CAIRO: Running from sound grenades and tear gas at protests in the West Bank, working for a grassroots Palestinian organization opposing Israel’s separation wall, and staying on a settlement in the Jordan Valley – for a few American students in Cairo, the opposing dynamics of occupation defined a month-long stay in the area through the winter break.
A student who identified himself as Peter worked for the month in Ramallah for Stop The Wall, a Palestinian organization focused on boycott, divestment, and sanctions strategies against Israel over the construction of the planned 730 km separation wall, of which 245 km has been completed across the West Bank.
Peter did not want to release his real name since he said he is planning to return to Ramallah in the near future to continue his work and worries about being denied entry into the West Bank by Israel.
“I was doing editing and research work on the position of the academic and the economic boycott [against Israel], as was done in South Africa during apartheid, he told The Daily Star Egypt.
Peter traveled around the West Bank and participated in protests – independent from his job at Stop The Wall – in Nablus, Hebron, and Bil’in, where protests have been occurring every Friday for over two years to protest the wall going up outside the village.
Another American student, Sophie, who did not want her real name printed for similar reasons, worked at the Haifa Feminist Center, which houses a number of organizations, including the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Aswat Group, a Palestinian gay women’s group for peace.
Sophie traveled from northern Israel to the West Bank each weekend, to attend and cover protests for the International Solidarity Movement.
She went to a children’s protest in Hebron and two of the weekly Bil’in demonstrations.
The scene in Bil’in, as both Sophie and Peter described, was a mix of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists marching out of the town to the wall, which is currently a chain link and barbed wire fence.
IDF soldiers stood on the other side, through a gate. One Friday, protesters pulled down a section of the chain link, before soldiers fired tear gas and sound grenades into the crowd and protesters as they ran back toward the village.
As protesters fled into the village, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas into Bil’in, into the gardens and houses of villages not connected with the demonstration.
“The IDF uses the protest as a pretext to fire tear gas into the village at people sitting in their homes on a Friday afternoon, drinking tea, not protesting, Sophie said. “You walk away from the demonstrations thinking most of all that this is an unnecessary use of force.
There is a strong media presence at protests like Bil’in, even as the more minor day-to-day realities of occupation and protest, much of them peaceful, go unreported.
Peter remarked at “how much non-violent action is going on that you never hear about. People are dressing up in costumes and singing songs to protest, and all you ever hear about are suicide bombings.
Greg Jenske, 27, a former documentary photographer and current AUC student, traveled to visit friends and contacts, which included staying on a Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley and in refugee camps throughout the West Bank, which he first visited last October.
“I wanted to find contradictions, different juxtapositions, go from a settlement into Nablus in one day, or a refugee camp in Bethlehem to a party in Tel Aviv, Jenske said.
Jeske photographed the Jan. 5 protest in Bil’in, running from side to side of a rainy olive grove.
“At one moment the people on one side are dodging rocks, at the other moment, they’re dodging rubber bullets, he said.
He said a Spanish photographer with him was hit with a rubber bullet and hospitalized.
Jeske described other days when he would be talking to a Palestinian refugee family in the morning and exchanging email addresses with a young Israeli soldier in the afternoon.
He said he is hoping to film a documentary in Palestine and Israel in the near future.
The feeling, as he said, “of extremely complex realities, all intertwined, all existing, and all valid was sharpest during a stay on a Jewish settlement in the Jordan Valley where a friend and his family live.
Jeske said he considered the possibility of an attack on the settlement during his visit, and that “I could definitely see myself defending them, despite his own opposition to the building of Israeli homes on Palestinian land.
“Even though I don’t agree with certain individuals, they re all valued. If I spend enough time with them, I understand their opinion.