Nowhere Near Justice: Dispatch Number Five

From my pal:

it has been six days since i’ve sent the last dispatch, and i have much to tell y’all, but it may not all be included in this one email. the occupation is never-ending, and the needs of people are immense. it is, no doubt, similar in all war-ravaged places.

is this a war? i have argued over this a lot. war is broadly defined by many as a battle between two equals. But what are the “war on drugs,” and the “war on terrorism”? is not what israel is perpetrating a war against palestinians?

i have a friend who lives in ramallah. we have been visiting more, lately, as i am closer in proximity than usual. on one such visit, her husband’s younger brother had joined us along with one of his sisters.

we were sitting on the porch, sharing a smoke . u— has studied english for ten years, so his english is better than my arabic. he said he is twenty and he has never had a nice day. he is from jenin. he is a student in bir zeit, at the eponymous university there. it is a town neighbouring ramallah. when he asked what i was doing here, i replied “fi harakat salaam” (in the peace movement). further into the conversation, when u— wondered why i would want to come to palestine and why i am doing what i am doing, i told him i was jewish. this surprised him a bit, and he then asked if i was israeli. no. did i want someday to live in israel? no, i told him. it’s not my country. it’s yours. he smiled slightly at this. later, he told me “we are thankful that you come here and suffer with us, but it won’t do any good.” he feels, like so many palestinians i have talked with in the past few days, that there is no stopping israel.

this is why he wants to leave palestine.

there is still active resistance, most of it non-violent. but there is a lot of depression. u— informed me that over 90% (his number, and i have no reason to doubt it) of the young women attending bir zeit smoke cigarettes. this is not because of advertising. this is a response to the stress from dispossession and occupation.

i really don’t feel that i am suffering here. some of the internationals who accompany palestinian children to school in the hebron area actually may be suffering, because the settlers have been beating up as many of them as they can, in an effort to frighten them off. but i? i am not suffering like that, not am i experiencing anything like that which palestinians go through.

en route to jerusalem on a subsequent day, the servees i was travelling in let all of us out just as we reached za’atara, the first checkpoint going towards ramallah from hares. there was a line that was growing and i think the driver didn’t want to wait just to let us out a few metres away and perhaps have to wait to get back through. the palestinians got into various cars that were in line and opened their doors offering a ride. i walked through the checkpoint. as i reached the soldiers, they gave me an odd look, and wanted to know what i was doing. “visiting friends.” and then the oft heard “don’t you know it’s dangerous?” i told them it wasn’t dangerous. they asked not for my passport, but where i was from. “canada.” and with that, i got a wave through. this is not a very familiar encounter for most palestinians. and they must contend every single day with the possibility that they will not get through.

one of the small differences that i’ve noticed this time is that in the taxis and servees and private cars that we travel in, we are asked to put on our seat-belts. it is primarily because the israelis will fine the drivers. and it gives them an excuse to pull palestinian cars over, keep them at the many checkpoints that pock the landscape of the west bank. think they care about palestinian safety? dare to compare the seat-belt rule to the indiscriminate bombing of any part of gaza, or the equally indiscriminate use of tear gas and sound bombs at most of the non-violent demonstrations in the west bank that the mainstream media in north america, in particular, rarely report on.

what could i say to u—? we’re working on it? just be patient, justice and peace are around the fucking corner? he told me the story of his sister. her name
is sumoud, which means “steadfast” in arabic. during yet another israeli onslaught in the area of jenin his mother, who was pregnant at the time, was pierced by a bullet that put her life in danger. at the hospital, the doctor told her that if she survived, she would lose the baby. well, she survived, and so did her daughter.

how can we stop, or even have a more credible effect on the juggernaut that is israel? again, i come to that dead end in my mind. as an activist i am all too aware that yes it takes time we have to continue on working bit by painfully slow bit and continue to document educate and all. but i am not fooled that it will necessarily help the large masses of people in the short term. there’s a story in today’s toronto star about a study on our inability to act when it comes to genocide. something about compassion and how we seem to be wired to care only about individuals. the author of the study, a psychologist named paul slovic states “What I’m showing is that no, our feelings let us down. They deceive us in many cases. They don’t adequately respond to distant mass murder.” i have a hard time buying into that explanation. and “distant mass murder”? how about murder in your own backyard? one of the most shocking things here is how close israelis are to one of the largest open air prisons, gaza. they know it’s there. they also know that there are checkpoints and jewish-only roads in the west bank. they know. why don’t they act? why don’t we act? why is it only the few? that won’t be answered by slovic’s study, after which he proposes that we only react to individual traumas. and that we need a poster child for genocide, in order to make us act.

all of this ignores the politics behind it all. perhaps we don’t act because we don’t want to challenge our way of living too much, because i sometimes think that is what it will take. my mother used to tell me that people only act when things are catastrophic. i tend to agree with that, but i might emend it to say when things in their own lives are catastrophic.

now i’ve wandered way off topic, which isn’t unusual for me. u– left to go back to bir zeit. i wondered if he had a way to go that didn’t involve the surda checkpoint on the road from ramallah to bir zeit. surda is an “internal” checkpoint – nowhere near the green line. with checkpoints and expanding settlements and a lack of international pressure, we are nowhere near this mythical piece that everyone preaches about. and we are ever further away from justice.

n.b. here is a link for another article that explains the use of the term, “arab” in the context of sudan and the horror that is occurring there:,6903,1268647,00.html


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