At their first crossing from Palestine into Israel proper (at Gilo/Checkpoint 300) on Monday, Martha and Nicole waited in a terminal to cross from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for 1 hour and 20 minutes, along with hundreds of Palestinians. Many Palestinians must do this daily to get to work or family. The Israeli guards noticed the international team members and motioned them up to cut to the front of the line. From what Palestinian men waiting at the checkpoint said and the experience of previous teams, it is common to allow internationals to skip the line—or allow them to cross even when Palestinians are being held back. (MPT team members declined the invitation and waited in solidarity, refusing to accept the Israeli military supervisor’s invitation—while timing the hold-up and documenting the situation as best they could.)
On Wednesday and Thursday, the team completed a two-day training in Ramallah given by Palestinians and Internationals. The training reinforced our commitment to Palestinian-led action. We received good information about current situations and ongoing actions, had a chance to review nonviolence techniques, and met several dedicated people.
There are over 600 checkpoints, including those at the wall, fixed military roadblocks, are also “flying” roadblocks which can pop up at any time and place. At least twice on our trip between Ramallah and Bethlehem, our service (group taxi) joined lines of cars stretching as far as we could see. There was no way for the team to know for sure what the hold up was, since traffic was moving again by the time we got close enough to see the military jeep (and once we saw an ambulance, so there may have been an accident). However, checkpoints often result in long unexpected delays in the area and are another impediment to the movement of Palestinians in their own land.
Also on the ride to and from Ramallah, the team saw several Bedouin tent and shanty villages (pictured above) with sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry. One effect of Israeli illegal settlements/expansion is that the historically nomadic Bedouins are forced off their traditional grazing land, and their nomadic travel routes are cut off. There is concern over a particular lack of provision for schooling, job training, electricity, water, sewage, or housing for these displaced people. International peaceworkers have been taking action to do what they can to support some Bedouin groups.
Finally, the trip also allowed us to see acres of devastated olive groves, some stretching far into the distance. (You can compare the devastated fields in the picture below with the ancient preserved olive tree shown above.) As shown in the movie Bil’in Habititi, Israeli forces have cut down countless olive trees on Palestinian land, destroying the livlihood of families who rely on olive oil harvests—as well as an important environmental, historical and agricultural resource.
Of course, since our arrival we have also been thoroughly cleaning the apartment, settling in, and learning to get around by group taxi and bus—oh, and of course on foot! We’ve also been meeting some of the Palestinians we work with, as well as our neighbors. Grocery shopping is a great chance to learn about Palestinian food, take advantage of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, use some of our Arabic words, and get familiar with the money and prices. Here in Bethlehem, Israeli goods dominate the marketplace (perhaps in part due to the checkpoint at Jerusalem limiting any influx of Palestinian goods). We are doing our best to support Palestinian products, brands, and shops! The picture below is a busy shopping area in Ramallah, a much larger and busier area than the small town near Bethlehem where we live.
Check back in a few days for a report on our first demonstration as a team, and more...