Sunday, January 30, 2005

pat interrogated by shin bet

the last time i saw pat was in the faisal, a small, inexpensive flat with dorm beds in palestinian jerusalem. he was drinking tea, and, as usual, involved in some sort of negotiation over work for ism's media production, carrying two cell phones and a computer full of reports, press releases. all attempts to do what ism sets out to do, and what is impossible to accomplish: give voice to the oppressed as a means of forcing policy change.

pat is a soft spoken guy. his testimony of detention, interrogation and subsequent imprisonment is shocking only because it comes from him. power has served its self-destructive purpose with patrick; a 'political', his message is too close to the truth and must be criminalized, fear-inspiring, traitorous. the shin bet (israeli internal 'intelligence') believes him to be a terrorist. he is getting in the way.


My Interview with the Shin Bet (Patrick O'Connor)

Recently the Israeli authorities have begun searching for and
arresting experienced ISM and international activists. My arrest and
attempted deportation is another example of this. Evidently the
Israeli authorities find nonviolent resistance and active support of
Palestinian rights to be threatening. Despite claims to the contrary,
they have adopted an unstated goal of breaking down and eliminating
the ISM and other groups using nonviolence to support Palestinian rights.

During the past three years over 100 ISMers have been denied entry and
62 deported. At the same time Israeli authorities have launched a
propaganda campaign against ISM and other activists, with attempts to
falsely link them with terrorism. My recent interrogation by the Shin
Bet shed some light on the tactics.

On the morning of January 25th I was taken from a Ben Gurion airport
detention center to Maasiyahu prison in Ramle. I was put in a 20 foot
by 10 foot cell with six other men served with deportation orders.
After a few hours I was called from my cell without explanation. My
legs were cuffed together and I was led out of my section to another
building. I was taken into a room with two men in plainclothes. They
closed the door, searched me thoroughly, and then set me down with the
leg cuffs still on.

The two men were fit, had short hair and sport shirts - typical Shin
Bet agents. Only one spoke, the other observed. He began by saying
he's from the Shin Bet (Israeli domestic security services, or GSS),
and he asked me if I knew why the Shin Bet was interested in the ISM.
I answered that their interest was misplaced because the ISM supports
nonviolent Palestinian resistance, and there should be no reason for
Israel to oppose that. He laughed and said that the Palestinians might
be nonviolent by day and violent by night.

Then he started on the internationals, mentioning two incidents from
2003 that have been badly distorted and are often used by Israeli
authorities to slander the ISM. He brought up the arrest of a "wanted"
man in the ISM apartment in Jenin and the two British suicide bombers,
people who had absolutely no connection with the ISM. He didn't seem
interested in listening to my response (for details on these two
incidents see at the frequently asked questions

Instead he had read my affidavit to the court in 2003 from my appeal
of my denied entry, and he claimed it said that I had participated in
violent demonstrations. I responded that he had misread my affidavit,
because it said clearly that I have participated in peaceful
demonstrations that had been met with violence by the Israeli
military. I also told him that if the "secret evidence" against me
were revealed, it would not stand up to scrutiny.

He asked me if I had ever carried correspondence for "wanted men,"
helped wanted men to move about or given my passport for someone else
to use. He asked if I had ever hit a soldier or thrown stones. He
asked if I had ever received weapons or arms training. I answered with
indignant no's, saying I was a nonviolent activist. He said "maybe you
are a real peace activist but can you guarantee that others are?" I
told him that ISM requires all activists to commit to using only
nonviolent means.

He asked me for names of Palestinians working with the ISM. I told him
that I was sure he had other sources of information and that I would
not give him any information. He also asked me if I was familiar with
Israeli peace activist Tali Fahima (jailed and accused of being in
contact with "wanted" men from Jenin) and whether I had met Zakaria
Zbedi (The head of El Aqsa brigades in Jenin). I said, "While I have
heard of both, I have met neither." The interview ended and I was
returned shackled to my cell.

There are issues I was afraid to discuss frankly during my
interrogation - issues relating to Israeli violence, Israeli double
standards, international law and the arrest of Tali Fahima. The Shin
Bet agents are in a position of power over me as I sit in an Israeli
prison. I know they may distort and manipulate things I say to punish
me and achieve their goal of damaging the ISM. However, the inequality
of power and threat of punishment is far less for me than it is for a
Palestinian who goes through interrogation. I have governments, which
will support me and prevent the worst abuses. I can afford a good
lawyer, who I will be given access to. I have a strong support group
and access to the media. I will also leave here and will not continue
to live under Israeli control.

Over and over again we have seen that the international community will
not protect Palestinians from Israeli abuses. They can be imprisoned
arbitrarily and tortured. They are often denied access to lawyers,
their homes, lands and their jobs. Freedom of movement can be taken
away, and their families threatened with the same punishments. The
media will not cover their story. Nor do Palestinians have an option
to escape Israeli domination. Power and threats mean that the Shin Bet
interrogation of a Palestinian will only produce incomplete and
twisted information.

What disturbed me most about my interrogation with the Shin Bet agent,
was his seeming certainty about his information. Not only do the
Israeli authorities produce propaganda about the Occupation and about
the ISM, but some of them appear to believe it themselves. The Shin
Bet also seems to aim to intimidate by giving the appearance of being
all knowing, but their "intelligence" is obviously badly flawed.
Israeli intelligence is generated from collaborators, surveillance and
interrogation. It serves the corrupt and corrupting goals of continued
military occupation, land seizure, domination and manipulation.

Israeli intelligence treats all forms of opposition as threats to be
eliminated. It labels all Palestinians as terrorists and all Israelis
and internationals who work with them as collaborators with terrorism.
This produces a distorted characterization of Palestinian society,
lacking direct experience with real life Palestinians and failing to
understand Palestinians as people with rights and aspirations.

The Shin Bet agent called me naive, but I think he is naive since he
believes he can understand Palestinian society from a position of
domination and inequality, and use that understanding to control and
manipulate Palestinians, and eliminate all opposition to the Occupation.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

lasting impressions

once again, the image that sticks most with me upon my immanent departure from palestine is that of the harshly oppressed person smiling, laughing and offering me tea.

palestinians, it seems, are one of the most oppressed peoples on earth. the afflictions which ail them come not only from grinding poverty or sickness; unlike much of the majority world, most palestinians (at least in the west bank) have enough to eat and have limited access to health care. the oppression they endure exists on another level entirely; colonization and military occupation and all that accompanies them make life for palestinians different from most in the world, and quite difficult, to say the least.

on my way here two weeks ago i felt a bit depressed. i wondered what tragedies i would encounter, how many fatherless children, how many homeless families, made refugees two, three, even four times through wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns and now collective punishments. how many mothers without children; they are killed by the army or imprisoned for years in harsh conditions for throwing stones. resistance here is fertile, though, and prison sentences do not deter most from hailing the occasional stone or bottle filled with white paint at a beligerent military jeep.

leaving here, after two short weeks of work, play and thought, i feel as if i have been uplifted by the palestinian people. their strength, their hope, their attitude: 'this is our life', iman said through a smile, and handed me a cup of tea. this is palestine, i think.

two weeks ago when i drove for the first time in two years along the narrow road leading to ramallah from jerusalem i was shocked by the change in the scenery. the wall, an apartheid structure which is sucking more life out of an already helpless population of farmers and merchants, streches the length of the road, separating confiscated land in jerusalem from the rest of the west bank. the sight hurt my eyes and gave me a headache; watching it out of the corner of my eye made me tense, irritated. an eyesore, it was only the first of many changes the landscape has endured in the past two years.

inshallah, when i return (when?) the landscape will not be further scarred. i will try to remember what it looks like now.

Friday, January 21, 2005

happy new year: young boy with toy gun shot dead near jenin

Eid is the muslim new year but it's rather like american christmas. people get new clothes for the holiday, shops are open late on Eid eve for last minute shopping, people travel to see their families. on Eid morning it's custom for men to go about throughout their neighborhoods bringing money and gifts to the women and children in their families. the children, i was told, often buy toy guns with their Eid money. i wondered aloud whether this was a smart practice, what with israeli soldiers' quick trigger-fingers and their fear of palestinians, whom they usually refer to as 'arabs' and sometimes, the mean or religious ones, 'dogs'.

my friend mika assured me that the soldiers are well aware of the toy gun purchases around Eid, and that the guns don't actually look real. they are plastic, they have orange plastic on the tips of their barrels; little boys couldn't hold M-16s and flail them about, i am told, and the soldiers know this.

unfortunately Eid money this year led to one little boy's untimely demise in the village of tubas near jenin. a thirteen year old and his friends were playing around, taunting the soldiers and pointing their new, plastic guns at a patrolling jeep. soldiers fired into the group of boys, hitting salah ikhab. he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

last night i had a genuinely beautiful evening. it was my last night in the west bank and some friends invited me to a dinner party to celebrate Eid in ramallah. i'd never spent more than a few minutes in the city before, so i gladly accepted the offer and met them in a coffee shop in the center of town.

the party was great: everyone there was either a gazan or an international. any west bank palestinians were with their families celebrating the holiday, but these gazans, all students at bir zeit university outside the city, couldn't go home. in fact, not one of the four men has been home in over 5 years. they can't go because if they did, they wouldn't be allowed back out. gaza is essentially an open air prison, and though they desperately miss their families and the sea, they aren't interested in a life sentence in the tiny beach-front strip, divided by settlements, watched from all angles by soldiers in towers, locked in by gates, fences and the expansive mediterranean.

we cooked guacamole, hummos, a ful, a palestinian bean dish. we drank wine and ate by candlelight. we smoked. we talked. and then the drums and came out; the table was then moved into the other room and a rug was brought in to replace it. off came the shoes and we began to dance.

i finally slept at about 4 am, only to be woken up intermittantly by various cell phones and the howling wind outside the small apartment.

now i am back in jerusalem, waiting for dinner time when i will go and share a 30 shekel (6 dollar) ethiopian meal with a friend. it's my last night; i can justify spending more than 5 shekels on a meal. in the morning i will head off to the airport. i hope they let me pass without too much trouble. inshallah i will make it home without having unpacked and repacked all of my loads of crap. inshallah i will be allowed to return...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

20 arrests and i got a rose

two nights ago, when i reported the jeeps and the mini-invasion, 20 people were arrested throughout the nablus region. i suppose the army was interested in getting its operations in the region finished before the muslim new year, eid, which is today.

i left balata this morning after a too short stay. my travels were relatively easy, though most of muslim palestine is slow today due to the holiday. everyone was wearing their best clothes, probably new clothes, at the checkpoints today. it was quite sad to see so many people dressed up only to be shaken down by the soldiers as they waited in line, ID cards ready. at least i didn't see anyone getting detained.

i am in quds for the rest of my stay. i fly out saturday afternoon. inshallah they won't give me loads of crap and interrogation upon my exit. i think i might have some nasty words for them if they try...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

mountains, a smallish invasion, home demolition, little sleep and a cold, cold night

yesterday i came into nablus. it was not easy. the direct route, through the huwarra checkpoint where there is also a large military base and the military headquarters for the northern west bank, was not open for me. approaching the checkpoint i had a bad feeling about my possibility of entering quietly, and i was correct to assume things wouldn't be as easy as they were on election day, the last time i encountered huwarra and its bells and whistles.

in a bid to attempt to convince the soldier that i was somehow 'like him', thinking he'd be more likely to let me in if i convinced him i was somehow on his team, i told him that i was hungover and tired from a big night of drinking when he asked 'how are you?'. it was partially the truth, and he almost let me through because he was laughing at me. in the end, though, his commander shot him a stern look and he turned, telling me, straightfaced, 'sorry, nablus is closed'.

i still haven't gotten over this phenomenon. 'closed'. a city is closed, like it's a department store or a library. well, nablus is no department store or library, and i had to get there, so i turned around with my heavy bag and my camera stuff and walked toward the line of waiting taxis. i got into the first one that would take me to the village just outside of the checkpoint, up the hill. there was a flying checkpoint on the road to the village, but the taxi driver, in his 1973 mercedes benz, flew round the corner and through an olive grove, cutting off the checkpoint and entering the village road about a kilometer further up the hill.

we drove the village's winding, narrow roads up the hill until we couldn't go any further. at the top i paid him and started hiking. an hour and a half, lots of backsweat, a bit of mountain rain, and muddy, muddy boots later i had reached the top of the third and last hill, made it past two settlements and an army post without getting shot or questioned, and descended to find a taxi to take my tired ass to balata. i have never been so happy to see the city of nablus as i was at that minute, finding the last crest of hilltop and the jawaal palace. (jawaal is the richest palestinian man; he owns the only palestinian cellphone company which is named after him. he's got an enormous mansion at the top of the north mountain looking down on the city. you can see it from every part of's really bizzare.)

we had a nice meal in the flat, the usual suspects were there; the british kids, the guy from switzerland and his partner, a woman from germany. our palestinian friend muhammad decided he wanted to go shopping for the eid holiday (today is eid eve) to buy new clothes. we accompanied him, feeling quite bizzare going shopping for shoes in nablus. a pair of pants, one of shoes and a new sweater were purchased. the four of us were feeling quite materialistic and strange, and we decided to go and have some knaffe, the delicious dessert nablus is famous for throughout the arab world. every palestinian will tell you, 'the knaffe nablus is the best in the world'. walking to al-aqsa cafe, supposedly the best of the best, we ran into another friend who said, 'fi jaysh' (there's army). he pointed, we dropped our bags and started walking quickly toward what i actually assumed was nothing, a prank our friend was playing on us for the eid.

to make an incredibly long and boring story short, we arrived on the scene to find not one, not ten, but about 40 jeeps, a hummer, two trucks and a medical van, all israeli army, travelling throughout the area just above the old city. they apparently arrested about 20 people, occupied some homes, and demolished one on the other side of the city. we stayed with medical workers the whole time and helped some women get back into their homes in the occupied area of the city. otherwise we were completely useless because the army was not in the mood to deal with us and none of us knew the occupied area well enough to attempt it, anyway.

we are going to take some pictures of the demolished home today and talk to people who had family arrested. there is so much more to say...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

jeeps visit balata while i sit in al-quds

i just heard from some of my friends in balata that the army has been active in the camp since the moment i left. strange. i felt that the calm after the election would be disturbed by some sort of eruption; it still hasn't happened, and inshallah (god willing), it won't. but there have been minor disturbances.

apparently a few days ago a jeep entered the camp, destroyed some vegetable carts, and began provoking the shebab (young boys) to throw stones. the army is very good at this; they are actually given orders to go into the camps and provoke people. we know this is happening when they have no other orders such as making arrests, constructing a roadblock, or demolishing or occupying a home to take up sniper positions. there were no arrests, none of the above, only taunting. there is no other reason for them to enter the camps. this, i suggest, is terrorism.

the jeeps have loudspeakers, and my friends who speak arabic translate for me what they have been known to say. sometimes, when they enter to provoke the shebab into stone v. gun fights, they say things like, 'come on, you cowards, come defend your camp', or 'come throw stones, sons of whores'. nice things like this. sometimes they are more sadistic: 'come out and play, boys'. then the children get shot. the other day, when the jeeps entered to play these fun games, one little boy was shot at close range by 'rubber' bullets. (the bullets are not actually rubber; indeed, they are plastic coated metal balls. they hurt. they are known to kill.) this boy was lucky and sustained minor injuries. inshallah things are quiet now...

in shocking (ha) developments, ariel sharon apparently told the army that they had 'free reign' or a 'free hand' (it was translated differently by various media) in combatting 'terrorists' in the gaza strip. ha'aretz (israel's leading liberal daily) published an article today saying that the bombing at karni crossing, which killed around 7 israelis, was completely unprovoked, and that sharon has the right to decree such things because of the completely terroristic nature of the attack. unprovoked? how about the 7 innocent children that were blown to bits by an israeli missile while picking strawberries in their field a few days ago in gaza? and what about that military occupation? has ha'aretz forgotten about their boys in green and their daily terror? unfortunately, the media here in israel is about as irresponsible and terroristic as our corporate conglomeration at home.

on a more positive note, tomorrow i interview the lesbian palestinian woman in haifa. i am so excited to talk to her and will report back to this blog about the experience and her words...

bedouins losing the little they have in the negev

in 1948 Israel forced many bedouins off of land they had historically grazed into small, poorly constructed settlements in the beer-sheeba area. many of these settlements remain today. yesterday i visited one of them on a bus with lots of liberal israelis; it was their version of big mountain: travel to meet the indigenous, shake their hands, walk around their pathetic dwellings, drink their tea and make it back to the city in time for a trip to the gym and cocktails before dinner.

the scene was clearly bizzare. the bedouin construction seemed terribly impractical and useless: their houses, barns and sheds are all made of corrugated metal. i learned later that the israelis made a law decreeing that any bedouin who uses concrete or stone to build a dwelling will have his newly constructed building demolished. it is against the rules for these people to have any sort of permanence.

now the israelis want more. sharon's government has decided that he needs to construct housing and an industrial center on the measly bit of maswat (or infertile) land the bedouins in this village live on. i was truly astounded to hear this, standing there in the middle of the desert. when standing in the village one cannot see anything in any directions execpt a village about 30 km away. i wondered why it is so important for sharon to disposses these people when their land is so paltry in size compared to the vast streches of land which surround them. in other words, why right there? why not a few km away?

today is the trial of american jewish lesbian peace activist kate raphael bender. she's an older woman from the bay area and has been in an israeli deportation prison for over a month now. she's fighting her deportation order (she was arrested at a protest against the apartheid wall) and is challenging the state of israel's right to imprison and deport her when she is standing up for international law (the icj's ruling that the wall is illegal and must be dismantled) and israel is willfully breaking it. we'll see how this argument holds up in court. once again, the accuser, the witness and the judge are the same person around here. i doubt they'll find her arguments compelling...

Friday, January 14, 2005

aswat, the children and checkpoint news

i am now back in al-quds (jerusalem) after waking early to travel on the region's holy day for both muslims and jews. everything in israel stops at about 1 on fridays and doesn't resume until sundown the following day. our journey this morning, which usually takes hours and hours due to massive disturbances at checkpoints and long waits in insane traffic jams that the checkpoints cause, was quick and simple. i think there is still election fever in the air because not one soldier seriously questioned my travelling partner (also american) and i about our presence in occupied territory.

on monday i will do an interview with the ONLY (yes, ONLY) 'out' palestinian queer activist. she heads up an organization called aswat, and has chosen to meet my comrade and i in haifa at the beginning of next week. i am thrilled that i have this opportunity, and will update this blog about the experience accordingly.

yesterday was quite busy for me. in the morning i met for the first time with about 30 4 and 5 year old children at the nursery school in balata camp. i led them in various stretches, movements and coordination games, and they seemed thrilled to be able to play with someone other than their normal teacher, especially thrilled that i am a strange foreigner who talks funny and looks very funny. the nursery school is run by about ten women, takes in about 150 children, runs five days a week and costs little to nothing for poor families. the rest of the cost is subsidized by higher rates for wealthier families and a bit of fundraising is done as well.

after playtime i went to the wealthier neighborhood of nablus to help my friend muhammad do some workshops with teenagers. we made art, and the 13 year old boys enthusiastically recounted to me their recent encounters with soldiers. some had been shot, most had brothers in prison, and a few had been arrested and imprisoned at such a young age themselves. the policy of imprisoning those under the age of 16, of course, contravenes the fourth geneva convention on the rights of protected persons, but is not uncommon here.

finally, at three yesterday i met with my film workshop composed of three young women. we shot some interviews and i showed them how to capture the video into the computer and perform some simple edits. after briefly discussing how to make titles, they had composed a short film and were extremely satisfied with their work. i cannot believe how fast these young women, who speak barely any english, are learning how to shoot and edit video on equipment that is programmed entirely in english. i could not even begin to do this if my editing program were in arabic. it is truly astonishing.

finally, a word on yesterday's checkpoint fiasco. apparently two american tourists were arrested at kalandia, the first checkpoint into the west bank outside of al-quds and generally the easiest to pass, for taking photos. a few of my friends, one german and one austrian, were passing through and witnessed the arrests. they promptly called maksoum watch, an israeli organization made up of women who take shifts at checkpoints monitoring the behavior of soldiers. they then document what they see and post updates on the web and to media. maksoum watch was not at kalandia that day because a few of their members had been arrested and beaten on that very morning. these are usually middle-aged to elderly women; they were beaten by soldiers old enough to be their sons or grandchildren! luckily these soldiers were not at kalandia today when i passed, and so i am here in jerusalem, safe and sound, to write about it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

videos, the internet, and what it means to be a woman

the projects here, under the guise of the umbrella, are going swimmingly. mika, the bloke who runs the show, is running three or four workshops a day with people in the camp ranging from journalism with young girls to internet and web site construction with women to film workshops with little boys. the camp's children are back in school after a session of exams and then a winter recess, and everyone has quite a bit of energy to crack down and make some media...

today my friend abby and i met with three young women to do our first of a series of video workshops. they knew little to nothing about video, and were very attentive, though abby's arabic is pretty elementary (way better than mine, which is nonexistant) and they spoke little to no english. finding words for 'capture', 'raw footage' and 'editing' was a bit difficult, but we struggled through the language barrier and by the end of the (too short) hour we had them making their own cuts and transitions. tomorrow we will meet again and they will shoot some video, capture it into the program and make a short video. things are moving faster than i had expected, and there is much these young women have to say.

though they have a lot to say, hearing them is, in the camp, quite a task. women in the camp, which is very poor and highly conservative religiously and culturally, are not often encouraged to participate in projects with digital media. there are two internet cafes in the camp, but they are restricted to men and boys only and most girls and women do not frequent the city of nablus, which is only a five minute, 6 shekel ($1.50) cab ride away. therefore most of them haven't much experience with computers, let alone programs to create video. this is thus a great opportunity for them, and they are readily lapping it up.

tomorrow morning i will go and lead some games with children at one of the nursery schools in balata camp. we'll see how my arabic compares to that of the 4 year olds...movement, snapping and clapping are universal languages, however, and i think we will rely on these quite heavily.

the army hasn't been around during the day lately, but apparently they were doing some practices invasions last night in balata, driving jeeps in and out and doing a bit of shooting. practice makes perfect...

i wonder anxiously what they are practicing for.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

'this is our life'

the election finished, the observers returning to their europe, the ballots counted, abu mazen's victory parties winding down...this is only the highly publicized palestine today.

i am staying here with a family whose members, like those in most palestinian families, have been scattered. the diaspora of the hussein family stretches far, from sweden (where the eldest son is raising a childwith his swedish wife, virtually hiding from the israelis who will no doubt arrest him upon his likely return) to dark prisons inside of thewest bank.

the two youngest sons live in these prisons; one is 21, imprisoned at the age of 19, with four more years to go for allegedly throwing a stone at a soldier; the other, slightly older, is serving his second year of a 40 year sentence for allegedly blowing up a hummer. no hummer, according to our graceful host umm hussein (umm means 'mother of'), was destroyed by her son. abu ('father of') hussein is a chief of the palestinian police and comes home each night exhausted. the family supported abu mazen in the election, and has high (i think misguided) hopes about the prospects for actual democracy under his reign. democracy, i suggest, is unlikely under military occupation.

these young men, and others, are in prison because the witness, the judge, and the jury are the same person. so who is a terrorist?

military occupation has not ended here, though the guns and tanks are quiet in nablus today. i am currently sitting in the balata camp in the home of a friend who, two years ago, was released from prison. there are 7,000 like him who continue to rot in these prisons; his sister, who was just released, was one of them for two years. her crime? she dared to challenge the (illegitimate) judge who presided over the (illegitimate) trial of her (innocent) brother. she was summarily granted a two year bid, and yet you'd never know it if you spoke to her. one of the kindest women i have met so far (this is quite an honor in the land of hospitality), she briefly described through broken english and arabic the conditions of the prison.

all i will mention here is that she was in a cell with a woman who had recently given birth. her child spent his first two years in the cell with them, learning first hand and first step and first word what israeli democracy holds in store for him...the child was almost killed when, during a prisoner's hunger strike to demand fair conditions, guards fired tear gas cannisters into each cell, suffocating the adults and poisoning the children. hanan smiles when she tells me this, and i cringe. "this is our life", she says.

to part, the words of palestinian national poet mahmud darwish, capturing what seems to me to be the essence of the palestinian condition. resistance and love through bars, chains and the barrel of a gun.

'on man'
this one with the fetteron
his mouth manacled to death rock:
they said: you are a killer.

stripped of food clothing identity
thrown into death row:
& they charged him with robbery.

the seaports were barred to him. they
abducted his young sweetheart.
then they said: you are a refugee.
* * *
you bleeding at the eyes and the palms
listen. night passes.
the detention room cannot last
nor festoons of chains.

nero died and did not take rome with him.
it would have fought with its eyes.

and a handful of sere grains
can cram the whole valley with new ears.


and from another darwish poem, 'on wishes':

"To each land there is a Coming.
Every dawn has its appointment with a rebel."

Monday, January 10, 2005

mostly quiet on the western front

here in nablus things are relatively quiet. last night, in the old city where i am staying with a family, guns rang out throughout the evening in celebration of abu mazen's overwhelming electoral victory. people here seem happy about the prospects of a new leader, though the shift is somewhat confusing. the last time i was here, two summers ago in 2003, abu mazen had been made chief minister by abu amar (arafat), and people in the camps were boiling over with hatred for the former. what is abu mazen doing for us now?, they'd ask, as tanks barreled down the narrow streets of the camp. where is abu mazen now?

things have certainly changed, with most palestinians in the camp supporting abu mazen loudly and clearly. his photograph is everywhere, and the palestinian street is now littered with election propaganda instead of what is most common in other times, pictures of the deceased, the martyrs, on posters which line the walls and every possible flat surface.

an important aside here is that, for palestinians, 'martyr' means not only one who has died in combat, resisting occupation. it is also a term used to describe children and the young and old who are brutally snuffed out completely innocent, without raising a gun, a stone or a fist to the occupation. these people, like those who resist violently, are martyrs, too.

i hope the guns are quiet tonight, though many palestinians i have spoken with today assume that the 72 hours of relative quiet, relief from military incursion, will be over when the sun goes down. let us hope they are wrong. more soon...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

jerusalem palestinians can't, or won't, vote

it seems as if east jerusalem's 120,000 palestinians, technically residents of israel, will not vote in tomorrow's presidential election, the first since the 1996 Oslo-era elections in which recently deceased president arafat won by an overwhelming majority.

the problem for palestinians living here in jerusalem is complex, but mainly consists of inadequate polling centers and israel's refusal to publicly refute rumors that are scaring most of the 120,000 from even thinking about voting. the rumor, passed down from various clerks working in official israeli offices which deal daily with jerusalem's palestinian residents, is that if these people cast a vote they risk getting their rights as israeli residents revoked. palestinians living in jerusalem are granted health care and national insurance benefits like jewish israelis, as well as other benefits, and are terrified that voting in the national palestinian elections will give the israeli authorities an (unjustifiable) excuse to revoke their national IDs along with their benefits.

for this reason, those 120,000, according to this friday's jerusalem post, will not likely vote. even if they did, however, the restrictions israel has placed on voting pose insurmountable difficulties for them. according to various news sources, including the post, as well as local knowledge, these palestinians will be allowed to vote at one of six post offices in the jerusalem area. these polling places and various palestinian organizations have asserted that the post offices will only be able to process the votes of 6,000 people tomorrow. voting will take place from 7am to 7pm.

thus more than 110,000 palestinians in jerusalem will remain locked out of their national elections for the simple reason of too little space for voting. israeli authorities have argued that they will allow jerusalem residents to travel to nearby, west bank villages in order to cast a ballot. most jerusalem palestinians are not willing to take the chance that they will not be allowed re-entrance to jerusalem, however, and are likely to abstain.

this problem is further amplified by a report, again from the post, which says that israeli authorities closed registration offices after only one week during which jerusalem palestinians were allowed to register to vote. many people were turned away, and the officials operating the registration centers were threatened with arrest by israeli police as they initially refused to close down registration. some democracy.

tomorrow i will be travelling the west bank with my camera, documenting possible abuses at checkpoints, freedom of movement issues, etc. i will report on my travels tomorrow evening.