Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Updates from Tuwani, a.k.a. Skype hates me slightly less

"Why did you call and not answer and call and not answer?" was the first question my friend in Tuwani asked when I called

"Um, there was a problem with my computer. I finally fixed it." Skype has been driving me crazy. I've been E.T. trying to phone what feels like home for the last week. I finally got through today. Boy it was good to hear the sounds of At-Tuwani.

"You guys getting any sleep?" was the first question I asked.

"Eh, a bit." was the answer. Settlers are still in Tuwani every night. The family who lives in the house closest to them, the house that was attacked a couple of weeks ago, are still not sleeping. I wish I were surprised.

Apparently, though, the army has also gone completely insane. They were hanging around everywhere. In fact they were still in the village at 8:30 pm, when I called. "They were driving through the olive trees looking for a BMW earlier today," I was told.

"A BMW? Who has a BMW? The settlers don't even have BMWs!" I exclaimed.

"And how would a BMW drive through an olive grove?"

Um, good point.

So that's the news from Tuwani, more or else. As ever, life goes on. My friend tells me everyone is doing well enough. Apparently, the house where I used to live is being re-plastered. I'm impressed. "What can we do? Nothing. So we're just laughing, laughing with everyone."

Yep, that's Tuwani.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Candlelight vigil for Palestinian Prisoners - and major changes in my life and blog...

Well, my life is changing and so this is blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I ended three years of full-time(ish) work in At-Tuwani. For the first time in five years, I'm actually not sure when I'll be going back to Palestine. I'll admit it - I'm still grieving over this shift in the way I spend my time. It's a tough transition.

But just because now I live in Chicago (that still feels strange to say - and stranger to live) doesn't mean that I'm done working for a free Palestine or done blogging. I'll be writing just the same, but instead of writing about my work in Palestine, I'll be writing about what it's like to work here in Chicago. Exciting, right? I had wanted to give this blog a makeover and make this announcement with all the fanfare it deserves. But, I live life faster than I blog. I wanted to record one of my first adventures in state-side solidarity: last night's candlelight vigil for Palestinian Prisoners.

Here are the details: the vigil took place across the street from Federal Plaza - where zionists were holding an event calling for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. We wanted to raise the plight of the thousands and thousands of Palestinians, including children, who are imprisoned in Israeli jails and ignored by the international community and media. And I think we did a pretty good job.

As I said on twitter, here in the windy city candlelight vigils are part political theater, part extreme sport. Luckily, the folks at Students for Justice in Palestine did a lovely job of organizing and brought beautiful signs, a ton of candles, and cups - which are the magical solution to the wind problem downtown (hey - I'm from the Pacific Northwest. I know all about demos in the rain. This wind business is a new logistical wrinkle). As we were facing the street, unlike our Zionists counterparts, we got our message out far more effectively than they seemed to. Thanks to the great organizing job of SJP, I walked away feeling like it was a good use of an evening.

I also walked away musing about the people we surround ourselves as activists (or should I say, ethical people trying to make the world a better place. I've been thinking more and more that "activist" isn't really the best paradigm for understanding who we are, but that's another blog post). See, I'll be honest, I'm actually not really into demonstrations. I think they're effective once in a blue moon, usually when they're huge, when there's a direct action component (think Seattle WTO demos), and they're coming out of a major grassroots organizing effort. Weekly, small, 'viability' efforts? Not my thing. I think grassroots efforts to get information out are crucially important. I just think demonstrations are one of the least effective and efficient ways to do that.

But honestly, I've been demonstrating regularly since I was 6 years old. 20 years later, I find them kind of boring - or outright depressing. And often what depresses me is *that* activist. You know the one. That activist who's depressed themselves, who complains all night, who demonizes their opponent, who yells at passers-by, who's self-righteous, who tells you how you *should* have organized it, but isn't about to organize it themselves. Yeah, that one. That activist is usually loud, they're usually in a position to have a lot of time to demonstrate (i.e., they've got them some privilege, yo.) and they've got a lot of time to talk about themselves and how hard their lives are. Yeah, you might be getting the idea that I find these people really frustrating. I think a lot of us do.

And you know, *that* activist was there last night. There were dozens of them. And I ignored them. I found myself the people who still had energy for what they were doing, who who understood the issue in a deeper way, who we're willing to have some fun while we stood their on the street for two hours. And it made all the difference in my little world.

Last night, the organizers put effort into making it look good, into getting people involved, and into a communication strategy. And they were enjoyable to be around. Those are the kind of people I want to work with.

Okay, enough of this. More about the new focus of this blog (and maybe, you know, a new header and such). For now, I've got things to do, yo.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Member of Jewish Terrorist Organization KACH Threaten to Attack At-Tuwani

I keep planning a big "I'm home" blog post. Apparently, this is it.

I've been home for nearly two weeks now and for the first time in three years, I'm not sure when I'm returning. (More on that and the future of this blog later). Since I left, the situation in Tuwani has terrible. Last Friday I called one of my best friends in the village. "I heard what happened," I said, refering to this incident. "How are you?"

"Oh, more or less," he answered. With this guy, that's code for "not good." My friend then went on to explain how settlers kept coming to their house every night and how they hadn't gotten much sleep for a week. "But how are you?" my friend asked.

I didn't know what to say. I spent my first week home sick in bed feeling very sorry for myself. An especially boring week in a life that's nothing like the one I lead in Tuwani. I told my friend I'd been sick and he was sympathetic. Then he said, "We think they'll come back."

Well, they did. Here's the latest from Tuwani:

Ten days after the attack by masked settlers of the illegal oupost of Havat Ma'on to the village of At-Tuwani, settlers from Havat Ma'on still threaten At-Tuwani. Since last attack (link to the press release every night a group of settlers have carried out "patrols" outside the outpost. Israeli police and soldiers also patrolled the area.

Last night settlers approached the house located closest to the outpost screaming and carrying a message from the ideological leader of the outpost, Josaphat Thor, a member of the hard-line Israeli militant terrorist group KACH. They warned the village that they would soon return to attack At-Tuwani.

It was not possible to recognize the settlers because they pointed flashlights in the faces of Palestinians, blinding them.

This story wont be ending soon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Israeli masked settlers attack At-Tuwani Palestinian village

12th June 2010

At-Tuwani – On the morning of Saturday, 12th June 2010, shortly before 11.00, about thirty Israeli settlers from Havat Ma'on oupost, masked and armed with slings and sticks, invaded At-Tuwani village, attacking the most exposed house of the village and throwing stones against Palestinian villagers.

The settlers approached the house and soon damaged the low stone fence and broke the glass of a window using an iron stick. At the time of the attack, only women and children were at home because all the men of the family were going to the near city of Yatta for a relative's funeral. The women with the children soon left the house, running away scared. While running, one of the women, age 19, pregnant and with a baby in her arms, fell to the ground. Later in the morning, she has been transferred by a Palestinian Red Cross ambulance to the near hospital of Yatta.

When Operation Dove volunteers reached the place, together with many Palestinian residents of the village, the settlers were moving away from the house, while continuing to throw stones with slings. Some Palestinians were hit and afterward were treated by paramedical staff.

Israeli army, police and border police came about half an hour after the aggression began, when the settlers had already retired among the trees of Havat Ma'on. Shortly after the security forces had arrived, some unmasked settlers came out from the wood, provoking a lot of tension among the Palestinians. Some activists, belonging to the Israeli peace association Ta'ayush, who had arrived shortly before, interposed between the Palestinians and the soldiers; one was arrested.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Freedom Flotilla: No news from the MV Rachel Corrie for the last hour and a half

It seems like in the next hour, we will know if the MV Rachel Corrie will make it to Gaza and deliver the aid so desperately needed there. I'll admit that I've been staring at the computer and compulsively clicking 'refresh' again.

Then in my feed the following message arrived: "While we wait, read Alice Walker's amazing piece of the Gaza Freedom #Flotilla: "You will have no protection" said Ali Abunimah (co-founder of Electronic Intifada) And I did. You should too. Alice Walker begins by quoting Medger Evers speaking Rights Activists in Mississippi, shortly before he was assassinated, 12 June, 1963. "You will have no protection," he said.

The story of the young people who opened Mississippi's "closed society" to the eyes of the world is one of the stories that taught me how to be an activist. I'm grateful to Ms. Walker for bringing it back to my mind now. Like all real stories about social justice struggle - all real stories about community - it's not a neat, pretty story, but it is beautiful. The way those young risked their lives for basic human decency is so beautiful.

When I was 23 years old and I was in Palestine, people loved to point out that I was the same age as Rachel Corrie when she was killed in Gaza. Talk about a creepy thing to say to a 23-year-old kid. But once after a reporter said that to me, I found myself saying something very true. "I don't feel any particular right to lead a safe life," I said. "Most of the world doesn't have that privilege." I guess 23-year-old me had figured out a couple things.

Let's light a candle for all of us who have no protection. As we wait for news of the MV Rachel Corrie, let's hold in our hearts the people of Gaza. And while you wait, do read Ms. Walker's piece. It's better than anything I have to say.
Israeli Authorities Deny Muslim Worshipers the Right to Pray at Al Aqsa

You'd think that killing 18 people would be enough, wouldn't you? Well, never underestimate Israel.

"We've made good time," my friend F. made. She was right. We made it from Hebron into Jerusalem in about an hour and a half. There had been no hold up at the checkpoints. We were feeling good.

Then we entered Jerusalem.

"What on earth is going on?" I said. "It's the police. They're stopping Friday prayers." replied F.

Again, she was right. As I walked into Jerusalem I passed hundred, and hundreds of Muslims praying in the streets. At checkpoints. Around the walls of Jerusalem. On the sidewalk. Hundreds and hundreds of people, all denied to right to access Al Aqsa mosque. All told by Israeli police that they were a security risk. All pulling out their prayer mats and praying in the street. Behind them stood Israeli riot people, sitting on horses, masks down and guns at the ready.

I'll be honest - I became angry. How dare Israel deny these people access to their holy places? What's the advantage of keeping people away from their mosque? Don't they know they're trying to keep Palestinians away the force that gives them the strength to be merciful and the patience to survive? Why can't the Israeli government be content to kill the people on the freedom flotilla? Surely that's enough suffering for a few days. The hubris of it all.

Then the call to prayer came out from Al Aqsa, floating over the city. "Allahu Akbar" it said. God is greater. God is greater. And I sent up my own prayers as I watched hundreds of people bow before God.

"Go get a coffee," said F. I smiled and nodded.

Whatever, Israel. You're not going to stop anyone from praying. You're not going to stop us from bringing aid to Gaza. You're not going to stop Tuwani from bringing electricity to the village. The truth is, I don't see how you can keep this occupation up for long. God is greater.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Saturday, June 5th is.....Global Day to Break the Siege:

Spin, Spin, Spinning until We all Fall Down

Well, journalists are starting to ask a few questions and the Israeli spin machine is whirling away. You'll forgive me if I'm a little skeptical.

See, I'm used to the Israeli spin machine. I've seen it at work with my own eyes. I remember when I spend the night with a Palestinian family from Susyia village after settlers attacked them. One of the young women in the family bravely the incident on her video camera. The family painstakingly recorded where the attack took place. They took photos of their injuries. They took photos of their elder mother in the hospital. They called the media.

The media came. The young woman's footage was everywhere. We all saw the attack through the lens of her camera. We watched it over and over again.

A year later, the Israeli police claimed they couldn't prosecute any settlers for the attack. They said there wasn't enough evidence.

A friend of mine was charged with "assault with a baby," because when they demolished his house for the 3rd time, he handed his daughter to a soldier. He said, "I don't have anyone where for her to sleep. You take her." Another friend of mine was speaking at a completely nonviolent. He was beaten until his ribs were broken and then he was charged with assaulting a police officer. At his trial the police officer who testified admitted he wasn't there and couldn't even find the area where the demo took place on a map. My friend still went to jail.

See, the truth just doesn't seem to be important to Israeli officials. It doesn't matter how much video evidence you have. It doesn't matter if you hold you hands behind your back while the soldiers beat you. It doesn't matter if you have a broken rib and the soldier takes his gun and goes back to his base and watches television. The Israeli government will claim that you were the violent one. That's my own experience.

So, you can see why I don't believe Israel's spin - frankly, its lies. The Israeli government is just hoping that if it spins fast enough, we'll all become so dizzy that we'll believe what they say.

After all, we can't go believing those Arabs. Or those activists. Or those Arab activists.

Here's a beautiful article making the same argument: A Massacre is Not A Massacre, by Ghassan Hage
Let's not cry tonight

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've cried more than once since the attack on the flotilla. It's really easy to get sucked into a cycle of impotently pounding the keyboard and clicking my browser's "refresh" button. For me, time for that to stop.

There are already some bright lights coming out of this. First, Ecuador recalled it's ambassador to Israel. South Africa is to follow. Egypt has opened up the Rafa crossing (!) Finally, and I find this very moving, the students of Evergreen State College, Rachel Corrie's alma mater, voted by 79.5% to divest from Israel.

We've got to keep telling the story and keep organizing, but let's not cry tonight. That's the refrain of an Outlandish song that's been running through my head, thanks to my friend Ma'ia

A few more thoughts about the flotilla:

First, The MV Rachel Corrie is still on its way to Gaza. Please contact your government and the Israeli embassy in your country and demand that it be allowed to deliver the supplies its carrying.

Second, actions are still going on all over the world to call attention to Israel's attack on the ships. I am so very proud to say that there were over 2,000 people in Chicago, where I live, marching for freedom, peace, and an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Here's how you can get involved in your area.

Third, we need to call for an independent invesitgation of what happened. You disagree with the claims of the activists? You disagree with my analysis? Great. Than you also want an independent investigation. Let's all get behind it.

(3.5 Can I just say that this attack took place in international waters? I mean, goodness gracious. That's just crazy. Okay, I'll now return to my normal analysis.)

Fourth, remember why the flotilla was delivering supplies in the first place. Israel's siege on Gaza is simply immoral and must be lifted. If you think that civilians shouldn't have been trying to deliver that aid themselves, then you please pressure your government to pressure Israel to lift the siege on Gaza.

Finally, let's take a moment to remember the people who died, the people who were terrified, the people who were arrested, imprisoned, and deported, and the people of Gaza who are still suffering. And let's remember that it's all to common for the Israeli army to respond to demonstrations with force. Let's remember the more than 60 years of attacks on Palestinians.

Now - here are a few links:

"We were aware of the possible danger [in joining the trip] but there are thousands of babies in Gaza. If we had reached Gaza we would have played with them and taken them food." Eyewitness Accounts from the Flotilla (BBC)

Gaza Flotila raid: 'We heard gunfire - then our ship turned into a lake of blood' (Guardian)

Will this change anything? Here's David Hosey from the US Campaign to End the Occupation answering that question: