Saturday, March 31, 2012

the shit is falling...

Today is al Yom al-Ard, Land Day in Palestine. I've been hearing about it for weeks, and today I went to the big protest at Qalandia checkpoint. For some background, here is what wikipedia says about Land Day:

Land Day (Arabic: يوم الأرض‎, Yom al-Ard; Hebrew: יוֹם הַאֲדָמָה‎‎, Yom HaAdama), March 30, is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians of the events of that date in 1976. In response to the Israeli government's announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of land for "security and settlement purposes", a general strike and marches were organized in Arab towns from the Galilee to the Negev. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Arab citizens were killed, about one hundred were wounded, and hundreds of others arrested.

Scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognizes Land Day as a pivotal event in the struggle over land and in the relationship of Arab citizens to the Israeli state and body politic. It is significant in that it was the first time since 1948 that Arabs in Israel organized a response to Israeli policies as a Palestinian national collective. An important annual day of commemoration in the Palestinian national political calendar ever since, it is marked not only by Arab citizens of Israel, but also by Palestinians all over the world.

This morning, instead of going to Bil'in or Nabi Saleh I met up with Hamdi and Simon and a bunch of Swiss and German journalists in Manara Circle in Ramallah, and from there we Service'd to Qalandia checkpoint.I downed some coffee (mostly on my sweatshirt) and chatted with the journalists, but I was feeling nervous about this demonstration.

Qalandia is a few things. It's the biggest checkpoint in the West Bank, sitting between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It's a huge traffic bottleneck. It's a refugee camp. It's a place that doesn't get taken care of, because it falls into Greater Jerusalem, but the powers that be don't give a poo about Arab Jerusalem, no matter what side of the wall it falls on. So it's not a pleasant place to be. A lot of poverty, a lot of people shuffling around, smog and horns honking, and the checkpoint. And the wall. The only thing hopeful there is the graffitti, because it reminds me that there is a voice of resistance, of opposition, of sanity in this absurd place.

We got out of the taxi once we saw a group of foreigners walking down the sidewalk. Hamdi and Simon identified them as the ISM people, from the International Solidarity Movement. I'd seen them in 2's or 3's before, but not in a big group. This must be the Ramallah contingent. I recognized one of the blonde guys from the Nabi Saleh demonstration the week before

We all congregated and it ended up being about 15 foreigners with cameras skirting the shops on the main road, weighing the go next to the shebab throwing stones? or go behind the soldiers? option 1 involved being in the line of fire, so most of us kept skirting and ended in a big mass of press and soldiers. When I first saw them it looked more like some casual gatherine, like a festival. Then a gun would go off and people would flinch, then they would send the tank full of shit water out, or shoot tear gas, and everyone would clutch their kuffiyehs and run to find a hiding place.

I felt safe surrounded by so many foreigners, it was just obnoxious having to run behind the fruit stand and inhale alcohol pads every time the wind carried gas or shit water out way. I don't know what else to call it. The man in the fruit stand said, "the shit is falling," the "khara," that's what we say in Arabic. We emerged from the fruit stand and I said, "al khara fil hawa," the shit is on the wind, and he laughed. The more Arabic I spoke, the easier I felt my presence was. There is usually secret police at Kalandia demonstrations, and I didn't feel comfortable pointing my camera at journalists or locals...even though I found them most interesting. Not that secret police don't speak Arabic. And sometimes they cross-dress. haha.

All in all, it was a pretty unproductive demo. I know this isn't exactly an MLK situation, or a Gandhi situation, but I tried to imagine what the army would do if everyone just walked up to the checkpoint. It feels so patronizing telling a people how to resist their occupation, and I feel nothing but disgust for someone who returns a stone with a bullet, but I couldn't join that march with kids throwing stones. It's not a mental isolation, I know that support is growing for their cause, but there's a physical isolation if the internationals feel provocative and fear for their safety...

I left after about an hour. I caught a service taxi back to Ramallah, and it took about 45 minutes instead of 15 because we hand to wind through clogged backroads in Qalandia refugee camp. I was listening to the radio and picking out pieces about the demonstration. Weird, I was just there.

972 Magazine-Land Day at Qalandia Falls Flat