Action Alert:

Update from Bil’in and Har’es, Palestine

(Photo shows a group of visiting Jewish Israelis who appeared shocked to see demolished homes in the West Bank Village of Har’es: Pat Westwater-Jong, December 2012)

After 3 days of traveling to Palestinian villages, i stayed in Ramallah today and met with two grassroots Palestinian leaders in the AM, a Palestinian business leader/writer in the afternoon, and an American Egyptian friend this evening, who i met a few years ago at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT.

Friday i went to Bil’in with a group of people from the hostel in Ramallah, my home base for a month, for the weekly demonstration to the gate (large metal door) in the Wall between Bil’in land that the people in Bil’in can still live on and walk and farm, and the Bil’in land on the other side of the Wall where a large settlement sits. I wish i could send you photos of that settlement and the others growing up on other sides of Bil’in – but i haven’t been able to download them yet.  I read an article today someone sent from the NYT about the settlements. The journalist referred to the new settlement (singular) that Obama criticized, as being the place where the settlers in an outpost will live when they are forcibly moved by the end of the year.  Baloney.  There is lots of settlement building.

The weekly march/demonstration seems to  have faded, we were several internationals, a few Israelis, and a few Palestinians, including a couple/few teenaged boys – maybe 15 of us?  A Palestinian explained that it’s harvest time and everyone is harvesting their trees on Friday, their day off from work. We walked out of town, a Palestinian teen and a Japanese woman, carrying Palestinian flags, stepping across what was the first route of the Wall, before the ICC (ICJ? I forget which court it was) ruled that the Wall had to come down, and before the Israeli high court said the wall had to be moved closer to  the Green Line.  But everything re this settlement and wall along this route looks finished. As we walked along the Wall, settler boys ran up giant mounds of dirt, on their side of the Wall, between the buildings and the Wall, yelling at us. It was the first time i was happy i can’t understand Hebrew. This may be a weekly ritual between the settler boys and the marchers.

Just before i got to the closed large metal door, the “gate” in the Wall into the settlement, with no soldiers in sight, i heard someone bang on it. When i got there, a photographer seemed to be instructing one of the younger boys to bang on it with a rock. Did he want the boy to bang on the door for a good photo?  Troubling photojournalism ethics. I took a couple of photos of the boys hanging out at the gate and then 2 of them climbed up the Wall, and it looked like they were cutting the barbed wire ( i think it was ) on top.

My son had wanted me to promise him i wouldn’t go anywhere where there was shooting, a promise i made the past 2 -3 trips, so i was done.  A few people followed me as i headed back to the village and then we heard a sort of bang and we could hear the settler boys coughing – it seems a Palestinian youth hand threw a tear gas canister at the settler kids? Then a little tear gas wafted over to us and people started running. We heard a vehicle coming.   I don’t know if we saw the Israeli military jeep before or after 4 of us followed a Palestinian high tailing it off the road and up the rocky hill like goats.  An older slower goat i was, my camera swinging from my neck and my camera back pack weighing me down as we made our way up little stone walls and over very stony ground.  A couple of Israeli military jeeps drove back and forth a couple of times.  They didn’t stop, even for those walking on the road -someone said the soldiers were looking for the Palestinian kids. It was a small act of resistance, but the settlement is built, the land is lost.  Except for 30% of the land the settlers took with the original route of the wall that was returned to the people of Bil’in in the summer of 2011.

One plot on the returned land is now farmed by one of the brothers who owns and manages the hostel where i’m staying.  He and the Bil’in man who owns the land and a Palestinian American stuck in Ramallah (long story) have been cultivating an organic farm there since February.  It’s sweet with bright green rows of peppers and rosy tomatoes and some pretty flowers, and other veggies. They’ve built a greenhouse, which has a bowed roof, but not any walls and is packed with raised beds of smaller plants. I have some photos of the magnificent view, except for settlements built and growing on all sides of Bil’in. The little farm is a heartening scene in this land of extraordinary heartache, but it’s marred by the demolition orders the Israeli government delivered to the farmers in August. The Israeli military served notice that they will demolish the fence the farmers built around the plot and the greenhouse.  The farmers are disputing this in court but they don’t have much money, the fence was very expensive, they’re just getting by by selling shares of the veggies weekly to those who agreed up front to buy from them every week, and the Israeli government can spend all they want in court proceedings. Israeli judges preside over Israeli (military?) courts – the Palestinians aren’t optimistic they’ll win, but they feel they must fight it.

Saturday i went back to Bil’in to help Iyad Burnat and his family pick some olives from trees that belong to a man who lives in the village. Iyad said this area has the only land they can still farm. It’s a beautiful bucolic spot. And Iyad’s brother, Emad the filmmaker, and his son, Gibreel, the central character in the documentary 5 Broken Cameras, that we showed at church in March, were there to help out.  Gibreel’s grown into a young man, kind of quiet and shy and sweet. I took a few more photos to show some of you when i return.

Sunday i visited Issa Souf and his family in Har’es.  Issa’s a very gentle and kind man, wheelchair bound since an Israeli soldier shot him in the back 15 yrs ago. I’ve told the story in several slideshow presentations and he’s been in all my exhibitions. He had a fever of 39.5C which didn’t mean anything to me until i got back to the hostel and  converted that to F.  Over 103F!!!  One of the side effects he lives with as a result of the dum dum bullet that went through his arm, his kidneys and shattered part of his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down, is his body succumbing to an infection every few months.  Then he has a blood test and doctors try to find an antibiotic that will work against the new infection.  He worries that one of these days they’ll run out of antibiotics that will fight off his latest infection.  He smiles and appears to take it in stride, while his wife (i’d guess they’re in their mid- 30’s – early 40’s), washed windows and tended to other chores. I wonder how much Issa can do around the house and i note that he’s lucky Faisa (sp?) seems to be such a good woman and that she’s lucky he’s such a good man.  And their kids were all helping to wash the floor and help out. Their family seems remarkably strong and healthy.

I’ll finish later, writing about my meetings yesterday in Ramallah- in the AM with Bassem Tamimi and his wife Nariman, from the village of Nabi Saleh;  in the afternoon with Palestinian American Sam Bahour; and this evening with my Egyptian American friend, Rasha, who’s getting her MA at Bethlehem U and living and working part time in Ramallah.  Rasha and i spent a couple of hours talking about theinconceivable degree of Israeli control over Palestinian lives and the psychological warfare that is destroying the fabric of some Palestinian families and communities. That was the most depressing conversation i’ve had this trip. But important.

I don’t want to leave on such a depressing note so i’ll give you a preview of my meeting with the Tamimi’s. They’ve stopped the weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh and are replacing them with cultural celebrations.  In November they’re hosting a strategic planning conference for Palestinians to discuss what their next strategy and actions will be. For now, both Bassem and Sam Bahour advise that BDS is a tool to stop the Occupation, the settlements, and they hope we allies use it to do that.