More craziness of the occupation

Trip Start Aug 2008
Trip End Jul 2009

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Monday we visited Al Haq, a Palestinian organization that promotes and protects human rights in the occupied territories. They attempt to bring about action and change through international litigation against Israeli violations of international law.

One of our presenter's most important points was that the occupation has become highly profitable for the Israelis. Because there is a lack of proper economic infrastructure in Palestine, supplies needed to rebuild destroyed roads or houses must be bought from Israel. Not only are Palestinians more or less forced to buy the supplies from the Israelis, the supplies are also heavily taxed, sending even more money back into the Israeli economy. There are stories that some houses have been destroyed and rebuilt several times a year.

**I bought a couple of DVDs at this organization that will play a vital role in my time at the Tel Aviv airport**

We spent the rest of the day at the grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, more commonly known as Stop the Wall. They explained that the Israelis are using 4 strategies to completely control and take the land of the Palestinians. They are using:
1. The wall - which divides cities, destroys commercial markets, confiscates and isolates people and resources
2. Apartheid roads - have separate, distinguished roads that the either Israelis or Palestinians can drive on. Often these roads act in the same manner as the wall - completely cut people off from the resources they need. These roads have taken an additional 1.5% of the West Bank land (which is significant when you only have 12% of your original country).
3. Checkpoint terminals - Every car must be searched by the Israeli military at these checkpoints. Some people have to wait in line for hours (P.S. It is unGodly hot in Israel/Palestine). One guy even told us that his grandfather died of a heart attack while waiting in line at a security checkpoint.
4. Industrial zones - Israel takes Palestinain land and builds factories on it. Yes, this does create jobs for the Palestinians, but they are only paid about 1/3 of what the Israelis in the same factory are paid.

Just a few other facts about the Wall, since that was the organization's primary focus:
1. The wall is cutting the West Bank into 3 separate ghettos (divide and conquer strategy)
2. 266,442 Palestinians are facing living
conditions that soon will force them to abandon their homes and
communities and to turn into refugees
3. 8,000 houses have alredy been destroyed in Jerusalem alone, in order to build the wall - Arabs have enormous famlies and many homes house multiple families. So, each home demolition can leave between 12-30 people homeless!
4. The wall has been used as a means to completely destroy groves of olive trees, which are protected under international law


The next day we visited An-Najah University in Nablus. We were met by one of the directors of the school and a bunch of students from the university. They gave us a tour of their state-of-the-art university (seriously, it was nicer than most of the buildings on the main quad of U of I). The wall is having an effect here, too, as many students are stopped for prolonged periods of time at the checkpoints between their homes and school.

They explained to us the difficulty that they are having attracting professors to their university, since the West Bank is stigmatized as such a dangerous place. There was a guy from Colorado there who has set up an organization to link foreign universities/professor to An-Najah, so that they can teach via the web.

*** So, if you know any professors who may be willing to teach through internet feeds, please let me know!! Thanks Jennifer for already sending a name!!!!!***

They also took us on a tour of the old city of Nablus. Nablus has been a key battle ground for both Isalmic militants and the IDF. Although I'm sure the rockets that were fired from Nablus had some detrimental affect to the Israelis, no quantitative numbers have been released. After the rockets were fired, a severe Israeli operation was launched on the city that lasted 7 years. We heard stories from local people about their experience during that time.

The Israelis had implemented a heavy curfew for the people, and at times it was even a 24-hour curfew, also known as a complete lock down! The Israelis completely took over houses and would lock the family that lived there into a single, tiny room (once again this could be a considerable number of people!).

The Israeli's also implemented a system of housing tunnels, in which they essentially knocked through the walls of people's homes. They prefered this method of getting around instead of using the open streets (not sure why), but the remains are still evident and haunt the everyday lives of the people that live there.

Evidence of the destruction was every where, from torn down houses to bullet holes, to memorial posters for those who have died.

Afterward we visited another refugee camp. Like the other one, this one consisted of relatively permanent structures.  Evidence of the original tent set up can still be seen - mainly in how insanely close the houses are to each other. These paths we were on are the "roads" of the town.


Nicole, Karl, and I couldn't take another day of devistation and destruction, so we bailed on Wednesday's program (the last day of site visits). We caught up on some much deserved rest and walked around Ramallah's markets.

That night, we went out w/ the people who had been showing us around the West Bank for one last night together. It was really fun and we stayed out WAY too late!


Since that's the end of the serious part of the trip, I just want to share what I took away from the experience and what I hope you may gain some incite on as well. Karl actually wrote a great email to his friends that really personalizes what we saw, so I'm going to use parts of that as well ...

I saw things that would turn your stomach, I really did. I feel I have a duty to tell people what I've seen. The same way everyone has a responsibility to learn about whats going on. Because its happening in our name. Its happening in the name of the Western World which makes us complicit in the human rights abuses that the Palestinians are suffering on a daily basis.

If we forget about the political complexities for a second and focus on the human aspect to this whole thing it really helps. For example, think about every time you and your parents/spouse/kids/whatever want to go to the store. In reality, the store is only 10 minutes away from your house, but you have to maybe account for 1 or 2 hours to get there because the Israeli "security" wall is blocking the normal route. As well as this obstacle, you have to stop at the checkpointS along the way. At the checkpoint, manned by Israeli soldiers, all of whom are approx 18-20 years old, with automatic weapons as long as my leg, you have to produce papers, answer questions, and face humiliation by the teenagers who are in charge.
You eventually get through and get to the store, but on the way home, you have to go through the same again. This time is may be easier or it may be. Maybe this time the 17 year old points his/her gun in your mom's face. Maybe the soldier shouts at your her, maybe insults her. You've just had to take 4 hours out of your day to go to the store.

Now think about every activity you have in a day, think about how many times a week you go to the store, think about the humiliation you would face at the hands of someone who in the eyes of the law is above you based solely on their religion or ethnicity. Think about would you react? I know what I'd do if someone did that to my mother, father, brother, sister. Every urge in my body would want to lash out. Think about the restraint these people show on a daily basis. I get pissed off when the cleaning ladies in my dorm hold the bathroom or kitchen hostage ... I can't even begin to imagine what this would be like. 

So, next time you hear on the news that another suicide bomber struck, lets think about why. What happened to him/her to make them do this? The last thing I'm doing is condoning killing innocent people. Nobody should have the right to take another life. This is my firm belief and its unwavering. Murdering people is deplorable and cannot be condoned. But why do normal people react like this?

Its too easy to play it off as "another religious nut has gone and blown himself up". This may be the case sometimes, but not all the time. But just as you wouldn't sit idly by as your friends and family are harassed and belittled, neither will they. When things get to such a horrible condition, when you get treated like an animal, there is nothing but rage and hate. And when you feel like you have absolutely no other way of fighting back, you can begin to understand why firing some rockets at Israel becomes so appealing. It's just as wrong for teenagers to point guns in the faces of women and children walking from one neighborhood to the next, as it is to shoot a rocket at innocent people in Israel. Either way, it's wrong, and it can't continue.

In all the papers and books I have read, I somehow missed the human picture. I was too focused on politics to realize that the numbers behind the death tolls are all people like you and me. They could live around the corner from any one of us. They are going through this because they were born somewhere else. They like music, and sports, and television, and girls, and boys, and partying, and whatever other pleasures we enjoy...they get into stupid arguments about the same things we get into...they aren't exceptional, nor are they inferior...they are exactly the same. Next time we hear that 10 people died in Gaza, or someone was killed in
the West Bank, just put a face on them, whether its your friends or parents face, just try it b/c then we get some semblance of what it feels like for them on a daily basis.

ok ... off my soap box ...
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