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.