Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Janna's song



We are watching the demonstrators march at Nabih Saleh toward the checkpoint. The armored vehicles come forward, firing tear gas canisters. Explosions come near the walkers. Some kids try to get down a hill near the checkpoint. There are many explosions.

One marcher is hit in the stomach, one in the leg (both will be all right.) At least one live bullet is fired. Soldiers chase some of the kids, grabbing one on a hill side.

This time, they do not fire the skunk gas (chemicals with an odor of skunk – one wonders which of the chemists did the flavor sample…) as they did a week ago, in a stream into the rain water collecting in the black containers above the houses. Israel limits the water pressure for Palestinian homes so they are all marked by such containers.

There is also not enough water. The state of Israel diverts the water from Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for soldiers and settlers. And the soldiers ruin the last water, the rain…

***

The mother sitting near me, speaks of her sister’s son, Mohammed Tamimi, 17 years old. He protested the Israeli occupation. The soldiers fired a tear gas canister at him. It hit him in the face, his body soaked with blood from the impact. The soldiers took him to a hospital but he died.

***

Janna is 7 years old. She is brave. She walks out to sing her mourning to the soldiers. Why did you kill Mohammed? He was my best friend, she calls out to them. I love him.

The soldiers laugh. Why are you laughing? she cries at them.

Is to be a soldier of the Occupation to give up being human?

Why are you laughing, she asks?

Bilal Tamimi records the village with his camera. He has the only one. He is often harassed by the soldiers, his camera smashed. But he gets another. Here is his film of her speaking.

***

She sings a song which includes the phrase:

Who is right, who is wrong.

She points to them when she sings: who is wrong.

***

The Israeli government talks of "terrorists." The Army of the Occupation is the terrorists. No soldier near Nabih Saleh has been attacked. No settler has been attacked since 2002

The Palestinians for a time pursued a tactic of suicide bombing – one in which young people blew themselves up and murdered the civilians near them. There were not so many but each act was a riveting and awful crime. This crime against innocents also strengthened reactionary politicians who sought to dispossess even further the Palestinians.

A zeal to oppose "Islamic terrorism" can, however, blind one to he facts on the ground. Israel is an occupying army. Israel is forcing, day by day, Palestinians from the territories, brutalizing, murdering, dispossessing, denying the right to build a home, arresting children in the night for long detentions – each act is designed to drive the Palestinians from their land. One has but to look...

***

Some of our group met with the settler David Wilder in Hebron (I was among those who did not). He wore tzitzis (Jewish prayer strings) and a Glock (a big pistol in his back pocket). He was from New Jersey. American Jews are often the most fanatic as Mel Brooks might say.

Many of the 700,000 settlers are economic – taking advantage of lavish subsidies by the State to escape high housing prices gouged in Israel itself. The settlers get into a modern, red roofed gated community (the red roofs and the niceness of the houses and streets contrasts with the black water tanks and broken down streets of the occcupied).

The Wall is bigger than the ordinary gate. The settlers are well guarded by soldiers. When they attack Palestinians, the Army protects them. There is, on matters essential to personal security, no rule of law for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Wilder carries a Glock.

***

Within the settler community in Hebron, those of us outside on the bus see 6 soldiers with big guns walk by. The Ethiopian in front holds the gun loosely. The last fondles the trigger.

The place is an armed camp, a bomb waiting to go off. A young man with a kippah (a hat worn by religious Jews) and a prayer book walks by lost in thought.

The soldiers come back up to the road from around the block. They are practicing - assuming positions - to deter an urban attack.

Another young man with a kippah walks by, talking on a cell phone. Looking at him, except for all the guns, it could be anywhere in the world...

***

The patrol is 24 hours, walking around with guns. The settler tells some from our delegation that he takes the gun off when he goes to sleep.

This settler community is partially uninhabited. These are “ideological settlers.” The state of Israel and wealthy American Jews have put them here. They do not work. They strut around with their big guns. They fear what is under the bed.

It takes work to be a religious Jew in Brooklyn or New Jersey, coming to settle “Judea and Samaria” with guns and claiming to be the true inhabitants. They live a murderous and bizarre fantasy.

“Guns and Moses” a t-shirt reads aptly in East Jerusalem. But who is Pharoah?

The settlers have nothing else to do...

It is work to be evil. It is much easier to be human. That is the point of nonviolence, of recognizing the humanity of those who do evil while breaking their possibility of doing it through mass noncooperation.

***

Later in the day, Issa (the Arabic name for Jesus) takes us through the old market in downtown Hebron. This is the one settler development within a Palestinian city. It is in the center of it, blocking Palestinians from crossing and making of the market a ghost town.

Palestinians sell fruits and vegetables, and shawls and dresses beautifully knitted from the villages; children surround us with their few items, desperate to sell. They are all magisterial hawkers, who refuse, if they can, to take no for an answer.

There is wire up above. It is to catch the stones and urine bombs and feces that settlers or the children of settlers throw down on the market. Israel provides no restaining law for the settlers or their children.

The Palestinians have title to their shops going back to the Ottomans and the British mandate. They can sue to keep the stores that are closed and their homes in the Israeli courts. Sometimes in a memory of the rule of law, they succeed.

But the army confiscates properties and builds roads and barricades. Though the parents have property, they are but “permanent residents” (the Occupiers, though new, dare to determine who has citizenship). Even if Palestinians do not give up and fight to keep the land (many leave), their children can not.

***

It is an Occupation. The army has closed many shops. Alice Rothchild who has been here before tells us that it is steadily worse.

Issa says: when I was a small boy, my father took me, dangling from his hand, to this market. There were chickens everywhere. The crowd was thick.

All the shops are now boarded up by the Israeli Army. One sad group of caged chickens hunkers down away from the street.

Few shoppers come through.

Many stall keepers try to reach out to us to come and buy.

***

Later, we are shown by Nadav, a veteran soldier from the IDF who is part of Breaking the Silence, along the Jews-only road. Issa cannot walk on these streets.

The stores are shut. Some Palestinians live behind windows covered with grates to protect against the settlers' stones, and go out the back to walk around to the stores, to get to the hospital, or to take 20 minutes to pass to the cemetery across the Jews-only boulevard behind.

Nadav, too, and others among the 800 veterans (Breaking the Silence has grown from an initial 60, each testifying to their experiences as soldiers), tell about the facts on the ground.

***

An officer told Nadav: we are to “make our presence felt.” When he was assigned to Hebron in 2008, he was ordered at 2 in the morning to go out and “map the houses.” "Mapping" - he rousted people, found their identifications, counted them, took their pictures...

None were suspected of terrorism.

After two weeks, he realized that no one collected the pictures.

The officers said: we have occupied them for 45 years. We must every day “make our presence felt.”

***

The soldiers parade in the Jews-only section, pantomiming attacks with their guns. One day, some such soldiers may go crazy and shoot.

Recall Rabbi Baruch Goldstein from Brooklyn who with a machine gun came to the Mosque in Hebron, near the tomb of the Patriarchs, on Ramadan in 1994 and murdered 29 people, wounding 129 others. See here. The American connection here is fierce.

Goldstein is a hero to some settlers. Their piety is written on a sign up over the military barracks across the street from our bus. They are fighting for Judea and Samaria from New Jersey and Brooklyn whence they have returned.

In 1998, the army removed a shrine to Goldstein’s casket. The settlers then moved the casket, continue to “worship" it.

The members of Breaking the Silence do not, as a position, disbelieve in Israel. They take no position on how to settle the conflict. They see and therefore oppose the Occupation.

***

Jews are fearful from the Holocaust. Every Israeli child is taught here and in visiting Auschwitz and Birgenau in Austria and other camps that Palestinians or Arabs (the identification is so one will not notice what Israelis do to Palestinians) will commit a Holocaust again. (h/t Sami Awad)

Can the Holocaust be used to justify this?

To reach the Israelis is difficult. Many live in fear. This morning (October 23), Haaretz publishes a front page lead: most Israelis believe in racial discrimination. They do not want equality.

"Democracy" is for Jews. "Free speech" is for Jews. Citizenship in the State - David Wilder can come from New Jersey and get it, the Palestinians who are dispossessed while living on their farms or who were driven out as displaced persons (400,000 within Israel) or abroad (6.6 million) cannot.

Even Palestinian citizens of Israel (a comparatively small number within Israel) cannot enter many areas. They do not have the rights of Mr. Wilder with his Glock and tzitzis.

***

Mohammed is dead, and village by village, others are too.

Some of the villagers have tried violence – one of the leaders tells of a woman who became a fighter in Fatah early in the Occupation. But they think now of the power of nonviolence. They are against the Occupation, not Jews.

They want to live together with the Jews in peace.

***

The Israeli government knows we are in Nabih Salah. Perhaps they do not exercise as much violence this week because of the presence of internationals, Americans, civil rights leaders.

Janna is heartbroken for the loss of her best friend. She speaks to the soldiers in the words of the prophets. Perhaps they cannot recognize the truth from a small girl. Perhaps they laugh nervously, unable to face the crimes that they and those who send them daily commit.

Janna’s question: Why did you kill Mohammed? He was my best friend, lingers, unanswered on the air...


*Here and here are some of Bilal's weekly films of the demonstrations in which one can see with one’s eyes who is to be feared, who has guns, who acts the part of Pharoah. They are hard to bear. Bilal has been beaten for making them.

For previous posts about the trip, see here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

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