Report Back from Palestine
by Aimée Smith
Palestinian activist Rawan Barakat recently returned from a trip back home to Palestine. What she found there confirmed what she had already suspected, that the "Roadmap" plan is nothing other than a roadmap to the next intifada. While US Government officials speak often about Israel's "right" and "need" to protect "herself" from "terrorism," the root cause of the conflict is never addressed or even discussed. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 led to the forced dispossession of nearly one million of the indigenous people of the region. The Israeli attack on its neighbors in 1967 led to a second mass dispossession of people from their land with the occupation of the rest of what was once Palestine. Israel is a colonial settler state that was engineered and continues to be run by European Jews. To preserve the illegal creation of the state and to protect the hegemony of a small minority of Europeans over the local population, Israel has pursued a strategy to drive out as many Palestinians as quickly as possible without engendering international reprisal. The "Roadmap," like The Oslo Accords before it, is a stalling tactic to quell the uprising (intifada) with false promises as it increases its hold over the land and resources of the region making life unlivable for Palestinians. This is the exact model that was used by the European settlers who colonized and genocidally cleansed North America of much of its original population. The US government continues to violate the treaties it signed with Native peoples, while meanwhile, it uses instruments such as the FBI to repress any efforts of these communities to struggle for their rights to their land and their sovereignty. This war against the Native people here in the US is still ongoing, which makes it easier to understand why the US Government would so enthusiastically fund and arm a similar project over in Palestine.
What follows are Rawan's experiences from her perspective. Rawan's experience confirmed that life is becoming more and more difficult for Palestinians back home. She is from a village near Ramallah. From the moment she arrived in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the degradations began. Even though she was born in Palestine, she is greeted in Israel as if she is a foreigner. She was interrogated and given the dreaded red slip by immigration which means a complete search of all her luggage. Two hours later she emerged from the airport, the first "check-point" of her visit.
Her Aunt picked her up in her car with yellow license plates. These plates are a big deal and only Israelis can get them. Without yellow plates, many roads in the occupied territories are strictly off limits. That's right, the people who actually live there are not allowed to access these roads that are for settlers only. This is only one of many of the apartheid-type practices carried out by the Israeli government.
As they proceeded home, they passed through their first road check-point without incident, largely due to the yellow plates. The next one, Jaba check point, which separates Jerusalem from Ramallah, was not so easy. Rawan and her Aunt drove up to a sea of cars backed up for nearly two miles. This checkpoint was as people are leaving so-called Israeli territory and entering the occupied territories. There is no "security" need for this checkpoint. Checkpoints are largely about demonstrating who controls the land and humiliating and frustrating Palestinian people. This sight as Jaba was all too familiar for Rawan.
After 15 minutes of stand-still, Rawan decided to go to the check-point and see what the hold up was all about. She walked for around half an hour and finally reached a lone jeep with four Israeli soldiers. She learned that the road had been completely closed for the last four hours. She asked one of the soldiers what was going on and he said he was given orders to close the road. Rawan informed him that she had no such orders, so she would take it upon herself to open the road. He told her to go back to her car. She said she had no intention of walking half an hour back to her car and would get in the car only as it crossed the check-point. The soldier left to speak with the other soldiers and she began waving cars past. The first was very hesitant and told her "My blood is in your hands" and he explained to her that these soldiers would shoot people dead without a second thought. She assured him that nothing would happen this time and that he should go through. Finally he agreed to do so and the cars began to cross. Then a second vehicle of Israeli soldiers approached. One large soldier approached Rawan brandishing a large gun. He asked what she was doing and whether or not she realized he had a gun. A discussion ensued in which Rawan challenged him to stop cowering behind his gun and challenge her person to person.
There were 20 or so Palestinian men, young and old, lined up near the checkpoint and waiting for their IDs to be "checked out" by the soldiers. Four hours should have been more than enough time to complete any needed "security" checks. Finally, they returned the IDs and the check-point was opened. When RawanÕs Aunt approached in her car to cross, Rawan asked the soldier if he was going to close the check-point down again now that she was leaving. She asked why he would try to keep people from traveling in their own land. He asked her not to blame him, that he was just following orders. She said it was his choice to follow unjust orders, and he must take responsibility for his own actions. With that she left and finally was able to reach her home 6 hours after landing in the country. If this had been a free country, she would have reached home in less than one hour's time.
Getting around in Palestine is difficult enough. When a bus load of people from near Ramallah wanted to attend a wedding in Jerusalem, the first check point refused to let them pass. The soldiers would only let people with Israeli or US passports through and recommended that those without simply walk the 20 or so miles home. They refused to be separated and demanded to all be let through. Since the soldiers wouldn't budge and time was running out to get to the wedding on time, they headed for another checkpoint. The old men were asked to take off their hattas and the more dressed up people were moved to the front of the tour bus. This was enough to evade suspicion and the bus passed though. After the wedding, Rawan insisted that they return through the original check point that had barred their entry. She got out and told the soldiers that she had enjoyed the wedding and they had all gotten to go. These small acts of resistance may seem petty, but when soldiers tell you where you can and cannot go in your own homeland, impose curfews on a regular basis which imprison you in your home, assault and murder your friends, even small acts are important.
At the end of the evening of the wedding festivities, a guy whispered "10am Ramallah center" in Rawan's ear. No, this wasn't a proposition for a date, but a meeting point for the next protest. People have very effective networks to convey both good and bad news and other information. The day after Rawan had returned home, she learned that the story of her opening the checkpoint had traveled far and wide. Especially good news travels fast there, because people are so thirsty for any thing to give hope.
Rawan went to the meeting point and around 50 people chanted and marched to protest at one of the largest of the check points, Qalandyiah. Each day they would meet again and try to protest. The next, it was to Jenin. They got through all the checkpoints, only to be turned away at the city entrance itself. Rawan arrived home after 12 hours of attempting to get to the protest. The next day, they tried for Nablus, but again couldn't get there. The next day was Thursday and they successfully got to Jenin to protest the new walls that are being constructed as a way to further contain and control people and to separate people from their agricultural lands and their water. There were around 200 people protesting, throwing stones at the wall and chanting. There were several people from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM.) Some of the ISM protesters were throwing balloons filled with red-paint at the wall. One young Palestinian man named Fadi remarked how red-paint wasn't going to take down the wall, and didnÕt these ISM people realize that the Palestinian people have tried all sorts of different tactics? In the end, he agreed that the stones weren't going to take down the wall either, so the more people trying something the better. Five ISM members were injured by rubber bullet fire from Israeli soldiers and so the ISM contingent left. With international observers no longer present, the soldiers escalated to tear gas and live ammunition. One young man was shot in the arm and Fadi took a bullet in the chest. The man with the arm wound said he could take care of himself; everyone else worked to find a way to get Fadi to a hospital. There were no ambulances around, but a small green Fiat was commandeered and Fadi was put in the back seat. Rawan has medical training and did what she could to stop the bleeding by compressing her hands onto Fadi's wound. Now, they just needed to get him to the hospital, but just one problem, they had to get through another check-point and the soldiers were not inclined to let them pass, the severe chest wound not withstanding.
Rawan left Fadi to have a chat with the soldiers. She slapped one across the face with her blood covered hand and asked if he was or was not a human being. Maybe they were afraid of her, maybe they thought she was crazy because she wasn't afraid of the weapons, maybe they just thought it was an interesting response. Who knows, but in any case, they finally allowed them to pass and Fadi was delivered to the hospital. When Rawan reached the doctor three days later she learned that Fadi had not pulled through. One more summary execution carried out by Israeli forces for the dangerous crimes of chanting and throwing stones, this time at a concrete fortress wall that looks like something out of medieval Europe. Perhaps building anachronistic structures out of that period is appropriate, because after all, Israel is nothing more than the latest European Crusade, this time under a Jewish pretext rather than a Christian one. The motivation, the objectives, the merciless barbarity towards the local population - this is all just a repeat of earlier conquests. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Finally, as Rawan tried to leave the country, again she was questioned at the airport. This time for 11 hours. "Why did you come to Israel?" they asked her. "It's Palestine," she replied. They objected to her key chain ornament in the shape of a map of historic Palestine. They claimed it had to be put in the checked baggage because it was "too sharp." Her pendant on her necklace of the same shape solicited questions and concern. Political ideas like a unified democratic Palestine with equal rights for people of all faiths is a dangerous idea in Israel, so the security forces and soldiers seek to repress it. The logic of the idea and the justice of it are far too compelling for the Zionists not to react. If US citizens only knew what their tax dollars were supporting - a repressive, racist and repressive regime founded on ethnic cleansing, the majority would not approve. Hence the need for political repression. Just as we eventually got up to speed with the rest of the world when it came to ending apartheid South Africa, Americans will find out about this racist government in Israel as well. Once we do, it will not be long before it falls. And just as in South Africa, it will not be time to drive the previous oppressors into the sea or the ocean. It will be time to mark a new day in history where a country can begin a fresh start on a firm foundation of justice. Meanwhile, life in Palestine is hell, but even as things get worse, the resistance of the courageous and enduring Palestinian people continues.