[Reader-list] Fwd: First Palestine Report
jyotirmoy.chaudhuri at gmail.com
Sat Aug 12 22:06:10 IST 2006
These three write-ups came to me by way of a friend. I have been avidly
following the Lebanon related discussions and thought these first-person
reports might be interesting.
ruppatrani at rcn.com
First off, I am safe and away from the hotspots. I've meant to write but what I've seen has been so overwhelming and demoralizing it's been hard to begin. I wake up at night thinking about this place and am frightened about the future. This is far worse than I imagined. I thought I was prepared and informed--but to really see it is another thing. I've been here 11 days travelling, meeting people, and reading a lot but to keep you close to the ground, I will try to describe just my first days so you can have your own experience of wading into occupation. FYI, everything I say, I've heard multiple versions of from many sources---Israeli activisits, Palestinians, and foreigners. Every single Palestinian I've met is filled with terrible stories covering similar themes that speak to a pattern of control and repression by a powerful military machine that controls just about everything. Soldiers are everywhere. I've had several interactions with soldiers myself. They are in!
charge, many of them 18 or 19 and all with large guns. I've been at a loss to come up with words to capture things but I'll try to give you just a little bit (yes, the tip of the iceberg).
On arrival at Tel Aviv airport, as the Passport Control woman
looked at my passport, a male security person picked up my
bag, took me to a room, placed my bag 8 feet away, and told
me to sit. There were 15 others there, mostly Arabs, brown-
skinned non-Arabs like me, and a few young white people
(Europeans and Americans?). One scared Muslim man was sweating and praying. I was nervous. At one point I went to
get a book out of my bag and a security person rushed over
and said forcefully not to touch my bag and to sit down. I
followed orders. Finally after 2 hours of mostly sitting,
someone brought me my passport and said I could go. The
sweating praying man was still there when I left. As I exited to Baggage Claim, yet another security person questioned me.
I've heard far worse entry stories from Palestinian Americans
I've met here (who have U.S. Passports). They've been held
for 8 to 14 hours (sometimes without water or food) and
interrogated aggressively. One college student told me he was
held alone in a room that got hotter and hotter (maybe 130 degrees he thought) that he had to strip to his boxers. Then
the air conditioning went on and he froze. After 10 hours of
this, he was interrogated and taunted for several more hours.
On Day Two, I wandered around the Old City of Jerusalem, which is in East Jerusalem. Scine 1967, East Jerusalem has been under occupation by the Israeli Defense Forces (hereafter IDF). I walked through the walled Old City and saw the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I also saw IDF soldiers with guns everywhere and many surveillance cameras on the Old City's walls.
The next day our delegation left East Jerusalem to enter the West Bank. The West Bank makes up the majority of the Palestinian Occupied Territories and has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, is 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem and was our first stop in the West Bank. It is a majority Christian city.
The checkpoint to enter Bethlehem is 1.5 kilometers into the boundaries of Bethlehem. This was my first viewing of the 26-foot high concrete separation wall, which extends from both sides of the checkpoint. This is called "the wall" but it is really a series of walls and walls within walls that snake through the West Bank, sometimes in convoluted configurations enclosing whole Palestinian villages or slicing through the center of villages or even entirely enclosing individual Palestinian homes (I've now seen two of these). Anyway, the wall around Bethlehem is placed so that Bethlehem's open land and olive groves (owned by citizens of the town) are on the Israeli side of the wall/checkpoint (which is actually still Bethlehem really but is effectively being annexed into Israel by this wall). Bethlehem's residential and commercial areas are on the other side of the wall. Given this set up, the citizens of Bethlehem can no longer access their land because West Bank residents!
can only enter Israel with permits that are hard to obtain and don't allow multiple entry and exit.
The Bethlehem checkpoint is a large cattle processing plant-like place which you enter without seeing what you are going into. It is a militarized zone with surveillance towers, barbed wire, and metal fences within fences not visible from outside it. In the checkpoint you walk through a turnstile-like gate and show your identification to IDF soldiers in enclosed glass booths. As an international, I pass through most checkpoints quickly. As you exit, you see a sign saying the "Israeli Ministry of Tourism welcomes you to Bethlehem." This is strange because Bethlehem is not a part of Israel but is a part of the Occupied Territories and thus the Israeli Ministry of Tourism does not have domain to bid you welcome. When you leave the checkpoint on the other side headed towards Jerusalem, there is a sign which says "Welcome to Jerusalem." Again, this is strange because the checkpoint is in Bethlehem. Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, is actually still 8 or 9 kilom!
eters away. This is my first experience of the manipulation of language, boundary, and framing to assert ownership.
In the last 11 days, I've seen the wall from a height in various towns and villages. There is a visually recognizable pattern to its placement. Palestinians towns are built with clustered population centers with agricultural land surrounding the centers. This makes much of the countryside open land. In looking at the wall from a height, you see that Palestinian population centers are enclosed by the wall and the open land and olive groves belonging to these communities are on the Israeli side of the wall (still really the West Bank but effectively being taken). I've been told by Israelis and Palestinians that there is an unspoken Israeli state policy of taking maximal land and minimal Palestininans and the wall is designed accordingly. This shows when you just look at the walls around the West Bank and also when you compare where these walls are placed in relation to the 1967 borders.
Palestinians from the West Bank have different license plates than Israelis and East Jerusalem residents so IDF easily identify who is who. And mostly Israelis can no longer easily enter the West Bank areas where there are Palestinians. From UN literature, I've learned there are about 650 obstacles to movement in the West Bank created and controlled by IDF. Many of these obstacles shift location from day to day. These obstacles include roadblocks (with 1-meter square concrete blocks in the middle of the road), trenches dug so cars can't pass, checkpoints, large terminals like in Bethlehem, and others. Some are manned by soldiers. Some are not. These 650 obstacles are in an area about 1/5 the size of New Jersey. Our delegation leaders who've been coming here several years say Palestinians are now moving around little because of the obstacles to movement (which are also strangling the economy). Journeys that used to take 30 minutes can now take 2 to 6 hours because of c!
ircuitousness and checkpoints.
Many Palestinian towns are under curfew from the evening through the night so if a medical emergency occurs then, you cannot get to the hospital. I've been told stories of women giving birth at checkpoints on the street as they try to get through to a hospital. I've also heard of people dying in ambulances at checkpoints as people try to convince soldiers to allow the ambulance through. A student I met up north told me of seeing a man die of a heart attack at a checkpoint. She also told me about a friend who was in a car with friends when soldiers stopped the car, told them to roll up the windows, and as the windows were close to rolled up, threw a tear gas cannister into the car. A man in a wheelchair who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by a soldier 3 years ago told me he was recently made to sit in the sun at a checkpoint without food or water for 5 hours.
Okay, back to Bethlehem, we went to Deheisheh Refugee camp and talked with Nidal and others, all born here. Deheisheh is one of 59 refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Deheisheh has 11,000 people (6,000 of whom are children). In 1948, Nidal's mother and sibs fled their home in Zakaria (a village now in Israel) for the hills because Zionist gangs were bombing Palestinian villages. She thought she return soon after things quieted (as had happened before) and left everything in her house. She never saw Zakaria again and ended up in Deheisheh. At first people lived in tents. Then the UN built 9' by 9' rooms for each family (for about 6 people/room). There were 25 rooms/building, 2 outside toilets (for 150 people), no electricity, and little water. Later, more cement block structures were built. Today Deheisheh is a tightly packed community extending up a hill. I expected a "Refugee Camp" to look more temporary----this looks permanent. After !
spending 1948 to 1967 under Jordanian rule, in 1967 Deheisheh (and the rest of the West Bank) came under Israeli military occupation. In 1967 about 1/3 of Deheisheh fled and went abroad, having become refugees now a second time.
Nidal says that with the Israeli occupation curfews began and continue today. In curfews, people are forbidden to leave their homes and sometimes forbidden to open windows. You cannot leave your home to go to the toilet outside. People sit in their cramped homes for days to weeks, sometimes in the dark. There are snipers up high and troops on the ground. If soldiers see anyone outside buildings they shoot to kill. Nidal knows many killed during curfews, including a 60-year-old man killed bringing food to his family (via 30 bullets from a tank) and a 12-year-old boy. Nidal's cousin was killed as he jumped a fence from his house to his sister's next door. Curfews last days to weeks. The longest curfew was 84 days. For many years (based on a study Deheisheh did), they have been under curfew for about 4 months/year. Curfew is lifted 2 hours every several days. However, curfew in Bethlehem (the place to buy food and supplies) is lifted during different hours than Deheis!
heh's. So to get food you must leave your home when Bethlehem's curfew is lifted but Deheisheh's is not (so you could well get shot).
Nidal also told us that the local Arabic paper is censored by the military (to varying degrees from year to year). Terms like "occupation," "Palestine," "Palestinians," or mention of the curfew system have been forbidden. (As an aside, an international I met told me that the Palestinian Counseling Center in East Jerusalem has been told recently by the Israeli authorities that they will lose their permit to operate unless they change their name to the "Arab Counseling Center" and so they are changing their name). The Deheisheh library must submit the list of books they want to order and the military has to approve the list (i.e., the military forbids some books, including a book by Franz Fanon, an Algerian psychiatrist who wrote about colonialism and oppression).
Today, IDF soldiers come into Deheisheh regularly at night in jeeps with weapons, search homes, and sometimes take young men. An American psychologist visiting here told me that 90% of Deheisheh children have nightmares. Most understand death and prison by age 7. I met a young man who was beaten by soldiers at age 10. He has never been to Jerusalem (6 miles away) and cannot go without a permit (which is very hard to get). Because they cannot enter Israel, many in Deheisheh (and the West Bank in general) have never seen the villages their parents and grandparents fled in 1948 (often no more than 10 or 20 miles away). Walking around I was reminded of Native American reservations: it's poor, crowded, lacking in basic amenities, with narrow alleys, rubble and garbage in the open, no greenery, and nowhere for children to play. The young man who gave us a tour said there is one UN-provided doctor for 11,000 people and she sees 280 patients/day.
I stayed two nights at Deheisheh with a family. Water is scarce. There is running water 1 day/week in the winter and 1 day every 3 weeks in the summer. I didn't take a shower. At night, I heard shots and strange loud booms.
On a tour of Deheisheh, we walked by a rubble-filled site and were told that a 5-story building had been there. The entire building was demolished by the IDF because a relative of one of the 7 families that lived in the building was convicted of a crime and serving time in an Israeli prison. This type of house demolition and collective punishment is common in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that more than 12,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed this way, typically to punish the family of a prisoner.
A Deheisheh schoolteacher told one of our delegation he hasn't been paid for 5 months because of the international boycott. His four children cry everyday because they are starving.
Many in the West Bank have told me that military orders control all aspects of life for Palestinians, including getting a driver's license, getting married, building or adding on to a house, permission to leave the West Bank, permission to go from one West Bank town to another, being able to have your mother/father/whoever in your car if you each hold different residency permits, etc. My own reading indicates an arcane, bureaucratic, and nearly impossible catch-22 system of permits to do almost anything here if you are Palestinian. For example, Palestinians in East Jerusalem must pay US$30,000 to apply for a home renovation permit and are almost always denied (leading to a lot of "illegal" construction, which is then demolished by Israel and then the people whose home was demolished have to pay the state for the costs of the demolition).
Nidal (at Deheisheh) and others said their message for Americans and for those outside is that they appreciate the humanitarian aid foreigners provide but more than anything else, they want to be treated as human beings. They want basic human rights and justice for their people. Nidal believes that a 2-state solution is no longer viable (more and more Palestinians are saying this now) because of the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank (450,000), the walls, and the ways the West Bank is now discontiguous (and therefore not governable or viable as one entity because the IDF controls all borders and all movement).
Back to my personal responses for a moment, beyond the humanitarian crisis here (which is huge), I have been shocked by the issues of control and power over Palestinians. This has been really staggering to take in. The IDF control so many aspects of daily life, from movement to physical safety to language and even thought. And life here is truly dangerous for Palestinians who live (I am really not exaggerating) each day at great risk. Though I don't live here and I know I can leave anytime, I have felt tense, fearful, and have a sense of confinement and helplessness that is hard to describe.
There is much more to say. I'll save that for future emails. I'll try to keep those shorter (figuring out what to leave out is really hard).
Thanks for reading and my best to all of you,
Ruppat Rani is the pseudonym of a U.S.-based psychologist currently in the West Bank. She is a member of an education and solidarity mission. The goal of the mission is to return to the U.S. to raise public awareness about life under military occupation so that Americans will lobby their government to end its suport of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Please distribute this email as widely as possible, but do not reveal Ruppat Rani's true identity to others so that she can return to the West Bank in the future without difficulty from the Israeli authorities. It is through direct first-person reports such as this that the world can learn about what life is actually like in the Occupied Territories for the Palestinians.
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