Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Khader Adnan Is Being Released!

This is fantastic news! Khader Adnan is a Palestinian who was arrested nine weeks ago, and has been on a hunger strike ever since. He has been without food for 66 days, and is in critical condition. Israel calls him "a dangerous terrorist," however after two and a half months in prison, they still have not filed any charges against him. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Israeli authorities can arrest a Palestinian, and keep him or her (although it's almost always men) in "administrative detention" for up to six months (and can renew this six month period as many times as they want) without filing any charges or allowing any trial.

The first time I came to Palestine, I stayed with a host family. My host mother's brother had just been released from this administrative detention. He was arrested for being present at a non-violent protest in the West Bank, and had been in prison for the last TWO YEARS! Even though the detention only lasts six months, it is renewable basically indefinitely. After his first six month term was up, they renewed it, and renewed it, and renewed it. He ended up spending the entire two years in prison without any charges or trial, and when he was finally released, came home to meet his 18 month old daughter for the first time. Essentially, people are being held in prison for no reason, for as long as the authorities deem necessary. It is a tragedy that ruins lives, families, entire communities.

"Why are Palestinians so angry?" I'm always asked. I would contend that they are not in fact angry, but that their culture is very different, and if you're ignorant of these differences and only view Palestinians through your own cultural lens, then you may incorrectly perceive them to be angry. But if they ARE angry, probably it's because they're having to deal with garbage like this!

Imagine coming home to find out that your husband or father was just gone. He had been arrested, even though he had done nothing wrong, and you had no idea how many months, or even years, it would be until you saw him again. He was the only breadwinner for your family, so now you have no idea how you're going to eat or pay the bills. Would you be angry? Yeah, me too.

Luckily, there are people like Khader Adnan who are willing to stand up and say "This isn't right! I'm a human being, and you cannot treat me this way." He has brought light to an issue that very few knew about before. There was a demonstration outside my office today. Hundreds of Palestinian university students held signs and chanted in protest of an innocent man being held in prison.

Now, if the Israeli authorities had some sort of evidence saying that he was actually a terrorist, I would be absolutely fine with him being imprisoned and charged with his crimes. But they don't. It was, in all likelihood, a smoke screen, a way to keep Palestinians from speaking openly or actively working toward a just peace, a lame excuse used to rationalize the terrorizing of an entire people... just like so many other things here.

Israel to 'free' Palestinian hunger striker
Lawyer for Khader Adnan says Israel has agreed to free West Bank baker refusing food for 66 days over his detention.
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2012 12:30
Adnan said that his hands were shackled behind him and that he was thrown on the floor of a military jeep [REUTERS]

Israel has agreed to free Khader Adnan, a Palestinian detained without charge, who has been on hunger strike for more than nine weeks, one of his lawyers has said.

The revelation came hours before the supreme court was to hear an urgent appeal on Tuesday for Adnan's release.
The lawyer said that a settlement had been reached for ending his detention.

The continued 'administrative detention' of the Palestinian from the West Bank had stroked global anger with protesters clashing again with police in the West Bank on Tuesday.
In Depth: No food without freedom
Feature: Randa Adnan: 'I still have hope'
Op-ed: Saving his life is saving our own soul
Op-ed: Starving for freedom
Support grows for Palestinian hunger striker
Israel arrested Adnan, a 33-year-old baker, on December 17 near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. Israel accuses him of being a spokesman for the Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad.

He told lawyers and human rights organisations that masked soldiers violently broke into his house, where his mother and children were present.
Adnan said that his hands were shackled behind him and that he was thrown onto the floor of the military jeep and kicked and slapped by soldiers while they took him to the settlement of Mevo Dotan.

He began refusing food a day after his arrest and is now said to be in critical condition.

Earlier, Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, urged world leaders to pressure Israel to free Adnan.

"I sent messages to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton today, and spoke with the EU and Chinese envoys," Erakat told AFP news agency.

"I asked them all to intervene in Adnan's case. They must apply pressure on Israel to release him," he said.

Widespread condemnation
World leaders had expressed growing concern over the fate of the prisoner, who was held without charge under a procedure known as "administrative detention".

There are currently more than 300 Palestinians being held in administrative detention by Israel, without charge or trial, for renewable periods of six months, without any way of defending themselves.

Palestinian officials warned that his death in custody could start a violent backlash, while a spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service said on Sunday that they were "constantly monitoring" the situation.

"We understand the implications of this case," Sivan Weizman said.

But on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office went on the offensive, with a spokesman describing Adnan as "a dangerous terrorist" despite the fact he has yet to be charged with any security offences.

Until now, Adnan has not been charged and the military court that approved Adnan's detention has refused to release any details on the reason for his arrest or ongoing imprisonment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Zababdeh... And a Run-In with Soldiers

Right before Christmas, I took a trip to Zababdeh, a little village about two hours north of Bethlehem, with the College Choir as they put on their Christmas concert (I know this post was a little delayed, but I wanted to wait until the Choir had finished touring to write about it, and then my computer broke, but NOW IT'S FIXED and I'm one happy camper). The Choir was kind enough to let me (and my friend Courtney, a volunteer here through the Lutheran church [funny story: we actually went to college together, but never met until we got here, even though we have plenty of mutual friends]) travel with them to see a little bit more of the country.

First, I feel like I should clarify something that I'm constantly asked about regarding my placement. I work for the Shepherd Society, which is the humanitarian branch of Bethlehem Bible College. My office is at the college, and so I spend a lot of time with students, professors, and college staff. I often refer to "the college," and when I do, I'm referring to BBC, the place I spend 8 hours every day.

So anyways, Zababdeh! Courtney and I got on the bus with the choir. We headed up to the village. On our way, we ran into some cows and had to stop while they migrated off the road.

I was the official photographer for the concert (translation: terrible idea!). The Choir sang a mix of traditional Palestinian songs, and Christmas carols, while I desperately tried to take good pictures without good lighting. The place was absolutely packed! Everyone was so excited to have us, and the community was so welcoming. We finished, ate dinner, packed up, and headed home.

One of my favorite pictures from the evening.
Now, this should be the end of the story. But because this is Palestine, it's only the beginning.

At this point, it's about 10pm and we're about 45 minutes away from home. We're all quite excited about this, because it's been a long day and we're all tired. We're all chatting and laughing; we're happy because the concert went well. Everyone was also relieved, because on the previous trip (just the day before), the bus was attacked by Israeli settlers.

Here's the video from the evening prior (Munther, the guy speaking, is the vice-academic dean of the college, the choir director, and also one of my favorite people! He's intelligent and hilarious, a great combination, and he's my office neighbor so I see a lot of him):

We were well past where the bus was attacked last time, and so we expected it to be smooth sailing from there on out. All of a sudden, the bus starts to slow down. We were about to head through an Israeli military checkpoint, which isn't uncommon in the West Bank, even though we were in Area A, which legally is supposed to be completely controlled by the Palestinian government and police force (because Palestine doesn't have a military) - for more information on Area divisions and how that works, click here. But I mean, who is going to go up to these Israeli soldiers and tell them that international law clearly states that they are outside their jurisdiction and they need to leave? Absolutely no one.

As we approach the checkpoint, David, one of my good Palestinian friends, started to get a little nervous, and so I asked him what was wrong.

"Last time I went through this checkpoint," he said, "I got arrested and held for ten days in prison." 
"WHY?" I asked, "What did you do?" 
"I did nothing wrong. My family is from Gaza, and even though I am here legally and had the papers to prove it, the soldiers claimed that they were fake and that I was a terrorist. They arrested me and held me in prison, without filing any charges, until the Bible College found me a lawyer and got me out." 
I was obviously confused. "How is that legal? How are they allowed to just hold you for no real reason? They need to have proof of illegal activity before they arrest you! They can't just deprive you of your human rights on a hunch! Why did you let them take you?" 
"It’s not legal," he said, rolling his eyes at me, "Nothing here is legal. But what was I supposed to do? Argue and get shot? No, your only real option is just to do what the soldiers say and hope that they don't hurt you. We're not in America, Meredith, and we don't have fancy blue passports to get us out of trouble. We don't have rights like you."

I was absolutely stunned and quite humbled. I felt about three inches tall. Here I am lecturing people about their human and civil rights through my American lens, when the rules are completely different here. These rights that I take for granted? They don't exist for people here. They wouldn't exist for me either, except for the fact that my government has enough clout to force this government to treat me with respect. If the United States lost its position as one of the World's superpowers, I would probably lose the privileges that I have here, including the right to be treated fairly.

All conversation ceases as the bus slows down to a stop. We had been motioned to pull off the road by the Israeli soldiers. Out come the passports, ID cards, and documentation. On trudge the soldiers with their machine guns and full body armor. One soldier stands in the front of the bus with his gun pointed at us while a second one walks down the aisle checking identification. Neither says a word. The ID checker points at certain people as he walks, and as he finishes, yells out something in Hebrew and motions for them to follow him. Off go the seven guys he pointed at. One of the other men started to object and question the soldiers, so they pulled him off the bus too. Now, I'm used to riding buses here, but typically they have a mix of tourists and Palestinians on them, which means that the soldiers are a whole lot nicer than when there were just Palestinians and two Americans on the bus. These were not the soldiers I'm used to; the ones who are fake-friendly, who smile at the tourists and casually ask where you're from and how you're liking Israel. These were the real soldiers; the ones that Palestinians see every day.

At this point, I'm shivering uncontrollably. The adrenalin is pumping, and I'm afraid. These aren't some random faceless, nameless strangers that are being taken off the bus, these are my friends. These are people who I just worshipped with. These aren't terrorists! These are well educated Christians who have jobs and families, and who are contributing members of society. It's the middle of the night in the desert, in the middle of December. It's freezing. Where could the soldiers possibly be taking them? Well luckily, not far.

The soldiers take them off the bus, line them up, confiscate their documentation, and one of them goes off somewhere, presumably to call someone and check them out. Now, the first panic point is that their documentation is gone. Here, if you are caught without documentation, you can automatically be arrested. I've heard plenty of horror stories about soldiers confiscating documentation and refusing to give it back, just to terrorize people.

The only thing I could think was "I NEED TO TAKE PICTURES OF THIS! NO ONE IS GOING TO BELIEVE THAT THIS IS SERIOUSLY HAPPENING UNLESS I TAKE PICTURES!" Unfortunately, we apparently are not allowed to take pictures at the checkpoints for "security reasons." Everyone on the bus desperately wanted pictures, but were all too afraid to take them because they could get in a lot of trouble.

"Well," I figure, "I might as well put these double standards to work. I'm an American, so I won't get in trouble if I get caught taking them. Worst case scenario, they confiscate my camera. Best case scenario, I get some pictures of a situation that we usually aren't able to capture. Risk? WORTH IT!"

So I snapped away… sneakily.

Seriously, can you believe this is real life? They ended up questioning one of the guys individually, and after about 45 minutes of standing outside in freezing weather in the middle of the night for absolutely no reason, they let them back on the bus, and off we went toward home.

The most infuriating part of this whole situation was that I was the only one who was shocked. The guys reassured me that this happens all the time, and they were just glad to get their IDs back and be sent on their way without more trouble. Don't get me wrong, the guys were upset, but they were also resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do to change the situation. "It could have been much worse," I was told repeatedly. Maybe it COULD have been much worse, but how does that make what did happen any better? How can we ignore the problem, just because it's not the absolute worst case scenario?

Oh, you broke your leg? Well, we're not going to put a cast on it, because at least you didn't break both legs! It could have been much worse.

Oh, your mother was murdered? Well, we're not going to open an investigation, because at least your whole family wasn't murdered! It could have been much worse.

Oh, you were raped? Well, we're not going to press charges, because at least you weren't gang-raped! It could have been much worse.

Oh, you were stopped at an illegal military checkpoint, racially profiled, held without cause outside in the cold for 45 minutes, harassed, blatantly disrespected and degraded simply because Israeli soldiers like to remind you that they have absolute power over you and can do whatever they want with no repercussions? Well, we're not going to do say anything or do anything or really care about it at all, because hey, at least they didn't shoot you too! It could have been much worse.

Do these examples seem ridiculous and horrible? Absolutely. So why do we continue to allow people to be degraded, disrespected, and denied basic rights? Just because there was potential for it to be a worse situation? Does that strike anyone else as INSANE?!

I was furious, so incredibly saddened, and a bit shaken. What if the soldiers had decided to arrest one of the guys? What if someone had been shot or beaten? What if they thought we all looked suspicious and hauled us all away for questioning? There would have been absolutely nothing that I would have been able to do to improve the situation. I was completely powerless. It's one thing to feel completely powerless when you're in a line at the DMV that just doesn't seem to be moving, or when you're arguing for a higher grade and your professor just won't listen, or when the politician you voted for lost and you feel like the country is going to hell in a handbasket... it's an entirely different thing to feel powerless when you're in front of a machine gun knowing that the soldier who wields it can do anything he wants and get away with it.

After we were released, the bus went straight to the college, and there was no more laughing or chatting or singing. The entire atmosphere had changed. The reality of where we were crashed back down on us, and there was such deep sorrow. It's easy to slip into thinking that everything is normal until you're confronted with one of the devastating realities of life here, like the reality that there is an entire group of people who have absolutely no rights.

I went home from the college and sobbed. Every time I think that my heart cannot possibly break any deeper for these people, every time I think I've seen the most ridiculous part of this occupation, every time I think that nothing can possibly surprise me anymore, something else happens to show me just how wrong I am.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I know, I know, I haven't written in almost a month! I'm a terrible blogger. Here's the issue: my computer is broken. Seriously. I know. It broke the day after I wrote my last post, and seriously, it's probably one of the worst things that could have happened. I now have no way to skype with my friends or family, do my yoga DVDs (which were so helpful for stress relief), watch movies/tv/videos, or UPDATE MY BLOG! Luckily, I've been able to check facebook and emails via my work computer, but it is incredibly old and when I'm at work, I'm working, not blogging. I promise to stay after work and get a new post up, pronto.

So much has been going on here that I want to share: My friends and me getting pulled over at a makeshift Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank; cars getting regularly gassed by soldiers as they go through the Bethlehem checkpoint as a "routine drill" (making a bunch of Palestinians and ex-pats ill); Palestinians being banned from the Dead Sea beaches, which are IN PALESTINE (in the West Bank), to appease the illegal Israeli settlers; Israeli soldiers detaining a 6 year old Palestinian; Jew-only parking lots in the old city of Jerusalem; and so many other crazy and unbelievable things. You'll have plenty of new updates coming soon.

Until then, stay safe, healthy, and warm!