New State of Palestine VISA

I am the proud carrier of a new “State of Palestine” VISA. No, I am not proud that we have IDs that must be stamped at all. In fact, if this conflict has taught me anything, it is that it is part of my duty as a human being to make those “borders” less powerful. To create a world where gender, religion and national identities are no longer life threatening issues, where being a human being is enough to guarantee your human rights.

But in the meantime, I’m going to use my American and Israeli passports to advocate for human rights by stamping them with a new State of Palestine VISA, issued by Ramallah based artists Khaled Jarrar. Even though 100 states recognize the State of Palestine, the PA does not issue a VISA. What does that say about their thinking? Who is more powerful — 100 states or the Israeli occupiers?

I don’t know why the PA hasn’t issued VISAs. But I do know why I am going to be carrying one:

At conception, I was given two identities: human being and female — not woman. When I emerged from my mother’s womb, my parent’s gave me a gendered name and the state gave me a national identity. I was raised as a Jew and at thirteen, given the choice to be in or out. I chose to be in, had a party (Bat Mitzvah) and joined the Jew Crew for life — or so they say.

By 21, this Jewish identity ran into Zionism — and a Zionist narrative that uses the horrors of Jewish genocide and the power of Judaism to mobilize Jewish people for a nationalist cause. As a result of my Birthright journey, I became the Zionist dream, used the racist Right of Return for Jewish people and became an Israeli citizen. Boy, Jews can be stupid sometimes.

But if I’m a little easier on myself, in some respects it was a practical, adolescent decision. I was empowered by the Zionist narrative which took me out of the Jewish minority in America and placed me in the Jewish majority in Israel. I wanted to further explore my American relationship with Israel, a state which receives more American military aid than any other nation and which claims to be representing the Jewish people. The Israeli government made this easy by offering cash, subsidies, tax breaks and other privileges — Jewish organizations also chipped in and offer to fly and ship a bunch of your worldly belongings at no cost to the “Jewish Homeland”. And so, in the land where national identity, ID cards and passports are life or death issues, I naively became an Israeli citizen.

After living for three years in Tel Aviv, enjoying the beach, boys and booze,  my bubble was burst by the Israeli War in (and on) Gaza (2009) and I felt a need to see another face of Israel. I became a border crosser, leaving the seemingly occupation free Tel Aviv for more thorny territories (Israeli soldiers, walls and checkpoints–Oh my!), and lived behind the wall in Palestinian villages — Nabi Saleh (Ramallah) and Beit Ummar (Hebron), Beit Jalla (Bethlehem) and Al – Ram (Al – Quds or Jerusalem). Over the course of two years, I  lived with Palestinian families and engaged Palestinian officials and taxi drivers, artists and accountants to see Israel from their’ eyes.

Rarely was there a day when someone carrying a machine gun didn’t require me to show him or her my ID. “Where are you going? What do you do there? Where are you from?”, all common questions along the journey which determine your fate. But more powerful than the words you say, the disposition you hold or the attitude you carry, was my ID.

To my surprise, my Israeli ID is the easiest to move with. Like all IDs, it provokes questions. When I spoke Hebrew or English to the soldiers, they asked me if I was Jewish. When I started to speak Arabic to them, I got a lot less questions — in fact, life was easier, for this cute, secular dressing girl. Other girl friends of mine, who look more Arab and cover their hair, have a much harder time and boys — well they have it the worst.

Over the past two years, my American passport has become increasingly difficult to move with, since I no longer carry a VISA. A year ago, soldiers would just wave me through — it seemed to be a courtesy to tourists. Now, foreigners enjoy heavier harassment as the Israeli government attempts to intimidate international activists. Deportation of human rights activists has become common place and as a result elaborate schemes have been devised to visit Palestine, even if activists will never go to 1967 Israeli territory.

As a Jewish Israeli citizen, it is illegal for me to enter what was deemed by the Oslo Accords as Area A — all of the cities in the Palestinian territories. If I am arrested by the Israeli Occupation Forces, I can face thousands of dollars in fines and possibly jail time. However, I can move about Area B and C freely — areas that are still under Israeli military control, but were supposed to transition into full Palestinian control within five years. This freedom has enabled settlers to colonize the West Bank and so — in these areas settlers and Palestinians live side by side.

My Israeli passport is by far the easiest to move with since it doesn’t have any indication of my Jewish identity on it.  My Israeli ID on the other hand, has my mother’s Hebrew name on it. In the recent past, the IDs used to explicitly state your religion, while today the identification is more discreet. Of course, this doesn’t stop soldiers from asking questions about my identity and in protest, I answer the question “Are you Jewish?” by telling them that I’m Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Granted that this harassment is nothing compared to what Palestinians  carrying green Palestinian or blue Israeli IDs (Israeli – Arabs) experience, it touches on how powerful an ID is here in a place no larger than New Jersey.

Aside from daily harassment and intimidation, many people face incredibly difficult life-long struggles to stay in their homeland, where they were born, or to return to the land of their parent’s and grandparents. IDs become a weapon which the Israeli government uses to deem who is in and who is out. And of course, this isn’t some haphazard plan — it is an incredibly systematic way to displace Palestinians, win the “demographic dilemma” and to construct the Zionist myth that Israel was “a land without a people, for a people without a land”.

Since I have the inhumane and unwarranted privilege of crossing checkpoints daily, my ID has become one of the most essential objects I carry daily. When Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar approached me (in Ramallah) with his “State of Palestine” VISA and invited me to stamp my passport I was ecstatic. It enables me to make fun of the current border control system and to create contradictions that the official system doesn’t have a protocol for — yet.  His project provides me with a new tool for protesting the Israeli occupation and an outlet for freedom of expression that was unavailable before.

Luckily, I had the perfect place for the stamp — directly above my Israeli immigration ID, which the Israeli Ministry of Interior put in my American passport. Even though many of my Palestinian friends also carry two passports, due to their green ID registration, the Israeli Occupation Forces will not let them pass the wall into many Palestinian cities (most notably Al Quds / Jerusalem).

American passport with “State of Palestine” VISA (top, left) above Israeli immigration document

Next week I will have my Israeli passport stamped and will be leaving and entering Israel with the State of Palestine VISA in June. Additionally, I will be publishing the numerous stories that I am sure will be prompted by this eloquent project here.

If you would like to have your passport stamped or be involved with the project on other levels, please contact Khaled Jarrar. Additionally, you can support the project by liking the facebook page, “Live and work in Palestine” (which in 24 hours got 500 likes!) and add the State of Palestine VISA to your profile pictures.

We Have a Dream – My Palestinian Partner and I’s Plea for Peace



Two years ago, I graduated from Mount Holyoke College and took Mary Lyon’s famous words to heart, “Go where no one will go. Do what no one else will do.” With thousands of dollars of college debt, I moved back to Israel and then to the occupied Palestinian Territories on a journey to know every face of the Jewish State. I became a border crosser, one of the very few Jewish-Israelis who dared to live in Palestinian villages from Hebron to Nablus — and on the way I met many partners for peace.

Anas Maloul at home in the occupied Palestinian Territories

One of these partners happens to be my former classmate, Anas Maloul, a Palestinian politics student from Hampshire College who left his job in the United States and returned to Palestine to support his home in their struggle for freedom. In the heat of the summer, sitting in a dusty, neglected Nablus park, we spoke of the new non-violent movement which has engulfed Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters–from Sheik Jarrah to Budrus, Bi’lin, Nilin, Nabi Saleh and more—something new is happening in Palestine.

Realizing that our destiny is inextricably linked, we dreamt of making a difference, of having the opportunity to apply all our years of study to the ground and to struggle together for Palestinian freedom and Israeli security. Our dream was contagious and shortly after, one of Palestine’s non-violent leaders invited us to join Al Tariq, a grassroots Palestinian organization working for development, democracy and non-violence.

Over the past year I worked tirelessly to take our dreams from the sky to the ground. I’ve documented the unarmed struggle against the occupation in the tiny village of Nabi Saleh, organized a Peace Day in the village, secured seedling funding for a sewing machine cooperative for Palestinian widows and brought hundreds of internationals and journalists to see the situation in Palestine first hand. In Al Tariq’s tiny office outside of Ramallah, Anas and I have developed several new projects which we believe address the most critical issues facing Palestine today. From non-violence summer camps for children, to service scholarship programs for young ambitious Palestinians — we have a dream.

Villagers in Nabi Saleh lead a non-violent demonstration - Summer 2010

We’ve come to realize that freedom and equality in Palestine won’t be achieved without American’s support. We need your help every step of the way. Freedom for Palestinians and true security for Israel will not come from politicians sitting in five-star hotels–it’s going to take people power, on the ground in Palestine, Israel, America and nations across the world. Its going to take courageous acts of support–non-violent demonstration, unarmed resistance, boycott, divestment and sanctions, speaking with supporters and skeptics, being compassionate and being unyielding. But in the end, we’re going to make — there’s no other way.

Now, we’re trying to take our message of freedom, justice and non-violence to “every hill and mountaintop” and get from Jerusalem to JStreet to attend JStreet’s historic second national conference, lobby with the Interfaith Peace Builders in Washington D.C. and to encourage churches, congregations, college students and courageous supporters across America to join us. Throughout the trip, I’ll be live blogging and sharing our message with as many people as possible.

Join our struggle — contribute to the financial costs of the journey to the USA, organize a fundraising event in your community or donate to our work being done on the ground. You can donate an amount of your choice here or support one of the projects listed below.

Help us get to the place, where we too can say, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty we’re free at last.”

Now is the time.





Projects on the Ground in Palestine


$1000: “Golden Fabric” Project – Empower a Widow and Her Family



Sewing and embroidery cooperative

We are starting sewing and embroidery cooperatives in Nabi Saleh and Dahashe refugee camp to serve the most vulnerable women in Palestine — women who are widows or their husbands are in prison, sick or unemployed for more than six months. Since there is no social welfare in Palestine, 73% of widows and their families live in deep poverty, more than 50% below the poverty line.

Each sewing machine costs $1000 and can provide $7000 of income to a woman in a year. For uneducated Palestinian women, who have nearly no opportunities to work, this is an incredible opportunity to strengthen them and their families.

Already, individuals in the UK are organizing to fundraise for one sewing machine for Nabi Saleh. Get on board and change the future of Palestine one woman at a time.


$500: Give a Young Person the Chance to Be Leader



Palestinian and Israeli Young Leaders

Our Young Leaders project gives Palestinian and Israelis young leaders the opportunity to meet the “other” for the first time and learn how to engage in meaningful dialogue. After the first encounter, our young leaders continue on to participate in a range of national and bi-national activities which further education about the two societies and promote non-violent conflict resolution.

$500 will enable us to invite another young Palestinian or Israeli to join our group and become an active member of Al Tariq. They will write you letters throughout the year about their experience and how meeting the other and developing relationships with them has changed their perspective of themselves and their future. You’ll also be able to keep up to date with national and bi-national meetings through our news feed, which we update regularly.




$250: Cultural Resistance – Give a Palestinian Writer a Voice




Support cultural resistance

Today in Palestine, education is mostly based on memorization and there is nearly no funding for the arts. However we believe that arts — and particularly writing — is one of the most important ways that young people can deal with their trauma and learn to communicate.

A gift of $250 will provide an emerging Palestinian writer the opportunity to participate in a creative writing session. At the end of the year, we’ll be publishing a book of the young writer’s works and will share them with you.



 

$100: Non-Violence Summer Camps – Teach a Child Non-Violence




Non Violence Summer Camp for children

Our programs for the children, who make up almost half of the Palestinian population, focus on enabling them to deal with the trauma and developmental problems that they have due to the conflict, through non-violent means. Since 2006 we have organized 2-week summer camps for children during their summer vacations. These camps are attended by large number of children from villages and cities alike.

A gift of $100 will enable a child to participate in summer camp and learn about non-violence. For most Palestinian children and their parents, this is the first time that they have ever participated in a summer camp. Give the gift of non-violent education to the future of Palestine.





Round Up: If it weren’t for +972 we’d think there were no leftists left

“Its got to get worse before it gets better,” a South African filmmaker told me this summer as he shared his experience of apartheid South Africa with me. At the time, I didn’t quite see the wave of “worse” coming, but now I think its fair to say — it’s here.

Since we rung in the New Year there’s been nothing but a new wave of bad news (or perhaps good news) gracing the blogosphere. Starting with the IDF killing Jawahar Abu-Rahma, a non violent Palestinian activist from Bi’lin, and Mohammad Dragma, a 21 year old unarmed Palestinian from Tubas, the situation has quickly worsened. If it weren’t for the critical information and commentary that the tireless journalists and activists at +972 magazine provided, I (as well as many others) may have thought we were alone in being outraged. Instead, +972 and the slew supportive facebook comments from Palestinians and internationals alike has made me realize that even though we “leftists” are few, we’re mighty — and we are breaking official sources’ (like the IDF and the Israeli government) monopoly on “news.”

As Virgina Wolf wrote at the end of Three Guineas, “We are not passive spectators doomed to unresisting obedience.” May we carry these words until the end of this madness.

Here’s a round-up of how leftists are being rounded up by none other than our beloved country.

IDF Tries to Spin Bil’in Death

Yesterday the IDF held a select press conference for their favorite bloggers and journalists to address the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah, the activist who died of tear gas inhalation fired by the IDF in Bi’lin. Noam Sheizaf did a brilliant job of dissecting the IDF’s version of the event.

Activist’s Home Searched

This morning one of the activists arrested over the weekend for protesting the killing of Bi’lin activist, was greeted by Israeli Police Special Patrol Unit who demanded to search the activists home. According to +972, the police did not have a search warrant and the activists denied their entry.

Israel is handling this protest as an attack committed against the United States. The US State Department, however,  does not view the protest as an attack. Asked yesterday by AP reporter Matt Lee for a comment, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley stated clearly that the protest was not an attack on the US. Video link starting from minute 22:30:

Human Rights Activist and Film Director Targeted

An Israeli nonprofit called “The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel” wrote a letter to the Israel Broadcasting Agency that Ta’ayush activist and independent filmmaker Nissim Mossek should have his work censored because of his participation in “extremist” politics. You can read the article and letter published by Mairav Zonszein.

Witch Hunt Committee Established

This Knesset passed a decision to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to “examine the activities of Israeli organizations involved with the collection of information about soldiers and follow their funding sources”. Of course, this proposal brough forth by none other than MK Fania Kirshenbaum from Yisrael Beiteinu.

Israeli NGOs Respond

The New Israel Fund responded in a Haaretz article by stating, “The political persecution of human rights group causes great damage to Israel across the world, and that is precisely what will lead to the delegitimization [of Israel] and the representation of it as a McCarthyite state in which a witch hunt is taking place.”

B’Tselem, one of the targeted organizations, issued the following statement this evening:

We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the Occupied Territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential. B’Tselem calls on all members of Knesset to hold an informed debate on the information provided by human rights organizations, instead of harassing and smearing those who dare to question and criticize.

It is absurd to claim that a committee of enquiry with no real powers can uncover information unknown to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits. The purpose of the inquiry is not to establish the facts, they are well known. B’Tselem’s list of donors is available online. Our financial reports are available at the office of the NGO Registrar, which just recently issued B’Tselem a Certification of Proper Administration. Therefore, it is clear that the motive behind the investigation is an attempt to hinder our work through smears and incitement.

If the Members of Knesset who supported this decision genuinely care about Israel’s international standing, they should stop promoting parliamentary initiatives that will only cause it to plummet even further.

And since I must end on a lighter note, please watch this clip from Aretz Nehederet, a satirical Israeli television show (or the Israeli version of Jon Stewart). It captures the mainstream discourse in Israel so well, you might as well forget about your next vacation to the Holyland.

Israeli Occupation Forces Attack Nabi Saleh with Skunk Water and Long Range Tear Gas Missiles

This week during the demonstration against the occupation in Nabi Saleh, six civilians were wounded and dozens of men, women and children suffered from the high quantities of tear gas, rubber and plastic coated steel bullets and large quantities of skunk water that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) used against civilians.

Starting at 9:00 am IOF made Nabi Saleh into a closed military zone and denied Palestinians, internationals and journalists with government issued ID cards to enter the village.

During the demonstration, the IOF expelled the residents of a house and occupied it for the afternoon, using it as a barrack and point for shooting further tear gas (including long-range tear gas missiles) and bullets at unarmed civilians. More than half a dozen homes were  damaged when skunk water and tear gas shot directly into the homes forcing women and children out onto the street. After the demonstration, several residents found that the windows of their cars had also been broken by steel bullets.

Young people in the village responded by throwing stones at the IOC and their bomb proof jeeps. No members of the IOC were injured.

The Non-Violent Movement in Palestine Gains Strength

On Saturday, we took our dream of a World Peace Day in Palestine from the sky to the ground and saw months of our hard work come to life in the Palestinian village, Nabi Saleh. It wasn’t easy, but in the end – we made it.

Even though the Israeli army attempted to break down the event by putting dozens of checkpoints on the roads to Nabi Saleh, closing all of Ramallah, every entry into the village, several Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters (who were told by Israeli soldiers that they were not allowed to enter the village) trekked through the mountains on foot to get to the Peace Day. One group, students from Birzeit University, were met by Israeli soldiers as they neared the village and detained in the school for most of the day (see photos here).

However, the villagers and Israeli and international activists didn’t let the army’s presence distract them from the Peace Day events and continued as planned to clean the streets of trash, gather under the Peace Tent we erected and demonstrate non-violently against the occupation and for their freedom.

In the opening ceremony, Bassam Tamimi, one of the local leaders from Nabi Saleh, read a call from a woman in the village who has lost half of her family to the Israeli occupation and whose son has been in prison for the past seventeen years. She called for the Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit to be released. Several other leaders, including Ali Abu Awwad, a leader of the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement, gave speeches in the Peace Tent.

After the opening ceremony in the Peace Tent, we went to Nabi Saleh’s cultural center to view the exhibition of photographs from the past ten months of demonstrations in the village. Then we marched to the school where the students were being held and non-violently broke the army blockade by linking arms and slowly but surely marching forward. In response, the army released the students and started arresting Israeli activists. In solidarity several internationals and Palestinians piled on top of the Israeli activists protecting them from the army, even though the army threatened to arrest everyone present. In the end, five people were arrested and taken to the army’s base in Halamish, the nearby settlement, and held until ten o’clock at night.


More photographs of non-violent resistance throughout the day.

Continuing on, we marched through the village to the junction where every Friday demonstrators are confronted with the Israeli army as they try to reach the spring. We faced several jeeps and armed soldiers, and holding the sign which we planned to erect at the spring, staged a sit-in and song songs of peace and freedom. After thirty minutes, we turned our backs on the army and returned to the Peace Tent where we resisted with pleasure and enjoyed an evening of inspirational music and Debka, traditional Palestinian dance, together.

Even though we attempted to get financial support prior to the event, we only received a small amount of money from a Palestinian organization and Israeli activists, who paid for their own transportation. However, this event cost much more and in order to make it happen, we took out a loan – “I have become a slave for my own dream,” Ali Abu Awwad said. If you are willing to support this day and make a donation, please contact us.

Currently, we are busy preparing for a trip to the United States and the UK in order to gain international support for the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement (October – November). If you are willing to organize an event in the United States or the UK, please contact us. We would be happy to come share our stories, strategy and vision for the future of Palestine and invite you to become part of our movement.

Lastly, at the bottom of this post is an incredibly sensitive and inspirational account from one of the Israeli activists who came to support us. We truly are so honored to have Israeli and international support in this struggle and know that we need your support to end the occupation and make our way to freedom.

Personal Account of World Peace Day in An-Nabi Salih

by David Shulman

Something new is happening in Palestine. I saw and heard things today that are relatively rare in my experience. I saw conflict erupt in the village between those who wanted to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers and generate more violence, as in the past, and the no less passionate people who intervened fiercely to prevent this from happening. I heard tough words of peace and hope. I saw the most dignified and brave demonstration I’ve ever seen. I also saw the army react with its usual foolishness,
which I’ll describe, and I saw the soldiers hold back when they could easily have started shooting. It wasn’t an easy day by any means, but it was good.

An-Nabi Salih is a hard place. When Ezra heard me say yesterday, in Sheikh Jarrah, that I was going to the village, he said, “Take a helmet. They’re violent there–all of them” (he meant: settlers, soldiers, and villagers). Yesterday, at the usual Friday demonstration in the village, the soldiers fired rounds of live ammunition along with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas and stun grenades. I was expecting more of the same today.

The village, north and west of Ramallah, has the great misfortune of having the hard-core settlement of Halamish as its unwanted neighbor. An-Nabi Salih lost its lands to the settlement along with access to a fresh-water spring, a precious thing in this arid, sun-scorched landscape; the settlers stole the spring, but the villagers were not prepared to surrender it, so there have been many violent clashes, spread over years. The settlers do whatever they can to make the villagers’ life miserable, with much success, and the soldiers, as always, back them up. All this is standard practice.

Today in honor of World Peace Day, Ali Abu Awwad one of the leaders of the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance, and local leaders from Nabi Saleh planned a “Day of Social Action and Resistance to the Occupation” in Nabi Saleh. Hundreds of Palestinian activists were supposed to arrive from all over the West Bank—but the army turned all the buses away and closed all the roads connecting the village to the rest of the West Bank. We run into the same roadblocks at the main turn-off from Highway 60. The soldiers laugh at us when we tell them we’re going to Nabi Salih. No chance, they say, of getting through. But this is the West Bank, and there is always a way, maybe not an easy way, but some back road or goat track or dirt path that will get you where you’re going; so we wind our way for close to two hours, through Jiljiliya and other quite lovely villages close to Ramallah until we fetch up at Qarawat Bani Zeid, close to our goal. But there is, we know from Ali and Alison, an American-Israeli writer, another army roadblock at the entrance to the village. The Tel Aviv contingent tried to get past them by running a few hundred yards over the hills, and several of the activists were caught and arrested. Do we want to attempt the same tactic?

At least some of us may get through, but we hesitate: is it worth the hassle of the arrests and the violence? On the other hand, having come so far, how can we simply turn back? Seven of us are prepared to run the gauntlet. Finally, at high noon, Ali leads us down into the rocky terraces and olive groves underneath An-Nabi Salih. Leaping over the rocky ledges, we descend to a level that is hopefully beyond the soldiers’ range of vision, and for twenty minutes or so we creep stealthily from tree to tree and rock to rock, in near-total silence, playing hide-and-seek, outflanking them, crouching, holding our breath, hoping to emerge far enough past the roadblock to elude capture. It’s very hot, and I’m thirsty and, by the end, physically depleted; it’s been 33 years, I calculate, since I last engaged in such games, in my Basic Training in the army. So absorbed am I in the trek that I hardly take in the splendor of the hills rolling dizzily toward the horizon, but at one point I do see, just above my head, an olive branch laden with green fruit almost exploding with ripeness. Soon autumn will come, and the olive harvest; on the way in the minibus, bouncing over the back roads, there was even a sweet moment of rain, with the sharp smell, unlike all others, of wet dust settling to the ground.

There are eleven of us: seven Ta’ayush volunteers, two Palestinian women in modern dress, heads covered, from Beit Ummar, Alison and Ali himself, tall, graceful, careful, prescient. At one point we almost make a bad mistake, start climbing up too soon, too close to the soldiers; but Ali catches this in time and leads us back down through the trees and brambles. When we do move up to the road, we find ourselves very much inside the village, welcomed warmly by two elderly gentlemen, who come to shake my hand, and then by a contingent of teenagers. The first thing I see is a huge sign, in Arabic and English: “The children of this land deserve our struggle and sacrifices for peace.” Fifteen yards down the main street, another one: “We believe in non-violence, do you? We are making social change, are you?” A few yards further along: “La salam ma’a wujud al-ihtilal, Making peace means ending the occupation.” Biggest of all, draped over the entrance to the town meeting place: “Keeping our political prisoners behind the bars of tyranny and injustice is inexcusable on International Peace Day.”

Do I believe in non-violent struggle? Yes, with all my heart. And I see that I’m not alone—indeed, far from it. We sit at first, re-hydrating, under the enormous tree in the village square, just like in India. Our hosts serve us Turkish coffee and mineral water. We make some friends. One of the village elders says to me with irony (remember yesterday’s live ammunition): “Welcome to Eden.” Actually, though, he
just might be right. The heat intensifies. Eventually, inevitably, it is time for the speeches. Popular Arabic music is blaring at deafening volume from the loudspeakers as we take our seats under a wide canvas. It goes on and on, until, mercifully, a young poet takes the microphone and recites a poem. A passage from the Qur’an is sung. The poet introduces the speakers one by one. I’m weary and, at first, a bit bored.

Normally, I have no patience with political speeches in the villages (how many hours of rhetorical Arabic have I sat through?), but today’s surprise me, shake me awake: “We are against violence, we condemn it, we want to be free, the occupation with its hatred is destroying hope but we persevere for the sake of our children, we will win.” More poems, dramatically sung or recited, punctuate these orations. Now Ali rises to speak—in English, so that all the Israelis and the foreign volunteers can understand: “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back. Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we all share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first large-scale Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed at building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart cries with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy.

The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. The Israeli state is a state that eats its children by sending them with weapons to kill and be killed. When you hurt us to the point where we lose our fear of dying, all of us together lose our love of living. They closed off An-Nabi Salih today to keep us out; they know how to put up checkpoints, but they do not know how to fight the feeling of freedom we hold in our hearts. We say to you today, on the Day of Peace: Peace itself is the way to peace, and there is no peace without freedom. I am proud to be in An-Nabi Salih, and I promise you: we’re gonna make it.”

As if on cue, soldiers roll into the village in their jeeps; they do what soldiers do, that is, they threaten, they bully, they make arrests, they take their hostages to an olive grove on the other side of the houses, facing Halamish. Our hosts ask us if we would be prepared to take water to the new arrestees (they don’t want to approach the soldiers themselves), so of course we set off through the village streets and down the hill until we find them. Some ten to fifteen soldiers, weighed down by what looks like tons of equipment, green camouflage netting on their helmets and rifles in their arms, are guarding a group of twenty-some students from Bireit university who came to join today’s festivities. We bring water, we chat with the captives, and suddenly it transpires that we’ve been added to their number; the soldiers won’t allow us back into the village. They don’t want outsiders in there, they’re glad they’ve thinned the ranks. (The presence of foreigners, especially Israelis, makes it harder for them to shoot.) After a few minutes we tire of this and strike out uphill, dodging the soldiers, who are clumsy, weighed down by their guns and all the rest, as they join hands to create a wall and hold us back, and skirmishes develop, and then the first stun grenade, and it ends with four activists, including Sahar and Lihi, caught, handcuffed and forced to the ground. I am too quick for them, as often, and escape their clutches by following Jonathan farther into the trees.

By the time I regain the village, the main procession—the ritual dénouement of the day– is already forming. Originally the idea was to reach the stolen spring, but the soldiers, waiting for us in force at the turn in the road, put an end to this dream. Tear-gas canisters and cartridges of rubber-coated bullets are loaded on to the rifles pointed at the crowd of women, children, men, young and old, many carrying in their arms green olive tree saplings to plant around the spring. We apply non-violent resistance by sitting on the pavement with the soldiers almost close enough to touch, they’re aiming at us, and I’m a little afraid they might open fire like yesterday, and even more afraid that one of the kids will throw a rock and all hell will break loose, but not one person throws a stone and there’s suddenly no end to the happiness that is washing over me in this crazy late-afternoon moment that I am lucky enough to witness as the light softens to a golden glow and a blessed wind gusts through the trees. People are singing: freedom songs. They swell to a sweet and strident chorus. Thirty minutes later, we turn our back on the army and go back to the Peace Tent to listen to music and see a performance of Debka, traditional Palestinian dance.

If the Israeli army had a brain, which it apparently doesn’t; if the government of Israel had even an iota of generosity of spirit, which it doesn’t; if the people of Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world could open their ears and hear the voices I heard today, in Arabic and English, but they can’t; if the world weren’t all upside down and crooked and cruel, but it is—if all these ifs could only stop being ifs, then they, whoever gave the orders, wouldn’t have tried to stop us from coming to An-Nabi Salih today, in fact they would have welcomed the arrival of this new generation
of proud peace activists from Hebron and Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance wouldn’t be pushing the heavy rock uphill, day after day. I guess it’s in the nature of such movements to struggle with the rock. Human hearts are heavy as stone.

Something new is happening in Palestine.

Now Blogging for The Huffington Post

I’m excited to announce that in addition to blogging here, at my home base, I’m now going to be blogging for The Huffington Post. Early this morning (Israel time) my first article for Huff Post was published, “Do International Activists Help or Hinder The Palestinian Struggle?“.

I’ve been working on the article for several weeks and really, it took a village. In addition to my interviewees, I specifically wanted to thank the following people Michael Gould-Wartofsky, Sara Sorcher, Mati Milstein and Ronnie Gross for their expertise, input and encouragement.

What’s Next?

While the subject matter of this article won’t surprise most of my readers (at least that’s what I think), my next article might. It was a challenging article for me to write, requiring me to dig back into Jewish Studies knowledge and to learn more about orthodox Judaism in Israel. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’m excited to write about a new subject and will be making some big moves in the coming weeks that will give me the ability to further grapple with and engage this religion and Judaism (hint, hint).

To my surprise, it has been difficult to find a home for the article outside of my blog. Even though I pitched the article to several traditional news organizations that I thought would be receptive to the piece, the subject matter was deemed “too religious” by more than one editor. All frustrations that journalists are wrought with due to change in media aside, luckily in today’s Web 2.0 world every article can find a home.

Alison Avigayil Ramer is a writer, independent journalist and new media consultant who specializes in using the internet to engage people in peaceful political dialogue. If you would like to hire Alison for consulting or donate to her efforts you can send a donation to her through paypal.

Also free to join the lively, peaceful conversation here, on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to Alison Avigayil’s Dispatches via email.

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Thousands Protest the Occupation and Flotilla Raid Across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

To mark 43 years of Israeli occupation, Israelis and Palestinians held protests throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories this weekend. While many of these protests were planned in advance, many organizers and the IDF did not know what to expect since the Gaza Flotilla Raid has heightened emotions across all sects of Israeli and Palestinian society — Arab, Jewish, left and right etc.

Saturday, June 5th 2010

Tel Aviv

The prime minister drowns us all. We need to row to peace.

15,000 – 20,000 left-wing people peacefully protested the Israeli occupation and the “Gaza Flotilla Raid” in Tel Aviv (notice how the name of the Wikipedia article has now changed from “Gaza Flotilla Crash” to “Gaza Flotilla Raid”).  They were also joined by 200 – 300 right-wing people who came to oppose the left-wing protesters and support the occupation.

The number of protesters surprised many of the protest’s organizers who estimated that no more than 3,000 people would attend. “I thought that because of the flotilla incident that moderate leftists would not turn out, but I was very surprised,” said one of the organizers, Itamar Broaderson.  “Instead, because of the flotilla more people came.”

While the protest is held annually to mark the beginning of Israel’s occupation, when the Gaza Flotilla Raid happened, the organizers changed the title of the protest from “Protest Against 43 Years of Occupation” to “The government cannot sink us. We will continue rowing for peace.”

Several right-wing protesters spit on left-wing protesters and one person threw a smoke grenade. At the end of the protest, right-wing protesters attacked 81 year old leftist activist Uri Avneri, the head of Gush Shalom, and the police had to escort Avneri to his car.

The protest was organized by several left-wing organizations and parties including Meretz, Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Hadash and Physicians for Human Rights among others.

Friday, June 5, 2010

Nebi Saleh, Occupied Palestinian Territories

I went to Nebi Saleh with photojournalists Mati Milstein, Ben Kelmer and blogger Lisa Goldman. Seasoned blogger Noam Sheizaf was also there and I liked the way that he summed up the history of the village in his post about a series of demonstrations yesterday:

The Palestinians of Nebi Saleh try to regain access to a tiny pond that was taken over by settlers from the nearby Halamish settlement. As usual, the weekly demonstration started with a march toward the pond, which was stopped on the village’s main street by the Army. Then came some stone-throwing by several of the Palestinians, to which the soldiers responded with tear gas.

The weekly protest began with young village members blocking the main road into the village where the IDF enters with stones and lighting tires on fire. Less than five minutes later, the IDF arrived and closed the road for several hours.

The villagers (accompanied by no more than ten young international activists) marched down the hill slowly and cautiously and eventually exchanged stone throwing for tear gas.

Other than the journalists, Ben Gurion University professor of Chemistry Eyal Nir was the only person who came from the villagers’ protest to speak with the army. After several minutes of shouting passionately at the army to leave the village, Nir was taken into an army jeep for insulting a soldier with a racial slur (see pictures below).

When the IDF was shooting tear gas, more than one canister landed in a nearby house. After the tear gas exploded, a woman came out of the house and gagged repeatedly on top of the roof. There was no damage to the house, since the window was already broken from similar incidents.

I spoke with one of the village leader who along with his wife, who serves as a medic, monitor the young village protesters. He explained to me a bit of the village history = 1 family, 400 people and a culture of resistance. I took some pictures of the resistance art they’ve made and several of the women and children who stand on their porches weekly for the past six months protesting the settlers take over of their spring (see below). He also told me that the night before, three young villagers had been arrested in the middle of the night, after last week’s protests.

At the top of the hill in a small community building, several middle aged men debated their protest strategy hotly. They decided to call the protest off for the day because they said a woman in Gaza had been killed. Photojournalist Mati Milstein informed the IDF of their decision, resolving the conflict for the day.

Bil’in

At the weekly protest in Bil’in, Palestinian protesters constructed a model of the Gaza flotilla and were met with the usual tear gas. See the video here.

Highway 443

Hundreds also marked 43 years of occupation on highway 443 where demonstrators protest Palestinians’ limited access to the highway which runs through the west bank.

Tab for the Day:

This reporting took over 8 hours of work plus food and fuel. I rode in a car, which I cannot afford, shot pictures on a $1,000 camera and wrote this story on a $2,000 computer. Please do your part to support independent journalism in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Also free to join the lively, peaceful conversation here, on facebook or subscribe to receive Alison Avigayil’s Peace Dispatches via email.

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