Hmmm.... introducing myself seems a bit hard, I'm not sure what people want to know. The facts. I'm 35, a daughter, sister, mother and community member of the Catholic Worker. I lived on a farm growing up and love making art. I have a wonderful son that I'm very proud of and a family I love.
Why do I want to go to Palestine? This is what I wrote MPT... "There are many things that motivate me to want to do international work. I try to live my life in the service of others and believe that I have a responsibility to do good with
my life. The only thing that I possess as leverage in this world against the systems that create suffering is my own body, voice, and mind. Each of us have gifts that are meant to be shared with one another. I think that this responsibility reaches beyond our neighborhood, city, and state lines. If we want to live in a world filled with peace and overcome prejudice and hate, we need to come together, sit in the same room, share a meal or a story. I also think that simple acts of kindness change people's perspective. That's what brings me to want to be on a Peace Team. I like the idea of being able to go to another part of the world and connect with others reaching for peace instead of war. I also would like to explore their culture and bring back an authentic view to share with people here at home. It seems like most of the things people in America
"know" is filtered through our media witch is bought and paid for by the same people making money off of our current war machine. I also have strong views about just being a witness in some cases. Giving a voice to the voiceless is so very important. When faced with a situation we cannot immediately change, bearing witness and relaying those stories can be very powerful." - more to come...
The following blog post is an update of what John and I have been doing, including a few personal observations.
It has been awhile since either of us last wrote. The olive season is in the books. Hopefully next year will provide a more bountiful harvest for Palestinian families. We were told this season was about 20% as fruitful as the previous one.
The most notable occurrence since our last blog post was the recent conflict in Gaza. Hamas fired homemade/ Iranian built rockets, Israel conducted airstrikes with American made F-16 jets which dropped precision munitions on targets in Gaza in addition to rockets fired from naval vessels in the Mediterranean. The shelling lasted for just over a week before a cease-fire was brokered. The final death toll symbolizes the asymmetrical balance of power and resources between the seemingly intractable sides – 6 Israelis and 169 Palestinians killed.
We have done a lot of reading, from many different sources, and come to the conclusion that the majority of articles/reports about the conflict published by mainstream media sources are inauthentic representations of what has objectively transpired to date. Consistently the patina of objectivity is used to belie the ‘Israeli as a victim of aggression acting in self defense’ narrative. This position further justifies the Occupation and the violent actions of fundamentalist settlers. But it is up to the reader to get informed and then form his or her own opinions about the struggle.
Gas & Stones
|Soldiers move in to arrest two protestors.|
|When the gas comes you run.|
After seeing this kind back-and-forth many times, and after inhaling a great deal of tear-gas myself, I began to see the fruitlessness of that action. The question came up… what are these young men achieving besides getting out some of their Occupation-generated anger? - Which, in my opinion, is completely understandable, but really not the best way to achieve a just and peaceful end to the struggle. There must be alternatives to the stones and gas.
Habibi come to Tabib
A few days later John and I went to a public demonstration in Izbat Tabib, a very small town, near several settlements in the Qalqiliya District. Altogether it was a very different demo than any we had been to thus far.
When you turn off the main road, toward Tabib, there is a red and white sign warning Israelis that they are entering an area where Palestinians live and is accordingly very dangerous. That type of misleading language can be very powerful. Take for instance the military title of Israel’s most recent Gaza shelling – “Operation Pillar of Defense”. As John (my colleague) eruditely notes the Israeli military narrative is simultaneously part victim and part aggressor.
In Tabib locals are concerned with cultivating a very different and unifying narrative. Most Fridays a group of Israeli activists bus into the no-stoplight town to participate in an inter-cultural theatre group. They march together with Palestinians, including many children, past the red and white sign, down to the nearest main road. There they chant in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Our favorite chant and when we tend to yell the loudest is… "One, Two, Three, Four… Occu-Pation No More… Five, Six, Seven, Eight… Stop the killing, Stop the hate.”
|Protestors march together in Izbat Tabib.|
After minutes of peaceful yelling a handful of soldiers circled our group of about 40 protestors. This went on for a while and they, the soldiers, seemed to have no idea what to do. They made calls and more soldiers came with several armored vehicles. The merry group of protestors then created a semi-circle and began to act out their different interpretations of the struggle and the affinity they have for each other. After an hour or so everyone went home rather satisfied, well I cannot speak for the soldiers who remained perplexed as to what had just transpired, but we were pleased with the action.
We went home feeling much different than we normally do after the usual demonstration. The rock and gas demos leave us with mixed feelings; a potpourri of anger, frustration, and powerlessness. After leaving Tabib I felt good about what had just happened; we witnessed collective action between Israelis and Palestinians at a personal level, a powerful statement in such a divided land.
John and Sam
Note: The following is a personal, emotional note from one of our Team members who was in prison in November 2012 in her own words. For more information please see: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2012/10/press-release-mpt-team-member-assaulted.html."This is just my job."
I heard this sentence dozens of times while I was being arrested and especially when they violated my rights, being unnecessarily brutal and/or humiliating.
The above statement means: this is only work, so I do not take any responsibility for my actions. It might sound innocent, but one of the most cruel things to say is: I only follow orders.
The first night after being released from jail I went straight from hell to heaven. I have been there before, but I did not know the exact name.
It is called “Choices”. No matter how cheap/difficult/hopeless they seem to be. Every single moment when you can actually decide about what to do, it is a paradise. No, seriously, each little moment when you can pick what you are going to eat and drink, what time do you will go to sleep and when you want to wake up, who you want to be and why... all of these normal, small things are an incredible privilege.
Surprising how easily soldiers, policemen and jailors give up their choices without even noticing that they relinquish their freedom.
In the name of some abstract 'bigger idea' - security, Jewish land, power - they would let themselves become slaves of the system without seeing that they are the victims of this system as well.
I took all your freedom, he said, putting hand cuffs on my wrists and looking deep into my eyes. He was a police officer and he really believed that he owned me in that moment.
Oh boy, maybe you caught me, but I am still more free than you will ever be.
That reminds me one of the modern global Occupy movement slogan: YOU CANNOT ARREST AN IDEA.
Jail is an occupation in a miniature. It is a symbolic labyrinth, but there is a struggle even there like a hidden exit. And from there you can really clearly see the courage, beautiful spirit and strength of Palestinians.
And so under the prison shower there is a message written in graffiti: ZIONISM IS TERRORISM.
In my bed and on the ceiling there was written:
PALESTINE WAS, PALESTINE IS, PALESTINE WILL BE
I LOVE PALESTINE, BECAUSE I LOVE FREEDOM
The ceiling is 3,5 meters high, you are not allowed to have a marker and there are three video cameras in the room.
I heard they were from the days of the Intifada.
It is just a symbol, like street demonstrations, but it is also a weapon.
A weapon of words and truths.
Making people believe in something is way more dangerous than owning someone's wrists.
Another part of this nonviolent gun is faith. And so if occupation is a labyrinth, Palestine is a sky over the walls. You cannot occupy the sky.
I won't be able to go back to Israel for a very long time, because of being arrested (btw I have visited 37 countries and Israel is the only one I am a criminal in). But who knows, maybe I will be in Palestine before that. I am going to be a very first person to apply for a Palestinian visa when the occupation is over.
And I know how I will be welcomed there. While in Israel they question you on the airport, investigate, make a lot of troubles, and deport for insane reasons; in West Bank everyone knows at least one word in English: WELCOME. It was enough just to walk around in Nablus to hear from everyone, just from random pedestrians: Salam Alaykom, welcome. Thank you for coming to our land.
I have been invited by perfect strangers to their houses for Turkish coffee, shai (sweet, delicious herbal tea), birthday party... We would share wonderful simple food, amazing everyday life stories but most of all just time together. They would smile, not only with their lips, but eyes too and you do not even notice how and when they do they become your sisters and brothers.
That was my unforgettable experience of Palestine and that is how I see the future:
while we would sit in the shadow of an olive tree, smoking apple nargila (hookah), chatting friendly and laughing contentedly, some Israeli passes by and he does not have a gun, but raises his hand to wave and say:
Salam Alaykom, welcome.
Pictures from the memorable demo, memory card spent one week in my shoe, saved from police even if they have searched me dozen times and were very angry about “illegal hiding the evidence”. Enjoy!
Yesterday we went to a demonstration in Kafr Qaddum, a small town west of Nablus. Every Friday residents march down the main street protesting movement restrictions (the road between Kafr Qaddum and Nablus has been blocked for 9 years, adding 14km to the drive) and nearby Israeli settlements. Qaddum is only a few kilometers away from eight illegal settlements. Friday's demonstration was tepid compared to previous demonstrations where soldiers routinely fired upwards of 200 tear gas canisters at protestors a week. Soldiers now refrain from using tear gas at the weekly protest, because a nearby settlement successfully petitioned the Israeli government to stop it's use in the area. The reason being... they did not particularly like the effects of tear gas. Go figure.
|Young demo participants were everywhere.|
|The youngest were often the bravest, out front expressing their frustration.|
|Soldiers are coming! Why? Because Palestinians built small roadblocks of their own... in their own town.|
|It almost seemed choreographed; the soldiers would rush in, and the protestors would turn and run. When the soldiers pulled back the protestors moved forward with a new volley of stones.|
|Anytime a soldier was in range, rocks were thrown, here in unison.|
|For a moment nothing weighed him down.|
|The settlement behind him, a constant reminder of what is being lost.|
The final two images were taken during the weekly Bil'In demonstration. In Bil'In protestors march directly up to the apartheid wall, and chant, while soldiers use tear gas, sound grenades, skunk water, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Every Friday protestors come back for more, this has been ongoing for seven years.
|Unlike Kafr Qaddum tear gas is the weekly norm in Bil'In.|
|Palestinian protestor manages to pick up a live tear gas canister and throw it back over the wall.|
If you routinely answer your phone perched tenuously atop an olive tree, then you are either a crazy person, or someone who picks a lot of olives – draw your own conclusions. Yesterday I received a call, in such a position, and was informed of a house being demolished in Hares, a nearby town (we would later find out that three houses were being demolished, on that day, and 14 more were set for demolition at a later time).
Though the embers of the previous night’s fire were still smoking in our minds, John and I forgot about everything else, and made our way to Hares.
There we encountered a lopsided standoff. Heavily armed Israeli soldiers and Border Police had a cement-block house completely surrounded. Army vehicles and bulldozers edged the nearby road. Inside the house there were Palestinians, and on the other side of the Israeli defense shell there were more Palestinians (roughly 20 Israeli soldiers/border police and 60 Palestinians). One group had an array of weapons the other had rubble. There were also 10 internationals, including ourselves.
The situation was tense! We ran around documenting, unable to position ourselves within the house that would soon be destroyed. In these kinds of situations we, very quickly, weigh the choice of interposing ourselves versus witnessing the event. It is not easy to choose the latter, the injustice smacks you in face.
When the bulldozer moved toward the house, the fuse was lit, the house sitters evacuated, and the situation went off. Palestinians picked up stones, from around the Israeli line of defense, and began throwing them toward soldiers and police. In the other direction soldiers fired tear gas, sound grenades and rubber coated steel bullets, which can be lethal if taken to the chest or head. I have no idea which side escalated the violence, but that does not matter, it was bound to play out like it did. This is not a new story I am telling.
This went on for hours (not an exaggeration) the house demolition continued, one… two… three houses, while Palestinian rock throwing ebbed and flowed.
At one point we found ourselves rushed into a nearby building, close to the first house that was being demolished. We were told that soldiers had begun using live ammunition. In hindsight we strongly question the veracity of this claim. Regardless, we waited inside while soldiers surrounded the perimeter. Amongst us were medics and women. The women were huddled together and crying. Their sons were outside, as young as ten years old, throwing rocks, physically expressing their pent up anger at the symbol of occupation.
I want to end this by taking a moment to consider the house owners, the mothers, and their children in the street. Forget about the Palestine/Israel geopolitical malaise, and the myriad narratives we associate with the struggle. After all this is a story about people living under extraordinary pressure.
Just before we left Hares an elderly woman came up to us, she was hysterical, and her eyes looked red from crying for a long time. She spoke frantically, screaming at us, or maybe at a higher power. We asked for a translation and were told that she was pleading for help. Not help from a neighbor, or help from the government, but help from the burden, the yoke of injustice.
Like bountiful olive trees that grow from arid soils, Palestinians exhibit love and kindness in the midst of such injustice. We feel safe here, and we feel a great affinity for Palestinians and their beautiful culture. And in the midst of pain and suffering there is happiness and laughter. Every single day we experience what it means to be Palestinian and we are much better off for it.
You might be asking yourself, why would Israeli’s go through all of this to demolish a few houses? I surely was. Here is a little context.
In the West Bank there are three types of non-contiguous land area, which are designated as areas A, B, and C. They were delineated during the Oslo II Accords in 1995. Area A means full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B means Palestinian civil control and joint security control (go ahead have a laugh). Area C means full Israeli civil and security control. 18% of the West Bank is Area A, 21% is Area B and 61% is Area C. Area C is where this story takes place. Area C is where illegal Israeli settlements, settler bypass roads, areas zoned for settlement expansion, and finally what the military complex calls “security zones” are located.
Hares is a small town, which happens to be nearly surrounded by Israeli settlements. Including the largest settlement in the West Bank – Ariel (like the mermaid). The 17 houses being demolished with bulldozers are on the edge of town. And by edge I mean they are basically in the town of Hares. Israel considers these houses to be Area C, and thusly they can be demolished legally. Though legality in this context is opaque and pliant to the will of those in power.
Sam and I spent our day harvesting olives with a young man, Hassan, and his parents. The family's agricultural land sits on a terraced hillside overlooking the small rural village of Burin, in which they reside. The village looks serene from a distance, homes and shops begin at the bottom of the valley and are set into the hills on its opposite side with an aesthetically pleasing ease. The minarets of the local mosque shine white against the chalky beige hues and pastel greens of distant olive orchards that serve as a backdrop. It is only when your eyes travel upwards to the hilltops surrounding the village that all notions of serenity and tranquility must be abandoned.
Perched on said hilltops loom the imposing structures that compose the illegal Israeli settlements of Yizhar to the South West, and Bracha, to the North East. Together, they effectively sandwich Burin beneath them and impinge upon the everyday movements of its inhabitants. Their guard towers, mounted with snipers posts and telephoto security cameras, have a birds eye view of all that transpires in the valley below, nothing goes unseen. Fields that were once cultivated near these militarized outposts now lie barren and unused, the result of systematic settler intimidation, harassment and violence.
And yet, this is easily forgotten by the end of a long and at times monotonous day's work in the olive orchard. Having survived the monotony, I find myself riding back to Burin in the back of a tractor that has seen better days and at the mercy of a driver who seems to have little regard for his cargo; several large burlap sacks of olives, myself, Sam, two international volunteers from ISM, Hassan and his mother. Eventually we arrive at Hassan's house and are treated to an excellent home-cooked meal, all the while enjoying an elevated level of warmth and hospitality that seems to personify the Palestinian household.
Following dinner, we step out onto the front porch for a cup of coffee and are met with a sight that shocks both Sam and I, but leaves Hassan and his family strangely calm and composed, seemingly completely unphased. Looking across the valley to the hillside we had been working on no more than an hour before, plumes of dark smoke are rising and orange flames are increasingly visible as dusk sets in. The source of this blaze is abundantly clear to me without a second thought; settlers have set the orchards on fire, an act of arson. This is a common practice used to harass and make life unbearable for the village's residents. We decide to go for a closer look, to document this incident and to lend a hand if possible.
Jumping in a servis with Hassan and the two ISMers, Sam and I jet across town, hop out and sprint uphill from the floor of the valley towards the fire. We are amongst the first to arrive, beaten only by a couple of men from the local fire brigade who are trying, largely in vain, to curb the fire's voracious appetite as it spreads up the hill. Eventually around twenty-five young men scramble up from the village to join in this effort. They are equipped with only the most basic of tools, namely rubber mats and fistfuls of dirt, which they use to smother the fire and counter its spread. The level of comradery and bravery exhibited is astounding. Although most of these men have no training and are merely responding to defend their village from an imminent threat, they manage to contain the flames and get the situation under control.
The most incredible part of this experience to me, however, is the collective calm and cool-headedness exhibited by the Palestinian citizens of Burin throughout the entire ghastly incident. I witnessed a group of young men whose land and source of livelihood was attacked in a brutal, premeditated, and ethnically motivated fashion. In response, they came together as a community, dealt with the problem at hand and then went home to their families. Where I was infuriated by the aggression against their village, they took it in stride and went about their daily lives, undoubtedly upset but able to suppress these feelings by acting rationally and avoiding escalation. This level of violence should not be tolerated in any society yet it has been normalized within this one.
Posted by John Labels: Anthology
We do not have much time here. That fact makes periods in limbo so frustrating. For the past week we have been between a team of three and a team of two.
Ten days ago our team anchors – Tom and Mary – left to return to the States, leaving us with three MPT Fall teamers, on-the-ground (“Katrina”, John and Sam). Two days later “Katrina” was arrested, and has been in an Israeli jail until early this morning, when she was released. “Free at last, Thank god almighty she is free at last.”
We will write a detailed report about her arrest, questioning, detainment, jail experience, legal issues, etc… but at this moment her case is still unresolved – like us she is also in limbo. So lets move past that for the moment and look back at a couple of the highlights/lowlights from this past week.
John and I had the immense pleasure of getting searched, down to our skivvy’s, not once but twice by Israeli border police. We were on our way to a court hearing for Katrina in Tel Aviv. At the “segregation border” we were pulled off the bus. The police held us there for an hour-and-a-half before turning us around and telling us to march back from whence we came. They patted us down, searched our belongings, and questioned us… over and over again. How could two Americans want to spend time in the “territories”? The border police are not stupid; they knew we were being a bit more than disingenuous. In hindsight it was a good experience to have, and I think we did well under the questioning glare of the fascist microscope. Sorry, that last bit might be over the top but it felt that way while it was happening.
Clear the pallet…
We also visited Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ and a place where the “segregation wall” snakes right through the middle of town.
I cannot say it was a spiritual experience for me to see the exact spot where Jesus was born, while I was hemmed in by hymn singers, candle holders, and photo-taking jostlers. But it was cool to be in a place that held so much significance for so many. After the Church we walked until we found the wall. Shockingly the amount of tourists had diminished by a factor of everyone. The wall was powerful for me. It symbolizes oppression, segregation and apartheid, which to me are antithetical to the message of Christ.
The wall itself is massive. As far as artists could reach they had spray-painted their responses to injustice and inequality. The creativity was joyful, the quotes were inspirational, and hope remained on the sheer, imposing, and otherwise sterile concrete face.
In closing, John and I are doing well, we are close to moving out of this limbo period. Yesterday we were able to harvest olives with a very kind Palestinian family. It feels really good to get back out there.