Friday, December 01, 2006

How Still We See Thee Lie:
Bethlehem, 2006

Oh, little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

If Mary were bedding down in Bethlehem today, I think that she would complain that the city isn’t what the song said it would be. I doubt she would find Bethlehem itself particularly little or describe its nights as still. In fact, Mary might find it difficult to get a “deep and dreamless sleep” since life in Bethlehem continues well after nightfall. Perhaps she and Joseph would try to fall asleep amidst the sounds of wedding celebrations, fireworks, World Cup victory parties, and family dinners. But my guess is that Joseph’s family would never leave Mary alone. Mary and Joseph would probably be kept up late by relatives insisting on stuffing them with mountains of food and tiny cups of Arabic coffee.

But if Mary and Joseph weren’t staying with family, I am certain that they would find plenty of room in whatever inn they might choose. The holy family could have its choice of many lodgings: they could check into the Bethlehem Hotel, a spacious, western-style establishment. Or perhaps the Intercontinental, a five-star palace that would put the most spacious stable to shame. Mary could lay down on a soft bed and drift off to a strange sound: silence. Joseph would find that the flood of pilgrims and tourists who once came to Bethlehem has all but disappeared. If Bethlehem lies still today, it’s because its economy is slowly dying.

If Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem today, they wouldn’t find it to be the thriving, historic, multi-faith community it once was. Bethlehem lies only five miles south of Jerusalem, but at the end of those five miles stands a 25ft high cement wall marking the beginning the West Bank and the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. This wall and occupation form the nightmare that is destroying Bethlehem’s economy and disturbing this little town’s deep sleep.

Bethlehem suffers quietly under unjust structures imposed by the Israeli military occupation. Bethlehemites face land confiscation, the destruction of their olive groves, home demolitions and movement restrictions which make normal economic development impossible. The wall surrounding Bethlehem prevents goods from entering and leaving, cuts farmers off from their land and even surrounds important religious monuments. It also deters pilgrims from visiting one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

Today pilgrims on their way to the many religious sites in Bethlehem, including Rachel’s Tomb, Ruth and Naomi’s Field, Shepard’s Field, and of course the Church of the Nativity, must become intimately familiar with the wall. Visitors have to pass through an Israeli military checkpoint. They must wait in line, show their passports, and consent to any searches the Israeli army requires. This ordeal would turn many tourists away, but most give up before getting this close. Potential visitors are deluged with rumors of violence and high prices in Bethlehem. Most organized tours wiz tourists into Bethlehem on buses for a quick stop at the Church of the Nativity and than back to Israel, all in the course of about an hour. Many tours leave Bethlehem out of their itinerary all together. As a result, thousands of Christians visit the Holy Land each year without seeing the site of Jesus’ birth.

Bethlehem’s survival would still be in jeopardy if its tourist sector were still thriving. But without the visitors who used to drive Bethlehem’s economy, residents have very little hope. The Christian community in Bethlehem is rapidly emigrating, not because of religious discrimination but because of the economic conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Not long ago, Christians formed a majority in Bethlehem. If emigration rates remain constant, some say in 20 years Bethlehem will have no Christians left.

The truth before the world is stark: the location venerated as Christ’s birth place is being destroyed. One of the oldest Christian communities is slowly being driven out by a brutal military occupation that strikes at all Palestinians, regardless of faith. Nothing is safe under occupation, even Jesus’ birthplace. In the year 2002, the Israeli army invaded Bethlehem and lay siege to the Church of the Nativity. The church remains riddled with bullet holes today. Even for a person like myself, a Quaker who places no special emphasis on “holy places”, these bullet holes are like holes in my heart. I hope that they are holes in a veil through which God’s presence can come more readily into our beautiful, mundane world. I want to believe that’s what they are, but I worry that they are just another hole in the fabric of Palestinian society.

Bullet holes in the Church of the Nativity

My only hope is that the broken hearts of Christians and other good people who learn of Bethlehem’s plight will be the holes through which God’s love can work in our lives. The Christmas story can’t end in Bethlehem; it needs to find new life in the hearts of people all over the world who are ready to take action to stop the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.

The prince of peace, a child who grew up to disrupt the status quo with his message of love and justice, was born in Bethlehem. May he be born in our hearts again today.

For more information on the ongoing situation in Bethlehem and ways to help, visit Open Bethlehem at

Friday, November 10, 2006

Beit Hanoun

Apologies for a very short (and belated) update, but if you are now aware of the unfolding situation in Gaza, here's the short version. Israeli artillery fire in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun killed 19 people and wounded 40. All were civilians.

For more information and to make your voice heard, visit Jewish Voice for Peace and their action alert

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Occupied Voices: Palestinian Poet Mahmud Darwish

This poem came my way via the blog "Raising Yosef" Enjoy.

The siege is lying in wait.
It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway
in the midst of a storm.

We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness,
with the occasional rainbow visiting.

We have brothers and sisters overseas..
kind sisters, who love us
who look our way and weep.
And secretly they say
"I wish that siege was here, so that I could..."
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No.
Do not leave us alone.

Our losses are between two and eight a day.
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed,
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,
and the unfinished painting.

(Mahmud Darwish, A State of Siege, 2002, translated by Ramsis Amun)

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Breaking the Silence" Israeli Soldiers Speak Out

Breaking the Silence is one of the most interesting and important Israeli organizations working to educate the world about the situation in the Occupied West Bank, especially in the city of Hebron, a place near to my heart. For those of you living in the Northwest, don't miss this presentation. And for rest of you, check out this interview. - J, I Saw it in Palestine

"Breaking the Silence: Israeli Soldiers Speak Out"
Tuesday, November 7, 7pm
Friends Meeting Hall
4312 SE Stark Street, Portland

Two former Israeli soldiers, Dotan Greenvald and Yehuda Shaul, will
speak about their experiences serving the Israeli occupation in the
West Bank. Greenvald and Shaul are members of "Breaking the Silence",
an organization dedicated to revealing the day-to-day character of the
military occupation of Palestinian land and communities. For more
information, please call 503/344-5078 or write to

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I'm currently in the process of giving presentations on my experiences living in Palestine. As always, I'm looking for venues and audiences. Got any ideas?

Below is a description of my work and the presentation formats I'm comfortable with. Check it out and make note of what I am and am not willing to do. I've decided to post this information just to give potential hosts a better idea of what I can do and what I can't – I've been getting a number of requests for formats that I'm not able to provide, so I thought this might be helpful for everyone.

Thanks for helping to get the story of Palestine out to the world!

Coming Soon! Hopefully, after a bug in my blog is ironed out, I'll be embedding a calendar in the side bar to show when I am available for presentations. Check it out, comment, call or send me an email and we'll get a presentation scheduled for you!

Presentation description:

Portland resident Joy Ellison has returned from spending three months
in the West Bank supporting Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Joy
Ellison is an Earlham College graduate with a degree in Peace and
Global Studies and has traveled to many places besides Palestine,
including Northern Ireland and Bolivia. This summer marked her second
trip to Palestine, where she has spent a total of 5 and half months
working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Women's Peace
Service, and the Holy Land Trust. She is planning to return to
Palestine this year to continue working with Christian Peacemaker

With photographs, maps, and video clips, Joy's presentations attempt
to bring her experiences in Palestine to life for other Americans.
She focuses on explaining the basics mechanisms of the Israeli
military occupation of Palestine and sharing how Palestinians,
Israelis and international partners are building peace through
nonviolent resistance.

I'm happy to give presentations in the following formats:
· Formal presentations: I have prepared a 45 minute – hour long powerpoint presentation with pictures and map to illustrate my experiences. I am very happy to give this presentation to groups of any size and answer questions. I think that this presentation is the most clear and informative and works well for groups with considerable or very little knowledge of the situation.

· Informal question and answer secessions: I'm very happy to speak about my work very briefly (5-10 minutes) and answer questions or participate in a discussion with a group of any size. I find that this is a good format for discussing both the political and the personal aspects of my work and works well in college classrooms, Sunday Schools, and homes.

· Host a video presentation: I have a small selection of videos about Palestine and I am very happy to introduce myself, show a video and answer questions afterwards.

· Elementary school classrooms/children's religious classes: I have designed an hour-long presentation about live in Palestine appropriate for first graders through 5th grade. The presentation focuses on the lives of Palestinian children and Palestinian culture, religion, and food. Presentations can be shortened if needed.

· Spoken messages/sermons, etc.: I am willing to prepare a message, sermon or other talk for religious gatherings or other large gatherings.

· Nonviolence trainings: I love to give nonviolence trainings focused on exploring what it means to use nonviolence to build peace and justice. Trainings, however, always require preparation, so I do request an honorarium based on the amount of preparation time I spend.

· Interviews: I am always willing to give interviews. I have selection of articles that I have written on Palestine that I can provide for publication and re-publication.

· Table/present information: I am occasionally willing to set up information and flyers about my work and the situation in Palestine, but I am selective when choosing a venue/schedule for such an event. I am, however, always very happy to pass on information so that other people can pass out information themselves.

I prefer not to:

· Lead people in mediations/prayers/silence: I'm often asked to lead times of reflection or mediation, but I strongly prefer not to do so. Because I take these times of reflection seriously, I find preparations for them to be very time consuming. I have one pre-prepared outline for such a presentation. I am only willing to led mediations if this outline will fit the desired format.

· Participate in a debate/panel discussion on Israel/Palestine: My work is focused on sharing my experiences and discussing nonviolent peacemaking, not debating the issues. I feel that there are other people who are better suited to that and I'm not sure that the format gets us anywhere. I have presented alongside other peace activists in an informal question-and-answer session and I am happy to do similar presentations.

· Tap-dance :-)

Find God in the Darkness
Based on a sermon given at West Hills Friends, Portland Oregon

Lately, I've realized that very few people actually understand what
people like me are doing working in Palestine. Certainly there are
many people who've never heard of organizations like Christian
Peacemaker Teams or the International Solidarity Movement, but that's
not what worries me. It's the way our friends and supporters and
often the way we ourselves describe our work that's begun to disturb
me. Often people like me who work supporting Palestinian nonviolent
resistance are described as "active peacemakers" or "people standing
in the way of violence." They say that we're "standing in solidarity
with the oppressed" or "shining God's light in the darkness" or, my
personal favorite, "trying to save the world."

I suppose all of that is true, to some degree, and I find it deeply
flattering. But I think these descriptions are also very convenient.
They make the work we do seem difficult and that in turn allows people
to react to it in one of two ways: first, these descriptions makes it
very easy for the listener to say, "why, I could never do something
like that." Secondly, and this is what concerns me more, these
descriptions make our work seem very important and even gallant. They
create a dangerous potential for nobility and self-righteousness.
They also shield us from the questions that the Israeli military
occupation of Palestine poses and make it easier for us to avoid
questioning ourselves. They also prevent us from fully confronting
the despair always present in situations of oppression.

So, let me tell you what we, the people who serve in organizations
like Christian Peacemaker Teams, really do. I think that you'll find
in the reality is less gallant and more humble that we might wish for.

We let Palestinians feed us. We accept gifts from people who cannot
afford to give them. We meet people and try not to mispronounce their
names. We explain to many people that we don't know President Bush
personally, but we'll tell everyone we do know their story. Most
importantly of all, we act in a way that allows people to preserve
their dignity.

We participate in the daily realities of the oppressed – in this case
the Palestinians – as much as outsiders of varying degrees of
privilege ever can. Sometimes we stand in line at checkpoints for
hours. We try to convince soldiers to let people go home or to the
grocery store. We sweat. We grumble (at least I do). We look for
that of God in other people.

We spend money in places that no one else goes. We smile at people
whose lives are hellish. We play soccer with children.

We are a presence. We care. And it's hard to know if we're doing a
lot of good, but we find it difficult to stop or to do anything else.

Over this summer, I set aside time to study Arabic so that my work in
Palestine might be more effective and more respectful. On a typical
day, I might have found myself traveling to Jerusalem on an errand.
I'd probably be in a bit of a hurry, but I'd visit my friend Mahjadee who
owns a dying tourist shop on Manger Street. Talking would turn to
drinking coffee, which would turn into an Arabic lesson and buying a
present from my mom. An hour later, I might finally leave Bethlehem
for Jerusalem. I'd try my best to act human-ly to the Israeli
soldiers who check my ID at the checkpoint, though I'm not sure how
one does that when a glass window and a wall of silence separates us.
I'd run my errands in Jerusalem and then I might buy prayer beads for
my friend Marwan, who always smiled sadly whenever I told him I was
going to Jerusalem. I'd find a shop and choose a piece of Jerusalem
to bring back to Marwan, who hasn't been able to travel to his holy
city, only 5 miles from his home in Bethlehem, for 12 years. I'd let
the shop owner rip me off, to the degree I could afford. Then I'd get
back on the bus, show my ID again at the checkpoint and go home to my
host family. What did I accomplish? I'm still not sure.

Or maybe, on a day I was feeling strong and resilient, I might visit
my friend who has the misfortunate to work next to a holy site for
Christians, Muslims, and Jews: Rachel Tomb. Because of its proximity
to the tomb of Rachel, Jacob's wife, the Israeli army has surrounded
his shop with the 25ft high cement Annexation Wall. The Wall snakes
inside Bethlehem to swallow up the tiny shop and all of his business
with it. His shop is dying now and when I would come to visit he
would tell me his problems and cry because the situation had stripped
him of everything and is now chipping away at his last possession: his
dignity. I would drink tea, say hello, and try to make him let me pay
my bill. All I could do was let him know that I knew he was there and
give him a few more shekels to scrape together to feed his family.

Sometimes, usually even, our work seems more direct. Christian
Peacemaker Teams volunteers accompany children on their way to school.
CPTers stand in the way when settlers throw rocks at them. We try
to find ways to support the Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance
movement. We sometimes serve as a bridge between Israeli and
Palestinians activists and we attend demonstrations against the
Israeli Annexation Wall. On what might be called an "exciting" day
(and those are the days one learns to fear) international activists
might grab or pile on top of Palestinian activists to un-arrest them.
When we are successful, we know we've helped to make sure a mother or
father or beloved child will go home safely, instead of off to spend
years in an Israeli jail. Like all activists, we have many projects:
we create documentaries, reports, and activist resources. We write
letters, paint signs, and work very hard. Always, we are writing
about what we see. We're always trying to say whatever we need to say
to help our friends understand what is happening, to make them care,
and insight to them to do something.

In my experience, these simple actions are what comprise the reality
of what we are doing when we work in solidarity with Palestinians. I
think, though, that in all of this, while we may want desperately to
believe we are changing the world, and I still have faith that we are,
we are also looking for God in the dark places. We may like to think
of ourselves as peacemakers Jesus called blessed, but we have also
become blessed because we are poor in spirit and blessed because we

When I returned to Palestine this summer, my prayer was that I would
see God in the soldiers and Israeli officials I came in contact with.
As I stepped off the plane and tried to steady my nerves for the trip
through Israeli security, my prayers were immediately answered. The
girl behind the glass was about my age and pretty. It was easy to see
God in her. I didn't expect to continue to see God in the eyes of
Israeli soldiers, but I did. And the truth is, I still don't know
what to do with the piece of God I saw so clearly in those young
soldiers. Would Jesus carry a gun? I still don't think so. But I
saw him doing just that.

What do we do with experiences like this? It's hard to see clearly in
the dark. But sometimes it is in the dark that I am finally able to
see God.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Insisting on Life" with the Palestinian Fair Trade Association: A Photo Essay

The Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) is an inspiring Palestinian organization based in Jenin, Palestine. By creating a network of Palestinian farmers and international grassroots partners, the PFTA has allowed small Palestinian farmers to access international markets and insured that decent wages and profits are provided to everyone involved with the olive harvesting process. In addition to focusing on local economic development, the PFTA works to develop an ever-growing array of fair trade products in keeping with Palestinian traditional agriculture practices. Currently, PFTA farmers provide fair trade certified honey, sun-dried tomatoes, couscous, olive oil soap, olives, and of course, virgin and extra virgin olive oil. Under the Israeli military occupation of Palestine, the PFTA work, best encapsulated in their motto "insisting on life" represents an exciting form of economic development and resistance.

I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Jenin to visit the PFTA and learn more about their programs and daily life for Palestinian farmers. Here is what we saw:

Any visit in Palestine starts out with playing with a crowd of beautiful and lively children,
And then progresses to a meal of epic (and delicious) proportions.

After visiting our host's home, we drove to their fields to see the olive groves and develop a better understanding of the lives of Palestinian farmers and the work of the Palestinian Fair Trade Association.

This olive tree was planted as a part of the PFTA's Trees for Life Program. Through this program, a portion of all of the PFTA's sales go to plant new olive trees to replace those destroyed by the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and empower Palestinian farmers. Between Tree Day (Feb. 15th) and Land Day (March 30th) thousands of Trees for Life are planted in Palestine. All of the recipients are members of the PFTA and priority is given to small farmers, women land owners, brand-new young farmers, and farmers who have lost trees in the Israeli occupation. Because olive trees can live for hundreds of years and provide important income for Palestinian families, trees like this one are an important form of empowerment and a meaningful link between Palestinian farmers and the global fair trade movement.

There is hardly a season in Palestine when it's not time for harvesting something.
In the north, August is the time for harvesting tomatoes (which taste wonderful fresh off the vine)

and time for picking grapes (which taste even better).

From visiting the fields and receiving pounds of grapes, we visited the Palestine Fair Trade Association's olive oil bottling factory.

It wasn't easy to say good-bye to the beautiful Jenin valley. But at least we can take Jenin's bounty with us. The Palestine Fair Trade Association has partnered with organizations to ship to UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, the USA and other countries. Check out the Palestine Fair Trade Association website for more information and become a part of the fair trade movement. You will never find a better tasting revolution.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Therapy, Bethlehem-Style

Frankly, this seems very silly and I'm not sure why I'm posting it. But these are pictures from our little adventure tagging in Bethlehem. That's tagging the Annexation Wall, I mean. Apparently, the hiss of a can of spray paint lifts the occupation-blues better than just about anything else.

I don't think one really needs an excuse to leave your mark on what is literally one of the largest instruments of oppression around, but we still had one. Viv, a friend of mine from Beit Jala, was leaving Palestine for an exciting and important peace-educator position in the U.S. We wanted to help her say goodbye to her home. But when my friend Francisco (names changed to protect the innocent) told me we'd be tagging the Wall near Rachel'sTomb, I started to have some second thoughts.

Rachel's Tomb, for the uninitiated, is an important site for Christians, Muslims, and Jews and is located inside Bethlehem. The Wall runs around it, snaking into Bethlehem. It's where the Israeli army tends to hang out. That makes it one of the most, shall we say exciting places to write on the wall in Bethlehem. But the blank, clean wall was simply irresistable. Viv asked the guys who own the gas station next to Rachel's Tomb if they minded. They said, "yalla (go ahead), just stay out of sight of the watch tower" and we began. And once you hear the sound of spray paint coming out of its can, soldiers just don't seem as scary.

(I wish these photos were better - taking pictures at night is never easy.)

"This is not a fence" because sometime you have to point out the obvious
"American $$, Israeli Wall, Palestinian Land" and "Aqui Estamos Y No Nos Vamos, We R NOT Going Anywhere!"

"And Still I Rise" by Francisco
Viv says her goodbye

Francisco paints a picture of someone digging under the wall. Its a lovely painting; wish I had a better picture.

Four cans of spray paint later, we were feeling wonderful and so were the guys at the gas station. At first they didn't know what to think of us, but then they started shouting slogans for us to paint. "Write, 'this is the logic of power, not the power of logic.'" "Now write, 'what goes up must come down.'" When we finished, they gave us black baseball caps and soda pop. "You've made it beautiful for us." they said. I hope they find more beauty in their lives, despite the ugliness of their oppression.

"Not All Jews Support The Occupation" - Nonviolent Resistance in the United States

I just learned that over the last month a series of nonviolent actions resisting the occupation have taken place. But these demonstrations haven't taken place in Palestine: the resistance has finally come to the United States! And Jewish Americans are the force behind these actions.

On August 22nd, coordinated actions took place in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York. A few week ago, activists demonstrated in Boston and I understand that other actions will be taking place soon. To follow these inspiring demonstration, go to Here are some more links to check out:

Philadelphia banner drop:

San Francisco lock-down at Jewish Federation: (Thanks to for the image on this entry.)

New York die-in at Penn Station:

Boston Die-in:

And remember what one action participant had to say: "The U.S. gives more than $10 million to Israel every
single day, most of which is used militarily... You don't have to be Jewish to stand against Israel's war crimes! (But it helps with the banners)" Here's to more inspiring actions!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Occupied Voices: Musings of a Palestinian Princess

Well, Occupied Voices, a periodic feature here at "I Saw it in Palestine" is back. And this time I want to point you towards a blog that I really enjoy reading: Musings of a Palestinian Princess The writer of this blog, Lucy, is "just your average princess, just under occupation." Lucy blogs from Bethlehem, usually, and I'm disappointed that I didn't get to met her while I was there. That's the sort of blog that "Musings of a Palestinian Princess" is: the sort that makes your want to actually met the person writing it. Check it out, yo.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

For Portlanders, Vancouverites, and other Northwesterns who read this blog-
Some upcoming events and oppertunities in the area

In many ways, I work the hardest for an end to the occupation while I am at home. Over the next few months I'll be speaking extensively about Palestine and involved in other projects. There are a couple of events and opportunities that I want to make sure you're aware of, especially those of you living in the Portland/Vancouver area.

First, this Friday, Sept. 1st at 6:00 pm I'll speaking on the Bread and Roses show on KBOO Radio! In Portland and Vancouver, you can listen at 90.7 FM, or any where the world over, you can listen online at Pretty cool!

Second, on Sept 16th, the slice of life in Palestine is coming to Vancouver, Washington. A life-sized replica of the annexation wall will be presented at the Vancouver Peace and Justice Fair. And we need your help! To make this unique public education opportunity a reality, we need people willing to help us set-up the wall and take it down. Super-human strengthen is not required - just the ability to follow directions. And if giving instructions is more your style, consider helping out with at mock checkpoint I'm working to organize. I'm looking people willing to impersonate both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in an effort to give people an idea of what checkpoints are like. If you're interested in helping with either set-up and take-down or with the mock checkpoint, please don't hesitate to drop me an email (or comment). We need all of the help we can get!

Thirdly, as always I'm looking for places where I can speak about my experiences in Palestine. Last year, I was able to speak to a variety of audiences, from church groups to high school classrooms to living rooms. I'm very happy to speak almost any where - but the sooner I can get presentations scheduled the better. Drop me an email (or comment) if you're interested.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If Americans Knew, an organization I had worked with, has just created a 3-minute video on the growing crisis in Gaza. Check it out and send along to your friends.

Gaza After Disengagement

PS:  I'm home safe after absolutely no hassle at the Tel Aviv Airport.  Humdillah!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hebron: The Other Peace Process: Dispossessed Families Return to Land

I wanted to include this link to an old CPT report that describes the sort of peace process I believe stands a chance of ending the occupation. While I hope there will be a time when political negoitations work and when dialogue, or a truth and reconciliation commission, are appropriate in Palestine and Israel, I feel this is not it. The pressure of injustice is simply to great and those that want to make peace need to struggle for justice.

This piece talks about Israeli and Palestinian activists working together and becoming the "other peace process." Take a look:

There are no words for how I feel leaving Palestine for the second
time. I don't have the vocabulary to describe the way my heart is
broken apart by a need to stay here - to sit on the land, to hold the
hands my friends, to climb into an olive tree, to refuse to move - and
a desire to escape the madness of this occupation. I don't want to
keep looking into the eyes of young men and women who stand with guns
at the checkpoints. I don't want to look at the pictures of dead
children and demolished houses shown on television. I don't want to
listen to my host father describe how difficult is it for the
Christian families in Beit Sahour sell their olive wood carvings. I
don't want to see how everything gets worse every day. I don't want
to continue feeling so powerless and so ineffectual.

I'm ready to go home, to talk about what I've seen, to renew my spirit
somehow. I'm ready to see my Palestinian American friends who can no
longer come home because of new Israeli regulations. I'm ready to see
my own family. But I know when I come back to Palestine again, it
will be worse. The Wall will be bigger, the land will be smaller,
unemployment will be higher. And the coffee will still be delicious,
the hospitality unparalleled, and hopefully the children will still
smile. My heart will be ripped out again when I return to Palestine,
but I know I can't stay away.

This week has been an endless goodbye. I'm desperately trying to fill
up the time with anything that will distract me, but it's not working.
I can't escape the way I'm feeling. I've learned what it means to
pray without ceasing. I keep crying out for something to change, for
every person, every shop and organization to some how survive until I
come back to see them again. And I pray because I feel like there is
nothing else I can do.

I try not to write sad things. There is so much of that already being
written that I just want to write about hope and, in a small way,
love. So maybe I should try to write something hopeful here: I'm
still hopeful because all of us are still fighting. Here in Palestine
and a few people in Israel and around the world, we're still
struggling for justice and peace. I will come back to Palestine and
while I am away, I'll work hard for my friends here. No night can
last forever. Someday this occupation will have to end.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Israelis Arrested for Blocking the Road to Air force Base
Today, August 8th, tens of leftist Israeli activists are blocking the road to the Israeli air force Ramat David area, close to Haifa. Police have already arrested more than ten activists.

The group issued a press release stating their motives which is translated below:

The international law requires of every human being the duty of resistance to war crimes using every possible means. At this moment, when the rockets are falling, the war crimes are committed, the victims buried, it is time to fight to stop the war.

The activists are carrying a clear message: Stop civilian killings; Stop the war crimes; Stop the Israeli government criminal policies.

It is the duty of every soldier to refuse to serve orders which are war crimes. The support by the Israeli people of this criminal government means they are participants in committing these war crimes.

The number of dead is continuously increasing. The attacks by Israeli air force are planting death, destruction and hate. In Palestine, the occupation continues killing and torturing Palestinians. The civilians of Northern Israel are used as human shields and are paying their lives as a price to serve the ego of generals who are even unable to acknowledge failure and defeat.

The war crimes are committed everyday, hundreds of kids have been killed. The number of those killed is over a thousand. There are tens of thousands of injured and over one million refugees and Israel continues the air strikes, the killing, the destruction, and the annihilation in order to prove who is powerful in the region.

We repeat and we say what is known for everyone; there is no military solution. We are calling on the Israeli government and its people to wake up and behave in a moral way.

We must stop the war machine and the destruction. we demand an immediate ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners, and the release the political prisoners in Israel.

Call Out for Stories of Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance

Friends, I'm currently living in Bethlehem and I'm volunteering with a
Palestinian organization called the Holy Land Trust. We're working to
put together a web resource center on Palestinian nonviolent
resistance. We're almost ready to launch the site, but we want to
give members of the movement a chance to submit articles and links
that you think should be included.

We're looking for stories of nonviolent resistance actions. The
purpose of this website is to provide an introduction to the
resistance movement that anyone can understand. We're most interested
in dynamically written stories of nonviolent actions, focusing on the
actions of Palestinians and their supporters, rather than the terrible
responses on the Israeli army that we know always take place. We want
to highlight, as much as possible, stories written by Palestinians,
but please don't hesitate to submit any story. Multimedia sources –
videos, audio, pictures, etc – are also welcome.

If you have a story, video, or link you would like to be posted on the
website, please feel free to send it to me at jubilus AT gmail DOT
com. Weblinks are the easiest resources for us to work with, but
previously unpublished material is great as well. Please include, as
much as possible, all relevant information – who, what, when, where,
why, etc.

Thank you so much for your help creating this resource! Feel free to
pass this request on to anyone you feel might be interested.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My friends Hani and Muniera live in a home that has become their prison.  With the help of Palestinian, Israeli, and international peace activists, they refused to leave when the army told them their house would be demolished to make way for the path of the wall.  Now, the wall surrounds them on all four side of their house.  When I last left their home after a visit, I listened while Muniera locked the deadbolt on the small gate that they use to enter and exit their property.  Thunk.  It was the most horrible sound I've ever heard - outdoing all of gunfire I've heard here.  Thunk.  Hani and Muniera and their children are trapped, but I can leave.  What privilege I have.  As the sound of the deadbolt still rings in my ears, I think about what I'm doing with my freedom.  I hope I'm making the most out of it. 
I began thinking about privilege and freedom when my friend Um Fadi asked me about public opinion in the United States.  She wanted to know if Americans, including the peace movement, were starting to talk about what is happening in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.  She wanted to know if things were getting better. 
I wasn't sure what to tell Um Fadi.  In some ways, I feel that public opinion is turning, especially on the War in Iraq.  It also seems that many Americans are calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon.  But on the issue of Palestine, I wasn't sure if I could honestly give Um Fadi good news.  "I think that more and more Americans understand the occupation," I told her.  What I didn't say was that it seems that very few peace activists are willing to do anything about it. 
Though a small group of people are working very, very hard to end American support for the occupation, most often I hear American peace activists pontificating on what Palestinians should and shouldn't do.  I agree with almost all of their criticism.  I whole heatedly agree that Palestinians shouldn't kill civilians.  I agree that comparisons to the holocaust are silly and unhelpful.  I agree that nonviolent resistance is the best way to make peace.  After all, I participate in these demonstrations even when I'm terrified of the violent response of the Israeli army.  But I wonder why the American peace movement has been willing to condemn the US occupation of Iraq despite the terrible actions of the Iraqi insurgency.  We argue that further violence will only strengthen them and that it's our responsibility to stop the injustice in which we are complicit.  We know this isn't an endorsement of terrorism.  But why can't we see our way clear to end US military aid to Israel in the same way?
I sometimes hear Israelis making the same demands on Palestinians as Americans do.  Don't do this.  Don't do that.  Do this better.  Call for peace, they say.  Have a huge peace march.  But sometimes Israelis don't seem to realize that the response of the Israeli army to nonviolent demonstrations, including those calling for peace, is brutal.  Having a demonstration isn't as easy for Palestinians as it is for Israelis.  Israelis risk almost nothing while Palestinians risk everything. 
Moreover, calling for peace must mean calling for justice.  To often "peace activists," Israeli, American, and otherwise, fall into a trap that Martin Luther King Jr. described.  "Many men call "Peace, peace!"  But they do not want the things that make for peace."  The truth is, I don't think that a peace movement will get Israel any where right now.  But when more Israelis start calling for justice, for an end to human rights violations in Palestine and for, heaven forbid, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, then we may start to get somewhere. 
Call for peace.  Do this.  Do that.  As I joked to Um Fadi, "Um Fadi, we want you to end the occupation by yourself!"  Sometimes I feel that's what Israeli and American activists are asking Palestinians to do.  Just as white people ask people of color to end racism.  As men ask women to end sexism.  As straight people ask GLBTQ folks to end hetrosexism. 
In the end, this conflict isn't just about violence and peace.  It's about power and oppression.  Those of us who do not live under occupation need to remember all of the privilege and power we can.  What are you doing with yours?

Monday, August 07, 2006

"I want to smile"
My friend Hussam has a lovely smile.  And here in Palestine it is always getting him into trouble. 
Yesterday I ran into Hussam in a taxi.  I asked him what he had been up to.  "Last night I came back to Bethlehem through the Container Checkpoint.  And for the first time, the soldiers didn't stop me," Hussam told me.  "Why do they always stop you?" I asked.  "Because I smile."
Hassam told me that a week ago, he was trying to pass through the Container Checkpoint at Wadi Nar, the only checkpoint between the Northern and Southern halves of the West Bank accessible to Palestine without a permit to go through Jerusalem.  When an Israeli soldier asked Hussam for his ID card, Hussam smiled.  And that's when he found himself detained for questioning.
"First, one solider asked me 'why do you smile?'  I told him I wanted to smile.  You can't stop me." 
Hassam told me that another soldier questioned him.  He told him Hussam to stop smiling, but Hussam refused.  "I want to smile."  said Hussam.
Fortunately, the soldiers released Hussam quickly, but he told me that when got back into the bus, which had to wait during the interrogation, the other Palestinians on the bus started to yell at him for causes so much trouble.  But Hussam told him that he was going to smile.  Smiling is his was of being free.
I think my mouth hung open while my friend told me this story.  So much trouble over a smile?  But perhaps that's how resistance can start.
Please, end the violence and injustice.  We all want to smile. 

I love seeing young Palestinians feeling some hope and as though they have some power in their own lives.

I think this picture says it all....

Pictures of Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance:

I've got so much to do, but I've been going through photo archieves here and there are a few that just can't help but post. I've taken none of these, but I still wanted to share them

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Occupied Voices: "Kerblog" from Beirut

KERBLOG contains truely amazing drawings documenting his experience living in Beirut as the bombs keep falling. Check out what he has to say...and draw.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The War Next Door

Today my good friend Marwan told me that he had to go into to see the doctor yesterday. He said he has some sort of problem with his heart. I asked him what happened and he told me that he had watched the news from Lebanon this morning. On the television, there were pictures of the children killed in the bombings in Lebanon. Marwan told me that he looked up at the picture and down at his own children. He shooed them out of the room, hoping they wouldn't see the pictures of dead children, children their age, who look just like them. And then Marwan went to the doctor with a pain in his heart.

"Don't look at the pictures," Marwan tells me. "A little bit of news, that's okay for you. But too much, for you it's not good."

It's difficult to know what to write while this terrible war rages on in the country next door. Whatever I write about Lebanon and Israel will likely be out of date by the time that you read it. Besides, many of you may have more access to English-language news than I do. The truth is, to me the war seems far away. But for many of the Palestinians I live with, the bombing feels very close. Besides, while the world has been concerned about Lebanon and Northern Israel, there have been more killings in Nablus and of course Gaza. There's a heavy feeling in the air, as though sadness and hopelessness have finally taken hold. Even I can feel it.

This morning my friend and host-sister Iylana told me that every group that had been scheduled to come to Palestine through the educational travel program she works with have cancelled because of the war. Actually, until yesterday there was one group still coming. But they were denied entry by the Israeli authorities. "I don't know what we will do" said Iylana. "Without tourism, we have nothing."

I suppose this is how Palestine is effected by the war. Old problems are compounded - Just as tourists were starting to come to Palestine again, they've stopped. The checkpoints are worse then I've ever seen them, since Israelis fear for their security even more. The United States complicity clearer than every and the world's abandonment of Palestine is felt more acutely as more attention is showed on Israel and Lebanon. In many ways nothing has changed. Everything is just a little bit worse.

I just learned from my friend Vivian that in Beit Jala, the village to the west of Bethlehem, the Israeli soldiers stationed there have been releasing their sewage into the town almost week. "It usually happens on a Thursday" says Vivian. Great, I think, almost laughing. The occupation shows its ugly, petty side again. Perhaps there is something that we can do about this incident. In the midst of the madness of the last two months, it's nice to deal with the sort of problem I'm more familiar with. But the truth is, there is no escape from the feeling of hopelessness. We just don't know what to do.

"A little bit of news, that's okay for you. But too much, for you it's not good." I should stop writing about these terrible things. Thank you for working to end this war, but don't stop. And please don't forget those of us who are living near by.

Shu Akbarek? What's your News?

So, just what have I been doing here in Palestine? I'm not very good at writing personal updates - I get distracted by all of the politics here. But here are some of the things that I've been up to.

First, I've been helping to edit an new book called "The Doves" by Hebron Artist Samih Abu Zakieh, director of the Palestinian Child Art Center: Samih drew 100 beautiful pictures of doves (like the one here) while he was living under 24-hour curfew in Hebron. His book tells the story of the drawing and includes all 100. It will be published very soon and I'll try to keep you updated on how it can be purchased. No, I'm not getting a cut - it's a beautiful book and you'll be glad you have a copy!

Besides editing "The Doves" I've been working on a website documenting Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It will be online soon, inshallah (God willing) hosted by the Holy Land Trust. I'm pretty excited about it!

Finally, I've been away at camp. Yeah, the second annual "Nonviolent Activist Summer Camp." You can check out an article on it here:

So there. That's some of what I've been up to. We now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

Just so you know

The Resistance Continues

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Cows of Beit Sahour

Beit Sahour, the town where I live, is famous throughout Palestine for its fierce devotion to independence and amazing use of nonviolence during the first intifada.  Beit Sahour launched  community wide tax strike in protest of the occupation, for which residents suffered greatly.  But more impressively, Beit Sahour managed to boycott every Israeli product on the market.  Under the Israeli military occupation, the economy of Palestine has been fiercly subjected and Palestinians, once extremely successful farmers, have become dependent on Israeli goods.  But during the first intifada, Palestinians organized victory gardens and were able to feed themselves, even during long months of 24-hour curfew.  In Beit Sahour, the boycott was successful.  Sahouris met all of their needs without relying on Israeli good.  All of their needs, that is, except milk.  That's where the cows of Beit Sahour come in.  Here's my friend Helen to tell the story. 

During the first intifada the people of Beit Sahour wanted to become independent and self-sufficient. They withheld taxes from the Israeli government and wanted to grow their own vegetables, bake their own bread … and milk their own cows.  However they wanted to do it in such a way that irritated the Israeli military. They organised courses in horticulture and the wealthier activists bought 18 cows

Imagine, a group of middle class men that have no experience of livestock arriving in a field in the middle of night with a trailer full of cows. They knew nothing about cows, not even how to get them out of the trailer. After asking the cows politely to please come out someone decided to bang on the side. The cows came charging out scattering the men far and wide. After 4 hours of trying to round up the animals, but running the other way as soon as one turned round, the local villagers came to help and the cows were settled into their new home.  

Every day the cows were milked and the milk delivered early in the morning to the house round the town by young men covering their heads and faces with kaffiyeh's. It drove the  local military commander wild. Eventually the IDF turned up at the field and demanded that the cows were removed. The activists refused and the military went away. A few days later they returned and again demanded that the cows go and went round taking individual photos of the cows.

The villager that was employed to look after the cows was repeatedly intimidated and assaulted by the IDF quit his job so people from Beit Sahour started looking after the cows themselves. After repeated harassment from the IDF the activists decided that the cows needed to be moved to a secret location. Eventually a suitable cave was found, it belonged to a butcher, he used it to keep cows in before he slaughtered them.  

The cows were collected in the middle of the night and delivered to the cave, the disappearance drove the military commander crazy. The milk was still being delivered but the cows were nowhere to be seen. Soldiers were sent door to door in Beit Sahour with the mug shots of the cows asking townspeople if they recognised them. Eventually the soldiers came to the butchers house and looked in the cave, initially they didn't spot the cows but a stray moo gave them away. The 18 terrorists had now been found.  

The butcher had a cover story and maintained the cows now belonged to him and he was keeping them until they calved and then would kill them. The soldiers arrested him for non-payment of taxes (for which he could be held for 48 hours) when released he was immediately rearrested. The activists decided this was unacceptable so the cows were again collected in the middle of the night and distributed around the local villages.  

Two years later one of the original team that bought the cows was arrested and questioned on an unrelated matter. The Beit Sahour military commander found out he was there and said to him "What the hell happened to those cows." When telling us this story the activist said "I now know I caused him sleepless nights thinking about the cows. That alone made it all worthwhile"
So ends the story of the cows of Beit Sahour.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Check out a new fact sheet on the Covergence Plan - what everyone here will be trying to survive next:

Friday, July 28, 2006

31 Children in 31 days

According to Defense for Children International, the following
children have been killed by Israeli military actions in Gaza since 26
June 2006:

1. Anwar Isma'el Atallah, 12 years old
2. Saleh Sleman Al Jemasi, 16 years old
3. Ruwan Fareed Hajjaj, 5 years old
4. Khalid Nidal Abed Al Karim Wahbeh, 1 year old
5. Mahfouth Farid Nasseer, 15 years old
6. Ahmad Ghaleb Abu Amshah, 16 years old
7. Ahmed Fathi Odah Shabat, 16 years old
8. Waleed Mahmoud Al Zinati, 12 years old
9. Salah Adeen Hammad Abu Maktuma, 17 years old
10. Ibrahim Ali Khatoush, 15 years old
11. Mahmoud Muhammad Al Asar, 15 years old
12. Ibrahim Ali Al Nabaheen, 15 years old
13. Ahmad Abdil Mina'm Abu Hajaj, 16 years old
14. Nasrallah Nabil Abu Selmieh, 5 years old
15. Aya Nabil Abu Selmieh, 7 years old
16. Iman Nabil Abu Selmieh, 11 years old
17. Yahya Nabil Abu Selmieh, 9 years old
18. Huda Nabil Abu Selmieh, 13 years old
19. Basma Nabil Abu Selmieh, 15 years old
20. Sumaia Nabil Abu Selmieh, 16 years old
21. Raji Omar Deif Alla, 16 years old
22. Muhanna Sa'ed Mesleh, 16 years old
23. Ahmad Rawhee Abdo, 13 years old
24. Ali Kamil Al Najar, 13 years old
25. Fadwa Faisel al 'Urouqi, 13 years old
26. Mohammad Awad Muhra, 17 years old
27. Khitam Muhammad Tayeh, 11 years old
28. Nadee Habib Al Ataar, 11 years old
29. Saleh Ibrahim Nasser, 13 years old
30. Bashir Abdullah Awad Abu Thaher, 12 years old
31. Sabrine Naser Habib, 3 years old

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hey. I need to send out an update: I'm fine. Bethlehem seems to be the safest place in whole region. I doubt that Hezbollah can hit here (or would want to) and hopefully the Israeli army will leave us alone. But really, don't worry, I'm fine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In yesterday's radio boardcast, the International Middle East Media
Center reported the following:

The Palestinian ministry of health revealed on Tuesday that the
Israeli army has used a new type of explosive in its offensive on the
Gaza Strip. These explosives contain toxics and radioactive materials
which burn and tear the victim's body from the inside and leave long
term deformities.

The ministry called upon the international community and the
humanitarian organizations to send an international medical team to
examine the victims and confirm the truth about these banned weapons
that Israel appears to be using.

The ministry showed that most of the injuries which the hospitals
receive result from huge explosions, which cause burning and severing
of limbs, including the inner parts of the body. This causes long term

In addition, doctors in Gaza have been forced to amputate limbs of at
least 12 injured Palestinians as a result of injuries sustained in the
current Israeli offensive on the Strip. D. Jom'a Al Saka the
spokesperson of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza:

"When the Shrapnel hit the body, it causes a very strong burns that
destroys the tissues around the bones. When these shrapnel enters the
body, it burns and destroys internal organs, like the liver, kidneys
and the Spleen and other organs and makes saving the wounded almost
impossible. As a surgeon, I have seen thousands of wounds during the
Intifada, but nothing was like this weapon."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Lately we've all been glued to the television. The question on everyone's lips is "shu saar?" What happened? What happened in Gaza? What happened in Nablus? What happened last night in Bethlehem? In Beit Jala? In Beit Sahour? Palestine has had nothing but bad news. 22 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. Much of the Palestinian government has been thrown into the jail. The aid embargo continues and more Palestinians wonder how much longer they will be able to feed their families. Even in Bethlehem tension hangs in the air. Olive trees are being cut down, soldiers have arrested two young women, there are nightly incursions into the refugee camps, and even in Beit Sahour the army feels closer every day.

Palestinians and internationals alike ask each other what happened. A nightmare is being played out before out eyes and Palestinians constantly remind me that the international community has done nothing, nothing, to condemn Israel. And there is tremendous fear. Last night, I asked a young man from Dheisheh refugee camp about the invasion of Gaza. "It's sad," he said. "The army is destroying everything. We know that our turn will come someday."
But I will admit that I greet all of this news nothing more than a shake of my head. I haven't cried over the stories in the media. I just feel nauseated. And worried.

It's what passes for normal life here that breaks my heart. I can't protect myself from the daily disappointments and often it's the moments of happiness and human dignity that bring me to tears. I just heard that my Palestinian-American friends from Portland have cancelled their trip home to Ramallah because they fear being turned away at the Tel Aviv airport. I also learned that my friend Nasfat, whose children I've written about repeatedly, has lost his job. He used to work for a USAID-funded development project which had to be disbanded because of the aid embargo. Apparently, building schools and roads provides "material benefit to the Palestinian Authority." I can't help but wonder about the "material benefit" schools provide to children. I dread visiting Nasfat's family. I don't know if I can face what my government has done to him. I don't know if I can watch his children smiling and joking without bursting into tears because of their beauty and vulnerability.

A week ago, a Palestinian cultural center agreed to give us a lesson in Dubkah, Palestinian folk dancing. I, of course, rediscovered my two left feet and lack of rhythm. At the end of the hour, our teachers asked us to show them American "traditional dances." The class erupted into cat-calls, clapping, and laughter as Americans and Palestinians showed off their moves on the dance floor. Naturally, our Palestinian teachers out did us with far more acrobatic break-dancing then we could manage. As we swapped "traditional dances," I felt as though we touched on what it means to be human. Then I remembered that just a few years ago, during the first intifada, it was illegal for Palestinians to gather together for cultural events like dancing Dubkah. I wished I had a video camera or a giant mirror that I could hold up and show the reflection to the world. I would say, "Here. Watch my friends dancing. See your own humanity reflected back to you and tell me why this occupation is justified."

These are the moments that bring tears to my eyes.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Happiness Only Lasts for a Moment
By Frank Romero

Frank's a friend of mine who also lives in Beit Sahour. While I was asleep, he watched while one of our neighbors was arrested. Here's his account. Check out his website for many other stories and wonderful pictures and video. The Global Roots

Italy defeated Germany 2-0 in the World Cup semifinals tonight. I watched the match in a restaurant packed with families, old Palestinian men, internationals and grumpy young children ready for bed, as we cheered and celebrated the incredible last 2 minutes of regulation. The restaurant went into a frenzy when Italy scored its second goal in only 3 minutes of play. German fans cried. Italians went crazy. And Palestinians walked away in victory.

For Palestinians, games like this mean everything. For a short moment they remove themselves from reality, place themselves far away from occupation and live out their joy wherever they can find it.

On my way home from the restaurant, I received word from the taxi driver, who seems to know everything that goes down in Bethlehem, that Israeli jeeps were spotted patrolling the Beit Sahour area where I live. Shocked to even think that the Israeli military would have any business in this quiet neighborhood of Beit Sahour, I continued to walk the long way home with my roommate from Norway.

It was 1:14am. Ahead of us, bright lights and military jeeps stopped us from returning home. Determined to sleep in my bed regardless of what stood in our way (and a bit of stubbornness on my part), my roommate and I walked as close as we could before receiving orders from Israeli soldiers to stop. I blocked the bright lights with my right hand (and kept my left hand up in plain view for the soldiers to see that I was unarmed) in order to count the number of soldiers in the street.

I counted four Israeli military jeeps, one humvee and over 12 soldiers in full military gear. What I didn’t notice until I got within 300 meters of the vehicles were the soldiers in position from the balcony of a Palestinian family’s house.

An incursion was taking place before me. Someone was being arrested, I thought.

Other internationals from my town were in the streets taking digital photos and shooting video. Palestinian men sat paralyzed in their parked cars as they waited for the incursion to end.

So much for the celebration.

A few of us tried talking to the soldiers asking what was going on, who was being arrested and so forth. They told us to go home, to go away. I sarcastically yelled back, “I want to go home! You’re in my way. This is where I live. How ‘bout you go home!” My arms were still raised above my head.

After 30 minutes of waiting in the middle of the road, they left in formation, a very elaborate military procedure. The soldiers on the balcony moved first, and then the ones in firing position up the small hill. Two military jeeps drove off; the others stayed behind and waited for soldiers to board the back of the jeep. They drove off in procession.

Sahouris stood inside their homes in fear. They don’t want to risk looking outside their window or opening their door to see what was going on.

Once the Israeli vehicles left, swarms of people gathered in the streets looking for more information about the arrest. My Palestinian friend, who is a journalist, and I were one of the first to approach a man who stood blindfolded and handcuffed up the hill. He was not arrested. Witnesses say the man was publicly humiliated in order to divert attention from the arrest. The man was talking on his cell phone to warn others of the incursion.

We removed his blindfold and cut the zip tie behind his back. The man immediately reached in his pocket for a cigarette and sat on the hood of his taxi.

What happened? Who did the Israelis arrest this time?

It was a 22-year old, Niveen Douka, a young woman from the Abu Sa’ada neighborhood. She studies at Bethlehem University. Israeli soldiers took her to an unknown location.

We walked to where she was taken. Her family did not allow anyone inside their house. It seems they were still terrified by the incident. I looked over the shoulders of a growing number of men standing outside their door asking the family members questions in Arabic.

The house was ransacked and vandalized. The family: Muslim. In a town with a majority of Palestinians Christians, why does it not surprise me that the one arrested was Muslim. I am not casting a judgement, but making a statement about the Israeli policy of discrimination toward Muslim followers.

It’s 2:46am now and I am still upset. I’m upset that something like this could happen in Beit Sahour. I don’t know what the people of Beit Sahour are feeling right now. I don’t know if they are upset as I am.

“There is not much we can do,” one said. We smile, but only for a moment.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Occupied Voices: "From Gaza, With Love"

Well, after an extended "vacation" (well, really I'm just shattered from my work and Arabic studies) Occupied Voices is back! Take a look at this blog, passed to me by Halla: From Gaza, With Love This blogger is a physican and a human rights and women's rights activist living near Khan Younis, in Southern Gaza. Check out her most recent post for some excellent facts about the humanitarian and medical situation in Gaza.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

While Others Fall Silently to the Ground

(a note -- all facts in this article are as accurate as possible as of three days ago)
In 1867, as more white settlers moved West, American artist George Catlin frantically tried to record the lives of the remaining Native people. In his book Last Ramblings, Catlin wrote that when any white settler was killed, the press immediately cried "Indian murders! Indian murders of white people!" But when Native women and children died, their cries were "muffled and silenced. Glorious institution, the "Press," but how much more glorious if it were not one-sided!"

Over the month that I have lived in the West Bank, the press has vigorously covered the kidnapping and killing of one Israeli settler, and capture of one soldier and two additional Israeli deaths. Meanwhile, 27 unarmed Palestinians, including 7 children, have been killed quietly nearly without mention in the international press.

Yesterday, Israeli tanks invaded the Gaza Strip to secure the release of one captured Israeli solider. The Israeli military bombed Gaza's power plant, plunging the population into darkness and cutting off water. As I write, tanks continue the shelling. No estimates of casualties have been released and I wonder if we will ever really know how many have died in this invasion.

As soon as Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, Condalezza Rice was on camera to condemn the kidnapping as the violent act it was. But Secretary Rice had nothing to say about the 27 Palestinians recently killed. In fact, on June 9th when an Israeli naval boat fired a missile on families picnicking on the Gaza beach killing 8 people, including five children and their parents, our government immediatelyexcused the attack as necessary for Israel's security.

Now, as Israeli tanks shell Gaza, I wonder what Secretary Rice will say next. How many Palestinian deaths will be justified to free a single soldier, whose life is now in more danger because the clearly punitive nature of this so-called rescue operation?

Every time human life is taken in this conflict, our government should condemn the violence without first asking the nationality of the dead. But it is clear that when some people die we will cry "murder, murder" while we will let others fall silently to the ground. By supporting Israel's actions unconditionally, we do little to prove ourfriendship. Instead, we offer our support to the violation of Palestinian human rights and to a military occupation which breeds the terrorism Israelis fear. Our attitude is "Israel, right or wrong." I shudder to think what might happen if other countries so blindly supported America in similar unethical and counterproductive actions.

Currently, every year we give Israel $3 billion dollarsworth of unconditional support. To bring peace, American aid should come with conditions which apply equally to both Israel and Palestine. If Hamas must renounce violence and recognize Israel, then Israel must also renounce violence, end its occupation, and allow a Palestinian state to be established. If the United States begins to hold all parties to international law, perhaps the basis for a peaceful and just resolution to this conflict can be established.

Until then, those who live in this nightmare will watch as the tanks roll on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hamas 'implicitly accepts Israel'

Palestinian militant group Hamas has agreed to a document backing a
two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, officials say.

The initiative, devised by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli
jails, implicitly recognises the Jewish state.

Hamas's charter currently calls for Israel's destruction by force and
rules out peace negotiations with it.

The deal comes amid heightened tension with Israel following the
capture of an Israeli soldier by militants on Sunday.

Israeli tanks and troops have massed on the border and Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert has warned that a large scale military operation
is rapidly approaching.

Palestinian militants acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that
Israeli tank gunner Gilad Shalit was alive.

"The soldier is in a secure place that the Zionists cannot reach,"
said Mohammed Abdel Al, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance
Committees, one of three Palestinian groups involved in Sunday's

According to Israeli media reports officials believe he was injured in
the stomach and hand during the attack near Kerem Shalom.

More of the story from BBC NEWS:


On Friday, I'm going to Haifa.

A city where everyone gets along, a coastal jewel, a holy place, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Haifa has become a symbol for me. At home, a surprising number of people of all faiths ask me if I have been to Haifa, tell me to go to Haifa, and ask me if it's as beautiful as they've heard. After Friday, I'll be able to answer their questions.

Why aren't I feeling more excited?

Maybe I'm having mixed feelings because of stories I've heard about Haifa from Palestinians I've met. More than anyone else, they've told me how beautiful the city is, how much they would like me to see it, and how much they would like to see it themselves. Some families have also told me that they used to live in Haifa. They used to wake up in the mornings knowing they could walk down to the sea. But that was many years ago. While the state of Israel was being founded, an armed and organized Jewish gang called the Haganah, attacked Haifa in an effort to secure the city for themselves and drive out the Palestinian population. Many, many Palestinians left their homes before the city was taken and many others were forced to leave afterwards. They became refugees and they still cannot go home.

I know that Haifa is not just a beautiful place, but also a place where terrible things happened. There are many places in the world like that, perhaps nearly every beautiful place as has a dark history. But this one seems different to me because this time the terrible things happened to my friends.

Haifa's history hangs over me, but I don't think that's why I am feeling uncomfortable going. I think I'm feeling uncomfortable because my friends can't go with me. Haifa is in Israel proper, on the Northern coast, far outside of the West Bank. To visit Haifa, my Palestinian friends would have to obtain a permit from the Israeli government. The process is daunting and my friends would almost certainly be denied. I was actually supposed to visit Haifa last summer, but the 6th graders at the Ramallah Friends School whom I was supposed to accompany applied for permits over and over and over again and were denied each time.

My friends tell me how much they would like to go to the sea, to see it again or for the first time. How is it that I can go see the sea and Palestinians who used to have homes in Haifa or the surrounding areas cannot go and may never be able to?

On Friday, I'll go to Haifa. I'll see the Baha'i temple. I'll look out at the sea. I hope that I really will see a city where everyone gets along. I hope it will be even more beautiful than what I have dreamed. But I know I will wish that I could share Haifa with the people who I've come to count among my closest friends.

What would happen if I tried to take my friends with me? What if we, foreigners who can go to Haifa and Palestinians who cannot, were to walk to the checkpoint together and ask why some of us can go to Haifa and others cannot? What if we asked when the Holy Land's holy places - Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Haifa - will be free, open to everyone, owned by all, places of peace? Could we convince the soldiers to ignore their orders and let all of us through? It seems like an impossible hope.

The truth is, we can guess what might happen if we were to go to the checkpoint together, because similar demonstrations have been tried to before. If we were to go to the checkpoint, just my friends and I, my friends would sent home or be arrested and I would be powerless to get them out of jail. If we were to have a demonstration, like Palestinians and internationals have had here in Bethlehem before, it's likely we would disorient the soldiers but eventually they would shoot tear gas, threaten us all with arrest, and possible do worse. Traveling together to Haifa does indeed seem to be impossible.

Nonetheless, I still hope and dream that some day we will walk together into a brighter future for everyone and visit Haifa together.

Small Miracles

Two wise people have told me to be on the look out for small miracles. It's good advice because Palestine has become a place where one has to search for hope.  I've been feeling discouraged lately, so the task of finding miracles, even small ones, has seemed daunting.  Daunting, that is, until I realized every day I am in Palestine I do meet small miracles in the form of children.

"Hello!  Hello!  What's your name?"  Just five minutes ago I walked through the old city of Beit Sahour passing through a group of boys sucking on purple popsicles.  Like seemingly every child in Palestine, these boys shouted greetings at me and asked my name more as a ritual mantra than a question.  I responded in Arabic "Ahlan shabab," Hey guys.  The boys erupted into a flurry of Arabic that made me break out laughing.  I think that by the time I leave Beit Sahour, every child living here will have yelled at me "Hello!  Hello!  What's your name?"  I'm honestly looking forward to answering each of them.

I dearly love Palestinian children, but I'm often surprised by all that they endure as they live under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian children are incredibly vulnerable, as much as their parents may try to protect them.  Their very childhoods are occupied.

Last week in Abu Dis, I met a kind, respectful boy named Saleem.  Saleem made me smile when he told me that I looked like his cousin, expect that I was very short.  Saleem told me that he was eleven years old.  Then he said that a few years ago an Israeli solider stopped him while he was playing on the street and asked him what he was doing. Saleem answered that he was visiting his uncle. Then, Saleem told me, the soldier slapped him in the face.

I've heard many stories like the one that Saleem told me and witnessed a few incidents myself.  Let me share a few of them with you.   Then you can understand what life is sometimes like for these beautiful children.

  • Last week I met a boy named Abdulhaddi who lives in Aida refugee camp, one of the three camps here in Bethlehem.  The Wall runs through Aida camp and has cut the children off from the field where they used to play.  Now soldiers enter the camp nearly every night.  The children are angry and sometimes they throw stones and often soldiers shoot tear gas, or worse, at them.  Most children are suffering from physiological trauma.
  • Too many schools in Palestine have been disturbed by the arrival of soldiers or by harassment of children on their way to school.  In Hebron, internationals must accompany children and their teachers as they pass through checkpoints and as Israeli settlers throw rocks at them.  When I visited Hebron last summer, girls had been sexually harassed by soldiers at a checkpoint.  In the village of at-Tawani, settler attacks have become so out of control that the Israeli army has to escort the children to school.
  • My friend Mohammed (name changed out to protect his privacy), a teenager from Marda, is a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society but also occasionally throws stones at Israeli soldiers as they help to construct the Wall on his village's land.  Last summer,he was arrested and beaten.  During interrogation, the officials insulted his family and made him sign a statement in Hebrew, which he could not read.  He was then released in the middle of a settlement of ideological settlers, where he had to run for his life.  Mohammed knows that I don't approve of rock throwing, but I hope he also understands that I know this punishment was out of proportion to his actions and is illegal under international law.  During this second intifada, at least 2,200 Palestinian children, 17 and under, have been arrested like Mohammed.

I could share many more painful stories with you.  In light of what these children face, their survival seems miraculous.  But instead of telling you more terrible stories, let me list for you more about what Palestinians children have given to me.  These are some of the reasons I still have hope.

  • I have hope because of Taher and Athena, two students at the Ramallah Friends School, and all of their friends who taught me my first words in Arabic and made me feel like a visiting movie star during my first two weeks in Palestine.
  • I have hope because of 11 year old Hamoodi who refused to believe that I don't speak Arabic fluently and showed me how to sit down in front of the Israeli army while they as threatened to enter Marda, the village where Hamoodi lives.
  • I keep hope alive for Moncade, Homoodi's 4 year old brother, who opened his arms wide when he saw me and said "asalam ayalkum!" like a television host welcoming me onto the Tonight Show.
  • I have hope because of Shams, a young woman with so much talent, who was one of the first Palestinians I knew I could count as my friend.
  • I have hope because my new friend 8-year-old Agnes who can dance like nobody's business and who informs me that my new name is "Ju-Ju."
  • I have hope because of every child who has ever ran through a meeting, played soccer with me, sat on my lap, or shouted "what's your name?"

There is still so much life here, thanks to these children. In light of everything they go through, every smile, every laugh, every child is a small miracle.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not another Brick in the Wall (sorry, but I couldn't resist)

Pink Floyd is slated to perform in Bethlehem next summer, but is in
Israel right now, creating quite a discussion.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Is it the 'worst of times'?
By Sami Awad
Once more as Palestinians we see ourselves making statements such as, "we are now living in the worst situation we have ever been in and it can't get worse than this." I have been hearing such statements for several years now. We all know what we will hear six months from now: "we are NOW living the worst situation and …" followed by: "I wish things go back to what they were six months ago." Has this become our reality? Going from one level of "worst of times" to the next with little or no hope for a better tomorrow? How long can this last and what will the final "worse of the worst of times" look like? Is there no way we can disrupt this trend and move Palestinian society in a different direction where we start seeking and fighting for the "best of times"?
I don't disagree with the fact that we are living in difficult times and that the trend is moving us to a grimmer and more hopeless reality. Here are just some of the many issues facing us as Palestinians today:
- The Israeli occupation machine is working overtime to building new, and expanding existing illegal Jewish only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, Israel is forcing a strict confinement of all Palestinians living in Palestinian areas, even in the Gaza Strip which Israel claims to have "de-occupied." I am sorry, but I cannot get myself to say the word "liberated" in describing what happened in Gaza because Israel only moved from an internal occupation and created a large de-facto prison camp holding the Gaza residents under strict and forceful control.
- The Israeli government is building the Separation Wall (or Apartheid Wall) as if it is a spider on steroids building its complex and deadly web purposely dividing and cutting Palestinians from each other, from their land, and even their natural resources. It is now considered an actual miracle to be able to complete a usual half hour trip between two Palestinian cities in less than two hours. I cannot be convinced that this wall is done for "security reasons." The wall and the military checkpoints are justified for Israeli security as much as the war on Iraq is justified due to the Iraqi position of nuclear and biological weapons.
- The Israeli policy of assassinations, raids, arrests, and attacks has continued with great force. Like always, those who are suffering the majority of the attacks are the civilians. You have to even think twice now before taking your family for a swim on the Gaza beach as we recently witnessed an Israeli missile attack that killed seven members of one family. Again, I know that many will ask what about the innocent Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian attacks? I oppose such acts and believe that it is a moral responsibility for all of us to prevent the killing of the innocent. However, it remains a fact that the greater legal and rational responsibility is for the occupier to insure the safety of those it occupies from its organized, well trained, and dominant forces than for Palestinians to insure the security of the occupier from unstructured, untrained and comparatively inferior militant groups.
- For the first time, following the Israeli lead, the international community is punishing, strangling, imposing economic sanctions, and demanding political concisions from an occupied people with no justified reason why such punishment is being inflected and no assurances to why such political concisions should be made. This act of vengeance is in response to us engaging in democratically free and fair elections that resulted in an undesirable result to Israel and the international community. Sanctions are usually imposed on countries that violate international law and precedents. Guess what? Palestinians are being punished by the international community for engaging in free elections while Israel continues to violate international law after international law without even the slightest criticism.
- The economic sanctions have resulted in an economic disaster to all aspects of Palestinian society; public employees (mostly belonging to what the West and even Israel considers to be the moderate Fatah party) have not been paid in over three months, private businesses are falling into debt and going bankrupt, and the NGO community is witnessing tremendous monitoring of its financial transactions, forcing many donors to either cancel their aid programs or put their funds on hold until this issue is resolved.
- Finally, even though there is great pressure not to move in that direction, the economic and political pressures imposed on us are bringing us closer than ever to an internal civil war.
Yes, the situation is bad and yes it can get worse, but the question remains one: for how long will we, the Palestinian people, remain silent? Yes, the Palestinian people, and no one else. I believe that the time has come for the Palestinian masses to rise and in one united voice say enough is enough. Enough to us allowing the world to continue treating us as if we are victimizer; more importantly, enough to the internal feeling that we are the helpless victim. Enough to internal strife and bickering over pointless political statements and positions by our leaders; they only make the rest of the population shake our heads in disgust. Enough to fighting over 'crumbs' while ignoring the occupation that is devouring the 'cake' around us. Finally, enough to complaining about how bad things are and let us answer the question: what can we do to reverse this trend?
To my people I say that we as Palestinians must stand up and say enough ignoring the fact that the power of the people engaged in nonviolent resistance and direct action can create the real and tangible change we are looking for. We must realize this, our leaders must realize this and the world must realize this as well. Everyone knows that Israel already realizes the threat of a popular/non-armed resistance movement to the occupation. It is now our turn to realize this power that is within us and we must organize our resources, our strategies, and population around it. It is only through the empowerment of the people that we can make the change we seek. The occupation is affecting us all and it is therefore our collective responsibility to do something to end this occupation as soon as possible and begin building for the 'best of times'.
Sami Awad is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust. A Palestinian nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the nonviolent resistance movement in Palestine. For more information please visit
For the past few months Holy Land Trust has been conducting an intensive program of nonviolent and popular participation training across the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians have been trained and hundreds more will be trained before the year is over. The results of the trainings have been extremely positive, promising and, dare I say, even hopeful! This program is only part of a growing nonviolent movement and will compliment the rest of the nonviolent work taking place in Palestine.