“How is it that they show up whenever you’re here?” I asked Nadav in considerable irritation.
I had opened the front door to find that a blue metal barrier and two occupation soldiers had sprung up like mushrooms overnight. (Sadly not the edible kind.) They were blocking the mouth of our street. The wall surrounds us and the only way to get into Bethlehem lay past them. And I was going to have to walk past them with an illegal Israeli, which is not the ideal accessory to have about your person when confronted with an unexpected military roadblock.
Posted in Creative resistance, Feminism, Occupational hazards, On the wrong side of the law, Personal life, Strange encounters, Telling their stories
Tagged army, Bethlehem, checkpoints, cultural resistance, embroidery, feminism, Hebron, military, occupation, Palestine, resistance, settlers, sewing, Women in Hebron, women's liberation, women's rights
Posted in honour of Land Day.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the event at which this poem and song were presented. Arwa Abu Haikal insisted on reciting her mother’s poem before the choir sang the song, as she didn’t think she would be able to make it through the song without tears otherwise. Hearing the song, I understood why. I can’t be in Bethlehem this Land Day, but I’m sharing ‘Our Trees Beyond the Fence’ in the Land Day spirit.
The main entrance to the arts centre was bedecked with bands of white plastic tape, with ‘Peace Week’ printed on each strip in blue letters. It reminded me immediately of the tape used to cordon off crime scenes while police gather forensic evidence. The organisers of the week were playing on that image deliberately: Peace Week was established in response to violent street crime in inner city Manchester. Now it is in its tenth year.
The arts centre was hosting a film installation by Liz Crow, Resistance: Which Way the Future?. I don’t know if the centre deliberately arranged to feature this artwork during Peace Week. It may just have been a coincidence – but coincidental or not, the installation has something tough and dark and powerful to say about non-violence.
Entering the room, you sit down before the first of three screens. The film coughs into life with the sound of an engine. The first image: an exhaust trailing smoke, the underbelly of the bus. You watch for a long time. At first you are expectant. Then the wait starts to grate on you. What’s happening? What are you waiting for? With a sudden roar, the bus drives off, revealing a young nurse with a clipboard standing outside a creeper-covered country house. She makes a decisive mark on her clipboard, then walks briskly into the house.
Posted in Creative resistance, Disability, Don't make me get political, Is it cos I is pacifist?, On the wrong side of the law, Peace and justice, Personal life, Telling their stories, What you can do
Tagged ableism, abortion, Aktion-T4, art, creativity, disability, disability rights, discrimination, drama, film, Hitler, Holocaust, Jamie Beddard, Liz Crow, Mencap, Nazism, non-violence, pacifism, Palestine, prejudice, resistance, Resistance: Which Way the Future?, Sophie Weaver, theatre, violence
If you are a tourist or pilgrim who arrives in Bethlehem via Checkpoint 300, the first thing you will see as you turn into the street is the concrete barrier that slices it in half, severing the neighbourhood from Rachel’s Tomb and the military base that lies adjacent to the holy site. Get closer to the wall and you will find the women of the neighbourhood waiting to meet you.
One of the simplest but most important aspects of my organisation’s work is providing a space where people can tell their stories. One day Toine had an idea: why not turn the wall itself into that space? We could collect short vignettes from the women who use the centre and hang them on the concrete. The stories would be like windows: tourists on their way to see Nativity Church or eat dinner at the optimistically named Bahamas Fish Restaurant would be able to catch a glimpse of Palestinian life.
Posted in Creative resistance, Feminism, Occupational hazards, Peace and justice, Reasons to be hopeful, Telling their stories
Tagged apartheid, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, checkpoints, Christianity, Christians, church, education, feminism, International Women's Day, Intifada, Islam, Israel, Jalazon, Jerusalem, Justice, military occupation, music, Muslims, pacifism, Palestine, Peace, Rachel's Tomb, Ramallah, refugee camps, refugees, resistance, separation wall, storytelling, sumud, women
I’ve decided to create a weekly round-up post of the most interesting, thought-provoking, and urgent things I’ve come across during the week, especially if they haven’t received much attention in the blogosphere. All of the links will be relevant to peace and justice work in some way, although not always specifically to Palestine. Feel free to add your own reading suggestions.
Posted in Occupational hazards, Peace and justice, In the media, Dei profundis, Disability, Creative resistance, On the wrong side of the law, What you can do, Reasons to be hopeful
Tagged Palestine, settlements, Israel, Gaza, Islam, Justice, disability, pacifism, resistance, non-violence, death, bereavement, Zionism, West Bank, David Grossman, Syria, cookery, disability rights, ableism, prison reform, murder, police, Guardian, recipes, Homs, hate crime, Yom Yerushalayim, Jewish Voice for Peace, Red Cross, Syria Crisis Appeal, drama, film, creative arts, Homosexuality, LGBTQ
Love Under Apartheid is a collection of videos in which Palestinians talk about the effects that the occupation has on their ability to form romantic relationships and retain ties with their family and friends. Recently Israel’s Citizenship Law (which precludes Israelis from obtaining citizenship for Palestinian spouses who come from the Occupied Territories or the Diaspora) has received quite a lot of attention, as it specifically seeks to prevent the spouses of Israelis from receiving citizenship on the basis of their ethnicity and cultural identity alone. But this law is nothing new. Occupation and dispossession have intruded on the private lives of Palestinians for over sixty years now, including their loves.
This video was made by my colleague Toine. He describes his marriage to Mary (a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem) and the birth of their children.
For over ten years he had to leave the country every three months to get his visa renewed; the Israeli authorities wouldn’t grant him residency rights. (He still doesn’t have the right to reside, although he at least gets longer than three months before each renewal now.) When he flies out of the country, he has to ring the airport to let them know that he is coming. As a man married to a Palestinian, he is a security risk. As a man married to a Palestinian, he is not allowed to be unsupervised in the airport. An armed guard meets him at the entrance and escorts him to his flight. He once told me jokingly, “It’s quite nice. At least I don’t have to queue!”
I laughed. Perhaps there is a bright side to everything. Even love under apartheid. His family still can’t quite appreciate its advantages, though.
Posted in Creative resistance, Don't make me get political, In the media, Occupational hazards, On the wrong side of the law, Telling their stories
Tagged apartheid, birth, Israel, Israel Apartheid Week, Israel Awareness Week, Love, Love Under Apartheid, marriage, Palestine, romance, segregation, Valentine's Day, wedding
Some graffiti by Banksy in Bethlehem: A Palestinian girl frisks a soldier.
One evening late last summer, as I walked home from a day spent in Dheisheh refugee camp, I was stopped at a flying checkpoint. (These are blockades that pop up unexpectedly for a few days, or even a few hours, as opposed to the permanent checkpoints.) I took off my jacket so that they could search the pockets and waited patiently. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. What was unusual was the age and appearance of the ‘soldiers’. The eldest of them was nine. She is a little girl who lives just round the corner.
“Shoes!” she said imperiously, in a magnificent imitation of our local IDF, and I removed my shoes. She had a long wooden stick slung across her body in the manner of a gun. She made the motions of scanning my shoes, and then demanded, “ID!” To my horror, I didn’t have my ID on me. I stood and waited while they discussed what to do with me – would they just refuse to let me pass, or would I have to be interrogated first? Should I be arrested? In the end, needing the toilet rather badly, I bribed the occupation army by proffering a squashed packet of Oreos that I may or may not have sat on at some point. They accepted cheerfully. After I had dashed in to the bathroom, I came back out to them, and we spent a happy evening playing tag and hide-and-seek.
Posted in Creative resistance, Don't make me get political, In the media, Occupational hazards, On the wrong side of the law, Peace and justice, Personal life, Telling their stories
Tagged anti-Semitism, Bethlehem, checkpoints, Children of Amal, Dheisheh, fear, folktales, Gaza, Hebron, hope, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Jerusalem, media, military, music therapy, occupation, Palestine, Peace, play therapy, prejudice, racism, refugee camps, security, trauma, understanding, video, war
Anne Frank, April 1941.
I met Anne Frank when I was eight years old. I spent most of lunchtime and every break in the school library, curled up on a rubbery cushion the colour and shape of a boiled sweet, reading and reading. The library felt cavernous at the time, as though I could never get to the end of it. (When I revisited the school ten years later, I was surprised at how much it had shrunk.) One afternoon, as I reluctantly eased Sense and Sensibility back onto the shelf and prepared to drag myself off to class (not very late this time. Well, only five minutes late…), I caught sight of a striking face in black-and-white looking out at me from one of the librarian’s special displays.
I knew a bit about the Second World War; we had done a project on the Blitz and the evacuee children last year. I also knew that Hitler had killed people for being Jews, although the Holocaust hadn’t been presented to us in any real depth, as we were only seven at the time. But the librarian never restricted the books she allowed me to check out (a source of some friction between her and my class teacher) and on that day I went home with The Diary of Anne Frank in my satchel. I read it in between teatime and bedtime, and afterwards I could not sleep. The agitation made me pace around my room.
She died. She wasn’t supposed to die.
The full import of Anne’s death wasn’t brought home to me by the short epilogue at the end of the book, which described the family’s capture and deportation simply and without emotion. It was the last pages of the diary that cut through me. Turning the last page was like putting out my foot for the next stair and finding only air. She had put the pen down after that last sentence, meaning to write again, and she never had.
Posted in Creative resistance, Dei profundis, Occupational hazards, Peace and justice, Reasons to be hopeful, Telling their stories
Tagged Anne Frank, Armenia, Bethlehem, Cambodia, Deir Yassin, Diary of Anne Frank, genocide, Holocaust, Holocaust denial, Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel, Palestine, Rwanda, Shoah, Yad Vashem, Zlata Filipovic, Zlata's Diary
Update: this film can be watched for free online on Beliefnet throughout the month of October.
From EGM Films:
Come face to face with the courageous struggle for a nonviolent solution to the crisis that has torn Palestinians and Israelis apart. Little Town of Bethlehem, is a bold documentary by award-winning director Jim Hanon and producer Mart Green. It shares the gripping story of how three men born into the cycle of violence have chosen to risk everything to bring peace to their homelands. Sami and Ahmad are Palestinians, one is a Christian, the other a Muslim; and Yonatan is an Israeli Jew. Independently they find inspiration through the example of Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrificial commitment to equality. At great personal cost they have joined together in a heroic and dangerous cause. In the city of Bethlehem, where it is said that God became man, these men stand side by side with those whose only desire is to be treated as equals, as fellow human beings. Their story brings the possibility of real hope to this embattled region and provides a model for resolution of hostilities throughout the world.
I first came into contact with Sami Awad and the group he founded (the Holy Land Trust) when the staff at my organisation received an invitation to a housewarming party. HLT had just rebuilt a home that Israeli forces had demolished in Walajeh, and they brought the community to celebrate with the family who lives there. Yonatan Shapira I met during the Sabeel Conference. I don’t know Ahmad, but if he’s as thoughtful and compassionate as the other two, this should be a wonderful film.
There is going to be an online premiere today at 7pm Eastern time, hosted by Beliefnet. I think that is midnight here in the UK and two o’clock tomorrow morning in Israel and Palestine.
You can read more about the film and its creation here, and also order the DVD.
In England, the past week has been a flurry of washing and ironing and stationery-buying as my nieces and nephews got ready to go back to school. My eldest nephew is just entering Year 8, his second year of high school, after spending the summer helping out at a welding firm. When I heard what he had been up to with his holiday, I had to bite back the cry of concern. It barely seems like five minutes since this baby was snuggled up on my lap, his head covered in fine wispy hair, smelling sweetly of talcum powder and dribbling as I showed him photos of tropical fish in a book that we had bought at Seaworld. Now he is very nearly a teenager and being allowed to do work experience in a place with lots of sharp edges. I did begin to say, “It barely seems like five minutes since…” but I shut myself up hastily. I hated hearing that sort of thing when I was twelve.
In Israel and Palestine, children are also returning to school. In Nabi Samuel, a little village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the primary-aged children will be squeezing themselves into their one-room building, where three classes are taught simultaneously. (There are blackboards hanging on three walls; the children sit back to back, jostling for space on the bench, focusing on their own board and somehow managing to block out what the other two teachers are saying.) Bolted to the side of the school is a tin-roofed privy of the kind that you can still see in the gardens of some English houses. It may not be there for long. That toilet is repeatedly demolished by the Israeli military. Now you know why the villagers don’t dare to risk expanding their school. If they did, the whole thing would be brought down.