Archive for the 'Israel & Palestine' Category

Gaza fishermen fight to keep a way of life alive

Once upon a time, this little strip of land (just 139 square miles, about twice the size of Washington DC) was a potentially booming resort and fishing capital, with 25 miles of beautiful coastline and beaches and a Mediterranean Sea Port teeming with sardines and shrimp.

coast

This is the Gaza Strip…But it’s not a fairy tale and there is no happy ending.  However, there are plenty of heroes and villains.

Ten years ago, Gaza’s approximately 3,600 fishermen were hauling approximately 3,000 tons of fresh fish a year, supporting an even larger 30,000 people in Gaza. Since then, violent clashes with — and ever-tightening restrictions by — the Israeli army have virtually destroyed the once booming business. Today, just 20 percent of Gaza fishermen are still able to make a living in the industry most of them grew up with, and their total catch is 3-5 percent of what it used to be.  And those who stick it out are putting their lives on the line.

Two days ago, says Mazen Hassan Abu Ryale, his cousin set out to fish in the port and came under Israeli fire. His boat was sunk and he was taken into custody. He hasn’t been seen since. Today, Abu Ryale and his brother, Mooneer, tried to go out themselves. Less than three miles out, they also were attacked. They escaped with their lives and their boat, but three of their costly nets were confiscated and the rest were damaged. They managed to catch only six fish at a loss for the day of $800 (including the cost of fuel and replacing their nets).

fisherman

“I am 59 now and I have been fishing since I was three years old, with my father,” says Mazen. “But now, I can barely make a living.”

The “Interim Arrangements” signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel in 1994/5, after the Oslo Accords were approved, stipulate that Gazan fishermen have the legal right to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coastline. However, Israel never honored the Interim Agreements. According to Mohammed Hessey, general secretary of Gaza’s Fishing Workers Trade Union, established in 1998, Israel waited just four years before unilaterally reducing the officially allowed fishing zone to 10 miles from shore. Then, when resistance fighters kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, the approved fishing zone was ratcheted down to six miles.  Following Israel’s latest attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, it was reduced once again to three miles. But even that zone isn’t always honored. Israeli gun boats have been known to attack Gaza fishermen just one or two miles from the shore.  Their weapons of choice are live ammunition and water cannons — which soldiers use to specifically target boats’ structural components, particularly breakables like glass and machinery, or to hit passengers with a foul, sewage-smelling liquid.

In 2009, one fisherman was killed by the Israeli navy, 20 fishermen and civilians were wounded while on the water or shore, 68 were abducted and 29 boats were confiscated.  Each boat confiscated represents a financial loss of $50,000-$200,000. For a while, it helped to have international volunteers on board the boats, from organizations like the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement. The presence of non-Palestinians, says Hessey, deterred the Israelis enough to allow them to fish up to six miles out from the coast. The last international volunteers to officially do so went out to sea on Nov. 18, 2008, when three trawlers were confiscated and 15 fishermen and three 3 ISM activists (Andrew Muncie, 34, from Scotland; Darlene Wallach, 57, from the United States; and Vittorio [Victor] Arrigoni, 33, from Italy) were abducted while fishing at about 7 miles off shore.  The 15 fishermen were later released and the three ISM volunteers were deported.  The three trawlers were only returned after three human rights organizations – the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the ISM — filed a legal appeal against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the commander of the Israeli Navy.

Since then, the fishermen have considered it too dangerous to go out with internationals – both for the volunteers and themselves. (The soldiers who seized the 18 fishermen and internationals in November threatened:  “You think that you have protection because you have internationals on your boat? Let’s see what these internationals can do for you now.”)

“Now, we have to stay so close to the shore that we must settle for catching only the smallest of fish..the ones we would have thrown away before, and that would be illegal in other countries,” says Hessey.

little fish

This desperate search for fish in an increasingly small area often results in the use of techniques such as explosives that have a destructive impact on marine life. Further exacerbating the situation is sewage runoff from the hotels along the coast, due to a waste-treatment system suffering from a lack of spare parts.

Meanwhile, even if the fishermen were allowed to catch more fish than can feed the Gaza population, exports are prohibited by the Israeli blockade in place since 2007.

Nevertheless, Hessey and his sons are like most of the fishermen in Gaza. Despite the risks and declining revenue, they love their profession and won’t give up. Hessey has been fishing for 37 years, since he was 20. His grandfather was the first to go into the fishing business, in Jaffa – now part of Israel. During the “nakba” (catastrophe, when the State of Israel was created by the United Nations), his grandfather and his family were forced to move to Gaza, and Hessey’s father joined him in the business. Hessey’s oldest son was killed by an Israeli bomb just 11 days before he was due to be married, but his three other sons have grown up to follow their father into the fishing industry.

hessey

To help, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Mercy Corps and the French aid agency Acted (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) keep those unable to fish employed by paying them to mend damaged boats, clean up the coast line, etc.

2 fishermen

“We just have to be patient and act ‘as one hand,’” says Hessey. That means, he says, political factions must work together, and individuals must resist the urge to respond to the hard life in Gaza by worrying about their own security.  Times were hard during the first and second Intifada, but they got better, he said.  And they will this time as well. “Twenty years ago, we were a strong community, especially fishermen.  We have to be that way again and wait it out.”

Gaza Freedom March: Questions for the U.S. and Lessons in Nonviolent Resistance

Gaza Freedom March
Letter Three—December 29

Free Gaza actions occurred all over Cairo today, and so the police, who are often in riot gear, have had a busy day—they show up wherever we go. They are incredibly young, maybe 18 or 19. Typically, when the police work a demonstration, they surround us with moveable steel fences, which they line up behind– sometimes two deep–and they watch us with what seems to be curiosity, not malice. However, their innocent appearance doesn’t mean they won’t become aggressive; for example, police today were very rough with several Spanish protesters. As internationals, though, we have great protection, not enjoyed by locals. Some Egyptians have joined in these protests, and we find their courage astounding.

This morning, I was at the U.S. Embassy with a group of about 40 other Americans. We went hoping to see the Ambassador, but instead we were surrounded by Egyptian police in riot gear and kept penned in for some five hours. The police told us that they did this at the behest of the American Embassy, but later the “political security officer” of the Embassy denied it. So, who is lying? It is interesting that the French ambassador spent the night outside with the French protesters when they first occupied the sidewalk in front of their embassy, but the American ambassador refused to see us and apparently had us detained, and for no reason.

We went to the American Embassy to ask the U.S. to prevail upon the Egyptian government and allow our nonviolent delegation into Gaza. The U.S. has tremendous leverage with Egypt, of course, and if the U.S. asked Egypt to allow us to go to Gaza, the border would surely be opened immediately. Three members of our group were allowed inside the Embassy to speak to an American representative, while the rest of us were prevented from moving outside our temporary pen. Our spokespersons reminded the political officer with whom they met that when Barack Obama came to Cairo in June, he spoke movingly of the power of nonviolence as a way to resist oppression. The President said,

For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.

The Gaza Freedom March embodies that “peaceful and determined insistence” about which the President spoke. I wonder if the Ambassador heard his speech.

In that same speech, President Obama acknowledged the dire circumstances of Palestinians in general, and Gazans in particular. He said,

So let there be no doubt: the state of the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. . . Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security . . . Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And yet, it seems that we Americans have turned our backs on the people of Gaza: we are doing nothing to end the siege, which is creating unimaginable suffering. And we have done nothing to compel Israel to end the siege. Indeed, the U.S. is presently facilitating a strengthening of the siege: it was announced last week that the Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in further isolating the people of Gaza by helping in the construction of a huge underground wall. This wall will cut off the only remaining sources of food, clothes, medicine, and all other necessities of life, which now enter Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. How shameful that the U.S. is working to increase the suffering of the people of Gaza rather than to diminish it.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, President Obama said,

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

Our President thus applauds nonviolent action and recognizes its strength. The Gaza Freedom March was conceived as a nonviolent response to what President Obama characterized as an intolerable situation and a humanitarian crisis—a crisis that has become increasingly dire since he spoke here in June.

Thus, we are attempting to do exactly what President Obama recommended, and yet when we went to our own Embassy for intervention with the Egyptian government, we were surrounded by police and detained for hours in an open-air pen, an appropriate symbol for Gaza itself, actually.

President Obama said in Oslo,

It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

In Gaza, because of U.S. complicity with Israel in the blockade, people do not have enough food, clean water or medicine. There are no books or paper for school children, and the schools that were bombed cannot be rebuilt because building materials are not allowed into the Strip. Unemployment is at 75%. There is little hope in Gaza.

President Obama ended his eloquent Oslo speech with these stirring words:

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. . . Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example.

And yet, when we U.S. citizens attempt to speak with representatives of our own Embassy–in a client state–about our desires to help alleviate a dire humanitarian situation, we are detained for hours like animals and refused an audience. Is this the audacity of hope? Is this change we can believe in?

We ask our government to live by the words of our President and to help us end the illegal and immoral siege of Gaza.

Gaza Freedom March: In the Streets of Cairo

Gaza Freedom March
Second Letter: December 27-28

The first day in Cairo was a bit chaotic: Organizers struggled to communicate with over 1,300 people dispersed in various hotels throughout Cairo, many of whom did not have email or phone service. Some of us found that our hotel reservations were imaginary, and so we had to make alternative arrangements. Despite the challenges, it was an amazing day.

In the morning, about a hundred people brought flowers, ribbons and poems to leave on the Kasr el Nil Bridge that spans the Nile River, in memory of the hundreds of Gazans killed by the Israelis exactly one year ago. People walked onto the bridge in groups of six or less—a gathering of more than six is illegal, we had been told. Nevertheless, the police soon came and ordered everyone off the bridge.

We planned another action for the early evening: An ancient type of sail boat called a felucca has plied the Nile for centuries. March organizers had rented ten of these, reserving them in advance, and we intended to sail our feluccas on the Nile and place candles in paper cups in the water. We imagined hundreds of candles floating in the Nile at sunset, each candle commemorating an innocent person killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza. But in the end, we were unable to get to the boats; the police closed down the felucca operations and surrounded our group on the sidewalk, where we remained for a couple of hours, chanting “Free Gaza” and waving banners and flags.

Months ago, March organizers had obtained a permit for our entire group to meet in a church in downtown Cairo in the evening, where final decisions would be made and instructions given. However, a week ago, the Egyptian government revoked the permit, and so, after leaving the felucca protest, we all converged in a large, open-air square for our meeting. It was a bit difficult to hear, given the traffic noise and the size of our group, but we soon broke up into smaller groups where we could discuss our next steps.

In the meantime, a group of about 200 French people gathered at the French Embassy, where they were originally supposed to board buses to take them to the border. But the government prohibited the bus companies from transporting anyone from the Gaza Freedom March, and so the French mounted a protest in front of the Embassy. First, they lay down in the street—a major thoroughfare—and kept the street for about five hours. The French Ambassador, supportive of the protesters, negotiated with the police, and subsequently the group moved onto the sidewalk where they set up tents and spent the night. Over twenty-four hours later, they are still there. I went to the Embassy this morning to see the protest and found a double row of police in riot gear lining the entire block, with the French group inside the police line. Some 20 paddy wagons were parked across the street. I believe that the French protesters will stay camped out there for a long time, unless they are arrested.

We were all supposed to go to Gaza today, but as with the French group, our buses were prohibited from transporting us.

This afternoon, all of us except the French gathered on the plaza outside the offices of the United Nations. We chanted, waved signs, and planned next steps, encircled by police, for five hours. Several people initiated a hunger strike, including one 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Heddy Epstein. While we waited outside, three of the March organizers negotiated with UN representatives inside, to see if the UN could persuade the Egyptian government to allow us into Gaza—or even allow some of us in—and to allow in the humanitarian aid we had brought with us. But these talks were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, six Germans attempted to get to the border via public transportation, but their bus was stopped at a checkpoint and they were taken off and detained. The bus, full of Egyptians, was held up for seven hours as the police sorted out what to do. The Germans reported that the Egyptian people on the bus were incredibly kind and appreciative, even though they had been greatly inconvenienced by the seven-hour delay. Finally, the Germans were put on another bus and returned to Cairo.

Tomorrow, we Americans will go to the American Embassy to urge the U.S. to pressure Egypt to open the border to Gaza. Other nationality groups will engage in other actions.

We are determined to break the siege. The situation of the people of Gaza is intolerable, and the world must respond.

Gaza Freedom March: On the Flight to Cairo

Gaza Freedom March
On the Flight to Cairo, December 26, 2009

Our goal: to draw attention to Gaza and end the blockade.

We intend to shed light on the terrible suffering of the 1.5 million people subsisting in the desperate little piece of land called the Gaza Strip. We hope that if people world-wide understand what is happening, something will be done—and the people of Gaza can once again live like human beings.

On the anniversary of last year’s horrific attack on Gaza by Israel, we had planned to join with Gazans on a three-mile non-violent solidarity march, at the same time that people in many countries around the world hold their own local demonstrations and vigils. Over thirteen hundred people from 42 countries are on their way to Cairo for the march, and we had planned to board buses on December 28 for the five-hour drive to Rafah, the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Our historical models for the Gaza Freedom March are Gandhi’s salt march and Martin Luther King’s Selma march.

We have all agreed to abide by non-violence guidelines. We know, of course, that the forces for violence in the region are entrenched and powerful, but we believe that our non-violent witness will be part of a moral force pushing back against war and injustice. We hope that our presence can show the world that change is both possible and necessary. Because of this hope, we have given up our Christmas holidays, and each of us has dedicated two thousand dollars or more for expenses—a small cost, indeed, given what we would like to accomplish.

Everyone has packed a few items to bring to people in Gaza, items that are now either unavailable to Gazans or so expensive that, in a region with 74% unemployment[i], impossible for people to purchase. I packed several sweaters for children, a few packages of markers, a couple of toys, and calcium supplements for pregnant and nursing mothers. Some people are bringing books and laptops, desperately needed by students.

My offerings are pathetic, given the vast need, but it is all I could carry.

A few days ago, we learned that the Egyptian government has decided to prevent us from entering into Gaza. Previous delegations have been allowed in. Of course, those delegations were much smaller than the thirteen hundred coming for the Gaza Freedom March.

Even after learning of the Egyptian decision, almost everyone decided to go ahead and travel to Cairo, hoping that Egypt will relent and allow us entry, and if that doesn’t happen, that we can mount a public protest in Cairo, even though doing so might well lead to our arrests.

Egyptian authorities have told March organizers that if anyone displays banners or protest signs, or if people gather in groups larger than six, we will be arrested. None of us want to be arrested, especially in Egypt, a country known for its harsh prisons and torture. But, it hardly seems that we can travel to Egypt and just go look at the pyramids. While contemplating what I felt comfortable and brave enough to do, I happened to read a statement on-line from the leadership of a group in the West Bank town of Bil’iin. Bil’in has held weekly demonstrations for months in non-violent resistance to the construction of the illegal Israeli wall that will impoverish and destroy the village. As a result of these demonstrations, villagers are regularly tear-gassed, shot with rubber-coated steel bullets, subjected to sound bombs, beaten up, arrested and even killed. Here is what the people of Bil’in wrote to us:

Egypt has announced that the Rafah border into Gaza will be closed over the coming weeks to the 1,300 international delegates attempting to march in solidarity with the people of occupied Palestine . . . on the anniversary of Israel’s horrific Cast Lead massacre that killed over 1,400 people. The powerful and diverse collaboration of international support must now choose its response to this horrific injustice. Will you stand waiting permission at the gates of Gaza? We say that you need not wait; if Egypt will not open their border, then the time for action is now. We encourage and support the escalation of non-violent direct action. It is up to you to take the next steps. It is no surprise that Egypt is not allowing the march to continue, so the natural progression towards a victory over this injustice is creative tactical escalation. If you cannot march on the roads, then set up camp and sleep on them instead; fast in solidarity with the people who are dying of starvation; refuse to be stopped by their temporary boundaries. We can look to the lessons, the creativity, and the determination of our sisters and brothers from historical resistance movements.

We are the voice of the voiceless, the arms of those physically held captive, the eyes of those blinded by hate.

There are those of us who resist because we have no choice, we resist to live. And there are those of us who know that no one is free until we are all free, and we use our bodies and the privilege of our relative freedom to resist oppression in all its forms.

There is no time for words without action. Here in Bil’in, we will be demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza and all those trying to enter.

We have learned that Egypt has forbidden the bus companies to transport us to the border. Egyptian authorities have cancelled the space that had been rented for our group meeting scheduled for the evening of December 27. It is becoming increasingly unlikely that we will be able to get anywhere near Gaza.

So, somehow, we will take a stand in Cairo.

Shooting Back

By  Jean Athey

I read last week that they are burning the olive groves around Nablus, the hills on fire, smoke curling to the sky, the smell of desolation in the air—terrible grief and loss for some, jubilation and triumph for others.  I wonder if any of the burning olive trees are ones that I helped harvest just one year ago.

I went to the West Bank to learn, and volunteering to assist with the olive harvest seemed to offer an excellent educational opportunity. Palestinian farmers like to have internationals accompany them to their groves, believing that the presence of foreigners makes Israeli settlers and soldiers less likely to attack them.  I liked the idea of being, in effect, a human shield to prevent violence.

We international volunteers stayed together in a small apartment in Nablus. Every night, we would call Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, and Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Farmers who had special cause to fear an attack would contact one of these human rights groups, and based on the information we received from our phone calls, we would decide among ourselves where each of us would go the next day.  Sometimes we went in pairs, sometimes alone. As the sun rose, each of us would head out to meet a farmer from our chosen village, and he would accompany us to his field.  Often, several members of the family would already be in the field when we arrived, working quickly and desperately to get the olives in before anything could happen.

walk to olive grove

Walking to the Olive Grove

“The olive harvest around Nablus used to be a time of festival,” a Palestinian had explained to me. “It was a celebration. We had special foods and picnics in the groves, with whole families working together. Now, that is over. There is no more joy during harvest time.”

As a volunteer, my role was to be present, a witness with a camera, but it would have felt strange and lazy to watch people work hard and do nothing. Thus, we all helped with the harvest.  I found that families used different methods to gather the olives: some climbed the trees and picked by hand, others struck the trees with sticks to make the olives fall on a tarp, and a few used a tool that they slid over each branch so that the olives fell below.

I’m not in shape. I don’t normally do any physical labor and don’t exercise. My first day as a volunteer, I started off picking olives by hand, standing on the ground under the tree. After a couple of hours of this, sweating profusely in the sun and with my muscles already screaming, I thought to myself, “I absolutely cannot do this for 7 more hours!” Then, I noticed an older woman sitting on a tarp in the shade under a tree, separating the leaves and branches from the olives and putting the olives in a burlap bag. This, I decided, was a much better job for me, so I joined her.  Later, I found that this work is set aside for small children and elderly women—exactly right for me at age 63. When I tired of even this job, I picked up the baby—about a year old—and played with her, enabling the baby’s mother to work and me to goof off.  When the baby fell asleep on my shoulder, of course I couldn’t wake her up! I had to hold her for her entire nap!

sorting olives

Working in the Olive Grove

Most of the olive trees around Nablus are ancient and have been in families for generations, and the groves are typically located some distance from villages.  Each day, after meeting the farmer, we volunteers would walk a mile or two to get to the family field.  All the hills surrounding the city have been confiscated by Israeli settlers–the former Palestinian owners having been dispossessed–and these settler colonies overlook the olive groves.  During harvest time, settlers often invade the farms, destroy property and terrorize people.  Soldiers from the numerous checkpoints and military outposts also harass the farmers, although the soldiers tend to be more predictable with their forms of intimidation.

One night, as usual, we got the names of all the villages where people felt endangered. But for the first time since I had arrived, there were more of us than there were farmers requesting help. So, I offered to stay at the apartment in case something should come up unexpectedly. In all honesty, I was exhausted from my previous day’s work and quite happy to play hooky, assuming I’d have a relaxing day in the apartment. But about 9 a.m. the phone rang:  settlers had invaded Azmut, and I was told that I should get over there right away–foreigners and cameras were needed.

Okay. First problem: find a way to this village I’d never heard of, in a city that I was still unfamiliar with. The caller had suggested I take a service, or shared taxi, informing me that there was a service stand a couple of blocks from the apartment. I grabbed my camera, rushed out the door, and headed for the taxi stand. After four blocks, I hadn’t found it, and my anxiety level was rising. I asked someone on the street—he pointed and said the service was two more blocks. Practically running the two blocks, I still couldn’t find a taxi stand. I asked someone else, “Where can I get a service to Azmut?” He pointed in the direction from which I had come: “That way.”

Shit. I suddenly realized this was silly. I should just get a regular taxi—it would cost a little more, but I could flag one down on the street, and I could get to Azmut much more quickly. Why didn’t I think of that before? It was easy to flag down a taxi and I mentally kicked myself for wasting so much time. How was I going to be any help if I couldn’t even think of the quickest way to get to where I was needed?

“Qaddesh al Azmut?” (How much to Azmut) I asked the taxi driver in my very basic Arabic.

“Ten shekels,” he replied in English.

“Okay, but go quickly,” I said, climbing in.

He was clearly a little puzzled—why did a foreign woman, alone, want to go to a nondescript village and why the big rush?

“Why are you going to Azmut?” he asked pleasantly in excellent English, as he pulled into the traffic.

“I’m a volunteer with ISM,” I replied, “and we got a call that settlers are attacking farmers there.”

“Thank you. We are so happy you are here.  I welcome you to Nablus,” he replied, with genuine warmth.

We sped through Nablus, arriving in Azmut in about ten minutes. It turned out that the village is, in reality, a suburb of Nablus, not particularly distinguishable as a separate place. White cinder block houses, jumbled close together along narrow, winding, hilly streets, were interspersed with small stores selling tobacco, sweets, and other goods.

The taxi driver spotted a couple of local people sitting in one of the small shops, and he stopped to ask them how to get to the village olive groves.  Following their directions, we continued straight on the paved village road for another mile and then turned off onto a dirt road. Dry, dusty and heavily rutted, this road was flanked on both sides by olive trees, with individual parcels demarcated by low stone walls. After a couple of miles we came upon three or four parked cars, all marked “press,” and a few villagers standing around. “Over there,” one of the villagers said, pointing, and the taxi driver and I got out and clambered over boulders, rock walls, and rough terrain, running when the ground was flat enough. Soon we came to a small group of people, including several reporters, but the attackers were gone: they had been scared off by the media cameras.

azmut old woman

Olive Harvester Describes Settler Attack

We were told that about a half dozen settlers had come down the hill and begun to curse and threaten several farmers working in their fields, including one old woman whom we saw sitting on the ground under a tree. Waving her arms around wildly, a rock in both hands, her eyes round with fear, she was yelling out the story of the attackers to anyone who would listen, spitting with rage. With the rocks, she seemed to be demonstrating how the settlers had threatened her. I wished I could understand her words to find out the details of the attack, but I didn’t need Arabic to sense her fury and panic.

It was surprising to me that news media had arrived so quickly. Then, I learned why. This was not the first time that people from this village had been attacked recently.  Three days earlier, a family had driven to their field and parked their car on the same dirt road we had driven up.  While they were working in the grove, settlers came down and destroyed the car: theysmashed all the windows, slashed the tires, ripped the upholstery, took bats to the engine.The next day, an old man in his seventies from the same village and his 7-year-old grandson, working together in another, nearby olive field, were attacked. First the settlers terrorized the old man and the little boy, shoving and hitting them, and then they held the old man down, placed his arm on a boulder, and smashed it with a large rock, breaking his bones.

azmut car

Car Destroyed by Settlers

Because of these two events, the community had obtained phone numbers of reporters and was on alert to call the media as a means of protection.  No police force protects Palestinians from lawless settlers, and since the only thing settlers seem to fear is a camera, Palestinians sometimes try to “shoot back” with film.

The taxi driver, the reporters, some villagers, and I all milled around a while, but it appeared that the settlers had disappeared for the day, and we began to disperse. The taxi driver asked me, “Aren’t you afraid to do this, to go to the places that are most dangerous?”  It seemed a sensible question, but I didn’t feel afraid of being injured. My American passport and Western appearance probably gave me a false sense of invulnerability. I did fear, though, that I might not do the right thing in a moment of peril, that I wouldn’t be brave, and that I would betray my promise to protect.

As the taxi driver started toward his car, I got out ten shekels to pay him, but he refused to accept my money.

With the excitement over, at least for a while, the farmers got back to the harvest, and I was assigned to a family group consisting of a man, his brother, his mother, and his two children–a dark-haired, beautiful girl about ten years old, and her younger brother, maybe eight.  The girl, dressed in an orange tee shirt and jeans, her hair pulled into a pony tail, worked hard all day long, as did her brother, also in jeans and tee shirt. Sometimes they climbed a tree to get access to olives. Other times they struggled to carry heavy, burlap bags full of olives over to the donkey to load it up, or they helped lay out the tarp under a tree.  No whining, no shirking—they knew what needed to be done and they did it without being told.  The girl frequently sneaked glances at me, and if she saw me looking at her she would smile and then hide her face.  Ever so often, she would shyly bring me a treat—a cookie or a cucumber, usually, sometimes a drink of water.

A couple of times I was working in the sun, and the father came over and suggested that I move into the shade where I would be more comfortable. He brought me tea all during the day that his mother brewed in a fire she made in the dirt. At noon, we all sat down together, and the family shared with me their lunch of homemade yoghurt, bread, jam and salad.  Warmed by the kindness of this family, I did my easy, old woman’s job all day, separating olives from leaves, while periodically scouring the grove for possible attackers.  Finally, at 3:00—rather early to stop–the family decided to go home for the day. As we walked down the dirt road back to the village, someone spotted three settlers about 200 yards up in the hills, on their way down.

“Quick—call the media!”  a villager called out.

Reporters arrived within five minutes, before the settlers could get all the way down the hill, and when the invaders saw the reporters and photographers, they turned around and started back up.

One photographer, a little overweight and carrying a large, heavy camera, set off running to try to catch the invading settlers.  Struggling over the rocky terrain through the olive groves, chasing the settlers up the hill, he paused frequently, whether to catch his breath or look for an angle to photograph, I didn’t know.  He pursued the settlers long after those of us on the road could no longer see them, but finally he trudged back, sweaty and exhausted.

azmut dad girl

My Friends in Azmut

It seemed, finally, that the day was over, and so we all continued walking back to the village, with “my” family and their donkey, laden with the bags of olives we had picked that day, leading the way. I took one last picture in Azmut, of the man I had worked with that day laughing and gently hugging his smiling daughter. Then I cadged a ride with one of the press photographers and returned to the apartment.

I wonder if the little girl who shared her cookies and cucumbers with me last year watched her family’s ancient olive trees burn this week.  And if she did so, I wonder what she was thinking.

“We Were Arrested for Speaking” and more at the Progressive Parade 10.5.2009

What happens when three different law-”enforcement” agencies converge on over 500 peaceful, nonviolent protestors in front of the White House?

Some get arrested by the National Park Police; others get physically assaulted by the Secret Service.

In unprecedented style, the Obama-occupied White House’s personal dudes with boots, batons, and bullets waited impatiently for the National Park Police to waffle over whether or not to arrest an additional 24 people (including Peace Action Montgomery’s own Jean Athey and Dave Kunes!) for its “special’ one-way service to Anacostia Jail (the verdict’s still out on whether or not this route will be offered more during the Obama years. Perhaps DC public transit is benefitting from the stimulus!).

Photo Credit: UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Photo Credit: UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Though Park Police had arrived with a variety of green modes of transit (horses decked out in riot gear, cops on bikes), as well as an additional two police vans, the SS apparently grew tired of them letting people pretend to be dead on the sidewalk. With three less warnings than the required three warnings before initiating an arrest or action on peaceably assembled American citizens (for the math-challenged, that’s ZERO), SS officers descended on the protesters and pushed, shoved, and dragged them beyond the National Park Police “crime scene” line. Then they walked away.

I’m still confused by the actions of the SS. Why did they step into the middle of three-hour negotiations between the peaceful protesters and the National Park Police? Why didn’t they give any warning or demand before violently removing them from the sidewalk? Why were 50 protestors arrested less than 100 feet away–and then released without charges or citations?

And why aren’t more of us “mad as hell” about this?

My opinion? Most aren’t angry because they haven’t tripped the triggers yet themselves. In an age where “non-lethal” weapons are being used on everyone from University of Pittsburgh students to 82-year old grandmothers, where activists get arrested for using Twitter to evade police orders to disperse (effectively dispersing the crowds for the police, eh?) at a G20 protest, you’d think it’d be easy to see how much harder it’s becoming to resist the ruling elite in the U.S. However, most don’t try to resist the ruling elite…and there-in lies the problem. They have no idea what happens when they stop cooperating with the oppressors.

I’d love to hear others thoughts on why Americans can so easily identify repression in other countries–fraudulent elections in Iran, violence against women in Afghanistan, the abuse of executive powers in Venezuela, the limitations on free speech in China–and yet remain so adamantly assertive of the rights and “freedoms” of Americans, to the point where they think it acceptable that thousands of Americans be enlisted and trained to kill-or-be-killed for our “freedom”? What freedom? The freedom to choose between Suave or Pantene? Between denim and suede sofas? Between H3s and Hybrids?

What freedom is that compared to all this:

Election fraud in Ohio in 2004, in Florida in 2000, and so on…
The “tasing” of unarmed University of Florida student Andrew Meier at a “Constitution Day” event with Senator John Kerry in 2007
Criminal charges for using Twitter as a communication tool at the G20 summit last week

And the thousands of youth whose skin is any shade darker than light tan that constantly face police brutality and the risk of arbitrary detention, citation, and violence in America…

Or the Philadelphia youth whose rights and lives were sold to detention centers by judges accepting bribes…

Or the Colorado University professor who lost his job for calling attention to US Imperialist responsibility for the attacks on 9/11..

The list goes on…

and on….

and on….

Read David Swanson’s “We Were Arrested for Speaking” for a break-down of the day’s actions–and the subsequent arrests…

Read “Substitute ‘Obama’ for ‘Bush’ and ‘Afghanistan’ for ‘Iraq’ in the Washington Post…

And sign the CODEPINK petition for an exit strategy from Afghanistan:

Holy Tours: On Being “Christ-like” in the Holy Land

I recently received an email from a pastor in Michigan, from the church I used to attend while in grad school. He was inviting me to join the church on a trip to Israel, promising to “bring the Bible alive” from the windows of a bus tour, fine hotels, and a guide who would share the history of the area.

These “Christian” tours are common among evangelicals in the US, though I’ve only recently understood why they can be so disturbing. Touring a war-ridden region from the air-conditioned confines of comfort does not awaken the teachings of Jesus, nor the love, compassion, and justice of the Abrahamic religions.

To truly teach Christianity in the holy land would require that tourists leave their buses and visit the refugee camps, the ghettos of Hebron, the amputees in Gaza, the war resisters in Israel, all who work for peace and justice in this region and elsewhere. We must learn from the people and the spirit of the place in an approach of honesty and humility–not entertainment and photo shots reminiscent more of The History Channel than reality of life in the region.

Some great Christian organizations who do work worth checking out in this area include Sabeel and Christian Peacemakers.

I suspect that Sabeel’s upcoming conference will be a better way to bring the Bible alive than a Holy Tour of Israel, with its many Bible studies; workshops for creative peace, action, and community; and in-depth examination of love of self, love of others, love of “The Other” and, of course, love of God (which I may argue is the combination and source of self, others, and everything…).

Also, from Pam Rasmussen, some interesting articles in the news:

In Sunday’s Washington Post, an op-ed by Jimmy Carter.

Plus, though public support for Israel in the US resurges, the US Gov’t continues to rebuke Israel for its construction of illegal settlements.



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