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Re-Ignited in Palestine: Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians

Re-Ignited in Palestine: Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians
by The Shmoogster

The Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians had their first reunited circus extravanganza last night. Due to heavy rains, our flames were dampened 2 weeks ago when we attempted to have our first 2007 circus show in Tel Rumeida.

Last night, however, Katie and I brought our fire poi and our fire juggling torches to H2, and filled those Occupied streets with glee.

H2, for those of you who may not know, is an area of Hebron that was divided up under what was called the “Hebron Protocols” in 1997. H1, making up 80% of Hebron, was to be granted limited autonomy under the supervision of the Palestinians Authority. H2, where the Tel Rumedia neighborhood is located, was placed under the full control of the Israeli military.

What this translates to is that anyone living in H1 (under ‘limited ‘autonomy’) is subject to arbitrary home invasions and incursions by the Israeli military. In H2, however, under the control of the Israeli army, things are a lot more intense and unbelievable…

No Palestinians are allowed to drive cars of any kind in H2. If you are sick, you must be carried through the checkpoint where an ambulance may be waiting for you on the other side. Same hold true for pregnant women, who have to move from Tel Rumeida some time before giving birth to ensure that they are close to a medical facility.

Tel Rumeida is unlike any other place in the West Bank. Illegal, extremist settlers live side by side with the Palestinians, often in Palestinian homes whose residents fled from the soldier and settler violence. Settlers carry M-16 rifles as they walk the streets with their families. Settler youth and, at times, settler adults, throw stones at and spit on Palestinian women, men, and children, while the Israeli soldiers stand idly by.

At the checkpoint in Tel Rumeida, soldiers will detain Palestinian men for sometimes hours while the soldiers do a “security check.” This should normally take just a few minutes, but often the soldiers will detain the men for hours, just because they feel like it.

The Tel Rumeida Circus was initiated as a response to de-escalate these situations. Katie and I were playing with our circus toys with the Palestinian children on Shuhadda Street. On this street, settlers commonly break Palestinian windows and throw stones at Palestinians and international human rights advocates.

The kids do not usually enter the street because they are afraid of being attacked by the violent settlers. But when we would arrive with out juggling pins and poi, smiles stretching from ear to ear would be seen galloping down the stairs to join on for our quaint circus show.

We noticed on one of these days that a Palestinian man had been detained at the checkpoint for quite some time. Katie and I decided to bring our mock-circus performance to the checkpoint. It was already an absurd scene– 18 year old Israeli soldiers detaining a Palestinian man at a crappy little checkpoint, separating Palestinian land from Palestinian land. So we decided to add to the absurdity while adding a bit of non-violent intervention to the scene.

So we brought our show to the checkpoint. Our attempt was to put the soldiers in a better mood which would lead into them releasing the Palestinian detainee. Katie and I improvisationally announced: “We are the Tel Rumeida Circus…” We spun our poi and juggled our pins there, next to the checkpoint. And it worked. After a little while, the Palestinian was released and we departed back down Shuhadda St. And we would return as often as we could to Shuhadda St with our equipment, making our spontaneous circus shows when a detention was occurring.

We eventually grew and started to teach the kids how to do circus tricks.

And we would do our TRCDP fire show every Friday night…

So last night was our special Palm Sunday Performance of TRCDP. (Actually, that was just a coincidence). Our audience of Palestinian children was so excited—it had been over 7 months since we last performed on those streets in H2. The internationals were pretty excited as well.

Two Israeli soldiers could be seen several meters away. I saw one of them on the phone…

We played with our fires for nearly half an hour.

Our circus soundtrack blasted from on of the Palestinian shops.

As we finished, a tank whirled around the corner in our direction, but our circus had already been extinguished. Maybe they were coming to stop us. Maybe they were coming to join us. Regardless, we will reunite there every Friday. And TRCDP has already started planning to get our show on the road. Our goal is to perform at as many permanent checkpoints as we can. We’ll see you at a checkpoint near you.

All of this circus stuff was preceded by Land Day. There a handful of places where non-violent demonstrations against Apartheid were taking place. I found myself at the demo in Bil’in….

Bil’in Commemorates Land Day

All over the West Bank on Friday and Saturday, non-violent demonstrations were enacted against Israel’s Apartheid Wall and Israel’s theft of Palestinian land.

This year was the 31st anniversary of “Land Day,” a day when Palestinians commemorate the killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee in 1976. Israeli troops killed these non-violent demonstrators during peaceful protests over the confiscation of Palestinian lands.

Land Day’s theme encompasses the Palestinian struggle against foreign occupation, the strive for self-determination, and national liberation. Today’s theme additionally focused on Israel’s Apartheid Wall and the denial of freedom of movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Simultaneously, non-violent and direct actions were taken against Israel’s current system of Apartheid throughout Palestine. Palestinians were joined by Israeli and international solidarity activists in the villages of Bil’in, Umm Salamuna, Budrus, and Qaffin, among other places.

In Bil’in, the non-violent demonstrations have endured for well over two years now. Israel’s Apartheid Wall has stolen around 60% of Bil’in agricultural land. Still, Palestinians in Bil’in march every Friday against this obstruction and blatant barrier to peace. With their numbers usually in the hundreds, the demonstrators continue to march to the Wall, where Israeli army routinely responds to the non-violent demonstrators with tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets.

On Saturday, the commemoration of Land Day, things weren’t very different.

About 150 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals gathered outside of the mosque in Bil’in. Posters were plastered to the walls bearing the message of Land Day.

Half way through the march to the Wall, separating the Palestinians from their land, one could spot Israeli soldiers hiding out under olive trees, lounging out in the backyards of Palestinians, waiting for the chance to intervene with the demonstration.

When I arrived to the gate in the Wall, a soldier was holding up a piece of paper and was speaking in Hebrew. Presumably this was their “Closed Military Zone” order. Palestinian and international press were already on the hill beside the gate. As the rest of the march showed up, slogans were thrown, “No to the Wall. No to Occupation.”

On the other side of the wall, an Israeli police water tank waited to shoot its high-powered hose at the demonstrators. They have used this in the past. Though I have never felt it, others have said that the chemicals the police put in the water make it “feel as if your skin is peeling off when it hits you.”

Demonstrators, demanding to get to their land on the other side of the Wall, began trying to dismantle the barbed wire that the army placed on the inside of the Wall. The police tank then began shooting its hose towards the demonstrators. They fired the hose a few times before the soldiers eventually crossed the barbed wire and into the non-violent crowd.

With their shields and helmets and guns as protection, some soldiers started to push at the demonstrators. Against the soldiers’ armor, some rocks were thrown by some of the Palestinian boys. In response, the army started to throw sound grenades from over the fence in the direction of the demonstration.

The army then crossed the demonstrators who had gathered at the gate and began to fire rubber bullets towards the direction of the rock throwers. The marchers who were still working on getting to the gate began to retreat from the firing, and back toward the village.

This left the demonstration in two parts—a “divide and conquer” tactic I think.

Soldiers tried to arrest one Palestinian protestor but the crowd around him “de-arrested” him by locking extremities. Several Palestinians were forced to the ground with Israeli shields. Some sound grenades were thrown in intervals. Off in the distance you could hear the army shooting rubber bullets at the crowd who had retreated.

Slogans and chants were made towards the army. After about an hour, the demonstration came to an end and people began heading back to the village. Memory told me that the army would continue to fire sound grenades and tear gas as the peaceful demonstrators were retreating. And today was no different.

As the Israeli soldiers were coming back from firing at other section of the demonstration near the village, they crossed us and began to fire tear gas. Three or four Palestinian boys were slinging rocks from the bottom of the hill towards the armed Israeli soldiers at the top, and the boys began their new targets.

But every few meters you would hear a canister hit the ground and see the smoke rise from it. Nearer to the village, I could see a water tank on a Palestinian’s rooftop which had been hit with presumably live ammunition.

Land Day in Bil’in ended with no arrests and minor injuries.

At the Checkpoint also ended with no arrests or injuries.

Last Saturday, photographer Khaled Jarrar exhibited his photos at the Qalandya checkpoint. The name of the exhibit was called “At the Checkpoint.”

Qalandya checkpoint is not located on any border. Instead, the checkpoint has been erected between the Palestinian towns of Ramallah and Qalandya refugee camp, on one side, ar-Ram and Occupied East Jerusalem on the other. Thus Palestinians are forcibly parted from Jerusalem– the historical, economic, spiritual, and physical heart of the West Bank.

Passage through Qalandya checkpoint has become nearly impossible for most Palestinians, and for those needing to reach nearby Jerusalem. In order to reach home, work, and families, Palestinians must cross through this fortress-like structure. Passage is denied to Palestinians without an Israeli-issued Jerusalemite residency I.D. or permit. Palestinians– women and men, young and elderly, are all subject to this form of collective punishment.

Eligible Palestinians must usually exit the car on either side of the massive barrier, make their way through a maze of turnstiles, gates, Israeli soldiers and security, metal detectors and video cameras, before exiting the other side where they can board another vehicle to reach their destinations. This nightmare is even worse when a medical emergency is involved. Palestinians seeking medical attention are often refused crossing by the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint.

Several of us volunteers met Khaled a little while before the exhibit was to go up. We scoped the scene– are there soldiers present? Available space to hang the photographs? It was little windy that day but we had to wait for the right moment. There were a few local and international media outlets present… And then it was time.

There were about 10 of us there at Khaled’s car. Each of us took 3-4 photographs, pre-wired for hanging, so that we could just find a spot on the fence and begin the art exhibit.

After 5 minutes, all 60 or so photos were hung. I heard some Hebrew being yelled from the top of the Apartheid watch tower, but I wasn’t sure if it was directed at us or not. Passers-by started to walk in the direction of the makeshift gallery to see what all the commotion was about. Cars that were waiting to cross through the gate in the Apartheid Wall began to pull into the parking lot next to the checkpoint, and the drivers joined the observers at the art show.

The photographs displayed scenes at the numerous checkpoints that Israel has erected through the West Bank. Photos of Israeli soldiers screaming at elderly Palestinians as they waited to cross the barrier to reach their families and friends; endless lines of Palestinians waiting for hours in the hot sun, just to reach their homes; sound grenades exploding at peaceful demonstrations; Palestinian hand wrapped around barbed wire that the Israeli army placed near the checkpoint.

Khaled told me that he “wants to share the pain and plight of the Palestinians with the world.” He pointed towards the checkpoint. “This is what the Palestinians have to deal with everyday. A wall separating them from their land, from their families, from Jerusalem. Through my photos, I want to show the world the injustices we are living with everyday.”

Just the day before, as I mentioned in my last dispatch, the Israeli military shut down the YMCA-sponsored bicycle race. The race was a symbolic race against Israel’s Apartheid system, scheduled to bike from Ramallah, past Qalandia checkpoint, all the way down hill fdor 30 miles or so to Jericho, one of the most ancient cities on the planet.

Khaled was there taking photographs, his camera lens sticking out the back of the van in which he was riding. He snapped a few of me just a few minutes before we got to a small checkpoint where the Israeli army halted our exhilirating bike race. You can read my bike race story at: http://joeskillet.livejournal.com/12220.html

Khaled rushed home that night and developed and framed his photographs. There were a handful of pictures now hanging up at Qalandia checkpoint of that botched bike race the day before.

More people started to arrive, people coming in through the fortress from Jerusalem, and others going to. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti even showed up. Dr Barghouti is a doctor who was trained in the former Soviet Union – He headsthe Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, that he established back in 1979.

Here he is attending the “At the checkpoint” exhibit:

and here he is being surrounded by Israeli soldiers a couple years ago:

The photo exhibit stayed up from 1pm -4pm. There were no reported incidents of the Israeli Occupation Forces intervening.

Like the Tel Rumeida Circus for Detained Palestinians, Khaled plans to take his show “to a checkpoint near you.”

TRCDP: http://trcdp.livejournal.com

Khaled Jarrar: http://palgallery.com/

Peace out yinz….