Saturday, June 11, 2005

Marda and Moncade: Palestine's Fear and Israel's Insecurity

On Friday, I demonstrated for Moncade, the cutest three year-old in the West Bank. Moncade lives in Marda, a small village at the base of the hill on top which the Ariel settlement sits. Marda is losing their land and olive trees so that the Isreali government can build a 25 ft cement "security" wall – 13 miles away for Israel's 1967 border. Marda is a farming village and losing their land and trees will deal a huge economic and emotional blow. But as a Palestinian man whose house is completely surrounded by the Wall and security fencing told me yesterday, "the Wall is just the new situation that Palestinians must adapt to." The residents of Marda, including Moncade, have faced similar situations before and will again. There is a feeling here in Palestine that "if we were not facing this problem, we would face another."

I demonstrated for Moncade because his smile gives me courage. It isn't easy to live in the West Bank and it's even harder to face the Israeli without weapons or hate, knowing that they will respond with tremendous violence. Since a soldier pointed a gun in my face because I asked him to release to two Palestinian boys he was detaining illegally, I've found my stomach flopping and my hands shaking whenever I confront the Israeli army. So on Friday, I dedicated my actions to Moncade. With the farmers of Marda, I walked up the hill to pray on the land, picturing Moncade in my mind, glad he was too little to come with me.

And as we walked the hill, the violence we knew would met us did, but even sooner than we expected. Before we left the village, the Israeli army fired approximately 50 tear gas canisters in less than five minutes. Then they entered the village, continuing to fire tear gas canisters – in to houses and a sewing factory where 25 women were working – then started to fire rubber bullets, and then live ammunition, aiming at boys less than 18. Three boys were hit with rubber bullets and one with a tear gas canister, but thankfully everyone is still alive.

I cannot describe the looks of fear on the faces of the children of Marda. I've seen so many big eyes stare up at mothers, unable to speak their terror. The look on the faces of the mothers is even worse – fear covered up with accustomedness. "My son was so afraid," a woman told me, and I could see how much she wanted me to understand and make America understand. "Please, my son was so afraid."

Fear has become such a part of the daily life of Palestinians, especially children. The Israeli army changes the conditions in the West Bank arbitrarily, at their whim. One day, the drive from Marda to Jerusalem could that one and a half hours; the next day the army might put up a new checkpoint and it could take four. Israeli soldiers detain and arrest Palestinians randomly, demolish houses without warning, even enter and leave villages for no describable reason. The result is that nothing is ever predictable and we never know when we should be afraid.
Sometimes, however, the army does give a reason for its actions. At 11 last night the army entered the village of Harres, where I live with an international women's organization. Some threw flares and others walked up through the olive groves where no one could see them. Our landlord, one of the bravest Palestinians I know, came to our door, clearly scared. "This is when we are afraid. If the army sees one of us, even a child, they will shoot." Our landlord told us that he had called the army and asked why there were here. They told him that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail, "we are here for security reasons."

Security reasons. This is supposed to be one of the reasons that Israel is occupying Palestine. But security is trickier then one might think. When one thinks with the security mindset, soon anything one doesn't understand is a security risk and anything – sensible or not - is justified in trying to obtain security. Perhaps last night there was a Molotov cocktail, but our landlord was skeptical because he had been sitting on his patio for hours and hadn't heard anything. And after 20 terrible minutes, the army left without doing anything. Did this further security? On Friday, soldiers in Marda claimed that they didn't fire bullets, a Palestinian with a Kalashnikov rifle did. But I saw the M16 bullets. Did this lie indicate further security?

I have become much better acquainted with fear here in Palestine. I understand that many people in Israel are afraid. The specter of suicide bombings is truly terrible. But Israel must learn to see past its fear and see the occupation for what it is: brutal violence against civilians. To have security, Israel must allow the Palestinians to have what they have asked for: a free and peaceful state. Otherwise, Israel's occupation will continue to breed security threats - as long as Palestine in occupied with violence and ever increasing injustice, a few people will choose to oppose Israel violently. The occupation is Israel's biggest security threat.

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