Letter from Ramallah

A young Palestinian stands amid the crater of a destroyed house following overnight Israeli missile attacks on Thursday east of Khan Younis [Adel Hana/AP Photo]
A young Palestinian stands amid the crater of a destroyed house following overnight Israeli missile attacks on Thursday east of Khan Younis [Adel Hana/AP Photo]

Hello from Ramallah in the West Bank!

This week’s violence against Palestinians in Gaza is deeply disturbing for many people here, and, I’ve heard, in the US.  And there is a briefing on November 20 (info at the bottom) that I hope everyone asks their Representatives, or their staff, to attend.

After I read an article about “criminalizing students” on Palestinian campuses, I’ve talked with several Palestinians who are students at Birzeit University, just outside Ramallah. On a “bus” (called a “service” – a sort of group taxi in a minivan) from Bethlehem to Ramallah yesterday, I sat beside a M.A. degree student at Birzeit.

We wound our way around hairpin curves through the mountainous area and passed through open scruffy land, hills of terraced olive trees, villages, and guarded gates to settlements. Sometimes it’s easy to recognize the red roofs of settler houses- all lined up in rows, in the distance. Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between Palestinian villages and settlements – from afar.

Bushra, daughter of ex-mayor of Ramallah, she and both parents have been arrested and imprisoned under administrative detention
Bushra, daughter of ex-mayor of Ramallah, she and both parents have been arrested and imprisoned under administrative detention

I asked the young woman next to me if a group of buildings in the distance were a settlement or a Palestinian village/city. She wasn’t sure. As we rode past, we saw a mosque tower and she said she thinks it’s the village of Awata. I’ve recently heard about some special trouble in Awata – a lot of homes demolished, I think. So I asked, they’ve had recent home demolitions? She replied, “there are demolitions all over every day.”

That’s a familiar statement. There are a finite number of Palestinian homes and olive trees – demolishing a number of them every week or even every month, year after year – eventually eliminates almost all the Palestinian homes, at least in Area C. Israeli leaders are patient – masters of long term planning, imho.

This student said that of the students “associated with politics, a lot get arrested by Israeli soldiers, just for working with these parties.” That’s what she hears from Facebook. Every couple of days she sees that “students are arrested for nothing or just for being part of a political party. . . . Some of them get arrested for a day or two and some arrested for a longer time, administrative detention.”

Yesterday afternoon I attended a demonstration at Manara Square in Ramallah. Manara Square may be the grandest rotary I’ve ever seen – I think 7 streets radiate out from a little sort of park in the middle. Sculptures of four majestic lions, facing the 4 directions, grace this center as if guarding the city. The Palestinian NGO, Adameer, held a demonstration there a few days ago to inform people about the prisoner situation.  Although every single person I’ve met here, who I’ve asked, has either been arrested or knows someone who has.

I met with an Adameer staffer at their office last week. A few facts he shared:

  • In 2018, 291 Palestinians were killed by Is Occupied Forces, including 56 children.
  • 6,500 Palestinians were arrested, including 1,200 children below 18.
  • More than 99% of those arrested were convicted.
  • The Israeli military court is part of the injustice of the military machine against Palestinian in all aspects.
  • In 2017, 10,000 trees were uprooted by Israeli occupation forces.
  • To put this in perspective, the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank, under a stressful and brutal military occupation, is fewer than 3 million people.

From an Adameer report:

Military order 101 criminalizes many civic activities including: organizing and participating in protests; taking part in assemblies or vigils; waving flags and other political symbols; printing and distributing of political material. In addition, the order deems any acts of influencing public opinion as prohibited “political incitement”. Under the heading “support to a hostile organization”, the order further prohibits any activity that demonstrates sympathy for an organization deemed illegal under military orders, be it chanting slogans, waving a flag or other political symbols.

West Bank
West Bank

This afternoon I’ll meet with a remarkable man, Issa Souf, who Israeli soldiers shot in the back around 15 years ago – he’s been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. He says he understands the Jews were traumatized by the Holocaust and it seems to him they have been taking their pain out on the Palestinians. He wants to talk with the soldiers who shot him so he can ask them why they shot him, and then forgive them. He wants to do what he can to stop the violence against the Palestinians. He’s concerned about their pain and also who this generation of Palestinians might take their pain out on. He doesn’t want that to happen. But Issa and his village of Hares, are another story.

The name of my project is “Courage and Compassion in the Holy Land” and every trip I talk with people, like Issa Souf, who reconfirm the validity of that name.

One more thing – in a variety of ways and words, I hear again and again, that it is the bombs and bullets the US gives the Israeli military that is killing the Palestinians. Most people I meet in the West Bank – Palestinians and internationals say this.  To be more specific, $3.8 billion of our tax money, given to the government of Israel to buy weapons from US military manufacturers – is then used against Palestinians. And as Israel is the 6th or 7th country in the world in exporting military armaments, according to an Israeli ex-soldier who researches for RAIA (Researching the American-Israeli Alliance), the Israeli government sells some of what we tax payers buy them, to countries around the world – as “field tested”.  We have got to stop our complicity in this occupation and destruction of their economy, children, communities, and of course, the siege and destruction of Gaza.

Please call members of Congress and ask them to:

  1. Attend the briefing on November 20th, the International Day of the Child, about Rep Betty McCollum’s landmark bill, HR 2407, Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Occupation Act, which would prohibit taxpayer funds from contributing to the “military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law.” The briefing is at 10:30-11:30 a.m at the CVC 200 Auditorium and is sponsored by Faith Forum on Middle East Policy and Churches for Middle East Peace as well as the American Friends Service Committee.
  2. Cosponsor the bill.
  3. Make a public statement and a statement to the Israeli government, condemning what the Israeli military is doing to the people in Gaza – with the military armaments we taxpayers buy for them. And
  4. Stop giving them political cover in the US and in the UN as long as they continue these actions.  Our aid to the Israeli government must be conditional upon them ending their illegal and cruel treatment [or military occupation] of the Palestinians.

The Israelis I know are outraged with their government’s behavior. We should be too, with our government’s complicity. We should support those Israelis and Palestinians working for human rights for Palestinians.

And then, please tell the President what you think through his staffers at the White House comment line. He might listen to respectful helpful advice – he does on occasion.

White House: 202-456-1111
Federal Senate and House Switchboard: 202-224-3121.
Senator Warren: 202-224-4543; Boston: 617- 565-3170, and
Senator Markey: DC: 202-224-2742; Boston: 617-565-8519