Doreen’s Diary; June 28, 2004
We packed our backpacks for our trip to Biddu and left the remainder of our luggage in Room 151 at the Gloria Hotel. Then we took ourselves and our backpacks to the Knights’ Palace for a buffet breakfast. Once again we split into smaller groups with plans to meet at a specific time to catch a bus to Biddu.
Biddu is a village not too far from Jerusalem. Huwaida knew that we wanted to be nearby Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to attend Ann’s hearing, which was supposed to happen in a day or two. And she thought Biddu would be a good place for us because the women there were planning to have an action in a day or two and we could help support them. However, we were going to hang around until the afternoon before leaving Jerusalem to wait to hear if Mohammed’s military hearing was going to take place. If it was, then we wanted to go there to support him.
Gail, Stacey and I walked into West Jerusalem until it was time to meet the others. We needed to get to an ATM machine and we wanted to get to an internet cafe to send home some emails and to write about some of our experiences. Judy and Joya joined us. Carol decided to stay at the Knights’ Palace to rest and relax. She sat in the courtyard reading as we headed to West Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that West Jerusalem had an air of tension. Tourists were scarce and those who were there were treated with suspicion. We walked from bank to bank, from one security guard to another, to find a bank ATM that would give us money, not an easy feat. Once successful, we searched for an internet café. Stacey uploaded her pictures and I wrote emails. Three hours later we were ready to regroup. Huwaida called to tell us the military hearing for Mohammed was postponed to Wednesday, so we could leave for Biddu whenever we chose. Ann called again from jail to ask me to call her sister, Carolyn, in Vermont, which I did.
The process: We took an Israeli servisse onto an Israeli bypass highway to a dirt road; we got out and climbed over the Israeli army’s manmade concrete and dirt roadblock where we boarded a Palestinian servisse to take us over narrow, rutted dirt roads into the beautiful village of Biddu.
We got buses to Biddu and upon arrival we were greeted in the charming town center by Shora. We followed her to the ISM house. It rests at the top of a very steep unpaved road. I am not sure we were quite ready for the trek, but we managed. Actually, the hike up was quite invigorating. As I approached the house, I noticed grey wool blankets lying all around the terrace and roof. Shora explained that our coming to stay in the house encouraged her, Mai, and Mansour to wash the blankets. As I walked in to look around, I noticed that it also must have encouraged them to clean the bathroom. Most ISMers are young kids. We older folk must have reminded them all of their mothers coming to visit and that explained all the cleaning up.
We arrived at the ISM apartment, where an ISM coordinator familiarized us with the customs, traditions, and history of Biddu. The neighboring children looked down with curious eyes.
After introductions and Shora’s brief overview of the culture and history of the town of Biddu, she let me know that there was not enough room for all 14 of us at the ISM house. She hoped that seven of us would be okay at the brand new community center. We divided ourselves as follows: Eileen wanted to be in the house so that she could cook food in the kitchen for her special diet. Carol and Hedy wanted to stay in the community center because the thought of walking up and down the steep hill everyday was too much for them. So Ayehsa and Jan, Judy and Joya and Susan joined Eileen in the house. Stacey, Gail, Anni, Jenny and I joined Carol and Hedy in the community center.
While waiting for Mansour to show us around Biddu, we got a call from Gabe asking us to work on a press release about the group, with specific information as to how many Jews, Christians, etc. comprised the group, and with a statement of our reason for coming to Palestine. He also asked for one quote that could be attributed to one of the group. Gail and I worked on the press release, attributing a quote to Gail, and emailed it to Gabe, with Gail and me as the group’s contacts.
Mansour arrived at about 6pm and took us on a tour of the worksite area where the Wall was being built. We waited until 6pm for the construction workers, army men, to leave. We walked along trenches made by bulldozers and the flattened land upon which the Wall will rise. Homes had stood there, neighborhood roads had been there, olive groves had been there, all plowed away, scooped up, and spit out by the bulldozers and dirt lifters. There was one house standing isolated at one end of the trench. Its owner, Ibrahim, head of the Biddu Men’s Society was forced to leave his home by persistent and aggressive harassment by the army.
An ISM local coordinator took us to tour the surreal landscape of the wall construction site, the once thriving farmland, now raped and barren.
At the other end of the digging stood two homes, one behind the other, owned by brothers. What has been bull dozed away is all the land, road, and walking path that had been in front of the first house. Upon walking out of that house, a person would have to jump into a trench or walk backwards and all the way around. These two brothers and their families have refused to abandon their homes. The wife of one of them stood in front of her house as it was about to be bulldozed. Her sons, fed up with the army’s actions, once told a soldier manning the bulldozer that they would light a barrel of gasoline and blow them all up if he came near their house. Their parents have made their sons move across the village, away from the worksite, to avoid any trouble. Everyday, the adults and small children of these two houses must be security checked whenever they leave their homes: bags checked, green cards checked, “Where are you going?” asked and answered. Upon returning to their homes, the same security check goes on. Every single time, sometimes eight to ten times a day, with the same soldier, they are subjected to repeated, monotonous, redundant, harassing security checks.
Walking behind these two houses, we came upon an illegal Israeli settlement, quite a backyard. The Palestinian brothers built their homes in 1971 and the settlement was built in 1979. The settlement is surrounded by a fence. Closest to the Biddu the Palestinians still own, is a large, manned security tower. The backs of the settlement homes face the Palestinian community below.
I was totally unprepared for the next home that Mansour took us to see. He’d told us there was Palestinian home in the middle of the settlement. The family had refused to move. I supposed it must have been extremely difficult for them to have stood their ground, but they did. And how did the Israeli government handle this stubborn and defiant family? They enclosed the house and its small front yard in a cage. There is a sidewalk around the outside of the cage and Israelis may march around this family’s home. There is one path out of the cage that leads to Palestinian Biddu. There is no way for the family to walk on settlement streets. How do people do this to other people?
After our walk, we went to dinner at the only sit-down restaurant in town, great shwarma and falafel and side dishes. Mansour looked after us as we ordered our food. After dinner, we picked up mattresses from Mansour’s neighbors for those of us sleeping in the community center. As Mansour drove his truck from the ISM house to the community center, people came to their porches and graciously tossed sleep mats onto the truck bed. We also took several damp, but clean blankets from the ISM porch. We arrived at the community center and met Thear, a darling young man who is studying sociology at the university. He was to be in charge of letting us in and locking up at night.
The community center is a new building, almost completed, built by the men in Biddu. The room we were to sleep in was right off the main ping pong room. All of the floors were covered with building dust. The bathroom was also directly off the ping pong room. The counters and floors were covered with the same building dust. Four sinks released very skinny, slow streams of cold water. There were pee holes, a filthy shower, and, thank goodness, a regular toilet. The seat was clean. But everything else in the bathroom was covered with construction dust. We laid 6 mats on the floor of our room, got into our sleep sacks, and talked and laughed into the night.
Before going to sleep, Ann called, concerned that our association with her might get us in trouble. I told her that I would call Huwaida and tell Huwaida to get in touch with her, so Huwaida could reassure her. And then I called Gabe to tell him to hold off on releasing our press release.
Anni’s Diary: June 28.2004
We went to the village of Biddu, past a roadblock that consisted of big chunks of concrete and debris to prevent vehicles from passing. It is so hideous and sickeningly petty to try to prevent people from living normal lives. The ISM House is in Biddu at the top of a huge hill overlooking what once was a magnificent vista of olive trees. It is now a vast swath of brown dirt. The trees have been uprooted by bulldozers – wanton destruction that takes your breath away with its viciousness. I sit and wonder how the people here can wake up each morning to the sight of the complete devastation of their homes and land and not explode with rage.
Palestinian houses are a lovely style, similar to Mediterranean in the large square structure, tile roofs, wide porches and stairs. The surrounding settlements gleam in the sun….all red tiles and whitewash.
Shora – giving a brief history and explaining what we could expect while staying in Biddu.
Mansour Mansour, a village leader in Biddu, and Shora, a beautiful Iranian woman, met us and discussed our plans. We all sat on the terrace, while upstairs, a family of several children, played nearby. Judy decided to do some interactive stuff with them, and it was really sweet to see them singing and dancing on the lawn, some songs in English, others in Arabic.
There is a huge settlement outside Biddu and the Israelis are tearing down homes for a settlement road. Mansour took us on a tour of the area–beautiful open sky, once green fields, homes, now demolished or abandoned-except for a few holdouts. We met one family, father and son, who held on to their homes and practically have to go through a checkpoint every time they leave or come home. Also one house surrounded by a chain fence with its own guard tower and guns pointed at it because a settlement has been erected around it. Bizarre. As the sun faded and dusk fell over the land, there was such a beautiful melancholy feeling. Loads of children had come out to follow us and their wonderful faces and curiosity, the fingers always making a peace sign, their “hello”, giggles and stares, are so moving. The neon green electric light on the minaret of the local mosque glows like a traffic light in the middle of a dark night, amidst the brightly lighted settlements and roads. Mansour talks into the night, and we all stand, silent except for Doreen’s questions, as on a precipice, ready to fall through the hole in the fabric of Palestinian life.
We go back to the village-half of us stay at the ISM house (including Jan and Ayesha), and the rest of us – Jenny, Hedy, Doreen, Stacey, Carol, Gail and I are taken to the Sports Center, a newish facility for the boys in Biddu. They hang out in the town center, in angry and bored clusters. You can feel the tension, especially when they see us, the privileged foreigner. The center has a large central room with several ping pong tables. On the walls are posters of martyrs, and poems of liberation. The bathroom has a barely working shower stall, and sinks that are pretty dry. It is pretty grimy, but the hospitality of the villagers far outweighs any discomfort. And we all have silk sheets! Several mats were lent by the people of Biddu for our sleeping pleasure. Hedy writes in her journal and goes first into the room housing our mats. We laugh ourselves to sleep. And I am so tired.
Gail’s Dairy: June 28, 2004
We arrived in Biddu yesterday. The ISM house is up on the hill in a place that could be Tuscany if the bulldozers hadn’t demolished houses, if the settlement over there didn’t look like an affluent bungalow colony, and if the landscape hadn’t been raped by a very wide swath of destroyed land, preparing for an extension of the Apartheid wall, here in the form of a fence. We descended on the site of the preparation for the fence at dusk, after the soldiers and bulldozers are gone for the day. The path is indescribable. I don’t know the statistics, the width of the path, but it is cut about ten feet below the height of the land on ether side. The most astonishing part is that one Palestinian home was saved from destruction by the local villagers. So that house is approached by a kind of lane with high fences on either side. On the other side of each fence is the lushly landscaped settlement which from close range looks like a suburban American community. The cars within those fences have Israel license plates; that land is Israel. The Palestinian home of a large family with many children is surrounded on three sides by the fence with the narrow path leading down towards the swath that will be the Apartheid fence.
I will try to say what I feel. I used to write to my congressional representatives and start my letter “As a Jew I am ashamed.” Today I am starting to feel a bit differently. I am starting to feel that the Jews who live here, who support this nationalism called Zionism, are not the same kind of Jew, and I have nothing in common with them. I have come to understand, as stated simply by an Israeli woman in conversation at the jail holding arrestees from Aram, that Zionism is no different than Aryanism. In my mind, a Jewish Zionist is an oxymoron. As the kind of Jew I consider myself, I am not ashamed. I’m proud of the people who come here to see for themselves, who stand with Palestinians against a powerful oppressor, who support resistance against injustice.
Tomorrow we will be in the Israeli Supreme Court to hear the case against the wall being built at Biddu which I understand is joined by Israelis on the other side of the ’67 line who say they don’t need this “security wall.” They don’t want it and are fighting against it. We are on the same side in this case, but I don’t know how they feel about the illegal settlement they can see when they look up across the hills, how they feel about the uprooted olive trees, the demolished homes, the refugees all around them.
I am a bit troubled by my anger (I retrieved my anger; I had lost it for a few days after my three hour interrogation at the airport). One member of our group continues to remind us not to abandon our sense of connection with all people, not to see all the oppressors as the enemy, to acknowledge their humanity. It’s hard here on this side of the fence. I’ll keep thinking about this and see if I can keep writing about it here.