Report from Palestine II

[I'm posting the verbatim texts of messages from Steve and three people travelling with him at this time.]

Hi all,

Four of the JAtO [Jews Against the Occupation] affinity group--me, Lisa, Jeremy, and Ryan--are now in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. A fifth member, Erica, is in Askar refugee camp in Nablus, where there has been a lot of shooting and home demolitions. We all are fine. The four of us are being trained here by the International Solidarity Movement tomorrow. We'll then be deployed to whereverwe're needed, and Erica will join us.

All for now.


Hey all,
I had a horrific experience at Newark Airport this
morning and thought I should share. I was tagged
while waiting in line for a direct flight on El-Al and
was pulled aside for a ridiculous series of questions.
An obnoxious security guard questioned me repeatedly
about my ethnicity, being that I have a South Asian
father and therefore an Indian last name. He got so
absurd that he actually began asking me if I was sure
if my father was in fact Indian. At that point I
became visibly flustered and he fed off that. He then
enrolled me in a Judiasm 101 course where he fired
questions about Judiasm at me for over 10 mintues.
Even though I have been raised Jewish he failed to
believe me and sent me out of the line while everyone
else got to pass on through without problems. I was
sectioned off and approached by two more guards who
asked the same insane questions and continued to
question the validity of my answers. I was then,
after an hour, escorted by a security guard into a
special room with all the other "brown" people on the
flight. All our luggage was dumped out on large
tables and thrown around. A security guard rifled
through my bras and underwear snickering at the guard
to his left. My bag was taken out of the room for
over 45 mintues and no one told me what was going on.
The guards laughed at our powerless circumstances
taking pictures with my camera of the other people in
the room "just to make sure the camera was working."
I was taken back behind a curtain and had to undergo a
body search (thank god I was allowed to keep my
clothes on). When I came out another family was being
taken in. The kids ran around while their parents had
to undergo the humiliation of the search process.
After almost two and a half hours of waiting I finally
expressed my concern at missing my flight. Finally a
woman decided to fill the paperwork required for
"someone like me". Three forms were filled out with
all my info, my luggage was tagged wtih special red,
high security risk, tags, and then I was escorted onto
the plane. A form with all my information was handed
to the stewardess as I boarded the plane. She looked
at me with fear and disgust and then let me on the
plane. I was seated in a special seat. When the
family next to me saw who I was they conviently moved.
After almost three hours I was finally in my seat
ready to go. I got treated like shit the entire


I have arrived safely to Palestine. My flight was
uneventful and I had no problems with security.

It feels very strange to be back in Palestine just 14
months after my previous trip. The first thing to
strike me was the amount of new construction occuring
between Ben Gurion airport and Tel Aviv. While I am
sure this is indictative of some political program I
have not been able to give it much thought and thus
have no particular political analysis to offer. Once
in East Jeruslum the obvious less bustle on the
streets is griping. The West Bank also feels very
different with less people on the streets and no
Palestnian security personel to be seen, who a year
ago were very common. Last year, while the Infitfada
was a year old, you still sensed a liveliness on the
streets but today you feel the eerie quiet of
desperation and hopelessness. (My apologies for this
scattered stream of obvervations. My section of future
reports will hopefully be more thought out and


We saw a demolished house today, two blocks away from
the Deheisha Refugee Camp we visited. The camp had
been visited by the Pope on his trip to Bethlehem for
the Bethlehem 2000 celebration, the effects of which
have now evaporated. The house was destroyed by
explosives, and not by bulldozers. The last remaining
wall, though crooked, held a Palestinian flag, which
rose above the rubble. We were told by a former ISM
organizer, someone now working for the Red Crescent
Society, that the owners of houses scheduled to be
destroyed will fly this flag. On this wall, it was
written in Arabic something to the effect of: You can
destroy our homes, but you can't destroy our spirit.
She also told us that this very large house was
destroyed because a man who was connected with a
suicide bombing, a man from Jordan, had rented a room
there for two weeks. This is something of the tour we
had today.

For myself, I have only to say that upon arrival in
Bethlehem I was set upon by a sadness not at all
different from the onset of altitude sickness in our
ascent from the Pacific coast to the upper regions of
Peru in July.

It is terrifying to walk through a town, Bethlehem,
deserted by curfew at 5 in the afternoon, to see the
graffiti of Israeli soldiers, leftover from the April
invasion: Stars of David sprayed on doors and
storefronts, "Israel" labelled in Hebrew to claim the
territory, the name of Rebbe Nachman scrawled and
extended across the entrance to someone's home, Rebbe
Nachman who said that the world is a narrow bridge
whose name appears so wide and distorted. I remember
in Sarnath, the buddhist pilgrimage town outside of
Benares/Varanasi, how Stars of David and Swastikas
were together posted on the front gates of the Tibetan
institute where I stayed. I remember how disoriented
I became. I suffered my first disorientation from the
signs of Jewish power long ago, when I was first
emerging from so many myths. But, perhaps for the
first time, today I saw this Star of David as having
nothing to do with me. It was realizing that the star
had nothing to do with me which is what made walking
through the gates at the Tibetan institute bearable.
But is the same realization now, when I am told at the
airport that this star has everything to do with me,
that, once again, the conditions of this occupation
become unbearable. And any sentimental tone I may
convey I now retract.


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Published on August 15, 2002 4:10 PM.

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