West Bank & take action – eye witness reporting by Deb Vanpoolen

3/2/16
Story of protest in Hebron with pics
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Hello Friends,
I am now on my way back to the US from the West Bank. I must tell now you about the peaceful demonstration I attended this past Friday in Hebron which was violently broken up by the Israeli Defense Forces(IDF).  The date for the march was chosen because 22 years before this date 29 people were massacred during their prayers inside the Ibrahimi mosque by a Jewish-American settler. I rode to the demonstration with my friend Yousef and his friend Farid, who drove us there in his car. All the people marching met at Nimra mosque and after the Muslims among us completed their prayers in the street, we marched. I think there were probably about two hundred people gathered for the march.  Also, because this march was part of a series of actions against the closure of Shuhada Street, many were carrying “Open Shuhada Street” signs.  The group called Youth Against Settlements organized the march, of which a dedicated activist named Issa is leader.  I visited with other English-speaking foreigners before and during the march. I talked with two women from Germany doing solidarity support for YAS, saying that I would stick with them if anything got “crazy” during the demonstration.
As we marched and heard the strong and loud chanting of the marchers, speaking in Arabic.  They were chanting about Shuhada Street opening, speaking their support for journalist Mohammed  Al Qiq (who, by the way, ended his hunger strike that day because the Israelis said they would release him for good in May!  He is regaining his strength now everyday–a miracle to behold).  And the marchers were also chanting to remember the 29 worshippers at Ibrahimi mosque killed 22 years ago this weekend.  I was told while marching that last year’s response to this march was a considerable amount of violence from the IDF.
After the marchers walked about four blocks, the armed Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were visible up ahead, stationed up on top of a three-story building. Once the IDF were visible, my German friends and I started hanging farther back from the rest of the marchers, but we kept walking slowly ahead with the bulk of the marchers in our view up ahead a hundred meters.  When the marchers arrived below the IDF, the IDF fired tear gas canisters right down at crowd.  I saw the explosions hit the pavement with blasts of fire, the smokey gas then pouring out. (Later in the day I learned that one of the canisters exploded right next to a guys leg so that it tore his pant leg open and marked up the long underwear underneath.)
Since i was back a ways from the march, watching what was going on and not feeling particularly endangered.  But I saw that the teargas was being fired into the crowd and so I was worried someone would be hit by a canister.  and then the IDF started firing teargas overhead onto the nearby buildings.  When they fire gas into the sky, several canisters fly out together, about five at a time. Watching the gas in the sky, I was still walking closer very slowly.  However, then i saw teargas come in the sky our heads and I started to be concerned for my own safety.   One of the German women told me that the teargas canisters are very dangerous if they hit you in the head, so we should be very careful.  We went off to the side under shelter of an overhang. Then more teargas were fired over our heads.  Most of the people around me including the German women started running away from the soldiers.  Many people in the distant crowd started running back towards us as well. More gas was fired over our heads. It sounded like machine gun fire, and looked like streams of white in the sky above me.  I didn’t know where to run as we ran away from the IDF soldiers.  I was very worried about my friend in the crowd up front.   The gas was starting to sting my eyes and nose.  The German women ran into a shop which had its doors open and where a few other people ran into.  I followed them into the back of the shop where the gas was less intense.  All the people in the room were coughing.  The gas was definitely more strong by the door to the street, which we would check from time to time to see if we could go back out.  The gas was stinging my eyes a lot and i kept spitting into a sink to get it out of my throat.  I was somewhat prepared for the gas because i had experienced it here at the museum several times during the past months.  So i was not very panicked.   One of the German women said she has asthma and so she needed to keep some of the alcohol swabs for herself which we were all putting on our noses to alleviate the sting of the gas.  We were also given some onion by a guy at the shop and it felt good to put this piece of onion over my mouth.  We stayed in this room about 10 minutes and then were told it was okay to walk out on the street again.
So we walked out and saw many other people coming out of area businesses and people standing around on the street.  We stood around for about half an hour. People were waiting for others to come back from the front of the demonstration.  Because I saw ambulances whiz up the front of the crowd earlier and heard that some people were arrested, I was waiting to confirm that Yousef and his friend who drove us to Hebron were okay, not injured or arrested.  Finally I did see Yousef. He pointed to me and told me to get into a car.  Two older guys who had marched in the front of the group were in the front of the car and in the back were two young people who were involved with YAS.  The car took us to checkpoint 56 where the YAS offices are.  I spent a couple hours there hanging out with two female journalists, from Ireland and the UK and a half dozen Palestinian activists with YAS.  They were all very friendly and the conversation was lively.  The two foreign women wrote an article about the march while we talked.  I became facebook friends with several of the people there.
That night, while I was reading facebook articles and watching videos about the march, I saw that Farid, the man who had driven Yousef and I to the rally, had been arrested and severely beaten.  The man is a lawyer and Yousef told me the next day that he thought Farid would be in jail just a couple days.  Yesterday I saw an facebook post that said his release was being delayed at least a week.  I had made the mistake of leaving my fleece jacket and long underwear in the car for the day instead of carrying it around with me….But I am not able to be at all worried about this jacket in light of Farid’s arrest.  You can go to my facebook page to read articles and see videos from that day. I also posted some photos from the day. And will post more…. My facebook name:  Deb Vanpoolen.
For now, I am signing off!  I am in London today, going to the Ecuadorian Embassy to do some artistic witness of Julian Assange’s home/prison of the past four years.
Best,
Deb

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Published on Feb 18, 2016
33-year-old journalist, Mohammed al-Qiq, is on hunger strike since November 25 2015, in protest against his imprisonment without charges or trial in Administrative Detention by Israel. Al-Qiq’s health has deteriorated to the point of facing imminent death. His Wife Journalist Fayha Shalash is calling on Journalists around the world and activists to act now to save her Husbands life, any action will make a difference.
#FreeQeeq #MohammedAlQeeq #StopAD

2/23/16

Dear Friends,  I did not know anything about war or want of basic needs such as food/water/shelter when I grew up in privileged communities of the Midwest in the US.  I always felt safe.  I never lived in a war zone until 2013, the first time I came to Palestine.
On this, my second trip to Palestine, I am seeing that I don’t know what it is like to live in a war zone. I am trying to be open to my own ignorance while living with people who have been suppressed by a violent, colonizing state for seven decades.
Despite my non-knowing, I will meekly share some observations:
This way of life seems very unnatural, as evidenced by the Israeli Defense Force’s regular: 
chopping down of hundreds of fruit trees (including ancient olive trees),
demolitions of thousands of perfectly livable houses,
the choking of the Mediterranean air with teargas and smoke bombs,
and the unspeakable imprisonment and even executions of unarmed children–in addition to their older brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles.
To me, a Westerner, accustomed to a life of ease, this seems like an unbearable situation.
I am humbled by those who bear it with dignity, grace and resistance.
On this journey to Palestine I am learning a little more about the geography of the place.  Its a lot smaller than I had been picturing. Since Gaza is nearly impossible to enter, I have been picturing it as a far-off place, difficult to get to. Nope. Adham, my new friend and art student (I am teaching him how to draw!), told me that until 1988 his family used to drive to Gaza from Beit Sahour weekly because his grandmother is from there. It was an easy hour-long drive.  In 1988 the road was closed and they could no longer drive so easily. More disturbing: I met a guy from Gaza who now lives in Bethlehem. His whole family left Gaza on a three-month VISA.  One year now since they left Gaza, they have never left Bethlehem. If this guy I met leaves Bethlehem he will have to go through a checkpoint and when the IDF sees that his VISA has run out he will be immediately sent back to Gaza.  So in this past year he has never left the 50 square kilometer or 20 square mile area of Bethlehem!!!!!  Why? Because the IDF says so.
About 4.5 million people live in Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza. Those 4.5 million people live in about 6000 square kilometers or 2300 square miles total.  The state of Michigan is 250,000 square kilometers or 96,000 square miles.  This amounts to 417 people living per square kilometer in the West Bank and 4000 people living per square kilometer in Gaza. The 2,800,000 people that live in the West Bank have permission from the IDF to develop only 3300 square kilometers of it, or 1200 square miles.  This also seems like unlivable conditions to me. After all, in the state I come from, Michigan, 40 people live per square kilometer. So ten times more people live per kilometer in the West Bank and 100 times more people live per kilometer in Gaza than in my home state of Michigan. No wonder the West Bank life is hard to let in to my consciousness. And Gaza is even harder to imagine. I highly recommend that if you want to understand this place, please come visit, and not for just 10 days, if you can help it. Check out more facts:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_Palestinian_territories#Palestinian_Central_Bureau_.5B23.5D
And please check out the following as well:
Interview of Elias, the grad student who organizes research here at the museum:   http://www.kskq.org/index.php/schedule/kskq-special-reports/3896-kskq-in-the-morning-interview-with-elias-2-15-16
Interview of Sameer and Salam, brother/sister who are a filmmaker and journalist:
http://www.kskq.org/index.php/127-brain-labor-report/3897-brain-labor-report-2-17-16-deb-vanpoolen-life-in-bethlehem
Mohammed Al Qiq’s wife (Yesterday was Mohammed’s 90th day on his hunger strike):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI3CLShqcDU
Native birds of Palestine, painted by yours truly (appearing left to right below):  Little Egret, Hoopoe, Palestine Sunbird, White Kingfisher, and Short-toed Eagle
Sending love and big hugs,
deb
I will be back in the US on March 5

2/15/16

Hello Friends!
I hope this note finds you having enjoyed at least one element of your day.
Yesterday I enjoyed viewing the finished product of that day’s painting challenge: the felis caracal, pictured below.  I struggled with this painting, working hard to get the colors right and then blending the colors as painting them on the metal door of a large container which is used as a storage shed at the Palestine Museum of Natural History. Also pictured below are the little egret and short-toed eagle, birds native to Palestine and painted by me near the entrance of the museum.
This week while I was talking to Mohammed Najajrah (agricultural engineer here at the museum), he got a call from his sister.  She told Mohammed that he should not go home to his village, Nahalin, that night because men between the ages of 18 and 24 were being arrested. The IDF claims there was a stabbing of an Israeli settler and the suspect, young male, was seen to be running towards Nahalin.  Seven thus far had been rounded up by the IDF and arrested. The roads out of Nahalin have now been completely closed by the IDF.   For various other reasons Mohammed often doesn’t go to his home village at night. The roads to Nahalin are sometimes completely closed and other times there are checkpoints on the roads which make for absences from work at the museum or serious delays.  The roads are often closed because of Nahalin’s location.  It is surrounded by Israeli “settlements”, or colonies, on almost every side.Israel is planning to build the wall to surround the village of Nahalin. Mohammed talked about how it used to take him 15 minutes to get to Bethlehem, his place of work, from home. Now, because the main road from Bethlehem to Nahalin is only for Israelis, it takes Mohammed 40 minutes to drive to work.  Similarly, it used to take him a half hour to drive to Hebron, where he went to undergraduate school, but because the main road is now off limits to Palestinians, it takes him 1.5 hours to drive to Hebron by car.  Mohammed’s stories about his village are examples of the way incremental, slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people is carried out by Israel.Many of the residents of Nahalin have recently been cut off from their farming land. Remember, the Palestinians formerly had control of 97% of the lands here and now they have control of 8%.  Mohammed’s family continues to farm his land; for now, they continue to have access to it.  This is an example of how certain aspects of the “situation” in Palestine get more complicated the closer one gets to it.  Mohammed appeared disappointed with his fellow villagers as he said to me that if they were farming their land they also still have access to it; Mohammed holds them partially responsible for the loss of much of the agricultural lands surrounding Nahalin. Here is a recent article about Nahalin’s situation:  http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=770241  Please see this link for a picture from Google Earth of Mohammed’s village:  https://www.google.com/maps/place/Nahalin/@31.6856061,35.1028467,7409m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x1502dbf8a72c303b:0xb9152e2245d177b5
This past Saturday I walked about an hour to the far end of the neighboring village of Beit Jala, where there is a restaurant and organic farm called Hosh Jasmin.  An impromptu art studio graced the grounds outside the restaurant where five women gathered to paint the afternoon away. I was rather excited to paint–and talk–with a bunch of women for hours! I have been mostly surrounded by men here at the museum. They are all sweet men, but I have been missing female companionship a bit. I had a blast getting exhausted, painting in the full sun till I couldn’t any longer on one of the hottest days yet this year. I started a landscape painting with the materials supplied by the restaurant at no cost.  Planning to go back next Saturday as this is a weekly event!  Mazin, the restaurant manager, will hold an art show at the end of the spring with all the art created.  Very cool idea!  The food at Hosh Jasmin is wonderful, too. 🙂 See my pic below of the ladies working hard on their creations.
Also pictured below is one of my “palettes”. I have been using plastic food containers. They are working out great because I can close them which keeps the acrylic paint from drying out. With the palette you can see one of the pictures I used as a reference for my painting–that is a Palestine Sunbird in the pic.  I have been using images from the creative commons on Google.  Very handy!
Another: see my pic of the Jordan mountains in the distance which are not always visible but oh so close!
Update on Mohammed Al Qiq:  Incredibly, against the odds, he is still alive and yet the Israeli government refuses to release this honorable citizen and journalist, a man whom they have charged with no crime. Israel would rather let him die than release him. A recent article about Al Qiq:  http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=770080 
 
Also let’s remember the immediate context of Mohammed Al Qiq’s brave hunger strike:  the Illegal, immoral, steady and calculated extermination of the Palestinian people.
The statistics from this past several months are summed up by Maan News http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=770284Over 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since a wave of unrest spread across the occupied Palestinian territory in October.The unrest has been marked by a surge of small-scale attacks carried out by Palestinian individuals — predominantly on Israeli military targets — which have left over 25 Israelis dead, with the majority of suspected Palestinian attackers shot dead on site.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month said that it was “human nature” for Palestinians to react violently to Israel’s decades-long military occupation, and urged change in Israel’s policies in the occupied area.

in deep appreciation for your attention, sending loving hugs,

deb

2/8/16

*Contact government officials and demand that they break their silence on Al-Qeeq and support for Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. In the United States, call the Israel Foreign Service Desk 1-202-647-3672 and the White House – 202-456-1111. Demand action on al-Qeeq’s case and an end to aid to Israel. Also, please read this article, take the other recommended actions and pass it on:  http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/news/1258-mohammed-al-qeeq-enters-69th-day-of-hunger-strike

Hello friends,

I woke up this morning in my very comfortable West Bank bed thinking about a basic question:  How far am I willing to go to promote justice?  Or, what am I willing to give up in order to call attention to injustice?  I am focusing on this question now because I am focusing on imprisoned Palestinian journalist Mohammed Al Qiq, who is willing to give up his very life in his struggle for justice.  He has been held without charge in an Israeli jail for almost three months.  And now he is on his 76th day of a hunger strike and could die at any moment.  Only after he was unable to speak and his internal organs were damaged did the Israeli prison transfer him to a hospital. He is shackled to the bed.   A few days ago he became unable to respond verbally and so he wrote a letter in order to confirm the fact that he will continue on the hunger strike until he is granted freedom or until he dies.  He held firm to that stance after being offered to be released May 1. He wants freedom now and there are infinite reasons he should have it. Now he is unable to communicate at all and his organs are failing. Doctors at the hospital say he could die at any moment.
Yesterday I chatted on facebook with a Palestinian artist friend who has been with Mohammed Al Qiq over the weekend.  Reading her words as she wrote them, I was deeply moved. Here is a portion of our conversation. Rana:  “I can’t even start to describe. He was about to die in front of us. I am terrified.  I am soooo angry.  You can’t imagine the pain this man is going through.  I wanted to break everything in the hospital. You know when I went there he was okay. He asked to sleep so we went out. He woke up very very different.” Deb: “Thank you for writing. I will continue to ask my friends to contact their legislators to demand Mohammed’s release.”  Rana: “I painted a nice painting for him.”  Please see Rana’s painting for Mohammed below.  *read above
Mohammed is one of 70 journalists currently held without charge in Israeli prisons and one of over 600 people held without charge. Israel uses the term “administrative detention” to describe what they are doing with the Palestinians they have kidnapped from their homes, the streets, their places of work and whom they don’t charge with any crime. Their “crime” is being Palestinian.

Mohammed’s action of putting his life on the line reminds me of the things I have heard activists in the Black Lives Matter movement say in the US.  In December I attended a rally in NYC which was held in protest of yet another non-indictment of a police officer for the killing of yet another black life.  At the rally a young man spoke passionately about how the people have to give up fear. He was saying that for the movement to get anywhere people have to be willing to give up their lives. People of color are killed on average of every 28 hours in the US, either killed by a police officer or a citizen who feels entitled to “take the law into their own hands”.

Mohammed’s action of putting his life on the line reminds me of the things I have heard activists in the Black Lives Matter movement say in the US.  In December I attended a rally in NYC which was held in protest of yet another non-indictment of a police officer for the killing of yet another black life.  At the rally a young man spoke passionately about how the people have to give up fear. He was saying that for the movement to get anywhere people have to be willing to give up their lives. People of color are killed on average of every 28 hours in the US, either killed by a police officer or a citizen who feels entitled to “take the law into their own hands”.
Last Friday hundreds of teargas canisters were fired onto the Aida Refugee Camp, just a couple blocks from the Palestine Museum of Natural History where on Friday afternoon I was making paintings of birds on the outside of buildings. I was forced to come inside because as the teargas wafted down to the museum, my eyes and throat were burning. The teargas was much dispersed by the time it reached me.  Please see below pictures taken by a Palestinian facebook friend on Friday of the teargas clouds at Aida Camp. If I had to come inside and was several blocks away,  can you imagine how strong the gas was at the camp?
When you can’t breathe the air, either because your lungs are filling with teargas or because you are being choked by a police officer, you might feel pretty desperate about your plight, as though you have nothing to lose, right?  Is this fair?
In today’s world, I am a person of privilege for several reasons. In this letter, I am discussing the injustice of racism. My skin color contributes to my experience of general safety.  I won’t go into a huge discussion of racism and privilege right now (though those discussions are very important), but I just state my privilege to lay the foundation of my personal struggle to understand what lengths I will go to for justice.  Because I do not live with the fear of my life, freedom, clean air, water, house being taken from me because of my race, religion, skin color or ethnicity, I have more to lose if I choose to struggle for justice.
This leads me to the next question:  Why do I have this life on earth right now?  If the answer is not to live in love for my fellow human beings and all the blessed creatures of this planet, I don’t know what the answer is.  And then, what does love mean?  If it doesn’t mean to give everything you can to the struggle for equal rights for everyone, then I don’t know what love is.  Okay, so those are somewhat simplistic answers to a very deep question. But I just thought I would share something about where I am coming from in regards to the injustices happening to the beautiful people, plants and animals I see plainly before me.  What do you think love is?
best,
deb
PS  Remember my story about the boy who was “manning” the hardware store?  See his picture below and tell me your guess for how old he is!  And, please enjoy the photos of anemone flowers here at the museum.  Also, the guy with the great smile is Elias, a graduate student  with whom I am working on the scorpion exhibit.  He is walking in the hall where the Palestine Museum of Natural History is being birthed.
PPS.  This is a beautiful art project about the struggle of refugees to secure their lives:
anemone2 boy running the hardware store elias rana painting for mohammed alqiq teargas in Aida teargas in aida2

2/5/16

Dear Friends,

This past Friday I once again heard and felt the firing of teargas canisters from the street a few blocks from the Palestine Museum of Natural History in Bethlehem, where I am volunteering now.  Every Friday all over the West Bank there are demonstrations against Israel’s brutal, illegal, immoral occupation of this land. The Palestinian protests are nonviolent.  People debate whether the throwing of rocks with bare hands and slingshots is violent; this rock throwing happens at some demonstrations, and some people call this violent. But what cannot be debated is that the Israeli Defense Force almost always violent, using extreme, high-tech weaponry. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire are all commonly received by brave Palestinians who dare to appear on the streets at these demonstrations to speak out against their imprisonment.  This past Friday, on my walk over to the museum’s greenhouse, I suddenly felt stinging in my nose and eyes, which I immediately recognized as teargas.  Occasionally we feel the teargas down here at the museum because it is just a few blocks from the road next to the Aida Refugee Camp, where demos regularly occur.

But even now, as I write this on a Tuesday, I am feeling the stinging in my eyes from teargas that wafted down to us. Earlier I said outloud, “Wait–its not Friday. Why is there teargas today?”   I said this within earshot of a Palestinian here at the museum. He said “Anyday. Everyday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday….”   Once again I was reminded of how little I understand what its like to live here.  The teargas is a random and regular experience for these people, which I knew in some part of my brain.  But I hadn’t learned it in my body yet.  I talked to a guy in a hardware store about life with teargas. He said, “Teargas is like oxygen to me. No problem!”  He explained that he is used to it because he has grown up with it these past 24 years. I just heard yet another firing of a teargas canister as I write this story. If you feel that innocent people walking on the street, or people running a Museum of Natural History, or kids going to school, or men running hardware stores do not deserve to be regularly chemically poisoned by teargas, then please share this story with others and appeal to your legislators to discontinue funding of Israeli apartheid.

Another story:  The other day I went to a different hardware store.  At the entrance to the store was a boy, seemingly 10 to 12 years old or so. Upon seeing us, he immediately stood up from behind a laptop at the desk and offered us coffee.  He proceeded to ask what we needed. My friend Ryan and I were buying some hardware cloth for a worm bin (to create great soil fertilizer) he is building. He then showed us to the cloth, asked how much we needed, and, with complete confidence and competence, cut the exact length of cloth we needed. He insisted that he do it himself without our taking a turn to cut the many wires. I kept expecting his dad or older brother, or some adult, to show up and finish the deal. Nope. This kid was running the store!  He is beautiful.

Last Wednesday night I attended a rally of about 100 people to call attention to the unjust imprisonment of Mohammed Al Qiq, Palestinian journalist who has been on a hunger strike for over two months. That day the Supreme Court of Israel had denied Mohammed Al Qiq’s request to be released on account that he had not been charged with any crime.  Rallies were held all over Palestine to protest the corrupt Israeli system of jailing the innocent. Right now over 70 Palestinian journalists are imprisoned in Israeli jails.  Mohammed Al Qiq is in critical condition.  He has been force-fed against his will. He lies shacked to a hospital bed now. He no longer has the capacity to speak and some say he is very close to death. Mohammed was able to communicate with his attorney on Saturday. Here is part of what he said:  “When people are been treated tyrannically, they are no longer worried about the consequences even if the toll is life. Thus, I entrusted myself in God’s hands and I will continue with this hunger strike, until martyrdom or freedom,” al-Qiq said.  A hearing will be held on Thursday of this week regarding Mohammed Al Qiq’s case.  If you would like to take action about Al Qiq, please do the following:  Contact government officials and demand that they break their silence on Al-Qeeq and support for Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. In the United States, call the Israel Foreign Service Desk 1-202-647-3672 and the White House – 202-456-1111. Demand action on al-Qeeq’s case and an end to aid to Israel. Also, please read this article, take the other recommended actions and pass it on:  http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/news/1258-mohammed-al-qeeq-enters-69th-day-of-hunger-strike

Attached are photos from our recent work day in the field, just outside the oldest city on earth–Jericho–where we collected land and water snails!  It was a wonderful day, accompanied by a traditional meal in the courtyard at the home of Mubarak’s brother. Life is still rich here in the occupied territories.  The Palestinian culture will not die!

Sending love and hugs,

Deb