This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
Palestinians reclaim their heritage in the ancient village of Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank: Patrick O. Strickland reports. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Scarlett Johansson, Oxfam, the Super Bowl and SodaStream: Ramah Kudaimi of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation on how the boycott campaign made international headlines this past week. Read transcript and listen to individual segment
Music by Jasiri X: “Checkpoint”
The Electronic Intifada podcast is available on iTunes! Click here to view the podcast archive, or subscribe via the iTunes interface (search for The Electronic Intifada).
Listen to the entire Electronic Intifada podcast:
By Patrick O. Strickland. Read his latest report here.
Hundreds of Palestinian activists gathered in the Jordan Valley on Friday, January 31. They set up tents and camp areas among the ruins of Ein Hijleh, a historic village.
Since Friday, participants have continued to come from across occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, as well as present-day Israel. With the protest village they declared a new campaign — Milh al-Ard, or “Salt of the Earth.”
Within hours, Ein Hijleh was surrounded by Israeli military jeeps and soldiers.
Diana Alzeer is spokesperson of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. She spoke with The Electronic Intifada on Friday night.
This action is taking place against the negotiation process that’s taking place … And Kerry’s plan as well because it’s basically aiming to establish a Palestinian state that is completely disfigured and that will also exclude the Jordan Valley. And this is something that we completely refuse.
The Israeli government has repeatedly insisted that the Jordan Valley will be annexed in any potential two-state solution. The area is home to nearly 10,000 Israeli settlers who live in Jewish-only colonies.
Yet an estimated 80,000 indigenous Palestinians live in dozens of communities across the Jordan Valley. For the time being, Israeli authorities continue to confiscate their land. Their homes are demolished and they are left displaced.
Bassem al-Tamimi is a prominent activist from Nabi Saleh. After being imprisoned by Israel for stone-throwing, he was designated a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International. He sat down with The Electronic Intifada and explained why Nabi Saleh brought over 40 persons to Ein Hijleh.
Our whole families came, including our wives and children because we cannot be truly liberated from the occupation if they do not struggle alongside us.
By Sunday, Israeli forces were reportedly preventing journalists and activists from entering Ein Hijleh. Soldiers had closed Route 90, the main path to the area. But activists came prepared. They brought electricity generators, food, water and camping supplies.
Many were sleeping in the ruins of the historic homes. Others brought tents. They began to renovate the area as part of an effort to rebuild the village.
Ein Hijleh is only the latest of several protest villages over the last year. Last January, activists declared the village of Bab al-Shams. They set up tents in the E1 area between occupied Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim. Within 48 hours, the Israeli military had attacked and evicted the campers.
Palestinian politician and activist Mustafa Barghouti spoke to The Electronic Intifada:
We think the negotiations are being used by Israel as a cover for their expansionist policies. And we believe that change can happen only by changing the balance of power through popular resistance – acts like this one – and through boycott, divestment [and] sanctions worldwide. We think the combination of popular resistance and BDS can make the difference.
Ein Hijleh is situated on land belonging to the Orthodox Christian Church. On Saturday, Israeli soldiers came and demanded proof of permission for the protesters to be on the land. Despite a heavy cold front, hundreds were still present on Sunday night.
This is about rebuilding the spirit of popular resistance in Palestine.
And in that spirit, campers have vowed to stay on the land no matter what. Reporting from the occupied West Bank, this is Patrick O. Strickland.
Ramah Kudaimi: I think, like you mentioned, the message has been made clear: That you cannot be for fighting against injustice and fighting against poverty while at the same time using your celebrity to whitewash Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
And the fact that this resignation by Scarlett Johansson has been picked up by media all across the globe, and the fact that more and more people are writing stories about SodaStream that include the fact that their factory is based in an illegal West Bank settlement is a great victory to continue building up boycott SodaStream campaigns all across the globe.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Ramah, as you said, the media coverage of this story was just unbelievable. Can you talk about how surprising it was as BDS campaigners, as members of the US Campaign, to see this much attention being shed on SodaStream’s illegal practices, even if it was just by proxy because of the story itself?
RK: I mean, we have to thank Scarlett for lending us her celebrity status for that, for choosing — she’s a very famous actress and very well-known across the globe both for her acting as well as her humanitarian work, so that definitely helped a lot. I think what was really surprising was seeing the more mainstream media really focus on it, and even come out and say things like “Scarlett should not have done that.” So we had pieces in Bloomberg, a piece in the Financial Times, a piece in the Economist that all said Scarlett Johansson should not be using her celebrity to endorse a product that is from a settlement factory.
And I think that that’s a big breakthrough, in that people, even these mainstream media outlets, are recognizing that the settlements are wrong, and we just hope that’s just the first step toward recognizing the greater Israeli oppression that goes beyond just occupation but includes apartheid, includes colonization, includes the denial of the right of return.
NBF: Ramah, there was widespread criticism, including by Oxfam’s own Palestinian staff, about the charity’s mishandling of the entire affair. Can you talk about that?
RK: Yeah. Oxfam unfortunately took a long time to respond to a lot of the requests that activists across the globe were making; and more specifically, their Palestinian partners on the ground. And it was baffling, sometimes, the messages that they were putting out there. At one point, someone from Oxfam America’s office told Robert Mackey at The Lede that “we didn’t even talk about her ending her deal with SodaStream.” So, that’s baffling — if you were so against settlements and not even bring that issue up to her, what are you then dialoging about? That was at the time when they said they were in discussions back and forth and dealing with the issue.
There was also the whole fiasco with [Oxfam] having a Thunderclap Twitter campaign around Pepsi and the whole messaging was “[what is] Pepsi’s role in land grabs and kicking people off their lands,” and it was just an alternative universe they were operating within. It was like, are you serious, you’re going to be calling out Pepsi? Which they deserve to be called out on, I’m not saying not to call them out — but while your own ambassador is also suppporting another company, SodaStream, that also supports people getting kicked off their land …
I feel like in the end, thankfully, she did resign, and thankfully Oxfam did put out a statement reiterating very strongly their opposition to all trade with Israeli settlements and reiterating the fact that they believe settlements are illegal under international law. So we’re glad that did happen, but unfortunately it took a while for them to get their act together.
NBF: And on Sunday of course, the Sodastream ad aired during the SuperBowl, after weeks and weeks of this campaign and there was a massive twitter campaign by dozens of activism coalitions around the country before, during and after it aired. How has this campaign changed the way people think about SodaStream, and what’s next for this campaign?
RK: I think the fact that all this bad media attention got to SodaStream is going to make it easier for groups who are working on boycott SodaStream campaigns to get some real wins — convince local store-owners to stop stocking the product, convince consumers to stop buying it. You can’t really go into a store now and ask the store owner to stop it, and the owner can’t really reply back, “oh we had no idea.” Because the news is out there, it’s all made very clear.
And so hopefully this will really help campaigns across the globe and take the next step, and really push for “we really want to boycott this [product].” And also, I think with all BDS campaigns, whether it’s SodaStream, whether it’s Veolia campaigns, campus divestment campaigns, it’s becoming more mainstream what BDS is. And people are understanding it and understanding that “well, you talk about peace and negotiations, and that hasn’t gone anywhere in 20 years, and yet this one BDS campaign has brought so much media attention, and has got more and more people educated about Palestinian rights, has got more and more people dedicated to doing my small part.”
That should make people understand that what’s needed is more of that grassroots activism and not more of the same “let’s negotiate between Israel and the PA, and the United States as an honest broker, supposedly.”
NBF: Well, Ramah, if people are inspired by this latest campaign against SodaStream, how can people learn more about it and where can people go to get in touch with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation?
RK: We have about 40 to 50 member groups who are working on SodaStream campaigns across the country so we would love to have more organizers join these campaigns, start their own in their own city.
You can go to our website, endtheoccupation.org/SodaStream, you’ll find so many resources, from videos to flashmobs, to lots of graphics — we saw the amazing graphics that activists put together, that really helped, I think, the story even get more mainstream attraction. So go to our website, get in touch with us, if there’s a local campaign in your city you can join or even start your own.
Dream Hampton: Well, I had always wanted to go to Palestine. I don’t even want to say I’ve been a supporter or an ally but I have for a long time tried to support efforts to tell the truth about what’s going on in occupied Palestine, in ‘48 [present-day Israel] as well as the West Bank; particularly Gaza, when the intifada happened, the second one, the more recent one, and what happened in Jenin — the massacre in Jenin happened — I organized a fundraiser in New York with Mos Def and Talib Kweli to raise money for the victims of Jenin.
So I have always wanted to actually go to Palestine, but I always wanted to do it in the right way. I know people who go — I have a friend, I guess he’s a friend, during one of the recent flotilla episodes, he was tweeting about being on some beach in Tel Aviv, drinking a margarita. It was so offensive. And he’s a Black person from America. So I’ve always wanted to go in a way where I wasn’t spending money with Israel, because way before any call to boycott Israel I’ve been boycotting Israel for decades. So I never want to spend money — I wanted to go on a trip that was organized around staying in Palestine — what’s still called Palestine, or the Palestinian territories, and spending my money with Palestinian-owned hotels.
I think that we 75 percent did that. Though it was really strange — our hotel, I should put them on blast, in Ramallah, it was Palestinian-owned and they had settler soap. I couldn’t believe it. So we absolutely brought it up to management, but I wanted to go on that kind of trip.
So this one came up, because it’s actually difficult to get Americans to go on a trip like this because of the repercussions, and they’re real. There were all these empty seats that kept coming up, so I was actually able to invite four of the delegates myself. So that was good.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Talk about the first few days when you were there, and what made an impression on you the most.
DH: I think that I thought that there was a wall. I did not know that there were hundreds of walls. And I knew, I was prepared to see all kinds of devastation — not only devastation, I know that people in Palestine are living and working and resisting by continuing to live and to cook amazing food — all of our lunches on this trip were prepared in peoples’ homes, so we just had some of the best food. I wasn’t prepared for that and I was really glad that the people who organized our trip made it that way.
But I wasn’t prepared for the devastation to the land. And I never want to be one of those people who puts the environment first, I mean obviously the environment is first before anything, but I know that that’s a very kind of liberal cliché — to want to hug the trees but not the people who have relationships with the land that the trees are on. So speaking of trees — and I’ve seen it of course in films, like Five Broken Cameras, and on film I’ve seen the devastation and the killing, and the uprooting of the olive trees. But to see it in real life — it really brought tears to my eyes.
We talked with a lot of farmers who were separated from their land, it was a theme amongst almost every Palestinian who we came across, even people who were in the camps — who of course had some former relationship with the farm or the land. And not to romanticize Palestinians, I’m sure there are all kinds of Palestinians. But I didn’t expect, given what we see in the large mainstream media — first of all, I knew land is the central organizing issue. The central issue around this struggle. But I didn’t expect to meet so many farmers! I didn’t expect for it to be such a rural kind of community and country and people who have these deep relationships to farming.
And so we met a lot of people who framed their struggle as agro-resistance, and I just thought that that was brilliant.
NBF: Dream, as you mentioned, you visited refugee camps, villages whose lands were being confiscated, cities where settlers are roaming around with automatic weapons, the wall, as you said; what kinds of discussions were happening amongst the group in trying to make sense of this reality for Palestinians under this military occupation and settler-colonialist system, especially in terms of how to take this information back to the US, and what to do with it as activists in your capacity?
DH: There was absolutely no mandate on the part of the Carter Center — I think that it’s enough for them, and they’re the ones who organized this trip — the Carter Center of course, is the Jimmy Carter Center, they’re the ones who sponsored the trip. So there’s no — they almost don’t have to have an agenda. They just take you through the other side, the side that tourists who are coming to see the Holy Land or hang out in clubs in Tel Aviv, they take you to the other side of that. There doesn’t even need to be much commentary.
I mean, early on, we got a couple of things pointed out to us that made all the difference in terms of opening my eyes. One of them was a way to distinguish homes that were owned, but occupied by settlers, and those that were Palestinian homes. I mean one easy way was that particularly these new settlements, not just these homes that occupiers straight up steal from Palestinians — and we did meet a man like that, I’d like to tell his story in a second. But one way was that they looked very eastern European, they looked like the homes you’d see in the Soviet Union — these concrete blocks of non-descript apartment buildings that were sitting on top of shaved hilltops.
And the Palestinian homes obviously look much older. But the Palestinian homes all had water tanks on them, because Israel is refusing them water. So that, to me, was incredibly profound. And of course, when you looked closer at these water tanks, the majority, as in 90 percent that I actually looked at closely, had bullet holes in them also, that the settlers had shot through, trying to sabotage their efforts to collect rainwater. Which I thought to be incredibly inhumane and never talked about.
But just that one way of being able to identify settler homes from Palestinian homes, was incredibly deep and I would have missed it had someone not pointed it out to me. So maybe it is possible that these people are visiting the Holy Land or in Tel Aviv and not seeing what there is to see, because sometimes it’s incredibly subtle.
Other times, the 150 checkpoints, the militarization of the land, of the culture, in terms of the wall, the barbed wire — I was also shocked at how often I saw … what in Hollywood films if you showed it to me, I would have immediately said, “that’s a concentration camp.” So it was shocking to me to see how often — and I don’t mean to use that language in some type of hyperbolic way, about “the Jews are recreating the Holocaust experience” — I don’t think that’s useful language. But I’m saying that if you took a photograph of some of the walls and the barbed wire and the checkpoints, I would think that you were showing me one of the two or three dozen Hollywood movies that I’ve seen set in a concentration camp.
So that was shocking. The other thing that I needed to be pointed out to me, and I still don’t think I comprehend it because it’s so opaque and oblique and meant to confuse and humiliate and keep people trapped are the passes. The idea which is why we make these clear analogies to apartheid — the passes that Palestinians need to travel a few meters. It’s really confusing, it’s very complicated to meet a Palestinian born in ‘48, who has a certain kind of paper different than someone in Ramallah, different than someone in Bethlehem. So we met with the Love Under Apartheid people, and they are doing that important work, attacking that system of apartheid and these papers through the lens of love and intimate relationships. And how people who fall in love and get married from different areas aren’t permitted to see one another. We met a wife who hadn’t seen her husband in eight years. Because she didn’t have her permit.
NBF: Robyn Spencer wrote this very detailed post on the Black on Palestine tumblr page about what happened upon trying to leave Palestine through the Tel Aviv airport. She writes, “Not only is my luggage a potential threat, but my mind is an even greater one. Knowledge is power, a free thinking mind is a potential explosive and a critical perspective is a weapon. When leaving a country feels like a jail break and when government officials try to unpack every possible independent and critical thought from your head through intimidation and inquisition, it is hard to draw any other conclusion.” Can you talk about what it was like entering and leaving, and the deliberate intention, maybe, of this racist policy of searching anyone of color at the airport?
DH: That’s another thing that I don’t think that I anticipated. I mean, again, having grown up in America, where the publicity of the state of Israel is “democratic,” and this plural society, I wasn’t prepared for the white supremacy. I wasn’t prepared for the highly-stratified, Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews at the bottom of that. So the race thing — because the Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian thing becomes a racial thing.
Of course while we were there, the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees began staging huge strikes and marches in Tel Aviv. And we weren’t in Tel Aviv but that was happening when we were in the country. Going and leaving, I mean we were prepared for it, we knew that we weren’t going to be treated like Palestinians, which is the worst thing you can be treated like, but we were told about the 1-6 [sticker codes], 1 being the sticker that they put on your passport if you’re clearly wearing a yarmulke, you just walk through the airport like it’s LAX. And 6 being what every Palestinian apparently gets on their passport. Where you have to have a cavity inspection. All my Palestinian friends, those who live in America, were born in America, and those who live in Palestine, told me they’ve never made it through the airport in less than three hours, and that’s with a light questioning.
We had fives. And that could have only been because we are Black. I’m going to assume that we’re not important enough to be on the [Israeli army’s] radar. So I don’t think that I’m so important that they were looking for us to leave the country. I think that we got what probably every person of color gets, which is they suspect you of being an ally to other oppressed people, and they’re right.
The questions were absurd: Did I see any Arabs? Even in the language, there is this way of denying Palestinians their existence. I could, if I wanted to complicate my exit, have said “no, I saw Palestinians,” because of course calling Palestinians “Arabs” is a way to strip them of their relationship physically and historically to that land.
So it was a lot less than what actual Palestinians get, but far worse than had I been wearing a yarmulke.
NBF: Now that you’re home, how have you been reflecting on your trip, what kinds of connections have you been drawing to the work you do in Detroit, and to the work that needs to be done in the broader sense, in terms of challenging and dismantling the different structures of settler-colonialism, apartheid, white supremacy, classism, et cetera, et cetera?
DH: I’ve definitely been thinking of creative ways to support the BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — obviously the ASA [American Studies Association], which I’m not a part of, I’m not an academic but they’ve been coming out the strongest on this and getting the most blowback, I actually have a piece in The Nation open right now by the woman who started this ridiculous fight between feminists yesterday — she wrote an article about New York’s outrageous attempt to ban academic BDS, which has really been in-freaking-credible. That the lawmakers in New York, the speaker of the House in New York, is trying to get involved in this kind of action — it’s really basically to recount the story.
I don’t feel like I’m some expert because I went and spent seven days in Palestine, but I would like to deepen any kind of relationships that we can have across borders. I’m always interested in that. I’m interested in trying to complicate the notion of what it means to be an ally. To explore possibilities to be actual co-resisters. So some of that work is personal for me, and it just continues the work that I’m doing, whether I’m making a film about transgender justice workers, or whether I’m supporting migrants’ rights across borders, here in the US.
So I’d like to deepen those relationships and ask critical questions. We’ve been posing the question of anti-Black Arab racism for a long time, when we talk about BDS, I got accused of being transactional in that internationalism, but I asked them what it would look like for them to release a statement on, say, Sudan. Because that occupation was brutal, and continues to be complicated in very serious ways. So I’m interested in exploring those intersections further and seeing how we can all deepen our work.