Popular Theater Society Mural, Ramallah

by Miranda Bergman

Tuesday, July 5th

We begin the mural process for the Popular Theater. “We are from Palestine and you are from the United States, but we both speak the same human language – creativity.” says Fathi Ali, the director of The Popular Theater, after a long day of meeting,designing, transferring, painting. He is a well known and seasoned artist and activist – for over 45 years. He told us he was offered the Position of Minister of Culture, but didn’t want to be a bureaucrat.  He has continued to dedicate himself to radical peoples’ theater. He is a warm, calm man, who is clearly a loved leader. For a month in the summer he runs a children’s theater camp. It’s a great atmosphere here.

After meeting with him and others in the theater company, and being given photographs etc., it was decided that the mural will have scenes from many previous productions, and will be up during the camp, and then be used as a backdrop for performances in the many villages and camps, where they do free performances to bring culture, laughs, consciousness, and respect to the people. We spend a day and a half with our entire Brigade beginning the mural.  In spite of everything, this theater collective is one of the most creative and laughing groups I’ve ever met. serious and zany, continuously creating, improvising,meeting, being together, and easily including us. We will finish the theater camp mural soon,which has brought in a whole new circle of theater artists, and great kids,who have been wonderful, funny, and helpful. The pic is only some of them. Happy to give back to this raucous ,serious, loving group of actors.

My anger builds at the racist/xenophobic stereotypes of Palestinians, when person after person after family are so warm, welcoming, unbelievably hospitable. And resiliant! Like Fathi Ali said, the Palestinians are thought of as either terrorists or victims, when what they are is simply human beings, who make mistakes, who laugh and cry, and who have a history and a culture, and will resist their oppression.

It has been lovely to paint at the camp, with much involvement. They actually made us a wall – welded big pieces of metal lathing to make a frame 9 feet by 40 feet, stretched it with canvas, and primed it, while we were designing and consulting with them about images.  They will be able to deconstruct when the camp is done, and are going to use it for their next production.

Wednesday, July 6
We paint on Theater Camp mural, with many kids and adults joining in. In the afternoon the aerosol artists go to Silwan to paint.

Thursday, July 7th
Susan and I stay to finish the mural at the theater camp in Ramallah, and the remaining 5 members will go to the Erez Gate and cross to Gaza to begin the murals there.

Aamer Family Paints Out Their Mural

Up  Against The Wall

By Susan Greene

“The globe shrinks for those who own it; for the displaced or the dispossessed, the migrant or the refugee, no distance is more awesome than the few feet across borders or frontiers.”     –Homi Bhabha

The MAIA Mural Brigade had a 5 day orientation throughout the West Bank and ’48 (Israel). We visited with many people and saw many faces of the occupation including: Silwan, Hebron, Nazereth where we visited Al-Birwa village which was demolished in 1948;  Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem; and more.One very poignant visit was with the Aamer family who lives in Mas’ha village in the West Bank. I was first introduced to the Aamer family in 2004 by Kate Raphael from the Women’s Peace Service.  In 2004/5 the Aamers were excited to paint a mural on the wall that surrounds them on 4 sides and that cuts them off from their village. They told me how participating in the mural had given  their children hope and decreased their feelings of depression. It is now 6 years later, and I have arranged to bring the MAIA Mural Brigade for a visit.  I feel very moved to see the Aamers again. Hany Aamer said in 5 years the new trees that they have planted in front of their house will be tall enough so they will not see the wall anymore from their front door.  The mural has faded dramatically and I offer to refurbish it.  The Aamers said  ‘No.’ They no longer want the mural.  Now they see it as an attempt to make something awful into something beautiful.  Here is their story.

Maisa, Assia, Ishak, Nidal, and Shaad Aamer  have looked out their front door and instead of seeing their garden, animal shed and beyond to their village, they are confronted by an enormous, gray, concrete wall. In the village of Mas’ha, West Bank, Palestine, the children of Hani Aamer live surrounded on all four sides by the Apartheid Wall or Separation Fence, depending on one’s perspective. Although the wall running through Mas’ha is actually a fence topped with barbed wire, in November 2003, the Israeli army erected a concrete section, twenty-four feet high and one hundred twenty feet long, directly in front of the Aamer home. This was the Israeli response when the family refused to accept a blank check to move from their land. An Israelisettlement comes right up to the back of the property, a mere twenty feet away.

The Aamer home sits between the two main gates into the village.  Family members are forced to let themselves and others in and out through a locked gate, which sends an alarm to the Israeli army every time it is opened. For nearly a year, the Aamers did not have their own key to the gate, nor were they allowed visitors. The family was threatened with home demolition if they violated the order. After their situation was publicized on Israeli television, the army commander agreed to let the Aamers have a key to the gate and, with prior Israeli army approval, periodic visits from family members.

I met the Aamer family on July 18, 2004. Sponsored by the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) my partner Eric Drooker and I arrived in Mas’ha as volunteers for Break the Silence Mural Project. We were very curious to meet this family and planned to ask  if they would be interested in painting a mural on the wall that cut through their land. To this first meeting, we brought art supplies and conducted a drawing project with about fifteen neighborhood youngsters while their parents looked on. We asked the children to draw pictures of their hopes for the future and then asked the parents what they thought about a mural. “Yes!” was the instant response of Munira, the mother of the family, and Hani, the father, also immediately agreed. They told their excited children that we would soon return to paint with them.

A few days later, Eric and I—joined by IWPS and members of two Israeli organizations, Anarchists Against the Wall and Black Laundry—met at the gates to the Aamer house and stopped at the red sign that threatened: “Warning: Mortal Danger for Damaging the Fence.” Israeli soldiers and settlement police arrived quickly and questioned us all.  “Are you going to paint on the wall?” “No, we are doing an art project with the children, but, you know how children are…” The soldiers collected all our passports, said they must obtain permission for our visit, and noted that because our group included Jewish Israeli citizens, they had a particular obligation to protect our safety.  They retreated to their jeeps, and when they were a safe distance away, we discussed the irony that at this exact spot just months earlier, Israeli soldiers had shot an unarmed Jewish Israeli protester with live ammunition.   Twenty agonizing minutes later, the soldiers returned the passports, and the Aamer family was allowed to open the gate.

The children run up to us, shaking our hands and saying hello. They asked in English: “How are you?” and “What’s your name?” Tea was served, and Eric and I started mixing bright colors. Without any prompting, and despite the army Jeep sitting outside the fence twenty yards away, the children joyfully and vigorously started painting on the wall–fish, a large bird with a snake in its mouth, hills, flowers, several bright yellow suns, trees, faces, and many, many houses. Eric painted a phoenix in flight. More than twenty children painted with us.  Then their parents and neighbors joined in. Eric and I somewhat nervously watched the Israeli army as they watched us the whole time. At one point, a Jewish Israeli settler stood outside the gate conversing with the soldiers and watching, then finally left. We worried that at any moment they would stop us.  We were putting a lot of paint on the wall. At about 2 p.m., Hani Aamer came back from his fields with his cart and donkey. To get into the enclosure, he had to open the larger gate, to which he had no key. We watched as the soldiers opened the gate for Hani to enter his property. Hani’s kids ran up and jumped on the cart for a ride. Soon after, the Israeli soldiers came in and told us they wanted us to leave immediately.

We packed up our paint and went inside the house for one more cup of tea.

Now, when they looked out the front door, the Aamer family would see a yellow and orange phoenix rising up from an almost psychedelic green valley dotted with red flowers, brilliant suns, large animals and houses. Of course, the wall was still there. The IDF and settlement were still there. But the view from the front door of the Aamer family home had begun to change, recording the family’s engagement in a collaborative public act of creative resistance and solidarity.

A week after the painting party, I returned to the Aamer family to interview them. I had a research grant from the Palestinian American Research Center to analyze what public art projects such as this one mean to all the participants. Would it be possible to determine the effects of the project? What did solidarity mean in this context? The mission of Break the Silence Mural Project includes using culture to bring back stories of Palestine to an American audience. What did the project say about the Aamers’ life? What did it mean to the family to work with Jewish Americans and Jewish Israelis? What did it mean for me,  a Jewish American, to collaborate on public art projects with Palestinians?

Munira Aamer said, “The wall continues to be a wall, but the mural has made it easier for us to look at it. The mural creates some pleasure and relief for me and my children. The mural changed the view–now I am looking at something alive, and before I saw it as the end of the world, a disaster. Now when I look at it, I see birds, suns, and flowers. This view is beautiful and good. Before it was only scary. My children are very happy and proud of their painting in the mural. My kids see life when they see the mural. The mural was like opening a window for the world. One day the wall will be demolished. I wish I could open this cage and fly with my children, like the free bird in the mural.”

Hani Aamer said: “When the Israeli government started building the wall, many people from all over the world came to support our resistance to it. The government arrested or took all of the supporters and deported them. The Israelis told me that the people who came to help me were no longer here. They said: “You are now alone. Who is going to help you?” But the solidarity people, including Israeli solidarity people, came back to help us again. It lifted my spirits when the solidarity people came back to paint on the wall. My kids started to play outside again. For a year, they were so sad they would not play outside. When you come to paint with the children, it makes them feel like they can live.”

Munira Aamer continued, “The children remember who painted with them on the wall, and they remember the experience of painting with their friends. When we look at the wall, we remember who painted each section and how it felt to paint together.”

The family  asked  when we would return to finish the mural. The painting had only gone up to where a six-foot ladder allowed.  Two-thirds of the wall was still unpainted concrete, in stark contrast to the colors of the mural at the bottom.

“People who come by want to know why the painters didn’t finish. They say the mural should cover the whole wall,” Munira said. “The people who came and worked with us value the ideas of the mural—that is good and we hope that they will cover more of the wall.”

And so the next summer, 2005, we returned to the Aamer home to finish the mural. Together with the  family and their friends, a group of young Palestinian women activists called Flowers Against the Occupation, members of the IWPS, and Anarchists Against the Wall, we prepared to paint the sky. The first day, the painting continued until about 2 p.m., when the Israeli soldiers intervened.  They invaded the yard barking orders and asserting their power with sub-machine guns. We tried to argue with them, as did some neighbors of the Aamer family, to no avail. There was a palpable sense of, anger, frustration, and resignation among the Palestinians. A neighbor, standing on the porch in close proximity to several Israeli soldiers, angrily threw down her cup of tea. Several of the men present whisked her away, then negotiated frantically with the Israeli soldiers, who decided to let it go.

It was unclear whether we would be permitted access the following day, but a different crew of soldiers was at the gate and they were polite, stopped us for a while, then permitted us to enter. They seemed  unaware of the previous day’s events.  Children poured into the area joyously, many more than the day before, as  word had spread that the American painters were back. We continued to paint the sky while drinking many rounds of tea.

At around 2 p.m., Hani Aamer phoned to say the painting had to stop immediately. We had no idea why, but knew that if Hani said we had to go, it must be serious. Later, we learned that because of the “disengagement” of settlers from Gaza  taking place at that moment, the Israeli army perceived the mural painting as a provocation to the nearby Jewish settlement. The IDF had threatened Hani with taking back the family’s key to the gate if we did not leave immediately.

Hani Aamer later explained his dilemma. “The soldier is telling me that the visitors should leave. They are my visitors who come to support me and stand in solidarity with us and I cannot tell them to leave. They come from England and the United States. They are guests in my house. I cannot throw them out.” Yet Hani Aamer had to do just that. This act of the Israeli army commander forcing Hani to ask his visitors to leave, instead of ordering us to do so himself, was an infliction of additional pain.  For Hani, treating guests in a rude or inhospitable way was completely unacceptable and humiliating, especially guests who had come from so far.

We packed up our materials, leaving the leftover paint and brushes behind for the Aamer family. After a final defiant cup of tea, we left the premises. We had planned a mural opening the following day, but since the mural was not completed, we held a press conference instead.  Very few reporters showed up, in part because everyone was focused on the forced removal of the settlers from Gaza. We took advantage of the time and opportunity to interview Hani.  Someone suddenly appeared and urged me to follow  quickly.

I ran back to the gate, and Munira let me in. This was the first time I had been on the Aamer property without a large group present. I had an immediate and shocking sense of what life was like for this family. It was eerily quiet, and sounds echoed off the concrete wall. I now understood much more clearly how cut off the Aamers really were from the village of Mas’ha and their community. They had been relegated to a bizarre existence in which they were much closer to and in full view of an illegal Israeli settlement. The settlement’s inhabitants were armed and often directed violence at the family, such as breaking windows and destroying the chicken coop. Munira and I went inside her home, and I saw that she had not, despite Israeli military orders, stopped painting the day before. Beginning with the sky blue from the mural, she had begun to paint the rooms of her house. She had started with a bedroom and painted the ceiling and walls. The morning light streamed in and the room was glowing. As I stood in the living room, I could see both blues, of the mural and of the bedroom, from my peripheral vision. The project of solidarity, resilience, and resistance had moved from outside to inside the house. Munira Aamer had refused to stop painting and she was very pleased with her efforts.

Now in 2011, the Aamers refused my offer of touching up the mural which has faded.  They say the mural now seems to them an attempt to make something horrid beautiful.  They asked for help to paint the mural out.  They said they would like people to write poetry on the wall about how they feel about the wall and freedom.  They do opt to keep the firebird that Eric painted!  So on my very last day in Palestine, I made my way to Mas’ha and bought several gallons of white paint.  Under the strong sun I helped Hani and Munira paint out the mural.





















New Gaza Boy’s Prepatory School, Gaza City

Joanne Osband

Today was the opening ceremony for the Maia Mural Project at the New Gaza Boys School. There were Palestinian dignitaries from several organizations as well as our Maia Mural Brigade.

The children helped to put the finishing touches to the mural.

I think it looks outstanding!

Children of Gaza Tell Their Stories Through Art

Joanne Osband, July 2011


I was privileged to visit and conduct an art therapy session with the Palestinian children at the Qattan Centre for the Child (QCC) in Gaza City. QCC is a non-profit cultural and educational institution which focuses on the basic needs of the Palestinian children.

With the aid of my Russian interpreter, Natach, the children told me about the water problems they contend with on a daily basis in Gaza.

Pollution, lack of water, misuse of water, and their difficulties were the themes in their art.

One of the children drew a picture of the Israeli bombs and the white phosphorous which was dropped on the citizens of Gaza.

The children made it very clear the problems they live with in Gaza.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Children Of Gaza and Art

Today I returned to the Afaq Jadeela Association in Mukhaim El Jadeed to create art with the children.

Water is a big issue here in Gaza. The children are asking for clean water to drink. As part of the Maia Mural Project we will paint murals around Gaza.

I asked the children to create pictures about water. Their pictures told the story of the water pollution and the need for fresh water and a cleaner environment.

The most interesting part of being “lost in translation” was that after I passed out the boxes of crayons and paper, the children just sat there. I did not know what was wrong. Majd came with pencils and the children began drawing.

Here are some photos of these sweet, beautiful children who graced my day.

The MAIA Mural Brigade (Maia means Water in Arabic), organized by  Break the Silence Mural and Arts Project brings together a national team that includes: activists, trauma therapists, muralists, filmmakers, Estria Foundation Water Writes Project, Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project and Afaq Jadeeda (New Horizons) to create collaborative murals with Palestinian youth and artists including Mohammad AlDeery and Luai Negim.   The murals are located at schools in the Gaza Strip where water purification systems installed by the Middle East Children’s Alliance are providing clean drinking water to 30,000 children.

The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA),  Berkeley CA, has worked for 25 years to provide on-the-ground humanitarian aid to children in the Middle East.  MECA’s MAIA Project was launched in response to a vote by the Student Parliament at the UN Boys’ School in Bureij Refugee Camp, Gaza.  The students were given the opportunity to choose one thing they most wanted for their school: They chose to have clean drinking water. The water crisis in Palestine continues to worsen particularly in Gaza where desalination plants were bombed in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault in 2008/2009.

Working in partnership with community organizations in Gaza MECA’s MAIA Project has provided clean water to 14 large UN schools in Palestinian refugee camps and to 13 kindergartens in refugee camps, towns, and villages. The systems are funded by grassroots organizing efforts in the USA.


Art Exhibit Cancelled- “A Child’s View From Gaza”, Oakland, CA

Media Advisory

For immediate Release

Berkeley, CA— The Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) has decided to cancel an exhibit of art by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which was partnering with MOCHA to present the exhibit, was informed of the decision by the Museum’s board president on Thursday, September 8, 2011. For several months, MECA and the museum had been working together on the exhibit, which is titled “A Child’s View of Gaza.”

MECA has learned that there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.

Barbara Lubin, the Executive Director of MECA, expressed her dismay that the museum decided to censor this exhibit in contradiction of its mission “to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.”

“We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose,” she said.

“The only winners here are those who spend millions of dollars censoring any criticism of Israel and silencing the voices of children who live every day under military siege and occupation.”

Unfortunately, this disturbing incident is just one example of many across the nation in which certain groups have successfully silenced the Palestinian perspective, which includes artistic expression. In fact, some organizations have even earmarked funds for precisely these efforts. Last year, regrettably the Jewish Federation of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs launched a $6 million initiative to effectively silence Palestinian voices even in “cultural institutions.”

The free exhibit, co-sponsored by nearly twenty local organizations, was scheduled to open on September 24, and featured special activities for children and families, including a cartooning workshop and poetry readings.

The Gaza Strip, which has a population of 1.6 million, has been under siege since Israel imposed a blockade against it in 2006. The United Nations and many human rights organizations across the world have condemned the blockade as an inhumane and cruel form of collective punishment.

“Even while the children in Gaza are living under Israeli policies that deprive them of every basic necessity, they managed through art, to express their realities and hopes. It’s really very sad that there are people in the U.S. silencing them and shredding their dreams,” said Ziad Abbas, MECA’s Associate Director.

MECA is disappointed in the museum’s decision to deny Bay Area residents the opportunity to view Palestinian children’s art, and is committed to seeking an alternative venue.

“We made a promise to the children that their art will be shown and we are going to keep  that promise,” said Lubin.

For media requests, please contact:
Leena Al-Arian
Communications Coordinator, MECA
[email protected]




Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) and Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) present

“A Child’s View From Gaza”

Photos and Video from the MAIA Mural Brigade will also be on display.

Saturday, September 24, 1:00pm – Tuesday, November 15, 3:00pm

Free Opening Reception Saturday, September 24, 1-3pm

538 Ninth Street, Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94607

Poetry by Deema Shehabi and Lorene Zouzounis
Edible art by The Great Tortilla Conspiracy
Special activities for children including cartooning workshop with Khalil Bendib (ages 10-13)
Refreshments and more

“A Child’s View From Gaza,” an art exhibit by Palestinian children ages 8-14 that reflects their realities and their dreams for the future.

September 24 – November 15, 2011 * Exhibit is free to the public* Tuesday-Friday 10am-3pm * Saturday and Sunday 12-4 * MOCHA is closed on Mondays

For special family events and school field trips connected to this exhibit, plus additional endorsers please contact [email protected]

Many of the children whose pieces will be featured were participants in a MECA project called “Let the Children Play and Heal”. Read “Little Successes” a blog update about the project from Dr. Mona El-Farra!

International Board of Books for Young People – Palestine section, The Estria Foundation, SF Arab Cultural and Community Center, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Global Exchange, Green Youth Arts and Media Center, Break the Silence Mural Project, Dignidad Rebelde, Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, Bay Area Women in Black, Palestinian Youth Movement, La Pena Cultural Center, Golden Thread Productions, Interfaith Peace-Builders,  and more!

Due to the graphic nature of some of the images, adult supervision is advised.

MAIA Mural #2 Al-Shati Kindergarten, Beach Camp

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Mural in Gaza

By Joanne Osband

Our second mural in Gaza as part of the Maia Mural Project was painted at  Al-Shati Kindergarten, in Beach Camp, on the outside wall. The inspiration came from one day at the Summer Camps that take place in Gaza City. About 15,000 schoolchildren in the summer camps of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) flew around 10,910 hand made kites. It broke the record registered last year in China when people flew 10,565 kites.

Here is the sketch for the mural:

And the mural…..

Alicia Martinson one of the artists of the Maia Mural Brigade

Water Writes Halftime BBQ & Report Back

Come out n Celebrate the Completion of 5 of the 10 Water Writes Murals hosted by the Estria Foundation! Muralists who traveled to Hawaii, Palestine, and the Philippines will share their videos, photos, and stories.

The MAIA Mural Brigade brought several groups, institutions and projects together including: Break the Silence Mural And Arts Project; the Middle East Children’s Alliance; The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project and the Estria Foundation.

MAIA Mural Brigade is honored to be one of ESTRIA Foundation’ s WATER WRITES Projects.

This is the first report-back from MAIA MURAL BRIGADE!

Club 21 @ 2111 Franklin Street, Oakland, Califas

Saturday, August 20 · 2:00pm – 8:00pm

Stay Tuned for more!

Check out photos ‘8 Murals in 8 Days’ on FLICKR

Mural at Al-Shati Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, MAIA Mural Brigade

Al-Shati was established in 1948 for about 23,000 Palestinians fleeing the cities of Jaffa, Lod and Beersheba as well as surrounding villages.





or http://www.flickr.com/photos/65003496@N06/sets/72157627193515609/

To Gaza with Love

Gaza City, Palestine—-As the news of the Flotilla and “Flytilla” bring messages of solidarity to Gaza through the twittersphere I sit overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, almost lying in wait. I’m not the only one.

I’m here as part of an artist collective called the “Maia Mural Brigade” in conjunction with the Estria Foundation’s #Water Writes Project and Break the Silence Mural and Art Project and our aim is to collaborate with local artists to paint public murals about water conditions affecting the people of Palestine.

We’re lined up to paint 8 murals in the next 7 days on water filtration systems at schools providing potable water for residents of the Gaza Strip. We meet with Dr. Mona El Farra, Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance Maia (Water) Project, which fundraises for and implements the filters, she is our community liaison here. We sit on her porch and discuss the details—Drinking Mango nectar, eating cucumbers and pita with hummus it’s easy to forget we’re steps away from piles of rubble that were people’s homes before the siege.

Painting with Local Artists at the Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City

Dr. Mona’s approach is warm, and open, “I won’t tell you what to paint…Artists need have space to fly.” She sends us to schools to gather content for our murals from the children of Gaza. We bring crayons and questions, and leave with drawings and stories. They draw about raw sewage spilling into the sea where the treatment plant stood before the bombs began to fall. They show us sketches of rain and clouds, fishermen and boats, soldiers and warships, drinking water and growing plants.

“You can’t separate art from politics” Dr. Mona tells us.

So we will paint, knowing that our work will speak to people whose basic needs are not being met. Hoping that our images translate their reality to the world and pull solidarity over the sea.

The Flotilla and Flytilla have both been stopped by Israel in one way or another. My colleagues and I are witnessing what the 800 activists and committed cultural workers from across the world were denied the ability to see.

As I sit here, in the lobby overlooking the sea. My mind goes to what Ive seen, drawing inspiration for art. Tomorrow we paint, and begin the first in a series of 8 murals. These 8 murals will stand as our statement, we will testify via our craft. Bearing witness to Gaza. The Message: Give these people the water they deserve and need.

~Josue Rojas
New American Media

Tour of Hebron with Hisham Sharabati

A video from our tour in Hebron with our guide Hisham Sharabati:

Hebron from Arwen King on Vimeo.

Apartheid in Hebron

by: Andrew Meyer

I have heard the comparison for years, that South Africans who lived under apartheid have traveled to Palestine and reported that what they have seen there is comparable — or possibly worse — than what they experienced in South Africa. It wasn’t until I traveled to Hebron (or Al-Khalil) that, for the first time in my life, I saw with my own eyes examples of the policies they are talking about.

Our guide for the day was Palestinian journalist Hisham Sharabati, whose family has lived in Hebron for generations. He told us the history of Hebron, focusing on the modern day pilgrimage of ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers to the West Bank’s largest city. At present time there are around 500 settlers living in Hebron. Between 1,500 and 2,000 Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers are present on a daily basis to secure the safety of the settlers. Regardless of the fact that these settlers (and the government of Israel by association) are violating international law with their presence, the IDF often acts as a buffer for the settlers to commit violent assaults and other crimes against the Palestinian inhabitants of the city.

In the Old Quarter, over 1,400 Palestinian owned shops have been forced to close by the IDF for “security” purposes. Many of these shops have even had their doors welded shut. This left me wondering what would happen to the shops once the illegal settlers were forced to leave. It didn’t take long to dawn on me that removal of the settlers in Hebron is not part of Israel’s long term vision for the area.

Throughout the city we observed metal gates that were installed over the windows of Palestinian homes. Hisham explained that the gates were in place to fend off stones which are thrown by settlers in an attempt to break the windows on the apartments. Similarly, Palestinian shop keepers in the Old Quarter have installed a chain link fence above their shops, running the length of the walkway. Resting now on the chain link is a variety of objects which have been thrown from the settlers living in the higher stories above the shops, in an attempt to hit those walking below. Objects that have been thrown include stones, bricks, bottles of urine, knives, and even acid. These actions are rarely addressed by the IDF presence.

As we walked around the city, Hisham pointed out a long chain of standard concrete barriers, splitting a road down the middle. He assured us that we must walk on the right side of the barrier because, as we had a Palestinian tour guide, were only allowed to walk on that side. The other side was reserved for the settlers.

As we returned from our tour of the lower region, and once again reached the concrete barriers, I noticed an IDF checkpoint at the top of the slight incline. Just beyond the checkpoint, perhaps 25 feet away, was a series of Palestinian owned shops. Hisham turned to us and said “I’ll have to ask permission,” and proceeded to question the soldier as to whether or not we were allowed to pass and visit the shops.

Perhaps the most obvious case of an apartheid-like system was during our visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs, to which entry is also controlled by an IDF checkpoint. In order to enter you must submit to a bag search, show your passport, and walk through a metal detector. Including those on the delegation and Hisham, there were twelve of us visiting the mosque that day. Eleven of us had a U.S. passport, one had a Palestinian passport. One person had their passport held by the Israelis for the duration of our visit in order to run a background check. I’ll let you guess which one of us it was.

Of course these are just a few examples of Israeli poicy that garner comparison to apartheid. The “separation barrier” (read: apartheid wall) enclosing the West Bank, the inequality of rights for Arab citizens of Israel, and the construction of Jewish-only roads and highways are a few more.

Without reverting to a lengthy, academic conversation about the comparison to apartheid, I will just say this — anyone who asserts that Israel is not practicing policies of apartheid should be immediately required to spend just one day in Hebron.

Denying Flytilla Activists About Saving Face, Not Security

by: Andrew Meyer

On July 26th I flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport for the first time. Although I had never been to the region before, the buildings did not seem unfamiliar to me. I had painted a mental picture of the airport based on the accounts of dozens of my friends who had traveled to Israel in the past. I approached passport control, and very luckily for me, was asked only three questions before my passport was stamped with a three month visa. Perhaps my luck was based in the fact that –on some level – I lied.

The reason I gave less-than-truthful answers to the customs agent’s questions, and the reason I withheld as much information as possible, is because Israel has a well documented, long history of denying entry to Palestine solidarity activists. The product of Israel’s failed policies, from the West Bank to Gaza, is the constant scramble to hide Israel’s dirty little secret – their occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The reality of these policies for those who wish to travel to the Palestine is that they must remain less than honest when traveling to Israel, in an attempt ensure that they are granted entry.

The fact that Israel illegally occupies the West Bank and Gaza (along with the Golan Heights) is not lost on the international community. However, the specific consequences of Israel’s illegal occupation, siege, and blockade are not widely witnessed by the majority of the world’s population. This lack of witness is due in part to Israel’s calculated attempt at keeping internationals out of the Occupied Territories.

And so as hundreds of non-violent Palestine solidarity activist are being detained, arrested, and deported during Israel’s response to the current “flytilla”, the question must be asked – what is Israel trying to hide?

Perhaps it is the overwhelming  presence of the illegal Jewish only settlements that seem to be springing up on the top of every hill within the West Bank. Perhaps it is the continued construction of the daunting apartheid wall, which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2005. Perhaps it is the ramifications of the illegal blockade of Gaza, which has been imposed since 2007, leaving Gazans battling widespread poverty, a territory wide water crisis, and facing one of the world’s highest unemployment rates.

This leaves those who are responsible for, and apologists for, these failed policies in a rather uncomfortable position – attempting to defend the indefensible. In the end, this is what Israel is trying to hide.

A Tale of Two Cities ~ MAIA Mural Project, Palestine, Summer 2011

We have arrived!  More very soon!