Activists spends two months in Palestine struggling against Israeli Apartheid policies to champion the rights of Palestinians, and sees Israeli oppression firsthand
By Dezeray Lyn
The wholesale occupation and pillaging of the West Bank and what is left of the Palestinian territories has been raging on now for 67 years.
There are internationals filing into the occupied and besieged regions working in a human rights capacity and documenting, ever documenting, the ongoing struggle. Such was the capacity that I arrived and operated within during the two months I spent on the ground in the West Bank, Salfit governate; an emotional two months that ended just weeks ago.
I have traveled my home state of Florida from Miami to Tallahassee and many points in between sharing personal stories I hand picked from the countless interviews and nearly two dozen human rights reports I published online through the International Women’s Peace Service during my time there. This is common protocol for those who enter the occupied and besieged zones and inhale as much suffering as their hearts and minds can accommodate only to return to our respective countries and exhale the realities on the ground; infused with the emotion, the rage, the feelings of helplessness. I have been exhaling since the day after I returned to the US – Nakba Day – a day immeasurably heavy with the fury of nearly seven decades of theft and cruelty, accompanied by an equally as long enjoyed impunity by the purveyors of these crimes.
Even as I exhale the enormity of my rage for the things that I have witnessed- what I saw, what I experienced was but a snapshot, from the eyes of one human being over a period of two short months in a region so swollen with tragedy and suffering that you might expect it to burst at the seams at any given moment. I could share statistics so startling- such as the fact that Israel and the international law violating settlements and settlers populating them are using (ie: stealing) 73 percent of the Palestinian’s water in the West Bank and selling the remaining 17 percent back to the people they have robbed of it to begin with. Or that the Israeli prison establishment has been the house of torment for 20 percent of the overall Palestinian population since 1967. Or I could lament in detail on the fact that in a ten year period, 700 complaints were filed by Palestinians to the Israeli state attorney’s office alleging human rights crushing abuses of Palestinian children during the infamously torturous interrogation process; 700 complaints that were answered with the failure to order so much as a single criminal investigation into any of them… but rather, I will convey some snapshot moments; seconds in time during the millions of seconds I spent traversing the check points, shootings, antagonisms and cruelties that Palestinians are routinely, forcibly and endlessly subjected to.
These crescendo moments were instances where such emotion suddenly flooded to the surface of my consciousness that I could almost feel the pain of the expanse of teeth grinding frustration welling up within me. These mental snapshots are free for the taking for whatevery they are worth. Whether they incite a single feeling in anyone; they are, by no means, the slightest scraping of the surface of the complexities of the psychological, emotional, physical, economic or spiritual reality of the situation in the occupied territories.
Collectively we sweltered during roof monitoring of a family living in a, literally, caged home in the H-2 full Israeli military controlled section of al Khalil. As we waited- watching the family’s settler-poisoned roof water tanks being changed out to ensure the workers faced no violence during the transfer, I reflected on the family’s young son whose detainment by IOF soldiers we were able to successfully intervene on the evening prior, as well as listen to stories from fellow activists about the common harrassment of this family by the faction of notoriously violent settlers in that particular area. Given such abuse and the language barrier, it was agreed that whenever the family was in need of immediate assistance from human rights monitors, they would call a number and simply say the family name. As this reflection and frustration played out within me, the father of the family- physically disabled with a heavy limp impairing his gait- exited the cage and slowly, with obvious difficulty, made his way to the group of us. Seeing this struggling, smiling man approach us, offering his hands and his gratitude immediately brought tears to my eyes. If it is possible to feel the breaking of the heart inside of your chest, at this moment, I did.
Walking through al Arroub refugee camp, a miserable expanse of crumbling concrete structures, UN schools and posters of martyrs nearly wallpapering the streets, our companion and camp resident Taysir couldn’t get more than a few yards without conveying explanations akin to; this man spent years in Israeli prison- and- this persons brother was executed in the streets of the camp last summer while trying to get to his family home for dinner- and- this person’s home has been raided repeatedly in the dead of night. But when we passed a severely mentally disabled man in the streets with no eyes and a bright smile who happily greeted those passing him, Taysir explained how the man’s mental state prevents him from understanding and thus ‘obeying’ the arbitrary curfews the Israeli military commonly places the camp residents under. This has resulted in his remaining in the streets in unwitting defiance of them and subsequent vicious beatings he has sustained by the IOF because of it. Seeing this gentle human and forcing myself to imagine fists and boots colliding violently with his body was immediately overwhelming.
In Bruqin, over tea in front of his family home, a village resident talked about his son, mentally disabled since birth and arrested within the space of a year, three times, by the IOF. It is unprofessional to cry during an interview so I kept my eyes low while I noted his words with my pen, “My son was so terrified during one of the arrests that he cried and shook while they shackled him.” If I thought the follow up to this arrest – the IOF literally dumping the boy off in the streets in the middle of the night, was inhuman – what followed was monstrous. During one arrest, the soldiers called his worry stricken father and demanded two thousand shekels for his release. He told them he only had one thousand. “That will do.” When he arrived to collect his child, the soldiers had him out in the streets and took the money before rambling off a court date that he was to attend at Salem court in Jenin. Yet, when the family arrived in Salem court on the noted day, no such arrest was documented, no court case existed, no receipt was archived for the money he was seemingly extorted for his son’s release. For the family who was the subject of it, this criminality, as blood boiling as it is, there is no avenue of redress of grievance that exists. This is to say nothing of Palestinians whose family members have been brutally murdered or maimed by the occupying force who either enjoy ceremonies of medals of congratulations for it- or enjoy the impunity that comes with being a part of the Israeli criminal enterprise.
Quick snap shots: the frames in my mind that reside now in semi-permanence each time I envision the ground in Palestine, a ground my feet had trouble leaving. Kufr Qadum Friday demonstration, my last before departure. Two Palestinian boys, could not have been older than three, in superman costumes wandering through the main road up to the border police. And the gasp when we heard the shots; rubber coated steel bullets, to scare them, to stop them from being boys, being children wandering wide eyed through a conflict zone.
The Italian women I walked with up to the Israeli occupation soldiers who’d spent hours firing on the villagers, trying to stop myself from cursing as I was filming that, “shit, shit, shit, we are about to be shot.” I had no idea why the women came or what their plan was, but under UN observers stationed safely on a balcony under a planted UN flag, they sung songs for just moments before a series of stun grenade blasts had us running into fields- and where moments later, under the same UN supervision, two young Palestinian males flew by in the arms of those bringing them to medics for the bullet holes in their legs.
The shepherd from Salem who, refused to allow the IOF to dismantle his dignity. The group of soldiers, who appeared for no apparent reason, demanded he strip his clothes off in the field where women from the village were present. He took the beating, the arrest. He told the room of us, “I would have allowed them to kill me before I removed my clothing.” I couldn’t help but imagine the view of this violent scene from the neighboring, hilltop settler-only theme park overlooking the Salem fields.
Again and again, I never learned my lesson to stop asking, “Why?” But maybe that’s a good thing.
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