Doreen’s Diary: June 29, 2004
We awoke early this morning. Rising from the floor mattress was an early morning challenge. Surprisingly, I’d had a fairly comfortable sleep. I had covered myself with insect repellent (to defend against the mosquito bombers), had slipped into my silk sleeping bag liner, and had slept well.
Dressing in the community center was a challenge for women of a certain age. Everything in the center was covered with layers of construction dust that seemed to have doubled overnight. Anything that touched the floor or a table or a counter turned a pale shade of beige. But troopers that we were, and always aware of the conditions of the daily life of the Palestinians, we managed quite well.
Thear locked up for us and escorted us to the same restaurant at which we’d had dinner, this time for breakfast. All I could manage was a glass of delicious tea with fresh mint and a hint of sugar. After breakfast, we met up with the rest of the WCA group (those who had stayed at the ISM house), Shora and Mansour and strolled over to the Town Hall for the Women’s Committee elections. We were invited into the small room with a warmth and sincerity that transcended language barriers. There were approximately 50 Palestinian women attending the meeting and the 13 of us plus three other ISMers…Maureen, Twyla, and Christian. The meeting was conducted entirely in Arabic, so Mansour translated the President’s welcome to us and our thank-you’s to them. Annie asked permission to videotape the meeting. She was asked to explain who we were and our purpose for filming before she was given the okay.
We attended the Biddu Women’s Committee election meeting. These were the women who, two weeks earlier, had faced the burning tear gas of the army and the thrashing batons of their mounted corps. As foreign as such a life is to us, we found a commonality with these mothers and grandmothers.
We needed no translator to understand the first item on the agenda. There had been scheduled, for later in the day, a women’s march to the Wall construction site. That was one of the reasons we had come to Biddu, to join the demonstration. Two months before, the women had held a peaceful demonstration and were attacked by Israeli soldiers on horseback, carrying and using their wooden batons. We were hoping to make enough of an international and womanly presence to enable the demonstration to remain peaceful. However, at the meeting some of the women voiced a desire to cancel the demonstration, fearing that the shebab (teenaged boys) on vacation from school for the summer, would join the march , throw stones, and cause a violent response from the army. They were concerned that some boys might get arrested or shot and that tear gas would be used.
We all nodded in acknowledgement to one another when we realized that the secretary was making a stack because so many women were speaking at once. It was an animated discussion, as we often had, and a stack is our way, as it is their’s, to keep some order. We all felt an intense connection to these women. The vote was to cancel the march and, instead, to take us for a walk around Biddu, showing us the impact of the Israeli military occupation.
As the elections took place, the women moved into an adjoining room, one by one, to cast her vote for the new officers. The young children remained in the room with us, so we began giving them small presents: stretch bands, kaleidoscopes, bubbles. We were a hit. Each child had the biggest eyes and the biggest smiles.
Some of the beautiful children who attended the Women’s meeting with their mommies and grandmas.
During the voting, I got a call from Ann in jail, getting an update on how she was doing. We had come to Biddu to stay close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, so that we could, at a moment’s notice, get into either of those two cities for Ann’s hearing. Her phone call told me that no hearing was yet scheduled.
Although she was still in jail awaiting her hearing, Ann was very spirited and showed great courage.
I also got a call from Huwaida. Gabe had told her that I had asked him, on behalf of the group, to quash the PR story about WCA. Huwaida explained that Ann’s fighting deportation would be very good for getting out the word that Ism-ers are not being allowed into the West Bank by Israel. She told me that media pieces were being planned internationally and within Israel about what had happened to Ann. She asked if it would be okay with Hedy and me if our names were included in the article as two of the women who were part of the group Ann traveled with to be with the ISM. (Hedy is a Holocaust survivor and I am the mother of Adam who had been vilified by the right-wing American Jews for speaking out about Palestinian human rights and the Israeli military occupation and who had been deported from Israel, as well as being the mother-in-law of Huwaida, Palestinian-American co-founder of ISM.) Huwaida felt our names would bring even more media attention to the issue. I thought hard and told her I did not want my name in the article. I knew the problems it would cause back at home, more death threats and hateful phone calls. Noah and his wife were expecting our first grandchild in July and, for sure, we did not need such attention at that time.
With the elections over, we all left with some of the Palestinian women as well as Mansour and Shora and walked through the town, down to the raped olive groves. The villagers spoke of their land with a pride and love that were foreign to a city kid like me. Their passion and their grief permeated the air. A point of pride for the people was the replanting of baby olive trees where the older trees had been cut down. They were marked with white stripes to identify them, should they be cut down again.
In the daylight , we could appreciate the devastation to the olive groves by the Israeli-driven Caterpillars and the determination of the Biddu citizens to replant and resist.
After a lovely walk, we headed back to the town center. On the way we met Ibrahim, the head of the men’s society and he told Mansour that he wanted to treat all of us to lunch. We thanked him for his generosity and kindness and headed to the “the restaurant” for a delicious lunch. Then we trekked back to the ISM house and took up the discussion of Huwaida’s phone call. I explained this phone call to the group and told the ladies of my decision and asked for their input. Everyone was very supportive of my feelings and I was extremely grateful. Even Hedy decided it would be best to keep all of our names out of the paper until we all left for home. When I phoned Huwaida later on to tell her our decision, she told me that she understood fully our feelings, but that she felt she at least had to ask.
Later in the day, Mansour took us to his Aunt Ayesha’s home where she talked to us of her hopes of getting the land covered with greenhouses. From what we could understand, there is a law that what grows in a greenhouse cannot be razed by the Israelis. She asked us to see if we could help raise money in the states to get Biddu more greenhouses. We were served rounds of tea as we sat and talked. By 8pm, some of the women decided to go for dinner. Stacey and Annie and Gail and I went to the town’s only male internet café. Jenny and Hedy went up to the community center. We agreed to pick up something for dinner and bring it back to the center.
The internet café was filled with young men in their late teens and early twenties. There was an open computer next to a young man who looked to be about 23. I sat down and began emailing a letter home, when I heard him laughing. I turned to him and said, “Hello” and he greeted me in English. I asked him what he was laughing at. He explained that every night after work (he is a waiter in his Uncle’s restaurant in Ramallah) he goes online into a chat room and talks to young women from Paris and Rome and London and other big cities around the globe. Tonight one of the girls asked him if he’d gone to the disco last night. He told me he lies and tells them he has, as it offers him an escape from the bleakness and frustration of the life he lives under occupation. He was laughing at the fact that these girls have no idea what his life is really like. He asked me where I was from and I told him New York and then he introduced himself more formally. “I am Azam,” he said and I wish you to help me get to the U.S. Could you do that?” I asked him why he was so anxious to get to the U.S. and expected the “because life is so wonderful there” answer. But instead he said, “Because I am 25 years old and I want to get married and have a family and I WILL NOT raise my children under Occupation. I cannot raise children under Occupation. And my family keeps pressuring me to get married and I refuse. This is not a life, a life without hope. I want my children in a backyard where all they see are trees and flowers, no bulldozers or tanks or rubble.” I found it difficult to continue with my emailing, and promised Azam that when in Ramallah, we would go to his uncle’s restaurant.
I left the café with Anni and she decided to call Jenny to let her know that we were on our way home and to ask her what she would like to have for dinner. There was no answer on Jenny’s phone. So Anni called Hedy, who was in the community center with Jenny…no answer. At once, Anni began to panic. We began looking all over the street of the town for Jenny. We finally ran into Stacey and Gail and they were looking too, assuring Anni that Jenny was fine. We decided to get some food, fruit and nuts at a local grocery store, and to return to the center. Suddenly, Mansour came by in a van and drove us back to the community center. We ran up the stairs, in search of Hedy and Jenny, only to find Jenny playing dominoes with some of the kids and Hedy fast asleep in our “bedroom” where Jenny’s phone was sitting turned off. We ate, laughed, and turned in for the night, armed against the mosquitoes.