report from Palestine, July 16, 2003

Steve reports on his last 6 days in Palestine and Israel.

The subjects, in order, include Ramallah, Black Laundry, checkpoints, "refuseniks," his new all-gender affinity group "faygelach," a Tel Aviv court, the farming village of Jayyous, the Apartheid Wall, aquifers, Qalqilya, the wonderful and sad Amal Society for the Deaf, "extrajudicial executions," and his friends's chagrin about being generously feted rather than actively useful in the communities so far.

Qalqilya, occupied Palestine
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

We went to Ramallah on Friday and Saturday for ISM
training. To get into Ramallah from Jerusalem, we had
to pas through the Qalandia checkpoint. The
checkpoint is a huge affair, with giant concrete
blocks arranged into mazes for incoming and outgoing
people, lots of Israeli soldiers scrutinizing people
passing through, and an Israeli sniper tower overhead.
Where once people could just drive between Jerusalem
and Ramallah, two of the most important cities and 20
minutes apart, there are now giant clogged parking
fields at either end for the taxis taking people to
and from the checkpoint. We got through without any
problem because they were only checking people leaving
Ramallah on Friday, but the whole experience was
incredibly stressful. I can't imagine what it's like
for people who live in Ramallah.

There were about 25 of us trainees, from the U.S.,
Scotland, England, France, and Canada. Quite a few of
us were Jewish, including one Israeli-American and one
Orthodox woman.

Our trainers were a member of Jews Against the
Occupation/New York and a member of the Michigan Peace
Team. They facilitated role play and discussion about
commitment to non-violence, how to de-escalate in the
face of settler and soldier violence, how to protect
Palestinians and ourselves non-violently, what to do
if arrested, and so on.

George Rishmawi, a co-founder of ISM from the
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between Peoples
in Beit Sahour, Palestine, talked with us about the
history of non-violent resistance in Palestine and
about Palestinian cultural norms in the communities in
which we will live and work.

A member of Black Laundry, Israel's gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgendered activists against the
Occupation, talked about his military service in the
Occupied Territories and Lebanon, and why he now
prefers to serve time in a military prison rather than
serve the reserve duty required of every Israeli
Jewish man until age 55. While in prison, he met one
active duty soldier who was in prison for 6 months for
smoking a joint, and another who was in for one month
for killing an elderly Palestinian civilian. The
death had been deemed an accident, but the prisoner
said that his commanding officer knew that he had
killed the old man on purpose. He also met fellow
"refuseniks" who had served their active duty during
the Intifada of the late 80s and early 90s. He said
that they were gentle, intelligent, educated men who
had never talked about the things they had done in the
army, not even to their wives, until their time in
prison with him. He was amazed at the terrible things
they had done, and the trauma they were still living

Neta Golan, an Canadian-Israeli co-founder of ISM who
now lives in Nablus with her Palestinian husband and
their baby came to speak with us, baby in tow, about
arrests, deportations, and legal issues. She also
spoke about the weaponry that the Israeli army uses
against peaceful protest, and how to respond safely to
tear gas, sound grenades, rubber bullets, moving
vehicles, shooting over out heads, and live fire aimed
at demonstrators. (The way to respond safely to live
fire is to remove oneself from the situation

Two Palestine activists from New York helped us work
on how to use the media to get the message out.

Ramallah is a bustling, prosperous town, now that it
is not under Israeli military curfew, although one
must still pass through Israeli checkpoints (more like
choke points) to get there. We had a nice time there
on Friday evening, eating shawarma and ice cream, and
visiting an Internet café.

By the time we left, our affinity group had
crystallized. An affinity group is a small group of
activists who know one another well and trust one
another, who work as a unit in planning and
implementing direct action. There are 6 of us in my
affinity group, all from New York, all of whom have
organized together before, and we named our mostly
queer, mostly Jewish group Faygelach for a Free
Palestine (faygelach is Yiddish for faggot, although
we intend it to mean queers of all genders). For the
JAtO and DAP folks on this list: the group is me,
Eric. Lisa B., Amy Laura, Ady and Lysander. Dena will
be joining us in a few days, Ryan a week after that,
and Gabriel from DAP in early August. We are hoping
that Ora and Ramzi will be joining us as well.

Leaving Ramallah was a little tricky, because the
Israeli soldiers suspected that our Israeli-American
member was Israeli. She pretended not to understand
Hebrew, and was eventually waved through despite her
lack of a visa. Our taxi was then stopped at a
traffic checkpoint, where the soldiers said they were
going to hold us for a while so they could check out
the two of us with U.K. passports. Must have had
something to do with the guy they were looking for in
the West Bank, who's a peace activist, but who the
authorities are claiming is an IRA bomb maker.
(Thankfully, he has no connection to ISM; I'm sure
they'd love to use him to smear us.)

On Sunday, a large number of ISM activists, consular
officials, and Israeli peace activists went to court
in Tel Aviv for the trial of 8 ISM activists awaiting
deportation. (The American, French, Swedish, Danish,
and British consulates were all contacted because the
arrestees come from all those countries. Only the
Swedes and Danes bothered to show up to support their
citizens.) The judge was clearly impressed to see a
full courtroom; deportation proceedings usually
involve workers from Nigeria, Thailand, and other
Third World countries who have replace Palestinian
menial labor in Israel since the Intifadas. They
usually sit in prison while their deportations are
adjudicated in writing.

The case has been put off for a few days or longer,
and the 8 young men continue to be held in the police
station at Ariel, one of Israel's illegal West Bank
settlements. We did win a preliminary injunction
preventing the deportations while the case is being
decided; one of the Ministry of the Interior's
favorite tricks is to put people on a plane in the
dead of night while their deportation cases were being
argued. Hopefully this injunction will prevent them
from doing so. We of the Feygelach have volunteered
to contact folks to write affidavits attesting to
ISM's non-violent mission, and have had a good
response from Israeli and international individuals
and organizations, including members of the Knesset.

On Monday, we traveled from Tel Aviv to Jayyous, a
West Bank farming village close to the pre-1967
border. We had to travel to an Israeli road block
where trucks have to back up to each other on either
side of the road block and their cargo has to be hand
carried from one to the other. We got into Jayyous,
where we met almost all the men, women and children of
the town, as well as about 40 internationals, for a
march initiated by the farmers.

Jayyous lost 90% of its land when the war of 1947-1949
ended, and the village found itself on the Jordanian
side of the armistice line with its land on the
Israeli side. (That land had been slated to be part
of the Arab state of Palestine in the U.N. 1947
Partition Plan, but was captured by the new state of
Israel in the war.) When Israel occupied the West
Bank in 1967, more land was confiscated to build
illegal Israeli settlements nearby. Now, with the
construction of Israel's "Separation Fence" (which we
are calling the Apartheid Wall), they are being cut
off from 70% of what's left. Farmers have one gate in
the fence through which they may pass to get to their
fields, but when internationals aren't present to
monitor, they are often detained and/or beaten by the
private armed security guards hired by the contractors
who are building the fence for the Israeli government.

First, we attended a lecture in the municipality by a
Qalqilya hydrologist about how the Oslo Agreement maps
and the location of the Apartheid Wall have nothing to
do with security, and everything to do with stealing
access to West Bank aquifers. (Millions of
Palestinians in the West Bank have limited access to
fresh water for living and for agriculture, while
hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in the same
territory have watered lawns and swimming pools.)
Then the people of Jayyous, with international
accompaniment, marched through the olive groves to the
fence. The women and young men of the village chanted
for a while as we watched the construction equipment
completing the fence that cuts through Jayyous's
lands. Some nearby soldiers watched, and some of the
security guards joined them, but the men of the
village made sure that the youngsters kept their
distance. On the way back, some of the boys had
slingshots to throw stones at the security guards who
stood menacingly in the distance as we passed, but
they were not permitted by their elders to engage even
in this symbolic act of violence. The march ended
without the soldiers gassing, beating, arresting or
shooting at anyone, a testament to the discipline of
the Jayyous organizers as well as the effect of
international accompaniment.

Back at the municipality, the mayor thanked us for our
support, and explained that the Israeli decision to
cut them off from their land and therefore their
income is an attempt to force them to abandon their
homes. I agree. The fence is part of a policy of
ethnic cleansing, in which parts of the West Bank are
slowly being emptied of their indigenous Palestinian
population and replace with Jewish settlers, many of
them from the United States.

We proceeded from Jayyous to nearby Qalqilya, through
the Azun roadblock and the Qalqilya checkpoint.
Again, we made it through the checkpoint with our
Israeli-American member coming under special scrutiny
and pretending not to know Hebrew. We joined up with
the crew of Americans and one Brit already here. And
met our local coordinators.

Qalqilya is a town of about 50,000 Palestinian Muslims
that sits right on the Green Line, next to the most
densely populated part of Israel. It's surrounded by
rich agricultural lands, and appears to be a busy,
though not particularly prosperous, trading center. I
imagine that things were much better here before the
Intifada, when Israelis came here to shop and
Palestinians from neighboring communities didn't have
to beg soldiers to let them through checkpoints in
order to come here. When I participated in a summer
high school program in Israel in 1980, we were taken
to the position in Qalqilya where Jordanian artillery
had been able to shell Israel before 1967. We were
taught that the occupation of the West Bank was
important to protect this narrow and heavily populated
strip of Israel. We were not take to see the town of
Qalqilya, not taught anything about how the people of
Qaqilya suffered during fighting between Israel and
Jordan 1948-1967, nor given any indication of what is
was like for the people of Qalqilya to live under
military occupation. The occupation was 13 years old
then. Now it's 36.

Our primary local coordinator, Marwan*, invited the
12 of us to his home for a delicious meal. That
evening, we were hosted at Qalqilya's Amal Society for
the Deaf, the only deaf society in the Arab world
that's run entirely by deaf people. We toured their
school, received dictionaries of Arabic sign language,
and had a fascinating triple-translated discussion.
Hamid*, a member of the Society, spoke to us in sign,
the Society's one hearing member translated what he
had signed into spoken Arabic, and Marwan translated
from Arabic into English. Hamid taught us a great
deal about the Society and its programs and
international contacts. He also told us about the
deaf Palestinians who have been maimed and killed by
Israeli soldiers during this Intifada. In each case,
soldiers had opened fire on an unarmed deaf
Palestinian man after he failed to follow an order to
halt that he did not hear. Hamid also told us about
the night last year when Israeli soldiers raided the
Society's boarding school, terrifying the children and
wrecking their offices and computer lab.

Yesterday, we were invited to a demonstration in the
town center in support of political prisoners in
Israeli prisons. Tens of thousands of Palestinian men
are in prison in Israel under the administrative
detention law that relieves the Israeli government of
the responsibility of laying charges or trying the
Palestinians the army arrests. Abed*, my host from my
first time with ISM in April 2002, was imprisoned
under this law after his wedding and while his new
wife was pregnant with their first child. As far as I
know, he's never met his daughter.

The demonstration was lively and colorful, and
without army interference. The army came in the
middle of the night last week to assassinate someone
(look up "extrajudicial executions" on Amnesty
International's website to find out just how flagrant
a human rights violation that is), but in general they
don't come into Qalqilya much. Instead, they've built
a wall and a fence all the way around the town, so
that the only way in or out is the checkpoint. Now
that 50,000 people are locked in a cage, there's
little need for the Israeli soldiers to step into the
cage with them. One little boy in the demonstration
was holding a photo of his mother, who was murdered by
Israeli soldiers.

In the afternoon, we went to look at the wall that
separates Qalqilya from Israel and from the rest of
the West Bank. A photo of the wall is attached.
Construction started in April of 2002, and the
Qalqilya will be completely surrounded some time this
summer. We passed by the new girls' school that was
attacked with tear gas by the Israeli army last year.
Now they don't gas anyone-they watch from their tower
in an 8-meter-high concrete wall.

We also visited a farmers' road into orchards near the
"security fence", which has been blocked by 4
roadblocks by the Israeli army. We're going to talk
with the Farmers' Union about clearing the roadblocks
together. Last, we visited a gate in the fence meant
to allow farmers to pass into their fields and
orchards on the "Israeli" side of the fence. The
fence at that point is indeed a fence, about 8 feet
high. It appears to be electrified, although the
cable may be for motion sensors or camera. On the
"Israeli" side of the fence is a paved road that is
restricted to army jeeps, and on the Palestinian side
there is a dirt track, a ditch, and rolls and rolls of
razor wire. The path to the gate is impassable except
on foot or donkey. Farmers were returning from their
fields without interference, but we're told that at
times Israeli soldiers prevent them from passing
through the gate.

This morning, four of us spent two hours watching
Qalqilya Checkpoint. There was nothing out of the
ordinary-just the usual humiliations of men being
forced to wait for an hour in the sun while the
soldiers hold their IDs, and then being allowed to
pass. Yesterday, other members of our team intervened
on behalf of a taxi driver who was arbitrarily
detained and his taxi confiscated. They succeeded in
getting him his ID back and passage through the
checkpoint, and will try today to get his taxi back.
The cab is his only way to feed his family.

Everyone we've met in Qalqilya has been warmly
welcoming, and we've received official invitations to
events as well as lots of public thank yous. We're
being treated a little like a delegation to be feted
and not as participants in non-violent resistance, but
we're working toward a more active relationship with
the community. There was a big meeting today toward
that end while I was at checkpoint watch, and I'm
looking forward to hearing about what was

That's all for now. Thanks for reading, and call


*In these journals, I will always use pseudonyms when
writing about Palestinian individuals other than
members of ISM's core group. Using their real names
could potentially subject them to imprisonment by the
Israeli government, which has historically taken a dim
view of Palestinian non-violent organizing.

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Published on July 16, 2003 1:37 PM.

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