When I am in Palestine, I work as a volunteer reporter for the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC). My job is to read and edit English translations of news reported from inside the occupied territories. I see what mainstream media does not cover and most Americans do not know. Daily accounts of Israeli incursions, house raids, arrests, attacks by Jewish settlers, house demolitions, and violent attacks on peace demonstrators are facts that belie the undercurrent of discontent expressed by 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.
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, who looks pensively at the sad little lemon tree she waters with laundry rinse water.
“Sometimes water is cut off for days, and even weeks at a time,” she laments, adding 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 no American would stand for. The recent U.S. veto in the UN, condemning Jewish settlements, opposes the will of the people and deepens the rift between Palestine and the U.S.
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 (uprising) is on the horizon.
My visions of Palestine remain strong – peaceful people imprisoned by gigantic walls, graffiti covered 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, and thousands of ancient olive tree stumps – cut by Israeli militia to keep snipers from hiding.
Sounds at home bring back memories. Planes recall the pitch and dive of Israel’s fighter jets practicing over Bethlehem on Sunday mornings, competing with a harmonious blend of church bells and 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 convulsive cough 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,” carrying flags and banners and holding 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 confiscation of land for settlements.
At the Green Line barrier, a spokesperson calls across a thicket of barbed wire to heavily armed IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers.
“We come in peace,” he begins.
Soon, a volley of tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets answers him.
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 takes time to listen to the “real” people. Words I hear over and over in Palestine resonate:
“We want what you have – freedom.”