Yanoun II

2.14 – 22 December 2005

J. and Z. stay at home while L. and I go to school at nine o’clock in the morning. L. was wrong about the nine o’clock lesson and I attend one on Arabic. This is the eldest children’s classroom; next year; the eldest will have to travel to Aqraba daily to attend secondary school. I copy in my notebook what the teacher writes on the blackboard.

There are three classrooms in this school. I can not see lights on the ceiling or plugs on the walls, it doesn’t seem that they use electricity here. This is probably why school starts at seven in the morning and finishes at noon, to make use of daylight. The windows are square holes in the walls, without glass. The doors stay open to let the light come through. There is also a kitchen in the school.

Two levels are taught in each classroom by each teacher, both at the same time. There are also children from Lower Yanoun, who come in the daily shuttle van that also carries the older children to Aqraba for secondary school. Only six years are taught here.

The only computer in the school is in this classroom. Whoever donated it, did not ask if they had electricity in the school.

Against the walls are various sets of shelves. They are full of boxes with the Unicef logo on them. All the children have the same model of school bag, with the same colours, and all their books look pretty old except for the English and Maths books. The English book says on the front (as one would open it in the Western world, not as an Arabic book would be open, like the rest of their books): English for Palestine. I imagine these materials, chalk, books, school bags… come from international organisations like UNICEF or OXFAM.

During the break L. plans to play football with the kids and we both head for the playground, which consists of the road and a small esplanade next to it. The teachers tell him to stay in the kitchen for some lunch and he looks at me – the invitation is supposed to include me but they will talk to both through him, as it is culturally mandatory. Lunch consists of a dish of oil, another dish of hummus and bread to dip in. And, of course, tea.

They ask where I come from and then they say that the van that takes the children to school was bought thanks to some Spanish/French charity. The English teacher says that the children in this village are a lot better at it than in Aqraba, thanks to their daily contact with internationals. Besides, they start learning it right from the beginning of their schooling, when they are four or five. I remember I only started to learn English when I was eleven.

After the break there is finally the English lesson. The technique is a lot more “oral” than the way I was taught, and it looks a lot less academic, but seems a lot more useful, judging from the level of English of most youth who have never gone out of this country – mainly because the Israeli authorities do not allow them to.

When school finishes, a white van with sits but no sign that it is a taxi comes from the same road we used to come here and the children that don’t live in Upper Yanoun get on it. L. explains that it is the daily shuttle to and from Aqraba, mainly for the older children who have to go to the bigger city to the equivalent to secondary school, but also for the children in Lower Yanoun to get to and from school in Upper Yanoun.

I find this schooling system quite similar to rural Spain, or at least a combination of what was the practice years ago and what is done now. Decades ago, in many rural parts of Spain the one teacher of the village would teach all the children in the same classroom, all ages and all levels taught at the same time. Which is partly what is done here, with children of two different ages joined in the same classroom, studying two different levels. Then, what they do now in Spain is run shuttles like this to bring pupils to bigger towns where they can attend school with more children their ages. Although of course some parents choose to move to the bigger towns to avoid the daily travel to their children.

So the fact that these children need a shuttle bus to go to school every day is not because of the occupation but because it is a rural area with small villages. L. says, “yes, it is easy to blame all the problems on the occupation”.

When school finishes we go home and then visit some families. L. seems to know most of them. He says it is best to visit as many different families as possible, since it is their knowledge of our presence that makes them feel safe.

We sit around the fires at the entrance of as many houses as we can with the men of each house. At the last one, a woman in a black long dress and with her head covered sits next to the door, out of the circle that has formed around the fire, and looks at me. I smile at her and then she asks: “are you good at English?” Sitting as I am between two North Americans and an Englishman, I can not say I am, so I answer jokingly: “I am good at pretending”. She continues very serious and, staring at me, without blinking, she asks, almost states:”would you help my daughter”. I say I would and she invites me in, leaving all the men outside and taking me inside, with her daughters and younger sons. I have been invited to a domestic realm where my fellow comrade men are not allowed.

The living room consists of a medium-sized room with a carpet and thin, gymnasium-like mattresses as sitting facilities. In one of the corners there is a small piece of furniture with the children’s books and notepads on its shelves and a tv on top. In another corner there is a wardrobe with blankets. The children sit on the carpet or on the thin mattresses, as they watch tv or do their homework, using the same carpet they are sitting on as their studying table.

The mother introduces me to the daughter I have to help and we both sit down, as the mother goes to the kitchen. All the sisters look of similar age to me and their English sounds almost native, so I wonder what exactly they need me for. The one I’m here to help tells me she has not actually prepared today’s lesson because she has another exam tomorrow and, could I come back the day after tomorrow, after she’s had her exam and prepared her lesson with questions for me.

I say I will and then the mother, who is now wearing modern, western sportswear and has her hair in a pony tail, invites me into the kitchen to eat. There are fresh vegetables and falafel on the table for me. She tell me she makes the falafel herself and after we both eat she gives me all the balls left to take home. I join the rest outside and after a few moments we the internationals go home. Tomorrow two of us will leave for another place in need of internationals. L. and Z. will take the shuttle that the older children get in order to go to school in Aqraba, at eight in the morning or so.

Yanoun I

Monday, December 19, 2005 2.12

As M. drives us to the nearest town, he tells us about the latest incident that happened in the village where we are going. A settler injured a Palestinian farmer and he is luckily alive, recovering in hospital.

We get off M.’s car in Aqraba and he continues his trip after arranging for a taxi to pick us up. We wait right in the spot where he leaves us, with our bags on the ground, on the side of the road. Next to us there is a stone wall. A few metres away from us, also next to the wall, are about six or seven men sitting in a semicircle. Of course our presence does not go unnoticed. They ask us where we are from and then tell us that the taxi M. has arranged should be here in ten or fifteen minutes. Then another man appears as if from nowhere and offers us two chairs that we can’t refuse.

Then yet another man, more elderly than all the rest, approaches us, with a handkerchief like the one Arafat used to wear. First he asks J. where he comes from, and then he asks “and your companion, where is she from?” J. lets me answer. He tells us he is the major of the town and the conversation takes political and religious paths. He asks J. whether he believes in God and J. says he is not religious. The man can not understand that some one does not believe in God. He asks J. a few more questions trying to understand this fact and then he asks me. When I say yes, he sighs, in relief, as if saying, “well at least it is not both of them”.

Then he asks J. what he has studied. He answers up to Secondary School. The man insists, so we guess he is referring to University. “No, I have not gone to University”, J. says. The face of the man says that he doesn’t understand. “But all Americans go to University. Why you did not go to University?” “I come from a poor background”, J answers. “Poor?” The man touches the handkerchief on his head as if saying to himself “let’s see if I can understand this”. We look at him, somewhat amused. “Poor in America?” (as in “but ‘are there’ poor in America?”). J. and I bit our lower lips. We explain that in America, and all over the world, there are poor people, not just in countries like this. I suspect the man either can not understand it, can not believe us, or both.

The Palestinian people have been seeing foreigners, mainly from the USA, for many years; people who have been coming in solidarity, like us. The good consequence is that they are able to distinguish between the governments and the governed. The bad consequence is that, having had contact only with those who come, they have been getting these misleading ideas, that all western people, specially those from the US, are vegetarians and have gone to University, because all US people they have met are vegetarians and have gone to University.

So they are now faced with the very different story of J., who has spent two years working and saving up to pay for this trip, and has never been to University, and one stereotype they have formed over the years thanks to the stories of the people they have met goes out of the window.

After this, J. asks him about the event of a few days ago. He tells us that the injured man is an acquaintance of his, a cousin. He was in his land harvesting his olives when a settler, a man with a riffle, came up to him. The farmer picked up a stone in an instinctive move to defend himself. Palestinians are not allowed to have weapons even at home, and can not carry knives in the street, while the settlers are allowed, and even encouraged, to carry big machine guns hanging from their shoulders.

The settler shouted something like “What are you doing on my land!” and the farmer told him that it was his land, that his family had had it for generations, and that he had come to pick up olives like every year. The settler screamed at him again saying that the land was his by divine right, since the Bible says it, and that the Palestinian had no right to step on it.

At this point the farmer threw the stone to the ground, away from the settler, and then the settler, with the back of his riffle, hit him strongly on the face, making a big wound, and the farmer had to be taken to hospital. “He has been in hospital for ten days now”, says the mayor of Aqraba.

During his speech I have taken out my camera and have tried to record is words. The mayor has become more and more formal since he realised that a camera was filming. We tell him that we are not journalists, that we will try to get this out in our own circles, but he just goes on in his dignified pose of a mayor, explaining… It seems he is desperate to get his word out, to talk about his people’s situation, and any one with a camera will surely do the job; better talk to any foreigner who may bring the word out than shy away because they are not “proper” journalists.

When the taxi finally comes, we give the chairs back and we say good bye to the men. The mayor offers us his house to come and eat whenever we want to, but, our function being to be in Yanoun in order to avoid as much as possible that something like this happens again, we are not able to accept his offer.

The taxi takes us through a very narrow road that is the only access to it from Palestinian territory. The road is tiny, but recently asphalted. The taxi driver tell us that it was a path before (I imagine it would be a goats’ path like the ones we have already experienced), until just two months ago, when a bank from Saudi Arabia financed the asphalting works.

We arrive at the “international flat” in Yanoun. There are three internationals here, but two of them are leaving tomorrow and there should always be at least two internationals here. They explain the situation in Yanoun, although J. has been here already, helping out in the olive harvest, I guess while I was in Balata.

The village is situated in one face of a hill, itself surrounded by other hills, leaving just one valley through which the road goes. The Israeli settlement extends over the three mountains, although we don’t see any inhabited house from here. All the inhabitants of this village see is the soldiers’ outposts, and some barracks, up on the mountains at each side of this one, in such a way that they are observed from right and left, as we look down on the valley.

During the night there are two very powerful light shots, illuminating the village so that the soldiers (and probably the settlers too, given the very close relationship they have with each other) can have a clear view of the village all night. As for the streets themselves, the lighting is very poor, paid for by charity too.

The limits of the area we, internationals included, can walk, are very clear. We and the Palestinians can only go towards Aqraba, via the road or the lands at the right of it. Not to the left. So the mountain on the left is a no-go area for us. In the mountain to our right there is a house of a Palestinian family and that is the limit; we can not go any further. And, up this mountain, a few rocks are the “border”. If we do not respect these rules, we could be shot at from the outposts.

Our functions here are to stay visible, to visit the village’s families, and to call certain Israeli authorities and activists if we see armed settlers, or any Israeli, approach the well – which they have poisoned before already – or the electricity generator. They sabotaged the old one, which had been paid for by the United Nations, and made it useless.

In a normal country it would be enough to call the police to stop barbaric acts when they happen. Here, the soldiers would detain the Palestinians if they approached the outposts asking for help, and would probably shoot them if they confronted the settlers while destroying the things they need to live.

L., who has been here for a while now, tells us the story of a man who was walking down the road to Aqraba and was approached by two soldiers. They told him to go to the other side of the road but he refused, knowing that it is forbidden for Palestinians to go that side. The soldiers insisted and he overhead one of them saying that the next thing they would do if he did obey and go to the other side of the road they would detain him and get the police to properly arrest him for going to the forbidden side of the road. He then insisted that he could not go to that side of the road, and they arrested him.

There is some Israeli organisation that is in contact with this project, like “Rabbies for Human Rights”. One of them has made himself available for this village for any emergency, even in the night. This is because if a Palestinian or foreigner calls the authorities, they will not move a finger, but it is different if it is an Israeli calling them.

As if to lead us by example, L. takes us to the house of one of the local families and after a few seconds of talking, of course we are invited for dinner – a few small dishes of hummus, olive oil, tomato sauce, eggs, zahtar, olives….

L. has been around for a few months and is learning Arabic, so a conversation in Arabic is established in one corner of the floor-made-table while English is spoken in the rest of the room.

As usual, we get some of the history of the village from its inhabitants.

Three or four years ago the settlers started a campaign of “night raids” into the village and terrorised the Palestinian villagers, coming with white hoods, in Ku Klux Klan fashion. They also bathed in the only well that provides all the water this village uses, and they bathed their dogs too. This made the water completely unusable. They also destroyed their electricity generator, which had been paid for by some United Nations program – they said that no one had asked the settlers for permission to install it, therefore it must have been their duty to destroy it. All this happened, the family tell us, while the soldiers stood by, doing nothing apart from laughing. The settlers eventually killed one of the villagers and all the families decided to leave. The whole village was empty except for two people who did not have any family that could house them elsewhere.

There was a big hype about it; the media came, and then the internationals came. They wanted to return to their village and lead normal lives – like the normal people that they are, they just want to leave in peace and go about their lives, work their land, tender their olive trees, harvest their olives, press them and get oil, cook with it or make soap, and maybe even sell it in order to buy fruits and vegetables to eat. They do not want to look out to the top of the hill in fear that the settlers will have a party tonight and come and terrorise the village in celebration while the soldiers watch from the watch tower, watching out for Palestinians in order to detain them and send them to a martial trial with charges unknown, proving the world that all Palestinians are terrorists.

So they asked the Internationals to stay and protect them, if only with their presence, with our cameras and our words and our privileges as citizens of rich countries as our weapons, against the soldiers’ and settlers’ M16s.

Some settlers apparently told the Palestinians that the media would eventually leave and so would the internationals, but the settlers would always stay.

But the Internationals have not left since then, and although we can not prevent punctual events like the last one from happening, life has gone on relatively peacefully in the village, apart from the occasional visit from the settler security patrol or the army visits, like the time when some soldiers claimed the right to get in the International House.

One of the many children of the family, a beautiful little girl, keeps looking at me almost in amazement and at one point I ask her, like the children asked us in Balata: “what is your name?” A very basic conversation follows between her and me and she asks me to go to school with her tomorrow.

We eventually leave the house and come back to the international flat, then take a rest and talk about what the locals have told us. I tell L. about the girl’s idea of me going to school and he encourages me to accept her invitation. He says the local people will appreciate my presence. In fact he goes to the village school every day, and talks with the teachers and plays with the pupils in the breaks … He also says that tomorrow’s English lesson is at nine in the morning, which is the perfect time for us both to go together and then stay for the rest of the day.

Jayyous V

last morning in Yayyous

I wake up before it is light and get out of the shed. The atmosphere feels pretty much the same as it can feel in any Mediterranean country just before dawn. There is a bit of light coming out of the back of the distant mountains, but the sun is still hidden behind them. There is a very special orange-green colour in the sky that becomes bluer higher up from the mountains and into the rest of the sky.

Slowly, it gets lighter and lighter and the stars disappear in the day light.

The air is deliciously fresh and clean. I go back to the shed and I meet J. outside it; he has gone out to contemplate the dawn as well, and is now coming back, ready to prepare breakfast for everyone.

While we prepare breakfast together we agree that we should ask M. for a lift to get out of the “realms” of this settlement and then make ourselves available to go wherever we may be needed, now that other people from the EAPPI are taking over in here.

People start coming out of the shed called by the smell of food and we all have breakfast. M. will take us to his house so we can use his washing machine and his shower. We were not expecting this even remotely. Shower and washing machine!

So after breakfast we say our goodbyes and get on the car, because M. has to go back home and then to work.

On a car with an Israeli number plate now and an Israeli citizen at its wheel, we get absolutely no trouble at the gate. M. is free to choose the most convenient gate to go to the city where he lives. We quickly get on to an Israeli road, very similar to any “A” road in the UK, only with hills on each side of the road as if a small mountain had been cut in the middle in order to build this road. M. explains that they do that when building the roads where only Israeli citizens will be allowed to drive so that they will not see the conditions in which the Palestinians are made to live – with their “rocky roads”, as J. had politely put it, the “vehicles” they are allowed to drive, and the sheds they use as houses after demolitions.

Once in his house, he lets us use her internet, his washing machine and his shower. This gets us ready for our next trip.

Tomorrow J. and I are going to a village in the mountains, to the North of Nablus, where horrible things happen, we’re told… Years ago the settlers from the settlement established right next to the village threw them out, by terrorising them. They would invade their village in the middle of the night destroying what they could if the time they would be there, they poisoned their well, only source of water for the whole village, and they burnt the electric generator, that the NU had donated them, in some of these incursions. They would stone whoever would come in their way and a killing happened. The inhabitants fled the village and there was a lot of local and international media attention, but, knowing that when this faded, they would be faced with the same terror situation, they only agreed to go back to the village on condition that there would be a continuous international presence.

Usually this continuous presence is provided by the EAPPI. But these days they are having a meeting of all the people “deployed” in Palestine and they all want to attend. So they have asked us to “cover” Yanoun while they are in this meeting. This is our next “assignment”.

Jayyous IV

Saturday, December 10, 2005 2.11 last evening in Jayyous

A. takes us on a “tour” around the area on the way to his groves today. We get on his own tractor for that, so again today we endure a rocky path, although today it is a different one. We then see a different portion of the wall that has the form of a fortified road. Fig 16.

A. also shows us the single well that “produces” the water that irrigates all the land that we can see, plus the Israeli settlement. He stops the tractor and shows us the water meters. He explains that the Israeli soldiers check them often, at least once a week, to see whether the Palestinians use more water than they are allowed.

He also shows us the permit that allows him but not his sons nor his wife to get through the gate he needs to go through to his land. The permit is written only in Hebrew, which is a bit of a shock, knowing that it is for a Palestinian, and that in cities like Jerusalem all sign posts are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. He explains to us what is included on the permit paper: the name of the person who is allowed through the gate, the number of the gate, the dates they are allowed to get through, whether they are allowed to spend the night in their land or not… Most farmers are not allowed to stay overnight on their own lands.

Some of these peasants understand Hebrew, if they have previously worked in Israel. But most do not speak it; they have always spoken Arabic. So this document is not meant to be a communication between the state and the farmers; it is literally a means of communication between the Israeli authorities and the soldiers, and the Palestinians have no choice but to trust that what is said to them is what it says.

So if one day the soldier says that according to this document they can not get through any gate, the Palestinians can not even contest it – although even if they can speak Hebrew and can discuss it, A. says that each soldier is an official, and that whatever will be allowed that day depends on that day’s soldier’s mood.

We get on the tractor again and soon we see some farmers tending their land. Nothing seems to be planted in the soil yet; it seems they are sewing some seeds while also preparing the furrows so that the water can make it from the main stream to each plant – all without any irrigation machinery. And it all reminds me of the history lessons back in school, about the Spanish Queen and King who wanted to get rid of all the non-Christian population in Spain but had to allow to remain one in every ten Arab families because apparently they were the only ones able to work the land and manage the scarce water for irrigation.

A. takes us, then, near to the Green Line, where the wall should stand if Israel respected the treaties it has signed. We get just as close as we can get, because between the Green Line and the actual wall there is quite a distance – and at least we can see it from here; in other parts, the distance is such, you can not see the Green Line from the actual wall. In this part, the “wall” is secured by two barbed wire fences separated by a few feet of razor wire coils. One of the fences appears to be electrified, or at least it has some kind of electronic sensory equipment. Fig 17.

When we arrive at his land we get a surprise because there are no olive trees there, but orange trees. He explains that he used to have vegetables, but with all that gates and permission business his vegetables got rotten in the soil because he was not allowed to enter his own land when they were ready to be harvested, and they always went off, so he planted trees. Trees do not need so much attention and regular care and irrigation.

We harvest two full buckets of mandarins each and A. insists that we keep a good few of them.

Then we go to where the uprooted olive trees used to be, the ones on the pictures of the first night. Today, small shoots of new trees are peaking through the ground from the remnants of the root systems. Fig 18

There are quite a few people in the shed when we get there, just before dark. M. has given a lift to the people who will take over from us. We will probably leave tomorrow but tonight we are having a nice family meal that A.’s wife has cooked at home.

As an Israeli citizen, M. has a car with a EU-looking number plate with the “I” for Israel on it that gives him access to the Israeli, perfectly asphalted roads, and the right to go through checkpoints without getting off his car.

Like us, he uses his privileges to try and make Palestinians’ lives a bit more bearable. Unlike us, he does it every day of his life, not just a few weeks or months.

The rest of the people at the table are members of CCPT that have already known A. and his wife for some time. Some one makes a comment about the amount of food that A. is giving us, and he explains a bit of his Islamic religious obligations, something about making three parts of everything he ever receives as a present, giving one third to the poor and sharing another third, and this is the third part of a camel he’s been given that he is sharing. Or something like that.

We then talk about what we have seen today and J. summarises at the end: “All the settlements in the Palestinian side of the ‘Green Line’ are illegal according to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit occupation forces of an occupation to transfer their civil population to occupied territories. And the United Nations have clarified that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories and therefore they should submit to the international law on occupied territories.” Response: “yes, but when has Israel honoured the international treaties, including those that it has signed?”

Jayyous III

Thursday, December 08, 2005 2.10

We go and pick olives today as well. We have slept in this shed that lies on the “Israeli” part of the wall. They say it is only a security wall for the settlement, but instead of putting the security next to the Israeli settlement, they have put it about six metres away from the houses of the village, and it effectively acts as a political frontier between the illegally expanded Israeli state and the still non-existent Palestinian state.

So since there is no gate for us to cross today, we can afford ourselves the luxury of sleeping until eight in the morning. Still this shed is quite far away from the fenced off area where we need to go, and we still have to travel over a very rocky and rough (J. calls it politely rocky path) path to get there.

Before the fence was erected F. could take paved roads most of the way and it took him only ten minutes to get to his land. Nowadays he has to cross the fence and then travel over this path, which actually follows the path of the fence with its nicely paved road next to it. It now takes more than an hour to travel to his land, forced as he is to drive the entire distance over the rocks, even though there are paved roads and other gates from which we can see his land.

Maybe forgetting the fact that the wall and the fences are illegal, and believing that they are there for security purposes, the Israeli authorities could be expect to be fair to the farmers and allow them to cross the fence using the shortest way. But the Israeli authorities establish what gates the Palestinians can use and they then open those gates only at certain times each day, and they change those times and give no notice, and if the farmer can not go back to his house because they have closed the gate, he sleeps rough that night.

Israel makes the Palestinians’ lives difficult so that it is hard for them even to get to their farms, and then claims that they are not interested in their own land, since they are not visiting it. This tells us all that they just want to make the Palestinian farmers’ lives so impossible they will eventually leave the land empty. And the fact that the Israeli system is actively encouraging this process tells me that this is what it has always wanted, and this is just a blatant exercise of ethnic cleansing, nothing to do with its “security”.

Land confiscation has already happened in many areas. F.’s uncle points out to us the plot of land that used to be his family’s property, and is now being used as farmland by the nearby Israeli settlement inhabitants. F.’s nephew looks no older than 10, and he also has a story to tell. He tells us that all the land that we can see from here used to be his father’s. He says the settlers just took the land and with the Army’s protection, the family just can’t use it any more. There are no olive trees planted in that land any more.

Again we spend the night in the shed and, as we arrive, we find not only hot water ready for shower but also a nice fire outside the shed, next to the door.

It is customary for some Palestinians to sit outside their houses and light fires on special plates, with legs, as if they were small round tables. After a few hours, when the fire is smaller and produces no smoke, they bring it into the house and it heats at least the living room. A. is there waiting for us and we all sit outside, with him.

In the distance we can hear vague sounds of partying, and music that sounds like pop. It is the first time I hear western style music in Palestine. A. says the party is in the Israeli settlement, and in fact it is from there that the noise is coming, not from the Palestinian village. A. says it sounds like they are getting drunk, or something of the like, in the settlement, and that this problem does not exist in Palestine because the Islamic religion forbids alcohol. But, because of the strangulation of the Palestinian economy by the Israeli state, there are serious drugs problems among the Palestinian youth.

It is also very frequent that we can hear, even where we are now, far away from the village, the calls to prayer from the village mosques. I have already got used to these calls. In a given moment, the call to prayer, usually sung, turns into a quick monologue. A. asks us to stay silent with a gesture and listens attentively. When it finishes, he tells us it was an announcement that from tomorrow the gate opening times will change.

We look at him in astonishment – is this how the farmers can find out when they can or can not work on their lands? He explains: the soldiers are not always at the gates and when a gate is unattended, it is closed. This is completely arbitrary, and they do not give any notice of it. Some times the soldiers may know what the opening hours will be the next day, but if you do not go through that gate on that day, or they simply don’t remember to tell you, or say they don’t know, you go the next day only to find the gate closed, without soldiers and without information. So, in order to facilitate things for the farmers a bit, these announcements are made from the mosque every day, and A., like many others, almost always learn about these changes thanks to these announcements.

So today the Israeli army has decided to change the timetable without previous notice – in fact, without any notice at all. It is the villagers themselves who pass on the message to each other so that people don’t get trapped in their own lands, because the gate will be closed tomorrow an hour earlier at dusk.

Before we can recover and assimilate this information, A. starts to sing songs against the occupation that, he says, are older than the current occupation.

We ask, “how come?”
He answers, “Look: My father was born under the Ottoman Empire occupation. I was born under the British Empire occupation. And now my sons are born under the Israeli occupation. Such is life”.

And he says this with a wide smile, looking at us, expectant, as if expecting to see our smiles too. So I can just keep silent and smile.

Then I ask him if all the occupations were the same, if the Ottoman and British occupations were as brutal as this one. He says, “of course they weren’t, this one is the worst by far. The previous ones, they were just governments that happened to be foreign”.

A conversation about politics follows. He tells us how much he respects us internationals who leave the comforts of our countries, and blah blah blah. He says that our mere presence is the most important thing here, not how hard we work, picking olives or whatever. That is not important. The important thing is how we show our support. Our governments are the ones who should do something but, lacking that, at least they feel not alone in their plight.

“But, why are your governments”, asks A. without really expecting an answer, “why are they not doing anything for us, and against Israel? They have declared the wall illegal, the settlements illegal, the occupation illegal, why are they not doing anything?”

“Doing something”, comes the answer, “would mean to stand against the most powerful country in the world. And no government can afford, or would dare, to do that”. “Exactly “, answers A. with a wide smile. And he goes on about our very important mission here in Palestine and back home, telling what we have seen here.

He also says that, although what we are doing is a lot, he would ask us to do something else. He reminds us that a global boycott ended with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and if it worked there, so it should work here.

He would like us to take this message back: boycott Israeli products so that its human rights abuses end, like boycott ended apartheid in South Africa.

Our answer goes that, unfortunately, there are a lot more economical interest in the support for Israel that there were for the support for South Africa.

“Exactly!”, and he shakes his head with a smile on his face.

Jayyous II

Wednesday, December 07, 2005. 2.9

I wake up when it is still dark and too early to receive any electricity,so there is no light in the room. The mother of the family has got up and dressed; she is praying in a whisper, standing up, next to her bed. When she finishes she opens the door and leaves. I also get up and put the blankets and the mattress in the corner where I think they came from.

We all get up at about half past six in the morning to get as much daylight as possible, without having breakfast. Outside, the nephew, H., whom we met yesterday, joins us.

We all get on the tractor trailer, including the mother and the youngest child. We then head to one of the gates that they now have to use to go to their land. As we arrive to the soldiers’ sentry box I get my camera out to record the moment and both the mother and H. tell me “no” quickly, with their hands and heads.

While F., with some of my comrades, discusses with the soldiers about the reasons why we are not allowed to pass, a lady with a waistcoat with the name EAPPI on it (EAPPI, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) comes back from the gate. She has not been allowed to pass either. She sits down on a stone by the road and she looks at us and writes on a notepad while F. speaks to the soldier.

When we speak to her, after not being allowed through ourselves, she says that the permission-giving “system” (whatever unwritten “system” there is) is not consistent at all, that she has been allowed to pass other days. Right yesterday, for example, some other foreigners like us were allowed to pass. She says that “every soldier is an official”, allowing some people and not allowing others, as they please, in a completely arbitrary way.

She has been documenting all this, as seems to be what EAPPI does at this particular gate. She also tells us that there are two soldiers for each person in the settlement. It seems to confirm that settlements have nothing at all to do with “getting both cultures together”. They are an outright military operation.

And this gates business has nothing to do with security at all – some are allowed, some aren’t, at random, with no criteria. It is just a matter of playing with people’s time and resources, to get them so fed up and disabled that they have no other choice but leave their lands…

All you can do when an armed soldier tells you that you are not going through the gate is shut up and go back, so that is what we do. Worse than that is to see F. speak friendlily with the soldier and shake his hand, but he has to do it because he needs to maintain at least a bit of peace and good relations that will at least allow him to use this gate from time to time, next time the soldier in charge feels good enough about himself and F. that he will allow him.

F. is going to try to get to his land through another gate. That other gate is one of those where only land owners are allowed to pass, so we will need to try yet a different gate, a few kilometres away. A. and F. arrange for a car to take us so we don’t have to walk for hours.

F. leaves us on a busy road and a car collects us ready to take us the next twenty five kilometres until the next gate, while the family gets through the one where only they have permission to pass as land owners.

At the next gate, where our driver was sure he would be allowed to pass in his car, we are not allowed to pass either, and we have to go all the way to the next one – a further fifteen minutes or so by car. Finally we get through to the Israeli side of the wall-fence on foot, and, bordering the Israeli settlement, we finally get to the land where we are going to help out with the harvest.

When we meet the family in their land it has been three hours since we got out of the house. Three hours to cover the distance that, in normal circumstances, used to take twenty minutes – I should say legal circumstances, because this whole fence, with its gate and its systems, is illegal according to the United Nations.

And this is not the end of the journey today. We still have to get to the olive trees we are to work on today. We get on the trailer again and F. takes us through stony paths that make both the tractor and the trailer jump.

For about half an hour we travel next to a road of exclusive use for the Israelis, which is completely flat and perfectly asphalted and lit; nothing to do with the goats’ path we have come jumping. There are also access gates to the fancy road. F. tells us that the fancy road has been constructed over a previously existing one, which was used by every one, including himself and his family. It used to take them ten minutes to cover the distance that is taking us half hour to cover now.

The Israeli road also has a shoulder on each side, double the width of the road itself, made of soil and sand. The function of the perfectly flat sand on the hard shoulder is to record any footsteps of intruders on it, and that it is checked and kept in the best of conditions at least twice a day. Fig 14

Indeed, this road, having a fence on each side, acts as a wall. Up to where we can see, there is a double fence with razor wire on the ground, in such a way that, if you try to cross it, first you get electrocuted with the first fence (or the electronic sensors detect you so that the soldiers can shoot you), then you get wounded with the razor wire, and if you manage to jump the second fence with the barbed wire on it, your steps on the road shoulder give you away.

So in theory all these barriers act as protection against Palestinian terrorists; in practice what is meant is to make life quite impossible for Palestinian farmers like F., who has to travel for two or three hours each time he wants to go to his own land for the whim of some one else’s “security”.

When we finally get to our destination, we are in the land between the “Green Line” and the illegal wall, a band of about six kilometres wide between the internationally agreed border between the states of Israel and Palestine and the wall that the Israeli state is building illegally inside Palestinian territory. The lands belong to Palestinian farmers and the United Nations say that this is Palestinian territory, what should become the Palestinian Country, but the Israeli government says it is Israeli territory, and that is why Palestinians need a special permission from the Israeli authorities to access them. In the Israeli territories where the property of the land is no longer discussed (it was either bought more or less legally or simply stolen, so long ago the United Nations seem to recognise it as Israeli land) streets and roads are more than sufficiently lit. But not these lands. There is not a single lamp here so it is only possible to work while the sun is up. Taking into account that in this time of the year days are shorter than ten hours, that we have lost three of them dealing with the illegal fence, that permissions do not last for as many days as necessary, and that we didn’t have breakfast this morning, F. is in quite a bad mood and willing to make up for the lost time.

While we work, A. and F. seem to realise that it is not practical to waste three hours in the morning and another three in the evening every day just so that we can help them, so they decide that we will stay in a small shed that belongs to A., between the illegal fence and the Green Line. So by the time we get to the shed all our bags, which we had left in F.’s house thinking we would stay there for a few days, are here in the shed.

There is also some dinner on the table and, although it is not as copious as yesterday’s we finish off just as full. There is also hot water prepared for us, from the water tank, heated with a fire underneath it, just outside the shed. The only thing we will lack here is electricity. But we will have other luxuries, like running water inside the house – and, if we want, hot water too – and we will not be hungry. Not all Palestinians have those luxuries.

During dinner A. tells us about the water and its administration in this area. Palestinians have such strict limits in the amount of water they can use from their own wells, that they have to rotate the irrigation of the fields, so some fields are irrigated one year and the rest the second year, while the Israeli settlers use water from these same wells plentifully for their daily use, their swimming pools and their gardens, without having to worry about rotation. Palestinians are not even allowed to drill more wells in their own land. A. sees the total water consumption from his land and he thinks the Israeli settlers waste water, or at least that they use it without control.

We ask him what would happen if he once decided to not respect the limit in water usage, and he answers that the soldiers would simply cut off all the pipes that conduct the water to the lands that are still in Palestinian hands. The Israeli army regularly checks the water consumption by the Palestinians, and have threatened with not allowing them to use any of their own water if they go over the limit they have established. So while the Israeli settlement grows and expands (right now an expansion is being planned), no more wells can be drilled, and the whole area, more than six square kilometres plus the agricultural and domestic consumption by about a hundred houses in the Israeli settlement, operates off just five wells.

Certainly, it is estimated that about a hundred houses are inhabited in the illegal Israeli settlement. But there are about five hundred built houses, says A. It is difficult for me to understand this part but I think he talks about a certain very rich Jewish man who lives abroad and finances houses in future Jewish settlements, without bothering if there is demand for such houses or not. So most of these houses stay empty until some one decides to move in, like the case of the settlement near this land, where only a fifth of the houses are inhabited now.

As if four hundred empty houses were not enough, now there is the plan to build fifteen hundred (1,500) new houses. All this, in land that stands on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. It is for the construction of these houses that A.’s trees were uprooted, and it is for them that the Palestinians are not allowed to use the shortest routes to get into their own land. And we are talking about a settlement that is illegal right from its conception. Personally this seems to me like an exercise of harassment and effective expulsion of Palestinians from their own lands in order to expand the Israeli state without having to buy the new territories; they simply make their lives impossible during several decades and they wait for them to leave.

A. tells us that last week the settlers put up flags around the confiscated land (which is not even officially confiscated because A. is contesting this in court), in order to mark the expansion of the settlement. Says J. that this is a method also used in the United States (he keeps calling them simply America) to indicate areas in new or planned construction.

Jayyous I

Tuesday, December 06, 2005. 2.8

It is already dark night when we arrive at the house of the land owner that has asked for international help, known as “Abu A.”, “Father of A.”. It is frequent that people change their name when they have their first male child, to a name like “father of..” and then the name of the first child. A. receives us with a copious dinner that we all needed, and we ask him what the situation is like in here. “You want to know what the situation is here? I will tell you what is the situation here, in a moment”.

When we finish our dinner he takes us to a living room and he searches his papers for pictures of bulldozers uprooting his centenary olive trees, and maps of his lands with the local annexation wall, isolating the village from its lands. A. explains that his lands, and the lands of other farmers, are right on the other side of the wall that the Israeli state keeps building to annexe more and more extensions of land illegally and strangling the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinian families; between, that is, that annexation barrier and the line that keeps being referred to as “The Green Line”, established by the United Nations as the frontier between the current state of Israel and the future state of Palestine.

There are several gates, all numbered, along this fence, guarded by soldiers of the Israeli army. No inhabitant from the village can use the gate that stands on the shortest way to their land. The soldiers do not say the reason, but there are already terrains excavation works, preparing for the construction of new houses, expanding the Israeli settlement on the other side, which should not be there in the first place. This is what they uprooted A.’s trees for. Later they have been re-planted in the Israeli settlement.

The fact is, up until a few years ago, A. and other farmers did have permission to use this gate, although not with tractors – so people had to go back to using donkeys, thus going a step backwards in rural development. Now they have to use the next gate down the fence. Which means a twenty seven kilometres journey to that gate, plus the twenty seven kilometres to come back once on the other side – on a donkey or on foot. An hour and a half journey to go round the fence instead of a few minutes walk through the gate right next to the illegal expansion of the illegal settlement.

The result is that those who have to walk or ride that distance on their donkeys can hardly ever go to their own lands. Then there are the more fortunate cases. A. has a tractor that is allowed to go through the gate, but he also has various sons, who are not allowed into his land at all. Formerly, he also had employees. But now whoever wants to see to those lands from the Palestinian side needs a special permission from the Israeli authority that is only conceded to those who can prove that they are the owners of the land and have never been arrested. This leaves out all the sons of A. and all his employees. It also keeps him away from any political demonstration, because they usually arrest “uncomfortable” people in demonstrations. If he is arrested just once he will loose the permission to work on his land, and with it, his land itself, and then his still-non-existent-country will have lost part of the territory that the United Nations has “guaranteed” it, once it exists, because it will have been confiscated by the Israeli state “legally”. This is the most comfortable way of confiscating land “legally”: they arrest the proprietor, they revoke his permit to enter his land, and because the land is unattended, it is confiscated with the Ottoman law.

A. has been talking to us for a few hours now. He stops for just a moment for his words to sink in and J. reflects on this more or less with these words: “So, only those who can prove that they own the land are allowed to enter the area that stands between the legal wall and the illegal wall, which are about six kilometres apart in this area. If one of these people has ever been arrested then they will have no right to access their own land, no matter how many generations this land has belonged to your family or how much your own survival depends on the labour of the land. This access permit means that the farmers can not even hire workers to help them work on the land, which makes them become full time farmers if they do not want the Israeli authorities to confiscate their land. This makes them totally dependent on the produce of their harvest.”

And now A. tells us they are not even allowed to sell their mandarins and other fruits in Israeli territory or in their own village. Which, after making themselves completely dependant on the produce of their lands if they do not want to loose territory of their future country in favour of the occupying military force, leaves them without any income. Maybe some look for a job to survive this situation. Not an easy task where unemployment is about 60%, where the economy is completely squeezed by the occupying forces, and where those forces have not allowed the occupied population any freedom of movement to find work elsewhere – for decades.

In this context, the Israeli government is using a law created during the Ottoman Empire according to which if a land owner does not tender his land in three years, that land can be confiscated – the Israeli government interprets this as “becomes Israeli property”. I guess this is where we international come to play; at least we turn up form time to time on these lands, using our privilege as Israelis or foreigners, helping out in the olive harvest and other fruits, to at least avoid confiscation of land using this law.

My own reflection is: “in a normal country, if some one has his land confiscated by the state, it is a personal and economical drama. But here, when the Israeli state confiscates land to a Palestinian in the territory under the occupation, that land goes to Israeli territory, that is, to another country. Politisation of private life. A private robbery made into a political robbery. Two robberies left unpunished.

A. continues his simple speech: This has not been done in this area yet, among other reasons, because the local people have resisted against the theft of land with this and other methods for a long time. A. has sold all his valuables, including his wife’s jewels, in order to pay for lawyers to appeal the illegal confiscation of his lands and other illegal actions of the Israeli authorities. Right now, the works in the land where his trees were uprooted are stopped – in theory, and only for now – because A. has proven, in Israeli courts, that this land is his and that the Israeli government has no right to expand the settlement in the land where his trees have been uprooted. However, just a few days ago he has seen bulldozers working and explosions that tear off the soil and the rock and make excavation easier (the hole/opening/face seen is already quite respectable – Fig 14).

What the Israeli authorities usually do is build the settlement while the court proceedings are slowly taking place (it can be years), and, when the sentence is pronounced, they allege something called “facts on the ground”, which means something like, as the houses are already built and there are people already living inside, and it would cost a lot to demolish them and evict their occupiers, as a lesser evil things stay as they are, and the legal process is effectively nullified. Apparently these “facts on the ground” are, or have been, supported by the USA government in international negotiations.

After this very long conversation, A. takes us to the house where we will spend the night, with the family that we will help tomorrow.

We accommodate ourselves with this family that also offers us dinner, while the sons and daughters watch a film from the United States with subtitles in Arabic on tv. The sitting room consists of a mattress – two more when we arrive – and a matting on the floor acting as table. At once the place is filled with little plates where we all dip bread, made right there and then by the mother of the family.

The father, F., and his nephew, H., speak to us in English, as well as another man, older, who introduces himself as F.’s uncle. His English is more basic than the others’ and he is the only one who wears a handkerchief over his head like Arafat used to do. He tells me stories about his childhood, specially about the amount of land his father used to own, and which the Israeli government has illegally confiscated. He also tells me that when he was a child he used to go to school with A., but that his parents could not afford to send him to university, and that is the reason why his English is not as good as A.’s.

There are at least eight or nine children in the house; it is difficult to count them because they are all playing and moving around. It looks like there are only two rooms in the house so accommodating us is not the easiest task in the world. The boys will sleep with the father in the living room and I will stay in the couple’s room, with the mother and the youngest child, who by now is already in bed, with the light on.

They tell us where the toilet is and we use it, one by one. By later conversations I learn that we all, one by one, looked for the toilet sit, thinking that they were pulling our leg or that there had been a serious misunderstanding. After some time of disconcerted search we saw the hole in the floor, with two small platforms, the size of a foot each of them, one on each side. The boys were astonished at the precariousness of the situation. I do remember having to use a toilet like this far back in my childhood, and my grandma taught me how to use it; it was what she had known as a toilet for most of her life.

After using the toilet we go to our rooms. They explain to us that, although we can plug our batteries to recharge them, they will only be actually recharging for a few hours, because there is no electricity during the night. I go to the parents’ room and the mother offers me to sleep in the bed, where the youngest child is already sleeping. I have to refuse various times and she puts a mattress on the floor for me. I settle down between the blankets, still with the light on, and I wait for the good lady to come to the room to sleep. Time goes on and she doesn’t come, so I get up and switch off the light to sleep. Right then the child wakes up and starts crying. I switch the light back on and shortly afterwards I fall asleep, with the light still on and, when I wake up at four in the morning, the light is off – there will be no electricity until eight.

Yanoun to Ramallah

Thursday, December 22, 2005. 2.16

I get the school shuttle to Aqraba to head South. In Lower Yanoun it picks up the children that are too old to go to the school in Upper Yanoun and takes them to Aqraba with the older children from Upper Yanoun. The girl that invited us to her house and then guided us to her father, in the mountain, is among them. Only today she looks a lot older, with her uniform, her shoes and her head covered, unlike that afternoon, when she was wearing sandals and trousers and there was nothing hiding her long plaits.

In Aqraba I get on a regular taxi to get to Nablus, where I will get another one.

Nablus is an important city. But it is in a state that it is difficult to describe it with any other word than stage of siege. Five roads meet here, and there is a permanent checkpoint on each of them, and none of those checkpoints is between Palestinian and Israeli territories, they are all in the middle of Palestine. The one I need to get through is about five or ten kilometres away from Nablus. At least it is not one we have to cross on foot. But the vehicles queue is painfully slow and many people prefer to leave their taxis behind and then walk, and get another taxi; it looks like it is a lot faster.
Others prefer to get a taxi right before the checkpoint instead. There is a big woman with a huge bag on her head walking towards the soldiers checking the pedestrians. I wonder how she will manage to get through the gates of the checkpoint, if they will make her undo her luggage and put all the contents of her bag on some table for the soldiers to check it. Like in most checkpoints, I can see the queue from the outside, but seeing what the soldiers do with the people is a bit more difficult, specially from a bus on the queue, like I am now.

An ambulance approaches the checkpoint from the opposite side with its emergency lights on. The cars on the queue allow it some space so that it can jump the queue and I expect the soldiers will allow it to go past the checkpoint fast, but I am mistaken. One of the soldiers gets the driver’s documents, another one gets through the back door. None of them show any urgency, they just take their time, probably even more so than with any other vehicle. I sit there thinking that a man could be dying inside, desperately needing to get to some hospital, but the soldiers slowly look into every possible part of the ambulance until they finally let it go. They would say that a terrorist could be hiding inside, if they cared to answer, if any one dared to question an Israeli soldier. The ambulance then puts its siren on- it had it off before. I guess it is strictly forbidden to approach the checkpoint with sirens on.

So they thoroughly check cars going on both directions. They also check the small carts pulled by donkeys, some times by men, full of fruits and vegetables, the lorries with construction materials, the taxis full of people, and the very few private cars. They check the drivers’ identities, the car boot, the load. They spend at least five minutes with each car, at least during the time I am here looking from my seat at the front of this bus.

One of the advantages of travelling on a big bus, they say, is that they do not tend to stop it and check every one and question every one about the reasons for travelling, what one plans to go in the city of destination and what one has been doing in the city of precedence, or what one is generally doing in this country where “there are men with guns, you know” (and exactly what exactly are you, soldier, apart from a man with a machine gun?).

After about half an hour advancing a few metres every ten minutes, we get to the front of the queue and a soldier indicates the driver to stop at the side of the road. Some other soldier then comes to the side of the bus and with a severe face and a move of his hand orders the driver to open the door. The driver will be about forty years old. The soldiers are not older than twenty and have a huge machine gun each. The soldiers’ eyes are fixed on the driver, saying something like “dare not to obey and you’ll see”.

One soldier orders the driver to get off the bus, again without talking, just with a slight move of his hand, and of course the driver obeys immediately, without meeting the soldiers’ eyes. The atmosphere is tense inside the bus. The driver and the soldiers exchange a few words in a language that sounds like Hebrew. The driver gets up back on the bus, picks up the microphone and speaks in Arabic. As he puts the microphone down when he finishes he looks at me with a glance that says “don’t move”.

Men of all ages start to walk down the aisle and then down the stairs. The soldier gets every one’s identity card as they get off the bus with their hand luggage. Another soldier comes to help and sees that they are all at a reasonable distance from them, the soldiers, who are the potential victims of these potential terrorists, and they need to protect themselves and the rest of the Israeli population from these potential terrorists, even when they are unarmed.

Once all the men and boys have handed their identity cards and they all stand in front of the two soldiers, the one with the cards starts to call out their names, one by one.

One by one, as they are called out, the Palestinians open their bags on the ground, showing all their contents and answering the soldiers’ questions before getting their papers and their things back and being allowed back on to the bus. The operation has taken about twenty minutes, but we are not done yet.

One soldier gives an order and the driver opens the boot where the bigger luggage is. From where I am I can see a soldier getting into the boot and then out again. I guess that in the three seconds that the expedition has lasted the soldier has not had the time to open my bag, see all its contents, check that none of them is a bomb and then put all the contents back in.

So I wonder what use it is for security to check just the hand luggage of half the passengers if they do not check anything else – if I could still buy the tale that this is about security. If it really were about security, they would buy scanners and they would not need so many soldiers around. But by now the Israeli army has plentifully showed me that all this paraphernalia has nothing to do with security and everything to do with making the lives of Palestinians simply unbearable, with constantly humiliating them with their looks, their manners, their arrogance, their roadblocks, their checkpoints, their M16s and the hours they make them waste even when they are inside an ambulance.

After failing to check all the big luggage and half of the hand luggage of the bus, and after delaying us for about an hour, the bus is allowed to continue its journey. The passenger in front of me looks at me and tells me in English: “this is the occupation”. I try to be sympathetic and answer, “I know”. He answers back, “you know?” as in, “what do you know about our situation, what can ‘you’ ‘know’”. And, thinking about it, he is most probably right. I have experienced it for a few weeks but from my privileged position I can barely imagine the hell these people for almost as long as they can remember. In any case, I keep my silence and the journey resumes.

Once at the other side of the checkpoint we see a long queue coming to it from the other direction, vehicles waiting to be checked like we have been. I count four ambulances alongside the queue, all with their emergency lights on, all stuck in the queue with no space to jump it. The road is not broad enough here for the rest of the vehicles to go to tone side and allow them to jump the queue. So there they will stay, waiting for about half an hour each waiting in the queue to be checked like the rest of the vehicles, trying to run an emergency service to get ill people to hospital urgently.

When my bus gets to the end of its route we all get off. I ask around for a bus to Ramallah and I get directed to a pretty big bus station. Once there I try to ask the different drivers for the correct one but most of the buses are completely empty. Finally I find a family inside one of the buses and I ask them, “Do you speak English?”. The man says “No”. I insist: “Ramallah?”, expecting at least a yes or a no with his head. He gets off and walks with me to the exit of the station. He signals somewhere outside and says in English: “Straight, left, then right”. I feel looked after by these people, who, not speaking English, do make the effort so that I can find my way. I say “shukran” a couple of times and there I walk, away from this bus station through streets that have no buses or signals of them, so when I finish going “straight, left, then right”, and see no buses, I feel completely lost. Suddenly I hear in the distance: “Ramallah Ramallah!” The man shouting is actually looking at me, and is standing besides a huge coach. So the man who “didn’t speak English” was absolutely right; the coaches that go to Ramallah set off from here.

Sexism in Palestine

Sunday, December 04, 2005. 2.7

M. tells us that there is a huge respect in Palestine and other countries for “internationals” like us, who, M. says, leave “the comforts from your homes, your education, your work, your families, to come here and suffer with us”. He also says that he feels a lot of respect for all the martyrs, but that he feels a very special respect for Rachel [Corrie, the girl from the USA that was killed while trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home by Israeli bulldozers] and Tom [Hurndall, the boy from the UK who was killed while he was trying to protect some small Palestinian girls]. M. looks away and I get the impression that he got to know them both.

At mid morning Y. calls us to tell us there is a new martyr today, a man who was killed in the small hours of this morning and had his house destroyed. We gather our cameras to document the result of the destruction and we head to the house where all this happened.

We can still notice the smell of the smoke. There are bullet holes everywhere, a television set broken by a bullet, broken glass everywhere, smashed lamps, windows that are no longer windows but mere holes in the wall… and other holes in internal walls caused by explosions. Y. explains what he knows and then lets the man of the house speak, as he can also speak English. We are informed that the man killed did not actually live in this house, he was just visiting when the army came. So it looks like the army was following him.

Although it looks very much like the army was inside the flats destroying everything, we are told they weren’t: had they been, the telly, for instance, would not just have a bullet hole; it would have been lifted then smashed against the floor. All the destruction seen here is bullet-made.

The man tried to escape from one flat to another trying to avoid the bullets, and finally went into the garden. Once there, he was shot dead and then run over by a bulldozer, which also destroyed a wall in the garden.

The soldiers then ordered all the neighbours to get out of their flats. The neighbours, of course, complied, and, to make sure there was no one remaining in the flats, the soldiers opened fire against the walls and windows. Probably this is when all the destruction happened.

Then they ordered every one to take off their clothes. A neighbour tells us that they were left in the outside, in a cold night, with absolutely no clothes for about four hours. This neighbour complains that this man, of whatever he was guilty, had nothing to do with them, he was visiting another family and they, just for the fact of being neighbours of the visited family, were punished too. He asks us “who are the victims?” in reference to the official Israeli discourse according to which the Jews are the victims of Arab attacks.

When the men finish their explanations, I concentrate in the eyes of the women and the children who have been following us through the house, in silence. Then I wander around the rooms. An elderly woman is sitting on a bed, covering her face with her hands. She is sobbing. I leave her there, alone in her desperation, and I go to meet my colleagues.

We come back to our flat and we eat. As it seems that there are no more families requiring international accompaniment, I consider leaving from here, but I am told it is not advisable at all for a woman to travel on her own.

But these boys do not really care for us at all, and we need to accommodate our plans to theirs. I was told at the beginning of my travellings around here that it is not advisable for a woman to go out alone after dark, and the boys know this and they are also told to offer to walk with us to the internet cafe at the end of the day, without putting us in a position where we have to ask them. Even so, I have always had to ask people to go with me. Even one time, one of the blokes just left to the internet cafe without saying anything to any one and this is what he told me when I asked him to walk me: “I’m coming from there, I’m not going back there again”. Luckily I have since seen that not all international men are so selfish, in fact most of them are lovely.

It is proposed that we go to a small village where internationals have been needed for some time and I volunteer.

I set off to travel with A. and another colleague, since they say it is so dangerous for a woman to travel alone, because they are the only males going somewhere near where I am going. They are going somewhere else themselves . I ask them when they are setting off and they tell me they do not know. At a given moment, they tell me: “We are going now, are you coming or not?”

We get on a bus that we will have to leave at the checkpoint, because people are only allowed to go through the checkpoint on foot and that is why we have to change vehicles. At the end of the checkpoint there are some revolving gates through which it is very difficult to pass certain size of luggage. As we do look quite like foreign tourists, we are not asked any question and we are allowed to pass, while some four hundred have been queuing for hours. At the end of the queue, a soldier opens a Palestinian’s bag and gets everything out of it.

Once on the other side, we take a taxi and we wait for it to get full. We arrive to the city where A. and his friend are going and there I join with other people that are coming to the village I am going to.

I also speak to other women about the subject of having to depend on our “fellow” men colleagues and they tell me that they are also quite fed up of depending on the men. They have reached a point where they have been made to run risks because of them. Now they travel on their own and at least M. is quite happy with the treatment of the Palestinians. She’s not so happy about the treatment of the soldiers but they are so racist, they do not question you as long as you are not too dark. And if you say you are a tourist, then they respect you as if you were a queen.

I try to speak with the colleague that was so nice – not – but the only answer I get is “I see what you are saying. But I like making my own decisions”. The funniest thing is that this bloke has come here with a spirit of solidarity, and blah blah blah.

In normal circumstances I would decide to keep away from people like this bloke, but here, for now, I will have to continue to travel with western inpresentables like this Z. because he has decided to come to the same village as me.

They walk faster than me and I can not keep up. Very rarely they look back without stopping, to check that I still walk about twenty steps behind them. Finally we get on the first vehicle – there will be more – and we get to our first destination. It is a big city and the taxi stops various times, like the taxi that took me from the airport to Jerusalem. In one of them Z. tells me: “We are getting off the next time it stops”. “But we don’t know where it is going to stop”, I answer. He shrugs. I say, “and what about asking the driver to stop where we need?” “Go ahead”, he answers.

I begin to try to speak to the driver and while I do this, he stops. By the time I want to realise, the blokes I am supposed to be travelling with are already out of the taxi. I have two options, either get off quickly and try and continue travelling with them, or remain in the taxi on my own in a city I have never been to. I interrupt the operation of trying to reach our first destination by taxi and I get off with them. What I don’t understand is why this bloke told me to go ahead and speak to the driver if he had no intention of letting me doing it.

I ask him if he knows where we are and he says no, but that it will not be difficult to find the city centre. I tell him that all taxis stop in the city centre. “Ah, I didn’t know” (If you had at least asked.)

The routine of leaving me twenty pace behind is repeated while they ask people for directions. A man who speaks fluent English takes us to the coach station and we get on one – first vehicle change. The next one is done in the next military checkpoint.

Once on the other side, we take a taxi and we wait for it to fill up. Meantime, B. gets of the taxi mumbling something to Z. Z. mumbles something too and the other nods. Half a minute later B. comes back with two bananas and gives Z. one of them. I figure out then that when they were mumbling he was offering Z. to buy a banana for him too. Each banana has cost a shekel, about twenty pence. I tell them I’ll go buy a banana and B. says the taxi is getting full and they are not waiting. I go without a banana while they placidly eat them without offering. It reminds me of the hours I have been without eating and I begin to feel unwell.

In the next city we have half an hour until the coach we need set off. I decide I do not want to be that long with this pair of selfish guys and I venture in the surroundings. In the street there is a market with fruit and vegetables. There is a continuous noisy activity but in a given moment every one looks in the same direction, towards the end of this street, and they point to it and they speak loud. I look in that direction and I see various military men with khaki clothes and of course machine guns, some of them walking quickly. The market goes back to normality when the soldiers can no longer be seen and I concentrate in the bananas and apples I have in front of me. I ask the man who is selling them whether he speaks English and another man responds he does. I ask him for a banana and he understands that I want a kilo. After various unsuccessful attempts, I grab a loose banana and I give it to him. Then I ask for two apples and the same happens. I actually would love to buy him one or two kilos of each, but we are travelling and changing taxis and buses in each checkpoint and in each city, and carrying our luggage on our laps or next to our seats if we are lucky, so I really can not get food even for the whole journey, only the food I am going to eat right now. I ask him how much is all and he shakes his head and a hand: nothing. Excuse me? As if these people could afford go about giving their stock away. I insist and he repeats that I should not pay. I am going to like travelling on my own.

In the next city, J. joins us. He tells us that a couple of nights ago the Israeli army made yet another incursion in the village where I spent my first night with a few others, Bi’Lin, precisely to avoid a bit of what J. is telling us. For them, this time has been simply another raid to make arrests. The aim is to arrest Palestinian children that had taken part in non-violent demonstrations. It is interesting: the wall has been declared illegal by the international community – the same international community that created the Israeli state in the first place. Peaceful demonstrations are held against that wall that has been declared illegal and they are declared illegal by the Israeli state, thus mocking the same international community that created and supports it. As the demonstrations go ahead anyway, the army force or kick open people’s homes doors, with impunity. And now I learn that, to prevent these people from claiming compensations for the damages caused by these incursions, they call them “war actions”.

Says J. that the presence of about twenty activists between Israelis and internationals in the village seems to have made the soldiers think about it twice. However sixteen boys from the village were put in custody of the Israeli authorities. Some Palestinians came out of their houses to resist the detention and the invasion. After an hour of home invasions and arrests, the army left.

J. explains that there is a non-violent continuous campaign, lasting for ten months now, against the “annexation barrier”. Although this “barrier” consists of a fence (I have seen barriers consisting of three fences) of three to six metres high, with barbed wire on the top and razor wire on the ground (barbed wire in a mess). The first fence is usually either electrified or, preferably, electronically provided with sensors that will advise about any contact made with it, or any presence near it, to the control tower. The duty of the control tower when there there is any contact with this fence is to shoot to kill. In theory these barriers or fences have a function of providing the Israeli settlements with security against Palestinian terrorists – let’s remember that for the Israeli authorities all Palestinians are potential terrorists.

In reality I no longer think that the Israeli government even bothers to hide the fact that the settlements have the function of annexing more and more land to Israeli domain.

And the barriers and fences provide the triple functionality of separating the unarmed Palestinian population from the armed and mostly fanatical Israeli settlers, providing the soldiers and settlers with some excuse to shoot to kill, and showing the Palestinians the apartheid they are subjected to, with roads for Palestinians and roads for settlers, and also separating Palestinian villages from the lands they depend on for their survival.

Says J. that the campaign against this barrier in particular has the support of hundreds of Israeli and international activists and has met a fierce violence by the Israeli army. And says Z. that Israel has designed the route of this barrier in order to annex sixty per cent of the cultivated land of this village and expand the local settlement – all Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory have been declared illegal by at least one international institution: Palestine has been declared an occupation by the UN, even an illegal occupation, as apparently there are such things as legal occupations, and the Geneva Convention prohibits the establishment of civil population settlements on occupied territories by the occupying force.

My society

Thursday, December 01, 2005. 2.6
Thursday, December 01, 2005. 2.6

The original idea was to go to Jerusalem but for different reasons, some of us change our minds. A. is coming and I will like to see him again, this time in occupied Palestine. In any case we take the day off and we decide to go shopping in the main street to support the local economy. I am advised to buy soap, hand made with olive oil.

There have been children waiting at our door every day so far, shouting “what’s your name, what’s your name!” all the time. Most faces change every day, but the boy that served us tea on our first day here is on our doorstep every day, waiting for us to come out to the street to wish us a good morning in his own way. Today the children are not waiting – we are going out of the house at mid morning so it is to be expected that they are all in school. But our constant friend is here today too, this time with a school bag on his back.

With our ultra basic Arabic we ask him why he is not in school. Knowing that we won’t understand him if he speaks in Arabic to us, he uses basic English and gestures. First he says “school” making a face of disgust. Then he spits. Then he steps his foot strongly on the spit. Then he points at himself with his first finger and then, with the same finger, he points at the pictures of the dead fighters.

Back home, we tell this to a Palestinian comrade, M., who tells us that the boy’s case is not an isolated one, but that the Palestinian people, at the end of the day, are not that much different from any other people; he says that every one wants to have a normal life, raise a family, go to work to support it, and come back from work and hug their children. He says they are not violent people, and that if the children want to be fighters, and if people blow themselves up killing other people, it does not come out from within them, that is not their way of being; it comes from desperation, from the occupation and from the unbearable conditions of such occupation. We respond to this with silence, as we did with the child this morning.

Y. comes to the flat to take us somewhere else today. “Whoever wants to come and see my society, you can come now”. Every one gets ready. No one makes a comment, and for some reason, I am too afraid to ask. For some reason I assume that “my society” means some secret and/or clandestine society. So I just walk with the group, almost in complete silence, which reinforces my assumption. To my pleasant surprise, the “society” is something like a mainstream youth club where he and other committed people try to get the local youth of the spiral of violence that ends up in a picture on a poster in the street.

He tells us about the activities that take place here, recreational and educational as I understand them. He also tells us the stories of some of the young people, shebab, that have been kind of “his pupils”. Some have gone on to university, some have stayed in the camp, some have been arrested, a few have been killed.

He also tells us about activities that the women from the community here carry out, and the handicraft they make with their hands. Fig 13.

We go back to the flat and while we are cooking dinner a friend comes to visit, E. She is very upset because she has heard the news about the boy we found dead. She has also learnt more things from the acquaintances of the victim and she is seeing the manipulation of the media and the Israeli authorities, for the n-th time.

It seems that the other two victims, who have survived, have said that they had gone to the mountain to explore a derelict building that they had seen one day. I remember seeing that building on the night we found the boy; it looked like a mosque. What they are saying in the news is that they were trying to plant a bomb. They have also changed the age of the victim, adding years, and the way in which he did. E. has been thinking about the way we found him and these are some of her conclusions…

She saw blood, but not only in his head, where he had a huge wound. The army is saying that they didn’t shoot to kill, they always say that they shoot to the legs, but there is no shot on the head if you are aiming to the legs; besides the size of the wound in his head makes it obvious that he was short at point-blank distance. They also say that the boy was running away, and that is why he fell down on the stones where we found him, on one side of the road. However E. says that he also had blood on his trousers, although he was not bleeding from any of his legs. Her conclusion is that the boy was executed in such a position that the blood fell on his trousers, so most probably he was on his knees when he was shot, and he bent over his stomach as he fell, and blood from his head fell on his trousers. And then they took him to where we found him to make it look like he was running away. Which they didn’t do very well because the body fell on its back. When you are running you do not fall on your back.

These are her conclusions and here they are. I personally think they sound very logical and quite more sound than the army’s explanations, and I would be very surprised if, in the remote case that the army or the media ever bother to try and refute these allegations, their explanations could resist the merest analysis. And, in any case, this tactic of shooting first and then self-justify seems to me as aberrant here as it is in London. The difference is that in here these people can not even demonstrate any more than their own pain because the army smashes them, and, at the end of the day, since it was just one Palestinian man from a refugee camp, he is not even worthy enough to open an internal investigation.

This time there seems to be enough elements to have some hope and we have heard that an independent law person is investigating.

The original idea was to go to Jerusalem but for different reasons, some of us change our minds. A. is coming and I will like to see him again, this time in occupied Palestine. In any case we take the day off and we decide to go shopping in the main street to support the local economy. I am advised to buy soap, hand made with olive oil.

There have been children waiting at our door every day so far, shouting “what’s your name, what’s your name!” all the time. Most faces change every day, but the boy that served us tea on our first day here is on our doorstep every day, waiting for us to come out to the street to wish us a good morning in his own way. Today the children are not waiting – we are going out of the house at mid morning so it is to be expected that they are all in school. But our constant friend is here today too, this time with a school bag on his back.

With our ultra basic Arabic we ask him why he is not in school. Knowing that we won’t understand him if he speaks in Arabic to us, he uses basic English and gestures. First he says “school” making a face of disgust. Then he spits. Then he steps his foot strongly on the spit. Then he points at himself with his first finger and then, with the same finger, he points at the pictures of the dead fighters.

Back home, we tell this to a Palestinian comrade, M., who tells us that the boy’s case is not an isolated one, but that the Palestinian people, at the end of the day, are not that much different from any other people; he says that every one wants to have a normal life, raise a family, go to work to support it, and come back from work and hug their children. He says they are not violent people, and that if the children want to be fighters, and if people blow themselves up killing other people, it does not come out from within them, that is not their way of being; it comes from desperation, from the occupation and from the unbearable conditions of such occupation. We respond to this with silence, as we did with the child this morning.

Y. comes to the flat to take us somewhere else today. “Whoever wants to come and see my society, you can come now”. Every one gets ready. No one makes a comment, and for some reason, I am too afraid to ask. For some reason I assume that “my society” means some secret and/or clandestine society. So I just walk with the group, almost in complete silence, which reinforces my assumption. To my pleasant surprise, the “society” is something like a mainstream youth club where he and other committed people try to get the local youth of the spiral of violence that ends up in a picture on a poster in the street.

He tells us about the activities that take place here, recreational and educational as I understand them. He also tells us the stories of some of the young people, shebab, that have been kind of “his pupils”. Some have gone on to university, some have stayed in the camp, some have been arrested, a few have been killed.

He also tells us about activities that the women from the community here carry out, and the handicraft they make with their hands. Fig 13.

We go back to the flat and while we are cooking dinner a friend comes to visit, E. She is very upset because she has heard the news about the boy we found dead. She has also learnt more things from the acquaintances of the victim and she is seeing the manipulation of the media and the Israeli authorities, for the n-th time.

It seems that the other two victims, who have survived, have said that they had gone to the mountain to explore a derelict building that they had seen one day. I remember seeing that building on the night we found the boy; it looked like a mosque. What they are saying in the news is that they were trying to plant a bomb. They have also changed the age of the victim, adding years, and the way in which he did. E. has been thinking about the way we found him and these are some of her conclusions…

She saw blood, but not only in his head, where he had a huge wound. The army is saying that they didn’t shoot to kill, they always say that they shoot to the legs, but there is no shot on the head if you are aiming to the legs; besides the size of the wound in his head makes it obvious that he was short at point-blank distance. They also say that the boy was running away, and that is why he fell down on the stones where we found him, on one side of the road. However E. says that he also had blood on his trousers, although he was not bleeding from any of his legs. Her conclusion is that the boy was executed in such a position that the blood fell on his trousers, so most probably he was on his knees when he was shot, and he bent over his stomach as he fell, and blood from his head fell on his trousers. And then they took him to where we found him to make it look like he was running away. Which they didn’t do very well because the body fell on its back. When you are running you do not fall on your back.

These are her conclusions and here they are. I personally think they sound very logical and quite more sound than the army’s explanations, and I would be very surprised if, in the remote case that the army or the media ever bother to try and refute these allegations, their explanations could resist the merest analysis. And, in any case, this tactic of shooting first and then self-justify seems to me as aberrant here as it is in London. The difference is that in here these people can not even demonstrate any more than their own pain because the army smashes them, and, at the end of the day, since it was just one Palestinian man from a refugee camp, he is not even worthy enough to open an internal investigation.

This time there seems to be enough elements to have some hope and we have heard that an independent law person is investigating.