In Bi’lin we carried a wooden coffin called ‘International law’

Israel/Palestine
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Pamela Olson, who is working on a book called Fast Times in Palestine, is back in Oklahoma after a year or so visiting the occupied territories. She filed a long post on her last days in the West Bank. She gave us permission to excerpt two portions: a photo essay about a recent protest in Bi’lin over the confiscatory wall, and a discussion with two western friends just before she left about the importance of showing Palestinians as ordinary people to the west.

Bi’lin.

Here’s the main protest sign for the week.

They built another contraption, a scale with the UN flag on one side and an Israeli flag on the other, with the scale tilted heavily toward the Israeli flag, indicating that Israel was flaunting the entire world’s wishes (with American help, of course). It was carried over a wooden coffin that said, “International Law,” indicating that Israel’s actions were helping destroy the concept of the rule of international law.

Here’s another view of the main protest sign, carried by several French women wearing keffiyas and a Palestinian guy whose smile alone made the day worthwhile, at least for me.

Several protestors have been injured by Israel, including a few who were permanently disabled. Two young men in motorized wheelchairs joined our procession, and this kid took the opportunity to hitch a ride with one.

Here’s the procession to the Wall. You can see the Wall isolates so much land.

And here we are gathered at a gate in the Wall just before the tear gassing started.

Ordinary Palestinians.

We and some other friends were talking for hours that night, and I started talking about the concept of my book — about how few books are written that paint the Palestinians as human beings first, (pathetic) victims or (fanatical) perpetrators of violence second. Palestinians are never seen in popular culture as just kids and moms and dads and aunts and uncles and cute guys and pretty girls and all the things human beings are. So when terrible things are done to them, most people in the West don’t care, because they don’t see them as folks just like us. That’s why my book is called Fast Times in Palestine rather than the usual dour and depressing titles, and that’s why it “focuses on life in this complex and charming proto-nation (which just happens to be under occupation) rather than on the occupation itself.”

One of my friends said, “I know what you mean. Even though I live here, the statistics don’t have that much of an effect on me. They can’t. You’d go crazy if you thought about everything to much. But every now and then something gets through all those defense mechanisms, and it’s usually something very simple. Like there was a famous French singer at the Ramallah Cultural Palace a few months ago, and I was sitting near the front, and in front of me was this guy who just… This singer, I’m not sure you know her, but she’s very famous here, and you could tell this man was so excited. He was dancing and smiling like it was the best day of his life. And I was thinking, This guy, right here, smiling and dancing to this French singer — this is who the world and the media is demonizing? And I started crying, and I cried pretty much the whole time.”

Another friend said, “The same thing happened to me, only it was some kids I met in the southern Hebron Hills, where the settlers keep poisoning the fields and the Israeli army keeps trying to throw them out of their villages. We were playing with the kids before we talked to the grown-ups, and one of them had fair hair and reminded me so much of my little brother. They were doing things like pretending not to want our attention and then doing everything possible to get it, and by the end they were climbing all over us. You know, just like kids anywhere. So I got to know them as kids first, and only afterwards I heard their story. The one with the fair hair, his dad said to me, ‘You see that scar on his forehead?’ The kid had been shot in the head by a settler. It was a miracle he even survived. When I got home that night, I lost it completely.”

About Pamela Olson

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine. She blogs here.

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