West Bank Journal: Standing at the Gates of Jerusalem

Updates from the West Bank

| March 2004

Author and activist Starhawk is back in Palestine working with the International Solidarity Movement. In the first of a series of daily updates, she recounts her harrowing arrival from Israel into the occupied territories.—Ed. 

I'm back in the West Bank, in Neta Golan's small apartment in Ramallah. I'm here to assist her with the birth of her second child, which could come any moment now, and to do trainings for the International Solidarity Movement, which supports the nonviolent resistance in Palestine. As well, I hope to take part in the campaign against the wall currently being built by the Israeli Government, which confiscates much of the prime Palestinian agricultural land, destroys villages, and unilaterally extends the de facto border of Israel.

I'm tired now, after the long flight from San Francisco, the shared taxi ride that wound and wound around the streets of Jerusalem, the stress of getting ready to leave home and the jet lag. But I'm glad to be here, grateful that I had no trouble getting in through the immigration lines or at customs or getting in through the checkpoint at Kalendia.

And that's where I fell asleep last night. Now I've had a good night's sleep, a quiet day catching up with Neta, who is one of the founder of the ISM. We have one of those friendships that seem to exist beyond the boundaries of time and space. I met her on my first trip to the occupied territories, to work with the ISM. I'd come first to Tel Aviv, reconnected with some of my Israeli friends, then finally worked up the nerve to head out to the West Bank. I took a bus to Jerusalem, a bus full of soldiers who were so polite and friendly, helping me with my bags, then a taxi to the Damascus Gate where the Faisal, the hostel frequented by the ISM, stands just outside the Old City. I couldn't understand why the taxi driver grew more and more nervous as we got closer and closer, then finally insisted I get out of the car half a block away. Later I learned that Jewish Israeli taxis often won't even go into East Jerusalem. They're afraid.

I'd dragged my bags to the Faisal, up a narrow stairway tucked away between the vegetable stall and the felafel seller on a street full of small storefronts, across from the big, empty lot where shared taxis to the West Bank arrive and leave. I was tired, and nervous, and wondering if I were doing the right thing. I'd been trying to call Neta for two days and hadn't gotten through. I rang the bell, and the door was opened by a young man. I peeked inside, thinking both that I was too old to stay in youth hostels and that, if I were really going to the West Bank, I'd be staying in much worse places and I'd better get used to it.

'Welcome! Welcome!' Hisham, the proprietor of the Faisal, boomed out a greeting and beamed at me with a smile so friendly that I immediately felt better. When I told him I was a friend of Netas', his smile grew even wider. She had been there the night before. He called her in Tel Aviv, and she came back. We stayed awake half the night, talking as if we'd known each other forever. The next day, she tried to sneak me into the Al Aqsa Mosque dressed up as a Palestinian woman. The soldiers who guarded the mosque didn't buy my disguise-the hiking boots under the long white skirt probably gave it away. Instead, we went to Bethlehem, which at that time was under siege, walking through the surreal streets of a silent, shuttered city to Nativity; Square, where tanks were still stationed. The following day, she had me doing a training for internationals that was interrupted when he heard that Balata camp was being invaded by the military. By nightfall, we'd hiked through the mountains above Nablus to get into the closed city, then down to the camp, and were sleeping in the home of a Palestinian family who feared soldiers coming to search in the night.

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