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Tear gassed in Bethlehem

“It will be different in Bethlehem, Lawrence.”

Nada warned me about the Nakba Day protest as she drove her sister’s new-looking white Prius into town, easily through some checkpoint, and right past the vaunted Banksy Hotel, actually named the Walled Off Hotel that includes Banksy artwork in addition to others. A human-size statue of a uniformed bellhop monkey graced the front door. What the racist hell was that?! No, I did not want to check it out.

Nada and I had been part of the previous day’s protest against the relocated US Embassy into Jerusalem, an action in violation of international law, diplomatic norms, and all US precedent. No other major nation, all NATO members included, has embassy representation in the contested and Israeli-occupied Holy City.

We had been herded behind a row of metal police barricades at yesterday’s demo along with several hundred completely peaceful protesters and what looked like a ton of international media. We were boisterous, loud and proud for Palestine, against Trump’s US embassy move, with at least four carefully crafted handmade signs our group created the previous day. Nada also sported a Palestinian flag around her shoulders. After what seemed about 20 minutes of normal protesting, long lines of Israeli police thugs charged our densely packed protest crowds to attack sign and flag wavers, apparently picking out people at random.

Defenseless people were thrown to the ground, pummeled and dragged on the concrete. The roided police, definitely juiced on whatever high-grade shit Tel Aviv is pushing these days,  repeatedly attacked us with no warning. It was a classic police intimidation move, but it didn’t work. The protesters did not scatter and run and many tried to protect each other. I saw one middle-age woman dragging a prone cop off some guy he was beating. Another excited woman who looked like someone’s mom kicked over a metal barricade in disgust at all the police attacks swirling around us.  

 

Jerusalem was a walk in the park

I learned afterward, however, that this Israeli police action might as well have been a walk in the park. “They didn’t shoot at us or really anything because Israelis were there in the protest, too. They won’t shoot when Israelis are present,” I was dutifully informed.

Nada parked her Prius Hybrid on a big open side street, and our hipster duo walked only a few feet before the gargantuan razer wire-topped separation wall loomed to the side of us as we glided past several PRESS photographers milling about in button-down flack jackets, Richard Engel battle helmets and professional full face tear-gas mask apparel. Exactly like a war zone. Guess that was my big tip-off that things definitely were gonna to be different today in Bethlehem.

A crowd of protesters were gathering hundreds of yards down the main thoroughfare, and we headed toward them on the sidewalk. I noticed behind us at the separation wall that the huge guard tower had been partially burned. Black roasted concrete and befowled glass-topped nightmare prison tower of doom courtesy of the toughest resistance on the planet.

So I’m guessing there was going to be no Israeli flower-power carrying peaceniks at this protest party, especially in the wake of yesterday’s Israeli military massacre of 60 Palestinians in Gaza and more than 2,500 seriously wounded. We were pissed off and bracing for the worst, and the Israeli apartheid Zionist armed forces were in no mood to party.

Nada and I walked past a beautiful colonial-era building and several normal looking businesses and store fronts before reaching the assembled protesters beneath a very modern digital advertising screen stretched over the length of the wide boulevard.

This was no tumbledown backstreet in a god forsaken refugee camp. No sir, Mr. Lawrence. This was sanitized and separated 2018 Bethlehem, for god’s sake. Which one is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, the colorized pixilated fates were pushing new cars, hand soap and eye shadow in preparation for my highly anticipated dance at the IDF cotillion, now only minutes away.

(I know, I know, IOF. Israeli Occupation Forces. Sometimes the oppressed and brutalized can be so touchy. But some Palestinians don’t accept the term “occupation.” So there.)

Several hundred protesters wandered about with large Palestinian flags and all-black mourning banners. Someone brought in a dozen or so open-bottom red paper balloons with small candle holders intended to provide lift for a airborne peace flotilla, I guess. A few folks accidently burned their balloons, but one or two did ascend beyond our maddened crowd. It was around midday under clear blue skies. Kids had fistfuls of green, red, black and white plastic Palestinian flags on cheap plastic rods to hand out. I grabbed one and off we went.

Up at the separation wall, Israeli soldiers were massed around a few military vehicles preparing to engage our determined cadre of unarmed children, students, workers, professionals, longtime agitators, committed nationalists, and a core of international advocates for peace and justice.

A resolute and dangerous existential threat, for sure.    

“PAL-A-STEEN !!  PAL-A-STEEN !!”

I recognized that chant, but everything else was a call-and-response rising unintelligible strengthening thunder that got louder with every step we took toward the uniformed Israeli troops. If I hadn’t before, I now immediately recognized the serious unfolding nature of developing situation.

“Shall we get up in front?” I said to Nada also waving a plastic Palestinian flag. “Yeah?” she replied, I think in a surprised positive manner, and we kicked it up a gear or two to be there with the advancing vanguard. I didn’t come halfway around the world to hide in the back of the line. There was only one honest place to be right there and then.

I was privileged to be marching for Palestine with incredible women like Nada and 4 or 5 of her female colleagues from a legal and cultural aid group based in East Jerusalem. Nada, 29, was the group staff leader, while the others were mostly interns rotating through a multiple week assignment. A secular Palestinian from a Catholic family, Nada represented the finest of her generation, both at home and abroad, as a tireless feminist and educated nationalist devoted to a peaceful lifting of the illegal, immoral suffocating military occupation of her besieged nation.

Someone who has lived and worked abroad, and could be anywhere else at that particular moment, Nada understood the risks. Like so many other secular and religious Palestinian women in that completely exposed firing line of a wide open street, brandishing only a cheap plastic flag and an unwavering heart, Nada was facing down a remorseless war machine that had hours ago murdered unarmed scores of her people. It would be real tough measuring up to that brand of courage.

I reached the far end of the front line and looked down the perfectly aligned row. Some big guy in the middle was taller than the rest, all clutching a waist-high horizontal Arabic-language banner. I think Nada was right behind me at that point. I was yelling “Palestine!”, holding up my flag, holding up my camera phone and not thinking much about anything as I finally turned toward the assembled fascist guard.

There was no fellow protesters between me and the IDF, just one photographer and some dude taking film ahead of him. We were starting to get close, the street was narrowing, and I could almost see the individual soldiers.

Flash-bang, percussion warning rounds went off. More than a few. Loud menacing echos thundered off some of the taller buildings, but nothing had been fired along our street it appeared, and we kept advancing. White smoke puffs suddenly wafted off the military vehicle by the soldiers at the other side of the street.

“Allah Akhbar !! Allah Akhbar !!”

There was still absolutely no one between yours truly and the bad boys up ahead. What a fabulous freakin’ crystal clear unobstructed view of the fascist guard in action. They were shooting directly at me and the Palestinian people by my side. It was a revolutionary honor of the highest order. I was eternally grateful to once again be on the front line.

We are here, mother fuckers !!  God damn these mother fucking Israeli bastards to eternal goddamn fascist hell !! Here we are, come and get us, mother fuckers !!

The tear gas started to fly, first one smoking canister zipped in to my side toward all the other people, who had wisely bolted to the rear, then more, and suddenly smoking canisters were all around me. Nearly surrounded. I had turned around to face the rear, but for a second or two, it was okay, no biggie, and I thought about kicking the canisters away.

But the acrid smoke and nasty chemicals that smelled and tasted like extreme gunpowder were everywhere. The choking in my mouth and gut started to overwhelm me. Now facing completely toward the rear protesters who had scrambled away, there was nothing but rising white smoke around me, like I had been intentionally encircled by some mystical legendary burning ring of fire. I was completely fucked.

Then some gust, some luck opened a clear air space the width of my body to the rear far side, enough for me to make a quick dash finally off the polluted street. Otherwise I would have had to bolt directly into that rising wall of towering smoke. But like Walter and Roland decades ago in Soldier Field, I found and hit my lane. For once in my ridiculous life, I hit the open lane. Probably the last goddamn fool to get the hell off that wasted street. A bigtime revolutionary, definitely. Yeah, right.

Off the pavement, thunderous explosions, perhaps rubber bullet gun shots, ringing through the stinging air, miraculously I found entrance steps leading down into a surrounding courtyard away from the street. Immediately some street medics followed me in and administered eye swabs to staunch the burning. I swallowed the tear gas, too, and experienced some world-class choking. I thanked my medics, ambulance sirens blaring, and within minutes got back on the street with everyone else.

“That was fun!” I said to the medics, still burning eyes and stinging throat.

“That was the real deal,” I remarked to no one as the bright orange jacketed health crew wandered off attending to others.

“Just got tear gassed. That was fun. That was fun,” I tried to convince myself, talking into my phone camera that had somehow kept going through all the shit.

“That was ugly, but I think I’m okay” as I again raised my Palestinian flag on the street in clear view of the soldiers.

Parading down the street to my comrades at a very leisurely walk, I yelled the following declarations:

“Thanks to the street medical corps. They helped me out. Woo hoo!

“Palesteen! Palesteen forever!

“From Chicago! I’m from the United States! I just got tear gassed by the fucking IDF! Proud to be here! Proud to be with Palestinians forever, man!

“Fuckin’ Palestine forever! Palesteen!”               

Someone on the street kindly called out, “You are a brave man.”

“I don’t know about that. I’m a foolish man. Haaa!”

I started walking back toward the soldiers with some others, and we got up against a stone wall for cover. A young guy there was angling out toward the street in a very exposed manner. I repeated, “Don’t got shot! Don’t get shot, man!” Who knows what those IDF bastards were capable of right here, right now.

 

All hell started breaking loose.

The stone throwers were out in force now. Dudes scarfing up with keffiyehs and black bandanas and using long sling lines and even slingshots. But we were far enough away that whatever they tossed had little chance at hitting anywhere near the soldiers. Thankfully the fascists were not advancing much, and the street scene quickly became a standoff. I wandering among the stone throwers there on the frontline not far back from where we were gassed. Real life scenes of the newsreel stone throwers were all around me. Guys wrapping their heads completely in colorful scarves to not be identified. Stepping right into the middle of the street to hurl their projectiles. Guys with black ski masks gathering right beside me to plot strategy and targets.

They paid me no mind, and I said with a slight laugh to one, “You guys are crazy.”

Suddenly out of nowhere, running down the middle of the street right toward me was Nada. Dressed in tight black shirt and pants, straight long brown hair flowing free, this woman was in control.    

“I was in . . . Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I got tear gassed pretty good,” I replied confidently.

“Yeah, me too. I got one in the ass. I’m looking for . . . ” The name got lost in a siren wail.

The what? She got hit where? I was so caught up in the moment that what she said didn’t really register. The gas, sirens and continuing explosive thunder were all messing with my head.

“Here’s some water,” I offered.

“No, I’m okay. So they’re going to . . . “

Just then a lone slight woman with dark uncovered waving her Palestine flag walked by chanting “Palesteen! Palesteen!”

“Palesteen! Palesteen! Palesteen!” Nada immediately replied as she then walked behind me for the moment, apparently still searching for someone.

Later, Nada told me she knew the slight woman whose son had been killed in a resistance action. But the Israelis continue to refuse to release the body to her in a form of collective punishment.

Nada also mentioned her disappointment that so many people, when the going got rough, like right then and there, shouted Allah Akhbar! and not the more politically unifying Palesteen! No wonder she had immediately added her voice to the slight woman still waiting for her son to come home.  

Just then one of our group, Anna, originally from Canada, walked in toward us on the sidewalk. She was on her phone at the time.

“I can see her. I’m gonna grab her. I’ll have to call you back!”

More protesters kept streaming down the sidewalk toward us away from the Israelis. When the tear gas attacks started, a lot of the protesters had been trapped in some side streets and were only now returning to the greater crowd of what had been our peaceful demo only minutes earlier.

 

Stone throwers out in full force

Now the stone throwers were out in full force. The slinged rocks whipped past your face with a vicious terrifying force and intensity depending on how close you were to the throwers. But a lot of them weren’t very accurate or in control. Some were lucky to get the rocks actually released out in the correct direction toward of the fascist guards.

“I think I just got hit by a rock” ricochet in the leg I yelled at no one in particular.

A direct hit would have been really bad. But, hey, it’s understandable. It’s one of the very few weapons the Palestinians have in reaction to every known and/or secret high-tech and supra-lethal device constantly employed by the Israeli fascist guard.  

More women protesters still carrying Palestinian flags walked quickly past us. Now I saw several women in traditional they were head coverings. All parts of the Palestinian society were present here.

Nada and other comrades ducked into a hotel located right there on the protest front line. She later told me the hotel manager basically kicked them out. Would not help at all. No Palestinian solidarity at all in that place. Terrible.      

As I walked up toward the front line, a couple of orange-vested street medics recognized me from a video making the Facebook rounds. I had reacted spontaneously to the constant Zionist settler barrage of flags and guns and parades in the East Jerusalem Old City Muslim Quarter by purchasing a national banner right beside me at a shop stall, 20 shekels, and creating a one-man Palestinian parade of my own.

“We saw you in Jerusalem!”

“You saw that, huh?!”

They looked like fresh-faced young kids who should have been in college instead of risking their necks in service of their countrymen and women while under attack by Israeli armed forces.

“Where’s Nada at?” a comrade asked as she quickly walked up and away, and I pointed out her last known redoubt, the horrible hotel.

“The people love you,” said one medic who looked for all the world like an innocent cartoon character by wearing the gas mask’s protruding filter canister atop his head. “Like a Teletubbie!” Nada gleefully reminded me later.

“I want more Americans to be here,” I explained to the medics.

God, I remember back at the US Embassy in Managua decades ago when dozens, hundreds of fellow American anti-Reaganites protested his repugnant creation of the reactionary Contra factions and similar death squad regimes in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere in central America, exactly the places now where the societies have imploded under decades of US neoliberal policies that are directly responsible for the hemorrhaging streams of refugees from exactly those countries that suffered and are suffering under US control. The refugees Trump refers to as animals and worse. There was no shortage of Americans with me in Nicaragua back when it counted.

Occupied Palestine of course is much farther away from the Americas, but with cheap plane flights anywhere these days, where was the once vaunted and respected international US peace community? Myself and a couple others were the only ones I saw here in 2018, in Bethlehem, where it counted.

What the hell happened to America?

“I want to ask you a question, sir,” the medic asked me as some type of gun or rocket fire blasted all around us. “What do you know about Palestine before coming here?”

 

I knew the history

“A lot. I knew the history before coming here. I know the history. I know the oppression.”

Decades ago I was introduced to what was then called the Arab-Israeli conflict working as a reporter in tiny Pana, Illinois, the home of once famed, now largely forgotten American journalist and author Vincent Sheean. A contemporary of Hemingway, Capa, Dorothy Thompson, Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and more, he was on site when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, and personally denounced by the German Nazi regime, reportedly the only journalist the Nazis ever personally singled out by name.

Sheean’s most famous book is Personal History (1935, Doubleday) that recounted the author’s exploits the previous decade in many nations and hotspots around the world. The book’s final chapter Holy Land concerns Sheean’s on-the-ground reporting of the infamous 1929 Arab-Jewish riots in Jerusalem, Hebron and nearby locales. He placed the cause of those deadly encounters squarely at the feet of intentional Zionist provocations at the Arab-owned Wailing Wall that pushed local Palestinians beyond endurance.

Sheean had initially come to Palestine to write some feature pieces on the Zionist movement which he was inclined to support. However, when he saw the actual conditions and situations here, he came to recognize the simple fact that Zionists intended to relocate people into a place that already had a native population. Personal History peaked my interest in the Middle East conflicts way back in the early 1980’s, and I’ve been following developments here ever since. The Holy Land chapter remains essential reading to anyone determined to understand the creation of Israel and its continuing occupation of Palestine.

So I stayed up at the front line with the stone throwers between the fascist guard and the mass of protesters in the rear. A few press photographers took up defensive positions, and I hung around while continuing to hold up my Palestinian flag.

“These guys probably don’t have much of a sense of humor,” I laughed about the fascist guards into my camera when I suddenly realized I was now between the stone throwers and the bad guys. “Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” I said to no one in particular and chuckled again.

“Thank you, sir! A lot of sense!” a Palestinian middle-age man blurted from the sidewalk.

“I’m proud to be here, man.”

“We also proud for you.”

“More Americans should be here.”

“But you’re crazy (for not) stay home. You’re crazy man.”

“That’s for sure!”

“For sure, yeah?”

“Crazy in a good way.”

Someone told me later that the guy definitely was praising me. I wasn’t sure there for a minute.

Still holding up my Palestinian flag, I hung out with the clutch of mostly black-clad stone throwers for a while more. Some had commercial-grade gas masks, other black ski masks, and others keffiyehs wrapped around their entire heads except for eye slits. A tough looking, tough throwing bunch, definitely. But they knew I was on their side. I was only worried about one thing at that moment.

“Don’t shoot me in the back, IDF!!” my phone picked up as I collected more video.

Up on the sidewalk for now, a lot of us talked politics while trying to clear the tear gas and free up storage space on the smartphone video camera.

“I’m from Italy, but I live in China with my girlfriend.”

“Italy? Say, that’s pretty right-wing these days, isn’t it?”

“They don’t even have a government. It’s all mafia. Like Trump.”

“And you’re from Michigan? Where, Ann Arbor?”

“Yes, working this semester with a Catholic NGO.”

“Too bad you guys went Trump in the election. I can’t believe Michigan didn’t go for Hillary.”

“I couldn’t vote for her.”

“Oh, really? The Democratic Party has the greatest progressive agenda in the Western world and you can’t vote for Hillary? You didn’t want a women president, I take it?”

This over-educated grad assistant gives me some holier-than-thou sneer, and I let her have it.

“Hey, nice to know you’re more concerned with your political purity than taking your civic responsibility seriously. Thanks for making sure the poor, working class and minority communities had absolutely no chance under Trump. Hope you’re happy. Hey, nothing personal,” I yelled out walking into the siren-filled eye-burning haze.

 

Flaming dumpsters, burning tires

Thank God the soldiers were not really advancing, which gave the Palestinians time to regroup and compound the situation. One young man was struggling to pull a flaming dumpster on wheels up to the front line. He wasn’t getting far. I think the wheels were misaligned or perhaps melting in real time. To their credit, there were a number of battled-dressed press photographers in and among the milling stone throwers and flag wavers.

Then some real fun began.

Individual guys brought up one or two cars tires, whatever they could carry, and set them on fire. The black thick smoke began to envelope the sky. The flaming dumpster never made it anywhere near the frontline burning tires, tipped over its contexts well back of the burning tires. A silver SUV and a tan hatchback then drove up to the frontline. Both stopped and backed up and began turning around while more sirens screamed.

What the hell was going on?

The vehicles’ back doors and hatches were opened and loose tires poured onto the roadway. More fuel for the blackening fires.

Okay, now I get it.

The street turned into a war zone. Black haze reached back to the rear protesters within minutes. Stone throwers still kept up their fight, but all in all it was a standoff. No Palestinians were advancing past the massive towering black smoke wall, and the fascist guard was apparently satisfied to hold serve.

Other protesters said their comrades had been shot in the legs with rubber bullets.

Eventually Nada, her group and I all collected toward the rear and got outta there. Nothing else was really going to happen. Thank God, there were no serious injuries among us, outside eyes, noses, faces and guts full of tear gas. And a bruised ass. One woman said she was certain today’s tear gas was a different type than what they’d experienced at previous demonstrations.

“Someone should collect the canisters and get them analysed. I’m sure it’s different now.”

Every business and shop throughout Palestine was closed in a general strike in mourning solidarity for those massacred in Gaza the previous day, not to mention the Nakba anniversary. We tried to find something to eat and drink, but Bethlehem was locked down tight.

Nada and I took a cab back to her sister’s Prius, my comrade being very worried about the vehicle. The taxi driver actually tried to overcharge us, but Nada scotched that rip off. When we reached the car, it was absolutely fine. No damage, though some leftover barricade detritus was not far off. Nada knew when to be concerned.

As we walked up to the car, a young kid on the street said a few things my way, but I had no idea what.

“He recognizes you from the video, Lawrence.”

It had been a long and different day in Bethlehem. []

On the frontlines. No other peaceful protesters between the IDF and me. Smoke by military vehicle at upper left shows start of Israeli tear gas attack launch.Peaceful Palestinians scatter for cover as first tear gas attack hits directly among a group of unarmed protesters far from the military launch vehicle & personnel and behind the frontline vanguard of marchers on Nakba Day 2018 in Bethlehem..Marching for Palestine with incredible women representing the finest of their generation, both at home and abroad.Bethlehem street becomes a war zone, courtesy of an Israeli gas attack on peaceful protesters.Bethlehem Resistance League, baby.Israeli tear gas attack on peaceful protest turns Bethlehem street into chaos.Portable dumpster fire in tow to the frontline barricade (never made it) on Nakba Day 2018 in Bethlehem.Stone throwers on Nakba Day 2018 in Bethlehem."I'm from the United States! I just got tear gassed by the fucking IDF! Proud to be here! Proud to be with Palestinians forever, man!" (Video stills & photos by L. Maushard)

“Next week, we hear, be problem.”

“You know, nothing has changed,” Marwan Ganam, 45, a Palestinian family man and reception desk clerk said from the beautifully manicured gardens at the Austrian Hospice colonial-era guest facility located in the heart of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Because the 1st Intifada, and after the 1st Intifada, they talk about (the 1993) Oslo (Accords), and the peace with Palestinian and Israel. And they talk about peace. Talking, talking, many years. But nothing change. Nothing is changed. The same lies. The same problem. At first, they return Jericho and Gaza, but it’s no change. They need many years to talking, talking. But no change. The same.”

More than most people, Marwan has an up-close perspective on the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has lived in the Muslim Quarter of occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City his entire life in a home in an archway directly above the main Al-Wad Street, a home he says has been in his family for 600 years. His wife and four children, three boys and one girl ranging from 4 to 19 years old, live there with his mother, while his brother’s family resides on an upper level.

He has worked mostly overnight reception at the Austrian Hospice guest house for the past 8 years located just a few minutes from his home, both his job and residence on the important Al-Wad thoroughfare that leads directly from the Damascus Gate opening on the Old City stone walls straight down to the Wailing Wall plaza, as well as the plaza entry to the Al Aqsa Mosque, third holiest place in Islam.

“It’s more hard now. Before it was easy. Before the 1st Intifada, I remember we have good life here. Also with the Jewish and the Palestinian, it was good. No problem. Yeah, we work together, we have many friends from the Israelalian. I have many friends. Yeah, it was quiet. It was good, too. We have tourists. Many Jewish they come here and they go to our shops eating hummus, they going around the Old City. It was quiet and everything. It was good, you know.

“And now it’s very bad.”

Why?

“Because, ah, I don’t know why, but, ah, the situation in the Old City is bad. Nobody like the other. They can’t live together, I think. I don’t know. Because they talking the two sides, the Palestinian and the Israeli. They talk about peace, about peace, but nobody, I think, need peace.”

 

Monthly Zionist demos in Muslim Quarter

A big part of the ongoing tension here involves provocative regular Zionist demonstrations protected by heavily armed Israeli authorities that parade through the Muslim Quarter.

“Every month, (Zionists) they have demonstration. Maybe 3 or 4 hours,” Marwan said. “They close the Old City from the Western Wall to the cross street here at the Hospice. They march from the Western Wall, around the gate of the Al Aqsa Mosque until the Lion’s Gate, (a main southern entry to the Old City). This way, you can’t walk. If you are Arab, you can’t walk in this street. They close all the shops and put police barricades and you can’t walk.

“Marchers all push on the doors, knock on the doors. They shouting ‘We don’t need Arab! To Arab, you die!’ Everything. And many police. They was with them there. Every month. Settlers, just settlers. They came from everywhere. And they say ‘We go to the Temple Mount!,” yeah. ‘We built the Temple Mount!’ This is every month. And the police, they don’t give you to open your shop in this time. 7:30pm to later in the night. They have flags and everything. Loudspeaker. Yeah.”

On top of this ongoing tension, the highly controversial US embassy relocation to Jerusalem is set for May 14 when Israel marks its 70th anniversary, followed on the 15th when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba Day “Catastrophe” recalling their mass expulsions and village destructions by Zionist armed forces in 1948. The Islamic Month of Ramadan also begins in the region on or about May 15 bringing 100’s of thousands of Muslim pilgrims into occupied East Jerusalem to the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque.

Published reports also note that starting this Saturday will be the always dramatic annual Jerusalem Day events when Israelis, mostly Zionist settlers, march provocatively through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City to mark the ’67 Israeli military capture of Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Like the monthly Zionist provocations on steroids. Like the annual Protestant Orange Order marches through Catholic Belfast and Derry.

And, of course, the world has been witness to the recent #GreatReturnMarch demonstrations by Palestinians in Gaza where Israeli military snipers from their side of the border have shot dead at least 40 people, including two clearly marked press members, and wounding more than 5,000 others by live fire, tear gas attacks and other means. Those #GreatReturnMarches are only expected to intensify with this upcoming Nakba Day.    

With the utmost understatement, Marwan added, “Next week, we hear, be problem.”

 

Little American awareness

Marwan engages with people the world over at the Austrian Hospice. Regarding the vast majority of Americans he sees here in the Old City, “They don’t know what happened. They don’t know. They just come to visit and have fun. They go back to their country. They tourists and they go back to their country. Not political aware. Some country, some European country, they know what happened here.”

As for my fellow countrywomen and men, Marwan said, “The American people, they are just hearing in the news, and the news they don’t give you the real situation. What happens here. If they came here, and they see what happen here, then maybe they change about the Israelalians, you know? They give Israel everything. Like Trump, they give Israel everything, but the people, the American people they don’t know what happen here, really. Because the news, they don’t really give you the picture what’s happened here, you know?”

So does he expect any help coming from anyone in the international community?

“No. No.”

Marwan is both cynical, a realist perhaps, but nevertheless remains optimistic, and is always quick with a genuine laugh and a smile. “You know, it’s no solution. Because all my life it’s a farce. We hear about peace, about peace. Many year we hear about peace, but nothing happen. But I hope so. And maybe my kids, be peace for my kids, and for everyone. Palestine and for Jewish. We don’t need war. We don’t need to be hard for everyone. We need peace, but we don’t see the peace. There’s the problem.”

As a young man, Marwan was an active part of the Palestinian resistance against the decades-long Israeli occupation. As a 16-year-old student barred from classes when Israelis shut down his school, Marwan joined the 1st Intifada conflict.

“The first Intifada, you know, it start because one of the settlers they kill 7 Palestinian people. After everyone, they hear about that, and it was demonstration everywhere, and they start to throw stones at the soldiers. In Jerusalem, Ramallah, the West Bank, everywhere.

“Here, we have many settlers in the Old City because they have the Western Wall. This street Al-Wad is very important street, from Damascus Gate until the Wailing Wall, it’s straight. In the 1st Intifada, everyone was in the 1st Intifada. Because it was just stones, no guns, no knife, nothing in the 1st Intifada. And everyone, he was there.

 

Marwan was there

“Me and another friend, you know, we throw stones and like that at the soldiers here and Al-Saladine Street and sometimes when they entered the mosque,” Marwan explained, adding he was only captured by the Israelis because someone snitched. “I don’t know who told the police. They working with the Intifada, you know. Palestinian spies, yes. And the police they come to my home. Maybe a month after the Intifada began. They catch me. And they took me to police station.”

How exactly did they take you into custody?

“At 2:00 in the night.They come. Many soldiers, maybe 15, and secret police also. They come ‘Boom, boom, boom on my door. My mother, she open the door because the next day I was going on school trip. I had prepared my bag, my stuff for the trip: the radio, the food, everything. And when they asked my mother, ‘Where is Marwan?’ She pointed to the room where he slept. “I wake up, and don’t know what’s happened. I see the police over my head. I say, ‘What’s going on?’ He say, ‘Come on! We need you.’

“When they come, I know, I remember what I do. Everything, you know? Yeah, and they took me to the police station. My father was sad, and my mother say ‘What you need from my son?!’ They say, ‘It’s not your business!’ ”

Marwan was allowed to change out of his bed clothes while a policeman was present. “They took me and put (restraints) on my hands, and my legs, and (bandana) over my eyes. I could only walk slowly, slowly.

“When I go down from my home, I could see a little bit under the bandana, I see my friend. Also they catch him. His home was not far away from my home. They took me and him and another one. There was three. Iman and Mwatbar. We were 16,17 still in school, but the Intifada it was beginning, and the police had closed the school because everyday we throw stones from the (upper story) school to the street below. Yeah. And the police closed that school one month, three weeks, every time. Yeah, and we don’t have school.”

Many separate incidents contributed to the start of the 1st Intifada in December 1987, all these boiling over from the Palestinian population chafing under strong Israeli military occupation of their territories for years since the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Days’ War.

When Marwan claimed that “everybody” was involved in the 1st Intifada, he was not exaggerating. According to the wiki page, “Equally unprecedented was the extent of mass participation in these disturbances: tens of thousands of (Palestinian) civilians, including women and children. The Israeli security forces used the full panoply of crowd control measures to try and quell the disturbances: cudgels, nightsticks, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. But the disturbances only gathered momentum.”

 

Might, power and beatings

As always, the Palestinians were placed at a horrible imbalance of power. “The Israeli response to the Palestinian uprising was harsh,” claimed the wiki page. “The IDF killed many Palestinians at the beginning of the Intifada, the majority killed during demonstrations and riots. Since initially a high proportion of those killed were civilians and youths, Yitzhak Rabin adopted a fallback policy of ‘might, power and beatings’. Israel used mass arrests of Palestinians, engaged in collective punishments like closing down West Bank universities for most years of the uprising, and West Bank schools for a total of 12 months. Round-the-clock curfews were imposed over 1,600 times in just the first year. Communities were cut off from supplies of water, electricity and fuel. At any one time, 25,000 Palestinians would be confined to their homes.” The 1st Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993.

“They took me to the police station on Jaffa Street, Moscowvia. It’s for the Russian people. They put me in a small Ford, the driver, a guard, and two of us. They took me to secret police to ask me ‘What you doing? Why you throw stones?’ Things like that, you know. In the beginning he ask me, and I don’t answer. So he start to punch me. He put me on the chair. My hands behind my back. And he was sitting close to me, and he asked ‘What you doing?’ I say ‘nothing.’ He hit me in my face. He hit me so strong there. ‘What you doing?’ I say ‘Nothing.’ He hit me again. If I don’t answer, he start to hit me. He asks me like two or three hours. And every time he hit me. I don’t answer, he hit me.

“After I don’t answer, he took me and put me like in stone cupboard. Stone cupboard, like a closet, but small one. He put me inside, and he close. Yeah, small one. Just maybe 15cm by 15 cm. He put me inside, and said, ‘You don’t want to answer, now you will answer.’ After maybe 30 minutes, 35 minutes, he get me out again. Because inside you can’t stay long time because the air, you can’t (breath). He bring me out, and he say ‘What you doing?’ I say, ‘Nothing. I just throw stones,’ after he punch me again.

“He want to know everyone he was with me, ‘What we doing?”, yeah, everyone. I told him I was alone. He said to me, ‘You are a liar.’ He start to punch me again with sticks. In the body, hard. He said to me ‘You are a liar.’ I say, ‘I am not lie. I was alone.’ After maybe four hour total, he called the police and let him into the room. He was secret police.

 

Green and blue

“The regular police took me to the room with another guy. Maybe 14 guys in the room. I maybe know maybe 3,4 from my street. When I enter, they saw me and say ‘Hey, Marwan! What’s happen?! What’s happen?!’ I told them ‘Nothing.’ And they look to me, here was blue and green where he punch me (pointing to both sides of his front neck). This side and this side was, ah, green and blue.

“I sit there maybe two hour, three hour. And the police come again, “Hello Marwan!” They took me again. The secret police they want to ask me again. The same guy, yeah. He come over there. He say to me ‘Who was with you?’ I tell him ‘Nobody!’ He say ‘liar.’ He say I was with another friend. I say ‘No I wasn’t! I was alone.’ And he didn’t want to say I was alone. He didn’t believe me. And he asked me two hours until morning. Maybe 10 in morning.

“After, I hear they bring another guy; he was with me. His name Iman. And I hear him in the second room. He say ‘Yeah, it was me and Marwan and another guy.” Because they police, he need me to hear him. Yeah. I know he say about me and about him. I feel bad, you know, because they hit me strong and I say “No! No! I don’t know anyone!’ But I say no problem.

“When I heard my friend say it, I admit it was me and him. The secret police said ‘Why you no say before?’ I say ‘I am afraid, and I don’t know.’ He say ‘Ok’ and after he ask me two or three times and they put me in the big room again. The next day, they took me to the judge. Me and another friend to the same judge. The judgement he give me 18 days more. He asked me what happened? I told him they punch me. And it was lawyer for the government. He was an Arab lawyer. He talk with the judge, he say “They are kids. They are small.’ He try to help me, but he can’t. The judgement they gave me was 18 days more.

Marwan served that time back at nearby police station, and they brought him before the judge again after the 18 days. Now he received a six months jail term. The time was spent with other 16- and 17-year-old stone throwers at a prison near Jenin hours from home. Actually, it was not a horrible experience, at least for his pre 18-year-old Intifada comrades. “Maybe it was fun at the beginning for us. The first time you enter the jail.”  They received two hours daily outside cell time in the fresh air. And an older jailmate who had been there for two years taught the other young prisoners about the Intifada and political situations, as well as regular reading and writing skills if needed. “Yeah, it was good. I meet people from my street, and it was fun.”  Marwan said he was proud of his anti-occupation resistance.

When he was freed from jail, Marwan did not stop fighting. “I start to work again with another guy for the Intifada. Yeah, I was Fatah. And we make molotov (flaming cocktail) and we throw stones and we write on the walls. I was 18 with someone who was 20 and 21 and we start to work again. We throw molotovs from the roof to the soldier. Also some settler car enter to the Al Wad street. After 6 months they catch me again.”

Marwan said they did not torch any settler cars with people inside, and he didn’t kill anyone.

 

Shot at close range by IDF

Unlike the first time when soldier snatched him from home in the dead of night, Marwan’s capture experience was much different.

“They shoot me. Here, you see?” and points to his inner right arm in the fold opposite the elbow. “It was in the street. We are fighting with the soldiers. He was close to me like maybe 1-and-half metre, and he shoot me here (in the arm) and here (a grazing shot to the right side near the kidney), you know? But this one (on the arm) was very hard because it enter in my arm.

“When he shot me, I run away. He come to catch me and I run away. I run away down to the market to the Damascus Gate. From Damascus Gate, they took me in car to the hospital on the Mt. of Olives, and when I finish, I come back to the Lions Gate the same night. The police saw me from the car because I was bleeding. He see me and they catch me.”

Soon, Marwan was back in jail for a much longer stretch.

“When they took me to the court, the judgement, he gave me 33 months. There was many people from all over, from Jenin, from Ramallah, from Gaza, from everywhere. I was more than 18 years old, not small.

Again, Marwan found positive aspects to the incarceration. “They taught us very good. Every day we sitting in the room, and we talking about history, about many thing. Like a school, yeah. Every day in the morning they give you book, you need to read one hour and after you make conversation, and everything. They ask you what you learn. It was a teacher from Gaza. He was many years in the jail, and he know everything. He was a good teacher. He teach everyone. Mohammad.

“I had no family. It was easy for me, you know. In my time, it was easy. But now, today, the jail is very hard. Yeah, the first time was easy. The second time was not so hard. Not like this (current situation). But this time now is very hard. If you enter to the jail it’s very hard. Not like the past. Now the police they hitting. I heard it’s terrible more.

After his anti-occupation fighting and jail-time experiences, Marwan said he had had enough.

 

Father dies while Marwan imprisoned

“When I come out (after about 5 years total in prison), I was 23 and I was finished. My time is finished. And I work, and I want to make family. My mother said to me ‘We engage you and it’s finished for you.’ Because I was in jail and my father he die outside, and I was in the jail. They don’t give me to go out. He was old and I know he will die, but I didn’t know when it happen.

“And my mother said ‘It’s enough for you. Don’t make a trouble. Don’t make a problem.’ I listen for my mother. I say it’s enough for me, and they engage me. After two years, I am married and I make family.”

Former fighters are usually some of the best people at making peace. They understand the direct and up-close consequences of the decisions of others who often have no direct conflict experience.

When I asked if would be willing to physically fight any longer, Marwan replied simply:

“No. No.”

 

Marwan Ganam stands his ground beneath the ancestral home, owned by his family for 600 years, in the windowed archway above the main Al Wad street in the Old City's Muslim Quarter of occupied East Jerusalem.Taking a few moments in the garden patio before his shift begins, Marwan has served the Austrian Hospice in occupied East Jerusalem as night receptionist for the past eight years."Many year we hear about peace, but nothing happen. But I hope so. And maybe my kids, be peace for my kids, and for everyone. Palestine and for Jewish. We don’t need war." Marwan & 4-year-old son Yousef in their family's home of 600 years above the main Al Wad Street in the Old City's Muslim Quarter of occupied East Jerusalem.Gesturing toward the box-like shed, Marwan points out a nearby Zionist settler structure & adjacent guard shack from the roof of his family's 600-year-old residence in occupied East Jerusalem. The settler outpost was reportedly built about 20 years ago.A devout Muslim, Marwan built this model of the Al Aqsa Mosque from common materials during his time in jail for actions during the 1987-1993 1st Intifada uprising against Israeli forces in Palestine. Marwan spent 5 years in Israeli jails & prisons. It took him 6 weeks to create this tribute to the third holiest shrine in all Islam, which is located a few minutes walk from his home in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli checkpoints regularly are posted along Al Wad Street where his family home has stood for 600 years. (L. Maushard photos.)

“You become illegal in your own city.”

At least 40 Palestinian demonstrators, part of the #GreatReturnMarch, have recently been shot dead in Gaza by Israeli military snipers, including two clearly identified press members, with more than 5,000 others seriously injured by Israeli gun shots, tear gas attacks and other means. And the Trump administration has for the first time removed the descriptive term “occupied” in reference to the Palestinian territories in its annual 2018 State Department Report on Human Rights.

In less than 10 days, Washington is scheduled to officially relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, symbolically and physically aligning itself with Israel’s decades-long campaign to claim the entire still-divided and partially occupied ancient city as its capital, in contravention of international law and long accepted diplomatic norms. No other major Western power recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including every NATO member state. Israel has militarily occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, which the Palestine authorities also claim as their rightful capital.

With all these accelerating developments and more in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the stalled Middle East peace process, I asked Nada Awad, advocacy officer at the Community Action Center (CAC) of Al-Quds University in occupied East Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter in the Old City, what actions people in US and elsewhere can do to support Palestinians’ internationally recognized rights as an occupied population according to the Geneva Conventions and other applicable treaties and statutes.

“For Jerusalem, for one thing, oppose (your) government decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I don’t know if there is any movement in the US that opposes the administration’s decision. That is one thing,” remarked the knowledgeable spokeswoman in spacious modern CAC offices within what was once St. Julian’s Church built during a European Crusader campaign more than 800 years ago. “The other things are to raise awareness of the (ongoing occupation) and stop using the security argument all the time when we talk about Israel.

“When we talk about Israel, we have to talk about colonialism, we have to talk about occupation, and not talk about war and terrorism. Because where we live, we are occupied. We live under occupation, and fighting occupation is our right. Whereas in the US what you hear is that Palestinians are at war with Israel. This does not exist. We are not at war. We are fighting occupation. So we have to change the narrative that has been . . .  a lot of propaganda happening since ‘48.”

 

Zionist duty to forcibly transfer Palestinians

Awad continued with a position not heard often on US mainstream media sources: “Since ‘48, Israel has had a very clear agenda: to create a state on the Palestinian land. And in order to do so, they had to forcibly transfer Palestinians. It was their duty, you know, for all these Zionist leaders that clearly stated that in order to create the state, we have to expel the Palestinians. And this is a plan that has been ongoing since then, since ‘48 until today; and it’s continuous, a continuous crime that was not recognized from the basis in ‘48. It should have been recognized as a crime.”

Pressed about conditions on the ground, Awad added the following from a physical location only yards away from Israeli military units controlling access to the golden domed Al Aqsa Mosque grounds, third holiest site in all Islam, as well as the main Old City checkpoint leading into the plaza surrounding the Western Wall, a site revered by countless numbers of the Jewish faith.   

“Those efforts to forcibly transfer Palestinians are increasing. Definitely. Definitely increasing. We are seeing it increasing with the laws in Jerusalem, but also the bedouins who are being forcibly transferred around Jerusalem. From Hebron being heavily colonized. (Like) in 1948, it’s the same idea.

“I just talk about Jerusalem. We are very specific (at the CAC). It can be more generalized, but for me, the message I want to convey everytime I speak about the situation in Jerusalem is we have to stop seeing the occupation as, ah, a good provider of services, et cetera, et cetera. The occupation tries to show itself as a democracy that has everyone (in mind); in Jerusalem we have the three religions. And we have to stop looking at the occupation this way. We have to change glasses, and look at it the way it is.

“Palestinians in Jerusalem live at risk of forcible transfer everyday. They cannot even stay in Jerusalem because you have targets by the Israeli government, and the (Jerusalem) municipality, that want to maintain their number. 30% Palestinians if they could, but they will visit it to 40%. The idea is the (Palestinian population) cannot exceed 40%. So we have to live with psychological warfare everyday in Jerusalem.

“We have to (nonviolently) fight to be able to stay in our city we were born in. Where our grandparents were born in, and where our grand-grandparents were born in.

“If there is one message about Jerusalem, it’s forcible transfer,” Awad emphasized the point. “It’s not the only city where there is forcible transfer, but the fact that Americans through their administration has recognized the unity of the city, and denied that East Jerusalem is occupied in an illegal event.” In December 2017, the Trump administration announced its official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but delayed relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv until now.

 

4th Geneva Convention still applies

“This is very important for people to know what it means,” Awad continued. “It is not just a term, occupation. The Law of Occupation, and the 4th Geneva Convention that’s applicable in occupied East Jerusalem gives, provides protection for Palestinians. And removing the term “occupied” means that this is not applicable anymore, and the 4th Geneva is not applicable any more. And this protection, we’ll lose it as a population under occupation. It’s very important.”

Awad stressed again what those in solidarity with the human rights conditions in occupied Palestine can do: “We call on the international community to do what it should do. To bring back Israel to legality. By all means that are legitimate. To bring back Israel to legality. It means if we lose also the Geneva Convention, the Palestinian population will lose protection. This is the standard to people living under occupation. We have that. We cannot lose that.”

Awad sat at her desk computer dressed in casual clothes like any other millennial, with no veil or hijab, though at least one other female in the office was dressed in more traditional attire. Young European and American CAC workers and volunteers also were present.

“I think this is the most important idea,” she added. “What does it mean to recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel, and (its illegal) annexation? It means they are denying Palestinians the right to live in their city. They are denying Palestinians. And it’s continuous. The United States has continued to support Israel, have continued to support forcible transfer, which is a war crime against humanity. So the idea is, this is a responsibility (to oppose forcible transfers), a responsibility that should be taken, and policies should be changed.”

Asked if any countries are, in fact, effectively supporting Palestinians in these forcible transfer issues, Awad didn’t have much good news.

“Well, there were in the UN, for example. We have a lot of states discussing this issue publically, issuing statements,” she noted. “The European Union issued a very strong statement against the (most recent residency) law when it was issued. But it stays in the terms of declarations and statements, and it does not materialize.”

For the past two years, Awad has worked at the Community Action Center, operated by Al Quds University, which is one of several institutions providing pro bono legal aid to Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. Other community services provided by the university in the Old City include library, cultural center, and an Arabic language school currently under renovation.

 

CAC fights occupation through legal means

“But this center specifically, the Cultural Action Center is providing legal aid because they live in a situation of occupation, and they have to fight the occupation on a daily basis, whether it’s, ah, because of residency revocation Israel is possibly transferring Palestinians from the city. And to fight this forcible transfer, we fight it legally, through the legal Israeli system, which is illegal. We have to in a way deal with the Israeli system since we realized Israel is, the laws, are becoming more and more discriminatory, more and more clearly violating international law, and more and more clearly calling for forcible transfer. We have been working on this aspect of international advocacy.

“We work mostly with other Palestinian and international organizations, human rights organizations. And we lobby states, whether it’s in Palestine, or through the U.N., or through the other representative offices in Jerusalem, in Palestine, or abroad. The idea is to lobby for changes in the laws . . . and to get criminals, war criminals, and people committing crimes against humanity in the Israeli government to be tried in international courts.”

How busy are the caseloads for the Center’s staff lawyers and support employees? “We have dozens of cases coming in everyday. And we are open six days a week.”

Revoking Palestinian residency, redrawing the borders, not granting family reunification, not granting child registration, and demolishing homes in a systematic discriminatory manner are Israeli occupation policies all working together in order to change the overall demographic equation in occupied East Jerusalem, according to Awad.

“The demographic goal is what makes this all become normal, you know?,” she added in a matter-of-fact way. “In the (Israeli Knesset parliamentary) bills, it is clearly stated it is for demographic goals. ‘And how can the Jewish capital of the Jewish state not be Jewish?’ To be a Jewish state they recognize a percentage of Palestinians or non-Jews living in this state should be a maximum of 20. (Israeli Prime Minister) Netanyahu re-uses these alarming statistics, speaking of, ‘If the (non-Jews) become 40 (percent), there is no more Jewish state. So we have to use extreme measures.’ And he said it very clearly.”

 

Israel could not kill Palestinian identity

Do people at the CAC working daily with Palestinians under direct military occupation remain optimistic? “Yeah, always,” Awad replied without hesitation. ”The fact that the Palestinian identity is very strong today shows Israel and the colonial aspect of Israel could not kill the Palestinian identity, although we are divided by now. We have East Jerusalem Palestinians, we have West Bank Palestinians, and Gaza Palestinians, refugees all over the world, in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, all over the place. And still you have very strong Palestinian identity.”

The determined Palestinian spokeswoman maintained that “we have not forgotten the right of return. People are still marching. People have not stopped since 1948. We have not stopped fighting. The fight is very difficult because, well, the power imbalance is very dear, but the fact that we are still fighting the occupation keeps me very optimistic in all ways. In all legitimate ways, we fight occupation, whether it’s through legal services, or through advocacy, or through (other means) like Boycott, Divest, Sanction.

“I’m not saying the Center supports BDS. But personally now, I’m speaking personally, not in the name of the Center, it’s what touches most of the occupation, which is the economy, and this is why BDS is being fought so hard by the Israelis. Because they feel pressure, and this is one of the only times, one of the only tools we have, to bring back Israel to legality because this is what scares them. If the West stops economic ties, Israel’s economy would fold. So it’s very important.”

Awad went into great detail about each aspect of the CAC’s priority legal work — opposing redrawing borders, opposing refusal of family reunifications, opposing prohibitions on child registration, and opposing systematic discriminatory home demolitions — for East Jerusalem’s threatened Palestinian population. But she insisted on emphasizing the residency issue, “situations that are in place for Palestinians in Jerusalem,” in order to best understand the occupation.

 

They call us Arabs

“Since 1967, all Palestinians — there’s a plan by the Israelis, the municipal plan, enacted in 1973 that wants to create and maintain an Israeli majority in the city. So in order to get there, a demographic balance, a demographic ratio that’s supposed to be 70/30. The overall ratio of the population must be maintained at 70% Jew and 30% Palestinian. They call us Arabs.

“So in order to put this plan into practice, Israelis have been revoking residencies of Palestinians. What does that mean? It means that Palestinians have been given by the occupation a ‘residency status.’ They call it ‘permanent residency status’ for each individual who lived, was physically present during the time of the occupation in 1967. So all the people who were outside did not get residency status, although they were from Jerusalem. So in 1967 we were granted this residency status that is a revocable privilege that is given by the occupation, and not a right.”

And it apparently gets worse. “So this status has been more and more easily revocable since 1967,” Awad claims. “In 1995, the center of life policy was introduced meaning that a Palestinian who lives in the city, or in Palestine, the West Bank, would lose their residency because they cannot prove center of life. Before that, the Minister of Interior was invited to revoke residency ​only​ when a Palestinian would leave the country for 7 years or more, get a permanent residency abroad, or nationality abroad. So you see, it’s escalating.

“And more recently, a law was adopted allowing the Ministry of Interior to revoke the residency of Palestinians based on ‘breach of allegiance.’ Of course, as Palestinians living under occupation, we do not owe allegiance to the occupier. The definition of ‘breach of allegiance is a terrorist attack, or belonging to a terrorist organization, or supporting a terrorist attack, or inciting for a terrorist attack, espionage, assault. It’s a very broad definition given to ‘breach of allegiance’,  which is totally illegal.”

So any Palestinian can be accused?, I asked “Yes, they can use it against me, against all my friends here living in Jerusalem because a terrorist organization, according to Israel, is any (Palestinian) political party. So affiliations with any political party, even Fatah, for Israel is a terrorist organization. Basically, all of us here, Palestinians, are politicized. And being politicized is becoming a crime. So even our freedom of thought, our freedom of political participation. And we have a right to participate in politics in Palestine, according to the Oslo Agreements. We have the right to elect representatives, and we have the right to be elected as representatives of Jerusalem.”  

 

We are really worried

According to Awad, the residency issue for Palestinians continues to deteriorate. “The Ministry of Interior says that between 1967 and 2017 we have more than 14,500 residencies revoked. But between 1995 and 2017, it’s more than 11,500. So we see that after the introduction of the ‘center of life’ policy the residencies were revoked in a very bigger, way larger way. And after the adoption of the recent ‘breach of allegiance’ law, after 2018 in March, the new amendment, we are really worried about this that allows Israel to revoke thousands more residencies.”

The practical result of the occupation’s increasing use of residency revocations is pervasive and significant. “The impact of residency revocation is that you don’t have the right to legally live, legally according to Israeli law of course, to live in Jerusalem. So basically you become illegal in your own city. This is the first impact. The second one is that if you continue to live in Jerusalem, you don’t have any rights. You don’t have any right to work. You don’t have any papers. You don’t have the right to circulate, to move. To go to school. To get any health services. As Palestinians, they pay the same taxes as Israelis and we are entitled to benefits. But in these cases, when residencies are revoked, you are not entitled any more to any of the health insurance, or any of the benefits that you paid for.”

And the loss of legal residency for a growing number of Palestinians in Jerusalem leaves them wide open to exploitation by nearly everyone around them with an agenda.

“You can receive a first permit, but it has to be renewed every year,” Awad noted. “Then you try and renew it, and they will tell you ‘no’. So you can find yourself living in Jerusalem without a permit. This person cannot support, cannot go out, visit their family who live outside Jerusalem. Well, you will try to work even for an Israeli company who will hire you for less. Of course, everyone without proper documentation is open for society to exploit them. Even for lawyers to exploit them. When they’re vulnerable, it can be an Israeli exploiting you, it can be a Palestinian, it can be your family.

“For example, your husband will . . . you are beaten by your husband, but you don’t have any papers. And you have children. And you want to go to the police, but your husband say, ‘Ah!’, and you can’t say anything. Or the police say where are your papers?, and they can forcibly transfer you. So you don’t go to the police about the issue of being beaten or violence at home, domestic violence. Because you’re afraid you will be forcibly transferred. You will be left without your children.”

The CAC provides a referral system for people with mental health problems, chronic diseases based on stress, the need for psycho-social support, and other physical and emotional issues all connected to the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Awad said she has lived behind a checkpoint her whole life, and regularly walks through 4 or 5 checkpoints daily from the Damascus Gate to her office, but usually is not stopped because she does not wear a head cover or veil. For many of her fellow Palestinians, the experience in the Old City and elsewhere is quite different:

“The youth, men, veiled women, et cetera, when (Israeli authorities) see clearly that a person is Palestinian, they will stop them every time. (They) check the bags. For men, (they) do a belly check, and put them on the wall. It’s very humiliating. It’s very important to keep that in mind that this situation only creates wanting vengeance, but not in a sense that, where everything is a reaction to (only these checkpoint conditions). The idea behind the protests and demonstration is the end of this occupation, the illegal occupation, that has been going on for 70 years.” []

 

State Department Response

A U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be referred to by name, at the Jerusalem Consul General office, to be the temporary site of the new embassy, responded via email about the relocation after this article was initially published:

“We are proud to announce that on May 14 we dedicate the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. In doing so, President Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise. As the President stated in December, for the United States, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a recognition of reality. Seventy years ago the United States, under President Truman, recognized the State of Israel. Ever since then, Jerusalem has been the seat of the modern Israeli government. And today, after years of promises and waiting, we are fulfilling a pledge; Jerusalem is now also the home of the U.S. Embassy to Israel.”

Perhaps trying to minimize the international controversy surrounding the unprecedented U.S. recognition of Jerusalem, the State Department official added:

“The United States continues to support the status quo with regard to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and we are committed to continuing to respect Jordan’s special role regarding holy sites in Jerusalem. By taking the long-overdue step of moving our embassy, we are not taking a position on final status issues. We are not taking a position on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem nor on the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved. We remain committed to advancing an agreement between the parties that leads to a lasting and comprehensive peace.”

The same State Department official also responded to my question regarding the recent omission of the occupation description:

“We have retitled the Human Rights report to refer to the commonly-used geographic names of the area the report covers: Israel, Golan, West Bank, and Gaza. That is in line with our practices generally. We also believe it is clearer and more useful for readers seeking information on human rights in those specific areas. The use of the term has not been barred, and that will be apparent on reading through the text of the report.”

“We have to (nonviolently) fight to be able to stay in our city we were born in. Where our grandparents were born in, and where our grand-grandparents were born in."Nada Awad working as advocacy officer at the Community Action Center of Al-Quds University. "When (Israeli authorities) see clearly that a person is Palestinian, they will stop them every time." Community Action Center, operated by Al-Quds University, provides pro bono legal aid to Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. (photos by L. Maushard)

Ibrahim for food, not bombs

In the Palestinian sector on the famed Mount of Olives, the downside of the hilltop mosque on Salman Al-Farsi Street near the Mount of Olives School and the Mount of Olives Women’s Center, the internationally known advocate for peace Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa maintains a slightly rundown open center welcoming all travelers with no regard for money or background in the nondescript down-on-its-heels A-Tur neighborhood.

The entryway steps leading to the 76-year-old Palestinian’s multilevel building from an always open substreet-level doorgate are littered with a fidgety cadre of sickly flea-bitten cats, like much of the other hardscrabble, garbage-strewn narrow avenues and alleys in occupied East Jerusalem. Everyone is welcome to stay at No. 31 as long as they wish, and resident travelers never have to worry about food and drink. Abu El-Hawa makes sure they have sustenance and shelter.

“My parents who teach me. To love everyone. Because let’s say we are all one seed, the seed of Adam and Eve,” explained the diminutive 5’2” widely respected balding senior who had just walked in trailing two young men visiting from Switzerland. “And we are all born of this holy mother, the earth we came from. No one have a sign here (pointing to his forehead) to say Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddha, Buddhist. We are all one.”

His detailed profile and relentless efforts for peace in Palestine and worldwide have been featured in Change.org, Mondoweiss, Haaretz, Le Monde, The Huffington Post, De Welt, Daily Kos, The Jerusalem Post, The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), and numerous other media outlets in the Netherlands, Poland, and Russia, among others.

 

The old fashioned way

But I came across Abu El-Hawa the old fashioned way as he flagged down pedestrian travelers at a crowded sidewalk cafe table in a grimy busy commercial strip of restaurants, juice bars, meat vendors, tourist hostels, veggie stands, and convenience shops across the street from the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he gently admonished almost everyone in a simple attempt to sit and talk with strangers for a few brief moments.

“I love to talk to different people,” the red keffiyeh-coiffed gentleman remarked. “I used to sit in the subway station at night on 42nd Street when I visit in New York and do the same.”

His passionate desire for continuing communication and a deep-seated understanding of the human condition drives Abu El-Hawa’s mission for peace and social justice.

So when I asked about his take on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the upcoming highly contentious move by the United States to transfer its official embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 in contravention of decades of international law and understandings, he offered an opinion not often heard within the peace community:

“Maybe Mr. Trump have the key. I feel in him as a strong man, and he keep the word. They talk about moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem back in 2007,10 years ago, but nothing happen. Obama, he can’t face it; they are busy with something else.

“This guy Trump, he face it. He face it to do it. And maybe he’s so strong, he can bring something (helpful) between Israeli & Palestinian.

 

Who will stop them?

“First, who will stop them? is the question. If they decided 10 years ago, why they don’t do it before? But Trump is strong and don’t break the word. Maybe he will bring something better. He will also visit Ramallah with (Palestine President) Abbas, too. Maybe something, by God’s way, they decide it.

“Most important thing for me is to (heal) the hearts of the mothers. It’s enough. Enough people get killed, enough broken the heart of the mothers, and we hope someone can understand what I’m saying. To deal with it.”

Continuing into his macro take on the heart of the local and wider endemic and intractable conflicts, Abu El-Hawa added,

“These other countries control all the Middle East, and the world never bring any goodness. We need to have that peace. We supporting, always support, the highest business people, all their guns & machines. They don’t care about the heart of the mother, and the children.

“We ask God, in this minute, to bring the right thing for this land. And for all the lands because all the mothers, the heart of all the mothers — Christian, Jewish, Buddha — all are broken.

“Release all the prisoners! Bring the love to this land, to the Holy Land, and all the land of the world! Because there is no black and white and red. They are all . . . We need help to them.”

 

I don’t trust any government. 

Though he tries to put a positive spin on the coming embassy move, it’s not like Abu El-Hawa has a lot of confidence in the regimes in Washington and Tel Aviv and Ramallah:

“I don’t trust any government. I don’t trust them because most of the governments, they are slaves for the others. Look what’s going on in Syria. Look what’s going on in Iraq, Phillipino. All the world’s destroyed!”

His solution?

“Only way, and only one way. Don’t leave anyone hungry, or missing or needy. Why the thief going to break into the home? Because he don’t have enough. He don’t have food. All that money, trillions of dollars. If they feed the poor, they never break the door. We have other problems, but not when you have need.

“With life we have now, look at every country, especially in Middle East, with all those prisoners. Some people fight for brother or father. I pray and ask God to touch the heart of leaders in the world and release the prisoners who are in prison for nothing. And that is the only way we can bring some conflict down. And I hope I will go and meet with Mr. Trump. Maybe I will find a way to go to the White House.”

That wish is no wild pipe dream.

“I been in Ramallah, the first time when Mr. Trump sit in his chair in the White House,” claimed Abu El-Hawa. “They gave me one minute to talk to him from stage on video. I say ‘Mr. Trump please!’, you know, when he come to sit there, what he want to do first?, to build a wall between him & Mexico. It is not up to my people to want to destroy that wall tonight. But I told him, ‘Mr. Trump, please don’t try to build a wall between you and your neighbor. May peace prevail on earth. Thank you so much, God bless you, goodbye!’  250 million people listen to my voice in that one minute. Really amazing. God say you have to love your neighbors as your brother, as yourself.”

As a member of many peace-oriented groups in Palestine, Israel and internationally, Abu El-Hawa noted that “Years ago, I been in demonstration against the war in Iraq. I carry sign on my body. I been at the United Nations home, and I send a message to Mr. Dick Cheney. I told him, ‘Please stop shipping your boys and materials at us! Thank you.’

 

Attended Muhammad Ali’s funeral

“Two years ago, I been at funeral of Muhammad Ali in Kentucky. I called them, they told me, ‘Welcome!’ I saw Ali when he was here in Jerusalem. I called his daughters, and I met his brother in Kentucky. I been with 14,000 people & leaders of Turkey and King of Jordan when Ali die.

“Last year, I been in London, New York, Chicago, Texas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco for Abrahamic reunion speaking. I spoke in synagogue in White Plains, New York. I been speaking in western mosque, church and synagogue. I been in Utah with 14,000 people talking about peace.

“So maybe I get to White House and see Trump.”

Jerusalem’s advocate for peace — who has comforted the family of hospitalized Israeli settlers, and accompanied the sick to their far off homelands — plans to travel to Brazil after the upcoming month of ramadan with British filmmaker John Tate who is creating a documentary on his life. Then he will visit England and the United States. The reason behind the trip to Brazil is a special ceremony in September to officially recognize Abu El-Hawa’s new position as an honorary citizen of Brasilia, capital of the largest South American nation.

According to a document from Haverimbril, a Christian Israel-Brazil friendship group, dated April 20, it reads, in part, “It is with great joy and pleasure that we are directing the official diary of the Brazilian Parliament, Federal District, which includes the publication of the legislative decree that grants the great honor of the important title of Honorary Citizen of Brasilia, his person, capital of Brazil . . . for the good work done in favor of peace especially between Brothers, Arabs and Jews. Also for his support to the projects of cultural exchange between Brazil and Israel for the everlasting since 2006.”

Though always ready with a joke and an easy laugh and smile, there is a sense that Abu El-Hawa’s scheduled trip abroad this year might be one of his last.

 

Health is not good

“I don’t think I will live long because I have a lot of attention on my shoulders, and this takes all my energy. I don’t sleep enough in my bed. I just came now from the doctor. My health is not good, they need to change many parts in my body.” Major problems include kidney and diabetes issues to the point where, he said, “Doctor tells me to don’t fast” during the upcoming Islamic month of ramadan.

So he doesn’t pull his punches when asked specifically what can be done to help solve the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, turning it back to economics:

“I thought they make the Palestinian somewhere for income. As we are, someone makes a business income from all that what goes on here. There is a lot of money, especially for us, coming to Jerusalem. We stand strong on the summit rock in Jerusalem and don’t move, but we don’t see it or smell it. All the money what coming over. Where is it?! There’s no control. There’s no control. I blame the people in (Palestine Authority) Jerusalem. They don’t share. What the supporter for people in Jerusalem? All the money that’s coming into Jerusalem. None of us have to work. There’s enough money. But we don’t see it. We don’t smell it.”

And coming from a largely conservative Bedouin culture and family reportedly dating back more than 1,400 years in the region, Abu El-Hawa believes any solution rests with the female side of the social equation: “I think, the only way . . . I thought til today, most of the leaders of the world, they are not the father of the nation. That for the nation, for us everywhere, to need the mother. The mother cares about her children. More than the father. As written in our Holy Book (reciting a brief passage in Arabic), Heaven under the foot of the mother. Because the mother always want to protect us, and hold us between her arms. Palestine has not found her mother, no. Because the mother will never never send her children to the war to get killed and wounded. Mother always try to protect her children.

“We don’t need much here. We can live on love & peace,” intoned the aging peace advocate with a slight air of resignation. “Mother’s heart is broken because what went on today, every day. Not just here. Around the world everyday, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Phillipino. Everywhere!” []

 

A retired auto and truck mechanic with no formal education, Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa took early retirement 17 years ago. Mounting legal difficulties regarding Israeli permits for additions to his house of peace on the Mount of Olives have imposed continuing large monetary fines, including the threat of personal jail time.

Donations to support his open center facility and his peace advocacy can best be made through Western Union to his name in Jerusalem, Israel. Email a note that includes the receiver’s amount and receipt number to maryhawalyn@alqudsnet.com. Find him on Facebook at Peace for Ibrahim and http://peaceforibrahim.weebly.com and +972547768777.

 

Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa hosting travelers just arrived from Switzerland at his open house for peace in the A-Tur district on the Mount of Olives in occupied East Jerusalem. (L. Maushard photos)