Thursday, March 29, 2012

Land Day

Land Day is approaching tomorrow (Friday 30 March). It is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians of an event in 1976. In response to the Israeli government's plan to expropriate thousands of acres of land for "security and settlement purposes", a strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinians were killed, about one hundred were wounded, and hundreds of others arrested. For this year's Land Day, Palestinian activists are organizing a Global March to Jerusalem intended to bring attention to the situation here and to recognize Jerusalem as a vital and controversial site for both Palestinians and Israelis. The March will engage people from all over the world, who will show their support for Palestinians by marching as close to Jerusalem as they can get considering existing country borders and political barriers.

Two days out of the past week, I have heard gunfire in the distance. I have not been able to pinpoint exactly where the gunfire is coming from. But, like the Israeli military jets continually flying over Nablus, it is a reminder that the occupation is ubiquitous. For example, the following happened in the past week in Nablus:
  • last Friday, an 8-year-old boy was injured by an explosion in the village of Qaryut; apparently, the devise was set there by the Israeli army during training exercises.
  • on Monday, the Israeli army detained three men for unknown reasons in the Nablus city center.
  • on Tuesday, a 24-year-old farmer from the Nablus village of Iraq Burin sustained head injuries when settlers from the nearby Yizhar settlement threw rocks at him.
  • and, yesterday, settlers blocked the entrance of the village of Beit Dajan, protesting the reopening of a road to Nablus city.

These events were tempered by a unity rally held in Nablus City center last week, which called for an end to the division between the political parties in the West Bank in Gaza, to more effectively resist the occupation. Of course, this is controversial, because the Palestinian division is between Fatah and Hamas, the latter which has been recognized as a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada, Israel, and Japan.

In terms of my research with children and families, things are going slowly but surely. I have finished three interviews in Balata Refugee Camp. The interviews have been extremely interesting. Each interview was supposed to be the parent and two children (older and younger), but the whole family is there for the whole interview. So it's usually Mom and her 10 children, and maybe a sister-in-law or a bunch of young cousins as well. It's definitely a different kind of methodology (more like a family focus group) using a collaborative process, with every member of the household contributing a piece, which is more culturally representative of how families operate here. I can distract the kids with some mapping and drawing exercises and then talk to the adult. But I also try to spend more than half of the interview speaking with the children to get their views. Parents have commented on how great it is that the research cares about what children think.

Some of the families' stories are difficult to hear. Two separate families told me about how the Israeli army has entered their homes and broken down the wall between their wall and their neighbor in order to arrest their neighbors. (The image to the right is of one family's wall that was broken down and is now repaired with cement.) This practice, known in Israeli army parlance as "walking through walls", is the action in which soldiers create holes in the walls of Palestinian homes in order to avoid the streets, roads, alleys, and courtyards of the community, where they fear being attacked by militants. Though an effective military strategy, the “penetration of war into the private domain of the home” is described by Weizman (2007) as “ the most profound form of trauma and humiliation” (p. 194). My study participants have called it "insulting". In another house I went to, the 6-year-old son was asleep on a mat on the floor near where we were conducting the interview. The mother told me that the Israeli army had been in the refugee camp a few days ago, and when the boy saw them, he involuntarily urinated and has been incontinent since then. This is a common symptom in school-age children who have experienced traumatic stress. These cases are not the majority, though, and there are plenty of happy, bright, and energetic children who "seem" impervious to the effects of occupation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Peace at a Snail's Pace

I have arrived in Nablus, after about 48 hours of travel from Montreal, through Jordan, and across the Israeli border into the West Bank. Nablus has been clouded by widespread dust storms for the last day, so the city is covered in a cloak of dirt. The winds were so strong that I thought I might be knocked right over.

There is currently tenuous peace in the West Bank, and I was surprised to see so much economic growth in Nablus. However, there are still reminders of the occupation as well as an acknowledgement that the peace may not last forever. This morning, I was awakened by the sound of low-flying jet planes in the sky above; in fact I am still hearing the deep "whoooooosh" of fighter jets as I write this. The Israeli military was performing fighter jet exercises in the airspace over Nablus. My Palestinian friends told me that the military does the exercises over the West Bank for two reasons. The first is intimidation, reminding the Palestinians that Israel has a powerful military, which they can use against the Palestinians. The second reason that these exercises take place over the West Bank, my friends told me, is because if they had an accident above a Palestinian city, "it wouldn’t be as big of a deal" compared to if the accident was over an Israeli city.

Gaza has also entered a respite after recovering from cross-border violence between the Israeli military and militant groups. The violence was spurned by Israel's launch of air-to-ground missiles into Gaza, which killed the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair al-Qissi, and his assistant. During the several days of fighting--in which Palestinian militants fired more then 100 rockets into southern Israel and most rockets were intercepted by Israel's new Iron Dome anti-missle rockets--80 Palestinians were wounded, 26 Palestinians were killed, two of whom were children. No Israelis were wounded or killed during the violence.

I am looking forward to starting my research in the next few days. In researching my sites for sampling, I have found that some of the villages no longer exist, having been "depopulated" by the Israel military (see for example, Deir Yassin). I have been conducting informal interviews about the status of children here, and I have heard a common theme of hopelessness. One Palestinian father told me, "Today's children have no hope for the future, therefore they have no desire to go to school or improve themselves. They just spend their days fighting with each other." Emphasizing this point, yesterday I witnessed two young boys in the street near my guest house "playfully" throwing large rocks at each other. When I walked back to the guest house, I was surprised to find a freshly painted mural. It depicts a snail with a head of two fingers indicating the peace sign. This is indeed a hopeful sign in a violent landscape, illustrating a peace that is slow yet ultimately attainable.