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firsthand narratives from an american in palestine - installment 3

a friend of mine is in palestine right now, working with the international solidarity movement. because audio, video and written material are nearly impossible to get accross the border, she is e-mailing people in the states about her experiences doing community and direct action work with palestinians in the occupied territories. this is the fourth e-mail i recieved from her.
The last few days have been relatively quiet for us. Quiet meaning that there is the same state of emergency as always, but we haven't been directly involved.There has been no harvesting for various reasons, and we haven't been doing any direct action. However, the army has been coming in every night and forcing people to leave their homes. After a couple of hours they leave, but not before shooting some 7-12 year old stone throwers with rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition. The army has been kicking families out in houses right near where I'm staying, and we've been wondering when/if they'll come to our house too. At the moment there's nothing we can do, so we all sleep through the invasions. This is unbearably frustrating to me and to all of us. We've been having maddening meeting after maddening meeting trying to come to consensus about night actions....if we will do them, under what circumstances, with who, etc. and until we've all agreed and formed some plan of action we're at a stand still. I don't think I've ever been so frustrated in my entire life, and the only thing I can do is become a horrible chain smoker like everyone else here! I have to remind myself that it is important to discuss everything. Night actions are dangerous because of the problem of visibility, and because fighters will most likely be out clashing with the army. The local coordinators generally can't come out, it's too dangerous for them, and we've all agreed that it would be ridiculous for us to go out alone. So it seems that the only thing we can do is accompany Palestinian medical groups out during the night. Hopefully we can prevent the military - through our international presence - from stopping medical workers from getting to injured people.* However, this means that we have to wait to meet with medical teams before doing anything, and meanwhile we feel overwhelmed and powerless. So, I've spent the last few days walking around the city, working on this report back, and buying Palestine souvenirs that I hope people will wear and hang up all over the place back home. In a way it's good to get to know the city. I'm beginning to know my way around, understand some Arabic words, and really enjoy the bustling market place and city center. I've seen pictures of Nablus even 10 years ago, full of trees and new sidewalks and a big meridian with grass and bushes etc.; and I can begin to imagine what a metropolitan un-occupied Palestinian city might look like. Today we're going to meet with more families, some in Balata Refugee camp, and at least one in a village a little ways away called Salem. As much as I'm happy to record and witness and actually be doing the work that I came here to do, the last family that I met (the Amoudi's) really broke my heart. I'm anxious about going through it all over again, and part of me just wants to hide out at the "net house" Internet cafe and not talk to anyone about what's been done to their lives by all of this.In some ways it's easier to face a jeep than some little boy who's been shot, but it's so important that these stories be told and there are very few people doing the work of recording them. So, off we go...

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Continuing this email a couple of days later...I have met with two families since the Amoudi's and plan to record their stories in a separate email to be sent out shortly.

In the last two nights the army has actually invaded with jeeps in the duar (center) and two young stone throwers were shot (one in the stomache, one in the face, both are in critical condition). I feel angry with my whole group that we weren't there to shield children or help in some way. I'm tired of consensus decision making and ineffectualness! I know that people are scared, but I feel a rising, possibly unjustified, impatience with other people's hesitance. We're here to be in solidarity with Palestinian people, to lower the risk of violence, and to support the resistance to the occupation. Whether we get hurt or not in the process is not the point, and should not be the deciding factor in the actions that we take, at least in my opinion. I have to be honest and say that in the beginning I wasn't willing to risk so much, but you change once you're here. Another activist put it this way:"the longer you're here the more that you witness, and the more that you witness the more you become like everyone else who lives here, and the less you care what they do to you." ("they" meaning the military/police, etc.) I've met so many people who live through this everyday, who are braver than we can possibly imagine, and it's incredibly humbling. This is the first time I've ever had to think about the risk of death or serious injury, it has simply never been so real to me before. The thought doesn't scare me as much as it has in the recent past. What frightens me the most is the possibility of messing up, of "not doing my job", of backing down somehow.

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Yesterday was the first night that we actually went out to see what was going on and I'm very glad for that, even if we weren't especially effective. For whatever reason the army invaded for a short period of time and then left, so there wasn't much that we could do besides stand with the red crescent, observe, and wait. But I think it's really important that we make our presence known in situations like this. Otherwise we appear to be just some tourists, walking around during the day and then not around at all when shit hits the fan at night. And we were standing very close to a large group of shebab throwing stones, so there's the possibility that we prevented the soldiers from shooting.
Things have been a little tense because of Arafat. The rumor going around is that he's dead but they're just waiting for the proper time to announce it.
Last night there was a parade through city center with all of the fighters up at the front with their machine guns.The fighters really break my heart. You see them walking around with their guns in broad daylight, especially in Balata refugee camp, and you know that they have less than a year to live. Most have been assassinated already. They're all so young, around my age and younger. I'm struck by the thought that there seems to be practically no choice under this occupation but to be a martyr. Palestinian identity is under occupation on every front. Even those of us from other countries, especially Americans, have had our innocence stolen a little bit by the complicity of our own governments. Why else would we be here risking our lives?

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Arafat has died and there was a huge march for him in the duar of Nablus with speakers
and banners and fighters shooting in the air. I decided not to go to Ramallah. People are quite upset. Sameh, one of the Palestinian coordinators, has said that he is sadder than when his own father died. People complained about him while he was alive, but he has been their leader for over fifty years, symbol of the Palestinian struggle. It's a very strange and momentous time to be in the country, and none of us are sure what this means in the long run. Most people we have talked to said that elections are a farce and votes won't be counted. Me & Rasha have commiserated, "they don't count them in the US either.."
ISM work has basically been put on hold temporarily. The Olive Harvest campaign is coming to an end, it's the end of Ramadan and all of the Palestinian coordinators are with their families, and the entire country is in mourning. We did two more night actions, which went about the same as the one I already described; and then most people dispersed with plans to return to Nablus later. My flight back home is in four days, so I'm back in Jerusalem. Before leaving I traveled with Rasha to the village where her family is from, and met some of her aunts and uncles and cousins there. It was a really good experience for me, though it can be hard sometimes to communicate with all of the different barriers that exist -cultural, religious, language, etc.
I'm now back at the Faisal hostel, the meeting place of all ISM activists; and seem to be running into everyone that I met at training or along the way. I'm basically just very restless and very anxious to return to the states and try to communicate to people what I've seen. I'm not sure whether I'll just be frustrated in attempting to make my loved ones understand, but at the moment it's the most important thing to me.


*Recently in Jenin a 17 year old boy was shot by soldiers in the stomache. On the way to the hospital the red crescent ambulance was stopped by the military, medical workers forced to the ground with their hands above their heads, and the boy taken, supposedly, to an Israeli hospital. About two hours later the ambulance was called to pick up the boys body - riddled with bullets and left by the side of the road.