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Postcards from Palestine

Academic Delegation to Palestine Endures 10-Hour Interrogation by Israeli Security

Note: A professor at San Francisco State that I know and work with was among an academic delegation that Israel detained and questioned for 10 hours on January 12. With many US academic associations discussing academic freedom in Palestine/Israel and considering whether to join the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, this experience only serves to drive home the need for concerned people around the world to speak up and respond to such actions.  And as the press release notes, this experience is only a fraction of the injustices Israel commits in its occupation/colonization of Palestinian land. I’ve included links for more context at the end of their statement.

For Immediate Release: Contact: Joanne Barker
Jerusalem, Palestine
Junaid Rana

Academic Delegation to Palestine Endures 10-Hour Interrogation by Israeli Security

On January 12, 2014, a delegation of six academics and a labor activist traveled from Jordan to Palestine through the Israeli checkpoint. The delegation is led by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University and is meeting with Palestinian academics to better understand conditions on the ground and to facilitate future collaborations. Four members of the delegation, including Abdulhadi and Professor Junaid Rana of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, were held at the checkpoint and interrogated by Israeli security, the Ministry of the Interior, and the military, for over ten hours.

Abdulhadi, Rana, and two other delegates, including Professor Joanne Barker of San Francisco State University, support the 2005 call of Palestinian Civil Society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (ACBI) institutions that are complicit in the continued colonization of Palestine. Various delegation members belong to U.S. academic associations that have endorsed ACBI such as the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS), American Studies Association (ASA), and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

As the four members of the delegation were interrogated, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted to support a resolution noting grave concern regarding the ability of U.S. scholars to travel and collaborate with Palestinian counterparts. 

Four members of the delegation were individually interrogated up to four separate times over the ten hours during which they were held. They were pressed about their scholarly research, academic networks, family backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnic origins. The Israeli security officer demanded contact and cell phone information and two delegates were coerced into accessing their email accounts using Israeli security computers. One member had to insist twice to be allowed to sign-off from an email account before being allowed to leave the interrogation room. Another delegate was told explicitly not to pursue research on colonial gender violence. The delegates were additionally asked about travel to Arab countries, intended research, political activities, and names and phone numbers of academic and family contacts.

Professor Rana was asked whether he had recently signed any petitions regarding Israel, to which he replied that he was a member signatory to BDS resolutions of the AAAS and the ASA. Along with other members of the delegation, those interrogated have been actively involved in the academic boycott of Israeli institutions—as opposed to individual scholars—of higher education. Rana was also asked why he attended a conference on “Transnational American Studies” at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, and whether he had any political writings related to Israel. Such actions are a clear violation of academic freedom, including the freedom to travel for scholarly research, and demonstrate tactics of intimidation and harassment of scholarly inquiry.

The delegation recognizes that their experiences on January 12, 2014, pales in comparison with the everyday surveillance and criminalization of Palestinian academics who are consistently denied the freedoms to research, publish, and travel. The delegation commends academic associations who have endorsed ACBI and encourage others to follow.


For more on academic freedom in Palestine:

MLA Delegate Assembly narrowly votes to criticize Israel" (1/12/14)

How Israeli universities oppress Palestinian students" (1/2/14)

ASA Members Vote to Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel" (12/16/13)

The Native American Studies Association Boycott of Israel" (12/29/13)

Why ‘Positive Investment’ Is Not Enough for Palestine

I drafted this piece in August during a delegation visit to Palestine and Israel with the Interfaith Peace Builders. It’s message is especially relevant as the UCLA student union considers a bill to promote dialogue and “positive investment” towards peace in Israel and Palestine. For Palestinians living under military occupation, monetary investments are not enough.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman who was born and raised in Youngstown Ohio. In the 1990s, Sam married his wife - a Palestinian from the West Bank - and moved there to start a family. In most countries, Sam could apply for a green card or to be officially recognized as a foreign resident of the state; in Palestine, whose international travel is controlled by the state of Israel, Sam could only apply for a three-month tourist visa to live on the land where his father grew up, where his wife was born and raised, and where his family decided to raise their children. “Every three months I had to leave the country and re-enter for 15 years,” Sam told us.  At first, Sam would travel—but very soon going to the United States became too expensive; going to Jordan became too boring. Eventually, Sam would just cross the border between the West Bank and Jordan, buy a cup of coffee on the other side of the border, visit the duty free shop for some chocolates for his children, and immediately return to the West Bank. “I had it down to four and a half hours,” Sam said. The border control agents all knew him by name.

After 2006, Israel started denying entry to foreign nationals like Sam in response to the democratic election of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “They wanted to suffocate us so we’d [leave] voluntarily,” Sam said, explaining that Israel wanted to empty Palestine of Palestinians. If foreign nationals realized that they would soon be denied entry to Israel, they would likely pick up and move their families to places where they did not face this risk. Foreign nationals like Sam often had more money than Palestinians living in the West Bank—if these people left, the size of the Palestinian middle class would decrease, creating conditions that would make poorer Palestinians also want to leave. Sam soon got a “last permit” stamp when re-entering the country. Israel had meanwhile ceased to process tens of thousands of residency applications like his.

During the failed “peace process” in the late 2000s, Israel used these residency applications to force Palestinians to participate in the talk. In exchange for retreating from their position of non-negotiation, Israel processed 30,000 applications, including Sam’s.

One day, Sam got a call saying that his Palestinian ID was ready to pick up. Sam showed us his ID saying, “This is not a Palesitnian ID—this is an Israeli military idenfitication card.”

“Even before looking at my ID, they’d know if I’ve been to prison,” he said noting the green color of his ID booklet, distinct from the orange color of ex-incarcerates.

Sam drove from the West Bank to Jerusalem to pick up his ID as a 100% legal driver on Israeli roads. His tourist visa entitled him to drive with the yellow license plates of Israeli residents. But Sam drove home as an illegal driver. With Palestinian status, his required plates change to green and white. Sam was no longer allowed to travel outside of the country from Ben Gurion airport, to travel into Jerusalem and Israel, or to drive on roads with Israeli plates in the West Bank and Israel—-even though the state had no problem with him doing this for 15 years under a tourist visa. He lost all movement and access.

“The only place in the world that I cannot be American is in Israel and the West Bank,” he said.

Sam, who as a businessman made frequent trips into Jerusalem, could no longer do so. He learned that he could apply for 1-day permits as long as he had an invitation letter, paid a 10 shekel fee, and filled out an application. These took one day to process, so Sam always had to make plans one day in advance.

During his first application process, the officer asked Sam for his “magnetic card.”

Being an American, Sam assumed her asking for his credit card meant that the application fees had gone up and erupted in outrage. The woman gave him a weird look and sent him out to the main lobby, where other Palestinians were waiting. The Palestinians laughed at him for not knowing, and Sam learned that the “magnetic card” is one that demonstrates he is not a “security threat” to the state of Israel.

Having secured a magnetic card, Sam ran into another block his second time around. He had his Palestinian ID, he had his magnetic card, but he was missing his “business man’s card.” Not a business card, as Sam had thought was being asked, but yet another form of identification that showed the Israeli government he actually was who he said he was.

“It’s not about security,” Sam told us at this point, expressing his disbelief in how arbitrary the system is.

“There is no one button,” Sam said to us when we discussed what it would take for peace and justice to come to the region.

Ending the occupation is the first step, though, he said. Only after the occupation of Palestine ends can any genuine conversations begin about how people are going to live together.

* * *

Since meeting Sam, the World Bank released a report that Israel’s occupation of Palestine deprives the Palestinian economy of $3.4 billion. Lifting the restrictions on the West Bank would allow the Palestinian economy to grow by at least a third, the international monetary institution says.

If more investments can’t help a businessman like Sam Bahour, among the most connected and well-resourced of Palestinian society and who feels the effects is of the occupation as much as he does, those without as much money or resources are certainly feeling things even worse.

To my fellow classmates at UCLA discussing positive investment and dialogue right now, I hope you can understand that the only goodfaith way towards peace in this disputed region is through ending the crippling effects of military occupation.



BILIN, West Bank (AP) — Residents of this Palestinian village have planted flowers in hundreds of spent Israeli tear gas grenades to honor those killed during their weekly protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.

Mohammed Khatib, a village organizer, said Wednesday that the unusual garden is meant to show that life can spring from death.

Bilin has become a symbol of Palestinian protests against Israeli policies in the West Bank. The village’s struggle to regain land taken by the barrier was the subject of “Five Broken Cameras,” a documentary nominated for an Oscar last year.

Palestinians say the barrier, which cuts into the West Bank, amounts to a land grab. Israel says it’s needed to keep Palestinian attackers out. 

The Bilin garden commemorates Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a protest leader who was killed in 2009 when a tear gas grenade struck him in the chest during a demonstration. Bassem’s sister, Jawaher, died nearly two years later, a day after a weekly protest during which villagers said she inhaled Israeli tear gas.

During West Bank protests, Israeli troops often fire tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and occasionally live rounds, portraying them as appropriate means against Palestinian stone throwers.

The Big Story / AP


(via theimeu)

Breaking the silence

For the past three weeks I haven’t been doing something that I’m used to spending most of my time on: writing. I had expected to write a lot during my final days in Palestine and immediately upon my return, but I’ve run into a block on producing anything—not just Palestine-related pieces, but my usual burst of Facebook updates, my column for the school newspaper, details about my summer research experience in Detroit, emails to friends and colleagues.

About a month ago now, I experienced something I haven’t told many people who I otherwise frequently updated about my summer: I got mugged. I lost a laptop and two cellphones—one American and one Palestinian.  I wasn’t physically harmed, but I lost something that was incredibly important to me as someone on a solidarity visit to Palestine and as a journalist: my recordings from the majority of my trip.

I had the opportunity to share the direct voices and experiences of tens of Palestinians and Israelis with people in the United States—voices that I can try in vain to reproduce through my notes but that hit most powerfully coming directly from the source. I also lost the opportunity to do a number of stories I had arranged to work on in my final days: showcasing the hard work of a group of tireless men in Hebron who worked for six months to rehabilitate an abandoned building in the Israeli military controlled section of their city into a brand new kindergarten for local Palestinian kids; profiling the founding of a new international solidarity movement—Solidarity Movement for Free Palestine—started by two veteran organizers I met during my visit; and finally, I was unable to travel  to Tel Aviv to talk with East African migrants about their experiences of discrimination within Israeli society and to the working class Israelis who cohabit the overcrowded and under-resourced area of the city.  (Israel approved the running of separate schools for the children of African immigrants while I was in the region.)

In the week between getting mugged and returning to the US, I alternated between being too afraid to leave the house, too sad about losing all my recordings, and too self-aware to let many of my local friends know how I was feeling (i.e. my suffering was an ounce of what life under colonization and military occupation feels like, who was I, an American, to complain about my tiny grievance?)

But the effect was that I feel dissatisfied with how I left Palestine.  I didn’t go to Hebron to say goodbye to Issa and Badia and all the other comrades I’d spent a few days with in the weeks before; I didn’t write about the stories and experiences of theirs I had promised to write; and I didn’t make it back to any of the nearby places I’d intended to revisit after our delegation in August—Jenin, Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, Bethlehem.

And just as I initially wasn’t sure what to do about sharing my experiences of racism in Palestine, I was even less sure what to do about my mugging. I did not want the largest takeaway from my travels for people at home to be that I went to Palestine and got mugged. Having spent this year traveling at times alone in Cape Town, Oakland, Detroit and New York, I understood from the moment I was mugged that it could have happened to me anywhere else. I understood that petty crime is more likely to occur in communities that are oppressed. I understood that my particular experience stemmed from living choked under a military occupation.

We already live in a world that is selective about what it recognizes as “violent” or “criminal.” Many of us are slow to recognize the larger and systemic violence of our states (through drones strikes, military occupations, mass incarceration, structural racism and economic exploitation) but are quick to condemn the actions of those who suffer the most under these state-sponsored crimes. In the US, we might decry gang related violence or “black on black” crime, but refuse to recognize our governments, banks and corporations as global gangsters.

Violence and safety are usually two sides of the same coin—especially for global powers like the United States and Israel: “our” safety, security, “peace” usually come at the expense of someone else experiencing violence, being unsafe, living in fear. 

American reluctance to take action against the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine stems from a similar cognitive dissonance about whose violence and whose safety are legitimate. Our government values and legitimizes the security of one group (the occupying force) while delegitimizing the security concerns of another group (the occupied people). The corollary to this is that our government condones (and even abets) the violence of the occupying force against the occupied people, while condemning the violence of occupied people resisting their occupier. And not only does our government condemn the resistance of the occupied people, it marks their resistance as qualitatively different and worse than the violence of the occupying military state. 

This is not equal treatment and this is not justice. Someone mugging me and posing a threat to my individual security does not justify unequal treatment under the law. I could hate them to my core for harming me, but that does not justify them being treated any differently. (And for the record, I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards my muggers.)

And so just as I hate the portrayal of my own people as inherently violent or criminal and deserving of our social conditions, I did not want to contribute to the same portrayal so many at home already have of Palestinians.

* * *

Having seen the extent of blatant inequality in occupied Palestine for myself is what compels me to continue working for universal justice in this region. Towards working for a world where people don’t feel so robbed of their humanity that they turn to robbing others. 

Life under occupation is not easy. It’s gritty. It’s complex. But the bottom line is that no one deserves to live under a military occupation, treated unequally and surrounded by walls. And I will do the best that I can with the resources that I still have to do my part in tearing down those walls.


Help a Palestinian feel like he has traveled the world

From my friend Amy in Palestine:

Dear Redditors everywhere,

my friend Michael Atyeah has been denied the right to travel abroad due to political reasons. He’s Palestinian and so am I. He’s not any different from any other Palestinians here. He studies media and works as a sound and light technician.

This is common for politically active Palestinians or for Palestinians who have politically active families. That’s just the way it is because of the Palestinian government’s (Palestinian Authority) previous peace agreements with Israel. I know because I recently found out that that I can no longer leave because ”my political activity and opinions threat the state of Israel”. I’ve had my share of travelling mostly to Europe and I can live with what I’ve seen of the world, but he has never left the West Bank.

This post is not a bit political and I don’t mean for it to come across as political. I just want to help him feel like he has been everywhere, because he’s one of the most free-spirited people I know and he deserves to feel freedom, if not for himself, at least for his name. Something along the lines of this here has already begun happening thanks to international volunteers who used to work in the region. The paper can say anything, but should at least say “From the city of (X), in country of (Y), to Michael Atyeh”. I’m going to collect the pictures and collage them for him because they not only give him hope, but give everyone else around here who shares the same fate some hope.

TL;DR Our plan is to get people around the world to take pictures with a paper or of a paper next to a known landmark where they live or around them and send it back to us.”

<insert appropriate curses here>

Here’s a link to an Oxfam report with more explanation of these numbers:


<insert appropriate curses here>

Here’s a link to an Oxfam report with more explanation of these numbers:

"What does it feel like to be free?"

Today I met a new friend who saw the mediterranean sea for the first time when he was 23 years old - he started working for an american company that sponsored his ‘permit’ to travel outside the west bank into present-day israel. he was bittersweet about it - at first going to the sea every weekend, but then realizing that he shouldnt have to be happy that he has a permit to visit the sea - his family could have freely accessed it before the occupation..
what does it feel like to be free?" this man told me he asks himself from time to time. and i wanted to cry. here we were sitting at a restaurant eating kebab and i, on one side of the table, can access most of the world by obtaining a visa upon landing at the airport; he cant even go to his family’s original home without a permit, much less leave palestine. i told him i dont think the occupation is sustainable - and that even if the ideals behind our activism dont make things change, the combination of israeli settlements in palestine, and the evergrowing palestinian population means israel will inevitably have to confront all of this.
and i said i dont think we’ll see a 100th anniversary of the nakba where palestine is still occupied. (the nakba is the palestinian term for ‘the catastrophe’ - or the day israel declared independence and symbolic of the expulsion of 750,000 palestinians. even though the amount of land palestinians control is steadily shrinking (and increasing for israel), my friend and i agreed that as people, they cant disappear. israel will not wake up one day and find that all the palestinians have left. so something has to change…). then i did the math from 2013 to 2048, realized that the hundredth anniversary of the nakba is 35 years from now, and that this friend and i would either be past or approaching 60 and shuddered. he said he doesnt like asking himself that question (“what does it feel like to be free?”) because he fears he may never know.
ive had a lot of heartwrenching conversations with palestinians about how the only place they can really travel to is jordan. everywhere else requires a visa and europe/the US make it really hard to get one. the mobility i take for granted is nowhere close to being a universal experience.
this man (a friend of one of my friends and colleagues) told me i can stay with him the next time i come here. that his house is my house. and as i felt in detroit, where i spent the summer before coming to palestine, i really pray i can return this hospitality one day. i told him this.
my friend then touched upon this hospitality and linked it to experiencing common humanity - to something that were all capable of giving and experiencing. and i thought back to the first book i had to read for college—homer’s odyssey. (so much of my journeys this summer - sitting far from home, across various seas, in the living room of someone i just met and drinking tea - have felt like a modern day odyssey). but in the text, hospitality was the most honored and important thing a human could give to another human. 
and while ive had my share of difficult impersonal experiences in palestine, it is this cornerstone of humanity - hospitality - that ive experienced in every individual encounter ive had.
i really pray that my friend and i - before 2048 - can gather at the same restaurant, look back and laugh that we even doubted whether and when peace with justice could come to this region. i hope we can sit across from each other as equals in terms of global mobility. i hope that - within the constructs of whatever systems exist around us - we can each say to each other we know what it feels like to be free.
this conversation was one of the best ive had while in palestine - i have many more reflections to share about it coming soon…

Scene from my living room: an Al Jazeera documentary mentions stone throwing and murder by border patrol agents along a border wall and everyone in the room stops and turns towards the television. It takes us all a few moments to realize the wall in reference is between Mexico and Arizona, not Palestine and Israel. 

Thousands of miles away, built by the same company and serving similar needs for similar ‘national security’ (read: colonial) projects. 

When can we live in a world without walls?

How have I never thought of it this way?! 

Mind. Blown.

Meme courtesy of I Acknowledge Apartheid Exists.

Follow them here:

Israeli Occupation Forces arrest and detain two comrades from Youth Against Settlements that I worked with in Hebron. The following is YAS’s description and a link to the full album of what happened:

Alkhalil, Monday 09-09-20
Imad Alatrash and Mofeed Sharabti were carrying construction materials, they were prevented by IOF in the area of Shuhada street , both were beaten and detained 
Palestinian ambulance took them the hospital. Mufeed Sharabati is now in Alia Hospital in Alkhalil and he will spend the night there till they decide his condition .
— in Hebron, Palestine.