Saturday, June 18, 2005
Palestinian Dies Waiting at Checkpoint Near Bethlehem
posted by: username at 3:12 PM

A Palestinian medical source in Bethlehem reported that a 70-year-old died on Gilo checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The source stated that Zahra Issa Zboun, 70, from al-Azza refugee camp in Bethlehem, died after the Israeli soldiers barred her from crossing into Jerusalem to conduct Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem.

source: IMEMC

Just two days ago I was talking with some men who were being forced to wait at the northern Bethlehem checkpoint (Gilo Checkpoint, Checkpoint 300). I arrived at 1:30pm and was told they had been waiting since 9am for the soldiers to return their identity cards. This is very common. When I offered them water one man took a quick drink and then hid it when he noticed soldiers walking towards us. He informed me that they were refusing to allow the men to drink any water and had taken the water they had before and dumped it out on their heads.

Just a few minutes later a young Palestinian boy came to the checkpoint from Jerusalem with a shopping cart full of various electrical items. An older officer emptied the cart by taking the electrical items and throwing them on the pavement, while the boy tried desperately to catch each item and break it's fall. He then took the boy's cart and forced him to stagger off carrying a vaccuum cleaner, a T.V., and three heavy plastic bags.

When I tried to help the boy carry his stuff I was placed "under arrest", though once the boy had left they simply let me go.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Today I went to Abu Tor
posted by: peacerider at 9:31 PM

Olives branches, pneumatic drill and 'house'.

Today I went to Abu Tor and I’m going to tell you about it for two selfish reasons; one because I find writing therapeutic, and two, because my writing is medicinal for me not for you. On the contrary the second reason I write is because I want you to feel what I feel. Due to the intangible definition of ‘feelings’, this is unlikely. Improbable perhaps. But then again, that’s what I thought about many things, until I came to Palestine.

Today I went to Abu Tor and it was completely by chance. I was on my way to visit Silwan – the neighbouring suburb. Lately, Silwan has received a fair amount of media attention. Well at least it has in my activist world within the 8km radius covering Bethlehem to Jerusalem. To know whether or not it has received media on an international scale, you are better judges of that. Have you heard of Silwan? In case you have confirmed my scepticism, the municipality of Jerusalem intends to demolish an entire neighbourhood; 88 houses in Silwan have received demolition orders;to restore the area to its landscape of yore”, according to the city engineer, Uri Shetrit. In human terms ‘thousands of people’ are to be made homeless (without compensation) in order to restore Jerusalem to its “beginnings of from 5,000 years ago”.

The residents of Silwan have put up a good fight – but after all, what have they got to lose? I didn’t make it to Silwan because on my way I received news that a house in Abu Tor was currently being demolished – destroyed – transformed into a mess of concrete, stones, dust and twisted iron.

Are we in the right place? Israeli flags hung out of every window. The antennae’s of the parked cars were trimmed with the orange ribbons; many with more than one. The colour orange has become a symbol for those opposed to the forced removal of Israeli settlers from
Gaza; opposed to being made homeless, against demolition; selective demolition that is.

We drove on until the flags stopped and the kippahs turned to hijabs. The Palestinian part of Abu Tor moved past besides us, but the road was blocked.

Army army everywhere, everywhere and you are there, eyes hidden by plastic fashion, guns held like black kryptonite.

We parked and walked. Which way? Follow the trail – Follow the debris of ‘The house’. “You can’t come here no one can come here. Not even press.” How many houses? “Just one.” Just; One? When did they start? “We started this morning.” She said. My phone rings, a Swedish-Israeli, just arrived to visit his grandmother in Natanya. “I can’t speak now” and I rudely switch my phone off. A belated, “Sorry”.

We walked around, towards the sound; the sound of ‘construction’. But here in Israel everything is downside up and front to back. We walked towards the sound of drilling. “Where do you go?” I ignored it. I couldn’t face another pair of cocky sunglasses. “You’re Welcome.” I stop and turn round. My impatient mistake. A young Palestinian boy motions to me. We follow him. Through an alley way, past a kitchen window, up some stairs, through another gate. Another, “You’re Welcome”, and a young mother leads us up to her roof.

Together we stand and watch as two huge pneumatic drills launch into what’s left of half a days work. They are surrounded by more sunglasses, and police, and men in fluorescent jackets who point this way and that way, as if they are overseeing a clean-up operation after a natural disaster, although their gestures probably mean more like: Over there you’ve missed a bit. No drill into it a bit more, it still looks like a corner of a building. Right now you can start drilling down just to make sure you get the foundations.

I climbed up onto the ledge and took a photo. As I did the face of a voice came into view. I couldn’t understand the screams, but the gestures were expressive. The girl was leaning over a neighbouring building raising her arms above her head and then furiously pulling them back below her body. Again and again, as if she was in a trance and possessed by some almighty power far beyond her own human range. She leaned over further, pointing toward the little glass cab which sat on top of the pneumatic drill. The drill after all is not automatic, neither is it an extension of the directions of the fluorescent coated figure, rather it is controlled by a ‘man’ whose ‘job’ it is to destroy people’s houses. Did he hear her scream? We did. It left us empty. Hollow. I felt embarrassed at watching her pain. I climbed down.

'The creature', with the glass cab and their audience.

“This morning they told the lawyer”. The mother began as if pre-empting my swallowed questions. I had felt they would be too intrusive to ask. “It was a new home, nearly completed. The family hadn’t yet moved in. But they didn’t have a license [permit]. They don’t give it to anyone. They want us to suffer”.

Us? I looked down; the drill was dangerously close to the wall supporting the roof beneath our feet. These were after all her neighbours. I thought back to our rushed walk through her house. The rooms were empty of furniture. Now I was intrusive. Do you feel scared? "What?" How does this make you feel? Does it make you scared?

"I feel terrible, of course scared, of course I hate them [nodding towards the jackets and guns beneath us]. I feel the Occupation now. I feel it very well. I’m not from Jerusalem, but now this is my home...” Where are you from? "Originally from ‘Israel [pre-1946] from near Natanya..."

I probe further; I’m hoping the pain she feels is momentarily easing as she relays it to me - as I do to you. Have you received a demolition order yet? So far a huge fine, 170,000 sheckles. Our house is only one year old, and we built these two stories on place of a very old shack. Just like that...was.” So you have no license? “No! We were supposed to have a license but they will not allow us one.” She speaks slowly as if I don’t understand “they - don’t – allow - anyone - a – license – to - build - on - their land”. This women is young. Maybe she is only my age? Have you legal help I ask? “We have a lawyer yes” and is any organisation helping you? “I don’t think that any organisation can help with this Occupation”. She asks if I want a drink. I shake my head. I ask her name. “Jihan”; “Of the World”.

Jihan watching from her roof.

I feel empty, destroyed. Even more involved. Horrible. The first housing demolition I have witnessed. Evil. The sounds of the persistent drilling. The vibrations which resound everywhere as the dust swirls around, consuming us in grey ‘powdering’ clouds, pushing into our lungs. Below two Israeli police men are taking photos with small digital cameras – evidence – proof of a ‘job’ ‘well-done’. I walk away.

Of the World reappears carrying a bottle of water. She places it in front of us and then excuses herself. “I have to go see my baby, I’ve had to move him out, there’s too much” Dust. Noise. Pain. She turns to return down the stairs but her gaze rests on the houses further across her valley; “See how bad the situation is here. Very bad”. Of the World is staring at Silwan.

The golden dome of Al'aqsa mosque to the left, Silwan in the middle and the Wall out of view.

We sip water. We watch the kids playing games on the pavement below; games with no-name but which involved them hitting each others hands in a rhythmic mesmerising fashion; gradually gaining speed. We watch their older sisters looking across at 'The mess' from their roofs as their mothers lean out of doorways and their fathers climb on roofs from one to another – from one view point to the next. I feel empty. As the house was. Of the World feels as destroyed as it is. I look at the colour of the pages I am writing these thoughts on. They are pink. It doesn’t seem right. Everything should be as grey as 'The house’ beneath us, as the air we breathe. I turn my head a little. It rests on the horizon; on the wall of the old city encaging the shiny golden dome of Al’qsa mosque. This afternoon the sun is beaming on the
Old City. It doesn’t seem right that the Holy City should bear witness to this. I look away. No not Silwan, please I’ve seen too much. My eyes fall to the right. I see the new Wall.

A grey form bleeding across the hills. Winding, encroaching, intruding as it traverses and sequesters. Molesting. Incongruous with this land. Incongruous with all that is “Right”.

‘Snoopy’ is with me. She has been here much much longer than me. At this point I feel too involved and at this point I know why she has never left. But how does she stay so strong? I feel exhausted. Demoralised - about everything. I ask her later, she replies, “but when you stop reacting, its time to leave – this should never be normal.” A Catch 22. A very painfully, personal, Catch. We pass the ‘creatures’. The sound of their huge tracks is so very ugly, and I couldn’t help but think two words... We watched as it slowly screeched and with each irregular tone left an equally distorted gravely ridge. The tarmac was crumbling beneath it as it laboriously wrenched itself onto the truck which brought it here... ‘Rachel.’ ‘Corrie.’

We walked towards the car. A group of young boys gather around us. They are high on action. They are surrounded by drills, the persistent insane vibrations, and hundreds of ‘too-tough’ soldiers with their black brutal ‘kryptonite’. I look at Snoopy. She looks back. They yell at us and laugh. They throw stones at us and laugh. I really don’t need this. Snoopy shouts in Arabic. They continue, but hesitantly. She grabs one. How old is he? Or rather ‘how young is he’? A father appears. The boys return to boys. We return to the car.

I didn’t want to write that, but after all I am trying to make you feel what I feel and I can’t do that if I am too selective now can I?

The boys after the Army and their machines have left.

In less than five minutes we are winding our way up to the Old City. We pass a car decked in purple bows and laughing faces. We pass groups of young Jewish Americans, singing songs, as they see the ‘sights’ of the ‘Holy Land”. I look down. Remains of some part of ‘The house’ have stuck to one sandal. My foot is covered in its grey shadow.

My day ends with a trip to the West Jerusalem Cinematheque
. This is the reality of life in this country. One minute … and the next…The film was about an aboriginal Australian poet. We were late but caught the end. The poet’s face fills the screen as Snoopy whispers, “I’m so glad we came”. The poet's voice fills the auditorium.

The verse rings deep, disturbing the clouds within my lungs;

“And We Shall Rise and Surprise You By Our Will.”
From Oz to Palestine via the Jerusalem Cinematheque
posted by: peacerider at 9:08 PM
Its the Australian Film Festival in Israel at the moment, and on Wednesday I went to see "Walk with Words" which was a documentary about the personal and political story of Romaine Moreton - poet, performance artist and Indigenous woman. Her poem, I Shall Surprise You By My Will, left a stunned audience. I wonder how many of the mainly Israeli audience thought of their neighbours? I did. Thanks Romaine.

I Shall Surprise You By My Will

I will make oppression work for me,
With a turn and with a twist,
Be camouflaged within stated ignorance,
Then rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I will make oppression work for me,
With a turn and a twist,
I shall sit cross legged like a trap door,
Then rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I will let you pass me over,
Believe me stupid and ill informed,
And once you believe me gone or controlled
Will rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I shall spring upon you words familiar,
Then watch you regather as they drop about,
Like precious tears thick with fear,
Hear you scream and shout,
Then I shall watch convictions break away,
And crumple like paper bags,
And then as beauty I shall rise,
And surprise you by my will,

It is only when you believe me gone,
Shall I rise,
From this place where I
Cross legged
To surprise you by my will,

In the alleys, in the clubs, in the parliaments,
In courts of law, parking cars, driving buses,
And generally watching you
Watching me
As you pass me by,

I shall wait cross legged,
To surprise you by my will,

For I shall stumble from houses of education,
And I shall stumble from institutions of reform,
I shall stumble,
Over rocks, over men, over women, and over children,
And surprise you by my will,

I shall stumble over poverty, over policies, and over prejudice,
Weary and torn,
I stumble,
Then bleary and worn I shall rise,
From this place where I wait cross legged,
And surprise you by my will,

For the mountains we crossed,
They were easy,
And the rivers we swam,
They were easier still,
And even then,
As I attempted to outrun inhumanity,
I surprised you by my will,

I have witnessed the falling of many,
Heard them cry and hear them still,
Even with grief inside me growing,
I command my spirit to rise,
And surprise you by my will,

And for all people,
We are here and we are many,
And we shall surprise you by our will,
We shall rise from this place where you expect
To keep us down,
And we shall surprise you by our will,

For the bullets we dodged,
They were difficult,
And this ideological warfare
More difficult still,
But even now,
As we challenge inhumanity,
We shall rise,
And surprise you by our will.

More of Romaine's work can be found at:

Saturday, June 11, 2005
Poo Missiles
posted by: username at 10:17 AM
Generally speaking, we try to keep things focused on the Bethlehem area here, but I thought this was just too cool to pass up:

Protesters against the separation wall in the village of Belein, near Ramallah, responded Friday to army tear gas by throwing balloons filed with chicken urine “poo missiles” at soldiers.

If they keep this tactic up, I'm sure we're likely to see all sorts of important and knowledgable and reasonable IDF spokespersons talking about the mortal danger from unsanitary chicken urine that necessitates a response with deadly force. I mean, the chickens must be terrorists, too.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The Sound of Music
posted by: username at 4:27 PM
We received the following email and I am assuming it is meant as a contribution. So here it is:

Letter from Bethlehem (70)
Toine van Teeffelen
June 8, 2005

The Sound of Music

It was the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga who (in 1920) introduced the concept of “historical sensation”. A historical sensation creates “the feeling of an immediate contact with the past, a sensation as deep as the purest enjoyment of the Arts… you touch the essence of things, the experience of Truth through history.” As an example of such an historical sensation, Huizinga asks the reader to imagine the following. “You walk on the street, and a barrel organ [the well-know organ you find in the Dutch streets] is playing, and if you approach it, it suddenly happens that a breeze of recognition blows through your mind, as if for a moment you understand things which otherwise would be covered by the shrouds of life.” Such fleeting moments of recognition help to introduce you into History more than any statistics or generalizations could do.

I have to confess that I do not often have an historical sensation, and feel a pang of jealousy towards those who have. As a guide I used to lead people around in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where you have historical objects and buildings around every corner. However, you are usually busy not thinking about how the past felt, but rather telling the familiar stories associated with places or you’re otherwise burdened by such mundane considerations as the location of the toilet. In Bethlehem it is only when the Church of Nativity is silent and empty except for the friars that you can bring up the fullness of history in a rare moment of reflection.

I lately had an historical sensation in an area where you would expect it least; namely, while walking from the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint to the Wall. It concerns a rather desolate area with few people walking and perhaps some cars waiting in front of the checkpoint. It is nowadays so difficult to enter Jerusalem that you do not need to wait long in the queue. Even the soldiers are less stressed and unfriendly than elsewhere, just lazy and indifferent behind their table in the shadow of the hot sun. I’ve got used to walking along those two or three hundred meters between the checkpoint and the Wall. You see little boys who try to sell their chewing gum, always in vain. In the past you could take a taxi after passing the checkpoint from Jerusalem, but now the area is empty of taxis. It is really a bleached area, you feel that you are outside a living culture and indeed, out of life. Passing through it is like performing a rite de passage, treading a no man’s land on the way from Israeli to Palestinian land and vice versa. Just in front of the Wall there is now an enormous terminal station, undoubtedly built with American money, which gives the area a high-tech, sterile appearance. It vaguely recalls, for those who know it, Eretz, the entry to Gaza. When I am forced to pass it with my son of three, I try to take him on my shoulders, to give him a sense of self-confidence.

If there is here something that would remind of the past it is the 10 meter high Wall, which looks Medieval, as a friend told me lately. Indeed, the Wall is an ancient artifact violently inserted into the present. But it was not the Wall which opened me up to history but rather the sound of music coming out of a transistor radio. It was a Hebrew song. Over the last ten years I never heard Israeli music in this area. A lot of Arabic music, a lot of sounds from common Arab life (like taxis honking), but never Israeli music. And the music was very loud. It occurred to me that it may be easier to lift a gun than to put on your own country’s music loudly in an area which you know belongs to a different culture and people. The music said more than the man’s words could have said. It was saying: I am here, and it is normal that I am here.

How could the man working next to the radio decide that there was no problem in putting on loud Hebrew music?

It must have been the fact that the area was now devoid of common Arab life. The informal checkpoint market economy which used to flourish here over a year or so ago during certain times of the day (when laborers passed by) has gone. And, most importantly, there are no Arab taxis anymore. Taxi drivers are usually assertive, talk and shout among each other, fight for passengers. They create life. I still remember that again maybe a year or so ago, soldiers had their little tricks to get the taxis out of the area, by confiscating car keys, or by letting the drivers stand at the checkpoint for a few hours. Now the taxis have to wait in front of the gate of the Wall, and can’t enter the no man’s land.

While trying to imagine what brought the man to put on Hebrew music, I felt this sensation of not so much looking into the past, but watching a historic process. I suddenly realized that annexation and colonization consist of various stages: bringing in the military, taking away existing cultural and street life, bringing in new buildings, and then bringing in another culture. You see the grand historical strokes in front of your eyes. More so, you feel the process in your stomach. As the Israeli composer Daniel Barenboim (the great friend of Edward Said) said on a BBC interview yesterday, music is on the one hand a kind of mathematical achievement and on the other hand can open up all feelings.

A few days ago, in a dry statistical survey, Peace Now revealed that there is no construction halt in the settlements. To the contrary, in the settlements such as Har Gilo and Betar Illit besides Bethlehem and Beit Jala, literally hundreds of houses are being built. Apparently this is done in order to bolster the “Israeli” side of the Wall, and to transform the Wall into a permanent border. The international community is busy with the withdrawal from Gaza, so let’s go full steam ahead in the West Bank. The Peace Now statistics show the cold facts of annexation. It is the historical sensation of hearing a little fragment of out-of-place music which tells the narrative of annexation.

Thanks Toine for the contribution! If you're in the Bethlehlem area or you have been or you think you've got something particularly relevant to Bethlehem, email it to us and maybe we'll put it up.
Monday, June 06, 2005
On Good Intentions
posted by: Anton Stephan at 2:24 PM
A recent move by the U.S. Congress has shifted what was to be $200 million to the Palestinian Authority and channeled it instead through U.S. aid agencies and Israel. This means that the non-governmental organization (NGO) scene in Palestine will get a $150 million boost. No doubt this is a good thing, right?

The fact is, Palestine is already inundated with development, humanitarian and faith-based organizations and the people who come along with them.

Here in Bethlehem, for example, dozens of organizations go around "capacity building," "assessing feasibility," and "promoting" and "sustainable-izing" this or that.

Many Palestinians tell me that that some of this aid helps and they appreciate it. But they also tell me in the same breath that they are often disgusted with it.

They say it often does much more harm than good, like creating dependency on donor organizations, excusing Israel as occupying military ruler of its responsibility to extend social services, and letting the world congratulate itself for "helping" Palestinians while losing sight of their freedom.

Over the years, these people and projects come and go. They come to work for a few months or a year, live Global North-salaried lives detached from the people who they have come to help, feel good about themselves and move on to the next poor-folk rescue project.

I usually hear this criticism come hand in hand with the disclaimer, "Oh, but the intentions are good." "These people come to help. They mean well," people say.

In the past, I was quick to give the very same disclaimer. Now, I struggle get the words out.
Are good intentions good enough?

Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher and theologian Sّren Kierkegaard wrote:

It is the most dangerous thing for a person to go backwards with the help of good intentions, especially with the help of promises; for it is almost impossible to discover that one is really going backwards.

And so it is with the one who, rich in good intentions and quick to promise, retreats backwards farther and farther from the good. With the help of intentions and promises, he maintains the honest impression that he is moving towards the good, yet all the while he moves farther and farther away from it. With every renewed intention and promise it seems as if he is taking a new step forward but in reality he is only standing still, no, he is really taking another step backward.
Didn't the colonizing British government think they were modernizing and helping India? Did not the Dutch settlers think they were bringing civilization to black people in the Western Cape of southern Africa?

Perhaps international and local organizations working in Palestine have their lexicon and intentions in order, but what issues are they addressing?

A school was recently built in a village near Bethlehem with funds from USAID, the U.S. government development agency. It is now under demolition orders by the Israeli military for being too close to the Israeli segregation wall, and will likely be destroyed by a military subsidized in large part by the United States government. U.S. taxpayers pay for it both ways, but are the Palestinian kids in the village benefiting?

If donors were to pull out and force Israel to follow international law, some Palestinians may suffer when the aid doesn't come. But if things continue this way, Israel will continue to escape responsibility on the backs of taxpayers around the world at the expense of Palestinian emancipation.

It was the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who wrote:

This is why their [oppressor's] generosity is false. Humanity is a "thing" and they possess it as an exclusive right, as inherited property. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their "generosity," the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this "generosity" which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty.
True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life" to extend their trembling hands.

Palestinians quite rightly criticize the corruption in the government and organizations that funnel funds into the pockets of the few. But Palestinians are harsh in saying often, "sha'ib mutakhel-lif" ("our backward people"), and we as Palestinians will never be able to get it right by virtue of being Palestinian. This notion is supported by much of the work that is done by international organizations which ignores innate Palestinian creativity and ability.
Freire goes on to say:

This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are truly in solidarity with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity.

Around the world, exiled Palestinians are leaders in business, arts, politics, and academia. A few examples show the wide diversity: A Palestinian family founded the Arab Bank. The late Palestinian scholar Edward Said is considered one of the great minds of our time. A Bethlehemite Palestinian immigrant became president of El Salvador last year.

International organizations congratulate themselves for helping Palestinians and they must be very proud. With the air of a savior, they are building capacity for a people who seem to already have it.
Is it that Palestinians need a $200 million boost to this bloated system of so-called development projects or is it that we instead need support in the struggle for liberation?

by Omar Tesdell
May 17, 2005
From Bethlehem to Bi'lin
posted by: peacerider at 1:32 PM

Bidayat...The sounds are washing over me. Washing away the stains of gas, tempering my frustration; soothing my confusion. Palestinian music, "not from another Arabic country but from here" - from this land which I am now firmly placed upon with my two tired feet, tired heart and bursting mind. One tired foot begins to tap as my confused head sways. The clarinet mingles with the oud and then the drums begin to thump. Without thinking I am not remembering, just swaying and then a small smile as a familiar tune rises from the air around. Local anesthetic for a general pain. Light cultural relief. "We hope that you will enjoy this evening's performance." The drums speak to one another, beating out their own rhythms, eye contact retained. Another slight smile - the hint of satisfaction, the grin spreads as the other band members relent and begin to join their comrades. Wissam hugs his buzuk as if it is a continuation of his self. I close my eyes and replace the world with an internal sound, which surrounds all of us. Even as I write, I do so with my eyes in my ears. "This next song is from the Palestinian folk...and it will be the last piece"; the clapping from the audience grows louder. It claps a different beat, but the same. Together, the stage and the seats perform as one. Voices mumble unable to keep to their role as the passive audience. I don't know the words, but I know the rhythm as it takes over both my feet and my head. It's so powerful. I am not remembering. I walk away. I cannot forget.

This morning (Friday 3 June) I left Beit Sahour to go to Bi'lin, a village of approximately 1,700 Palestinians which lies to the West of Ramallah and 5km from the Green Line. The primary source of income for Bi'lin is agriculture. Generation after generation have cultivated their 4,500 dunam of land; tending olive, fig and almond trees. As I write and as you read, the 'separation barrier' is winding its way towards Bi'lin, and threatens to appropriate 2,000 dunam of its land. Redisents have been forced to witness the uprooting of their liveli-hood, as the Isaeli Army rips up their olive trees and constructs Israel's answer to Israel's problem. In Bi'lin the separation barrier is actually a 'Fence' and despite looking less imposing and permanent than Bethlehem's concrete Wall, its visible transience is misleading. The Fence eats up more land as it necessitates a greedy system of trenches and patrol roads, which easily swallows an additional 6m of land on either side. The Fence, which almost touches the houses of the village, threatens to separate Bi'lin from 43% of its land, upon which the ultra-orthodox settlement of Kiryat Sefer will be further enlarged. This settlement is already built wholly on land taken from the adjoining Palestinian villages.

By invitation of Bil'in, two coaches full of Israeli and international activists joined them in a non-violent demonstration. We went to show our solidarity; to fight along side the people of Bi'lin against the military face of this injustice and ultimately to prevent the further destruction of their livelihoods by reclaiming their just control over their land and olive trees upon it.

As always, I was amazed at the commitment of my fellow Israelis and their fellow Palestinians, which was demonstrated by the organisation of the day and the activist 'unit' through which it transfigured. We were well briefed, transported to a village close to Bi'lin, where we were met by military jeeps and small shy children, who were sent by their parents to bring the us bottles of cold water. We were forced to dodge the jeeps which persistently drove towards us while we followed the lead of the experienced Israeli's activists and continued to march up to the waiting mini-van, which took us directly into the centre of Bi'lin. Bi'lin was buzzing. Flags carpeted the crowd, media dodged between the public and public figures, as members of the Israeli Knesset and Palestinian politicians stood together draped in kaffirs; the former independent Presidential candidate, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi; West Bank Hamas leader, Hassen Yousef; the Palestinian Minister of the Wall Affairs, Ahmad Majdalani, and Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli member of the Knesset.

Members of the traveling circus complemented Bi'lin's own 'resistance street theatre' as they stood on each others shoulders, donned red noses and matching kaffirs and juggled their batons. Announcements were shouted from the mosque, above the sign, "Peace needs Bridges not Walls". Another corner boasted an exhibition of Bi'lin's creativity, and bearing witness to their determined resistance. Examples of past Actions stood, lay or hung on display; these included a resident chained to an olive tree, a resident with a noose around his neck, a resident bolted to the ground below a 'fence', and three 'human containers', standing to attention besides a shining pile of empty tear gas shells and sound grenades. A baton was dropped, and then another.

For the past three months Bi'lin's residents have been fighting the Israeli Army and their bulldozers using the only resources they have; their solidarity and resourceful determination. I watched in amazement as 1500 home made Palestinian flags were paraded. I was left wondering why Bethlehem hadn't put up such a fight during the formation of our ghetto? But villages such as Budrus had, and after 55 demonstrations, many arrests and injuries they had succeeded. Through non-violent resistance, Budrus had halted the construction of the Wall and prevented it from destroying their main olive groves. Inspiration in Success. Desperation in the extent of the fight; as every village along the route of the Wall is forced to respond, either as the 'defeated', in 'detention', or simply as victims - or like Budrus - surprised 'David's' against this unstoppable, merciless Goliath.

Our colourful and diverse crowd chanted our way down to the olive groves. We didn't have to walk far, after all Palestine is (was) one huge olive grove. Despite the burnt tree stumps and bare earth, it still blooms with pride. Beautiful. The Fence scars the hills; it crawls across the landscape, edging towards Bi'lin, with a wide berth of desolate dust guiding it further towards their lives. We walked as one; old, young, men and women. About 150 conscience Israelis, with many international activists camouflaged amongst them. Photo-journalists, camera men and women. Quakers, ISM, news organisations. Anarchists, peace lovers, academics, visitors, residents, mothers, sisters, children, workers, 'livers'.

On the facing hill the green 'olive' fatigues careered down to meet our colourful delegation. The guns stood behind their riot shields. Although we were still about 150 meters from the start of the Fence, our physical movement was continued verbally as the loud speakers echoed the crowds resignation; a truth which was was demonstrated by the beginning of the Friday prayer session. Bi'lin's residents stood in amongst their trees, lining up row after row on their land, which has bore witness to generation after generation and now to desecration. They knelt, touching the soil with their foreheads; peaceful resignation, resistance - before God.

The prayers stopped, soldiers strutted forwards. In the same second as stones were thrown the crowd turned and stumbled up the hill. I could hear the responding shots of gas, but their effects were yet to meet our hiding faces. We followed the flow, which took us over rocks, dodging branches and boulders. More shots and rubber bullets, more shouts, more stones. Young men swung their catapults as the army fired their rounds of suffocating cloud. The clouds would land behind us, in front of us; besides us. Still moving away - or nearer? It was hard to tell. Medics picked up those whose respiratory systems had surrendered, although their legs stumbled on as their eyes cried. We ran towards a courtyard of houses; the gas landed amongst us. We climbed over fences and barbed wire, and still it chased us. I wanted to throw rocks. I wanted the rocks to stop being thrown. I wanted the soldiers to stop playing with their guns. I wanted the old woman next to her house to move her hijab away from her mouth and to take her hand off of the wall upon which she was leaning.

We would pause for a little. Listen to the silence further down the hill, while listening to the muffled shouts surrounding us. Eyes and noses were streaming. Coughing, spitting, throwing, walking further away/ towards. Another bang. Another cloud of gas. Relax; don't inhale too deeply, keep your mouth shut. I held my hand out as onions were hastily torn and distributed. I pushed it under my scarf. We moved on. Soldiers barricaded themselves into disused houses at the edge of the village and continued their offensive as we continued our retreat.

Meanwhile, the Army (attempting to keep pace with Bi'lins own resourcefulness) used a new weapon - a vehicle that emitted sound at high frequencies, which caused dizziness and pain, to which the Palsolidarity report commented:

Villagers quickly distributed an effective defense: cotton earplugs. Another useless bit of offensive wonders what's coming next?

As the panic, running and shouting began to settle, I tried to touch base with those I could no longer see.

A phone call to a friend:
"You ok?"
- "Ok, and you?"
"Were fine, whose left down there?"
- "Just the Israelis and the Army."

I liked the distinction; no longer the 'Israeli Army' but the activists against the passive. The passive shouted, 'You should be ashamed of yourselves', the activists returned the complement. Two were arrested. One of whom had served a two year sentence for 'refusing' to serve in this Army which was once again punishing his moral consciousness. The arrests were illegal, as the arresting officers refused to identify themselves or to tell them what they had been arrested for. Both were charged and released on bail, with conditions not to return to the route of the separation barrier in the Bil'in area for fifteen days. A conversation with another Refuser on our return journey revealed,

They [the Army] don't really like arresting Israeli's - its bad press. But sometimes they want to get us out the way so they put us to one side by arresting us all, and then they can shoot the Palestinians. Today I was arrested [I frowned]. Well they were busy, so they told me to go over to the other soldiers and tell them I was arrested. [Thus explaining why we were able to have this conversation.]

I asked him about the interaction between the 'Israeli's' and the 'Army'; The two spoke the same language, and although they held different reference points and definitions of the notions of 'peace', 'justice', 'citizenship' and even 'religion' (as one loyal Jewish boy wore a kippah under his cap), it was clear that they held more authority than 'internationals' (who are often viewed as interfering) and certainly more than 'the Arabs'. The Refuser told me that he enjoyed speaking with the soldiers - and that they did speak and not just shout. I asked him what he thought they had achieved today and he replied that the soldiers were forced to temper their brutality against the residents of Bi'lin; that they may have made some of the soldiers question what they were doing; and of course that they had stood in solidarity with the Palestinians, encouraging them in their fight.

I had a similar conversation with another Israeli activist; a man more than twice the Refuser's age, who worked with Ta'ayush, and who I wished had a daily question and answer session on prime-time TV. The man held authority when he spoke, and he spoke with conviction. Instead of asking him questions, he told me his answers. He told me how important it was for Bi'lin to persist in their futile cat and mouse demonstrations, that the Actions would have a cumulative effect by gradually claiming more and more media attention, until neither the Israeli nor the international politicians could deny the legitimacy of the resistance. He was disappointed with the two bus loads of Israeli activists, and wished that more would join them in their fight for justice:

This is not a matter of Religion or nationality, but what is happening here is a disgrace. These olive trees mean the difference between starvation and survival; and I don't just mean for one family but for half of Bi'lin.

He casts his eyes to the ground and let them wander to the blackened branches of the nearby olive 'skeletons'... I ask what we had achieved today, which leads him to mumble about International ultimatums. "In sh'allah", as my less cynical friends would say, but we can't just sit back and watch, and do nothing. We can't - No Way.

"I don't think I could go every week" a photographer mutters; I'm not sure if she is asking herself or telling herself. And neither am I. A real contradiction; you feel so inspired and yet so frustrated and at times it seems so very futile. We both agree we have admiration for those that do; For both those who can walk away and yet still take the bus back Friday after Friday, and for those for whom there are no buses and for whom the only alternative is to either sit and watch or to pick up the stones and throw them against the clouds - 'the cumulative effect'?... Of weeks of gas clouds? A village which continuously holds a faint sniff of tear gas, where small rocks litter the route to the olive fields, and where its children have adopted a new hobby of collecting empty bullet shells and gas canisters. Meanwhile the use of onions for culinary purposes brings a too violent association to be appetising...

Two of my friends from the UK were visiting this week. I took them to Jerusalem, they saw the Nativity church and Shepherds fields, they enjoyed the travelling circus when they travelled to Dhisehe refugee camp and before they were taken on a tour of the camp including, "the triangle of death" and the "child martyr Kifah's house". They had to take the mountain route past the check-point to visit the famous soap factory of Nablus. They were shown the new women's internet centre and the martyr's graveyard in Balata camp. They ate humous and fresh figs in Hebron, before a tour of the desolate Old City and patriotic settlement areas led by a veteran member of the Christian Peace Maker Team (CPT). I thought they were prepared for Bi'lin. They weren't. But, as painful as it was for them, they were glad to have witnessed the unconditional Army brutality and the chaos which the separation barrier has brought to the villages like Bi'lin.

Through bitter tears, one friend explained she was scared - not for herself but for those running around us; for the young boys who would expertly load their home-made catapults, but whom only minutes earlier had flashed a shy smile and asked her to take their photograph, and whom (if the Occupation is not ended) will in the too near future, be paying a more painful price for these small acts of resistance. She told me how shocking she found the organisation of the demonstration. How there is a real sense of camaraderie between the activists; "it's too normal for you all" she complained. My other friend had made a similar observation, he commented that it seemed like a well rehearsed play, where each actor took their roles and then performed with precision. Indeed our bus briefing had been accurately re-enacted. We marched, the soldiers approached, rocks were thrown as tear gas and sound grenades were launched over our heads and the arrests began. Their reaction forced my introspection. It required me to examine my own reference point of what was no- longer-shocking. The army's reaction was merely an extension of their check-point mentality. The injustice and futility of the day's events was a reflection of every act of theoretical and practical resistance to this Occupation.

Indeed, I stood talking with friends I hadn't seen since a previous demonstration. I had automatically worn a scarf and trainers this morning in anticipation to running up away from disproportional Army force and covering my mouth from their gas. However, the 'camaraderie' I found to be a source of strength. I felt inspired by the routine as if it was a statement of hope - 'that we will not give up' - and that 'we will stand and fight together', week after week; day by day. Today had indeed been foretold by the banal announcements on the bus here, but its accuracy was by forced experience whereby lawyers' phone numbers were distributed through wisdom and not one which triggered a preordained effect. The announcements on the return journey gave out this same mixed message - of hope and despair:

Who has a car and can go and pick up the two arrested Israeli's please let us know. They should be released before Shabatt (7pm)... There's a demonstration against the Wall at Salfit tomorrow, starting at eight in the morning.

From one Action to the next... A new friend leans over and says, "You're welcome to come tomorrow", I reply I can't come to Salfit, so he clarifies, "No, for tea at our house - not everything in Israel is demonstrations." No, unfortunately, for villages such as Bi'iln and Salfit, this is true.

Meanwhile, my friends return to the UK. I asked them what the 'highlight' of their trip was. After an instant response of "there were plenty of 'low-lights'" there was a pause and then, "The kids - the kids really made this bearable." They both said that after only ten days they would return home "different" people; they had been forced to examine their definitions of 'authority' and of 'media labels' such as 'conflict', 'terrorism' and of course 'security', as well as their priorities as individuals; of legitimises of the British government and as global citizens.

On their last night in Bethlehem, we went to see the local band play, Bidayat, which means "Beginnings" in Arabic. Traditional Palestinian music played by young Palestinians and enjoyed by a mixed international and Palestinian audience. I inhaled a deep sense of relief; from what I'm still unsure. I now exhale and feel really relieved to have written this, but have I told you too much? Maybe, but as a fellow activist shared, "to be truly universal, one must be truly personal."

Posted by Peacerider

Throwing stones as a cloud of tear gas lands.

Activists walking down the the olive groves. The route of the Fence can be seen on the other side of the hill, with the Army coming down to meet us.

Examples of Bi'lin's past non-violent demonstrations.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
The day the circus came to town!
posted by: peacerider at 9:38 PM

On Tuesday, the circus came to Dheisheh refugee camp here in Bethlehem. Red noses, mimed bus journeys, stilts, juggling, acrobats, music and much much laughter.

The team from Canada and Europe were touring Israel and then with the help of the joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation, The Alternative Information Center, decided to spend their spare time performing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

On Monday they entertained the children of Hebron, on Tuesday they spent the day in Bethlehem before taking a tour of the Wall and housing demolition areas of Jerusalem on Wednesday and to Bi'lin, north of Ramallah, for Thursday and Friday (where they will be for Bi'lin's weekly demonstration against the Israeli Army's uprooting of their olive trees and confiscation of half their land for the building of the Separation Wall).

The performers were fantastic. Young and strong, full of energy, and just what the kids of Dheisheh needed and least expected. Moreover, Dheisheh camp actually has its own in-house circus set up and supported by the local NGO, Shiraa' .

The performers joined forces and after one hour of working together, the professionals and Dhieshe's most flexible and courageous, flung each other around the local playground, jumping, dancing and at times almost flying. The Dheisheh kids did us proud, pedalling between the performers on their unicycles and tottering on their stilts; while juggling and moving to the vibe of the hula-hula hoops.

The crowd moved closer and the clapping set the rhythm. The touring circus made a much appreciated decision to spend their extra time with the children of the OPT. We appreciate their genuine lust for fun and creativity, which visibly lightened the atmosphere. Their colours and moves detracted from the graffiti around the camp of child martyrs, bullet holes and decaying UNRWA housing blocks.

The interaction was also an exchange, as the circus described themselves as 'unpolitical'. They were shocked and distrurbed at the destruction and injustice in which they found themselves performing among...but ...thank you for coming, come again, come and keep the children laughing.

Posted by Peacerider
Abusing the Disabled - that's just low.
posted by: Frubious Bandersnatch at 1:22 PM
By anyone's standards beating disabled people is the lowest of the low.

The YMCA in Beit Sahour has a rehabilitation program takes in clients from all over the West Bank. The majority of these people suffer from severe psychological traumas ranging from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) to trauma brought about by amputations and other severe conflict related injuries. The rehabilitation centre is not only a clinic for treatment, it also offers the clients the ability to take a break from the more chaotic areas of the West Bank in which they live - a rare opportunity for, as a friend who works for the Y put it, 'a holiday from the war'. Anyone who has seen the damage which war can do to a teenagers mental state will be able to appreciate how important this it.

I've been to the center for a visit and the atmosphere is truly wonderful. Despite the initial somber impression made by all the wheel chairs and crutches used for mobility, you soon notice that the young people enjoy their time at the center. Holidays in Palestine are not common place, yet here the atmosphere is one of laughing, music and games, as the young people seize the opportunity for some badly needed relaxation. This is why I was so disturbed when I was told that three of the centers clients, all teenagers, had recently been assaulted at a check point whilst going home to spend a weekend with their families.

I cant name the clients obviously, but the assaults were as follows;
- The first client, who on top of his trauma also suffers from Kidney and lung damage from a previous 'discipline', was beaten for several minutes without being arrested or accusations being leveled against him. He was later collected by an ambulance after it became clear that he was seriously ill.
- A second client was beaten and arrested because a member of his family is a wanted man. He is not a wanted man, but the occupation forces don't like to nit-pick about details.
- The third client also received a heavy beating but was able to proceed to his home after it became clear that his traveling partner had been seriously injured.

The reasons for this can only be theorized about. It is highly unlikely that three young men being treated for trauma provoked the heavily armed occupation forces in some way whilst trying to return home to their families. These acts of barbarity can have several causes, but no real reasons ever emerge. I could talk about the 'war desensitisation' which grips troops who have been in the field too long. Or maybe the fact that the Israeli education system and media de-humanise the Palestinians to the point where this treatment is acceptable. We can never know the specific motivation in these particular troops minds.

What is certain is that cases like this prove the need to end the occupation. How can there be peace when every 'checkpoint' is manned by heavily armed teenagers who have been conditioned to think that the local population are savages who want them all dead?
Prisoners released?
posted by: snoopy at 12:24 PM
Sometimes the news headlines are just laughing in your face.

Israel Releases Palestinian Prisoners

This is the second time this year these news make the headlines. In February 500 prisoners were released. The prisoners that were released that time had mostly served their time, or sat without charges. This time some of the prisoners released have only served parts of their sentences.
The atmosphere is high in towns and neighbourhoods in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.Cars are honking, children and family are gathering, ex-prisoners kissing the ground, tears and laughter.

One might be fooled into thinking that Israel is changing its policy of mass arrests of Palestinians and keeping thousands behind bars. That this is representing a change. But it is not. This is just another PR stunt.
Israel doesn’t stop making new arrests, as we have already written about before from the bethlehemghetto. There will most likely not be any less Palestinians in Israeli jails after this.

Israel hasn’t stopped throwing Palestinians in prison without a court case, keeping people in administrative detention for 6 months, with the possibility of renewing to one year, one and a half, two years etc. And Israel hasn’t stopped arresting children. As first resort.

A woman demanding the release of 4 family members in a demonstration in Bethlehem, January 2005.

Today as I am writing, a 17 year old from Bethlehem is standing before a military court that is ruling according to military laws that basically are there to support the ongoing occupation. The army is charging this boy to sit inside a prison cell, or tent, for the next 10 years, for trying to resist the soldiers taking over his space and time, put his life to a halt.

The trial is in Hebrew, as well as all the documents. The defendant's lawyer has had hard times trying to visit his client, obtaining information and preparing for the case.

Children have systematically been and are still arrested as young as 9 years of age, spending shorter or longer time in Israeli prisons. Most of them accused of throwing stones at the army occupying their hometowns. The facts concerning their stories are shocking.

There are stories of the most gruesome torture and strategies to break these kids down, force them to confess for things they often didn’t do, spending time in horrible conditions, especially under interrogations, denied of sleep and food and isolated. Sucking their childhoods out of them, leaving dark memories many of them will have problems talking about afterwards and that none of them will ever forget.

323 children are today in Israeli prisons.

For more information about conditions for the prisoners, the system of military court hearings, psychological effects of the prisoners etc, there are several organizations, such as Addameer and the DCI, who have done thorough work, and some excellent publications on the issue.