Our trip, though under two weeks in time, was filled with a lifetime of experiences – and the full gamut of emotions. The people were anxious to tell us their stories, and we were eager to learn as much as we could.
Our first day, June 23, 2004 began with most of the group flying from JFK to Tel Aviv and then finding their way to the Knight’s Palace Hotel in Jerusalem. On the second day, June 24, 2004, all but four WCAer’s were in Ramallah, beginning intensive non-violent direct-action training with the International Solidarity Movement. Three of us were on our way from Eindhoven, Holland, where we had visited Carol’s daughter. The fourth, Ann, had been detained at the airport when she arrived and was fighting deportation. By the third day, June 25, 2004, the three stragglers from Holland had arrived (Ann was still being detained) and training continued. Our fourth day, June 26, 2004, found us exhausted but excited. This was the day we were to attend the first peaceful demonstration of the first Palestinian/Israeli/International Freedom Summer campaign, protesting the building of a section of the Wall in ar-Ram, a town north of Jerusalem. All of our training was put to the test. To our dismay, undercover Israeli security forces arrested both Palestinians and Israelis during the demonstration; later that day we stood in support of our fellow demonstrators outside the police station in Jerusalem where they were being held, and we ended the day with a dinner with our new Palestinian friends.
We were informed that Ann’s hearing was to take place on the fifth day, June 27, 2004, so we headed to Jerusalem (via the demeaning and cruel Qalandia checkpoint) to be close to the court. While we waited for news of Ann, we took in the sights the Old City. As it turned out, Ann’s hearing was not yet scheduled, but we hoped to speak to her on the phone. June 28, 2004, our sixth day, found us at the courthouse in Jerusalem where we were joined by many other internationals and Israelis. We waited outside the courthouse, expecting one of the Palestinians arrested at the ar-Ram demonstration, Mohammad, a citizen of Biddu to be released. But the Israeli court was not ready to free him. Later that day we took a servisse to Mohammed’s village of Biddu, outside of Jerusalem, where, the following day, we were expecting to join a peaceful demonstration with the women of the village. We arrived in the late afternnon after an exhausting excursion through checkpoints and roadblocks. As the sun began to set, we toured the village with Mansour, a member of the Biddu Men’s Society and an ISM coordinator. This gave us the opportunity to begin to meet the wonderful people of Biddu. The next morning, our seventh day, June 29, 2004, we were invited to the Town Hall to attend the Women’s Committee’s elections and monthly meeting. The women, after much discourse, decided to postpone their demonstration in favor of showing us around the village. There was still no news on Ann’s hearing.
June 30, 2004, our eighth day was a legal day. First we headed for the Israeli Supreme Court to await the Court’s decision regarding a petition by the people of Biddu and its neighboring villages to have the Wall declared illegal. Surprisingly and wondrously, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the petitioners: the Wall would have to be moved back to the green line. It was ruled that Israel’s Wall was placing a hardship on the Palestinian people and was violating their rights. It was a great victory. We were hoping to attend Ann’s hearing that day, as well, but alas, Ann was still in jail with no hearing date scheduled. So, we headed back to Biddu filled with mixed emotions.
Our ninth day, July 1, 2004, saw some of the women head for an action against the wall in Tulkarem. The remainder of WCA stayed in Biddu hoping to get word of Ann’s hearing and to be close to Jerusalem for the event. While we waited, we visited the beautiful family of the still imprisoned Mohammed to lend our support. His wife posed a very emotional question to us: “Why do our children not have a right to freedom?” We left her home saddened. Before bedtime, we talked about what we could do help those children once we returned home. No word came about Ann.
We were back to Ramallah on our tenth day, July 2, 2004 where we got word that there was to be an action, the removal of a roadblock, in Kufr Al Labad. The WCA women who had traveled to Tulkarem would head there and join up with the rest of the group. After a successful action which was followed by a delightful afternoon with gracious villagers, WCA spent the night in Ramallah. On July 3, 2004, our eleventh day, we woke to learn that Mohammed had been released from jail and would be back in his home in Biddu that day. We spent the morning creating signs that we would use later that day for a silent vigil along with Palestinian and Israeli women protesting the wall. While some of us continued to work on the signs, others met with two teenage Palestinian girls who visited us and talked with us about their lives in Ramallah. In the early afternoon we traveled to Betunia, a nearby village, to see a photo exhibition of the impact of the Wall to the villages around Jerusalem. Upon returning to Ramallah, we collected our signs and headed back to the town of ar-Ram for the silent vigil. In the evening, although we were all invited, just a few of us rode into Biddu to the home of the head of the Biddu Men’s Society to attend a welcome home BBQ in honor of Mohammad. We ended a long, but very eventful day, among our Palestinian friends.
July 4, 2004, our twelfth day, our trip was nearing its end, and still Ann sat in jail. We headed back to Jerusalem to hopefully attend her hearing and to prepare for our return to the States. We settled in to our hotel and walked through East Jerusalem for dinner. Still no word of Ann’s hearing. We were all so distraught. We knew she’d have to have her hearing and possibly stand trial without our being there.
Our final day, July 5, 2005 was a busy one. This was our day to for 2 meetings. One would be with members of Sabeel, an organization of very educated and dedicated Christian Palestinian women; the other with two women: one, a representative of Machsom Watch, an Israeli organization of women who stand watch at the checkpoints, shame young soldiers on duty there into good and humane behavior, and keep a record of inhumane treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints and the other, a representative of Women in Black, a group that in Israel, as in the U.S. and other countries, stands in silent vigil every Sunday. We had our final dinner together in a lovely restaurant in the Old City. When we returned to our hotel we packed and attempted to sleep a bit before waking at 1am to leave for the airport. We left for home saddened that Ann’s hearing would take place without us being there to support her. And sure enough, as we were sitiing on the plane in the airport, a call came in that Ann’s hearing had begun. When we arrived in New York, we learned that her hearing had taken place while we were in flight.
We arrived back at JFK on July 6, 2004, exhausted, enriched, changed forever. We knew, as we kissed and hugged each other good-bye, that our work had just begun.