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.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another claim that Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance is Ignored

Edith Garwood at Amnesty International asks the world (read Bono, Kristof, and Obama) to recognize Palestinian NV resistance. Read the full article, see an excerpt here:

The presumption that the Palestinian struggle is mainly violent is disturbing. And the dismissal of the people who have sacrificed time, money and even their lives to fight injustice with nonviolence is callous.

Navigating children through militarized
checkpoints, attempting to harvest crops while being attacked by Israeli settlers and living in a tent near the home recently taken over by settlers are all forms of nonviolence resistance or as the Palestinians call it "sumoud" or "steadfastness".

Bono, Kristof and President Obama should not discount the millions of Palestinians who are struggling against daily obstacles peacefully. Nonviolence resistance in addition to protests includes blogging, boycotts, and creating youtube videos.

It would benefit Bono, Kristof and President Obama to take the time to learn about Palestinian history and meet some of the living Palestinian and Israeli Gandhi's, MLK's and Aung San Suu Kyi's active today.

Update on Khalil Ibrahim

Khalil was arrested on February 23.

On February 24, we heard that Khalil had formally been charged with assaulting a soldier. A ridiculous charge. Khalil was certainly angry as he was being arrested, but given that he had been chased off his family's grazing land by the Israeli army and that the soldiers refused to provide ANY semblance of a reason for his arrest, and the fact that a soldier headbutted his brother, and given that he was being grabbed by the throat as he was being arrested....

...well given all that, I think he handled himself quite well. And no, he did not assault a soldier.

On February 25, my colleague and I went to Kiryat Arba Police Station to present the video documentation and to give our testimony of the incident. A big thanks to an Israeli lawyer to helped us out pro-bono to set this up. I watched the videotape with a police officer, who seemed to believe that Khalil must have hit the soldier before I started videotaping (this is an odd claim, because the tape begins with the soldiers about 300 meters away from the shepherds, and the soldiers are clearly chasing the unless Khalil was Stretch Armstrong or Inspector Gadget, then he wouldn't be able to assault a soldiers from 300 meters away). I did my best to narrate the tape as it was going down, to provide the officer with some context. As background, we also gave the video to a lawyer on the 24th, so that she could watch the tape before we took it to the Police. Why did we do this? Well, it's not unheard of for the Police to see video evidence and add additional charges to the existing charges. For example, the officer might say, "well we don't see him assaulting a soldier in this video so he must have done that before, but we do see him resisting arrest, so we will add that charge." At this point I usually start going crazy because any human being in their right mind would resist arrest if she/he were being arrested for shepherding their flock of sheep and the arresting authorities refused to provide any reason for the arrest. But thankfully additional charges weren't added, but I digress.

So then I provided my testimony to an officer who spoke better English than the first officer. He was translating (out loud) from English to Hebrew as I spoke, and was typing with one finger. I got out about 7 sentences before he was tired of my testimony, so I just tried to get across the important point, "Khalil did NOT hit a soldier."

On February 25 an Israeli activist went to the prison to try to bail Khalil out. The original fee was said to be 2,000 shekels (500 dollars), then it dropped to 1,500 shekels (375 dollars) after some negotiation. The amount was paid ( I guess this is more like ransom than's just an amount paid so Khalil can leave the prison, so apparently they aren't to convinced he is actually a criminal or a dangerous person). Then this activist was told that Khalil wasn't at the police station, that he had been transfered to Ofer Military Prison near Ramallah. Then we heard he was at Gush Etzion Police Station. News kept swiraling around and changing. We didn't hear solid news until the morning of February 26, when we heard Khalil had been released from Gush Etzion Police Station. Khalil had no money nor ID. But in the true Arab spirit, he was given a free ride from Bethlehem to Hebron and then from Hebron to Yatta (where he has relatives).

Khalil is currently with relatives and should be coming home soon. We don't know if he was beaten by soldiers, all we know is he was grabbed by the throat for sometime and then blindfolded and forced to walk more than a kilometer before he dissapeared out of sight.

I spoke with his family more than a dozen times over the course of those days, providing them with every shred of new news. Every conversation ended so sad, with me saying something like, "sorry, that's all I know." The last conversation I had with them was great when I was able to tell them that Khalil was out for sure, which was followed by a chorus of, "Praise be to God," in the background.

Last night I was with the family and Khalil was still with relatives. Khalil called to say hi to his family and his brother answered the phone and told Khalil, "Hey man, we were really concerned about you, but now that you are home safely stop bugging me by calling me, I'll see you when I see you. You aren't the center of attention anymore."

I was glad to see all is back to normal, well except for that whole being-arrested-for-nothing-thing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Denying Peaceful Protest is Problematic

I saw this article by Bill Fletcher Jr. a while back, and finally got around to passing it along. Fletcher responds to those recently in the media who are making calls for Palestinians to use nonviolence. Fletcher's article is poignant and so apropos for the current climate as Israel cracks down on nonviolent protest. See the article here, below is an excerpt:
While it is certainly true that some of the protests by Palestinians are violent, the same could be said of the anti-colonial protests that took place on the Indian subcontinent against the British at the time of Gandhi. Gandhi certainly preached nonviolent direct action, yet there were others within the independence movement that advocated forceful courses of action.

Nevertheless, smearing or repressing all protests in the name of moving against those who use violence is disingenuous, a point well understood when viewing other freedom struggles, whether the Indian independence movement or the black freedom struggle in the United States. In fact, this repression becomes a means not of suppressing violence, but of suppressing all resistance to injustice. This is experienced today by the Palestinian movement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

AT-TUWANI RELEASE: Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian shepherd, assault Palestinian youth

This happened about 4 hours ago. I was with Khalil just a couple hours before he was arrested. My last sight of him before soldiers started chasing him was when he was riding on the hillsides on a donkey with lunch in his hands. He had bread, a bowl of yogurt, and a bowl of salad that he was taking to his brother and his cousin, who were both with the sheep. After eating lunch with them, they were chased by the soldiers back to their village.

23 February, 2010

On Tuesday afternoon, February 23, 2010, Israeli soldiers arrested a Palestinian shepherd, Khalil Ibrahim Abu Jundiyye, from the village of Tuba.

Abu Jundiyye, 19, was grazing his flock near Tuba when four Israeli soldiers, coming from the nearby Ma'on settlement, chased him and another shepherd back to Tuba. The soldiers aggressively pursued the two shepherds while Tuba families attempted to keep the soldiers away from the shepherds. One soldier head-butted a Palestinian young man as he pleaded for an explanation as to why his brother was being arrested. Another soldier loaded his rifle and pointed it in the air, threatening to shoot, forcing the families to quell their protest.

Once handcuffed, the soldiers quickly led Abu Jundiyye away from the area, threatening arrest for anyone who followed them. Two members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, standing at a distance, saw that the soldiers forced Abu Jundiyye to walk blindfolded on rugged terrain for nearly one kilometer.

An Israeli human rights organization later reported that Abu Jundiyye was taken to Beit Yatir checkpoint near the southern edge of the Green Line, adjacent to Mezadot Yehuda settlement.

Abu Jundiyye remained in custody overnight, but his whereabouts are unknown. According to the Israeli District Coordinating Office, Abu Jundiyye was presumably arrested for assaulting an Israeli soldier. The two Christian Peacemaker Teams members who were present during the incident did not witness Abu Jundiyye assault a soldier. Nor is that charge confirmed in any of their video footage of the incident.

I can't describe how angry these soldiers were at these shepherds, and for no understandable reason at all. The soldier who headbutted one of the young men was raging mad, screaming in Hebrew at the top of his lungs. I will try to get around to cutting a short clip of the video I have, it shows just how crazy they were. It was more or less, Israeli soldiers with raging anger and Palestinian mothers, sisters, and brothers begging for mercy for their loved ones.

Wait and did I mention that I was just sitting on a hillside with these guys, talking about the joys of spring, telling them about my nice time I had in the States; when they were chased, attacked, and arrested by the Israeli army. Khalil is still in jail, we don't know where he is. He has no phone and no money. Last time I saw he was blindfolded and being grabbed around the neck by a soldier. What the hell is wrong with this world.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Holy Places Discrimination

Holy sites are protected in Israel. The 'Protection of Holy Places Law' states that:
The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.
There is no definition of 'holy places' in the law, but since the inception of that law, 137 locations have been designated as 'holy places.' The problem is that ALL 137 'holy places' are Jewish holy sites.

This is an incredible fact in the face of the history that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have in this region. Jerusalem is the historical center of these three religions and contains present day holy sites for all three religions. The Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and Al Aqsa Mosque for Muslims.

137 out of 137. Just saying. And I am not the first one to say it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Resistance is about heritage, identity, belonging, and hope

From my CPT colleague, Johann Funk.

“My daddy had this shop for over sixty years. We are the oldest (shop) in the market. We are determined to stay.” So begins the story of a shopkeeper in Hebron/Al Khalil’s Old City.

The Israeli occupation turned the souq (market), once the thriving heart of the Old City, into a besieged marketplace that resists elimination despite fewer customers and shrinking returns. In the mid-1990s, military curfews, closures, and Israeli soldier and settler harassment forced many shops out of business and families from their homes, reducing the population of the Old City to about 500 people (1996).

The 1996 Hebron Protocols divided the city into H-1—under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority—and H-2, which includes the Old City, under total Israeli control. The Israeli Military Civil Administration confines the Old City with barriers and checkpoints. Israeli-only streets connect the four settler enclaves embedded in the Old City—Tel Rumeida, Beit Romano, Beit Hadassah, and Avraham Avinu—to the Synagogue in the Ibrahimi Mosque and beyond that to the Israeli settlements of Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha Harsina.

The 150,000 Palestinians living in H-1 avoid going to the Old City souq because of restricted access, dehumanizing checkpoints and the risk of harassment from the Israeli soldiers and settlers. Shopkeepers struggle to remain financially viable and report that some days they have no sales. What keeps the souq alive is the remaining shopkeepers’ determined resistance not to give in to the Israeli occupation. “There is no where to go to. This is our homeland,” they have told CPT.

The 650 original shops between Bab il Baladiyye and the Ibrahimi Mosque predate the unilateral founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The 10% that are still open have been in their families for generations. The owners resist closing by adapting much of their merchandise to attract the few tourists who pass by on their way to the main Al Khalil attraction, the Ibrahimi Mosque (also known as the Cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased to bury Sarah). The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (HRC) is improving the infrastructure in the Old City and providing incentives for people to return.

The 5000 people who now live in the neighborhoods around the souq moved there for the subsidized housing and rely on Red Cross food distribution. They cannot ensure the viability of the market on their own. Under Mayor Khaled Osaily, the Hebron Municipality provided shopkeepers a $200 USD a month incentive for six months to keep the shops open.

The persistence of the shopkeepers affirms their allegiance to Al Khalil as a Palestinian city and Palestine as their rightful homeland against the crushing power of the Israeli occupation. Their struggle is only partly about economic survival. It is largely about heritage, identity, belonging, and hope.

Avatar comes to Palestine

Palestinians dressed as the Na'vi from the film Avatar protest the Israeli separation barrier in the village of Bil'in (near Ramallah). The illegal separation barrier prohibits access to farming lands for the people of Bil'in.

If you are unclear why Palestinians would dress as Na'vi, well, then you either need to watch Avatar or read your Middle East history, or maybe both. But basically it comes down to Avatar being about the Na'vi (read Palestinians), an indigenous people who are dehumanized and then violently displaced from their land from a powerful foreign military power. In the film, the Na'vi fight back, they resist the forceful takeover of their land and genocide of their people. Oh and also, they win the freedom. I love happy endings.

So why can we only root for the Na'vi and support the Na'vi on the silver screen. If the Na'vi are wearing kafhiyyes (middle eastern scarves) and are called Palestinians we think their resistance to land confiscation and occupation is terrorism. Why? What's the difference? This situation isn't as cut and dry as the movie? Ok, maybe, but the basic elements remain the same. An indigenous people have been on land for eons. Their land and their livelihood is being taken over and destroyed, respectively, by a foreign invasion (of sorts). That's the story, full stop.

See the rest of the pictures here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 'Museum of Tolerance' is being built by digging up Muslim graves

This story has really been going on for sometime. I have been following the attempts to build a Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem over the top of a Muslim cemetery that dates back to the 12th century. The Israeli Supreme Court approved the project, despite appeals, and now a secondary appeal is going to the United Nations, asking for the cemetery to be declared a World Heritage site so that the ancient Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem can remain in their graves.

But seriously, it sounds like satire. A Museum of Tolerance in a Jewish neighborhood, being built by digging up Muslim remains. Are you kidding me? Museum of T-O-L-E-R-A-N-C-E?!?!

Here's a great clip from Democracy Now that really explains the situation:

So here's the order of events:
  1. 1948 - Palestinians are violently expelled from their homes and land in West Jerusalem.
  2. 1948 to Present - Most Palestinians from W Jerusalem are prohibited from returning to W Jerusalem, even for a visit.
  3. 2010 - Any memory or remaining emblem of those Palestinian Muslims that used to live in W Jerusalem will now be erased, thanks to the generous spirit of the Museum of Tolerance

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

My prayer for Feb 9 (via Sabeel)

The decades of Israeli occupation and injustice have had many negative effects; little reported are the deep spiritual consequences. Almighty God, comfort and reassure the many people whose faith has been challenged or destroyed through years of living in insecurity and uncertainty. Help us to find meaningful and responsible ways to comfort those who do not see your hand at work in places of deepest despair.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Settlers invade Tuwani and soldier breaks the nose of a Palestinian farmer

A well-written piece from a colleague who also works in At-Tuwani:
“This morning,” my neighbor Mona* explained to me, “I told my husband that since the kids are out of school and he didn’t need to go into town, I would cook something special and we would have a party.” Mona has a wry sense of humor and I started to wonder what the punch line would be. “We were going to invite you, but instead we had a little party with the soldiers and the settlers.” Mona cocked her head to one side and shrugged, smiling ironically.

The “party” we had in At-Tuwani wasn’t nearly as fun as the party that Mona had planned. At about 9 am on the 26th of January, a settler from the Havot Ma’on settlement outpost entered the village of At-Tuwani, accompanied by the Israeli army and the Ma’on settlement security guard. The settler then entered the homes of my neighbors and searched in their animal pens. “What is he looking for?” my neighbors asked the soldiers. “If he thinks we’ve stolen something, bring the police and conduct a normal search. Where’s the rule of law?”

Between 15 and 20 settlers then joined the first, along with more soldiers. Mona’s husband tried to convince the soldiers to make the settlers leave the village. “We’ll go back instead our houses if they leave,” he said. But then the settlers started throwing stones at a group of Palestinian women and children. The next thing I knew, the soldiers were pointing their guns at my neighbors. One of them drew back his fist and punched someone in the face. It was Mfadi, the quietest, least imposing man in the village. His nose bleeding. Another soldier raised his gun and fired. For a moment I was stunned and dumbly wondered why no one seemed to be shot. Then I realized that it was a sound bomb and that the soldiers were likely to start using tear gas next. I saw the same soldier pull out another canister. “Don’t do it,” I started screaming. “There are women and children here. Don’t shoot that!”

Later, when the soldiers and settlers had left the village, Mona told me that Mfadi’s nose was broken and he would need an operation. She also said that the soldiers told her and the women that if they did not leave the area, they would arrest all of the men of the village and kill at least one. “We didn’t leave,” said Mona. “One of the girls told them they could take her whole family to jail if they wanted to. She said that there was no food in her house. At least there’s food in prison!” Mona laughed.

Then Mona told me about the party she had wanted to have, until the settlers and soldiers had prevented it. I started to wonder how many other parties were canceled because of the occupation that day. But then Mona smiled. “Maybe we’ll have our party tomorrow,” she said. Sure enough, the next afternoon I sat on Mona’s front porch laughing and sipping tea. As we ate the special food that Mona had promised, I imagined the celebration she will throw when the occupation finally over. Soldiers and settlers can’t cancel that party – only postpone it.
The video from the incident, from PressTV:

Video: Israeli soldiers attack and arrest Palestinian shepherds

I blogged in January about this incident, but to recap and to 'link' you in:
On the morning of Thursday 7 January 2010, Israeli soldiers attacked and injured Palestinian shepherds from the Musa Rabai family, as they grazed their sheep in Humra valley, near the village of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. Five members of the family were hospitalized. Before leaving the area, the soldiers arrested one of the shepherds, Musab Musa Rabai. Raba'i was interrogated and tortured for four hours.
Here's the first press release I posted.
Here's my account of the shepherd's torture, Musab Musa Rabai, at the hands of the Israeli military.

We also have an edited video. I don't know if you remember, but I was present at this event, and it was jarring to say the least. I still shake as I watch this video, for a lot of reasons, I think. The cries for mercy by the shepherds' mother, the sounds of the tear gas and concussion grenades, the stories of torture after Musab was arrested, the fact that these people were attacked for trying to feed their sheep, etc, etc, etc.

I hope that video makes you shudder (in the nicest and most life-changing way possible) as you see the Israeli military using extreme force against unarmed shepherds, not more than 200 yards from their house.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

54 Reps in the House demand an end to the siege of Gaza

On January 21, 2010, 54 Representatives sent President Obama a letter that termed Israel's blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip as "de facto collective punishment" and called on the United States to press Israel "for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza."

Some more info from James Wall:

Initially drafted by Democrats Keith Ellison, Minnesota, and Jim McDermott, Washington, the letter says, in part:

The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. . . . The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering.

Fifty-two other members of the House joined Ellison and McDermott in signing the letter, a dramatic increase in congressional voices defying the powerful Israel Lobby.

The Minnesota Independent’s story on the letter from the 54 House members lists the members by their home states. Some states are notable by their absence.

In Illinois, for example, the president’s home state, no member of either party supported the resolution. California and Massachusetts, in contrast, has eleven and six members, respectively, as signees.

Former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley praised the House members for their courage. Speaking from experience, Findley told Helene Cobban, former Middle Eastern correspondent for the Christian Science monitor, that it was “an extraordinary step for 54 House members to stand up to the Lobby.”

“We haven’t seen so many members of Congress prepared to stand together behind a resolution critical of Israel since the 1970s,”, Findley told Cobban, who now runs a blog published by the Council on the National Interest, a non profit Washington-based organization which Findley co-founded in 1989.

A call for action from the US Campaign to End the Occupation:
Please take a moment to "cheer" your Representative for signing this important "Dear Colleague" letter calling attention to the devastating humanitarian impact of Israel's illegal blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip, or "jeer" your Representative for not signing the letter by clicking here.
Here's a PDF version of the letter, including the signatories. Cheer or jeer your rep, depending on whether you see their 'John Hancock.' (I recommend zooming in and then going fullscreen).

Letter from House Reps about Gaza

Monday, February 01, 2010

Two Sundance films and several reminders

I had the privilege of heading to Park City, Utah for Sundance Film Festival. In addition to skiing the Utah powder, I also took in two feature length films at the festival. I saw The Dry Land and Bass Ackwards. Both films were reminders to me that film is art and film is a powerful storytelling tool.

Bass Ackwards tells the story of Linas, "when kicked off of his friend’s couch and spurned by his lover, finds a forgotten van on a llama farm outside Seattle, he begins lurching east with nothing to lose. Slowly, the road eases him out of his relentless longing and into the moment. As his encounters with enigmatic characters take on subtly transcendent qualities, his shame and discomfort at being alone gradually give way to self-acceptance and connection. The dented, off-kilter vehicle, which valiantly, amazingly endures the journey, becomes a colorful metaphor for the human condition—our tenacity and hopefulness always tinged with imperfection.” [Description provided by Sundance Film Festival]

Bass Ackwards reminded me of a couple of things. I was reminded that lessons and moments for learning are all around us. We only allow ourselves to learn at particular moments (we compartmentalize learning in our lives) rather than opening ourselves up to the people and circumstances around us. At several points in the movie, Linas finds himself in an unexpected situation with an unordinary character. Sometimes it seems that the person might 'take' from Linas rather than 'give' to him, might burden him rather than assist him, might annoy him rather than sustain him. Inevitably, the giving and taking is mutual between Linas and the people he meets. Linas ends up learning from the characters he comes across and he ends up teaching these people as well.

I was also reminded by Bass Ackwards that people are complex. So often we take in a person's appearance, mannerisms, odor, and disposition, and then make a judgement about the person. This often results in writing people off that have so much to share and to give.

The second film I saw was called The Dry Land. The Dry Land follows James as he returns from Iraq to face a new battle -- integrating into his small-town life in Texas. His wife, his mother, and his friend provide support, but they can't fully understand the pain and suffering he feels since his tour of duty ended. Lonely, James reconnects with an army buddy, who provides him with compassion and camaraderie during his battle to process his experiences in Iraq. But their reunion also exposes the different ways war affects people -- at least on the surface.
[Description provided by Sundance Film Festival].

This was really a great film, and more significantly, an important film. James suffers from PTSD and the struggles he has with integrating back into his life and relationships back home are heart-wrenching in the film. James reacts strongly, even violently, to loud noises, being awoken by his wife, and the use of firearms. James tries to sort out these problems inwardly, but is unable to cleanse himself of some of the experiences he has had and the resulting reactions. His family and friends can't understand why he is so messed up, and can't fathom how to help him. James cannot offer suggestions on how others can help him, much less even talk about his experiences.

The filmmakers and actors talked after the film about interviewing hundreds of veterans about their PTSD. They compiled many of these interviews and additional research about PTSD to create a character seen in the film who struggles with PTSD as a result of the Iraq War.

This is an important film because it normalizes PTSD. If we are going to normalize war in our society -- an unfortunate reality, but nonetheless, a reality -- then we need to normalize PTSD. It is a reality that people who experience such traumatic and jarring experiences as exist in war, will have an extremely difficult time coping with and processing those experiences, especially when they are processing those experiences with people who have no understanding or experience themselves.

Another element in the film is James' added difficulty because of his personality. James is introverted and isn't terribly vulnerable or open with his loved ones. Because of this, James has a difficult time getting things off his chest, even with someone as close to him as his wife.

The filmmakers plan to take this film around to U.S. military bases (they have already gotten the approval of the armed services to do this) to open up a conversation about PTSD. They realized in some of the screenings they did with soldiers, that this film provided an avenue for people to tell their stories and get support for their PTSD.

I hope this film helps PTSD sufferers to talk about their difficulties. I also hope it helps to show people how awful war can be, for those involved and those related to those involved. Sometimes people call war a 'necessary evil'. But it seems we focus on the 'necessary' part and not on the 'evil' part. It's an experience that takes a great toll and takes a great number of lives, it also takes a great toll on the survivors.

If politicians and decision-makers send young men and women off to war, there better damn-well be support for them when they return. There needs to be a recognition of the effects of war on surviving soldiers.

Here's to helping those who suffer from war, both here and abroad. Here's to ending war, both here and abroad.