Jewish settlers driving by give antagonistic glances and stares, while cars and bus loads of visitors to the nearby Jewish cemetery and ‘tomb’ of the ancient biblical figures of Jesse and Ruth every now and again have one ruthless passenger who rolls down the window and comments, ‘Drop dead!’ Being called a ‘Nazi’ by Jewish settlers is a regular occurrence here – you just have to get used to it and not get pissed off.
Fawaz, a 21 year old English student, informed me this evening that he twice evaded a beating from the army and police as a result of the mere presence of International Solidarity Movement activists. It’s good to get positive feedback and to know that one is at least preventing such crimes.
Later on in the day two semi-drunk Israeli soldiers of Russian origin aggressively break up our peaceful Tuesday evening by demanding we stop filming them. Understandably so, seen as we had earlier recorded them knocking back some cans of beer in the vicinity of the Palestinian house we were taking care of. They sexually harass one of the female internationals present before cowering behind their military outpost once again.
The story behind Issa’s house in Tel Rumeida district is a key part of the successful nonviolent resistance waged here. The legal owners of the property carry blue I.D., meaning they are residents of East Jerusalem. The Israeli police informed them 7 years ago that they would lose their blue I.D. if they continued to live in the Hebron region, so they went back to Jerusalem and soon after the army occupied their house. They remained their on and off for the next 6 years. When they eventually left in early 2007 settlers occupied the house and stripped it bare. All this despite the fact that Palestinian activists managed to legally receive confirmation from the Israeli High Court that only the owner should be allowed to live there, or a tenant of the owner. Now, though the house was ransacked by the army and settlers, Palestinian ISM’ers intend on developing it into a nonviolent base to confront the occupation. It’s geographically positioned in a very significant area. Surrounded by olive groves, it finds itself located between the Tel Rumeida and Beit Hadassah settlements, hotbeds of extremism which have caused fear amongst the local Palestinian community for decades.
Atrocities have been committed against moderate, orthodox and extremist Israelis – but the concept that this is a war between two equals is a fallacy. It’s more like pitching Barcelona against Doncaster United in the F.A. Cup (no offence intended).
The life of an activist in Hebron at the moment can be summarised as follows – early to rise in order to be at military checkpoint watch. Long periods of time being alert which needs to be constructively filled to pass the day due to the nature of the work involved. Anyone who has seen the Thin Red Line will know what I am talking about. Patience is the greatest of all virtues here. Not losing your cool is tough when you daily see such violations of peoples’ civil liberties. And even when things are quiet, matters can escalate in a matter of minutes. Yesterday morning I walked out the door with a colleague to do checkpoint watch at Tel Rumeida hill and Shuhadah st., especially in order to ensure local kids and teachers starting school were not attacked by settlers nor harassed by soldiers. The Palestinian kids school in the H2 district, Qurtuba, suffered an arson attack just a few weeks ago and the school is still under repairs.
We were very surprised, as were our neighbours, to see a small machine gun stationed at a new checkpoint just 10 metres from the ISM apartment. A blue landmine (we’ve yet to confirm whether it was live or a dummy – the latter is likely) was positioned under the temporary roadblock, constructed just one hour before. So each and every person, man woman and child, were obliged to walk down a narrow passage by the road with an intimidating machine gun facing them and a very obvious belt of ammunition adjacent to it. At 10pm the same day soldiers were demanding the men who wanted to pass the checkpoint pull down their trousers. A couple of phone calls later from people who know the law alleviates the situation and the soldiers are disempowered from engaging in their completely unacceptable behaviour.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Israeli and U.S. government on August 17th, regarding a 25% increase in the already colossal aid they are granted annually, though yet to be passed through Congress – which is but a mere formality at this stage, goes to the core of the problems which exist here. $33 billion is to be granted over a 10 year period and half of this is planned to be spent on defence – or rather, offence. This blood money will be delivered efficiently and the occupation will be bankrolled for the next 10 years. So who will bankroll the nonviolent communities which need to grow and continue their quintessential work in the Occupied Territories? I can safely presume that those who have managed to read this far do not have over-bulging bank accounts, and are probably weighed down with debt most of their lives. But we have to push ourselves as much as possible to shake the bushes when we get back home and do all we can to ensure people know how and why to contribute to the ISM’s work in Palestine.
In our common humanity we reap the seeds we sow, or all too often, we reap the seeds our governments choose to sow in our names. It’s an anarchist cliché at this stage, but it’s well worth remembering: ‘war is the health of the state.’ It rings true when one also takes into consideration the internal tensions and huge amounts of finance spent on weaponry by Israel, the P.A., Hamas, etc. So rather than gun factories being built, all of us who have worked with the ISM know that the anti-occupation forces here could do with a lot more nonviolent infantry, video and digital camera factories, checkpoint observers, rakes and mattocks to assist farmers tend to their land under attack from colonial settlers, ropes and tractors to remove roadblocks, bolt cutters to cut the Apartheid fence and sledgehammers to bring down the wall. And even if you can only come for a short time, which unfortunately I was only able to afford this summer, the relationships one can develop with locals and the knowledge one can gain and share is invaluable.
And that is why I guess it is important to remember that the work of the international ISM’er is 20% in Palestine and 80% back in their home turf. I am so grateful to have worked alongside Palestinians and internationals whose efforts to struggle on despite the odds is truly inspiring. Celebrating our common Palestinian/International humanity and our nonviolent action victories, our ability to remain nonviolent despite the daily violence we face, and telling our stories (by the way, thanks for reading this far) is so important to ensure that the next wave of ISM’ers know what to expect upon arrival.