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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My First Stakeout

I've been watching the HBO show The Wire. It's quite a good show, I would recommend it. The Wire follows a unit of Baltimore police that are put on special cases breaking up drug, crime, and prostitution rings. It provides a very interesting glimpse into the complicated web of interests and politics in these urban issues as well as glimpses into corruption, politics, and bureaucracy among the police force.

A few nights ago I watched an episode of The Wire. There were two detectives who were assigned to a stakeout at a warehouse. Through some nifty detective work, the BPD believed there were drugs and stolen goods going in and out of this warehouse. The stakeout involved the usual: long nights sitting in the car trying to stay awake, snapping endless photos of empty parking lots, and cheeseburger combo meals.

A brief interlude, and then I will get back to stakeouts...

Yesterday, the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO, a branch of the army responsible for administrating Palestinian civilian affairs in the occupied territories) delivered a 'stop work order' to my friend Yasser from At-Tuwani. Stop work orders are often delivered by the Israeli army in an attempt to stop illegal building by Palestinians living in Area C. One of the results of the Oslo Accords (a set of 'peace' talks) was the slicing-up of the West Bank. The Oslo Accords broke the West Bank up into Areas A,B,C. Palestinians living in areas A and B don't have problems getting building permits because they apply through the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians living in Area C (under full Israeli control, meaning there is no Palestinian Authority presence whatsoever) are forced to apply through the Israeli DCO for a building permit. The problem is that the Israeli government only issues building permits a small fraction of the time. Palestinians in Area C have to pay a large sum of money to apply, and the great majority are turned down without the possibility of a refund. Yasser told me that he has never, in his entire life, met a Palestinian living in Area C who has received a building permit. What this means is that nearly all Palestinian homes in Area C are illegal because they were built without permits.

The 'stop work order' was delivered because Yasser was adding an extension onto his home. He is adding the extension because his 6th child is on the way, and his home has many leaks and additional problems. The Israeli DCO came and took pictures of the house, pictures of Yasser, took his ID#, and told those working on the house that they would be arrested in any more work took place. Yasser was also threatened with arrest because of his 'illegal' building project.

Stopping the building is not really an option because if Palestinians in this area listened to the Israeli army and Israeli government regarding housing options then not a single Palestinian in At-Tuwani would be living under a roof, because all of their houses are illegal structures according to the Israeli government.

Back to the stakeout...

We spoke with Yasser about the situation at his house and he informed us that he would continue to build. He wasn't terribly concerned about repercussions against him (he knew the risks for himself), but was very cognizant of the position the workers would be in. These are hired contractors and would be doing 'illegal' work with the risk of arrest (building a house as civil disobedience....awesome). He would try to finish the house as quick as possible, within the week ideally. Then if the army came and delivered a demolition order (the next step is demolishing the structure, after a stop work order has been issued), he would battle it in the courts; more or less, he decided he would cross that bridge when he came to it. Yasser asked for our help in protecting the workers.

We spoke as a team and came up with a strategy to help the workers avoid arrest if the army came. Two of us sat near the entrance to the village and two people stayed at Yasser's house. If any suspicious vehicles entered the village (jeeps, hummers, police jeeps, unmarked white trucks – the DCO) the people at the entrance called the people stationed at Yasser's house. Those at Yasser's house would first tell the workers to scatter. The workers would probably scramble to the adjacent hill, grab a tea glass and a deck of cards and pretend like they were just passing the time. The two international peace activists at Yasser's house would then walk in the middle of the road toward the village entrance in an attempt to delay the army from accessing the building site.

So the moral of the story: Baltimore police hold stakeouts to catch criminals (drug dealers, thiefs, and pimps) and we hold stakeouts to assist criminals (low wage workers and Palestinian nonviolent resistance organizers).