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Sami in Palestine: Moon over Ramallah

This is a transcript of an email/listserv diary that a local Portland avtivist, Sami, is keeping from occupied Palestine.

[ Sami Updates List Serv I International Solidarity Movement ]

This update is from October 31st

Hello everyone,
I am finally in Palestine and completed my International Solidarity Movement training, which consisted of a weekend of intensive workshops, discussions and role plays with a smattering of activists of all ages, mainly from the US, Great Britain, and Scandinavia. Tomorrow we will spend another day in East Jerusalem, and then go in small groups to vilages in the West Bank, most likely Jenin or Nablus to help Palestinians to harvest their olives.

What a crazy place. I can honestly say that I have never in my life seen a place at once so incomprehensiby magical, so deeply and intricately beautiful, and so horrndously ugly. By this I am referring to both Palestine and Israel respectively and simultaneously. It knocks the wind out of you. Just a few days ago I was walking down the most posh street in Israel, feeling like I was in Miami beach, and then I got in a collective taxi drove an hour down the road to the West Bank. The disparity in privilege is, well difficult to descibe, coming from a western perspective. It truly is apartheid, and that's not a word I would throw around loosely.

Its really the little things for me, that residents take for granted, that stick in my mind, that really define the situation. Like in Israel, the normalcy of seeing soldiers EVERYWHERE. Highschool age girl soldiers on the bus with sparkly toenail polish, lip gloss and bauble bracelets to go with their uniforms. I went to the beach in Tel Aviv and there was a group of studly young men in swim trunks like every normal beach scene, and then after a little while, they picked up their M16s and their yin-yang beach blanket and walked off.

The Old City of East Jerusalem is maybe one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or felt. The smells of cardomon, falafel, coffee, and dates, the sea of voices in Arabic, the way people are to eachother. Its in such stark contrast to the bleak landscape of Israeli settler highways, security checkpoints, and settlements on top of bulldozed land. Knowing that without these things, the highways, the borders, the checkpoints, that keep Palestinians from moving freely, that all of Israel would have the rich and stimulating atmosphere of historic Palestine, it makes me feel really bereft. I get a vaguely eerie feeling looking around in Israel, and seeing that, although amazing in a different way, there are no Arabs present, and there should be. Its a feeling I can only liken to standing in a tree plantation instead of an old growth forest. I don;t want this to come across as being anti-Israel, or anti Jewish, because that's not what I am saying, I am only saying that racial segregation is creepy and wrong, and it makes for a really strange atmosphere that is almost unrecognizable until you leave it.

My first day in Palestine, we drove along the separation wall in the West Bank from Jerusalem to Ramallah. There was massive flooding caused by the construction of the wall. There was some sort of Israeli factory that was pumping out polluted waste water onto Palestinian land, and it was just added to the flood waters that blocked the road along the Wall. There is something really terrifying that I think only people who have live with this kind of oppression can feel when you look to one side and see nothing but a giant concrete and razor wire wall dominating the landscape. It literally cuts through villages, blocking one half from the other.

Anyway, tomorrow I will go to a demonstration in Budrus, and then on to Nablus to help a family harvest their olives. More on that in a few days.

Take care everyone, I love you all. I have a cell phone now, so if you want the number, email me and I will give it to you. If you want to email me personally, feel free, but I may not have time to respond to you all, so be patient. I love to hear from you. By the way, the moon over Ramallah was lovely. Not all of this place is so grotesque or as dangerous as we imagine it. Its just a place like any place could be, with people like any people, just trying to get by. I saw a guy with a t-shirt today that said "I just want to celebrate another day alive."

Love, Sami