Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"We failed."

Published also at Mondoweiss: ‘We failed’ (In which a Palestinian activist abandons the peace process) 

One of the advantages of return visits to Palestine over a period of years is to get a sense of the way the situation is developing over time.  Unfortunately, in coming here many times over the past ten years, the impression I have is of an constant deterioration of the political landscape and the palpable loss of hope for any short-term improvement.
Thousands greet Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian "Arab Idol" in Ramallah on July 1;  few Palestinians turn out for political demonstrations these days

As an activist, my first direct personal connection with Palestine came in 2002, before I ever visited the country.  In 2002 I helped to host a US tour of Palestinian trade-union representatives and organized a couple of speaking events in Boston.  I have kept in touch with them and spent some time with them almost every year since 2004 when I visited Palestine for the first time.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Meet Mr. Palestine

'Imad AbdulAziz
(June 29, 2013, published also at Mondoweiss)

I met Mr. Palestine today in Nablus. Really.

‘Imad AbdulAziz won the title Mr. Palestine in a body-building championship in the year 2000. As usual here, things get a little more complicated, even in a seemingly benign sport like bodybuilding.

‘Imad is 53 years old and he has been a member of the leftist Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) since his youth. As a consequence he has been arrested by the Israeli security services 17 times and he has spent a total of about 6 years in almost every prison in the West Bank and 1948 Israel. This also included a stretch of hard time in the outdoor detention facility in Israel’s Negev Desert.

‘Imad was never accused of any violent crime. The only “guns” he ever carried were between his elbows and his shoulders. Even now, somewhat past his prime, ‘Imad’s biceps are pretty impressive.

But under the Israeli occupation any kind of political activism was criminalized by the authorities. In fact, it’s hard to find any adult Palestinian man who has not spent time behind Israeli bars.

Like many, ‘Imad was repeatedly arrested under Israel’s “Preventive Detention” law. He recalls that once in 1985 he was re-arrested at his welcoming home party upon being released from prison.
He was also frequently tortured while under detention, including one time being shot in both legs and almost bleeding to death.

Somehow during all this ‘Imad managed to earn a degree in 1982 from An-Najah University in Physical Education, to marry and have six children – and continue to compete as a bodybuilder. In 2000 he topped the Palestinian team at an international meet in Baghdad, where he won the title of “Mr. Palestine.” He got a check for $10,000 from Saddam Hussein.

Since then ‘Imad has been the media spokesperson for the PFLP in Nablus, a position that has also gotten him in trouble with the Palestinian Authority. In 2004 he was arrested and detained for 17 days in a PA prison for speaking publicly about official corruption.

Today ‘Imad is the director of the Al-‘Amaria Secondary School. He walks with a noticeable limp from his gunshot wounds, but he has a sunny outlook, with a ready smile. And he can still make his pecs dance.

“You can’t get there from here.”

I have visited al-Khalil (Hebron) many time over the years, but this was the first time I traveled there from Jerusalem the, um, “non-Palestinian way.”
Orthodox Settlers waiting at bus stop near Jerusalem
The Central Bus Station is now easily accessible from the Damascus Gate via the new light rail system that seamlessly moves through both Occupied and 1948 Jerusalem neighborhoods.  The trams are operated by the French mega-corporation Veolia, which also runs several bus lines to the Israeli settlements and is the subject of an international boycott campaign. (Veolia, originally the French Compagnie Générale des Eaux  and later Vivendi, was a pioneer in the privatization of water utilities and other public services and operates in 77 countries around the world, including the US, where it runs several privatized municipal water and waste-water systems – and also the Easy Shuttle service from DC-area  airports.)

Egged Bus #160 goes direct to Hebron the via the settlements stretching south from Jerusalem and costs only 9 sheqels (about $2.50).  The comfortable air-conditioned bus is filled with Jewish commuters and shoppers.  There are few tourists and no Palestinians.  In theory anyone can take the bus, including Arab residents of Jerusalem, but in actuality few of them have any business in the Jewish settlements and they would have to walk a considerable distance from the bus terminus in Hebron and pass through a military checkpoint to reach the main commercial area of the city not under settler control.