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“Allah Loves Gentleness in all Matters”: one peace worker’s experience at an Israeli checkpoint

On the day that my teammate and I left the West Bank we took a bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem. Just before the bus arrived at the checkpoint it stopped, and two armed Israeli soldiers boarded and began to check everyone’s identification. As one soldier turned to talk to another passenger, his machine gun hit my teammate on the shoulder. He didn't seem to notice, and I do not think that this move was intentional, especially since international travelers usually are treated with much more courtesy than is extended to Palestinians. Still, even when it is by accident, being hit with someone’s automatic weapon is unnerving.

After the soldiers checked our passports, they told us to take our bags, get off of the bus and proceed to a nearby building. In order to do this we crossed a yard with more soldiers, more weapons, a view of the high concrete separation wall, barbed wire, and a vehicle so heavily fortified with military accessories that it looked more like a tank than a jeep. When we reached the building we waited in a line that was not long, but moved slowly. I saw a Palestinian woman who had gotten there ahead of us walking away from the checkpoint and back towards the West Bank. She held what looked like a green-colored passport and seemed upset. I wondered what had happened.

When we got to the front of the line, large metal turnstile doors were turned on electronically to allow my teammate to enter the building. After about ten minutes I was admitted as well. I then put my luggage through the screening machine and gave my passport to an official who was standing behind a thick glass window. At this point, my teammate was told that there was “a problem with her passport” and that they would have to “check on it.” MPT teams stay together in such situations, so we were both instructed to “step aside.” From where we were told to stand, we could not see the security personnel.

We had no idea how long we would have to stay there or what was wrong. It seemed like we waited for a very long time, although in truth I do not think that it was more than a half an hour.

One of the officials appeared and instructed us to proceed through a heavy door. We were then left in a metal, windowless room that could not have been more than five feet long and five feet wide. What I found particularly strange and somewhat unsettling about this space was that it had a grate for a ceiling. It felt very much like being in a cage. Once again we were told to wait for an unspecified amount of time and without any explanation. I wondered what would happen next. Would there be more rooms? Would there be some sort of interrogation?

I remembered the story told to me just a few weeks beforehand by an elderly woman I met in Jerusalem. I will talk about her in general terms as I know that she would be terrified if she thought that anyone might suspect her of criticizing the Israeli state. She is Jewish, speaks fluent Hebrew, and loves Israel where she lives half of the year. She also holds a passport from a Western country that supports Israel. All of these factors work in her favor as far as Israeli officialdom is concerned. However, she was born in an Arab country, and this makes her suspect in their eyes.

She will insist to anyone who questions her that she cannot help where she was born and that she holds no Arab sympathies, but this did not stop airport security from detaining her for four hours the last time she tried to enter Israel. She told me how during that time she was kept in a room so small that it was impossible for her to sit while one official after another interrogated her. Sometimes they posed questions that were ordinary but repeated over and over again. Other times they made outlandish accusations. She confided her story so that it might serve as a warning to me, and at one point in the conversation she leaned forward and spoke with an intensity and seriousness that startled me; she said “be very careful of what you say, you never know who is listening.”

I then thought of the abuses that Palestinians often suffer at checkpoints, well- documented by humanitarians and peace workers (Israeli, Palestinian and international), as well as the many accounts of Palestinians who have been tortured in Israeli prisons and have the scars to prove it. I knew that as an American citizen, there was little danger that I would suffer any such fate, but how long would I have to stay in this building made of metal and concrete that seemed designed to intimidate, and what might I be forced to see or hear while I am here?

I decided that this train of thought was not helpful, so I tried to calm my mind by focusing on my breath and a tiny spot on the zipper of my suitcase. Just as I was starting to feel as though I was prepared mentally to face the worst, the silence was broken by a voice that came over the intercom above our heads. It instructed us to take our bags and leave. When we got to the other side of the door, my teammate asked one of the guards what the “problem” with her passport was, but no explanation was given. Again we were told to leave. We then went to the parking lot on the other side of the building to wait for another bus to take us into Jerusalem.

When the bus arrived it was ordinary and not particularly luxurious, but when I stepped onto it I felt like I was stepping into a sanctuary. Finally, I was free of the checkpoint. I cannot tell you what type of music was playing on the radio, all l I remember is that it seemed incredibly soothing. After I took my seat, I noticed a sign above the driver’s head. It said “Allah loves gentleness in all matters.” I am not a Muslim[1], nor would I describe myself as a religious person, but I found this message to be extremely comforting. I let my gaze rest upon it. It was as if the bus driver knew that all of the passengers had just experienced a form of low-level, but nevertheless anxiety-producing, violence at the hands of a military state and wanted to reassure us that our relatively meek and nonaggressive response to it was not a sign of weakness nor was it reason to be ashamed, but rather praiseworthy behavior.

Suddenly I felt a connection with the bus driver, the other passengers and with the thousands of Palestinians who must pass through checkpoints every day, for some twice a day, and maintain a calm exterior despite whatever feelings of helplessness, fear or anger that might arise. I looked at the Palestinian women and men in simple, loose-fitting clothing. They sat quietly. Some looked out of the windows. Soon they would gather their belongings and begin the day in Jerusalem. “Allah loves gentleness in all matters” - why doesn’t this type of story ever reach the headlines?

[1] It should be noted that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for God, and Muslims consider it to be the same God as that of the Christians and the Jews. While it is often associated with Islam it is not exclusive to Islam.


Tourism as a vehicle for right-wing Israeli political propaganda: the reflections of one peace worker’s experiences on a trip to the Dead Sea

Recently I decided to take a break from work. What better way to escape temporarily from modern stresses and political conflict than to spend a day at the Dead Sea floating in the briny water, sun bathing, and covering my skin with mineral-rich mud? Surely there is nothing controversial about a trip to enjoy the beauty of one of the world’s natural wonders - or so I thought.

As soon as the tour bus, filled with travelers from around the world, left Jerusalem, a voice came over the loud speaker telling us that the Israelis had “made the desert bloom.” The tour guide talked with pride about Israeli irrigation techniques and how from an aerial view it is easy to tell where Israelis live because those areas are green. What this guide did not mention was the very serious problem of water discrimination suffered by Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation. For example, the Jordon Valley, a region that includes nearly 30% of the land in the West Bank and refers to the area west of both the Jordon river and of the northern part of the Dead Sea, is the most fertile part of the Palestinian territories, yet 98% of the water resources in the Jordon Valley have been put under the control of Israel through a series of military decrees. The state water company Mekorot provides water to the Israeli settlers, who illegally occupy Palestinian land, at subsidized rates not available to the Palestinians who then must pay many more times the price for the same water. In addition, because Palestinians are prohibited from digging wells more than 200 meters deep, the water from their shallow wells often drains into Israeli wells which are between 500-1200m deep.[1]

Not only did this tour guide neglect to mention the issue of water discrimination suffered by Palestinians, she completely omitted the Palestinians from her narrative, despite the fact that much of the bus trip involved driving through the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and past Palestinian homes and people. The story we were told was based on the “myth of empty lands,” a phrase used by historians and others to describe the mentality of settlers intent on acquiring new territory at the expense of the already-existing indigenous population. (The phrase often is used when describing the attitudes of European settlers in colonial North America and South Africa). This mindset denies the existence of the people whose livelihoods depend upon their ability to use the land on which they live and their ancestors have lived for centuries. Part of the power and appeal of this “myth of empty lands” for those who believe in it, is that even if it has little to do with reality, it expresses certain political goals and aspirations. Every time that Palestinians are driven off of their land, this myth seems to come closer to the truth.

A number of times the bus passed rows of tree stumps, and although I cannot be certain, they looked very much like the remains of former Palestinian olive groves. Such remains exist throughout the West Bank and are a familiar sight to the thousands of humanitarian workers, peace activists and others (Palestinian, Israeli, and ‘international’) who have documented the intentional destruction of olive trees, some of which are centuries old, by Israeli forces and the Israeli settlers who occupy the land illegally. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture Israelis destroy one productive olive tree every minute in the Palestinian territories.[2] This practice is a form of ethnic cleansing in that it serves to rid the area of Palestinian people: farming families who for generations have owned the land, tended to the trees, and depended on the yearly harvest find themselves forced to join the ever-growing ranks of refugees. These rows of tree stumps which dot the countryside along the highway were never mentioned. In fact, whenever we passed them, the guide would draw our attention elsewhere, to the “flourishing, green Israeli settlements” on the hilltops, the ancient story of Masada, or what we could expect to see at the Dead Sea.

Also not mentioned by the guide and further contributing to the destruction of Palestinian farms and groves is the apartheid road system that has been created by the Israeli government in the Palestinian territories. While approximately 1,661 km of new highways called “Israeli by-pass roads” have been built in the West Bank, the Palestinians who live there are prohibited from using most of them. In addition, these highways have a 50 to 70 meter buffer zone on each side, so that for every 100 km of road, roughly 41,525 acres of Palestinian land has been confiscated.[3] Palestinians who need to travel must use instead the alternative, and oddly-named, “Fabric of Life” road network, which connects one Palestinian area to another. These roads usually are made of stone, dirt or gravel. Often they take long and winding routes and fall into disrepair. As a result, it is not uncommon for a Palestinian to spend hours traveling a distance that an Israeli is able to travel in a matter of minutes. Because these Palestinian roads are often one-lane, they can be blocked or closed easily. In fact, have spoken with a number of Michigan Peace Team volunteers from previous years who told me how they had spent days helping Palestinians remove piles of rocks that had been put on their roads by Israeli military and settlers.

I sat with the other international travelers in the comfortable, air-conditioned tour bus as it sped down the modern Israeli highway. Most seemed not to notice the dirt roads we passed or realize the place of privilege that they occupied as tourists traveling in occupied Palestine with an Israeli company. I heard one innocently remark to another about how easy it was to travel in the area and that there had been so much improvement in the system of transportation in recent years.

While human rights workers monitor Israeli checkpoints in order to help discourage, prevent or at the very least document the human rights abuses that occur on a regular basis against Palestinians, who often are forced to wait at them for hours, riding on an Israeli bus with an Israeli license plate meant that we passed through the checkpoint with no difficulty. The presence of soldiers with machine guns in full view was somewhat daunting, but every effort was made to put this situation in a positive light for the tourists. We were told that “security was needed because Bin Laden had just been killed” and because Israeli Independence Day celebrations would be held soon. Not surprisingly nothing was said about the upcoming 60th anniversary of al-Nakba or ‘the disaster’ for the Palestinians.

The checkpoint soldiers waved at us. One female soldier who looked to be no more than sixteen or seventeen years old flashed us a big, innocent smile as she waved. Her expression was full of hope and friendship. Who could resist? The tourists, already in high spirits, began to return the waves and smiles. It seemed that an alliance had been formed, but I had to ask myself, upon what was this alliance based? What level of awareness did these tourists have? Did they realize how much was being omitted and distorted by the tour guide? What would they tell their friends and families after returning to their home countries? `

On the return trip from the Dead Sea and especially as we came nearer to Jerusalem, the tour guide’s speech become more overtly political. First she invoked the Holocaust (never mind that the Palestinians had nothing to do with it) then she spoke of how “the Jews only wanted a nation just like everyone else in the world” (a statement problematic from so many perspectives and on so many levels that it can hardly be addressed here). Then came the bomb – “we are surrounded by Arabs who want to push us into the sea.” On that note a busload of tired tourists, salty and sunburned, pulled up to the hotel. No one seemed to have the energy or inclination to question what they were told, and at any rate, no opportunity was given.

Photo to the right: t-shirts for sale at the rest stop on the way to the Dead Sea. While the Israeli government may call its military forces in the West Bank "Defense Forces," Palestinians and many others consider this to be misleading and believe that the term "Occupation Forces" more accurately describes the role of the Israeli military in this region.

[1] This information was provided by the organizers of “The 6th Bil’in Annual Conference on Popular Resistance” in Bil’in, Palestine in April of 2011. It is based on the personal experiences and eyewitness accounts of thousands of people, Palestinian, Israeli, and ‘international,’ who have lived and worked in the area for years. It is also based on documentation provided by additional sources including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Palestinian Authority, the Ma’an Development Center, Peace Now, and reporters for the Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Post.
[2] See jordanvalleysolidarity.org
[3] This material was provided at the above-mentioned Bil’in conference and comes from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.


Spring Team Safe Back at Home- Reports to Come on Blog!

Dear Readers and MPT Members/Friends,

All of our Spring Team (Palestine) Members have arrived safely home to their families and are resting/recovering from their Team experience.

They are working on reports and updates regarding Sandy's injuries and the events of May 1st, as well as other team reports.  Please watch the blog for more soon!

Thank you to all for your inquiries and support regarding this team.  Your support is critical!




Sandy Arrives Home Safely

One of MPT's Spring Team members to the West Bank has arrived home safely.  She will be receiving further medical treatment for serious injuries inflicted by Israeli soldiers at a demonstration last week.

Please read more about Sandy's injuries on the blog reports on this page.



Resisting in Izbat at Tabib

The village of Izbat at Tabib is located in Area C of the West Bank in the Qalqilya district. Recently, there has been an order to begin the construction of a fence alongside the highway that borders the village that would cut the people who live there off from 40 dunams of their farmland. 

Construction was due to begin on Sunday so my teammate and I, along with other internationals, traveled to Izbat at Tabib on Friday at the request of the villagers to stay with them and be a peaceful presence.

Moussa, who has lived there all his life, welcomed MPT into his home and have us a tour as he told us about the situation there. 

Currently 32 of the 45 homes in Izbat at Tabib have demolition

orders which can be executed at any time. In addition to these current orders, one home has already been demolished in the past two years. Moussa pointed out these homes to us as we walked, including his own, which he has been trying to build for the past five years. He also showed us his grandfather’s house, the oldest in the village, which was built in 1920. Already, 45% of their land has been stolen from them.

People gathered on Saturday afternoon to erect a tent outside the entrance of the near the farm land that was being threatened. The Mayor of Izbat at Tabib and others asked the internationals to stay the night in the tent as it was expected the army would come by, if not that night, then possibly early in the morning. 

The village had taken their case against the construction to an Israeli court but had yet to hear the verdict so it was unknown whether it would begin on Sunday as previously planned or not.

Saturday night as we sat around drinking tea in the tent, military jeeps drove by a few times.

Around 8:00pm two jeeps stopped and the soldiers got out. The commanding officer instructed the soldiers not to speak with us as he questioned our reason for being there. After telling him we were enjoying tea and talking with friends and didn’t know when we would be leaving, they got in their jeeps and drove off. An hour or so later two more military keeps drove in and turned into the main street of the village, making their way through before leaving again. The rest of the night passed without incident.

The next day, Sunday, more military showed up and this time stopped to take photographs of the tent and homes in the village. When I asked the Mayor what they were doing, he said it was an intimidation tactic. They were taking photographs of all the homes and structures they were going to demolish.

It was around noon that a few military jeeps and a bulldozer arrived and parked at the head of the roads that leads to the entrance of the village, down the street from where the tent was set up. After discussing, it was decided the most important thing would be to stay near the army jeeps and the bulldozer and only have one or two internationals back at the tent. We stood there for at least an hour. The soldiers were not telling us to leave or that it was Closed Military Zone but more and more kept arriving. By the time the army began to take action against the demonstrators, we counted at least 6o soldiers including border police.

When it seemed as if the army was going to begin to move into the village it was decided that two of us would move on ahead with video cameras to record what happened. Shortly after another international and I went on ahead with our cameras, we saw and heard commotion. 

This was when I heard a scream and saw my teammate falling to the ground and then the group of soldiers honing in on the other internationals. Later on talking with my teammate, she said one of the soldiers told an international to move and when he refused, threatened to arrest him. My teammate tried to link arms with him and this is when she was thrown to the ground, which resulted in a superficial head wound and two fractured wrists, one of which needs surgery. Almost immediately after she was thrown, three of the internationals were arrested and moved out of the way.

When things had calmed down slightly around ten minutes later, I made my way through the soldiers to the back where the army medic was attending to the teammate. While I was there I also saw the three arrested internationals, one of whom had bruises covering his face from being beaten by the soldiers. The medic took care of my teammate’s immediate needs and then called the Israeli civilian ambulance. Our things, including her passport, were in our bags that were in the tent but the army refused to let us retrieve them insisting that the hospital would treat her without her passport.

However, when we switched ambulances at the Machsom checkpoint into Israel the ambulance drivers told us she needed her passport or would not be treated so while she continued onto Me’ir Hospital in Kfar Saba I returned to the village. When I got back to Izbat at Tabib the soldiers, who were well aware of the situation my teammate and I were in, told me if I tried to go back to the tent to get the passport I would be arrested. Any international who brought it to me would not be allowed to return to the tent. After around 45 minutes of waiting and trying to negotiate with the soldiers, two internationals were able to bring over our bags and I was able to then find my way into Israel to Me’ir Hospital.

At the hospital they took x-rays and determined that my teammate had fractured both wrists, one of which would heal with casting and the other which would most likely need surgery. After staying the night in the hospital and having a CT scan done the next afternoon, it was determined that she would need surgery on her left wrist.

While we were not able to be in Izbat at Tabib to witness the actions of rest of the day, as well as the following days, please visit the International Women’s Peace Service website and the International Solidarity Movement to read their accounts.

- Tali

Video Footage of Michigan Volunteer Injured in Israeli Military Action

Nablus District, Palestinian Authority (West Bank)
Released: Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 EST (GMT -4)
Press/Media Contact: Sheri Wander, Michigan Peace Team (USA Contact) 734-754-0648, or sheriwander.mpt@gmail.com. General Inquiries see below.
Sandra Quintano (age 60), American citizen and resident of Port Huron, Michigan left Me'ir Hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel on Monday after being treated for two broken wrists and a cut to the head. The injuries occurred as a result of an assault by an Israeli soldier in the village of Izbet al-Tabib in the Qalquiliya District of the Palestinian Authority on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Quintano was at the village as a member of Michigan Peace Team (MPT) to participate in nonviolent demonstration, and to help prevent violence against civilians (primarily Palestinians and international activists).
MPT is releasing video footage of Ms. Quintano being injured and the time immediately following on their website today,    http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/for_immediate_release.htm .  Video, reports and more information will be made availble by the Team in days to come at www.MPTinPalestine.blogspot.com.   Additional footage of the nonviolent demonstration and the arrest of several international activists is being reviewed and is expected to be released in days to come. Those interested in a copy of video footage or using footage on their website should contact MPT directly.

MPT Team members had been in the village since Friday, along with other local community organizers and international activists, to protest the construction of the separation wall through village land, the confiscation of agricultural and homestead land to build the wall, and to protest the scheduled demolition of 31 homes currently owned/occupied by Palestinian families. On Sunday afternoon, Israeli military forces and bulldozers entered the area. Ms. Quintano was injured when soldiers physically assaulted nonviolent activists.
The MPT Team is continuing their work at MPT's West Bank location near the city of Nablus. Ms. Quintano expects to fly home within the next few days for further medical care, as her injuries are serious and will require further treatment.
Michigan Peace Team (MPT) trains volunteers from all walks of life in nonviolent action and communication, and deploys peace teams to areas of conflict worldwide. MPT currently maintains a presence of rotating teams in the West Bank (Palestine), and has worked in the region for over 8 years. For more information on MPT, see www.michiganpeaceteam.org, and MPTinPalestine.blogspot.com. MPT's main office is located in Lansing, Michigan.
More information regarding the injuries and arrest/detainment of at least three other international activists at the same demonstration can be found on the ISM website: http://palsolidarity.org.
For further information contact:
Main Press/Media Contact: Sheri Wander, Michigan Peace Team President (USA Contact) 734-754-0648 or SheriWander.MPT@gmail.com
General Inquiries: Nicole Rohrkemper, MPT International Teams Coordinator (USA Contact)  586-419-1070 or NicoleR.MPT@gmail.com.
Friends and Family, Well Wishers:  Show your support for Sandra, fellow activists, and Palestinians in Izbet Al-Tabib by leaving a comment at www.MPTinPalestine.Blogpsot.com.  Any information cleared for release will be shared on this report website; for confidentiality and other reasons MPT cannot provide additional information to loved ones at this time.  Friends and family are encouraged to contact Sandra's Home Support Person, Ed Harder, at truevel@gmail.com.


MPT Team Member Seriously Injured by Illegal Israeli Military Action

photo of Sandy immediately following her injury.


Izbet al-Tabib, Palestinian Authority (West Bank)

Released: Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at 19:30 EST (GMT -4:30)

Contact: Sheri Wander, Michigan Peace Team (USA Contact) 734-754-0648, or sheriwander.mpt@gmail.com.

On Sunday May 1st, 2011 in the village of Izbet al-Tabib in the Qalquiliya District of the Palestinian Authority, Michigan Peace Team (MPT) member Sandra C. Quintano suffered serious injuries after being physically assaulted by Israeli Military forces at a peaceful demonstration. The injury occurred at approximately 2:30pm local time, after Israeli military forces and bulldozers arrived at a demonstration site.

Ms. Quintano was standing with a group of 8 nonviolent peace activists on a roadway, gathered in an attempt to prevent violence by Israeli military, and prevent military and bulldozers from proceeding further into the area. The soldiers closest to the activists first approached a young man standing next to Ms. Quintano, and indicated he would be arrested if the group did not move. According to the Michigan Peace Team members present, several soldiers then closed in on this young man in a physically threatening manner. As had been previously agreed, the activists attempted to link arms to prevent one person from being singled out of the group as a target for violence.

It was as the soldiers made physical contact with the activists that Ms. Quintano says she felt herself being sent “flying through the air.” She describes that she felt she was “picked up and thrown out of the way” by Israeli soldiers. The nature of the assault is unclear; video footage of the incident and many additional eyewitness accounts are being reviewed at this time. MPT hopes to release more information as soon as possible.

Ms. Quintano suffered a gash to the head (see photo) and both of her wrists were broken. One of the wrist injuries appears to be particularly severe, according to her doctors. She was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and is undergoing observation and testing to determine the full extent of her injuries. Ms. Quintano was admitted to the hospital and will stay at least overnight. She was accompanied by an MPT teammate. We will share more information on Ms Quintano's medical condition when it is made available.

Shortly before Ms. Quintano was injured, MPT Team members estimated that there were approximately 50 Israeli authority personnel present and more arriving all the time. These included military (Israeli Defense Forces) and special Border Police forces. The number of military and police present, as well as the number of activists is still being determined as MPT reviews video footage and eyewitness accounts. There are reports that at least three other nonviolent international activists were injured by military personnel and detained or arrested at the scene.

MPT Team members had been in the village since Friday, along with other local community organizers and international activists, to protest the construction of the separation wall through village land, the confiscation of agricultural and homestead land to build the wall, and to protest the scheduled demotion of 31 homes currently owned and occupied by Palestinian families.

Ms. Quintano is certainly not the first nonviolent peace activist injured by the Israeli military. Perhaps the most well-know incident is that of 23 year-old peacemaker, Rachel Corrie, who was killed while attempting to prevent an illegal home demolition. Her case is currently in the Israeli court system.

Michigan Peace Team (MPT) trains volunteers from all walks of life in nonviolent action and communication, and deploys peace teams to areas of conflict worldwide. MPT currently maintains a presence of rotating teams in the West Bank (Palestine), and has worked in the region for over 8 years.

For more information on MPT, see www.michiganpeaceteam.org and MPTinPalestine.blogspot.com.
Read about a previous MPT Team Member visit to the village of Izbet al-Tabib at: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/09/izbat-at-tabib-daily-harassment.html, or search “Tabib” or “Qalqilya” on MPTinPalestine.blogspot.com for more Peace Team reports about the village/region.

More information regarding the injuries and arrest/detainment of at least three other international activists at the same demonstration can be found on the International Solidarity Movement website: http://palsolidarity.org/2011/05/18071/

For further information contact:
Sheri Wander, Michigan Peace Team President (USA Contact) 734-754-0648 or SheriWander.MPT@gmail.com

Nicole Rohrkemper, MPT International Teams Coordinator (USA Contact) 734-754-0648 or NicoleR.MPT@gmail.com


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