PALESTINIAN HOSPITALITY -- PART 1**
Hi all. I arrived safely in Tel Aviv Sunday evening, and after some degree of hassles from the airport customs people, I was in.
I went to a hostel in East Jerusalem called El Faisal. There I met up with friends Freddie and Juan from NY, who are Vieques [Puerto Rico] activists, and are doing documentary work here, spreading consciousness in PR communities and making links b/w that military occupation and this one. Monday a bunch of internationals (French, Danish, Brit, US, Japanese) from the ISM and otherwise were in training. Tuesday, just before a bunch of us were deployed to Gaza, there was a shooting near our hostel, by Damascus Gate -- rumor had it that an Israeli cop got shot. The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces -- military] showed up en masse and haphazardly cleared out most of the pedestrians from the usually very-busy streets. A few of us tried to get closer to the crime scene to witness and document any potential human rights violations and the like. The IDF soldiers were running around kicking over Palestinian fruit stands and pushing people around, yelling a lot, brandishing their M16s. It was all very shocking to me but apparently pretty banal, routine, for the locals, judging from their reactions. This kind of IDF behavior is an everyday reality for many Palestinians.
Tuesday we arrived at an ISM organizing center in Nuseirat, which is in south/central Gaza, and where most of us have been staying since. Our larger group here is about 20 internationals (including all those mentioned, except the large French contingent), which is broken up into four affinity groups. With Juan, Freddie and I are: a Palestinian woman from San Fran, a guy from Arkansas and another guy from Philly.
That night we were immediately invited to a traditional wedding, which was beautiful and very interesting! It was the family of the main Palestinian ISM organizer in Gaza. Quite a warm welcome.
Our first planned action dealt with attempting to accompany Palestinian workers to repair a well that was allegedly mowed down by Israeli tanks. The well is on Palestinian land but right outside an illegal Israeli settlement called Netzarim, which was strategically built there to be right over a huge supply of good water. Israel had actually been pumping the water out and then selling it back to Palestinians. But the IDF security around the settlement had not allowed any Palestinians to get near the well to assess or fix it for about 15 months, causing a serious water crisis in Nuseirat and the area.
Yesterday about 1/2 of the total group here (10 or so) went out to the site of the well to prep for the action (which was today). We first encountered Palestinian Authority soldiers at their station, who advised us that the area was dangerous but gave us the go-ahead. The area is former Palestinian farming land that has been mostly bulldozed over by the IDF. It looks like a desert/battlefield;we entered the area with arms up and passports in hand. A tank off to our left turned to point its cannon at us. We were addressed from a lookout tower off to our right: told to stop immediately, since we were in a closed military zone. The IDF soldiers joked for one of our female reps to "take off your clothes" before we finally got them to come out and drive up to us in a jeep and negotiate. We agreed to contact all our respective embassies, who were to negotiate permission (through the Israeli Civil Authority and DCO) for us to return with the workers. We followed protocol, but the way the Israeli bureaucracy works, it was unclear/unlikely if the permission would go through as planned.
We showed up again this AM in full force, with the workers, and, surprisingly, accessed the well with no IDF confrontation whatsoever. We had prepared for the worst! The workers assessed the problems (the well was in fact intact but just not working) and begun to repair it, though they could not finish. We will all go back on Sunday again. It is uncertain where our larger group will be until then -- possibly in Raffah (South Gaza).
One guy in our group, Garrick, got a short interview on Democracy Now! radio today, and will probably be on again for a larger feature soon, about the Israeli-manufactured water crisis in Gaza.
Where we stay in Gaza has very frequent power outages, for periods of a few hours at night. Locals whom I've spoken to believe that the Israelis are directly affecting this, and it's not at all just an unhappy accident.
All is going great so far -- the Palestinian hospitality has been amazing!
**Will was in the occupied Palestinian territories last summer (2002), July 6-20, with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). This is one of three e-mail updates he sent out to friends and family over the period of his two weeks in Palestine and Israel. Stay tuned for the remaining two. A more complete account and analysis should be online soon at www.bilanko.com.
And Happy New Year, ye faithful!...