Monday, August 1, 2011

Report from Palestine 10

by: Michael Berg

July 26

I did an interview for the Real News Network Middle East correspondent Lia Tarachansky.

I think especially interesting are the two interviews between her and Paul Jay "On Reporting from Palestine and Israel", where she tells about her experience growing up in a family of Russian-Israelis on the Ariel settlement in the West Bank. She said that when she went back to here hometown in 2010, she heard the Muslim call to prayer from the nearby Palestinian village for the first time. It isn't that there was no call to prayer when she was growing up - it's that for her Palestinians didn't exist. They weren't part of her life or the lives of other settlers, at least at the level of being ordinary human beings. Even though they were right there, she never saw then and never heard them.

Lia has a lot of insight in what is going on in Palestine / Israel and I was happy to have some time to talk with her after the interview (it's hard to see what my thoughts added to whatever she is covering -we'll see if she uses them). I learned more about the situation that African refugees in Israel face, her views on sexism and homophobia in both Israeli and Palestinian society, and how this affects her work as a journalist who covers both the conflict and the internal affairs of both societies. Rather than write about all of this, I'll just recommend that you watch some of Lia's reports (in general the Real News Network is an excellent source of information).

That night I went to a talk in Tel Aviv on Yiddish Anarchist newspapers in both the United States and Israel. I learned that the newspaper Friya Arbiter Steamer (the Free Voice of Labor) was published out of New York from the early part of the 20th century until 1977. A young Noam Chomsky used to spend time at their office and learned something there about politics. I also learned a little about the suppression of Yiddish in the early stages of the State of Israel. Out of 19 recognized Jewish languages, all but Hebrew were suppressed, in an effort to create a Hebrew state and culture.

July 27
I went back to Ramallah to visit some people. I left from the bus station in Tel Aviv. I hadn't entered the station on the way there, and I was surprised to see how big it is. It's a giant shopping center, with so many stores that it's hard to find the buses.

First I had to take a bus to Jerusalem. The bus was crowded. Although I didn't encounter much security in Tel Aviv, when I tried to leave the bus station in Jerusalem and enter Jaffa Street I was forced to answer a series of questions, a pat down and a search of my bags. This is why it is often a good idea in Israel to take the shared taxis that gather outside the bus station instead of the buses. The taxis cost the same and you don't have to go through the questions and the searches.

I walked through West Jerusalem to the Damascus Gate of the old city in order to get a bus to Ramallah. When I got to the Damascus Gate it hit me all of a sudden how dramatically and quickly everything changed. The streets were more crowded, the smells were different, the language was different, everything was different. All of a sudden I back in Palestine.

July 28

Today I met with my German Palestinian friend Suhail in Ramallah, and the sociologist Salim Tamari. It was good to talk with both of them.

From there I went to Jericho, a very beautiful and hot Palestinian town in the Jordan Valley. Jericho is an oasis town. It is part of Area A, under control of the Palestinian authority. Jericho is the only part of the Jordan Valley in Area A. The rest of the Jordan Valley is being rapidly settled by Israelis and cleared of Palestinians, as I wrote about before.

After eating a lunch of bread and greasy eggs, I decided to walk to the Mount of Temptations where Jesus supposedly contemplated for 40 days. I began to walk up the hill in the 110 degree heat. A man passes and says, "Como estas? Entra!" So I get into his car, and he tells me that he lived all over in Spain, and then he takes me some of the way up the hill. When I tell him I'm American he says that this is strange, he's worked in tourism in Jericho for years, and the Americans usually don't openly and proudly pronounce where they are from.

He says that he is originally from Hebron. He has 52 dunum of land but he wants to sell it to Israelis. I asked him why. He said that the settlement in the area is looking to take it anyways so he wants to get something for it. Then he mutters something about settlements.

He drops me off near the monastery, where Jesus supposedly contemplated for 40 days. It is spectacular - embedded into the mountain. I hear people talking in American English. We introduce each other and they ask where I am from. I tell them St. Louis. I ask the man in the group where they are from. He says Dimona.

I ask, you mean where the nuclear bombs are? The guy laughs and says its not the same exact place, but they are from Dimona.

The man is one of the Black Hebrew Israelites and he was in Jericho to see the holy sites. He was with two of his three wives and 6 of his 21 children. We all climb up to the monastery. Every once in a while the man would give his theological thoughts on what we were seeing. He and the rest of the family were all very friendly people. Because of the heat and the eggs, I became increasingly nauseous as I climbed.

The monastery is run by the Greek Orthodox Church. Inside the monastery you are supposed to maintain silence. When I got to the rock where Jesus supposedly sat, my nausea was so strong that I almost vomited on the rock. Luckily I was able to wait until I got back on the path to climb down again. After vomiting I drank a little water and dunked my head into one of the fast moving channels of water that run through Jericho. That made me feel a lot better.

July 29
I spent the day in Bethlehem meeting with friends I had made during my first week in Palestine. I also walked around and saw some of the area I hadn't gotten a chance to visit before. I was planning to go to one last protest in al-Walaja, but it was canceled for some reason.

At night I went back to Jerusalem, so that I could get up early the next day and get to the airport. I got a ride with my friend Dominik to the Gilo checkpoint, so I could go to the other side of the wall. Looking at the wall one last time, I noticed once again how sad and ugly the thing is. Like the wall in Berlin, that wall must come down.

In order to leave Bethlehem at Gilo, I first walked through a long metal tunnel. Then I got through the first control after shoing my passport.

Then I wait through another gate, where you wait for a mechanical revolving door to let you in, before you even see a person in charge. You only see the metal detector machine in front of you, and whoever is before you going through it. The lady in front of me had to go back and forth four times before it didn't go off. She looked very frustrated.

After having to show my passport another time, I went through all this passages with all these "Welcome to Israel" tourism posters. I don't know if the person who put those up thought it was really welcoming or if was just a sick joke. Or maybe its just another way to humiliate Palestinian. I don't know. It is important to remember that under international law, when you goes from one side of the Gilo checkpoint to the other, you are going from the illegally occupied West Bank to another part of the illegally occupied West Bank.
Finally there is a place with twelve turnstiles, all with booths for border control people, none of them manned. All twelve had red X's. This was the final hurdle.

I couldn't figure out what to do - then I was joined by a man who also couldn't figure out what to do. Finally he decided - let's just jump the turnstiles. I looked at the cameras everywhere, shrugged and we both jumped the turnstiles. We left the Gilo facility with no problem after that.

There were no buses and no taxis. I started walking with the man. His English was good and we started talking. His name is Isam, and he told me that the Old City of Jerusalem was 5 kilometers away. He lives in a town near Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the wall. He studied electrical engineering in Russia, and spoke four languages. He called his brother, and after we walked about two kilometers his brother picked us up.

He asked me why I was here and told him about the whole Welcome to Palestine action. He knew about it, and started telling me his thoughts. He said that it is strange that Israelis can live with so many weapons. He told me that he has many Israeli friends, and they are very nice people, but he doesn't understand how they can serve in the military, act like they do in the military, then come back home and be nice people.

When we got to the Damascus gate Isam thanked me for coming and told me that one day he would like to come to America and support us. I told him to please come and do that.

Knowing that I was leaving the next day, I walked for hours until very late through the streets of the old city of Jerusalem. Jews were celebrating Shabbat and in the Muslim quarter people were putting up lights, preparing for Ramadan.

July 30

I took an early shared taxi to Ben Gurion airport so I could come home. I had done around 20 media interviews since I arrived where I had given my name and age. Many of these in I thought this might affect things at the airport. I've heard stories about people getting interrogated for hours, full body searches, that kind of thing. 160 of my colleagues were detained at the airport while coming in on July 8, some kept for well over a week, and not allowed into Israel / Palestine. This happened to them simply because when asked where they were going they said they were going to Bethlehem, Palestine. So I prepared in my head for what might happen.

I did see several people at the airport being taken into special rooms. I saw people get their entire luggage searched. But this was not what happened to me, and I didn't even have to lie.

When I got to security, a lady asked me if I had been to Israel before. I told her that I had a Bar Mitzvah here in 1987. She then asked if there was anywhere special that I had visited in Israel. I told her that it was important for me to visit Kibbutz Ein Gev, where my mother used to live.

She then got back to the issue of the Bar Mitzvah. Where did you study for your Bar Mitzvah? I told her that I had a private tutor.

What was his name? Rami Pinsburg, I told her. He was a good teacher - I think he's a professor now.
Didn't you go to a synagogue? she asked. I told her I did.

What was the name of the place? B'nai El.

Why didn't you learn Hebrew there? I don't know, I guess they didn't teach it well.

Didn't you learn any Hebrew there? Sure, Aleph, Bet, Vet, Gimel, the basic things.

Do you ever go to synagogue now? Sometimes, during High Holy Days.

Do you know any of the prayers? Yes, I told her, and I recited a prayer.

Ok, enjoy your flight. She put a yellow sticker with some numbers and a bar code on the back of my passport. I then put my bag through an x-ray machine one time. During the rest of the customs procedure, several people looked at the yellow sticker, but I was not asked another question or forced to do anything else.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Report from Palestine 9

by: Michael Berg

July 24

I went up north to see Acre and Haifa.

Acre (or Akko in Hebrew) used to be a fortified crusader city. After Saladin conquered Jerusalem from the crusaders (I believe in 1187), Acre became the crusader capital. It was a largely Palestinian city until the birth of Israel in 1948, when 3/4 of its Palestinian inhabitants were pushed out. It is now a mixed city - about 70% Jewish and 30% Palestinian.

The old city is quite interesting, the way you would expect a medieval fortress to be. Its inhabitants are almost all Palestinians, but the Israeli tourism department controls the interesting crusader sites, so you need to buy a ticket from them to enter the tunnels. When you get out, you are in an Israeli gift shop, selling all sorts of things, including a wide variety of IDF merchandise.

(On a side note, this makes me think of how it struck me that so many of the Palestinian stores in the old city of Jerusalem sell both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli t-shirts and knick-knacks side by side. They are obviously looking to maximize sales over any ideological conviction).

I slept that night in Haifa, the holy city of the Baha’i faith. Haifa is also a beautiful town. It is a port, and immediately there is a hill. The nicest places in town are on the hill. It also has a strange underground cable car subway system going up and down the hill. There is one line and six stops.

When I got to Haifa I had trouble finding an open bed to sleep in. Walking down a street I saw a tiny sign on a door that said "Dama Guest House". I paid the man running the hostel for a dorm bed. He said he had no change, so I had to go down the street to look for change. Nobody had change down the street. I came back and told the man that it was his duty and not mine to find change. He agreed and put me in a room with this other woman, whom I was supposed to treat like my sister. I actually never saw the woman awake. I went to sleep early and when I woke up she was asleep.

July 25

In the morning a noticed in the front of the guest house there was a book of the writings of Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza in 2003. I asked the young man running the guest house (his name is Alfred) about the book. He told me that Rachel Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, often stay at the guest house and that they are very nice people.

Alfred told me that he admires the Corries and that he used to be involved in politics, but he got burned out because it is frustrating to have your leaders ask you to take action and then sell you out by shaking hands and cutting deals with the people that they had recently called your sworn enemies.

He said that in 2001 in Haifa a Jewish man stabbed and killed a Palestinian while yelling something like "Death to Arabs!" The man ended up serving two months is a mental health facility and was then released. Palestinians in Haifa got upset and blocked streets, but nothing really came of all the action.

Alfred said that he was the only Arab in an all Jewish school. He is glad he attended the school - he got a good education, he made a lot of good friends and he learned very good Hebrew. He thinks that all Palestinians in Israel should study more Hebrew so they can communicate better in the dominant language of the country.

He also said that other kids at the school were scared of him. At the beginning of his time at the school kids would peek into his classroom to see what an Arab looks like (he actually doesn't look any different than most Israelis). He said he enjoyed having the ability to easily spook people and that more than once he broke up fights between kids by coming to where everyone was gathered and yelling "Allahu Akbar", which would scare the kids, who would then scatter.

I headed from Haifa to the Ein Gev, where my mother used to live. On the way it really struck me how many people in Israel are carrying loaded machine guns. Most of them are uniformed soldiers, but in addition there are a lot of people in civilian clothing carrying weapons.

Ein Gev is a kibbutz on the eastern bank of Lake Tiberias, or the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret (the body of water has a lot of names).

When I got off the bus I was a little unsure about what I was going to do. So I walked to what seemed like the center of the kibbutz. I ran into a young man and I asked him if he is going to eat lunch. He is and I go to the central lunch hall with him and his father. The man is named Ma'or and his father is Aria, otherwise known as "Aria of the Bananas" and also known as "Mr. Knows It All".

We had lunch together. They told me about the history of the kibbutz, from its beginning in 1937. He said that when it began there was nobody around except for the Arab village of Samach. I asked him if the people of Ein Gev and the people of Samach got along. He said sometimes yes, and sometimes no. He said the Arabs were not stupid, and they knew what was happening. The people of Samach left in 1948. I don't know the details of their leaving, only that they weren't allowed back.

The two men explained how the kibbutz began the way many kibbutzes began - through the Wall and Tower method. The early Zionists knew that if they took a year or so to build a kibbutz, they were likely to be attacked, even if they had title to the land they were building on. The neighboring Palestinians correctly saw the Jewish kibbutzes as a threat to their well-being. So Jews would send hundreds of people to an area and in one day they erect a wall and a watch tower, kind of like the Amish do. Most of the builders would leave that day, and a small number would stay and begin building the community.

Ein Gev was a very ideologically communal kibbutz. It still retains some of its communal structure, although according to both men I talked to it is not like it used to be. It really began to change in the mid-1990s, with the community deciding that it needed changing, because of financial realities and the fact that many of the members felt stifled by the traditional structure. For example, all meals used to be eaten in the central dining hall, and all food was available freely to everyone at any time. Now the dining hall is only open for lunch, and members are charged kibbutz credit according to what they consume.

Aria told me that he didn't really like the changes, but what can you do? I said you could fight them, and he told me that he tried, but it didn't work. Ma'or thinks that like privatization everywhere, a few people in the kibbutz have profited off others, but that whether or not this is true is a very contentious issue.

Ma'or told me about a hike I could take up the hill near the center of the kibbutz. I got some water and began hiking. The view was nice. It was really, really hot - over 105 degrees. I eventually had to come down because I felt like I was going to pass out. I doubt that Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee in the summer, because if so he would have only taken a few steps before he jumped in the water to cool himself off.

I hitched a ride from Ein Gev to Tiberias together with an young orthodox Jew who was also leaving Ein Gev. The older man who picked us up had a heated conversation with the young man I was with. When both of us left the car, the young man told me that the guy who gave us a ride was mad that the young man wore a yarmulke (kipa) on his head. He said the man said that people like him were a problem and then blamed him for killing Yitzach Rabin.

"Politics," the young man told me. "I just want to live. This is how people think on the kibbutz."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Report from Palestine 8

by: Michael Berg

July 18 and 19

I went from Hebron to Ramallah - a journey that shouldn't take more than an hour or an hour and a half, but took three and a half hours because the shared taxi had to evade the wall and checkpoints.

After checking into a hotel in the center of town I took a taxi to the Snow Bar in order to see a Dutch brass band whose leader is a relative of Samia. They are touring Palestine, mostly playing in refugee camps. The Snow Bar was their first gig. They sounded great.

The Snow Bar is a really fancy nightclub type place. Many of the people there were Palestinian-Americans. I met a really nice Palestinian reporter for the Russia Today news channel - since the moment I arrived at Ben Gurion I've been running into Russia Today.

There are many really fancy places in Ramallah, with new fancy buildings everywhere, malls, restaurants, banks, office buildings. I had lunch with an American-Palestinian businessman named Sam Bahour who came to Ramallah from the US after the Oslo Agreement in order to make a life in Palestine and invest in the city. He manages building project but says that the recent boom is pretty much on hold, because business people are afraid to invest. They don't know what the future holds - will there be another Israeli lockdown or another invasion, like the one in 2002?

Speaking of the 2002, I visited the compound where Arafat was holed up in 2002 and where he is now buried.

In addition to the private businesses, Ramallah is full of non-governmental organizations and Palestinian Authority office buildings. I saw the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior and I laughed. The Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction only over Area A in the West Bank. There is nowhere in Area A where you can't walk for an hour and find yourself in Area C, under full Israeli control. So where is the Interior? How do you fit an interior into these isolated dots of an area?

This reality hit me this morning. I had three hours before I was to meet with Sam Bahour and I foolishly thought that I could use this time to walk to Beitin. I know that Banan and Sharif and Badia are from that village, and Colleen told me that there was an Arch market there. I looked on the map and it’s just a few kilometers northeast of Ramallah. So I walked northeast, and in about thirty minutes I had left the Ramallah bubble. I hit an Israeli military base and an Israeli checkpoint. I walked around the base and checkpoint, but then I saw soldiers everywhere and I felt scared. So I walked back.

Then I took a taxi to Beitin. It took about 25 minutes and the driver completely ripped me off. I should know to negotiate the price before the ride, but I wasn't in the taxi mindset (I had not expected to use one today). I did get to the Arch market and took a photo, but by the time I got there I had only a few minutes and had to go back.

That night I had a great dinner on the top story of a really fancy hotel in Ramallah with Sandra's cousin Merna and her fiancé.

July 20

I came back to Jerusalem today, through the Qalandia checkpoint. It is a monstrosity, a highly militarized opening in the Wall. It took a long time to get through. The procedure is both tedious and humiliating. One of the people on our bus was forced to go back to Ramallah.

After dropping off my bags I walked from the old city to Mt. Herzl in order to see the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. I wanted to take the new light rail train, but when I got on the train and tried to pay, the conductor yelled at me to get out. The trains seem to be mostly empty - I think they are only sort of in operation. That's too bad, because I love being on trains. I jump on the Metrolink every time I can (and I jump off also when I am done riding).

At the northeast corner of the old city there were a bunch of people camping out with a bunch of signs in Hebrew and a sign in English that said 'Rent Control Now'. I asked a man named Roy what was going on. He said that it is almost impossible for young people to find housing in Jerusalem. The monthly rent for a small hotel in Jerusalem is 3500 shekels a month, but the minimum wage is 22 shekels an hour. He told me that so many of the apartments are bought up wealthy Jews from Europe and the United States who only stay in them for a week or two a year, leaving a lot of empty apartments.

I took about 1 1/2 hours to walk to the museum. Walking there I noticed that West Jerusalem has a very different feel from East Jerusalem and anywhere I've been to in the West Bank. The streets were not nearly as crowded with people and the streets were wide. I passed some pretty poor Jewish neighborhoods where people seemed to live pretty cramped.

When I got to Mt. Herzl I saw something that you never see in the West Bank - a forest of pines. Pine forests are all over Israel, often on top of what used to be a Palestinian village. I'm not a botanist, but I don't think that pines are native to Jerusalem. Pine forests seem to be a way for Israel to mark its territory, make a claim to the land.

The first thing I noticed at Yad Vashem was that there were drinking fountains with potable water. It was nice for me, I was thirsty. I thought about how in Bethlehem and Hebron people go weeks without access to running water (water that is not potable from the tap).

Yad Vashem is very well done. From my understanding of history, it gives a mostly correct and at times overwhelming account of the history of European anti-semitism, the rise of Hitler, the concentration camps, the death camps, and the liberation of the camps by the Allied powers.

The troubling part of the museum for me is the Zionist narrative that runs through it. At the very beginning, in the first room, it reports how the German anti-semitic publication Derr Strumer would publish the slogan 'Jews should all go to Palestine!' At the time this was the goal of both Zionists and anti-semites, and it is why German Zionists had a functioning agreement the Nazi government in the mid-1930s where the Zionists would help break economic boycotts of Germany and the Nazis would make it easier for Jews to emigrate to Palestine. (Yad Vashem does not mention this early Zionist / Nazi pact). In the 1940s, when the Nazi atrocities got worse and worse, culminating in genocide, Zionist militia did fight the Nazis bravely, along with other Jewish resistance. The museum does an excellent job describing the resistance movement in the Warsaw ghetto and the way Jews who were divided by ideology came together once they realized that everybody was being sent to death camps.

In no other location, outside of this first room is the word Palestine mentioned in the museum. Where I am now is always referred to as The Land of Israel, even though in 1930s and 1940s it was inarguably correct to call this place Palestine. So in the whole museum the word Palestine only comes from the lips and pens of Nazis and other anti-semites.

At the end of the museum you hear children singing the Hatikvah and see pictures of Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion. The message is clear: from the ashes Jews have created themselves anew in Israel. Then you look over the valley where the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin once stood. In 1948 many of the village’s inhabitants were killed by Zionist forces and the rest driven out. It is now full of pine trees.

Having come directly from the West Bank, two quotes at the museum stood out in my mind:

"A country is not just what it does, but also what it tolerates."

"In Eastern Europe, the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation and poverty."

Those quotes struck out but I think I need to make it clear that I am not equating Zionism with Nazism. The main difference is that for the Nazis, Jews were a highly destructive source of unchangeable evil in the world - thus mass extermination was the logical culmination of their project. For the State of Israel, it's not so much that Palestinians are evil - they're just in the way. Palestinians have experienced and still experience expulsion, exile and occupation - not genocide.

I do think it would be useful to have a Yad Vashem / Nakba museum, where instead of the Hatikvah playing at the end, the museum goes right into an account of how the birth of the modern State of Israel was a still unresolved catastrophe for the Palestinian people. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinians should be spending time in this massive museum. The two events were not equivalent in their scale and horror and the Palestinians bear no responsibility for the Holocaust, but it might help both sides understand better where the other is coming from. I don't know if this has changed, but a couple of Palestinians in the West Bank that I talked to said they learned nothing about the Holocaust in school. Israelis I've talked to said they didn't study in school the reality of what happened to Palestinians in 1948.

July 21 and 22

I spent two days working on a house in the town of Anata, just outside of Jerusalem but separated from Jerusalem by the Wall. I joined the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions international team. We worked on rebuilding a home that had recently been demolished. It was the same story I've been seeing everywhere - the home was built without a permit, because it is impossible to get a permit. The Israelis destroyed the home and offered no compensation. No reason was given for why the home had to be destroyed, except that it didn't have a permit.

I slept with the other volunteers outside on a mattress. This was within a compound owned by a Palestinian man, overlooking a giant Israeli military base. Near the compound is a small Bedouin encampment for about 30 people. The Bedouins live in shacks made of material they have scavenged from the town of Anata. They have many animals.

I witnessed the Israeli civil authorities show up at the Bedouin encampment and deliver demolition order papers for all ten of the community's buildings, including their three foot by three foot outhouse. We talked to the people - they have no idea where they will go if their buildings are destroyed.

We also took a trip to Sheik Jerrah, near Jerusalem, and I saw something like I witnessed in Hebron, but even stranger.

In 1948 there was a sizable Jewish community in Sheik Jerrah. This community was pushed west after the war, into West Jerusalem, and many of the buildings were settled by Palestinians who were pushed east. Jews are now allowed to reclaim properties in Sheik Jerrah (Palestinians who now live in the West Bank are not allowed to make similar claims on land in what is now Israel.)

We went to a house where for some reason a couple of fanatical religious settlers were allowed to take the front half of a house. A Palestinian family still lives in the back house. The settlers have injured the Palestinian children by sicking their dogs on the children. While we were there the settler put on a little show for us - they unleashed the dogs and had them snarl at us through the bars in the home. The Palestinian woman who lives in the back spit at the dogs through the bars and the settler spit at the woman.

July 23 and July 24

I came to Tel Aviv. It is a large and very modern city. Around the bus station people seem to be mostly Africans and Asians. I got a chance to walk around and I went to the old city of Jaffa and saw a view of Tel Aviv from the hill.

I also went with some activists to Al-Araqib, in the Negev. This is a Bedouin village which has been destroyed by Israeli forces at least 24 times in the last year. It gets destroyed and then rebuilt - like a game of cat and mouse. The Bedouins are Israeli citizens, but since they don't have titles to the land that are recognized by the State of Israel, the state has decided that there is a better use for the land. This better use is to make the land a forest funded by GOD TV, the organization of Pastor John Hagee, who is both a Christian Zionist and an anti-semite.

According to people in the village, the first destruction was the worst. There were helicopters and around 1000 troops, and they used rubber bullets, even though the people were unarmed and were waving Israeli flags.

The people I went with were circus people, and so we all played with the children doing circus things like juggling and rolling hoops.

At night I went out to what it turns out was the largest rally in Israel in a long time. At least 10,000 people, mostly young, were marching to demand affordable housing. I didn't think I knew anybody from Tel Aviv, but on the street I ran into the first person I met in Israel, the lady from Russia Today who interviewed me at the airport. She introduced me to some friends, and then later I actually ran into some anarchist activists that I knew from demonstrations in the West Bank.

So I thought that I would only check out the rally for a few minutes, but I ended up staying out pretty late.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report from Palestine 7

by: Michael Berg

July 17

Today children spat on me.

I left Jerusalem and headed south to Hebron. When I got there I was looking for a hotel and a woman name Leila with a small store invited me to stay with her family for 50 shekels, so I decided to do that.

She lives in the old souk their store is kind of like a grotto in the Souk. The souk is an amazing place, but it is also sad, due to the occupation.

I went through the souk until I got to the checkpoint to get into the Ibrahim Mosque. The situation seemed familiar - I did this before 12 years ago. Leaving the souk there is a revolving door into the mosque area. Israeli soldiers control when the door does and doesn't move. At the gate they ask your for ID and then ask what your religion is. I remembered from before - the correct answer is Christian if you want to enter both parts of the mosque where Abraham and other biblical people are supposedly buried.

Israeli soldiers frisk all who enter the Muslim side of the mosque. When you go to the Jewish side they just look to make sure that you are the right type of person. The Jewish side consists of well over 3/4 of the mosque.

The mosque was divided after radical settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 people and injured around 100 more with a machine gun in 1994. (The Palestinian man who ended the massacre by hitting Goldstein over the head with a fire extinguisher was put in prison for years for murder). An almost equal number of Palestinians were killed in the subsequent Israeli quelling of the popular anger that came of it. Goldstein's grave is now a revered shrine for settlers in the area.

For settlers, however, the most important massacre in Hebron's history occurred 65 years earlier in 1929. In this year Muslim Palestinians killed 69 Jews. They were responding to a false rumor that Jews were planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. This attack devastated the already dwindling Jewish community in Hebron. It abandoned the town completely, then some people briefly returned, then they left again.

The Hebron settlement movement began in 1969 when a rabbi checked into the Park Hotel in Hebron and refused to leave. The Israeli government convinced the man to move into a military outpost near Hebron instead. From there he attracted followers and bit by bit they expanded the outpost into the settlement named Kiryat Arba. From this place on the edge of town settlers took over 5 other locations in the middle of town.

In other West Bank cities the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over the central urban zones, but in Hebron a large section of the city is completely controlled by the Israeli military.

The settlers say that they are reclaiming the Jewish property taken in 1929. This is a bit of a stretch as a legal claim given that the settlers are not the decedents of the displaced Hebron Jewish community. But the principal is a just one - the hundreds of members of the Hebron Jewish community pushed out in 1929 and their decedents should be allowed to return. Of course, if this principal is applied fairly, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pushed out from their homes and farms in 1948 and their millions of decendents should be allowed to return to what is now called Israel.

In reality settlers have no real concern with the concept of fairness. I think that all the rhetoric about the 1929 massacre that I saw in the Gutnick museum and on plaques on their streets is there only because it gives a veneer of sanity to their lunatic ideas. They will not be content to control all the previously Jewish owned buildings. They want to control the entire city and kick all of the Palestinians out. To them God gave them this land - the people who are there right now are just in the way.

The settlers refer to Palestinians as rats and cockroaches. They call "Nazi" all who support the Palestinian right to, say, walk without having acid or urine or stones thrown at them. They are extreme - maybe the most extreme - but that are part of the same Zionist narrative that unfortunately shapes this land from Eilat to the Golan Heights: the colonizer sees himself as the native and sees the native as a colonizer.

I went on one patrol mission with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). In 1994 after the massacre Arafat threatened to pull out of the Oslo process unless the UN came into Hebron to protect Palestinians from settlers. Israel would not allow the UN, but they did allow the multinational TIPH.

TIPH monitors the situation. They take photographs and make reports. They never touch anyone. Their people come from various European countries, mostly Turkey, Switzerland and Norway. A good friend of my family knows a member of the TIPH team from Switzerland. I had dinner with he and his wife in Bethlehem, they are very nice people, and they invited me and his sister and brother-in-law to see what TIPH does.

We started the patrol by walking down Al-Shuwadeh Street. This is next to the souk. It used to be the main street of Hebron, until the Israelis blocked it off from Palestinian use after the 1994 massacre. 350 people closed their shops as a result. Now it is a settler street - it looks like a militarized ghost town.

As we walked down the street Jewish settler children and teenagers surrounded us with bicycles. They screamed at us in Hebrew and English that we were whores and sons of whores. Then they spat on us.

It is a strange and not pleasant feeling to be surrounded by angry hateful children and soldiers and know that the soldiers are there to protect the children.

The daughter of the lady I am staying with has also been spat on by settlers, both times with no provocation. Once a week, accompanied by soldiers, the settlers lead a tour through the main souk. They sometimes spit on the Palestinian store owners. The second time a settler spat on this lady he also then shoved a photo of Baruch Goldstein in her face.

The settlers can do anything they want. They are never punished for their actions. A member of TIPH described a time when a settler child badly beat a Palestinian child. The Palestinian child was thrown in prison for 6 months.

Settlers have taken the homes overlooking the souk. The Palestinians have set up mesh wire above their stores to trap all the garbage and stones that settlers routinely throw at them. They also throw bottles of urine and acid. They have even thrown Molotov cocktails into the souk.

The thousands of Israeli soldiers and police in Hebron let them do this. So as crazy as the settlers are they are not an aberration, but instead an extreme case of standard Israeli policy.

One of the Turkish members of TIPH whom I went with told me his experience as a UN peacemaker soldier in Africa. He said he has been all over, in the poorest countries in the world, and Hebron is the most unfair situation he's ever see.

At night I spent time drinking tea with Leila and her family in her house. If you want to say "sweet tea" really really badly in Arabic call is Shy Hello. That's what I did.

The family hasn't had any water for two weeks because all the wells in Hebron are controlled by Israel and the settlements get most of the water.

She told me about a time when her son was getting bread and there were stones thrown in the area. They blamed her son, whom she said was innocent. They kept him for three months and beat him. She went to get him and became too angry and hit a soldier, and another soldier put a gun to her head and said he was going to kill her. She told him, go ahead, if you keep my son I don't want to live.

Her daughter married a man from Nazareth. The two met in Jerusalem. Because Nazareth is in Israel, on the other side of the green line and the other side of the wall, they can no longer be together. They can't get the permits. The man hardly ever gets a chance to see his children and wife, and the woman and children almost never see their husband and father.

I also talked to Paulette, a nun with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. They get between Palestinians and soldiers and settlers. They do what they can to non-violently protect people. She told me how last night soldiers entered a home and put everybody in a room at gunpoint. They then strip searched the family. This happened because settlers complained that their TV was too loud.

She said that the soldiers are constantly harassing people in the souk. 20 years ago the souk was so crowded that you could barely walk through it. Now it is almost empty.

I got a chance to walk around the rest of Hebron also. It is bustling and hilly. There are a lot of perfume shops and spice shops, and excellent fresh fruit. But from everywhere you see the military outposts and settlements.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Report from Palestine 6

by: Michael Berg

I'm trying to keep pretty good notes about what I see and hear and learn here, so I am writing a lot. I forgot to write about how a bunch of us in our group went to see a big open air concert in the center of Ramallah. It was great music, including a song about falling in love at the Bethlehem checkpoint. "The soldier gave me my papers and told me I could go, but my eyes remain with you and my heart will always be at the checkpoint", that's what I am told was sung.

July 15

I left our group of Welcome to Palestine activists and went to Jerusalem on my own. I am in Jerusalem right now. I attended a giant march in Jerusalem in support of Palestinians being dispossessed in Sheik Jarrah (the neighborhood just north of the old city.) It probably had around 2000 people, almost all Israelis. It also seemed to have the purpose of gathering Israelis who support the right of the PA to be admitted to the UN in September. Unlike all the actions I have attended in the West Bank, this rally was not attacked or threatened by soldiers.

I was talking to a couple of the people marching and was surprised that none of them had ever been to the West Bank. One lady said that she supported two states, one for us and one for them. She said that the settlements should be given to Palestinians, and they should live in their West Bank and Gaza state and we will live in ours. This solution doesn't really seem to make sense to me, as it ignores the desire of refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and around the world to return to what is now Israel. It doesn't deal with ongoing discrimination and land confiscation of Palestinian-Israeli citizens. And it seems politically unlikely that any government will make the nearly 500,000 Israelis now living in settlements would just up and leave. And the Wall? And water rights? Any solution will be more complicated than just you've got yours on that side of the line and we've got ours on this side of the land.

I think the march was pushing no one consensus on these issues. It was good to see that many Israeli out marching.

A couple hours later I went to see a talk by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. He recently wrote a book called "The Forgotten Palestinians" about the history and present situation for Palestinian-Israelis. He started out by telling how he read letters that some of the first Zionist settlers in Palestine sent back to their countries. They complained about everything, but especially about how many Palestinians there were. They saw them as an alien presence in their Jewish country. Pappe said this was unique among colonial projects, even those more brutal than the Zionist project - in no other place did the colonist see themselves as natives and see the natives as an unnatural, alien presence.

Pappe said that 106 years later this same attitude remains. The Zionist project continues with the same methodology of "Judaizing" the land, house by house, acre by acre. This is true not only in the West Bank but in Israel itself. Pappe said that the original Israeli leadership was not strong enough to complete the original ethnic cleansing of what is now Israel. Of the 1,000,000 inhabitants in 1947, 150,000 still remained in the early 50s. There was internal debate about what to do about these people, and expulsion was considered a good option until 1956, when because of the will of Moshe Sharrett it was taken off the table.

By 1966 Palestinians in Israel were given citizenship, but it is second class citizenship. Like in the West Bank, they have grossly unequal rights to land. They are not allowed to expand their communities - they are being pushed into smaller and smaller agricultural areas and eventually forced into the cities. There are 47 unrecognized Palestinian towns in Israel - they exist, people live there, but the officially don't exist. Their towns and villages are razed frequently, just as is the case in the West Bank.

This citizenship of Palestinians is always held up as a model for how amazingly liberal and tolerant the state of Israel is. The argument goes like this - even though we know that these people are dangerous, that they are potential terrorists, that they threaten us in every way, we are still so generous that we offer them citizenship. But it is not full citizenship - as long as the state of Israel is defined as the state of the Jewish people and Palestinians are seen as aliens there is no option for the Palestinians in Israel to become full citizens. Assimilation is not an option.

Pappe says as long as Israel is a Zionist state, the Palestinian-Israelis will always be at risk of expulsion. They, as well as refugees around the world, should be involved in decisions about any resolution of the conflict.

After the talk I met up with a Portuguese friend from the action and we walked around the old city, which was full of Orthodox Jews making their way to pray at the Western Wall for Shabat.

July 16

Today I took a tour of the Jordon Valley with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, or ICAHD. Itay Epstein led this quite informative (and disturbing) tour. I took about 16 pages of notes, but I don't want to overwhelm or bore so I will try to summarize, concentrating what I saw with my own eyes.

To sum up, the Jordan Valley, except the center of the town of Jericho, has pretty much been totally taken over by settlers. There is a policy of complete ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. In fact, Itay recently asked the chief legal counsel for the minister of defense if there was a plan of ethnic cleansing in the Jordan Valley and the man responded "There is no plan, and it is going very well." This is the desert area on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

We first went to the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Khan al-Ahkbar, a series of shacks on the side of a highway. It consists of Bedouins who were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1940s. Their grazing areas used to extend from the Negev into Jordan, but has been reduced to almost nothing now. For 44 years they have not been allowed to build anything.

Less than a couple hundred buildings of any type have been legally built since 1967 anywhere in the West Bank. The state of Israel considers the Jordanian zoning plans of 1967 to be the guide to what is and is not allowed. Meanwhile, around 25,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 slated for demolition. A Palestinian is never compensated for his or her demolished home.

Getting back to al-Khan al-Ahkbar, it is in the shadow of a settlement called Kfar Aduumim. This is where Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren lives. The settlements are beautiful homes, with running water all the time, electricity all the time. They even have swimming pools, from which they can bathe and look down on the Bedouins in shacks, who have no water or electricity. If they try to get access to the water that is being pumped to the settlements from what used to be their wells they are arrested, jailed and fined. In fact, they had to go to court to remain having access to walk from their town to the road. This cost the Bedouins 20,000 dollars.

The main school and several homes in the town are slated to be demolished any day. So far only the bathroom of the school has been demolished. Why did the IDF come to the school with a bulldozer and knock down the bathroom and nothing else? Nobody knows.

We next saw al-Wuja, just outside of Jericho. What was once a lush place now is dry - all the water has gone to Israeli settlements, where organic grapes and dates are grown to make products that are sold for a high price mainly in Europe. The Palestinians who are being displaced are the people who do the working growing the grapes and dates - they have no other choice to survive.

We then went to the village of Fasiyil al Rousta. Around 100 Bedouins live on the outskirts of town. Their homes were just demolished. The place is full of rubble. They spent days in the desert sun and now live under plastic tents. They have an especially tough time because they are not trusted by many of the other non-Bedouin Palestinians in the town, and so they didn't get a lot of support.

The way demolitions work is that the state must deliver a message about demolition one week before it happens. The order does not need to be delivered to a person, just the building.

In this town the bulldozers came at 5am. Itay says the new conscripts who are 18 or 19 years old are the people sent to knock down homes, because they are the easiest to manipulate and the least likely to refuse the order. The people of Fasiyil al Rousta have had their homes demolished several times. They keep rebuilding - they have nowhere else to go and they don't want to lose their land. Once they leave the land will be declared vacant and they will lose it forever to the State of Israel, which will likely give it to a nearby settlement.

According to the State of Israel, no Palestinian has title to any land in the West Bank south of Nablus (Nablus is in the northern part). This is because between 1948 and 1967 the state of Jordan was conducting a land ownership census (a cadastre) of Palestinian land in the West Bank, but it was a slow process and they started in the north and went south. They had only gotten to Nablus when the Israelis took control of the territory. Israel does not recognize traditional communal ownership nor do they usually recognize titles from the Ottoman Empire.

We then went to the town of Palestinian town of Jiflik, which is adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Massua. The settlement is settled by "socialists", who live amongst themselves as socialists, but continue to steal the water and land of the people in Jiflik.

We saw jeeps driving into villages. It is part of a policy of "drawing resistance". They hope to provoke a response in order to have a reason to arrest people.

We then talked with the people of the Jordan Valley solidarity project. Abdel Rahim-Sharod told about how he has a small barn for sheep, and it was demolished. He was not allowed to take the sheep out before demolition and a dozen sheep were killed in the demolition. The sheep were officially deemed a security threat. Where he lives now has pipes running underneath them. These pipes carry water to settlers. He has to go 16 kilometers and spend three hours and then spend money in order to get drinking water for his family. If he were to tap into the water flowing under his home he would be fined up to 10,000 dollars and he would be jailed.

We went to the Hamra checkpoint. This checkpoint essentially separated the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. Along with the checkpoints Israel has created earthen mounds which prevent tractors for traveling freely between the Jordan Valley and the rest of the West Bank.

We went to the "Fabric of Life" gate. This is the only gate through which tractors can travel from the Jordan Valley to the rest of the West Bank. It is open twice a day, for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon, Tuesday through Saturday. We were looking at it for 8 minutes before soldiers came and chased us off.

On the way back we saw several places which are very holy places in the Christian religion. Israel has taken all these sites from Palestinians. They now get all the profits that come from controlling these sites. In fact, the state of Israel just developed a "Good Samaritan" archeological site that is now heavily visited by Christians around the world. A Palestinian family was kicked out of the land, with no compensation, in order to develop the Good Samaritan site.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Report from Palestine 5

by: Michael Berg

July 14

We went to Jerusalem for a tour. It was supposed to be a calm day. But it was not calm.

At the checkpoint from Bethlehem to Jerusalem Shareen pointed out that people driving private cars just had to slow down going through the checkpoint. A soldier examined them. If they looked Jewish or foreign, they went right through. If they looked Palestinian, they were stopped and asked for their papers. State of the art security.

We went around the old city as a group led by a man named Mustafa. When we entered the Al-Aqsa mosque area we had to split into two groups - Muslims and non-Muslims. In 2000 Ariel Sharon went up to the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock area, inciting the second intifada. Since that time the wafq, which administers the site, made an agreement to not allow non-Muslims in the area during times of prayer. Non-Muslims were supposed to not be up there after 11am. We arrived at about 11:05am, but the man in charge said that we could have half an hour, because prayer time was still not for a while.

Then the man changed his mind, afraid that the Israelis would push him out of his job for breaking the agreement. He told Mustafa and Shareen that we all had to leave, except the Muslims. Mustafa told him that these are the people who suffered at Ben Gurion airport for our cause, and we should be proud of our Muslim heritage and show it to them.

There was a lot of arguing, and eventually the Israeli soldiers came and there was even more shouting. Eventually we left one of the gates, where we saw two soldiers pushing around a man, arguing about something. One of the members of our group took a picture and another soldier grabbed the camera and erased the photo.

We then learned that we were to meet French press and Associated Press at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In order to get there Mustafa decided to go through the Jewish Quarter of the old city. We rested for a little bit at this place where you can overlook the Western Wall. A member of our group named Vanessa was wearing a scarf with a Palestinian flag. An Israeli Jew saw this and got a police office, and he was pointing at her and yelled at the officer to do something about it. (I've heard a lot of yelling since I've gotten here, but I can't understand most of it). The officer kind of shrugged and put his hands up. So the man stayed with us. Shareen reminded us that just because the press is calling us Flightilla we are not Flightilla (that is kind of a silly word). This man heard who we were and his eyes opened wide and he jumped up.

Until 1967 what is now the Jewish Quarter was called the Mahgrebi quarter. During the war, the Israeli army razed a large section of the area, including the land right around the wall, making what was a narrow corridor into a large open area for prayer and events. Shareen's family used to live in that area until they were forced out - most of the former inhabitants went to the Shufat refugee camp just outside of Jerusalem.

We then went to Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood just south of the old city. Like the old city and Sheik Jarrah to the north of it, Silwan is dotted with fanatical Jewish settlers who take territory house by house. There are cases where people leave their homes for just a few hours and when they get back, the home is occupied. The authorities always side with the outsiders. The settlers than put an Israeli flag on the house and stay. In the old city Palestinian homeowners are so paranoid they never leave their home without someone in the family staying to guard it.

A man named Musa al-Souri told us how 80 homes are slated for demolition in Silwan in order so that Israelis can create the King David`s archeological park. He said that he supported the Oslo agreement in the 1990s and he always told his children that peace was better than fighting. Now things are much worse and his own home is set to be demolished. He now feels like a loser for teaching these things to his children.

The settlers often shoot guns at the residents of Silwan. Musa`s teenage son was shot by settlers - that´s why he walked with a limp when he gave us Silwan hats.

During our visit to Silwan the Associated Press was there with a TV camera. I did an interview. The guy doing the interview was an Israeli and he asked me some questions about why I was here, and I told him some of things I had witnessed, and how people shouldn´t discriminate against other people on the basis of race the way they do in Israel. He then asked why I came here and not to Syria. I told him that as a Jew the criminal actions of the State of Israel were being done in my name, and as an American they were being done with the support and resources of my government. He then asked if I supported why the Syrian government is doing to its people. It told him of course not, what Assad is doing is terrible and needs to end.

When we were done I asked him if he had ever visited Syria. He looked surprised and said of course not, why would I ask? I told him that I came to Palestine and you kept asking me about Syria, so maybe you have some special interest in the place. He said he doesn´t understand why I think it’s so great in Syria, and I told him that he was putting words in my mouth.

It’s a diversion tactic. That´s the Israeli line - point to another country doing something bad and say, look, why are you singling us out.  But it is an illogical argument. Why would the Syrian suppression of protest justify Israel´s systematic ethnic cleansing of the native inhabitants of Palestine? This week the State of Israel made it a criminal offence for its own citizens to support in any way the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli goods and services, even by just posting a Facebook page. There is legislation pending to get rid of all road signs in Israel that mark Palestinian towns. The more racist and dictatorial Israeli policy becomes, the more Netanyahu has to keep talking about Syria.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Report from Palestine 4

by Michael Berg

July 12

I sleep in a very hot, crowded guest house in a hot crowded refugee camp. The people I stay with and travel with and join Palestinians to get gassed and abused with are mostly French or French speaking Belgians. Today on the bus someone asked me where I was from and I told him St. Louis. He asked the state and I told him Missouri. A woman in the bus then told me it was a French word and that it should be pronounced differently and slowly sounded out the "correct" way to pronounce Missouri. I tried her way once and she corrected me and then I stopped her and told her that I wasn't playing that game - I can pronounce the name of my own state any way I want to. A French accent doesn't make non-French words better, and Missouri is not a French word.

I included this at the beginning because I thought it better to begin with something not horrible and perhaps mildly funny.

Today we went south to Hebron. I rode in the car with Mazin Qumseyeh to get there. Between Bethlehem and Hebron a large area is completely controlled by Jewish settlers. The native inhabitants have been almost completely cleansed from their land. This land is rich agricultural land. There are many grape orchards where the settlers make wine. Not too long ago Palestinians were growing the grapes in the area.

Mazin took us into a small area where a few Palestinians still live. It is surrounded by settler grape fields. The Palestinians live in shacks because they cannot get permission to build. They have to use generators for electricity and roof tanks for water because Israeli authorities will not authorize provisions of either. This does not mean that they are all poor. There was a doctor’s office and the doctor had a fancy car in front of his shack. He is not poor but he lives like a pauper because he is one of the few that is resisting to the end getting kicked off of his land.

The buildings in the settlements, in contract, would not be out of place in Brentwood. They all have ample electricity and water.

Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank. According to Mazin, people from Hebron are famous for being business people. People from Hebron used to own a lot of the businesses in Jerusalem before it was taken by the state of Israel. They are also doing business all over the world.

The old city of Hebron is really interesting, with twisting alleys. I plan to return after our program is finished and probably write more about the place and its situation. It also insane - as fanatical Jewish religious settlers have set up settlements not only on the entire eastern side of the city, but in the center of the city itself. It is the only case where settlers have come to the center of a Palestinian city in the West Bank.

We went straight to Shuhadeh St. This street was the central thoroughfare street for Hebron until it was closed in 1994. That year radical settler Jewish Baruch Goldstein went into the Tomb of the Patriarchs and used a machine gun to massacre 29 Palestinians and wound 125. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is an ancient mosque where many of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the old testament are thought to have been buried.

We marched to the point where the street is closed off, just under a giant Jewish synagogue, where settlers were sitting on top and watching. The march was peaceful, and after a bit we were walking away when I heard some very loud booms. The IDF soldiers threw sound bombs and took the street in front of the Shuhadeh St. closure. The soldiers marched around some, and then threw more sound bombs, one of which killed a pigeon.

From there we went to the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron. This town of 17,000 has settlements to its north and settlements to its south. The settlement of Karma Zur set up on a hill in the 1980s, stealing land from Beit Ummar. In 2006 the settlers built a secondary fence, confiscating privately owned Palestinian lands. Settlers routinely dump their sewage on the Palestinian farms outside of the fence.

Now that the fence is built there is a new security perimeter. Those farmers who own land just outside of the fence get shot at by settlers and arrested by the military if they try to farm. It is likely that there will be a new fence even farther out to defend this new perimeter. This is how settlements grow.

International and Israeli activists accompanied residents of Beit Ummar to the lands adjacent to fence. One of these residents was the man who owned the land. He has not been able to clear his field this year because he keeps getting shot at when he tries. So we went there to help the man clear his land of stones. Immediately over twenty Israeli soldiers approached. An Israeli activist said something in Hebrew and one of the soldiers got in his face and started screaming at him. The head officer showed a piece of paper and said that the land we were on was a closed military area and we had 10 minutes to leave, after which time we would all be arrested.

The Israeli military can at any time close any amount of land anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza, therefore denying foreigners to right to enter the land.

We all started clearing the stones. After 10 minutes the soldiers yelled at us all to get out. We asked them why this man could not work in his field, if they felt good about what they were doing. They screamed and then threw sound bombs. They grabbed and arrested five members of our group, including a Moroccan-Belgian man who arrived on July 8. He was peaceful - he was unarmed. They smashed his face in the ground so that he could not breathe and one soldiers put all his weight on the man's head. You can see the photograph here. Then they beat him. He is now being deported.

While all of this was going on, settlers were watching from their vehicles, with their guns, on the top of the hill.

After the action I talked to an activist from the Israeli Anarchist Against the Wall. She told me stories about life in Israel. She said that in Israel everything is about race. He uncle lived on a kibbutz. He fell in love with a Dutch woman who came to live on the kibbutz. The woman decided that she wanted to be a Jew. According to the state of Israel, if you are born to a Jew you are a Jew, no matter what you believe. But if you want to convert to Judaism, it must be done in accordance with Orthodox rabbis.

So she went about to do what she thought she needed to do. She studied Judaism, so adhered to all the rules, she let the rabbis follow her around. She let them come in and out of her house inspect her refrigerator to see if she was storing the right food in the correct way.

When the time came for the wedding, right before the rabbi was going to sign the piece of paper, he turned to the groom and said to him, out loud, as if the bride did not exist, "Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to marry this shicktza (gentile woman)? We can find you a Jewish girl right here in Israel."

They got married, but they were humiliated.

There is a man named Suhail with our group. He is Palestinian-German. He is a German citizen. He is also a Muslim who wants to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. But he can't do it. His parents are refugees from what is now the state of Israel and he has papers allowing him to stay in the West Bank, but they do not allow him to enter Jerusalem. If he just uses his German passport to try to enter, it is likely that they will look up his information and take away his Palestinian identification papers and force him to leave the West Bank.

I've got more stories written down - about Palestinian prisoners who offer no resistance having their eyes opened up by force so they can be pepper sprayed, about children getting beaten in the head by the butt of guns, but I'm pretty tired. What's draining here is all the hate. It is hard for me to understand how people can hate so much.

July 13

Today we were going to go to the Negev to learn about the plight of Bedouins there, but most people were kind of emotionally drained from yesterday. The soldiers in Beit Ummar were so vicious, and we lost one of our people to arrest. I really wanted to go Negev, but I was only one of four, so it was canceled. I'm going to do it next week.

So the organizers arranged a tour of Bethlehem. It was a little bit tedious. Bethlehem is beautiful, but I am getting a bit tired of going around very slowly with a big group of people, all of whom speak French. I think the most interesting part was in the Catholic section of the Church of the Nativity there was a three foot tall old man sitting on a child's tricycle asking more money. Also I took a picture of the place where Jesus is said to have been born. Also the cresh.

Oh, right, I forgot. I am also tired because there was a party last night on the roof of the family home of Fadi Kattan, one of the organizers. It is a four hundred year old building in the heart of the old city of Bethlehem. There was an amazing view of the valley below and the Church of the Nativity. Fadi is a Christian Palestinian who is baffled about how little so many Christians, especially American Christians, care about what happens to the city of Bethlehem and its inhabitants, even when the Church of the Nativity is shot up, as happened in 2002 (his house was also hit with missiles during the Israeli attack on the town).

Tomorrow we will go to Jerusalem, then I will leave this group and go around on my own.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Report from Palestine 3

by: Michael Berg

July 11

Things continue. I came here knowing a good amount about the situation here, but what I've learned since Friday seems like months of information and experience. I feel as though I have been here for months.

I forgot to report on an important activity that our group was involved in yesterday. From the Aida refugee camp we marched to the opening in the Wall for vehicles going from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. The Israeli military closed the gate right before we arrived and basically ignored us, except for snapping up a lot of pictures from their outpost tower. After being at the gate for a while we walked back to the camp, observing the wall as we did. I am right now in the shadow of this sad, pathetic structure built out of fear, greed, ignorance and hate.

Today we went up north to the outskirts of Qalqiliya. We didn't enter Qalquiliya because were afraid we would never be able to get out, given that the city is surround on all sides except for a tiny corridor which is blocked by an Israeli checkpoint. It is a totally controlled ghetto, with almost all of its agricultural land in the hands of settlers and the state of Israel.

The importance of the Wall in the occupation of Palestine cannot be underestimated. As you go north in the West Bank you see it snaking everywhere, in and out, separating Palestinians from their lands, making travel from place to place difficult (for Palestinians) and making ugly a beautiful land. The illegal Jewish settlements are also omnipresent - they are everywhere in the West Bank - north, south, east, west.

We went north with a woman named Sheerin, who is from al-Walaja, the village we visited yesterday. She was telling me stories as we went and explained what we saw on the way there.

We saw an area where over a thousand trees were chopped down, now just stumps. They had been destroyed for Israeli security concerns. No other explanation was given.

Sheerin told me about a village we passed which is now surrounded by the Wall. While Israel was constructing that section of the Wall, villagers were granted permits to be in Israel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as they didn't make trouble about the wall. It is almost unheard of from Palestinians in the West Bank to get this kind of access to Israel. The villagers needed money, they needed jobs, and they were able to find good paying jobs in Israel. As soon as the section of the Wall was completed the access to Israel was taken away, and now the only entrance to their village is closed between 9pm and 9am. Half of their lives they are completely prisoners, and the other half their freedom of movement is determined by the whim of Israeli soldiers. Most of the villagers have given up and left.

This is one of countless examples that show that this separation Wall has nothing to do with security and everything to do with making people's lives so miserable that they leave, allowing the State of Israel and settlers to take their lands. If these people were so dangerous that they needed to be kept out of Israel by a wall, why were they granted complete access to Israel for many months?

Abandoned land will become Israeli land. In Israel, if your land is left empty for three years, the State takes title to the land. This is true even if the land was abandoned because it is on the other side of a Wall from you and you cannot travel to it.

In the West Bank, the rules are different for Jewish settlers and Palestinians. If a Jewish someone approaches the home of a Jew, he or she has the right to self-defense. If a Palestinian home is approached, he or she must call the proper authorities and wait for help.

We passed a gas station on the side of highway by the Eli settlement. The station was owned by a Palestinian, which was not liked by the Eli settlers. Two settlers beat the owner to death. Nobody was charged with the murder, and with the help of a Palestinian collaborator, these same settlers now own the gas station.

These settlers at Eli, like a many religious settlements, routinely burn the Palestinian crops. The Palestinians have no legal recourse to such actions.

While we were travelling I asked Sheerin how to I could tell which buildings were Palestinian and which were controlled by settlers. She said it was easy. Only the Palestinian homes have water tanks on their roof. Settlers don't need tanks. They have access all day every day to water reservoirs and water from the Jordan River. The Palestinian access to water is severely restricted and they must use tanks to survive.

Mikorot is an Israeli company that controls all water in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  It is impossible for a Palestinian to get permission to dig a well. All Palestinian wells that you see were created before 1967. The average Israeli uses 8 times as much water as the average Palestinian.

All the Israeli road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. In the West Bank the signs identify every Israeli settlement, no matter how small, but only identify the largest Palestinian cities, like Ramallah. Palestinian town and villages are not marked by road signs. Still, you see them, they do exist.

I saw that on many of the signs identifying settlements, the Arabic had been covered with spray paint. I am guessing the settlers feel that naming their communities using Arabic letters was an insult. I saw one sign where the Arabic for "Jerusalem" was blacked out. On no sign was either English or Hebrew blacked out.

We arrived at the town of Ezbet Attabib just outside of Qalqiliya. The Israeli military is building a section of the Wall through the town, and they are building yet another illegal settlement on part of the town's land. Soldiers are often in the town. The villagers are all refugees from the town of Topsa, part of what is now Israel. Most will soon be refugees again, because out of towns 45 homes, 33 have been scheduled to be demolished.

We (Palestinian villagers and international supporters marched to a section of the wall that the Israelis have been building. It was a thick bramble of concertina wire. People started to pull on and cut the wire. Eventually Israeli military patrols approached, but we had already finished messing with the wire. The soldiers blocked the road with their vehicles and we marched past them and told them to go home. The got out of the vehicle and remained there. After some discussion they backed up. They promised to leave the town if we left the road. We left the road and they went out of sight. But they came back and blocked the main entrance to the town all afternoon. We left through a back route.

During the march I talked to a woman who is a school teacher from Qalqiliya. She teaches in Ezbet Attabib. She told me how in 2007 her house was demolished by the Israeli military. There was a man whom the Israeli military considered a criminal whom they suspected of staying in one of five houses. So they bulldozed all five houses. In three of the houses there was no warning to the bulldozers coming. This lady was home with here three small children when she heard rumbling. The house was being destroyed and she had to rapidly flee with her children. She had no time to salvage her belongings before the destruction.

We then went to a nearby village named Isla. At this village there is a gate in the wall. The gate is electrified in three places, and has a sign in English, Arabic and Hebrew warning that trying to tamper with or enter the gate without authorization will likely result in your death. It is an agricultural gate. If you are Palestinian and you can prove that you have title to land on the other side, you can apply for a permit to farm your land. If you do get the permit, it is only you, the title holder who can get access to the land. So if you are 80 years old and want your son or grandchild to do the farming, or if you need more than one person to farm to land, you are out of luck. The gate is opened once at 6am, then closed all day. It is reopened at 5pm. Thus you have to commit an entire day if you want access to the land.

There is a similar situation in nearby Jayous, which is the birthplace of the International Solidarity Movement. The wall has separated this village from its best land. We talked to Sharif Omar who owns several greenhouses on the other side of the wall. Jayous is high and the land is low, so we got a good look at the situation.

The wall is 6 kilometers from the green line (pre-1967 border). On the Green line there is a double layer electrified fence. It is impossible to cross without dying. In between the Wall and the green line is Sharif Omar's land.

Omar is 68 and has a permit to work his land. His son has a PhD in Agricultural Engineering from an Italian University. He works for a Swiss agency. He has the right to visit everywhere in Israel except Eilat. But he is denied from visiting his family's land between the green line and the Wall for "security reasons."

When we got back I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and had a drink with other activists. I talked to an American family about the things I have seen in last few days.

I have many photos - I hope tomorrow I will have time to download some.

I think my previous fear of deportation might have been overblown, although I have gotten mixed answers on the question. I think that as long as I am not arrested I probably won't be deported. But there is a good chance that I was photographed by soldiers, my face will be identified, and once I leave I will be put on a blacklist so that I can never return.

I want to remind you that presently there are still 49 French citizens in prison in Israel, and others of other nationalities, for telling the truth that they were planning to do what I am presently doing. They all came to Ben Gurion Airport on July 8, just as I did.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Report from Palestine 2

"Welcome to Palestine" organizer Mazin Qumsiyeh being arrested for nonviolently protesting land confiscation in Al-Walaja village last year
by: Michael Berg

This will be kind of long, but I think I need to get this all out now.

July 9

We began the day with our group of 20 people who made it through the airport preparing to go to Bil'in from the Bethlehem Hotel. We meet up at the Hotel with Mazin Qumseyeh. He is a biologist who was a professor for years in the United States (I believe Yale, I could be wrong). He wrote Sharing the Land of Canaan, Popular Resistance in Palestine and also a book on the mammals of the Holy Land. He is also the person who thought of doing this "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in event, and the events chief organizer.

He said that he hadn't slept in 3 days doing press work on the event (at this point I don't think I had slept for around 7 days). He briefed us for the first action and said he believes that he might be targeted by the Israelis not just for arrest, but to be beaten badly. This event has left them with egg on their face.

We drove to Bil'in. It is near Ramallah. Without the wall and checkpoints it would take 30 minutes to go from Bil'in to Ramallah, but it takes us over one hour and forty minutes because we have to go way east, around the area that Israel has defined as greater Jerusalem. (They built a giant wall around this entity - they plan to expand this wall to encompass the settlement of Ma'ale Adunnim, which would make travel between the north and south sections of the West Bank almost impossible.)

In Bi'lin years of protest persuaded the State of Israel to move the location of the Aparthaid wall a little bit west of its original location - allowing the villagers to have less of their land stolen.

We stay in Bi'lin for a few minutes and then head to Nabi Saleh, with the idea being that all the press releases said we were going to Bi'lin so the Israeli army and police would be waiting for us there.

Nabi Saleh is a town a little northwest of Ramallah. In this town an Israeli settlement has stolen the town’s main spring, leaving the villagers without enough water.

Israeli military somehow got wind of the action and blocked the road to the town. They left their vehicles and immediately started shooting tear gas and sound bombs.

Here the tear gas is much stronger than any tear gas I've encountered in Bolivia or the United States. It reminded me somewhat of being maced. It makes you gag and then you briefly feel like you can't breathe. Your eyes and skin burns. The sensation starts to dissipate in around 30 seconds and goes away in a few minutes.

The demonstration was completely peaceful and the barrage of teargas was unprovoked.

Four were arrested - one man from a foreign country and 3 Israeli activists including Anarchists Against the Wall founder Kobi Snitz.

During the action some kids ran into the fields around the road. The teargas landed in fields when the soldiers shot gas at the kids. With the heat and dryness of some weeds, the gas started fires that spread - burning weeds and quite a lot of crops.

Someone from the group talked to a young Israeli soldier if he felt good about what he was doing, protecting the right of settlers to steal water from a village. He said he felt terrible. He did not, however, break ranks.

Attempting to leave the area soldiers blocked our way out. A soldier approached Mazin speaking Hebrew. Mazin told him that he didn't speak Hebrew, that he should find someone who spoke English. They sent the same young soldier who had felt bad. Mazin told him that he looked really young, younger than his son. The soldier said he was 19. They let us through.

A few minutes later Mazin got a strange call. Someone called and said he was Mazin's friend. He said that he probably shouldn't be going to demonstration to demonstration because people are ready for him at checkpoints.

After eating lunch in Ramallah we went to an area of the Wall near the Qalandia checkpoint. This is the largest checkpoint there is - it is in between Jerusalem and Ramallah, next to the Qalandia refugee camp. It is like a full international border area. There is a lot of building going on in Ramallah now, because of increased economic activity. This boom comes largely at the expense of East Jerusalem, which is separated from the rest of the West Bank by the Wall and the Qalandia checkpoint. It is the Israeli plan to make Jerusalem a large, united and largely Jewish capital of Israel. It is the Palestinian desire to have Jerusalem as their capital also, but presently Ramallah is the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority.

At the part of the Wall we were at we went with some Palestinians and internationals from all over and walked through some alleys through a dense series of apartment buildings. There was construction going on all over, right next the ditch right before the Wall. This was actually a place where a concrete section of the Wall ends and the double barbed wire section begins. So you have one row of electrified barbed wire fence, then an Israeli military road, then another series of electrified fence.

On the other side of the fence was a field containing a man with sheep, and from there you can see a long strip of concrete. This is the Jerusalem airport. It was begun in the 1960s by the Jordanians and was supposed to be the Palestinian airport. The Israeli air force used it for a period, but now it is not used.

It seems pretty clear to me that the Wall / Fence snakes the way it does there not to separate this one Palestinian man and his sheep from Ramallah but rather to keep the airport firmly in Israeli control.

Somebody knew how to stop the flow of electricity to the section of the fence. This was done and some people started cutting the wire. When they got to the military road they did the same in the second fence. Then people planted flags all over both fences. The Israeli military did not come - there was no response. This is maybe because it was Shabat (the Jewish Sabbath) or maybe someone in the Israeli military had enough sense to not respond. It is hard for me to believe that they didn't know it was happening.

At the action I talked to a Palestinian reporter. He told me that he used to be a journalist for the Palestinian Authority and that he was in the Ramallah compound with Arafat during the 2002 Israeli siege. He says he likes working for Reuters more than for the Palestinian Authority because then he has more control over what is reported. He also thought that these non-violent demonstrations would only work if people joined them by the hundreds of thousands instead of by the hundreds.

I interviewed with Reuters and AP. Later that evening Mazin asked me if I would talk with Ha'aretz. He recommended that I speak anonymously so that I do not get deported. But I don't think that is important now - apparently the AP report has gone viral and I guess the cat is out of the bag. A pseudonym might have been useful, but I hate lying about my name to the press.

It is clear to me that I don't face any great danger here - tear gas and sound bombs are awful things but generally don't injure. Generally when foreigners are present soldiers don't shoot any bullets. I do face deportation - so I will let you know that I plan to remain here for the time period between now and now and now and July 30.

On the bus during the day I met a Palestinian man who lives near a hill where you can see Tel Aviv and the sea. But because they live in the West Bank, nobody can actually go to the sea. He told me that of 80 members of his extended family, six have been able to go to sea, all either in Egypt or the Persian Gulf. None have been granted permission to visit the sea that they see every day.

I spent the night in Aida refugee camp. The camp was a tent city in 1948 consisting of people who fled the 27 different villages that now make up Israeli West Jerusalem. They were not allowed to return. The camp was found in 1951 by the United Nations Work and Relief Agency. It started with 1200 people and now has 5000. Inhabitants cannot travel to Jerusalem without a permit which is quite difficult to get. The main entrance is blocked by an Israeli military base and the Wall surrounds the camp on three sides. Its youth center was destroyed by the Israeli military in 2002 and has recently been rebuilt. It contains the biggest key in world in front of the camp - the key represents the right of return for refugees.

Pope Benedict came to visit and a stadium was built at the wall so that all the media would film the reality of the awful wall during the visit. Israel threatened to stop the Pope's visit unless the site of the visit was moved, and it was.

There are a lot of stray cats running around in this camp too.

July 10

We had a very good breakfast of hummus, falafal, lebnah and pita bread after I slept for over 7 hours, the first full night sleep I've had in days.

We first went to Beit Sahour, a largely Christian town next to Bethlehem. It is the place of the Shepard’s Field where the magi were supposed to have spotted the star announcing Jesus' birth (I think that is the story). It is also Mazin's hometown.

There was a short march there, and then we went back to the camp and took and saw a video on the camp. Then we went to the village of Al-Walaja. It is a land on the western edge of the West Bank. It is right next to the western sprawl of West Jerusalem. In fact, most of its land was taken in 1948, owing to a secret deal between Israel and Jordan (according to one of its residents). Right now the Israeli military is building the Wall right through town. There are demolition orders for six houses, in addition to the 30 already destroyed. The town would have almost no land and would be physically isolated if the Wall is completed there, surrounded on all sides but one. Israel now controls 18 of the town’s original 20 springs and these 2 remaining springs have run dry.

We march up to where they are building the wall. The soldiers drive up and block entrance to the area. The demonstration again is completely non-violent. The soldiers to not shoot any projectiles, but they threaten to. One soldier offers water to a demonstrator, who refuses to take it.

On the way back we learn that border police have blocked the road. We send a vehicle through with a few people who aren't afraid to be deported. They get through - we wait for around a half hour and then the rest of us go through

It seems that there might be a policy in order to look for foreigners in the West Bank who entered Ben Gurion on July 8. The July 8 stamp may be a kind of mark of Cain.

I will let you go now - this whole situation is crazy.