Writings on PalestineIn the summer of 2002 I was able to go to Palestine through fund raising. I have always been inspired and drawn to their struggle, and wanted to draw parallels to our struggle as colonized people all over the world. That is why I went there (it was a one in a life time opportunity for me, and I still remember that experience very well). I wanted to repost some of my writings from the trip to again draw links to our struggle against neo-colonialism here in amerika.
I edited the articles some what because it had some things I no longer agree with. The first is one I helped to write with another compa about the youth in Palestine. Then the second is about my experience being arrested in Palestine. The Last articles are about a Palestinian Dance troupe and the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. I was 19 when I wrote these.
Eyewitness from Palestine: Running with the Shibab
October 6, 2002
The following eyewitness account is from two Chicano youth in Los Angeles. This past summer, they went to the West Bank and hooked up with activists--the "internationals"--who come to Palestine from around the world to stand with the Palestinian people and oppose Israeli occupation.
Growing up in Amerikkka, being oppressed our whole life, being Chicano, young, and from poor working class (farm worker/janitor) families, we felt compelled to fight. For who and what we are, this system smacked us around as if we were nothing. We've been harassed and arrested by its racist police forces who occupy our neighborhoods. We've been kicked out of its brainwashing educational system. We've had our culture criminalized by this society. Even though this is our land, we feel and have been treated like foreigners. Our families were victims of America's imperialist domination of the world, forcing them to immigrate from Mexico to escape the conditions in their country created by the U.S. government and its fucked-up imperialist system. We've had friends that have been added to the millions in the American prison system.
This is what the American way of life means to us. A society where we cannot even walk the streets being Black or Brown or looking a certain way without the fear of being brutalized by the police. So when we were asked to take part in a delegation to Palestine, we agreed in a second.
One thing that we will always remember from our trip to Palestine is the inspiring experiences with the courageous and fearless Palestinian youth, the shibab. All throughout the occupied territories, you hear stories of them clashing and going up against the Israeli Occupying Forces (Israeli "Defense" Forces). For us--oppressed youth in the country that is the source of the oppression of the Palestinian people--meeting youth who are righteously resisting against the occupation of their nation was the best part of our trip. We were able to learn and hear about their struggle, the conditions they live under, and what their dreams and hopes are. We learned that as oppressed Chicano working class youth in the U.S., we have a lot in common with the shibab and the Palestinian people overall.
The First Confrontation
It didn't take long for us to encounter the everyday life for Palestinian youth. Our first day in the West Bank, not even a mile past the Kalandia checkpoint, we spotted three 13-year-old youth being blindfolded and arrested at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers. Their only crime was playing soccer. We later found out that their soccer ball had gone to where the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) had set up a military post, and the soldiers grabbed the youth.
We saw this from our taxi on our way to Ramallah, and we jumped out. We were greeted by 50 to 100 youth pointing to the post and speaking to us in Arabic. They ran with us to the post to confront the Israelis. At first, they hid behind a building to avoid being shot.
Huwaida Arrif and Adam Shapiro, the two main coordinators for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), worked on the release of the youth by getting on their cell phones and calling the media and other organizations.
The military post was an apartment complex owned by a woman from the U.S. The IOF occupied the house and kicked out most of the families who lived there. They set up tanks and APCs (armed personnel carriers) in the front and planted the Israeli flag. The soldiers constantly harass the youth of the area, arresting them, beating them, and letting them go after hours of being held.
The international activists confronted the soldiers and documented the arrest of the youth. The mothers of the arrested youth also confronted the soldiers, asking for the release of their children.
Our being there surprised the soldiers. It wasn't business as usual for them--the Palestinian youth were not isolated. There were people, most of us from the U.S., there standing with and supporting the Palestinian people.
The youth were getting closer to the scene, wanting to get it on with the occupiers. They asked what we were doing there, and the first thing we told them was "Free Phalesteen." ("Phalesteen" is how Palestinians pronounce Palestine.) Their faces lit up with smiles, and they shook our hands. They walked with us to where we were confronting the soldiers.
The youth are organized, with some form of leadership within their crews. With a translator we were able to communicate with some of them. One shibab told us that he didn't know how Palestine would be freed but that he wants the world to support their fight against the Israelis.
After two hours, the occupiers were forced to release the youth. The youth raised their fists in the air, celebrating a victory. This was our first day in the West Bank.
This incident reminded us a lot of the stories in the Stolen Lives Project, in particular Anthony Baez in New York. Anthony was playing football when his football hit a police car. For this, he was strangled to death by cops in front of his family. The Palestinian people face this same type of brutality on a more intense level.
Palestinians can't even walk their own streets safely. Military checkpoints do not allow Palestinians to cross into other areas of the West Bank or Gaza to visit their families. They spend weeks under curfew unable to leave their homes, even for food.
The Brave Youth of Ramallah
After a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, the IOF came into Ramallah throwing sound grenades and tear gas. The only people bold enough to be on the streets were the youth. They rode their bikes or flew their kites in symbolic forms of resistance (this is done throughout Palestine by the youth). The skies were filled with kites and defiance.
We internationals decided to walk the streets of Ramallah to defy the curfew. The people pointed us in the direction of the soldiers. We walked to where the masses of people were out of their homes, angry at the IOF. They had shot a tear-gas canister into a family's home, and the family came out coughing, unable to breathe.
On our way back to the center, five youth were sitting down in the main square of Ramallah. They said, "We're waiting for the tanks to come back." They walked with us as we continued to walk around Ramallah to make sure the soldiers weren't messing with anybody. Even more youth joined us. They rode their bikes alongside or they walked and talked to us. Some youth had started a tire fire and built a roadblock for the tanks.
We had an opportunity to interview some of the youth. We asked them what they would like the world to know about them. One youth told us, "We the Palestinian people are oppressed, and we defy the curfew because we are out for freedom--we're taking our freedom."
Another said, "If we live our whole lives under full invasion and occupation, we will continue to defy and take our freedom. They are killing us. They say that we are terrorists, but they are the ones that are terrorists."
We asked what motivated them to fight, and they told us, "We ain't got nothing, we've got to fight with whatever we have, whatever the price is."
One of the youth had T-shirt with the Palestinian symbol of Hanthala. Hanthala is a picture of a Palestinian child with his hands behind his back. It was a cartoon which depicted the hardships that the Palestinian people go through. Its creator, Naji al-Ali, was assassinated in London in 1987. The Palestinians have taken up this symbol to remember the tragedies that the Palestinian people have suffered. Throughout Palestine, there's graffiti pieces of Hanthala, and youth wear necklaces and shirts of it.
When we arrived back at the center where we stayed, we said our goodbyes to the brave youth.
The cities and villages in the West Bank are divided by military checkpoints of the Zionist-apartheid occupiers. They prevent Palestinians from crossing into other cities to visit their families there. Ambulances can't cross either, and people have been killed or have died at these checkpoints.
The next day in Ramallah we were asked to do checkpoint-watch to make sure the Israelis did not harm anyone and to show the Palestinians that they have our support.
The checkpoint we went to was on the road to the Birzeit University. Students, usually male between ages 15 and 30, are made to stand in the heat for hours while the soldiers run a check on them over their radios.
The teachers in this university are suppressed from teaching anything about Palestinian history or politics. The Israelis sometimes shut the school down for months.
At the checkpoint we gave water to the people who were being detained. We met a student who spoke Spanish (she had learned it at the university). She was waiting for her husband, who was being held by the IOF. She was among the large number of Palestinians who aren't religious.
Later on that day, at the youth center where we stayed, we had a chance to sit down and talk to a 18- year-old brother who is a student. He intends to come and study in the U.S. in his field, because what would take four years in a U.S. college would take 9 to 10 years in Palestine because of the conditions for students.
We told him we wanted to take back the voices of the people of Palestine to the U.S. He said it was hard for young people in Ramallah: "The army tanks stop you on the road, and they will shoot you--a lot of things may happen to you. It's dangerous... I was in prison when I was 14 years old--for 10 days. They always beat you up. The first week without food, just water--two liters of water."
"Everyone is fighting. Children too. No games, no schools--we have nothing to lose. The children say that. `What do we have to lose? Nothing!' They throw stones at the tanks... Fathers who work in Israel have no work now. They have no food, no clothing. Everything is very bad, everything."
We asked him what the question of land means to Palestinians. He explained, "This land is mine and they took it. I got it from my father--he got it from his father. It is the history of us. Palestinian history is on this land. When they take it, we have no history. We have no life."
Under Siege in Nablus
On August 2 we went into the city of Nablus, which was under siege. Israel had sent in 150 tanks and thousands of soldiers. Their excuse was that the suicide bomber at Hebrew University two days before was from Nablus--so they were seeking vengeance against the whole people of the city.
A checkpoint prevented entrance into the city, which the IOF called a "closed military zone." We had to hike two hours over mountains into the city. Palestinians do this basically every time they want to avoid the checkpoints.
Nablus is a beautiful city with ancient architecture. The sky was filled with kites, and the air was filled with the sound of tanks terrorizing the people. People welcomed us from their balconies and windows.
Within three hours of our arrival, activists and doctors were carrying the body of a murdered young Palestinian. His only crime was taking a look from his balcony. He was shot by an Israeli sniper. He had been dead for two days, but because of curfew the family had not been able to move the body.
Homes were blown to the ground with dynamite. Usually the IOF targeted relatives of martyrs. If the homes weren't blown up, the inside was destroyed, and furniture was thrown all over the place in Gestapo- type searches. Water pipes were broken, and water ran through the streets while the people went without water. Electricity was also cut. The beautiful ancient city of Nablus was left in ruins.
When the occupying forces first invaded the city there was some armed resistance. There were only eight armed resistance fighters with some guns and mainly homemade bombs going up against 150 tanks.
Throughout the occupation of the city, the youth resisted any way that they could. They fought with rocks and slingshots. We met a kid, about 11 years old, who told with great excitement of throwing a molotov at a soldier.
The international activists stayed in homes of families whose houses were threatened with demolition. Because of us being there, the IOF didn't have the freedom to carry out the complete raid, detention of Palestinians, and the demolishing of the homes. This action was effective. The Israelis do not want the publicity that would come from hurting internationals. They hate the fact that internationals are there aiding the Palestinian families. They want to keep Palestinians isolated, so they can just come in, terrorize them, and occupy their land. With us being there, it disrupted their whole blood-stained program.
In Nablus we met some really cool youth. These youth were fearless. Every day they were on rooftops with their slingshots. They showed us the graves of their martyrs. One youth, who was 21, invited us to his house for tea, and his dad cooked for us. They were surprised that we were Chicano--a lot of people confused us for being Arab. They found it interesting that people with a Mexican background were there supporting their struggle. We talked about Sharon and Bush. They said that Sharon and Bush want war, but that they were fighting for their freedom.
A sister comrade talked to some young women in the Old City of Nablus. The women didn't speak much English, but they huddled around wanting to talk. All of them, except for the family's daughter, wore chadors. They asked if the comrade was married. She said she wasn't married and didn't have kids. One of the women commented that it was better that way because you had more freedom. They asked her if she would want her sons to kill Israelis. She struggled to find an answer, and said she would hope her children would fight for freedom. They seemed satisfied with the answer.
We also spent some time in the nearby refugee camp of Balata. Resistance by the youth there was also strong. When we entered the camp, dozens of youth were lined up with stones trying to stop the occupiers from rolling through. During the last few days of the siege, a tank went around the camp. The Israelis in their tank shot a 13-year-old kid playing soccer, and then the cowards left. This is the reality for the youth under occupation.
In Balata, youth would rush up to talk to you. At times it was hard to communicate with them so we used a lot of hand gestures. They asked us to show thumbs up or thumbs down for Sharon, and we gave a thumbs down. They asked what we thought about Bush and we gave a thumbs down. Then they asked what we thought about Arafat. The youth were thumbs down for Arafat too, and we agreed. The youth, and a lot of Palestinians, view Arafat as someone who tries to please the Israelis more than the Palestinian people. They see him as a sell-out but also understand that even he is disliked by the Zionist fascists.
The rebellion of the Palestinian people is making things hard for the U.S. to carry out its plans in the oil-rich Middle East. The intifada inspires other people who are rising up against oppression. It can spark flames of resistance throughout this region.
Now the U.S. imperialists are preparing to go to war against Iraq. Their own Henry Kissinger has said, "The road to Jerusalem is through Baghdad." They think that conquering Iraq would demoralize the resistance in the Middle East, in particular in Palestine.
But the Palestinian people will continue to fight their righteous fight. The oppressed of the world will continue to support their struggle and take it up as their own. It's inspiring to see people who are courageously fighting off their oppressor--who is the U.S. government's right-hand don, with one of the world's strongest militaries.
The media speak of terrorism in Palestine. We saw terrorism in the West Bank firsthand--on the part of the Israeli soldiers. We saw it in the Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, M-16 rifles, hundreds of tanks, all provided and funded by the U.S. We saw it in the demolishing of homes and in the destruction of the right to human life.
The suicide bombings are happening in a situation where a whole people is driven to the edge of existence, when everything that belongs to them has been stolen, and when hundreds of their people have been murdered by the Israeli government. The real enemy of the Palestinian people is the Zionist Israeli government and their boss, the imperialist U.S. But we understand that some Palestinians are driven towards martyrdom because of the brutal oppression and occupation. The hypocrites in Israel and the U.S. have no right to speak when it comes to terrorism. Especially these motherfuckers in the U.S, who have caused so much misery around the world and whose system is founded on genocide, slavery, and white supremacy. These imperialist hypocrites are the real terrorists!
Our trip and firsthand experiences in Palestine has made more clear that wherever there is oppression there is resistance. We understand more deeply that the Palestinian people are righteously rebelling against a settler-colonial state.
All our friends who constantly get harassed by police can learn a lot from the Palestinian youth who go up against tanks, dreaming of liberation. One sure thing that we've been able to understand and sum up from our trip is that the Palestinian people and we have the same enemy--the U.S. government and its worldwide system of capitalism-imperialism.
Doing Time in the Intifada
by Joaquin Cienfuegos
February 2, 2003
Last summer I was part of a delegation to Palestine organized by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). In the months since our return from Palestine, I have watched the news and seen continued Israeli aggression against Palestinians. There hasn't been a day that I haven't thought about the people I met in Palestine and their struggle.
The ISM is made up of activists, medical students, independent journalists, and others from around the world. The ISM helps build an international movement to support the Palestinian people and to expose the Israeli government and the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF).
On August 7, 2002, nine activists from the ISM were detained by the Israeli Occupying Forces for standing with the Palestinian people. Five activists from France, one from Ireland, and three from the U.S. (Adam Shapiro, one of the ISM's main coordinators, an anti-globalization activist from Michigan, and me) were thrown into an Israeli prison.
I joined the ISM to support the Palestinian Freedom Summer. I'm a 19-year-old Chicano and live in South Central Los Angeles. What compelled me to be involved in the struggle was my life experiences. I've known nothing but oppression. I'm a child of people who were forced to come to this country from Mexico because of imperialism. When I came to learn of the Palestinian people and their struggle, I was inspired by these rebellious people who refuse to back down and to be broken in the face of their enemy. I was eager to go to Palestine to learn from the people there, support them, and bring back their voices.
Resisting the Siege of Nablus
On August 2, most of the volunteers and activists staying in the West Bank were called to the city of Nablus because it was being invaded by the Israeli Army (150 tanks and close to 1,000 soldiers). During the invasion we confronted soldiers raiding homes and stayed with families whose houses were threatened with demolition. We also distributed diapers, milk, and food for families during the complete shutdown of the city.
After the week-long siege of the city, and home after home being destroyed, Palestinian after Palestinian being arrested or killed, the people started to organize themselves in popular resistance. The Palestinian people had resisted the invasion of Nablus, but this hadn't been on a massive scale. All this was about to change.
In the nearby village of Hawara, people called for a demonstration to break the curfew in their own village. They wanted to confront the unjust Israeli military checkpoint, cross into Nablus, and meet up with more resisters within the city to continue to march. And they also wanted to speak out against the occupation of Nablus.
Hawara, which is composed mainly of farmers, had been under curfew for an entire month before. Then the curfew was lifted for a week, but during the attack on Nablus the village was shut down again.
The Palestinian way of life is based on agriculture, and Israel terrorizes this way of life by uprooting whole orchards of olive trees and imprisoning the farmers. Think of what it means when the farmers are under virtual house imprisonment or curfew. That means that they can't cultivate their land.
The farmers of Hawara were not about to put up with being locked up in their own home, and they organized this march. They called on us to join in the march. This was the first direct action taken by the internationals (the ISM activists) since Israel began the siege of Nablus.
As we crossed the checkpoint between Nablus and Hawara, we met a woman trying to cross into Hawara from Nablus. She had been trying to cross for five days already, but every time the Israelis turned her back. Her family lives in Hawara, and she had been in Nablus to visit her relatives. When the Israeli soldiers denied her entry into her village, she broke down and cried. I heard that later in the day ISM activists helped the woman cross into Hawara by confronting the soldiers.
This is daily life for the Palestinian people. Women have given birth at these checkpoints in ambulances because they are not let through, or people have been shot dead by the IOF. These checkpoints are used to carry out the oppression of the Palestinian people and occupy their land.
One time we had to hike for three hours to find some way around a checkpoint. Palestinians have to hike around checkpoints all the time to travel into other cities, and they risk getting shot by Israeli settlers. These settlers reminded me of vigilante ranchers in Arizona and Texas. The vigilante ranchers, who have ties with INS and government agents, kill immigrants who are forced out of their own country by imperialism. These immigrants come to the U.S. to work, only to die in the desert of dehydration or to be shot dead by these vigilante ranchers while trying to cross the border.
When we reached Hawara, Palestinians were already marching and chanting in Arabic. We ran to meet up with them and join their march. There were people of all ages marching, but mainly Palestinian men. The 250 Palestinians were joined by 40 internationals as we headed to Nablus.
The IOF Attacks Marchers
We hadn't even reached the checkpoint into Nablus when the march got attacked by the IOF. They refused to let people pass, calling the road a "closed military zone." They shot tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets, fired live ammunition in the air, and at one point shot into the crowd. They threw some sucker punches at some people. I inhaled some tear gas and couldn't breathe, but a Palestinian youth gave me some garlic to smell, which helped.
The IOF drove a jeep into the crowd, and the soldiers grabbed a Palestinian youth and threw him into the jeep. The soldiers were targeting the youth for arrest, but ISM activists were un-arresting them by pulling the youth away from the soldiers. Thirty Palestinians were arrested that day. An Israeli soldier later told one of the internationals, "We're attacking this march because we don't want this kind of stuff to spread throughout Palestine."
Adam Shapiro was arrested while filming the attacks by the soldiers. The IOF broke his camera when they tried to confiscate the video of the march. Members of the ISM tried to get him released by sitting and linking arms in front of the Israeli military jeep. Again the soldiers attacked the march, and the protesters moved back.
I found myself surrounded by the IOF. They grabbed me and pulled me towards a jeep; they thought that I was Palestinian. When they found out that I was an international, they told me I was going to be deported back to the U.S. They grabbed me and threw me into a jeep with my hands bonded. I was joined by Salah, an activist from Ireland, and Pierre, from France. Pierre got arrested when he tried to defend a woman from the U.S. When the Israeli soldiers tried to arrest her, Pierre jumped on top of her, and the soldiers arrested him instead.
We were shackled and chained, put in a military truck, and taken to a police station in a settlement called Arion. There we were interrogated for hours.
We found out later that when internationals were trying to fight for our release, sitting in front of the jeeps where we were held, they got attacked by some settlers. Huwaida Arraf, one of the main ISM coordinators and Adam Shapiro's wife, got pushed to the ground by a settler. These settlers are racist Zionists who are paid by the Israeli government to settle on Palestinian territory, and I was told most of these settlers are from Brooklyn. Palestinian cities are surrounded by these settlements, which are part of how Israel colonizes Palestine. Our orientation was that soldiers might hesitate to shoot internationals because that would expose their whole brutal program of Israeli occupation--but a settler would shoot you if he knew you're there to support Palestinians in any way. They feel they have the right to, since they're from the U.S.
We were then taken to the Ben-Gurion Airport to meet up with a representative of the Israeli Ministry of Interior, to be interrogated some more. We were made to sign a paper in Hebrew which was not translated for us. They said our visas were cancelled, and that made us "illegal aliens." From there we were taken to Ariel prison (located in one of the biggest Israeli settlements in the West Bank), where we spent the night. By this time the women were separated from the men.
Inside Ramle Prison
The next day we were taken to Ramle Prison in Tel Aviv, where we would stay for our last five days in occupied Palestine. The conditions in our prison were better than the prisons where Palestinians are held.
During our stay in Nablus, a Palestinian described to us his and others' experience of being arrested by the Israelis. He told us that the first day the Israelis sit you down in a small chair in an awkward angle, blindfolded and handcuffed. The next day they put you in a box that is smaller than a coffin. He said that all throughout they beat you, and if they wanted to they can just kill you. They do this for the long-term effects that this torture has on people, mentally and physically. At a house where some activists stayed, there was an old man whose mind wasn't right and who could not walk straight because of the torture he suffered at the hands of the IOF.
In our prison there were six guys to a room, and we could walk around to different rooms. We were allowed to go outside twice a day, and to buy drinks from the soda machine. Only about three times a day were we locked up in our room for about 15 minutes while the Israeli guards did a head count. The rest of the day, the rooms were open. Like prisons everywhere, there was unsanitary conditions and bad food. Most of the activists were separated in different rooms, but we visited each other throughout the day. Every room was mixed with different people from different parts of the world.
Ramle was full of people who had been caught up in the Israeli government's roundup and deportation of 50,000 "illegal" workers. Palestinians used to do all the low-paid, backbreaking work in Israel. But now that they're locked down in their own homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli government had to get immigrants from other third-world countries to come in and do the work. Then the Israeli government decided there were too many immigrant workers and began deporting them. Just like the U.S., which gets people from Mexico and Central America to come in and work in the fields and sweatshop factories--but when the workers are no longer needed, the U.S. sends them back to their countries.
On the prison walls and chairs there were pictures of a pig, which was crossed out, with a visa in his hand--a symbol of the hatred these workers felt towards the Israeli oppressors. There were also graffiti on the walls that said "Fuck Israel!" These workers came from countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Romania, Ghana, and Somalia. They told me that they had been invited to come and work by Israel, but now they were going to be put in a boat and sent back to their homes.
I met a brother from Liberia. In his country there is a civil war and he couldn't go back, but he couldn't stay in Israel because that government didn't want him. I met another brother from the Philippines, who couldn't wait to return to his home. His daughter had been writing to him that she missed him. She was scared because her mother had remarried and her husband harasses her. Then I met a Romanian, who said he was a communist and started singing the "Internationale" in his language.
I felt that I had a lot in common with the brothers in that prison, like I felt with the Palestinian people. There I was, as an "illegal," with workers from around the world who were considered "illegal" by the settler-colonial state. I thought of my parents who came from Mexico to work in the U.S. and were called "illegals," and I thought of the Palestinian people who are considered "illegal" in their own homeland. I realized how much in common we all had.
Talking to the Internationals
Being locked up for six days gave me the chance to interview some of the activists that were also arrested. Salah Afifi is half Irish and half Palestinian. He lives in Ireland and has family in Ramallah (West Bank). I asked him what he wanted the people in the U.S. to know about him, and he boldly responded, "It's not what I want them to think about me--but I'll tell you what I think about their government. The U.S. government is waging a war against the world and innocent civilian populations as a means to maintain a privileged lifestyle that 90% of the people of the world only dream of."
Salah talked about his experiences in Palestine: "I came to Palestine to support Palestinian civilian populations facing the brunt of Israeli might. As an Irish citizen, I have rights Palestinians do not have--at times walking their own streets. I was aware of these facts in Ireland and wanted to experience it first-hand to make people aware of the true situation. In my experiences so far, living in Nablus with Palestinian families whose house was under threat of demolition was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I saw them day by day live through a horrific way of life. Not knowing whether they'll have a home the next day or not... The senseless destruction of homes within the Old City of Nablus was purely an act of collective punishment without a doubt. As I followed soldiers about their daily work, I was aware of the pride and enjoyment they took in their work. I would describe them as rabid dogs let loose on defenseless people."
I also interviewed Adam Shapiro, one of the founding members of the International Solidarity Movement. He has lived in Jerusalem and Ramallah for the past three years with his wife Huwaida Arraf, the other main coordinator of the ISM. When I first met Adam I did not know that he was the Jewish student from Brooklyn. I didn't know that twice he had broken through the IOF troops surrounding Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah to stand with the Palestinians inside--or that his family was getting death threats from reactionary Zionist organizations in the U.S.
Adam told me, "I grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, across from the housing projects at a time when there was a lot of ethnic tensions around the Bernhard Goetz vigilante case [Goetz, a white man, killed a black youth in the New York City subway]. My parents taught me to treat everyone equally. I had friends from all backgrounds and we didn't see each other as being different. Since I was young in the '80s, my mother would take us to rallies for freedom in the Soviet Union, anti-nuclear war, and anti-apartheid in South Africa. I remember we wouldn't purchase Nestle because it was big in South Africa...
"I first got interested in the Middle East when I was a student in 1990. I first learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by what the mainstream media would report. After I learned from classes in school and meeting Palestinians, I found out these were all lies. During the Gulf War was when we really started to question what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East. We attended anti-war rallies and peace rallies."
The ISM is a diverse gathering of people from around the world who have many different views. Adam Shapiro explained to me what the ISM delegations have been able to accomplish: "First, it breaks the feeling of isolation that Palestinians feel and shows them that there are people who are with them and who are willing to stand up with them. Second, it shows our own governments, even though they are not taking action, that we the people will stand up for what is right and what is just and try to pressure our governments into action. Third, the people who come to Palestine take their knowledge and experience, and return home to educate others from a first-hand perspective. Fourth, in educating others about Palestine and especially because of our diversity, we can link the Palestinian struggle to other struggles. Fifth, it opens the possibilities for partnership between Palestinians and international peoples."
From Palestine to the Belly of the Beast
Everybody knows that when people are arrested during political upheavals, they're wrangling with ideas that they have. The prison is full of talk. It was no different for us. We would stay up late, play cards, and debate about different things. One of the questions that was debated was what we believe the solution to the conflict in Palestine is.
Some people believed that Israel had the right to exist. Some people said that they hoped there was a peaceful solution, but they also thought that the Palestinian people had the right to defend themselves and supported armed struggle. I believe the people in Palestine need to make a new democratic revolution in order to be free. I don't believe Israel has the right to exist because Israel stole the land from the Palestinian people, and with the aid of the imperialists they established the state of Israel. The Palestinians are fighting for their existence and liberation with stones, slingshots, molotovs, and some guns, while Israel is backed by the U.S. with $3 billion every year plus all this military aid. The U.S. is not neutral in this conflict--its money is on Israel. They need to supply Israel, because it's like an imperialist base in the Middle East.
I was in Palestine for two and a half weeks. I was in jail for six days. Our arrest was clearly an attempt by Israeli occupiers to scare international activists from going to Palestine and supporting the Palestinian people. The IOF thought they could break the ISM. They want to have Palestinians cornered and isolated, making it easier for them to terrorize them and occupy their land. But even if they imprison or deport activists, they cannot silence the truth. They cannot stop the people of the world from standing with the Palestinian people. We are now more determined to expose the brutality of the Israeli Occupying Forces.
When I returned to Los Angeles, to my neighborhood in South Central, it was a big shock for me, having seen first hand what the U.S. is doing around the world. I came back more determined to take on this government. I came back more determined to make revolution in the belly of the beast, for the people in Palestine, for the oppressed people around the world, and for the oppressed inside the U.S.
Dancing for Palestine
by Joaquin Cienfuegos
August 10, 2003
I don't know how it is to play in a playground,
but I know of all the prisons in my country.
My father was in prison,
because he had a dream to live in freedom without oppression..."
"My birthday? The 6th, 7th, 8th?
I don't remember exactly,
because I didn't celebrate my birthday.
I didn't blow out candles.
I swear I will never blow out candles,
because my brother Hassan was like a candle
Extinguished by the bullets of the occupier when he was only twelve years old."
From two poems delivered in Arabic by the IBDAA Dance Troupe at their July 3 performance in La Mirada, California
To see Palestinian youth fly across the stage in a beautiful folkloric ballet depicting the struggle, the history, and the dream of the Palestinian people was inspiring.
On July 3, 1500 people came together at La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, near Los Angeles, to experience the IBDAA Children's Dance Troupe from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. Palestinians from all over southern California came together to watch the youth perform the debkeh, a Palestinian folkloric dance, and to hear the poetry of the youth.
The IBDAA Dance Troupe recently concluded their U.S. tour, which was sponsored by the Middle Eastern Children's Alliance. This was the troupe's second trip to the U.S. Their first tour was in 1999 when they visited five cities. This time they visited 11 cities, including New York, Chicago, and L.A. The troupe has traveled to more than 13 countries around the world since they were founded in 1994.
The La Mirada performance was sponsored by the L.A. and Orange County chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The theme of the night was the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their historic homeland.
The youth of the dance troupe are united around their struggle as refugees. They aspire to let the world know of their oppression as refugees. There are millions of Palestinian refugees all around the world and within Palestine, driven out from their homes by the Zionist regime of Israel.
At the July 3 performance, Ban Al-Wardi, the president of the ADC chapter, said, "We will continue to work together as a chapter, as a community, and as a family, to ensure that the right of return for all Palestinian refugees from around the world is heard, respected, and protected." Al-Wardi is a lawyer who has been supporting people persecuted by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.
Michel Shehadeh--a Palestinian activist who has faced political persecution by the U.S. government, including being charged under the Patriot Act--introduced one of the youth from IBDAA. The youth told the audience about the fight the dance troupe had to wage to do their U.S. tour. The group did not get their visas until shortly before they were scheduled to leave for the tour. And even then, two of the main organizers of the troupe were refused visas. But the youth told the audience, "Even with all these problems we are anxious to perform for you tonight and to continue the rest of our tour with the message of Palestinian refugees, wherever they are: there is no solution without the right of return."
The event was broken into four main performances that spoke to particular struggles within the overall fight for Palestinian liberation. The first scene, "Al-Matakal" ("Political Prisoners"), was a theatrical piece about the experience of the Palestinian people in Israeli prisons. An Israeli soldier blindfolds the prisoners, ties their hands, shoves them on the ground, beats them, and then walks off the stage arrogantly. This skit was emotional, and it sent chills down my spine. A very powerful moment was when a child from the troupe sang in a strong voice in Arabic, "My friend left and came back in a coffin."
"Al-Waseeya" ("The Will") told the story of Palestinian farmers and village life before 1948, when the UN came and divided the land between the Palestinian people, who had lived there for hundreds of years, and the Zionist occupiers. The scene showed what type of relationship the Palestinian people had with the land and how the people were determined to resist various occupiers--from the Ottoman Empire, to the British, and to the current Israeli/U.S. occupation. The youth danced in circles in motions depicting the tilling of the land, accompanied by words and music of traditional Palestinian folk songs: "No matter how hard they'll try to bring us down, we're always going to rise."
The third performance was a dance of the struggle of Palestinian refugees, dispossessed of their land.
The final dance ended with support for the intifada (Palestinian uprising), with the youth chanting about how beautiful freedom would be. In the scene, the dancers raised their fists while the Palestinian national anthem, "My Homeland," played in the background. When the Palestinian national flag was brought on stage, the whole crowd went on their feet to cheer and chant, and some even broke into tears.
To Create Something Out of Nothing
" There are now three generations for the dancing troupe. Generation after generation, we carried the message of the refugees and all Palestinian people, of their dreams to return back to their homeland. The second generation is performing here tonight, while in Bethlehem, the third generation is dancing too."
IBDAA Dance Troupe organizer at La Mirada Theater, July 3
The IBDAA Dance Troupe was founded in 1994, in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The dance troupe is made up of 18 youth, men and women, and their ages range from 15 to 19. They have expanded from performing in their schoolyard to traveling around the world--from Arab nations to Europe and the United States.
The Arabic word ibdaa means "to create something out of nothing." The dance troupe performs dances that speak to the Palestinian people's struggle against oppression, their history, and their hopes of returning to their homeland. They combine a traditional Palestinian dance called debkehh with theater.
After the troupe's performance at the La Mirada Theater, I had a chance to talk to two 17-year-old performers, Zeid and Iman. They told me they're not dancing for themselves but for the Dheisheh refugee camp and for the Palestinian cause.
When I asked them why they chose dance to convey their message, they told me: "There are many ways to get a message across. We are using dance because it's Palestinian tradition. These are the same clothes that our grandfathers used... This is part of our culture."
In a documentary about the dance troupe, Children of IBDAA: To Create Something Out of Nothing,by S. Smith Patrick, one of the members talks about her dancing: "When I'm dancing, I feel that I'm expressing the meaning of Palestine. It expresses what it means to be a Palestinian farmer, and what is the Palestinian dress."
The dance troupe is a project of the IBDAA Cultural Center, which provides artistic and cultural activities to the youth in Dheisheh. The center tries to "create something out of nothing." In the refugee camp where the youth grow up with nothing, the cultural center brings culture, art, and education to over 1500 youth in the camp and provides jobs for 60 families.
The center's program includes a nursery, kindergarten, children's library, computer and Internet centers, women's cooperative, and music courses, among other things. The Zionist occupiers want to take even this center away from the people in the camp. They've attacked the cultural center, smashing their computers and destroying their art and culture. The troupe's U.S. tour is a fundraiser for the IBDAA Cultural Center.
In addition to their beautiful and breathtaking performances, one of the things that's inspiring about IBDAA is their life struggle. They have nothing--yet they create art and culture for the people of the world and the Dheisheh refugee camp. They resist through their movements, telling people of their daily struggle as Palestinians.
Dheisheh Refugee Camp
by Joaquin Cienfuegos
August 10, 2003
In the opening to the film Children of IBDAA: To Create Something Out of Nothing,a Palestinian girl returns to the village where her family used to live before they were forced to leave and become refugees by the Israeli occupiers. She says:
" It's a great thing. Spectacular. I can't express it with words. I can express it only through the beating of my heart at this moment. When I first entered this village I felt that she greeted me. With a face that is both smiling and crying. Smiling why? Because the village embraced her children in her lap. Finally she saw us, and we saw her. She was crying because these few hours were going to pass by quickly. And we will return to our reality as refugees."
The Dheisheh Refugee Camp was started in 1949. Today it has 11,000 inhabitants.
The youth in the camp live a destitute life. One youth described the camp: "There's no place for kids to play, no place for gardens. No place for a person to live like the rest of the world."
At the time of the creation of the refugee camp, the state of Israel was being created, with the backing of the imperialists. More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland. At that time the refugee camps were just tents. Today, Dheisheh is made up of people from 45 villages.
Since the creation of Dheisheh, people have resisted occupation. In 1995, the Israeli army withdrew from the camp itself--and built a barbed wire fence that now surrounds the camp. The refugees have clashed with the occupiers in the alleyways of the camp. The Israelis have massacred people, injured hundreds, and put many more in prison. In the current intifada, the Dheisheh refugee camp continues to be invaded and attacked by the occupying forces of Israel.
Some people in Dheisheh still have keys to their old homes in occupied Palestine, now under Israeli rule. They pass down these keys from generation to generation, hoping that one day the Palestinian people will be able to return to their homes.