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12 pretty good signs you’re vacationing in an apartheid country

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1. You are invited to go on a hike-and-picnic in what everyone in this land calls the Territories. You buy beautiful strawberries  in the market, then your host tells you that the hikers are almost all indigenous people who observe strict boycott rules for products of what they call the occupying country. The strawberries have a label in that country’s language. You leave them in your room.

2. Your host picks you up at 5:30 a.m., and drives you north along a high concrete wall separating one part of the Territories from another. It is topped with barbed wire and a steel fender to keep indigenous people from climbing over and getting into the occupying country. Sometimes they lower themselves by ropes, your host says, chuckling.

3. You meet the hikers and everyone climbs into three vans to take you to the trailhead. You pass a colony on a hilltop built by people from the occupying country– and several large menacing red signs warning the colonists that it is illegal and life-threatening for them to enter “village” areas where the indigenous people live.

4. The hike begins on a hillside. You and your host kick up two large black rubber bulbs. You are told these are teargas projectiles fired at indigenous people who demonstrate on this hill every week because the spanking new colony on the opposite hill has seized the village’s ancient spring in the valley, with the support of soldiers of the occupying country.  You pick up a rubber bulb as a souvenir.

5. The hikers are proud of their land. When you say the name of the occupying country, a pretty hiker turns to correct you, restating its name as a number, the year that the country was formed. The hike takes you on agricultural terraces past olive trees so massive and gray they look like boulders and that the leader of the hike says are hundreds, even thousands of years old, and past delicate cyclamen flowers that your host says are called gazelle horns in the indigenous language because the petals resemble the horns of the gazelle. More about them later.

6. The group takes a break. Half of the hikers do yoga in the grass. Others build a fire for tea. One tells the story of a nearby pesticide plant that was moved from the occupying country into the territories because its exhaust causes disease. The prevailing winds carry the pollution over a city of indigenous people. But now and then the winds shift toward the west and the pollution goes back toward the occupying power, and on those days the plant is shut down. You ask whether there has been any effort to challenge this arrangement legally. You are told that legal opposition has gone on for many years– and nothing has changed.

7. The hike ends at a hiker’s home on a hill. A delicious lunch made in a traditional oven is served. From the back yard you can see the biggest city of the occupying country. Just 20 miles away, it spreads up and down the seacoast. Its multitudinous skyscrapers project financial global might. But almost every one of the 30 people at lunch are forbidden to visit the great city, and the seashore too, because of their origins.

8. You meet the homeowner in the tiled kitchen. She has a lovely, welcoming spirit and speaks perfect English. Of course you ask about her family. She points to her children and grandchildren in the yard. Only her son is not here. She has not seen him in years. He was arrested as a youth for resisting the colonizers and spent two years in prison. Today he is a lawyer, but he is afraid to practice in the Territories because he would be sure to be stopped at military checkpoints and his prison record would come up and he might go back to prison. He practices law 2000 miles away.

9. You get in a minibus with eight other hikers to go back. Traffic is stopped at a checkpoint with a steel barrier across the road where the indigenous people’s road joins the colonists’ road. Some cars turn around. Three soldiers come up to the minibus holding rifles out before them, and a boy of 10 sitting next to you who you’ve never met before jams himself into your side and clutches your arm, saying “I scared.” The soldiers examine all the papers and wave you on. The boy finally lets you go. You wonder what he has seen that he was so terrified.

10. Your friend drives you back past another checkpoint, and along the concrete wall. You see two light-rail stations that were vandalized nine months or so before by indigenous rioters who were angry over a lynching. The stations have not been repaired since. Your host says, “They are not finished with us. I really think they will not be done with us till they have pushed almost all of us out.”

11. Well, you are getting out of here yourself in three hours. Shaken by all the checkpoints, you leave the black teargas bulb in the front room of the hostel lest anyone ask questions, and get a cab to the airport outside the great city you glimpsed from the hills. At the airport, the cab is motioned to the side by a soldier with a semiautomatic rifle and the driver has to produce his papers. You wait several minutes for him to be cleared. All the while, other cars stream through. The driver explains that it is because he is an indigenous person.

12. The airport has masses of people from all around the world passing through en route to the great capitals on the big electronic boards: Moscow Istanbul New York Los Angeles. But you cannot see a single indigenous person in any of the lines. You are cleared and pass down a long ramp. On the wall is a beautiful exhibit of the country’s flora: about 50 enormous high quality photographs of trees and fruits and flowers. The first two photographs are of the olive tree and the cyclamen. They are the national tree and the national flower of the occupying country. There is no mention whatsoever of the indigenous people, or the gazelle horns.

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Heart-rending. Thanks, Phil, for This and Everything.

S “everal large menacing red signs warning those colonists that it is both illegal and life-threatening for them to enter “village” areas where the indigenous people live.” Phil — Do Israeli signs (in Hebrew?) actually tell the settlers that it is illegal (at Israeli law) (for them?) to enter the Palestinians villages? Is that what you’re saying? And if so, what do we make of the repeated attacks by settlers into Palestinian places? What’s legal… Read more »

You’ve outdone yourself, Phil. You always write so beautifully, but this is a masterpiece. It is everything and more. You’ve captured it all. Thank you.

I will read it again, and then I’ll cry a little bit more.

(I was hoping against hope that you would soon write of your recent trip…)

Wonderful first hand account of life in zionist manufactured hell, and what the occupied people have to go through, Phil. It must have been a depressing sight for you, and to realize you are helpless in this never ending suffering for the indigenous people. This must have also opened your eyes to the fact that there are extremely important reasons for you, and so many others, to keep fighting for liberation, and rights ( long… Read more »

….Poignant and heartfelt piece on the realities of the Israeli Occupation..!!! Thank you!!!
People have to see it and above all understand what they are seeing. Hopefully there will be more truthfully informed trips to Palestine in 2015