Sunday, June 10, 2007

Two Small Stories From One Man's Life

May 31

Left: One of the trucks that brings water to Musa's village.

Today on the way into the hospital an Israeli soldier was standing alone about 100 yards from the front gate. Why I have no idea. I love the idea that Palestinians just want to kill Jews, yet this guy can stand in the middle of a city of 200,000 people without the slightest worry, not even holding his weapon.

Rusmaya told me about a story she’d seen on al-Jazeera last night about a young Palestinian refugee in Syria who had joined Fatah, then had moved to the PFLP, then moved to Fatah Islam (the group fighting the Lebanese Army in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon; it’s not a Palestinian group) and is now considering joining Hamas. It was interesting to see the progression societies can make in an individual: starting off with secular nationalist Fatah; when secular nationalist Fatah was co-opted by Israel and the US he turned to revolutionary Marxist PFLP; when revolutionary Marxist PFLP failed to accomplish anything he turned to Fatah Islam, which I assume is a radical Islamic organization. I wonder what will come up when radical Islam fails to effectively challenge US power.

I tried my first blood draw today. I got it, then lost it.

A middle-aged man was brought in after he complained of chest pains and then collapsed; he was unresponsive when he got to the ER. One of the doctors told me he was a successful businessman during the Oslo years, but when the Second Intifada started he lost his investments and had a nervous breakdown. He’d been to the ER several times since then, always with chest pains that had no discernable physical cause; the doctors were all pretty sure the pains and LOC were stress-related. One of the doctors wanted to make sure, so he took one of the anesthetic aerosol sprays and sprayed it directly into the patient’s nose. Sure enough, he shot up; then he started crying. It really must be awful to have invested so much of your time, money and life during the Oslo years in Palestine, sure that the Israelis were actually planning on leaving the West Bank, and then to have those hopes and dreams crushed by tanks, helicopter gunships and bulldozers. Americans break down when the wrong person wins a reality TV show.

The hospital fired one of the ER nurses today because she was working at al-Ahli and at Hebron’s government hospital, al-Alia. It’s apparently against al-Ahli’s rules to work at any other hospital because if they need people in an emergency they want them to be available. Still, most of the doctors said everyone at al-Ahli works at al-Alia as well because they need the money; they all said the administration was trying to scare the rest of the staff into quitting from al-Alia (which I’m sure pays much less than al-Ahli, when the PA can afford to pay anyone at all). Apparently hospital administrators can be just as stupid here as they can be in the states.

I had a very interesting conversation with Musa today about life in Hebron. The most important natural resource in the Middle East is of course water. At the beginning of the Second Intifada (almost seven years ago) the Israelis destroyed the pipes that brought water to Musa’s village (for security reasons; only terrorists use water). Ever since then he’s been without a guaranteed supply of running water. He had to build a large holding tank below his house so that water brought in by trucks at exorbitant costs can be stored (more on where the trucks get their water from later). Musa pays between 20 and 300 shekels (in winter and summer, respectively) for one cubic meter (1000 L) of water. That works out to 0.5 cents/L – 7.5 cents/L. According to Israel’s leading daily Haaretz, the average cost of water to an Israeli settler is 0.0625 cents/L. That’s a difference of between one and two orders of magnitude. Resource apartheid is an interesting concept. You might live a stone’s throw away from someone else of a different ethnic group, but they pay one one-hundredth of what you pay for a glass of water. Consequently they have green lawns and swimming pools, but you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet because of the lack of pressure.

(In case you’re wondering “then how do they…”: there’s a plastic bag next to every toilet in Palestine. Only terrorists use toilet paper.)

Keep in mind that the West Bank is not a dry part of the world; it’s a temperate climate with several major aquifers, all of which are under Israeli control. Remember, only terrorists use water.

Musa also told me he was put in administrative detention twice during the First Intifada. If you don’t know, administrative detention is an Israeli euphemism for kidnapping: Palestinians are arrested and without charge or trial are put in Israeli prisons for up to six months at a time. The sentence is renewable indefinitely by a military court in which secret evidence is permissible (and is often the only evidence presented). Arwa was born in 1986 or 1987; that means Musa missed six months of her first four years of life because he was in an Israeli prison for the crime of existing.

The Israeli government insists administrative detention is only used to prevent a planned security offense by the imprisoned individual, but it’s well known that administrative detention is used as way of disrupting political, social and economic organization, as a tool to recruit Palestinian collaborators and as a way of forcing “wanted” Palestinians of turning themselves in (by kidnapping their relatives).

Musa’s case illustrates this perfectly: both administrative detention sentences were originally for six months, but a lawyer’s intervention reduced them both to three. If it was known by the authorities who authorized his detention that Musa was planning an attack of some kind and that the only way to stop him from carrying it out was to lock him up for six months without trial, then why would they have reduced his imprisonment to three months? It would defeat the purpose of arresting him in the first place, were that purpose to prevent violence and not to punish the population arbitrarily.

Also note the incredible passivity of the population. If I were Musa and someone stole six months of my life without my having committed the slightest offense I would figure out a way to kill that person. Instead Musa went to work for a human rights group based in the same society that violated his rights, and now he stands helplessly with a video camera while Israeli soldiers abuse his countrymen, colonize their land, demolish their houses and shoot their children.

It’s lucky for Israel that Jesus was born in the West Bank; I dare say no population has ever been as passive in the face of such a massive and all-encompassing assault by outsiders as the Palestinians have. Remember that the terrorist attacks from the territories started in 2001, more than fifty years after the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine and more than thirty years after the apartheid regime of the occupation began. The only comparable examples of such passivity in the face of annihilation I can think of are the Tibetans’ response to China’s invasion and the European Jews acceptance of the Nazi genocide.

I wonder if the Chinese claim that Tibetans are terrorists bent on destroying China and throwing the Chinese into the Pacific, or if the Nazis claimed that Jews were dangerous because of their high birthrate. If they did, regardless of whatever crimes Tibetans and Jews may have committed against China and Germany, we would certainly crack up in ridicule.