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In the Eyes of the State, We Don’t Exist Here

May 1, 2010

My latest for Electronic Intifada just scratches the surface of injustices throughout Israel (Historic Palestine) against Palestinians. This week, the people of Dhammash should hear back from the Israeli Supreme Court about the thirteen home demolition orders and the road closure threat. I’ll be updating this story as it develops — one of the least-reported stories coming out of Palestine.

“In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here”
Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 16 April 2010

One of the homes slated for demolition in Dhammash village. (Nora Barrows-Friedman)

Israeli forces carried out several major home demolition operations on Wednesday, 14 April, within three separate areas in the occupied West Bank. The demolitions left dozens of people homeless in Hares (near the northern town of Tulkarem); and the towns of Beit Sahour and al-Khader near Bethlehem. Several Palestinian-owned shops in Hares were also reduced to rubble and rebar as Israeli officers threatened residents with future demolitions in the area.

Jonathan Pollack of Anarchists Against the Wall and the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee wrote in a press release, “The massive Israeli bulldozer demolished the house of Ali Mousa [in al-Khader], which was home to nine people, including a one year-old baby, as soldiers prevented anyone from nearing the house — including the family’s lawyer, who showed soldiers a 2006 court-issued injunction [against] the demolition.”

These attacks on Wednesday highlight the ongoing crisis of expanding Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land — but these policies are not limited to the boundaries of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, in the Negev desert, Israeli police invaded the Bedouin village of al-Araqib, destroying three houses. At the same time, Israeli forces once again razed to the ground all tents, huts and water collection containers in Twail Abu Jarwal, in a move that a spokesperson for the Regional Council on Unrecognized Villages in the Negev said was the “fortieth time … in the last few years” that these homes and structures have been destroyed.

And on Monday, 12 April, 13 house demolition orders were handed out by Israeli police to Palestinian homeowners in Dhammash village, an “unrecognized village” far away from the Negev — and the media’s attention.

Dhammash is located between two major so-called “mixed cities” in Israel, Lydd and Ramle. Ten minutes away from the Ben Gurion International Airport, this area is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places in the Middle East. And for the last 62 years, Palestinians in Dhammash have fought to remain on their land as the Israeli government continues to take draconian measures to squeeze them out.

Along with this week’s 13 home demolition orders, Israeli police are also attempting to close the road to Dhammash village from the south, across adjacent train tracks and the city of Ramle. “This is another step towards forcing us to leave,” Dhammash community spokesman Arafat Ahmed Ismayil explained. “The [Israeli] government doesn’t care about us.”

Dhammash’s residents are Israeli citizens. They pay taxes. They vote in national elections. They speak Arabic and Hebrew. But, like all Palestinian citizens of Israel, they are systematically discriminated against and are forced to live, Ismayil said, “like tenth-class citizens.”

He explained, “We don’t have sewage systems or adequate electricity and water services. We’ve had to go to court several times to have the government provide our children with school buses. The school system itself for Palestinian youth is itself completely discriminatory — the quality of education is well below the standard for that of Jewish children.”

Community organizers told The Electronic Intifada, while walking through Dhammash village in March, that open agricultural land had been strategically destroyed and made barren by the Israeli authorities to implement a toxifying, open-air scrap metal processing center in the middle of the village. “That, now, is the only place where people can find a job in Dhammash,” one of the organizers said.

Ismayil said that there are approximately 600 Palestinians who live in 70 homes in Dhammash. Many of the homes have stood since before the 1948 Nakba, when nearly three-quarters of the Palestinians were expelled or fled from historic Palestine. All of homes, he said, are on the chopping block and have been for many years. Six homes have been destroyed since 2005, and every few months residents have to petition the Israeli courts to file one injunction after another as bulldozers roll back into the village.

“They want to build a Jewish-only condominium complex in this area,” Ismayil explained. “That’s why they want us to leave as soon as possible.”

According to the latest statistics, there are more than 110,000 Palestinians and Bedouins living in so-called “unrecognized villages” throughout the state of Israel, 80 percent of whom live in the Negev region. These villages are not found on any map, and all face regular home demolitions and a lack of basic services.

On their Israeli identification cards, Ismayil said that the government refuses to list Dhammash as their place of residence. “They either group us in with Lydd or Ramle,” he said. “According to them, we belong to nowhere. In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here.”

Dhammash residents and community organizers went to two separate courts on Wednesday, 14 April — the high court in Jerusalem for the road closure issue, and the regional court in Petah Tikvah on the demolition orders issue. “They heard our cases, and said they would issue a ruling next week,” Ismayil explained later that evening. “They didn’t tell us when that date will be. It’s all very unclear. We’re not sure what will happen.”

Ismayil asserted that home demolition policies forced upon Palestinians inside Israel are exactly the same as those in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

“There is no difference,” he said. “When they want to destroy a house, they impose a curfew, they close the area, and they bring hundreds of police and soldiers with dogs. Helicopters hover overhead. They bring busloads of Jewish extremist settlers with them to empty furniture from the houses, and arrest people who refuse to be evicted.”

“We experience the same policies of apartheid here in ’48 [Israel] as those that are in effect in the occupied territories,” Ismayil added. “People on the outside think that we’re enjoying Israel’s gift of democracy. But we’re in the exact same situation. There is no peace, no democracy here.”

Keeping independent journalism alive!

May 1, 2010

Dear friends,

I have recently updated my website with a simple PayPal donation button (upper right-hand corner of this website) because I need your help. For the past seven years, I’ve been going back and forth to Palestine primarily on my own dime; with outrageously wonderful support from family, friends and small grants who want to support the kind of independent reporting towards which I have dedicated my life.

I am planning on returning to the region in the coming months, and will need funds to assist in travel, transportation and living expenses. To give you a sense of what your donation will provide, a plane ticket can run about $1500 round-trip; the hiring of a fixer/translator is at least $25 per day; room & board is around $300/month; and transportation in-country can be anywhere from $20 to $100 per day.

All contributions, great or small, are very humbly appreciated.

Thank you so much,
Nora
Your eyes and ears on the ground

Palestinian children and the Israeli state

March 8, 2010

check out my new piece on Electronic Intifada.

Amir, ten years old, abducted by Israeli soldiers from his bed
Nora Barrows-Friedman writing from Hebron, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 8 March 2010

Amir and his mother just hours before he was abducted by Israeli soldiers. (Nora Barrows-Friedman)


Amir al-Mohtaseb smiled tenderly when I asked him to tell me his favorite color. Sitting in his family’s living room last Thursday afternoon, 4 March, in the Old City of Hebron, the ten-year-old boy with freckles and long eyelashes softly replied, “green.” He then went on to describe in painful detail his arrest and detention — and the jailing of his 12-year-old brother Hasan by Israeli occupation soldiers on Sunday, 28 February.

Hours after our interview, at 2am, Israeli soldiers would break into the house, snatch Amir from his bed, threaten his parents with death by gunfire if they tried to protect him, and take him downstairs under the stairwell. They would beat him so badly that he would bleed internally into his abdomen, necessitating overnight hospitalization. In complete shock and distress, Amir would not open his mouth to speak for another day and a half.

In our interview that afternoon before the brutal assault, Amir said that on the 28th, he was playing in the street near the Ibrahimi Mosque, on his way with Hasan to see their aunt.

“Two of the soldiers stopped us and handcuffed us,” Amir said. “They brought us to two separate jeeps. They took me to the settlement and put me in a corner. I still had handcuffs on. They put a dog next to me. I said that I wanted to go home. They said no, and told me I would stay here forever. They refused to let me use the bathroom. They wouldn’t let me call my mother. They blindfolded me and I stayed there like that until my father was able to come and get me late at night.”

Amir’s detention inside the settlement lasted nearly ten hours. “The only thing that I thought about was how afraid I was, especially with the dog beside me. I wanted to run away and go back to my house,” he said.

Amir and Hasan’s mother, Mukarrem, told me that Amir immediately displayed signs of trauma when he returned home. “He was trying to tell me a joke, and trying to laugh. But it was not normal laughter. He was happy and terrified at the same time,” she said. “He wet himself at some point during the detention. He was extremely afraid.”

Amir revealed that he hadn’t been able to sleep in the nights following his detention, worried sick about his brother in jail and extremely afraid that the soldiers would come back (which, eventually, they did). Today, approximately 350 children are languishing inside Israeli prisons and detention camps, enduring interrogation, torture and indefinite sentences, sometimes without charge. The number fluctuates constantly, but thousands of Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 16 have moved through the Israeli military judicial system over the past decade since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. Israel designates 18 as the age of adulthood for its own citizens, but through a military order, and against international law, Israel mandates 16 as the age of adulthood for Palestinians. Additionally, Israel has special military orders (#1644 and #132) to be able to arrest and judge Palestinian children — termed “juvenile delinquents” — as young as 12 years old.

“This way, they have a ‘legal’ cover for what they are doing, even though this is against international laws,” said Abed Jamal, a researcher at Defence for Children International-Palestine Section’s (DCI-PS) Hebron office. “However, in Amir’s case, they broke even their own laws by arresting and detaining him as a ten-year-old boy. These laws are obviously changeable according to Israel’s whim. We have yet to see a prosecution for crimes such as these.”

I asked Amir and Hasan’s father, Fadel, to describe how one is able to parent effectively under this kind of constant siege.

“It’s not safe for the children to go outside because we’ve faced constant attacks by the settlers and the soldiers,” he explained. “This by itself is unimaginable for us. And now, we have one son in jail and another traumatized … they’re so young.”

On Sunday, 7 March, exactly a week after Hasan’s arrest and Amir’s detention, the family and members of the local media made an early-morning journey to Ofer prison where Hasan had been held since his initial arrest. After a lengthy process in which the Israeli military judge admitted that the boy was too young to stay in prison, Hasan was released on the condition that he would come back to the court to finish the trial at a later date. This trial followed the initial hearing last Wednesday at Ofer, where Maan News Agency reported that the judge insisted that Fadel pay the court 2,000 shekels ($530) for Hasan’s bail. According to Maan, Fadel then publicly asked the court, “What law allows a child to be tried in court and then asks his father to pay a fine? I will not pay the fine, and you have to release my child … This is the law of Israel’s occupation.”

Consumed by their sons’ situations, Mukarrem and Fadel say they are trying to do the best for their family under attack. “What can we do?” asked Fadel. “We lock the doors. We lock the windows. We have nothing with which to protect our family and our neighbors from the soldiers or the settlers. If a Palestinian kidnapped and beat and jailed an Israeli child, the whole world would be up in arms about it. It would be all over the media. But the Israelis, they come into our communities with jeeps and tanks and bulldozers, they take our children and throw them into prison, and no one cares.”

DCI-PS’s Jamal reiterates the point that international laws made to protect children under military occupation have been ignored by Israel since the occupation began in 1967. “Most of the time, we try to do our best to use the law, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child as weapons against this brutality,” said Jamal. “All of these laws exist, but Israel uses their own military laws as excuses to defy international law. As Palestinians, we have to work together to create solidarity against this brutality. Through our work, we try to tell the international community what’s going on with Palestinian children to create a wide berth of support against this situation. We believe that the only way this will stop is through the support of the international community.”

Amir slowly began speaking again 36 hours after the beating by Israeli soldiers. Zahira Meshaal, a Bethlehem-based social worker specializing in the effects of trauma in children, said that Amir’s “elective mutism,” a symptom of extreme psychological shock caused by his beating and detention, is a common response, but that it is a good sign that he began talking again. “This is a reaction of fear on many levels. Amir’s house and his family are his only source of security,” said Meshaal. “This was taken away from him the moment the soldiers invaded his home. It’s easy to attend to the immediate trauma, but the long-term effects will undoubtedly be difficult to address. He’ll need a lot of mental health services from now on.”

Meshaal comments on the nature of this attack in the context of the unraveling situation inside Hebron. “We are talking about a place that is on the front lines of trauma,” she said. “This is an ongoing and growing injury to the entire community. Parents have to be a center of security for their children, but that’s being taken away from them. Especially in Hebron, the Israeli settlers and soldiers know this, and use this tactic to force people to leave the area. It’s a war of psychology. This is a deliberate act to make the children afraid and force people to leave so that their children can feel safer.”

At the end of our interview last Thursday, Amir sent a message to American children. “We are kids, just like you. We have the right to play, to move freely. I want to tell the world that there are so many kids inside the Israeli jails. We just want to have freedom of movement, the freedom to play.” Amir said that he wants to be a heart surgeon when he grows up. His mother and father told me that they hope Amir’s own heart — and theirs — heals from last week’s repetitive and cumulative trauma at the hands of the interminable Israeli occupation.

Amir

March 6, 2010

Last sunday, the Israeli military stationed and occupying inside the old city of Hebron (al-Khalil) arrested and detained two young brothers, Amir (10) and Hasan (12). They took Hasan to Ofer prison near Ramallah, where he is still being held right now. He has a court date (!) on Sunday. Imagine. a court date for a 12 year old boy.

Meanwhile, the soldiers detained Amir — ten years old — at the Kiryat Arba settlement’s detention center, blindfolded him and tied him to a chair for ten hours next to a huge military attack dog which barked and was provoked to do so by the soldiers. Not letting him go to the bathroom, he wet himself. And was terrified and traumatized.

I went to visit Amir and his family on Thursday. A sweet boy, full of spirit and laughter, was obviously still dealing with the terror he experienced, yet was still a little kid for the most part. wrestling with his cousins, fidgeting with pencils on the table, normal kid stuff. but there was a total sadness and fear in his eyes.

Thursday night, at 2am, Israeli soldiers broke into Amir’s house and snatched him from his parent’s arms (mom and dad were threatened with death by the soldiers who pointed their US-made M16s at their heads if they tried to protect Amir), took Amir downstairs to the stairwell, and beat him over and over again. When it was over, Amir’s mom and dad ran downstairs and found their boy bleeding from the mouth and nose.

He was kicked so badly in the stomach that he was bleeding internally and may need surgery. Hospitalized for a day. He hasn’t talked since the beating.

I’m going to Hasan’s court date tomorrow at Ofer prison, and then the family invited me to come with them to the mental health clinic with Amir on Monday.

This story is one of the most horrific and unbearable ones I’ve ever done. More to come soon.

Radio interview on Flashpoints

March 3, 2010

Last night, I was interviewed by Dennis on my show. Check it out here.

“I Can’t Live Without This Place”

March 3, 2010

My new piece for Electronic Intifada:

“I can’t live without this place”
Nora Barrows-Friedman writing from al-Walaja, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 3 March 2010

Abed Rabbeh in his cave holding his father’s ID and court documents proving the land belongs to his family.

“The Israeli police used a bullhorn and shouted ‘death to Arabs!’ toward me once,” Abed Rabbeh remembers, his hands wrapped around a small ceramic cup of tea. “Another time, they tried to tell me that my grandfather was born in Dheisheh refugee camp and that I have no roots in this land.” His face breaks into a wide smile. “However, I have documents that prove that my father, my grandfather and many generations before him, were born here, in al-Walaja village. Now, I’m the only one left here.”

Rabbeh, a man in his late forties, is one of the last holdouts of al-Walaja’s indigenous Palestinian population. Ethnically cleansed beginning in October 1948 by Israeli forces, most of al-Walaja village now remains a smattering of stone house ruins, destroyed wells and picnic areas frequented by ultra-orthodox settlers. The rest of al-Walaja’s uprooted population and their descendants mostly live in Dheisheh today.

Across the road — and a checkpoint — is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, and nearby is the area of the destroyed Palestinian village of al-Malha, which today is the site of an enormous soccer stadium and an equally sizable shopping mall. The sprawling, constantly expanding city of Jerusalem continues beyond the horizon. For the past 15 years, Rabbeh has lived by himself on a gently-sloping hillside in al-Walaja that he has thickened with green vegetation and abundant, hand-planted crops of all kinds of edible produce. A well-built chicken coop is at the top of his land, and calm doves mingle with a dozen constantly clucking hens and a few white rabbits.

Without permission to build a modern house here — a common restriction by Israeli policies and military orders making Palestinian village growth in the so-called “seam zone” (dozens of Palestinian enclaves in between the Israel’s inside the West Bank and the internationally-recognized green line boundary) illegal — Rabbeh has set himself up inside a Canaanite-era cave. Small, but warm inside, the cave is lined with bookshelves and decorated with photographs and newspaper clippings of articles mentioning his struggle and the struggle of Palestinians in general. A wood-burning stove sits in one corner across from a small bed and table with wooden chairs, and a tin roof extends outwards to protect the cave from the elements. Outside there is a makeshift campground-style kitchen and patio with farming supplies, tools and buckets to catch rainwater.

Rabbeh’s farmland with the Gilo settlement seen in the distance.

This corner of al-Walaja is the only remaining part of the village not fully taken and supplanted by Israeli settlements that ring the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area. Here, the expanding colonies of Gilo and Har Gilo sandwich Rabbeh’s land and settlers have their sights on this tumbling hillside. Plans are on the table to attempt to connect the illegal Jerusalem-area colonies of Gilo to the massive Gush Etzion bloc, which stretches south of Bethlehem, with a new settlement they want to call Givat Yael that would take the rest of al-Walaja — and Abed Rabbeh’s ancestral land.

Israeli government planners, along with a private settlement development corporation also called Givat Yael, say they want to house at least 45,000 Jewish Israelis on this land. “The Israelis say this is part of Jerusalem,” Rabbeh explains. “But this is technically the occupied West Bank. So I came 15 years ago to live here and prevent them from taking the rest of my land.” His wife and children live in Dheisheh refugee camp, where he was born, just a ten-minute drive east inside Bethlehem. But he says that every time he stays with his family in the camp, which is seldom, he dreams fervently about al-Walaja. “I love being here. I love this land and the food I grow here. I plant something new every day. I can’t live without this place.”

In the years following the June 1967 War and Israel’s military occupation, settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem were established on confiscated Palestinian land. The Gilo settlement blocs were first developed in 1972, and currently house more than 40,000 Jewish Israeli settlers.

Since the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, Israel’s policies of land confiscation in this area have proliferated immensely. Hundreds of acres of what was left of al-Walaja’s land were taken as the borders of settlement colonies — and those of the Jerusalem municipality itself — expanded. Today, villages in close proximity to Jerusalem, like al-Walaja, not only face settlement expansion, but regular house demolitions and annexation by the ongoing construction of Israel’s illegal wall.

Meanwhile, Jewish Israeli settlers and the Israeli police forces that protect them continue to intimidate and attack the last remaining residents of al-Walaja. “They used to come here and push me around. The police took me to the checkpoint and arrested me; they put me in jail for a few days. But I am not afraid of their attacks. The ones who should be afraid are the settlers. Because when I am gone, my sons will continue to stay here after me, and their sons. There are generations after me who will stay on this land.”

Last year, on a routine trip to Israel, US President Barack Obama was invited by Rabbeh to visit his cave and talk about his situation. Rabbeh explains that it is a microcosm of the current Palestinian struggle for basic human rights under a military apartheid regime. The US president expectedly refused; but a response letter was sent from the US Consulate in Jerusalem with a sympathetic, but brief, note of regret. When asked what he would have said to Obama, Rabbeh says he would have told the president that Palestinians “want a real peace; not only the peace that Israel wants. In the end,” he would have explained, “we are all human. We want to live normally, how everyone else in the world lives. My family and I want to live here and build our future together.”

Abed Rabbeh turns to a loud squawking noise that interrupts our conversation inside the cave. Rushing outside, we see a red fox turn and quickly leave the area, unmatched by the raucous protest of the farm’s unruffled resident rooster. Rabbeh coaxes the bird back to the coop, laughing proudly. “Every time settlers come,” he says, “I stop them. A settler once offered me millions of dollars to move and give up my land. I refused. I won’t abandon my history to live in Dheisheh, even though my family is there. I refuse to be a refugee.”

All images by Nora Barrows-Friedman.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is the co-host and Senior Producer of Flashpoints, a daily investigative newsmagazine on Pacifica Radio. She is also a correspondent for Inter Press Service. She regularly reports from Palestine, where she also runs media workshops for youth in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

Shadi al-Assi translated for this article.

daily life

March 2, 2010

Today was a heartbreaking day. there are many, and they tumble into each other. every moment of existence here is marked by the situation people are born into; heartbreak and trauma seeps into all of the angles and corners of consciousness. today, i started working on gathering interviews with young people who have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned by israel. a story i have covered for years, and one that continues to repeat itself every day here.

my dear friend (and current translator/fixer) shadi and i visited the home of a former journalism student of mine, a spirited youngster named Muhanned who, a year and a half ago, was awakened with his family at 2am by a battalion of israeli soldiers who surrounded his home in Dheisheh refugee camp. the soldiers stormed the house, ransacked it, destroyed all the furniture inside, and took Muhanned away after explaining that he would be back after just an hour at the most. that hour turned into one year of torture, detention and interrogation that Muhanned and his mother and father talked about in explicit detail. a year. he was sixteen.

i sat and listened to him tell his story; and when i spoke with his mother in particular, it brought up so much for me as a mother myself and as someone who has known and worked with this kid for years: the absolute disempowerment of a mother to protect her son; the unknowing of his fate; the stress and reverberating trauma that still echoes within the cellular structure of everyone in the family. and this story is ubiquitous throughout this family, this community, this camp, this area, and palestine for generations now. her fear for her younger children and their probable kidnappings and torture within the next few years was unshakeable. how will she put the pieces back together when her son — her community, her people — have been broken?

afterwards, shadi and i went back to his apartment and made a fantastic pasta dinner with a few close friends. we all sat and smoked and planned the evening activities, but neither i nor shadi talked about the interviews. what was there to say?

Muhanned’s story will be part of an extensive article for Electronic Intifada; look for it in the next week or two.

love & fight

nora

a treat

February 28, 2010

last night, after a day of story-gathering and falling back into my palestine habit of smoking too many cigarettes over lunch and dinner, areej and i and a group of our friends went to hear a concert kicking off Israeli Apartheid Week conferences and actions with local musicians playing pieces by the late, great Egyptian musician Sheikh Imam. it was absolutely gorgeous. afterwards, we went to dinner with a large group of people, including Mohammed Diab, leader of the internationally-renowned Palestinian group al-Asheqeen (based in London). Mohammed, born a refugee in Yarmouk camp in Syria, graced us with a few traditional Palestinian songs in the restaurant. Here’s a clip of one. Enjoy.

bethlehem hailstorms

February 26, 2010

the skies all day today were pavement in color; heavy with storm and hail and thunder and lightning that cracked just overhead. torrents. torrents and wind and hail and it was friday prayers today so people clustered around the mosques and barely anywhere else. shadi — one of my very first friends here — and i went to lunch and caught up. mapped out some story ideas for the month, and refilled both the propane heater in the apartment and the electricity card so i wouldn’t run out of light and internet for at least a few weeks. i spent most of the day carefully driving around bethlehem, avoiding massive lakes (shadi called one “the dead sea”) that pooled in the middle of busy intersections with water as high as three feet, while people in their little diesel-engine FIATs and long Mercedes taxis slogged through the ponds that form when there is no drainage on the pot-holed streets and water continues to pour from above like we’re all standing underneath Niagara falls.

the jewish holiday of purim began, and as is the usual case during major jewish holidays, israel sealed the borders of the west bank and added another layer of sealant to the gaza strip. that means that thousands and thousands of palestinians with west bank IDs and permission from the israeli administration to enter jerusalem for regular friday prayers at the al-aqsa mosque could not do so. throngs of people, many elderly men and women, were stuck at the massive checkpoint terminal between bethlehem and jerusalem for hours, in the pouring, freezing rain and hail only to be told that the borders were closed during the entire festival of purim, and therefore their prior approvals for permission to enter their holy sites — and hospitals, and clinics, and jobs — were null and void.

tomorrow, if the rain lets up, i have a date with a potentially astonishing story. we’ll see how the weather cooperates. if it doesn’t, at least i’ve got a heater, a full container of coffee, a phone for interviewing people from the comfort of the sofa and my little group of dynamite friends. fuel to begin a month of spectacular reporting on this toxic spectacle of a settler-colonial-apartheid military occupation.

love & fight

nora

Back in Bethlehem

February 25, 2010

Hi folks,

After countless hours traversing our little spinning watery planet, i’m back in bethlehem.

Time is an odd thing. From the expanding construction of the wall, to the cascading fortresses of the settlement colonies spilling over hillsides, to the PA forces out on the streets in droves, to little kids walking to school, to conversations with old friends that picked up fluidly right where they left off last year, it’s all kind of strangely familiar. They installed a new streetlight on the main road to central Bethlehem, but besides that, everything’s just pretty much the same. Oh, and there are TONS of brand-new BMWs and Mercedes Benz’s cruising all over this city. A friend of mine said that “downtown” Bethlehem now is like the Champs-Elysees of the West Bank. All that PA money, coming from the US and filtered through the Israeli administration, is doing wonders to sub-contract and normalize the occupation. Keeping it “maintained” from within, a brilliant move by Israel and the US — whose Lt. Keith Dayton of the CIA is training these PA forces in “counter-terrorism” (against their own people) in Jordan. Genius, and absolutely devastating.

This afternoon, I bought some essential groceries and started to plan out some ideas for stories. It’s going to be a fruitful and interesting month — stay tuned.