The village of al-Tuwani in Masafir Yatta, or the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, is the poorest and most desolate place I have seen. In June 2007, I accompanied Rebecca Vilkomerson on her visit to Hafiz Hurayni, a representative of al-Tuwani’s popular committee. Rebecca is working with the popular committee and the South Hebron Committee to raise funds to build a playground for al-Tuwani’s children. She is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has also supported the playground project. Al-Tuwani needs a new well. When the existing one runs dry in the spring and summer, al-Tuwani is forced to buy water at inflated prices. Meanwhile, surrounding Jewish settlements have a nearly unlimited water supply.
“Who is trying to change the names of Haifa streets to the street names in the period prior to the War of Independence?” This question led an article in the December 15, 2004 edition of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. Someone — “people from outside,” said the mayor — had placed signs in Arabic that labeled major thoroughfares as they had been known prior to the expulsion of many of the city’s Palestinians, and the incorporation of Haifa into the nascent state of Israel, during the war of 1948.
As with every crisis that befalls the Palestinians in Lebanon, the Lebanese army’s siege of the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp impelled hundreds of people to pitch in with the relief effort. After fighting broke out in late May, and over 30,000 Nahr al-Barid residents fled to the nearby Baddawi camp, volunteers ferried food, blankets and medicine to the displaced. Such “humanitarian assistance,” along with petitions and open letters calling for protecting civilians, was all that pro-Palestinian Lebanese and international activists could think of to do as the army lobbed shells into the camp outside Tripoli. The needs of the displaced are indeed great, but many Palestinians wish their supporters would focus their energies elsewhere.
How long will the state erect military checkpoints in residential areas, treating them as though they were camps sheltering wanted people and gunmen, while all the Palestinian camps, which shelter criminals and wanted people, enjoy freedom of movement, politically, militarily and in terms of security, as though they were security islands independent of Lebanon politically, militarily and in terms of security?
Residents of Lebanon might be forgiven for wanting to forget the last 12 months. The month-long Israeli onslaught in the summer of 2006, economic stasis, sectarian street violence, political deadlock and assassinations—most recently that of Future Movement deputy Walid ‘Idu, who perished along with ten others in a June 13 car bomb explosion—have weighed heavily upon the country. It is as if the dismembered corpse of the 1975-1990 civil war—assumed to be safely buried—has been exhumed and reassembled, all the more grotesque. Since May 20, the Palestinians in Lebanon, too, have been made to relive past nightmares.
The latest convoluted set of events within Palestine, and at its borders, form a depressing tableau that mirrors the conflict as a whole.
In photography books, Palestine is a schizophrenic place. In certain books it is primarily funerals, masked militants with guns and crumbling buildings, while other
Joining Ang Lee, director of the gay cowboy epic Brokeback Mountain, among the winners at the January 16 Golden Globes award ceremony was the director Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian born in Israel whose Paradise Now took home the prize for best foreign language film. While critics of all persuasions remark upon what Brokeback Mountain’s victory means about Hollywood and American mores, it is perhaps more remarkable that Paradise Now, a film about two Palestinians recruited to carry out suicide bombings, was deemed unremarkable enough to be honored by Hollywood.
Gaza City—“I’ll go visit Auntie Lina in Ramallah after I obtain a tasreeh (an Israeli permit) and when Erez checkpoint is open, OK mama?”
This is what my son, who is almost three years old, told me the other day after having a chat with his cousin Laila who lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank. The problem is that during the last five years I have received permission to go to the West Bank only four or five times. Although I have a West Bank identity card from Nablus, I live and work with my husband and son in Gaza City. My son already knows the world: tasreeh , tukh (shoot) and Erez checkpoint is closed.
The autumn olive harvest used to be a time of celebration in this West Bank village. Entire families would spend days together in the groves. Even Israelis would make special trips here at this time of year to buy our olive oil. But with new Israeli restrictions on access to the fields, Palestinian farmers now have to leave their families at home, and may never even get to their olive grove.
Today, picking olives is no celebration. In the past few weeks, Israeli bulldozers began clearing agricultural land that belongs to Jayyous residents in anticipation of building 50 new houses for Israeli settlers.
From late 2000 to 2004, the most common form of Palestinian resistance to occupation has simply been getting there — refusing to allow Israeli checkpoints and sieges to shut down daily life. The unlikely symbols of that resistance are checkpoint workers — van drivers and porters — whose impromptu services allow other Palestinians to get there.
When an August 2002 opinion poll released by the US-based NGO Search for Common Ground showed that majorities of Palestinians would support a non-violent intifada, many residents of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem greeted the results with suspicion. "They're trying to make us be 'polite,'" one leader of the Fatah youth movement laughed bitterly. The poll itself was dangerous, he suggested, possibly part of an insidious effort to convince Palestinians to give up resistance to the Israeli occupation.
The Marwan Barghouti case has been labeled a “political trial” by Israelis and Palestinians alike. In the courtroom, Israel is trying Barghouti for terrorism. In the court of public opinion, the Israeli government is using the prosecution of Barghouti to discredit the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian resistance to occupation. Barghouti, in turn, is using the event to put Israel on trial.
Israel needs to halt its use of force that has claimed more than 60 Palestinian lives in the past few days. And unless an international investigation is launched into Israel’s brutal attacks on Palestinian demonstrators, more blood will be shed.
So far, the United States has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the killing of Palestinians. That is not a moral position to take. Nor does it advance the peace process.
Israel has launched a comprehensive war of attrition in the Occupied Territories, whose objective is a decisive military victory leading to prolonged interim arrangements dictated by Israel. Facing these overwhelming odds, the Palestinians remain plagued by a crisis of leadership that has already exacted a high price indeed.
A decade after Oslo, Palestinian negotiators have reached an impasse in the debate concerning refugee return. The discussion should be opened to creative ideas beyond the sacred positions. New ideas, even those that won’t work, can shake loose new possibilities.