Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold

Parents, hand in hand, taking a Friday afternoon walk carrying their newborn in a baby backpack is cute.

Parents, hand in hand, taking a Friday afternoon walk carrying their newborn in a baby backpack (with an M-16 slung over the father's shoulder while intimidating Palestinian farmers) is disconcerting and scary.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Running For Your Lives

A panting child arrives at our door, trying to explain what has happened. Because of the language barrier, I struggle to understand how to respond. After gathering that jist of the story, I understand the settlers have done something to the sheep. So we grab our cameras and head out the door. While walking, I continue to get the details of what has happened.

It's not a new story, something similar happens every week in this village, but it still grips you with the force of something novel. Masked settlers had come charging out of the bushes. Running towards the Palestinian shepherds and sheep, they smacked the sheep with large sticks and threw large stones at the sheep. The Palestinians, two brothers under the age of 13, literally ran for their lives.

Last week, settlers captured these two boys and took them into the confines of the settlement. After they were in the settlement, the settlers beat the boys. After physically battering the elemnetary-age boys, the boys were left to wander back to their village. See the CPT Release

As I continued to stand with the boys, getting the details of the events of today, they pointed towards the settlment and exclaimed, “look, the settlers are in the trees, it's the same settlers.” As I turned with my camera and zoomed to get the faces of the settlers, they moved behind a tree, and out of sight, at the perfect moment. This same scenario played out another 6 times. The young Palestinian, Ahmed, said, “they think this is a game, those settlers are dogs.”

As the sheep started to meander towards greener grass, Ahmed stopped dead in his tracks and his expression became one of utmost fear. I turned and there were two settlers, coming out of the settlement, and running towards us. Ahmed began screaming at the sheep, slapping them on their backsides, urging the sheep to run away. My heart started pounding, as I struggled to focus the camera while staying between the settlers and the sheep and also backpedaling to distance myself from the settlers projected path.

Then I notice they are wearing shorts. That strikes me as unusual for Orthodox Jews. But they are still running. My heart is still pounding. And Ahmed is still screaming.

As the settlers approach the main road, they turn, away from us, and continue along the paved road.

In fact, they are just out for a late afternoon jog, some cardiovascular exercise. They aren't even aware that we are here.


I hate this. I hate that I end up videotaping people going out for a jog.

Yet because of the daily violence, fear, and intimidation, these Palestinians are afraid of anyone who comes out of that settlement. They are afraid of anyone jogging. They are afraid of anyone with seemingly Jewish religious dress. They are afraid of anyone who appears to be Anglo.

And they have every right to be afraid of people that fit this description. Today they were chased and their sheep were attacked by people who fit that description. And last week these boys were kidnapped, taken into the settlement, and beaten with sticks and fists by thugs, who fit that description.

People living in fear suspect everyone. Anyone is a potential attacker. Palestinian shepherds end up running in fear away from Israelis who are just running for exercise. And these shepherds run away for good reason.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Temporary Victors: Intimidation, Humiliation, and M-16s

Crossing borders went fine. I made it from Syria, to Jordan, to the Palestine. Now I am in Palestine, back at work in At-Tuwani.

My first two days in Tuwani have been tiring, busy, and difficult. Spring time is busy with shepherds taking advantage of the (small amount of) greenery. Shepherds often stay out with their flocks from 8am-4pm. Long days in the sun, including school patrol of the kids, computer work, video uploading and household chores.

Today was especially tough for me, mentally, physically, and emotionally. A car of young Palestinian men were passing through Tuwani, heading north to the city of Yatta, and were stopped by the Army. When we got there, we were told that the soldiers had all of the men's IDs and then saw the soliders attempting to drive away from the scene with the IDs. My teammate and I stepped in front on the vehicle to not allow the soldiers to leave the scene with the IDs. This prompted a call to the police (who can arrest us, as opposed to the soldiers who cannot), and after the police arrived we sweet-talked our way out of getting arrested, by agreeing to no longer interfere.

Back to the story, having your ID taken is an extreme inconvenience for Palestinians, but it is also extremely dangerous to travel anywhere without ID, because (as this example shows) you could be stopped at any time, and you MUST provide ID to Israeli authorities. You would likely face arrest if you did not produce ID.

After the arrival of the police, the soldiers started searching the car. At one point during the search, one of the young men started to walk into the village (because his cousin lives in the village and he was coming to visit). One particularly aggressive soldier saw the man walking up the hill and began to scream at the man, running towards him with his M-16 pointed at the man's chest. Later in the search, the same soldier saw a suspicious movement in the group of men, he immediately stepped towards the men, gun pointed, and started screaming in Hebrew. Apparently obeying the orders they were given (and understanding Hebrew because the only work available to them is within Israel), the men pulled down their pants to the ankles and lifted up their shirts. Seeing nothing suspicious or dangerous under the clothes, the soldier was satisfied and returned to searching the car.

Palestinians are often made to lift up their shirts at checkpoints to prove they are not carrying bombs or weapons. But this act of making young Palestinian men pull down their pants in the middle of the road, while you search their car, is utterly dehumanizing. It's unacceptable. After this happened I started to walk back towards the situation, at which point a soldier pointed his rifle at me and demanded I come towards the police, who looked at my passport and demanded to know which organization I worked for, and why I was in the village. Their attention was soon diverted, and I made my escape behind the rocks, to avoid possible arrest or deportation.

After the car had been searched, the Palestinian tried to start the car, to no avail. So the army hummer got behind the car and pushed it (bumper to bumper). They told the Palestinian owner he needed to walk to the nearest military base to have his ID and car processed. The hummer proceeded to push the car 2 miles down the road (with one soldier inside the Palestinian car, steering). The owner of the vehicle was made to walk 2 miles to the base, to retrieve his car.

This is a policy of pure humiliation, irritation, and pointlessness. Palestinians in this area are often forced to drive to the checkpoint, where their cars are often kept, and Palestinians are not able to retrieve them for some length of time.

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I don't have any profound observations, just that it's absurd. The M-16 seemed to have won today, which drives me crazy. A soldier with an attitude and an M-16 wasted 3 hours of these young men's day. They were made to strip to their underwear in public, with a fully automatic rifle pointed in their face. Then their car was pushed by an army humvee to a base 2 miles away, to which they were forced to walk in the heat, to retrieve their car.

The absurdity and the inhumanity of this occupation slapped me in the face today. I prayed today for the power of the high-powered automatic rifles to be overcome by the power of nonviolence. I have to believe that this nonviolent struggle will overcome the power of these oppressors. I have to believe it, even on a day when it takes so much faith to believe it.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Let Me be a Free Man

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown, is a book that any person living in the United States should read. Much needs be done to account for the injustices done to the Native Americans, but the first thing that needs to happen is to be aware of the grave injustices committed by whites against the indigenous people in the Americas.

Reading through the accounts of the manner in which various indigenous tribes were treated by the US Government and westward-moving whites is painfully shocking. Native Americans were viewed as less than human. The Indians received sole blame whenever violence broke out, regardless of whether they were provoked or if the their living conditions forced them to respond. The native people of this land were pushed the land to make room for white settlers who believed that it was God's plan and God's will that they have the land. Many promises were made to the American Indians by the US Government. Red Cloud, a chief, summarized that the whites “made many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

The story of the American Indians in the American West is a story that stands on it's own. It is worth reading and studying because these stories need to be told. The stories of those who lived on the land before we did should be told - again and again - lest we forget. But also, these stories have something to say to us now, in current political conflicts across our globe. Because frankly, nothing has changed. Powerful governments still label entire people groups as less than human. Land is stolen, promises are broken, people are corralled and massacred.

An Israeli friend of mine saw a copy of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee in the airport. On a whim he purchased it and read it. He is now translating the book into Hebrew. Why? Because he thinks that it speaks volumes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The policy of the US Government towards the American Indians in the 19thcentury is the policy of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians in the 21st century. Re-read the second paragraph of this post, it's spot on.

From here on I will post a smattering of quotes from the book. These sentences and passages struck me as relevant to the injusice which I have seen in Palestine. Commentary is provided in italics where it helps to clarify the connection.

“We are worn-out; we have no more heart; we have no provisions; no means to live; your troops are everywhere; our springs and water holes are either occupied or overlooked by your young men...we have no more heart. Do with us as may seem good to you, but do not forget we are men and braves.”

“Carson ordered complete destruction of Navaho properties within the canyon – including their fine peach orchards, more than five thousand trees.” Fruit and olive trees are routinely destroyed across Palestine.

“When men are hungry they help themselves.” This reminds me of the line by the band Rage Against the Machine, “Hungry people don't stay hungry for long.” (See Hamas' resistance to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip which continues to force people to go hungry.)

“It was the white man's way to punish all Indians for the crimes of one or a few.” The collective punishment of imprisoning millions of people in Gaza and restricting movement of millions in the West Bank.

“But what do we want to live for? The white man has taken our country, killed all of our game; was not satisfied with that, but killed our wives and children. Now no peace. We want to go and meet our families in the spirit land. We loved the whites until we found out they lied to us, and robbed us of what we had. We have raised battle ax until death.” (See Hamas militants)

“Red Cloud then wanted to know what the treaty would give his people; they had signed treaties before, and it always seemed that Indians gave to the white men. This time the white men must give something to the Indians.” Conceding more and more land to Israel with each agreement has left most Palestinians tired of summits and negotiations.

“The white men were pretending to negotiate for a country while they prepared to take it by conquest.” Settlements in the West Bank continue to expand while Israeli politicians try to make agreements and treaties.

“The Oglala leader would not talk about peace until all soldiers were removed from the Powder River country.” Hamas will not negotiate, human rights are a precondition.

“They did not want war, they said, but would accept it if they could not get an honorable peace.”

“They made the Apaches wear metal tags like dogs, and these tags had numbers on them so that it was impossible for anyone to slip away to the Tonto Basin even for a few days...it was lack of freedom to travel over the country that kept the Tontos miserable.” Palestinians must carry ID (hawiyya) and routinely must provide information regarding place of residence. With this information Israeli soldiers can deny Palestinians access to any area, based on the fact that he/she doesn't live there. Jerusalem is the most extreme example of this 'metal tag' treatment.

“Arrested and confined as a 'military precaution'.”

“For any white man in the Southwest who defended the rights of Apaches, the future was very uncertain.” Similarly, in the United States, criticizing the State of Israel provides an uncertain future especially for politicians and journalists.

“This war did not spring up here in our land; this war was brought upon us by the children of the Great Father (president of the U.S.) who came to take our land from us without price, and who, in our land, do a great many evil things...This war has come from robbery – from the stealing of our land.”

The whites told only one side. Told it to please themselves. Told much that is not true. Only his own best deeds, only the worst deeds of the Indians, has the white man told.”

The earth was created by the assistance of the sun, and it should be left as it was...the country was made without lines of demarcation, and it is no man's business to divide it...I see the whites all over the country gaining wealth, and see their desire to give us lands which are worthless...Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. I never said the land was mine to do with it as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to live on yours.”

It has been our wish to live here in our country peaceably, and do such things as may be for the welfare and good of our people, but the Great Father has filled it with soldiers who think only of our death. Some of our people who have gone from here in order that they may have a change, and others who have gone north to hunt, have been attacked by the soldiers from this direction, and when they have continued north, have been attacked by soldiers from the other side, and now when they are willing to come back the soldiers stand between them, to keep them from coming home. It seems to me there is a better way than this. When people come to trouble, it is better for both parties to come together without arms and talk it over and find some peaceful way to settle it.”

I want no more war. I want to be a man. You deny me the right of a white man. My skin is red; my heart is a white man's heart; but I am a Modoc. I am not afraid to die. I will not fall on the rocks. When I die, my enemies will be under me. Your soldiers began on me when I was asleep on Lost River. They drove us on these rocks, like a wounded deer.

I have always told the white man heretofore to come and settle in my country; that it was his country and my country. That they could come and live there with me and that I was not mad with them. I have never received anything from anybody, only what I bought and paid for myself. I have always lived like a white man, and wanted to live so. I have always tried to live peaceably and never asked any man for anything. I have always lived on what I could kill and shoot with my gun, and catch in my trap.”

I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something...Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. My heart is sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises...You might as well expect rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. Let me be a free man – free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself – and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.”

These words echo beyond their context. These words traverse the rivers and plains of North America and reach across the oceans to rivers, plains, and deserts across the globe. These are words of an oppressed people seeking liberation, or at the very least, seeking a decent self-determined life. These words reverberate in my head as I prepare to return to occupied Palestinian Territories...

You might as well expect rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. Let me be a free man!”