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.

Bi’Lin – Qalandia – Hebron

26 May 2006 2.31

I come out of the flat where I have been staying very early in the morning, carefully not to wake up anyone. I don’t want to risk arriving in Hebron after dark because I don’t even know how to get to my destination, and this time, too, I am travelling on my own. The first stop will be of course Ramallah – first taxi change to get from there to Qalandia. I was assured yesterday that I will pass through that checkpoint with no problem. From there I will get another taxi to Jerusalem and then another one from Jerusalem to Hebron.

But the taxi that takes us to Qalandia stops in the middle of a deserted road where there are only taxis and very few people. In the distance we see a wire fence, cutting off what seems to be what is left of the road. None of this looks familiar to me, and I have passed through this checkpoint several times…

Facing that wire fence there are a very elderly man and a not-so-elderly woman; they seem to be standing there waiting for something. Near me there are small television crews – two people seem to be enough, and their cameras are tiny compared to the professional cameras available to students in some universities in London.

After filming a group of men who are reading a piece of paper stuck to the wall, written in Hebrew, one of the camera crews walk towards the couple. Me too.

The tv guys ask some questions to the man and he shows them some paperwork he carries inside some envelopes. When he finishes talking and they switch off their camera, I ask the one with the microphone what is going on. He tells me that the checkpoint is closed today because some one attacked a soldier yesterday, and that this old gentleman is very ill, that he has an appointment to go to the hospital and those papers are from his doctor and from the hospital proving it all. He hopes that, on compassion grounds, at least he will be allowed to go through. But it does not seem that he will be allowed at all. I ask the one with the microphone again what will happen if he is not allowed to go through, if we are not allowed to go through. “Turn around, go on another road.” “And how many hours will it take us to get to Jerusalem?” He moves his head, grins and answers: “Hmmm… maybe two, three hours”. From Qalandia to the bus station in Jerusalem it usually takes half an hour, some times less. But then I will still have the rest of my trip ahead, to Hebron. Two to three hours was what was going to take me to get all the way to Hebron.

But the man doesn’t lose hope and calls a soldier he sees in the distance, to talk to him. The soldier comes, making sure another one comes with him, and both come slowly – they have the whole day and a lot of contempt. The soldiers coming towards us look just like all of them, with their green uniforms, and their arms leaned on their huge machine-guns. For about five minutes the man talks to them, he shows them his papers, which they don’t even look at or touch. He is trembling. His hands are trembling a lot, and he puts away his papers and he doesn’t know where to put his hands, and he leans them on the spiked wire, and he cries in desperation at the thought that he won’t make it to his appointment at the hospital, and he writhes in pain, and he sits on the road… How is he going to start now a two or three hour journey, in his condition? He needs to go to hospital, can they now allow him to get through with a taxi?

The soldiers’ voices have grown more and more severe, and now they are almost shouting at him, and I can’t believe my eyes and ears – even though I do not understand a word.

Suddenly the soldiers stop looking at the man who is writhing and they look at me, and then at something behind me, and they shout. I look behind me in the direction they are looking and I realise that more and more men have been approaching this spot and there are now about thirty men behind the first group that approached the wire.

The soldiers make gestures with their hands telling them to go away, to retreat.

Bit by bit they all go away, looking for taxis that will take them to Jerusalem. When all the men who were behind me have left and next to the wire there is only the trembling man, the woman, the TV crew and me left, the soldiers shout at me that I should leave too and I leave. Then the woman that was with the trembling man leaves as well, and we leave him there, trembling and crying, while the tv crew seem to try to convince him that he is not going to manage to go through Qalandia, that he will have to go round the long way like the rest of us, or die right there.

Several taxi drivers ask me where I’m going and I say I am going to Jerusalem and then to Hebron. They direct me to a taxi they say is not going to Hebron but is going nearby.

Once the taxi gets full we depart and after an hour into the journey, in a completely deserted road, we get a puncture. The driver asks us to get off so he can change the wheel and it turns out that the spare wheel is not in good enough condition. We all look at each other, but no one gets angry. The driver makes a few phone calls on his mobile and, in about half an hour, another van-taxi turns up to pick us up. Not a single car has passed by in all this time.

Like in all journeys where we share the means of transport, it is only when there is a setback that people talk to each other, whereas before we wouldn’t even look at each other. So our cultures are not that different in this respect.

The women talk among themselves in Arabic. One of them strikes up a conversation with me in English and she sets off to tell me her whole life. She is travelling with her son, who must be about six or eight years old, and she is going to Jerusalem, where her mother lives and where she was born. When she got married, she had to go and live in Ramallah, where her husband lived, among other things because he did not have – and does not have now – the necessary permit to “enter Israel”, that’s to say he can’t go to Jerusalem.

So she has to travel on her own with her son to visit her mother, in taxis, thanks to the checkpoints, and some times has to spend the whole day travelling, like today, when they decide to cut roads and make every one go round in longer journeys.

We finally arrive at a place so full of people and cars that it looks like a market, but without stalls. There are militarily vehicles everywhere, and some soldiers on foot too.

The woman who has spoken to me grabs my hand assuring me that she’s going to find me a taxi that will take me straight to Hebron from here. Some taxi drivers shout something that sounds like “Al Khalil” or “Al Halil” – which is how they say Hebron in Arabic. The woman tell me that the name of the city means “friend” both in Arabic and in Hebrew.

The woman talks to a few of the taxi drivers and finally leaves me with one who, she assures me, will leave me very close to the address where I need to go.

The woman and I say goodbye and the taxi driver tells me to put my things at the back of the taxi and to get myself also inside. I get inside but it is so hot it feels like an oven so I get out again. There are fewer women than usual; there is usually not a big difference in the number of women and men travelling, but today there is. The man tells me for a second time to get in the car. I imagine it is not seen as correct for a woman to stand still, observing. I grab my camera and I use it as an excuse to stay outside. The men continue to look at me and the soldiers order me not to take pictures.

When the taxi finally gets full, we set off leaving the hubbub behind. About two hours later we arrive in the centre of Hebron. During that time, we have gone through a couple of “itinerant” checkpoints, the ones that consist of five soldiers, a crossed jeep cutting the traffic, and a few stones planted on the road. We don’t need to get off at these checkpoints. The soldiers just look through the window and some times they don’t even ask for our papers.

Once in the centre of Hebron, what I have to look for is the checkpoint “inside” the city. It is the first time I hear about this and I can’t imagine it.

The taxi leaves us in a chaotic square full of yellow taxis, shops, people pulling carts full of fruit and vegetables, and noise. A “lot” of noise. This is the most lively and colourful place I have seen ever since I arrived in Palestine. People talk, shout, the taxi drivers also shout and horn at each other, arguing for the few space inches they have available. The shops, selling either clothes or food, expel bright, happy, shameless colours. The noise is deafening. Fig. 24.

I start asking people for directions to the street I have to go to.

This part of Hebron, and the Old City, is in theory under the “Palestinian Authority”. The part where the settlers live, where I am going, is under Israeli authority.

At the entrance of the streets that lead or are near to the “Israeli section” there are some huge rocks that stop vehicles getting in. They are as tall as my waist, and perfectly square and white. There are three or four in each street, leaving between them enough space just for a person on foot. Fig 25

In some cases, in the rest of the street behind those rocks, there are shops open, but fewer of them, and smaller than on this side. But most streets are empty and silent, with all its green doors closed. Fig 26

Taxis are used to transport people. Most of them are small cars; there are hardly a few vans. For the transport of goods, wooden carts are used, pulled by men. It is the only way they have to fit between the rocks.

The street I am looking for also has that kind of rocks at the entrance. All shops on the other side of the big square stones are closed, and only the green shut doors are left.

As soon as I get through these stones I get the feeling that I am entering a territory where I am not welcome. The street is, or seems, very short. It gets cut short by an iron structure that looks like a caravan, or a prefabricated little house, blocking the whole street from side to side, and whatever is on the other side can not be seen. The street is deserted, and that thing that is blocking the sight is the checkpoint. But there is no body to be seen. Fig 27

In order to get into this urban checkpoint I have to get on some platforms that make a lot of noise because, being made of some metal, they are not too well fixed to what I guess is the wood that keeps them elevated from the street, and they are like suspended in the air, storming with each step I make. Then there are two very high steps that some one elderly would find very difficult to climb.

And then I have to open a metallic door and then climb up and get in at the same time.

The interior of this “caravan” is dark and claustrophobic, like a broken lift, and I can’t see anyone. Behind me lies the door I have just opened, and it closes behind me on its own accord, and in front of me there is another door that will also need to open on its own accord, because it doesn’t have a knob. So I am now trapped between these two locked doors.

On my left there is a kind of bad mirror and suddenly some one shouts at me from behind it and I realise it is not a mirror, but a smoked glass, and that at the other side there is a soldier looking at me, pointing at my back pack. I ask him if he speaks English and he orders me to open my bag with a hand gesture, without talking. I tell him it is only clothes. He makes another gesture ordering me to open my bag. I open it and I show him the top of it. He makes another gesture to get everything out of my bag, but there is no counter to put my things on it, so I start to get my things out one by one and putting them on the floor. At about half my bag he looks like he is tired of it and he lets me know so, again with a gesture of his hand. I gather my things from the floor and I ask “what now?” The soldier doesn’t look at me but at least the door gets open.

I get out again to the sun and I find a street similar to the previous one – in reality, it surely is the same one, only as it is cut short by this “thing”, one can almost not realise. The atmosphere is completely different. There is a silence worse than sepulchral, like death, almost supernatural. In the distance, behind me, I can only hear the horns of the taxis, but they sound more like an echo than as if they were where they are, less than a hundred metres away.

To my left there is another soldier looking at me from top to toe and in front of me I recognise D., whom I met in Nablus and who is now already coming to welcome me, and I feel a joy that almost makes me jump. But the depressing atmosphere that invades everything is more powerful and I just shake his hand smiling.

He tells me that he is patrolling the street, like I will be during the next week, like we will have to do daily, while the kids are in the school, but specially as they come and go. Part of the patrolling consists of observing the checkpoint, and that way we see every one who comes and goes, and how long they retain each person. That’s why he has seen me before I got through the checkpoint – but I will learn all this later; I am now bombarding him with questions and tell him about my trip, which has taken me five hours.

He also tells me that I can stay with him if I want, but it is better if I go to the flat where we are staying to leave my things and receive some quick training at least.

For that I have to climb the most steep road I have ever seen, and then to a fourth floor. There I meet K. and I re-meet other people that I have met in other places. K. explains the geography and circumstances of Tel Rumeida, and the neighbouring settlements that are making the life of their Palestinian neighbours hell. So much so that most houses are empty; the only remaining inhabitants are people who really have nowhere to run away to and of course no possibility to sell their homes, because no one would want to buy them. And they do not resist. There are no demonstrations here, K. says, only silence, and an insane discretion, lest the settlers get angry. So taking pictures of them is out of the question, because they don’t like it. Talking to them is out of the question too. It is too risky, they are too violent.

I ask K. about the checkpoint and he explains that it is unique in Palestine for now, but they will probably install more. He says that inside what looks like a coffin there are some electric radiations that are very bad for people in general, but for unborn children it they are specially dangerous. There are many pregnant Palestinian women and every one is worried, but of course this is not a worry for the pertinent authorities. Some times the pregnant women ask to be allowed to pass through a small corridor outside the checkpoint to avoid damaging their children but it all depends on how the soldier of the day feels like.

In the street, up the steep hill, there are two “posts”, one on each side of the street, and with one or two soldiers each. And a bit further away, towards the left as we get out the doorway of the house where we are staying, there are another two. Right on the other side of them, further up, there is another settlement, which in reality consists of about ten prefabricated houses planted on a street that some international treaty had established, previously to its construction, as an access road for the neighbouring Palestinians. K. explains that we are not supposed to go anywhere near there unless to challenge the soldiers when they don’t allow Palestinians to use that street.

K. is happy that I am staying here for a week. He explains that the worse days are Saturdays, the Jewish festivity, because the settlers get a specially sadistic delight in attacking the Palestinians on Saturdays.

The street where I have met D. is very much a pass-through street, both for the children and teachers, to go to school, and for the settlers, to go from one settlement to another to visit each other. On weekdays the Israeli settlers drive their cars, and they drive like mad, and it would seem they just want to kill all walking human being. The Palestinians have it forbidden to use any vehicle in these streets. On Saturdays the Israeli settlers also walk, which is even more dangerous because a simple glance can infuriate them, and they have firearms. At least when they drive they do it too fast to aim and shoot.

I leave my things where it looks like I will sleep tonight and I help out in the “patrol”, which simply consists of walking with the children at the end of the school day. Most of them are girls because this school used to be a girls only school.

When we get back home we have dinner that we cook ourselves. They tell me about the “women in black” and the “women in green”. The Women in Black started as small support actions in checkpoints, the military controls where Palestinians are retained for hours before they can continue their journeys. The women would go and talk to the Palestinians in the queue, then offer them drinks, maybe some food too.

As a response the Women in Green turned up, to support the Israeli soldiers, offering them the same in their posts alongside the illegally occupied territories.

I am invited to read a report of the most important “events” in the last few months. This is a small extract of this report:

“A group from the international Women in Black (i.e. Foreigners) came to Tel Rumeida with a small group of Palestinians. The group was near one of the settlements when they were stoned by a group of settlers, who used both stones and potatoes. Members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (other foreigners) witnessed the violence from Qurtaba school.
“One of the Palestinian witnesses asked the soldiers who were watching the violence if they were going to do something, to which they replied, ‘They’re not Jews’, implying that the safety of the internationals was not his concern.
“At 3:00 in the afternoon, children alerted us that settler children were stoning Palestinians at the top of the hill. When we (members of ISM, CPT, and the TR Project) arrived, we saw the five settler children, aged five to fifteen, inside the netted station of the captain. Such obviously biased behaviour is illegal and is a clear example of the type of obstacles Palestinians have to overcome when trying to assert their rights.
“We waited at the top of the hill and soon after, the settler children began throwing stones our direction, hitting a local 14-year-old Palestinian girl. We spent the next 10 minutes arguing with the soldiers to do something while the settler children taunted us and the Palestinians who were present. Finally, one soldier “reprimanded” the stone-thrower for five seconds, let him back into his station, and then sent the Palestinians and us out of the area. We all went to the top of the hill and waited for the arrival of the police.
“Five minutes later, two of the settler children left the soldier’s station and walked up the hill to the settlement. On the way, they continued to throw stones at us. The soldiers near the settlement did not respond, so we again went to argue with them that something should be done about the settlers’ violence. A captain immediately emerged, saying the area was a closed military zone and telling us to leave. During the ensuing argument, the settler children continued to throw stones, taunted us, and tried to take our cameras. One of the Palestinian children was hit on the arm by a stone and identified the stone-thrower, a boy about 14 years old.
“The police arrived more than 40 minutes after they were called, though they are stationed less than 2 kilometres away. They said that they could not arrest anyone younger than 12 and said that with these younger children, their only form of recourse is to speak with their parents about their children’s behaviour.
“When two members of the TR (Tel Rumeida) Project were leaving, one of the soldiers on duty alternatively called us ‘dirty pussies’, made a joke about his penis, and yelled, ‘you have big boobs’.
“At 7:30 in the evening, Palestinian children reported that two bikes and three carts were stolen from them by the settler children. Though soldiers were present and watching the incident, they did nothing. In fact, one of the children reported a soldier – the same Druze soldier who let the settler children in his station earlier that afternoon – only responded when the Palestinian child tried to stop the settler from taking his cart. At this, the soldier grabbed the Palestinian child by the neck, letting the settler take his cart.
“When we arrived, the Palestinian boys were sitting in the street waiting for the police to arrive. While waiting, a settler woman arrived. We recognized her as Miriam Levinger, the co-founder of Kiryat Arba, the first settlement in the West Bank. The first words out of her mouth were, ‘Do you deny that I am a descendent of Abraham?’ The conversation continued along much of the same vein, with Miriam yelling at us, calling us anti-semites, and talking about Muslim terrorism. The encounter ended with Miriam screaming in Arabic, ‘Your father’s a donkey, you’re a donkey, your mother’s a donkey…!’
“The police finally arrived more than 30 minutes after we arrived and told the children to be in the street the following morning at 8:30 and they would return their bikes and carts.
“A community leader went with the police to make a complaint and waited more than five hours at the police station.
[The following day]
“The police were not in the street as promised.
“A community leader [and three internationals] went to the Kiryat Arba police station with four of the boys who had their carts and bikes stolen. The boys were 11 to 14 years old. Though the children had an appointment at 2:00pm with an investigator named Amitay, we waited outside the back gate for more than an hour. We all made multiple phone calls into the police compound, using the phone at the back gate and the main police phone number. The police inside the compound alternatively promised to open the gate, hung up, refused to answer, yelled, laughed, and taunted us.
“Finally, Amitay arrived at 3:15 and refused to let the internationals inside. After some arguing, he agreed that one could accompany the boys. However, he refused to let all four boys enter. The three who had their carts stolen were allowed to enter, but the one whose bike was stolen was not allowed in. I went inside with the kids.
“Once inside, Amitay explained that he was late because he had gone to Tel Rumeida to take the statement of various soldiers concerning the robbery and while there, the settlers punctured the tires to his police vehicle. This is the second incident of Tel Rumeida residents attacking police vehicles in less than a week.
“The boys began making their testimony at 3:45. Amitay refused to take the photographs of one of the settlers who was involved in the robbery and did not allow the boys to identify the settlers from police photos. He also yelled at the kids and made them wait to leave more than five minutes while he pretended to get the key and instead chatted with his friends. When I entered the room and stood staring at him, he yelled, “My first mistake was letting you come in here!” I told him to just get the key and let us out.
“The kids were exhausted by the event.”

These and more “events” I read in the document that K. lends me. I reach a point where I need to stop, unable to swallow more humiliations. I stay there gazing at space until K. asks, “What do you think of that?” I don’t find an English word to describe what I feel. I think of a Spanish one and then translate: “sickening”. “Yes, that’s a good word to describe it”.

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.