Thursday, January 04, 2007

Day One: Invasion, Poetry, and other news

I left Jerusalem this morning without my missing luggage. Instead of wasting a bunch of precious days in the holy city I will return to collect my belongings (if they still exist) on Monday.

When travelling to the West Bank from Jerusalem, the first monstrosity of occupation one encounters is the Apartheid Wall. It starts in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu-Dis, a Palestinian town that has for centuries been closely connected in every way to the center of the metropolis. Not anymore. Now, the wall separates one side of the town from the other. When driving to the first, most odious of West Bank checkpoints at Kalandia, the wall runs down the middle of what was once a thriving, busy, two-lane mini-highway. Now the two lanes are broken into four, two on each side of the twenty-five meter tall concrete barrier. On the way to the checkpoint, the wall is so close outside the bus window that I can barely read the graffiti sprawled accross it. I could, however, lean out the window and touch it.

Our mini-bus passed through the checkpoint without delay. This is because Israel has said recently that they will ease restrictions at some checkpoints in the West Bank. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Palestinians heading south from the north, or north from the south. That is to say, when they are attempting to travel outside of and not into their respective bantustans. We arrived in the cultural capital of Palestine, Ramallah, without incident. I grabbed a falafel for breakfast and headed to another bus, this one taking about twenty of us farther north to Nablus. Ramallah was busy as usual for a Thursday when I passed through. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Nablus a few hours later, the streets were empty save about 25 Israeli armored jeeps, 5 armored bulldozers and 40-something Palestinian rock-throwing youths. A few minutes later the abulances came to collect the wounded, of which there were around 25. Most of these people were injured severely. They were all civilians, and many were shot above the waist. Many, if not most, were youths. Four people were murdered in the square where only hours before I had passed through a bustling market and traffic dense city center.

The Israelis claimed to have been looking for specific people to arrest. I wondered when I heard this about how I would feel if the Boston police were looking for some murder suspects and ended up shooting and killing my mother and my dog while they were out on their nightly walk. More accurately, they could have killed my mother and seriously injured at least one of my friends. The occupying army left the scene without the men they were after; they both escaped. They left behind four grieving families and 25 others who will spend the night in the hospital looking after their loved ones and praying for the best. This, not to mention the countless cars that were indiscriminately destroyed by bulldozers as they lay, parked in the street like trash to be kicked around by angry five-year olds. Ramallah has not seend an invasion like this for four years.

All of this, in the midst of supposed 'peace' talks with Israeli PM Olmert and Egyptian president Mubarak. Some peace.

Additionally, Israel announced yesterday that it will begin construction of a new Israeli colony (sometimes euphemistically dubbed 'settlements' or 'neighborhoods' for those NY Times readers out there) in the occupied West Bank. Settlements are built on land confiscated from Palestinians. The settlements make life for Palestinians difficult to say the least; they also prevent the realization of the two-state solution Israel claims to work towards.

As the Palestinian permanent representative to the UN said tonight on Al-Jazeera english news station, the Israelis must be judged not by their words but by their actions. In other words: don't believe the hype.

Finally, I will end tonight with something my dear friend said to me tonight in Nablus. He was describing to me an interrogation session he endured at the hands of an Israeli secret service agent this past May. He was attempting to cross a checkpoint, on his way to Ramallah to get a visa to come to the states. They denied him passage, but kept him for twelve hours in the middle of the night, forced him to strip naked, and then interrogated him.

My friend, M., is a very smart guy. During his 'discussion' with the agent, M. asked him about what he thought the Palestinians could do right. They are always seeming to do wrong, at least from the Israeli perspective. The agent couldn't answer. But he asked M. to tell him about what he thought of the conflict overall. M. said this:

'Imagine this: there is a man, and he is trapped in a burning building. He is on the second floor and he rushes to the third floor as the flames get higher and higher. He keeps running from the flames up and up until he reaches the seventh floor. Then he finds himself on the roof, the flames licking at his heals. Beneath the building, to the side, there is a beautiful garden. Inside the garden is a man, sleeping on a bench after having a nice meal. He looks down at the man and without hesitation he jumps. He lands right on the sleeping man's stomach and survives. The sleeping man dies.'

'What does this mean?' the agent asked him.

'The burning building is Nazi Europe, the man in the building is the Jews of Europe, the garden is Palestine, and the man sleeping on the bench is the Palestinians,' he said.

'Goodbye, M.' the agent said. 'I wish you the best of luck.'

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