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The long road to Bethlehem

It wasn’t the soaring arches or the elegant windows, with their curved caps. It wasn’t that the first room of the house was built in 1808. It wasn’t the jasmine that, like a woman letting down her hair, released its heavy perfume at night. It wasn’t the olive, loquat, lemon, almond, and apricot trees that filled the garden. Nor was it that the fruit from that garden seemed sweeter here in Bethlehem than it was in Jerusalem.

The apartment’s biggest selling point, in my landlady’s opinion?

The well.

She showed it to me the first time I saw the place, before I’d decided to rent the apartment. The well was hidden behind a curtain in the kitchen. She pushed the fabric back, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Inside the nook stood a pump and, on the floor, a large stone with a wrought iron handle. My landlady, who was in her seventies, gave the handle a tug. The rock lifted. There was a clunk as she placed it on the kitchen floor.

My landlady got on her knees and peered into the hole, a spot of night surrounded by chiseled white.

“See?” she tapped my calf, signaling that I should get on the floor, too. I obliged her.

I peered into the well. I didn’t see anything. But I could smell the collected rainwater below us.

My landlady put her hands on my back and pushed herself up. As she brushed the dirt off her knees, she explained to me that, if I were to take the apartment, we would share the well. And while our neighbors’ taps would run dry—as they always do here, eventually—we would never go without.

I remembered a long, waterless weekend I’d spent in Bethlehem in 2010. An American friend who lived and worked there had invited me to come celebrate his birthday. I was living in Tel Aviv then and had only been to Bethlehem once before, to work on an article for The National. The photographer who’d been assigned to the story also had Israeli citizenship. Unlike me, however, he had a car. That day, we’d left the Bethlehem area via the settler checkpoint outside the tunnels—a checkpoint we should have breezed through as two Jews riding in a yellow-plated vehicle. But the female soldier stopped us and asked for my ID. Nervous about the fact that I’d been in Bethlehem,...

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Does Israel have a place in Jewish identity?

The proposed ‘Nation-State Law’ and a wave of violence point to the urgency of questioning Israel’s place in Jewish identity. Shlomo Sand’s latest book, ‘How I Stopped Being a Jew,’ offers a starting point for such a discussion.

When I left Palestine this summer, I was relieved to leave the Israeli flag behind. No more blue and white snapping at everyone who passes military checkpoints. No more Star of David standing high over the army bases. Saying goodbye to the Israeli flag, or so I thought, would also mean an end to my ambivalence about it.

Upon seeing the flag, there was always a moment of recognition, familiarity. After all, it bears the Star of David and I grew up with this symbol in my home. I grew up with it dangling from my neck in the form of the Hebrew pendant — passed down from my great-grandmother — that my mother made me wear when I was a child.

But the same thing that would bring me a split second of comfort would enrage me. How dare Zionism appropriate my religion and my culture and my family and the Hebrew language? The language is not theirs alone. It also belonged to another one of my great-grandmothers, who lived in Eastern Europe and recorded all of the family’s deaths and births — not in Yiddish but in poetic Hebrew. (The sentences that noted a death, including those of her own children, begin, “I’m crying, I’m crying, the tears drip from my face”; births start with, “Luck, luck! Happiness and luck.”) She marked all these events on a piece of paper that she folded and carried to the New World with her, Hebrew pressed to her bosom as she crossed an ocean. The language belonged to her, it belonged to all of us.

How dare Zionism put the Star of David — which existed long before it and which will outlast its project — on their flag? How dare it, under the false pretense of ensuring the safety of my people, occupy another?

Not only has Zionism occupied Palestine, it has occupied Jewish identity.

Shlomo Sand’s latest book, How I Stopped Being a Jew, could be understood as a reaction to both of those occupations.

Sand, an Israeli professor at Tel Aviv University, is a historian and the author of The Invention of the Jewish People. In How I Stopped Being a...

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Family life forbidden for migrant workers in Israel

Legal advocates decry Israeli policies toward migrant workers as inhumane and claim that they violate the laborers’ human right to family.

Maris Delusong, a 36-year-old caregiver from the Philippines, is alone at Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. She stops at a sale rack outside a clothing store. She looks at the baby clothes, pulls a pink onesie off the rack and runs her fingers over the soft fabric. Her face is sad as she puts the outfit back and moves along.

“It’s hard to be alone,” Delusong says. She found herself drawn to the baby clothes, she says, because “I remember my children. She’s four, the youngest. The eldest is 12.”

Delusong is five months into a five year “deployment”—the term Filipino migrants use to describe working overseas. Delusong takes care of an elderly woman in Kfar Saba. In Israel, wages are much higher than they are in the Philippines and, here, Delusong can save for her family’s future.

But while Delusong can work legally in Israel to earn for her husband and four children, Israeli law does not allow her or other migrants to bring their immediate family with them to the country. This puts tremendous stress on workers, their marriages, and their relationships with their children. The damage to the family can last long after a laborer has returned home.

“If I had a chance to bring them [my husband and children to Israel], I would,” Delusong says.

However, there is no a blanket prohibition preventing all foreigners from bringing family members to Israel. Diplomats, embassy workers, “experts” and such—in other words, white collar workers—can carry spouses and children on their Israeli visas.

Rotem Ilan, Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s (ACRI) Israeli Children project explains that migrants’ inability to bring their children with them “stems from the [Israeli government’s] fear that they will ‘put down roots’ in Israel… the state’s goal is to prevent them [non-Jewish migrant workers] from ‘putting down roots’ in Israel.” So, to the state, family life becomes a “threat,” Ilan says.

Not only are laborers prevented from bringing their families to Israel, once foreign workers are in the country, the state puts various restrictions on their ability to have children here. If a migrant gives birth when she is four and a half years or more into the 63-month visa Israel issues to most foreign laborers, she may not remain...

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'Dear Darwish': A poetically and politically brave book

Israeli-American poet Morani Kornberg-Weiss breaks with conventional poetics and mainstream politics. But who, exactly, is Dear Darwish for? 

Dear Darwish, Morani Kornberg-Weiss’s first collection of poetry, opens with a prose poem that that doubles as an indictment of Israeli society. Cleverly disguised as a letter, it is addressed to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Like the poems that follow it, “Dear Mahmoud” does many things at once. It captures the violence inherent in establishing and maintaining the Jewish state. It accurately depicts Israelis’ objectifying and dehumanizing view of Palestinians. It shows how the state’s violence against Palestinians has seeped into Israeli society, permeating all aspects of life.

It’s no short order to do all this without losing the poetry to polemics. But Kornberg-Weiss manages to stay true to the horrible, tragic content of this book—including the nakba, the occupation, torture, death, and dispossession—while rendering a beautiful collection. That doesn’t mean that she dresses things up or distorts reality to make it palatable. Rather, she uses the lyrical to strip things down and offer them up to the reader, who is unable to tear their eyes away from Kornberg-Weiss’s searing, heartbreaking images.

Take for example:

That marks one difference between Israelis and
Palestinians: so many Israelis walk around with blood on their
hands, hands soaked in red, red hands shaking, exchanging
blood, patting a bloody hand on one’s shoulder, leaving a trace of
a hand, a hand running through one’s hair, scratching a nose,
leaving creases of liquid clotted and dried up on the cheekbones,
taking a bath and then running a hand over one’s arms, arm pits,
breasts then thighs, genitals, feet all covered with blood, blood
trying to wash itself but it’s a blood so ordinary you cannot even
see it.
I write this letter.
Red fingerprints smear on the page.

But Dear Darwish isn’t just about confronting the occupation, nor does it fall into the “shooting and crying” genre. As the title of the book and the title of the first poem both suggest, this collection is about creating dialogue. While one reviewer slammed Kornberg-Weiss for writing the collection “to” Darwish, I would argue that Kornberg-Weiss is acknowledging the inescapable power dynamic of the occupier/occupied and the deeply narcissistic nature of Israeli society. In a poem titled “david antin talked about tuning,” she writes:...










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Israel cracks down on dissent

More than 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel were arrested by Israeli police during Operation Protective Edge, according to a lawyer representing a number of the detainees. While some were arrested for protesting the Israeli military incursion into Gaza, dozens were held without charge.

Maisa Arshid, an attorney for dozens of the detainees, says that 20 to 30 Palestinians were picked up by Israeli police every week in the Nazareth area alone. “All of them are accused of participating in illegal demonstrations,” she says. But, she adds, “Part of these demos were permitted by the police themselves.”

In many cases, there is no evidence that the accused has participated in a protest other than a policeman’s word.

Arshid adds that police frequently held people for short periods without registering the detention, likely putting the number of those who were picked up by the police even higher than 1,000.

When the wave of arrests began earlier in July, Palestinian citizens were detained and quickly released. Some were put on house arrest, some were ordered to do community service. But as the month and Israel’s assault on Gaza has worn on, Palestinian citizens were subject to longer and longer detainments. Last week, Arshid visited a group of detainees who had been held without charge for nine days. “Each day the court is delaying their hearing,” she says, adding that hearings initially scheduled for last Sunday were pushed back to Tuesday.

It’s a way of prolonging their detentions and it has a chilling effect on demonstrations against Operation Protective Edge, Arshid argues. “If people in the street know that people have been arrested for nine days, it will prevent protest.” She says that the detentions are a way to “terrorize the population” into silence.

While Jewish Israeli leftists who object to the war are protected by the police when they protest, they are facing increasingly violent attacks from their countrymen. Moriel Rothman-Zecher attended Tel Aviv’s most recent demonstration against Operation Protective Edge, which drew approximately 5,000 protesters. There were only a couple hundred counter-demonstrators, Rothman-Zecher tells Al Jazeera English, “but they were really, really energetic.”

Israeli police stood between the two groups, preventing clashes. But when the protest ended and the leftists began to leave, right wingers confronted them on the street. They shouted at the demonstrators, calling them “smelly traitors.” A rightest who was carrying an Israeli flag began to...

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Is the West Bank ripe for an intifada?

Media and politicians have been quick to claim that Palestinian protests against Operation Protective Edge mark the beginning of a third intifada. But in Beit Sahour, the town that was the heart of the First Intifada, some are skeptical that today’s demonstrations will turn into tomorrow’s revolution. 

Some ten thousand Palestinians marched from Ramallah on Thursday night to Qalandia checkpoint, in protest of Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip and in hopes of reaching Jerusalem. One man was killed and dozens were injured in what was the largest demonstration the West Bank has seen in years.

While protesters and observers alike speculate that this marks the beginning of the Third Intifada, the mood in Beit Sahour – the small, predominately Christian town that was the heart of the First Intifada – is decidedly more pessimistic.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, “Nasser,” a Beit Sahouri and veteran of the First Intifada who was arrested nearly a dozen times for his political activities says that recent protests in West Bank are “emotional.”

The First Intifada was “based on hope,” he explains, which allowed people to slow down, think ahead, and “restrain themselves and strategize.”

People are “moving out of emotions now and that becomes violent,” Nasser says, pointing to the Second Intifada as an example. Many Palestinians feel that the Second Intifada accomplished very little.

Today, he adds, “We lack any political movement that’s capable of moving the masses—neither Hamas, nor Fatah, nor any other group.”

Nasser’s sentiments were echoed at a small demonstration in Beit Sahour on Monday, as the West Bank observed a general strike in protest of Operation Protective Edge and what is being called a massacre in Shajaiyah. A few dozen protesters attempted to march towards an Israeli army base that is perched on a hill outside the village. But they were quickly deterred by tear gas.

“This is all about Gaza right now,” said a woman in her late twenties. She hung back, watching, as the shebab, young men, edged forward. “When there’s a ceasefire, the people [in the West Bank] will go back to sleep.”

For years, Palestinians have pointed out that demonstrations in the West Bank are usually reactionary and don’t reflect clear goals, vision, or a long-term strategy. Protests and strikes against Israel’s last two military operations in Gaza – 2008-2009’s Operation Cast Lead and 2012’s Operation Pillar of...

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Israel's Bedouin: Civilians in death alone

Israel denies Bedouin citizens basic services in life but claims them as civilians when they die.

Over 400 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its current military operation in Gaza. According to the United Nations, approximately three-quarters of Gaza’s dead are civilians; many are children.

In Israel, two civilians have been killed. One was a Bedouin, the 32-year-old Oudi Lafi al-Waj, who lived in an unrecognized village in the Negev (Naqab) desert, near Dimona. Several Bedouin children have also been injured by rocket fire since Israel began “Operation Protective Edge.”

Bedouin villages do not have air raid sirens, nor are they covered by Iron Dome. They also lack bomb shelters.

In the wake of al-Waj’s death, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a non-governmental organization, “submitted an urgent request” this morning to the Israeli High Court for an answer on the petition the organization filed last week requesting that the state provide bomb shelters for the Bedouin.

But in a Sunday hearing at Israel’s High Court, the “state expressed its position that there is no need to provide additional protective facilities to these communities, and advised the Bedouin residents to protect themselves by lying on the ground,” ACRI reports. The organization added that “officials claimed that protecting the Bedouin villages was a low priority.”

               Read +972′s coverage of the latest round of violence

Responding to today’s hearing, ACRI Attorney Auni Banna remarked:

While the High Court declined to take immediate action on the matter, it did request that the respondents–Regional Councils and the Ministry of Justice–respond to concerns raised in the petition about the villages’ infrastructure within 30 days. 

This is not the first time that Israel’s highest court has failed to protect the most basic human rights of the country’s Bedouin citizens. In 2013, the Israeli High Court rejected a petition from the NGO Adalah requesting that the state provide water to the unrecognized Bedouin village Umm al Hiran.

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Residents of Umm al Hiran must travel four kilometers to buy water from a citizen who charges “exorbitantly high prices,” according to Adalah.

The High Court’s 2013 ruling denying Umm al Hiran access to the national water network “contradicts the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in which it held that the right to water...

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Death in Gaza, fireworks in Bethlehem

Though tawjihi, matriculation, celebrations seem light on the surface, they point to a bleak political reality in the West Bank.

I heard the first gunshots at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 minutes before the “humanitarian ceasefire” went into effect.

My elderly landlady stuck her head out the window. “What’s going on?” she shouted to where I sat in the garden. She speculated that it could be clashes in Dheisheh refugee camp, which is within earshot of our house. But when we heard fireworks and horns honking, we figured it was a celebration. “Maybe,” I told her, “it’s because of the Israeli acceptance of the ceasefire. Maybe people see it as a Hamas victory?”

And then a neighbor, another elderly woman, arrived. On my street—and I would venture to say that this is true for much of Palestine—elderly women are consummate collectors of information. My landlady once ferreted out my partner’s cell phone number, knowing only his exceedingly common first name, his not-uncommon last name, and the village his family hails from.

Over the cracks of live fire, which echoed through the valley, our neighbor told my landlady that high school seniors had just gotten their tawjihi scores. Tawjihi are matriculation exams, and their scores determine what college or university one will be able to get into, as well as what departments they will be admitted to.

The noise went on for a couple more hours and resumed in the evening. After iftar, the sky lit up with fireworks. As I headed towards the neighborhood dukkan (bodega), a few men stood in the street, watching the display with awe and disgust.

A friend from Beit Jala put it simply that night, as we sat in the garden. “Shu malhom?” What’s their problem?

***

It might seem belated or curious that I’m writing about this on Saturday. But in the Bethlehem area, tawjihi celebrations are still a topic of discussion.

Last night, I visited some Palestinian friends in Beit Sahour. “Did you hear all that noise on Tuesday?” my host asked, shaking his head. “Unbelievable. There’s a massacre in Gaza and people are shooting off fireworks.”

“Okay, if you want to celebrate, fine,” he continued. “But be respectful of what’s happening. Take your celebrations inside.”

My host added that one of his brothers was so upset by the celebrations—he though they were so disrespectful of what Gaza is going through right...

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What does Israeli 'acceptance' of ceasefire really mean?

The Israeli cabinet voted to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire Tuesday morning. Hamas, who was not consulted, is in direct discussions with Cairo but has criticized the initial proposal. What does all this mean?

1) Israel is willing to return to the status quo, a status quo that serves Israeli interests. Sure there is occasional rocket fire from Gaza but Israel has the Iron Dome and, in the sparsely populated south of the country, the rockets usually fall in open spaces. The occasional rocket from Gaza actually helps Israeli hawks strengthen their case for continuing the “occupation” of the West Bank (an “occupation” that, in the wake of Netanyahu’s recent remarks, should be understood as a de facto annexation). The Israeli right points to the rockets from Gaza and says, “Look, we withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and all we got is rocket fire!”

Returning to the status quo also means that Israel strikes Gaza from time to time and kills Palestinian civilians there and in the West Bank without garnering much scrutiny from the international media and, by extension, the international community. Returning to the status quo would also mean an end to the immediate damage to Israel’s image caused by the horrific photos and footage coming out of Gaza, and global protests against what Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge.”

2) Accepting the ceasefire, as Israeli officials admit, gives Israel the green light to “defend” itself with even more force than it’s using now. Just a few hours ago the Israeli cabinet voted to accept the proposed ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked at a press conference, “If Hamas continues to fire at Israel, Israel will have the international legitimacy to take action.”

But how can Hamas possibly accept a ceasefire it wasn’t consulted on and especially one that would mean a return to the status quo, including the blockade that the United Nations calls “collective punishment“? Hamas’ terms for a ceasefire are reasonable: that Israel lifts the blockade of the Gaza Strip; that Israel ends aggression in the Occupied Territories; and that Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, many of who were released in the Shalit deal and re-arrested in the West Bank during the...

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The abnormal normality of the occupation and its 'escalations'

To pretend as though the events of recent days are extraordinary is to ignore the context that led to this ‘flare-up’ and is disrespectful to the millions of Palestinians who wrestle with the occupation every day, in both the West Bank and in Gaza.

It’s Wednesday. The death toll in Gaza is in the dozens and rising as Layla*, a Christian Palestinian, gets into my car. We live in Bethelehem. She needs a ride to pick up her tasrich (permit) from the Civil Administration’s office in Gush Etzion, where Israel and the Western media claim that the current “flare-up” began.

Layla laughs at our clothes as she opens the passenger door. With her sleeveless top and above-the-knee skirt, she says, she looks like a settler. I’m in long sleeves and jeans, which Layla calls “Abu Dis style,” referring to the conservative Muslim village where I teach. Although we joke about our clothes, I wonder if they reflect the increased tension of recent days; I wonder if they reflect the anxieties neither of us want to admit to.

We leave Bethlehem and merge onto a road that’s shared by army jeeps, Palestinians, and Jewish Israeli civilians and settlers. Layla sighs, “I don’t know who to be afraid of anymore, Mya,” she says. We reason that being together keeps us safe from everyone. No matter who might stop us, we’ll be able to reason with them in their own language. Both our clothes and words will be familiar.

But, as we drive deeper into Gush Etzion, we quickly notice how “normal” things are in the West Bank. “Look at all the settlers,” Layla exclaims, tapping on the window as we pass them. Even though it’s midday, even though it’s blisteringly hot, even though three Israeli boys were murdered not far from here, even though Mohammed Abu Khdeir was brutally murdered by Jews, even though settlements are illegal, even though Israel is pummeling Gaza, there they are. Settlers. Waiting for buses. Hitchhiking.

A lone soldier crosses the road in front of us. “Oh, isn’t he afraid?” Layla asks, sarcastically.

“Look,” Layla says again, pointing at an Israeli woman standing by the side of the road in a skirt, her head wrapped in a scarf. “They’re everywhere.” Layla’s voice is indignant, conflicted. Indignant that the media has made it seem as though Jews aren’t safe; conflicted that they are.

“It seems they are having...

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'My best friend was Jewish': A young East Jerusalemite speaks

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the final installment in the four-part series. 

With the other pieces, I’ve let the student speak first, only adding my comments at the end. But this excerpt points toward a surprising ideological issue that arose between my student and myself, so I feel the need to preface it.

During discussion in class one day, the subject of Israel’s renaming of destroyed Palestinian villages arose. This student felt frustrated with my insistence on using only Arabic place names and she took a position that proved unpopular with her peers: that both the Jews and Palestinians have historical and emotional connections to the land and that, accordingly, both the Hebrew and Arabic names should be used and respected.

Not only was I surprised by her stance, it also challenged me. My student seemed more comfortable and more at peace with Israel than I am. Our in-class discussion, as well as the essay she wrote shortly thereafter, opened many questions, and they’re questions I don’t have answers to.

Has my student, who grew up in East Jerusalem, been brainwashed by attending (Israeli-controlled) public schools? The difficult economic situation and the housing crisis there–both results of the occupation–forced my student and her family to leave East Jerusalem in 2009, two years before Israel took the step of outright censorship of Palestinian textbooks. However, as an employee of the Israeli school system tells me, Palestinian teachers who are openly critical of Israel risk losing their jobs. Hatim Kanaaneh does a nice job of giving a firsthand account of this in his memoir A Doctor in the Galilee. He also describes how those who march in line with Israeli ideology might find themselves rewarded.

So is my student just repeating what she learned in a school system that strips her of her Palestinian identity? Or are her views the result of being a part of the normalizing, “co-existence” program she mentions below? Is she just being pragmatic or is she just navigating the reality she finds on the ground as best she can?

The process of moving from one town to another takes weeks, and they were the toughest weeks in my life…...

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The 'smaller' indignities of occupation

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the third of four short essays. Read parts one and two.

As my siblings and I sat alone in an unfamiliar place waiting for my mother, I tried my best to keep a strong face in front of them. How I felt, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of strong.

It was the middle of July during the summer of 2006, the first time I came to visit Palestine. My mom, my siblings and I, all made the tiring journey across the Atlantic ocean so that we could visit the place we had a connection to. We landed in Tel Aviv Airport at 3 p.m. and I couldn’t have been more excited to see what this “homeland” was all about. But as we made our way to the visa booth, we were escorted into a long hall with empty white rooms. The soldier, who could barely speak English or Arabic, pointed my siblings and I to a single room and took my mom somewhere else.

When I realized what was happening, my panic took over and I rushed to the soldier to tell him to leave us with our mother, but he wasn’t having it. Across the hall was another room with another Arab family, including one older woman. When she saw what was happening she told me to sit down, and not to worry. I couldn’t see how I wasn’t going to worry when I was suddenly in charge of caring for my two-year-old sister, my five-year-old brother and my nine- and 10-year-old sisters. I was only 11 at the time.

We sat there for four hours waiting for my mom, but it felt like a lifetime. No one would tell me where she was, or what we were waiting for.

My siblings, especially the younger ones, wreaked havoc on the area we were waiting in. They screamed, cried, complained about hunger and even decided they needed to use the restroom. At first, I did what I was taught, which was to subdue my siblings into listening to me and behaving, but after an hour of doing that, they just stopped caring. The panic I had been keeping down, finally surfaced and I began...

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'Land isn't enough; the army takes olives, too'

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the second of four short essays. Read part one here.

I went with my family to our olive groves in order to pick  olives. We went there full of happiness. When we arrived each one of us took his pail and stared to pick olives. We raced to see who could pick the most olives as quickly as possible.

When we finished in the afternoon, the Israeli soldiers came and forced us to give them what we picked. When my father objected, they threatened him.

And so my student and her family turned over the pails of olives, the fruit that they’d joyfully picked together.

No, the Nakba wasn’t enough for Israel. It’s not enough that the Palestinians have been dispossessed, that Israel continues to eat away at what little land the Palestinians have left, that many Palestinian farmers can’t even reach their property. It’s not enough that Israel restricts freedom of movement, hijacks water resources, and stunts the Palestinian economy.

No, none of that is enough. When Palestinians do have access to their land and their olive trees, and when a family has a nice day harvesting their hard fought crop, Israel can’t stand that either.

Related:
The war on the Palestinian olive harvest


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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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