By Jordan Flaherty
I have so much to say, but so little time. So here’s a few brief notes. We arrived here about a week ago. The first two days were legal training, nonviolence training, consensus training, jail solidarity training. All preparations for our two weeks of direct action. We can expect to be tear gassed, fired at with rubber bullets, attacked by Settlers, arrested, and more…but, actually, as a group of pretty high-profile international observers, we’re quite safe. Really.
Then it began.
Day One was the tank. A brief explanation: In Palestinian cities and villages, the Israeli military regularly declares areas closed military zones. One day, without warning, a tank rolls into your neighborhood, and you’re not allowed to leave your home. It could be for hours, it could be for weeks.
In Ramallah, we confronted a tank that was parked a couple blocks from Arafat’s compound. We walked towards it, a group of sixty internationals. They fired above our heads, we dropped to the ground in a “die-in”. Media swarmed around. USA Today (strange, right?), Al Jazeera TV, BBC radio, and many others. The next day, we saw ourselves on the front page of the papers.
After the action, we went to Arafat’s compound. He shook all of our hands, welcomed us, several of us made statements, he made a statement, we asked a couple questions, he answered, gave us warm thanks for coming, and asked us to stay for lunch.
The food just kept coming. Chicken and lamb curry, sandwiches, pizza, strawberries, juice, more fruit, dessert pastries. Then, the sixty of us stayed sitting on the floor of the large meeting room in the middle of President Arafat’s compound for another hour or so having affinity group meetings.
I hope that last sentence was as surreal to read as it was to type.
Day Two, we went to several Palestinian villages to hear first-hand stories from the occupation. I feel a heavy obligation to try to convey effectively what we saw and heard. But it’s so much, I feel I can barely scratch the surface.
The first thing that struck me was the lack of fredom of movement. At all of these villages, they have roadblocks just outside of town. These are huge mounds of dirt put there by Israeli bulldozers to keep people from driving out of their homes. So people must take a taxi, get out and walk, get another taxi, etc. Then, at various places, are the checkpoints. The Israeli military blocks off the roads and checks ID of anyone wishing to pass. They regularly, and arbitrarily, refuse to let Palestinians pass, harass them, and beat them. And there’s nothing they can do, no law to turn to.
Next to the blocked off Palestinian roads are the new, unobstructed highways for Israelis only. No Palestinians allowed. Israeli cars have different colored license plates, so it’s easy to enforce. Obviously, with movement this restricted comes so many other problems. No ambulances can reach these villages. And when they can get someone to an ambulance, they often die inside, waiting for hours at a military checkpoint. Jobs are nearly impossible to commute to. Those that can get work, and can get past the roadblocks and checkpoint, regularly spend hours to commute a few miles.On the hills above the villages we saw are Israeli Settlements. These are built on land confiscated from Palestinians. From their homes on the hills, the Israelis regularly shoot down at the Palestinians. They go onto Palestinian farmland and destroy their crops, uproot their olive trees, dump waste in their water supply. Again, for the Palestinians, there is no law to turn to. No justice.
We brought them 500 olive trees, and plan to help them plant them. We met students at Bir Zeit University, now closed by the Israeli’s for the past three weeks. Many students must stay there, because if they go home, they wont be allowed to come back again. They wont be allowed through the checkpoints.
The students, as with everyone we’ve met, have been extremely kind. All that they ask is that we try to get their story out. To let the outside world know what they must live with.