I just read a news item this morning stating that Shireen Al-Araj—together with Mazen Qumsiyeh and 5 internationals—have been detained by Israeli soldiers in the village of Al-Walaja. Many of you may already know about Mazin because of his activism in the US or because of his activism in Palestine–by his own account, before today he had been detained by the Israeli army 10 to 12 times and arrested and charged 3 times in response to his non-violent resistance to the Wall and the Israeli occupation. Some of these incidents happened in the same village of Al-Walaja. You can read his account of one such instance here and watch him and other activists stand in front of Caterpillar bulldozers in Al-Walaja here.
I’d like to draw your attention to Shireen Al-Araj. She was detained today as she too was standing in front of a bulldozer in Al-Walaja. When my colleague Stefanie Fox and I visited Israel and Palestine last Spring we were privileged to get to know Shireen. We first met her at a panel presentation during the 6th Annual Bil’in Conference on the Palestinian Popular Struggle, where her dynamic personality and fierce determination struck us immediately and deeply. Shireen is a human rights expert, having recently returned from work in Darfur, and she is a brilliant thinker and savvy activist. She is also a resident of Al-Walaja. If I’ve repeated that name many times it is because I want you to remember it. Al-Walaja is a village in the West Bank that is trying to survive under the shadow of Israel’s Greater Jerusalem. In its bid to annex as much land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible, Israel annexed half the village to Greater Jerusalem but did not give Jerusalem residence permits to the people living there. That’s how you become an illegal foreigner in your own land. Greater Jerusalem, by the way, is not a city. It is a regional behemoth that has now swallowed about 10% of the West Bank.
Shireen lives in the other half of Al-Walaja, the half that was not annexed, the half that is destined to become a village enclosed by the Wall, with only two gates in and out.
From the backyard where she welcomed us for tea, the suffocating reality of the Wall is clear: the Wall around the settlement of Har Gilo looms on one side and plans indicate another Wall will be built within a foot or two or her backdoor, sandwiching her home directly between the two. Other homes in the village are actually surrounded on all four sides by the Wall and checkpoints. In this short clip, she talks about one local family with three children who must go through three checkpoint turnstiles to leave their home.
In discussing the encroachment of the wall, Shireen was quick to point out the central role of women in popular resistance. When the village is surrounded, she explains, men will likely have to leave town because it will be too hard for them to cross the checkpoints daily on their way to work and back home. In fact, on Closure Days–last year there were more than 60 such days in the year–no one will be able to come into or out of the village. It will be up to the women of the village to organize and resist; literally holding their ground by struggling to defend what’s left of their land.
According to news reports, Shireen has been released. But bulldozers stand ready to demolish more of her neighbors’ homes and build more of the Apartheid Wall enclosing the village. Shireen, and the other courageous women and men of Al Walaja, will continue to struggle for justice. Let’s join them.
Sydney Levy is Director of Campaigns for Jewish Voice for Peace.