This is the main road in Jabel Mukaber, East Jerusalem. Things are bad here. However, I received one of the warmest welcomes I could have asked for in this neighborhood: coffee, attempted conversation, and slingshot practice. Part of the reason I decided to come here to walk was because the place scared me. I had a great interaction with locals, but couldn’t say my visit was comfortable. This feeling was magnified by the massive watchtower at a strategic bend in the road, and the beautiful but haunting cries of the Imam as I walked down the muddy, deserted street. The few hours I spent there felt much longer. It was a valuable experience because I had never been more out of place.
The above photograph was featured on this blog last year, but I think it’s worth sharing again. As I was reflecting on January 24, 2012, I realized that hearing this man’s story had been a turning point for me. He had been shot in the leg by a Settler in his own neighborhood, and walked with a cane and a pronounced limp. His story was heartbreaking. Silwan’s story is heartbreaking.
After listening to him and seeing the streets of Silwan for myself, there was little doubt in my mind that the neighborhood was under siege. As I was leaving, I remember being inspired by panic and flat-out running to catch up to the group I had come with after lingering for a moment to take a picture-an uncharacteristic move, I’d like to think.
A few weeks later, the building we sat in while this man told us his story was torn down by the police. It was sickening and frightening to begin to see the human impact of the Occupation.
How do maps address divided space and occupied territories?
This map was produced by B’Tselem and shows where the separation barrier has been built, has been approved to be built, and where the green line is. Yes, these are three different places. Naturally, the most complicated part of the map is the area around Jerusalem, where lines snake and weave. It’s just as messy on the ground.
I got this map from a lady in a booth right after the passing through the Lidra Street checkpoint to enter North Cyprus. This cartographer solved an awkward problem by simply omitting all detail in the Republic of Cyprus. Here there be dragons.
This is an official tourist map courtesy of the Republic of Cyprus and a Carleton alum who marked it up for me with helpful notes. The area to the north of the Buffer Zone contains some sketches of streets (I wonder if they’re accurate?) but otherwise notes resignedly, “Area under Turkish occupation since 1974.” I wonder if this phenomenon can be partly attributed to the two sides competing for tourist attention? (Maybe they won’t visit if they don’t know what’s over there..) Every map has an argument.
Unsurprisingly, my maps of Belfast never marked the Peace Walls. The Walls do not denote any sort of change in rules for the powers that be, only for the people that live there, so the Walls are not added to maps. Furthermore, it would be an unsightly blemish to wares in the Belfast Tourist Center, where I acquired this booklet. So, it was up to me to look up the locations I needed to visit, and mark them on my guidebook, sometimes with an R or L for Republican or Loyalist, so I could remember which side was which when I visited. My entire collection of maps is marked up with these lines and notes.
I wonder how someone living in these neighborhoods would map their city or world? Sounds like another project…
Our bus of Israeli and international activists was stopped en route to a demonstration in the village of Bil’in this morning at a temporary checkpoint in the West Bank. Because of police action, we were denied the right to demonstrate at the seventh anniversary of the world-famous protests against the wall in Bil’in. A police officer boarded the bus at 11:25am and collected everyone’s identification for a “routine check.” For myself and other internationals, this meant reluctantly handing over our passports. We sweated it out for about ten minutes on the bus, before being asked to disembark. An experienced international activist called the other foreigners together and discussed with us the merits of attempting to walk through the checkpoint sans passport. It could, he argued, confuse the police and force their hand, which would probably result in us getting our passports back, and possibly result in our arrest. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose because after another five minutes or so, our IDs were passed back unscathed.
However, this did not mean that our path forward had been blessed by the police. On the contrary, we had been deemed a potential security threat and were ordered to return to Jerusalem. A loud discussion in Hebrew ensued, while more officers arrived on the scene and began filming us, recording our faces for posterity. I’m not sure what, if anything, will become of this footage. There wasn’t much to see. We were just standing there. They already knew exactly who we were from our passports. I’m sure they had already updated our information in whatever huge database the Israeli police are maintaining on its population and those who enter their country. Even so, I put on sunglasses and ducked a bit.
Then, the police gave us an ultimatum: get back on the bus in five minutes, or be arrested. All of this in Hebrew. The internationals were getting spotty translations from anyone with a spare ear and the presence of mind to think bi-lingually. Then our party began to splinter apart. A few attempted to walk forward, sat down, and were arrested. I got back on the bus with a handful of others. Another man sat down and refused to move. Four officers carried him to a police car. All in all, eight activists were arrested, Israelis and internationals alike. They squeezed seven people into the police cars (over capacity, I believe), and one man, an Israeli-Palestinian, was left behind to wait for another vehicle to take him away. I don’t know what happened to him.
About ten of us remained on the bus, but our adventure with the police was far from over. They had kept the drivers’ ID, and were holding it until we were back in Jerusalem and they were satisfied that our venture in the West Bank was spoiled. We had no choice but to follow a police car for perhaps 20 minutes until they finally let us go somewhere in North Jerusalem. During the ride, I learned that the police had known of our plans (unclear how) and set up the checkpoint specifically to intercept us. We had received a very unusual military order, only valid in the West Bank, featuring a map with a red box drawn around Bil’in. The police were preventing “suspicious” people from entering this area. Another bus (maybe from Tel Aviv) was also stopped.
We headed to the police station in Giv’at Ze’ev where the other members of our party were detained. We learned that the detention center only had room for half of the people they had detained, so some were inside, while others waited outside in the increasingly nasty weather. Clouds blew in and the temperature dropped. There were rumors of snow in Ramallah later on, and we were all expecting rain. We also learned that the majority of the activists had just been detained, not arrested, and they could only be held for three hours. However, it is subjective when the three hours starts, so we worried that the activists waiting outside might not start their three hours until the first group was released and they could be moved inside. With Shabbat approaching, this could make things unpleasant for getting home that evening.
Some of the activists were making phone calls to lawyers, another pair ran off to buy food for the detainees. We waited for maybe an hour and a half, and the suddenly most of our companions were released. The Israeli-Palestinian, who had actually been arrested “for refusing arrest” was not among them. By this time, food had arrived and it was 3pm. We tore into the bread and fruit outside the station as it began to rain.
It was extremely frustrating to be prevented from going to the protest in Bil’in, especially because this was my one and only chance to attend. However, the experience reminded me of a paper presented at a Border Conflicts conference I attended last Fall which argued that modern borders are being moved back into countries, manifested in airports, cities, and of course, checkpoints. They are no longer geographically tied to the borderline itself. This paper was based on the situation in Ukraine, but the theory was demonstrated clearly today in Israel/Palestine. What better case study than a country where borders operate on a de-facto basis and are still being formed and defined? The police who stopped us at the checkpoint today represent a wall that is every bit as real and physical as the concrete blocks that loom in the West Bank.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Irene Nasser, who is a Palestinian feminist and social media activist working for Just Vision. We had a fascinating conversation about Budrus, activism, and social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Budrus is a documentary film released in 2009 that chronicles the struggle of a Palestinian village in the West Bank against the Separation Barrier annexing their land. Through constant, unarmed resistance, over a 10-month period, the village was successful in
reclaiming most of their land and the wall was rerouted. Since then, Just Vision has been working to get the film into the mainstream and help examples of successful, unarmed protest become a theme in media coverage of the occupation.
When I questioned Irene about unarmed resistance as an ideological standpoint versus a strategic play, she was quick to respond, “I’m a pacifist,” explaining that her background and upbringing led her to believe in non-violence. However, she also notes that Palestinians who are getting killed, arrested, and doing everything they can just to scrape by, simply can’t afford the luxury of ideology; they just have to do what works. She went on to explain that therefore, unarmed resistance largely functions as an important strategy for Palestinians because it’s effective, more compelling, and easier to get behind.
There is a debate within the Palestinian resistance community as to what role, if any, stone-throwing has in unarmed protests. Stone-throwing is extremely common among Palestinian youths and oftentimes ‘unarmed’ protests are not necessarily ‘non-violent.’ Others argue that stone-throwing, if not meant to injure, is therefore symbolic and acceptable. Again, it comes down to a question of strategy. In Budrus, the village made a conscious decision to avoid stone-throwing, arranging their
marches so youths were in the back and would be unable to land a hit if they tried. During our discussion on this point, Irene pointed out that during the Egyptian revolution, people threw rocks and molotovs, but it was mostly ignored. But Palestinians generally have a less favorable reputation, and similar actions could be perceived quite differently, again highlighting the importance of fair and balanced media.
At the mention of the Egyptian revolution, our conversation turned to the role of social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Irene assured me that especially for tools like Twitter and Facebook, “sometime soon, it will be our most powerful tool.” Unique to this struggle, social media helps provide a counter to the powerful Israeli media machine. Activists regularly tweet live from protests and demonstrations around the West Bank, and also post videos and photos from the events. Recently, this media helped debunk inaccurate reports from the IDF in light of the injury of a French woman at a weekly protest in Nabi Saleh. In light of the Arab Spring, it’s easy to see how social media could change the game here as well.
While Irene readily acknowledges that Israeli legislation is getting worse and more oppressive, she maintains that this is no cause for pessimism. Instead, these challenges are giving her a better perspective on how to be relevant and stay relevant. In the quickly-shifting world of the Israel-Palestine conflict, staying at the top of your game is the key to making a difference.