Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Palenstinians the Quiet Victims

Tuesday June 30, 2009 marks my one week in Palestine. My short time here has been a microcosm of Palestinian Society; one that is a reality of opposites: of order and chaos, justice and oppression, family and foe, powerful and powerless.

First off, it must be stressed that this is not a society that is constantly "at war" as we are often told abroad. Palestinian people are resisting the occupation and grab of their land through non-violent tactics (handmade rockets and bombs do occur infrequently, but the majority of Palestinians do not support these methods and the occupation, violence, and economic suffocation causes hopelessness). In the more rural areas outside of the big cities in the West Bank, they are farmers, shopkeepers, and day laborers if they can find work (unemployment is staggering here, close to 32% - especially considering over 52% of the population is under the age of 24 and many men are imprisoned). For the family of a long line of farmers that we have been accompanying to ensure Israeli settlers do not attack them while they harvest their own land (a 75 year old man had his skull cracked open a week prior while Israeli military watched and did nothing, despite the fact that their outpost is to prevent and stop these attacks from happening), they are resisting the destruction and grab of their land by persevering in continuing to harvest their crops. This is their livelihood, without it their fate may be the same as countless other Palestinians who have lost their homes through illegal home demolition, their land through illegal land annexing, and ultimately their country,

A little known law outside of the Palestine and Israel, allows the Israeli military and state to confiscate any land in the West Bank that is defined as "uncultivated" for 3 years. The Israeli military has been declaring Palestinian farm land as restricted as a "temporary military zone." Despite an Israeli Supreme Court order against the perpetual use of these orders, the practice still continues, leading to destruction of large acres of farm land by nearby Israeli settlers and eventual confiscation to the state of Israel who will use the land to speed up expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian land. The weekend prior to my arrival, settlers had used a chainsaw and burned several acres of the farm land belonging to the family mentioned above. They had been barred from the military to harvest their crops for several months, and after trying one morning they were met with violence. This issue described above of illegal land grab is not an isolated incident in the West Bank. It is a systematic process used to expand Israeli settlements, and retard Palestinian economy that is currently in crisis

Last Saturday, a large group of international, Israeli, and Palestinian activists peacefully demonstrated against this action by attempting to pick grape leaves at the farmers' land. Before even being able to reach the land, 26 people were arrested and one Palestinian was severely injured right before he was being interviewed by Al Jazeera News (I was incapacitated that day because of stomach problems). You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PUpmUMG_pA. The day prior, Friday, activists demonstrated against the separation wall (that we heard so much about on the news in 2003-2004 when it was first being built) in a small rural town where over 75% of the farmland was annexed or destroyed by the construction of the wall. Many activists (including myself) were tear gassed with canisters shot from weapons that were attached to armored military vehicles funded by yours and mine tax dollars. And this was considered a "calm" demonstration (the soldiers/police normally use rubber bullets and beat people along with live ammunition for the Palestinians).

Despite the gloomy prospects on the ground here, I want to emphasize that the Palestinian people are a beautiful people and we as Americans can learn many things from their culture and habits. I am especially grateful for their hospitality and giving nature, it is instilled in even the youngest of children. They would give you their last dollar without even asking, or in the case of the farmers we have been assisting, make large meals every day we have worked in the fields. Ultimately, it is the children I fear for most. No one should have to live in chaos, in fear, in powerlessness. This can have a serious detrimental impact on the psychological development of young people. How must it feel like to see your grandfather get his skull cracked open for simply farming his own land? What does it feel like to have your brothers, cousins, fathers, uncles imprisoned for years without trial or reason? What does it feel like to watch your 12 year old brother get shot by a sniper for throwing stones at an armored vehicle?

For the forgotten, oppressed, and silenced people of Palestine, let us hope and pray for the end to this colonial state, not on Israeli, American or international terms that will only produce freedom on "paper," but on the terms of the Palestinian people and that of justice and humanity. If this does not occur, we will continue to fight and will eventually win for we are on the side of peace, and occupation is antithetical to natural order of living and governing.


Devin Chambers

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