Pamela Olson
13 September 2004

I offer the following stories without comment, published by WorldVision (.org), a Christian NGO that helps needy families around the world in order to try to tackle the root causes of poverty. These stories are from a special report called “Who will wipe away their tears? A call to end the violence against children in Israel and Palestine.”

    Smadar Elhanan

Smadar, a Jewish girl whose name means ‘blossom of the flower’ in Hebrew, was one week away from turning 14 when she and her best friend were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. She was shopping for a gift for a friend when a young Palestinian blew himself up on Ben Yehuda Street in crowded central Jerusalem.

Her parents, Rami and Nurit, are members of the Parents Circle Family Forum, a group of grieving Israeli and Palestinian families who support reconciliation and peace. Rami explained to us that the burden he has chosen to carry is to work day by day to end the cycle of revenge and killing. He hopes the day will come when no other family, Israeli or Palestinian, will experience the loss that he has.

“It takes so little to kill a child,” her mother said, “and so much to keep her alive.”

    Christine Sa’adeh

In Bethlehem on March 25, 2003, Christine was killed after an Israeli undercover unit opened fire on her family’s car. Her father, mother, and sister were all injured. Christine, who was 12 years old when she died, is remembered as an “angel” by her father George, the principal of the Christian Greek Orthodox School in Beit Sahour—a World Vision project that has 200 sponsored children. Several weeks after her death, he remarked, “As a Christian Palestinian living in the place where the Prince of Peace was born, I want the world to know that it is by faith alone that I can forgive the people that killed Christine. What my family and I most desire is to live in peace with our Israeli neighbors.”

In her poem titled My Country, Christine wrote: “My country, overwhelmed with woes, why should your innocent children pay for the sins of the grown-ups?” Her tragic death poignantly highlights the answer to her question: they shouldn’t.

    Tha’er Al-Howt

Going to school after a night of an intense military invasion into your neighbourhood is unheard of—except somewhere like Rafah, on the southern part of the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. That was what Tha’er was doing the morning he was killed. When Tha’er, a 13-year-old WorldVision sponsored child from a Muslim family, and his schoolmates discovered that their Rafah A Prep School was closed after the heavy night of shelling on October 9, 2002, he and a friend turned back for home. On their way back there was another round of firing on the city by soldiers in their Israeli Merkava battle tank. Tha’er was shot in the right eye and killed instantly.

Just months earlier, WorldVision staff had helped Tha’er to recover from an injury from military gunfire. He once told us, “I want to be able to do things that kids my age do in other countries. I would like to feel safe rather than feeling pain and seeing destruction.” What could we say to him? What do we say to his grieving parents now? When we paid our condolences we told them that we would do all we could to honor Tha’er’s wish, so that his and other children’s deaths would not be in vain.

I wish I could include the photos of the kids. All three are adorable.

In the three-and-a-half months between September 28 2000, when the Second Intifada started, and mid-January 2001, 84 Palestinian children were killed. It wasn’t until January 17, 2001, that the first Israeli child was killed by Palestinian civilian gunfire in Ashkelon. In March, two Israeli kids were killed in a suicide bombing operation and one settler child was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

In the first five months of 2001, 34 Palestinian and 6 Israeli children were killed. By July 2003, 97 Israeli and 455 Palestinian children under 18 had been killed.

Here are the first 20 child casualties of the Second Intifada according to the WorldVision report. As I mentioned, the first 84, including these twenty, were all Palestinian:

    September 2000

    Nizar Aida, 16, of Ramallah,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to chest.
    Haled Bazyan, 15, of Nablus,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Muhammad Al-Durrah, 12, or Bureij camp,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to abdomen and chest.

    October 2000

    Muhammad Dawood, 15, of Al-Bireh,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Sara Hassan, 18 months, of Nablus,
    - Killed in car by Israeli settler gunfire to head.
    Samer Tabanya, 10, of Nablus,
    - Killed by Israeli forces helicopter gunfire to head.
    Sami Taramsi, 17, of Gaza,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Wael Qattawi, 16, of Balata camp,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Muhammad Sajdi, 17, of Jericho,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to abdomen.
    Husam Hamshari, 16, of Tulkarem,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Ammar Rifai, 17, of Maghazi camp,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Muhammad Abu Asi, 9, of Khan Younis,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to chest
    Majdi Misilmani, 15, of Beit Hanina,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to heart.
    Muhammad Tammam, 17, of Tulkarem,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to chest.
    Yusif Khalaf, 17, of Rafah camp,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Sami Silmi, 17, of Tulkarem,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to chest.
    Sami Abu Jazar, 12, of Rafah,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Ala Admad, 10, of Nablus,
    - Died of burst appendix after Israeli army denied access to hospital.
    Muayad Abu Jawarish, 14, Aida camp, Bethlehem,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to head.
    Samer Awaisi, 15, of Qalqiliya,
    - Killed by Israeli forces gunfire to upper body.

That’s not even the end of October; 29 children were killed altogether, and then 40 in November. Most were killed by Israeli soldiers. The killing of Palestinian children hasn’t let up in four years. How many dead kids does it take until somebody snaps?

From September 28, 2000, when the Intifada broke out, until the end of December, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (btselem.org) documented 272 Palestinian deaths. In the same period, 18 Israeli civilian adults and 19 Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinians.

A friend of mine sent me an email in response to my last letter with a link to the New York Times article about the recent horrendous suicide bombing in Be’er Sheva. He included a note saying, “If it walks like a duck... I’m sure you’re aware of this... You keep such wonderful company.”

I clicked the link, read the article, saw the pictures, and was physically sickened. Nobody deserves that. Ever. Most of the people in Be’er Sheva are immigrants who came to Israel looking for a better life, not knowing much about the realities of the political situation. A three-year-old kid was killed. A woman who recently immigrated from Tbilisi, Georgia, to be with her family was killed. A young man from Azerbaijan who had just finished a degree in biotech. A Ukrainian biology teacher. A woman from the Black Sea region of Russia whose son is a cellist. Several of those killed did charity work with children and the elderly. Sixteen unique, striving lives, all in one minute, gone. There are no words to describe it.

The Be’er Sheva operation was the first Palestinian suicide attack in almost six months. During April, May, June, and the first half of July this year, during which no attacks took place on Israeli soil at all, B’Tselem lists 236 Palestinian deaths, among whom 65 were children under 18. I encourage you to learn the stories of those 236 people.

Physical death, of course, is not the extent of Palestinian troubles under military occupation. According to Mohamad Bhabha, a Canadian of South African origin who works in Jerusalem with a Canadian organization:

    Like the South African pass system for Blacks under apartheid, Palestinians registered in one geographical district may not travel to another without special permission. [I have several friends who haven’t dared leave Ramallah in years.] When granted, permission may be withdrawn at any time without warning and with no reason being given. Travel permits become invalid any time the army imposes a closure on an area, which is frequent and without notice. It’s not unusual for Palestinians to learn, at a checkpoint, on the day of travel, that the important business or personal trip that had been planned days and even weeks in advance will not be allowed.

    Palestinians may not use highways in the West Bank that are reserved for cars with Israeli license plates. To ensure that most Palestinians are denied the use of those roads, Palestinians living in the West Bank are prohibited from driving cars with Israeli license plates, even if the cars are owned by their spouses, children, friends or other relatives. Even the most odious restrictions of apartheid did not come near matching the abominable edicts of Israeli military rule.

According to Monica Awad, Communications Officer of UNICEF:

    After spending a few hours with the children [at a UN-sponsored summer camp in the Palestinian village of Azzoun Atmeh near Qalqiliya], talking to them, listening to their concerns and hopes and playing with them, we got into our UN car with the UN flag and headed towards the Gate of Hope [a checkpoint near the Israeli settlement of Shiaar Ikva that controls access to Azzoun Atmeh]. Barely one kilometer before the gate, we saw a family sitting on top of a big pile of rubble. “We were here 10 days ago and there was no rubble,” Khaled [the driver] noted. With shock in our eyes, we immediately got out of the car and headed towards the family. Omar, a young man with despair in his eyes and sitting on a white plastic chair said, “It took me and my brother ten years to save money and build these two houses, yet the Israeli army, without prior notice, came at 3 a.m. on August 4th and demolished both houses in just a few minutes.”

    Omar added with a sigh, “We are a total of 12 people. My brother has two children and his wife is pregnant. They [the Israeli army] kicked us out of our houses, not allowing us even to retrieve our personal belongings, and started demolishing our houses... We were all fearful and above all we felt helpless. None of us could do anything to stop them.”

    Omar, who recently got engaged, had completed his house in preparation for his wedding. His brother Mahmoud had completed his house using his life’s savings, and was proud of it. The two houses were next to each other, situated opposite the Israeli settlement. Omar informed us that the Israeli justification for demolishing their houses was that they did not have a building license. A few minutes later, Bashaar drove up in his car and came to greet us. He was the engineer in charge of building both houses. “The Palestinian Authority had issued licenses for both houses. Everything was legal, yet they could not do anything to stop the Israeli army from demolishing the houses.”

    “The dearest thing to me was uprooting this olive tree with was planted by my great grandfather,” added Omar, with red brown eyes looking with despair at the uprooted olive tree that stood next to the rubble.

[If these houses were harboring weapons-smuggling tunnels to Egypt, the IDF may have a case. As absurd as this case would be, the case is, they don’t need a case.]

Israel calls the Annexation Barrier the Hafrada Wall. Hafrada simply means ‘separation’ in Hebrew. The Afrikaans word ‘apartheid’ also means separation. It reflected the desire of the whites to separate from the blacks in South Africa. In time, the word acquired a racist connotation because the concept became an excuse for racial segregation and oppression. The phrase ‘separate but equal’ had a similar fate in the United States.

The government of Israeli uses the word ‘Hafrada,’ and we might as well use the same. In time, the word will become synonymous with apartheid because it is a way to discriminate against and racially oppress Palestinians, whatever other nice words the Israeli government may use alongside it.

Now I'll write about my visit to Jordan on September 5 and the subsequent visit to Jayyous. For now I will skip about three eventful weeks in Ramallah starting on August 15, but I'll write about them later.

On Sunday, 5 September, I got up early and made the long journey up north to Beit Shean, the Israeli city near the crossing where foreigners can get a visa to Jordan, and then took a cab back down south to Amman. I met up with a friend there, my old boss at the Rose & Crown Pub who is also a consultant to UN world food programs and has spent substantial time in Laos, central Asia, Kosovo, Jordan, etc. etc. This time he was helping to develop a wheat growing program in Kurdistan in Iraq, and he had a one-day stayover in Amman before his plane left for California.

I met him at the posh Four Seasons hotel that Uncle Sam had put him up in, and we chatted all evening about Palestine, Iraq, and our mutual friends in California. We swam in the two exquisite pools and chilled out in an oversized hot tub and had dinner at the nice Italian restaurant on the premises. We got a bottle of red Italian wine and I had pumpkin gnocchi with sage sauce, orange-marinated salmon, and we split fudge cake and tiramisu for dessert.

The next day I made it to the border earlier than usual, so the mid-day crush hadn’t set in yet. The crossing was smoother and more pleasant than I’d ever experienced, and my interrogator was a cute blonde Russian girl who seemed more interested in what I had been doing in Russia than what I was doing in Israel.

I told her, as usual, that even though my passport revealed that I had spent time in six Arab countries, I didn’t speak any Arabic and I didn’t know any Arabs.

She let me pass, and I walked to the next waiting room, where Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, my boss and a political leader in Palestine, was also waiting. I jumped up to say hi, but quickly sat back down again, reminding myself that I wasn’t supposed to know any Arabs.

He noticed me, though, and said, “Marhaba, Pamela, how are you?” I shook his outstretched hand and said I was fine. I felt terrible not to be more polite, but if the Russian guard saw me, I was afraid it could mean trouble.

Once the danger seemed to have passed, I was glowing with the hilarious absurdity of it all. What a strange show we had to put on to please the powerful, just so we could live our lives the way we thought best without undue interference. Here we were giggling inside while soberly telling strangers whatever they wanted to hear just so they'd let us get on with life.

It would have been cold comfort, though, if there had been real problems, because the power differential becomes apparent quickly. The whole thing gets old very fast.

In Jayyous, I enjoyed a lovely day on the land of Mohammad, a neighbor of an old friend, and Abu Azzam, an organic farmer and a leader of non-violent resistance in the northern agricultural districts. We chatted under an olive tree as we waited for the midday opening of the gate in the Apartheid Wall, and I saw Hakim, another old friend, whom I hadn't seen in all this time because he's been sleeping on his land behind the Wall.

Abu Azzam speaks perfect Hebrew and has countless Israeli friends, and like most Palestinians I know, he just wants them to urge their fellow countrymen to chill out so everyone can live together with a modicum of peace and security. About 200 Israelis will come to Jayyous to help out with the olive harvest in October if things go smoothly.

I've said it a million times, but the conflict is not between Israelis and Palestinians or between Muslims and Jews. It is between ruthless ideological powermongers and normal, kindhearted, openminded folks on both sides (and all over the world, in fact).

Abu Azzam told me the story of his land, maybe 40 acres of it, that was confiscated by Israel for seven years, during which he had no access to it. The claim was that the land was unfit for agriculture. Sitting in the shade of a lime tree on his land eating fresh watermelons, mangoes, figs, and green grapes, the claim that the land was unfit for agriculture was so absurd as to be comical. But the fact that they got away with it was so serious and dreadful, such an infringement on the most basic freedoms of life, that it felt like strangulation. If they just said so, it would be funny. If they overpowered him and forced him off his land, it became a horribly cynical power play.

He said after seven years of fighting, he was finally given access to his land again, and he worked it furiously to combat the notion that it was not fit for agriculture. Meanwhile, Israelis began dynamiting the land for stones just on the other side of his fence next to his above-ground reservoir (on land confiscated from somebody else). He knew if they came much closer, they would damage it, and he got a court order to stop them from dynamiting. But any time they like they can start again, and the ugly gash in the stolen land has already been made.

Abu Azzam made many walls with the stones lying around his land, and some Israelis offered to buy them from him. He said he would give them up for free if they would only give him a paper, a signed contract, saying that his land was his incontrovertibly and in perpetuity. They refused.

After the Hafrada Wall was built, he had to sleep out on his land for weeks at a time so that he could work his land without the humiliating waits and arbitrary closures at the gates, much to the chagrin of his wife. It was illegal for farmers to sleep on their land, so he knew that as soon as he left his land, he wouldn't be able to come back for a long time.

Then word came that he was invited to an international forum (I think it was the European Social Forum in Paris, but he’s also been to the World Social Forum in India, and he was a witness at the Hague for its decision to declare the Apartheid Wall illegal). Before he left, he noticed a wild tree growing out of a crack in a rock that lay between a mango tree and an avocado tree. He tried to water it, help it along, but there was nowhere for the water to go, and it ran straight down the side of the rock. He was mystified. How could a little tree survive with no food or water?

When word came he was invited to Paris, he bade farewell to the tree and cut off its two branches in order to spare it a long, agonizing death from dehydration. When he got back to Palestine, he had to petition for seven months to get access to his land again. After all those months it lay in ruins, overgrown, some plants dead, some fruit long-rotten. His wife cried and sang. He went back to the rock with the tree in it, and he was speechless to find that where the tree had had two branches before, now it had half a dozen. It was thriving.

“It was a message,” he confirmed to me. “This tree is a message to Palestinians. If it can survive on nothing, so can we.”

Coming back through the Hafrada Wall gate, mercifully without problems, Abu Azzam said to me, “Did you see how they respected us? You should come with us every day. You are the best passport for us.”

I spent a couple of pleasant evenings hanging out with Ammar and his family on their spectacular vine-covered porch, and Ammar told me that one time when he was studying in Rostov, Russia, a new student who didn’t speak Russian well said to a professor, “Ya budu k vas.” He meant, “Ya budu k vam,” which means, “I will go to your place,” but instead it sounded like, “I will have some kvas.”

Kvas is a popular drink in Russia that tastes vaguely like Coca-Cola, beer, and bread blendered together and chilled. The professor smiled and him and said, “Ne zabud’ stakanchik.” -- “Don’t forget a cup.”

(Sorry, that’s not remotely funny if you don’t speak Russian.)

Another Arab student who spoke even less Russian came up to Ammar one time and said in Arabic, “What does ‘ya ne znayu’ mean?”

It means ‘I don’t know’ in Russian, and Ammar answered with the Arabic word for ‘I don’t know’: “Ba’rafish.”

“That’s OK, I’ll ask someone else.”

On Thursday a brother of a friend was getting married in a village near Tulkarem, and my friend invited me along. First we went to her sister’s house in Tulkarem, which is an unexpectedly beautiful town. Green and white and clean and friendly, it made sense now why so many women I talked to, who were from Tulkarem but married somewhere else, missed home more than usual.

We all trooped to the salon after that. For some reason, during weddings there is no dress code, and it’s fine to walk around in short-sleeves with no scarf no matter who you are. Women put all the energy they didn’t put into hairstyling before into this one day. Straightened and curled, highlighted and trimmed, swept up and falling down, painted and glittered, short skirts and spaghetti straps, for one day everyone looks Lebanese.

Even the little girls put on make-up and little white dresses, and the salon was a zoo of kids and primping.

“See, how we do like this,” my friend said to me, “even under these circumstances? Imagine if there was no occupation! Palestine would be like paradise.”

The ceremony was at the local community center courtyard, and it was fun and lovely, lots of dancing, the bride was gorgeous, and ‘Ala, the groom, had lost a lot of weight with all the work he put into building his house. He looked better than I’d ever seen him. The couple cut the cake together with a sword, and then pieces of cake were passed around to the hundreds of guests. Sweets were thrown into the crowd every now and then to keep the kids’ attention.

Before the older people started dancing, while things were still being set up and music was playing, the little kids took the dance floor and danced perfectly unself-consciously, and I laughed and laughed. One little girl got up on the bride and groom’s stage to dance, and they made her come down. Halfway down the steps, started dancing with every step she descended like a girl possessed, like the stairs were part of the act, and I would have given anything for a video camera. The thought of it will cheer me up for days.

The immediate family stayed in the village and had a small private party after the ceremonies, and ‘Ala had chartered several service taxis to take the rest of the weary guests home to Jayyous. Our convoy was stopped at a checkpoint not far from Jayyous, and the soldiers told us the checkpoint was closed and we had to turn back. The fifty people in the cars, of course, had nowhere to turn back to.

The wedding guests asked me to talk to the soldiers, and I got out of the van and asked the nearest soldier if he spoke English. He said almost indignantly, “Ivrit,” as if Hebrew were the only language any reasonable person could be expected to speak.

“Russkiy?” I asked. He pointed at another guard, a vague skinny boy leaning on a concrete block and toying with his M-16. I walked over to him and asked if he spoke Russian.

“Da, ti Russkaya?”

“Nyet, Americanskaya,” but I told him I studied in Moscow.

“Really? I’m from Moscow.”

“Really? Huh. Listen: there are maybe fifty people here, and they just want to sleep. There was a party in Tulkarem, and they have no place to go unless they go home to Jayyous.”

After about fifteen minutes of being told sorry, the checkpoint was just closed, and there was nothing they could do, he finally asked me, “Where will you sleep?”


“What are you doing there?”

“Teaching English.”

“English, huh.” He thought a minute. Finally he rolled his eyes and made a small motion with his hand. We could go.

It took some of the Palestinian men arguing with the first guard in Hebrew to let the rest of the cars go, too, but finally we were allowed to pass.

I felt ill and disgusted. Imagine these bored kids with guns, these poor brainwashed thugs, turning a celebration into a nightmare for no reason. Imagine them ignoring the exhortations of fifty Palestinian human beings, but being unable to do something as arbitrary and cruel as to inconvenience a single American girl for no reason. See if you can pretend to imagine that such an episode had anything to do with security.

I got back to Ramallah the next day, slept off the trip and hung out with my roommate. I talked to Ammar on the phone, and he said he might come to Ramallah the next day. The next morning I called, and he said, “Ya shas na avtobuse.” “Kogda priezhaiesh?” “Sorok minut, esli checkpointov nyetto.”

He said he was on his way here, and his bus would arrive in forty minutes if there were no checkpoints. By the time I finished cleaning the house, though, nearly two hours had passed. I tried to call, but he clicked me off. I SMSed, “Bolshoi checkpoint?” Several minutes later, I got the following message on my phone:

“They booked my ID and the bus left. I don’t know what will happen. I am stopped with somebody else. Don’t try to call. I will call when they leave me. Poka.”

My blood ran cold. If they were just harassing him, he'd call in a couple of hours. But if they disappeared him, I would have to sit there as dreadful minutes dragged into unbearable hours, waiting for his call, my imagination getting worse and worse as time went on. All the horror stories of Israeli jails were fresh in my mind. It could be minutes or days before I found out anything. I couldn’t concentrate enough to do anything but sit and stare at my silent phone. By the time four hours had passed I was a basket case.

His SMS had come at 11:30 a.m., and Ammar’s older brother Ahmed called me at 4:15. He said he’d been trying to call his brother all day, but it was out of service. He asked me if Ammar had reached Ramallah. I told him no, he had been stopped at a checkpoint and I hadn’t heard from him since. Ahmed was worried and told me to call him if I learned anything. I told him to do the same.

My roommate showed up around 4:30 with a cheeseburger and some fries that she split with me, and she told me not to worry. She had once been detained and made to stand in the sun for ten hours. No particular reason. She said, “He is not [politically] active is he? He is just a student. Maximum they will beat him and throw him in prison a couple of days.” I prayed that she was right, but even that was more than I could bear imagining. He’d never been in prison before. And his new semester at university started in two days. I felt like it was my fault. He was coming to visit me when he was taken.

Even him missing an hour of his life, a day with his family, a week of class, at the whim of brainwashed gunmen, was more than I could take. Anything worse was beyond imagination, but I imagined it all the same. Ammar had told me in Jayyous that a cousin of his is in prison now, and at last report he was suffering from horrible hemorrhoids and back pain, neither of which he had suffered before. I remembered Ammar sitting there on the porch, whole and perfect, telling me about his poor cousin. Now maybe it was his turn.

I’m all for political activity, but I couldn’t help but hope to God he was not involved in any way. Amazing how fast one can become a coward when it’s someone you care about on the line.

My roommate, as well as a friend of hers who spent three months in prison when he was 14 and was physically tortured, said dealing with all of this shit was just part of growing up for a Palestinian. Part of becoming a man or woman. But even though it is incredible that Palestinians can continue to survive such horrors, it is a rather hollow victory to be forced to endure manufactured hardships. We really shouldn’t force people to bear misery for such stupid reasons. A whole life could go by and be reasonably pleasant all the way.

The worst part was that even if they let him go in and didn’t hurt him, for every friend and mother and sister and daughter who had ever felt what I was feeling (and much, much worse), the fears of some were justified. Some loved ones never came back, or spent years of their precious life being broken, caged, tortured, starved, injured and sickened, their dreams curtailed by the year, their hopes ground down into the most basic thing that they’d always taken for granted before: Respect, decent food, seeing their family. Never mind what they wanted to study, what they wanted to contribute, what business they wanted to start or lessons they wanted to teach their kids, where they wanted to travel or how they wanted to arrange their garden.

Before I got Ammar’s SMS, my hopes for a nice visit seemed important. Now all I could hope was that he would be treated reasonably well and be able to get to school on time. These dreams now seemed almost too much to ask, while before they were a given. Imagine these gunmen curtailing people’s hopes and dreams!

At 5:30 there was a speech by a group of South Africans who had come in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to learn about it and compare it with South African Apartheid. (The Hebrew word Hafrada, like I said, has the same meaning as Apartheid, which goes to show that history doesn’t just repeat itself--sometimes it positively regurgitates itself.) I was very interested, and I could stare at my phone just as well during a presentation as I could at home.

They said the PLO was an inspiration for them during their tough, struggling days when they, too, were called terrorists by Reagan, Thatcher, etc.

The similarities between Apartheid and Hafrada were numerous and included requiring permits for blacks (or Palestinians) to enter white-only (or Jewish-only) areas, constant humiliations, using the Bible as justification for racism and white (or Jewish) supremacy, being European colonies that displaced the natives by the millions, corralling the natives into crowded refugee camps called Bantu Homelands or Bantustans where they were given citizenship in a dummy nonexistent state to deny them rights in South Africa but forcing them to work there (or fencing them in and setting up the Palestinian Authority without allowing them the means or the incentives to keep order or provide adequate civil services, stealing land and destroying livelihoods, and rendering people’s normal lives inconvenient if not impossible). Etc. etc.

The differences were that while black South Africans wanted equal rights in a single sovereign country that included both races, the Palestinian line is a two-state solution. In fact most Palestinians I talk to would be happier with a one-state solution, because historic Palestine is not much bigger than New Jersey, and a lot of Palestinians want to make peace with their neighbors rather than separate from them. Some folks want to move back to their old homes in what is now Israel, and how nice if West Bankers could go to the seaside, only a dozen miles away from the Green Line in some places, unmolested on a given weekend.

But a one-state solution is unacceptable to Israel because it would compound the ‘demographic problem,’ i.e. that Palestinians are having too many kids, young Israelis are leaving in increasing numbers, and Russia is running out of people willing to uproot who have great-great-grandmothers who might have been Jewish. Israel has done all it can to inflate Jewish numbers artificially and suppress or expel the Palestinian population. But they just can’t keep up.

Soon Israel, “The Only Democracy In The Middle East,” will no longer be able to be a Jewish State and have any pretense of being Democratic (not that it really does now, controlling the lives of 3 million Palestinians who have no rights whatsoever). It will have to choose:

    agree to a fair two-state solution;

    agree to one state that includes all of historic Palestine but contains more Palestinians than Jews, thus making it a mixed state and not a Jewish-dominated state;

    continue unsustainable and crushingly violent Apartheid policies indefinitely, creating Bantustans with its fence to deny Palestinians both rights and freedom;

    or commit ethnic cleansing (“The systematic elimination of an ethnic group or groups from a region or society, as by deportation, forced emigration, or genocide”, according to the American Heritage Dictionary).

The white South Africans didn’t call themselves white, by the way. They called themselves European. Thus when a non-European white person came to the airport and innocently got into the non-European (i.e. black) line, they had to be discreetly moved to the European section. Another funny not-funny story.

"Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest of violence."
    ~Francis Jeffrey, Scottish critic and jurist, 1773-1850

Anyway, another difference is that South Africa is huge. It’s not easy to shut people down if they want to march. In Palestine, the population is completely controlled by checkpoints, road blocks, and now fences. Israel can shut the whole place down in an hour if they want to.

They said what we need in Palestine is a unified message and inspiring leadership. As it is, the world can’t even tell exactly what Palestinians want, whether Palestinians are unified or not. A clear message is needed. And as for inspiring leadership, Ole Arafat is a control mechanism of the Israelis as much as anything, and his empty phrases (“We are a people of titans,” etc.) are not exactly firing up the youth anymore.

But South Africa was a shining example that just causes and righteous indignation, outrage and the common bonds of humanity, can, occasionally, overthrow brute power and usher in an era that at least looks and feels a little more just and natural. There are still problems with racism and discrimination in South Africa, of course, horrible problems, but at least their lives are more dignified and livable now, and under these circumstances it will be easier to continue to fight for true equality.

After the talk I called Ammar’s brother again, but he still hadn’t heard anything, and he sounded as worried as I was. I called another friend named Mohammad from Jayyous who was in town, and we met in a coffee shop. He said his brother was arrested one time while he was eating falafel in a restaurant. The official report was that he was caught throwing stones, even though there were several witnesses to the contrary, Israeli as well as Palestinian. Mohammad and his friends called a lawyer and some human rights groups, wrote some press releases and articles, and finally he was released after six days.

Meanwhile his best friend, also non-political, was arrested eight days ago and is still missing. There are sketchy reports that he is in Petah Tikvah, an Israeli city known to be a stronghold of the intelligence community, which, according to Mohammad, can psychologically torture and fatigue people to the point where they will admit to having killed Yitzhak Rabin and take a long prison sentence if only they can be left alone.

He and my roommate both seemed a bit embarrassed by how sensitive I was. In so many words, they told me to grow up a little. If you want to live in Palestine and not be a complete greenhorn ajnabiya (the word means ‘foreigner,’ but it carries a tinge of pity with it, because Europeans and Americans can’t help but look a little soft and pink and bewildered on their first wide-eyed visit to the other end of the guns), you gotta put a little starch in your spine.

I was reminded of the time when I was 15 or 16, and my mom asked me if I knew how to drive a stick shift. I said, “Sure.”

“How do you know how to drive a stick shift,” she asked, “if you’ve never tried?”

“I read a book about it.” They never stopped laughing at me, and sure enough when I got in my brother’s little Honda Civic manual, I nearly dropped the engine out the bottom of the car.

It’s the same difference between reading a thousand human rights violations reports, and then having someone you personally care about disappear.

It put things in rather stark perspective that I only had one non-politically-active friend missing for one day (so far), and it was far and away one of the worst days of my life. Imagine people living, and other people enforcing, life like this every day. Imagine getting used to it!

On the one hand I dread and fight against losing my sensitivity, because I feel that if I begin to accept things no one should ever accept, I’ve lost something of my humanity. But if I wept for every kid killed in Gaza, every aspiring student losing years of his or her life and study, I’d never stand up. It’s a shitty choice.

Palestinians have no choice. Even during the worst of days, if you don’t smile and change the subject now and then, and keep doing what you have to do, you’re lost.

Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.”

When I look not-quite-so-far up, I see thugs hired, trained, brainwashed, and/or compelled to keep the order violently, outrageously in place. Laws, treaties, and decency are completely dispensable when it comes down to it.

My Palestinian friends laugh at me for being shocked by this, but I hope I never think of it as anything but a disturbingly prevalent aberration.

I wrote all of this last night while Ammar was still missing. At 7:30, 32 hours after he disappeared, he called me. I was insensible with relief.

"Ammar, are you OK?"

He spoke in an indignant stream of Russian and English so fast I couldn't understand it all, but I gathered that they had ‘checked his ID’ for a few hours (“Kto ya, bin Laden ili shto?” -- ‘Who am I, bin Laden or what?’). Then they tied up his hands, blindfolded him, and told him to get in a Jeep. He asked why they were taking him, and they said, "Just go."

They threw him in prison at a settlement nearby and interrogated him about every aspect of his life. He had no idea whether he would be in there for hours or years, and he was afraid he'd miss the beginning of school. They repeated questions incessantly. They terrorized and tormented a completely innocent person for 32 hours, not to mention his friends and family, and ruined all our weekends. And there’s no one to appeal to. They are the law.

When Palestinian friends asked about my news, I told them that a non-political friend of mine had disappeared this weekend but was released. I couldn’t seem to get across how drained and horrified and worried I'd been. They generally looked at me in mild confusion, as if I were a grown woman complaining about a scraped knee. I felt a bit silly. These things are routine to your average Palestinian. But it was 32 of the worst hours of my life.

Poka ('bye).



From Concert4Palestine.org:

    Eyal Sivan, Film-maker, France/Israel
"Zionism has failed to achieve its fundamental objectives of abolishing the ghettoes and making Jews safe. Israel is the world's biggest ghetto and in no other country are Jews less safe. We should be thinking, really, of a single, non-confessional and democratic Israeli-Palestinian state."

    Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi, UK
"You cannot ignore a command that is repeated 36 times in the Mosaic books: 'You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile.' Therefore I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long-run with our deepest ideals."

    Tanya Reinhart, Professor, Hebrew University, Israel
"Palestinian farmers whose land is being robbed sit on the ground in front of bulldozers. What could be more nonviolent than that? But the Israeli army shoots at sitting demonstrators, blocking all options of non-violent resistance."

    Yisroel Dovid Weiss, Jews United Against Zionism, USA
"The root of the problem is the refusal to recognize the existence of the Holy Land's indigenous population. There is no war between Jewry and the Arab/Islamic world. That is a myth, caused and perpetuated by the Israeli state."

    Jeff Halper, Peace activist, Israel
"Israel is a very sophisticated, high-tech rogue state. Where Israel has a great PR advantage is that it presents itself as a victim. We need to expose Israel as the regional superpower that it really is. Israel is not a little David, but actually the Goliath."

    Baruch Kimmerling, Hebrew University, Israel
"Sharon's final aim is the politicide of the Palestinian people, a systematic attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and social entity. Politicide is a crime against humanity that is very close in its severity to genocide."

    Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold, Harvard University, USA
"Unless Israel gives up its settlements and makes peace with its neighbor, I fear that its very future is threatened. American Jews must tell the US government and leaders in the Jewish community that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel's longterm survival."

    Ronnie Kasrils, Government Minister, South Africa
"The cruel and unjustified occupation of Palestine is colonialism of the worst kind. There is no way that a Zionist Israel can 'radiate as a light unto nations' on the basis of conquest and dispossession."

    From This Week in Palestine:

“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg!”

Aoccdrnig to rsceearh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit any porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aazmnig!

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