Writing from the largest storm Bethlehem has seen in 20 years. Snow is piling up on the ground and the streets are not done filling up with rain creating a web of rivers and small ponds. We just got back to our guesthouse after a group outing to get some groceries and experience the unusual light hail, rain and snow.
We woke up Sunday to the third day of rain in a row and hopped in Mahmoud’s car for a ride 15 minutes south of Bethlehem to the village of Battir. We took a road that has a tunnel that we were told is a recent trend: roads built for Palestinians that run underneath Israeli roads so that the Palestinian designated roads can easily be closed off with gates at any time.
We arrived at Battir for a magical afternoon of learning about the Battir Eco-museum project that incorporates the living heritage of Battir, their geopolitical context and creative, exciting, innovative vision for sustained community and resistance into the future. The hillsides next to the residential streets are terraced and irrigated aqueducts dating back to Roman times. We were given a presentation after seeing this film and then a tour of Battir. It was still raining but that provided an excellent demonstration of the intricate and effective irrigation systems in place for thousands of years.
There is a decision in the high court to be decided on January 30th whether or not a “separation” wall will be built through the town of Battir, effectively separating them from their historical land, food and economic stability. Environmental organizations oppose a plan for the wall, perhaps representing interests in the area as a potential site for a JNF park or other “environmental” projects. The village of Battir is trying to receive UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition in hopes of stopping the plan for the wall. The JNF is present here as well with pine trees planted on their hilltops, pine needles dropping changing the pH of the soil, killing native plants and colonizing the hillside below by way of pine cones.
So remember how our delegation is called Plant-a-Tree in Palestine? We went to the village of Susya in a caravan with a bus full of youth volunteers for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. Our plans to plant trees were thwarted by freezing rain and high wind, but we received a tour of the village and learned that they were beekeepers. You know who was happy about this! We bought some honey. The people of Susya, since the destruction of the structures of their villages and the orders preventing any rebuilding, live in tents. The close proximity of settlements puts them in daily danger of violence and harassment by settlers who are never held accountable for their actions.
With the bus of youth volunteers, we headed to Hebron to their youth center, which we learned has as many as 2,000 participants! We began a tour of the old city of Hebron with Mohammed, a youth leader, academic and resident of Hebron studying Christianity, Judaism, computers and medicine. We traversed the rain soaked streets (read: rushing streams) towards the Old City. We arrived at the foot of Shuhada Street.
from B’tselem- “Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank with a Jewish settlement in its center. For years, the army has implemented a policy of separation and discrimination between Israeli settlers and the Palestinian majority. Citing the protection of a few hundred settlers living in the heart of the city, the army severely restricts the movement of tens of thousands of Palestinian residents. These restrictions have led to destruction of the commercial center and to mass abandonment of the area by its residents. Hundreds of shops have closed, thousands of people have been left without a livelihood, and many hundreds of families have been forced to leave their homes. The city center has become a ghost town, where only Jews are allowed to move about freely.”
We walked along the Palestinian marketplace corridor that is open with settlers living above in apartments. Fences ultimately replaced tarps to more successfully prevent the filth and violence of trash and rocks/bricks being thrown down below at Palestinians doing their shopping.
“25 months ago a world away, successfully closing down Powell St in San Francisco for the evening rush hour, and later in a police wagon and a SF jail, I couldn’t have imagined that today I would be standing cold and wet and horrified on Shuhada St. in Hebron, occupied Palestine. Although our tour guide was from Hebron and knew the area well, the language barrier was significant and it took quite sometime for me to piece together the information in front of me with all that I learned about Hebron and Shuhada Street when I participated in planning and carrying out a San Francisco portion of an internationally coordinated day of action with demands to Open Shuhada Street.
The experience of committing to a struggle so far away-watching youtube videos, reading books and articles, attending teach-ins and lectures and protests and rallies and events, talking and talking and talking, acting and planning and thinking, asking so many questions and building relationships, coordinating an organization, planning events, facilitating conversations, so many activities in the last 10 years, and then standing there in this place I’ve been so focused on.
Just standing there, seeing it with my own eyes, feeling it underneath my feet, the smells and the sounds, it’s like some kind of synch dropped it all into place; a physical reorganization of the highest magnitude.”
The rest of our delegation is mainly people from Scotland from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Today we had a less packed day with some more time to talk, share media and learn about each others’ governments, political orientations, and lives. It was a day filled with important conversations about strategy, social location, role and social movements. Its a relief to have more in depth information about organizing happening around Palestine in totally different political contexts than our own. These conversations provide exciting foreshadowing for our work when we return with the International Stop the JNF Campaign.