Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I just got this message from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. I worked with both Kim and Christopher and I was in the area where they were attacked (take a look at my more recently posted pictures) on a couple of weeks ago. It is hard to believe this has happened to people I know.

It so easily could have been me.

Kim Lamberty (Washington DC, USA) and Christopher Brown (San Francisco, USA), members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, were attacked and beaten by five Israeli settlers while accompanying Palestinian children walking to school this morning in the Southern Hebron District of the West Bank. The school children were able to escape uninjured. Lamberty and Brown were taken by ambulance to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheba.

The Israeli settlers took Lamberty's pack with her money, passport and cell phone. Lamberty stated in a telephone interview, "We were attacked by settler men who came from the Ma'on outpost. They were dressed in black with black scarves across their faces. They threw us down to the ground and kicked us. Chris was also beaten with chains and a bat." Lamberty suffered a broken arm and knee. She has now been released from the hospital and is recovering in Jerusalem.

Brown sustained broken ribs, one of which punctured his lung. He has undergone a surgical procedure to fix his collapsed lung. Brown also suffered a contusion on his head at his temple, but does not appear to have any brain injury. He will be recovering in the hospital for an unspecified amount of time.

Christian Peacemaker teams are present in the area of the attack at therequest of Palestinian villagers who are suffering repeated harassment from Israeli settlers while Israeli authorities have failed to intervene.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hangin' with the Journalists

I've moved out of the CPT house and into a small hotel located in a complex of hotels where alot of Journalists stay. Since I'm not on team with CPT Iraq and my schedule requires that I leave the house more often then they would like, I didn't feel that I could stay there. Secretly I'm kind of happy about the decision though it will be more expensive for me. The CPT team is staying indoors with curtains drawn ... when the power goes out, I feel like I'm some kind of cave dweller starving for light.

The nice thing about the hotel is that it has 24 hour Internet service in the room (for an extra $5 a day), Satellite TV (yeah, I get to watch the BBC again) and I've even got air conditioning (well, atleast when we're on city power).

I've had a series of meetings with the Ministry of Environment (in the never ending search for "permission") and some Iraqi NGO's ... there is so little time ... and everything takes so much time to accomplish. I'm trying to get the Ministry to lighten up and give me the data results from the Tigris River Project. Apparently they believe that the pH and Dissolved Oxygen content of the Tigris is a state secret and must be protected at all costs!

Tonight, when I returned to the hotel, I got a call from my old translator. Several months ago she was working with a friend of mine on issues concerning squatter camps here in Baghdad. I helped out some of their work before and you'll find some mention of it in my archives. Apparently the main camp that they worked on got their eviction notice and the police will be coming tomorrow morning to kick everyone out. As I recall, it was something like 500 families (don't quote me). The spokesman for the camp contacted my translator and ask her if she could get any international press out to cover what was going on.

I offered to go around the hotels and let folks know. I spoke to reporters from the Daily Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, NBC and ended up a BBQ at the Time Magazine house which is located within the same complex of hotels. I think I may have interested a few people in the story and I even suggested a few other stories that I think could use some better coverage here in Baghdad (i.e. the Green Zone Garbage Dump, Radiation issues, and the general environmental problems of the city).

It is always interesting to hang with the Journalists ... they always have alot of information about what is happening in the city and they usually have the best political discussions. And now, given the situation in Iraq, most of the Journalists are collected in just a few hotel complexes in the city - mine being one of them.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

My "disguise"

Yesterday I needed to go to the Internet Cafe, so I donned my hijab (the headscarf worn by women of the Middle East) and walked down Karrada Dakhil. It was Friday, a holy day. Many of the shops were closed, the traffic was light and all in all it was pretty quiet.

Have I mentioned how much a hate wearing the hijab? We are past the worst heat of summer (which thankfully I missed out on ... spending my summer in the much cooler Hebron) but it is still too hot, in my opinion, to wear the blasted thing. How do Iraqi women do it!?! Some misogynistic Iraq man once told me, "Oh, they're used to it." ('Yeah right, buddy,' I thought, 'let's see you 'get used to it!'')

Anyway, there are innumerable ways to wear a hijab and they come in a variety of colors and fabrics but with just a few basic styles. I have a greenish one ... a long rectangle with fringes on the ends that my translator helped me to pick out months ago. Still I haven't mastered wearing it yet.

Yesterday, after many hours of observation learning how Iraqi women arrange their hijab, I figured that I had finally mastered how to put it on properly. Wearing the hijab and some respectable Iraqi clothes: a long skirt, long-sleeved top, and sandels - I figured that I wouldn't be noticed. Yeah, I'm a little tall for the average Iraqi woman and yep, a bit pale too ... but still quite within the realm of reason ... or atleast so I'm told (most people tell me I look Iranian. Go figure.)

I walked the short distance to the Internet cafe but found it full, so I sat down to wait for the next free computer, feeling rather self-satisfied that I was blending in quite nicely.

Then the Iraqi man sitting next to me leaned over and said in a soft voice,

"Nice disguise."

I laughed the whole way back to the apartment that day.

Friday, September 24, 2004

What a fine birthday that was …

Yesterday was my birthday (you’ll have to guess how old I am. I’m not telling) and my first opportunity to see directly how things have changed in Baghdad in the two months I’ve been away. I had a relatively full day of meetings and errands on my second day in town. I made my own birthday meal for the members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq with whom I’m staying for a few days and I studied a little bit of Arabic before going to bed.

Just before midnight, we heard gunfire and shouting. In the past this would normally have been a distant sound but on this night it was right on our street. A few isolated shots and then some sustained bursts. Some of it sounded like it was right outside our apartment building. I jumped out of bed … not sure if we were being targeted or not … and in the dark made my way to a window overlooking the street. People were rushing back and forth in front of the apartment building. Some carrying guns. A body was carried away and put into a van … unconscious or killed, I wasn’t sure. We still don’t know the full story.

There are guard outposts on either side of us … one is related to the Communist Party office on Abu Nuwas street around the corner from us. Much of the gunfire could have been straight up into the air to scare off what or whoever was causing trouble in the neighborhood. Later on there was some more distant gunfire and Matthew told me in the morning that a U.S. Humvee patrol drove down our street at one point in the night.

Having just related this story, I think I need to clarify a few things about exactly what I am doing in Iraq. I plan on being here for only a few weeks. My work is to focus primarily on assisting the Iraqi Environmental NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations aka Non-profits) that I was working with before and try and identify others. One group in particular, the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights, has a strong environmental focus and I am working with them on a project to do environmental education on the Tigris River and water quality issues. In additional I hope to learn for myself, and report to others, what is currently going on in Iraq.

Because I have worked with Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron and have always had a strong connection with them here in Iraq, I am abiding for the most part by their Statement of Conviction, which I’ve included below.

CPT Iraq Statement of Conviction

We, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq, are aware of the many concerned inquires from our families members, friends, and other CPT supporters, asking whether our team should pull out of Iraq for our own safety.

We are aware of the risks both Iraqis and internationals face at this time. However, we are convinced that these risks are not disproportionate to our purposes in remaining, nor greater than those faced on other CPT projects.

Iraqi friends and human rights workers welcome us as a nonviolent, independent presence. They ask us to tell their stories, since they cannot easily be heard, nor can more flee to a safer country. They need us to be the eyes and ears recording the abuses of the occupation, and a voice challenging these also, especially when other international monitoring bodies have pulled out.

As a peacemaking team we need to cross boundaries, help soldiers be humane, and invite them to refuse unjust orders. We need to help preserve what is human in all of us and so offer glimpses of hope in a dark time.

We reject kidnapping and hostage-taking wholesale. If any of us are taken hostage, absolutely no ransom will be paid. In such an event, CPT will attempt to communicate with the hostage-takers or their sponsors and work against the media’s inclination to vilify and demonize the offenders. We will try to understand the motives for these actions, and to articulate them, while maintaining a firm stance that such actions are wrong. If appropriate CPT will work with diplomatic officials from our representative governments to avoid a violent outcome.

We reject the use of violent force to save our lives should we be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation. We also reject violence to punish anyone who harms us. We ask for equal justice in the arrest and trial of anyone, soldier or civilian, who commits an act of violence, and we ask that there be no retaliation on their relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemy. Therefore, any penalty should be in the form of restraint and rehabilitation, rather than in the spirit of revenge.

We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.


I recently wrote to a friend who is working in the Green Zone (the protected headquarters in the center of Baghdad for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq and the location of the new American Embassy in Iraq - amazingly located in the Iraqi Presidential Palace). I told him of the CPT Statement of Conviction and that I would want “no retribution, no ransom and no violence” to take place on my behalf, should I be killed, captured or kidnapped here in Iraq.

He wrote me back and I grant there is a lot of truth to what he wrote me, so I’m reprinting it here:

“I appreciate what you have written, but this looks like a last desperate gesture. But for what and for whom? I do not see how you could translate your act into a last political counter-statement, which would be broadcasted on Al Jazeera television. I do not like to see that you use yourself as an American martyr and let yourself get butchered in front of the cameras, while whispering something to the world, erroneously subtitled as curses to the Arabs for their wrong-doings. I tell you again: The situation is worse than a month ago and no one is safe and especially young U.S. women. They make a lot of money for the bounty hunters, who look for literally soft targets like you … Here in Baghdad, as there are few other good business opportunities, the hostage business is doing well and is very lucrative.”

I have thought a lot about his words over the course of the past week and especially last night. It doesn’t change my commitment to the Statement of Conviction. People may misunderstand it and may put whatever spin they want on the things we do and say. That is not my concern. I can’t control that. God forbid, I be put into a kidnapping situation, my last words will have nothing to do with political beliefs and grandstanding for martyrdom status. I’ll have more important things to think about – friends, family and loved ones.

And though I’m not particularly religious (despite my recent association with CPT), I’ll probably be praying my little heart out!

I made my political statement when I signing on to the Statement of Conviction … the rest is just abiding by the consequences of my decision. I personally do not want anyone to take any risks or suffer on my behalf (hence no violence and no retribution). I don’t want my kidnapping to contribute to the kidnapping of others (hence no ransom). It’s pretty simple.

Having said all that, it’s not like I’m going to go blithely about my business in the same way I did before. “Low Profile” will be my middle name. The hijab (headscarf) my best friend (even though I hate wearing it and I feel like I’m a kid playing dress up when I put it). No more taxis … only drivers that I know. Staying indoors as much as possible and only going to specific location inside Baghdad (no trips to Fallujah for me).

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Twani I

Well, owing to the rather chaotic and disorganized nature of peace work, my week in Suseya with the shepherds became four days in nearby Twani doing accompaniment for workers trying to build a small clinic. Twani is a little village in the southern West Bank that is the home of approximately 350 Palestinian men, women and children. It is near several Israeli settlements and outposts, the closest and largest being Ma’on, just on the hill above them. To get there from Hebron (which I believe under normal circumstances would have taken about a 20 minute drive on the highway), involved two vehicles, a long walk, and passing over a maksoum (dirt barriers that the Israeli Army used to block roads). It took us about an hours and a half.

Twani is a village with power only three or four hours each night when the town generator to switched on. The rest of the time the town lives without electricity. From what I saw there is no running water in the town and everyone sends their daughters and sons down to fetch water from the town wells or to the water truck that they pay each month to be delivered to the village. Right on the hill top above Twani is located Ma’on, a modern Israeli development with beautiful homes and all the typical municipal services. All Twani has are all the typical problems of a Palestinian village located near an Israeli settlement - housing demolitions, harassment, and land confiscation. Only a week or so before, settlers had come down to chop down an olive grove in the village and they threw dead chickens into one of the wells to poison it. The local school servers the village children as well as children from surrounding villages many of whom have long walks and donkey rides to arrive there in time for classes. But the school was built illegally, since the village could never get a permit for its construction. They paid a lot of money to Israeli lawyers to fight off a demolition order and won a five year reprieve. The school is now five years old and I was told the village was bracing itself for another costly court battle.

There were four of us that took the trip to Twani. Pierre Georgio and Christina from Operation Dove, an Italian faith-based organization, and Maia and myself from CPT. Upon our arrival, we were immediately taken to the town museum … it was actually the women’s cooperative that had been set up just a few months prior. The walls were lined with traditional embroidered dresses and colorful sheep wool bags and rugs. Some where examples of changing styles that dated back to the 1940’s. All were beautiful, intricately designed and a potential gold mine for the village if they could ever get over the seemingly insurmountable challenge of being cut off from the outside world. These are Palestinian West Bankers and for most of them getting to Jerusalem a little over an hour or so to the north, was as difficult as going to foreign land.
Two other Israeli peace groups breezed in - Ezra from Tay’ush and Arik from Rabbis for Human Rights. With concerted efforts we finally were informed that we would be doing accompaniment work in the village while they tried to build the town clinic. They needed internationals to run interference if the settlers decided to come down the hill or the soldiers came into town. Then Pierre Georgio, Ezra and Arik left, leaving only use women to do the work (ah, isn’t it always the way!).

At first we were given a house to ourselves on the edge of town just beyond the school. I say house, but it was really more like two bare, concrete rooms with broken windows (this, minus the broken windows, is typical Twani construction, though there are older homes of stone block). We swept the place out and tried to set up shop, but unfortunately, the village children soon found us. It was cool for awhile to be the center of attention. The kids were great! But we quickly realized that for the 30 assorted children that had gathered around us, we were the best and only show in town. Maia was dog tired and wanted to sleep, so we shooed the children out, then we started pushing them out … well, then it became the attack of the gremlins. We were outnumbered and outgunned. It seemed like they were coming in waves!

I once remember being at a zoo in the U.S. and there was a beaver sleeping just inside its glass enclosure. A family came by and they all started beating on the glass and yelling trying to make the beaver wake up. Well, we were that beaver in Twani.
But, through some sort of magic (probably the call of their mothers), the children all disappeared at the same time and we were granted a few minutes respite before we were called to dinner at the home of Hafiz, one of two people in the village that spoke English. After hearing of our plight with the children, we were removed from the empty house and soon ensconced in Hafiz master bedroom (think concrete room with a big bed). We protested vociferously but to no avail.

Twani II

We spent the next two days hanging out with the family, taking walks and eating (we did bring food with us but were constantly worrying about the drain on the family resources that we were creating by our presence). There were delays in the construction of the clinic. The army had been by the previous week and stopped the clearing of the worksite. Now the villagers were having trouble finding people who were willing to come over from Yatta, the larger Palestinian town just to the north of us. Everyone was worried about the settlers and the soldiers. No one wanted to risk being detained or worse. By noon of the third day, still no work had been done, but an army patrol came into the village, circled above the olive groves south of the village and came back. Maia, Christina and I had, by this time, extricated ourselves from children and Arabic books, gotten our shoes on and were down on the road as they came back through town.

We must have been an unusual site for them … three women - one Italian, one African-American and me, European-American … in this poor Palestinian town. They pulled to a halt beside me and as they opened the door I said, "Shalom, is everything alright?"

There were four (as I recall) Israeli soldiers in an American-made Humvee and they just looked at me. Somewhat sullenly one replied, "What are you doing here?"

"We’re visiting with people here in the village," I said. "But why are you here?"

"We’re just checking things out."

"Well, it’s pretty quiet." I said, "Are you sure everything is ok?"

The soldier I was talking to just nodded, shut the door and they drove off.

"Well, that went ok, I guess." I said to the dirt trail they kicked up. So we quietly went back to our pastime of playing with children, studying Arabic and hanging out. That night the work finally began and we helped were we could. There were no workers from Yatta but some equipment had arrived and a few of the local men started working on building the concrete forms for the clinic bathroom.

That night we were invited to the home of Ibrahim, the only other English-speaking villager in the town. We were warned by some of the workers that Ibrahim was … "a little weird."
Maia and Christina certainly didn’t care. He had beer. Warm beer, but beer. In a dry town like Twani, it was a luxury for them. Ibrahim was probably considered "weird" by the other villagers because he was a bit more cosmopolitan them. He had lived in Tel Aviv for many years and had traveled somewhat. He owned houses in Yatta and Bethlehem he told us. He also has two wives. One in Yatta and the other (I wish I had caught her name) had made us a wonderful meal of kebabs and chicken stuffed with rice and nuts. The first substantial meat we had had since we arrived.

"Why are you in Twani?" we asked.

"My family has land here and a cave up in the hills (the south Hebron hills are known for their caves and cave dwellers)," he told us, "If my family is not on the land, I will lose it to the settlers."

Ibrahim told us that he worked in concrete construction. He was usually away in Jerusalem most of the week as his company had a special permit that allowed him to travel there. I asked him if he ever did construction work in the Israeli settlements. He strongly denied it but Hafiz later told me that Ibrahim was involved in building the Israeli "Security" Wall in the West Bank.
I can’t be sure what the truth here is. This could have just been malicious gossip against a "weird" member of the community. But in the difficult economic situation that Palestinians face, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was true. Palestinians are often put in the position of helping to construct the very settlements and structures of the Occupation that keep them oppressed. It’s all rather insidious.

Twani III

Our next day and my last was a little more interesting. We went to the worksite early (even before the village workers arrived). We sat waiting and ate almonds directly from the almond tree next to the worksite (hmmmm, the only way to eat almonds!). Two workers finally came and started working on the bathroom building again. The location of the worksite was in a hallow, so the road into town could not be seen. This had concerned me when I first saw the worksite and I soon realized for good reason. We had very little warning when the soldiers actually arrived. We were sitting around and suddenly heard a sound that was different from the sound of the village tractors that we were used to.

"Hmmm," Maia said, "that sounds like an army vehicle."

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the workers literally dropped everything and made a mad dash out of the worksite. We were alone when only a short moment later the Israeli Humvee patrol drove into the worksite.

Again I spoke to them as Maia and Christina hung back and took pictures.

"Everything Ok?" I asked (my standard opening line), "Why are you guys here?"

The soldiers had stopped the Humvee and actually got out this time.

"We were told to check on some illegal building," said one soldier as they were looking around, obviously not very enthused about their task.

"What are you doing here?" one asked me.

"Well the villagers feel that they are being targeted and wanted some internationals here to see what is going on," I said and then asked, "If it’s about illegal building, why are you here? Shouldn’t it be the police that comes, not the army?

A soldier shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.

"I know the community wants to build a clinic here." I continued, "If someone gets hurt they can’t drive on the highway to get help but have to walk 20 minutes up the path to the edge of Yatta and go see a doctor from there. They want to have a clinic here."

No response. Essentially the soldiers, ignoring us as much as possible, milled about for a few minutes in some kind of Chinese fire drill routine, then got back in and drove off.

Since Rosh Hashanah had begun, I knew I would find it difficult to get transportation up to Jerusalem where I had to travel next, so I had to leave after this incident with the soldiers.
I learned later that the villagers went back to work on the clinic, volunteers from Tay’ush even came out to help them, but the Army came back five times trying to stop the work. With the constant threat and interruption, the villagers decided to stop the work and see what legal proceedings they could pursue.

On my way back to Hebron, I sat on a Service (shared bus) with a Palestinian medical student who spoke very good English.

"Now with the recent bombings in Beersheba," he told me, "The Israelis are speeding up the process of building the wall in the southern West Bank. Places like Twani will be on the Israeli side of the wall. That’s why they don’t want them building anything. They intend to forcibly relocate the whole population of Twani and all the villages nearby to Yatta."

The route of the "Security" Wall in the southern West Bank is still open to debate but we have maps of the proposed route in the CPT office that clearly show Twani on the Israeli side. Perhaps the medical student was right in his prediction for Twani. I don’t know. It could just be the worst case scenario. The Hebron CPT team is re-evaluating its future work in these villages, but the need for international observers remains great.

As for me, my time with the CPT Hebron team is up. I returned to Hebron, got cleaned up, said my goodbyes and was lucky enough to get one service out of town (we just had to circle around a bit and drive over a maksoum) that took me to Jerusalem. I spent a day or so there with a friend getting ready for the next leg of my trip. To Amman and back to Baghdad.


As I was leaving Israel (this time from the Sheik Hussain/Jordan River crossing in the north), the border official asked me, "Why didn’t you have your passport stamped with the Israeli visa?"

Since many countries will deny you entry if you have an Israeli visa stamp in your passport, you can ask the border officials to stamp a separate piece of paper when you come in. This is what I had done. I explained to the border official that I might want to travel to other countries in the region and I didn’t want to be rejected because of an Israeli visa stamp in my passport.

"There are no other countries around here worth seeing," the border official told me flatly.

Now for some pictures!

The village of Twani

Ma'on, The Israel Settlement above Twani

Uprooted Olive tree

Clinic building site

The Gremlins - (left to right) Malik, Hussain and Amir

Christina (in bridal head gear) and friends

Camel in Twani

Israeli Patrol

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Shepherds, Ar-Ram & Seeds

Soon I'll be heading off to the Southern Hebron Hills to the village of Suseya. The Palestinians are struggling to hold on to their land which is squeezed between two Israeli Settlements. There has been a lot of harassment and they have asked Internationals to come down and accompany them. So Maia, my team mate from D.C. and I will be joining representatives from Operation Dove (silly name I know but nice people), an Italian faith-based peace group very similar to CPT. I'll be staying with the shepherds ... hangin' with the sheep and the goats, living in a tent, and out of communication for awhile.

In addition to the lock-down that continues in the Hebron district (likely to continue until the end of September once the Jewish Holidays are over with), there is a demonstration on Monday at Ar-Ram as community in East Jerusalem. I've included some info below from Ta'ayush, an Israeli Peace organization:

A concrete wall is rapidly being built to surround the Ar-Ram neighborhood from all sides. Tens of thousands of people, the entire community of this East Jerusalem neighborhood (the vast majority of whom are official residents of Jerusalem, paying municipal taxes and holding "blue" Jerusalem IDs) will be closed inside a ghetto, isolated from the rest of the world. The wall seriously disrupts the recently begun school year. Educational institutions in Ar-Ram and in its vicinity are on the verge of being closed down, as the wall prevents the students and the teachers from reaching them.

Thus, for instance, "Al Yatim al Arabi", an institute which for the past sixty years made sure that Palestinian orphans go through high-school and learn a profession, is about to close down. About 95% of its students and teachers - several hundreds strong - will be left on the other side of the wall from the school. Once the wall is complete, the students will find themselves in the streets, with no education and no professional training.

One is left to wonder how this will improve security for the Israelis.

I'll just end with a last few thoughts before I head off for the hills. There are some benefits to being with a faith-based organization that at first I somewhat resisted. Every morning we have worship. I used to resent getting up for what I thought was just a lot of off-key hymn singing and rather snoozer readings from the Bible. That certainly happens but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

This morning we spoke about the challenges we face doing this work and the depression we feel when it seems the problems are sooooo insurmountable. Chris, a team member from California, told us a story of a bus ride he took with an Israeli peace activist. He'd been complaining about how difficult the work was and how nothing seemed to change.

"Yes, you're probably right," the man said, "You are not likely to change a thing." Then he paused before he said, "But that's not your mission here. Your mission is only to try."

Ahhh, I thought, in all this time, I've gotten away from that very thought that motivated me to come to the Middle East in the first place. It was this thought that allowed me to go to such crazy places as Iraq and Israel/Palestine ... even in the face of all the people who told me that it was foolish to go.

They were probably right. It is rather foolish. But I still agree with what Maia said this morning, "I'm not here to make things grow. I'm just here to plant a few seeds."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Baghdad Kidnappings & Increasing Lock-down in Hebron

I recently learned of the kidnappings at Bridges to Baghdad and Intersos ... two, very well-respected Italian aid organizations. Bridges has been working in Iraq since the early 90's as I understand it. I met once of the Italian women who was kidnapped and Voices in the Wilderness has a long friendship with the Iraqi man who was taken. Since they are Italian and Iraqi victims, the U.S. press doesn't seem too interested in covering this, so I'm starved for news. Have the kidnappers issued demands? Have they identified themselves with some group? What's going on!?!

Here in Hebron, the lock-down has intensified. There have been more housing demolitions and arrests, atleast one killing if not more ... the roads are all closed and it is extremely difficult for anyone to move in or out of the area. We heard this morning that soldiers were stopping men in Bab eZawwiyah (the main intersection before you come down into the Old City) ... anyone who might be remotely considered to be Hamas is being taken. Everyone is wondering how long it will last, but no one has any answers.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A Meeting with Friends of the Earth - Middle East

The main reason I had gone to Tel Aviv was to meet with Friends of the Earth Middle East to talk to them about water issues in Iraq and in the West Bank. The meeting was quite productive and I learned a great deal about environmental groups and how they operate in the Middle East. FOE-ME has offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, the West Bank and Amman, Jordan, making in a joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian organization. Unfortunately, as an organization, there is not much they can do directly to help Iraqi NGO’s because of the Israeli involvement.

There is word in the news (and forgive me … I’m not completely up on this) of attempts to develop relationships between Iraq and Israel. I would assume this is coming from the Americans in charge and perhaps some of the Iraqi ex-patriots (I spoke to one optimistic soul who ran an Iraqi organization devoted to religious freedom. He wanted to encourage Iraqi Jews to return to Iraq). It is doubtful that the majority of people in Iraq are ready to go for this. Many of the people who have been kidnapped in Iraq have been accused of being Israeli spies, regardless of how outlandish that accusation appears. It won’t be until the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is resolved and resolved equitably that there will be openness amongst Iraqis to work in collaboration with Israeli groups.

With the Other Hand Held a Weapon

With one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.”
-Nehemiah IV (a quote on the brochure of the “Haganah” Museum)

Yesturday I went to the Haganah Military Museum in Tel Aviv. The Haganah was the precursor to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) … an underground Zionist army of pre-Israel State. The museum is built as an extension onto the house of its founder Eliahu Golomb and is now run by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Here is what the Museum brochure has to say about the place:

“Beit Eliahu is one of the houses built in Little Tel-Aviv during the early
days; Eliahu Golomb, the founder and leader of the “Haganah” lived in it, and
operated from here, until the day of his death on June 6th 1945. He
devoted his life to fostering, before the establishment of the State, a Hebrew
defense force in Israel. His house served as Central Headquarters of the
After the establishment of the State, the house was turned into a museum. It covers the very roots of the IDF and many of the various pre-state and pre-Haganah militias that helped foster Jewish immigration, settlement and expansion into the lands of Palestine.

There was a lot of interesting historic footage and the whole tenor of the place was of the heroism, dedication to and faith in the Zionist movement. Coming from Hebron, it was so amazing to see what is left out in this history.

As the immigration wave of Jews into Israel was swelling, the Arab population must have looked on in horror as the new arrivals took over lands for settlement. Tensions were high and finally violence against these settlements erupted. To combat this problem, the Haganah developed the “Tower and Stockade” Settlements. Fortified settlements components would be prefabricated, transported to the site and essentially erected in a single day but large groups of enthusiastic Haganah members in an almost party atmosphere. The footage of this program depicts essentially a community barn-raising event … only it’s not a barn that is being raised but a large, fortified and well-armed settlement. Imagine living nearby and watching this happen in your midst? Even if these new immigrants had bought the land it must have been a shocking sight to see.

Going to the museum also gave me an appreciation for the myth-making that occurred during the creation of the state of Israel and how important the myth has become to Israelis. Arabs are only mentioned a few times in the museum and there are almost no images of them. The whole exhibit is focused on the “liberation struggle against the British.”

But as for me, it was time that I return to Hebron. I went to Jerusalem and was lucky enough, after some debate with a few drivers, to get a single vehicle that took me and a Palestinian couple with their small child all the way into town. We just had to negotiate a new checkpoint and drive off-road through an olive orchard to get into town. This is part of the price of maintaining the myth.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

A Bit of West Bank Lock-Down

Today, Kim and I left for a meeting in Jerusalem. Normally this would mean a 15 shekel, hour ride in a Service (Shared Van-ride) from Hebron to the Old City. But today, two days after the bombing, it involved one taxi, a climb over a dirt and rock pile, and two vans to get to Jerusalem. We were also stopped and had ID's checked twice. The Israelis have closed all the access points to the Palestinian towns and villages as punishment for the bombings. Interestingly enough, this generates more business for all the taxi and Service drivers in town.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Yesterday was the Beer Sheva Suicide Bombs ... and apparently the attacks originated from the Hebron Area. During the day, we noticed a heavy presence of Israeli soldiers on the street, but didn't know the reason until a few hours later (we're not really wired in to the media here). Immediately we went out on patrol. Kim, Char and I went for the Ibrahimi Mosque circuit and all was quiet there. Maia, Cal and Christina went in the opposite direction through the Beit Romano checkpoint up to the Bab Al Zawea area. Again, all was quiet.

Upon returning to Beit Romano they stopped to have tea with a nearby vendor at the entrance of the Old City. After sitting there for awhile, they heard moaning and realized that someone was being detained inside the pillbox at the checkpoint. They and the young men they were sitting with approached the checkpoint (at this point they realized that TIPH representatives were observing the checkpoint from the side street behind the checkpoint).

After some discussion and threats from the soldiers, the CPT'ers and the men they were with backed up to the vendors shop, still within sight and earshot of the checkpoint. After about 20 more minutes, the detainee wailed and the CPT'ers and Palestinians tried again to approach and were again were unsuccessful and had to back up.

Eventually the man was released and the CPT'ers realized that the Palestinians with them at the shop were actually the man's relatives. The man's name was Faris al Batch and he told CPT that the soldiers had broken into his house, hit his children and then beat him infront of his children. They had taken him then to the checkpoint and had held him for five hours during which he was forced to kneel the entire time. He showed them his wrists that were rubbed raw from the bonds the soldiers had tied him with.

There was no explanation for his detainment.

A recent email from a relative:

Hi Sophia -

The NY Times, today, published a photo on their front page of a bombed bus with a dead child leaning out the window. Of course, there was no counterpart photo of a Palestinian dead child. I expect that this picture (worth a thousand words) will have everyone all riled up, incl. (already) Americans. I would expect that the Israelis will be pretty nasty for the next several weeks. Any confrontation with them in which you are involved will, in my estimation, be highly dangerous.

So, prudence being not your middle name, you will go ahead and do it anyway. Good luck.