Bi’Lin VII

24 May 2006 2.30 – Bi’Lin

W. and I go out for a walk in the surroundings, observing the wall again and, as usual, we can’t finish our walk without being invited for lunch. This time it is M. and his son inviting us to their roof terrace. Communication is difficult this time so we only learn that all the land we can see on the other side of the road belonged to M.’s father once. He tells us this while we eat from a tiny dish of olives.

While we are on the roof top, talking little, we see a machine that I had not seen in my life before. Fig 23

We all look at it while it moves slowly over what looks like rabble from here. It is actually the fine gravel they are building the road with. M. tells us: “to take the olive trees”. I look at him in surprise and W. explains: “that is the kind of machine they use to uproot the trees”.

Coming back home, I decide that I am going to take notice of what J. and A. told me and leave Bi’Lin. Tomorrow I am going to Hebron, in South Palestine, at least to the South of Jerusalem. M. has told us that something has happened today in Qualandia, the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and that it may be closed.

I call R. in Ramallah to ask him. He confirms that it is closed today but surely in a few hours they will open it again. I ask him how long it will take me to get to Hebron and he says about two hours. In a normal country this would probably be about half an hour or an hour, depending on traffic, but here I will have to change taxis in Qalandia and then in Jerusalem.

W. will stay here “on guard”.

I have to be thankful that, in all the time I have been here, I have not had to come out one single night.

Bi’Lin VI

21 May 2006 2.29 – Bi’Lin

Imagine you live in constant tension. Imagine that there is nowhere safe where you live and you can never peacefully go to sleep. Imagine that tonight, as you are falling asleep, you hear some one knock on your door asking for entry. Imagine that the person you live with, your wife, your flatmate, your mother… gets up and opens the door for them. Imagine the person who enters is another person who lives with you; your son, your flatmate’s girlfriend, your father… and imagine that now, knowing that every one who lives in your house have finally come at the end of today, only now you can know that all your family have lived just one more day.

Now imagine for a moment that the people who are knocking on the door are not people who live with you, but they are soldiers coming for you, or your wife, or your parents, or your children. Imagine you can never sleep in peace thinking they can come at any moment. Imagine that every time some one rings the door bell your whole family come out to the living room terrified, looking into each other’s eyes, deciding who will open…

J. and A. left yesterday, with all the other Israeli and international activists who came just for the demonstration. A handful of us have stayed to “cover” for the possible incursions and raids.

Today two of the other people who are staying with us came quite a bit later than usual and they found the front door locked. They had to go all the way round the building, until they found one light on: mine. They knocked on the window and asked me to open the door for them. The door made quite a bit of noise, even though I tried to open it silently.

I was already going to bed when the upstairs neighbour came down with an expression of panic on his face.

“Who knocked on the door?”

“Us.”

“No one else?”

“No, no one else. We’re just arriving now, we’re sorry to bother you at this time.”

“No bother. I thought they were soldiers.”

Bi’Lin V

20 May 2006 (this on a Friday) 2.28 – Bi’Lin

There is a demonstration against the wall every Friday in Bi’Lin, which is actually just a metal fence with a road attached to it, like the one we saw in Yayyous. But it is also called wall because it separates communities and steals land all the same.

More Israeli – and international – activists arrive during the morning and the street is quite crowded, even before the Palestinians come out of the Mosque. J. and A. are some of those internationals and we update each other on what we have been up to since we last were together. A. has been in Ramallah and Jerusalem and J. has been in Hebron and Kawawis. I mention that it might be too late for me now to visit those two places, because I am leaving pretty soon now. They say it is worth trying and they encourage me to go. I answer that if I leave, then Bi’Lin is left without internationals, and it is when there are no internationals that the Army enters. His argument is that I should make the most of this trip and see as much as possible in order to tell the tale back at home. He has a point. But haven’t I seen enough? And today I am going to see a demonstration… “But you have not seen Hebron.”

They admit that Hebron could be a very disturbing experience. I have indeed heard horrible stories about Hebron…

B. strongly recommends us to get some perfume to counteract the smell of the tear gas. I go to the shop with her and I buy a bottle of water too because she also say that it is going to be a few hours of fight, so better to have something to drink at least. The shop man knows what this is for and gives us a very special price.

At about twelve, when the Palestinians come out of the mosque, it is a good few of us, between Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of us. Israelis and foreigners have different “privileges”. The Palestinians have none. The soldiers are less likely to arrest or harm internationals; they are more likely to arrest or listen to Israelis and most likely to shoot at Palestinians and/or arrest them. So, each with their privileges, off we go to the demonstration all together.

Almost all of the Israeli activists are wearing Palestinian shawls. Some foreigners wear them too, but I didn’t take mine here because I was told that if they saw it when searching my luggage at the airport it would have been a lot more difficult to be allowed in the country – if you are suspected of supporting the Palestinian cause you are accused of being a terrorist and you are not allowed to enter. And interrogatories and searches are said to be even worse upon departure, so I haven’t bothered to buy myself one.

When the demonstration gets near the wall, the soldiers simply block the way. For about half an hour all the Palestinians do is chant in Arabic and and dance in front of the soldiers.

Then the soldiers get their megaphones and tell us to leave, in Hebrew. Some of them look like “robocops”.

The “shebab”, the youngsters, look like they want to reach the fence and the soldiers’ job, in theory, is just to avoid that, to stop them.

Some of the shebab go down the hill in order to get to the fence across the field. The soldiers follow them and when the young Palestinians outnumber them, they throw tear gas at them. They can not use anything more than sound bombs and tear gas, while the Palestinians do not throw stones. When they do, the are legally allowed to use live ammunition. “Carte Blanche”. That’s why they provoke them, to get them to throw stones and then be able to shoot them, while for the moment they leave us internationals and Israelis alone, on the one hand because they know that we are not going to throw stones, and on the other because there is no “carte blanche” with internationals. Although this could change at any time.

According to what the Israelis tell us about the Army’s rules, they can only throw the tear gas in an ellipse, because the objective is not to harm people with the canister that contains the gas but just to disperse people.

But now I see a soldier kneel and point his machine gun directly to the head of one of the Palestinian boys, almost kids, who are already retreating towards the village, across the field, away from the wall. I then point my camera at him, and immediately another soldier pats on his shoulder and points at me with his head. I see him move his lips and I read “filming”. The one with the machine gun looks at me and stands up. My camera has just avoided one shot on a head. But it won’t avoid all of them.

Some one in the crowd tells the soldiers in English that what they are doing breaks international law and one of the soldiers responds: “International law does not apply here. Only Israeli law”.

Action goes on around me and I have to stop staring and pointing with my camera to avoid the baton of a soldier who is not looking where it’s hitting.

Suddenly we hear a shot and the sound of a tear gas canister being thrown to the air. The smoke trail is not elliptic, but in a straight line, right to where the kids are. They are not running any more, because they are picking up one of them, who has fallen down. Blood is coming out of his head. They have hit one in the head, that is what they wanted.

The soldiers also want to gas us but they can’t because we are too close to them, and if they do, it will affect them too. They need to make us go further away first. So it all consists of a continuous up and down the road up to the wall.

The soldiers push us, shout at us, some times in English but more often in Hebrew, they baton us, drag us, beat us with the back of their guns, pull our hair, until at some point we can’t take it any more and we run away from their violence, or they pin us down on the ground and they squash us and it is then who run away from us.

In the short moments when there is a few metres distance between the soldiers and the demonstrators, the soldiers increase that distance and throw tear gas canisters at us.

Then we run towards them again, cutting the distance again so that they don’t gas us. And it all starts again.

I ask if it will end today. “It can go on like this for about two or three hours”, says J., who has been here before. And I wonder if we will simply go back home tired of this “game” and hurt, or who on earth will decide when this will finish.

So for the next two hours the air fills with tear gas, shootings and screams. We cover our faces with shawls or scarves; these and our cameras are our only weapons. But we can’t cover our eyes, and they hurt. And the tear gas is suffocating.

And yet we are not in back streets or tunnels; we are in the open air and the gas disperses quicker than in an urban demonstration. Most of us, including J., A. and me, run so far away from the soldiers that we almost get back to the town, and some hide behind a house. I look back to check that J. is coming with us. I see him about five steps away from me and half a second later a gas canister passes between the two of us, leaving a smoke trace behind it, almost as swift as a bullet. (feeeeeuuuuuuuuuuu!!)

I scream at the thought that any of us could have been hurt. We all hide behind the house and after a short time it all gets calmer and we all get out, back to the demonstration. I want to stay, it’s too horrible and I’m scared. J. shouts at me in Arabic: “Ya-la!” (which is so similar to the Spanish “¡Hala!” that my grandma said so often). I shout back, “what do you mean, ya-la!” and the Arabs laugh.

Slowly, feeling no urge whatsoever to get anywhere near the soldiers again, I walk behind people who are already running towards them. And the show starts all over again.

During all these scuffles two Israelis are arrested but since they have similar rights to those that westerners would have in their countries, it is not considered that their lives are in danger or that their families are at risk.

But if a Palestinian is arrested, who knows what can happen to him. They can accuse him of whatsoever they want and, since he is not going to have the right to know what he is accused of, it is very likely that he will at least spend time in jail, and will be lucky to come out as healthy as he went in, if at all alive.

Suddenly women come out of every where, and start yelling at the soldiers. That is how I learn that a Palestinian has been arrested. A. explains, “there are never any Palestinian women in demonstrations” – and indeed I realise, that the only women until now were Israelis and foreigners – “but when they arrest a Palestinian, their women come out and yell at the soldiers”. It is the only thing they dare doing, but you can see all the rage and impotence in those yells, in how they look at the soldiers, and at us.

Specially one of them, shouts at the soldier wearing black glasses. A. tells me that she is the mother of the arrested man.

There is not much we can do, apart from giving way to the Israeli soldiers’ blackmail: “We release him once you have gone home”. That is to say, the hostage in exchange of the end of the demonstration.

All the conversations and negotiations go on in Hebrew so I find out what is going thanks to some Israelis who translate what is going on from time to time. The Palestinians are saying that the soldiers should release the hostage first and then we will go. The soldiers say we should go away first, away from the wall, and that then they will release the hostage. People begin to leave bit by bit but a few Palestinian women sit down on stones on the side of the Palestinian “road” that is cut short by the wall we are protesting against. A few Israeli girls stay with them as well. I ask one of these if it would be ok with the women to film them; she tells me to ask them. I ask and the hostage’s mother answers: “for many years we have been photographed, filmed, and it has changed nothing”.

I sit down next to them, with my camera off, waiting, with them. The soldiers are standing up, near us. Most of us are sitting down. They are not looking at us; they are looking at the men a bit further down, on the road; it seems that they are expecting something from them.

A Palestinian man comes to where the women are, looking like he is going to speak to the soldiers, but he speaks to the mother of the arrested man. She is a lot older than himself. The old lady gets up, looks at the rest of us, and they all get up too, so I follow. I ask an Israeli girl what is going on and she just tells me that the man is commanding us to join them, away from the soldiers. “But the women wanted to sit down here…”, I say. “Such is their culture. A man comes, tells them to go, and they go”.

I join J. and A. and we just continue to wait.

A van comes down the road from the wall under construction, full of young Palestinian men who have not been in the demonstration. They stop and talk to the Palestinians who are waiting. I ask A.: “Who are they?” He answers: “They are scum.” I make a face showing my disapproval and he explains that they are the workers actually building the wall. They work for the Government of Israel and then they are treated just like any other potential terrorist, not allowed to use the roads they build, having to use others, like this one, cut off. “OK, they are not scum”, tinges A. “They work for them. They are building their own jail. They shouldn’t…” “They probably have no other choice if they don’t want to starve…” “Well… yeah”.

After a good while the soldiers decide to release the hostage and there is a big joy among us. Honouring the “agreement” with the soldiers, most people head home and A. and J. confirm that this has been it for today.

Considering the demonstration finished, we sit down on some rocks to have a rest. More workmen come from the wall, these ones on foot, and two of them come to where we are to talk to us. They are indeed working on the construction of the wall that is enclosing them, but they are not from Bi’Lin. They are from Hebron. They come here every day but still they have to use Palestinian roads and go through the checkpoints.

Now there are a few soldiers on the top of a hill made out of rubble.

They are looking at us, or maybe looking at some boys who have covered their faces and heads with Palestinian scarves and are now practising with some slings, but without throwing stones. But after a few minutes they do start throwing stones at the soldiers.

I look at them disapprovingly and I look at A. “They should improve their aim”, he says. I make a face like I can’t believe what I am hearing and he says: “Legitimately, they could defend their territory with guns. This army has invaded their country, it is an illegal occupation of a land that legitimately theirs (again even according to the United Nations), and the only weapons they have are their stones”. “But throwing stones doesn’t improve the situation.” “It’s not for us to judge them. It is not our land, nor our country. It is their war, not ours.”

He has a point. If we don’t like this situation, we can leave. In a few weeks time I will go back to my reality, but these boys stay here, with the army’s presence and not being able to lead a “normal” life, because this is their life, weekly demonstrations and night raids, depending on the international presence to avoid being killed – and some times it does not even work.

The boys throw stones but none of them falls anywhere near the soldiers on the top of the hill. The rest of the Israeli soldiers have disappeared into the armoured vehicles parked next to the wall. Most demonstrators have also left. It is only the three of us left with the Palestinian boys from Hebron, who are very keen to see the pictures taken by our cameras.

The boys with the slings are about forty or fifty metres away from us, to our right. The soldiers, who are looking at them throw stones with very bad aim, are in front of both groups, on a strange lonely hill; maybe one or two hundred metres away on a straight line, but to reach it we would have to go down a valley that we can’t see from where we are and then up their hill. There is a mellow breeze coming from our right. The boys go on throwing stones to the soldiers. The soldiers look on but they don’t do anything. It is somewhat tense; we know that anything can happen once the “shebab” throw stones, that the soldiers have “carte blanche” to use whatever weapons they want, so it’s just as well if they want to shoot live ammunition.

They guy from Hebron sitting next to me asks me to show him my pictures and I show him one by one, discreetly looking at the soldiers at the same time.

Then one of the soldiers throws a tear gas canister, which doesn’t quite reach anyone and falls down the hill, between the guys with the slings and us. We can’t see the canister but we can see the smoke, already familiar, coming in our direction from the canister that has fallen between us and the boys throwing stones, vanishing in front of us without enveloping us. We cover our noses out of routine but the smoke has cleared away from us.

The guys with the slings go away and leave us there in front of the soldiers. Since the demonstration has finished a while back and there is no one throwing stones or gas canisters any more, we feel we can relax and stay there having a rest from the hours we have been running up and down. It is quiet all around us, A., J., the workmen and me, so I concentrate in the pictures I am showing this guy who tells me he comes here from Hebron every day to work for Israel building the wall, that he hates doing it but he needs a job to support his family, there are no other jobs available and he is not allowed to emigrate elsewhere to find work.

And then suddenly my throat begins to itch violently. I cough and my nose gets blocked and my eyes cry when I blow my nose, and my whole face is in pain. And it is strange and terrifying because I can not see what can be causing this, it is just happening out of the blue.

During the demonstration, we were witnessing every single canister that was thrown at us, we could hear the blast first, then we’d see the smoke, and then the smoke would dissipate leaving a strange smell behind.

But now we have not heard anything; we have not seen any change in the air. We have all just been violent stricken by these horrifying symptoms.

I have not felt this bad during the whole day, which is remarkable because we have indeed received gas today. But before we could just get away from the smoke and that was it, I stopped smelling it, and I run, and I came back, and they would throw another canister, and begin the begin. Now the air looks completely clean, and these strange and painful things are happening in my nose, my eyes and my mouth, and it looks like it is happening to the others too.

They had already told us, and it is now that I remember. It is not the smoke that is the gas; the gas itself is invisible, you can not see it. The smoke tells you that the gas is coming but the invisible gas spreads much farther away than the visible smoke. And although you can breath normally, it makes you who-knows-what chemical reaction in your brain that makes you feel that you can not breath, so you breath more deeply, which makes you enter even more gas into your lungs and more paranoia into your brain.

But this is even more brutal than that. We were not told about the throat going dry and not being able to stop coughing. We were not told about the panic either. This thing, which is now attacking our bodies, which is making every part of them and specially our faces ache, and which we can not see, was not mentioned to us.

My eyes cry and ache, my nose is loaded as if I had a tremendous cold. And this dizziness… This is different from the tear gas we received before.

When we can react we run away from there and we come back home. The symptoms ease little by little. I need to talk about what is happening, put it in words, verbalise it, put it into perspective, or my brain may break. “So these are the biological weapons”, I say. “You can not see them, or feel them, they simply destroy your insides, and you still are unable to see anything not normal, out of yourself or on your skin, but your throat burns, and your eyes ache.” J. answers: “this is it, they are using biological weapons against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators”.

“But, why this last act? The demonstration had finished, we were having a rest, all had finished. Even the boys throwing the stones had left.” “The soldiers needed to get rid of us and our cameras before using live ammunition”. “With the direction of the wind, they knew that, throwing the gas where they did, it would come directly to us – that gas was directed to us from the moment they threw it, not to the stone throwers”, says J. “The boys with the slings must have known this. So that is why they left the moment they saw the smoke – they knew after the gas not directed to them, the live ammunition would come, and this one directed to them.”

Bi’Lin IV

Thursday, May 18, 2006 2.27 – Bi’Lin

Tomorrow is the weekly day of demonstration in Bi’Lin. Unlike some demonstrations in Europe, here they are never dull. They do not consist of just marching from point A to point B. They will probably march as well, but we know that there will be soldiers and that they will use unreasonable force and weapons of various kinds against us. From the used materials I have seen around, like banners, it seems that they make creative props for every demonstration. Some times these are banners, some times they are something more.

A few men and boys come to the flat to work on tomorrow’s props. Some more internationals also come. H. tells us that the army have entered in the hotel where some of us go back to get a decent shower, drink alcohol or simply rest and talk with other foreigners. Apparently the soldiers were looking for Palestinians who do not have permission to be in Jerusalem. They searched the whole hostel but they could not find the people they were in theory looking for, so no arrests or beatings or killings were made. It could have been true that they were looking for some “illegal”, or it could have been just a routine harassment exercise.

The fact is they have not only revoked the permit that thousands of Palestinians used tohave to work in Israel, they also deny many Palestinians the right to “travel” to the territories not militarily occupied, i.e. recognised by both parties as Israel, and that included the whole of Jerusalem even though the international community still recognises East Jerusalem as part of the “Palestinian Territories”.

When the prop-makers finish, they show us a few videos of previous demonstrations. The Israeli soldiers never speak to the Palestinians in English in front of the cameras. This surprises me, because most of the conversations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians I have seen have happened in English.

We follow what goes on in the videos thanks to the subtitles. In my opinion this video is not too edited but some editing work has been done. A soldier asks for some one, apparently a well-known activist who is not on the demonstration that the video is about. Then the tear gas makes its entrance. In the next shot, one Palestinian asks for the tear gas and other chemical weapons being shot at peaceful demonstration to stop. The Israeli soldier shouts in Hebrew what the subtitles translate as “Get rid of the foreigners first! Get the foreigners out!”

Of course the foreigners do not leave.

The videos finish and Israeli activists begin to arrive to spend the night here and attend the the demonstration tomorrow.

B., an Israeli born in Sweden, tells me how she could come here with more rights than the Palestinians have now. As a Jew, she had the right to come and live in some settlement specially prepared for immigrants like her at the expense of the land expropriations, as already explained here. The only little “problem” was that she had to learn Hebrew. But she tells me that she learned it in six months, because it is very easy. Now she masters it, she says, and she is learning Arabic, which is much more difficult; she has been learning it for years and she can not have a fluid conversation yet. Besides, it is difficult to practise it, because the Palestinians want to practise their English, or show off that they can speak Hebrew. Almost all Palestinians, she says, at least the men, can speak Hebrew, either because they have worked for the Israelis, when it was allowed, or because they have been in jail. Not so much the women. That’s why she likes to hang around with women and children, to speak in Arabic with them.

Now that I think about it, I have not encountered any Palestinian who can not at least give me directions in English. It might be because I have been to places where they are used to seeing foreigners and talking with us.

So B. had the right come and live in legal Israel or one of the “illegal” settlements specially prepared for immigrants like her thanks to the land thefts.

She has chosen to live in a more modest location and take every single Friday off to come and support this demonstration against an illegal wall – although, after a few months here, anyone would find it difficult to know what is legal and what not.

She seems to know a bit about the wall and the people building it. She says it is Palestinians themselves, having being deprived of their land, their livelihood, and then the right to work in Israel. when they are offered work as builders of the wall, they truly are desperate enough to accept the job. “There is not one single Israeli worker involved in the construction of the Wall, just the soldiers guarding it. So, yes, it is Palestinians themselves forced to build their own jail. The Israeli State is depriving the Palestinians of all dignity.”

She also tells me stories of other demonstrations in other villages against the Wall, where there weren’t any internationals or Israeli activists. In one of those, the Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinian demonstrators.

F. is French something of an economist, or similar, from the way she speaks. She says she has talked about Palestinian agriculture and farming with many Palestinian farmers and the conclusion is always the same: that Palestine has a lot of potential to be a rich Country, to develop from an excellent production.

I remember that in History lessons at school it was explained that when the Catholic King and Queen expelled the Jews and the Arabs from the kingdoms of Castilla and Aragon they had to allow one Arab family out of ten to stay in the Levante region because they were the ones who knew about farming. I can see that wisdom here too, in their irrigation systems, in how they keep their vegetable gardens in the conditions of deprivation imposed on them by the Israeli army… everything I have eaten here, specially in the villages, are the produce of their own land, and it is really excellent; the oil, the zahtar, the bread, the olives, the tangerines, the clementines, and other fruits whose names I will never learn … but as F. says, what is the point of all this, if the occupation forces do not allow to get any of these produce out of the country!

F. continues to say that what has happened since the arrival of the Israeli state is a continuous strangulation of the Palestinian economy; first they take away their land and make its inhabitants refugees, then they take away their water, then they put refugees and other destitutes to work for the occupying population, then they forbid this way of subsistence while they take away more land and more water, and all the way they do not allow any commerce with the outside world – or even with the occupying population.

And then I remember a settler telling us that all the aspirations of the Arabs are to fly away from the country to make a fortune elsewhere. As if.

Bi’Lin III

Monday, May 15, 2006 2.26 – Bi’Lin

W. and I go for a walk and we get lost. As we are figuring out our way back, we stop on a corner, trying to decide what way to go, then some one calls us from the doorstep of a nearby house.

A woman is making gestures inviting us to her house. We look at each other and decide this must be just another sign of the great Palestinian hospitality.

She leads us into her house and, following her, we arrive at a little patio garden. We realise that they must have put some chairs for us before we got here, because there are two empty chairs as part of the circle where the family is sitting, and they invite to sit on them.

The woman who has taken us here disappears inside the house and we are left with two boys, a little girl and an older man. We assume he is the father.

It is the boys that lead the conversation. They tell us they are in university, and that they know there will be no jobs for them when they finish. The girl is still in school. She is more than looking at me, she has her eyes fixed on me. It is a bit uncomfortable but I understand that it must be quite unusual for her to see a woman my age with her head uncovered.

The woman comes out to the garden and offers us the preceptive tea, together with some cakes that look very similar to a kind sold in Ramallah. They confirm that the cakes are from Ramallah; the father brought them as a special treat for the family. There is tea for every one, but the cakes are only for W. and me. They tell us that if we don’t want them now we can take them home. I decide then that they will be my special breakfast tomorrow.

They ask us about our lives at home, in our countries, like the other Palestinians I have met. They also want to know why, of all Palestine, we are in this little village. We say it is because of the Friday demonstrations. We know the Israeli army raid the villages in the night, when the Israelis and internationals that support the demonstrations have left. So we come with our cameras, to stop them killing people, or at least to document it.

“Yes, but how did you find out?”

We try to explain the whole story but his English is limited and our Arabic is non existent. So we shorten it:

“You know M.?” “Yes.” “We are staying at his place. He is in a group, we came to that group. They say, ‘we need people in Nablus, in Bi’Lin’. So we come to these places”.

He stares at the floor and I guess he would like to ask more but he just looks at us and says: “Thank you.”

And I don’t know what to answer. We come into his house, we drink his tea, we take away the very few cakes that the father must have brought on a special trip, he walks us home and he still needs to say “Thank you”.

Bi’Lin II

Saturday, May 13, 2006 2.25 – Bi’Lin

At first sight the Israeli settlement near Bi’Lin is not recognisable as such because it does not look like the other settlements we have seen at all. It looks more like a normal city, with its huge blocks of flats, all immaculate white, but not like the other settlements with small houses with their red roofs. This one looks more like a horrible mega-city than like a pretty little village.

From where I am I can only see the bits that show besides the hill that conceals most of the city.

The locals say that the city-settlement can house five thousand people. Fig 22

The land where this settlement-city stands used to belong to a local farmer. He used to own 80 square kilometres before the occupation, now the illegal seizures without compensation have left him with 5.

After taking a few pictures of the city-settlement, I meet the first vehicle of the day – one of those taxis that are actually vans for carrying people. It is the school shuttle for children who live too far away to walk to school every day.

Bi’Lin

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 2.23 – Bi’Lin

We have been here for a week now. Every night I have prayed that we do not need to come out – that is, that the Israeli army does not invade the village at night in order to arrest the people they can’t arrest during the demonstrations due to international presence.

I was in this village at the very beginning of my trip and it feels like it is ages ago.

Today M. comes and shows us some wonderful videos explaining the history of the Palestinian rip-offs, how some foreign Jews first began legally buying land and then the Israeli government stole and conquered. The potential Palestinian estate, “granted” by the United Nations, got smaller and smaller and more and more fragmented – and therefore not viable -, becoming what it is now, a few territories scattered apart and surrounded, besieged, each of them, by … THE WALL.

Bi’lin is very near Ramallah; in fact the road that communicates with what is now the de-facto capital of Palestine is one of the very, very few, that I have seen here without a permanent military checkpoint. It is not a long road; it usually takes taxis fifteen or twenty minutes to arrive here depending on the amount of passengers they need to drop.

It is because of this proximity to Ramallah that this small city is affected by the Wall that is being built around Ramallah. Again, Israel says it is for security reasons. Again too, deeds demonstrate that it is one more exercise, more or less civilised, of lands theft.

Palestine deportation

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Palestine 2.18 – Ramallah

It is not too usual to see shootings in Ramallah nowadays. Specially since the compendium of the Palestinian Authority, where Arafat used to live, was destroyed, there is virtually no Israeli military presence in the city. Says A. that it is because it is no longer necessary. Now at last the Palestinian police can patrol the streets of Ramallah. They could not do that before because, since they are regarded simply as armed Palestinians by the Israeli soldiers, and therefore dangerous terrorists on top of being terrorists, they would shoot at them systematically, and with a total justification, in the eyes of Israeli judges, which are the only judges that exist in Israel and Palestine…

The Israeli Army is no longer in Ramallah, and now the uniformed men are, at least in theory, Palestinian Police.

And, although it is not frequent, some colleagues and I did see a shooting in Ramallah today.

I was on this first floor flat, not far away from the window, when we noticed a sudden movement of bodies outside, on the street, like people running and trying to do so in silence. Then the shots. “Tat – tat – tat – tat.” Dry and quick, a lot less noisy than the simplest firecracker. “Tat – tat – tat – tat.” And again, this time nearer to the building where we were. “Tat – tat – tat – tat.”

By then all the internationals were stuck against the window glass, trying to figure out what was going on, trying to see, but a local voice near me shouted: “Away from the window!!”.

It was important to keep as far away as possible from the range of the bullets. Even though they were not aimed at our building, or indeed our window, at all.

Those living in Palestine have already learned to not feel any curiosity but we internationals find it difficult to overcome ours. I guess we had imagined some thing like what we see in films and we wanted to see it with our own eyes.

But bullets have no glamour whatsoever. They don’t even sound like bullets. And yet they can actually kill, or cause pain and/or a disability, for the rest of your life.

So you must stay away from the window, however curious you feel. Your physical integrity is far more important.

The next time I looked out there were still men in uniform around, looking alert, but the shootings had ceased.

For the rest of the day, the shooting is not the most important theme of conversation, but R., who has been arrested, and people are eager to hear the latest news about him.

From the information that is shared between people who seem to know him well, it seems that he was arrested while walking some school girls to school in Hebron, while he was waiting for his appointment to renew his visa, and would have been deported straight away if he had not challenged this. As a result of his challenge, he is being held in a prison until he “changes his mind” and accepts his deportation.

Apparently one of the local papers has published a very misleading article implying that he assisted terrorists a few years ago, in his previous visit to Palestine. Some of his friends are planning to write to the newspaper to contest this article. From their draft letter, I learn that the last action of R. in that first visit was to chain himself to a house that was due for demolition.

The Israeli forces demolish houses of terrorists in order to punish the whole family. There is no court case against the family, so there is no need to prove whether they are guilty of something other than being the family of someone who has been named “a terrorist”. This is collective punishment and it is condemned by the UN, and it goes against the Geneva Conventions. But there is no international force in Israel, so international law is ignored completely.

R. used his body to try to prevent a crime of war from happening and the paper described this as “he was staying in a terrorist’s house”.

The response of the Israeli forces at the time was to deport him – for trying to prevent collective punishment, which is a war crime.

Any foreigner who has been arrested in Palestine, and/or has been deported, is banned from both countries for life.

But R. changed his name legally and came back in order to continue to work for human rights in Palestine. As every other foreigner, he was given a time-limited visa. Before it run out, he went to the appropriate authorities to have it renewed. those authorities, gave him an appointment for a date which was “after” that expiry date. This, he was told, is standard practice, and the mere fact that he was given this appointment meant that his visa was extended until that date.

But now the Israeli authorities in Hebron say that he was in the country illegally and therefore they have to deport him. From a local jail he has been sent to another one, in the far end of the country, to the south, in the desert, and he will be deported from there. All the way, his friends say, he is in isolation. “Incommunicado.”

From Ramallah I go to Bi’lin, which is so close to it there are no permanent military checkpoints on the road that links them. There are no permanent ones. But there is also what is called “flying checkpoints”. Three soldiers block the road with their jeep, and a checkpoint is built.

Years ago I learned in the roads of Spain that if a vehicle flashed its big lights, it meant that it had just passed a police control, so it was warning you.

They may have a similar system here. Suddenly the taxi where I am travelling takes on a local road that is also a rocky path. I look out the window and I see that there are cars following this one, and cars ahead too, avoiding the road.

A Palestinian boy travelling in this taxi with us explains the “trick” with a smile in his face and of course offers us his house to stay, but at least for tonight we have to refuse.

They are building a wall around Bi’Lin, the same wall that separates, in theory, “Israeli territory” from “Palestinian territory”, but in reality it separates “Palestinian people” from “other Palestinian people”, and all from their working and education places, and their lands, until they loose their jobs and their lands and virtually all contact with their relatives who live a mere few kilometres away.

Other white foreigners and I arrive in Bi’Lin in order to stay and spend the nights in case the Israeli Army makes violent incursions in order to take people away, specially boys. And there is urgency because a few days ago, when there was no internationals staying, there was one of those violent incursions.

Yanoun IV

Monday, February 20, 2006 2.17

When the villagers decided to leave Yanoun after the terror campaign carried out by the local settlers, they were then “convinced” to come back to live here. They agreed, only on the condition that at least two or three internationals would be here at all times. The organisation called CCPT took on the commitment of keeping at least three people here at all times.

Today we are breaking this rule as J. leaves early in the morning and we all hope that it will go unnoticed in the outpost on the hill. I am assured by CCPT that two people will come tonight, so at least this place will be left with just one international for less than 24 hours.

Being the only one here then, I decide against going to the school today and remain instead contactable in the flat and surroundings in case anything happens.

A woman on her own doesn’t seem to get as many invitations, or maybe the villagers get too worried to think about social occasions, when they ask me if I’m on my own and I say yes.

Just as I am getting ready for the English lesson I promised two days ago, there is a knock on the door of the international flat. It would not be the first time that the Israeli Army tries to get in the flat so I get on alert mode immediately. There is a second knock as gentle or more than the first one and I relax a bit. The caller is a Palestinian young man with a boy, who, when I open the door, wants to invite us to his house, down in Aqraba. In normal circumstances I would have invited them in but one strict rule is that Palestinians are not allowed in this flat, same as Israelis are not allowed. The young man seems to understand even before I attempt to explain it. He explains he is from Aqraba but now lives in the United States, where he is studying in University. Now he is on vacation visiting his family and is leaving tomorrow, and his family would like to invite us for dinner, while he is here. I tell him I’m on my own but even if I wasn’t, we wouldn’t go for dinner as far away as Aqraba, leaving Yanoun on its own. He seems to be stuck in my first phrase: “Are you here on your own?”, he asks, with his eyes wide open. I say yes but quickly add, “I’m expecting two more people tonight”. He still points out, “you shouldn’t be here on your own”.

I tell him I need to visit one of the village families in five minutes and he leaves. I put on my shoes and go to the house of the girl I am going to help with her English. Her mother receives me, looking worried. “Are you on your own?” – she asks dryly. It seems news travel quick, I guess like in any other village. It has been a few hours since J. left and no one has yet come in his place. I explain that some one is expected to arrive today but she just continues to look worried.

I answer her daughter’s English doubts as best as I can while we have some light dinner and then I return to the flat, which does indeed feel lonely.

A few hours later C. and X., from CCPT, turn up in a private taxi. I sincerely welcome the company and I update them about the past, fortunately uneventful, days.

X. goes to bed and C. stays up, and he explains to me what I partly knew, that we have momentarily covered for CCPT here so they could all go to this Palestine-wide meeting. Meeting that is now over. They, C. and X., will now be here for a few weeks at least, maybe months.

He explains that some people stay here in Yanoun for three months, which is the full length of CCPT people’s stay in Palestine. I ask him how come so many people manage to stay for so long. He says CCPT is an ecumenical program, carried out by a union of different Christian churches, and it is most successful in Sweden and the United States. Indeed most people we have met from the CCPT are Swedish. “And people’s jobs?”, I ask. He explains that the norm is that people do usually get their jobs back in Sweden. I look at him in envy and wonder aloud if I could get into something like this, and he points out that the Roman Catholic Church does not participate in this.

The conversation moves on to how we are assimilating the experience and we of course talk about the cultural differences. He tells me about a small incident once between a bunch of young Palestinian boys, a female international and himself. The femail international had been in Palestine longer than him The boys stretched out their hands to the girl, smiling, trying to shake hands with her, and she refused, without a word. He thought at the time that his companion was being rude to the boys so he shook all their hands. When the moment had passed, he asked the girl why she had been so rude, and she explained that it was them that had been rude. The Palestinian rule is that a man does not attempt to touch or shake hands with a woman unless she makes the first move – this we have all been told. To make such an attempt is to consider her an “easy girl”, and to insist in stretching his hand is outright insulting. So the boys were actually calling her a woman with low morals, and the fact that they were all smiling showed that all they intended to do was to make fun of her. Therefore her reaction, refusing to shake hands and smile, was the correct one.

I share with him this thought that Palestinian men seem to think we western women are all what they would call prostitutes, because they think we are like the women that the western mainstream media, specially Hollywood films, portray. And we’ve seen that Hollywood films sell well in local television.

C. shows contempt for this. He relates this to the Palestinian complaint that western people think they are terrorists just because the media portray them as such, then they themselves buy into the media stereotypes.

He suggests watching one of the films he’s got on DVD and we choose “War Lord” with Nicolas Cage. Cage’s character fancies a woman that he has only seen in street posters. After he gets to know her, it takes three scenes to see them both in bed.

After the film C. goes to the men’s room to sleep. I stay up packing trying to not make too much noise – tomorrow morning I am getting the school shuttle and leaving Yanoun.

It usually takes me a few minutes of meditating or simply letting my mind travel before I actually fall asleep. Maybe that is why I am the only one in the flat to hear X. moan from the other room in his sleep. I walk to their door, half-open it and whisper “are you ok?” He says nothing. I imagine he is too embarrassed to say anything and prefers to just shut up, or maybe I have not even woken him up, so I return to my bed.

A few minutes later, he starts to shout in desperation, almost crying, but the kind of cry that one does with their mouths shut, when they have something or someone keeping their mouth shut. I walk to the men’s room wondering if C. is just not hearing, not caring, or too doubtful as to what to do. Or maybe just too fast asleep

I walk to X.’s bed and I continue whispering. His shouts grow louder and more desperate and I decide it is time to wake him up. I touch him on the shoulder and he screams in panic and his body shakes violently, his arms just want to hit whatever it is that is attacking him, hitting just me, randomly, while his body shakes, and my arms try to stop his hitting me. I scream, “it’s me!! wake up!!!” He wakes up, stops waving his arms around and looks at me in wonder. I just manage to say “You were having a nightmare. Are you ok?” and he says something like, “Yeah, I am, now”.

He explains that he used to have always the same nightmare, some one keeping him down and him trying to shout, but no sound coming out of his throat… But it has been many years now that he used to have this nightmare, and it is only now, here in Palestine that he is having it again.

I guess this stress that we all have and we never talk about it getting on us all, noticing or not. The stress the Palestinians are having, and the damages it will cause, I’m sure I can not even imagine it.

Yanoun III

2.15. Fourth Monday

J. and I stay in Yanoun. He does not fancy school so I go on my own. The relationship between me and the teachers, all men, without a man that accompanies me is completely different. The teachers say hello briefly to me and avoid me as much a possible, so I go home for some lunch during the break.

In class, the teachers do try to include me in the dynamics, the English teacher specially. He asks the pupils questions about Spain and they all say that it is in Europe and that its capital is Madrid, and that it has olive trees, like Palestine, and that some words are the same in Arabic and Spanish. When he resumes the normal English lesson he also asks me from time to time whether I would like to add something to his explanations.

When school finishes it is midday and I feel like walking in the sun, so J and I visit lower Yanoun for the rest of the day.

Lower Yanoun is gorgeous, although it is more windy and cold than in the rest of the valley. Looking at Upper Yanoun from here, the houses can almost be confused with the rocks; in fact it is difficult to see them unless you know there are houses there and you look for them. Fig 19

The unwritten but strict rules say that the villagers must not step out of the mountain where the village stands, or they may be killed. The settlers are armed and they tend not to be arrested when they assault Palestinians; if caught when they kill one, the penalty, if there is one, is always laughable. So J. and I walk on the road without stepping out.

A girl shouts “hello!” from the distance while she runs towards us. When she gets nearer, she tells us that her mother wants us to visit her house.

We follow the girl and then climb on some rocks. We get into a bare stone construction through a hole in a wall that resembles a gate. We continue climbing after the girl, still inside this bare building. As we climb up, the rocks we are climbing, laid in disorder on top of each other, become something like a staircase and there is an overture to our left. We go through it and we are then inside a covered patio/corridor with entrances like this one on both sides. Some of them have curtains down to knee-level.

The girl guides us into one of those entrances and takes off her shoes; we do the same. The room we enter is still made of stone and has a telly on a hole in the wall, a table, a chair and a couple of mattresses. This is their living room and this is their furniture. The whole place is quite windy; the wind comes through the window (which again is just a whole in the wall, no frame, no glass), and goes out the door to the rest of the house. We look out the window when the woman leaves and we see that we are on the equivalent to a western fifth floor from the street level.

The woman returns with some food for J. and me and after a bit of conversation the mother asks us to go with her children to a nearby mountain to take some lunch to their father. Usually she brings her husband his lunch while her children take the sheep and goats to the fountain, but now that we are here she would feel a lot safer if the children go to the mountains with some internationals and she tenders the animals instead of leaving the children in the village alone while she goes to the mountain.

We start what is supposed to be a ten minute walk with some glasses, a few empty plastic bottles and a covered tray. The first stop is the village’s fountain, to fill the bottles with water for their father’s meal.

The children explain that there is no water inside their houses. I look up towards the settlement in the certainty that there is not a single house there without cold and hot water supply inside, heating and lots of furniture.

The fountain is right next to the road and we continue following it. Suddenly an army vehicle that looks more like a tank than like a car appears from nowhere and we all freeze at the side of the road, looking at each other and at the vehicle. It is a compact thing made of brown metal with wheels that can not be seen. The passengers or drivers can not be seen either.

We continue frozen while the vehicle passes besides us and, once it is out of sight, the girl looks at me, smiles and exhales a deep breath: luckily nothing has happened this time. Clearly, these children are more used to this kind of vehicle than us.

I do not even take my camera out to take a picture of this vehicle because very time one takes a picture of anything from the military – a checkpoint, an outpost, a soldier even – one is risking, if not one’s life, at least the camera, the tapes and all the content taken so far. Or maybe it is because its appearance was too sudden and we were too frozen.

We continue walking on the side of the road and then start climbing the mountain where the children’s father is. After fifteen minutes of the children saying “near” every time we ask where he is, they shout “there!”.

J. goes on climbing with the boys and I sit down on a rock with the girl. Their father is with two other men and the three of them are throwing trunks down the hill. It is the wood they will be using in the winter to heat their houses, the girl explains. I truly hope they also manage to sell some of it, because this is what they have clearly been doing all day today – I do wonder what these people live on.

J. helps them with the trunks, the children leave the food with the rest of the men’s things, and after a few minutes most of the children are sitting with me. They play with some mud and branches from the olive trees, making a representation of a muddy yet beautiful park. It shows they have plenty of experience using mud and small branches as toys. Fig 20.

I tell them that the view is beautiful and one of the boys tells me: “All this land, my father’s. Settlers steal it”. I move my head waiting for a bit of a clearer explanation and he goes on: “One day, settler says, ‘it’s mine'” So that’s it. I take some pictures of the land he is indicating and it is actually the best portion of land I can see around, right in the valley, flat and easy to work on. The rest is on the hills where we are sitting now, rocky, hilly and with the trees a lot more scattered away from each other than down there in the valley. Fig 21

I guess that’s the explanation. They just loose their livelihood to a fanatic, armed settler, and they try to get by with tree trunks for heating. I also guess they lost or sold all their furniture, doors and windows in the process, and that’s probably why the little girl’s house is so bare.

J. and the men throw the trunks down the hill for almost an hour after they eat. We should not be this far away from the houses and the rest of the neighbours for too long so we make our excuses before sunset and return. In the distance we see a shepherd leading his sheep. J. says something like, “This is so culturally distant to me, I find it funny, difficult to understand, how a bunch of sheep just follow the shepherd, with no questioning, they just follow him”. I look at him trying to understand. For me it is just so natural, how could it be any different? But then several members of my family have been shepherds at different times of their lives, I even had the chance to accompany them at times, so for me the funny thing is J.’s surprise.

In fact I am finding ever so many similarities between the Arab and the Spanish cultures, cuisines and ways of life. I guess they were not around for eight centuries for nothing.

In the afternoon J. receives a call saying we should leave Yanoun and go to Bi’Lin, where there has been a violent incursion by the Israeli Army, and some one is needed there quickly because there is no international there at the moment. It is not quite surprising that the Army has done this on a day when there were no internationals there. After all, what we are here for is mostly to monitor actions like these, exactly the kinds of things that the Army do not want to be known.

Apparently here in Yanoun it has been pretty quiet in the last two weeks since the last attack – our presence here is not as necessary any more, some people think. Or at least it seems more necessary in Bi’Lin because of the recent incursion. J. and I discuss this and reach to the conclusion that if we leave this village empty, the same, or similar, thing can happen here. But J. would also rather leave the inactivity here for Bi’Lin and the weekly demonstration there, where he thinks he will be more effective.

Apparently the incursion in Bi’Lin was specially nasty and there is pressure for us to leave this place in order to “cover” Bi’Lin. But I think that we both should not leave Yanoun empty because that would contribute to the possibility of incursions here.

J. and I decide to go and see the village Mayor and ask him what he thinks. His English is not too fluent but it is enough to ask us to stay. He fears that there will be incursions here if only one of us stays. He says the Israeli army will know how many of us there is here because they are observing the village all the time from the outpost on the top of the hill.

Nothing of importance has happened so far, but, again, if nothing happens is probably because of our presence. I begin to suspect that we must be quite uncomfortable for these fanatic orthodox, who can not continue to terrorise the Palestinian population as they would like to, just because there are some foreigners who take pictures and videos of human rights abuses. What a hazard. As if it wasn’t enough,most of the inhabitants of this village, who had left it thanks to the settlers making their lives impossible, have come back to the very houses they left, because of these foreigners.

J. thinks it is a good compromise to leave one person here while the other leaves. He wants to get to Bi’Lin in time for the demonstration, so packs his things in order to leave early tomorrow morning in the school shuttle. We say our good nights and good byes sure that we will see each other again around the occupied lands.