OCT 2001

SEP 2001

The International Solidarity Movement

Israel and Palestine today ... if you’re not sure who’s oppressing whom, think about two telltale facts:
(1) Palestininans repeatedly call for the immediate presence of international peacekeepers/human rights monitors.
Almost no person on Earth opposes this. However ...
(2) The Israeli government repeatedly rejects any such idea. This rejection has the support of the US government.
What is the one side trying to hide from you, and why?
See for yourself: world citizens are now going to Palestine to prevent what Israel and the US try to hide each day.

This page is a quilt of testimonials from participants in the August 2001 ISM Campaign in Palestine, with the second piece (by Naomi Calick) split to preserve chronology. The second part of her article, at the end, is best read after the intervening material.--Eric]

Demonstrating near Orient House, August 10
Andy Clarno (see next page) sits second from right,
Israeli justic activist neta Golan sits in front of him holding Palestinian flag,
and ISM defense lawyer Allegra Pascheco stands in center with hand at (her own!) throat.

What is the ISM?

by Thom Saffold, Ann Arbor, MI

Thirty-five years ago, African Americans were fighting against a racist, oppressive system of segregation in the South. Forces including those led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action, and in less than a decade created a revolution that changed American society and government profoundly.

A defining moment in that struggle occurred during the Selma Campaign. Early in 1965, Dr. King issued a call to people of conscience to come to Selma and take part in resisting the segregationist forces of the government of that city and of the State of Alabama.

White people were especially challenged to come, not only because racism was a white institution that whites needed to take responsibility for, but because their presence provided some protection for Black activists and demonstrators.

Thousands of whites responded, knowing that there was tremendous physical risk of being arrested, beaten, or killed by the local police, the state police, or the Ku Klux Klan.

During that long campaign, innumerable Black and white demonstrators were beaten or jailed. And in addition to several Blacks who were killed, three whites—two male clerics and a female organizer from Detroit—were killed by the forces of racism and oppression.

This year, the spirit of the American Civil Rights Movement inspired about 20 Americans and other internationals to do the work of nonviolent resistance in Occupied Palestine. Together, we began a Campaign to Free Palestine with actions this August, which are described through articles in this issue of Agenda and on our web page, www.freepalestinecampaign.org.

We believe, along with our hundreds of supporters, tens of thousands of Americans, and a growing number of Israelis, that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians within its own borders, and particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, is racist and oppressive.

We are tired of hearing the "Middle East Conflict" described as if Israeli is the victim of unthinking Palestinian violence, or as a war between comparably armed sides. Rather, Israel has imposed an illegal Occupation on Palestinian lands since 1967 no less brutal than the Nazi occupation of Western Europe. With the protection of the United States, Israel has violated Palestinians’ human rights extensively and continuously for decades, in violation of many UN resolutions and international treaties. The list of illegal acts it has perpetrated against Palestinians includes:

—transferring its Jewish population and building settlements to house them in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention;

—militarizing those settlements;

—imposing onerous closures and curfews on entire Palestinian cities and regions, often for weeks or months at a time;

—responding to peaceful demonstrations with brutal police force;

—building roadblocks and imposing checkpoints that severely restrict legitimate travel;

—imposing collective punishment for crimes committed by individuals;

—diverting water supplies from Palestinian population centers to Jewish-only settlements;

—using massive military force against civilian targets.

The International Solidarity Movement is committed to recruiting, training, and deploying Americans and other internationals every month to do principled, nonviolent direct action to resist Israel’s occupation and force an end to it.

For more information, or to join the efforts of the American Solidarity Campaign to Free Palestine, see www.freepalestinecampaign.org, or contact Thom Saffold (tsaffold@provide.net or 734-668-1549).

Journey to a Forbidden Land (part 1)

by Naomi Calick, Fort Collins, CO

I am a US citizen and I am a Jew. All my life I was taught to support the state of Israel and to believe that Israel is the only country that is safe for Jews. I was told that the Jewish people are surrounded by enemies who want to kill us and that supporting Israel is the only way to survive.

"Who are these enemies? Why do they want to kill us?"

The answer was sweeping . . . sometimes, I was told that the whole world wants to kill the Jews. More often, the enemy was identified as the Arab nations who want to push Israel to the sea, and the group of Arabs called Palestinians who, they told me, hate Jews and dedicate themselves to destroying the Jewish State. But also, paradoxically, many times I was told that the Palestinians do not even exist.

"Who are these people, the Palestinians, who do not exist, but I’m supposed to fear and hate?"

Then one day, here in the state of Colorado, I met a Palestinian. He was my friend. I had worked with him for a year before finding out where he’s from. I knew he was a good worker and a nice man. But my mouth dropped open when I heard him say, "I’m from Hebron. I was born there, and my family has lived there for generations."

I was awestruck, tingling with wonder and amazement. A Palestinian ... he’s real! A living, breathing person, just like me. He has a wife and children. There are other workers in our company who are Palestinian-Americans, and I had never even noticed. Suddenly, the world was alive with Palestinians and with the Palestinian people.

And they did not want to kill me. They were people, just like me.

A year later I stepped off an airplane that landed in Israel and I rode in a Palestinian minivan headed east from Tel Aviv through West Jerusalem, through East Jerusalem, through the Bethlehem checkpoint (on foot—it is also a roadblock) and finally into the city of Bethlehem, Territory A, Palestine.

People in the US warned me not to go, telling me that I’d be killed. "Don’t go! They’ll just look at you and they’ll shoot you—because you are an American, or because you are a Jew, or because everyone there is violent and carries a gun!"

I went to Palestine nonetheless, drawn by an unsinkable need to meet this so-called enemy whom I’d been taught to fear. Within minutes of checking into the Paradise Hotel of Bethlehem, everyone knew I was Jewish. I kept no secrets and declared my Jewish background to all those around me.

Did anyone pull out a gun and take aim? Good heavens, of course not. The hotel staff, the young Palestinian woman who asked my name, the Palestinian man who coordinated our travel arrangements, everyone around me was friendly. I was exhausted and dazed, but they made me feel comfortable and safe. No one here wanted to hurt me. On the contrary, everyone was hospitable and kind.

The situation around us was desperately sad. Hope for peace seemed farther off than ever. But for me there was a small, personal triumph: no longer would I be afraid in my heart. The enemy was no enemy, but rather a friend!

First Night in Palestine

The manager and staff of the Bethlehem Hotel Paradise made me feel welcome. Indeed, more than welcome, because the hotel had not seen a customer in almost a year, ever since the Second Intifada broke out in September, 2000. Prior to September, the tourist industry in Bethlehem had been booming. Those days were over. Now, the owner and his family slept in the hotel because their home had been bombed. The Hotel Paradise itself had been shelled in April 2001 and had only just re-opened. The red carpet was thrown out for those few of us who were now visiting—twenty or so Americans plus a couple dozen others mostly from Europe, but particularly because of what we were there to do.

My room had a private bath and was reasonably clean and comfortable. From the window I peered out into Manger Street, where torn flags atop poles and hanging Christmas lights were still on display from the sadly spoiled Christmas 2000 season.

Our Program Begins

In the days that followed, I joined Palestinian, Israeli, American, Asian, European, and South American activists in seeing firsthand the tragedy of Israel’s endless occupation of Palestine and the suffering of the Palestinian people under this cruel system.

After receiving group training in non-violent civil disobedience (made more critical by the suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem on the third day of my trip), I set forth with the others on our protests.

One of six mounted police stopping ISM demonstrators from freeing Orient House

Black and Blue
at the Orient House:
Report from a Very Unholy Land

by Charles Lenchner

Lenchner (the author) shows his bruises at the Paradise Hotel

Charles Lenchner is coordinator of Olive Tree Summer, an effort of Jewish internationals to participate in nonviolent resistance to the occupation alongside Israeli, Palestinian, and international peace organizations. He is an Israeli-American with dual citizenship, active in Israeli and American Jewish peace organizations. For more information, visit www.geocities.com/Jewishpeacemakers or call 972-56-566986. For more information on the Jewish peace movement, visit www.junity.org.

On Thursday, August 9, all hell broke loose; a suicide bomber blew himself up, with more than a hundred dead or wounded as a result. The Islamic Jihad took responsibility and promised more to come. But of course, this was hell primarily for the Israelis. Another kind of hell, the kind that produces suicide bombers in limitless supply, has been going on for many months in the Palestinian Territories. The bombing makes for many satisfied Palestinians, who support such actions by at least 70%. And it makes for very angry Israelis, who support assassinations, even when the targets are political leaders and the victims include innocent children, by a similar margin.

It is difficult to be an Israeli or Palestinian peace activist, who rejects these manifestations of hate and rage, even while sharing in many of the emotions of our respective peoples. My response to the bombing, sadly and as usual, was to be very, very cynical. I cannot really repeat the off-color comments that floated in my head. Of course, visiting the site of the bombing and witnessing the impromptu demonstration of [far-right-wing Israeli religious group] Kahana supporters did little to get me feeling pensive. Too much blood, too much dancing on the blood, too many things to do. Anyway, I was in a hurry: to join the activities of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and others, in support of nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

On Thursday evening, the day of the bombing, the Israeli police stormed the Orient House, known as the political representation for Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem. Minister of Internal Security, Uzi Landau, had wanted to shut it down since entering office five months ago. The bombing was used, cynically, as an excuse; no one had accused the Orient House of being anything other than a political headquarters for mainstream Palestinians.

On Friday morning [August 10], the ISM group of 30 or so Americans, Italians, French, Danish, and British peace activists made their way to the closed-off street that houses the Orient House, right next to the American Colony Hotel. We joined a small number of Palestinians, and a large number of journalists. Our strategy was to try nonviolently to open the street to the Orient House, and free many people within it, as well as staff and residents at a nearby orphanage, from what we considered illegal occupation of the neighborhood.

Repeatedly, we moved against the police barricade that sealed off the street. Occasionally demonstrators were able to push aside or pull a metal barricade, forcing the police to link arms and push the demonstrators back. Occasionally, police on horseback rode around menacingly, forcing the demonstrators to lie down, a tactic aimed at preventing the horses from kicking people.

One of our members, an English woman with all the glorious history of the British anti-nuclear movement radiating from her, insisted on entering the street. Her insistence paid off, and she was finally admitted and arrested. A bit later, as I was standing near the barricade, I saw that the police had opened it up and were massed along the breach. The protesters were not next to it, although I was. I turned around, and saw two policemen with an elderly Palestinian man between them being half carried, half dragged, coming towards me quickly. Stunned a bit by the escalation in mood and police tactics, I was motionless until the three had passed me and were crossing the barricades, some of which were on the ground.

The Palestinian man had tripped, or was shoved down, and was lying face down being beaten, as the police tried to get a better grip on him to drag him away. I instinctively, and perhaps foolishly, jumped on the lower part of his body to protect what I could from the blows. (This man looked about 60 years old.)

Seconds later I was dragged by my belt into the sealed off street, as an officer asked what should be done with me. A second later, someone else said authoritatively that I was to be arrested.

I was not given the chance to stand up, but carried by my belt and arms for the fifty meters or so to the police van, while I remained silent and in a fetal position. For the entire time, I was beaten by 5-7 police officers with batons, punches, and kicks. I was also dropped and kicked along the way. One officer was unable to reach me because the others were in his way, and he shoved his baton up my bottom as forcefully as possible, sometimes hitting my genitals. Upon reaching the police van, the police did their best to shove me in awkwardly, taking advantage of the metal doorway as leverage for more beating and punching. The most active participant was the plainclothes officer in a white t-shirt and earring who was also the one I saw hitting the Palestinian man I tried to protect.

After I was pushed all the way inside, I remained curled up in a fetal position, as I had been since being first picked up. I saw that same officer enter the van, shouting and pushing another Palestinian man, as well as a French man. At one point, the officer simply slapped the Palestinian man hard, unprovoked, and when the man tried to defend himself by shouting and pushing the officers hands away from his face, he was brutally beaten by at least three officers. The action was so intense, that I was carried out to give the police more space to beat up the occupants of the van. I think that I was carried out also because my behavior made it clear that I was willing to be completely submissive, unlike the Palestinian man, who made the mistake of protecting himself. While standing outside the van, I turned and spoke in Hebrew to the officers, informing them that I am an Israeli who is planning on submitting all that I have seen as evidence in a complaint of police brutality. The violence ended shortly thereafter, and did not continue. I suspect that my statement is the basis for being accused of assaulting the police.

All of this was done by policemen or border police, who serve professionally, not by conscripts or young officers. Most were men between the ages of 30-40. Many had insignia that showed them to be mid-level commissioned or non-commissioned officers. None of them was wearing a badge or name tag that allowed people to get their name or number. At least seven different ones hit me after I was arrested, and this was witnessed by at least twenty five police, including senior officers who seemed to be in charge of the situation.

We were duly handcuffed with plastic ties by an officer. A few minutes later, the plainclothes officer came in, and yanked all of our plastic ties with great force. A few minutes later, another officer came in and cut all the ties off. A few minutes later, that plainclothes officer came in and re-applied the dreaded plastic ties. This time I knew to hold my hands in such a way that the sudden tug wouldn’t leave my wrists bound too tightly. Nonetheless, I have scabs where they cut into my flesh.

At one point, that same plainclothes officer walked around the van, shutting the windows one by one from the outside, and shutting the back door of the van, the one on the other side of the security door that kept us locked up inside. He said in Hebrew to another officer that the arrestees should sweat as much as possible. As a result of the heat, I suffered a migraine headache, which forced me to seek medical attention afterwards. The doctor who examined me was convinced that my condition might be related to blows to my head. Perhaps she was right; I’m not sure that makes any difference. At the moment, my back is covered with large bruises, up to a foot long. Most of them are from police batons, although some could be kicks. They look quite shocking. I’m getting a perverse pleasure out of showing off my back to unsuspecting friends; none of them has ever seen such a battered piece of flesh as my back. In a few days the colors will fade, along with all the other pains, scratches, and bruises on my body. I will not forget.

The next day, the police were even more brutal, choosing to beat people both before and after arrest. The head of the Jerusalem police was filmed punching a Palestinian woman in the stomach, while she was pinned down by other burly policemen. On that day I got a call from a peace activist who had read the initial report of my arrest, and wanted to know what could be done on my behalf. I explained that this is the country we live in, and just because I was beaten severely today, does not give me much pause for thought. Other friends of mine were beaten at other times, and more will be beaten in the future. This is one of the many faces of Israel: a smirking cop shoving his baton into the ass of one of the citizens he has sworn to protect, another one shutting off the fresh air to a van full of detainees.

But please, do not discount my Israeli face, which I hope is also an important part of the picture. Some Jewish Israelis are deeply concerned about what we are doing to Palestinians, and are deeply concerned about the violence done to our own national soul as a people. Some Palestinians, facing incomparably more difficult circumstances, are trying to present a vision of the future that includes respect for both peoples. Whoever behaves with great violence and inhumanity, Israeli or Palestinian, is obviously suffering from severe psychological scars and intense fear. Without trying to promote an obviously false symmetry, let me say that all of us here, Israeli and Palestinian, need the active participation of the international community to resolve our conflict. We need it to come from a place of love and understanding, and we need it now more than ever before.

My Arrest and Detention by Israeli Police

by Andrew Clarno, U of Michigan Sociology Grad Student

UM Grad student Clarno (the author) being abused
by Israeli police to intimidate other witnesses for peace and justice.
This tactic doesn’t require the police to press charges later,
which would only expose them.

On Saturday, August 11, 2001, at about 2:30 pm, Israeli police arrested me while I was standing on the sidewalk at the edge of the American Colony Hotel parking lot.

I had arrived at the American Colony Hotel at around 2:15 pm along with twenty to twenty five other members of the International Solidarity Movement in order to peacefully demonstrate our opposition to the recent Israeli invasion and seizure of the Orient House. For about ten minutes, we witnessed clashes between Orthodox Jews and Palestinian youth and then we began our non-violent protest. As we stood in a line on the sidewalk, holding signs and calling for justice and peace, we were attacked by the police. Without warning in either Arabic or English, the soldiers came towards us, tearing the signs out of the hands of international protesters, while [singling out and] violently pushing and grabbing at Palestinian protesters. We began to chant ‘No Violence, No Violence’—calling on the police to recognize the non-violent nature of our protest and reinforcing our commitment not to respond violently to the violence used against us by the police. But the assault by the police continued. Soon police were pushing us all down the hill towards the American Colony. I saw several protesters knocked to the ground and kicked by the police while I was being pushed down the sidewalk in a group of protesters.

I had nearly reached the driveway of the American Colony Hotel when a police officer grabbed the beltloop in the back of my jeans with one hand and my right shoulder with his other hand. Although I did not resist, he forcefully dragged me into the street and put my head in a violent chokehold. His tight grip on my neck made breathing nearly impossible as he carried me nearly 100 meters up the hill towards Abu Obeidah street. We turned onto Abu Obeidah street, where the officer shoved me into the back seat of an SUV, then leaned into the front seat and reached around to punch me in the face twice with his left hand.

In all, seven internationals and four Palestinians were arrested at the protest that afternoon. We were all taken to the [former] Russian Compound, [an Israeli area] notorious for the torturous methods of interrogation and the violence perpetrated against prisoners by Israeli guards. One of the Palestinians was then released and the rest of us were charged with illegal assembly. In a seemingly random manner, a few of us were given the additional charge of assaulting a police officer. We were taken to our cells where we were held until 11:00 pm when a judge heard our case and gave the police 24 hours to complete their investigation.

The following day, one Palestinian and one international were released without conditions and five internationals were offered release on condition of not returning to the area of the Orient House. [They reluctantly accepted this unjust offer, but only because their work on the outside is of such immediate importance.] The two Palestinians and I were brought before a judge and the police asked that we be held three days so that they could pursue their investigation of charges that the three of us had attacked police officers. The judge again offered the police 24 hours to produce enough evidence to bring charges against us, so we were returned to our cells and kept in prison another night. On Monday, August 13, 2001, the three of us were again brought before a judge. The police released one of the Palestinians on similar condition as those offered to the internationals the day before.

Regarding the other Palestinian and I, however, the police argued that they had enough evidence to charge us with assaulting the police officers. They asked that we be detained for four days so that they could file charges against us and begin the trial process. The police have taken testimony from a police officer who states that he witnessed me push another police officer. They also presented testimony from the officer that arrested me - the one who grabbed, choked, and punched me. He states that I ignored his requests that I disperse and that I attempted to choke him.

Our attorney, Lea Tsemel, challenged all of this evidence. She highlighted the fact that the arresting officer did not mention this alleged attack in his initial arrest report and that his testimony was taken only after the police had decided to charge me with assault.

Yesterday evening at 7:30 pm, the judge decided that there was enough evidence to charge the two of us with assaulting a police officer, but that there was not enough risk [of flight] to keep us in prison pending further investigation. Therefore, Mahmoud Q. Mahmoud and I were released last night on condition that we not return to the immediate vicinity of the Orient House for forty days and that we agree to show up for further questioning and trial. The police were given forty eight hours to file charges against us—which they have vowed to do.

I insist upon my innocence. I did not physically or in any other way assault or even threaten to assault a police officer or any other individual. I was never given orders to disperse and I did not resist arrest. I have always been a non-violent person and have supported struggles around the world for peace and justice. As part of the International Solidarity Movement Campaign to End the Occupation, I am committed to a program of non-violent actions in support of the Palestinian people in their struggle for national liberation and against the brutality of the Israeli occupation. The violence that day was perpetrated by the Israeli police - not by the protesters. The world has taken notice because the violence was directed against an American citizen and caught on film. But I guarantee that the charges are completely fabricated. I am convinced that they have been designed to undercut the non-violent campaign to end the occupation.

Please do not allow the Israeli police to portray and convict me as a violent offender. Please do not allow them to undermine our struggle for a just and non-violent resolution to this conflict. Thank you. I certify that the above is true to the best of my knowledge.

Journey to a Forbidden Land (part 2)

by Naomi Calick, Fort Collins, CO

One of hundreds of Palestinian homes
in or near Bethlehem destroyed by Israeli shelling
or (as in this case) attack helicopters.

Demonstrations at Orient House

Four times we went to Orient House in East Jerusalem to peacefully demonstrate against Israel’s takeover of this important symbol of Palestinian legitimacy. I was the most timid participant in these demonstrations. I watched in shock as my fellow peaceful protesters were manhandled by the Israeli police. I watched in horror as any Palestinians unlucky enough to be in the area were brutalized severely. I watched as internationals and Palestinians were arrested together and later listened as the internationals described how they witnessed Palestinians blind-folded and beaten. Israeli human rights lawyers (admirable women) explained how civil rights are difficult to defend in Israel because Israel has no constitution.

Nights in Occupied Palestine

In the evenings, we waited outside the Israeli detention center for news of our arrested friends, attended their court hearings, or gathered at Hotel Paradise in Bethlehem to plan our actions and organize our teams. At night in the Territories, Israeli helicopters flew overhead and unnerving reports came of Israeli tanks gathering outside Bethlehem.

One morning we awoke to sniper fire, desperate youths firing uphill at Rachel’s Tomb, an Israeli army outpost they could scarcely hope to hit. Everyone feared Israel’s retaliation with heavy artillery and the sophisticated technology of Israel’s military. Luckily for me, while I was there none came toward the hotel. But neighboring communities were shelled and suffered power outages and damage to water tanks.

International "Human Shields"

An American man (from my state, Colorado) and a Palestinian-American woman coordinated a program in which international visitors could stay the night in a Palestinian family’s home in Beit Jala, a city neighboring Bethlehem. The neighborhoods of Beit Jala lay in the valley below the Jewish settlement of Gilo and Har Gilo that were bulging out from Jerusalem. Israeli army posts around Gilo had bombed homes in Beit Jala repeatedly since September 2000. The shelling had caused great destruction, and the families of Beit Jala were living in terror. The presence of international guests brought a measure of comfort in the hope that widespread publicity may help deter attacks.

Those of us who participated can attest to the gracious hospitality of our Palestinian host families, even in the face of the danger. I had the privilege of spending three nights in the lovely home of a lady and three of her daughters. Over a great spread of Middle Eastern food (made vegetarian to suit my preferences!) the family told me of their lives under the occupation, surrounded by unfriendly settlements and army posts that could send fire from three directions. My host’s house had been struck as often as 5 nights a week over the past 10 months and numerous cracks and bullet holes were in evidence. She had done her best to make repairs.

She and her daughters had a routine in which they crawled flat on the ground to their shelter ("like the snake" said one of the girls) to wait until the shooting stopped. The youngest girl had nightmares and the lady and her husband had both resumed smoking. The 17-year-old told me of how all summer, she and her sisters and friends could not leave home to swim at the local pool or do anything fun like teenagers in other countries do. "Does anyone in the world know or care? No one cares!" said a girl from the family next door.

Some of the homes in that neighborhood were so badly damaged they were uninhabitable. A block away we met a family who had planned to emigrate that very morning, only to have the father change his mind and decide to stay a little longer, "to see if things get better". My host’s husband is currently teaching in the U.S. and he could probably get a job as a professor there. Constantly he calls and tells his wife to leave for the U.S. and get the girls out. But how can she leave without her eldest daughter, who is married and lives in Bethlehem, her baby grandson, her mother, and her other relatives?

Seated on the terrace, looking out over the twinkling lights of Beit Jala, munching tasty delicacies . . . I had no answer for my host or her daughters. What could I say? I was speechless, sad, chagrined, though the family did everything to make me feel at home and at ease with them. My host even insisted I use her phone to make my twice-daily call to California to let my father know I was ok.

It had been my host’s dream to renovate the three bedrooms downstairs and open a bed and breakfast, back in the days when the area was a thriving tourist spot. "I have dreams just like anyone else," she said. Had the regional economy not collapsed, as one of her delighted guests I’m sure the B&B would have been successful. But now she could never get anyone to rent a room there, nor can she sell the place for anything like what it should be worth.

My hosts’ home was not hit during the three nights I slept there. But back in the U.S., as I write this from my cubicle desk (where I’m supposed to be working), I must live with the knowledge that I was merely lucky. What will become of my host family in Beit Jala? When will they be driven out by an actual catastrophe or by the slow threat of it? It’s only a matter of time, isn’t it?

There is a term for this: ethnic cleansing. Yes, ethnic cleansing being perpetrated by a government that here in the U.S, we have called "democratic".

My Palestinian-American coworker tells me what he heard on an Arabic TV newscast over the lunch break: Beit Jala was bombed again today, August 27, 2001.

Experiencing Checkpoints

Every time our group crossed between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we had to undergo examination by Israeli soldiers. This process typically involved getting off our bus on one side, filing through a station in which each person had to show his or her passport, then getting onto a bus on the other side. For Palestinians, it is worse. It may involve hours of being held up and examined. Even when they get through quickly, it is always intimidating. Most Palestinians are simply denied any access from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Some of our Palestinian friends from Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour had not set eyes on Jerusalem in 5 years, though they live only a few miles away and have relatives living in East Jerusalem.

But what astonished me most was not the east/west checkpoints, such as the Bethlehem checkpoint described above, but the north/south checkpoints wholly within Palestine.

One day I rode along with the ISM delegation from Italy on their bus headed south from Bethlehem to Hebron. Luisa Morgantini, Member of the European Parliament, had arranged for the Italians to visit the Palestinian Red Crescent (Red Cross) Society in Hebron and to meet the mayor of Hebron.

Now, Hebron is only 20 kilometers south of Bethlehem. Both are Palestinian cities. These two cities and the land between them lie wholly within Palestine, i.e., east of the internationally recognized Green Line. To drive directly from Bethlehem to Hebron should take no more than about 15 minutes.

However, the presence of numerous checkpoints and roadblocks makes travel between cities in Palestine difficult for internationals and even more difficult for Palestinians. Only the Jewish settlers and the Israeli army are allowed to travel freely on good roads in Palestine.

The Italian tour bus, on the way to Hebron, first passed the Beit Ummur checkpoint. Here a settler road (our yellow-plated tour bus was permitted on it) intersects a Palestinian road.

To cross the settler road, Palestinian cars must stop, the passengers get out, collect their belongings, and trudge across the settler road on foot under the watchful eye of an Israeli soldier in a tank. On the other side of the settler road, the Palestinians may get back into cars and continue. So lines of Palestinian cars and taxis appear on both sides of the settler road, but none can cross it.

But we weren’t done with checkpoints yet. Still trying to reach Hebron, our bus was unable to find an unblocked road. Finally Ms. Morgantini used her EU clout and managed to get our bus into Hebron by negotiating to let us drive through a Jewish settlement. Escorted by an Israeli army jeep, the bus went through the settlement and finally we arrived in Hebron. The 15-minute one-way trip had taken over 2 hours.

On the following day I was daring enough to return to Hebron, this time traveling by myself. It took me 3 hours and 4 cars to reach my final destination, Yatta, a city just south of Hebron. The Beit Ummur checkpoint, as well as checkpoint Halhoul and another checkpoint on the way from Hebron to Yatta, all made travel as difficult as possible. Only with the help of wonderful Palestinians I met along each leg of the trip was I able to reach my destination and get back to Bethlehem again.

Later I realized that the Palestinians who helped me were in greater danger than myself. Palestinians trying to travel between Palestinian cities experience more difficulty than foreigners! The people who helped get me a service car from here to there often could not make the same journey themselves. And those few who could were always at risk of being harassed or turned back.

As I flashed my American passport at the soldiers, I often wondered what my driver would have done to get through had I not been there.

For more info about ISM, see freepalestinecampaign.org or contact Thom Saffold, (tsaffold@provide.net or 734-668-1549).


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