report from Palestine, July 20, 2003

removing a roadblock*

Steve writes from Jenin.

Jenin, West Bank, Occupied Palestine Sunday, July 20, 2003

On Wednesday evening in Qalqilya, we ISM folks were
invited to meet with representatives of the
organizations that comprise the PLO in Qalqilya. They
were all middle-aged men, and all had done time in
Israeli prisons (as has Marwan, our local coordinator,
as have most Palestinian men in the occupied
territories). Each of them spoke about the misery of
occupation, the falseness of Israel's peace
negotiations, and the Palestinian determination to
resist. We threw out a few ideas about direct action
that we can participate in alongside the community,
and there will be more meetings to knock around some

The meeting was followed immediately by a second
meeting, with representatives of the farmers' union.
We spoke about the roadblocks on the road to orchards
within the fence, difficulty in access to their land
outside the fence, irrigation lines being cut by the
workers constructing the fence, and so on. I thought
about the day last fall when Lysander and other ISM
folks were asked by the farmers to join them in
witnessing the destruction of their fruit trees to
clear a path for the fence. She described how some of
the farmers cried and had to be led away.

We decided that we will go out into the fields and the
orchards with the farmers on Sunday to work alongside
them and to witness the difficulties they encounter.
Then we'll sit with them that evening to decide what
needs to be done in Qalqilya.

In a third meeting on Wednesday night (oy), this time
just ISM, we decided who would replace the interim ISM
international coordinator in Qalqilya, since she's
leaving this weekend. Lysander and I volunteered to
share the role.

Thursday morning, we returned to court in Tel Aviv for
the deportation hearing of the 8 ISM internationals
arrested in Jenin and Nablus. They had 4 of the top
human-rights lawyers in Israel, and a packed court of
international and Israeli supporters. The court
officers kept many of the supporters in the hallway
throughout the proceeding, even though there were
empty seats in the courtroom.

Our lawyers pointed out that the 2 Israelis arrested
with the 8 internationals were released almost
immediately, that the arrests were illegal, that the
facts alleged were contradictory. They produced
affidavits in support of ISM from Member of Knesset
Yossi Sarid and from Terri Greenblatt of Bat Shalom.
They showed that while the Ministry of the Interior
was alleging that ISM interferes with the activities
of the army, endangering themselves, soldiers, and the
Israeli public, they offered no evidence to show that
the 8 defendants interfered with the army in any way.

The judge upheld the Ministry's deportation order
anyway, and agreed with the Ministry's
characterizations of ISM. He also denied a one-week
stay of deportation while an appeal is filed in the
Israeli Supreme Court.

We spent last night in Jerusalem. The pedestrian
mall in West Jerusalem was packed, because it was
Thursday night (everything's closed Friday night for
the Jewish Sabbath), and because there is a currently
a cease fire between the Israeli army and Hamas,
Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.
Everyone entering the outdoor mall had to be
thoroughly checked by one of a legion of security
guards. I found it pretty scary. I also thought that
the Israeli peace movement ought to do an action
there, hanging banners on the barricades that point
out that it's the Occupation that makes metal
detectors on a city street necessary.

I was with Lisa, from JAtO, who doesn't read Hebrew,
so I was translating the graffiti and political
posters on the walls for her. They were uniformly
right wing, and said things like "Kahane was right",
"Jordan is the Palestinian state", and "Oslo proves:
it's forbidden to give them a state." There was even
graffiti on the walls of the Old City. (To be fair,
there's lots of graffiti in Palestinian communities
throughout the West Bank, and I usually can't read
what it says.)

The previous week when I was in West Jerusalem, I saw
a number of young men who appeared to be Arab pulled
aside by police, apparently based on looks alone, to
have their IDs scrutinized and to be questioned about
their activities.

While in Jerusalem, I got a call from the ISM people
who had returned to Qalqilya from Tel Aviv. They were
absolutely denied entry to Qalqilya via the
checkpoint; apparently, the Israeli army wants the
50,000 people of Qalqilya, entirely surrounded by the
wall/fence, to be cut off from the outside world. Our
people ended up crawling under a locked farmers' gate
in a part of the fence away from the checkpoint, in
the dark. It remains to be seen how this will play
out, but it looks like our mobility in and out of
Qalqilya is going to be very limited.

Friday morning, 3 of us from the Qalqilya crew
traveled from Jerusalem to Jenin to help out with an
action. Getting from Jerusalem to Jenin was a 45
minute drive once upon a time, but now that a network
of settler roads has been built in the West Bank and
declared off limits to vehicles with Palestinian
license plates (while West Bank cities are off limits
to vehicles with Israeli license plates), the trip
involves a long detour through the Jordan Valley, many
humiliating checkpoints, and 3 hours' travel time.
One of the passengers in our van was a young man from
Jerusalem who is a student at the Arab-American
University in Zababde, a village near Jenin. His
Jerusalem ID means he is seen as an Israeli by the
authorities, so each week when he goes to school, he
gets stopped at the last checkpoint and told that he
mustn't go to Jenin "for his own safety". The delay
caused by the soldiers checking his ID led the driver
to leave without him, stranding him at the checkpoint.

We got to Birqin, near Jenin, just in time to
participate in a roadblock removal*. Lots of men and
boys from the village, as well as the ISM crew from
Jenin, converged on the giant dirt mound with a front
loader, pick axes, and shovels. If you look carefully
at the attached photo, you'll see two people hanging
off the sides of the front loader. Those are ISM
internationals there to protect the front loader from
confiscation, and the driver from arrest. My job was
to eavesdrop on the soldiers communicating with one
another, since I understand Hebrew, while another
international negotiated with them in English.
Fortunately, I had nothing to do, since the army never
showed up. The roadblock that the army built is gone,
and the drive from Birqin to Jenin is once again 5
minutes, instead of 40.

After the successful action, we spent time at the home
of Moayed, an organizer in Birqin. We were served tea
and coffee, of course, and listened to Moayed and his
family play the oud and sing songs of Palestinian
liberation. His teenage daughter recited a poem about
Palestine that made a Palestinian-American ISM member
cry. It was great chatting with Moayed; he spoke with
me about the need for coexistence of Jews and
Palestinians in this land, and about how the Torah and
the Qur'an are both used to justify exclusive rights
to the country.

We proceeded to the ISM apartment in Jenin. The walls
of Jenin are covered with martyr posters (anyone who
has died in the struggle is called a "martyr" in
Palestine), from Rachel Corrie to civilians shot by
Israeli soldiers in Jenin to fighters who died
defending Jenin from Israeli invasion to suicide
bombers. One sees these posters in every Palestinian
community in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but
they're particularly plentiful here. I am sorry that
bombers get the same status as other people who resist
the Occupation; personally, I'm convinced that the
bombings are reprehensible as well as
counterproductive. I worry about them when I'm in Tel
Aviv, Haifa, or West Jerusalem (I never ride buses),
and my friend Shanka in Tel Aviv narrowly missed
getting killed in a bus bombing a year ago. I think
it's important to remember, however, that there were
almost no bombings when the peace process was on track
in the '90s, that the bloody Israeli army assault on
unarmed Palestinian resistance in September, October
and November of 2000 preceded any of this Intifada's
bombings, and that Israeli army targeting of
Palestinian civilians has killed 3 times as many
people as the bombings have. So while I disagree (to
put it mildly) with anyone who sees the bombers as
people to be admired for sacrificing themselves for
their people, I think it's clear that the way to end
the bombings is to end the Occupation. (The Israeli
Knesset this past week reaffirmed that the West
Bank-"Judea and Samaria" in their Biblical view-is not
occupied territory, that settlement expansion must
continue, and that Israel must control all the land
west of the "security fence", even though that land is
in the West Bank and represents vital Palestinian land
and water resources.)

The ISM folks in Jenin tell me that the Israeli army
has been going into Jenin Refugee Camp at night,
destroying the building materials that the U.N. is
using to try and rebuild the community that was
bulldozed by the army in April of 2002.

I had a good discussion tonight with folks in Jenin
about their upcoming actions in and around the city,
and how we might proceed in Qalqilya. The conditions
in walled-in Qalqilya are very difficult for people
who live and work there, and for internationals trying
to support non-violent resistance there. The people
there have welcomed internationals in solidarity with
them, but I think we all feel a little stymied by
being caged up. We'll see what we can accomplish.

The trip Saturday morning from Jenin to Qalqilya was
another exercise in roadblocks, humiliating
checkpoints, and 5 shared taxis for what should have
been 1 short trip. The racism at the checkpoints was
blatant; at one point all the Palestinian men in the
car were forced to get out and stand in the sun while
their IDs were checked. I was allowed to sit in the
car with the women. No soldier asked spoke to me or
looked at my passport to ascertain who I was; I was
apparently judged not in need of checking by virtue of
my appearance alone.

We finally got to Qalqilya, and did manage to talk our
way in through the checkpoint. We had a few things
going for us: we were a small group (only 3), we had a
Palestinian-American with us who could claim to have
family in Qalqilya, and the District Commanding
Officer who has ordered internationals kept out of
Qalqilya wasn't there because it was Saturday.
Nevertheless, we got in by the skin of our teeth.

While we waited and haggled at the checkpoint, I
observed the soldiers' interactions with Palestinians
requesting permission into the city. They were spoken
to and manhandled in a way that the soldiers would
never dare with us, another manifestation of racism
run amok. The soldier with whom we were negotiating,
who was friendly to us and sympathetic, left for a
moment, transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Hyde,
and screamed at some boys on a donkey cart. Another
soldier went through a young man's pockets without
speaking to him about it first, in order to see if he
had another form of ID. I couldn't imagine him doing
that to me.

On Sunday morning we went out to the farmers' gate in
the fence. The idea was to spend a day with farmers
working in their fields and orchards and observing the
ways in which the fence is disrupting their
livelihood. Agriculture has become a central source
of income since Palestinians' travel to their jobs in
Israel was banned, and since Israeli shoppers stopped
coming to Qalqilya.

One can no longer bring a car, truck or tractor into
the Qalqilya fields and orchards outside of the fence.
The army blocked the way to the gate with boulders
and a mound of dirt, so that one can only travel on
foot or, with difficulty, by donkey. The impact of
this demechanization on Qalqilya farmers' ability to
extract income from their fields is obvious.

We walked through the gate with Shukri, an AP
photographer who is a Qalqilya resident and some
farmers. We were stopped by the private armed
security (from a company called Ari) who work for the
companies contracted to build the fence for the
Israeli government. They were very aggressive and
caused all the farmers except one to turn back and try
again later. We ignored them and walked into the
lands beyond the fence with a farmer named Khaled.

Khaled pointed out how many of the plots were
neglected since September 2002 when this part of the
fence went up. Under the Ottoman land laws, which
Israel uses to confiscate Palestinian land, property
belongs to the state if it is uncultivated for 3 years
in a row. The state's role in preventing cultivation
is not a mitigating factor in the eyes of the Israeli
legal system. The Israeli government then turns the
land over to the Jewish National Fund, whose charter
says that the land is held in perpetuity for the
Jewish people, making it technically illegal for
non-Jews, even non-Jewish Israelis, to rent or live on
that land. (The heavily fortified Border Police post
at the Qalqilya checkpoint has a sign denoting that
it's on JNF land. Not what I had in mind when I put
my allowance in those little blue boxes as a kid.)

Israeli soldiers in a Hummer followed us up the path
among the fields, and forced us to leave. We tried to
negotiate to let us stay and work with the farmers for
the day, but they said they were calling the Border
Police to come and arrest us. Again: apartheid. They
said that the farmer could proceed to his fields (his
wife and children already had), but they were intent
on keeping us apart from them.

One of the soldiers freaked when we walked back
through the gate into Qalqilya. I guess they thought
we'd walk alongside the gate on their jeep road until
we got to a checkpoint, or until the Border Police
came along and arrested us. They REALLY don't want us
in Qalqilya. They didn't follow us in, however. I
think they need fairly high level orders to come
inside the cage. They did stop Shukri, and took his
ID and press pass (Palestinians can be arrested for
not carrying ID). Shukri went to the District
Commanding Officer later, who returned his ID, but
said he'd need the name of the soldier in order to
file a complaint aimed at getting back his press pass.

This morning we tried again to go out with the farmers
(they hadn't expected that we'd come back). We
arrived at the gate at 6:15 on the assumption that the
workers constructing the fence wouldn't be at work
yet, and therefore security wouldn't have arrived.
What we found was a tank, a jeep, and some soldiers,
waiting apparently for us. Some farmers got there at
the same time, and were allowed through by the
soldiers. We of course did not attempt to cross, and
I'm really disappointed that the army has so far been
successful at separating us from the farmers.

Israeli army jeeps came into Qalqilya today and
arrested someone-I don't know the details.
International activists and local residents in the
nearby village of Jayyous had an action today at which
they went to the fence and threw food and supplies
over to a Bedouin family trapped by the fence and
unable to reach Jayyous themselves.

We're working hard on our upcoming wall actions-July
28 in Jenin, July 29 in Tulkarm, July 30 here, and
July 31 in Mas'ha. We have to find a way to bring the
world's attention to the fence and what it's doing to

That's all for now. Peace.


When oh when will we read this on the pages of the Times??

About this Entry

Published on July 21, 2003 12:24 PM.

previous entry: great shapes

next entry: New York has lost