shape, but they all carry the same pollutants. Life here in occupied Palestine is hard.

Objects carry significance here that a visitor could not imagine. Each object carries with it millions of stories; they fill my heart and my head and make me feel at once like crying and screaming.

Take first tomatoes: the Israelis have started a sinister campaign of buying nearly all of the Palestinian farmers' tomatoes. They are then sold to Europe, for prices ten times what the destitute farmers receieved for their toil. This has had a double effect on the Palestinian economy: it has made local, Palestinian tomatoes so expensive that Palestinians cannot afford to buy them. Thus, they buy cheap, GMO and pesticide filled Israeli tomatoes, injecting millions of shekels into the Israeli economy and boosting the subsidy-fat Israeli agricultural industry. (Bear in mind that the land upon which 'Israeli' tomatoes are grown has all, all of it, been confiscated from the Palestinian fellahin.)

A similar game is played with gas. Most Palestinians rely on gas to survive. In the camps and villages, as in other parts of Palestine, there is no central heating or cooling in any of the homes. People use gas powered heaters on rollers. Everyone uses gas to cook. The Israelis play a dangerous game with people's lives; each month, there is no gas for at least one or two weeks. Why? The Israelis close off the Jordanian and Egyptian borders to gasoline only. Israel will not sell gas to the Palestinians. 'What do people do without?' I asked. 'They don't cook, and they stay in bed,' a friend said. No hot food, no hot showers, no warmth beyond the waves emanating off of loved ones, or the smile of a child. There is a slow, painful genocide happening here. I can't bear to think of the US, where the events of the day, of the year, of the decade, of the century, are boiled down ultimately to the inherent evil of 'the Arab mind', or 'terrorism', or, not least, 'Jewish suffering'.

Another example: coffee. I watched a film tonight, made by a Nablusi university student. The five minute short tells the agonizing story of a young man, twelve years old, from a village near Nablus. The best student in his class, his life changed drastically when his father became ill. Life in the villages is very difficult. Not only are the people almost universally impoverished (economically, of course), but they bear the brunt of the worst kind of Israeli racism. Settlements tower over them, or lie hostile on the hilltops next to them. Settlers frequently make a game out of terrorizing Palestinian villagers, beating children, harassing women, killing men. This all occurs under the protection of the Israeli occupying army.

After his father became ill, the young boy, the eldest of 15, became the breadwinner for his large family. With little options for work, he set out to sell coffee at the Huwarra checkpoint, south of Nablus. Each morning he rises with the sun, sets out on his bicycle, and makes for the checkpoint with his two thermoses of hot, sweet, Arabic coffee. He sells until his classes begin. After school, he returns immediately to the checkpoint to sell again. In the film, he tells of the trials of selling coffee. More than three times has he been beaten by soldiers, his thermoses cracked, the brown, gooey coffee spilling out on the dirty ground. His crime? Delaying Palestinians who were ordered to 'COME!' by the scared, angry teenagers who rule the checkpoints like evil little princes.

During the shooting of the film, the young boy's father died. The young boy tells of his life: 'After I started working at the checkpoint, my grades plummetted. I was making A's, and now I am making B's and C's in all of my classes. I cannot play with my brothers and sisters. I cannot watch TV with them. I have no time for myself.' Those meager free moments he cherishes he spends at the cemetary, visiting his late father's grave. There is little hope for this young man, though he manages to crack a smile through his tears as he stares wide-eyed into the camera.

Before you become bored by the monsoon, indulge in a few more stories. Allow yourself to feel a few more of the genocidal raindrops on your shoulders before you brush them off, as we all must in order to wake in the morning and smile with those we love.

Horror films. A friend of a friend came over to the flat tonight to help us do a few things on the computer I brought here, to leave here. His English was impeccable (a rarity in the camp), and he seemed excited to talk with me about American films and rap music. He is somewhat of a computer whiz, and opened up his server on our laptop, providing me with a plethora of American films to choose from for our (bootlegging) viewing pleasure. He spoke of a few, and then his eyes widened.

'Do you like horror films?' he asked. 'Sort of,' I said, 'depending on my mood.' He pointed to one of them and told me that it was positively terrifying, that if we were to download and watch it, we should keep the lights on. In half jest and half earnest, I mentioned in an aside that it seemed silly to watch horror films in a place plagued by so much true, everyday terror. At first he laughed and shrugged, saying, 'What is there to be afraid of here?' 'The army,' I replied, without hesitation. He immediately responded: 'No! The army isn't to be feared. They are cowards.'

'Maybe so,' I said, 'but they kill people without abandon. They are truly terrifying, more so than any American horror flick could even aspire to be.' This friend of a friend became suddenly quiet, and I saw tears budding in his chocolate brown eyes. 'I suppose you are right,' he said at last. 'It is something to watch your own brother take his last breaths and slip away from you, right in between your two hands.'

'I suppose you are right.'

Finally, I'll end with another story, one that says everything and nothing all at once.

A good friend and I were just talking, wading together through the ocean of tears, walking head on together into the monsoon of polluted water without anything but the cover of our friendship and his unbreakable spirit to keep us afloat.

We ended up, as we usually do, speaking of the tragedy of occupation and dispersion and death and violence and poverty and racism in more broad terms, taking in the shapes of the monsoons of yesterday and of those breaking through into the horizon that will be tomorrow. Without the flowers, what I mean to say is that we ended by discussing 'the conflict' as it is felt by Palestinians and Israelis both.

He told me, 'You know as well as I do that this will not stop just because we fight against it. It must stop because they too want to make peace with us, a real and lasting peace based on mutual respect, dignity, and most of all, trust.' Of course I agreed with him, and he continued.

'But it is not easy, and sometimes it is hard to shake my hopelessness. You know me,' he said. 'I am a good man, I want nothing but peace for my children, for the children of Palestine and for Israel's children as well. But how can we have peace if we cannot even stand to talk to one another?'

'I had a friend,' he said, 'who worked with an Israeli group called Breaking the Silence. This is a group of former Israeli occupying soldiers who have come out against the occupation, and who publicly repent for their sins by telling their own stories, telling of how they individually and of how their army collectively abuses the rights and dignities of each and every Palestinian each and every day. They speak in America, in Europe, in Israel. This friend of mine, she knew that I had been involved with the resistance. And she knew one of the soldiers who had come out and broken his and his nation's collective silence. She asked me if I would meet with him. I oblidged, excited to have the opportunity to speak with one of the men who occupied and terrorized a house of people I know, here, a few years ago. The soldier said that he wanted to personally apologize to the people who lived in that house. Anyway, we went to meet one another. Me, a Palestinian radical who spent time in an Israeli prison. Him, a colonial soldier who participated in human rights abuses against my people, my neighbors, and me. We met with a larger group of people, and we sat together in that group for four hours.'

'Do you know,' he said to me, 'that I could barely look at him? We came together because we wanted to talk, we wanted to hear one another and try to understand the other man, and by extension, his nation, his people, his sorrows and his joys.'

'So how did it go?' I asked.

'We did not say one word to one another for the entire time,' he said, mournfully but with purpose. 'I could not speak. I did not know where to begin.'

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Balata scenes

Since arriving in Balata, things have been relatively calm. The camp looks much the same to me as it did 1.5 years ago when I was last here.

Balata is the densest place on earth, in human terms. It is the size of about two football fields, approximately 1.5 square kilometers. In this small space, wedged between the Tomb of Jacob to the east, the Jerusalem-Nablus road to the north, and Balata village to the west, live about 30,000 Palestinian refugees. These people are decendents from people who fled villages near Jaffa, a city now known as Yaffa, which lies inside the borders of Palestine '48 (otherwise known as Israel). Some of the people in Balata are old enough to have actually made the trek themselves; there is a film on the website that includes interviews with older women who still remember the fragrant orange and lemon trees of their former home.

Dense as it is, people have little choice but to build up. When a Palestinian man gets married and has a family of his own, he must either live with his parents or build a flat on top of his parents' home. The blueprint of the camp is like a maze to outsiders. This is because in 1952, when Jaffa refugees finally settled here after nearly four years of poverty stricken wandering, the UN gave them tents in which to build their new lives and community. Those tents form the foundation of the camp today. In 1956, after four years of suffering through cold, rainy winters, and hot, mericless summers, the refugees of Jaffa finally accepted the UN's offer of concrete blocks with which to build homes. The people had perceptively denied accepting the offer even through great suffering; they did not want to build permanent structures here because they were determined to go home.

Well, fifty years later, they and four generations of their decendents are still here. Grandparents and great-grandparents pass down stories to the younger ones about what life was like in that pristine, beautiful oceanside land they still call home. Even four year old children know about their people's troubled past. When asked where they are from, most children do not say Balata. Without hesitation, they say 'Jaffa!'

Because the camp started as a tent city, the buildings are impossibly close together. Some alleyways are so narrow that fat people cannot pass through them. In many houses in the camp one cannot ever tell the difference between day and night; the sun rarely shines into Balata.

The past few nights have been on par with what is considered normal here. The night before last, the army came. They drove through the streets in about 15 jeeps and then drove away without doing much of anything. Last night they came again. This time, they brought with them a few bulldozers and set off five soundbombs. The purpose of these missions? Purely to terrorize, to remind the people here that they are here, that they have not gone away. Not that the people could forget; only a few kilometers from here is one of the largest occupation military bases in the West Bank. From the camp each night, you can hear the occupiers training their young thugs. Between this gunfire and the shots the fighters in the camp ring out each night, many people go sleepless. Others are simply accomstomed. I must admit I am in the latter camp. There are only so many times that aimless gunfire can startle you. A famous poet once remarked that human beings get used to war faster than almost anything else. It's true.

Today, M. and I head out to speak with a few people who we want to become involved with the school project. Due to the miserable situation among the Palestinian factions here, we have cancelled the idea of starting a full-on school. Instead, we plan to do an after school program with many of the same goals. A large part of the project will still be college prep work, with an eye toward assisting students in applying to, gaining acceptance to and finding funds to attend universities throughout the world.

(Speaking of the in-fighting among Palestinians, I have some pretty harsh condemnations of the US, the EU and Israel to unleash. I don't, however, have the time. Instead of writing something now, I am copying an article I wrote for the Bard paper a few months ago. I hate to say it, but I was right. Please read on if you'd like to know how this situation became so bleak. I'm sure the NY Times is not telling you what is really going on...)

The New Contras
November 6, 2006

The liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz recently reported that US military advisors have for about a month been working to train Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Presidential Guard in expectance of what the US and Israel believe will be an inevitable---and bloody---civil war between the ruling Hamas government and Abbas’ party, Fatah.

The US government and the EU, presumably at the behest of Israel, have since the Hamas’ democratic election to Palestinian government in January of 2006 done everything possible to oust the democratically elected leaders. Israel, for its part, has arrested and jailed more than 30 Palestinian Parliament members from the Hamas party. Israel refuses to acknowledge the Palestinian right to democratically elect its own leadership, evidenced by these arrests, the state’s endorsement of international sanctions against the PA, and the general intensification of the occupation throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The international community and the Israeli occupying forces are punishing the Palestinians for voting their conscience.

The results of US/EU sanctions against the Palestinians have been shocking. Hunger and malnourishment in Palestine have skyrocketed. The unemployment level is higher than it ever has been. All public school students (more than a million pupils) have stayed at home since September, some students being turned away from the schools each morning, fighting with hope against hopelessness that their teachers will have stopped their strike. Why are teachers striking? The Palestinian government, shrunken and penniless, cannot pay their salaries. This situation is even more devastating to Palestinian youth and families because the major checkpoints that separate Palestinian cities from one another have been near impossible to pass.

A Palestinian friend of mine from Nablus, for example, has not been out of the city-prison since April 2006. The soldiers at the checkpoint south of the city have informed him that ‘no men’ are allowed to leave Nablus for the foreseeable future. To put this in context for readers unfamiliar with the terrain, it is important to note that Nablus is in the dead center of the West Bank. Therefore, the situation has nothing to do with Israeli ‘security’ interests. Palestinians are prevented from traveling even within the larger prison that is the West Bank. In Gaza the situation is even worse, as Israel bombs without hesitation what it cannot or will not understand.

The same Nablusi friend who has been trapped inside his city for months told me that the situation inside the city is worse now than ever before. Besides the crippling poverty, unemployment and restrictions on movement between towns and cities, the army has gravely stepped up its violence against Palestinian civilians. During the holy Muslim period of Ramadan, for example, the Israeli army killed four people at Huwarra checkpoint, south of Nablus. One of these men was planning to go to neighboring Ramallah to meet his wife and visit with her family for a holiday dinner to break the fast. The man was denied passage through the checkpoint at Huwarra, and proceeded to do what many Palestinians do in such circumstance: he started to walk through the hills, trying to go around the checkpoint. Unfortunately, he was shot point-blank from a military sniper tower and killed. Within the Israeli military, no questions were asked. Now, for his family, none are answered.

In this context of increasing oppression and violence, US involvement is striking. Never before has the US military engaged with the Palestinian via military training camps. So why are they doing it now? According to Ha’aretz, the “U.S. administration is…certain that the sanctions against Hamas will inevitably result in a violent confrontation between Hamas and Fatah, and in such a scenario, they would prefer to strengthen the "good guys" headed by Abbas.” In other words, they, along with Europe and Israel, are forcing a civil war on the Palestinians (via sanctions) and then choosing the victor (via the training of death squads).

The US hopes that Fatah’s Presidential Guard Force 17, under the supervision and leadership of American military man Keith Dayton, will grow from 3,500 to 6,000 men. One only has to look back at the numerous examples of US military training intervention throughout Latin America to see how this spells disaster for the Palestinian people. Disaster, spelled: flagrant human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians and the enactment of widespread US-sponsored, US-supported and US-educated terror.

A friend connected to the conflict remarked on what may result from such terror: “One might imagine that hundreds of thousands [of Palestinians] would flee an internecine bloodbath; then Canada and the EU-- or Jordan and Lebanon-- take them in as refugees, and later they aren't allowed to return home. Voila! Greater Israel's problems are solved.” While such a terrible ending may not result from these US meddlings in its ‘New Middle East’, the terror is surely to come. And when it does, it would benefit us all to remember that it is not, in a certain sense at least, the Palestinians’ problem. Responsibility for intra-Palestinian violence lies squarely upon Israel, the US and Europe. Let us not forget it in the coming months.