It has been a pretty eventful week and a half. After the Hamas "coup" of Gaza, the Fatah forces have been making their presence known in the West Bank -- mostly in the form of many armed guards standing around the main square and various government buildings in Ramallah and occasionally masked men with rifles riding around town in jeeps. The situation seems to have stabilized somewhat, at least here. I can't say much for those trapped in Gaza with no way in, no way out, no aid, no food, and no fuel.
Aside from the sectarian fighting, the occupation is alive and well. I cross the Qalandia checkpoint twice a day on my way to and from work in Jerusalem. Its a two-hour trek to get to Jerusalem, usually an hour to go back. The checkpoint ordeal can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 45+ minutes, depending on the political climate, holidays, or just the mood of the soldiers at the time. Lately they've started adding another temporary checkpoint about 100 meters after the first one. here they come on the bus and check all the IDs again, sometimes just stand outside the door and hold the bus up and don't check IDs, and sometimes take people off the bus, even after they have cleared the main checkpoint.
As part of my internship, I went to survey the aftermath of 4 house demolitions last week, around Jerusalem. The tactic of house demolitions is one way that the [apartheid] Israeli government has been trying to "Judaize" Jerusalem and drive Palestinians off the land. They are devastating. The government can demolish a house with little or no warning on the basis that the family did not get a permit to build. The problem is, it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to get building permits from the municipality, even when they own the land and plan to do the construction themselves. ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), the organization I am working with this summer has started a campaign to rebuild every Palestinian house that is destroyed by the [apartheid] Israeli government this year. They are doing this as a political act of resistance against the occupation and the policy of house demolitions. At the campaign launch, we went to the house of a woman in the old city of Jerusalem. She had lived there for many years, after her family's house was destroyed when the Mughrabi Quarter of old Jerusalem was leveled to make room for a plaza in front of the Wailing Wall, in 1967. Those living in the Mughrabi Quarter were largely refugees from the 1948 Nakbe (catastrophe). She showed us her house and how she had tried to make improvements to the house, and how the army came and tore them down -- including the ceiling in her front room, which to this day she has not been able to rebuild.
The rubble of the houses was hard to take. strewn among the bricks, cement, and tiles, were personal possessions, bed sheets, toys, furniture. The first place we visited: the house had been destroyed that morning. The family was wandering through the ruins, somewhat dazed. They were building the house on land that they owned. The last one was on a family's property that they had owned for over 300 years. They had the deeds to prove this. Their main home was left standing, but the addition that they were building to house their extended family, was demolished.
Yesterday, I headed to the town of Bil'in in the West Bank, to go to a weekly protest by the villagers against the building of the wall through their land. Several hundred people participate in this protest weekly, waving flags, marching, and chanting. As we marched down the road, you could see the army and police convoys in the distance -- a solid wall of soldiers in the distance. The people stop as they approach the soldiers. They stand there with arms up to show they are unarmed and then continue to chant in Hebrew and Arabic. Eventually, the soldiers start shooting tear gas through the crowd. People run back. Some that are willing to risk arrest stay up front and refuse to be pushed back. As people run back, you can hear the tear gas canisters whizzing around, and see them landing in the midst of the protesters. For those of us new to the protest, like myself, this is a scary experience. The canisters can hit people and burn them or otherwise injure them. The gas is very uncomfortable and there are always a few people who need medical attention. The Red Cross/Crescent folks always accompany the protesters and assist those that are injured. For those that come here every week, this is normal. They are used to it. When the shooting subsides, they return to meet the soldiers again. Then the soldiers start firing live ammunition as "warning shots" and try arresting people. This week they got two. Then the jeeps drive down the road towards the town, as the protesters run back again. The soldiers fire more tear gas and start shooting rubber bullets (kind of a misnomer, since rubber bullets are just steel bullets with a layer of rubber around them. They can, and have, killed people. By this point, I have decided to hang toward the back, as I don't think my stomach, or my nerves, can take another round of tear gas and shooting.
At the end of the day, we are all weary from the ordeal. The villagers return to their homes, the internationals head back to their various centers of operation, and the wall stands. Next Friday they will try again.