Monday, August 20, 2007

Pop quiz: In what airport was a Holocaust survivor most recently subjected to a full body-cavity search?

July 5

Left: A soldier checks my passport at one of the old city's check-points.
"Welcome to Hebron", as the billboard outside the Tomb of our Patriarchs says. The billboard is signed "The Jewish Community of Hebron"

I had lunch with Katie and Ameer, and then headed to the airport. The train from Haifa goes directly to Tel Aviv airport, which was awesome. I was a bit worried, since the last I had heard of a train in Israel was when one crashed with my friend Naomi on board, but thankfully the trip was fine. Everyone in the train station fulfilled the stereotype of the rude Israeli to a T, but the station and the train themselves were really nice. The announcements on the train are in Hebrew and English.

Going through security at Ben-Gurion Airport was interesting. It was the same thing that happened last time, just in reverse: first all of my stuff was laid out, scanned, swabbed and whatever else. Then I was taken to a room where I had to take my pants off (apparently linen is hard to feel things through) so they could wave a metal detector in front of my crotch. Then I went back out to where my stuff had been thrown all over the place and watched three attractive young women examine my underwear and ophthalmoscope. My favorite part was when one of them said, “I’m very sorry sir, but we accidentally turned your computer on.” Then I looked at it and it was off. “Oh, I think maybe we must have turned it off, too.” You'd think a country so well known for having die-hard spies who infiltrate foreign governments and assassinate political opponents would employ people with a brain to guard the airport.

I can understand how a normal person, especially a Palestinian (or, say, an eighty-year-old German-born Jewish woman who came to Palestine to help the Palestinians), would find this humiliating in the extreme. I suspect that's the purpose of the whole venture to begin with. But for me, I found the idea of three hot Israeli women telling me what to do quite amusing. An old lady brought her bag over to the counter and one of the bag checkers asked me to put it up on the table; after I did that they were more relaxed for some reason, maybe because the woman said “thank you” in Hebrew and I responded appropriately. I spent the next twenty minutes talking to one of the bag checkers about why I have a blood pressure cuff; not interrogation-style, she was just curious if I was a doctor. Then that same woman walked me to the gate where my plane was going to take off. Total time going through security: three hours.

When I got on the plane there was a large Orthodox Jewish woman sitting across the aisle from me with a baby. She asked me something in Hebrew, and I gave my standard “anni lo yodea ivrit” (a pathetic attempt at “I don’t speak Hebrew”).

Then she said in American English, “my husband and I were separated, can he have your seat?” I said of course, but he just kept staring at the floor until I said "yala" and pointed him towards my seat. He was awkward the way Orthodox Jewish men always are; why, I still don't understand.

When the captain gave the “please be seated” announcement a flight attendant came over to the man who’d taken my seat and asked him in English (it was a British Airways flight) “What is your name, sir?” He looked up at her blankly; I’m sure he understood, but that awkward thing came out again. She became very aggressive and practically screamed at him, “Sir, I need to know your name immediately!”

His wife leaned in and said “he doesn’t speak English” then told her husband, in Hebrew, to tell the lady his name. He did so, but the lady didn’t understand and just got more annoyed.

“Where is the person who is supposed to sit in this seat?” she asked. I’d been watching this with amusement; Jews obviously never get this treatment at Ben-Gurion Airport (unless they're helping Palestinians...). Eventually I stood up and said “I’m right here, ma’am.”

“Ah, okay.” And she walked away. Needless to say, she didn’t look for any other specific passengers, and I don't recall seeing that flight attendant again.

And that concluded my summer in Palestine. Someone stole my camera in Heathrow Airport while I was napping on a chair, so I lost my pictures from my last few days, including my only picture with Dr. Nisreen. You spend six weeks in a third world country under brutal military occupation, subject to international economic sanctions and the whims of two separate groups of religious fanatics, but nobody steals so much as a penny from you. Then you fly to the wealthiest city in the world and some intercontinental traveler steals your camera. Unbelievable.

"It was nothing like Lebanon, I'm sure. But it was the scariest thing in the world."

July 4

Left: Katie (left; picture taken last time I was in Israel)

The IDF killed a 15-year-old boy last night in Hawooze, a village that may as well be part of Hebron. He apparently had a plastic toy gun the soldiers thought was a real gun, so they killed him for the crime of being armed. Note that this boy didn’t attack anybody or even point his toy gun at anybody; he just had it with him. B’tselem wrote a detailed and disturbing report specifically about Israeli use of firearms called “Trigger Happy”, it’s available at: http://www.btselem.org/Download/200203_Trigger_Happy_Eng.pdf.

[Update from August 19: Compare how the only democracy in the Middle East disarms a 15-year-old boy armed with a toy pistol to how the Satanic-death-loving-cult-of-suicide-bombing-promoting terrorist organization Hamas disarms an adult with an assault rifle: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1649291,00.html]

The power was out this morning at Musa’s house and at the PMRS office; the electricity seemed to be out in all of Hebron when I got into the city. It was back on by the time we came back to the PMRS office.

I talked to Dr. Nisreen again this morning, before we went on the clinic. Somehow we started talking about how beautiful the old city is and how much more beautiful it used to be. She told me she has never once been to pray at the Ibrihim Mosque (recall that she’s also never been to the al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem; this is a deeply religious woman). Imagine living and working a twenty minute walk from the burial site of Abraham, Sara and the other Abrahamic patriarchs and matriarchs – some of the most famous people in all of human history – and not being allowed to simply go pray in the mosque built over their tombs.

We took the mobile clinic to two villages today, first to al-Bira, and then to Beit Mersem. It was the same deal as before: malnourished children, malnourished adults, preventable disease, chronic diseases, ob/gyn issues, etc.

We stayed in al-Bira for about two hours, saw quite a few people, and then went on to Beit Mersem, about a ten minute drive. We set up in a building that looks like it was built to be a small clinic; they had a scale, so I weighed myself and realized I’ve lost almost ten pounds in the past six weeks. The building and village are on top of a hill, and are very near the wall Israel is building in the West Bank. We heard constant gunfire from the moment we arrived until we left.

On the way back I talked to Dr. Nisreen a little more. We drove past a sunflower field/farm and I asked her what the sunflowers are grown for; she said the seeds are harvested and sold locally. From talking to her before I knew she had worked in al-Alia hospital as the head of the pediatrics ward (no small feat for a woman with a child anywhere, let alone here), so I asked her if she prefers working in pediatrics or in ob/gyn. She said she loves both, but she prefers ob/gyn, and that since there’s a shortage of female ob/gyns in Palestine she is in high demand. She plans on taking a job at al-Mukassed hospital in Jerusalem when an opening becomes available; how she’ll be able to work in Jerusalem I have no idea, but she said there are ways. Hopefully she’ll have her Italian passport by then (she’s married to a Palestinian with Italian citizenship).

I had mentioned that morning that my mom would love to see Jerusalem, but that she didn’t get to the last time she came here, so Dr. Nisreen asked me what my parents do. When I told her my dad is a retired ob/gyn and she became excited, and asked if I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Dilemma: the answer is no, and I don’t mind telling her that at all. But, I thought to myself, when I say “no” she’ll ask why, and the real reason is because I don’t want my appreciation for women destroyed. I wouldn’t mind telling most people that, but when you have a deeply religious woman whose demeanor is that of a princess, you wonder whether or not that’s appropriate.

“Umm, not really, to be honest,” I said. “I don’t think I would like gynecology very much.”

“Because you think it’s disgusting?” she asked, that being the response I’m sure she most often gets from people.

“Oh no, not at all. I almost passed out in Africa the first time I saw a blood draw” – a brief look of shock passed over her face; growing up with blood and death, I guess she never had that problem – but after that it was fine. I think everything in medicine is a little bit disgusting, but when you get used to it, then you’re okay.”

She laughed a little and nodded in agreement. “Why then?”

“Well, I think…it’s…I’m afraid it would…maybe…ruin my…uh…appreciation…for…uh…for women.”

“Ah ha!” she said, with a big smile. “Yes, I can understand that. I would not want to be a urologist!” I was relieved, and once again reassured that, despite what we’re raised to believe, these people are just like everyone else.

When we got back to the office I took my stuff and headed to the Jerusalem service, about a ten minute walk. We had the same hassle at the tunnel checkpoint as before. When we got to Jerusalem I went to the central bus station and took the bus to Haifa. The last person to get on was an Orthodox Jewish man. There were no seats left that weren’t next to women, so he sat in the middle of the isle for the entire ride to Haifa.

I got to Haifa and found Katie’s apartment, it’s only a few blocks from where I used to stay when I lived in Haifa. I got to use a real shower again, which was absolutely wonderful. She and her live-in boyfriend, Ameer (a Palestinian living in Israel), and I stayed up talking.

Katie told me she was watching the news closely to figure out when Israel was going to attack Lebanon again; that way she could make sure she wasn’t in Haifa that month. She planned to go back to Britain and to take Ameer with her until the war was over. She told me about how during the 2006 war, when Hezbollah rockets were hitting Haifa, she and Ameer were near some of the areas hit; she said she’s never heard or felt anything so loud and frightening in her life as one of the rockets that hit the corner store a block or two down from their apartment. She said she thought the explosion must have been in the apartment next door. “It was nothing like Lebanon, I’m sure” she said, “but it was the scariest thing in the world.” (Read in a pleasant British accent.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"He yelled at me in Hebrew to go back to where I came from..."

July 3

Left: Red Crescent ambulances at the PRC office in Hebron.

Today I went to al-Ahli to say goodbye to the doctors and nurses in the ER, and to Abd al-Salam, the hospital administrator I’d spoken to when I was in San Antonio. Musa was in Abd al-Salam’s office when I showed up; he was getting a report about a young man named YousefAshur (20 years old) who was being transferred from al-Ahli in Hebron to al-Mukassed Hospital in Jerusalem last night (a distance of about 20 miles). The ambulance was stopped at the tunnel checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem; the tunnel connects the two cities so Jews can travel between them without having to see the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.

Al-Mukassed is a tertiary care facility with about 300 beds (I think) in East Jerusalem. It’s by far the most advanced hospital in the West Bank, mostly owing to its location. ‘Ashur had some kind of severe pulmonary edema or hemothorax (or maybe both) requiring treatment he couldn’t get at al-Ahli, so they decided to take him to al-Mukassed.

The soldiers at the tunnel checkpoint stopped the ambulance and told the driver they couldn’t go through (it’s called “general closure”: the West Bank becomes a prison until the IDF says otherwise). In such circumstances the Palestinian health care system has worked out a way around the closure: two ambulances approach the checkpoint from the two different sides, the patient is taken out of the first ambulance and carried over to the second, and then put into the second ambulance to be taken wherever he/she needs to go. At the tunnel checkpoint this isn’t a big deal (aside from the miserable humiliation), but when there are huge ditches, mounds of earth or concrete blocks between the two sides of the checkpoint (as is quite common) it can be dangerous to carry terminally ill people over the roadblocks.

The ambulance driver told Musa what happened when they got to the checkpoint:

We arrived at the checkpoint after coordination between the Red Crescent [in Hebron] and the Red Cross [in Jerusalem]. The Red Cross was supposed to arrange the crossing of the ambulance to the Israeli side [meaning through the checkpoint]. When we arrived at the tunnels checkpoint, a border policeman with dark skin stopped us. He yelled at me in Hebrew to go back to where I came from. I told him in Hebrew that I was driving a patient in critical condition and that in a humanitarian condition such as this he had to let me pass. The policeman told me that I was not allowed to go through the checkpoint to Jerusalem . I told him that only a few days earlier, after coordination with the Red Cross, I had passed through this checkpoint to Jerusalem . The policeman wasn't convinced and insisted that I leave the place.

I didn't leave. I parked the ambulance on the right side of the road, about seventy meters from the checkpoint. Taher [the other ambulance driver] and I called the Red Crescent in Hebron and Bethlehem and asked them to coordinate between the Red Cross and the Israeli side so we could pass. The Red Crescent official in Bethlehem promised to take care of it and told us to wait next to the checkpoint.

About three quarters of an hour later, around 3:00 P.M., a border policeman, who appeared to be Druze [a religious minority in Israel that serves in the army and has a reputation for particularly sadistic cruelty], approached us and asked about the patient's condition. He opened the ambulance door and looked at the patient lying inside with a tube for draining fluids attached to his chest. It was obvious from the appearance of the patient that he was in a very critical condition. The policeman was not convinced and said that a Palestinian ambulance was allowed to cross an Israeli checkpoint only if the patient was in a life-threatening condition. I emphasized to him that the patient was in a life-threatening condition, but he said “No, he can wait.” I asked him if he was a doctor. He didn't reply and went back to the checkpoint.

Around 3:45 P.M., while we were waiting for an answer from the Red Crescent in Bethlehem, a third policeman came and asked us to move away from the checkpoint. The policeman was nervous. We moved back about 200 meters and stopped next to the entrance of the road that led to Beit Jala. We continued to wait for the Red Crescent's reply. Around 4:00 P.M., the Red Crescent notified us that there was no point in continuing to wait, and that we should return the patient to al-Ahli hospital in Hebron. They promised they would continue to try to coordinate the transport of the patient for tomorrow. We returned the patient to al-Ahli hospital. He was exhausted from the long wait at the checkpoint.

The next morning, a Red Crescent ambulance took the patient to the tunnels checkpoint where a Jerusalem Red Crescent ambulance was waiting and took the patient to al-Makassed Hospital.

Musa took this statement from the ambulance driver, it’s online at:

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sons of Bitches and a Look In The Mirror

July 2

Left: On the wall: Son of bitch number two.

Today the PMRS mobile clinic went to a village near Bethlehem named Abu Njem. We waited until 9 am for Dr. Nisreen to come to the office; when she didn’t show up they called her and asked if she was coming in to work today. She said she was trying, but the army had blockaded her village to all traffic again, and there were no taxis available because the road to the village had been blocked at its entrance. We went to the road where it had been blocked, waited for her to walk to the clinic van, picked her up and headed out.

When we got to the village we set up in some kind of community center. It was decorated with all sorts of Fatah posters, pretty much all of which had a picture of Arafat or of Abu Mazen. There was no electricity when we got there (there was no clean water at all), so patients who needed blood work just had to sit around and wait. The electric came back on after a few hours.

We saw the same sorts of simple primary care cases: chronic diseases in the elderly and infections in children. I was with Dr. Ibrihim, but Dr. Nisreen also saw quite a few ob/gyn cases.

Dr. Ibrihim and I saw patients in a large room, the one pictured above. At one end of the room was a picture of Abu Mazen staring off into space like an idiot, and at the other end was a picture of Arafat smiling like a buffoon. When we were packing up, Ismail, the guy who drives the clinic, came in, pointed to both pictures, and asked, “Taraf?” (“Do you know them?”).

Aiwa, Abu Mazen oo Abu Ammar,” I said (Abu Ammar was Arafat’s street name).

“Yes” he responded, in English. “Son of bitch, and son of bitch”, he said, pointing to each picture and smiling.

Aiwa,” I said, laughing. “Kulwahad son of bitch.” (Literally, “Yes, everyone is a son of a bitch”, but I think he understood that I meant “they’re all sons of bitches”, meaning Fatah’s leaders.) He laughed, lit a cigarette and walked out of the room.

At home we were all sitting around watching TV. On al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya (the two major Arab satellite news stations) there’s a commercial that runs quite often now for an organization that, as far as I can tell, is called “No Terror” in English and “al-‘arhab” in Arabic (I don’t know what al-‘arhab means or if I’m even transcribing it correctly). They have a website at http://www.noterror.info/. It appears to be an Arab Muslim organization dedicated to using the Koran to show that terrorism goes directly against Islamic principles of law and conduct of warfare (which, as anyone who has read the Koran knows, is true).

The commercial starts off with a man being led to a plastic chair in a dark, drab room; you see this through his eyes. You can only see the very bottom of the screen. Then a masked man with an assault rifle, a keffiyeh around his neck and a black mask lifts a hood off the man’s face and screams “Sunni!”

The camera cuts to a market that I assume is supposed to be in Baghdad. Everyone is well dressed and healthy, and every single person whom the camera focuses on is smiling. The camera stops on a middle-aged man walking with his wife and children, one of whom is on the man’s shoulders. The screen goes black and white, you hear the disembodied laughter of a child, and then the terrorists show up.

They drive into the market in a gray BMW. Several men jump out, all dressed like the man with the rifle mentioned above. They start firing in the air, and the camera cuts back to the man in the dark room. Two men are standing at his side, one holding his head up by his hair. The man who screamed “Sunni!” at the beginning of the commercial is standing over him.

The man, now tied to the chair, is being tortured. His torturer screams, “Inti sunni ow shi’ite!?” (“Are you Sunni or Shi’ite!?”). Terrified, the man doesn’t respond. The interrogator strikes him, repeating the same question after each blow and becoming angrier and angrier. The man whimpers in fear, unable to understand why this is happening to him.

The camera cuts back to the market. The terrorists, having gotten out of their cars, are now firing randomly at people. The camera cuts back to the room, where the torturer is now obviously ready to kill the man in the chair.

Inti SUNNI OR SHI’ITE!?” he screams, now at the top of his lungs. The camera cuts back to the market. The terrorists kidnap two or three men, throw them in the trunk of the car and in the back seat, and then tear out of the market, firing in the air on their way out. The tortured man’s wife stands up with her children, looks around and screams “Tariq? Tariq!?” (Tariq is a common Arab name.) She becomes hysterical, and her children start to cry. The camera cuts back to the room.

The two men force Tariq to his knees. The man who was beating him loads his rifle and points it at Tariq’s head; the barrel of the gun is waving around wildly, as if the man can’t contain his hatred for whatever Tariq might be. “Sunni ow shi’ite?” The man asks one more time, much calmer now. The camera cuts to Tariq, the barrel of the rifle pressed to his forehead. He finally answers “Iraqi”. The man in the mask executes him.

The commercial is propagandistic, of course; Baghdad isn’t exactly full of happy, well-fed middle class families whose only worry in life is hooded terrorists who hate life itself. But it’s interesting to think about. This seems to be an attempt by some Arabs to force other Arabs to see the consequences of what's commonly called "Arab terrorism" or "Muslim terrorism". The consequences of terrorism (as practiced by Arabs) are shown in all their brutality; the modus operandi of Iraqi terrorists is exaggerated for effect and simplified for impact. There isn’t an ounce of sympathy for the murderers, not the slightest indication that these faceless monsters might be human beings. They are one-dimensional tyrants, vicious, brutal, fanatical, violent, irrational and wild. They inspire nothing but contempt.

Every time I see that commercial, I always end up thinking its American counterpart could simply never be shown. The major mode of illegitimate violence Arabs engage in is what we (correctly) call terrorism, on display nowhere so much as it is in Iraq today. The major mode of illegitimate violence we engage in today is incorrectly (or perhaps incompletely) called war. The consequences are largely the same, even if the methods differ (although they are often identical). The only difference is that our violence is more lethal, and by orders of magnitude.

Imagine a commercial shown on CNN that took the essentials of the Iraq war – the drive to control Iraqi oil and Iraq’s strategic space, and the human disaster that has followed – and simplified them for a one-minute commercial. The commercial would start with a child born in Iraq in the mid-1990s. She would be born with anencephaly and other neural tube defects, caused by our use of depleted uranium shells during the Gulf War and our subsequent refusal to remove the spent munitions from Iraqi soil; treatment was made impossible by our imposition of sanctions. The camera would show the child’s grotesquely distorted features, show her mother wail in horror after giving birth to the dead child, and show her father go berserk with a desire for revenge. The commercial would cut to George Bush Sr. delivering his most infamous line: “What we say goes!”

The commercial would go on to show the dismembered bodies of children strewn about Iraq, one of whom would lie next to a piece of metallic shrapnel that says “Made in U.S.A.” American soldiers would be shown abusing Iraqis, calling them “Hajjis”, breaking down the doors of homes in the dark of night and throwing terrified families around like so much garbage. Maybe there’d be a brief rape scene. And maybe then they’d flash back to the National Security Council meeting in 1945, when it was decided that the US would seek to control the Middle East’s oil at all costs and for the rest of time. In the end, the man whose child was born without a brain would be kidnapped by American forces, tortured just like Tariq was, and then handed over to a governmental death squad. His wife and the rest of his children would be rounded up, and they’d all be executed together.

Just imagine anything even remotely like that being allowed on American television. A commercial that forces us to look at the consequences of our violence, just like this “No Terror” commercial forces Arabs to look at their own violence. It makes one wonder what good freedom does in a society that chooses not to use it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Why should I ask someone for permission to pray?"

July 1

Left: A small child at the al-Jalajl clinic.

I went with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society mobile clinic to a village called al-Jalajl today.

Today two doctors were on the clinic, one male and one female. This is how they usually staff their mobile clinics, but when we went to al-Eddesa on June 25 the female doctor was giving a breastfeeding education workshop, so it was just Dr. Ibrihim and the nurses.
The female doctor is a 25-year-old pediatrician and ob/gyn named Nisreen; she is everything that is good about human beings: religious but without a hint of closed-mindedness, intelligent, insightful, well educated, capable, curious, thoughtful, nationalistic, polite but assertive, motherly, etc. She’s also strikingly beautiful, the way you expect a princess to be. Her English is nearly flawless and her accent makes her even more appealing. She’s married to a Palestinian whose mother is Italian, and they have a beautiful two-month old baby named Sara, whose picture she had on her phone.

Before leaving, Dr. Nisreen and I were talking to each other; we had met before but hadn’t spoken much. She told me she was born in Jordan, and so was a Jordanian citizen with a Jordanian passport. She recently married a Palestinian from the West Bank, and afterwards went to Amman to have her passport renewed. The Jordanian government refused to renew it on the grounds that she had married a Palestinian, leaving her stateless. She also told me that she has never once been to Jerusalem or to the al-Aksa mosque to pray, even when she studied at Abu Dis Medical College (Abu Dis is a large village just east of Jerusalem). "I think maybe I could go", she said, meaning if she tried the Israelis might not stop her, "but I don't want to be humiliated. Why should I ask someone for permission to pray?"

Dr. Nisreen’s father was a teacher and businessman in Kuwait; quite a few Palestinian refugees moved to the gulf oil sheikdoms to work, and their remittances help keep the territories alive. She was very young when Hussein invaded Kuwait (with his American-made army), but she remembers Iraqi soldiers and tanks moving on the streets. After the US invasion most of the Palestinians in Kuwait were thrown out; the US reinstated Kuwait’s dictator, who was upset that the PLO had voiced its support for Hussein.

Dr. Nisreen’s family lost everything when they were expelled from Kuwait. “I think in the wars,” she said, “it is always the Palestinians who suffer the most. I think because we have no one to back us up," she said, laughing a bit. The sentiment is genuine and the observation true.

We talked about Palestinian history for a little while; at one point she asked “How is the media in the US? People know what is happening here?” I had to say no, but told her that there are alternative media that are trying to educate people on the simple facts that are hidden from them. "Are they having success?" I had to say no again, but said that we are showing signs of progress. When I told her the propaganda in the US is scaling new peaks of lunacy - I mentioned Alan Dershowitz specifically - she said this is good, since it proves that these people are getting desperate.

We headed out to al-Jalajl in the clinic and saw patients until about 2 pm. A little less than half of the children who came in showed signs of malnutrition: anemia and vitamin deficiencies are very common problems here. Blood hemoglobin is one of the few things they can test on the clinic: every single person we tested had a hemoglobin count under 13. Failure to thrive is another serious issue for children, as are parasites from untreated water. More than one family told us they had eaten nothing but tea and bread last month. About half of the children had shoes.

Once the waiting room was empty I sat around with Dr. Ibrihim, Ismail (the guy who drives the clinic) and Dr. Nisreen and we talked about the economy in the US, the Iraq war and the creation of the State of Israel. Ismail knows a great deal about the geography of Palestine and Israel, I think he used to work and live in Jerusalem as an ambulance driver. He kept asking me and Dr. Ibrihim if we knew the name of the Arab village this or that Israeli town is built on top of; we almost always no. Dr. Nisreen interjected – quietly, as though she was talking to herself – and said, “They occupied our lands. But they created beautiful cities.” It’s amazing that people in this occupied and dismembered nation can still recognize their tormentors as human beings.

We left al-Jalajl and dropped Dr. Nisreen at her village. The dirt road leading into the village was blocked by three huge stones, and an army jeep was standing at the entrance.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Here in the penal colony, I have been appointed judge. In spite of my youth."

June 29

Left: Don't hold me to it, but I'm pretty sure the building made of new white cement is the Tel Rumeida "settlement" (Tel Rumeida is actually the name of the section of Hebron the "settlement" is in, I'm not sure if it has another name). Watch the video mentioned below, it's only five minutes long, to see what these people do to the Palestinians who live across from them and to their own children. "Love thy neighbor" is the technical term.

Neetha and Matt came to visit, they’ve both been working in Sudan. They met me at the baladi and I took them to the old city. I had a vague idea of how to get there on foot but I didn’t want to get lost, so we asked someone where the old city is (and in this way I discovered that Matt is conversational in Arabic); it was only a ten minute walk but the guy insisted on driving us. When we got to the closest barricade we got out and walked to the mosque. It was prayer time so going inside didn't seem right.

We went to the synagogue instead; I gave a tour as if I knew what I was talking about. I wish I could remember the Hebrew letters so I could have told them which tomb was which, but I couldn't remember any of them. Then we went up the road to Kiryat Arba. I'd never been in that place before, so we decided to try going in. We were stopped by a security guard, some old Russian man with an Uzi. He didn’t speak any English so he called a border policeman who did; the border policeman asked us over the phone to wait for him, so we did. When he arrived he asked for our passports, asked us what we were doing there, etc., he was very professional. He looked through Neetha’s and Matt’s passports first. Since they’d just been to Syria, Sudan and Jordan he was a bit confused, but I told him they were working in Sudan with the refugees and then decided to travel around the region. He asked me what I was doing in Hebron, and I told him. He said “okay, wait just one minute”, and went to his jeep. He got a police report, filled my name and passport number into it (not Neetha’s or Matt’s), and then took me aside and said “you can go, it’s okay. But don’t tell anyone that you work with the Arabs. They will be *pauses for a word* angry.” I found it amusing that even the border policeman guarding the colony recognizes that the people living in it are lunatics.

We walked around Kiryat Arba, an old man gave us water, and then we left. It could be a small town in Upstate New York. I’ve said it before: the banality of evil is on full display in Palestine.

We left and walked back down to the old city. Matt was nervous because we had water in a Coke bottle with Hebrew writing on it. I tried to explain that half of the commercial products in the West Bank are from Israel and that nobody would be anything but curious even if we told them we'd just been in Kiryat Arba, but he was still nervous so we tossed it.

In the old city we found the same store keeper whom I’d bought a keffiyeh from a week ago. We spoke to him for quite a while. His English is excellent; when I asked why he said he had lived in England and worked as an engineer for years. He then looked at us and said “You can’t believe it, it’s Friday, but we have been here all day and I haven’t sold even one shekel [meaning one shekel’s worth of merchandise]. But we are determined to stay here.” It was a guilt trip of course, but the fact that he hadn’t sold a thing was probably true (Friday there is the equivalent of Saturday in terms of shopping) and the sentiment was genuine. Neetha and I each bought a small change purse, they’re beautiful and handmade in a village nearby. Cost: 10 shekels. The same thing would fetch 100 shekels in Israel.

When we got to the store I saw Tariq again, the Christian Peacemakers Team member from Sugar Land whom I’d met about a week before when I was with Musa. I asked him if he was heading to the CPT office and he said yes, then invited us to come see the place. The store owner was nervous that we’d use this as an excuse to leave, so he said he’d send his son with us to the office (it would have been difficult to find on our own).

At the CPT office we met Tariq and an older white man from California, both of whom work with CPT. The man’s life story was quite interesting, unfortunately I don’t remember it in detail so I won’t relate it. I also don’t remember his name, and I'm not actually sure I asked.

This man was very knowledgeable about the history of Hebron and the current circumstances, even his dates were correct. He took us up to the roof of the CPT office and showed us the different “settlements” (the reason for the quotation marks is below) that are in Hebron itself. He also told us about Jewish children throwing bricks at him, which was interesting. It's the kind of thing that everybody who comes here knows goes on, but it's different reading about it and having someone tell you "I had bricks thrown at my head."

The information he gave us was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but he pointed out something I’d never realized, despite the obviousness and the fact that I’d seen it plainly with my own eyes. Some of the “settlements” in Hebron (meaning the ones that house the 400 Jews who live in the old city, not Kiryat Arba) are actually built on top of Palestinian buildings. I think it was the Tel Rumeida settlement that he pointed out, which is actually built directly on top of the store that we bought the purses from. The settlers just laid down cement and bricks on top of the existing structure. It’s a wonder the Palestinians don’t just march into those buildings and strangle those damn people. For a short video of what the Palestinians living in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood have to deal with, you can see a short video B’tselem made at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kem1ajIKv1k, or course you can read their various reports on Hebron.

On Swallowing Lots of Toothpaste

June 27

Left: The checkpoint between the old city's market and the mosque area. If the soldiers don't want to let you through they'll tell you which house to go to and ask the people living there if you can walk into their house (the front door is on the market side of the checkpoint) and go out the back window (which is on the other side of the checkpoint). Security is paramount...

We ran out of water while I was brushing my teeth today. That sucked. I've never had to swallow a whole mouthful of toothpaste, it's not a pleasant experience.

On the way home from Ahli the IDF had set up the checkpoint at the base of Musa's hill. Apparently they were actually looking for a specific person this time, and so we knew about the checkpoint miles before we got to it. In every third car and taxi we passed someone would lean their head out the window and yell "Jesh! Jesh!" (army!) or "Sede! Sede!" (I think it means “closure!” or something along those lines). It’s experiences like this that make clear that the “security checkpoints” have nothing to do with security: whomever the Israelis are supposedly looking for is obviously going to get out of his taxi well before he gets to the checkpoint.

Monday, July 2, 2007

They're Just Following Orders

June 25

Left: One of the two mobile clinics the PMRS runs in the southern West Bank, outside the community center in Eddesa.

Today I went with the Palestinian Medical Relief Service to a small village five minutes outside of Hebron named Eddesa. When we got there the main road to the village was blocked and the soldiers in the sniper tower nearby wouldn't acknowledge our presence, so we had to go around the roadblock, which took half an hour.

When we got to the village we set up in some kind of community center. We laid a cloth down on a table, sat at another table in the same room and started seeing patients. The two nurses who came with us set up a pharmacy (meaning another table) for the drugs we'd brought with us and a lab for doing blood hemoglobin levels, blood sugar counts and a few other simple tests.

We continuously saw patients from about 9:30 am to about 1:30 pm. The doctor took a ten minute break to eat zatar and pita he’d brought with him. We probably spent about ten minutes per patient, on average. Often we saw a mother and several of her kids. I can only think of four males we saw between twelve and sixty years old, I’m curious why.

When we drove back the soldiers at the entrance to the road that was blocked told us we couldn't drive on the road because it was still blocked. We asked them to have the army open the road but they said they couldn't. The soldier was sympathetic and even apologetic, but still refused to even try opening the road for a clearly marked mobile clinic filled with two women and three men, one of them in his late fifties.

This raised an interesting point I hadn’t thought of until then. I always made a distinction in my mind between IDF soldiers who act professionally and understand what they’re doing here, versus those who act with wild abandon, beat and shoot people needlessly, etc. Both are present in large numbers in the occupation forces; I’m not sure which is more prevalent, and I’d venture to guess that the same soldier can be one way on Monday and another way on Wednesday, depending on what happened Tuesday.

But when it comes down to it, at least in cases like this, it makes little difference which soldier you get; after all, only the most zealous lover of violence will drag someone out of an ambulance or mobile clinic and beat or shoot him for no reason. There are some IDF soldiers who would do this, but they’re the bleeding edge of the occupation’s sadism.

So we got a polite soldier, but still, our freedom of movement was restricted. If we’d had a rude soldier, we’d have had our freedom of movement restricted just the same and might have been cursed at, no big difference. It comes down to the fact that these young men are following orders. They didn’t choose to close that gate, and they probably don’t give a damn whether it’s open or closed. They’d rather be in Tel Aviv looking for another eighteen-year-old to sleep with. Indeed, the soldier we spoke to seemed like he actually wanted to open the gate. Maybe he’s an aspiring doctor, who knows? But, he has his orders, and since he struck me as intelligent I’d venture to guess that he understands how pointless it would be to call his commander and say “can I open the gate for this medical vehicle?” He knows the road was blocked specifically in order to make these peoples’ lives more difficult. He doesn’t agree with it, but who is he to make policy?

On the way home we drove for some time on one of two parallel roads. Our road, the Palestinian road, was a broken-up piece of crap barely wide enough for one car; when two cars came towards each other they both had to slow down, go half-off the road (risking falling off the steep incline to our left), and then get back on. The parallel Jewish road was a flawless two-lane highway with lane markings, guardrails and hard shoulders.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

"Look here, Bedouin!"

June 21

Left: the really reac-tionary segment of Israeli society. I think there were a few hundred people at the protest. Note that Jews protesting gay rights not only are allowed to block a road, but are assisted in this endeavour by the police. Meanwhile, Palestinians protesting the theft of their land (in other words, something that actually has an impact on them) are forcefully stopped from doing so. Different laws for different ethnoreligious groups under the same government, aka apartheid.

In the clean corridor I was talking to one of the anesthesiologists between procedures. He trained in Russia but speaks enough English to communicate. He asked me about all the usual things, then about working in the US. I said it’s possible, and it’s easier for medical professionals than for most other people. He responded by saying it’s difficult to go to the US because of the political situation. Then, a bit randomly, he said “I want to live in peace with everyone, I hope to live in peace.” It's a sentiment that, as odd as it sounds, works itself into almost every conversation I have when I meet someone new.

Today I went to Haifa to visit Seher, a friend from college. I took the service to Jerusalem, it cost 15 shekels. There’s a tunnel near Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the Jewish highway, it’s meant to bypass the Palestinian village of Beit Jala (which is pretty much continuous with Bethlehem). There's a checkpoint at the tunnel entrance. We stopped; the female soldier looked at me and told us to pull over. We pulled into the holding area and another female soldier came over to us. She stared at me and I stared back until the driver said “she want passport”. I gave it to her and then argued with her about whether or not my visa was expired, which it obviously isn’t. Then a male soldier who looked like he was trying to bring the Bon Jovi look back into style came over, put the barrel of his assault rifle on the deck of the van and said something in Hebrew. The female soldier said something, and then he walked away. She checked the driver’s ID, then gave both of us our IDs back. When we pulled away I asked the driver what the male soldier had said: “He ask if there is trouble maker here. She say no.”

Needless to say, a car with Israeli license plates carrying Jews - be they American or Israeli or Polish or anything else - doesn't have to deal with any of this. But a car with Israeli license plates carrying the indigenous population does.

When I got to Haifa I had to walk to the central bus station, which I think took about forty minutes from Damascus Gate. On the way there I passed through an Orthodox Jewish protest, of what I couldn't figure out. There was a police barricade set up to stop them from moving out of their designated protest space (which was a large intersection). I went to one of the cops at the barricade and asked where the central bus station was; I already knew, but I wanted him to hear me speak in English so he wouldn't stop me from walking through the protest with my backpack. I walked through, looked around and took a few pictures, then walked through to the barricade on the other side. I asked two women what the protest was about. "They don't want the...uh...the homosexual." I guess the American and Israeli religious establishment do share common values. (Although, to be fair, Israel's treatment of gay Jews - not all homosexuals - is far more humane than American treatment of gay Americans.)

I took a bus from Jerusalem to Haifa (I was floored when they said it was 39 shekels, that's a week's worth of food in Hebron). It took forever because of traffic, but normally the trip takes less than two hours. Eventually I got there and met up with Seher and her friend Nour on Ben-Gurion St. I’d forgotten how attractive Seher is; her intelligence only enhances her appeal. I love being friends with such people.

Seher is living with a young Palestinian woman named Nour (her name means “light”), who also happens to be incredibly attractive. She’s a lawyer at Adalah, I think she said she specializes in prisoners’ rights issues. Being around her means you're constantly laughing, every word out of her mouth is a joke. Her favorite thing to do when someone asks her a question is to respond (in English), "come, I'll show you the light." She cracks herself up, and then everyone else laughs at how easily she amuses herself, it's fantastic.

When we met up Nour mentioned that her friend Katie was going to join us later. I got excited, I assumed it was the Katie I knew when I lived in Haifa, but Nour insisted it wasn’t. It turned out that Nour is also bad at keeping secrets and wasn’t supposed to mention Katie’s name, since it was indeed her.

Watching Nour interact with her friends at the bar was hilarious. They’re all Palestinians who live in Israel, some of them are politically active and others aren’t, but they’re all pretty well steeped in their culture and so the jokes they make are all about each other’s heritage. Nour is Bedouin (stereotype: stupid violent goat herders), some of her friends are descended from fellah (peasant farmers; stereotype: stupid violent farmers), and some are medini (city people; stereotype: conniving arrogant elitists). My favorite running joke of the night was that Nour is a terrible and reckless driver because she learned to drive on an Israeli tank (Bedouin Palestinians often join the IDF; she’s never actually driven a tank.)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Apnea and Heat

June 19

I’ve stopped trying to remember which procedures I saw in the OR on any given day. Today I observed an orthopedic surgeon for most of the day, he was a complete asshole. Not to me, but to literally everyone else. If his assistant didn't do something or didn't do something fast enough this guy would fly off the handle, waving the bone drill wildly around, etc. The one time he couldn't reduce someone's fractures with pins from the outside and had to open his finger he took the drill and slammed it down on the sterile instruments table, knocking several pieces of equipment to the floor.

It's not that I don't try to remember which procedures I saw because they're not interesting, it’s just that by the time I get back up to the residents’ changing room I can’t be bothered to write them down. It's so hot here now. I wake up practically naked and uncovered because it's too hot to cover yourself with anything. The downside is a set of fresh new mosquito bites. I've had a fan on me all night, but still I'm already sweating. By the time I get outside the sun has been in the sky for several hours; walking down the hill I sweat a little more. I then cram myself into a service filled with other hot sweaty people (air conditioning is an unheard of luxury here, the only place I've found it is in the operating theaters at Ahli, and they're usually off). The hospital itself is hot, but not punishing. I leave the hospital and get into another packed service. I get to the city center between 2:30 and 3:00 pm; it's hot like you expect hell to be. I walk about 100 yards and get in another service, heading for Fawwar. I get out of the service, thinking "today is different, I'll be fine, no worries." Then I start to climb the hill to Musa's house. By some cruel twist of fate, despite the many houses on this hill there is no way to walk up it in the shade, so for ten minutes I slog up this stupid incline, one step at a time, with the sun trying to kill me the whole way. I come to the same tree every day, so grateful it hasn't somehow disappeared since that morning, and wait in its shade for a minute. Then I go the rest of the way. I feel like dying when I finally get to Musa's door: I'm not out of breath so much as ready to collapse from exhaustion. When I walk into the house the sweat pours faster than it did outside. I go back to my bedroom, disrobe and spend the next ten minutes staring at the small spare fan Musa gave me. I then put my clothes back on, walk out of the room, say "har ekteer" ("it's very hot") to the first person I see, and plop down on a couch. The couch and the house are hot. Eventually the sun goes down, but the house stays hot (it's designed this way so that it stays at least a little bit warmer in the winter than the outside). I take a shower (every other day...) but the humidity only makes me sweat more. I go to bed practically naked, still sweating. There's just no respite from the heat here, which I think is what makes it so harsh.

Dr. Harb, one of the physicians in the ER (the one who told me the joke about the penis not having a bony support) gave me a ride home today. On the way we happened to see the guy who works in the cashier's office at Ahli, and so we picked him up. As soon as the guy got in the car he started talking about Hamas and Fatah, what he was saying I have no idea. Dr. Harb stopped so the guy could buy some bread; after he got out Harb looked at me and said, “He likes to talk. You know, if you watch the news, you listen to the radio, you think the world is *he gestures, trying to think of a word* on fire. Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, everywhere. But when you walk in the street, you go home, you go to work, you see that life continue.”

The guy got back in the car and we headed for Fawwar; immediately he started talking about Gaza again. We dropped him off before I got out. A few minutes after he left the car Dr. Harb told me he wants to go to work in Dubai for three or four years. “You'll make more money there,” I said, since he has repeatedly asked me how much money he would need to spend two weeks in the US as a tourist.

“Maybe,” he said, and shrugged. “But I want to go somewhere that the life isn't so difficult. I feel that the situation here gives me, yani, apnea,” meaning it stops him from breathing.

Only Arabs Don't Need Security

Left: Move on, no random brutality to see here...

Another exchange with Joel. This one might actually be worth reading, given the reigning culture of racism in the US and in the West in general.

Joel writes...

Subject: Random what?

joel272us
Fri, Jun 29, 2007 at 11:14 AM
Reply-To: XXX
To: feroze.sidhwa@gmail.com

You walk through a checkpoint unopposed, and you spin this non-event into 'Random Brutality".
Wow.
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I respond...

Feroze Sidhwa
Fri, Jun 29, 2007 at 4:43 PM
To: XXX
Hi Joel,

I wasn't "unopposed", I was unacknowledged. When large men with guns ignore you, but you know they usually stop you, you become frightened. You second guess yourself, you walk away not knowing if you have a rifle pointed at your back. Every time the soldiers say something you spin around, wondering if they're calling you back. Yes, that is random brutalization of an entire population and, on that day, of me. If you don't understand why maybe you should go walk around some place where you're not sure if the men with guns are planning on shooting you or not, it's quite an experience.

I'll put it another way: there's a sniper tower in front of Musa's house. When I walk outside to talk to my girlfriend (I don't get cell phone service inside the house) I have no idea if the men in the tower are pointing their weapons at me. Maybe they're discussing whether or not they should kill me to "teach the Palestinians a lesson". Maybe they're bored. Maybe they're high, who knows? So I guess I'm "unopposed" by the men in the sniper tower, since they're not physically stopping me from speaking on the phone. The same way the DC sniper didn't actually stop anyone from doing anything except the actual people whom he shot dead. But he still inflicted a reign of "random brutality" and terror on the entire population of Washington and Baltimore, and I think that's a bit too obvious to discuss any further.

Peace,
Feroze

Friday, June 29, 2007

Random Brutality

June 15

Left: The checkpoint at the entrance to Fawwar (the road also goes to Yatta and villages sur-rounding it, about 100,000 people depend on it being open)

Ayham and I went to get our hair cut in Fawwar again. When we walked through the checkpoint they didn't stop us. We stood there and waited for two minutes for someone to acknowledge us – either tell us to move on or check our papers – but they just ignored us, so eventually we walked a few feet forward, then stopped and looked back. Then a few more feet, then stopped and looked back. Never knowing if they were planning on calling us back, shooting us as we walked away (“Ran from the checkpoint”, as the IDF press release and New York Times would later say), or anything else. This is the constant random brutality of the occupation that you can't see without being here.

Thankfully Norman Finkelstein's tenure case is still going on; I figured it was a done deal when the president of the university said there was no appeals process. The DePaul faculty (and the civilized world generally) seems pretty upset about the denial of tenure, and apparently some faculty are considering a vote of no confidence in the president’s leadership. I’m sure if they had just denied Finkelstein tenure they would have gotten away with it, but they got greedy and denied tenure for another highly qualified assistant professor, Dr. Larudee, just because she supported Finkelstein’s tenure bid. Both decisions were shameful in the extreme. Finkelstein’s record, even if “controversial” (and it's not even that), is certainly solid enough for tenure at any university, and since Larudee was in line to become the chair of her department it seems obvious that she was only denied tenure to prove who owns the university.

When we got home from Fawwar I watched al-Jazeera International (al-Jazeera’s English language channel) for a while. They have inter-show advertisements for the channel like CNN does. One of them ended with a reporter saying “tensions are rising here after an elderly man was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier.” They were talking about Yehia al-Jabari, and showed a picture of the blood-soaked steps where he was executed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Anna Fatas

June 14

Today I observed another general surgeon, Dr. Muhammad Jabrani. He was annoyed that I don’t know anything about pathology.

When I walked into the OR in the morning one of the anesthesiologists looked at me and asked, “Feroze, inti Hamas ow Fatah?” (“Are you Hamas or Fatah?”) I answered “Anna Fatas” (“I’m Fatas”, a nonexistent combination of Fatah and Hamas). He thought this was hysterical. I should say I heard someone else make the same joke to a friend on the road, I can’t think up such witty responses to anything, certainly not in Arabic.

I didn’t notice it yesterday, but today half the surgical staff was smoking in the clean corridor: in the little kitchen where they make tea, in the surgeon’s office, in the nurse’s office, in the anesthesiologist’s office, everywhere.

Dr. Hashlamoon came to remove an infected pilonidal sinus from someone whom he obviously knew quite well. The guy was the classic “khalili”, or “man from Hebron”: big fat head, big fat body, no neck and a stupefied expression permanently imprinted on his face. (If you’re wondering what a pilonidal sinus is, look it up. Warning: they’re not pretty.)

I got a service from Ahli and the driver said he was going directly to Fawwar, so I just paid him for the whole way (instead of switching services in the city center like I usually do). Unfortunately on the way to Fawwar we saw an insane car accident, I really should have taken a picture of it but it felt inappropriate. A black Chevy Impala had driven into a flatbed transportation truck, putting the corner of the flatbed right into the junction of the windscreen and the hood. The car had been crushed as though a giant gorilla had repeatedly slammed his hand down on the engine, both airbags were deployed, all of the windows and the windscreen were broken, etc. The service driver knew the people who owned the car so he gave me my money back and dropped me off at the Fawwar service, then went to Ahli.

First Day in the OR

June 13

Left: A picture of Yehia al-Jabari, the 72-year-old man whom the Israelis shot in the head; the banner is posted outside Hebron's Municipal Building (al-baladi). I just found it yesterday, hence the picture today...

Today was my first day in OR. I observed a general surgeon named Dr. Hashlamoon, whose name I’m sure I’m misspelling. He performed eight operations between 8 am and 2 pm, it was remarkably fast. He did two hernia excisions (one with repair and one without); a simple mastectomy for breast cancer on a male whom, a few years earlier, had the contralateral breast removed, also for breast cancer (for you non-medical people: that’s rare); a tracheostomy; two cholecystectomies (removal of the gallbladder); lanced a neck abscess, and one more operation that I can’t remember.

Completely out of the blue, one of the nurses in the OR decided to tell me about how much weight he has lost in the past year. The conversation started like this:

"Allo, what is your name?"

"Feroze. Shoo osmak?" ("What's your name?" I don't remember what his name was.)

"Min wain?" ("Where are you from?")

"Min Amrika, min wain inti?" ("From America, where are you from?")

"Khalil (Hebron). You know, since one year, I [pauses, his English was sparse] go away 20 kilos." Meaning "In the past year I lost twenty kilograms", which I suspect is an absurd exaggeration since this guy is barely 5'4''.

"Anjad?" ("Really?")

"Yes..." He then went on to explain exactly what he would eat every day, how he would exercise, how he had to convince his mother that he shouldn't eat knafe (he's in his late 30s), etc. This took about thirty minutes. Why he decided to tell me any of this I have no idea.

When I got home Musa and the family were watching al-Jazeera, al-Aksa TV (Hamas TV) and Palestine TV (basically Fatah TV) to figure out what was going on in Gaza. One of the stations said there was some fighting in Nablus (the West Bank’s largest city; I'll write more about Hamas TV later).

I told Musa I know where Fatah gets its ammunition (answer: from the US and Israel), and in Gaza I know where Hamas gets its ammunition (from tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border), but where does Hamas get its ammunition from in the West Bank?

Musa chuckled to himself and then answered: “Hamas gets its ammunition from Israelis. From the people who, *struggles to think of a word*, they, *struggles some more*, the ones who sell guns and things.”

“From Israeli arms dealers?” I asked, a bit surprised. If I had thought about it for two seconds I wouldn't have been.

“Yes,” Musa replied. “Not legal of course, but, uh, yes, they will sell bullets and bombs and things to Hamas. Sometimes stolen from the army,” meaning from the Israel Defense Forces.

I started laughing, and so did Musa. Not because it's funny, of course, but at the sheer absurdity of the situation. Note again that security is obviously not the guiding concern with regards to the West Bank: Israel could easily regulate its own arms dealers, had it any motivation to do so.

Shot in the Foot


June 12

Left: imagine that hitting your foot at the speed of sound.

I mentioned the al-Jabari couple, the two old people whom the Israelis shot in the head in their home a few weeks ago. During the same “raid”, if that’s the right word for breaking into someone’s house and executing them, the Israelis also shot one of the al-Jabari's sons in the foot, his name is Kamil. He’s had surgery to remove the bullet and repair some of the damage. Today we changed his dressings.

I forget if it’s his left or right foot, I think it was his left. He’s a big guy, I’d imagine nearly six-feet tall when standing, with large overall features: big feet, big hands, a big head, etc. (what the locals call a "khalili"). He's one year younger than me. His dressing consists of multiple layers of gauze in two crep bandages, and all of this in a backslab P.O.P. cast. His leg is elevated, by which I mean it rests on the footboard of his bed.

He had obviously had his bandages changed before, because when we came he first asked us if he really needed them changed again. Iyad said yes, and so the patient told us to wait for a moment. He took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes and said a few words (I assume he was praying), took his pillow and bit down on it, and then said to go ahead. I didn’t understand why he expected this to be painful.

We took the backslab and crep bandages off to find the gauze soaked through and through with blood and dilute pus (or maybe ECF and plasma, I’m not sure how to tell the difference between them). He has a huge pair of sutures running on both the anterior and posterior aspects of his foot, with a drain inserted (why I’m not sure, I don’t actually know much about the pathology of penetrating trauma, if it even makes sense to talk about such a thing).

We cleaned the wound with saline and then povidone-iodine scrub, which didn’t cause him any pain. Then Iyad looked at Kamil and said something that must have meant “ready?” He nodded, and then Iyad and the other doctor started compressing his leg at the knee and drawing their hands all the way down to his foot. It was all Kamil could do to stay on his bed; it was obvious that he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs. The more they compressed the more fluid trickled out of his drain. Eventually they stopped. We replaced the dressings with new ones, and left.

In case you're wondering how he got shot in the foot: after the Israelis shot both of his parents in the head on their front steps, he and his brother Radi walked out of the house to find their parents on the ground in a pool of blood, surrounded by Israeli soldiers, and another one of their brothers beaten bloody. They tried to move their parents bodies, which the Israelis tried to stop them from doing; apparently old people can still be terrorists after they're dead. Radi pushed one of the soldiers away, and so the soldiers decided to shoot Kamil in the foot. Radi, 36 years old, then knelt down next to his dead father started crying. The soldiers decided to beat him for this crime, badly enough that he went to the hospital after the soldiers finally left two hours later. For a full account you can read a report on that night by al-Haq (the International Commission of Jurists, West Bank) at http://www.alhaq.org/etemplate.php?id=319.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

First Day in the Surgical Ward

June 11

Today was my first day in the surgical ward. I spent most of my time with an intern named Iyad, he speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English and Russian, all fluently. The first thing I did was clean the biggest bed sores I’ve ever seen on an old man, they were horrible. The head of his left femur was completely exposed. Aside from that we cleaned surgical wounds and sutures. The kid who came into the ER with scalp eversion had undergone one operation and was waiting to get a skin graft. Cleaning a child's skull while he's awake and staring at you is a strange experience.

When I got home Musa and I ate dinner alone. I asked him what effect the occupation has had on his family directly. He told me that several of his family members have been shot, and that his youngest brother is in administrative detention right now ("administrative detention" means he was kidnapped by Israel, and the Israelis have said they won't charge him with any crime or release him. The sentence is usually for six months, and is renewable indefinitely). He's an unemployed painter who manages to sneak into Israel once every three months to find work.

Note again the passivity of the population. The remarkable thing about these people isn't that so many of them are terrorists, but that so few are.

"I think it is by the Jewish. This is very good."

June 10

Left: Dr. Ala's dad's headdress, on someone else (picture taken last time I was here, in Hebron's old city).

Dr. Ahmed told me he is looking for observerships in the US. He said he was looking at Mount Sinai hospital, I forget where. He asked if the hospital is run by “the Jewish” (by which he means is it a "Jewish hospital" the same way St. Joseph's is a "Catholic hospital"). I said I think it was founded by American Jews but that it’s not a religious institution. “Yes, I think it is by the Jewish," Dr. Ahmed replied. "This is very good. I would like to go there, to make good impressions, to show we have no problem with the Jewish or the Christian. Or with any religion. Some Jewish in America do more for Palestinians than the Palestinians." I'm constantly amazed at the lack of anti-Semitism here; I'm sure it can be found, but I haven't found it yet.

Dr. Ala, another one of the young doctors working in the ER, brought his father in today, I think just to show him the hospital. Dr. Ala is a slightly effeminate and incredibly knowledgeable physician who strikes me as a replica of Sai in every way, but much taller. His dad, on the other hand, is about my height; his build and mannerisms are those of a farmer, his voice is deep the way you’d expect God’s to be. Dr. Ala has fair skin, wears western clothing and trendy-looking glasses (Payal and Mondo: he has a zip-up exactly like that one you wanted me to buy) and has a sloppy haircut and a goatee; his dad's skin is a deep brown that reminds me of stained wood, he looks like he shaved five minutes ago, and he wears an Arab headdress, slacks and a brown suit jacket that looks forty years old and probably is. You can tell from the way he carries himself that he, like his son, is remarkably intelligent. The generational differences and similarities are striking; I wish I had taken a picture of them together.

A funny bit of cultural exposure occurred in the ER today. Dr. Ahmed and I were talking when a female nurses from a different department walked by. She passed ten people before getting to us but said hi only to Dr. Ahmed. He said hi back, then watched her walk away before coming back to the conversation. It’s funny how flirting works in a society where flirting isn’t really acceptable.

A two year old boy came in after he’d caught his right ring finger in a door. Virtually all of the soft tissue had been torn off the distal segment of the finger, it was just the dry bone left exposed, without any visible bleeding. He’d been given an analgesic in the ambulance, so now he was just staring at the finger curiously, it was a bit macabre. They took him for surgery to amputate the finger at the DIP joint, there was nothing to be done to save it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hamas, Israel and the Memory Hole


Left: Perhaps I misunder-stood what you meant by "cute".

Joel and I exchanged letters again. I caution that this exchange, like the last one, is not worth reading. You've been warned...

Joel writes...

Subject: And as regards your June 7 blog.2 messages
joel272us
Wed, Jun 20, 2007 at 5:22 PM
Reply-To: XXX
To: feroze.sidhwa@gmail.com

In your June 7 blog you wrote:

"I think we were talking about Hamas and its previous offers to recognize Israel in return for an end to the occupation when Musa came back in. I told Aaron that despite common knowledge Hamas has been far more forthcoming in agreeing to recognize Israel than Israel has ever been in agreeing to recognize the Palestinians’ rights in the occupied territories. He said frankly and honestly that his understanding of the diplomatic history is the exact opposite and asked me to send him evidence of what I was saying"


Regarding Hamas 'recognition' of Israel, I respond by citing Hamas Minister Haniyah's statements during a recent interview with the Saudi daily paper Aljazeera (2 April ):

"As far as we're concerned, the issue of recognition of Israel has been settled once and for all. It has been settled in our political literature, in our Islamic thought and in our Jihadist culture, on which we base our moves. Recognition of Israel is out of the question. We have been advocating the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees. In exchange for all that, we will declare a truce, but no recognition of Israel."
"The concept of a Palestinian state is clear in our view: 'Palestine' within its borders and its legitimate historical heritage. However, we don't have a problem with a unity government in this phase. We are in agreement with our brother Palestinians and Arabs about establishing a Palestinian state within the '67 borders with Jerusalem as the capital. We are telling everyone that we have an objective for this phase, as well as a national goal."


And from Damascus Hamas, in a January 2007 interview with The Guardian, Mr Meshal said: "As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land. This is a reality but I won't deal with it in terms of recognising or admitting it." Changing the Hamas charter (which calls explicitly for the complete destruction of Israel) was also a matter for the future, he said. "The distant future will have its own circumstances, and positions could be determined then," he said

Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by 'recogntion'.

Joel
Pinpoint customers who are looking for what you sell.

I (hesitantly) respond...

Feroze Sidhwa
Sun, Jun 24, 2007 at 1:58 PM
To: XXX

Hi Joel,

First, my apologies for the delay in responding, I was visiting a friend in Nazareth-Illit this weekend.

Second, since I assume you don't read or speak Arabic, I'll assume you got that first quote from one of the thoroughly discredited groups that purports to translate the Arabic-language media for an American audience. For a good deal of enlightening information on the way these groups operate you should read the work of Dr. Nathan Brown, available at his personal website http://geocities.com/nathanbrown1/. The relevant papers are "Short summary of research on Palestinian textbooks", "The International Controversy Concerning Palestinian Textbooks", and "Democracy, History, and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum." A few years ago I corresponded with Dr. Brown extensively regarding these matters, he's very approachable if you have any questions about his work.

Finally, on the issue you raised: I didn't write that Hamas has agreed to recognize Israel, I wrote (as you accurately quoted me): "Hamas has been far more forthcoming in agreeing to recognize Israel than Israel has ever been in agreeing to recognize the Palestinians' rights in the occupied territories." The Hamas statements you provided in no way contradict the statement I made.

Israel steadfastly refuses to recognize that the Palestinians are the rightful sovereigns in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Never once in Israel's history has any Israeli government ever made any statement recognizing any Palestinian sovereignty or rights of any kind in the OT. Beyond that, Israel is not only denying Palestinian rights in the Occupied Territories in words, but is actively working to undermine them in reality by pouring billions of dollars into Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank, a gigantic multi-billion dollar wall running through the West Bank to integrate the settlements into Israel, a gigantic multi-billion dollar military presence in the West Bank, etc. That Israel is also actively and deliberately destroying Palestinian society by making life unlivable in the OT is another way of actively - not just verbally - denying Palestinian rights (or the "right to exist" of the Palestinians, to use the current and thoroughly idiotic terminology).

By contrast, Hamas has made ambiguous and halting offers of a long-term "hudna"; nobody alleges that they've come out singing the Israeli national anthem and wearing kippas. But these ambiguous offers and proposals are "far more forthcoming" than anything anyone can attribute to Israel on the issue of mutual recognition of rights, exactly as I stated. Furthermore, Hamas isn't actually doing anything to destroy the State of Israel or the Jewish people: there are no Hamas tanks outside Tel Aviv or Palestinian religious fanatics driving Israeli shepherds out of their homes near Haifa. One might argue that Hamas isn't doing any such thing because they have no capacity to do so, but that's conjecture. I can't blame you for being unaware of these Hamas proposals since they were barely (and sometimes not) reported on in the US and then dumped down the memory hole, but that doesn't mean they didn't happen.

Also note that even the statements you quoted (assuming the first one is an accurate translation, which is a poor assumption) as counterevidence to my assertion are far more forthcoming than anything Israel has ever proposed. They effectively amount to (repeated) Hamas offers to establish a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. That necessarily means not establishing a Palestinian state in Israel. Granted, the proposals (as you quoted them) do not offer Israel diplomatic recognition, perhaps because the idea of a "people" recognizing a state is meaningless in terms of international relations (as opposed to propaganda exercises meant to paint certain people as "moderates" and others as "extremists"). Still, exactly as I wrote, these proposals are far more forthcoming than any parallel Israeli statements.

And finally, it's no secret that the leaders of the Zionist movement planned to conquer Palestine in stages. David Ben-Gurion was especially adamant that the Yishuv should accept a state in Palestine, no matter how small, because once a state was established it could be expanded through violent means or trickery or legitimate means such as political discourse and accommodation. Quite obviously this conception of how Israel should act is still the operative one in the Israeli government. So again, no matter what one thinks of these Hamas proposals (whether or not they are serious, nobody has any way of knowing), they are more forthcoming than any Israeli proposals that have been made. I don't see how this point could be contested or what evidence you have provided to the end of contesting it.

Peace,
Feroze

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Justice of Power, Until We Say So


June 9

Left: Ayham (left) and Suhail playing outside their house.

Abu Nidal and I had another one of our conversations: “I want to live in peace,” he started, I forget why, “but land and your home is so precious, really. I went to Mecca, and it is wonderful, really. But it was not as important to me as my village. Just we have a small mountain [meaning a hill] and I sit with my family. This is the most important thing.” (Note that he understands full well what American commentators pretend not to: the choice for a Palestinian is between living in "peace" - meaning without random violence visited on you - and continuing to exist on land that you own but that Israel wants.)

Abu Nidal went on to tell me a story about when he was younger. He and some young people were discussing politics, and one of their older uncles walked by, stopped them, and decided to tell them a story about a rich man with a cow and a poor man with a horse. I won’t put quotes around the story because I can’t remember it verbatim, but I’ve got the essentials:

In a village somewhere there was a very wealthy man who owned a cow, and a very poor man who owned a prize-winning horse. Every time there was a horse race, no matter where people came from, this man’s horse always won (I guess jockeying didn't pay much back then). So the wealthy man decided he wanted a horse like this. He went to the poor man and said he would pay any price for the horse. The poor man said no, his horse was not an issue of money to him, and he had no interest in parting with it.

A few years went by and the rich man’s cow had a calf at about the same time the poor man’s horse had a foal. The rich man saw his chance to finally have an amazing horse like the poor man's. The rich man went to the guards who watch his house and said, “take this baby cow and replace it with the poor man’s horse; leave the cow there.” So they did, and brought the poor man’s foal back to the rich man’s house.

The poor man woke up the next day and went to check on the foal. When he noticed that the baby horse had been replaced by the rich man’s cow, he took the cow to the rich man’s house, knocked on the door and said “I’m sorry, your baby cow and my baby horse must have decided to switch places.” The rich man said he didn’t understand what the poor man was talking about. “What do you mean?" he said. "Your horse gave birth to this baby cow a few days ago, just at the same time my cow gave birth to the foal."

“But cows don’t give birth to horses, and horses don’t give birth to cows!” the poor man protested. “Please, the horse belongs to me, and I want it back.” Still, the rich man refused. So the poor man went to the oldest man in the village, who was always counted on to be fair and to settle disputes between people.

The old man agreed to hear the case, and so called the rich man and the poor man before him. The rich man came with fifty of his guards, all well dressed and well spoken. The poor man came dressed in a farmer’s clothes and with his son. One after the other the guards went to testify that yes, indeed, the cow had given birth to the baby horse. Only the farmer’s son testified that the horse had given birth to the foal.

The old man sent everyone away and thought about the case for a little while. When he called the two men back in, he announced that he had decided in favor of the rich man.

“What!" the poor man exclaimed. "How can that be? You've always been so wise and fair to everyone, so how can you believe that a cow would give birth to a horse?”

The old man looked at the poor man with sad eyes, and explained things to him. “Do you see how many men that man brought to my home? Can you imagine the power he has? Can you show me so much power as well?”

“No sir, but what does how much power I can show you have to do with whether or not a cow can give birth to a horse?”

“If you could show me this kind of power," said the old man, "if you were equals, then I would agree with you that a cow cannot give birth to a horse. But if you do not have the same power as this man, then I disagree with you. A cow can indeed give birth to a horse.”

Abu Nidal continued: “There is a difference between the power of justice and the justice of power, really. This is why I can't deal with politics now, there is no justice in this world, really.

“Look at Iraq. I was against Saddam in Iraq, any abuse of power I am against. So when Colin Powell said he had the evidence against Iraq [meaning Colin Powell's speech at the UN regarding Iraq's WMD programs] I wanted to see it, really. I watched, and I thought we would see amazing things. But anybody could photograph these pictures [meaning take pictures] and say it's a, yani, mobile weapons laboratory. Really! But the world accepted it and the whole world invaded Iraq, just like this.

“And just two weeks ago I saw a documentary [on al-Jazeera] about a company that a man went to work for in Iraq. This man died, his wife said he wasn't given enough protection. He went because he needed money. So I don't excuse this man's actions, just like I don't excuse the man who goes to Tel Aviv to take a bomb [a suicide bomber]. But why to blame these people? We should blame the situation. Who planned the situation? Even the man who went to Iraq and to Tel Aviv wants peace.

“It’s like if a man comes in here [the ER] in cardiopulmonary arrest [meaning he’s not breathing and his heart isn’t beating]. And everybody starts to work on him, to do CPR, all of these things, and then someone runs in and says ‘hey, that man has a bump on his neck!’ Who would listen? But with peace [meaning when discussing what Israel and the US do in the world], it is different.”

Another incredibly old lady came in today, with her colorful traditional dress and sun-worn leather farmer's skin she struck me as being nothing more than Native American (she wasn’t, of course). She was having serious chest pains and just kept putting her hand in the air for someone to take. Nobody would (it’s dangerous for the doctors, the family could become upset because of the cultural norms, but she really wanted someone to take her hand...), so I took it and just let her hold it while the doctor was talking to her family. She kept looking at me and telling me that she had chest pains, how old she was, where she was from, etc. I kept telling her I don’t speak Arabic, she kept acknowledging this fact, and then kept telling me about her life anyway. It was endearing.

A 17-year-old man came in after he attempted suicide by overdosing on an anti-depressant. We did a gastric lavage and he was fine; he was admitted for observation.

When I got home Musa told me he had gone to a nearby wooded area where some teenagers were hunting for small birds with pellet guns in the afternoon. The Israelis shot one of them dead and put another one in the hospital. Musa went to speak to those who weren’t shot about what happened. They took him to the place and described what happened, and Musa filmed it. We watched the video Musa had shot. The kids' blood was still splattered all over the ground where they were shot.

Musa picked up some of the kids' pellets that were left from the night before and brought them home. Somehow he also got some of the bullets the soldiers use in their assault rifles. He passed both to me, emphasizing how different they are, as if I wouldn’t have noticed that one is from a toy and the other from an deadly weapon.

Musa passed the pellets and bullets to me, and I passed them to Afaf; we weren’t looking for anything, but when someone says “here are some bullets” it’s hard to tell them there’s no reason to look at them.

Eventually the samples got around to Suhail, Musa’s 11-year-old son. He looked at the pellets only for an instant but then looked at the bullets curiously. He held them between his fingers and turned them around for a minute, examining them. I got the impression that he was trying to understand what they actually do to a human's body, but he obviously couldn’t. It seemed like he was trying to reconcile what he’s seen, especially on TV, about guns and bullets with the idea that these things kill real people, like those whose friends he had just seen and whom he knew his father had met that morning. Eventually he put them down and walked out of the room.

On The Limits of Non-Violence

June 8

Left: One of those two faces. The soldier (to be precise, border policeman) with the bullhorn is the one who shoved me.


Musa, Aaron and I went into Hebron to put Aaron on a service back to Jerusalem. We had a fantastic breakfast of humus and foul (why can’t someone open a foul stand on campus?), Aaron took the service, then Musa and I went to meet Afaf at PARC. The place was full of women going to the demonstration at Umm Salamona (see below); there were no men in the building except those who work at PARC (three), Musa and me. The atmosphere was jovial and light; I guess some people are used to confronting armed colonists.

We left for the demonstration on large busses. When we got there the first thing we saw was the Israelis arresting someone about 200 yards from the protest site. I took a picture of the arrest practically by accident. All of the pictures I took are available at http://jhu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2037329&l=710a2&id=5404578, http://jhu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2037331&l=d4168&id=5404578 and http://jhu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2037337&l=14942&id=5404578; a short video (it's just the soldiers pushing people for five minutes) is also available at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3096861987860760843.

I wrote the article below about my time here and the demonstration, but nobody seems interested in publishing it. I've copied and pasted it here since it's too hot to write anything else, even though this apparently sucks. My apologies in advance if it's really not worth reading.

The Two Faces of the State of Israel

The view from Palestine


I’ve been volunteering in the emergency room and surgical ward at al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron, the southern West Bank’s largest city, since May 18. In the first two weeks I was here the Israeli Army shot at least three people in the head who were brought to Ahli afterwards: Jehad Takatqa, a fifteen-year-old boy who may never move or feel the left side of his body again; Fatima al-Jabari, a sixty-year-old woman whom I doubt will survive the trauma in any recognizable form; and Fatima’s husband Yehia, a seventy-year-old man who died instantly when a bullet blew his brain out the back of his head and crushed and shattered his cranium. Jehad was watching a stone-throwing demonstration and was the unlucky child the Israelis decided to shoot to stop the demonstration; the Jabarai couple was shot in their home from close range while the army was apparently looking for someone related to them.

Adjusted for population, this is the equivalent of 123 people shot in the head by a foreign army in New York City.

Meanwhile, this past Friday I had the privilege of witnessing and participating in one of the great nonviolent struggles of our time: the struggle of the Palestinian people – along with a great many Israelis and internationals – to halt and reverse construction of the terrifying wall Israel is building in the West Bank. The protest was organized by the Stop The Wall campaign (http://www.stopthewall.org/) in a farming village named Umm Salamona, located a few miles from Bethlehem.

We arrived at Umm Salamona just after noon on Friday, June 8; the Israeli Army was already there. Before us lay an expanse of cultivated farmland with a horrible scar run through it: the path for the wall, carved into the land by American-made Caterpillar bulldozers. When built, the wall will divide the village from its farmlands, making survival here impossible.

I was immediately struck by the preparations the IDF and border police had made to stop these people from nonviolently demanding their rights: two large military vehicles used for arrests were present along with a dozen army and border police jeeps. People between the ages of ten and seventy armed only with cameras faced one of the most powerful armies in the world, made up of young men in full body armor and helmets, with loaded automatic rifles, battle-grade radios, nightsticks, and riot shields.

The protest began with everyone gathering at the blocked gate. A seventy-year-old woman who lives on the land walked – slowly, smiling and with assistance – to the soldiers and asked them to let her through. They refused. She asked them to go away and to leave her alone; after all, she had done them no wrong. They refused. A border policeman on a bullhorn announced that everyone should “go home”.

One of the soldiers gave an order and they all rushed us, trying to push us away from the gate. We stood our ground without fighting. After several minutes of shoving the army tried to grab someone randomly in order to arrest him. The Palestinians realized what was happening and tried to pull him back into the crowd. Eventually our side won the tug-of-war; the man’s shirt was torn off, but he was pulled to the back of the crowd, and so at least he didn’t spend the night in an Israeli prison.

A Reuters cameraman was standing next to me; one of the soldiers threw him to the ground for no reason that I could discern, nearly cracking his head open. The cameraman jumped back up and started screaming at the soldier. Another soldier got between them and told the first soldier not to act that way. After all, the media can get them in trouble, and only a lunatic attacks people who aren’t defenseless.

Now at the front of the crowd, I was face-to-face with a soldier with dark skin and vaguely African features. “Where are you from?” I asked. He tilted his head back and forth and smiled: he knew what I meant, and that to answer “Israel” would be ridiculous.

“I know you’re from Israel, but where is your family from?”

“Yemen”, he replied.

“Do you think your parents came to Israel so you could steal land from a poor farmer and his family?” I asked. He looked at me without answering. “Do you really want to be here, doing this?” Again, no answer.

The soldiers rushed the crowd again and then again, and then shut the gates we intended to march through. Frustrated, the man who owns the land chained and padlocked the gate shut. A soldier responded by putting a plastic tie around the gate, the kind they use to bind peoples’ hands. “If you put that,” the farmer yelled at the soldier, “I will cut it! I – WILL – CUT – IT!” They put it on anyway; we tried to cut it, and failed.

Three Jewish Israeli activists, one woman and two men, had been standing on the soldiers’ side of the fence since before we arrived. The soldiers spontaneously decided to assault and arrest them; the woman’s headscarf was knocked off and both men were thrown to the ground, bound and then put into one of the large military vehicles. I thought to myself that I could only think of two places where Jews have forced Jews into trucks: Nazi Germany and Israel.

The organizers decided we should move to the next gate, perhaps 25 yards down the fence. We did, but unfortunately the soldiers beat us there. So we moved down the fence to the next gate, forcing the army to spread out. This time we beat them to it. They had tied this one shut as well, but two young Palestinians managed to rip the plastic tie off. We hesitated, knowing we could be arrested and worse if we went onto the road. Eventually the woman whose family I’m staying with in Hebron [Afaf] led us out. About fifteen of us got through the gate before the army blocked it: not enough to block the road effectively without fighting, we decided.

After struggling for hours in the heat of the Middle East, people decided it was time to leave. This too was blocked by the soldiers. For twenty minutes those of us who had made it outside the fence negotiated with the soldiers for the release of our friends. The border policeman with the bullhorn shoved me from behind, again for no reason, and walked casually onwards.

Eventually our friends were let go; we got on our buses and went back to Hebron. A few miles from the site of Jesus’ birth we had failed to convince the soldiers of a Jewish state to allow a farmer to peacefully protest the theft of his land. June 8 would go down in the history books had its events not been repeated every week all over the West Bank for the past 40 years.

The view from Texas

My medical school paid for this trip, since I’m volunteering at a hospital six days per week. Our Dean of Student Life, an absolutely wonderful man, told me he suggested to the school’s legal team a “release of liability” form for those students who accept scholarships from the school to travel abroad. The school’s lawyers at first said such a form wasn’t necessary. “Really?” asked the dean. “We have people traveling to Columbia.” No problem, said the lawyers.

“We have people traveling to Zimbabwe.” No problem, they said.

“We have one student traveling to the West Bank.” They “went pale”, and decided a release of liability was a good idea.

Later I learned exactly why the lawyers felt this way. It wasn’t because they were worried the Israeli army would shoot me in the head or beat and imprison me for no reason. No, they were “worried that [I] might take a picture with some terrorists.”

This nonviolent struggle will never succeed until enough Americans see the heartlessness of these lawyers’ fears. Yes, there are terrorists in the West Bank. But there is also a colonial superpower, a brutal occupation, a system of apartheid unlike anything anywhere else in the world. The terrorists and this superpower are simply incomparable in terms of destructive power and their history of violence.

For those concerned with Palestinian rights and the survival of the State of Israel, one thing should be clear: Palestinians and even Israelis cannot stop Israel from completing its program of dismemberment and destruction of the West Bank and mass starvation in Gaza, whether they struggle violently or nonviolently. There is only one group of people who can “stop the wall”, and that’s us, Americans. Israel cannot maintain the level of control it has over the West Bank without the massive American aid it receives. We alone have the power to end the destruction of Palestine and to save Israel from itself, and with exactly no cost to ourselves.

The State of Israel shows two faces to the world. To the West, Israel shows the paradoxically helpless and powerful Jew fighting valiantly to stave off the next Holocaust. But to the East, and especially to the Palestinians, Israel shows the brute soldier and the fanatical settler, who together stop an old woman from walking where she pleases, beat and arrest unarmed protesters, shoot children and old people, and yell “go home!” to a farmer whose home they are destroying.

Like the American Civil Rights Movement, the nonviolent struggle for Palestinian rights and human dignity will be won or lost in the minds of privileged Americans. I hope we wake up, before it’s too late.