[Today's report, probably his last from Palestine on this visit, is directly from Steve himself. I can only comment that I'm unable to clearly see the keyboard or the screen as I try to post this. Once again, the links are my doing.]
A million thanks to Donald, my Most Excellent Support Person, for
calling me every day and sending out reports. I'll read through
them when I get home, and elaborate on whatever stuff I forgot to
tell him on the phone.
On Sunday night, a Palestinian-American friend and I stayed once
again at the home of a family in New Askar Refugee Camp in Nablus.
Two sons of this family have been killed by the Israeli army, and it
is reasonable to assume that the house is slated for demolition.
(The Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that the army is not
required to give any advance notice before coming to demolish a
home.) I had many fascinating conversations with the family during
the 4 nights I stayed at that particular house, and was of course
treated to the usual warm Palestinian hospitality. It's amazing how
generous people are here, even when they have nothing.
I hope they'll be OK. They've suffered so much already. I'll try
to stay in touch with them, but access to the Internet is very
limited at Askar, and Israel is not currently allowing mail delivery
in the West Bank.
At about midnight, the army sent up about 12 very bright and long-
lasting flares over New Askar, Old Askar, nearby Balata Refugee
Camp, and the nearby village of Azmut. One of the flares fell to
the ground in Azmut, and started a fire. We saw military vehicles
moving from the Jewish settlement of Elon More, on the hill above
us, toward Azmut. There were also F-16s flying overhead. We were
really scared; I though that the flares were a prelude to aerial
bombardment or an attack on foot. We called the U.S. Consulate to
tell them what was happening and to inform them of the U.S. citizens
on the ground; we were thinking of our own safety, and of using our
presence to increase the safety of the Palestinians in the camp.
The consulate was as hostile as always; European activists inform me
that their consulates are much more helpful.
In the end, nothing happened in Askar Camp on Sunday night. Azmut
probably got hit hard. The villages around Nablus are really
suffering; while Nablus has been under curfew for more than 60 days,
there are villages that have been under curfew for one or two
years. The residents have no access to medical care, markets for
their produce, etc.
On Monday morning, I took some video footage of graves of non-
combatants from the camp killed by the army. They're buried in a
playground, because curfew did not allow people access to the
cemetery. I also heard the story of the 7-year-old boy who was
killed by Israeli fire while walking from his home in New Askar to
the school in Old Askar. I've witnessed many instances of
gratuitous Israeli firing, not aimed at anything in particular,
meant for intimidation, and it is not at all suprising that, from
time to time, someone gets in the way and is shot and killed. The
solution to this problem, though, is not better military procedures
for the Israel Occupation Force. The solution is an end to the
We set out from Askar Camp to walk to the Union of Palestinian
Medical Relief Committees. We were going to get a taxi from there
to the Howarra Checkpoint. But when we go to the main road
alongside Askar, we found a tank in the road. We stayed in sight of
the tank for quite some time until it left; there were a lot of boys
in the street, some of them throwing stones at the tank, and we
didn't want them to get shot at.
We then walked down to an armored personnel carrier, where, we were
told, two boys had been taken by the army. We got nowhere with the
soldiers (but they didn't arrest us, as I feared they might), but we
found the parents of the boys, who were of course beside
themselves. We put them in touch with an Israeli human rights
organization that tracks detainees, and got a cab to the UPMRC.
The cab had to leave us a short walk away from the UPMRC because of
tanks in the road. The informal curfew network in Palestinian
cities is amazing; drivers always stop and talk to each other,
people keep in touch via cell phone, and boys in the street run up
to drivers and pedestrians with information. Everyone is trying to
figure out where the soldiers are and what's a safe route from A to
B. Movement under curfew is not prevented, but is reduced to about
10% of what would be normal. People out tring to make a living, or
obtain food or medical care, or visit a loved one, are criminalized,
and risk injury or death.
Curfew seemed especially tight on Monday in Nablus, with tanks and
APCs in a number of unwonted locations. I have a really bad feeling
about what the Israeli army may be planning for Nablus, especially
as internationals beging to leave the city to return home for work
We, with our international privilege, wer able to walk right by one
of the tanks. As we turned the corner and approached the UPMRC,
there was an explosion so loud I felt it. It may have been one of
the sound bombs the soldiers use to disperse crowds, but I could
detect no prvocation for it.
We were able to make it from the UPMRC to the Howwara Checkpoint OK; our driver waited until it was reported that the tank on that road had moved. We were allowed to cross without questioning, but a member of our group, a 72 year old Republican Arab-American from Cape Cod, then intervened on behalf of a family of ten, including a one-week old baby, who were waiting in the sun while the soldiers refused them passage. They were seeking medical care, and had documentation to prove it. The activist from Cape Cod nagged the soldiers until two of the family were let through, and he put the family in contact with the same Israeli human rights organization, who later that day got them all across.
We took a taxi from Howwara to Jerusalem, picking up three activists
at the Qalqilya Checkpoint along the way. Our taxi had Israeli
license plates, so we were able to travel on the settler road. The
roadside is dotted with graffiti in Hebrew calling for death to the
Arabs, vengeance, and expusion. "Kahane was right" is a common
one. Road signs indicating Jewish and Palestinian communities are
in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, but on many signs the Arabic has
been blacked out with spray paint.
The Qalqilya activists told me how they hade busted through that
checkpoint a couple of days before. They had waited for two hours
(the army has figured out that it is in their interest to keep
international witnesses out of occupied cities), and then just
walked through. An Israeli film crew, there to film the wall that
the army is building between Israel and the West Bank, refused to
document the activists' defiance, and urged the soldiers to arrest
the activists. The film crew made a special point of indicating the
one Palestinian among them, and said, "Arrest him! Arrest him!"
Fortunately, by the time the soldiers got over their astonishment,
the activists were speeding away in a taxi. This was, of course,
the kind of action that only internationals can undertake;
Palestinians alone would run a high risk of being shot.
I've always thought of Arab East Jerusalem, victim of Israeli
underdevelopment, as kind of pathetic, but after Nablus it seemed
like the land of plenty. It was amazing to see fully stocked food
stores, open restaurants, and crowded sidewalks. I don't know how
people in Nablus (Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm, Gaza...) can endure the
deprivation, month after month.
On Tuesday morning, the Cape Cod activist and I went to the offices of HaMoked, the Israeli group that had helped us help people in Nablus, to thank them. We had a really good conversation with their director about the work they're doing, and the work we're doing. Today (Wednesday), I'll try to meet with someone from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, to talk about their struggle of many years(a losing battle...Israel is now talking about bulldozing houses if Israeli Palestinians as well. To my knowledge, the homes of Jews accused of crimes are never detroyed.), and about the successs we've met with so far by sleeping in threatened homes.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to Bethlehem, where I was during the Israeli invasion in April. There was only one APC in town--the Israelis have otherwise pulled out, although they're expected to re-invade soon--and it was wonderful to see the city alive and vibrant. Sadly, I learned that 5 houses had been demolished there in one week; there was an insufficient international presence there to provide the houses with protection. A couple of weeks ago I had been there and had visited a demolished house; the family was living in a tent on top if the ruins. It was like 1948 all over again. I had some money that had been donated by workers at Oxygen, and gave it to a community leader to pass on to the family. They phoned to thank me a few days later.
I had a fantastic visit with my family is Azzeh Refugee Camp in
Bethlehem, where I had been in April. It was hard to say goodbye to
them, just as it had been hard the day before to say goodbye the day
before to our wonderful friends in Askar. I hope to come back for
all of next summer, but that's a long way away.
I fly home tomorrow, and will once again be checking my email at
firstname.lastname@example.org. I am looking forward to opportunities to speak
about Palestine, and to show the video and still documentation and
Palestinian testimony that my group collected. It's become harder
to do that, though; Jews Against the Occupation had three report-
backs scheduled for August, but all three host venues cancelled
after receiving threats from the Jewish Defence Organization.
As for the rest of my JAtO affinity group: Lisa is home in New York,
safe and sound, and by now Ryan and Erica should be, too. Jeremy
and Zaid are still in Askar; Jeremy comes to Jerusalem tomorrow and
flies home Friday, and Zaid is here until the middle of November.
If you're thinking of joining ISM for the olive harvest (Oct. 15-
Nov. 15), go for it! The farmers really need your protection from
soldiers and settlers. You can register at www.palsolidarity.org.