February’s Slammer

There is an Arabic proverb that says February’s slamming, beating, and thunder will bring summer’s sweet smell. Outside the wind howls while rain mixed with sleet splatters against the small house in the small Bethlehem village of Al Masara. Despite the previous day’s sun, the February khabat (slammer) is upon us. Although thunderous and uncertain weather looms outside, Umm Mohammad’s (mother of Mohammad) coffee and conversation warms whoever is sitting next to her.

On February 4, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that condemned the Syrian government’s use of force against its people and called for President Assad to step down. Following the veto, Hillary Clinton voiced critical reprimand against Russia and China, vowing “to expose those who are still funding the regime and sending it weapons to be used against defenseless Syrians, including women and children.”

Throughout the Arab Spring, the United States has tried to appear as the champion of human rights and democracy in the Middle East, not only voicing support for the various uprisings, but also providing military support for the people seeking their liberation from the tyrannical regimes. The Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Egypt revolutions have all received some kind of support from the US.

 “What about Palestine? Does the US care for the people in Gaza? No, they are all liars, they do not care!” Umm Mohammad’s words echo the chorus of Palestinian voices working for freedom that have been ignored by the international community.

 Throughout the Arab Spring, Palestinians have tried to gain their freedom, not through revolution and violence, but through diplomatic processes at the United Nations. Despite their nonviolent actions, they have been vetoed and punished for their efforts.

 One year ago the Palestinian Liberation Organization drafted a UN Resolution calling for the condemnation of Israeli Settlements that are in violation of international law. Despite the Arab countries bringing forth the resolution at the Security Council with the support of an additional 130 UN states, and that the resolution was drafted based on President Obama’s statements against settlements, the United States vetoed the resolution.

 Then in September the PLO went to the United Nations to declare statehood through the UN Security Council.  President Obama critiqued, “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.” Although the resolution was never voted on, the mere approach to the UN brought reprimand from the United States and resulted in USAID freezing $200 million in aid, which could eventually result in 250 Palestinians losing their jobs.

Following Palestine’s acceptance as a country at UNESCO, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who chairs the House of Foreign Affair Committee, responded by saying, “Today’s reckless action by UNESCO is anti-Israel and anti-peace. It rewards the Palestinian leadership’s dangerous scheme to bypass negotiations with Israel and seek recognition of a self-declared ‘Palestinian state,’ and takes us further from peace in the Middle East.” Not only did the US ridicule the action of UNESCO, they later cut funding to UNESCO programming.

As another regime receives condemnation from the international community, for Palestinians like Umm Mohammad it feels like just another February khabat against the Palestinian people, leaving them cold and dreary, with little hope of sweet smelling summer.

 

 

 

 

 

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Three Days in Gaza

As I try to write about my three days in Gaza, it is difficult to know where to begin or even how to articulate the experience. Thoughts of the journey come over flowing in my mind. I am overwhelmed with emotion. Sadness, anger, love, joy, laughter, rage, despair, fear.  Even as I write, I fear my writing will be in vain. I fear it will just be another article and blogpost to add to the countless voices that have written about Gaza – thoughtfully read but rarely resulting in action.

As I begin to tell my journey, it is important to be clear that very few people are allowed in and out of Gaza. Many of my Palestinian friends here, yearn to be able to visit their friends, brothers and sisters, colleagues, and family in Gaza and yet it is not allowed. Like in my every day life in Palestine, I am faced with the reality that as a foreigner, more rights are granted to me than the people that are actually from here. Even my Arabic teacher, who was born and raised in Gaza, is not allowed to visit her hometown.

On the Ground

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on earth. It is a piece of land that is only 40 km in length (think Swift Current to Herbert or Winnipeg to Landmark) and only 15km wide. Yet in this small strip of land, completely walled in on three sides with the sea to the west, live over 1.5 million people. These 1.5 million people have endured a blockade and a brutal war that left over 1400 people dead in a matter of three weeks. Still, the blockade continues and air strikes are so routine that they are not always reported to the media. It is not only a prison, but a fenced in community that is bombarded with tear gas, white phosphorus, and bombs with no place to escape.

The War on Gaza was only three years ago, and as we drive to Gaza city I am expecting to see craters and destroyed houses along the road. Yet, there are very few signs of ruin. Instead I see men collecting rubble and rebar, where I assume a building once stood. Due to the Israeli blockade on Gaza, most building supplies have not been allowed into Gaza. Therefore, any building or re-building must be done by using recycled building supplies. Concrete from bombed houses is some how disintegrated down into gravel and re-shaped into new bricks. These bricks are rough and dark grey. Whereas in Bethlehem, many houses are white/cream with a finished stone, the new and rebuilt houses in Gaza are stark and a reminder of the darkness of war.  Twisted and bent rebar is made straight again to support four-story building. Structurally, these are not the strongest materials to be building with, however there are no other options.

As we drive in Gaza city, I expect traffic, yet the wide roads are empty, with only a few cars and plenty of taxis. Many have chosen to use donkeys and carts, which seem much easier to navigate on the many sandy roads and paved roads that have long needed to be repaired. The blockade and the war has not only halted development, it has set it back.

Most days at 4:00pm or 5:00pm the electricity is cut due to the fuel shortage to run the electricity plant, another result of the Israeli blockade. Restaurants and stores have costly generators, yet peoples’ homes are all dark. After midnight the electricity usually turns on again.

Despite the existence of generators, hospitals have a difficult time maintaining electricity. Oxygen machine, ventilators, incubators, and many simple life-saving procedures require electricity, and when the generators themselves run out of fuel, many patient’s situations deteriorate or worse, they die.

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Farmers and Fishermen

Both mornings, I eat my breakfast in the hotel restaurant near the sea. The coffee is warm and provides a necessary ignition to my day. From where I sit, I see fisher boats out on the water. The life of a fisherman in Gaza is difficult. Boats, no matter how modest, are only allowed to go beyond 4 km past the shore, despite the fact that the best fishing areas are usually 10km away. To go beyond the 4km I am sure is tempting, however the Israeli military has shot many fishermen who have dared try to earn more food for their family.

As part of my work we visit a farm in the northern part of Gaza. From this site we can clearly see Ashkelon and various Israeli villages beyond the wall. Beyond the wall people have shopping malls, 24-hour electricity, building materials, etc. Yet here, farmers tend to their crops in fear of Israeli snipers and bombs.  As one farmer talks about the fear he lives with whenever he works on his land he looks at me and says, “but what can I do? We must eat.”

As we drive through the same farmer’s village, I am speechless. Every single house is full of bullet holes. Every single house. I remember during the war seeing a picture that the CBC had posted of a house in Gaza full of bullet holes. I remember thinking it was probably one of the more sensational photos the journalist took on his assignment, yet when I look at the houses here, the photo is in no way unique or sensational. Every single house has come under fire by the Israeli military. Some even have large craters in their walls that have been patched with the dark grey stone.

I see the people walking on the street. I see the children playing. I wonder what horrific stories from the war each one holds. I wonder what hope they have for the future.  Do they know the only reason they have to endure all of this is because they are Palestinian and the world has chosen to turn their back on Palestinians?  Their pain and suffering is only a result of being born within this walled land- their suffering a result of racist empire and ideology that dominates our world.

Resilience

Despite the difficult situation, the people I meet are amazing. I laugh harder these three days than I have in a while. The people are the definition of resilience and steadfastness. They have had the world turn their back on them, and still they open their homes and their hearts to the privileged foreigner. Still, plants on farms are growing and children are being trained into pro-justice and pro-peace activists. Not once did I hear words of hatred or revenge, although it would be justified. Rather, I heard a people wanting to live with freedom and peace, a peace that demands justice.

At one organization that provides children’s programming in Khan Younis they are teaching children leadership skills and how to be activists. I join in a discussion with a group of 11-year old girls. They are busy discussing with one of the workers at the center about how to deal with a teacher that humiliates them at school. They are planning protests, parties, and even a letter writing campaign to try and get this teacher to pay attention to their rights and their needs. I am inspired by these girls’ strength, perseverance and creativity to deal with a problem. I yearn to live in a country where one day these girls will become leaders. Their wisdom at eleven years old far surpasses the wisdom I will ever attain.

On Leaving

Leaving Gaza is more difficult than entering and involves a full body X-ray that can spot if you have a tissue in your pocket. The processes of doors and turn styles, is a maze without humans to guide you through, but rather green and red lights and atomically locking and unlocking doors. Erez Crossing may be able to stop physical weapons of bombs and guns, however Empire will never be able to stop the truth and people’s demand for justice.

While at Erez Crossing waiting to leave my colleague helps an older Palestinian woman translate her story to an Israeli soldier. She is from Gaza but married someone from Nazareth, and this is the first time she has been allowed by Israel to visit her family in Gaza in over ten years. Permission is granted to her this time only because her father is on his deathbed. She has been granted permission for only a short period of time and is at the border trying to negotiate with the soldiers an extension. When we leave Erez to return to Jerusalem, she is still waiting to hear whether an extension would be granted or not.

Ten minutes past Erez Crossing there are shopping malls, SUVs, homes without bullets, running hospitals, and electricity. I am shocked at the stark contrast. Upon leaving is when the reality of what I have seen kicks in.  How can the world not see the apartheid? How can the world not see this is crime? How can the world not see that this is ethnic cleansing? How long will it take for the world to say ‘never again’ to occupation?

As I wind down this blog post it is difficult to know how to conclude. To end with damning the West for their complicit guilt and many times out right support for this oppression, seems too harsh for the inspiration I have received, besides guilt rarely leads to effective advocacy. Yet to try and sum up my trip with words of hope and inspiration seems naïve and I in no way want to gloss over the evil I have seen. So I will end with a challenge. Evil exists. Yet despite the evil, amazing people are choosing to fight for what is right, I challenge you to struggle for justice a mere fraction of what the people of Gaza (and all of Palestine for that matter) do on a daily basis. Even if we all struggle for justice just a fraction of what the Palestinians do, we can make a world of difference. And if a fraction can change the world, imagine if we are willing to devote our life to authentic justice and peacebuilding.

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A Testing Ground

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I grumble as I wait in the line of cars at Bethlehem 300 checkpoint. At least, there are only a few cars in front of me and the soldiers are moving quickly. As I approach the checkpoint, I roll down my window and flash my passport.

In Hebrew, I am told to go straight and up the hill- not the usual left to exit the checkpoint. It is amazing what can all be communicated with a single point of a finger and a grunt. It seems that the mere presence of an M16 can help in understanding foreign languages.

As I drive to the designated area, there are soldiers pointing myself and 5 other cars (all Palestinian) towards selected parking spots. Every spot has an apparatus next to it, which looks like a giant IV that you would find in a hospital. I am told to get out of my vehicle with all my windows shut, except the driver window, which should be 5 cm open.

I get out of my vehicle and stand next to the Palestinians who have also had to abandon their cars. Soldiers wander around the cars, one with a stopwatch. It is obviously a drill of some kind. With complete disregard for our schedules or impending meetings, the soldiers are taking the opportunity to practice and test  Practice on a population without any kind of consent, but that does not seem to matter. Consent is never asked or required from a people under occupation. They are the occupied and at the whims of their occupiers.

From the IV apparatus next to our parked cars, soldiers put a hose into our driver side window. It reminds of movies where the someone tries to commit suicide by filling their car with exhaust. Some of the people ask the soldiers what they are doing. Their response is, that it is for security and that it is fine. There is no comment as to what or why they are  spraying some sort of chemical into our vehicles.

After 10 minutes the soldier with the stopwatch stops his clock. The hoses are removed from our cars and we are allowed to continue onwards to Jerusalem. We are permitted to go on with our day. We are permitted to go on living.

Yet the smell from the gas still lingering in my car is assaulting. Even though it is cold outside, I drive with my windows down. Unfortunately nothing will stop my impending headache. For the next four days, whenever I drive my car I have a headache. Yet, my whining and complaints are futile. Already my head hurts from the smell gas but I am half an hour late for my meeting, so there is no time to complain.

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A Year of Reading

Greetings Friends,

While on my assignment I have been trying to keep up with reading and studying. As such I thought I would include my top reads of this year. These are in no particular order.

Top 10 Books

The Autobiography of Malcolm X –  Malcolm X and Alex Haley

“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

The Poisonwood  Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

In 1959 an overzealous Baptist minister named Nathan Price drags his wife and four daughters deep into the heart of the Congo on a mission to save the unenlightened souls of Africa. The five women narrate the novel. The novel deals with several issues of colonialism, patriarchy, Christianity, and Western influence in civil wars.

Assata: An Autobiography

On May 2 1973, Black Panther activist Assata Shakur (fsn) JoAnne Chesimard, was pulled over by the New Jersey State Police, shot twice and then charged with murder of a police officer. Assata spent six and a half years in prison under brutal circumstances before escaping out of the maximum-security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and moving to Cuba.

Nothing to Lose but Your Life – Suad Amiry

The story of a Palestinian woman’s harrowing trek as she shadows Palestinian workers crossing into the town of Petah Tikva in Israel, this book encapsulates eighteen hours that contain countless moments of mortal danger.

The Machinery of Whiteness – Steve Martinot

“Racism may be the familiar name for it. But ‘racism’ names the damage, leaving us to ponder the machinery that gives permissibility and legitimacy to such an egregious inversion of basic justice.”

My People Shall Live – Leila Khaled

Leila Khaled is a Palestinian refugee who writes about her experience being part of the Palestinian resistance.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown

Writes the genocide of the Indigenous people in N. America.

Soledad Brother – The Prison Letters of George Jackson

George Jackson was a Marxist and member of the Black Panther Party. He was eventually assassinated while in prison.

Palestine’s Children – Ghassan Kanafani

At once lyrical, uplifting, and tragic, the novella and stories in Kanafani’s Palestine’s Children explore the need to recover the past, the lost of homeland, by action. His novels and short stories brought him vast notoriety in his homeland and went on to be published in sixteen languages. He was assassinated in Beirut in 1972 when his booby-trapped car exploded. His 9-year-old was with him. Kanafani is one of the most profound authors I have EVER read. A three-page short story can keep me pondering for a week.

Wise Women – Joyce Tenneson

A celebration of women’s insights, courage, and beauty. This was a gift from my mom and includes beautiful photos and wonderful insights of very wise women.

Articles

Fuck your Prayers Give me Solidarity – Kristin Rawls

“If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dismiss me as “bitter.” That’s the evangelical Christian’s favorite insult. Do it.

I am not bitter. I am outraged. I want “fellowship” with people who are outraged with me and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice. I want you to use your clout and influence to help shut down predatory lenders like Sallie Mae and Citibank. When I say, “fuck your prayers,” I say it with teeth.

I meant that figuratively, but seriously: I cannot eat your prayers, and it’s a struggle to buy food these days.”

A Courageous Palestinian has Died Shrouded in Stones – Jonathan Pollack

“The army spokesman was right. Mustafa died because he threw stones; he died because he dared to speak a truth, with his hands, in a place where the truth is forbidden. Any discussion of the manner of the shooting, its legality and the orders on opening fire, infers that the landlord is forbidden to expel the trespasser. Indeed, the trespasser is allowed to shoot the landlord.”

Sweet Thing Mother of Jesus – Chelsea Colone

“What Sweet Thing has taught me is that fighting racism is part of everyone’s sexual liberation. For white Christian women like me, who are both perpetrators and victims of the Platonized Christianity that has under girded white racism, sexual health and wholeness require a renunciation of racialized sexual oppression.”

The Global Intifada– Jamal Juma

“Now I have learned to understand the importance of our struggle for the rest of the world and the responsibility that necessarily follows. As long as Palestine resists, there is hope for more than our ownpeople.”

Occupy Wall Street: The game of colonialism and the left – Jessica Yee

“The “Occupy Wall Street” slogan has gone viral and international now. From the protests on the streets of Wall Street in the name of “ending capitalism” — organizers, protesters, and activists have been encouraged to “occupy” different places that symbolize greed and power. There’s just one problem: The United States is already being occupied. This is Indigenous land. And it’s been occupied for quite some time now.”

An Open Letter to Those Who Condemn Looting

“To say, then, that these riots and this looting are “not political” is to understand something very key indeed.  Namely, that politics as it heretofore stands has shown itself, for many years and more clearly than ever, to be utterly inadequate in addressing the concerns and needs of those who barely fall beneath its shadow to start.”

Blogs

Settler Colonial Studies Blog

We aim to establish settler colonial studies as a scholarly field. This blog follows scholarly developments that contribute to a greater awareness of this phenomenon within the disciplines of history, law, genocide studies, indigenous, colonial and postcolonial studies, as well as historical geography, economics, politics, sociology, international relations, political science, cultural and gender studies, philosophy – and everything in between.

Stuff White People Do – Wonder Where to Start When they Start the fight against racism – Robin F

“And the white person fails to understand that the PoC wasn’t saying, “You’re a moron, shut up and sit down,” they were saying, “Look, I don’t have time to teach you. It’s not my responsibility to give you Racism 101. Go educate yourself, the resources are out there.”

Socialism and/or Barbarism

Great Blog! I won’t say anything else, but you should certainly browse it!

A few pics of the year:

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Who is willing to risk for Palestine?

It is the eve of the third Sunday of Advent. Bethlehem is aglow with Christmas lights. My tree is lit. Yet, instead of celebration I feel darkness overwhelming me. It is darkness of anger. And yet ‘anger’ does not fully encompass the range of emotion I feel tonight as I write.

Thoughts and images of occupation and oppression swirl in my head. Three weeks ago while walking in the Old City I came upon Israeli soldiers pushing and shoving a Palestinian into a settlement. One soldier even gave him a solid kick. As a crowd gathered and I began filming. After about 30 very tense minutes with lots of yelling, the Palestinian was released. I do not know what the initial ‘problem’ was, but it has everything to do with racial oppression and injustice. Essentially, he is Palestinian.

That same weekend a friend of mine was released from an Israeli prison. His story is written in a previous blogpost, so I will not elaborate, but again he was imprisoned because he is a Palestinian that is seeking justice and that is criminal in our world.

Earlier this week when driving to Jerusalem, I found three women being detained by Israeli soldiers. The women had entered Jerusalem without Israeli permission. They had already been detained for over 3 hours when I arrived on scene. Despite the fact that they were still officially on Bethlehem land, and despite the fact that Jerusalem is supposed to be an open city, their existence was criminal. Why? Because they are Palestinians trying to make a living.

The news headlines read, “Two homes demolished in Jerusalem”. These were homes of Palestinians families who had built because Israel refuses to give them permission to build. Meanwhile settlers not only expand their houses and build new ones with ease, they take over Palestinian homes. The homes were demolished, because if you are Palestinian and you want to put a roof over your head in Jerusalem, it is criminal.

The news continues. In Gaza five are dead in air strikes, including a 12 year old boy. Its strange to realize that one of the reasons the West Bank does not experience the same fate as Gaza is because of the 500 000 settlers living in the West Bank. It is not possible to bomb indiscremantly in the West Bank without endangering the settlers. I do not doubt that if all the settlers left the West Bank, we would suffer the same fate as Gaza. So, why did the 12 year old boy die in Gaza? Because he is Palestinian.

This week at a demonstration in Nabi Saleh where Palestinians are protesting the Apartheid Wall being built on their land, a 28-year old protester, Mostafa Tamini, was shot in the face with a high velocity tear gas canister from less than 10m away. He eventually succumbed to his wounds. He was killed because he is a Palestinian seeking his freedom.

We live in a world where to be Palestinian means being locked up, beat up, home demolished, and killed. Essentially the world has said it is illegal. And if people are not actively saying it like Western Governments, than peoples silence are complicit in it, like Western churches.

This week I listened to someone talk about how the Western Church is responding to demands to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). She said how the church was shy to create conflict in the church, to create division, or to polarize. Therefore, they are encouraging churches to read and do research about the situation and about BDS. Apparently this is the only risk the church is willing to take, to encourage people to read.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian is arrested, a home demolished, a child is killed, and protestor is shot in the face with a tear gas canister. The churches’ response is to encourage people to read because anything else could lead to the consequence of division and/or conflict. Is this a prophetic voice to injustice? I am reminded by Martin Luther King Jr’s words,

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

The anger, the darkness that I feel this night, comes from watching the horrific injustice my neighbours have to endure and struggle, meanwhile the church which claims to follow the Prince of Peace, which claims to have a prophetic voice is deathly silent. So while the church is scared of division and polarization a Palestinian is arrested, a home demolished, a child is killed, and today Mostafa Tamini’s family will wear black.

http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=444045

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/12/20111210124123427446.html

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In Search of Freedom

The village of Al Masara sits in the rolling Bethlehem hills. It’s a quiet farming village and it is not uncommon to see shepherds herd their goats through the narrow streets. Yet, what could be a serene village has been under attack by the Israeli occupation, because Israel has decided to build the Apartheid Wall on Al Masara land.

Yet the people of Al Masara refuse to have their land taken silently. For the past five years, on every single Friday, people in Al Masara have been taking part in nonviolent demonstrations against the wall being built on their land. For their efforts the activists have been beaten, sprayed with tear gas and arrested by Israeli soldiers. It is a struggle for justice that has serious consequences. Mahmoud Ala’deen, a nonviolent activist from the village, felt such consequences on November 11, 2011, when the Israeli Military arrested him.

 Mahmoud was held for 7 days in Israeli prison and eventually charged with hitting an Israeli captain at the demonstration. Given that the captain rarely leaves his jeep, and that Mahmoud is committed to a strict adherence to nonviolence when demonstrating against the occupation, such an accusation is meant to intimidate the activists rather than respond to a criminal act. Yet Mahmoud vows to continue his struggle.

 This is his story.

 The arrest:

 On November 11, the community gathered once again on a sunny Friday to protest against the wall being built on their land. Although the soldiers prevented the activists from accessing their land, the protest was calm. A line of soldiers met the line of protesters, and only words were shared. After all the speeches were made, the protesters returned to their village.

 Mahmoud was at the front of the group that was returning to the village, and engaging in conversation with a friend when he looked over his shoulder to see armed soldiers running after him. The soldiers, pushing through the activists, grabbed Mahmoud around the neck. As one soldier held on to his neck, the other grabbed his arms and pushed him up against the jeep, putting plastic cuffs around his wrists and his legs.

 They blindfolded Mahmoud, then several soldiers began to hit him. Mahmoud shouted at the soldiers, “Why are you using violence against me? I am a human just like you. Our blood is the same.” The soldiers ignored his questions and pushed Mahmoud into the back of the military jeep where he was forced to lie at the feet of the soldiers.

Mahmoud was taken to a jail in Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron. Upon arrival he was dragged out of the jeep and forced to sit in the sun for two hours, still blindfolded with arms and legs tied. At one point a soldier walked up to Mahmoud and put his gun against  the young prisoner’s neck. Mahmoud said, if you want to kill me, kill me.” The soldier just chuckled and walked away.

Eventually Mahnoud was taken inside and questioned by an Israeli soldier. The soldier looked at Mahmoud and asked, “Why did you attack the Captain?” Mahmoud responded by saying he did not touch the captain. He was repeatedly questioned about the Friday demonstrations and who it is that leads them. He was also questioned as to why he was carrying a Palestinian flag and why he wanted Palestine to have its own state.

 Mahmoud was silent and demanded to see a lawyer. The soldier threatened him with jail time if he did not answer his questions as to who are the organizers of the demonstration. Mahmoud responded that he would accept the consequences to his silence.

 Food, Water and Tea

 Mahmoud was arrested at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, his first meal and sip of water came the following day at 10 a.m. At this time he was offered a small amount of bread with yoghurt. Mahmoud describes that what was given to 10 of the prisoners, was barely enough for one. Therefore, in protest, all of the prisoners refused to eat the food and demanded that they be given better rations and tea.

 Eventually the guards came with tea. But to Mahmoud’s surprise, the soldiers had put salt into the tea instead of sugar. Mahmoud protested and asked to see the captain. After a conversation with the captain, the soldier that brought the initial tea was reprimanded, and tea with sugar was served. However, the following day when the captain was absent, salty tea was served once again. The prisoners were not given anything else to drink.

 The Count

 Every day the guards of the prison would count the prisoners.  During the count the prisoners were required to sit on the floor with their arms behind their back and their heads down, never looking at the guards. The first time Mahmoud was counted he was unaware of the procedure and looked the guard in the face. The guards ordered him to look down and Mahmoud responded, “Why can’t we look each other in the eyes? Maybe if we look each other in the eyes we can have a conversation and come to a solution for this mess.  Maybe we can even learn to love each other.”

Charge and Trial

 On the fifth day Mahmoud was transferred to another prison called, Ofer. There he had a brief court appearance where he was charged with hitting the captain. The court ordered him to pay 3000NIS for his bail, banned him from being within 500 m of a demonstration He was ordered to return to court date on November 28.

On November 28, Mahmoud appeared in court as ordered and his military trial officially began. Again, he was forced to pay bail, this time of 2000NIS. He was told to return to court on December 26 and January 2.

 Will all this stop Mahmoud from opposing the occupation and the building of the Aparthied wall?  Here is what he has to say:

In the end I want to say something. In Palestine we just want our freedom, we just want to be able to live a good life. There is no other country in the world under occupation. Why just Palestine? I grew up under occupation and since I was born until this moment I am searching for my freedom, along with all the Palestinian people. I do not know what my future will be, because there is no future if you don’t have freedom and you do not have freedom under occupation. Now that they have prevented me from attending demonstrations, do you think I will stay in my home and just look to the people going to demonstrations? No, I will not do that. I will continue to go with caution. Before I sleep after I wakeup and when I eat and drink, I will continue to work for my freedom and the freedom of Palestine. Whatever happens to me happens.

 

 

 

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We Exist and We Live Here

“We exist and we live here,” reads the large sheet draped between two olive trees at the Cremisan Monastery near Bethlehem. Children waving Palestinian flags run among the trees while four priests deliver a mass. Here, for two Fridays in a row, Palestinian Christians and Muslims have gathered for a mass in protest of the separation wall being built between the community of Beit Jala and the Catholic monastery.

The monastery has served not only as a place of worship and retreat, but its olive orchards and grounds provide one of the few places in Bethlehem District for families and community groups to gather in a park-like atmosphere. This past summer, Lajee Center (a community center in Aida refugee camp), spent a day there with their summer camp, teaching the children how to care for the land and olive trees, and of course, to play in the natural environment that is hard to find in a refugee camp.

Now, with the planned expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement, Gilo, and the wall annexing the monastery’s land to Israel, Cremisan will be isolated from the community it yearns to serve.

“We exist and we live here” may sound like a simple slogan, yet under occupation this is a powerful statement of the Palestinian steadfastness and determination to overcome the oppression imposed on them. In Palestine, existence and living is a struggle. The daily effects of land confiscation, checkpoints, lack of access to water, arrests, closures, and a pervasive uncertainty of the future, makes merely inhabiting this land a form of nonviolent resistance. To live and exist takes on a form of nonviolent resistance, which requires suffering, struggle, and sacrifice  – the three Ss that Marten Luther King Jr. used to describe authentic nonviolence.

“So we will pray here every Friday until the Israelis finally build the wall and take our land?” my teenage neighbour asks me part way through the mass. As I look at the surrounding hilltops that were once covered with trees and are now replaced by the concrete and stone of illegal settlements, it is difficult to give any kind of positive answer.

Although demonstrations and lawsuits brought by activists from the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Budrus have succeeded in re-routing the wall to seize less of their land, neither countless demonstration nor international court rulings has inhibited or swayed Israel from building the separation wall. Masses and demonstrations such as this may seem like a sign of hope that the Palestinian people have not given up, without similar support from the international community, Israel’s policies of land confiscation and division will continue.

We must learn from our Palestinian brothers and sisters how we can participate in nonviolent resistance so that the occupation ends. We too must suffer, struggle, and sacrifice in order for there to be a just peace so that all people can exist and live.

 

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