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Two cities under siege: Nablus and Hebron

Two cities under siege: Nablus and Hebron

Digest includes: 1. Nablus update 12.22.04 2. Hebron - A friend in a cage 3. Nablus update 12.23.04 4. Bil'in Rejects Israel's Apartheid Wall

1. Nablus update 12.22.04

On Monday our local coordinator gave us a tour of the camp-- a tour which also had the effect of being a re-telling of the 2002 invasion. The landmarks are spots where various people were killed, each with its own story: "here is the first house they occupied... here is where they came house to house... here they positioned snipers... this house was used to launch missiles across the cemetery... the tanks came through these 2 alleys..."

And I can see the bullet and rocket scars on the buildings to match. so in a way the battle re-enactment/walking tour is also a crash course in urban warfare strategies. Didn't I read in the paper that the US forces were trained in these techniques from the Israeli army before going into Baghdad and Falluja et al? You could say that the residents of Balata got the same training. They know exactly how it's done, beceause it was done to them.

There's a lot of great stuff happening in Balata-- 4 schools, 2 for girls and 2 for boys, a women's center, health center, and something called the Local Center for the Rehabilitation of Disabilities (I think I got that name right but it might be slightly off). It was founded in 1992 with funding from the UNRHA and Save the Children, and has programs for helping people with learning and physical disabilities, speech, writing and reading problems. It will soon have a cultural center and space for performances when they get more funding.

Yesterday we did a workshop for chidlren, which consisted of us passing out art supplies to between 30-40 kids I'd guess were around five or six yrs old, and letting them go wild. Their paintings are all going to go into an exhibition that will tour North America sometime next year. I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday we attended a massive demonstration held in honor of the 40th day after Arafat's death, or Abu Ammar as he's also called. It was pretty amazing. Many thousands of people filled the central plaza of the city, which was strung across the top with strings of flags and banners, and the buildings also hung with giant banners, either portraits of Arafat or Palestinian flags.

There were speakers positioned on a balcony over the plaza, and at special moments in the speeches the fighters would shoot their AK47s into the air while everyone around them held their ears. I was right next to them and at one point had to duck to avoid falling shells, which kids ran in to retrieve.

Then the people moved out of the plaza and down the road to the old PA building, in ruins since 2002. The whole front section is rubble, and the back section looks like swiss cheese with the thick sprays of bullet craters and gaping rocket-shell holes. Members of the national army were on top of the building, where they raised a flag and another portrait and lit a giant brazier that looked kind of like the Olympic flame, and a corps of police played music on bagpipes, yes, bagpipes, off to one side. There were also a few floats, that is to say a line of firetrucks filled with waving firemen, and one truck with a replica of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

I have to say it was all extremely powerful, to feel the strength of the emotion of the crowds of people all around me. There is something really different about a public outpouring of heartfelt political sentiment that represents a whole society united against an outside force, as opposed to such an outpouring that represents internal dissenters to the mainstream of one's own soceity. this is just an observation, not a value judgment. I'm trying to put my finger on what it means. But I think it's true that the need to resist outside oppression is a major unifying force, for any group on any scale. I'll spare you my ruminations about textbook nationalism in colonial and post-colonial situations...but you can't deny its emotional power for resistance, that's evident.

2. Hebron - A friend in a cage

It's a myth that roosters only make noise when the sun comes up. In the market in the old city of Hebron, a.k.a. 'al Souk', you can hear them at any time of the day, screaming their lungs out. Not more than five years ago their screams would be buried by the sounds of the market in the streets, children playing or racing home from school and even a few cars driving through the cave-like streets. Today, the market consists of around 30 surviving stores. Before there were as many as 300.

It is said that people from Hebron are very stubborn. Walking through these neighborhoods there is no doubt that this characteristic is needed to withstand seeing your family buisness crumble to pieces both financially and physically. A shop-owner just the other day mentioned that keeping his shop open, even if it meant selling only a few tomatoes or maybe nothing for weeks, was his way of resisting the Occupation. The shops and the people themselves have moved to the northern parts of the city where they do not have to face the provocation of the settlers and the army.

The extraordinary thing about Hebron is that the settlers and military, instead of surrounding the the city, simply moved inside and on top of the stone walls of the Palestinian community living there. It's twenty past two in the afternoon and the eight minarets that are echoing each others call, just seconds out of sync, reminds us to whom this city really belongs. The present is shadowed by historical tragedy, from the massacre of the Jewish population living in the city in 1929 during the British Mandate to the killing of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein during Ramadan in 1994 inside the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Another part of that shadow is the greyshaded future. In the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the southern part of the city, there is a monument for Goldstein with a sign that reads: "To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel." In the Hebron Accords signed by Arafat and Netanyahu in 1997, there was an agreement that this monument should be taken down. To this day it is still standing.

On Fridays and Saturdays the city of Hebron takes a deep breath and awaits the settlers traditonal walk down "Worshippers' Way." It is unusual for them to come on Shabbat with weapons and degrading shouts as they sometimes do during the week.

One organization working in this area is the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Team). Together with CPT we visited an all girls school. The school was in good condition except for the stairs leading up the hill to the school entrance. There was a new stairway closer to the building, but it was blocked by a string of barbed wire making it inaccessible. The CPT explained that the Israeli settlers living opposite the school did not want Palestinian children walking on their streets so they demanded the staircase be closed. The barbed wire could easily be moved, but what makes it unhumanly heavy is all the fear and control that is twisted around it as well. In a place where each of the estimated 400 settlers is protected by three solidiers, Palestinian acts of resistance require weeks of planning and a big chunk of self-esteem.

Walking back to our apartment in the old-city a neighborhood boy waved towards us to walk under the roof, close to the wall and not in the middle of the street. Fencing has been placed horizontally like a ceiling in between the roofs on opposite sides of the street to protect pedestrians from the daily dose of trash, stones, dishwater or even urine that the settlers living above the old city streets throw down, using the streets as their dump.

Back in our apartment we walk up on our roof and discuss ways of raising the voice of this community. But all that is heard is a rooster's intense scream. - Hebron Team December 2004

3. Nablus update 12.23.04

We had some minor excitement in Balata camp Wednesday night when two Israeli military jeeps arrived around 6:30 or 7pm, right when we were about to sit down to dinner. The street was filled with people yelling and there was also chanting coming intermittently from alleyways, as we approached to check out the situation. It turned out we really couldn't do anything, because there were fighters around. So we went up on a rooftop to watch until the soldiers left. There was a standoff for a while, as all the yelling continued; kids occasionally ran across the road, and there was a Palestinian ambulance and police car standing by. The fighters themselves were invisible.

A soldier began to yell obscenities and insults through a bullhorn, hoping to goad the fighters into shooting so they could open fire. Then a soldier bellowed "Hatikva" (the Israeli national anthem)through the bullhorn. They lobbed a single teargas canister with a rocket launcher into the middle of the camp, and threw about 3 sound bombs. I also heard a few shots, the origin of which I'm not sure, but luckily no one really took the bait, and eventually the jeeps drove away as the kids and young men chanted in defiance.

Then we came back down and went to check room by room through a house at the end of the street near the edge of the camp which is a strategic spot for the Israeli army to occupy, to make sure no soldiers were inside. Two of us spent the night with the two old women who live there, just in case, and thankfully it was a quiet night.

Today we visited with some family members and friends of a 16-yr old who did a suicide mission in Tel Aviv last summer. In saying this, let me emphasize that this does NOT indicate support for that tactic, but for the family, who most often does not know the person's intention beforehand, and inevitably suffers collective punishment afterward (in this case the house was demolished, all his brothers arrested, and several people in the area were killed).

It was an opportunity for another conversation, one which echoed themes i've heard before in other conversations- the desire to show Americans that Palestinians are not essentially terrorists, contrary to what they think we think. Again, differentiating clearly between people and governments; along with the question of people's ability to live peacefully together. Again, emphasizing the principle of starting out by treating other people the same way as they wish to be treated, i.e. equal justice for all. BUT also emphasizing the right to resist aggression and repression.

On hearing where we were from: "I have a question especially for the Americans. Bush is doing XYZ... what would you do if someone came to attack your home, and terrorize your family? What would you do? Would you resist?" I said something to the effect of, "First of all let me be very clear that I hate Bush and everything he does. I do not support his policies. And it is true that those who support him most, and who say that you are doing evil, would do exactly the same thing if attacked. And they did do the same thing. When they were attacked they decided to bomb several countries. They would not only resist, but become aggressors." Come on dude, you're preaching to the converted here... but I told him that I would pass along what he had said.

4. Bil'in Rejects Israel's Apartheid Wall

December 26, 2004 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

On Monday December 27, the people of the village of Bil’in in the Ramallah district will protest the construction of Israel’s Apartheid Wall on their land. The village has invited Palestinian Ministers, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset to attend the protest.

At a December 15 protest in Bil’in against the Apartheid Wall three international activists were arrested by Israeli soldiers as they documented Israeli border police beating a Palestinian teenager. Four Israeli activists were also arrested that day.

The protest march will begin at the village mosque at 12:00 noon.

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