Frankly, the last time a boy kicked me in the shins was . . . well never, because even in grade school I think we were all taught not to do that. I am, after all, a 5 ft 1 inch girl in flip-flops with her hands above her head, wearing a pink shirt, while he probably weighed in at about a 250+ while sporting a helmet, boots, a gun, and a bulletproof vest. Obviously the only way to handle the great threat I posed was for him to kick his little heart out.
So to set the scene, a few weeks ago the Israeli army had torn down hundred-year-old trees on a Palestinian family’s farm near Bethlehem in order to begin building the Separation Barrier around a settlement. Quite a few Palestinians, Internationals, and Israelis have been going to demonstrate there since the army first showed up. Today, we all gathered and ate apples in a nearby orchard while the Muslim men held Friday prayer. With prayers finished and everyone gathered, we planned to walk ten meters from the little house to the road, but a group of about fifty armed soldiers got in our way. We calmly stood and sat in front of them for about half an hour at the entrance of the driveway as they had chained all the other exits from the farm. The rather juvenile kicking incident along with the arrest of one Palestinian and three Israeli activists happened when we were standing by this exit. Remember, all other means of leaving the farm had been blocked when the Israeli soldiers began to push the crowd back. I suppose that sort of forced confrontation is just another normal Friday afternoon in the occupied territories.
Tomorrow is the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War, and there are many events commemorating the occupation that followed Israel’s 1967 victory and subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The place I am volunteering is a cultural center in Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem which promotes artistic resistance through dance, photography, and film. Consequently, they will be holding a play and demonstration tomorrow. In spite of the kicking incident, it has been great to be here. It is a strangely more enjoyable place for me than my usual Cairo as there is clean air here and a rather optimistic spirit in people even though they face severe and almost daily difficulties. This week alone two teenagers were arrested and the Israeli army cut down the trees in the camp cemetery as it is near “The Barrier.” Apparently the trees and the dead people may present a threat to the eight meters of concrete and watchtowers on top. Clearly, there is a security situation here, but it seems that the army is not too selective in choosing rational and necessary battles upon which to focus its attentions.
Hopefully, this paints a picture of some of the fun daily reminders of life under occupation. I also hope it shows that most Palestinians refuse to let the endless struggle get them down as they go on living life . . . working and spending time with their families. Here they remain cautiously optimistic for their children’s futures.
Elizabeth Tomber wrote her undergraduate thesis on the Separation
Barrier while studying Human Rights at the University of Dayton. She
recently completed a graduate program in Economics in International
Development at the American University in Cairo.