I wish I were updating this more often, but alas my internet access is limited, and not just because I am keeping busy lately. As a long-term ISM-er, it has been suggested that I am mostly stationed in Hebron so that I can help maintain a stable presence within this region, especially given that it can be the most volatile area. Especially when it comes to the settlers. Saying that, as Ramadan ends and school begins, children can be vulnerable to physical attacks by settlers. So within a few weeks, we’ll be walking children to school. But seemingly children don’t really like me, we’ll see how that one goes!
ANTI-WALL DEMONSTRATION IN NIL’IN, LAST FRIDAY: Maybe a little more sparse in numbers, since its Ramadan. It is a seemingly quiet demonstration, but its just a matter of time before you are visible to the military as you approach the concrete barrier, and tear gas (in the form of grenades and cannisters. EXTREMELY HOT!) are being fired. They say, if you don’t want to be hit by the tear gas, stay at the front! They fire it so high in the air that it lands meters away from the shebab throwing rocks at the soldiers, so you might be better off at the front…..
It has this thunderous sound to it, its going off right above your head. Or it sounds like popcorn. Or fireworks. Kind of scary. Made me think it was gonna fall on top of me, but that wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t fired on our level, and you’re close to the wall. I think its the type of thing you get used to. Well, certainly the demonstrating Palestinians have to.
In terms of the behavior of the soldiers, they are on the other side of the barrier, but you can still see them through the fence which symbolises where the barrier will continue being built. You see the shebab gesturing and calling them, but they don’t responding to them, only with more and more teargas. Whenever I saw fire starting up across the field, things like settlers burning olive trees sprung to mind, but that is how hot teargas is. The soldiers don’t advance towards the protestors like they do in Bil’in, they remain stationary. Then again, this is my first Nil’in demonstration, so I could be wrong.
People who have been here longer than I have question why the soldiers seem to be more relaxed with demonstrators than usual. Not that they respect Ramadan or anything (though that may be the illusion they would like to set) but perhaps it relates to how much more intense things may become once September arrives? Nil’in- along with Nabi Saleh and various other villages- have experienced house raids during the night, for many nights in a row. Not just for a mere exercise of what power and control they have, but because “it is part of training for September,” suggested one local activist.
The best way I would describe the experience of tear gas, when it effects you, is that it is like rubbing chillies into your face and your eyes, and other parts of your flesh that is exposed. And then there’s the feeling that you want to vomit, you’re constantly spitting, you’re “crying” (well, they don’t call it tear gas for nothing!) and of course, you cannot see. Which is dangerous, considering you are on a hill covered in rocks and stones and are trying to get away from tear gas exploding a few meters away from you!
But if you thought that was bad….. some people were discussing “rumours” that the military wants to use tear gas that causes incontinence….. so if the feeling of having to puke in front of people wasn’t embarassing enough, then how about shitting yourself….. one Palestinian activist seemed confident that this could happen.
ANTI-WALL DEMONSTRATION IN WALAJEH, LAST SATURDAY: Now this one was more peaceful, but that doesn’t mean the soldiers aren’t twats. A local activist from the village called Sheerin gave a lecture on the hilltop to demonstrate/show the 2,000 dinnums (I think that’s the measurement, you do the maths :-P) of land that would be confiscated by the continuing apartheid wall project. Many people who turned up- Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals were not demonstrating, but clearing up an abandoned building consisting of rocks that was erected and then abandoned in 1938, if I remember correctly….. Still, the soldiers are a few meters from you, standing above to monitor what we were up to. What a daunting feeling it is (not in a good way) to have men in khaki uniforms, sporting huge rifles coming in their numbers to watch what you are doing, but coming and going just to throw you off-guard a bit.
You have to turn up to demonstrations hours earlier, so as not to go through flying checkpoints. I didn’t have my passport with me, so they never saw my ID, but it turns out that I managed to enter the village in the end anyway. Phew!
THIS MONDAY: Me and a few other ISM-ers based in Hebron met up with a local who was going to show us the settlements. But it got cancelled for another day, and so as we were making our way back home, we encountered four soldiers, with their rifles poised walking in a single file fashion. Seemed strange. They entered a building, which looked to me to be a little too quiet and maybe even abandoned? We immediately started to film them and followed them, verbally confronting them all the way. With me, it is typical that I get my knickers in a twist when I confront these types of, err, people. I get kinda angry, GRRR.
They say, “You’re distracting us!” and they try to be diplomatic. Distracting them from what? Raiding a house full of dangerous equipment, like tea cups, matresses, a television….. Our presence coupled with them being filmed at the same time means they tell us to stay back, though we were doing nothing much, apart from questioning them.
An elderly woman emerged from the bathroom that she was using, she was interrupted by the soldiers. Her head was covered with a towel, too late to place her hijaab on. She was encouraging us to come closer as a soldier harassed her, but another inhabitant of the house was gesturing at us to go back.b The poor little grrrl hid behind her mother, seemed frightened 😦 Initially, I did not know what to do, apart from see what the soldiers were up to. It was difficult, given that you do not know if that is what the family want. It is routine, they face this all the time, no stranger to arbitrary raids by the military. But I’m glad that we were welcomed into the home afterwards, for tea (“But isn’t it Ramadan?”) and they gave us whatever they had in their fridge, insisted on it! Very generous people, the Palestinians are. Can’t get over it! ^_^ I’m pleased that they appeared grateful that we tried to intervene….. I wonder, what would have been, were we not there, or if we were invisible?
Also on the same day, on our way to Sheikh Jarrah and walking up Salah Ad Din street to monitor the settlers, we encountered two young Palestinian men who owned a small stall near the markets, positioned near the kerb on the pavement. They weren’t working. Rather, they were being detained by three Israeli police (I don’t know exactly what their role is, but I would just say that they are between soldiers and police. That is at least how they look).
Of course we could not ignore it, so we questioned why they were being held, and couldn’t talk? I was told, “This is not your business!” Oh no….. militarist and very macho men shouldn’t tell a young queer feminist grrrl what her business is! He’s lucky I’m in ISM 😛 Made me mad, and they were ridiculing us filming them. They were trying to come over all friendly, and make humour out of our concern for these young men being detained. But as such, they have no better way for them to respond than to trivialise how you feel by laughing it off. Wankers.
So, why were they being detained? One Israeli told me it because “they have no ID.” So apparantley having lack of, or no ID makes you a nobody, and they were going to be arrested and sent away. We refused to leave until we were sure these Israelis left the street, but only went a few meters away so we couldn’t see them (but we could, mwah-ha-ha-ha). One ISM-er said she saw them harassing other people on the streets as well.
This was late in the evening, when the fast was broken. These two young men were first approached by those Israelis when they were engaging in prayer. They were told to stop, and they began physically assaulting them, slapping their faces, taking their prayer mats etc. One of those young men, whilst being detained, was clearly very upset and crying. We never saw them being physically assaulted when we were present, so I guess those Israelis saw something of a good PR opportunity once we arrived and started to show concern.
Again, I don’t know whether it is right to stay and observe, in case the Palestinians do not agree with our presence. At the time, we couldn’t communicate with them.
Finally, they were “let off,” and one of them was taken to our ISM shit-proof tent in Sheikh Jarrah. They shook our hands, expressing their gratitude in Arabic and a little broken English.
I was in Sheikh Jarrah for two nights. Another ISM-er was there for four. He described how quiet it has been of late, in terms on the behaviour of the settlers. It varies, its not predictably. I mean, who would ever think of shit coming their way?
Though usually frustrating, some evenings monitoring the settlers in Sheikh Jarrah can consist of just singing “Muslamic Ray Guns” over and over, devising strange chat-up lines that pervy settlers may use, and or course, very deep thought-provoking intellectual and philosophical discussion. Or playing guitar and singing “Old McDonald”, only this time “settlement” replaces “farm.”
I’ve just about managed to keep things together. It can be emotionally draining, and hard to feel radical when there are so many crazy things going on around you, and you can only do so much. Loads of people here have some kinda “guilt complex.”
So, I’m missing you’ll dearly. Noone said it was gonna be easy, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a breeze or anything. And with that, I would just say that solidarity with Palestine is not something that begins in Palestine, nor end in Palestine. We must carry it out wherever we are. So, I hope you are all causing and getting into the right amounts of trouble back in the UK! Fight on!
I love you all, in a non-heteronormative way, and just as much as the Tories love to wreck and devastate the lives of the vulnerable. XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO