Tag Archives: apartheid wall

The heart of the matter lies in the eyes

Photo/Kristin Szremski

By Kristin Szremski

Under the façade of normalcy, it’s the eyes that reveal the heavy burden Palestinians carry with them day in and day out. You see it in children’s eyes. In adults, even eyes framed by laugh lines can’t hide the vestiges of grief, sadness or the weariness that are the result of living under Israel’s senseless and depraved occupation of Palestinian soil, from which the very roots of their Palestinian souls are derived.

I noticed this acutely one unusually hot October day waiting in line at the Tantur checkpoint in Bethlehem.  Actually, waiting in line doesn’t describe the degrading experience that amounts to begging permission from a heartless oppressor to move about freely in one’s own country.

On Friday morning – the day of obligatory mosque attendance for men – Tantur was teeming with people wanting to go to Jerusalem to attend prayer at Al Aqsa, the third holiest site for Muslims.  On this Friday, the majority of the men were over 50 because Israel prohibits entry to the mosque to men younger than that.

Jerusalem is a mere six miles from Bethlehem but for so many Palestinians the city and Al Aqsa are as far removed from their reality as is flying to the moon.

In their families, these older men mostly likely are revered and respected for their years of experience and wisdom. But in the checkpoint’s “holding pen,” Israeli policy reduced them to the status of a nameless and dehumanized ‘other.’

Palestinians must walk through this barred passageway as they make their way through the Tantur checkpoint. Photo/Kristin Szremski

Instead of addressing them with the honorifics they so deserved, young, snot-nosed soldiers barked at them to press their travel permits up to a
bullet-proof glass window, behind which sat another young, inexperienced soldier, who then ordered these elders to place their hands in electronic biometric scanners. Finally, the armed kids gave the patriarchs permission to continue through a turnstile and then through a lengthy, narrow passageway that resembled an elongated dog kennel made of cement and iron bars.

The process would be repeated again in Jerusalem.

While waiting in line, the elders, dressed in traditional thobes and kufiyah, waited patiently. They spoke among themselves; some even joked. But their eyes never smiled. Even the young men I saw that day who approached the Apartheid Wall, razor wire, security cameras, heavily armed soldiers – all part of the checkpoint apparatus – with a sense of patient resignation  couldn’t belie the pain in their eyes, no matter how jaunty their gait.

A woman, a bit disheveled with her headscarf slightly askew, wandered listlessly about until her gaze settled on mine and she sidled over to cut in line. She smiled up at me shyly and it was then I noticed. Her eyes held nothing at all.

Photo/Los Angeles Times

But the eyes that haunt me the most belong to a man from Khalil, one of the most oppressed areas in the West Bank.

Israel’s security apparatus has all but choked all Palestinian life from this once vibrant ancient city many know by the name of Hebron.  The military has blocked – in some cases even sealed off – all entries into the old market area except one, and has ordered the shuttering of numerous shops. The merchants who remain sell their wares on tables on the cobbled street in front of their stores, now padlocked by military order. Palestinians are not allowed to cross Martyr Street to reach merchants on the other side, nor are they allowed to go beyond a certain intersection with Martyr Street. Armed soldiers stand guard to make sure they don’t.

Commerce in that area has nearly come to a halt.

Towers like these are seen at all checkpoints and at various points along the Apartheid Wall. Photo/Kristin Szremski

I initially wasn’t allowed to cross Martyr Street, either, despite my American citizenship, because I wear a headscarf. I am Muslim. That was the only reason the soldier from the “only democratic state in the Middle East” needed to keep me off the street.

Khalil residents have erected nets above the old market shopping area to catch the garbage illegal Jewish settlers throw down onto them. Photo/Kristin Szremski

All of this to keep the street clear for Jews, who are living illegally in apartments above the market and in settlements down Martyr Street. The Jewish settlers routinely throw their garbage, feces and urine onto the Palestinians, who have erected nets above the streets to catch the bulk of the refuse.

An Israeli soldier stands at the end of Martyr Street to prohibit Palestinians from walking beyond that point. Photo/Kristin Szremski

During our tour of Khalil, I was approached by a man peddling cheap beaded bracelets. I was out of money except a few dollars worth of American coins. I dumped it all into my hand and offered it to him, but he refused. Coins would get him nowhere, he said.

I felt helpless and all I could offer him was a weak apology.

“Sorry?” he asked, staring directly into my eyes. “What am I going to do with ‘sorry?’ How am I going to feed my family?”

He was angry, but his eyes spoke a different language.

His eyes were wracked with anguish. They will forever haunt my memory.

And there is nothing I can do except to come home and tell his story, and the story of countless others. I can continue to try to make people aware of Israel’s illegal and unjust policies toward the Palestinians. I can work to try to change U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Because it is my tax money, in part, that is responsible for that man’s anguish and for his children’s hunger.

The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion per year in unconditional military aid. The amount is actually billions of dollars higher when loan guarantees, other grants, and free or reduced-cost military weaponry and
machinery are taken into account. The U.S. continually vetoes measures against Israeli policy in the United Nations Security Council. Our money and our weight as the world’s only superpower allows Israel to violate international law and to deny Palestinians of their basic human rights with impunity.

We must pressure Congress to hold Israel accountable. We must pressure Congress to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian soil. We must pressure Congress to pave the way for the refugees to return home after 62 years of exile. Until this happens, we, as Americans, have no right to claim we stand for liberty and justice.  We have no right to that claim at all.



Filed under Activism, Opinion/analysis

Free Gaza Movement: Israeli attack may be imminent

By Fatima Mohammadi
Aboard the Mavi Marmara
4:30 PM CST: It is night off the coast of historic Palestine, and solidarity activists aboard the six relief vessels traveling to Gaza with humanitarian aid report that they have been surrounded by three Israeli warships in international waters, roughly 70 miles away from the Israeli coast. Gaza Freedom Flotilla passengers have donned life jackets and fear imminent attack by the Israeli military. They report that their satellite phones and media feeds are dropping in and out, they believe because of Israeli communications interference. Israeli airborn drones have been flying around the aid flotilla for some time.

Hundreds of elected officials, former diplomats, aid workers and activists are currently en route by sea to Gaza to break Israel’s blockade of the tiny strip of land, with the convoy nearing Gazan — and Israeli — waters. Foreign news correspondents and independent journalists are traveling aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship with hundreds of aid workers and activists aboard which is also running its own press operation reachable at the satellite number +8821636619168. A total of six ships, including two cargo ships and other passenger vehicles, are carrying thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to the beseiged region, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2006.

Israel has marshalled its most lethal military vessels to try to stop the humanitarian marine convoy, and at around 2:20 pm Central Standard Time (US) the first reports of unmanned drone planes buzzing the vessels was received from convoy passengers.

Two boats in the aid flotilla, one currently traveling with the convoy to Gaza and another in port in Cyprus for repairs, are flagged and registered in the United States. The ships are U.S. territory under maritime law, and the U.S. government is required to intervene if this “U.S. property” is attacked or illegally confiscated by Israeli authorities — a tactic Israel has threatened and deployed in the past. Israel has a long history of attacking ships whose missions are deemed undesirable. In December 2008, it rammed the Dignity, carrying medical and humanitarian aid, doctors, human rights workers and a former U.S. congresswoman, without warning in international waters.

Israel intensified its 2006 blockade after attacking the area in a weeks-long assault that ended in January 2009, killing more than 1,400 and leaving thousands more homeless and reducing huge swaths of housing to rubble. The blockade has created mass unemployment and extreme poverty, leaving four out of five Gazans — half of whom are children — dependent on humanitarian aid.

The Freedom Flotilla carries more than 10,000 tons of relief and developmental aid to Gaza, along with roughly 700 participants from more than 30 countries, among them volunteers from South Africa, Algeria, Turkey, Macedonia, Pakistan, Yemin, Kosovo, the UK and US and Kuwait – and an exiled former Archbishop of Jerusalem who currently lives in the Vatican. The cargo includes prefabricated homes and playgrounds, cement and other home-building supplies, medical devices and medications, textiles and food, in defiance of Israel’s siege on Gaza, which restricts the entry of all materials, including food and medicine. The flotilla’s supplies were gathered by a coalition of international civil society and human rights organizations to be sent directly to the people of Gaza by sea, using only international waters and the coastal waters immediately off of Gaza for passage. The flotilla is expected to arrive in Gaza as early as today.

Participants on board speak languages that include English, Turkish, Kurdish, over ten dialects of Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Portugeuse, French, Malaysian, Indonesian, Norweigen, Swedish, Urdu, Punjabi, Farsi, Hindi, German, Flemish, Greek, Catalon, Russian, Bosnian, Chechen, Macedonian and Albanian. Reporters on board hail from locations that include the United Kingdom, Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Venezuela, Kuwait, South Africa, Pakistan, Jordan, the Persian Gulf and across the Arab world.

Protests in support of the aid convoy have been occuring around the world since Thursday, with Chicagoans scheduled to protest again at 4:30 PM on Tuesday, June 1, in front of the Israeli consulate at 111 E. Wacker Dr. in Chicago.

U.S.-based humanitarian projects with news updates on the Gaza aid flotilla:

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Current events, News

Mapping Apartheid in the West Bank – Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine / Israel

Mapping Apartheid in the West Bank – Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine / Israel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Walled Horizons Part 2

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "walled horizons Part 2", posted with vodpod

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Video

Pink Floyd singer narrates film about Apartheid Wall

Roger Waters narrates a film about the Apartheid Wall and its impact on urban and rural Palestinians.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Current events, Video