After stupidly missing my morning flight to Tel Aviv on Thursday, I had to get the evening one instead. Arriving Friday morning after a comfortable flight (on which I had been upgraded to business class) I was lucky enough to happen upon another ISMer in the shared taxi to Jerusalem, although this only dawned on the both of us when we both ended up going to the same place where we were meant to make contact with the ISM.
The trip from the airport to Jerusalem and then the taxi to the training in Ramallah was an enlightening experience in itself. We had no trouble at the Qalandiya checkpoint outside of Ramallah this time. The contrast between the sights on the road trip to Jerusalem and the road trip to Ramallah is striking. The poverty in the West bank compared to (for example) the conservative religious Jewish communities in West Jerusalem is self-evident. There are buildings that are modern and wealthy looking, though these seemed to be mostly government buildings. By and large though, even the relatively prosperous (in West Bank terms) city of Ramallah is very run down – the lack of investment and the presence of poverty was clear even on first impressions.
ISM makes the training a requirement of joining them. The two day session was very useful and covered a lot of practical stuff that we did not go through in the London training. Also, I discovered that most of the other internationals were not lucky enough to have gone through training in their respective countries ? so I was even more grateful to ISM London for all the excellent work they put in. There was a lot of very useful information updating us on the current situation on the ground. The training itself was carried out by Palestinian, Israeli and American activists. Afterwards, we were taken back to Jerusalem to regroup and to decide on our plan of action for the next day. On our way back in the dark I got my first sight of a settlement from afar – an imposing site. We had to go the long way around to avoid Qalandiya checkpoint this time as it was about to close at that time of night. We passed through another checkpoint near the settlement, but as westerners we had no trouble from the soldiers further than checking our ID.
The next day there was a hearing for Mohammed Mansour in the court based in the Russian compound in East Jerusalem. Mohammad is a Palestinian peace activist from Biddu who was arrested on a demonstration in Al Ram (in Jerusalem) against the huge Wall the Israeli government is currently building within the West Bank (not in between Israel and Palestine as commonly thought), cutting off farmers from the their lands, families from each other and dividing the West Bank into South African style Bantustans. The group of us new ISMers decided we should support Mohammed at the trial and challenge this criminalisation of protest by the Israeli state. Only a few of us managed to get entry to the public gallery, since we were told that it was full up (which turned out to be untrue – it was half empty). The rest of us held a small demonstration outside the court room in an area designated by the police, with banners in Arabic, English and Danish saying “Free Mohammed Mansour”. What happened next was odd to say the least.
A whole load of Israeli settlers turned up – it might have been as many as 100, mostly women and children. They were holding a protest about an unrelated issue (we think it might have been to do with recent IDF arrests of settlers in Gaza). Their slogans were “The State Against Jewish Mothers” and the like. They did not turn up to specifically disrupt our demonstration (and we certainly had no prior knowledge of theirs) but they soon proceeded to do so regardless. Some of the settler girls (they could not have been more than 15) were very aggressive towards us, telling us they “wanted Mohammad to die” even though they had never hear of him five minutes ago until we explained to them (on their request) who he was, that we were “goyim” so we should stay away from them, blocking our signs even though we were trying to be a separate demonstration, aggressively blowing whistles in our faces, threatening to kill us and so on. Sort of shocking, but more sad really. The mothers mostly just looked on proudly. The police sort of allowed them to get away with it until near the end when Mohammad left the court, and they started to get really annoyed with one particularly aggressive settler girl because she would not stop. The image of the day for me was a young settler mother with a baby in a sort of cage on wheels structure who also happened to have an Uzi sub-machine gun slung over her shoulder. Make of that what you will. Carrying guns openly in public seems to be very much a part of the culture in Israel – not just the police and army.
The hearing itself was something of a farce. Mohammed’s lawyer (who apparently is a well know Israeli lawyer who he had paid well over US$1000 in advance for) did not turn up on the day and instead sent someone who had not even bothered to familiarise himself with the most basic facts of the case. As a result the judge got annoyed and delayed the case for another three months. The hearing lasted only a few minutes. It is important that anyone who supports the Palestinian cause does all they can to support Mohammed – the Israeli state has gone after him specifically because he is involved in non-violent resistance to the occupation and the illegal Wall.
The afternoon today was a far more pleasant experience. First we in the group of new arrivals split into two (rather fluid) affinity groups based on where abouts we wanted to be. One group will be going to Nablus to join the (very) small group of ISMers there and the other (including me) will be staying here in Jerusalem during the election campaign. Next, the Jerusalem group met with a young Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem who told us about an African community group in the Old City she is involved with as well as a youth centre which will be opening in Ramallah on the 15th. Some of us offered our help with both the opening and set-up of the centre. We also visited the African community centre in the Old City and she and her cousin invited us to their place nearby for gorgeous Arabic coffee and tea. We spent a good few hours there enjoying the peerless hospitality of the Palestinian people. We will be staying in touch.
If I have some luck with software configuration of the custard server, there will be many more pictures here soon.