The Far Edge

Vivre ce n'est pas respirer; c'est agir.

Your Humanity

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8 a.m. Tuesday morning I was woken up with a call, telling me that the Israeli army was destroying houses in Issawiya (the East Jerusalem neighborhood that I had visited last week, when the soldiers were destroying Palestinian land).

“The people asked for you. They said, ‘We want the girl! We want the girl!'” I was told. In 15 minutes, I was out the door. In a cab on my way there, I made sure I knew how to say the most basic things bil arabi: jaysh hadam buyut (the army destroyed houses), etc.

I met A., and we spent a few minutes climbing over rocks and fences, trying to figure out the best way to reach the house without drawing attention to ourselves. I went with a woman and her two small children and reached the spot where the machine was already hard at work. At least 30 soldiers were overhead, watching. A few second later, a group of women came out of the house: Anti sahafiya? (Are you a journalist?)

With that, they ushered me into their home, next door to where the demolition was happening. The first thing I remember noticing was the sound, the painful sobbing and wailing. The woman whose house was being destroyed before her very eyes, just outside the living room window, was lying on the couch in shock.

Women and children surrounded her, some also crying. She began slapping herself in the face, her suffering was so overwhelming. I almost began to cry and was forced to film the scene outside, so that no one could notice how full my eyes were with tears. Yalla! Yalla! I heard a commotion behind me: the woman had fainted. Her friends and neighbors picked her up off the ground and splashed water in her face. All the while, the machine kept doing its job. The soldiers looked on.

I don’t think I can accurately convey the scene in writing. It was one of the most painful and difficult things I have experienced. More than just a home was being torn down; a life – many lives, for that matter – were being destroyed. I don’t think I truly understood the pain and suffering that comes with a home demolition before yesterday. I don’t think I truly understood how more than just four walls are coming down when a house is demolished.

I want people to care about this. I want people to fucking do something about it, to stop being so complacent, so comfortable. I want to smack people as I see them sipping coffees along Ben Yehuda Street. What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you know that people are losing their homes, their lives, just a few minutes away?

I got to the office after filming in Issawiya. C. asked me how I was and I answered truthfully: not good. She asked why, and I couldn’t look at her anymore. I started bawling. “What do they [the soldiers] tell their families and friends they did today? ‘Oh, just destroyed a person’s life, no big deal.’ How can they do that to another human being?” I asked, as my nose started running from crying so hard.

C. nodded, giving me an attentive ear and much-needed shoulder. “They wanted you to be there filming. They asked for you,” she said. “And your response is the natural human one.”

Written by faredge

07/14/2010 at 9:14 AM

Posted in Palestine, Personal

Having it Both Ways

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“They can’t have it both ways: pretend to be this democracy in the Middle East, but then at the same time confiscate megaphones and arrest the leaders of demonstrations. Seems a lot like Iran.” -A.

Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem: every Friday, demonstrations made up of mainly Israeli activists and internationals, against evictions of Palestinian families and settler violence in the neighborhood. Tonight was the first time the Israeli border guards, about 20 of them, used violence on demonstrators. They pushed, shoved, and grabbed everyone in sight: men, women, the elderly. All because we stood around, holding signs and chanting slogans in Hebrew.

Non-violence, once again met with police repression, unprovoked attacks and ten arrests. As A. said, if non-violent protests are being consistently met with such violence, it’s about time we start defining Israeli policy for what it really is. “They can’t have it both ways.”

Written by faredge

07/09/2010 at 6:30 PM

Posted in Israel, Jerusalem

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“I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace.”

Is this some type of sick f!@#ing joke, Obama?

Written by faredge

07/07/2010 at 7:14 AM

Posted in Israel

Double Standards

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Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praised the marchers’ efforts. “The journey for Gilad, which long ago turned into mass procession, shows the differences between us and our enemies,” he said. “Anyone who compares one soldier to a thousand terrorists exposes the contempt he holds for his own people.”

-Ha’aretz, Tens of thousands expected as march for Gilad Shalit approaches Jerusalem, July 7, 2010.

One soldier, a thousand terrorists. That is how public discourse in Israel is framed when discussing Gilad Shalit, being held by Hamas in Gaza, and the many thousands of Palestinian prisoners, being illegally held in Israeli jails. The double standard is terrifying and infuriating.

Since the Israeli occupation of 1967, nearly 700,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders. This number accounts for 20 percent of the total population of the Palestinian territories and 40 percent of the men therein. In that same period of time, nearly 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested or detained under Israeli military orders.

As of March 2010, there were approximately 6,600 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli detention centers. This number includes 337 child detainees, 15 Palestinian Legislative Council members, 35 women and nearly 800 Palestinians serving life sentences. Under Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupier must hold prisoners from the occupied territory it controls within the boundaries of that occupied territory. Israel violates this regulation, however, and illegally transfers all Palestinian prisoners to detention facilities and prisons within 1948 Israel.

Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel explained to me last week that in addition to this blatant disregard for international law and humanitarian law, the fact that Israel is sentencing individuals who are fighting for their freedom is also illegal. “The right to fight is recognized internationally also,” she said. Indeed, this point is most often ignored when talking about Palestine/Israel: a population under occupation has the legal authority and right to resist that occupation, through whatever means it chooses.

The pain and suffering of the Shalit family is atrocious, and I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to worry about a loved-one for such a prolonged amount of time. However, as is the case with virtually everything in Palestine, context is crucial. One Israeli soldier, thousands of Palestinian political prisoners. If our hearts go out to the Shalit family, shouldn’t they also go out to the thousands of Palestinian families who are also anxiously awaiting the release of their loved-ones? If not, there is an obvious fact that can no longer be ignored: one Israeli life is worth infinitely more than thousands of Palestinian lives.

Written by faredge

07/06/2010 at 10:51 AM

Posted in Palestine

The Democracy Lie

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The Only Democracy in the Middle East.

That’s how we’ve been told Israel can be categorized. This phrase – seven words strung together, strongly reinforcing the Us vs. Them, Good vs. Bad mentality – has been ingrained into minds the world over.

Even before I arrived in Jerusalem, I knew this was a lie. I knew Israel wasn’t a democracy, in the true sense of the word, despite the fact that it runs elections that are seemingly open to all and pretends to guarantee the rights of its minority communities (besides the grotesquely unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, “Israeli Arabs”, we can add refugees, Mizrahi Jews and migrant laborers, among many others, to the list of marginalized groups within Israel).

The main test of any democracy is how it treats the most vulnerable members of its society. Not even looking at Israel’s criminal practices in the occupied territories, the way in which this country treats Arab citizens of Israel is abhorrent. In so-called “mixed cities” such as Lydd/Lod and Ramla, the seemingly constant flow of house demolition orders, a struggling education system and constant police harassment are everyday occurrences. Not only that, but the disgusting outbursts leveled at Arab Israeli Ministers following the Gaza flotilla massacre, or calls for Palestinians (the occupied) to make a “pledge of allegiance” to the State (the occupier) are disgraceful.

The strata of “Israel-ness” (if I can call it that), the class system here, is constantly magnified and cemented into practice by official Israeli policy. Ashkenazi Jews are, of course, at the top of the list, followed by Russian Jews and Mizrahi Jews, and then finally by African/Asian migrant laborers and lastly, Arab Palestinians. The latest example of the discrimination and prejudice in this country: the move to deport migrant laborer’s children, most of whom were born and raised in Israel and don’t know any other country as home.

It’s about time people begin to see Israel for what it is. And while I’m not even sure how to define it exactly (apartheid state seems pretty fitting), I know one thing: if this is what a democracy looks like, we sorely need to find a new model of governance.

Written by faredge

07/06/2010 at 10:10 AM

Posted in Israel, Palestine

War Tourism

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Last Friday, I went with a few friends to Bil’in, the village in the West Bank that has been holding weekly protests for the past five years. The villagers of Bil’in are also taking two Quebec companies to court over their participation in building Israel’s Apartheid Wall, which cuts them off from 60 percent of their farmland.

When we arrived for the information briefing before the demonstration, I noticed how many internationals there were. Laughing, talking excitedly, I wondered where everyone was from and what they were doing in Palestine. Once the demo started and we made our way towards the Wall, the majority of the internationals stayed at one point at the top of the hill, right before the path heads down, around the corner and back up again.

That wasn’t the problem; every person that goes to a demonstration has a choice of where he/she wants to stand, how far he/she wants to go, etc. The problem was the comments I kept hearing, even as the tear gas cannisters began to fly and we all made our way back up the hill.

“Did you hear that the New York Times journalist Nick Kristof is here?” “REALLY!? Let’s go down and see him!”

“Wow, I can see myself in your sunglasses and I don’t look as bad as I thought I would after the tear gas.”

“They’re shooting tear gas at us now. Someone just handed me an onion…” [Someone was filming and narrating his video during the whole process]

All the while, seemingly unbeknownst to this group of internationals, the fields of Bil’in were on fire. Trees and dry summer grass were burning. But that didn’t seem to be any of their concern. No, they were here for the rush and to be able to say that they survived tear gas. Nowhere in what I heard, or saw, did I see any attention being paid to the villagers themselves, to their struggle.

In fact, as we made our way towards the Wall, I actually heard someone say: “Why don’t they just combine all the Friday protests happening in West Bank villages into one big demonstration!? Wouldn’t that be more effective?” I can’t begin to tell you how infuriated I was when I heard that. This random international, who is most likely staying in Palestine for only a few months, thinking that she should – and even could – be able to dictacte the resistance strategy for Bil’in, Nil’in, and the surrounding villages. I couldn’t believe it.

To be in solidarity with Palestinian resistance means to accept the strategy that the Palestinians themselves have decided they want to use, whether it’s Friday afternoon protests or BDS. The people that are only here to experience war tourism… what’s the point?

Written by faredge

07/05/2010 at 3:19 PM

Posted in Palestine, West Bank

It Only Takes One

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I joined a group of Israeli activists Saturday morning to head to the South Hebron hills; we were going to accompany Palestinian villagers and farmers and make sure they had access to their lands and weren’t bothered by settlers or the Israeli army.

After spending about an hour picking crops (for the farmers to then feed their goats), we sat around as the Palestinians pumped water out of the well into large trucks to bring back to their village.

After a while of sitting around in the sun, I turned around to see an Israeli settler messing with the well. He was yelling in Hebrew, and the Israeli activists were quick to take out their video cameras to tape what he was saying/doing. A few moments after his arrival, two Israeli army jeeps pulled up, also.

From what the Israelis told me afterwards, this settler was arguing that he has the right to take water from the well and the Palestinians don’t. Two Palestinian families, however, won a recent court decision which reaffirmed the fact that they are the sole individuals who have the land rights in this area and have access to the wells. By law, the Israeli army should therefore have been protecting the Palestinians’ right to take water from the well, and keeping the settler at bay. Instead, it was clear (by the atmosphere, their behavior, and by the way in which the settler was speaking to the soldiers) that the army was working for the settler, as per usual.

Before long, the Israeli army commander said that the area was a “closed military zone” and we had to leave. The Israeli activists had been on the phone this entire time with their lawyers, figuring out what the best way to proceed would be. Earlier that morning (it was later explained to me), the Palestinian villagers had been given the OK from the Israeli army division in charge of ownership and land that they could take water from the well (from their own land, how generous of them!).

The families had been taking water uninterrupted for two hours before the above situation unfolded. All it took was one Israeli settler making a false claim with no legal basis to stop the whole process; the Palestinians were forced to pack up their equipment and head home without the full quantity of water they need. We left the area at the same time.

All it took was one Israeli settler – and the Israeli soldiers working to protect him and his interests – to impede the Palestinians’ right to take water from their own land.  What would have happened if the group of activists hadn’t been there and if video and photographs weren’t being taken? What extreme violence – the calling-card of Hebron-area settlers – would have erupted?

All it took was one. I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my mind around this fact yet.

Written by faredge

07/04/2010 at 5:02 PM

Posted in Palestine, West Bank