Reports from the West Bank. June 2005.

 

Report 1. Things get better, things get worse.

For some there was never an Intifada (uprising), it was just a name given to another point in the series of political ups and downs. For others, it has ended, somewhat unofficially with Arafat's death. For others, it is still going on; the resistance movement is far from over. Whichever way one wishes to define the moment now, things have kind of changed, or maybe not. [4 pictures]
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Report 2. A Conspiracy of Guns.

On Sunday night, my friends and I decided to walk home from the Ramallah Club, an outdoor café where families let their children roa around freely. It was to be a rather long walk home, with a few steep climbs to negotiate. In the mood for a breezy evening stroll, we figured a nice quiet walk home would do us some good. Towards the end of our walk, at the end of the longest uphill, as we neared the circle where we would each part our separate ways, we heard some shooting. One friend claimed it was coming from the left, another from the right; perhaps it was the echo that we were hearing since we were in a valley of sorts. Making nothing of it, we continued uphill, when we were astounded by a couple of young men running down the hill screaming, followed by more intense and louder gun shots. We stopped in our tracks. The two young men turned to us as they continued running and shouted for us not to continue to the intersection. A whizz of cars suddenly came by, and I managed to wave down a taxi among them. We asked him if he'd take two of us to the hotel, and the other two of us would walk the long way home, avoiding the circle. He refused, claiming that the shooting was taking place right in front of the hotel. He had his walkie talkie on and we could hear much louder gun shots from the other end, muffled by demands of "don't come, don't come." We told our out of town friends to come home with us, they could either spend the night or wait until things calmed down. [1 picture]
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Report 3. Untitled.

I walked through the Qalandia checkpoint for the first time yesterday. I was told it had changed, but I didn't realize to what extent. By the time I got through, my eyes were heavy with tears that I managed to supress. But I am still crying. I am in shock. Shock is not a word strong enough to describe the sensation. I am in awe. I am angry. I am sad. Distressed, distraught, anguished. Confused. Beaten down maybe. It was obvious two years ago that Qalandia was one day going to be an official border, that it would change from being just a checkpoint. That it would be similar to Erez, the only place where one can enter or exit the Gaza Strip from, with a permit of course. Gaza long ago had a "seperation fence" built around it, so perhaps when we pass through Erez today it's not surprising. But when you see a border being built piecemeal, without agreement from both sides, it is something else… [2 pictures]
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Report 4. Where's the Revolution?

I was standing in the noon-time sun with what I discovered is a self-proclaimed revolutionary fighter. He wants to liberate Palestine, perhaps one of the few people who thinks he can, or that this is somehow still possible. Another man standing near us made his way into the conversation and brought up the impotence of the United Nations. If ithe UN not able to force Israel to relinquish land, how will an armed revolution materialize in anything more? I asked the young revolutionary what he thought. He stood silently. I thought perhaps he did not understand my question, my accent, maybe he needed time to reflect. I asked again. No answer. I asked specifically a third time what he thought of two particular UN resolutions. [2 pictures]
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Report 5. Going to the hospital.

My friend's aunt had to get an operation done. I didn't quite understand at first, something to do with her leg. He was going to visit her in the hospital in Jerusalem, so when he heard that I wanted to go down as well, he suggested we make the trip together. Ok, I said.
We started out the usual way: going through the Qalandia checkpoint. Once to the other side, I figured we would take a taxi straight to Jerusalem. I was a little mistaken. We took a taxi to Abu Diss - that neighborhood East of East Jerusalem that Israel likes to mask to the world as the future Palestinian capital city in Jerusalem (needless to say it's about as close to Jerusalem as Ramallah is). The taxi heads East, down the hill towards the Dead Sea, in the opposite direction of Jerusalem. I can see the Wall snaking all around the landscape, some places where it is still under construction. [1 picture]
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Report 6. When occupation is the least of your worries.

Every society has its hierarchies, the wealthy, the poor, the urban, the rural, and so on. But often times in the face of a common enemy differences are put aside and a sense of collectiveness and unity prevails. Not so here, it seems.
Palestinians have long had social classes and their ensuing hierarchies, whether it be the land owners and the farmers, the educated and the illiterate, the Muslim and the Christian, the merchants and the teachers. When referring to the "catastrophe" of 1948, it's the loss of land, lives and nation that is most mourned for, the forced exile, the foreign domination, the disruption of life. The numbers vary, but hundreds of thousands of refugees were forced to flee, and a large number of them fled into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The same happened again in 1967 when the "official" Israeli occupation began forcing more Palestinians into the refugee camps that litter the holy land's landscape. Many of these refugees were land owners themselves, wealthy merchants, sailors and traders, educators, from different socio economic strata, but they were all equal in the face of exile and expulsion and arrived in the refugee camps with not much more than the clothes on their backs. Undoubtedly they were helped by the locals, but hospitality waned quickly when the refugees were forced to survive, took on employment, started their own businesses, tried to integrate into the disrupted society, and essentially competed over the scarce resources.
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Report 7. The Difficulty of writing.

Trying to survive here one is in a constant state of exhaustion, so trying to write reports makes one's life even more exhausting. The difficulty is not in a lack of things to write about, but in a lack of space to think clearly about the millions of things that are honestly dumb-founding. So rather than write a report about something specific, I thought I'd just send one about everything and nothing. A kind of stream of consciousness... [1 picture]
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Report 8. The curse of a blue ID

Since the Palestinian Authority arrived in the Territories in the early 1990s, Palestinians living inside the West Bank and Gaza were given new identification cards, nicely tucked in green or orange covers. One is not allowed to remove the cover, since the color is there to help Israeli police and/or soldiers tell right away whether a person is Palestinian or Israeli. Israeli citizens hold blue ID cards; as do Palestinians who live within the State of Israel. Many people outside the two countries get confused about this, and the modern concept of a nation-state and its boundaries hasn’t managed to do away with this confusion, but only added to it.
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Report 9. Lying to get out.

Rashid Khalidi described it beautifully in the introduction to his book on Palestinian identity – that any Palestinian’s identity is at once questioned, traumatic, and reinforced at a political border. So perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me when I was ambivalent, scared, nervous, confused when in line at the Tel Aviv airport, wondering whose advice I should heed… Some told me to flat out lie and deny having been to the Palestinian Territories. “Don’t even mention that you were in Jerusalem,” they said. “Jerusalem is too close to the Arabs. Just say you visited Tel Aviv, Haifa, not cities where there are Arabs.” My Palestinian friends who live within Israel (those whose families did not flee in 1948) told me to use them as my contact info. As one told me: “my record is clean. Just tell them you stayed with me.” Some suggested I go four hours early, others suggested going late so as to minimize the time getting questioned and searched. My Israeli friend… I was too shy to ask to use his name as a contact person. [1 picture]
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