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Sami in Palestine: Racism is nothing without Power

I returned with my friend Rihab to her family's village in the north of what is now Israel. The drive was gorgeous, with vast expanses of hills that looked like the backs of camels overlooking the Jordan River with Jordan on the other side. The sea of Galilee, what is now called Lake Tiberias lies gleaming like a dusty silver coin in the desert, the sky and the seas and the land soaking eachother up, showing the underlying softness of a land so divided. Further to the north, near Lebanon, the air is sweet and cool, and the hills cradle safsaf trees, grapevines and green shrubs. It is here that the razed village of Safsaf lies broken under settlements and Israeli plantations, the last remaining building set to be turned into an Israeli restaurant. Here we spent the day digging through the rubble behind Israeli farmers' fields, searching for remnants of a people forced to flee, picking up bits of broken pottery, preserving fragments of the way it was before. Rihab rubbed the soil into her pores, trying to take as much with her as she could carry. She dug until it was too dark to see, crying into the same soils that her father cried into.
Nov 13

I returned with my friend Rihab to her family's village in the north of what is now Israel. The drive was gorgeous, with vast expanses of hills that looked like the backs of camels overlooking the Jordan River with Jordan on the other side. The sea of Galilee, what is now called Lake Tiberias lies gleaming like a dusty silver coin in the desert, the sky and the seas and the land soaking eachother up, showing the underlying softness of a land so divided. Further to the north, near Lebanon, the air is sweet and cool, and the hills cradle safsaf trees, grapevines and green shrubs. It is here that the razed village of Safsaf lies broken under settlements and Israeli plantations, the last remaining building set to be turned into an Israeli restaurant. Here we spent the day digging through the rubble behind Israeli farmers' fields, searching for remnants of a people forced to flee, picking up bits of broken pottery, preserving fragments of the way it was before. Rihab rubbed the soil into her pores, trying to take as much with her as she could carry. She dug until it was too dark to see, crying into the same soils that her father cried into.

When we returned to the car, there were Israeli settlers waiting for us, arguing with our friend. They told us that we weren't allowed to enter into the last remaining home from 1948, that it was his house now, he was turning it into a restaurant. We said that we were only here to visit Safsaf, and asked them if they had ever heard of it. They shouted at us in anger that it was not Safsaf, but Sifsufa, the name of the Jewish settlement nearby. It was all Sifsufa. Another friend asked them about the 5 million Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The most aggressive settler among them replied in Arabic, "God willing, they all die." They called the police on us, but continued to argue with Rihab in Arabic for a while until the situation deescalated and we left feeling powerless. It was a beautiful day despite them.

Nov. 14

We took a day trip to Hebron, a place I think every human being in a position of privilege should see in order to see what hate can do when it is backed by power. It is the only city where the settlements are being built right in the middle of an existing Palestinian city. Typically, Israeli settlements are built on hillsides, or on the outskirts of towns, but in Hebron there are 3 settlements within the busiest areas of Hebron, one of which is literally on top of existing Palestinian homes. The result of this is that the settlers, with the help of the Israeli army, are systematically ethnically cleansing the city of Palestinians by use of economic pressure, unjust laws, and violence in order to pave the way for further settlement.

There are 13 checkpoints inside of the city of Hebron compared to 39 in the rest of the West Bank according to the Bt'selem human rights report. There have been reported cases in at least one security checkpoint of men being forced to lift their shirts up at, and women being taken behind a concrete barrier in full view of a neighboring Jewish men's school and lift their dresses up to their shoulders, which in Muslim society is obviously quite humiliating. Throughout Hebron there can be seen camouflage netting draped from buildings marking an occupied home or rooftop. It is not uncommon in these situations for soldiers to keep the Palestinian occupants locked in one room as they occupy the property.

There is a Jewish only road bisecting the town that was built with U.S. foreign aid money, which was not originally intended to be Jewish only, but was later converted. There are 3 meter high permanently locked gates topped with razor wire to keep Palestinians from having access to the road. There are obviously Palestinians who lived on the road in the past, who are now unable to obtain permission to visit homes which they own in order to collect or look after their possessions.

In the case of one settlement which is built on the second story of a bustling Palestinian marketplace and residential area, there have been so many incidences of settlers throwing projectiles down onto the Palestinians below, that the army has erected a wire mesh net covering the street below, which the settlers have then routinely destroyed by dropping concrete blocks onto it, or filling it with trash. The settlers have continued to assault Palestinians in the marketplace by dropping things like boiling water, sand, or cinder blocks onto them.

The old city, the most beautiful area of downtown Hebron, and what was once the busiest economic center, filled with shops and vendors, now lies empty. At one time it was nominally open to Palestinian commerce, but when vendors would enter, they were routinely arrested. Now the large square, once the central market lies locked and unused, claimed for future settlement development. On the locked doors of abandoned shops can be seen Hebrew graffiti and stars of David, or in the case of one downtown Hebron shop, written in English, "Arabs to the gas chamber."

As many of you know, in 1994 Dr. Baruch Goldstein walked into a crowded mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinians and wounding many more, shooting them in the back as they prayed. As survivors fled the mosque in terror, Israeli soldiers, mistaking their fear for some kind of rebellious uprising, shot and killed as many as Goldstein had. 40 days later was the first Palestinian suicide bombing. Today, half of the mosque has been converted into a synagogue, with a partition blocking each side from the other. There have been incidents of Israeli children or teenagers stoning elderly Palestinian women on their way to and from the mosque. Recently, 2 Christian Peacemaker Teams activists were hospitalized with broken bones and a punctured lung after having been beaten by Israeli settlers with bats and chains as they accompanied Palestinian school children to school.

This is the fundamentalist terrorism I have seen in the West Bank.
This is what racism is capable of when it is backed by power.

love, Sami

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