Sunday, September 18, 2005

Touring the Countryside

Today I went on a tour to Deir Ballout, a village north of Ramallah that has been effected by the wall. We met at 8am at the post office (which was actually open for once) and then road a charted bus to the village. On the way we ran into a flying a check point (not a permanent structure, just something that appears and disappears at the whim of the Israeli’s. After two weeks of being here, I’m proud to say that my heart rate doesn’t accelerate anymore when I approach a checkpoint. P, a Canadian student, was filming from the window of the bus as we approached the checkpoint with a little handheld camcorder. When we stopped, the soldier approached the bus and immediately asked P to put down the camcorder in Arabic. P, playing stupid, replied that he didn’t speak Hebrew. Then the soldier made us all get out of the bus (P was still filming). He demanded to see P’s passport, and looked like he was going to give him a hard time, then A, another student, starting approaching the soldier with his camcorder asking if there was a problem . . . Luckily, the soldier decided not to make a big deal out of it and let us all get back on the bus and head out without even checking the rest of our passports.

I had noticed that there was a carload of Palestinian men who had been pulled over before us, and can’t help but wonder if the soldiers took out their annoyance at us on those men. Although most us on the bus were foreigners, our guide and our driver were both Palestinian, and the situation could have gotten ugly if they wanted it to . . .but P and A didn’t consider that in their moment of bravery.

(I can hear gunfire while I’m writing this in my apartment . . .)

We approached another checkpoint, this one permanent, at the entrance of the village we were visiting. This checkpoint blocks all traffic coming from and heading to Ramallah. Apparently, if the soldiers decide to close the checkpoint at night, people with medical emergencies from the village have to drive all the way north to Jenin or Qalquilia instead of the much shorter trip to Ramallah (which also has better facilities). At this checkpoint the soldier didn’t even bother stopping us once he saw P with his camcorder, so we headed into the village without any trouble.

We visited the town mayor, who explained how the villagers have been effected by the wall and the checkpoint (some of the villagers are actually outside the checkpoint) and how the village has been split into three separate territories: “A” controlled by the Palestinian Authority; “B” which is controlled by both the Israelis and the Palestinians; and “C” which is considered under Israeli control. I guess the village has about 5000 villagers inside the checkpoint, and about 1500 outside.

We visited the site that was being cleared for the wall, which will separate this village from its neighboring village, and the home of a man who refuses to leave even though the wall will cut right through his land. I also learned that the people who do most of the actual clearing and building of the wall are Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. I can’t image how awful it must be to have to decide to build your own prison because you so desperately need the money to feed your family . . . it reminded me of Nazi’s during WWII forcing Jews to dig their own mass graves before massacring them.

Next we visited a man whose home is in between the Wall and an Israeli settlement. He literally has the Wall to the left of his home a settlement on the right. In front of his house is a checkpoint that leads into the settlement. His house is completely fenced in on each side, either with the concrete wall or barbed wire and electric fencing. Even from the top of his two story house you can’t see over the 8 meter high wall to the rest of his village. The settlers are so close that they throw stones at this man and his family when they leave their house, and the stones have broken the solar panels on the house that provide hot water for him and his family.

ISM and Women Against the Wall came and painted murals on the family’s side of the wall, which helps a little, but the absurdity of the situation is unfathomable. The family has a key to the gate of their home, but only after many international groups lobbied for them. Even though they now have a key to the gate, they still have to go through the checkpoint to get into their town, so many times the children either can’t go to school, or can’t get home after school.

The man said that this is his fate, and his family will not leave this land. They were refugees from the 1948 areas, and he said they will not leave again. The Israeli government has offered the family an open check to buy the land (they don’t dare demolish it because of the international organizations that are involved), but the family has refused the money. The steadfastness of this man and his family is amazing and inspiring.

While we were there his 5 and 7 year old children came home from school. Not at all surprised by our group, they went around and shook everyone’s hand. They are obviously very used to curious internationals visiting, taking pictures, and asking questions.

We climbed back into the bus after about an hour and went back to the first village where we ate a traditional lunch then listened to a presentation from Women for Life, and the story of a woman who spent 11 years in an Israeli jail for being a member of Fatah. She was imprisoned in 1986 for supposedly killing a Israeli soldier. When she got out of prison, after years of torture and abuse, her son who had been 9 years old when she was imprisoned, was 20. She was not allowed one family visit the entire time of her imprisonment. She described horrible conditions where the food was contaminated with mice droppings, there wasn’t any clean water, and people were left in solitary confinement for months at a time. She said she was beaten, starved, tied up, sprayed with water and left tied to a chair in a room in the middle of winter with the air conditioning on. She described being shoved into a chamber like a dog kennel where you wouldn’t stand or lay flat for days at a time, expected to shit and piss on herself without any food or light, in complete silence or with a radio blasting in her ears.

She talked about 14 year old girls being in prison with her, and about a woman who has imprisoned while pregnant and was forced to give birth while tied to a bed.

Even after all of that, after losing 11 years of her life for a crime she didn’t commit, she is still willing to talk to groups of foreigners. American’s have so much freedom that they never use or appreciate and this woman who has lost so much is still willing to be politically active after all that she has suffered and lost.

I am so thankful to be an American and to have all the rights and privilidges that come with my dark blue passport – but at the same time I am ashamed of my country. I am embarrassed to admit that I am an American, and my country is the a huge part of the reason that Israel is able to maintain this occupation and torture these people.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sahar! The Palestinians who are building the wall are being paid to do so. You may not agree with this policy, but it is their choice to participate in the walls construction! The Jews who were massacred by the Nazis were slaves!!! How could you make that comparison?

1:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home