Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 25th

This post reads nine and a half pages in Word, and contains several flashbacks within flashbacks. I apologize for the sheer length of it, but people seemed to like that Inception movie...


It’s Sunday morning, and school is in session. I showed up before 7am to try and print out my first-day hand-outs, but no one was there except for Ali and Ola, a first and third grader. We hung out for 30 minutes while the janitor cleaned, and I realized my class wasn’t during school hours. Everyone showed up at 7:30 for assembly. I learned from the English teacher that the 9th and 10th grade boys were expected to get up 30 minutes early to take my class. Oh. Oh no. That won’t do.
“I have brothers. Different time is good.”
They’re going to try to find 30 minutes during the school day when the boys aren’t so….yeah.

So now it’s 8:30, I’m back on my old schedule so this is still suitable snooze time, but there are enough things to do. I didn’t get a chance to log the weekend, I was so tired last night and Haj Sami wanted to have a long discussion about why American culture allows girls to be promiscuous before marriage. At first I was a little uncomfortable but I realized that there was no one he could ask these questions of, and for a moral guardian of a community that is trying to employ foreigners full-time, it was an important topic. There were a lot of points on which we agreed. Girls at fifteen are generally stupid when it comes to relationships and kids need positive role models and guidance from their families. I think most girls want to get married in America too, but they’re afraid of making the wrong choice and hurting someone else and themselves…and in the process of being afraid they hurt other people and themselves…no, it’s not a perfect system. But I’d say neither is one where young women never get the chance to live independently, and young men are expected to be financially stable before they can kiss a girl. Everyone has their own ideal, and I found it difficult to explain the compromise. The best I could muster was the “buying a car” analogy before I starting yawning so hard that Haj Sami said, “ahh ok, goodnight ya Morgan” and left.

So I didn’t get the chance to put down my thoughts from this weekend, which seems so distant already, but I’ll take a whack at it (as Lindsay Lohan says in the Parent Trap).

I need a Snickers first.

Ok, hunger managed.

Rules for getting from Al Aqaba to Ramallah: #1: Don’t have classes on Thursday evenings. In Palestine it is W-E-E-K-E-N-D, it’s weekend.

#2: Leave the village by 3, or there won't be anyone else going to Nablus, and the taxi fare will double, and you’ll have to wait a long time.

#3: Know the difference between the East and West taxi station in Nablus, or you will take a long walk.

#4: When relying on a Service (shared taxi), plan to be somewhere at a certain time, and tell whoever you're meeting you'll be there an hour after that. Riding the New Orleans streetcars was great practice.

#5: Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the shared taxi.

#6: If the man next to you is resting his elbow on your hip, this is not necessary or accidental. There is plenty of space, so scoot!

The story: I got to Ramallah at 6:30, about an hour after I said I’d be there, my friend Ahmad met me downtown. I met his father in New Orleans last year, while he was on duty at the gas station store on Bayou St. John. He got me in touch with his family in Palestine, and I was able to visit them on my trip last Christmas. I’ve been in touch with Ahmad, who’s my age, and Hamude, who’s just younger than my brother (17). Ahmad and I walked around Ramallah for a while. I saw at least six foreigners on that walk, which was six more than last time. In Manara Circle there was a 40-foot chair with the words Palestine’s Right on it, in anticipation of the UN vote for Statehood.
I asked Ahmad if it ever rained in Palestine, and he laughed and said no.
We caught a ride up to his village, Deir Jareer. One of his friends kept talking about the car lights on the hill opposite the village, and Ahmad told me the settlers might still be there burning olive trees. I kept joking about going over there and seeing if there was anything we could do, and he laughed, but I wasn’t really joking. I kept thinking about it. We got to their house and hung out with his twin Khalid, who looks just like his dad, and Hamude, who just started 12th grade. We ate Ouzi, a dish with rice, chicken, nuts, peas and carrots, then watched the news, flipping between Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic. The Prime Minister of England was talking about democracy in the Arab world, and how Palestinians deserve a state, but he STRESSED the need for direct negotiations. So no, they don’t deserve anything but what Israel feels generous enough to give back. We watched Disturbia instead.
Hamude showed me the pictures his friend posted on Facebook of the hill that was burned that day. I didn’t know that Deir Jareer had problems with the settlers, it seemed like such a quiet village, basically a suburb, just 20 minutes outside the city.
Ahmad and Khalid and I smoked argheelah, which made me light-headed. Khalid doesn’t speak much English but Ahmad and I talked for a long time about life, work, and learning languages. He’s starting a Spanish course and applying to IT jobs with the company working on the new Palestinian city, Rawabi. He taught me how to say still, yet, and almost. Helikat (still) sounds like a cat helicopter, so I still remember that one.
That night, I slept in the bedroom on the only bed. Everyone else slept on mats and couches. Things like that aren’t even open for discussion. I was so tired by midnight that I thought I would fall asleep immediately. But as I started drifting off, I heard a mosquito buzzing by my ear. Game over. I put the blanket up over my head, but it found my face. They always do. I let it land on my cheek and I smacked it. Boom. I tried to fall asleep again but I anticipated the next one, and it came with a friend. The harmony was too much. I pulled my scarf out of my bag and threw it over my head, but the material was too thick to breathe through, so I wrapped it so that only my nose, mouth and chin were exposed. A mosquito tried to fly up my nose.
I’d had trouble with mosquitoes only twice this year. The labor day hike to Larch Lakes was the buggiest four days I’d ever experienced, but I was fortunate enough to have my grandmother’s mosquito net to walk around in, and our tent was kept bug-free. Since my family left India, I’ve always slept with my hair over my ear, just in case mosquitoes were buzzing around, but those cases were few and far between. What struck me was that the last time this happened was New Years morning, in the village I was headed to the next morning, in Bil’in. It was the calm before the shitstorm of New Years Day.

(diddly doo, diddly doo)

The mosquitoes were awful. Not like swarming awful, like “I’m going to hang out on the ceiling the dive-bomb you when you’re just getting comfortable” kind of awful. Several times I turned on the light and jumped up and down, thwacking the ceiling with my shoe. I couldn’t fall asleep until dawn, just like the previous night, which I had spent at a hostel in Jerusalem.

I had missed my flight out of Tel Aviv. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the most security-obsessed state in the world would have stricter airport procedures, and my arrival 1.5 hours before departure (throw in the fact that I’m an overly-confident traveler) in a line full of people that were 3 hours early…drew no sympathy. I was approached by three different security people about my Jordanian and Egyptians stamps. Why was I studying Arabic? Because I wanted to? My carry-ons were unpacked and re-packed without my American phone and notebook full of contacts, and I was singled out for a special screening, where a girl in training went over all of my hemlines. I missed my flight, and was grounded for five days. It was midnight, and I was a mess. I didn’t know how to get change, or make sense of the Hebrew instructions on my phone card, or call the airline, or Expedia, or home. I had no way of reaching my brother, who was in an ashram somewhere in Israel. I could reach him with internet, maybe in a day or two. I was confident of two things: how to find the Citadel Youth Hostel in the maze of Jerusalem’s Old City, and that I was welcome in the village of Bil’in, which was having its weekly demonstration in 12 hours.
I got to the hostel at 3am, slept on a bunk bed until 10, then caught a service taxi to Ramallah. It was Friday prayer when I arrived, and the city was almost deserted. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my little duffel bag, but stranger after stranger directed me to the taxi stand. There was no Service to Bil’in, but I paid for a private taxi. I was already late.
I think the most alone I’ve ever felt was getting out of that taxi outside the mosque in Bil’in. I didn’t know if anyone would remember me from the week prior, when I’d tagged along with a large group of French activists. We’d eaten makloubeh with one of the families and planted olive trees near the “separation fence,” which somehow invited a shower of sounds bombs and tear gas. How this is supposed to put down a solidarity movement I’ll never know. Going to Bil’in is like Occupation 101, you get to see the settlement, the wall, and the soldiers all at once. It’s a startling backdrop to the village, which is warm and friendly and often visited by foreigners on peace delegations, heavy-hearted by the time they get there, but more than willing to be uplifted. I fell in love with the spirit and the people there, and it might have had a little to do with the children who took care of the middle aged French activists as they cried and wheezed from the tear gas.
I smelled the gas when I got out of the taxi, which was strange. It was a little windy, but the demonstration was outside the village. Since it was a larger-than-usual demonstration, it made sense that there was more gas. I made my way out of the village toward the wall as some of the youngsters were heading away from the demo…I had missed most of it. But there were still dozens of people there. A drum circle from Israel, a sax player who played while dodging plumes of gas, and several other villagers and foreigners at varying distances from the action. I stayed up the hill, with my duffel, looking around. The man who’s home I stayed at the week before saw me and recognized me. He came up and offered to take my bag back to his house. I had a place to stay that night. Excellent. We went back to his house and I got to see his 2-year-old daughter Labiba (Lulu) again. When she heard the pfft pfft of tear gas being released she ran around in circles and yelled “Jeish! Jeish!” Army! Army!
“Wein al Jeish?” her dad asked playfully? Where is the army?
“Fil jadaaar…” she said like a 2-year-old. At the wall.
We sat out on their front stoop while my friend picked grapefruits from his trees and squeezed juice for the retreating demonstrators. Some of them politely declined, they had to get back to Tel Aviv, some of them took a seat. I went down the road to visit the office of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, and I saw one of the Israeli activists hugging one of the committee members goodbye, calling him “brother.” That stuck with me. I learned later that the activist was Jonathan Pollack, who had just been sentenced to three months in prison for participating in a critical mass bike ride in Tel Aviv against the offensive in Gaza. He was saying goodbye to his friend Hamde, who was leaving for a year in Germany. Suddenly Hamde was talking to me about Qalandia, and I realized we had had this conversation before. I had been with the French people at a demonstration at Qalandia checkpoint the week before, and after nine people had been detained for running past the gate (really it wasn’t the most productive demonstration), we were all hanging out by the wall, seeing if they would be released. Shortly before we left, I turned around and saw two Palestinians fighting in the street. I remember thinking, “we’re here supporting them and they’re fighting each other.” The two were separated, one attacked the other again, and the police were called. A minute later I saw one of the guys amongst our group, bleeding from his head. He put his head under a spigot and toweled off, and that was that…until I was in the committee office that evening and he apologized to me for what had happened. I was confused, I didn’t remember his face.
“I never fight, but these two were talking about the women in the group…”
“I didn’t think you were violent, don’t apologize…”
“No, no, my mother she will kill me…”
I realized that my assumption had been wrong. The two kids had made a crude remark about us, and Hamde had leapt up in defense. And now he was apologizing and talking about his mother, while people coming in and out of the office cracked jokes about him fighting kids and getting beaten.
“I’m so sorry, I’m not a violent person…” Here we were again, mid-conversation before I realized who he was and what he was talking about. I just laughed.
“I didn’t think you were-“
“I never fight, it was just these kids what they were saying, you know if someone says something about your mother or your sister…”
And that was that. He showed me some of the videos of the previous demonstrations, including the YouTube video of the shooting of his cousin Bassem Abu Rahmah, which I’d read about on the village website. Bil’in was still mourning his death two years later.
I went back to my friend’s house, where there was a band playing in a circle. They were a hipster-ish bunch with a saxophone, violin, trumpet, clarinet, and a few percussion instruments. They were singing Bella Ciao. It was an intoxicating sound. Afterwards I asked them what the song meant, and the clarinet player said “it’s anti-fascist song.” They were Italian.
Hamde showed up and said, “You should sleep at the international’s apartment. It’s for the internationals. Tell him you’re going there.” I did want to be around the younger folks, especially since it was New Years Eve, so I picked up my stuff and promised to return the next night. Apparently I would stay in Bil’in for a little while longer. I went to Hamde’s house first to drink tea and we talked about the village and Bassem. Hamde had been working in Tel Aviv illegally when he found out about his cousin’s death. He took a course in photography at Bethlehem University and became a full-time journalist at home in Bil’in. He was leaving for a year in Germany to teach photography and be closer to his fiancĂ©e. His brothers and cousins kept passing through and we all ended up in the international house smoking argheelah and laughing at my Arabic. And probably a thousand other things I couldn’t understand. This was where the boys left me to sleep, and I tried so hard, but those dammed mosquitoes…..
I woke up at ten or eleven, seeing that Hamde had come in. I wasn’t ready to be awake, so I played dead and immediately passed out again. I woke up again past noon and changed. While I was brushing my teeth Hamde came out of the next bedroom, apparently he had been napping. We walked up the hill towards his house, when a boy came up and rattled off something in Arabic. Hamde turned to me wide-eyed and said, “My cousin, she is died.”

The night before, his sister had told us that she was in the hospital because of the tear gas. That wasn’t uncommon, but this was only the second demonstration-related death in the village. Now Hamde was dashing up the hill while his sister beckoned me into their house. They shared their food with me, small plates of things while the women were preparing a gargantuan meal for their relatives who were in mourning next door. A cousin, a tall pre-teen girl in jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and hijab was across the room, fidgeting with her phone. She was staring off into space.
“Did you know her well?”
“Yes, she was my cousin. She was a very nice girl”
She pointed to the poster of Bassem in the house and said, “She Bassem sister.”
She continued to flip her phone up and down her leg, up and down, up and down, staring at nothing.
Then she heard something outside and said, “you want to see?”
I followed her outside.
It had happened so fast. The body had been brought from the hospital, and a crowd was carrying her to her family’s house, where the women were gathered in mourning. The crowd was so immense that I couldn’t see into the family’s house. Someone was shouting “Allahu akbar!” God is great! into the megaphone and the crowd of mostly men and boys joined in the chant. I was stunned. I was conditioned to think this is what you hear before a terrorist blows himself up, this is something you hear when you think of extremism, holy war, Westerners beware! And there were other Westerners there. Some I recognized from the day before, some were new, some were reporters. I saw the anchorwoman from Al Jazeera, who interviewed me at Qalandia because I was the only American. I wondered if she recognized me. She smiled back at me. I said hello to Rani, who hosted the lunch for the French group, and stood by him watching the procession. They carried the body into the mosque, then emerged after praying to bury her next to Bassem. There were hundreds of people standing in the street and watching from the cemetery. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, but I was told later that they were saying they would continue their nonviolent struggle for peace and justice. I looked at one of the posters on the village wall. It was a picture of her that had already been distributed and posted all over the village. She was a martyr. I read her name slowly…Ja-wa-hr. I’d never heard that name before, did I get it right?

When I found Hamde later in the office, he was writing a report with pictures to send out to the press. He told me his cousin who was there had told him that Jawaher wasn’t at the demonstration; she in her house and the wind carried the gas fumes and suffocated her there, about 500 feet away. I remembered the gas wafting in the village. Hamde asked me to check the wording of the report, and I ended up re-writing the sentence about Jawaher’s location. The reports sprung up everywhere, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Haaretz. It wasn’t just the incident. Thousands marched in Tel Aviv to protest her death, and Americans marched outside a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania that sold tear gas canisters to Israel. They marched in the snow in Boston too. In Tel Aviv, protesters threw used canisters over the fence of the U.S. Ambassador’s house. I was surprised at how much press Bil’in was getting. But it wasn’t all good press. Jerusalem Post and YNet started off their articles with “Palestinians claim…” and go off on the vagaries of the story. The hospital reports from Ramallah were suspect, the Israeli Defense Force reported that there was not an abnormal amount of gas fired. No interviews with witnesses other than soldiers. Jawaher may have had asthma, and her family was exploiting her death for the Palestinian cause. In fact, it may have been an honor killing! Whatever the point of skepticism was, it pointed to this: the people of Bil’in were lying, the hospital in Ramallah was lying, the Abu Rahma’s were lying, there was not a shred of integrity or humanity to be expected from this lot. Understanding, anger and nausea started to sink in. I’ve never seen hatred and ignorance so openly and collectively expressed. Now I knew what the Israeli activists who came to Bil’in and hugged their Arab brothers were up against. It’s not one people against another. It’s people who refuse to be afraid, to assume the worst in others, against this superiority complex and an occupation that feed off of one another.
A few weeks later, before reporting to prison, Jonathan Pollack stated that Jawaher was at the demonstration and was taken away in the ambulance from the same area. I told Hamde about it, just in case the discrepancy would cause problems. I think we’d wanted to believe the cousin’s story because it showed how strong the gas was. The arguments continued…where was Jawaher? I read a lot of comments from marines who had been tear gassed as part of basic training, it’s no big deal, they said. It just burns. I’m trying to imagine Jawaher in basic training.
Hamde found an article that pointed out his initial report, with my sentence highlighted. The writers of the article called him out specifically, asking, “why would her cousin lie about her whereabouts?” It was released in four parts, called The Jawaher Abu Rahma Hoax. I knew it pained Hamde to read it, not for himself, but for his family and Bil’in. I commented on a few articles, invited people to see Bil’in for themselves. As nasty as some of the refusals were, I couldn’t think that Bil’in was better off without them.

(diddly doo, diddly doo)

Ahmad woke me up at 10 and I was groggy and covered with mosquito bites. We ate breakfast and taxied down to Ramallah by noon. Again, no Service to Bil’in this Friday. We walked around the mostly empty city waiting for his friend to pick us up and generously take us to the village. The only people around were foreigners in cafes and ice cream parlors, and the press setting up to film the rally for statehood. There was a big stage and it looked like a lot of people were expected to show up after prayer. I debated staying in the city to watch it, but I had blindly counted on staying in Bil’in for the night, so the earlier I arrived, the better. We climbed through the hills and over, into several villages, and I realized I’d never really looked out over Bil’in. Past the settlements, you could see well into Israel.
Ahmad and his friends wouldn’t let me walk off by myself, so I told them to park by the mosque and wait for prayers to end. Some youths were amassing along the street, where Jawaher’s procession had been on New Years Day. I brought Ahmad over to a big clump of foreigners and rested easy. It’s always a fun sight to see. You have Spaniards, Swedes, Brits, Americans in all manner of dress, while the committee members pass out flags and balloons and everyone’s talking amongst themselves, explaining how the demo works, greeting old friends, and I saw Haitham. Haitham is in his thirties, and he’s a teddy bear. He’s a close friend of Hamde’s and I got to spend a lot of time with him in those five days in January. So I’d called him the day before, and he was the only one aware of my coming. We caught up for a few minutes, I introduced him to Ahmad, who was satisfied and headed back to Ramallah. The march began.
1, 2, 3, 4, Occupation no more! 5, 6, 7, 8, Palestine will be state! I saw Iyad Burnat, who had greeted me before, carrying an American flag that said VETO on it.
“Morgan, Morgan…..”
“I’m sorry we burn your flag today.”
“Haha, I’m sorry for a lot of things.” Behind me I heard a quiet chorus of “Amrikia? uhh. yes.”
We marched to the fence, and the fence was no longer there. In the last few months, it had been dismantled, as per the Israeli High Court’s order from 2007, I think.
We marched straight on through, following four or five cars. We walked through the olive trees, to the concrete wall around one of the settlements that stood on Bil’in’s land. Iyad put the flag on the barbed wire fence around the wall and all the activists snapped photos and video of the VETO flag burning. Ashraf Abu Rahmah took a cluster of black, green, red and white balloons and stood on a rock by the soldiers, hoisting them up high. The soldiers were peeping out from behind the wall. They looked a little sillier now. People were chanting, waving flags. After a few minutes they let the tear gas fly. I forgot how much that stuff burns. But I got some video of the gas. And some of Yonatan Shapiro flying a Palestinian flag kite. I’d heard his name, but I didn’t know that he was the pioneer of the Israeli pilot refusnik movement, and now was a well-known activist. It made me smile watching him because he looked like he was free of fear, like he wasn’t afraid to love his friends and fly a kite, even while being gassed by his own country’s soldiers. There’s a very real fear about it, like if something is flying at you, your instinct is to dodge it, flight or flight response, and the adrenaline rushes…but I could tell by the way this man was flying his kite, like Bassem flew a kite in the posters around the village, that there was a certain resignation to the cheapening of life in this conflict. Dammit, if I don’t have the freedom to fly a kite right here, right now, then what’s the point?

After the fifth round of tear gas, people started to head back to Bil’in. Haitham kicked someone out of his passenger seat and said, “Yalla Morgan.” I got in, and we beeped our way through the activists. He asked me if I wanted to see the land that was liberated. I said yes, and he swerved into a side road and started scrambling through the olive groves toward the settlement.
“This hummer,” he joked. The guys in the back seat were grumbling about the detour.
We stopped on a look-out where we could see two other large settlements, and Haitham pointed at the land sloping down, where they weren’t allowed to plant or build because there was a 500 meter buffer zone around the settlements. He took us back to Bil’in, stopped by Adeeb Abu Rahma’s house so I could visit his girls Tutu and Tala, but they were all at a wedding, so Haitham took me back to his house to show me his latest film projects. He has a really snazzy computer and new editing software, and I was really impressed/jealous. His wife brought us lunch and we talked about the last English teacher, Susie from Britain. I said maybe I’ll come teach in Bil’in next, and she said she’d be my first student. Their son Karme is adorable. He’s been sick for a long time, I think with a muscular disorder, but he’s the smiliest, most affectionate little boy ever. Haitham commented that he’d wanted to finish his house, since there were cracks in the walls and they weren’t painted, and there was no furniture. The money instead went to the doctor. I told him I used to paint houses, and I would do the painting for him. He seemed incredulous, strange females doing manual labor, it’s a tough sell. I tried his wife, she laughed too.
I started translating the weekly demonstration report for Haitham. The Google Translate English was so rough that it would’ve taken me about half an hour, but halfway through Haitham got a call from an activist in Qusra. He spoke through the window, “Ya Morgan, there is two people killed. I must go. You want to go?” I thought for a second. It’s hard to explain what was going through my head. All I remember thinking is that I was safe with Haitham, and then again, there’s the resignation. And if my presence was helpful, I wanted to help.
“I am sorry,” Haitham said as we left his house, “this is our life.”
We waited for a car to pick us up. I was given the front seat. That was another non-negotiable, and the only thing that made me feel like a nuisance on that trip. Generosity and propriety.
We went out of Bil’in a way I’d never been before, through other hill-top villages. Haitham joked about our driver’s English and I was supposed to test him. I said, where are you from? He said, “shoo?” what? and they all cracked up. He defended himself, saying that he understood almost everything, but he couldn’t speak. Same with my students. We climbed higher and higher, and our driver pointed ahead to the Mediterranean sea. I was blown away. I’d been around the West Bank and always looked inward at the cities, but I’d never looked outward and seen Israel and the sea. We were looking right down on Tel Aviv. Now I understood why the settlements were such an easy sell. They’re so close, and their views are astounding.
We drove right by Nabi Saleh, and saw that the soldiers had closed off the entrance to the village. I’d meant to go to one of their Friday demonstrations, it just hasn’t happened yet.
Four of us got dropped off at the next junction, and I didn’t know why were hanging out by the side of the road. We were right by a sign that read, “Area A-Palestinian Authority. No Entry for Israelis. Entry illegal by Israeli Law.” I read it and Haitham scoffed, “Israel put this and people think there is danger.” He mentioned the possibility of soldiers or settlers being in Qusra. “if there is problem you can go under here,” he gestured to his bullet-proof vest.
“If I died, my mother would kill me.”
“You can use this. Our lives are cheap. For what are we living?”
Our ride arrived. We hopped into the white sedan, me in front. We drove a few miles to a roundabout. All the signs were in Hebrew and most of the cars had Israeli license plates and women in the passengers seats with head scarves. They stared at us. What were we doing? We were now three white cars with Palestinian plates. Thirteen young Palestinian men were putting on bright green vests that read “Refusing to Die in Silence” in Arabic, English and Hebrew. And I thought Haitham had been called to come alone. This was a delegation.
We took off to Qusra. They weren’t abnormally reckless drivers by Palestinian standards, but we passed cars on blind curves a little more often than I would’ve liked. We passed Arabic tour busses, settler cars and Israeli armored vehicles. One of those little ways you get to say “meh. I do what I want.”Our new driver explained that a car in Jericho got fined by the Israelis 30,000 shekels for flying the Palestine State UN 194 flag on his car, and had his car impounded. Haitham translated everything into English for me. I didn’t mind being quiet, I was absorbing the scenery, the settlements, the villages, and I wasn’t despairing like usual. The Likud government and the settlers don’t care about peace with the Palestinians, so nothing they’re doing is accidental. But I see the signs to the university in Ariel and think, the international community will never stop boycotting you. You will never be normal, because these facts were put on the ground behind the barrel of a gun. How much unholier could you get? Even if the Ariel “finger” gets annexed, someday they’ll understand their own history. It’s harder to ignore when the indigenous people of Palestine weren't wiped out to the degree that America's were. What a depressing thought, but it gave me hope. There is no military solution here. There is no way Israel can "finish the job." Not in this century. What a lot of morbid thoughts. What a lot these people are up against.

We climbed up to Qusra, and onto a long, straight road that led us into the village. A large hill towered over us, shadowing us from the late afternoon sun. The village was nestled in a basin, with homes and buildings climbing up the side of hill. It was much bigger than I expected. As we drove up, the first thing I heard was a voice speaking in Arabic from the loudspeaker at the mosque. The voice was low and monotone, not the melodic sound of the daily call to prayer.

 “When they read the Quran you know someone is died,” said Haitham. All of this village was in mourning for this one man. It reminded me of Jawaher's death in Bilin. We made our way through the village streets to the house of the relatives. When we got out of the car and approached the house on foot, here were at least a hundred boys standing facing the house, chanting "there is no God but Allah," and how Allah loves the "shahid," the martyr. That's what I understood anyway. They all looked under fifteen. Their fists were pumping, somewhat tiredly, to punctuate their words. Across from the boys, outside the house were 40 or so women, all huddled together, many crying. The wife, the mother, the daughters on the balcony. Two of the sons were tear-stained. I couldn’t take it. I had to turn around and collect myself a few times. I wanted to be strong, but I knew it was ok if people saw me. It felt like the easiest way to apologize for what my country is helping Israel do. The gun that shot this martyr was probably American.

I was glad for the green vest, but I didn’t try to play reporter. I stood back and watched while Haitham and the others gathered footage. Then we walked back to the car, and drove up to the top of the hill, and over to where the shooting had taken place. A witness walked Haitham and our group around and explained what happened. I climbed onto a boulder and took a panorama of our surroundings. This really felt like the top of the world, the view was breathtaking. The Jordan Valley was unfurled before us, its crinkly hills lit up by the setting sun. I understood again why the settlers would want this hilltop. Haitham explained that the settlers from the neighboring outpost Eish Kodesh had recently burned down one of the mosques, but that a settler had been caught by the villagers a few days prior, and they turned him into the Israeli soldiers. Civilly, non-violently.

After this interview we were going to leave, and I was ready. Then we learned that one of the boys injured by the settlers was about to be taken to the hospital. We drove down the hill a bit to where the ambulance was about to leave. There were a few hundred people crowded around it, and I waited on the street while Haitham got an interview with the boy. I spotted six or seven foreigners. One of them was Haitham’s contact, the one who had called him in Bilin. I talked to the girl next to him and found out that they were from ISM, the International Solidarity Movement, the same group that protects the farmers and fishermen in Gaza from getting shot by the Israeli army and navy. When there’s a confrontation, or injury or death, ISM activists are called to go to the scene to gather information, provide an international presence, and report to the press. Their offices have been raided by the IDF for camera and computer equipment, under the pretense that they’re spreading anti-Israel propaganda and inciting violence against Israel. Incitement is a word that only seems to apply to Palestinians and their supporters. The girl was from Spain, and she reminded me of a girl who went to Whitman. The guy was British. Another guy in their group was talking to a bunch of little kids and I noticed immediately that he was gorgeous. Wait, this is neither the time nor the place.

After Haitham got the interview, he explained to me what the boy said, and this was hard. He had been arrested by the soldiers after the villagers went to confront the settlers who were attacking their trees. One of the settlers asked if he could beat the boy, and the soldier gave him permission to pick up a rock and hit the boy in the face. Then the soldiers kicked him in the head. Nothing like this had ever happened in Qusra. The shooting and killing of a villager, the collective beating of a minor. Eish Kodesh was a fairly new outpost and those settlers were just…nuts.
We were done for the night. The activists got dropped off near Nablus, and our car went back to Bil’in. On the way we almost hit a wild boar on the side of the road. At first I thought it was a rhino, it was so massive.
When we got back to Bil’in, Haitham transferred his footage and reviewed his interviews. His wife came over and watched the interview with the boy who’d been beaten. As he told his story she put her hand to her mouth and shook her head in disbelief. For all the mothers of Bil’in have to deal with, the demonstrations, the tear gas, the night raids, their sons getting pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and arrested and interrogated, thankfully they didn’t have to deal with settlers attacking their children.
Haitham set me up in Ashraf’s house, and Ashraf went to sleep in the school. It wasn’t up for discussion. I fell asleep fast and woke up early to the buzzing of mosquitoes. Haitham was waiting outside to take me to Ramallah, then back to Qusra to the funeral. I had just taken a shower, and was scrambling around, my hair still wet. I met Haitham and we caught a Service to the city. I could hear the radio blaring about Obama and Abbas and the UN and the state, but I couldn’t put it all together. I was missing a few key verbs. Haitham and I ended up meandering around Ramallah until we came to an apartment building where the meeting for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee was housed. There we assembled about sixteen people, Palestinian and international, to go to Qusra to be present at the funeral. There were pictures from demonstrations all over the West Bank, several of Bil’in with Adeeb and Abdullah Abu Rahmah, and Haitham. I’d seen some of them on Facebook. Below one of the pictures there was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that I’d seen back at the middle school I worked at last year in New Orleans:
(something like this)
Cowardess asks, “is it safe?”
Expediency asks, “is it politic?”
Vanity asks, “is it popular?”
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.

I started thinking about the Order of the Pheonix.

We met around a table, and I can't remember exactly what was discussed, but a young woman looked at me and asked me if I understood how I was expected to behave once we got to the village. Her tone was a little incredulous, like "do you even know what our guidelines are?" but I understood the importance of them, so I nodded along politely. It was about non-violence, and not provoking confrontation. We were going there to establish a presence, which would hopefully minimize violence from soldiers and settlers. We left the apartment, walked across the street, piled into four cars and made our way to Qusra. I hadn’t eaten yet so I got some Pringles, a Twix, a water and a Diet Coke at the gas station. Unfortunately, halfway through the car ride I was already eyeing the olive groves to see where would be an appropriate place to tell Haitham and our car full of guys that I had to pee. I think the answer would be nowhere, but he stopped, and I ended up running across the highway and scrambling down the hillside in my neon green vest. In the rain.

As soon as we got into Qusra, the funeral procession was already headed toward us. The road that went from the village’s entrance to one of the settlements (not Eish Kodesh) had a few army jeeps and the soldiers were hanging out and watching the village through binoculars. There were already a few activists. It seemed like everyone was pretty heated up, like if someone started running toward the soldiers they would all run, especially the youth. Some of the men from the village and the activists in green vests had established a buffer line that couldn’t be crossed. The village was waiting for the ambulance to bring the body, and in the meantime there was a lot of chanting again, about the martyr. The soldiers looked on-edge. The air was so tense. I wondered what would happen if someone approached the soldiers and talked to them. I wondered if the soldier who killed the man the day before was with them now, and if he felt guilty, or felt justified. It seemed so ridiculous that we were so close and we all knew that one action could spark a confrontation, and all we could do was draw a line. When the ambulance came over the hill and past the soldiers, everyone crossed the line to meet it. It seemed that every man wanted to be the pallbearer, or be close to the body. The procession began. I got close at one point, but the crowd was pretty jostling, so I moved to the side. Those around me noticed my presence, but only for a moment or two. The general feeling was that the activists were good, the press was good. We walked for about 30 minutes to the man’s house so the body could be presented to his family. A young man came out carrying posters of the martyr and all the kids ran up to get them, so he finally threw them all up in the air. The body was carried back down the hill to a field, where all the elders of the village lined up and started to pray. Haitham finished collecting footage, and most of the foreigners gathered around the cars we came in. The group recognized one activist walking up the hill, and she came and joined us. After some discussion of how long to stay and how to get back to Nablus, since that’s where I was headed, she asked, “You live in Al Aqaba?” She lived in a nearby village and volunteered for Jordan Valley Solidarity. Both them and ISM had been to Al Aqaba during the demolitions in April, and ten days ago. We exchanged numbers, and I was glad to know they were nearby, in Jiflek.
Everyone was remarking that they were hungry. Then someone got a call that settlers were coming to the village in busses. My heart started racing. There were seriously coming to provoke the funeral? Three of the girls and I got in a car and drove up to the top of the hill, but when we got there, there were only soldiers near the settlements. No settlers in sight. The word for settlers is mustautinin.
Some of the shebab (youth) of the village headed toward the settlement to wave Palestinian flags and yell at the soldiers, so the internationals went with them. I hung back with a group of boys because I felt nervous encouraging anyone to go. More people meant more chances of a confrontation. The soldiers were firing tear gas now. I counted 56 soldiers spaced out along the hill where the settlement was. I couldn’t tell what the shebab wanted to do. They were all teenage boys and younger, they were unarmed, and they were shouting things I couldn’t understand. Maybe something about the man that was killed, or the settlers….maybe they wanted to show the soldiers they weren’t afraid, or stand up for the village. I didn’t know how they measured their success. They were just kids with flags against soldiers with guns and gas. It went on and on. It was pretty grotesque, how a Palestinian gets killed and the army's first reaction is to protect the settlements.

Haitham arranged a ride to Huwarra checkpoint so I could get to Nablus. The view coming down into the village was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen, and I wish I’d gotten a picture to send my grandfather to paint. It was a mostly cloudy day, but the sun was hitting the hills below so that parts of them were gleaming like gold. The other green vests were arguing about logistical things, and I was craning my head out the window like a tourist.
We got dropped off at the checkpoint before Nablus and caught a Service to the city. One of the Palestinian activists was catching another Service, so he walked with me to the West station. When we found out my Service to Tubas was at the East station across the city, he walked me all the way there and found my Service for me. I recognized the driver, he'd taken me to Nablus on Thursday. He asked where I was today. I told him Qusra. A woman in front of me turned around, and asked me something about Qusra. I said, “fi mishakel ktir, jeish wa mustatinin…” there are many problems, army and settlers…and she explained the situation with the man next to her. I think they’d heard about it on the news. I had a lot to tell them, but my vocabulary was limited.
We got to Tubas, I hopped out, bought some tomatoes, and headed to the Tayasir taxi, when one of the Al Aqaba busses honked at me, and I caught a ride back to the village. I showered, washed my clothes, and tried to think of what to teach my students the next day. The life of a live-in English teacher is pretty different from that of an activist or journalist, but it’s almost impossible not to dabble in both. I’m glad I went to Qusra. Next weekend I’ll go back to Bil'in for their weekly demonstration, then to Oktoberfest in Taybeh, home to Palestine’s only microbrewery.