+972 Magazine » Mya Guarnieri http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 01 Apr 2015 21:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The long road to Bethlehem http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:38:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104862 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.

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

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, which is off-limits to Jews who hold Israeli IDs, I gave the solider my American passport. She rifled through it looking for my visa. When she didn’t find it, she rolled her eyes at me, sighed, and asked me in Hebrew, “Where is your identity card?”

The photographer and I talked our way out of trouble. But I was rattled by the experience and feared that I’d be arrested the next time I was caught. Still, when my American friend asked me to come out to the West Bank for his birthday, I said yes. I told myself that I didn’t need to think too far ahead—I’d worry about leaving when it was time to leave.

When I got there, I found my friend’s house filthy; his kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. “The water’s out,” he explained. He showed me how we could flush the toilet and brush our teeth using the water he’d saved in plastic bottles ahead of time. I would learn later that other friends keep buckets in their showers to collect the grey water. Because this is what you do in the West Bank, where you’re always waiting for the taps to go dry, where the Jewish settlements you can see from your window or that you pass on the road—the nice, neat, clean settlements that are locked away behind fences and surrounded by security—have green lawns and full swimming pools.

Despite the water shortage, what was supposed to be an overnight trip to Bethlehem turned into three nights of sleeping on my friend’s couch. Every time I thought about leaving, I remembered my confrontation with the female soldier. There are checkpoints on every side of Bethlehem: how could I get out of here without getting caught? And this time I was without a car: wouldn’t it be even more difficult on public transportation? Because I’d be coming out of a Palestinian area, I’d be on a Palestinian bus. And while settlers’ buses just roll through the checkpoints, Palestinian buses are always stopped, passengers IDs are always checked.

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I couldn’t figure it out, and I dreaded the soldiers, so I just stayed. And stayed. I joked with my American friend that it would be easier for me to go to Jordan and take a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv than it would be to just take the bus home.

Finally, on the fourth day, I realized that I couldn’t just wait out the occupation. The checkpoints and soldiers weren’t going to disappear. And I needed to take a shower. I had to get back to Tel Aviv somehow.

When I left my friend’s apartment that day, I had no idea how I’d get home. Nor did I know that Bethlehem would soon be my home; that I’d end up moving here less than three years later, into a house—a house with a well—owned by refugees from Jaffa.


It happened in steps. First I left Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem. Comfortable enough in Hebrew, I started studying Arabic. I began writing less about migrant workers and African refugees—my old south Tel Aviv beat—and more about the occupation. I started teaching at a university in the West Bank.

The commute from my apartment in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel was long, sometimes taking as much as two hours door to door. First I’d walk to the light rail. Then I would take the light rail to Damascus Gate, get down, and walk to the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. The territories aren’t just under occupation, they’re also under separation—separation from each other, separation from the Jews. After waiting for the segregated bus to fill, I would ride it to Abu Dis.

I wept — out of shame for the things I said; because I meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now.

To arrive on time for my 8 a.m. class, I had to wake up at five and leave the house around 5:30. I needed the half-hour cushion for delays, like when the light rail was stopped because somebody reported a suspicious package. It was during Israel’s 2012 pummeling of Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense.” With the light rail at a standstill and time racing ahead, I had no choice but to hail a taxi.

I got in and told the driver that I was going to Damascus Gate.

Shaar Shkhem?” He repeated in Hebrew, sounding surprised.


He glanced at me in the rearview mirror, giving me a weary look, sizing me up. I worried that he might refuse the ride. Once, on my way from Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, a cab driver had threatened to dump me on the side of the highway when, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I wrote for Al Jazeera.

But the driver continued. As we neared the city center, however, he insisted on dropping me off there.

“No,” I pushed back. “I need to get to Damascus Gate.”

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

“But,” he began, “are you Jewish? Because, if you are, it’s not safe for you there. Especially not now.”

What, when we’re pummeling Gaza for no good reason? I thought. Instead, I just said, “It’s fine. I’m safe.”

The driver argued that I was putting myself at risk. He asked why I was getting out at Damascus Gate anyways.

I explained that I worked in the West Bank.

And thus began the political conversation I’d been trying to avoid. Because I knew where the discussion would go. Because it was early in the morning and I’d already read the bad news coming out of Gaza and because I’d dealt with the light rail stopping because of a suspicious package. Because I just wanted to get to work.

Things went exactly where I expected them to, with the cab driver telling me that Operation Pillar of Defense was necessary, that the Palestinians were getting what they deserved, that we needed to obliterate Gaza and re-occupy it.

A face flashed before my mind’s eye: one of my favorite students. Born and raised in a refugee camp near Hebron, she was hardworking, curious, sensitive, gentle, compassionate, and smart. Kind. Open-minded. Non-judgmental. In Arabic, she would be described as having a “white heart.” This student was in my Monday/Wednesday eight a.m. class and on those mornings, she was the reason I got out of bed at five. Knowing she would be there in Abu Dis, waiting for me, was what got me moving.

And the cab driver thought the Palestinians were getting what they deserved. Did my beloved student—did any of my students—deserve this?

I didn’t realize I was speaking until I heard my voice. I was shrieking at the driver, cursing him, ya ben zona, you son of a bitch, wishing death—“No, not just death. Death full of pain”—upon him and all of his family.

“You and all of your family!” I repeated as I hurled the cab fare at him and exploded out of the taxi. I turned my back to the street and faced the Old City so he wouldn’t be able to see my face as he rounded the traffic circle and headed back toward West Jerusalem.

I wept.

Out of shame for the horrible things I’d said to him; because I’d meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now, because I wanted to take them back; because I knew my favorite student would never wish death on anyone, because she would be disappointed in me, because she would no longer look up to me. Because I was disappointed in myself, because I was disappointed in the cab driver, a fellow Jew, because I was disappointed in the Jewish state.

I cried for the driver and the hatred he lugged around, for the life he was trapped in. Because he was brainwashed by the state that kept him poor, by the government that pitted him against Palestinian workers and stoked the flames of racism.

I cried for Gaza.

And then, with my 8 a.m. class drawing ever closer and my student waiting for me there in Abu Dis—her face round and innocent and full of expectations and hope, even in the middle of a war, even though her brother, in a matter of months, would be detained by the same army that had already arrested so many of her uncles and cousins—I pulled myself together and continued on my way.

On my way to the Palestinian bus station, I stopped to buy a tea from a street vendor. He saw my puffy eyes and noticed me wiping my nose with the back of my hand like a child. “What happened?” he asked me in Arabic. I told him that I was upset about what Israel was doing to Gaza.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Hezbollah will join the war soon, inshallah.”

I would have burst into tears again if I’d had any left.


There was another reason I headed out from my apartment in Kiryat Yovel at 5:30 a.m.: I needed the half-hour cushion because the Palestinian buses don’t run according to a schedule; they only leave the station when they are full. Another reminder of Israeli privilege. You can count on Jewish buses, the green Egged buses, which are subsidized by the state. In general, you can plan around the Egged buses, you can arrive on time. These little things end up making an impact on bigger things, like morale and productivity and the economy.

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

But it wasn’t just the five a.m. wake-up and the two hour commute that wore me out. It was also what happened during the trip. Leaving East Jerusalem, the bus would roll through the checkpoint like all the other cars entering the West Bank. Coming back in to the city, however, the Palestinian buses were singled out and pulled over. The Egged buses full of Jewish Israelis headed to and from settlements—which are illegal according to international law—were free to pass.

(Stop and think about this for a second: the settlers, the people whose presence is illegal in the territories, are free to leave the West Bank and enter Jerusalem as they wish while the Palestinians are treated like criminals. Under occupation, everything is hafuch al hafuch al hafuch—the reverse of the inverse of the reverse. Down is up and up is down and down is up. And as you struggle to make sense of it all—as you try to figure out which way is indeed up and which is down and if it even matters anymore—everything starts to seem senseless all over again.)

Coming from Abu Dis, a Palestinian area, meant that I was on a Palestinian bus. As other cars and Egged buses drove through the checkpoint, our bus would ease over to the side and slow to a stop. The driver would open the door. Everyone would get off and file into a walkway lined with chicken wire—what can only be described as a cattle chute. A soldier would stand at the front, between us and the now-empty bus. One by one, we would present him with our IDs so we could get back on the bus and continue to Jerusalem.

Because it was going directly to and from the university, almost all of the passengers on my bus were students, professors, or other administrative staff. Almost all were East Jerusalemites, meaning that they held an Israeli ID card that, from more than a foot away, looked nearly identical to mine. So, most of the time, nothing looked amiss to the soldiers. They see what they want to see—or what they expect to see. And because I’d gotten off a Palestinian bus and was surrounded by Palestinians and because I was holding up a blue ID, just like everyone else, and maybe because I look ambiguously ethnic, they waved me through, assuming that I, too, was Palestinian.

But every once in a while, the difference in my ID would catch a soldier’s eye. The reaction was the same every time. First, a double take. Second, they’d take my ID out of my hand. Next: a long look at the ID, a glance at me, back to the ID.

And then the question, sometimes whispered, sometimes barked. Sometimes asked in awe, sometimes anger.

Mah at osah po? What are you doing here?

I work at the university in Abu Dis, I’d answer in Hebrew.

The awe or anger invariably gave way to disbelief as they asked: Mah at osah sham? What do you do there?

I teach there.

Sometimes that was it and I was free to get back on the bus. Sometimes the soldier would call a second soldier and they’d puzzle over my ID together and ask me more questions, questions designed to ask without asking. Where do you live? Which neighborhood? How long have you lived there? Where did you live before that?

But sometimes they would just ask: are you Jewish?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be in Abu Dis and it’s legal for me to be on this bus. Irritated, I also pointed out the irony that I, a civilian, was explaining the laws to him, the soldier. If anyone should know the laws here, it’s him, not me, right?

Another time, a concerned girl soldier took me aside to ask me if everything was okay, if I was safe, had I been hurt?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be on this bus.

Once, a soldier didn’t believe that I was, indeed, the person in the ID. He thought I was using someone else’s to try to sneak into Jerusalem and he asked me to produce another form of identification with a picture. I had not yet bothered to get an Israeli driver’s license—I didn’t have a car—so I gave him my old Florida driver’s license. He was skeptical about that ID, too: At b’emet mi’Florida? You’re really from Florida? Asked as though I don’t speak Hebrew with a heavy American accent.

I started to panic. A Kafkaesque scenario flashed before my eyes—what if I can never prove to him that I’m me? What if he locks me up and no one believes that I’m me? And I’m arbitrarily detained forever?

I realized, of course, that my fears were absurd. But the occupation is an absurdity. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

As was the soldiers’ inability to wrap their heads around my presence at the checkpoint. Was it that hard for them to believe that a Jew worked at a Palestinian university? That a Jew could ride a Palestinian bus? And that I could do all these things without being harmed?

Every trip through the checkpoint—whether I was waved through or whether I had trouble with the soldiers—was distressing. I was upset, of course, at the checkpoint’s mere presence and all that it implied for Palestinians’ human rights and freedom of movement (or, rather, the lack thereof). The checkpoint was a reminder of segregation, of people’s inability to reach their friends, family, work, schools, and medical care.

And then there was my reaction to the soldiers who manned the checkpoint. I would see a Star of David dangling from a soldier’s neck and remember the chai necklace that my mother made me wear when I was a child. The thought would pop into my head: these are my people.

No. I would push back. These are not my people.

Who are my people?


After a semester of commuting, I was exhausted, so I took a room in Abu Dis. I’d spend the weekdays there and head back to Jerusalem for the weekend. I thought this would simplify my life. I quickly found out that it would just make things more complicated.

I realized this one bright spring morning, after I’d lived in Abu Dis for a few months. I’d just finished teaching my eight a.m. class and was headed to the hummus joint 100 meters or so from the university when a line of Israeli army jeeps came roaring up the street. They looked absurdly out of place: the ugly military green clashed with the stone buildings rendered warm and mellow by the rising sun. Their boxy shape was an affront to the rolling hills and soft edges of the olive trees that shimmered silver in the wind; their uniformity strange before the patchwork of stores and restaurants and houses, before the colorful blankets and rugs that housewives hung from their balconies. Even the jeeps’ sound didn’t fit the place, the engines drowning out the village’s morning murmurings of sabah al-kheir and sabah al-noor and Fairuz’s songs drifting from an open window and the birds’ gossipy chatter.

Entering Abu Dis, which lies beyond the wall, is a provocation in and of itself. It’s a reminder that the occupier is always near. And when he isn’t near, he’s inside: inside your village, raiding your house, demolishing your home, arresting your children, shooting unarmed civilians to death, confiscating your land for settlements, manning the checkpoints that rob you of your time and dignity. But first, before the occupier gets out of the jeep and does any of that, he drives.

The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping ‘them,’ the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep ‘us,’ the Jews, ‘in.’

He drives up the street, the street I walk down every day. The one that leads to the produce shop where I buy my fruit and vegetables and the stand that sells olives from the neighboring village, the market where I buy fresh shrak and labaneh and eggs and meat. The street that takes me to another road that takes me home, to the place where I cook and eat and laugh, where I sleep at night, where I wake in the morning to hear birds chirping outside my window. My friend and her husband and her three kids don’t live off this street but they live in that house over there, that house where in the winter, during the rain, I leave my wet boots by the door and she gives me a pair of nice, clean socks and after lunch I help her with the dishes as though I’m not a guest but part of her family, and I speak broken Arabic with her three children. The house where—when I’ve already been there for four hours and I need to get home—my friend says badri, badri, telling me it’s too early for me to go. Stay, stay. Haliki, haliki, ya Mya.

This is the street where, when I walk alone, colleagues and acquaintances stop to offer me a ride home. They know that I’m Jewish; they know that I have an Israeli ID. One sees a parallel to his own life—he’s really PFLP, he confides in me, but pretends to be Fatah so he can keep his job at the university. This is the street where we keep each other’s secrets. This is the street that keeps me safe.

And with the jeeps headed straight toward us, the street moved as one. The boys around me picked up rocks. I didn’t think, my body mimicked those around me.

I bent over and reached for a stone.

Wait, wait! a voice inside of me said in Hebrew. I saw them in my mind’s eye: the baby-faced boys in the jeeps, child-soldiers who had started learning about the Holocaust in preschool, who believed that Palestinians pose a mortal threat, human beings who had been brainwashed and believed that they were doing something good for am hayehudi, the Jewish people.

My people.

No, no, I argued with myself. These are not my people.

The spell was broken. I was no longer moving with the street. Feeling something heavy in my hand, I looked down and was shocked to see that I was holding a rock. I dropped it just as the boys around me began to pelt the jeeps with stones and the soldiers began to fire tear gas.

The jeeps stopped and the soldiers got out, guns in hand. I heard a pop I recognized from protests—rubber-coated bullets. Caught between rocks and guns, I ducked and looked for a way out of the mess. A store owner who’d come outside to close his steel shutters waved at me. He pointed at a line of parked cars and then himself. I understood. I should get behind the cars, run alongside them and then into the store.

I did and I was safe. But the moment I bent over and picked up a stone was something that I would return to over and over in my head—how I’d lost myself in my surroundings, how confused I’d felt when I thought of the soldiers, how I felt at once connected to them and the village. How mortified I’d felt when I looked down and found a rock in my hand.

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)


Finding it increasingly difficult to relate to Jewish Israelis, even those who weren’t in uniform, I began dating a Palestinian journalist I’d met in Ramallah. He was a West Banker with a green ID. This meant that he wasn’t supposed to visit me in Jerusalem—where I spent most of my weekends—without an Israeli army issued permit.

But he came anyway. There are a number of places where the separation barrier isn’t finished, where there are gaps in the chain-link and barbed wire fence. One is within sight of a checkpoint; my partner arrived to that particular hole in one afternoon, on his way to Jerusalem to see me, only to find soldiers on the other side. They’d closed the fence and were admonishing the crowd of Palestinians that had gathered and were waiting to cross, tut-tutting them, warning that they’d better not even try it.

“Then the soldiers got in their jeep and drove away and one of the men took out some wire cutters,” my partner laughed as he recounted the story, using the air and his fingers to show me how the fellow had cut the fence and held it open.

The hole, my partner explained, leads to the checkpoint.


“The parking lot,” he clarified. “I caught the Jerusalem bus from there. First they take the people who have come through the checkpoint with permits. Then they pick us up.”

“No way. Really?” I asked him, in Hebrew.

He answered in Hebrew in kind, ken, yes, and showed me the pictures he’d taken on his phone. There was the guard tower, just meters away. There was the group that had gathered as soldiers attempted to enforce the new closure in the fence; there was the fellow holding the hole open; there were men helping an elderly woman and a young lady through. The parking lot; the bus. I was struck again by the absurdity of it all. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

That’s not to downplay Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. It’s more to point out that if someone wants to slip into Israel without a permit, they can. In fact, approximately thirty thousand Palestinian workers do it every day. But, in doing so, they risk injury, arrest, and death. In July of 2012, a Palestinian day laborer was killed when soldiers opened fire on a car full of workers that tried to pass a checkpoint without permits.

Despite the danger, we managed to see a lot of each other. But it’s impossible to have a proper relationship—to unite, to become one—when there’s a wall dividing you, making certain that you remain two. Which is, of course, the point. The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping “them,” the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep “us,” the Jews, “in.”

Moving to the West Bank started to make sense. Though I could be arrested if I was caught in the “wrong” area—that is, Area A, the pockets of the West Bank that Oslo largely put under Palestinian rule—the consequences were far less severe for me than they were for my partner. We thought it very unlikely that a Palestinian would hurt me; conversely, inside of Israel, Palestinians have been attacked in public places on numerous occasions.

The center of my life had—slowly, unintentionally—shifted to the area beyond the wall, to a place I called “outside.” It was natural that my body would follow.


In May of 2013, I made a trial move to Bethlehem, staying in a friend’s apartment while she was in Gaza researching a book. Still without a car, I left the city only once that month. Bethlehem is hemmed in by checkpoints—every road out leads, eventually, to a checkpoint, two of which are off-limits to me as a Jewish citizen of Israel.

There’s the one known as “300”—the massive complex of cement and spikes and barbed-wire and turnstiles and booths and bullet-proof glass and guns and bullet-proof vests and the child-soldiers who wear them—that stands between Bethlehem and its big sister, Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem and entering Bethlehem via 300 isn’t difficult for people like me: Jewish citizens of Israel who hold a second passport. If you’re driving through, you flash a smile and the outside of your foreign passport to the guard in the booth, who presses the button that lifts the arm ahead. And that’s it, despite the two signs outside of the checkpoint warning that it is illegal for Israelis to enter Area A and that doing so puts their lives in danger.

On foot, the soldiers don’t even look at you as you enter Bethlehem via 300—yet another reminder that the army isn’t there to protect the occupied, as it is obligated to do according to international law.

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

But turn around and try to enter Jerusalem—which the state considers “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”—and you’ll fast remember why the Israeli military is there. Those who are driving in have to pop the trunk of their car so that the soldiers can inspect whatever is inside. Those who pass on foot are subject to metal detectors and humiliating searches. A friend once saw soldiers ask an elderly woman to remove her shirt.

And, coming in to Jerusalem via 300, every ID is scrutinized.

I can’t chance it. I’m too likely to be arrested. So, via public transportation, there is only one other way to get in to Jerusalem: the Beit Jala bus. As the name suggests, the bus exits the Bethlehem area via Beit Jala, a Bethlehem suburb where, technically, Israelis are allowed to be. It then passes through Area C, using the same road that leads to the Har Homa settlement. When the bus arrives to the checkpoint outside of the tunnels that lead to Jerusalem, it’s pulled to the side. Meanwhile, the settlers roll on through.

And then it’s the same routine I knew from my Jerusalem-Abu Dis commute: everyone gets off, stands in line, presents their ID to a soldier, and then gets back on the bus that continues to Jerusalem.

While, technically, I was allowed to be at that checkpoint, being on the Beit Jala bus could arouse some suspicion because the line begins in Area A. But because Palestinian buses will stop to pick up people on the side of the road—a bit like taxis—I could have, in theory, boarded in Areas C or B. I’d memorized the names of restaurants and businesses that were on the strip of the road that was in Area C so, if need be, I could say I’d been somewhere legit. But I hate lying. And I’m such a terrible liar that I was once detained at the Qalandia checkpoint for answering the question “where are you coming from?” honestly: Ramallah.

The easiest way out of Bethlehem, for a Jewish citizen of Israel, was via a yellow-plate (Israeli) car. But because I was carless in May of 2013, I only left Bethlehem once. I didn’t move for the rest of the month. And it was fine. So fine that I ended up subleasing another apartment in Bethlehem in August. And that was fine, too. So I looked for something a little more permanent—a search that would lead me to the house with the well.

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Does Israel have a place in Jewish identity? http://972mag.com/does-israel-have-a-place-in-jewish-identity/99450/ http://972mag.com/does-israel-have-a-place-in-jewish-identity/99450/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 17:53:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99450 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.

Illustrative photo of a man wearing an Israeli flag at the Western Wall. (By Shutterstock.com / Robert Hoetink)

Illustrative photo of a man wearing an Israeli flag at the Western Wall. (By Shutterstock.com / Robert Hoetink)

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 Jew, which is not nearly as narrative or personal as the title suggests, Sand notes a number of moments that made him question his secular Jewish identity as well as the privilege that comes with that identity. Two particular experiences stand out.

The first: his daughter’s thoughtful and difficult questions about a Jewish holiday that celebrates, among other things, the death of non-Jews and Sand’s struggle to answer her.

The second: witnessing discrimination at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. As Sand breezes through security, he sees a Palestinian citizen of Israel sidelined; as a non-Jew, she is automatically suspect.

In the pages that follow this recollection, Sand writes: “What is the meaning, then, of being ‘Jewish’ in the State of Israel? There is no doubt about it: being Jewish in Israel means, first and foremost, being a privileged citizen who enjoys prerogatives refused to those who are not Jews, and particularly those who are Arabs.”

This seems to be the heart of the book; it’s also an apt description of the conflict. But it doesn’t come until Chapter 10. Rather than using his personal experiences to tease out the inherent contradiction of the “Jewish and democratic” state — which seems the most powerful way to question the status quo — he spends most of the book engaged in an odd and counter-productive attempt to prove that there is no such thing as a secular Jewish identity.

I get his reasoning. Sand is hitting at the very foundation of the Zionist project. The early Zionists — who had arguably internalized anti-Semitic stereotypes prevalent in Europe at the time — wanted to shake off the yoke of the diaspora Jew. The diaspora Jew, or the image of him, was that of a frail figure, pale and weak, hunched over his books, flinching when intimidated; in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, the new Jew would stand strong. He would be tanned, muscular and connected not to his religious books but, rather, the earth. And he would be secular.

The logic underpinning Sand’s argument is thus: Zionism and its secular Judaism gave rise to Israel; Israel gives Jews rights that it does not give to the native population, the Palestinians; secular Judaism itself must be interrogated.

I should be an easy sell for Sand’s argument. The easiest sell. I’m an anti-Zionist (or non-Zionist, whichever you prefer) who taught at a Palestinian university, left Israel to live in Bethlehem, and who has a Palestinian partner. And should we be blessed someday with children, we will do our best to raise them to be proud Palestinians.

Sand, however, doesn’t manage to convince even me that there is no such thing as secular Judaism. In part because, as he acknowledges, secular Jewish identity is amorphous and hard to define, thus making it equally hard to disprove. He runs through a list of things that might be considered secular Judaism, shooting them all down, one by one. However, the list is by no means exhaustive and, because identity today is often self-defined and intensely personal, Sand can’t possibly anticipate the many ways individuals construct their secular Jewish selves.

In some places, rather than making a solid argument, Sand resorts to assertions that go something like: you might think that lighting a few Hanukah candles makes you Jewish but it doesn’t count. Those who self-define as secular Jews won’t simply say, “Oh, okay, thanks for clearing that up for me, Shlomo. I hereby renounce my identity.” They’re more likely to say something like, “What gives you the right?” They will most likely react to Sand just as I react to the Israeli flag.

Unintentionally, Sand is playing into Zionism’s hands. Although he takes care to say that he is not conflating Judaism with Zionism, because his rejection of secular Judaism stems, in part, from his reaction to Zionism, he’s acknowledging and tacitly agreeing to Zionism’s claim on Jewish identity. Wouldn’t it be so much more powerful to stand as a Jew and reject Israel’s policies simply because they’re inhumane? Because they’re discriminatory? Because they’re undemocratic? Because they have no place in this day and age?

Sand’s reaction is, in a word, reactionary.

The book is at its most confusing — and most honest and most personal and most powerful — in the final two pages when Sand describes his attachment to Tel Aviv and the Hebrew language. “I inhabit a deep contradiction,” Sand admits. “My deep attachment to the place serves only to fuel the pessimism I feel towards it. And so I often plunge into a melancholy that is despondent about the present and fearful for the future.”

But I’d venture to say that many readers won’t make it to the end of his book because he spends the first 11 chapters alienating exactly the people who most need to be a part of this conversation: the self-defined secular Jews.

Some secular Jews, because they see Judaism as enlightened and humanistic, are increasingly concerned about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Of course, Sand has already taken them to task, accurately pointing out that the Judaism itself is not actually enlightened and humanistic. But most Jews — secular or otherwise — don’t follow the religion to the letter anyways. This is the case with most practitioners of any tradition. How many Muslims follow the Quran to the letter? How many Christians live their lives according to a literal interpretation of the bible? Telling Jews that Judaism is not what they think it is and that, to take it a step further, they are not really Jews is unlikely to create the groundswell that will bring about meaningful change in Israel/Palestine. Rather, it’s more likely to persuade people to cling more tightly to their identities.

What needs to be interrogated is Israel’s claim on our identity and the ongoing attempts to conflate our identity with a piece of land that doesn’t actually belong to us. We, the Jews, had a wide range of identities long before the State of Israel existed. We did not need land to shore up our sense of selves.

But if we confuse our sense of selves with a piece of land — which is currently administered by a dangerous, racist regime — we risk losing our identities. Because we will, eventually, lose that land just as the Crusaders, Ottomans, and British did. Rather than rejecting secular Judaism and engaging in the counterproductive business of attempting to delegitimize others’ identity, secular Jewish identity should be detached from Israel, revitalized, and understood as something that has and can transcend time and place.

An alternate version of this article appeared in The National.

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Family life forbidden for migrant workers in Israel http://972mag.com/family-life-forbidden-for-migrant-workers-in-israel/97483/ http://972mag.com/family-life-forbidden-for-migrant-workers-in-israel/97483/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 08:15:52 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97483 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 in the country with her child. This means that she must choose between keeping her baby with her in Israel or keeping her legal status and job.

If a woman whose husband is also working in the country gets pregnant before the four-and-a-half-year mark she must “choose between her husband and her baby,” Ilan says. “One of them has to go.”

Israeli authorities arrest a migrant worker and her small child [file]. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli authorities arrest a migrant worker and her small child [file]. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Ilan and other critics of Israeli policy towards migrants say that the state’s treatment of foreign workers and their families is inhumane and violates the workers’ human rights, including the right to family. And while recent years have seen small victories for workers and their children, including the naturalization of hundreds of youth who were facing deportation, the state has essentially reversed those gains by coming up with even stiffer regulations.

In 2006, the Israeli High Court struck down a policy known as the “binding arrangement,” which tied caregivers to their Israeli employers, who had the power their legal status. In their ruling against the binding arrangement, the Supreme Court justices likened it to “modern day slavery.”

But in 2011 the Knesset passed a new piece of legislation that human rights organizations refer to as the “Slavery Law.” It limits caregivers’ ability to leave employers by restricting them to three job changes before they lose their visa. It also confines caregivers to pre-determined areas of the country, impinging on their freedom of movement.

Ilan points out that, like the binding arrangement, the “Slavery Law” sometimes prevents workers from leaving abusive employers. “Binding a worker to an employer does not respect [the worker’s] human rights,” Ilan says. Regarding the geographic restrictions placed on workers, she adds, “If we wanted more Israeli teachers in the south of Israel, we wouldn’t say if you don’t teach there, we’ll put you in jail.”

Migrant workers’ children also face imprisonment and deportation. Even though they’re born and raised in Israel, they are denied legal status. “There’s no way to get citizenship or residency if you’re not Jewish,” Ilan remarks.

Although Israel has twice opened “one-time windows” to naturalize “illegal” children, the state lacks a cohesive policy about how to deal with these non-Jews, many of whom speak Hebrew and have never visited their parents’ home countries. At the same time, Israel continues to bring migrants to the country and those workers continue to have babies that the state refuses to recognize. In 2013 alone, some 200 children were arrested and imprisoned before being deported along with their mothers.

Michelle Trinanis, 18, was one of 1,200 children threatened with expulsion in 2009 when Israel announced its intention to deport migrant families. Although the state opened a “one-time window” in 2010 that will lead to the naturalization of 700 of those children — 600 have already received status and, according to Ilan another 100 will receive their IDs — Trinanis was one of the many whose applications were initially denied despite meeting all of the criteria.

After a protracted legal battle, which went all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, Trinanis finally has an Israeli identity card. In December, she will begin mandatory service in the army — the road to acceptance in mainstream Israeli society.

Although she doesn’t know yet what she will be requested to do in the military, Trinanis is happy and excited to join. “I already fought to stay in the country, so I will fight for the country,” she says.

But she admits that it’s “unfair” that other migrants’ children are not getting legal status. And Trinanis says that she remains conflicted about the issue. She has friends who were not naturalized; she tries to give them the same support and encouragement that others gave her when she was struggling with the threat of deportation.

On the other hand, Trinanis says she understands the state’s reasoning.  “When I was young, I thought ‘why can’t they give anyone a teudat zehut (Israeli ID)?’ I understand now that it’s a big problem [because of] the laws.”

“Israelis,” she explains, “are loyal to themselves.”

Trinanis’s words reflect the government line: for years, Israeli officials have claimed that its policies towards migrants and their families stem from concern about maintaining the country’s demographics and preserving a Jewish state.

Responding to officials’ claims that foreign workers and their children pose a “demographic threat,” Ilan says, “Then the country can’t bring new people. [Israel] can’t have it both ways—the state can’t bring people that are good enough to work for us but not good enough to be a part of us. If you bring human beings to the country, you have to give them human rights.”

When it comes to migrant workers, Israel’s High Court is all High-Level Babble
Forgotten deportees: Israeli-born children of migrant workers

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‘Dear Darwish’: A poetically and politically brave book http://972mag.com/dear-darwish-a-poetically-and-politically-brave-book/96270/ http://972mag.com/dear-darwish-a-poetically-and-politically-brave-book/96270/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 10:18:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96270 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: “…i break away/from the ‘fantasy of understanding’/i barely/recognize myself in you mahmoud i/recount various experiences of misappropriation i/imagine no common knowing but my arrogant/fantasy of moving so close in you mahmoud”

'Dear Darwish' by Morani Kornberg-Weiss

‘Dear Darwish’ by Morani Kornberg-Weiss

So the question remains: who are these poems actually addressed to?

I struggled with this from the second page where Kornberg-Weiss asks Darwish in Hebrew, Arabic, and English what their common language should be. I was living in Bethlehem the first time I read the collection. When I ran into these sentences, I read the three questions aloud to my partner.

While he can read the Hebrew alphabet and speaks a bit, he didn’t have enough to get the question, which I translated for him. And he helped me, in turn, as I clumsily read the Arabic.

“Who’s her audience?” we both wondered aloud, in English. Forty-eighters who speak English? English-speakers who read Hebrew and Arabic? Hebrew-speakers who also speak English and Arabic? Arabic-speakers who speak English and Hebrew?

It might seem like I’m beating the language issue to death but poetry is all about language and, indeed, language is an issue that arises throughout collection. Language plays a central role in the conflict, as well. What sort of words one uses to discuss “the situation”—as well as one’s silences, what goes unsaid—reveals much about one’s feelings on the place and its politics. And the fight for public opinion is a war of words.

So, of course, it’s significant that the collection is written in English. Equally significant is the fact that Dear Darwish was written (and published) in the diaspora. In fact, the poems seem to me to be a collection that could only be written outside of Israel. I asked Kornberg-Weiss about this and she agreed, explaining to +972:

…my political journey began in Israel during Operation Cast Lead in late 2008. I remember seeing protestors who supported the operation and “Israel’s right to defend itself.” That slogan didn’t sound right at the time, although initially I couldn’t articulate why.

The collection itself was conceptualized and written in the U.S. after the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. I tried to make sense of how one Israeli solider could be released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian lives. The project could only be written outside of Israel. I feel as though I wore blindfolds while living in Israel. I was not exposed to “the other side.” Both the Israeli education system and the media censor Palestinian history and even current events. Even now in “Operation Protective Edge” the media failed to expose the atrocities in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli attacks. The photographs in the Israeli newspapers focused primarily on the Israeli side, while sanitizing and censoring the destruction in the Gaza Strip.

Dear Darwish could be read as a series of letters to the Jewish diaspora, or as a sort of self-interrogation that the Jewish community is meant to overhear (and undertake). The collection seems intent on pushing the increasingly divisive conversation about Israel into more radical (dare I say anti-Zionist?) territory. And that Kornberg-Weiss quotes a line from a poem by the Canadian-Jewish Rachel Zolf on the very first page is also telling. Zolf is a poet who has been publicly critical of the occupation and the author of Neighbour Procedure, a collection of poems revolving around the occupation; Kornberg-Weiss is grounding her book in that conversation.

Both the content and the immediate alignment with Zolf make Dear Darwish brave writing that, as we have seen with the Salaita affair, could have an impact on Kornberg-Weiss’s career. Her exploration of form is equally bold and makes the collection worth reading regardless of one’s politics.

That Kornberg-Weiss, who tells me that she grew up in a “center-right” family, wrote Dear Darwish and that Blaze VOX had the courage and integrity to publish it are both encouraging signs that the conversation about Israel-Palestine is changing—at least in the diaspora.

Book Review: Outrunning occupation in Palestine’s ‘capital’
Traces of the Nakba: Book review of ‘Stone, Paper’

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Israel cracks down on dissent http://972mag.com/israel-cracks-down-on-dissent/95139/ http://972mag.com/israel-cracks-down-on-dissent/95139/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:28:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=95139 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.

Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestinians living in Israel and left wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in down town Haifa, July 18, 2014. Israeli police arrested 28 activists, as protesters took the streets and blocked roads calling to put an end to the attack. (Fiaz abu-Ramele/Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestinians living in Israel and left-wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in downtown Haifa, July 18, 2014. Israeli police arrested 28 activists, as protesters took to the streets and blocked roads calling for an end to the attack. (Fiaz abu-Ramele/Activestills.org)

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 beat a leftist with the flag-stick; another starting hitting a leftist’s head with a crutch.

Police stand between the anti-war demonstration and rightist counter-protesters, Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

Police stand between the anti-war demonstration and rightist counter-protesters, Tel Aviv, July 26, 2014. (photo: Activestills.org)

Rothman-Zecher feels that the rightists’ “desire for violence” isn’t new. “But there’s a new level of acceptability,” he says.

He offers Jerusalem Day protests, when right wingers march to mark “reunification” of the city, as an example. In the past, it “was nationalistic and aggressive” but leftists would be shocked to hear right wingers openly chant “Death to the Arabs,” Rothman-Zecher reflects. “It was under the surface but it was still surprising. Now it’s become the baseline.”

Although no one is organizing the counter-demonstrators – and Rothman-Zecher correctly points out that they tend to come from poor, marginalized communities –Rothman-Zecher argues that Israel’s leaders are responsible for the right wingers’ violence.

“When the leaders of the country call openly for revenge and violence, of course it becomes kosher,” he says, adding. “You have members of Knesset calling for population transfer, [a former] member of Knesset [boasting] that [he] killed Arabs…I believe very strongly that discourse shapes reality.”


Palestinian citizens have also been arrested for “incitement” for calling for demonstrations against Operation Protective Edge. Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel points out that these citizens “were arrested even before any demonstrations began.”

Among them is Rafaat Awaishi who Israeli police put on house arrest, without a hearing, after he posted a call on Facebook for people to join protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Noting that Awaishi’s hearing was scheduled for July 13, “the same day that the police-imposed house arrest is to end,” Adalah called the police-imposed detention a “denial of due process.”

Palestnians living in Israel take part in a protest against the attack on Gaza in the city of Lod, Israel, August 3, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Palestnians living in Israel take part in a protest against the attack on Gaza in the city of Lod, Israel, August 3, 2014 (Activestills)

The conditions detainees face also seem intended to deter protests. Several of Arshid’s clients have been beaten while in custody, she says, and have needed medical treatment for their injuries. During an interrogation, police allegedly removed a detainee’s kuffiyeh, urinated on it, and then put it back on the man’s neck.

Police attempts to intimidate the country’s Palestinian population are not limited to detentions. Last week, Arshid saw police harass a Palestinian teenager in Nazareth. The boy was walking down the street when an unmarked car stopped and three heavily armed men, one wearing a kippah, got out. The men, who turned out to be plainclothes policemen, “terrified the boy,” Arshid reports, adding that he was a minor. “They took pictures of him and screamed at him.”

“I thought it was another Shuafat,” Arshid says, referring to the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

When she attempted to intervene, the policemen showed Arshid their identification. She informed them that their actions were illegal, explaining that according to Israeli law, police can only stop someone if they “have the suspicion that something criminal is going on. In this case, it was [a boy] walking with a kuffiyeh.”

The police then detained Arshid for several hours before releasing her.

The arrests and detentions seem to be part of a broader crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression. Last Wednesday, the Israeli Knesset heard a bill that proposes to outlaw “discrimination against soldiers in uniform” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Pnina Tamnu-Shata, the Knesset Member who presented the bill, pointed to protests against Operation Protective Edge as proof that “We must set limits for words of incitement against soldiers. Not everything is allowed in the name of democracy.”

Police arrest a Palestinian-Israeli protester during a demonstration against Operation Protective Edge in Haifa.

Police arrest a Palestinian-Israeli protester during a demonstration against Operation Protective Edge in Haifa (photo: ActiveStills)

Palestinian citizens who attend Israeli universities have already been subject to disciplinary hearings and expulsion due to remarks made on Facebook against Israeli soldiers. In a letter to the Council of Higher Education in Israel, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) likened the universities’ monitoring of Palestinian students’ social media accounts to a “witch hunt.”

In a press release, ACRI stated that:

…only Arab students have been punished, even though the social forums are simmering with racist comments by Jewish students, which raises a concern that the heads of the institutions are acting according to patriotic and emotional motives that do not align with their professional obligations.

Arshid levels similar criticism at the Israeli police and the state: “They misunderstand their job – their first job is to protect their civilians and their freedom of speech.”

However, according to Arshid, “The state’s first claim is that the political situation is more important than the freedom of speech.”

Saher Jeries is a 22-year-old marketing and advertising student who lives in Haifa. He says he was at a protest there, standing towards the back, when police officers began to beat him. He and other protesters were taken to a bus where they were held for six hours before they were driven to the police station for interrogation.

During questioning, Jeries found that the Israeli police are not only trying to control the discourse about Gaza, but they also seemed intent on reshaping his identity.

“They said to me, ‘You’re Christian, why are you doing things like this?’ As though I’m not part of the [Palestinian] people.”

A shorter version of this article was first published on Al Jazeera English

Following wave of protests, Israel arrests scores of Arab activists, minors
Unprecedented violence stalks anti-war demos across Israel
The night it became dangerous to demonstrate in Tel Aviv

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Is the West Bank ripe for an intifada? http://972mag.com/is-the-west-bank-ripe-for-revolution/94356/ http://972mag.com/is-the-west-bank-ripe-for-revolution/94356/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 10:40:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=94356 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.”

Palestinian youth burn an Israeli flag during clashes following a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in the Qalandyia checkpoint near Ramallah,  July 24, 2014. Palestnians marched from Al Amar refugee camp to Qalandyia checkpoint to protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth burn an Israeli flag during clashes following a protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in the Qalandyia checkpoint near Ramallah, July 24, 2014.
Palestnians marched from Al Amar refugee camp to Qalandyia checkpoint to protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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 Defense – did not snowball into Intifadas.

“We have no leadership,” is another oft-repeated explanation as to why there is no sustained revolt against the Israeli occupation. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is widely viewed as a puppet who is more concerned with placating the Israelis than taking care of his people. And West Bank protests are often put down by Palestinian Authority security forces.

           Click here for +972′s full coverage of the war in Gaza

A professional in his mid-30s, who was born and raised in Beit Sahour and whose father was arrested three times during the First Intifada, attended Monday night’s march. The man, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, felt discouraged by the small demonstration. “There’s no one supporting the protesters,” George said, calling the PA the “Palestinian Zionist Authority.”

“When you have an authority that supposedly works for your benefit and you see the [Palestinian] security personnel…acting just like Israeli soldiers,” George continued. “There will be no motivation to do anything.”

Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine, a professor at Bethlehem University, and an activist. He responds to concerns regarding leadership and organization.

Such questions, Dr. Qumsiyeh says, “assume that colonized, occupied people sit down together to come up with a strategy. If you’re looking for organization, it doesn’t happen this way. Sometimes at the peak of a revolution, leaders emerge—revolution makes leaders, leaders don’t make revolutions.”

Clashes erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli army during a demonstration in Solidarity with the Gaza Strip, at Huwwara military checkpoint, Nablus, West Bank, July 24, 2014. 3 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Clashes erupted between Palestinians and the Israeli army during a demonstration in Solidarity with the Gaza Strip, at Huwwara military checkpoint, Nablus, West Bank, July 24, 2014. 3 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

He adds that claims that leaders or political parties are necessary for an intifada suggest that Palestinians are “still thinking paternalistically, that a father figure has to tell them what to do.”

Dr. Qumsiyeh points to the spontaneous nightly protests in Bethlehem as proof positive that the youth can get an intifada moving on their own. “Uprisings happen when there is no leadership. That’s happening in Bethlehem now. Who told these kids to go out every night?”

Hundreds of protesters have attend the nightly demonstrations in Bethlehem, which neighbors Beit Sahour. But these demonstrations are dominated by shebab – young Palestinian men. And some young Palestinian women say they’re uncomfortable joining.

“We are a patriarchal society,” Dr. Qumsiyeh reflects. “I hate that personally. The old men in the PLO—I’d love to see them all gone and see women and young people in charge.”

While the media’s eyes are trained on the male-dominated, urban protests that erupted in response to Operation Protective Edge, demonstrations are more sustained and egalitarian in the Palestinian villages. The weekly protest in Nabi Saleh comes to mind. Since 2009, men, women, and children have been marching to reach the village’s spring that was expropriated by Israel. Nariman Tamimi, the wife of organizer Bassem Tamimi, is a leader in the demonstrations. And Nabi Saleh has seen a number of women’s marches, as well.

Indeed, many argue that the strength of the First Intifada is that it engaged men, women, children, and families of all economic classes. That the middle class Beit Sahouris interviewed for this article all asked to remain anonymous suggests that, today, they feel like they have too much to lose.

Many here say that neoliberal policies has had a sedating effect on the West Bank. Some blame former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his focus on economic development; they blame banks that give loans to Palestinians, encouraging them to live beyond their means and chaining them to debt. Others point to a society that is increasingly driven by consumerism.

Family members and friends mourn next to the body of killed Palestinian Mohammed al-Araj during his funeral at the Qalandiya refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 25, 2014. Al-Araj was shot with live ammunition in his head during a demonstration the night before in Qalandiya. At least other 500 Palestinians were injured from live ammunition, some of them are still under critical condition. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Family members and friends mourn next to the body of killed Palestinian Mohammed al-Araj during his funeral at the Qalandiya refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 25, 2014. Al-Araj was shot with live ammunition in his head during a demonstration the night before in Qalandiya. At least other 500 Palestinians were injured from live ammunition, some of them are still under critical condition. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

All people think about today, George argues, “is paying off their debt. There’s no time to think of the occupation.” He adds that in 1987, when the First Intifada began, the financial system was different. Loans and consumerism “didn’t exist” then.

Nasser agrees that Palestinian society is more consumerist and individualistic than it was in the past and that this is an obstacle to getting a revolution off the ground. But he’s quick to add that “the generation that grew up under the PA and Israel cannot help but be individualistic, to find a way to benefit from the situation.”

Also problematic, Nasser says, is that Palestinians have “adapted” to the occupation. “We got used to not going to Jerusalem, we got used to checkpoints. We’ve lost a major part of our self-respect. We cannot have a massive intifada without a mental shift.”

While Dr. Qumsiyeh agrees, remarking, “Our first liberation has to be of our own minds,” he insists that the circumstances are ripe for a revolution. He ticks the list off on his hand, taking the opportunity to again point out that previous intifadas didn’t begin with leaders but, rather, with the people.

“They started because of pent-up frustration,” he says. The other conditions? “One: paralysis of the peace process; two: lack of trust in the Palestinian leadership.” The third, according to Dr. Qumsiyeh, is that “the occupier becomes even more arrogant. They assume they can get away with anything.”

Like killing civilians in Gaza.

Nasser maintains that the Third Intifada has yet to begin. But he calls it “inevitable.”

“There’s one thing I’m sure of,” he says. “Palestinians are not going to raise a white flag.”

As for the young woman who, on Monday, was sure that the West Bank will go back to sleep – on Friday morning, she woke up to the news of the 10,000 strong march on Qalandiya. And she said, “[No one] can predict anything anymore.”

A shorter version of this article was first published on Al Jazeera English

‘The largest West Bank protest in decades’  
PHOTOS: Ten killed across West Bank in Gaza solidarity protests
Israel has alternatives to this war

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Israel’s Bedouin: Civilians in death alone http://972mag.com/israels-bedouin-civilians-in-death-alone/93965/ http://972mag.com/israels-bedouin-civilians-in-death-alone/93965/#comments Sun, 20 Jul 2014 13:32:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93965 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.

Israeli policemen stand by as a bulldozer demolishes the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib for the 64th time (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen stand by as a bulldozer demolishes the Bedouin village of Al-Arakib for the 64th time (photo: Activestills.org)

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:

State officials completely disregarded the fact that in villages where there are no shelters, no sirens, and where the houses are built mostly of aluminum – a falling rocket is exponentially more dangerous. The state’s conduct conveys a sense of how they distinguish one type of blood from another, and the abandonment of the Bedouin in the unrecognized villages.

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 is a constitutional right and that the Arab Bedouin living in the Naqab… have the right to “minimal access to water,” Adalah pointed out.

Now, Israel wants to include a Bedouin man in its civilian casualty toll.

But Israel claims al-Waj in death only. And the state will surely exploit his death to justify its military operation in Gaza. But in life, in Israel, al-Waj was less than a civilian. He was just a Bedouin—not worthy of basic services or even shelter against rockets.

Israel, state of all its victims
PHOTOS: A life of discrimination for Negev Bedouin
How can you possibly oppose this war?

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Death in Gaza, fireworks in Bethlehem http://972mag.com/death-in-gaza-fireworks-in-bethlehem/93937/ http://972mag.com/death-in-gaza-fireworks-in-bethlehem/93937/#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 16:26:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93937 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?”

Majeed Al-Zeem, 52 year old, stands next to an hole caused by a missile launched by a drone which caused his injury, Gaza city, July 14, 2014. The missile was launched by the Israeli army to warn the family that they are going to conduct an airstrike on the house next door, a policy known to be termed "knock on the roof". Israeli attacks have so far killed more than 180 Palestinians.

Majeed Al-Zeem, 52 year old, stands next to an hole caused by a missile launched by a drone which caused his injury, Gaza city, July 14, 2014. The missile was launched by the Israeli army to warn the family that they are going to conduct an airstrike on the house next door, a policy known to be termed “knock on the roof”. Israeli attacks have so far killed more than 180 Palestinians.

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 now—that he threw eggs at honking cars.

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While my host said that the young people’s parents should not have let them celebrate in the streets, he said that it pointed to a much larger problem.

“We have no leadership,” he said. He explained that a good political system—one that works for the Palestinian people and their freedom, one that cares about Gaza and sees no division between the territories—would have held the scores until this military escalation is over. Or they would have issued some sort of an announcement requesting that people keep the situation in Gaza in mind as they celebrate.

And that’s what this is really about. Leadership. That’s what I hear over and over and over again in the West Bank: we want to protest, we want to do something, anything, but we have no leaders.


This came up again in another troubling conversation, the day after Israel began its ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

“What’s happening in Gaza makes me sick,” my friend Layla said. Layla used to be an activist. Now, she’s just trying to keep her head above water.

Layla is angry and sad, but she also feels powerless. We talked about how protesting seems increasingly futile in the West Bank. How the Palestinian Authority does Israel’s bidding by putting down demonstrations. And that, at this point, getting arrested at a protest would not be a provocative act of civil disobedience. It would just seem useless.

So rather than rallying for Gaza, the youth celebrate tawjihi.

“There are Dayton forces all over,” Layla said, referring to the American general who was in charge of training the Palestinian security forces—security forces that don’t make the people feel safe but, rather, oppressed and silenced. “Maybe we could do more if we were abroad.”

On dual standards and the hypocrisy of peace
The abnormal reality of the occupation and its ‘escalations’
Gaza diary: ‘A second of silence, then the bombs go off’

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What does Israeli ‘acceptance’ of ceasefire really mean? http://972mag.com/what-does-israeli-acceptance-of-ceasefire-really-mean/93642/ http://972mag.com/what-does-israeli-acceptance-of-ceasefire-really-mean/93642/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:35:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93642 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.”

Hussam Shamdi sits on an missile which did not explode from the air strike which destroyed his home the day before, in Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood of Gaza City, July 14, 2014. (photo: ActiveStills)

Hussam Shamdi sits on an unexploded missile from an Israeli air strike, which destroyed his home the day before, in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, July 14, 2014. (photo: ActiveStills)

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 so-called “Operation Brothers’ Keeper.”

Instead, the ceasefire proposes to hold indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian parties to arrive at a “final truce,” as the WSJ puts it.

But as Khaled al-Batch, an Islamic Jihad leader, was quoted in Al Jazeera:

It is not acceptable to start observing a ceasefire for short term then negotiate the terms. We have experienced this in the past and it has failed.

What is needed now is to agree on the demands of the Palestinian people, chiefly ending the siege and opening the border corsing [sic], then a zero hour can be agreed upon. Otherwise, history will repeat itself, period.

Or as the armed wing of Hamas, Al Qassam Brigades, remarked about the proposed ceasefire: “For us, it is not worth the ink that wrote it.”

Israel’s “acceptance” of the ceasefire – a ceasefire that Hamas wasn’t consulted on and, accordingly, does not meet Hamas’ terms – really isn’t an acceptance at all. As many observers were quick to say, it’s a public relations move. It could also be understood as an attempt to  pave the way for a ground invasion.

The occupation will last forever, Netanyahu clarifies
The unfolding lie of Operation Protective Edge
The abnormal normality of the occupation

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The abnormal normality of the occupation and its ‘escalations’ http://972mag.com/the-abnormal-normality-of-the-occupation/93534/ http://972mag.com/the-abnormal-normality-of-the-occupation/93534/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 08:33:28 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=93534 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.

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

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 a very normal life in the street. And then they say that they are afraid and they drive us [Palestinians] crazy with their ‘security’ issues.”

Aadi,” normal, I say in Arabic.


That’s what this so-called “flare-up” is. More of the same. Yes, there is obviously a surge in the pace of violence and death and destruction and arrests since Israeli officials decided to shamelessly lie to the public and exploit the tragic death of three Jewish boys so they could embark on a campaign against Hamas. Yes, events are happening closer together than they usually do; yes, the timeline is sped up. But violence and death and destruction and arrests are the norm under Israeli occupation. And to pretend as though the events that have occurred in 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.

Yes, recent weeks have seen mass arrests in the West Bank, but ask my students—many of whom have family members in Israeli jails—if arbitrary imprisonment is normal or not. Ask my quiet, pious, straight-A student whose beloved brother was taken from her for over a year on trumped up charges of stone throwing.

Or young West Bankers might talk to you about Samer Issawi, who was held in administrative detention without charge for 17 months. Or ask the more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners who are currently being held in Israeli jails, many on administrative detention. Or ask the estimated 700,000 who have been imprisoned since the occupation began in 1967.

Ask young West Bankers when this “flare-up” began and they likely won’t date it to the murders of the three Israeli boys. No, maybe they would point to May, when 17-year-old Nadeem Nowarah and another protester, 16-year-old Mohammad Odeh, were shot to death by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration.

Or pick any other number of Palestinian children who have been killed by the Israeli army recently as your starting point. Like 14-year-old Yusef a-Shawamreh. Or we could date the beginning of this “flare-up” back to December 2013, when 15-year-old Wajih al-Ramahi was shot in the back by Israeli forces.

Or, rather than starting with the kidnapping of the three Jewish boys, why not begin the timeline with the kidnappings of Palestinian children from their beds by Israeli soldiers?

Citing a report by the non-governmental organization Defence for Children International, Al Jazeera states: “In the past 11 years, DCI estimates that around 7,500 children, some as young as 12, have been detained, interrogated and imprisoned” in Israeli military detention. “This is about 500-700 children per year, or nearly two children every day.

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officer detains a Palestinian child at a protest in Kufr Qaddum, January 25, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

As for Israel’s unrelenting bombings of Gaza, as for the loss of civilian life there, we should also remember that this, too, is normal—Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip die on a regular basis. What we see in recent days is an acceleration in the deaths that are part of life in Gaza. And just as innocent civilians have been killed during this “flare-up,” so have they been killed in times when the international media has been paying less attention.

Earlier this year, the Israeli non-governmental agency B’TSelem noted a spike in the number of Palestinian civilians who were killed by Israeli forces near Gaza’s perimeter fence. In March, after 57-year-old Amneh Qdeih was shot dead along the fence, B’Tselem noted that it was “the fifth incident in the last three months in which Gaza residents who were not taking part in hostilities were killed by Israeli security forces near the perimeter fence.”

Palestinian children take pictures of each other in the No-go zone near Erez crossing, during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Every Tuesday Palestinians and supporters march from Beit Hanoun into the "buffer zone" or the No-go zone , where the fertile land has been made inaccessible to Palestinians due to the imminent danger of shooting by the Israeli army. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinian children take pictures of each other in the No-go zone near Erez crossing, during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Every Tuesday Palestinians and supporters march from Beit Hanoun into the “buffer zone” or the No-go zone , where the fertile land has been made inaccessible to Palestinians due to the imminent danger of shooting by the Israeli army. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Even when there is not an “operation” per se taking place, Gaza is subject to bombings by the Israeli air force. This year nine Palestinians in Gaza, including one child, were killed by Israeli strikes before the current “flare-up.”

There’s also the Israeli blockade, which visits violence upon the people of Gaza by crushing their economy, devastating healthcare, and curtailing educational opportunities. To name a few. The blockade is also a psychological and social battering of Gaza. Its disastrous effects cannot be overstated.

That it’s not just about this “flare-up” was the sentiment some Palestinians expressed to The Washington Post’s William Booth:

One afternoon, we were talking to a gathering of middle-aged men… I asked them if they thought the war, or whatever one calls this, would go on long.

“Who cares?” answered Abu Ahmed, 46, an out-of-work construction worker. I asked what he meant. “We lived in hell before, we will live in hell again,” he said.


In the West Bank there are insidious forms of everyday violence. Things that, on the surface, might not look like violence. Like getting a permit.

Layla and I arrive at the Civil Administration’s Bethlehem area office. She enters her identity number into a machine, which spits out a slip of paper. She approaches an entryway that is blocked—floor to ceiling—by a barred turnstile. On the other side, a soldier sits in a booth behind a thick, glass window. The message of the architecture is: the soldier’s life is valuable and he must be protected from the dangerous savages. The architecture itself is accusatory, condemning, and violent.

“Excuse me, I’m here to get a permit,” Layla says politely, in English, through the bars.

Ma?” What? The soldier shouts, in Hebrew, through the intercom. Layla doesn’t speak Hebrew.

Tasrich?” Layla tries again.

He unlocks the turnstile and Layla enters and passes through a metal detector. She disappears into the building.

There are about half a dozen men in the waiting room, including three who are there to be interrogated by the mukhabarat, intelligence, the Shin Bet. The soldier tells one of the men, “Come, come.”

He heads to the turnstile and waits to be let through.

“No, no, sit,” the soldier barks in Arabic.

The man returns to his seat. Only to be told to come again. Only to be sent back to his chair.

It seems like the soldier is playing with the man.

Once she’s inside, Layla discovers that the computer “isn’t working” on Wednesday. She won’t be able to get her permit. We leave, making the 20 minute drive back to Bethlehem, only to turn around on Thursday afternoon—when the death count in Gaza is even higher—to make the drive back to Gush Etzion again.

This time, Layla has brought lollipops to lighten the mood. She offers me a cherry Chupa Chup and unwraps the strawberry one for herself.

There are more people in the waiting room then the previous day. Today, it’s mostly women, including a young mother with a tiny newborn, a baby girl. The young mother and the women are waiting to be interrogated by the mukhabarat. They’ve been waiting for a while when we arrive and they’ll still be there when Layla and I leave an hour and 40 minutes later with the permit she shouldn’t need—part of her family was from Jaffa. They were on the land before the state was. Now, they’re refugees. And when Layla and I went back to Jaffa a few months ago to look for the house, she couldn’t even find it.

The women sit and wait as the soldier on the other side of the bars calls out random names—names of people who aren’t there. It seems like he’s calling out every name but theirs. It’s Ramadan and it’s hot and the women are fasting. Their faces are tired. They move and sit by the open door, the one source of fresh air in the room. There is a sign on the wall opposite the women that reads “Drinking Water” in Arabic. But the water fountain is unplugged and dusty.

And they sit and they wait as the soldier shouts, “Amal? Amal?” through the intercom.

I wonder if the soldier knows that this name means hope.

Layla and I leave. On the way to the car, she tells me she met Palestinians inside who were also there on Wednesday for hours waiting to get permits for medical reasons. They were told to return Thursday and waited for hours again.

“This is called structural violence, Mya,” she says. “It’s dehumanizing. And it’s humiliating to wait for an 18-year-old to give you a piece of paper that allows you to get into Jerusalem or any part of ‘48 [Israel] except for Eilat. I don’t know what their problem is with Eilat. What’s there in Eilat?”

She shrugs and laughs, “They’re so silly, I swear.”

As we drive away, I wonder how long the women waiting will be there. I remember what countless Palestinians have told me. That one of the things, perhaps the most valuable thing the occupation steals from them is their time. “Land can be taken back,” they say. “Time cannot.”

A Palestinian worker wait outside the Ni'lin checkpoint. In the background the settlement of Hashmonaim, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian worker wait outside the Ni’lin checkpoint. In the background the settlement of Hashmonaim, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The time that people spend waiting: for permits, at checkpoints, driving circuitous routes to reach places that before the occupation and before the separation barrier took them half the time. I can’t count the times that Bethlehemites have told me that they miss going to Ramallah to meet friends for coffee. How it used to be a short trip, how it used to be possible. “Now,” they say. “It takes an hour and a half just to get there.” How these relationships have been lost or weakened as a result.

This is the normal, everyday violence of the occupation. This is what the Israelis don’t want you to think about when they start their timeline of this “flare-up” with the kidnapping and murder of the three boys.

*Not her real name. “Layla” wishes to remain anonymous for, as she put it, “security reasons.”

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