Saturday, August 9, 2008

Zochrot:: Imwas, Yalyu & Beit Nuba

On August 1st, I participated in a small tour through Canada Park, lead by Eitan Bronstein, Zochrot's Director. Canada Park is run by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and lies thirty minutes outside of Tel Aviv in Occupied Palestinian Territory of 1967- ie. the West Bank.

For hundreds of years, the land where Canada Park was built was home to the Latroun area villages of Imwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba, where thousands of Palestinian families lived. In 1967, tens of thousands of people were forcibly expelled from these villages by the Israeli military. Within a year after the expulsion, the military completely destroyed the villages including thousands of homes, schools, places of worship, and farmland. And just a few years later, Canada Park was established, “to conceal what happened," in the words of Michal Katorza, in charge of signage for the JNF.

Eitan told us a story of an Israeli they met who served in the military at this site during the 1967 expulsion. This Israeli man said it was the 'black year' of his life. It had been his job to make sure that all the houses were empty before they destroyed them. He remembers entering one house where an elderly Palestinian man remained. The elderly man said, 'for me to leave my home is like dying, so if you want to, destroy my home.' The Israeli man told Zochrot, this was the moment when he understood what he was doing. He naively talked to his superior, saying they should stop, which was promptly rejected and he then obeyed his order to forcibly remove the elderly man from his home. The Israeli man said in front of a Zochrot tour that it was wrong to do what he did.

(photo: Displaced residents flee Latroun villages as soldiers look on. Yoseph Hochman)

In a testimony given by ‘Aysha ‘Ali Hammad who is originally from Yalyu, he said, "I recall my first visit back to my village in 1978 to what is now referred to as 'Canada Park'… I told my children, 'This is the road to my father’s house, the road to the mosque. Here is where our house used to be.' Then I burst into tears... It is all gone."

On August 1st, we walked through areas of the park that have been forested and are rarely visited by park-users. Following signs that said "Roman Bath" in Hebrew (see photo, left) we found a Palestinian Muslim shrine- obvious by the architecture. Eitan said that the one piece of villages that Israeli courts do not give legal mandate to destroy is often the Mosques and other religious shrines. In this case, an excavation found a Roman bathhouse below the shrine, so now, all the signs in the park point to this bathhouse erasing the hundreds of years in between when Palestinians lived here. Next to the shrine is a cemetery with some Palestinian graves still in tact (see photo, right).

On a Zochrot tour of Canada Park a few years ago, they posted signs at the shrine and cemetary telling park-goers what they were. They soon got a call from the park saying the signs were illegal and had been removed. This turned into a public debate within the Israeli High Court creating in a lot of media about the issue and ultimately resulting in a mandate to the JNF to include Palestinian history in Canada Park signage. When the official signs were installed, they were soon vandalized and removed. Zochrot is currently fighting to get the signs back in place. (in this photo the part above talks about the Roman history and the part below (blackened out) is the part about the about the Palestinian villages).

In Canada Park there are commemorative plaques which bear the names of hundreds of Canadian donors to the JNF. In a JNF brochure it states that Canada Park is a “…a proud tribute to Canada and to the Canadian Jewish community whose vision and foresight helped transform a barren stretch of land into a major national recreational area for the people of Israel.” The commemorative plaques meanwhile, are hung on walls built from the stones of the houses from Umwas, Yalyu and Beit Nuba. Included on these plaques is the name Martin Luther King, which almost certainly refers to the famous fighter for human rights- a donation made in his name after his death.

During the last week of my trip, I began working with Zochrot on a project to educate these JNF donors about the violent history of Canada Park which bears their names, with the goal of furthering a public debate about the on-going Palestinian Nakba. If you're interested in supporting or getting involved with this project, please be in touch.

* The photographs and a lot of this information is drawn from: Where Villages Stood: Israel's Continuing Violations of International Law in Occupied Latroun 1967-2007 by Al-Haq in December 2007

Jewish Tradition & Justice in Palestine

Zochrot is the feminine form of "Remembering" in Hebrew and is the name of an organization in Tel Aviv where I volunteered for the last week of my trip. Zochrot [Remembering] is a group of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.

Zochrot does many programs including tours of destroyed Palestinian villages within the 1948 borders of the Israeli State; educational programs about the Nakba (catastrophe); sign-posting where Palestinian villages once stood; art actions (ie. posting life size photos of refugees in the villages where they are from); and they recently hosted a conference to discuss different paths for the implementation of return for refugees from/to the Tel Aviv area.

On August 6th, Zochrot had a program different from its norm. Two Jewish community leaders/teachers from the United States came to lead a discussion about engaging Jewish tradition in a way that might be a useful lens for Zochrot's work. Eitan, Zochrot's director, introduced the program. He explained that for secular Jews in Zochrot Judaism has meant only Jewish nationalism- which is at the root of the problems they aim to confront. When we were told we would be looking at a text from the Talmud, the participants looked skeptical- Talmud!? But we began to study the following text...

Pleimo asked Rabi: “With regard to someone who has two heads – on which of them does he lay tefillin?"

We discussed- was this a metaphor for something else? Why was Pleimo asking this question? Perhaps it was legitimate, someone had two heads and they needed guidance about how to pray. Perhaps Pelemo was testing this important Talmudic Rabbi regarding his views on any one who was different. Perhaps Pelemo was mocking the entire tradition of asking challenging questions.

He [the Rabbi] said to him: “Either get up and be exiled, or accept upon yourself excommunication!”

We discussed- Why did the rabbi reply this way? What did it say about Pleimo's question? The Rabbi was expressing that Pleimo's question was out of bounds of what was acceptable. Either the Rabbi was offended because Pleimo was mocking; because a two-headed person deserved no regard; or because the concept of a two-headed person itself was offensive or absurd and thus out of bounds.

Meanwhile, a man came.
He said to him: A baby was born to me who has two heads. How much must we give to the priest?

We discussed- What does this say about Pleimo's question? About the Rabbi's answer? This shows the Rabbi in a bad light. The problem Pleimo brought was reflective of a real life situation that needed regard. Or perhaps this man with the two-headed baby was also an outsider, bringing a problem that would offend the Rabbi.

An old man came and ruled for him: you must give him ten Selah (monetary unit) (twice the normal amount).

We discussed- What does this say about this text? What issues does the text address? The old man lends legitimacy to the question and puts the Rabbi's authority into question.

We were also taught about liberation theology and were asked to bring the following line of questioning to our analysis of the text-- who was it written by? who was it written for? and largely, where did power lie amongst the characters of the story (the person with two heads, Pleimo, the Rabbi, the man with the child, the child with two heads, and the old man)?

We finally got to this- This text brings up the experience of those who raise difficult but important issues- especially about/for those in marginalized positions to those with authority or others who believe that the issue is outside of the bounds of what is legitimate. It goes beyond the idea that your audience thinks the issue is offensive- because moreso, they see the issue as impossible, not true, not existing.

This is true for Zochrot, an organization that raises a history of Palestinian expulsion before during and after the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. Even when Zochrot has concrete evidence (they do tours of destroyed Palestinian villages, for example) Israeli society attempts to deny the legitimacy of what they are teaching.
By the end of the program, the Zochrot members were surprised that a piece of Talmud could describe their experience in the world so well.

This study session was potentially the first of many for Zochrot- looking at Jewish tradition as a context for debate and understanding about their work in Israeli society. For me, the night became a look at, on the one hand, how upsetting it is that for secular Israelis Judaism has become equated with a dangerous nationalism; and on the other, how exciting the possibilities are for reclaiming and transforming Jewish tradition as meaningful and strengthening to the work of seeking justice in Palestine.

Friday, August 1, 2008

ID's, license plates, checkpoints, roads, the wall, watchtowers

Here are some stories / what I learned about the infrastructure of the Israeli State that controls the movement of Palestinian people and maintains a separate and unequal apartheid system...

ID cards issued by the Israeli government:

Blue ID card- 48 Palestinians (live inside the Green Line) aka "Arab Israelis" or Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship; People with these IDs have Israeli IDs and Israeli Passports; they can travel inside 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Blue ID card- Jerusalem Palestinians (live in East Jerusalem); These people have Israeli IDs, but no Israeli nor Palestinian Passports, many have Jordanian Passports, but cannot live in Jordan; they can travel inside 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Green ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- Palestinian IDs and Passports; They can travel within West Bank or Gaza but not both (b/c they do not have permits to travel in between these pieces of land) and not within 1948 borders of Israeli State.

Orange ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- some elderly people given orange ideas before 1994; can travel within West Bank or Gaza but not both (b/c they do not have permits to travel in between these pieces of land) and not within 1948 borders of Israeli State.

No ID card- West Bank or Gaza Strip- 12,000 people were not given IDs or Passports (some were out of Palestine and returned in 1994) and now Israel is no longer giving IDs out (or at least not easily?); these people have a paper with a photo and a stamp and cannot easily travel anywhere (for some like the residents of Tel Rumeida where there is a check point on the street, that means even leaving the neighborhood is difficult)

License Plates issued by the Israeli government:

Green- Can travel only within the West Bank or Gaza strip not both (b/c they do not have the permits to drive between these two sections of land) and not within the 1948 borders of the Israeli State (Palestinians with Green or Orange IDs)

Yellow- Can travel in the 1948 borders of the Israeli State and within the West Bank and Gaza (only people with Israeli citizenship, blue ID cards or international citizenship (ie. US citizens can rent a car with yellow plates).

Check points and Roads:

This is Hawara check point. I took this photo while accompanying an almond farmer as he and his family members harvested the almonds. He has not been able to get regular permits from the Israeli government to harvest his lands and when he does, has been regularly attacked by local Settlers so he asked IWPS and ISM to accompany him in case that happened.

At the Hawara check point 2 w
eeks prior to me being there, a teenage boy was shot and killed by a soldier. The soldier's excuse was that he saw a wire attached to the boy- it was the headphones from his walkman. The soldier saw a teenage boy's headphone wires and shot him dead. On the day I was accompanying the almond farmer, there were very long lines of people trying to get to and from work.

Also in this photo, you can see a road below the check point. This road is a Israeli-only road. Only Israelis with yellow plates (so in this case, it serves specifically Israeli Settlers living in the West Bank) can use these types of roads despite that they are within the West Bank and cut through Palestinian-owned agricultural land and are often the closest and sometimes the only paved roads that connect to Palestinian villages.

This is the Bethlehem check point where Palestinians are forced to wait on long lines and scan their hands into a machine that tracks their movement. The sign you see is meant to greet foreign tourists to Bethlehem (a historically important city for Christians in particular). The Bethlehem tourist industry is almost entirely controlled by Israeli companies, so Palestinians do not reap economic gains of these travelers.

The Separation Barrier, The Apartheid Wall:

(Photos: 1- outside of Bethlehem; 2- in Bilin; 3- in East Jerusalem/Al Quds)

By now, it is clear I think that this is an apartheid system. I won't say much about the Wall except here it is - illegal under international law - in some places it's 30 meters high made of concrete and in others it is multiple fences eating up large amounts of land, electrified with barbed wire. It destroys or prevents farmers from harvesting hundreds of thousands of olive trees; it prevents people from getting to their jobs or forcing them to sneak through, taking 5 hours for 30 minute commutes, risking being beaten, or jailed; it divides families who lived in one neighborhood now cut in half by the wall; the list of human rights abuses go on. Historically, every wall like this has eventually come down. And so will this.

Watch Towers:

are everywhere watching people constantly.

1- at the entrance of Haris, the village where I was staying
2- Somewhere on the road in the West Bank
3- at the border to Jerusalem / Al Quds (I think but don't remember 100%)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Protest in Tel Aviv

Yesterday, July 30th, there was a funeral for Ahmed Mousa, the eleven year old who was killed by Israeli Border Police the night before. In the morning, there was a procession from Ramallah to Nl'in, which was put under curfew by the Israeli military which means that no one is allowed to leave their homes. At 6:30pm, I attended a protest in response to this killing in Tel Aviv.

The Tel Aviv protest was made up of over a hundred Israelis. As far as I could tell, it was mostly made up of Ashkenazi Israelis in their 20s and 30s- anarchists, queers and students who were refusing to serve. We met at a train station and marched to the highrise apartment building of Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister and current Minister of Defense, deputy prime minister and leader of Israel's Labor Party. There were strong drummers that could be heard along the whole street and chants, which were translated to me as "end the occupation" "The wall is built on children's lives" "The wall must fall" and others. A police officer weaved throughout the crowd filming the faces of everyone there.

The protest then marched down Namir, a major street in Tel Aviv. As we marched, one of the Queer it Up members I had met in Nl'in was holding a poster with a photo of Ahmed up to the windows of cars stopped at lights. At a major intersection a large group of Israelis sat down in the street and stopped the traffic. The police charged the group and began shoving and beating on them, physically removing them from the street, and arresting a few people. At the curb the police continued to shove and hit the protesters.

Before this non-violent civil disobedience, I recognized the protest as similar to some protests I have been to in New York. I was familiarly cynical- the lack of coalition reflected in the small range in demographics represented (this doesn't necessarily mean the coalitions don't exist, it could have been for a large range of reasons that this protest was attended by a limited group); the small relative size of the protest; how removed and different the context of Tel Aviv looked to the West Bank where the killing occurred; and the lightness of the energy compared to the situation it aimed to protest. After the Israelis sat down in the street interrupting the otherwise apathetic environment in Tel Aviv and the police began beating on them, the energy of course shifted to be appropriately serious given what is happening in Nl'in and Ahmed's murder. I stood watching, clapping and repeating the chants the best I could, impressed by the Israelis' fearlessness.

As the protest marched on, the policeman with the video camera lead other police officers to specific people, apparently to point them out for arrest. I approached the Queer it Up member I had met and saw that she was crying. I asked her how she was, and she answered, "very depressed." Then I saw one of the high school senior refusniks I met in Nl'in. She was approaching Israelis who were waiting at a nearby bus stop asking them how they could just sit there when a ten year old boy was killed. They shrugged at her. She asked me, "will you be in Nl'in tomorrow?" I said "no." She said it would be very violent. I asked her if she would go and she answered, "of course."

Just two hours earlier I had arrived in the Tel Aviv bus station greeted by high level security searching my bags, and the many soldiers who shoved through the lines with an intense sense of entitlement. It reminded me of football players in US suburbs and the abuses that accrues. Then I thought about the fact that this 18 year old Israeli would for sure be shot at the next day and would be imprisoned in September for refusing to serve. It made the fearlessness in the face of the shoving police officers make a lot more sense. As much as I cannot begin to understand life in the West Bank where life is controlled and attacked on a daily basis; I cannot understand the lives of these Israelis who believe in justice- so close to the West Bank and amongst soldiers who are the face of this occupation being held up as heroes every moment of every day. And yet, there are so many similarities to my life in New York too, and I consider why I didn't sit down in the street to stop traffic when Sean Bell was murdered.

At around the time of yesterday's Tel Aviv protest, a 17 year old Palestinian boy was shot in the head by Israeli forces in Nil'in. For more information read the press release, here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A stone and a bullet are not the same

At around 6pm tonight, Israeli Border Police shot an eleven year young boy named Ahmed dead. Ahmed was a boy full of all the details that boys are. And now he is dead.

The Ha'aretz says: "A 9-year-old Palestinian boy died on Tuesday evening during clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces." The International Solidarity Movement which has had volunteers in Ni'lin for over a month, says that an eye witness reported that a group of youths were attempting to remove coils of razor wire from the separation barrier. When, without warning, they were fired upon. Ahmed was shot in the forehead and was killed.

This separation barrier is being built illegally on their family's land. A barrier that would have highly restricted their movement. So they went to take it apart. They may have thrown rocks. They were shot at. One of them was killed.

The Ha'aretz says: "A number of violent protests have erupted in Na'alin against the West Bank separation fence, frequently developing into confrontations between stone-throwing youths and Israeli troops firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. " I was at one of these protests last week. People dressed in plain clothes with no weapons walked chanting towards the soldiers. The protests are usually symbolic- people get as close to the bulldozers as possible and chant against the wall; at most- they aim to stop one of the bulldozers from working by sitting around it, knowing that there are others that will take its place. Young boys do sometimes throw rocks. At the protest I was at, because it was a women's demonstration, the boys were strongly urged to stay away. Some did come, and at the very end of the protest, they did throw rocks. These are rocks. These are boys throwing rocks. At soldiers with tear gas machines that can fire up to thirty cannisters at a time, making us all cry, making it difficult to breath, making our skin sting. These soldiers have bullets coated in rubber. These soldiers have metal bullets. These soldiers wear army vests and helmets. These soldiers are breaking international law with a powerful government on their side.

At the Ni'lin demonstration I was at, we walked chanting up to the area where the separation wall is being built. When we got to the soldiers, they begin by pushing people. Then if people tried to push by them to get closer to bulldozer, that's when the soldiers fired tear gas in metal containers at us. There were only a few rubber bullets that day. But they did beat one man with a baton until he was bloody. I didn't see this, because I had retreated to the back of the demonstration coughing from tear gas.

I keep thinking that this is too much like a role play game- one team got all the resources and keeps making it harder and harder for the other team to do anything at all. It's too difficult to believe. But then it's true, and it's people's lives.

A day in Sheikh Jarrah

Yesterday, I sat on a patio in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem home for 6 1/2 hours. The home has belonged to the Al Kurd family since 1956 and they are currently being threatened with eviction. The father, Mohammad Al Kurd is partially paralyzed and suffers from diabetes and heart problems. In 2001, the Al Kurd family was away to get Mohommad treatment when a group of settlers broke into and took over a part of their house. Presently, settlers continue to occupy half the house that has a separate entrance and through the courts are trying to get the Al Kurd family evicted completely.

Context: Since 1948, East Jerusalem has been the Palestinian side of the city and West Jerusalem the Israeli side. Since 1967, though mostly Palestinians still live in East Jerusalem, the whole city is controlled by the Israeli State. The Al Kurd's story is just one example of the ways in which the Israeli State is trying to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem.

It isn't one settler family who occupies the Al Kurd house, it is a settler movement that occupies the apartment by shifting a different family in every month or two. In this way, if the Al Kurd family tries to bring a case against an individual who is occupying their house, they can't because by the time the case is filed, that person is gone. A neighbor asks, "What does a homeland mean to them? I don't know. But to this mother, Fawzieh Al Kurd, this is home. She got married here and had all her children here, and her grand children. Since 1956."

The settler movements want the Al Kurds and twenty-seven other Palestinian families to leave the neighborhood altogether, so they can build a 200 units to house new Jewish immigrants and a commercial center. One Palestinian neighbor said yesterday, "We residents of this neighborhood are standing by and supporting this family, because we know our turn is coming."

All day, I sat drinking tea and talking to neighbors, Palestinian supporters, other internationals, and watching group after group come by to learn about the situation-- a Palestinian boys summer camp, a French delegation from CCIPPP, and others. Many Palestinian groups came in support and to strategize- a man from the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights, a woman from the Palestinian Counseling Center, and a large group from the Coalition for Jerusalem. We looked at photographs and heard stories about visits from the Anti-Zionist Orthodox group Naturi Karta, representatives from the different countries' embassies and many other powerful individuals and groups.

The Palestinian families are fighting in the Israeli Courts, and soon maybe international courts. A neighbor expressed, "International law declared the Separation Wall illegal and Israel ignored that, because Bush/the U.S. condones and supports the Wall. Still, these international rulings will be a document for future generations. This [the Al Kurd house] is one small example of these super powers' declarations that it is okay to occupy, to colonize." Another Palestinian woman there in support said, "Isreali people believe there should be a solution to the problem. We figured this out a long time ago. But it is not in their hands. It is Zionists abroad who dictate what the Israeli government does. That's politics.... They want to ethnically cleanse us... but we won't let them. We want to live as Palestinians."

Internationals from IWPS, ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, and others have been staying with the Al Kurd family 24 hours/day in case the military shows up to forcibly remove them. One Palestinian there in support said, "It is important for people [internationals] to come. Israel gets worried about this. They are counting on people getting tired." Another said, "Even if you stay here for a week and you're overwhelmed by the tragedy, you haven't seen anything. This is our lives."

Throughout the day I felt humbled and insignificant, with the strange knowledge that if by some chance the military showed up, my role would be to hand cuff myself to the doors of the apartment and refuse to leave. This was unlikely, and so really my role was to learn, on this patio that has become one of the most vibrant movement spaces I have ever seen.

Fawzieh Al Kurd, the mother, is originally from West Jerusalem which she was forced to flee in 1948. Standing on her patio amongst banners that read "We will NEVER leave" and "This is Apartheid," a neighbor relayed that Fawzieh often says if they give her back her family's home in West Jerusalem, then she will leave her house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. And I can't help but wonder- if my family was faced with such attack, would our home turn into a space of such steadfast and dynamic activism?


The back story [My information comes from a lecture given by one of the neighbors, other Palestinians there in support, and the press release about this situation. It definitely may have inconsistencies or incorrect information based on me learning a lot quickly, which I apologize for.]

The Al Kurd home along with twenty-seven other apartments were built in 1956 by the Jordanian government for refugee families from 1948. Jordan promised that in 1959, if they had lived here harmoniously, these Palestinian families would be given official ownership of the homes. If they went back to their homes from 1948, the apartments would be taken away. I believe that though they had lived there harmoniously, no ownership documents were granted.

In 1967, when the Israeli State occupied all of Palestine, two groups of settlers were successful in falsely claiming property of the land based on the presence of ancient tombs nearby. In 1972, two settler associations (including I think a religious sect that takes care of the tombs) filed suits against the Palestinian families' property rights. The settlers submitted forged ownership documents supposedly from the Turks during the Ottoman Empire (though, at that time no Jew was allowed to own land). In 1982, the Israeli government did grant the settlers ownership documents for the land; and the Palestinians were granted tenant/lease rights. This agreement was agreed to by a lawyer that was working for the Palestinians, though the Palestinians in fact did not want to agree to it. In 1989, the twenty eight Palestinian families got a new lawyer and there was a new ruling- "live in peace" - not sure what that meant. In 2006, the land registration department agreed to revoke the settlers' ownership, but refused to declare rightful ownership to the Palestinians. Still, around this same time, two settler associations sold their property claims to an investment company that plans to demolish the Al Kurd homes along with 27 other Palestinian homes to build 200 units for Jewish immigrants and commercial center. In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court issued an order to evict the Settlers who had broken in and occupied the apartment in 2001. The eviction order has not been implemented. Now, in 2008, there is a security force constantly in the neighborhood to escort the settlers to where they are living. And for a reason I am not clear on, the Al Kurd family, not the settlers, are now at risk of forcible eviction.


Some personal writing:

"This isn't a Muslim way to behave" said a Palestinian man of the Settlers. He is being threatened with arrest if he doesn't leave his home.

I wanted to say, "This isn't a Jewish way to behave either." But I didn't. For it wasn't about me, or about bridge-building, right then. It was about his home that people were attacking.

He said, "the police are always saying the Jews are the good people and the Arabs are the bad people... Any person who supports me and my family are good."

* * *
I spoke slowly to Nasser, a Palestinian man who owns a nearby tailor shop and also works with the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights. I asked if the settlers here physically attack the Palestinians like in Khalil. Andjelka turned to me and said, "say Jews."
"Say Jews. He won't understand the word 'settlers'."
So, I repeated my question, "Do the Jews attack you here?"

* * *
She fingers her prayer beads
black and smooth
in her hands
she strains them
and her face
full with fight
small boys listen
to their lives, their futures,
their legacies



Wedding celebrations
girls in threes
with party favors
many women gathered
and loud festive music

by a fire set by Settlers

The fire is burning
I can see it

On July 27, 2008 Settlers set fire to olive trees in the village of Burin (see Human Rights Report, here). The next day, the settlers burned down a house in the same village.

A gift from Ala

On July 27, I was having tea at the home of a neighbor here in the village of Haris named Isa. Isa was shot by a soldier and is now paralyzed from the waste down. You can read a Ha'aretz article about him here.

He and another IWPS volunteer, Andjelka, discussed a friend of his who needs medical support and Andjelika's research about Physicians for Human Rights and other similar organizations. We heard from Isa about the boy's camp he recently directed. We saw photos of over 100 boys who took part in the camp- the winner of a big race they had and all the boys swimming in a pool in the nearby city, Tulkarem. Most of the time we chatted and played with Isa's children.

Isa has three children, including 3 year old twins. Heba (which means gift from Ala - named that because she was born after Isa's injury) is one of the twins. She is constantly smiling. Constantly.

Heba wants to be a hair dresser- she likes combing anyone's hair, but not her own, Isa told us as he stroked her dirty blond waves. Heba has a pink purse full of goodies. Hiding behind the door to the house, she went through and reached her hand out exposing each item in its turn - red nail polish, gold nail polish, a bag of hena, and some flowery and sparkly bows. She carried all these items out to where we were sitting and began painting her nails (and face, and hair...)

Isa told us that Heba often takes every piece of her clothing out and puts it on the floor looking for the piece she wants to wear. Today, she eventually went to retrieve a gold skirt with beads hanging off it that was a bit too big for her, and a gold shirt. She put the outfit on in order to perform less than a minute of Debka, traditional Palestinian dance. Isa said Heba likes doing the men's part of the dance.

Heba and her twin brother Mohommed took turns climbing up on to their father's lap and taking his hands around them. At one point, Heba and Mohommed got into a bit of a fist fight- which Heba engaged in with a continuous smile from ear to ear - and definitely won. Mohommed is super sweet and shy and smiled and hid in his mother's lap.

With Heba on his lap, Isa told a story about one of his friends who is fat who came over to visit and Heba punched him in the stomach and said he was pregnant. Then, Isa asked if we'd heard about the man who birthed a baby- a story about a trans guy, which got a lot of media attention lately. Several people I've met here have brought this story up, why I'm not sure, but that's a discussion for another time...

Israeli Black Panthers

On Friday, July 25th, I attended a tour of the Musrara neighborhood in West Jerusalem (the Israeli side of Jerusalem) where the Israeli Black Panther Party was born. We were lead by Ayala Sabag, born and raised in Musrara, and one of the leading figures in the Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern/Arab descent) struggle today.

The neighborhood of Musrara was originally developed by Palestinians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. During the war of 1948, the Palestinians residents fled or were expelled. One million Jewish immigrants from Middle East countries (Mizrahi Jews) were settled in the new Israeli State in the 1950s; many were settled in neighborhoods like Musrara. These Mizrahi communities lived in poverty. They were put into special schools to learn trades needed to build the State. There were fights to integrate Mizrahi children into Ashkenazi (Jews of European Descent) schools which had better and more resources.

Israel settled Mizrahi Jews in neighborhoods like Musrara that were positioned close to the border dividing Jerusalem before 1967- and so suffered much violence between Jordan and the new Israeli State. When Ayala was young, when there were shots into her neighborhood, her mother would gather up all the children from the courtyard. Ayala told us that at one point her mother was running with Ayala's baby brother away from bullets and she dropped him making him permanently brain damaged.

The Israeli State never fully recognized these neighborhoods, so the Mizrahi familiers were always considered squatters. In 1967, when the Israeli State knew the violence would subside they convinced Ayala's family and their neighbors to purchase an apartments in new apartment projects. When they accepted, the homes that had been built by Palestinians and that these Mizrahi Jews had then lived in for almost 20 years were sold for a lot of money to Ashkenazi Jews. Today, the Musrara neighborhood is mostly inhabited by Ashkenazi people, though many are still poor and live in bad conditions.

In late 1960s and early 1970s, conditions in the Musrara projects were very bad. Conditions were worse because people had so many children in such small apartments. Families were actively encouraged to have any babies by the State to increase the Jewish population. Ayala recalls when Ben Gurian himself came through the neighborhood with a megaphone telling people to have more children to help build Israel.

From out of this reality emerged the Israeli Black Panthers, one of the most influential Israeli social movements dedicated to social and economic justice. Ayala's brother was one of its founding leaders. Ayala recalled one of the most famous actions when the Israeli Black Panthers stole bottles of milk from the doorsteps of a middle-class Jerusalem suburb and delivered it to poor Mizrahi families. Ayala told us they used a military truck which belonged to one of the Black Panthers who was also in the Israeli military. Ayala recalled that to the rich people, they left a note that said "sorry you won't get your milk today..." and then I found a record that the notes said: "The children in the poverty stricken neighbourhoods do not find the milk they need on their doorstep every morning. In contrast, there are cats and dogs in rich neighborhoods that get plenty of milk, day in, day out." And to the poor people, with the milk, Ayala said they included a note that said "We hope you enjoy the milk, but don't get used to it, this is a part of a one-time action..."

After 1967, when Israel claimed all of Jerusalem, Ayala's family began having more connection to Palestinians, though not all Mizrahi Jews supported this. She recalls being teased in school for having Palestinian friends. Today, many Arab Jews, Ayala said, are not in relationship with Palestinians and are in fact Right Wing. However, the Israeli Black Panthers have always been connected to Palestinian struggle. They were aware that even in their impoverished conditions, they had taken the homes of Palestinians; and they could see that the Palestinians in East Jerusalem were in even worse distress than their own communities. The Israeli Black Panthers helped to re-plant olive trees that were destroyed from the first Settlement (not certain I wrote this down correctly?), where in fact many poor Jews were being transferred to live. This was one of the first actions with Jewish Israelis protesting for Palestinian rights.

The Israeli Black Panthers ended after a short time- some say it was related to the 1973 Yom Kippur war, others because the Israeli Authorities infiltrated and created conflict amongst its members. Today, the Israeli Black Panthers is re-surging. The differences now, Ayala says, are that they have a greater focus on economic justice, not just with Mizrahi Jews, and it will be headed by women and focus on women. Also, the Israeli Black Panthers are working against harsh effects of the Wisconsin plan (the Welfare to Work program that has been imported to Israel from the U.S.) which effects 48 Palestinians (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) most of all. They are currently registering as a party and running for municipal elections.

In West Jerusalem

In West Jerusalem
"We are the World"
plays in the almost empty Cinematec
the green grass grows
the 'Israel at 60' flags blow
Jewish boys play under a tree
a Shofar vaguely sounds
in the distance

Tears weld up
People get checked with guns
to maintain this order

And I like water can flow over
the border with ease

* * *

A boy wears army camouflage pants
He will grow up

It isn't the fault of these Israeli boys,
I remind myself

But why aren't they rising up
alongside Palestinians who are in cages and are shot at
for three steps
on to their own land?

No words are enough.