Strange birds above Abu Dis

It is a disturbing indication of my acclimation to the militarization of everyday life here that when a group of Apache helicopters began bearing down overhead in a closed village where no one is allowed to be on the streets, what first came to my mind were Lauri Anderson lyrics and second, whether there are batteries in my camera. Then, of course, the fact that i may soon be under aerial rocket attack establishes itself as a reality and yet, something about the obscenity of it all and knowing that this is hardly surprising to the people we are interviewing, seems to block any sense of real fear.

Fortunately, they did not bombard us and the journalists I was translating for agreed we should continue on into the center of the town. About an hour later I received my second dose of teargas within 12 hours, having been at the access road to another closed village in East Jerusalem in the middle of the night, where some inexperienced soldiers quickly reached their limits in a relatively non-aggressive confrontation by Palestinians who had been waiting for over 14 hours to get to their homes.

The situation in East Jerusalem is becoming quite tense. The invasion in Abu Dis, the 400 year old hilltop village I was in this afternoon, is part of a broader strategy to bring the war here into everybody’s holy city, while across the Green Line, Israelis were treated to fireworks and concerts in commemoration of their Independence Day. Sharon may be flaunting plans for withdrawal to the international media hungry for “the latest developments,” however the reality here is clearly not withdrawal but rather, a rearrangment of where the tanks and gunmen are located.

As the blockaded workers last night sarcastically pointed out, their village, `Isawiya, is now Camp `Isawiya, in the tradition of Israeli forces rustling 10,000 people out of their homes like cattle, under the guise of searching for one lone “terrorist” while media and human rights workers are prevented entry as the soldiers loot and bulldoze.

Similar to the well-known analogy of a frog put in a pan of cold water who then acclimates to being heated to the boiling point, one comes to consider curfews and closures as mild if not inconsequential, since in Jenin the people were massacred and in Nablus and other places, they are still being strafed by F-16s. I defy any American or European to gladly accept not being able to walk down the street for four or more days at a time, to feel bullets whiz overhead when the curfew is lifted and accept deprivations of water and electricity at the will of some occupying power. As a military megalomaniac, Sharon has been able to use the most extreme forms of violence being inflicted on people here as something of a distraction to the equally humiliating, calculated and insidious forms of violence which continue to be widespread throught Palestinian lands. Schools are closed, business are shut down, taxi drivers are arrested for driving medical workers to the hospitals, and everyone is confronted with some level of repression and harrassment more or less continuously, and thus it is no wonder that tonight, as I was walking in the Old City, one of the streets was blocked off as the soldiers investigated a bomb that had been placed in a plastic bag outside the Prime Minister’s residence here.

A lot of journalists and international solidarity folks have been focusing on Jenin, and since I have still not been able to get into the camp myself, I will take this opportunity to elaborate on another aspect of what has happened there: the detention of men from Jenin Camp and the creation by the Israelis of a new generation of refugees. Apparently when the IDF first entered Jenin Camp, they focused on arresting males of all ages except the very young, did hideous things to them in situ and then put them in a detention center in Saalem, which is a checkpoint on the Green Line along the northern boundary of the West Bank (very close to Megiddo, for those familiar with the geography).

People are being held there for varying lengths of time, interrogated by the IDF, the Shin Bet and perhaps Mossad (this was not entirely clear), kept outside in a cage, blindfolded and handcuffed, stripped of their clothing and given aluminum foil to use as “blankets” on a bare stone surface. They are being released with polaroid mugshots of themselves, neatly labeled, thanks to Microsoft, to indicate they have already been processed, in the event they are picked up again. The military drops them outside one of a handful of villages in the larger governate of Jenin with strict instructions that they are not allowed to leave that village.

The number of refugees being created in this way numbers in the hundreds, and my guess is that now it is well over 1000. Neither the UN nor the Red Cross has come in to provide any type of assistance to these people, they have no idea what has happened to their families in the Camp and the local villages are hardly able to provide for them.

A great deal of information passes my way just by virtue of being here and getting first-hand reports from journalists and non-press credentialed activists who manage to get into different areas as well as get turned away. The difference between these accounts and what I manage to read in the news is striking. Because of the “bank holiday” today, the Erez crossing into Gaza was closed, but in all likelihood I will go to Gaza this weekend to bring some medical supplies and also see firsthand what is going on there.

Friends in Deheisha could see the fire from the Church of Nativity last night, and today a journalist who managed to make it to Manger Square reported no activity whatsoever. But the army stopped him twice and on the second encounter, took the film out of his camera. So I will end this will a cautionary note to treat what mainstream news does get published or televised with a healthy dose of doubt, as the military continues to effectively control a great deal of what is actually presented through the media to the public.

Tomorrow there is to be an international march to the Church of Nativity, so stay tuned for more reports of vapor control and other forms of attacks against nonviolent civilians. I am begining to see these street engagements as a sort of passion play for the 21st century, and continue to feel hopeful that the savior which they are giving birth to is a liberation from the collective insanity being acted out here, made in america as I was reminded of today by the strange, whirling black birds that filled the sky above Abu Dis.