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Fun With The Red Crescent..And A Political Concern

Maia reports from Palestine Tue, 09 Apr:

Hi everyone—we’re all still here in one piece, getting almost blase about having guns and tank- cannons leveled at our heads. ;) the last few days have centered around ambulances: here are some highlights.

Friday: a car was shot up outside our camp. an ambulance was stopped there, with its driver lying facedown on the ground at gunpoint. 4 of us came out with a doctor from the camp, holding up our trusty white t-shirt flags. at the corner was an APC and several soldiers, with who one of us went up to negotiate. they were soon joined by what seemed like 20 or 30 more coming up behind us, searching for the missing driver and shooting randomly into the camp (into which he had presumably fled). long story short, we were able to provide a shield for the camp and to cover the exit of the ambulance, a milk delivery truck and several other Palestinian cars who had driven into this mess under the assumption that the curfew had indeed been lifted as announced (meaning that people can move about without fear of being shot for a few hours each day.) as in all such situations, there is no way of knowing whether things would have turned out differently if we hadn’t been there, or if things turned out OK because we were. but that maybe is enough for me, and people seem to think it’s worth something.

Saturday: a group of 20-30 internationals (I’m bad with numbers) accompanied another ambulance to Manger Square in an attempt to bring food and medical care to the 200+ people besieged inside the Church of the Nativity. we were stopped outside the square by a tank which fired a warning shot. an IDF soldier assured our negotiator that “there are no injured people here. we are providing them with plenty of food. no, we cannot allow in 2 witnesses to verify this.”

Sunday: I ride shotgun on ambulance duty. (they’re supposedly less likely to be harassed and shot at with internationals on board, although there’s a rumor today that this caveat may no longer apply.) one of the 2 EMTs in my ambulance is the same one who had been harassed on Friday by the camp. it was nice to see him again safe. i got a good tour of the wreckage of the roads throughout Bethlehem central, and we encountered heavy tank, APC, bulldozer and armored landrover activity all day long. we were stopped twice during the day. one soldier, after examining my passport, actually said “have a nice day.” but after dark, we were stopped again by a jeep of 6 or 7 soldiers beside the road. in the front were me, the driver and one other EMT; in the back were a young woman, a young man, and an older man(a doctor). i was the only non-Palestinian. the EMT held up my passport by the window but i don’t think they saw it yet, and they kicked the door shut on us when we tried to get out. first they took out the woman, made her kneel on the ground and empty out her bag while firing shots into the air behind her to make her jump, until she was reduced to tears. “you don’t have to cry,” one of them told her. then they took out the young man, stood him spreadeagled against the wall and patted him down, all the while stalking about threateningly, waving their rifles and their dicks around. then they called the doctor out and this time we all got out. all the while i was silently directing a very calming obi wan kenobi monologue at them “you don’t want to hurt these people, they’ve done nothing to you, just let them go,” and maybe i should have said something a lot sooner. but i wasn’t sure what to do to avoid antagonizing them, and at least this way i got some eyewitness evidence of their behavior. they searched the whole ambulance, opened up everyone’s things and threw it on the ground, and questioned people. “where are you from? and you? is everyone here from Bethlehem?” at which point i piped in, pulling out and brandishing my passport, “NO! i’m from the United States of America!” i was astonished to hear my voice come out in an involuntary tone of arrogant defiance, very unlike my non-patriotic self. but hey, if it could protect anyone... and they let us go. “i’m sorry, you understand, but we just have to check everyone,” they said to me.

so. the last few days have been quieter. things are kind of at a standoff here.

but: although it’s been gratifying to see support growing for the Palestinian cause, it worries me to observe a trend among my comrades here and among people back in theh states generally: that the previously pro-Israel bias risks being transformed into an anti-Semitic backlash. it does no good to anyone to take a polarized good-and-evil dichotomy and simply reverse the terms. whichever pole currently occupies the “good” spot and the “evil” spot, the assessment is equally harmful and distorted. blockbuster movies to the contrary, there are no absolute manifestations of good and evil here; and to be against the state of Israel (weilding a state’s militarized terror) must be separated from ugly prejudices against Judaism. Zionism is a secular matter of political and economic colonialism and nationalist chauvinism. these are things which are identified with religion and ethnicity only at everyone’s extreme peril. i’ve interacted with enough IDF soldiers close up now to see that they have human faces. while what they are doing is inexcusable brutality, they are not simply dismissable as “evil scum”. it is very easy to fall into us and them absolutes in a time of war, and to bestialize the “them”. ok, i’m going to stop now before i fall into my usual trap of impassioned self- righeousness. i just wanted to point out that despite what grandpa Thoreau said, there’s some simplification which just doesn’t work, especially in war.

ok, over and out.

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