The revolution that surprised many people would come as no surprise to anyone who comes and takes time to listen to the “real” people. Israel’s undemocratic policies supported by the U.S., push Palestinians to revolt.As a volunteer reporter at IMEMC, I see the daily reports coming from inside the occupied territories. It’s news that mainstream media does not cover in the United States, so most Americans never know about the regular Israeli incursions, house raids, arrests, attacks by Jewish settlers, house demolitions, and the violent attacks on peace demonstrators. They are facts that underscore the discontent I hear when I speak with Palestinian friends and the people I work with.
“We want what you have,” our young computer technician snaps, “I want to travel, come to work and visit my friends without checkpoint searches and worry about being detained or arrested.”
I could only imagine his ache and feel saddened by his look of envy and longing.
A three-story high wall and an iron bar maze-like checkpoint separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem, only six miles away, in Israel. With my U.S. passport, I am free to pass from occupied Palestine into Israel, and to travel throughout the region: Palestinians without permits cannot. “Jewish only roads” bar travel by car: colored license plates differentiate Jews from Palestinians. It doesn’t take much thought to imagine the degrading humiliation, the sense of lost freedom, and the building anger.
My apartment has only a trickle of water used sparingly for cooking and a shower. On a hot sunny October morning, I join Samia, my landlady outside. She looks pensively at the sad little lemon tree after giving it the laundry rinse water.
“Sometimes water is cut off for days, and even weeks at a time,” she laments, then adds crossly,
“It’s our water, but Israel siphons it off to settlements built on our land. We used to have many aquifers, now we have only two and Israel charges a lot to buy back our own water.” Her daughter, a teacher, joins us.
“Volunteers come and then leave and nothing changes,” she says, “Why doesn’t your government do something for Palestinians?”
The biting accusation was a challenge, but I had no answer. Inwardly I wondered why my government consistently sides with abuses by Israel that fly in the face of a democracy. I know of no American who would stand for it without outrage and mass protests.
The recent U.S. veto in the UN, blocking the Palestinian draft condemning Jewish settlements, opposes the will of the people. The deepened rift between Palestine and the U.S. was a match lighting the fuse. I wondered how my country could remain so blind to the serious backlash it had pushed.
Support for Israel’s land confiscation and human rights abuses seasons Palestinian determination and resolve to fight for freedom and self-determination – the hallmark of a democracy.
Bolstered by upheavals in other Arab states, popular demonstrations against Israel and against the U.S. backed Palestinian Authority are increasing and another Intifada is on the horizon.
My visions of Palestine remain strong – friendly people imprisoned by gigantic walls graffiti painted with pleas for freedom and anti U.S. and Israeli slogans; thick coils of barbed wire fencing and checkpoint cages; the rubble of demolished homes. I remember passing along roads and seeing miles of ancient olive tree stumps.
“They were cut by Israeli militia to keep snipers from hiding in the trees and shooting at their tanks,” my driver says with an ironic air of sarcasm.
Sounds at home bring back memories. Planes recall the pitch and dive of Israel’s fighter jets practicing over Bethlehem on Sunday mornings, defying the harmonious blending of church bells with the Muslim call to prayer. Firecrackers remind me of the hiss of tear gas canisters trailing across a clear blue sky, their grounded thud followed by the choking and convulsive coughing of its victims – I was one.
It was during a nonviolent demonstration in Bil’in. Men, women and children joined with Israelis and internationals walking in solidarity to the “wall.” They carry flags and banners and hold placards with pictures of the martyred and imprisoned. I was interviewing a young Israeli woman who said she had come by bus with other Jews from Tel Aviv to stand with Palestinians protesting the separation wall and confiscation of land for settlements.
At the barrier, a spokesperson calls across the thicket of barbed wire to heavily armed IDF soldiers.
“We come in peace,” he begins.
A volley of tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets answers him. Many demonstrators are driven back.
“We will never give up,” a Palestinian youth yells, covering his mouth with a black and white checkered kaffiyeh and heading back to the wall.
Mainstream media duly neglect the ongoing nonviolent Palestinian demonstrations and fail to include Palestine as among countries rebelling against oppressive regimes – or is that Israel is not considered an oppressor?
At the home of Iyad Burnat, a leader of Friends of Freedom and Justice Bil’in, his five-year-old daughter chants:
“One – two- three- four, occupation no more!
Five- six- seven- eight, stop the killing, stop the hate!”
The revolution that surprised many people would come as no surprise to anyone who comes and takes time to listen to the “real” people. Words I heard over and over in Palestine resonate:
“We want what you have – freedom.”