My Palestinian friend, Estephan Salameh, picked me up after breakfast this morning and we headed north in his faded red VW through Beit Hanina where the wall has made a four lane highway toward Ramallah into two two lane roads separating a Jewish area from a Palestinian. Coils of razor wired have been added to the top of the wall since my last visit giving it a more ominous appearance. Our first destination was Jifna, a small Christian village near Ramallah where Estephan's family lives. Jifna is also where Seraj, the little non-profit begun by Estephan, Laurie and some faithful Chicagoans, has launched its first children's library. We stopped for a tour and to meet Miriam, its librarian - who was for many years a nurse in Kuwait. The library is in a wonderfully bright room with fanciful designs on the wall on the second floor of a building also housing a dentist's office and a clinic. Children fill the room after school from Monday through Thursday and now some women have begun offering free tutoring there several other days. Altough books are very costly, Seraj has managed to fill the shelves. It's a great project.
Etephan's mother had been planning brunch for us for the past week which included lentil soup, the essential Palestinian salad and a pan of well season chicken and potatoes. Estephan's brother, Samer, and two of his children dropped by and, as Harold Kimball has named her, "Lovely Ludna" was there too. Ludna is Estephan's sister who works at Birzeit University. I'm pleased to report that Estephan's father is much improved since last year. He's mobile now with walker and cane. Lovely people; warm hospitality.
Leaving Jifna, we headed for Bil'in where Friday protests have been maintained for several years at the path of the wall. The wall cuts off Bil'in residents from portions of their land where they have grown olive trees for many years. Residents took their case to the Israeli high court which ruled in their favor. But the IDF claimed "security needs" and the fence remains. When we got to the site, the demonstrators were about 75 yards from fences on either side of them (in this case electrified fences with razor wire) with IDF on the military roads behind both fences. Tear gas was being lobbed at the demonstrators about 150 yards from where we were. We walked a little closer - still a long way from the demonstration - when we heard one of the cannisters sailing in a large arc toward us. We moved quickly and the cannister landed right where we were standing. We both got a nose full then and some later that drifted our way, but were fine in a few minutes. I was reminded I don't care for tear gas.
My observation of the demonstration is that it has become a kind of game protesters and the IDF play each Friday. With some Israelis and internationals joining in, it has gained some useful press coverage, but it is hard to tell if it is effective any longer. On this occasion we saw far more Israeli than Palestinian demonstrators ... perhaps because the Palestinians have observed participants taking pictures of demonstrators resulting in later interrogations. Toward the end we observed some kids - still a good way from the fence - using slings to throw stones at the soldiers. Some real lack of discipline to maintain non-violence weakens the protest.
And that was just half of Friday! More tommorrow.