<                    Report Three                     

Palestinian Resistance – From Action to Indigenous Thinking
Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Na’alin and Bil’in (West Bank)
June 2 - 4, 2008

Resistance in the West Bank
June 2, 2008

The Village of Na’alin, West Bank
The twelve of us in the delegation, two guides and the tour bus driver traveled to the village of Na’alin in the West Bank. The community originally consisted of 58,000 dunams (1 dunam = 1/4 acres) of land. With the establishment of the Green Line, delineating the Israel-West Bank border in 1948, 40,000 Dunams of Na’alin became part of the Israeli state. On the hillsides surrounding the village on three sides, we saw Israeli settlements that take up another 8,000 dunams of Na’alin’s land, leaving the village with only 8,000 dunams on which to live and farm.

Now the village of 5,000 people faces another immediate threat — a land grab by Israel in order to build a section of the infamous apartheid wall to separate the village from the neighboring Israeli settlements. The mayor of Na’alin explained that the community is confronted with three forms of aggression. First, the wall will consume 2,500 more dunams of the village land. Secondly, the wall affects villagers economically. We walked with him through the area and he showed us the red Xs on many of the hundreds of years old olive trees, marking the route of the wall through a fertile field that provides the livelihood for many of the residents.

Finally, the main road to the village will be closed to Palestinians and open only to the Israeli settlers. The part of Na’alin that is on the other side of the road will be connected by a tunnel, the access to which will be controlled by Israeli soldiers. They can open and close it at their discretion, potentially cutting off the access of some villagers to services and schools.

In the shallow valley below the field of olive trees, we watched the Israeli workers operating huge earth moving machines digging out the path of the wall. We stood and took pictures of the intruders breaking up the soil and rocks that did not belong to them.

The people of Na’alin are actively resisting the construction of the wall and the occupation. They hold regular demonstrations against the wall that involve villagers and the local and international supporters.

As we watched the Israeli workers preparing the path for the wall, one enraged villager shouted to us about the insanity of the situation. “They are stealing our land!” What about my children!” he yelled.

He introduced us to a teenager in the group of 20 or so villagers that accompanied us. Under the yellow baseball cap that the youngster wore was a white bandage wrapped several times around his head. He had been shot the week before by an Israeli soldier for throwing rocks at one of the earth movers.

After a while, we made our way to the home of one of the villagers whose house was under a demolition order. Israeli soldiers could come at any time with a wrecking crew to demolish his home because it was built without permits, a daily occurrence in villages throughout the West Bank. We sat on the patio in a circle with the Mayor and other villagers, sipped fresh mint tea, and talked about the occupation and the resistance. Many of them felt that the Palestinian Authority, the administrative body of the Occupied Territories, was corrupt and ineffectual. Several of them also felt that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was “on life support” in the words of one villager and needs to be resuscitated.

The Village of Bil’in, West Bank
After leaving Na’alin, we went on to the village of Bil’in, another community under siege. Like Na’alin, for years, the Israeli settlers have been confiscating thousands of dunams of land that were once part of the village. A section of the separation wall is also slated to cut off their village and consume large portions of its land. Bil’in residents have been the most vocal and rebellious in their opposition to the wall. Some of the villagers invited us to come to the next demonstration on Friday.

We split up into three groups of four and stayed overnight in the homes of three brothers who were born and raised in the village. Four of us stayed with Emad Bornat, a filmmaker who lives in a two-bedroom house with his wife and four sons, ages 3 to 12 years old. Fortunately, Emad spoke English fluently.

Emad’s kids were kids. They sat in the living room with us and gawked at us, asking us questions and playing with each other. When I asked the oldest boy, Mohamed, if he liked to play soccer, his younger brother corrected my American accent and told me the correct way to pronounce “soccer”. The youngest boy, Jibril sat across from me and made faces at me. I returned the favor, to his delight. We laughed for awhile and when he got tired of the game, he wandered away to play with his brothers and to crawl in and out of his father’s lap.

Emad said that he had been shot with rubber-coated bullets 15 times by Israeli soldiers while he filmed the weekly demonstrations. He showed us two video cameras that had been destroyed by the soldiers, one with a bullet still lodged right below the lens. He joked that maybe he should bring two cameras to the demonstration, one to film with and one for the soldiers to destroy. We laughed but the sight of the bullet in the camera that could have been in Emad’s face was not funny.

Emad also told us that he had been arrested several times and that soldiers could appear at any time and drag him off to jail. That is the reality that he lives with everyday.

Emad’s wife prepared a delicious meal of what she called French chicken, a salad, pita bread, hummus and French fries. One of the members of the delegation, Fulani Sunni-Ali, spoke to her in Spanish. She is a Palestinian from Brazil who moved to the West Bank. She spoke Portuguese and Spanish, besides Arabic.

After dinner, the other members of the delegation joined us and Emad showed us footage from the documentary he produced about the wall. It showed villagers and international supporters actively challenging Israeli Defense Forces. He captured footage of soldiers beating, tear gassing and firing at demonstrators. He filmed the demonstrators pushing back against a wall of defense forces. It was scene after scene of intense actions and counteractions. Many of us bought copies of his documentary, “Bil’in Up Against the Wall” to bring back with us.

The next morning, we ate breakfast and took pictures with the family and said our goodbyes. Emad shouted to us as we walked away from his house, “Let’s keep in touch!” We all agreed that we definitely would.

-- Gerald Lenoir

This report is an edited version of a piece which first appeared on the delegation blog.

Thoughts on Outsourcing and Outlawing Indigenous Thinking
June 4, 2008

“It is illegal for a Palestinian to have a good mind,” Naji Owdah, a representative from Al-Feneiq Center, told our delegation. Al-Feneiq, which translates as “Phoenix,” is located in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, just outside of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The camp was established in 1949 as a temporary site for the Palestinian families coming from 46 of the approximately 500 villages destroyed by Israel in the 1948 war. Today Dheisheh remains home to 12,000 individuals living on less than 1/2 km2. During our recent overnight stay, Owdah informed us that Al-Feneiq, which serves as one of the camp’s community centers, had been destroyed several times previously by the Israeli army. The Palestinians keep rebuilding the center, hence, its name.

During the evening presentation, which included a discussion with his wife Suheir, Owdah referred to critical thinking several times, at one point stressing that “we [Palestinians] have no army, no guns. We have nothing but our minds.”

I have heard discussion on critical and creative thinking several times during our journey to the Occupied West Bank, and it is a subject that we Indigenous Peoples within the geopolitical borders of the United States are concerned with as well. As a university faculty member working in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies discipline, I am interested in the ways that pro-Native academics are nourishing intelligent and ethical Native-oriented thinking among students and other colleagues. It is my hope that this current nourishing will contribute to the future work of sovereignty.

It is clear that that our respective and collective Nations (and descendents) are relying on our ability to shape and focus our resources — including our intellectual capabilities — to liberate our lands (i.e., sovereignty and self-determination). This involves long-term thinking, a strategy often referred to simply as “7-Generations” (recognition that our decisions involve the generations to come). Visiting Al-Feneiq reminds me that we Indigenous Peoples can contribute and volunteer our resources despite everything the United States government continues to do to impede our current struggle for liberation.

For example, throughout conventional K-12 pedagogy, the US educational system discourages or prevents the fostering of our allegiance to our nations and tribes while it simultaneously encourages historical amnesia. The US also encourages us to believe that we ought to live only in the Diaspora, or sites of relocations, away from our tribal homelands and communities. To circumvent this continued colonization, we take it upon ourselves to contribute to the flourishing of our communities and the stabilizing of our lands/territories, including the restoration of treaty making. All of this requires the ability to utilize a basic tool that we can all possess — our thinking.

Critical and creative thinking. We all possess it but it is not so simple or self-evident to use intelligently. There are many reasons why, including that in this time in our history, the United States government attempts to undermine our struggle for self-determination by setting up mechanisms that encourage Indigenous Peoples - as one of my colleagues refers to it - to “outsource” our thinking to the United States system.

When we can no longer think for the benefit our tribes, but instead think for the benefit of the United States, this is colonization. Anytime we put the interests of the US ahead of our respective nations and tribes, this is colonization. Anytime we work for non-native communities at the expense of our tribes and nations, this is colonization. Anytime we hesitate or refuse to contribute to the spiritual, cultural, economic, social, environmental, political, and intellectual well-being of our tribal communities, this is colonization. Anytime we make apologies for the US, this is colonization.

Naji Owdah’s thoughts on critical and creative thinking, coming as they do from a life lived within Israel and US sponsored genocide and occupation, reminds me that the fostering of Indigenous self-determination thinking is the responsibility of our communities. Our ability to think for ourselves and for our People (and never for the United States) is one of the sources of our right to live as Indigenous Peoples and Nations. When an Indigenous individual has a good mind, which means a sharp mind, a decolonized mind, a mind that works on behalf of the People, then such a mind might be considered a national security risk to the United States. It is the responsibility of Indigenous Nations to support such critically-conscious, pro-Native individuals.

For more information about the Dheisheh Refugee camp, click here.

-- Julia Good Fox

This report is an edited version of a piece which first appeared on the delegation blog.



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