Children of the Military Courts

Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF):

“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and used only as a measure of last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

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[Old City of Nablus, 2013]

I am an avid proponent of international law but it is so discouraging when you witness reoccurring violations. Although I still consider myself a human rights activist, when I attended hearings at Ofer Military Court in Israel, I started to question the law.

Children are one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Their violent arrests in the middle of the night by the Israeli military are not by any means “a measure of last resort.” The imprisonment of children in military prisons is also not for the “shortest appropriate period of time” as they claim.

During my trip to Ofer Military Court, one resilient young boy stuck out to me. His name was Mohammed (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons). I met Mohammed’s parents at my first visit to the military court. Mohammed was subjected to an arrest in the middle of the night from his family home in Hebron. These types of arrests are just one of the ways of instilling fear in the occupied Palestinian population.

No summons or warrants are given to the child so he has the option to turn himself in or have his parents accompany him. Rather, the arrests by the Israeli military are intended to make the child disoriented and psychologically vulnerable before even reaching the interrogation room.

At 3 a.m. on the night of the arrest, the Israeli soldiers told Mohammed’s parents to get him out of bed and informed them that they were taking him away. No reason was given as to why. Can you imagine your child being pulled out of bed at 3 a.m. to be arrested and blindfolded without any explanation of why or where he was being taken?

Sounds more like a legal kidnapping to me.

Mohammed’s parents called Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI), a non-profit organization, to help them locate Mohammed after the arrest. DCI tracked down which prison he was being held at and agreed to represent him as part of their non-profit work.

It was about 9 a.m. when I finally entered the military court and Mohammed’s parents were in the waiting room. They had travelled all morning from Hebron to finally see their son. It had been a week since they had seen or heard from Mohammed.

By 2 p.m. we were all still in the waiting room and by this time, I was hungry and restless.

“They don’t tell you when it is your turn, you will just know when they call his name.”

Finally at 3 p.m. I heard Mohammed’s name. We all stood up and Mohammed’s attorney, who was also the attorney I was observing, called me over to the makeshift courtroom. I walked in and heard someone yelling in Hebrew, only to realize the soldiers were pointing at me. The attorney told them that I was with him, but as I sat at the front of the gallery I heard yelling again. Apparently, I was not allowed to sit in the first row, but had to sit in the second or third row. My guess is this is a tactic to make the parents and children feel even more vulnerable by making sure they aren’t near to one other.

All of a sudden, I saw this small young body with his legs and hands in shackles walk into the courtroom. I was shocked at how tiny and fragile Mohammed looked. All I could hear were the cries of his mother as he was brought into the room and I had to hold back the tears prickling my eyes.

The hearing was all in Hebrew and for the first five minutes I did not understand a word. The military translator walked in late and began translating only some parts of what was said. He would translate for a few minutes then walk out and socialise with a co-worker while the hearing went on. It was like some sort of a sick joke to him. It was obvious he had no incentive to translate because either way he wasn’t going to lose his job.

To have the free assistance of an interpreter.”

I thought back to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know whether to cry, scream, laugh or yell. How could the military court system in Israel, the only so-called ‘democracy’ in the whole of the Middle East, be subjecting these people to such cruelty? And why was I the only one who seemed bothered by it?

Under Israeli military law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12 years old. Mohammed was being charged with throwing stones at a military vehicle and if convicted would typically receive a sentence of a few months in prison. Having said this, under Israeli military law the sentence could be anywhere from several months to several years.

Mohammed pleaded not guilty. The hearing did not last more than ten minutes because the prosecutor suddenly remembered there was a video of the alleged crime. The DCI attorney told his parents that the hearing would be rescheduled for the week after so the new evidence could be reviewed and Mohammed was escorted outside the courtroom once again in his leg shackles and handcuffs.

Mohammed!” his mother called out to him, “Be strong, you will be fine and do not talk to anyone about anything.”

Mohammed nodded and turned away.

Many children are convicted because of the confessions of other children in prison. These confessions are squeezed out of the children who cannot take the pressure of being in prison, and more often than not one can assume they are false allegations taken from traumatized Palestinian children. In a system that denies bail for 87% of child cases and has a conviction rate of 99.74%, at least 90% of children eventually plead guilty even if they are in fact innocent.

A week later, we are back in court and there is 12-year old Mohammed again with that boyish smile and tiny hands and legs in shackles. It is then revealed to us that there was no video evidence to be reviewed. This was probably just another tactic to prolong detention and put pressure on the child to plead guilty.

Mohammed’s mother and father were not in court this time because his mother was in hospital and so the only family he had present was his uncle. The family could not afford to post his bail or pay the fine if their son were to plead guilty and so the only option was to keep Mohammed in prison until his lawyer could find a way of getting him out. The patience, resistance, and resilience of this 12-year old child was extraordinary and I couldn’t believe he could still manage a smile in court despite what was happening.

How could a ‘democratic’ country like Israel expect peace with the Palestinians when they treat their children in this way?

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[Refugee camp in Nablus, 2013]

The hearing I witnessed was supposedly in a military youth court. From what I could see, there was nothing youthful about it.

While the military youth court is an example of what should be in place, not much has changed since its establishment. It has not been established in a manner that is consistent with international law. The Committee on the Convention of the Rights of the Child states that all professionals involved in the administration of juvenile justice should be knowledgeable about child development. Israel’s juvenile military court does not provide separate facilities or staff from the adult one. The youth court is not qualified to deal with matters of the detention of children. It seems to me like the existence of a youth court is just a public show from Israel.

UNICEF’s recent announcement that the Israeli military has agreed to not arrest children in the middle of the night is certainly welcomed, but just like the juvenile court, I think we need to wait and see if this is actually done.

After this experience in court, I left feeling shocked, overwhelmed, depressed and motivated all at the same time. How could my country, the United States, be giving billions of dollars of military aid to Israel when they do not treat children in a way that would suffice for international standards?

This experience really made me rethink my role as an advocate of human rights and how important it is to share the story of my experiences. Until today, the image of Mohammed’s smile in court still haunts me, because while this was only one child’s story, can you imagine how many other Palestinian children are subjected to such cruelty and humiliation?

(Contributor 444)

 

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A taste of a homecoming

“Are you up? Good, pack your bags we’re going to Palestine.”

Before my dad had even finished his sentence, I was already feeling the excitement. No more watching the news and reading articles on the Electronic Intifada, in just a few hours I will actually be in Palestine. It wasn’t my first visit. I was there almost 13 years ago but I can’t remember much of it, just some random memories here and there.

We got to the Jordanian checkpoint and it was no different than I expected; no order, no lines and no respect for time or space. After more than an hour of paper work and reaching over each others’ shoulders to see who gets their papers stamped first, we boarded the blue striped bus heading to Palestine.

Ten minutes into the bus ride, we stop at the first Israeli checkpoint where we are asked (or more like given an arm signal) by a solider to get off the bus. That same young Israeli soldier roams the bus with a weapon stuck to his chest, looking for what precisely? I wasn’t sure.

Hop on the bus again, another ten minute drive and we stop at the second and main Israeli checkpoint, where we are ordered to stay in the bus for almost an hour and twenty minutes before given the approval to pass. Along the way, gazing outside the window, I began taking pictures, determined to document every bit of the journey.

We get off the bus and find our luggage thrown on the street. With not much light to find our bag, I find myself clambering over other peoples’ suitcases just to find my own. Is this what Palestinians have to go through every time they want to get home?

All around me were young Israeli girls and guys, not much older than 20 years of age, all dressed in their uniform holding their guns and serving their nation. While waiting for my father and brother to get the bags through, I stood on the side and began observing everything around me.

It was a real tragedy.

I could see the Arab men and women chaotically struggling to hand in the luggage and stamp their papers, with no tolerance or patience for one another, and then how the Israeli soldiers were looking down upon them and sniggering. It made me really angry.

We finally get inside and I pass through the security detector with no beep or buzz. As I reach for my passport in my pocket, an Israeli soldier stops me. “Arabic or English?” he asked. My heart stopped. “Please come with me.”

I followed him into a separate room where he asked me to sit down and started speaking to me in Arabic. I realized that the surveillance cameras had caught me taking pictures of our scattered luggage. The soldier grabbed my camera and started grilling me with questions.

“Why did you take these pictures?”

“Who sent you to take them? Nasrallah?”

“Why did you study in England and not in Jordan and who paid for your expenses there?”

“Where does your father work?”

“Why are you here?”

“There is really no need for you to be here, it’s a headache to go through all of this just to separate your ID from your father’s, don’t you think?

“Is it really worth the hassle?”

His questions were intimidating and made me sick to my stomach. His job was to get answers and make me uncomfortable and he was damn good at it. Once I had answered all his questions, he deleted the pictures off my camera and asked me never to take pictures at Israeli checkpoints ever again.

After seven hours of checkpoints, questions and searches, we finally got through and I found myself physically and mentally exhausted. That night in bed I found myself already missing home, missing my mom and wanting to go back to Jordan.

The early morning hours the next day changed everything. I stepped outside the balcony overlooking the beautiful city of Nablus, took a deep breath and I could smell the sea (only some 40 kms away). All around me were mountains, so beautifully planted with olive trees and right across was Al-Nasser Mosque with its green dome. I could hear the buzz and noise from people down town chattering, shops opening and a new day starting. I knew it was going to be a worthwhile trip.

Walking through the streets of the old town at night gave me goose bumps. I felt like everything talked back to me; the walls, the trees, the shops which all had stories to tell. Not to mention the 100 year old clock in Nablus which still functions perfectly.

What moved me the most were the posters stuck all over the city, with the names and pictures of the martyrs who fought and died for Palestine; their faces also had stories to tell and I started wondering what their lives were like.

Over the next four days, we went back and forth between Nablus and Ramallah. We spent those car drives listening to the only two CDs we had, Fairuz and Ilham Al Madfa’i, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

I could see the signs pointing towards Jerusalem, which was so close but unreachable. We were not allowed inside because we held Palestinian IDs. Not only was it illegal for us to go into Jerusalem, it was also physically impossible to see it thanks to the 8 meter high concrete wall cutting through the West Bank.

I’ve seen the apartheid wall in pictures and read about it, but seeing it in reality, touching it and looking at the graffiti drawn on it was something else. Thanks to the wall, Jerusalem was right in front of me but I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see Qubet Al-Sakhra, I couldn’t visit Kaniset Al Qiyama or pray in Masjed Al-Aqsa. I felt like a heavy weight was placed over my heart and I felt a great sense of restriction and deprivation.

I still consider myself lucky to have visited Palestine, to experience this roller coaster of emotions, to see where my great grandfather once lived and to witness firsthand what life in the West Bank is like. It surely doesn’t compare to the millions of Palestinians who suffered, who grieved and who had their homes and dignity stripped away from them. But I certainly somewhat understood what it was like to live under occupation and not have freedom of movement, speech or expression.

That feeling is beyond words…

It is certainly true that this trip made me think… where and what is home? Does it have to be black or white or is it ok to have some grey answers? As much as I felt I was at home in Palestine, I still missed Amman. This confusion also brought about feelings of guilt. Is it ok for me to feel nostalgic towards two countries? I certainly still don’t have a clear answer to that question.

We’re living at a time where racism is at its peak, whether it’s between the West and the non-West, Muslims and non-Muslims or even worse between us Arabs; Palestinian-Jordanian; Muslim-Christian; Sunni-Shi’a. We live at a time where individuals are placed under pressure to prove loyalty to an ethnic group or religion.

I wonder how things would have turned out if there had been no colonialism, no establishment of borders…maybe better, maybe worse, God only knows.. I just hope I live to see the day, when we can actually get past our differences and start treating each other with the respect that we deserve as human beings.

As for you Palestine, I will be back… I promise.

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[The city of Ramallah]

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[View overlooking the city of Nablus]

(Contributor 232)

The Israeli-Palestinian compromise

We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” [Nelson Mandela, 1997]

When people talk about peace negotiations, you will often hear them talk about compromise. ‘Both the Palestinians and the Israelis need to compromise.’ Today I would like to explore this option.

To-date, the Human Rights Council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel alone, than it has all the other states combined. Since 1948, Israel has violated over 75 UN resolutions as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention that is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. The US vetoes all major resolutions against Israel and so they either do not get passed or are not even brought to vote. Because of this, Israel acts as it pleases and remains unaccountable for its actions.

For more than a decade now, Israel has been running an iron fist policy to clamp down on the Palestinians, it has been actively cleansing the indigenous people of their land by illegally demolishing their homes, colonizing their land and raiding their villages; not to mention the curfews, collective punishment and ghettoization all at the expense of establishing the newly founded state of Israel for the Jews.

Israel starves the Palestinian economy dry by restricting land and water usage, access to international markets, liquidity of money supply and natural resources. It deprives the Palestinians of their legal right to any potential revenue sources. The Palestinian Ministry of National Economy recently published a report assessing the costs of the occupation on the Palestinian economy. And I quote,

The total costs imposed by the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy which we have been able to measure was USD 6.897 billion. In other words, had the Palestinians not been subject to the Israeli occupation, their economy would have been almost double in size than it is today.”

If we delve deeper into the water issue alone, the World Bank published a report in 2009 stating there is 2.4 billion cubic meters of pure water available yearly in the region, of which Israel utilizes 90%. Israeli settlers consume seven times more water than Palestinians and yet pay one fifth of the price the Palestinians pay.

I have only just brushed the surface by the way, and that’s without even mentioning the Palestinians in Gaza. For anyone who is not too clued up on the situation, naturally you would think both sides need to compromise to come up with an agreement right?

Unfortunately, this is no longer the reality of the situation. Israel has squeezed the Palestinians of anything they initially had to compromise with. Actually, the only thing the Palestinians have left is the right of return of the millions of refugees, which although technically and physically is becoming impossible, it remains an understandable symbolic lynch point on the political and diplomatic front.

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[Keys representing the lost homes of millions of Palestinians]

There is no compromise that can be done by the Palestinians. What we are witnessing day in day out is the measures Israel is putting in place to engulf the whole of the West Bank and Washington is allowing them to do so. Even the UN resolutions that do eventually get passed are often watered down for fear of being vetoed by the US.

Unfortunately we still speak of Israel’s violent crack down on any type of organised political or social action. It maintains its grip on the Palestinian people by silencing them and undermines anyone in the international community who questions Israel as a Jewish state. It maintains its iron fist policy and the commoditisation of fear as its main defence against another uprising from Palestinians from within and without.

Perhaps the best hope for the Palestinian people exists in the young Arab and Jewish Israelis; the new generations who can build the foundations to a future solution. Without major initiatives within Israel and the West Bank, no sustainable long-term solution will ever be achieved.

I wanted to finish today’s post with a quote I read recently that I could relate to.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Palestinian or non-Palestinian: is there a difference?

I am an Arab-American. I have lived my whole life in New York with my Iraqi mother and Irish father. On the 1st November (just 2 weeks ago), I planned to attend the Canaan Fair Trade festival in Jenin, Palestine. I got into contact with the director and was very excited to meet her. I had a hotel reserved for the two nights and had even planned my outfit for the festival! Little did I know what awaited me at the Israeli border.

Here is my story.

I left Amman around 3:30pm heading towards the Jordanian border. On the way, the taxi driver and I did not stop chatting about religion and the struggles of living in the Middle East. I have taken a keen interest in understanding the Arab culture and life in the Arab world. Despite my Iraqi background, I somewhat lost touch with my Arab roots having grown up in New York.

I paid the exit tax at the Jordanian side and then myself and 10 others (most of whom were foreigners) loaded the bus and made our way to the Israeli border. I could literally feel the excitement and anticipation as we neared the border. ‘This was going to be a great trip,’ I told myself. I could just feel it.

We got out of the bus and queued up to have our passports checked. I approached the window of two Israeli soldiers. They looked no older than 18 or 19 years old, the same age as me. I was asked routine questions of why I was visiting, where I was staying and about my parent’s background. When I told them my mother was Iraqi they glanced at one another and questioned me a little more on the subject, before asking me to take a seat on the side. I assumed this was just protocol, a normal security check and today was just not my day.

After waiting patiently on the side and watching the other students go through one by one, an officer approached me.

So your mother is an Arab?

“No,” I responded. “My mother is Chaldean.”

But she speaks Arabic?

“No, my mother speaks Chaldean.”

But you are Arabs from Iraq.”

And then she began to laugh. My immediate reaction of course was to laugh back, confused and nervous at her tone of voice and the absurdity of the situation. Suddenly she stopped laughing and glared at me.

I did not say you could laugh. Why are you laughing?

I bit my lip and put my head down.

Once she had finished, I was cleared for security and carried my suitcase to the baggage check. I took a big sigh of relief once she was out of sight. As I watched my suitcase go through the security machine, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw her standing over me again. She said me she had further questions for me. I took a deep breath.

She repeated the same questions she had asked me previously, about my parent’s background, my Arab roots and my interest in going to Palestine. I showed her proof of my hotel reservation and after a third round of questioning she left and let me move on to the next window.

No more than 10 minutes later and I was approached by another Israeli soldier who commenced to ask me the same questions again. This time, once she had finished she gave me a form to fill out and told me to take a seat in the waiting area.

‘Had I done something wrong?’ I asked myself. ‘No, they probably just do this to everyone.’

I walked over to the waiting area and seat near an old man and his wife. I quickly learned that they were Palestinians living in the West Bank and had been waiting there for two hours already. I looked around and watched as the waiting room seats quickly filled up with more people who were all Arabs.

Two more hours passed and my impatience grew. Why was no one telling me what was going on?

I reminded myself it was not a good idea to complain, considering the soldiers hostility towards me. I did not want to get on their bad side. I also reminded myself that the Palestinian man and his wife sitting next to me had now been waiting 4 hours. Who was I to complain after just 2 hours of waiting, right?

An Israeli soldier approached us and handed the old man and his wife their green Palestinian ID cards and told them they could go through. At that point I knew I was going to get out soon.

Two more hours passed and I noticed the waiting room seats were becoming empty. Most of the people who had arrived after me had received their visas and gone through. I figured the Israelis were suspicious of my Arab roots and that’s why I was being held back. Nevertheless, I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had a valid reason to be going and had given them proof of where I was staying. I was also an American citizen, I kept reminding myself.

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It was now 10pm and I was still sitting in the waiting room. All I kept thinking was, ‘Just be patient. It’s only another two hours before the bridge closes and they’ll have to let you through by then.’

So I waited. I waited and I waited and I waited.

After my third cup of coffee, I asked one of the soldiers for an update on my passport. She looked at me and asked, “What is your name?” so I told her.

She went into her office, returned 20 minutes later and told me that my search was now complete and that they were just waiting for a call to confirm everything. I nodded, frustrated that I had to wait even longer but thankful that I was finally getting through.

It was pitch black outside and I had now been waiting 6 hours. I became increasingly agitated and nervous. I had given the Israelis all the information they asked for. What more did they want from me?

It was now 11:00pm, with only one hour left until the border closed for the night. An Israeli soldier approached me and ordered me to follow her. We sat in a quiet area away from the waiting room and she began to question me some more. She repeated the same questions all again.

Was she serious?

I could not believe she was asking me the same questions again. Couldn’t she have just asked the other four soldiers who had interrogated me? I had practically memorized the answers to these questions.

Ok, now let’s go through your phone.”

I took out my phone and typed in the passcode wondering what she wanted to look at.

Go to your contacts and type 972.”

The names of all of my Palestinian friends popped up (as 972 is the start of the code for all Palestinian local numbers). She ordered me to open each name and wrote down each of their numbers on a piece of paper. She thanked me and walked away without any explanation.

I am one of 9 people still waiting and it is 11:45pm. I look to my left and see the same soldier walking towards me holding my passport. I can feel a huge sense of relief overcome me as I think this agony will all be over soon enough. I stand up and her eyes match mine.

She smiles and says, “You are not allowed to go into Israel today.”

I could not believe what she was saying. I stopped and looked at her confused and said, “What do you mean?”

You cannot cross today. We are doing a security check on you and there is not enough time to finish the investigation.”

I couldn’t even think properly anymore. What about the festival? What am I supposed to do now? Why did everyone else go through except me?

My heart literally dropped into my stomach and I could feel my eyes welling with tears. It was midnight and I was alone at the border. My phone was running out of battery and I had nowhere to go. My host family in Amman would be asleep and my family in New York were not answering.

With tears in my eyes, I begged the woman to speak to someone, a manager, a supervisor, anyone. She laughed, handed my passport back to me and said, “No, I already told you that you can’t.”

On my way back to Amman in the taxi, I began sobbing and asked myself ‘Why me?’ I was being denied entry with no valid reason at all. Why was I being treated like a suspect?

I am an Arab-American. I was born and raised in New York. My Arab heritage is only something that has recently become present in my life after my experiences in the Middle East. Is this why the Israelis were punishing me? Because my mother is an Arab? Because I have Palestinian friends?

When I look back and remember what happened to me, I remember the old man and his wife in the waiting room. These Palestinians have to experience this humiliation every time they cross the border. This frustration is a daily struggle for them and they are discriminated against because of their background. It is racism at its finest.

That day at the checkpoint, I had a taste of what it really means to feel helpless and at the hands of another. I felt what it is like to live under occupation and to be a second-class citizen; I felt what it is like to be denied your rights just because of who you are and because of your background.

I finally understood what it meant to be a Palestinian.

(Contributor 714)

Prince Faisal’s letter

Prince Faisal (later King Faisal of Iraq) writes to a senior American Zionist in 1919:

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, have suffered similar oppressions at the hands of the powers stronger than themselves.

We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. We will wish the Jews the most hearty welcome home.

A document of understanding and welcome of what could have been.

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[Chaim Weizmann (zionist leader) and Prince Faisal, 1918]

The future Palestinian generations

As I approach my last week in Palestine and my internship with the Welfare Association comes to a close, I thought it would be a good idea to focus my final posts on the future.

As I have said before, I envision a future where Israelis and Palestinians live together. I envision a future without discrimination and where we have equal rights as citizens. I envision a future where people are proud to be Palestinian and proud of their Jewish neighbours, where we have a government representing both Palestinians and Israelis, where synagogues, mosques and churches stand side by side and people speak both Arabic and Hebrew. It is about time Israelis and Palestinians recognize we can never get rid of each other.

Arguments about history and who has rightful claims to the land are not going to get us anywhere. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years down the line, these details won’t matter anymore. The real question we should be asking ourselves is how we can ease the life of future generations – our children, our grandchildren and their children.

What can we do today to help the children of tomorrow?

Just as Palestinians have had a tragic history, Jews have had an even worse one. They have been expelled from more than 100 countries around the world since AD250 and have been persecuted much longer than we ever have. In the end Jews are our cousins and there is a lot of ground for cooperation and understanding if we change our perception of things.

It is very clear to me that we have a lot of potential. Did you know the Palestinian people hold one of the highest numbers of PHDs in the world?

The insecurity of not having a homeland should be the driving force behind our hard work and motivation. As Palestinians, we should strive to be the best and work harder than anybody else. Working hard is particularly important for us because without money, power and influence we will not get anywhere. We will never gain our rights and independence and we will never have a homeland (albeit in Israel, Palestine or whatever you want to call the country).

We cannot keep viewing ourselves as victims and blame all of our problems on the occupation. For the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Israel, the ones who continue to live and breathe the occupation everyday, their existence alone is a powerful form of resistance and I would say continue to do what you are doing. You are what is keeping the Palestinian population from fizzling out and resisting against the racist Israeli state that is ethnically cleansing the region of non-Jews.

For the Palestinian diaspora, the ones who live outside of the country and who do not have restrictions placed upon them, you are free to excel and I believe the future of Palestine is in your hands. We are emotionally detached from the situation because we have not had to experience the humiliation and hardships of living under the Israeli occupation everyday. Let us work together to stop this purely Jewish state Bibi is trying to create. Lets show the world it is in everyone’s benefit for Israelis and Palestinians to be on the same side.

Together

I urge the Palestinian diaspora to learn more about the situation and to teach other people about what is going on. We have to realize we cannot expect change to happen but we have to create this change. I urge people to come and visit Palestine and to see for yourself what the media hides from you. That is when you will truly understand the power of propaganda.

We have to be the ones to build the bridges for future generations to walk on, we cannot expect someone else to build them for us. Certainly we have a tough mission ahead of us and that is to fight for the rights of the non-Jews in Palestine. We must open our arms to anyone wanting to help fight for our cause, whether they are Jews against the Israeli state, Americans, Europeans, Africans – anyone willing to stand with us and fight against racism.

The Palestinians living in Israel and holding Israeli citizenship, those that have had to live among the Jews are living proof that it can be done. When I went to Jaffa, my friend and I had lunch at a fish restaurant called the Old Man and the Sea where the waiters spoke English, Arabic and Hebrew fluently. I had a Palestinian family sitting on my left, foreigners on my right and Israelis sat in front of me. I did not know this even existed!

I know it takes a lot of strength to accept the reality of the situation, but once more people are able to do this we will be able to think clearly about the future of our people. I have heard a lot of people here tell me how they do not recognize the state of Israel (both old and young) but unfortunately Israel does exist and it is not going anywhere.

If we are ever to move forward, acceptance of Israel’s existence is the first step. Of course I know this is easier said than done, especially for those who have had to live under the injustices of the occupation and can see how Israel is destroying Palestinian life and the lives of millions of refugees. Of course we all feel frustrated and angry and rightly so, but if all of us thought this way we will never move forward.

All I ask is that when you think about the future of Palestine, think realistically and practically and 50 years down the line. Don’t think of next year or 2 years time. In the end, there is no point fighting a losing battle. Lets fight the battles we can win – like fighting for our rights, fighting for our independence. The first step in moving forward is acceptance so we can then think clearly about what is it that we really want.

What I personally see that is most needed here is for people to be able to live in peace. All the non-Jews living in Israel and Palestine deserve the same rights and freedoms as the Israelis have. There is no difference between the two. We all bleed the same colour, don’t we?

I read these words on the apartheid wall in Bethlehem and have not been able to forget them since:

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We remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of ours friends.

Please stand with us against the racist Israeli state and open your eyes to the realities of the situation. Everything the media feeds you is propaganda at its finest.

Just look at what happened to me in the past week. My facebook and email accounts were hacked three times this week from IP addresses in Russia, the US and Palestine. I couldn’t add extra security measures or change my password. An hour after posting my blog on my mother’s facebook wall, someone then tried to hack into her account. Anyone else who has been criticizing Israel had a similar experience?

Seems to me like I am getting my message across and hitting a sensitive nerve with the right people. Lets stand together and not give in to this intimidation. Lets show them that we cannot be silenced. Please like and share my blog!

Eid in Jerusalem

As part of the wonderful Eid celebrations, my friend and I were invited to my relatives’ house in Jerusalem for lunch. I really love being in the Middle East during Eid. There is nothing like stuffing your face with incredible food without feeling guilty and connecting with the family.

Just before lunch, my uncle took us on a lovely drive around Jerusalem and I took this beautiful photo of the landscape from the Mount of Olives.

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[The city of Jerusalem]

I want to dedicate today’s post to an incredible Dutch lady that I met. She is married to one of my relatives and has lived in Palestine since the 1970s. She works as a pediatrician in a hospital in Jerusalem but lives in Beit Jalah (a village near Bethlehem).

Of course being very interested in Palestinian life, I spent two hours interrogating the poor woman. Considering she is not of Palestinian origin and has no emotional attachment to Palestine, I thought she could give me a real perspective of how life was like in the 1970s and how it has changed ever since.

Just to give you a bit of background on her, she grew up in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia and lived through the independence struggle. Her parents were kicked out of their home three times and so she understands and feels with the Palestinian cause. I found her very interesting and I made sure to document some of the conversation. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to her.

What was it like living in Palestine in the 70s?

Well in the 70s, there were no restrictions on us. We could drive anywhere with our own cars, it was easy to travel to and from Jerusalem from Beit Jalah. We were allowed to leave through Ben Gurion airport, we were just like the Jerusalem Palestinians are. We really had no problems whatsoever. I mean maybe you were stopped once in a while if you had Arab number plates, but it was never really a problem. There were no checkpoints, no roadblocks, no wall. Everything was free.

We interacted daily with Israelis. We even bought our vegetables from them because they were fresh and organic. There were Israeli doctors coming to serve as specialists in the clinic I worked in.

There have been huge changes since my time.

What was the biggest change you felt since the 1970s?

For me it was definitely the loss of freedom. Had I come to Palestine as the situation is now, I might have said I would not have been able to stay here. It is because the changes were so gradual that I almost didn’t feel them happening at the time.

When did you feel things started to change?

Well when the intifada started in 1987, that’s when everything changed. I think it surprised the Israelis and at first they didn’t know how to handle it. They began closing Palestinian schools, because of course schools have big groups of young students and they were the ones who usually demonstrated. It was in a certain way racial.

Having no schools open meant these boys and girls were out on the streets, which of course made everything worse. This lasted around 1 year and in the West Bank about a year and a half.

It was so bad that teachers were even forbidden from giving private tuition. The committed teachers were gathering children and teaching them under olive trees and in their houses. But the Israelis were continuously checking. Whenever they saw a boy on the street carrying a backpack with school books in it, the child was punished and their parents were arrested. It was absolutely crazy.

So a whole generation lost on their education in the 80s?

Yes and this is what we are still suffering from. When Israel decided to open schools up again, there was a whole generation waiting and suddenly double the number of students. The ones who had missed a year were not allowed to repeat and just had to continue on. It was a huge mess.

Not just that, in the 1980s most of the men were in prison; they were political prisoners and were arrested for the most insignificant and childish things. At that time, Israeli officers would also stop people on the street to check their watches. If your watch was set to Palestinian timing (there is a time difference between Israel and Palestine), the officers would smash your watch. They wanted to show that they were in power, you know?

Do you consider yourself a Palestinian?

In reality, I will never be a Palestinian. I love my children and my family, but I will always remain an outsider. I look at things differently. For my husband, he obviously feels things much deeper than I do. I was born in Indonesia and grew up in a Japanese prison camp.

When I talk to the young children here who are so traumatized by everything that has happened, I tell them that it is their perception they have to change. If they keep perceiving themselves as victims and live with this feeling of revenge, then we will never get anywhere with hope.

Anyway there is no difference between Palestinians and Israelis. They wear the same types of clothes, watch the same movies, listen to the same songs and this is what I am trying to tell people here. You sometimes have to look at things from a different angle and then maybe you can find that there is a possibility of a solution.

Do you think language stands in the way of people coming together?

Definitely and I think it is a terrible shame the schools in Palestine don’t teach Hebrew and those in Israel don’t teach Arabic. If you speak each other’s language, you can solve so many issues.

The Palestinian labour workers in Israel pick up Hebrew so quickly because it comes from the same root as Arabic. The grammar and the words are more or less the same. Language is certainly a huge barrier.

The Palestinian people – they know the land, they know the agriculture and they know how to deal with everything. Israelis are bringing people from Europe, Sri Lanka and Africa and these people know nothing.

What do you see is the worst part of this whole situation?

Israel is trying to destroy everything. The real danger is they are destroying the Palestinian culture and they are doing it intentionally. If you take away the culture of a people, they don’t exist anymore. 

Just recently they plastered over really old ceramic tiles in David’s tomb. I am talking centuries old with beautiful Islamic descriptions. Israel broke them, they just broke and destroyed them. They did it at night without anyone knowing so there was nothing we could do.

And they are excavating everywhere, near the wall, Mount Zion, even under the al Aqsa Mosque that is sacred to Muslims all over the world. 

Do you think the wall will ever come down?

I definitely think the wall will come down. Nothing stays up forever, its impossible. You should see the ecologists in Israel who are screaming bloody murder about this whole thing. The wall diverts the flow of water and crosses through aqua-logical boundaries.

They have polluted our superficial aquifer in Bethlehem with all their pesticides, fertilizers and their waste. Waste from the Israeli settlements streams into our water and then they blame the Arabs, when it is from their own people. 

What do you think about the Jews claim to the land?

Let me tell you a story. Israelis found a golden coin underground while they were excavating and of course Netanyahu was jubilant. He started proclaiming how it proved the Jewish link to the land and kept saying how this is their land. “We have a right to the land,” he would say. (She rolled her eyes as she said this).

If this really is the case, then the Green Orthodox can also say they have these kinds of monuments that prove it is their land. And then the Byzantines can come and say ‘look we were here, look at these excavations.’ Heck, even Italy can make claims to the land!

In this situation, there is no justice, there is no fairness and there is no willingness to compromise on the part of Israel. This is not about who came here first anymore.

— This lady is not a Palestinian and has absolutely no religious, cultural or historical reason to have these opinions. She has lived in Palestine for 40 years now and has felt the daily struggles of the Palestinians that are only getting worse with time. This is not an issue of history anymore or who came here first. This is about standing against the Occupier and recognizing the Palestinian struggle for space and recognition. —