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.

Now writing for PolicyMic

I’m excited to announce that I will now be writing for PolicyMic, “an online political platform that promotes high-quality political discussion amongst young thinkers.” PolicyMic is still in beta, but I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen so far. You can check out my article “Netenyahu Institutionalizes Settlers’ Price Tagging Policy” on the site or read PolicyMic’s brochure here.

Since it’s March 15th, the day of Palestinian Unity, I also want to call attention to Fadi Quran’s article, which was published on PolicyMic last week, “On Shuhada Street, a Non-Violent Rap Global Revolution in Palestine?“. Fadi and others have been working to bring the democratic revolution to Palestine — calling for unity and an end to the occupation — and I wanted to wish them, and all the Palestinian youth, the best today.

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.





Beatings, Arrests, Injuries and Intimidation Continues in Nabi Saleh

Dozens of villagers and Israeli and international activists demonstrated in Nabi Saleh, many hiking through the mountains to join the villagers since the village and surrounding area was made into a ‘closed military zone’ by the Israeli military at 9 am and shut with the new gate (one of two) that was installed earlier this week.

New gate installed at the enterance to Nabi Saleh

This week the villagers decided to pray on the mountain facing the settlement (instead of in the village mosque) before the demonstration began. When they gathered to pray, the Israeli military descended and ordered them to go inside their houses arguing that it was illegal for them to be outside of their houses when the village was a closed military zone. The villagers refused and non-violently staged a sit-in on the mountain until clashes broke out in the center of the village between the Israeli military and the youth, who were throwing stones and the Israeli soldiers left the mountain top.

During the clashes, the Isreali military shot tear gas directly at the youth, who threw tear gas canisters the army dropped back at the soldiers and broke the window of one of Israeli military’s jeeps. Several non-violent demonstrators made attempts to speak to the Israeli military and were sprayed with pepper spray directly in their faces. Dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation and three people were taken to the hospital, including a pregnant woman who suffered from tear gas that was shot directly into her house.

A Mother tries to protect her son as Israeli soldiers storm her home in an attempt to arrest him for throwing stones.

 

The Israeli military also occupied several houses and the holy shrine of the Prophet Saleh during the course of the day, entering one house after a 17 year old boy who they said they saw throwing stones, beating him and terrorizing his family as they resisted their entrance. They also arrested a seventeen year old boy and tried to arrest a twelve year old boy, who they said they saw throwing stones, but villagers and solidarity activists resisted his arrested and the Israeli military let him go. The arrest and torture of youth has heightened in the past week, with three children under the age of thirteen being arrested and tortured in an attempt to make them into collaborators.

 

The Israeli army arrests a young boy who they claim was throwing stones.

At the end of the day, the Israeli military beat Naji Tamimi, one of the leaders of the popular struggle in the village, punching him three times in the face as he tried to protect soldiers from entering his house. Before the Israeli army left the village, they surrounded it in a cloud of smoke shooting over 60 tear gas bombs on the village simultaniously.

Israeli military occupies the holy shrine of the prophet (nabi) Saleh and point a gun at villagers who try to defend the shrine.

There was no official press at the demonstration, making the situation incredibly dangerous for the demonstrators. The Israeli military repeatedly told activists and citizen journalists to not take pictures or video and threatened them with pepper spray for documenting their activities.

Two More Homes Receive Demolition Notices in Nabi Saleh

On Sunday, Palestinian Independence Day and the day before a week long holiday in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, two villagers in Nabi Saleh received notice from the Israeli Civil Administration that their houses must be demolished in one week’s time. According to the notice, they can either demolish their own homes or to pay the Israeli Civil Administration after they demolish them. Both houses were built with permission from the Israeli Civil Administration in 1978 and 1980. Since then, they have each added an extension of one room (an inclosed porch and a kitchen) to the homes. While both homes reside in area C, one of the homes is built in area B as well.

Due to the urgency of the situation, the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition will issue a letter to the Israeli Civil Administration requesting a delay in the demolition due the holiday and explaining that the families and lawyers are unable to deal with the matter this week.

Since December 2009, when settlers from Halamish furthered their illegal confiscation of the villagers land and the Israeli army refused to protect the villagers, the villagers joined the unarmed struggle against the occupation, or the Popular Struggle. Since then, they received ten housing demolition orders. The previous orders targeted the homes of leaders in the struggle and were issued several months in advance of the date of demolition. On the other hand, the two new orders were issued just one week in advance, falling on the first day of a week long holiday where no lawyers are working. “These housing demolition orders have been placed on these houses in order to put further pressure on us to stop the demonstrations and the resistance,” said Bassam Tamimi, one of the leaders of the resistance and a previous recipient of a housing demolition order.

Twenty-Three Injured and House Occupied in Weekly Demonstration in Nabi Saleh

Nabi Saleh, Occupied Palestinian Territories — This week the Israeli Army and the Border Police invaded Nabi Saleh and violently tried to repress Palestinian and international civilians who demonstrate weekly against the confiscation of their land by the nearby settlement, Halamish. According to Palestinian sources from the village, twenty-three people were injured, five members of the village taken to the hospital and three of them stayed in the hospital over night. Two soldiers were also injured when they were hit by stones (4:28).

The Israeli Army invaded the village before the afternoon prayer and demonstration began. While international supporters were gathering in Bassam Tamimi’s house, one of the leader’s of the Popular Struggle, the Israeli Army started to surround the house. “I was outside hanging laundrey when the soldiers started surrounding my house. I started shouting at them to go away when one of them came up to me and sprayed pepper spray right in my face,” said Nariman Tamimi.

Since the Israeli Army was surrounding the house and had occupied the main intersection, the international supporters and several leaders of the Popular Struggle could not reach the tree at the top of the village where the rest of the demonstrators were gathering. As they left the house, the Israeli Army — joined by the Border Police — started firing tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and plastic covered steel bullets directly at demontrators.

Once some of the demonstrators reached the road to the spring, Naji Tamimi sat down in the road to non-violently object to the Isreali Army. As you can see in this video, one of the soldiers thew tear gas directly at Naji (00:48). A few minutes later, after he attempts to speak with the soldiers and returns with a few supporters to sit peacefully in the road, a Border Police officer comes up and sprays him directly in the face with pepper spray (3:00).

Later in the demonstration, after demonstrators started throwing stones, a soldier was injured by a stone that hit his face (4:28). Like demonstrators, soldiers also were injured by tear gas inhilation (5:30) before they occupied a house (the same house that the occupied the week before) in order to shoot tear gas and bullets from a high point in the village (6:07).

This week the Tamimi Press continued to send out press releases and photographs from the demonstration. You can view the album that they published on facebook here.

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.

Joining the Struggle for Non-Violence in Palestine

It’s a new year, and in preparation I’ve made many changes in my life in order to further witness how we (Israelis) treat our Palestinian neighbors — a population that we have occupied for the past 43 years. One of these changes included giving up my apartment and moving to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

In the beginning, over two months ago, I lived somewhat like a refugee — as my Palestinian friends joked — going from house to house, village to village accepting endless invitations to witness Palestinians’ daily lives and enjoy the warmth and hospitality of many homes and families. Most of my time was spent in Nabi Saleh, with the Tamimi family, and in Beit Ummar, a village outside of Hebron, with the Abu Awwad family, a refugee family from a village that no longer exists in Israel. 

Abu Awwad Family - Beit Ummar, Occupied Palestinian Territories

 

While bearing witness is certainly one of my main objectives, I also have become a participant in Palestinian society and taken a position as grantwriter and organizer for the growing non-violent movement to end the Occupation. While the Popular Struggle has been gaining momentum for some time (see the most recent film “Budrus“), my Palestinian partners and I are seeking to expand the definition of non-violent resistance beyond direct action at Friday demonstrations (like the one’s in Bilin, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh amongst others) to include social action and community development that Palestinians and Israelis can engage in daily. 

Tamimi Family - Nabi Saleh, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Since there are thousands of peace organizations, our role is to act as the connectors between local leaders and existing organizations with resources that can be used for non-violent resistance. Using these resources, our goal is to build a Palestinian village free of occupation in Nabi Saleh. 

An impossible goal? We think not. We know that the occupation is much more than walls and checkpoints, soldiers and settlements — the occupation seeks to breed hatred and violence into Palestinian society by making daily life so unbearable that it is impossible to build a vision for the future. But by strengthening Palestinian communities and lives we can struggle against the occupation in the best way possible, and with humanity and dignity bring an end the occupation. 

In honor of World Peace Day (September 21st) we will be holding a “Day of Social Action & Non-Violent Resistance” in Nabi Saleh that both Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters will join in together. Together we will clean the streets of litter, paint walls in preparation for a mural project, plant trees and erect a sign after the checkpoint at the entrance to the village which reads “Welcome to Nabi Saleh — All Human Beings Are Welcome” in Arabic, Hebrew and English among other activities. 

Over the next two years, we will be working to connect the village to the international community in order raise the funds and obtain the resources we need to take several of the sustainable, community development projects that the villagers have dreamt of taking from the sky to the ground. In light of this, in October, one of my Palestinian partners, Ali Abu Awwad (see video below), and I will be coming to the United States to do a speaking tour to raise funds for the non-violent movement and Nabi Saleh. If you are willing to organize an event in Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles please contact us. We would be happy to come and share our peacebuilding work and the growing strength of the non-violent movement. 

 

I am continuing to write, but with the intention of compiling a book about the struggle for non-violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  For the past two months, I have been carefully documenting my experience as I transition from being submerged in the culture of the occupiers to the culture of the occupied by writing down my experiences and conversations nightly. 

As I have made this transition, I have received tremendous support from my new Palestinian partners, Israeli friends and international supporters. I can’t tell you how many messages I get offering connections well wishes–it truly makes all the difference and I sincerely thank everyone. And always, there is more that you can do — we need funds for the World Peace Day event and for building the movement. If you are willing to donate, please contact us. For every hundred dollars that you donate, we will be planting a tree in your name at the event. If someone is willing to donate $500 we can turn the street lights back on in the village — this is how big of an impact a small amount of money can make in Palestine.

It may not be this year, or next year that we see the end of the Occupation, but we know that there is no other way for the Jewish or Palestinian people to continue living. In the end, “we’re going to make it — yes we can!” as we say daily. Thank you for your support until now and I hope that this year, we can work together to make a greater change.