Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Checkpoint Duty: A Retrospective

I have started giving presentations about my experience in Palestine.  I think it is important to give people here at home details of what I actually did during my time in Palestine.  Checkpoint duty was one of the responsibilities of the accompaniers placed in Tulkarm.  The pictures I show that were taken at the checkpoint gives my audience some idea of what a checkpoint looks like.    
Taybe Checkpoint--before sunrise
Oftentimes people ask me why it was so important for us to be at the checkpoints so early in the morning.  Talking about it always brings back a flood of memories.  I remember it was always very dark and oftentimes cold/rainy when we arrived at the checkpoint.   Many people had already gathered and were patiently waiting.  The wait seemed interminable to me and this was just beginning of their daily screening process to get to work in Israel or to get to their olive trees if we were at an agricultural gate.  We were all dependent on the light at the turn style going from red to green. 
This was operated by the management inside the building and we never saw a human face.  As soon as it turned green there was a scramble to get through but very soon it was red again.  There was never any predictability as to how long it would be before it turned green again.   We would stand by the first turn style and greet the people standing in line.   We were never allowed to go into the next area where screening, finger-print identification and further interrogation took place.  The voice over the loud speaker giving commands when people were starting the 2nd phase of security check sounded harsh and demeaning. 
I often wondered how much it was about security and how much it was about control and harassment of Palestinian people.  Since there was a waiting time, I found myself reminiscing about my experiences as a child growing up in Montana.  Growing up in a rural area there were plenty of opportunities to watch cattle being herded.  It  occurred to me that the herds of cattle going through cattle gates had been treated with more dignity and respect than what I was witnessing at the checkpoints.  

Our team also had a clicker to count how many men and women go through each checkpoint on a daily basis.  The numbers in this checkpoint alone were over 3,000.  It was important for us to gather exact information as this was sent to the office of Humanitarian Affairs.
We knew we could engage the assistance of a very helpful and dedicated women’s organization from Israel called Machsom Watch.   Machsom means “checkpoint” in Hebrew.  Their purpose is to monitor the checkpoints at the border crossings and other checkpoints placed in between places in the West Bank of Palestine.   All the women are Israeli citizens who are strongly in opposition to the treatment of Palestinians by their government.  I will post a url for their website which will give you an idea of what they do on a daily basis.
Our responsibility as EA’s was to problem-solve, put a human face on this degrading process and give direction if a person was denied access.  We called Machsom Watch to request their assistance by providing  names and numbers if  further advocacy was requested.  It was reassuring to have their consistent assistance for follow-up.  Since they were Israeli citizens they were able to problem-solve in a more effective manner. 
I have been made aware of a series of six short utube film clips made about the activities of Matchsom Watch which I found to be very helpful in understanding what they do and more importantly, why they are involved in Checkpoint watch.  This information was sent to me by one of the Palestinian friends I met in Tulkarm.  I viewed them today and they stirred up a lot of emotions that I experienced while I was on checkpoint duty.
I urge you to watch them.  

I wish all of you a very blessed holy season.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Juliano Mer-Khamis Assassinated Today

I was greatly saddened to learn that the founder of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was murdered today outside of the theatre. 

Picture I took of Juliano Mer-Khamis in February
He (3rd from left) and his wife (2nd from left) met
with the EA team after Freedom Theatre performance
One of the highlights of my recent sojourn in Palestine was the day in February when he invited members of our EA team from Tulkarm to visit Freedom Theatre for a performance of "Alice in Wonderland".  The theatre is located in a refugee camp in Jenin.

Curtain Call after "Alice in Wonderland"
Mr. Mer-Khamis is one of Israel's foremost actors and  playrights.  His acting career began in 1984 when he appeared in "The Little Drummer Girl", starring Diane Keaton. A citizen of Israel and born to a Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father, he established the Freedom Theatre in Jenin in 2006 and lived there.  The theater is a tribute to his mother, Arna, who was tireless in her opposition to the Israeli Occupation. She established a children's theatre group in the refugee camps in Jenin in the 80's.  In 2003 Juliano produced his first documentary film entitled, "Arna's Children," a year after Jenin had been bombed during the Second Infitada.

See this article to learn more:

We spent the entire day with Juliano and his staff.  They hosted us for a wonderful meal after the performance during which we had a lengthy conversation about the plight of children who had experienced so much trauma.  He felt that theatre was a good way for people to begin to heal from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.

We also visited with his wife, who was pregnant and carrying twins.  I couldn't resist taking a picture of his young son who is pictured below on the right. 

Future Actress and Actor
It was especially fun to see all of the children line up for the performance.  They were transported from Jenin and surrounding villages for the play.  It is a memory which I will treasure.

School Children Waiting to Enter Freedom Theatre
April 4th is the anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  On the National Public Radio today, there was an interesting story about the events surrounding his death.  He was a tireless advocate for the poor and for non-violent protests against discrimination.  It is so ironic that Mel-Khamis was also assassinated on April 4th.  This day will be etched in my memory for the tragic loss of these two great men.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to meet Juliano and his wife.  I urge you to pray for his wife and family as well as the people of Jenin and Palestine as they mourn another loss.