In the last entry I described some of the relatively quiet days that Mahmoud’s family lives through. Many days in this part of the world are not so quiet.
Before I begin this entry in the series, let me write a few words about the overall situation here. I am in the West Bank, Palestine, which is part of Historical Palestine. Around the beginning of the 1900s, a movement called Zionism began to take a distinct shape in parts of Europe. Their idea was to create a Jewish-only or at least overwhelmingly Jewish state in Palestine. Naturally, there were people already living in this area who would have to be removed (“ethnically cleansed”) in order to make this happen. Over time the movement gathered steam and managed to recruit the help of the occupier of Palestine at the time, the British. The Zionist movement was able to use the terrible events of World War II to their considerable political advantage, and shortly after the war, began colonization in earnest.
That colonization continues today, and the Zionist movement has not yet been able to secure the entire property of Historic Palestine. It actively continues to try to annex the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, although it certainly has ambitions to acquire other nearby areas as well. Flouting a number of international laws and UN resolutions, the movement continues to grab land and cleanse the local population.
At times, the campaign to eject the locals and take their property has been a direct military effort, with wanton killing, looting and so on, as is traditional with military(1). At the moment the situation is a bit more quiet and complex. Instead of spending the money and dealing with the political disapproval of more outright military ethnic cleansing, the Zionist movement has adopted a different strategy. The strategy is based mostly around settlements, in which civilians (often armed) are encouraged and supported to take over land and build towns in the West Bank. These form bases to intimidate the local population into leaving. The army prevents any violent reprisals against the settlers. The movement is using other strategies to take land as well, for example simply building a wall around portions and stating that the property inside the wall belongs to Israel. It is a slow, grinding process of wearing away the property controlled by the indigenous population. In this way it is similar to how the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) have been treated.
But, back to the ground reality. Every day I wake up around 9am. I’m worried that they think I’m lazy, but Mahmoud does the same thing so I guess I’m in the clear. I take some photos, study Arabic, read some books. I’m reading one about popular resistance in Palestine, and one I’ve always wanted to read called, “Shake Hands With the Devil”, by Romeo Dallaire. During the hot part of the day, the family mostly gathers in the cave to sleep and relax. When it gets cooler we go back to work, grazing the sheep, preparing dinner, filling the water tank, writing, whatever.
The family ate meat for the first time since I’ve been here. I’ve managed to communicate that eating meat is, for me, “haaram” which is the word they use for things that are forbidden by religion. I think I accidentally told them that all Canadians are strictly vegetarian. Oops. My arabic obviously isn’t up to snuff yet. In fact, sometimes I confuse the words “haaram” and “hmar”, which means “donkey”. As you can imagine, this causes great confusion.
The campaign is moving slowly. Last week we didn’t build anything. Apparently the soldiers stopped the materials from being moved along the road, so we had nothing to build with. We will have to solve this for the upcoming week.
All week, things have been peaceful, domestic, you could say. There are plenty of signs of oppression all around me; a destroyed house, half finished buildings, crutches, and the soldiers are often visible. But I haven’t seen much direct interaction with our oppressors yet.
Today is Friday and it’s about to be a big day. We are preparing for tomorrow. Saturday is the Jewish weekly day off, so it is the day in which we usually build houses. This allows the Jewish solidarity groups from Jerusalem to come. And, supposedly, the soldiers are less active on this day.
The day starts normally enough. I walk to the neighboring town to charge my computer, get my email and visit some friends. When I come back, my Palestinian friends are moving cinderblocks into the town in order to build the house tomorrow.
The soldiers release the driver and he continues on his way, carrying contraband cinderblocks. The new mosque is in the bottom left, and the water tower of the nearest Zionist outpost (Avigail) is in the top left.
The first load arrives without incident, and we unload it while the tractor goes back for a second load. The soldiers have caught on however, and are ready. They stop the driver to harass him on the road. But they let him go again a few minutes later, since they cannot prove where he is bringing the blocks, and there are some destinations further down the road where it is “allowed” to bring cinderblocks. A few minutes later they see the driver deliver the blocks to Mufaqara, and come to arrest him. With their typically excellent timing, a section of the Operation Dove team shows up to witness the event. Operation Dove is a European Union (at least in this area) funded project which is here to document and non-violently deter violence from the occupiers. I am relieved at their arrival, since they have quite a bit of experience dealing with soldiers. Mahmoud also is quite good at dealing with soldiers and he helps to negotiate freedom for the driver. They let him go after almost an hour. By this time the “police” (2) and Civil Administration have also arrived, two other branches of the occupying army.
Soldiers detain the tractor driver, Sayyid
The Civil Administration drive onto Nisham’s property, where the blocks have been delivered, and take photographs. This bodes ill for us, as it means they have discovered our plans. It is amazing to me, but the campaigners here claim that the military often does not know what they are up to. To me, it is obvious that new houses are popping up in the village. But I suppose to the soldiers, who only occasionally observe the place, it is not immediately clear what is going on here.
Sayyid, the tractor driver who has just been released, isn’t ready to give up for the day. He goes back to get a third load. This time he will bring the load in on a different road. The military predicts his move, however, and they stop him on the way into the neighboring town, Tuwani. In an act of civil disobedience, he refuses to show them his ID (all palestinians are issued green ID cards). Word spreads to us in Mufaqara and we all hop in vehicles to go to where he is detained. When we arrive the soldiers have set up a road block to keep us away from Sayyid. It’s getting dark and the military vehicles make a stark screen, with their bright LED lamps cutting into the night. We can see Sayyid off in the distance illuminated by the light of the soldiers who are holding him. Many people stop to pray. We can see, off in the distance that Sayyid is also facing Mecca, praying.
Things seem at a stand-still. The village of Tuwani is building, and they have permission to build. So the campaigners decide to leave the blocks in Tuwani tonight. The soldiers must allow building materials to be brought into Tuwani, so this is the way out of this particular predicament. Still, Sayyid continues to refuse to provide his ID to the soldiers, and they are detaining him, without any end in sight.
Slowly, there has been forming a group of about nine women who live in Tuwani. They know what is happening, and they decide to walk through the road block. In Palestine women are less likely to get arrested than men, even if they do the same things. The women in Tuwani are organized and use this to the advantage of the resistance. Today, they are able to successfully face down the soldiers. They calmly walk through the road block in an amazing act of civil disobedience. They walk onwards, over to Sayyid and he is released in a few minutes. Instead of driving onwards to Tuwani, he comes back towards the cheering crowd.
The tractor and driver are released, to drive through a small crowd of jubilant supporters.
A sketch to help explain the events of June 9, 2012, near Mufaqara. There were 4 tractor loads of goods delivered. 1 and 2 made it to their destination, while 3 and 4 were held in Tuwani. The driver was detained three times, in different locations.
We move back for a few minutes as the soldiers take down their road block, then move the contraband powdered rock to the school of Tuwani. A few minutes later, a fourth load, driven by a different driver and tractor comes through. This load contains much more valuable concrete and comes straight into Tuwani without any attention from the soldiers. I can’t help but wonder if the resistance has arranged this on purpose, using the cheaper rock as a decoy.
After some dinner and a short meeting in Tuwani, it is after midnight. We walk home through the hills, avoiding the main road. I jump at the slightest sound, and it seems to me that we are watching out for soldiers. We stop, and I see what looks like a flashlight signal from a nearby hilltop before we keep going. It all seems very cloak-and-dagger. Or, maybe, it’s just my imagination.
View from Mufaqara, just past midnight.
(1) A good reference book and general description is found in “Popular Resistance in Palestine” by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, 2011.
(2) I put this word in quotes because in my experience they did not fulfill the function of police, playing no role in reducing crime, but rather encourage and participating in it. Also, they are not real civilian police in the sense that they belong to the occupying army and have no democratic oversight.
-Official blog for the Mufaqara campaign to exist.