Tag Archives: Hebron

The Daily Ordeal of Getting to School in Hebron

copied from my Electronic Intifada article here

 

Palestinian children in Hebron are forced to pass through Israeli military checkpoints in order to get to school.

(Osama Qawasmi/APA images)

The Qurduba School in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron is once again a target for harassment by Israeli occupation forces, as new restrictions on freedom of movement bring a wave of settler attacks and soldier violence.

Established in 1984, the Qurduba School sits surrounded by five Israeli settlements on a hilltop in central Hebron. To get to school every morning, pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 — and their women teachers — must navigate a maze of checkpoints and dangerous settler-inhabited streets.

Curfews, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, army and settler harassment, and other aspects of occupation within Palestinian life in Hebron intensified after February 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 24 Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of Hebron.

In the years following the massacre, the mosque was split into two parts, becoming half-mosque, half-synagogue. In 1997, the settler-populated area around the religious compound was cordoned off by Israel as H2, designating full Israeli military control, while the rest of Hebron was designated as H1, and remains under administration of thePalestinian Authority.

Since 2005, teachers with the Qudruba school coming into the Israeli-controlled H2 district from the H1 area of the Old City had secured the right, through demonstrations, to bypass the daily metal detector scans and bag inspections at the checkpoint. Instead, they were able to pass through a side gate to reach their school.

On Tuesday, 11 October, the army revoked this right for no apparent reason. “Through this special teachers-only gate,” school principal Ibtesam al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada, “we were able to reach our school easily. It took only five minutes from the checkpoint to the school. Then suddenly, we were stopped for nothing. So all the teachers refused this order, because it’s our right [to pass through].”

In response to this injustice, teachers refused to submit to inspection, and held a demonstration with more than one hundred of their students, who left their empty classrooms to join their teachers at the checkpoint. In a shocking display of brutality, Israeli soldiers sent nine children to the hospital with injuries.

Eleven-year-old Yazan Sharbati, who was injured that Tuesday, told the International Solidarity Movement that “the army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school … I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. The soldier pushed me very hard” (“Hebron school demonstrates for third day: “Without teachers there is no school,” 13 October 2011).

Protest struck a chord

The brutal repression of the 11 October checkpoint protest struck a chord in the Hebron community, and inspired an outburst of support in a city all too accustomed to violations of the right to freedom of movement. Over the next two days, community members and representatives from the Hebron governor’s office, along with the director of education in Hebron, stood in solidarity outside of the checkpoint with the students and teachers of the Qurduba School, who held the school day’s lessons outside of the checkpoint. On the third day of demonstrations, soldiers projected the high-LRAD sound cannon, nicknamed “the scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. One teacher was arrested, and five students and demonstrators were injured.

Students, teachers and demonstrators returned to the checkpoint — Checkpoint 56 — every morning for two weeks. “During this period,” said al-Jondy, “many establishments tried to help us, but we got only promises, without solutions to our problem.” Though settlers had little to do with the events, the protests also inspired many settler attacks, as Palestinian news agency WAFA reported (“Settlers, soldiers continue attacks on Hebron schools,” 20 October 2011).

Inside the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, said al-Jondy, “the settlers began to warn us … that they will settle in the empty school, and keep us away.” To save the school, coveted by settlers for its strategic hilltop location, the few teachers who lived inside H2, and did not encounter the checkpoint during their commute, reopened the school, while the other 13 Qurduba School teachers kept up a daily vigil outside the checkpoint.

Eventually, when all attempts to reason with the authorities failed, the teachers began using a much longer alternate route to bypass the checkpoint every morning. “Except for the Israeli soldiers,” lamented al-Jondy, “nobody has any power. The Ministry of Education spoke with the commander, but there is no solution. The Israeli army claimed they closed the checkpoint because of security. But every day for five years the same teachers come to the checkpoint. They have their names and identity numbers. They are on a list. They are not a security threat.”

Constant physical and psychological assaults

The students and teachers of Qurduba School are no strangers to the travails of occupation. The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs!JDL [Jewish Defense League].”

The building and its inhabitants are constantly physically and psychologically assaulted by settlers and soldiers. “There were about 450 pupils in the 1980s,” said al-Jondy. “Because of the occupation, because of the settlers and the bad situation here, this number began to decrease. This year we have only 149 pupils.”

Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS) stated in a 2008 report about the situation in Hebron that the area around the school and the settlements “is often the scene of violent confrontations” between Israeli settlers and Palestinian schoolchildren. “Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children” (“Under Attack: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory,” November 2008 [PDF]).

Hebron has been under occupation since 1969, when the first religious settlers, who had barricaded themselves in a downtown hotel room and refused to leave, were coaxed out by the Israeli military and given the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Ten years later, the act was repeated in an abandoned hospital, and this time Israel allowed the squatters to settle in downtown Hebron.

Restrictions on Palestinian life in Hebron accelerated after the 1994 massacre, and the expulsion of Palestinians and their livelihoods from the heart of Hebron’s Old City became an institutionalized process after the area became Israeli-controlled H2 in 1997.

Now, at least 500 settlers and at least 2,000 soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire southern West Bank. The gradual takeover of Shuhada Street, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the second intifada, has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the (often forced) abandonment of over 1,000 housing units and over 1,800 shops and storefronts — which now, in a cruel and ironic twist of history, are graffitied with the same Stars of David that once marred Jewish storefronts in 1930s Germany.

“Sometimes many students come to the school very late,” said al-Jondy. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you late?’ they tell me, ‘Last night I didn’t sleep, because the settlers threw empty bottles and stones at my house.’ So they come here drowsy and sleepy, and they can’t concentrate on any subjects during the day because of what happened during the night. Most of the students’ houses are close to the houses of the settlers, so they are very vulnerable .. sometimes as head teacher I come early to the school, and the settlers chase me with dogs, and I have to run from their dogs.”

The DCI-PS report cites the testimony of Raghad Hashim Younis al-Azza, a ten-year-old student of the Qurtuba School:

“About a year ago, I was going to school with my classmate Ruwand who lives on Shuhada Street. I was with my cousin Ahmad and our neighbour’s daughter, Abrar. On the road, we came across a group of settlers, about 10 of them. They were about the same age as me except two girls who were around 18 years old. The two (older) girls attacked me and hit me. They asked the boys to make a circle around me and beat me. My cousin and the neighbor’s daughter ran to the checkpoint to inform the [Israeli] soldier. When the soldier approached us, the settlers ran away. He asked me what happened. I told him everything, but he did not respond to me.”

Settlers also frequently attack the school itself. To cite one of myriad examples, Ma’an News Agency reported in November 2007 that “right wing Israeli settlers broke into the courtyard of the Qurduba school … attempted to set fire to the building … attempted to rip the doors off the building and succeeded in knocking over walls, trampling flower beds and blocking the path to the school with rocks … a group of children, armed with axes, attempted to break the water pipes that supply the school. They were urged on by their teacher” (“Israeli settlers attack girls’ school in Hebron,” 26 November 2007).

In 2008, a previous director of the Qurduba School, Reem al-Shareef, moved the school’s start time from 8:00 to 7:30am, so the students would not be harassed by the settler children as the latter headed to daily study at their yeshiva. Today, because teachers and administrators must take a long route to avoid Checkpoint 56, “it takes about 45 minutes to reach the school,” said al-Jondy, “so most of the teachers come here late. Three of the teachers have injured themselves because of the new route. One of them hurt her leg, one hurt her back.” Because teachers are late, it is harder to enforce the 7:30 start time, leaving teachers and students once again vulnerable to early morning settler attacks.

Various challenges to education

“It’s very hard to have education in H2,” explained Mohammed Abuthereim, Hebron Municipality Director of Education, referring to the Israeli settlement district of Hebron. “The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers … we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

Now that school has reopened, students and teachers are greeted with almost daily settler attacks. “In October, I filed a complaint with the Israeli police at the [nearby settlement of] Kiryat Arba, and they promised that in the future they would stop the settlers, because they don’t have the right to do these things,” al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada. “But so far, the police have done nothing for us … [On 7 November,] the school’s guard phoned me at nine in the morning and told me there were settlers around the school, throwing empty bottles and big stones on the school and on the garden. So I quickly phoned the police, and they eventually came, but they did nothing.”

For now, the Qurduba School is pushing the Hebron municipality, as well as organizations like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, to demand that the Israeli military ease its draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, not only for teachers but for all residents of Hebron.

In the meantime, resilience, steadfastness and hope remain the driving forces, in spite of the occupation, that keep the Qurduba School open day after day.

Badia Dwaik, a Hebron resident and the deputy coordinator of the local activism groupYouth Against Settlements, told The Electronic Intifada that the students and teachers of the Qurduba School have begun peaceful protests against the new closure policy.

“Over the years they have struggled for freedom of education and for the right to education enjoyed by all other children in the world, and this continues today,” she said. “They will not give up.”

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Settlers & Supporters Descend on Hebron to Assert Jewish Sovereignty

from my MondoWeiss article here

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Settlers and supporters celebrate in front of shuttered Palestinian stores in Hebron’s Old City (with protection from the Israeli military). (Photo: Alistair George)

“So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.” – Genesis 23:17-20

Over 1000 American and International Zionists joined 700 extremist settlers in Hebron this weekend to celebrate the reading of this Torah portion detailing Abraham’s biblical purchase of Hebron land, as a means to assert sovereignty over the Palestinian residents of Hebron.

On Friday, many Zionist visitors camped in tents on Israeli-controlled Shuhada Street. Inebriated from the Shabbat festivities, the visitors harassed local Palestinians throughout the night. On Saturday, soldiers stationed themselves through the streets of Hebron’s Old City, forcing the shutdown of Palestinian shops, while swarms of visitors were treated to an extensive settler-guided tour championing the Jewish roots of Old Hebron. In what was advertised by the Hebron Committee as “the most unforgettable Jewish experience of a lifetime”,  throngs of young, mostly American males clapped and chanted ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (‘life to the people of Israel’) and other nationalistic chants, while  Palestinian residents were forced to the sidelines of their own streets and kept there by soldiers. Throughout the day, 7 international activists and 2 Palestinians were arrested.

The Zionist visitors paraded down the market streets of an Old City that is no stranger to hardship. Since the now-500 (at least) Israeli settlers and now-2000 (at least) Israeli soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire Southern West Bank- a process, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the Second Intifada, which has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the abandonment of over 1000 abandoned housing units and over 1800 shops and storefronts- Hebron’s Old City, whose narrow and crowded market streets surround and interpenetrate the now-inaccessible Shuhada Street, has fallen under the oppressive control of the Israeli military, and is frequently harassed by soldiers and attacked by settlers. Every day, the soldiers survey the marketplace from rooftop watchtowers, sweep through its streets in unannounced middle-of-the-day raids, and close down its passageways with razor-wire roadblocks for no announced reason; the settlers spit at the heads of its shoppers and salesmen from the heavily-protected windows and openings of their adjacent apartments and schools, and drop blunt objects, from stones, to chairs, to water bottles filled with heavy sand, to knives, onto the market streets, hoping they will hit the goods and the people below.

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Settlers march in Hebron’s Old City (Photo: Alistair George)

While a few of this weekend’s visitors were respectful to Palestinian shop owners and residents, many were outright hostile. Mohammed Awawdeah owns a small shop in the old city, selling glass bottles filled with intricate colored sand patterns. Some of his bottles were smashed by a passing settler. “He came and broke my stuff,” Awawdeah says. “I told the police but they are not here for us, they are here for the settlers…I am not even angry for my stuff, I’m angry at the soldiers who let them do this”. The Israeli police have taken the details of the incident and said that they intend to carry out an investigation.

Hamday Dwaik decided to close his bakery in the old city, since his shop was targeted by settlers during the event last year. “The settlers don’t want me to open. If I open they will throw my products on the ground, no one will buy it”.

Laila Slemiah, who works in Women In Hebron, a woman’s collective in the old city selling kiffiyehs and embroidery, was determined not to close her shop. “I know I won’t have any business today,” she said, “but I have to stay open. I’m not scared of them.”

The shopkeepers of Hebron’s Old City struggle under this occupation with a spirit of steadfastness and resilience. “If I see the occupation,” says Nawal Slemiah, Laila’s sister and founder of Women in Hebron, “if I see the soldier pass, I don’t care so much about their guns. l I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.”

 

As this event is touted by the Zionist community as a Biblically-ordained ‘return to the homeland’, an organization called Project Hayei Sarah has been founded in the U.S. and Israel, offering alternative interpretations of Abraham’s Biblical relationship to Hebron that challenge the attempted Zionist appropriation of this legend to legitimize territorial conquest.

Here is one impassioned plea for justice, from Rabbi Jill Jacobs-

A group of Jews stands in a small park. Across from us two Palestinian children are playing soccer in the street. The ball rolls into the park. A member of our group kicks it back. ‘That’s lucky fur the children, the park is off limit to Palestinians…’ A row of closed storefronts stands where the lively Palestinian market used to be. The graffiti on the metal doors proclaims ‘death to Arabs’, and warns Palestinians that ‘the death chamber awaits’. Bizarrely, one mural shows a smiling Haredi man saying ‘keep smiling’…what a contrast to the Hebron of the torah. There, the city is  a place of compassion, a place where people of different families, tribes and backgrounds come together…it is a place where Abraham introduces himself as a  stranger, a resident alien, and who is welcomed by the residents of the city…a place where Abraham’s estranged sons, Isaac and Ishmael, come together to bury and to mourn for their father….Today, Hebron is just one extreme symptom of the broad systemic violations of human rights that are required to maintain Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is also a city that to both Jewish and Muslim traditions was once a shining example of human coexistence.  This week, as we read Parsha Havei Sarah, the story of Sarah’s burial in the city of Hebron, I hope and pray that we can all do our part to make Hebron once again a city of compassion, friendship, and coexistence.

Today, the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael, recognized by all monotheisms as the Jews and the Muslims, respectively, still come together to mourn their father in Hebron. Housed within a half-mosque, half-synagogue compound, Abraham’s Tomb sits in a circular vault, surrounded by a synagogue window on one side and a mosque window on the other. Gazing through each of their windows at the tomb of their father, the two faiths awkwardly look at each other out of the corner of their eye, through a narrow, slanted, indirect, sidelong, askew line of sight. “How sweet and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) A plastic screen separates the two windows, to prevent the two brothers from throwing shit at each other over their father’s grave.

 

 

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Interview with PFLP Leader Abed Al Aleem Dana

a longer version of my Electronic Intifada article here

Abdel-Alim Da’na is a PFLP leader who is also a professor at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron, teaching Palestinian history, human rights, and the Hebrew Language. He has been imprisoned by Israel for 17 years since the 1970s. Myself and fellow ISMer ‘Alistair George’ went to interview him in his beautiful home in Hebron. Here he is posing with what he affectionately refers to as his ‘Freedom Flotilla’, which he made over a 3 week period while behind bars!

Abdel-Alim Da’ana with a model ship he built while in Israeli prison.

He is a man with decades of revolutionary experience organizing and resisting, who spent four years in the same prison cell with Ahmad Sa’adat. He told us about Marxist-Leninist education in prison, PFLP’s philosophy and views on Hamas’s Gilad Shalit deal and the Arab Spring, the collaboration between PFLP, the Black Panthers and Neturei Karta in the 1970s (though he couldnt say much about that), and much more.

 

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How long were you in prison?

I spent 17 years in Israeli prisons. In 1972 I spent more than one year, and in 1975, they gave me 17 and a half years. I was released by an exchange of prisoners between PLO and Israel in 1985. I spent ten years and two months in jail. Then they arrested me in the First intifada, the first uprising, and I spent four years without a trial, an administrative detainee. Then I spent about one year or more, and then in 2004 I spent one and a half years.

The Israeli management inside the prisons is very difficult, and they mistreated us inside the prisons. Dozens of people inside the prisons were absolutely crazy, I saw many go crazy because of the very bad conditions inside the prison. I wrote about more than two hundred detainees who died inside the prisons. And I wrote in 1989 about the social situations and political situations about the Intifada detainees, and this is research I did inside the prison. And now I want to publish another book, but I haven’t the money. But I will publish it if I get enough money! And I have written many essays about the prisoners inside the prison.  I wrote a book about the 94 prisoners who died inside the prisons, and I am going to continue to speak about the other men who died inside the prisons because some of them were killed because of interrogations, and some of them were not given suitable treatment.

And you must believe me that the situation is very difficult, very hard and we see that, because we are inside the prisons, everything is confiscated, including our freedom, and we haven’t enough food, our family can’t visit us inside the prison freely, and they mistreat our families when they visit us.

We organized ourselves inside the prison. Every political organization makes their systems and law. There were Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, and these were the three main organizations. All the organizations do their best so as to find books. At first we hadn’t books, we hadn’t newspapers, we hadn’t papers or pens so as to write, but we smuggled many things like these. Also, once we smuggled books into prisons, we smuggled papers and pencils and we copied the books by hand to give to our friends.

The first thing we did when we entered the prison was put an end to illiteracy. Everyone when they enter the prison must learn to read and to study. Some people when they enter the prison cannot read or write, and we put an end to their illiteracy. Some of them are very famous journalists now, some are poets, some are writing in the newspapers and writing research. I have many names of these people who couldn’t read or write, and now they are very respectable members of Palestinian culture, men in the Palestinian Authority and writers of all sorts. For example, Fadel Unis (sp?) wrote many tales, he is a very famous author! For example, Mohayed Abdeh Samad (sp?), he wrote three books! Faheed Al Haj, he wrote five researches about the prison, and when he entered the prison he could not read or write at all! Now he is a famous researcher. Hundreds of people who entered the prisons are now working with the Palestinian Authority.

About 70% of Palestinian writers and cultural people were once in prison. You must know that from 1967 to now, more than 800,000 people entered Israeli jail! Now in the West Bank there are about 3 million people, and 1 and a half million in Gaza. You can see that in any house or home, in any family, they have a prisoner. More than 90% of our people, their son or their neighbor or their relative entered the Israeli prisons.

We have many educational programs inside the prison, for example the leftist organization, like PFLP or DFLP, has a program in philosophy, political economy, Lenin’s books, and all of the Marxist-Leninist texts. It is a part of our culture.

So you took illiterate prisoners and started to teach them Marx and Lenin and philosophy and economic theory inside the prison?

Yes. All of the books we have inside the prison we smuggled them, and we gave money to the guards and police so as to bring the books for us.

What happens if they find items that have been smuggled in?

They confiscate it, but we have many copies, the prisoners have many branches. We have a book in every branch. If they confiscate one, we have others inside other sections. And we have many hunger strikes, and are used to struggling inside the prison to make our life possible. For example, the first hunger strike was in 1970, this strike was to put an end to Israeli mistreatment of our prisoners. The guard or the policemen said ‘Issa, come in!’ He beat him. Why? ‘Because I don’t like him!’ And when you speak to the guard, you had to say ‘please sir, ok sir’ and you had to bend your head. We saw that they are treating us very ugly, very inhumane. This was the first hunger strike. And we succeeded in this hunger strike in 1970, to put an end to the guards’ mistreatment of prisoners.

And then we called to bring us newspapers. They at first brought us a newspaper called ‘It Al Anbar’, it was reported by Israel intelligence, by Shabak. We wanted to change this. Another time in 1956 Ashkelon prison had a big strike, they continued with this strike for forty eight days, so as to bring freely Arab magazines and Arab newspapers and Arab books inside the prisons.  And the Israelis consented to bring in the books! We called this very important for the prisoners, it changed our lives. Then we made other hunger strikes and other struggles against Israel. Everthing we have taken from Israel is not given to us by the authorities, it is by our own strikes.

We have also inside the prisons magazines, very simple magazines we wrote by hand. For example Fatah has one or two magazines inside the prison, and also PFLP has a magazine. Sometimes we call it Al Hadaf- The Goal. We wrote these magazines by hand, with pencils, and some people put drawings in the magazines, and some prisoners wrote poems, some wrote tales and short stories.

Did you also write about political theory and philosophy inside the magazines?

Yes of course, we wrote about political theory and philosophy inside the magazines, and political economy, many Marxist-Leninist essays inside these magazines. And we also had essays where we discussed our situations inside the prisons, and our relationship with other organizations.

Did you write about news inside these magazines?

We did not have radio transmitters, we were smuggling transistor radios but the Israeli authority considered it very dangerous. We put them inside the cells, and they discovered some of these, but some they did not. In September 1985 we had a hunger strike in Ijnaid [sp?] jail, we continued it for 13 days. The police minister discussed with us about this hunger strike. I and Jibrin Al-Joob [sp?] and Salam Eid Dawardat [sp?], we had six representatives of the prisoners, we discussed our demands and we forced them to permit us to bring a radio. And this made a revolution inside the prisons!

We had many other demands and we forced Israel to give us these demands. Some were big strikes, some were only one prison or a few prisons, but we had some strikes for all the Israeli prisons. We forced Israel to give us many things, for example Hebrew newspapers and Hebrew magazines- they brought the Jerusalem Post from 1970 onwards. We used this to learn the Hebrew language! And everyday we translated the Hebrew magazines. I myself had already graduated from the university in 1971, but I read very very much, and studied hundreds of books in many branches of culture inside the prison, and I taught the Hebrew language to other prisoners. Now I teach this language inside PPU and Hebron University!  And I improved my English language inside prison.

The education rates inside the prisons is very high. This is true for all the Palestinian people. It is like France and like Germany, we are literate people and people of culture. The rate of the girls until grade 11 who study is more than boys, in all of Palestine! We are a highly educated people, and for this we are proud, and we do our efforts to put an end to illiteracy. Now, as the United Nations reports, Palestinian people are one of the highest educated people, the rate of Palestinian people who are educated is 90%, more than any Arab country and many countries in Asia and Africa! This makes us proud about our people.

I was wondering about the education committees in prison. Are they organized by parties? Does PFLP only educate prisoners inside the PFLP? Are different parties exposed to other’s political ideas?

We do some lectures with everyone listening and discussing. Some from Fatah make  a lecture about their situation, and some from PFLP- we do many things with each other. But sometimes, because we have a leftist wing, we also have our own left culture. And some Fatah members have also their programs about national culture.

Does everyone read the magazines?

Yes, but everyone prefers to write in their own magazine. But inside Tulkarm prison, we had one magazine, and we all wrote in it, it was a very good magazine.

What Marxist-Leninist books did PFLP teach the prisoners?

Philosophy. All the Lenin books. Das Kapital.

All of Das Kapital?

Yes! It was large, and very difficult, but we studied it. Engels- ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’. I explained this book more than ten times, I am very admired of this book, it is very important. We also read Das Capital- because we studied political economy, we were dependent on it. Also Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. And we read Guevara, and many Marxist Leninist theoreticians.

What is the value for the PFLP of teaching that to prisoners?

Philosophy is explaining about the world, all the world, philosophy gave us all the ideology about the world and about how ideologies have been born.  And philosophy explains the truth of life. For this reason it is important.

And to teach the prisoners about resistance and revolution in the past and in other countries, does this help the prisoners understand how the Palestinian resistance is part of the revolution all over the world?

Yes, we consider ourselves a part of the international revolution. We did not have relations with the world revolution because we are inside the prison, but we are with any movement that struggles for its freedom, for its liberty, and we support all the movements all over the world who want to determine themselves and their own people.

How much of an inspiration is the Arab spring for the Palestinian people?

I say it is a very good revolution and a very civilized revolution, and this reflects that the Arab people want to live in a democracy like other people all over the world, to elect their governors and dismiss them! We are proving ourselves as Arabs. I do not look on us as Palestinians in one sense, I look on us as Arabs. We are all speaking Arabic, from Morocco to Amman, we are all speaking Arabic and Islam is our culture, and we have cooperated with each other on many many things. We have the same culture, the same happiness. Imperialism divided us, because when we are divided it can exploit us, and exploit our wealth. And dividing us gives imperialism the opportunity to exploit these divided countries. All of the Arabs are with us as Palestinians, because we know we are under occupation. Our catastrophe is that the world believes in Israel and Israel lies.

Historically, if you want to know, Israel established a state 1000 years before Christ, and this state continued about two hundred years, about two percent of Palestinian history! Because of this they say they have a historical right to establish their own state. They haven’t any kind of historical right! If they have rights, we have as Arabs a right to establish our own state in Spain because we stayed there seven hundred years, or Sicily because we had an authority in Sicily more than four centuries! And then we have the authority as Arabs to establish dozens of states, until we reach to China, because we stayed there hundreds of years!

But the interests of the Jews and the interest of imperialism were very close to establish a state in Palestine. Palestine is between Africa and Asia, and when they put a state in Palestine they divided the Arab countries who live in Africa and the Arab countries who live in West Asia. It is very strategic for imperialism to control the Suez Canal. But when the Jews established the state hundreds of years before Christ, they established it on 10% of Palestine. Now they have occupied all of Palestine! Even if they have historical rights to have a state here, why did they take all of it? They have no historical right. Our catastrophe is that the West believes Israel’s lies, and the Arabs and Palestinians do not have the propaganda to persuade the world that this land is ours! But the West is not looking for the truth, they look only for their interests in Palestine or in the East.

What kind of state does the PFLP envisage or fight for now?

We believe in a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, in Gaza and the West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital. But we have to return the Palestinians to their homes, to their villages! We have UN resolutions giving the Palestinians the right to return to their homes, but Israel refused. And ultimately we have to establish a secular state in all of Palestine, where everyone, every religion and every ethnic nation have rights to their literature and have rights to be elected and to elect, like every other democratic state!

What is PFLP’s belief about Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas’s) call to statehood in the UN?

Yes, we support this. It is in the Palestinian’s interest for the US and the UN to accept a Palestinian state.

In the past there have been people like Nasser who believed that the whole Arab world can unite against imperialism. Do you think that with the Arab Spring that might happen today?

The Arab Spring revolutions are a kind of Gamal Abdel Nasser strategy, because all their revolutions call to dismiss Israeli occupation from the occupied territories, and the uprising people believe in Palestine. And they know that Israel is not established against Palestinians, it is established to weaken the Arab world, so that imperialism and capitalism can exploit all the wealth in the Arab world! The Arabs who are torn and not united will see that their interest is to make a union between them. They begin to know now that Israel is not against the Palestinians, but against the Arabs, and also against world peace.

Israel’s policy of mass imprisonment attempts to break the political resistance and will of the Palestinian people, but prison life increases political resistance and revolutionary will…

Israel can arrest hundreds of people, thousands of people, but in spite of that Israel cannot put an end to the revolution and Palestinian resistance! Since 1967 Israel has been arresting people, but it cannot end the resistance. Israel has imprisoned millions of people under the collective punishment of occupation, it has put many obstacles against Palestinian people in every branch of life, but our people resist, like any other people all over the world who are living under occupation and tyranny. Israel has mistreated all the prisoners and detainees, but we have a soul. We do not enter prison because we rob or rape or anything, but because we resist the occupation authority, because we resist Israel’s procedures against our people.  And the people support the prisoners in demonstrations, in protesting, and support them by money, and by visiting the families of prisoners- these prisoners are the heroes of our people. And the prisoners who enter these prisons live in a national atmosphere and a resistance atmosphere.

So it’s against Israel’s interests to send Palestinians to prison, because they are creating a culture of resistance! It’s backfiring!

Of course, it is very bad for Israel! But Israel can’t do anything! They are thinking that ‘when we put them inside the prison, we end the resistance’. Instead, this imprisonment created hundreds, thousands of resistant men and youth.

I want to ask about your life, how did you get involved in political activism when you were younger, and why did you join the PFLP?

It is my ideology, the ideology of the PFLP is suitable for me. It is rational thinking, it is logical thinking. I was in the university, and I was very affected by the students and our lecturers, and by the revolution atmosphere. This effected me and thousands like me, and I resisted the Israeli occupation authority.

And then you became a teacher, inside and outside of prison! Did you teach every day?

We had classes every day except Friday. But we had many lecturers inside the prison. Sometimes I taught philosophy, sometimes political economy.

From the 1990s onwards, religion became a large part of Palestinian resistance, and now you have many people turning to Hamas’s fundamentalism instead of PFLP secular leftism. Why?

You see, the Marxist-Leninist theory failed. Not because it is wrong, but because its applications failed. For example, the Soviet Union failed to apply this theory, and this effected many leftist organizations. The people want to search for other ideologies to explain the world and to struggle against imperialism and colonialism, and of course Israel. And for them, the religious ideology serves to explain all the difficulties that they face.

How does the PFLP feel about Hamas?

It considers Hamas as a national organization that struggles against occupation. But we have many differences with it, because it explains the world and situations not like us, you see. And it is not considered a historical resistance organization. It began in 1987, but we have leftist national organizations that began a half century ago!

What do you think of Hamas’ prisoner deal?

We appreciated this bargain, yes.

But PFLP was holding a large hunger strike at the same time!

When we began the hunger strike we did not know that there would be a bargain between Hamas and the Israel authority, and it is not in the interest (of the hunger strikers). If they knew there was going to be an agreement, they would not have begun the strike. But in spite of this the strike was not bad, it ended solitary confinement.

Do you think that the Palestinian people will have an Arab spring, or another intifada?

This is a difficult question! We are under the Palestinian Authority and under the occupation, and Israel interferes with everything in our life. But we are struggling democratically in the occupied territories. It is difficult to think about an intifada, because we have direct occupation. We are facing the Israeli soldiers only at the checkpoints. But if there is still a direct occupation, we must have the third and fourth intifadas until they are dismissed from the occupied territories.

Do you know Ahmad Sa’adat?

I spent four years with him in Tulkarim prison, inside the same cell! He is a friend of mine.

There is widespread torture by the Israelis in prison, were you subjected to any torture?

Yes of course, they used all kinds of torture. Of course it is illegal, but they are looking for their interests. More than 200 died inside the prisons. More than 50 of them died under hard interrogations. They use all kinds of torture, all kinds.

Did you spend time in solitary confinement, in isolation?

Yes, if you do anything they consider illegal in prison, they put you in isolated cells. In interrogations I spent more than 100 days inside isolated cell without anybody, and they used all kinds of torture to take information from me. Not only I, but many persons, many detainees.

Why were you arrested?

Because I resisted the occupation, and in 1972 I organized the students in the West Bank to resist the occupation. And I made contact between an Arabic and Israeli organization to resist the occupation authority, and some of them have been arrested from the Israeli side, and some escaped outside the country.

Do you mean Matzpen?

Not Matzpen, with the Black Panthers, we helped each other organize and cooperate with many things against the occupation. Also with some Haredim, some very religious men who believe that establishing a Jewish state is against God’s will. They consider Zionism  as against Judaism and against God’s will. Neturei Karta and other organizations. To prove they were with us, for example, they brought weapons for us. I did not use it, but they smuggled weapons to us to prove they were with us to resist against the Israeli occupation. We cooperated with them in many branches of struggle. To press magazines, they brought us instruments.

The Black Panthers sung many songs, one of their songs went “I went to the labor office, so as to work. They asked me, ‘where are you from?’ I said, ‘From Morocco!’ They said ‘get out!’ I went to the labor office, so as to work. They asked me ‘where are you from?’ I said ‘From Poland!’ They said ‘Ah yes! Bring him a cold drink!’”

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Education as Resistance for Palestinian Prisoners- Interview with Badia Dwaik, 10/28/2011

Badia Dwaik is Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots Palestinian organization dedicated to the nonviolent struggle to resist the Israeli occupation of Hebron. This Friday I went to Youth Against Settlement’s headquarters, nestled, next to a 2,000 year old olive grove, in between 4 Israeli settlements. Throughout the interview, we observed on multiple occasions soldiers patrolling through the fields around us, a normal occurrence these days for the center of downtown Hebron, plagued now for 30 years by an illegal military and civilian occupying force.

With the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners due to the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, and the end of the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, still lingering in the air, I decided to ask Badia about his days as a prisoner inside the Israeli prison system. I particularly wanted to learn how the prisoners organized their own educational system within the prison walls, how they managed to learn together about politics, philosophy, history and literature while imprisoned, and how this knowledge strengthened their will to resist. On the way, we talked about everything from how he felt walking home from work at dark as a little boy, to ways of transmitting messages in and out of prison, to the hunger strike as a method of resistance, even to the nonexistence of God!

Freedom

When I woke up in the morning, the sunlight tickled my golden-brown skin
My eyes burned from its rosy rays and moved at the gusts of air
The intensity of the winds undulated
By this remedy, hope for the hopeless was reborn

And it began to smile on me from afar, as if I have a promise to keep
So I took my pen and my paper as my mind fled
A strange feeling seized me
I began to scribble these words
Maybe I will find something in them to express the emotions of my heart and that which
turns in my mind
The golden sun whose rays began to shine came up in the morning
The rays penetrated through the small window, making me question and seek inspiration
My pen turning the pages of memory
Standing on the dews of the near and distant past
The sun became a roll of burning bread
Come, come slowly

Here and there, mocking laughter
Memories of the past awakened in beautiful aching reality
My heart poured forth
The arteries of my heart were jammed with emotion
My eyes flooded, soaking the furrows in my cheeks
My thoughts began to turn and turn in my mind
Between optimism and pessimism, in a bitter struggle of resistance
At last the sun appeared from far away, but in a new robe
After I had drunk cups of bitterness to the dregs
Then I began to breathe with new appetite
And the seas and rivers and trees whistled the melody of freedom

Thoughts from Hebron Prison, by Badia Dwaik

——————————–

My father was arrested before me. My father was arrested in 1988 and I was around that time like fifteen or fourteen years old. I am the oldest one of my family, and I grew up in a poor family, so my parents decided to send me to work when I was 9 years old. So I didn’t have any childhood or young life because even when I became younger I was arrested, so I missed my childhood, and then the time of my youth I spent in jail.

Did you have education when you were 9 years old, or were you pulled out of education to work?

I was working on the side. My life was to work and study in the same day.  So I used to go to the school, and when I finished my school I would have lunch at home and then go to work, until i finished work at 9 in the evening. I was alone, and it was dark on the way home, and I was very scared. I would hurry back home very quickly, running, because it was scary and I was a child at the time, and I felt uncomfortable to walk around. Especially when I had to work in the old town in Hebron, it was not lit up like it is now, it was dark, and it made it even more scary when I had to get home. And i had difficult experiences, there were bad people, trying to do bad things with me and abuse me.
So I grew up in this situation even after my father was arrested. When my father was arrested I was 15 and I was the oldest one in the family, and in our culture the oldest one usually takes responsibility for the family, so I had to take responsibility for everything in the family. My father was in jail for six months and then he was released, but when he was in jail i joined the First Intifada, as a reaction. Because I was angry, and I just wanted to express my feelings about what happened to my father, it was something personal. So I joined the First Intifada, and I was very young at that time, around 15 years old. My father was in jail, so I continued protesting, and I was very active, demonstrating, organizing demonstrations, and I was also part of the Fatah movement. This was the first of my political life, was the Fatah movement. When they started to negotiate about the Oslo agreement, after the First Intifada, I moved to PFLP because I did not like the Oslo agreement.

So by the time they signed the Oslo agreement you were already in PFLP.

Yes. I was arrested three months after the Oslo agreement, but I joined PFLP before I was arrested. I got a scholarship to study in Baghdad before I was arrested. But after I was registered for the scholarship, while I was preparing my documents to go to Baghdad, I was arrested the next week. So the army and Shin Bet were at my home, it was like after 2 in the morning, they arrived, knocked on the door, and we opened the door. Then they were asking my father about the names of my family, my father named the names, and the man stopped him and said ‘We need Badia.’ So I woke up, my father came to wake me up because I was sleeping. I was young, I was 19 at the time. So my father woke me up, I was still in my pajamas. And then I saw sodliers and Shin Bet with them- its easy to recognize the Shin Bet because he speaks Arabic, and wears civilian clothing. He started talking to me, he asked me about the Quran text, about the Bakra sura, and how many lines were in the Bakra sura. I said I didn’t know, I didn’t care about religious issues. He said there were 286 lines in the Bakra sura. He surprised me with this question because he wants to convince you that he knows everything, even the Quran. That is the idea.

But you weren’t religious, you didnt care.

In the beginning of my life i was super religious! I was praying all the time in the mosque, before my father was arrested and even after he was arrested, I was praying all the time, but I did not have good knowledge about Islam, about the religion and about the life in general. So I wanted just to pray and to practice, so I didnt care if i knew what I was practicing or not, i just wanted to be with the culture. The change happened with me when I joined PFLP, and especially in the jail. Because even when I was in PFLP before I was arrested I was still praying. I continued praying for a year and a half in jail and then I stopped.

Why? Because PFLP is a secular movement?

Yes, PFLP is a secular movement. I was young at the time and it affected me. I grew up in a religious place, religion effects Hebron so strong, it is a very religious place, and a lot of tradition. Sometimes the tradition is even more powerful than the religion here. It took time for me to change what is in my mind, and PFLP is about communism. Communism is an ideology, and so to tell someone there is no god, when he grew up in a situation where there was god, it will be a shock for him, it will take time for him.

So the army and Shin Bet took you away that night?

When they came to my father’s home and arrested me, my mother asked ‘where are you taking him?’ They said they just needed me five minutes. Those five minutes took up three years of my life. My first holding cell was a tiny room 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. They kept me there for two nights but those two nights felt like a year. I could not sleep, to sleep I had to put my head on the floor and move my legs up to the ceiling. I had to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door and say ‘please I have to go to the toilet!’ They pretended not to hear me, there were two soldiers outside but they did not listen to me. Eventually I went to the toilet in my cell, and then I had to sleep in it, I put my head next to it on the ground and my feet up to the ceiling.
In the First intifada there were 12,000 people in Israeli jails. In Al-Naqab prison there were 8,000 people. Al-Naqab jail is completely a desert. You cannot see any green thing around you, you cannot see any trees, you cannot see any homes, only desert and soldiers around you and the barbed wires. It is a big jail, there are many different small jails inside it. When you are there, you will see tents, and around the tents there are a lot of barbed wires. Behind the barbed wires there are long blocks, like the [separation] wall. And also there are dogs, and also there are many soldiers in military watchtowers, and the army is also driving by in jeeps with 250 caliber bullet guns. And the food is very miserable, very bad food. When they put you there, you are isolated, without anything you need for your life. When you are a prisoner, sometimes you will be happy just to see a bird! If you see a bird this is some luck coming to you! Really I wished to see a bird in the jail there, because you are already with your same prisoners such a long time. They want to break your psychology, and there is just sand around you, just tent and soldiers and sand. And it was a very big jail, even  when your family wants to visit they get there at 5 in the morning, and they do not get to see you until 5 pm.

Was there a library in that jail?

It was very small. There are two types of jails- jails under the military and jails under the police administration. The police administration jails are better condition than the military. Naqab jail was a military jail, so it was not good. But eventually, through my three years in many jails, I started to read Communist Ideology, about Marx, Hegel, about all of these people who wrote about Communism and all about the dialectic.

In jail!

Yes.

How did you get access to those texts in jail?

This is a story of the resistance of prisoners inside the jail. Each thing we have in jail, we do not get it by nothing, we do alot of resistance until we acheive points through our resistance. There are many things we have now in jail which we did not used to have. But because we are here, because we need these things in our life, the Israelis refused to give it to us in an easy way, so we decided to do resistance. Part of this resistance is to open a hunger strike. We wrote our needs down in a list, and then we tried to negotiate with the Israelis about our needs. These negotiations took many different steps and stages, it took long negotiations and conversations, and we put our efforts into trying to convince them that these things are very important for us to survive. But the occupation policy is to control you however they can. They do not care if you are kept alive in dignity or not in dignity. But we are in jail, we lost everything in our lives, so what do we have to be scared from them?
So after that they refused the list of requests, so we started our resistance. Part of our resistance was to pass messages outside of the jail to parents, to families and relatives, to human rights organizations to tell them the situation, and update about the negotiations, and tell them about the future, the next steps. And we asked them to stand behind us and to support us in our resistance, if we decide to do a hunger strike. And we asked them to build advocacy outside of the jail, all over the world. And after that we started to negotiate between each other, we had inside conversations, about who would like to join with us in the hunger strike, and if there is anyone who would not like to join, it is better for him to tell us before we start the strike. And we asked the ill people not to join us in our hunger strike, even if they wanted to join us, because we were concerned about their health. A hunger strike is not easy. You cannot have anything except water and salt, no smoking even! No coffee, no tea, no food, no fruit, no anything.

Were you a smoker at the time?

I used to be a smoker. I am not anymore, but sometimes socially.

So you did a hunger strike to gain the right to education.

Yes, this was one of our requests, to allow us to receive books from outside, from our parents, from our visitors and from the radicals. So we succeeded-

You succeeded!

Yes, it worked. There were many things that were acheived in the jail. For example, in Hebron prison, before the Palestinian Authority, there was a library for us, with 4,000 books. Before the PA, it was an Israeli jail- I think the PA started here in 1996, and I was in jail until 1995. There were around 1,200 prisoners, and the library had 4,000 books. But it started with a very complicated hunger strike, before we were allowed to read books. And they checked the books for messages before they came in- when they received books from the Red Cross, or from lawyers, or parents, or organizations. To see if there are hidden messages or something, or information. But we had different ways to exchange information!

Oh yeah?

We called it a capsule. It’s a very small, thin paper, and we wrote in very small writing, but you can read it. We rolled it up, but carefully, it takes careful and well organized work. And then all this big paper- like 40 centimeters- you make it into 1 and a half centimeters. Then you eat it. But before that you bring nylon, and wrap it with plastic nylon, and after that you burn the side to seal it, and make sure there’s not even a very small hole, even a pinhole. And then some of the people who were going to be released soon, we give him not just one, maybe 30 or 40 capsules. When I used to visit my parents, I was like the Colonel of my party in the Hebron jail, because we had good connections with organizations of people here, and when we needed to exchange information i sent them information with this capsule. We would exchange it by kissing, during visiting. And you can keep it in your stomach for two days. You swallow it completely.

And then how do you get it up again?

Through the toilet! Then you clean it, and after that you open the papers, but the papers wil be ok. It’s very careful and well organized! (laughter) This is the way we exchange information.

So what books did you read?

Different books talking about ideological things, like Communism for example, about history like Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet states. Poetry, books about languages, French, English, Arabic literature…and also many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, and modern Western thinkers like Malthuse, and Hegel, Marx, Engels, Faeurbach, and also Arabic philosophy like Ibn Rushd, and Fukuyama- we studied about all these things, it’s not limited.

How did the Communism help you?

There used to be people who were in jail for a long time, and people who had been in and out of jail five times, they had alot of time in jail. Some of them used to study in Soviet states, for example, and some of them were in many different courses, and they explained for us about Communism and about the dialectic.

Did learning about Communist theory help you as prisoners to gain resolve and understand your situation?

For me not all the Communism helped me. Communism was a stage in my life. I am not a Communist right now, i would maybe say a Socialist. If you ask me is there god or no god, I will not deny that god exists, but it is not very important to waste my time with these stupid questions, to ask if god exists or not, or which is first, the material or the god before. I live in the land, so I discuss my life in this land, not something outside of my power. So this is not my ideology, so it was good for me be a member of PFLP because there were people who cared very much about this culture. They pushed and encouraged their members to study, and to learn as much as they could. For example I was one who was part of the Culture Committee. If I moved from jail to jail they sent with me a note- put Badia in the Culture Committee. So for example I was reading four of six books a month, I was reading regularly. I am not reading as much now, because I can not find the time. But I was in jail, I had the time, and more than that I had the determination to educate myself.
So I was reading about all sorts of resistance over the world, Cuba, Vietnam, Ghandi, other kinds of resistance. And I did not just accept everything I read, I was critical. I examined everything I read, and I thought, I compared what I believed to what I was reading. I did not just accept everytihng I read. Now I have good information in my mind, I can analyse many things around all the world. But I have background about many things in the world now, so because of it I can analyse many things. I succeeded to educate myself, it gave me a way for another stage in my life when I got out of the jail, to continue with the people and with society. Also, the PFLP helped me with many things that are complicated for others to understand. For example this was the first time I started to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists. Before this everything was the same. But I started to educate myself, and also the PFLP cared about these things, we talked about these things at meetings.
We had in a day at least three meetings. The prisoners were like a government inside a government! There was the Israeli jail, which was run by the government, and then within that, our organizations and committees- we would divide ourselves into different committees. Some were in the security committee, some were in the culture committee, some were in the health committee, some in the organization committee, some in the financial committee. So everyone had a role-

How would you meet for these committees?

We used to meet, but at first it was not allowed. It came through resistance! Right before the Israeli occupation [of the West Bank] started in 1967 the revolution started in 1965. Israel occupied Palestine in 1948, and after that the movement for revolution started in 1965. After that they occupied the West Bank in 1967, and with the struggle against the Israeli occupation there were prisoners. So we tried to do meetings, many times the Israeli jail people were blocking and beating us. So there is a long resistance, and it started when Israel occupied the west bank. It was not allowed for the prisoners to have meetings together and talk about points and subjects- meeting itself was forbidden in the beginning, and it was a big challenge for the prisoners to break these laws, and we succeeded through a long resistance. Hunger striking was one strategy, it was a weapon of resistance in the jail. You cannot eat, until they will listen to your needs. This is the most difficult and dangerous strategy. Everything we get in jail, we did not get in a golden platter! We had to resist, and to deal with the resistance until we achieved these things.
We had three meetings in the day- political meetings, and organization meetings, and cultural meetings. The political meetings, we would discuss the political issues not only about Palestine, but all over the world. Because we are a part of the world, and we are affected by the world! We are one of the people most affected directly by the events of the world! Like the balance between America and the Soviet states used to be good for us, but after the Soviet states were over we got more pressure from Israelis. And after the Gulf War, we got more pressure from Israel. This was the beginning of the permit policy. Before the Iraq war we did not need a permit for Palestinians to come to Israel. After 1991 we needed a permit, we could not drive to Tel Aviv or Haifa with our car.

So when you learned about history and other resistance movements, did you also gain a consciousness of the fact that your resistance was connected to other resistance movements all around the world?

Yes, I believed and I still believe that our resistance struggle is part of humanity’s resistance struggle all over the world. Because maybe we are suffering from occupation, from losing our dignity and justice, but there are many people around the world suffering because of injustice. There are many people suffering from capitalism, capitalism effects the majority of people all around the world, which is an injustice. We here are also effected very directly and strongly by capitalism. This is why I believe that all of us are a part of the resistance struggle for justice all over the world. And this is one of the methods- we can work together. This is why there are internationals here, this is why there are people who come here because they believe that humanity is one, that we are not divided, so they take responsibility for what goes on here, and come to share with Palestinians the resistance, and to show solidarity.

In prison, were you reading about capitalism and other systems of oppression?

The people who were in jail were not stupid people. Some of them were teachers at university, medical doctors, some of them students. Israel would arrange the jail to be a place to kill you psychologically, they can kill you daily many times by making you see the same things all your life- when you see the same people, the same routine, the same food, it makes you feel disgusting inside and you feel very bad about it. That is the Israeli policy, to try to create death in the Palestinian heart and mind. We turned upside down this image and made the jails as schools and universities. Whereas the Israelis planned for the jails to be aplace to kill your soul and harm your psychology, we turned everything upside down and created jails to be like schools, to make educated people.

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Hebron Teachers Protest Measures that Keep Them From School

reposted from my +972mag article here

For nearly two weeks, a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers from the Qurduba School in Hebron have been holding lessons every morning outside of Checkpoint 56, to protest increased security measures at the checkpoint.

For the past seven years, teachers at the Qurtuba School have been allowed to bypass the usual metal detectors  at the checkpoint, and cross through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. On Tuesday, October 11, for no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this procedure, and that teachers must pass through the metal detectors and present their bags for inspection every day. At the same time, the army announced that pregnant women and people with heart devices or other medical complications, who had previously also bypassed the metal detectors, may no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.

That same Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on the Palestinian side. At 9 A.M., their students, boys and girls between the ages of six and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by; nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Hebron students and teachers protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

Hebron teachers and students protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

One of those injured was 11-year-old Yazan Sharbati. “There were no teachers in the school,” Sharbati relates in an interview with the International Solidarity Movement, adding “We protested to the army that we wanted our teachers. The army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school…I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. [The soldier] pushed me very hard.”

Over the next two days, students and teachers, joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press, held lessons outside the checkpoint, standing up at intervals to chant, “We will not return, we want our right to education!” Mohammed Abutherei, Director of Education in the Hebron Municipality, was optimistic. “God willing the army will allow the students and teachers to pass normally,” he said, “because for four days now the children cannot learn properly! Why do they do this to our students?”

His optimism was short-lived, however, when on Sunday a line of about 20 soldiers and border police forcibly pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over a loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within five minutes. “This is their character!” exclaimed Tamer, a Palestinian activist from the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron. “This is their behavior, this is their ethics! Yes, we are terrorists,” he said sarcastically, “because we want to learn, we want an education!”

When the crowd remained, soldiers projected a high-pitched siren noise nicknamed ‘The Scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. In the rush to flee, one teacher was arrested, and at least five were injured as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired down the main streets of Hebron for 20 minutes in the middle of the morning traffic.

Palestinian residents of Hebron suspect territorial motivations underlying the Israeli army’s seemingly random decision to force Qurtuba School teachers, who as individuals have peacefully passed through Checkpoint 56 for seven years, to now submit to daily metal detector scans and personal inspections. Abutherei said, “Now that the school is closed [for these days] I’m afraid the settlers will attack the building, or try to take it over”. Similarly, Tamer claimed that “this is the first step for evacuating the school. They want to close the school because this is an apartheid state. They want to make the whole area for Jews only.”

The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door  has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs! JDL [Jewish Defense League].” Scarcely a month passes by when its students and teachers are not harassed or assaulted on the way to or from school, or when the school building is not vandalized or set afire (for a partial list of attacks against the Qurduba School, see the Tel Rumeida Project).

Says Abutherei, “It’s very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers…we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

The protesters have said that they will continue until teachers can once again walk to school without IDF harassment.

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Settler Tour, Monday October 18

A crowded Palestinian marketplace, mid-afternoon, the sun is slowly descending, and a cool breeze blows plastic bags past the feet of a jumbled crowd of young men, small boys, women in hijab with their daughters, and old men. They have gathered, this midday mass of Palestinians, with outstretched necks and searching eyes, to stare at the Israeli army trucks that have mysteriously and inexplicably planted themselves in the midst of their crowded marketplace.

Israeli soldiers, nervous-looking young men and women in green army outfits with huge rifles, stand beside the heavily-armoured trucks, scanning the immobile crowd of onlookers with cold eyes stuffed under riot gear helmets.

It is a Monday afternoon outside of Israeli checkpoint 56 in the middle of downtown Hebron, and the air is tense in Babi Zawya square. Though the square, since the Oslo Accords, is officially under solely Palestinian civil and military control, there are  Israeli soldiers on the ground and on the rooftops surrounding the market square, pointing their guns out to the crowds and hassling Palestinians to clear the emptied street. Two long tour buses have parked themselves sideways behind the army trucks to serve as barriers, blocking the Palestinian gaze from the hallowed space the IDF has chosen to occupy. Palestinian policemen form a double barricade between the IDF and the Palestinian crowds, barking at kids on bicycles or old men who try to approach the checkpoint on their way back home. International activists from ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, and the Christian Peacemaker Team meander in and out of the crowd, taking pictures of the soldiers.

Finally, the reason for the midday military shutdown of a major artery of Palestinian traffic and commerce begins to slowly trickle out of the checkpoint.  Bit by bit, what looks like a motley crew of secular Jewish tourists and religious Jewish settlers makes its way down the freshly deserted street.

Streaming past recently abandoned shop doors littered with Arabic graffiti and plastered with posters of Palestinian martyrs and political figures, some of the black-hatted Orthodox men walk with downcast eyes and a hurried, nervous gait, like aggravated businessmen, trying uneasily to ignore the row of armed soldiers and the immobile, gawking inhabitants of a city that stand beyond; teenagers in t-shirts and kepahs (head coverings) amble by, leisurely and confident, with smiles on their faces and cameras in their hands, laughing, pointing at and filming the Palestinian crowd.

Bearded men in buttoned-up, tucked-in white shirts stand with their hands on their hips, glaring at the crowd of Palestinians and waving angrily at the soldiers, as if to ask why the Arabs hadn’t been completely expelled from sight; traditionally-dressed mothers walk with smug confidence alongside little children, who are gleefully enjoying an afternoon stroll. In a repetition of history as ironic as it is tragic, this tour treads on occupied territory to visit the grave of Otniel ben Knaz, an ancient Jewish Judge who, in the Biblical Book of Joshua, conquered the Canaanite city of Kiryat Sefer, southwest of Hebron, and drove out the native Canaanites from their land.

This is Hebron in a nutshell, and these are the two peoples, the unhappy neighbors who walk day by day and sleep night by night side by side, a stone’s throw from the other’s doorstep on this single patch of land- the Jewish settlers, who have the path cleared and the carpet laid for them by the Israeli army; and the Palestinian residents of Hebron, who, for the moment, are forced to stand still in the army’s crosshairs and stare, from a distance, after the steps of the occupier. Settlers and Palestinians, occupiers and occupied, gaze at each other from across the street, the former like self-satisfied zoogoers, the latter with unblinking eyes that know right from wrong, that take into account, hold accountable, and count the days until freedom.

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Interview with Nawal Slemiah, founder of feminist cooperative Women In Hebron

Last week, myself and Skylar, another ISMer, went to the Old City of Hebron to interview Nawal Slemiah, the founder of Women In Hebron, a feminist cooperative that, in the words of their website, is a collective of “over 120 women, of various ages, from eight different villages and communities in the Hebron area” who “use the age-old tradition of embroidery to produce handbags, purses, bracelets, clothing, cushion covers, wall hangings and other articles…we pride ourselves on being the only independent, female run and managed shop in the Old City of Hebron.” You should buy beautiful handmade things from them and support this awesome cooperative! Not only do they resist the occupation, but they are also a beacon of feminist struggle in one of the more conservative parts of the West Bank.

How did Women In Hebron begin?How I started the co-op is I did it myself first, in my home, in my free time, I collected many things, many designs, then I came here by chance to the old city to find people to sell, then I got the shop very easy because the old city was closed and there was nobody in the shops, so  i took it very easy. Then later I had women from other other villages with me, they asked me to help them share their work. Then my sister Leighla came to work with me in the shop. Now she is the boss of the shop in the old city and I work with the women. I can get the designs easy from my home, from my mother, from my grandmother, from my sisters, we had a lot of things in our homes, so I took the old things and I used them new, and from my mind i can design, the same as all the women in our village, we know how to do the embroidery. Its easy for us. It is traditional thing in Palestine, women in the villages have this tradition. We take it from our mothers. Before, it is red color [on the outside] and different colors on the inside, this is traditional. But later we use green, brown, blue, all the colors, for the internationals. Because we sell for internationals mainly, because the Palestinians don’t need it. The main thing for Palestinians is to have food and something to wear, its not important for them to buy. And also many of the women in the villages can make it, they don’t need to buy.

Is it important to sell to internationals?

When we sell something to internationals we know that he is going to take it back to his country and tell his family, his neighbors, his friends that this is from Palestine, from Women in Hebron and he will tell the story of women in hebron, and we always give the card so we will tell other people about us and about our website.

What was it like, beginning the cooperative in this market?

I was the only woman in the market, and it was strange for the media to see women in the old city, in a shop, so [people from the] TV came and filmed me many times. So the women saw me on TV many times talking about how the old city was closed and encouraging people to come back to their shops, so the women came to me and asked me for help.

Do you ever face hostility or criticism from other Palestinians?

Many times we faced hostility, me and Leighla, we are suffering a lot. Every day, especially from  men and from women also. From Palestinians, I’m sorry to say but this is always the case, because we are the only women here. First, the young shebab, and men especially if they see internationals with us, and sometimes I don’t blame them because there is no women here, and this is danger for Palestinians because this area is not controlled by the PA, it’s controlled by the Israelis and its not in our ability to stop any murderers or thieves, so people are free to do what they want, so it is very dangerous for us.
It’s not normal for women to have a shop here, usually it’s men, so we are the only women here.
I think its very important, all the women they should follow us. They should not listen to the culture, this culture, its bad for us. I know how its important to follow the culture, but sometimes it’s not culture, its just people who say something [is] from a long time ago so we have to follow them. We are not doing anything bad here, we feel that we are very ok. Not all the people understand, but many people do understand what we are doing here.
You can see this in Bethlehem and Ramallah, its normal for women to have a shop, but in Hebron it’s not normal. In Hebron women can be teachers, nurses and doctors outside of the old city, but not to own a shop, especially in the old city.
[Even outside of the old city], women don’t own the shops, they work inside the shops., they get 300 or 400 shekels a day, they work 10 or 12 hours, not a lot of money.

I have noticed that men sell even women’s clothing to women! Isn’t this strange?

Yes, it makes us feel uncomfortable. Many time I stop to buy these things and I change my mind.

Are women afraid to join you or to come to the shop?

Yes, women and their families are afraid to join me here. Their family doesn’t like them to stay for a long time. If they come they come to take their money and give us the work and then leave. Because they always hear there are problems here [in the old city] so they are scared….settlers harass the people and the soldiers, so the people are afraid to come here.
The situation is very hard, there are a lot of women who have very hard situations, and we are only one shop. There is too much work, and not enough tourists to buy.
I think there are a lot of women who want to be independent, but their family will not let them. There is one woman with us but her husband is very bad with her. She wants to work in the city here, she worked for 5 years but she stopped after 5 years because her husband did npot want her to go outside, and her family also thought t is not important for her to go and work in the old city, so she has to stay with them.

When you began, did you expect the difficulties, the harassment by the IDF and the community, the fear?

I didn’t know anything about the situation. It was very hard for me the first two years when I started, its still hard every day, especially for Leighla.

Does this work empower you as women?

Me and Leighla and other women for sure, we get more strong and we feel more free. When I give the money to other women they are very happy because they can buy their own things, they don’t need their husbands or their family to give them money. Some of them don’t even have family to give them money, so they were very happy when we give them money, they feel very strong because they can buy things for themselves.That’s the problem, [society says that] she should listen to her husband, if he gives her money she can go somewhere, if not she cant go anywhere. This is the problem with the women, they are very poor. Even sometimes they have money but they cant own this money, their husband holds it, they cant touch this money. I want women to be independent, I don’t want them to depend on their family or their husband anymore.

Usually when people think of feminism in the Middle East they want women to take off their hijabs…

We don’t mention any of these things because especially in Hebron its very important for the people, so if you come at people with this idea they will leave us, especially in Hebron. It is cultural and religious, so we don’t touch this.

How did you start this cooperative?

Myself I needed the money, and I always wanted my mother to give me the money to buy me something because my husband had no money, so I would go to my mother to take money from her. Then I started this project but nobody agreed to give me the money to help me to continue, so I started with 700 shekels and day after day I sold, and then I got 10,000 shekels. Then I accepted more women to work.

What motivates you to continue?

I know its very hard, I like the idea very much but I pay for it every day with my life, with my time. Nothing is easy about it. And I am in a good situation, I am not rich, but my husband is working, we have a house, my husband has a car and I can use his car all the time if I need something. If I need to go to the factory I call him, if I want to go visit any of the women. So this is the idea, I have the help but other women they don’t have the help, so with my situation I can help other women. My village especially, the women they live far away near the wall, they are poor and if they want to come to the organization they need to pay 20 shekels every time. They don’t have the money to pay that, so I ask my husband in the early morning or the evening if I can take the car and get the work from them. So we do that.

What does your family think of your work?

Where I live now, is not my real family, it’s my husbands family. The women in my husbands family they don’t like my work, they think I should stay with my kids because I leave my kids with the family. They don’t like that, they say I should stay with my kids in the home, the money my husband makes is enough. But I was independent all the time before I get married, and then suddenly I was dependent on my husband after I get married, because I left my work. It wasn’t my style, for my life, to wait for somebody to give me money. So that’s why I started something from my home, the same ideas- the women they can go outside their homes, from their family and their culture,

What do you hope to teach to women here, what new things do you want to expose them to?

English lessons, computer lessons because I am the only one who speaks English and works on the computer. I cant do it all on my own. I cant go anywhere, I cant visit my family in the evenings, I spend all the evenings working. Other women need to do my job sometimes so I can take some time to rest. All this work is volunteer for me.
I think every woman should have internet and computer in her home, because with the internet she can see everything. People here know the bad things about internet, but they dont know the good things about the internet. All my friends on facebook are internationals, I dont have any Palestinian friends on facebook.
English in the village is very weak, especially for the small kids. We want all the children to learn English, it’s very important because English is the main language between all the world.
They have school all the time, but not all the women go to school. They have to stay at home, and [when they were young] their family didn’t know that school is very important. Now all the women know that it’s very important for their kids to go to school, but before now they didn’t know this.
Every women should know her rights, what to do, and also she should not forget her duties to society and her family and her husband. If I am working I should not forget my family also. This is what we tell them- ‘you should work and be independent, but do not forget that you have family, because then you make problems for yourself.’

What difficulties do you face under occupation here?

Like all the owners of the shops, the settlers stop near my shop many times and harass me. But for is this is not problems, this is occupation. We don’t call these problems, we call it normal here.
Even with all these problems, we will not close, we will not close. We have to have the shop here. Because if we close ourselves, many shops will close after us. Its very important for us to keep our city open.

In general, do women suffer under occupation differently than men?

If you stop me at a checkpoint, they will stop the women and the men. It depends on the commander, and all the soldiers, if they are nice or not. When the Second Intifada started, women had to raise up their dress, especially if they are pregnant. Every time they have women soldiers, they give them to the women to check them.
It is harder for the women but it makes the women stronger. If I see the occupation, if I see the soldier pass I don’t care so much about their guns. I feel angry when I see them with their guns, but also they are nothing, it is as if I didn’t see them. In my eyes they are silly people. They are strong because of their weapons, but we are strong in our mind.

Promoting culture itself is a form of resistance, right?

I remind my daughter all the time, and the same with the other women, that you should follow the culture, you should keep the culture. That is a kind of resistance.

Some people say that the Palestinian people should work to end the occupation first, and then should work on other struggles within their own society. Do you agree with people who say that the feminist struggle should wait until after the struggle to end the occupation?

If we don’t give women power, they will not help to end the occupation. Women in Palestine they are half the society, so they should share this act to end the occupation. The occupation will not be over in one click. You need a long time because we don’t have any power. The only power we have is inside ourselves, and women are part of the society. So I believe that women should be strong first.

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