My political education continues
Trip Start Dec 10, 2007
12Trip End Jan 10, 2008
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Aunt Jen skimmed through the facts of the email quickly: Bi'lin's land, the part beyond the current route of the wall, juts up to the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank, called Modiin Illit. Modiin Illit itself, actually, is built partially on Bil'in's land, and partly on other villages' lands. New neighborhoods of Modiin Illit are constantly being built, encroaching on more and more of Bil'in's lands. Often these neighborhoods start, Aunt Jen explained to me, in much the same way that the hilltop settler youth were trying to establish a presence in "E1" near the settlement of Maale Adumim--by placing an illegal caravan on the land and starting the process of settling there. These caravans are supposed to be illegal, but law in the country is unequally enforced
As a way to establish a presence on their own land and as a tactic in creative resistance, villagers in Bil'in brought in their own caravan and established it on their own land, right in plain view of Modiin Illit. It was removed by police by force within hours. Even though it was on their own land, apparently there's a law about transporting caravans without a permit--so since the caravan had been illegally transported, it was removed.
So the people of Bi'lin got more creative, and one cold, rainy night, starting after midnight and finishing before sunrise, they built a one-room structure from cement, which they call the Center for Joint Struggle. The laws about building a permanent structure are more complicated than the laws about transporting a caravan, and so the case is still undecided in Israeli court, whether the Center will be allowed to remain standing or be destroyed. In the meantime, villagers from Bil'in, especially this one guy named Ashraf, maintain a 24 hour presence there.
I tried to process all that information, not easy with my two-dimensional brain, as Aunt Jen explained to me what she just learned in her email:
settlers from Modiin Illit were placing a caravan on Bil'in's lands, calling it a synagogue
Israeli police had promised to remove the illegal caravan but it had not yet been done. And no one knew if there would be more violence from the settlers. The email was asking Israelis and internationals to come to the caravan and Bil'in outpost both in solidarity, and as a form of protection, since Israeli settler and police may be less violent against internationals and Israelis than against Palestinians.
Aunt Jen called some of the Israelis she knew from Anarchists Against the Wall and some of the villagers from Bil'in to ask if she should come and when and how to get there. They told her that it would be good if she could come the next day and stay for several hours. So, in the morning, she told me we were going to the outpost.
"How are we going to get there?" I asked. If we went to the village of Bil'in and tried to cross through the separation fence, we would be stopped by soldiers. This was how the villagers themselves got to the outpost (there was a court case that Bil'in won in the Israeli Supreme Court in September judging that the route of the wall through their land is illegal, and, though the wall has yet to be dismantled, Bil'in residents are supposed to, in theory at least, have free access to pass through the gate to their lands beyond the wall), but internationals were prevented from passing through the gate
"We have to go to the settlement of Modiin Illit, and we get there from the settlement."
"Are we going to drive there?" I asked. Aunt Jen had a friend's car she was borrowing.
"No. Sometimes the settlers have slashed the tires of activists' cars there."
"So how are we going to get there then?"
Aunt Jen smiled. "We'll take a settler bus!"
So, about an hour later, Aunt Jen and I climbed on a bus in Jerusalem called "Superbus" that took us directly to the settlement of Modiin Illit, which, I learned, is a Haredi settlement. We kind of stood out on the bus, as neither of us were wearing ultra-orthodox attire. Aside from the bus driver, we were the only ones who weren't.
We got off where Nir, an Israeli activist who was at the outpost also that day, told us to disembark and followed his instructions down to the main road and to the traffic circle, where he told us to wait for him. We sat on a block of cement near the traffic circle, watching the construction workers continue to build new neighborhoods for the settlement
"Where?" Aunt Jen asked, looking around in each direction.
"On the other side of the fence!" There was a chain link fence on the other side of the road, separating the settlement, we soon understood, from Bi'lin's land (at least the part of the land not yet taken by the settlement.)
Aunt Jen walked towards the gate, which was padlocked, but Nir showed us how we could slip through a gap in the gate. Aunt Jen let me go first, seeing as I have experience slipping through and under doors, and she followed my lead.
Aunt Jen, Nir, Emad, and two other villagers from Bil'in and I walked on a dirt path through the dry, rocky hills, looking at billboards advertising new neighborhoods of the settlement yet to be built or currently under construction. We got to the place where the settlers had placed the caravan. The police had removed it at 7am, a few hours before we got there. Emad found a piece of his video camera that had been smashed.
We continued to where the Bil'in Center for Joint Struggle was located--just a bit up the hill from where the caravan had been placed--a one room cement structure, an area covered with sheet metal, a cleared out place for the kids to play soccer..
They made a barbeque and we sat and eat and played with the kids and watched the afternoon light change and smoked an argilla and, generally, had a very nice and pleasant afternoon.
"Hard to remember that the reason we're here today is that the villagers here got attacked yesterday for trying to nonviolently protect their land. It's kind of surreal," Aunt Jen said to me. I nodded wisely, making a mental note to look up "surreal" in my two-diimensional dictionary.
We left the outpost a bit before sunset, walking back down the dirt road between the rocky hills and slipping once again through the dented gate back into Modiin Illit, and caught the Haredi settler bus back to Jerusalem.
We sat behind the bus driver. Aunt Jen nudged me after the bus driver driving the bus for the settler bus company answered his cell phone. "You hear that? He's talking in Arabic. He's Palestinian!"
This bus driver could very well be from the village whose lands are being encroached by the settlement whose residents he shuttles back and forth every day from Jerusalem.
I think I'm beginning to understand more about that word "irony".