Saturday, February 17, 2007


Jenin, a mid-sized town in the northern West Bank, spreads across foothills covered with pine and olive trees onto a flat plain of agricultural fields. Other, smaller, villages lie in the surrounding hills and on the valley floor. Jenin is the urban hub of this surrounding area, politically similar to a township in the Eastern U.S. This locality is called the Jenin Area. Prior to the second, or Al Aqsa, intifada Jenin was an economic center, a place where people came to do business. Many traveled from Israel to shop here.

The ecosystem is akin to the high desert of eastern Oregon and Washington: dry, rocky, scrub bushes, hardy plants, grasses, tough dry pines similar to digger pines in the west central California hills, and, of course, olive trees. The colors of the land in February are grass green, olive leaf silver-grey, beige sandstone streaked with orange, blue, peach, goat-brown, wild flower reds and purples and yellows. The land is not wild as it is in America: sheep and goats have grazed here for thousands of years, olive orchards are terraced into hillsides, oranges and lemons planted in valleys. The land is broken in, worn, worked like an old pair of boots.

Anyone will tell you that there are many problems in Jenin. Of course there are many problems everywhere, but their shape varies according to locality. Few people outside Palestine grasp the scale of the killings, the systematic destruction of infrastructure, the various human costs of occupation. Even less are conscious of the environmental tragedies which result directly from occupation. Perhaps this should be a truism: people grow from and are sustained by the ecosystem in the same ways as trees and animals; thus our survival is absolutely dependent on the well being of the species we share the land with, and our violent colonialism disturbs the ecosystem just as it disrupts human lives. Yosef, a policeman from the nearby village of Berqin, explained some of the environmental problems in this area: in the past, gazelles lived in the forests and orchards. They are disappearing. Pesticides from a settlement near the village of Anin wash downhill into a canal which runs through town. Children play in this canal. Pesticides also contaminate Anin’s drinking water. Brain cancer rates are abnormally high in that village.

A local man described occupation this way: “They want the land without the people.” It is a colonial process, similar in ways to how North America was stolen from its native peoples. Land and resources are annexed by force. For example, a section of field, olive orchard, and pine forest will soon become inaccessible to the residents of Abba. Two settlements were built in the hills above Abba. Settlements are usually built on hilltops. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is military: like forts, these colonies have a commanding view of the land around them, and are in good position to shoot Palestinians who approach. A road already goes to both the settlements by Abba, but another road is being built. This “settlement bypass road” will cut off farmers from their land and people from their local forest. Settlement roads around Abba are patrolled by Israeli army jeeps and armored personnel carriers. Palestinians would have to risk being shot, arrested, or abused in order to tend their orchards.

Problems here are layered like trash in an abandoned lot: an existing road to these same settlements runs through the middle of town, bisecting the Palestinian road from east to west Abba. Soldiers often park jeeps and APCs on the settlement road, arbitrarily blocking grade school children and teachers from attending class.

A friend once told me, “all wars are wars of acquisition.” The goal of occupation is blindingly clear: take the land, take the resources, and destroy whoever and whatever gets in the way. The question of how religious, ethnic, or ancient this conflict may be does not excuse continued land theft and human rights violations. History is a text which we may learn from, which we can use to formulate creative solutions to present-day problems. History should not be fuel to feed the fires of continued oppression. If Israel seriously wants to end bombing attacks in Haifa and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must first be ended. As Frederico, an Israeli citizen activist in Tel Aviv, says, “ending the occupation is the minimum, not the maximum but the absolute minimum.” In real terms this means withdrawing all military support to settlements outside of Israel’s pre 1967 borders (the Green Line) and ending all military invasion of the West Bank and Gaza. Since this land was annexed and placed under military occupation after the 1967 war, settlements have constantly increased. Settlement growth continued unabated in the years immediately following the 1996 Oslo peace agreement, and continues unabated to this day. This colonization sucks money from the Israeli treasury and provokes violent Palestinian resistance.

Armed resistance takes various forms including bombings directed at military installations and settlements in the occupied territories, as well as civilian targets within Israel. Fighters also shoot at tanks and jeeps which block their roads and invade their home towns. Palestinian resistance is vastly outgunned. Fighters have rifles, material for a few bombs, and the odd rocket or mortar. Palestine is very poor. Israel receives billions of dollars annually in U.S. military aid, in the form of free money grants and loans. This is tax money paid by the American people.

In April 2002, the Israeli army invaded Jenin refugee camp, destroyed 200 homes, and killed 52 people. This incident has been called a massacre, a Palestinian propaganda lie, and a tragic consequence of modern urban war tactics. Walking down the road from old Jenin to Jenin camp one can see wrecked shops, broken cider block structures charred black, shattered windows in apartment buildings, and a sha’hiid graveyard surrounded by eucalyptus and orange trees, decorated with colorful banners, flowers, and sentimental offerings left by mourners. It is just like any graveyard anywhere except that the colors are brighter and all the people buried in it died because of occupation.

The day before yesterday tanks drove into the center of Jenin. They drove down the main street into town, turned around, drove away, turned around, came back, shot a10 year old boy in the leg, and left. I saw him at the hospital. Maybe he threw a rock at the tank; maybe not. Later that night another child came by the ISM apartment. He wore a plaster cast on his left foot and used a broom handle for a crutch. He is an otherwise healthy 12 year old with a mischievous playful glint in his eyes. Soldiers shot him in the foot from a tank.

Downtown Jenin is busy with shops, bakeries, falafel stands, outdoor fruit and vegetable vendors, yellow and pink signs in calligraphic Arabic, carefully stacked piles of strawberries, bananas hanging like chandeliers in clumps on thick green stalks, men sitting, drinking tea, fiddling with Islamic prayer beads, eating, Mercedes taxis, the occasional Volkswagen beetle or van. This is a passionate, social culture. People sit close together, touch each other often. Life goes on in all its confusion and beauty despite military invasions. With careful attention, however, one can see street signs crushed into twisted scrap metal, bullet holes in supporting columns, places where asphalt has been broken by tank treads.

People here know the U.S. gives money and guns to the Israeli army. It’s obvious: the apache helicopters which sometimes fly overhead and fire into houses, the M-16s, the F-16s, the bombs—all are made in America. Sometimes people call the tanks American tanks or joke that the bombs say “made in America” on them. One local man said to me, “the American people are unintentionally responsible for our suffering. People want to talk to me specifically because I am American. Many are visibly angry and hurt. “Why Bush?” they ask, “Why does America want to make war on Iraq, when Israel and North Korea have nuclear weapons?” Some think that Clinton as better than Bush. All have far more comprehensive knowledge of U.S. foreign policy than the average American. My international companions can simply say, “I’m from Sweden,” or “I’m from Denmark.” No problem; no Swedish-made aircraft scream through the sky firing missiles into town. But it has become routine for me to say, by way of introduction, “My name is William. I am from America. Bush is bad, Bush is crazy.” This is the best I can convey in broken Arabic how I do not support a racist U.S. policy of world domination which includes support for the occupation of Palestine and war on Iraq.

It is wonderful how virtually everyone here understands the difference between the people of a nation and its government. Hopefully more Americans will grasp this distinction soon. Today I went into a small metal shop to ask for water. Of course the workers invited me to sit and drink coffee. Surrounded by engines in various states of disassembly, welding projects, an oxyacetylene torch, and sundry tools of the trade, I sat with Nasser and Mahkmood. When informed that I am from America, Nasser said, “We understand that the problem is with the government of America, the government of Israel, the government of Iraq, and the government of Palestine, not with the people. You are welcome here.” The danger in Jenin does not spring from being an American, although people may judge you based on this national origin. The real danger lies in being mistaken for an Israeli soldier or collaborator by locals, or in being shot by the Israeli army.

Generally people respect me for the same reason they respect me anywhere: because I behave respectfully toward them. Yosef Al Doctor (Yosef the doctor), a 23 year old man from Jenin refugee camp, recently began calling me “William Bush.” At first I got angry and tried to explain that I don’t support U.S. imperialism. He kept it up, so I called him “Yosef Arafat.” He replied, “Yosef Sharon. . . Arafat is worse that Sharon.” After that we got along much better and just messed with each other’s heads. He still calls me William Bush.

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