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Working for Peace in Palestine

by Kate Raphael

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Kate Raphael is part of the International Women's Peace Service delegation to Palestine. Their efforts to establish an ongoing peace house in Hares have been covered in recent issues of RQ. This account traces a day in occupied Palestine.

Yesterday, I learned the words for rock (zachra) and stone (hajr). Naturally, I learned them from the 14-year-old boys in Jayyous. They taught me the word for "throw" as well, but I don't remember it.

The people in the village were very upset after last Friday's action, when 10 internationals (we have decided that Israelis in Palestine count as internationals) were arrested, so it took them a while to decide what to do next. They do not want more arrests, but the work on "the Wall" continues to cut through their land, their greenhouses, the trees and their wells. They decided they want to do regular Friday actions, blocking the bulldozers in the morning and staying on the land through midday prayers. Since Friday is a half day for Israeli workers, this would mean that the contractor could not work on the site that day.

Knowing that we had a small group of internationals, Patrick and I tried valiantly during the week to find Israelis to commit to the action, but we were not successful. In lieu, I convinced my IWPS teammates Dorothe and Mariam to come with me. The three of us brought the international number to around 20. We got up at 5:30 and rode to Funduq with the Flying Mohammad, our favorite cab driver. We had a lot of trouble getting someone to take us from Funduq to Jayyous, but eventually found a service driver who agreed to go to Jayyous after dropping people in Tulkarem. We were worried about that, because on the map Tulkarem doesn't look so close to Jayyous, but as I've previously learned, Palestinian maps can be deceiving (worth remembering, once again, that the whole country is smaller than New Jersey). Plus, as usual, saying you're going to Tulkarem actually means that you're going to the roadblock two towns before Tulkarem.

We arrived only a few minutes after 7:00, when we were supposed to be there. Just as we were entering the town, Patrick called and told me curfew had been re-imposed and there was a woman nearby who needed to be escorted to the site. We found her, but she wouldn't come with us, even after Patrick talked to her on the phone in Arabic. Seems to have been some misunderstanding.

When we got to the roadblock the kids had made out of boulders and junk from the side of the road, a feeble but charming effort to keep the Army jeeps out of their neighborhoods, we got out of the cab and a group of boys took charge of us, escorting us to the demonstration site.

The turnout was much smaller than last week, partly because the military was in town enforcing curfew, which they had not been while I was there before. According to people who stayed in the village, they lifted curfew one minute, then reimposed it the next, firing off tear gas and rubber bullets to let people know about the change of plans. We formed our blockade with about 60 people, nearly half of them children, the rest Palestinian women and internationals. The jeep arrived with the bulldozer and the digger, and the soldiers came on foot to talk to us. The unit commander, who couldn't have been more than 20, walked straight to Pat and Abu A., the negotiators. I wondered how he knew who to talk to, if it was just because they were in the middle, or if he knew them.

He was perhaps the whiniest soldier I've ever heard. "I don't like this, believe me," he told them. "What can I do?" That was a refrain throughout the morning. He said he'd give us "five minutes to decide." He didn't say to decide what, presumably leave or be tear-gassed. When he came back, he offered a compromise: the bulldozer would work in the area below us, where it already was, and we could stay on the land until prayers, "but don't do any trouble." Abu accepted, which seemed fine because obviously the bulldozer was where it was.

The international organizers had worked with the kids during the week to figure out some fun stuff to fill the morning, in the hopes that they wouldn't throw stones. There were colored balloons, and the kids played football (soccer) in the space between the jeep and our line. At first the soldiers seemed to find that amusing. When the football rolled between the wheels of the jeep, one of them kicked it loose. Suddenly, though, the commander started running toward us. He had decided the kids couldn't play in that area; he wanted them behind the line. The older ones drifted to the side to gather stones.

Kids tossed balloons into the open area and they floated toward the soldiers. One of the soldiers picked one up and it popped. Everyone laughed. But one young boy wanted to go give them another one. He was terrified, but approached the commander. The little boy soberly handed the soldier a pink balloon, and the soldier took it and put it in the jeep.

The kids began some rousing chants, and I thought it might make a nice background for a report on KPFA, so I tried to call and leave a message for one of the producers, except the phone extensions I had were all wrong. While I was staring at my phone for help, the MPs started charging the crowd, attaempting to arrest someone. I and the other internationals threw ourselves between them and the Palestinians, mostly kids, whom they were trying to grab. The commander stopped and loaded his rifle. Later he said he did that because everyone was crowding around him, but of course everyone was crowding around him because he was trying to pull someone out of a crowd. I find that occupation has a circular logic all its own.

Our response was not well planned or well executed, but they didn't get the guy they wanted. When things had calmed down, Pat went to talk to the soldiers. "What can I do?" the commander asked. "I'm a good guy, believe me. See how patient I am? When he gave me the balloon, I took it. You're not supposed to be here, believe me. This is a closed military area. I don't care about that. But how can I take that? What can I do?" The "that," according to Pat, that he couldn't take was not a rock but an insult thrown at him.

At some point, the soldiers came and said that the digger wanted to go through our line, to replant some trees which had previously been uprooted. The man whose land the trees were from was in the cab of the digger. If we allowed it through, we could stay on the land to pray. We felt it might be a trick, but eventually the Palestinian negotiator said yes. The line dissolved, and the digger went through followed by the jeep. After that, there was no need to stand in a line any more so we just milled around.

The boys started looking for other forms of amusement, and one of the most popular was teaching us Arabic. A crowd of them approached me and somewhat shyly asked my name. I told them, then asked theirs. They spoke English quite well, and we started trading Arabic words for English ones. They were excellent teachers, and I learned a lot — nose, eye, hand, finger (which I don't remember), teeth, teacher, and of course, rock, stone and throw. They led me to a distant rock and told me to sit in the shade and rest. They taught me the word for "tired," which I immediately forgot. We talked a bit more. Then they said I should come with them, they were going to throw stones at the jeep. "Don't you think that will make problems for you?" I asked. "No, we always get away." From what I heard, there have been small battles in town every day this week, the boys throwing stones at the jeeps, which in turn throw tear gas and shoot rubber bullets at them. A boy was injured by rubber bullets on Thursday, according to internationals. "Well I'm not going," I said. "I don't think it's a good idea."

They were not angry. I had made my choice, they had made theirs. They would throw stones without the fragile protection of my presence. As internationals, we discussed what our response would be and decided that we would neither intervene to protect the Army nor the kids, though some of us felt we should stay in the area in case the violence from the Army escalated beyond what was normal and expected. When the prayers were over, we all tried to urge people out of the area. The boys massed, readying their slingshots. They were between 8 and 15. I was moving away with the others when I saw that Mariam and Dorothe were standing in the middle, taking notes. I went to stand with them, not sure it was a great idea but willing to see what would happen.

The bulldozer rumbled down the hill, through with its work for the day. The jeep sat still, seemingly taunting the boys to throw their stones. They did. A private security truck joined the jeep. Four men fired off four different weapons. One fired blanks, one rubber bullets, one seemed to have tear gas, but I didn't smell it. The kids didn't hit anything, and neither did the soldiers. For the thousandth time since I've been in this country, I saw that if the soldiers didn't hang around the villages, the kids would have nothing to throw stones at. But of course, the soldiers are kids, too, and they all need their adrenaline/testosterone rush.

This battle was quite short. When it was over, and the jeep was driving out, the whiny commander stopped to talk to JD, a videographer who hangs out with ISM and has spent most of the last week driving back and forth between Ramla Prison, Tel Aviv airport, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"You see?" the soldier demanded. "Tell me why."

"You know perfectly well why," I said. "The occupation." I was shocked by the level of hostility in my voice. It had come from deep inside, quite unexpectedly, and I couldn't control it.

JD was angry too, at me. "This isn't the time, Kate," he barked.

"It's always the time," Mariam said.

"What can I do?" the soldier asked as he drove away.

Kate Raphael is part of the International Women's Peace Service delegation to Palestine. Their efforts to establish an ongoing peace house in Hares have been covered in recent issues of RQ. This account traces a day in occupied Palestine. For more information and further reports on IWPS in Hares and other parts of our region, visit