From Turtle Island to Palestine
Indigenous Delegation Blog
On November 12, 2018, we, the Palestinian Youth Movement, launched one of our national projects, a 10-day delegation of Palestinian and Indigenous youth from the United States to Palestine. You can read our full press statement here. Below are regular updates from the delegation, which we will also be sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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Day 6, November 17:
“When they’re living in your skin”
HAIFA, ‘48 Palestine
This was our first day fully immersed in ’48 Palestine as a delegation. As we drove from Ramallah to the coast and entered Haifa, the transition of coming from a predominantly Palestinian area to a Palestine with few Palestinians in sight was shocking. For the Palestinians on the delegation with roots in ’48, the feel of homecoming was bittersweet.
We began our day meeting with Awad AbdelFattah of Mada’ Al-Carmel, a Palestinian research and education center that generates information and critical analysis on the social and political life and history of Palestinians, with particular attention to Palestinians within 1948 boundaries. Awad presented us with a breakdown of Palestinian political and daily life within ’48 during the military administrative government or martial law that reigned over Palestinians from 1949 to 1966 within what was being carved out as the Zionist state. He painted us a picture of early organizing and popular movements in the Haifa, Akka, and Nazareth areas of Palestine during these early years, including Land Day and the protests of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. When we asked him why the formation of Mada’ Al-Carmel was initially so important, he responded, “if you want to exterminate any people, you first need to exterminate their culture.” Mada’ Al-Carmel was formed not only to preserve our identity but to also build it. When the disastrous Oslo Accords categorically isolated Palestinians within ’48 as ‘an internal Israeli affair’ in 1993, the Palestinians inside ‘48 knew that they had to formulate their own institutions in order to remain intact, both culturally and politically as a part of the Palestinian people. Between 1993 and 1995, Palestinians established new institutions and political platforms within ’48 Palestine.
The meeting with Awad extended into the musakhan lunch that we brought with us from Nil’in. As the sun shone hot in the sky, we walked up the street to the gates of the Bahai Temple to meet with Belal from Bl-Aks political tours. We began the tour overlooking Haifa’s huge port from the top of the hill, amongst a sea of oblivious tourists coming to town for a view of the gardens and a relaxing beach day. Belal started the tour with a rundown of Haifa’s geographic history and development from Canaanite times to early traders on the port, the relationship to the Hijaz Railway that connected Haifa to Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad (and eventually Hijaz), the emergence of the German Colony, the British empire’s presence, and early Zionist settlement. From the top of the hill, he pointed out the historic neighborhoods of Haifa and how they and their residents were transformed by the Nakba. In the distance, we could see the Galilee and the most southern tip of Lebanon and so it was not hard to imagine a mass flow of people being pushed there or further inland towards Jenin. It is here that we began to speak about Internally Displaced Persons within ’48 and how ongoing displacement of people from their original villages to 2km or 5km away has shaped the presence of Palestinians within the city of Haifa and throughout the region. It also adds complexity to the face of displacement.
When we asked Belal why he selected that particular hill to begin the tour, he mentioned the huge Ottoman cannon and German obelisk at the bend in the public park. “There is propaganda everywhere” he said, pointing to the ‘gift’ of the obelisk by Kaiser Wilhelm II: “If you don’t know the real story, the state will try to write one for you through all the persuasions they’ve left on the landscape. None of these hints are actually cohesive on their own.”
We moved from Haifa down the coast towards the destroyed village of Al-Tireh, where one Palestinian family remains. Belal is from Al-Tireh and his grandfather is still buried there, in the graveyard that sits at the edge of a huge Zionist apartment complex. During the Nakba, the village was surrounded by the Zionist gang of Haganah and besieged for an entire month. According to Belal, Al-Tireh was the key for Zionist militias targeting Palestinian life along the coast because it was such a major center of life for all of the towns around it. Once Al-Tireh fell in April 1948, the villages around it crumbled as well, and Zionists were able to secure the sea front.
The lands of Al-Tireh are extensive and the large green hills, covered in wild flowers and olive trees, were dotted with hikers from the city getting in touch with the ‘natural beauty’ of this coastal landscape, evading the presence of houses, farm lands and memories demolished at their feet. The treatment of Al-Tireh’s land as something vacant and virginal was so upfront and violent, as we stepped off the bus, it felt as though we were living in a totally different reality than everyone around us. Our first stop was the Mokhtar’s big stone house, which now serves as the central police station; it is one of a few original houses that are left in the village. The second stop was the old school building, which the current Israeli town uses as their school building. Lastly, we arrived at the graveyard, on the outskirts. Most of the headstones are in shambles, and it is just up the hill from here that the last living Palestinian family remains in Al-Tireh. It feels as though even our physical presence is literally being pushed to the margins and crumbling away. All the hikers, going in and out of the parking lot, are staring at us. “Why are the tombs unkempt and breaking down?” Belal asks us in front of them. “Because most of the villagers of Al-Tireh no longer live in ’48 and so they are not able to get to the graveyards to take care of the tombs,” he answers. “My father is the only one who stayed of his whole family and because of that, lucky or unlucky, I am able to come back here. But now we are alone.”
Looking around, we could feel the loneliness of the land untilled, the old stone walls toppled over, the graveyard empty of living relatives but so filled with mourning, the olive trees heavy with fruit that nobody picks. The violence of disappearance is palpable here.
We moved from the village back to the Old City of Haifa, where we were able to visit the Jerini Masjid where Izz ad-Din al-Qassam’s funeral was held in 1935 after his murder by the British police force, and Al-Istiqlal Masjid where he used to teach courses and was the leading Sheikh. Al-Qassam is best known for his focus on uplifting the working and peasant classes through popular education, religious schooling, and the strategy of armed struggle. He is buried in Balad al-Sheikh, a Palestinian town that is now under the mapping auspices of the town of “Nesher,” much like Al-Tireh and the other Palestinian towns of the Haifa governorate that have been ‘reassigned’ to the jurisdictions of the nearest Israeli towns or those literally built on top of them.
We finished the political tour at the House of Grace Orthodox church of Haifa, which is surrounded by skyscrapers on all sides, including the main entrance, and the remaining houses of Wadi Salib in the valley, under where the house of Ghassan Kanafani’s uncle remains, who is said to be a neighbor of Leila Khaled growing up. It was inspiring to imagine these two famous Palestinian figures living and interacting on the same block as one another, which later flowed into their comradery in exile.
In the evening, we met with Mohammed Kayyal, a founder of the Association for the Defene of the Rights of Internally Displaced Palestinians (ADRID), and a member of Abna’ al Balad. He talked about the plight of internally displaced Palestinians, of which he is one. Originally from the village of al-Birwe, he was raised 2km away in the village of Judaida in the Galilee area. Mohammed touched on the pain of being isolated from his home during the period of Israeli Martial Law and his experiences of being further isolated from other Palestinians through both the process of ‘Israelization’ and protracted Nakba. He highlighted, proudly, that the largest collective activity for Palestinians within ’48 is the Nakba Commemoration March, of which ADRID is a leading organizer. The March leads thousands of Palestinians to a different village each year to commemorate and call attention to the particular displacement history there and to demand the Right of Return.
When we asked Mohammed why he was so committed to Abna’ al Balad’s philosophy, he told us squarely:
The [Zionist] state has built hundreds of new Jewish towns for its people but has never once built or expanded a Palestinian town in the same land base. This is proof enough that we will never be part of the Israeli state because we are living in colonial conditions. Before we engage with the upper echelons of the state, we must first demand different conditions for our people and those conditions include the Right of Return. We can never forget or give up that we are part of the Palestinian people and we are being isolated from them and they from us. We will never give up our demand to return home, whether it is many countries from here or 2km away, like my village is from me.
From the old town of Haifa to Al-Tireh and the coast, the Zionist entity is living in our skin. It tries to naturalize itself to the vacuous landscape it knows was once Palestine, to indigenize itself to a place it thinks is empty enough to be remade in the present. What they may know but are afraid to acknowledge is that we have not left, and Palestine is not won away: we are still there in front of them, under their feet, along the shoreline, in their coffee shops, across the “green line” and other arbitrary borders. Palestine is the future and it is building a road to Return.
Day 5, November 16: Khan al-ahmar, lift the sanctions
Today we visited with community leaders in Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the larger Jerusalem area. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar have been steadfast in their resistance against Zionist demolition orders, garnering both grassroots and diplomatic solidarity internationally. In July, we strongly condemned these demolition orders and launched a social media campaign to call attention to this struggle. When demolition was imminent, we garnered the support of over 100 organizations, including student groups, faith groups, popular movements, and human rights organizations.
Khan al-Ahmar, with almost 200 Palestinian residents, is the largest of 26 bedouin villages in the area. It has been the central site of struggle, fighting off Israeli bulldozers, demolition notice after demolition notice, and repression by arrests, detention, and violent force against protestors defending their homes. Khan al-Ahmar and the surrounding villages are facing demolition because of their strategic location. They stand in the way of the Zionist’s state realization of its “E1 Corridor” plan, to connect Jerusalem with the West Bank and surrounding settlements, Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim. As of October 21, demolition orders were indefinitely postponed for negotiations take place.
We met with Eid Khamees, head of the local council, who told us about daily struggles in al-Khan and its history. Khan al-Ahmar was established in 1951 by members of the Jahalin tribe. Originally from al-Naqab, they were displaced in 1948 to Al-Khalil (Hebron) before coming to the Jerusalem area. Coincidentally enough, al-Naqab and al-Khalil were our two stops the day before coming to al-Khan. Eid told us about the aggressive settlers nearby. Often deemed the exceptionally “crazy” ones, Eid made the point that these same settlements also house several high-level government officials, including ministers and an ambassador to the U.S. Eid concluded by making the point that our real adversaries are the corporations that continue to fund and build settlement expansion. This resonated with our delegates because the Indigenous fight in the U.S is largely against corporations seeking to extract natural resources or build oil pipelines through sacred sites and water sources. Residents in al-Khan are not allowed to build permanently. We walked around the school, built on car tires, and the homes, built with metal sheets, plywood, and tarp — a temporariness enforced by the Zionist state to ease Palestinian erasure.
This village has been in existence since 1951. This village is cut off from resources. This village is constantly destroyed and torn down by the Israeli army, but is always rebuilt. The people live here, despite the rough conditions, because if they leave, then the wall will be built. Because if they leave, then there will be no school. Because if they leave, then the land that is there’s will be gone. Because if they leave, they know the other villages will fall as well. They can tear down our homes, cut off our water, throw tear gas at us, kill our sheep and goats, make us live in tents, and block our roads, but they can never tear down our spirit. They can never fully destroy us, even after all this time. And because of that we will win. To stand in solidarity with the people in Palestine is to stand with your own people. We are the same people fighting the same monsters. — Demetrius Johnson
We were accompanied to Khan al-Ahmar with an organizer from the Lift the Sanctions campaign. A Ramallah-based campaign initiated by youth organizers calling on the Palestinian Authority to reinstate its financial and social support to Gaza. We, the USA branch of the PYM, carried the North American portion of this campaign through social media, call-in, and write-in campaigns. We condemned the Palestinian Authority’s role in the occupation as a security collaborator with the Zionist state and the role of its sanctions in worsening the siege on Gaza. Having been in touch with campaign organizers remotely, it was an incredible opportunity to meet with them in person.
We learned that the campaign emerged out of a specific moment — 62 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza in one day that week and people felt the urge to take action. The PA had also failed on its past guarantees to reinstate support to Gaza, and so this campaign served as a reminder and a means to cultivate popular pressure. What started out as a hashtag campaign on social media, evolved into street demonstrations and protests with thousands in attendance.
We heard firsthand their experiences protesting the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and how they were met with brute force. Although the Palestinian Authority has yet to lift its sanctions on Gaza, the campaign was effective in calling attention to the Palestinian Authority’s complicity in Zionist settler-colonialism and occupation. The campaign was also effective in bringing together youth organizers, some with different political parties and others unaffiliated. The campaign opened a space for these youth organizers to work through their differences. It was a step towards reinvigorating popular protest in a heavily surveilled and policed city and a form of activism that transcended party lines.
We concluded the day with a dinner at the Fallaha, a restaurant outside Ramallah that specializes in the Palestinian traditional dish, musakhan.
Day 4, November 15: Al-naqab, al-khalil (hebron)
Today we visited three places: Wadi al-Naam, Beer Sheva, and Hebron. In each of these places we visited, I could identify a similar situation of struggle where I am from. During our visit to an unrecognized Bedouin village, Wadi al-Naam, we drove by make-shift homes made of sheet metal and plywood, surrounded by curled and broken chain link fences, along with corrals and barns that look no different than the homes the villagers live in.
The dirt roads that led to a nearby power plant were littered with trash and debris, which we later found out was from destroyed homes ordered by the Israeli government. We stopped at the power plant, less than a mile out from where the Bedouin community resides and discussed the history of this village and all the other unrecognized villages in the Naqab. Our guide, Marwan, who comes from a nearby Bedouin village and works with Adalah, pointed out a sign that warned against the oil pipelines in the ground below our feet. We discussed ongoing challenges for Bedouins to access basic resources, including infrastructure, water, education, and medical services, and the criminalization they face for trying to build homes.
After Wadi al-Naam, we drove to the largest Israeli settlement in the Naqab, Beer Sheva, to see a mosque that has been closed to Palestinians since 1948. Beer Sheva is an interesting place. To me it reminded me of a place like Taos or Santa Fe, New Mexico — not for the grandeur or the metropolis, but for the celebration and romanticization of colonialism and the in-your-face revisionist history.
Just in our short walk to the mosque, there was a small park called Allenby Garden, where we briefly stopped. While waiting there, I noticed the same copper-brown-metal-engraved park signs that are common in outdoor spaces in Santa Fe, Taos, or anywhere in the Southwest United States. The rhetoric used by settler states Australian, New Zealand, and Israel — “the last triumphant Calvary charge in world history” and “freedom and independence” — is the exact same nonsense that happens in Santa Fe and Taos when the United States describe the battles between the Pueblo’s and the U.S. Calvary and the Spanish Conquistadors.
After leaving Beer Sheva, we headed an hour and a half north to Hebron to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque where Abraham, “the father of all prophets”, was buried. This site is an extremely holy site that multiple people go to pray and make offerings. To enter the city center, we had to go through a few checkpoints and were blatantly asked whether or not we were Christian — otherwise our permit to enter was tenuous at best. In February 1994, the Ibrahimi Mosque was the site of a massacre carried out by a US-born Israeli settler against Palestinian muslims praying there. Since then, Israel has closed down nearly 600 Palestinian businesses and expanded its settlement outposts in the city. From a rooftop, Hisham of the Hebron Defense Committee pointed out seven settlements in the city, many of them built on top of and between Palestinian homes. For the few hours we were in Hebron, we witnessed the Israeli military presence, the entitlement of settlers, and the suppression of Palestinians and their livelihoods.
— Demetrius Johnson, PYM Indigenous Delegation
Day 3, November 14: exchanging recipes, seeds, & stories
Rising with clouds over the mountains, the day began with a continuous gentle love from days prior that was carried throughout the rolling sun. I volunteered to make frybread for us and for the aunties that were our caretakers. I began by carefully making the dough in the late cloudy morning. The Palestinian women in the kitchen watched with curiosity and continuously made comments about how similar it was to the Palestinian dessert, zalabiyah. Using only flour, baking powder, salt, and olive oil, the auntie asked for the measurement of ingredients. I explained that the ingredients will tell you what they need with an aware touch of the mixture. Studying how I rolled out the circles of dough, the auntie asked to help me. An offer that wasn’t expected but was graciously accepted.
As we rolled the discs of dough, the smell of fried bread and the sound of the rain pitter pattering on the aluminum roofs of the surrounding homes filled the room. Frybread represents a history of resistance. Frybread was a food that was made from government-issued commodities. The commodities were usually subpar food that had no nutritional value to the human body: flour, baking powder, salt, canned meats, canned vegetables, stale bread, cheese that doesn’t mold. Our traditional foods were either cut off from us completely or they were forced into suppression by the colonizing community surrounding them. Arrests for hunting or gathering were regular when these laws were implemented in the early 1900s. That, or the knowledge of how to prepare the traditional foods was lost due to systematic, cultural genocide.
We then went to a closeby cafe in Beit Sahour to receive knowledge and wisdom from Mohammad Saleh. Mohammad founded Mostadam (“sustainable”), a permaculture and traditional farming initiative. We discussed the wonderful symbiotic relationship that we have with the plants and seeds. Sharing stories about how this plant worked and how we as humans have been able to manipulate the genes of a seed — not with chemicals but instead by starving the seed from water when first planted to build water resiliency. There, in the cafe, our delegates shared seeds with Muhammad and in return, we too received seeds.
We then went to the Shoruq center in Dheisheh refugee camp to watch the youth perform their traditional dance, dabkeh. One Hawai’ian delegate offered to perform a song that he wrote. He took out his Bluetooth speaker, and started his revolutionary rap song. Hyping up the kids with his beat and bobbing to the song, his performance was appreciated by the children. His chorus was, “It’s a celebration!” It’s a celebration everyday when we resist the colonization that tries to break all our indigenous spirits. Settlers have not done so, so we will continue to live our lives the way our ancestors intended for us to live. Until our last breath. The exchange with kids from Shoruq was so powerful and warm and will not be forgotten.
The kids then led us to the camp’s Laylac Center. A light sprinkle blessed us as we shared laughs and taught each other our languages. Together in this moment, we learned that the children of the camp were well aware of the Indigenous people’s problems from across the world. That they too understood about the reservation system that happened in America. They, too, understood about the suppression of the people from Turtle Island. They made the connection that the oppression that is seen in their everyday life was also the same fight that they have been seeing for their entire lives. They said that they too throw stones. In other words, that they too resist.
There, we met with Mohab from Dheisheh. He so elegantly and truly broke down the struggles of living in a refugee camp: “Our issue is not humanitarian aid, our issue is political. Our issue is Right of Return, not a bag of rice.” Here, we learned that in Dhesheih, gunshots with live ammunition are normalized. That resistance is something that is talked about the dinner table. Here we shared songs, both traditional homeland and contemporary songs, played on a guitar and oud.
The stories we heard resonated with us on a deep level that completely shifted our perspective, shaped by western society narrative that we have all become familiarized with. A native delegate shared the story of their own lineage about how their family, too, was removed from their territory and was then assimilated into the surrounding colonizers’ society that they are forcing on indigenous people today. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the United States government paid settlers to kill the Indians for monetary compensation. Every parent not learning their original language, so the children wouldn’t be able to understand their elders. The separation becoming bigger, the separation that is an in the truest sense, an illusion that is constantly being projected to our mainstream society. The colonizers’ society.
I then shared my own struggles as an indigenous person living on Turtle Island. I shared how I was an angry teenager that was looking for trouble, not putting any thought into my own life. Thinking that my life was, “worthless.” This is a story that is constantly being told to us indigenous people. That we are worthless, less than human. Demonizing our whole way of life and continuously without any remorse. They shallowly prey on our insecurities without hesitation. This is the narrative (that native people are worthless) that is being told in Turtle Island, all over the world. This is a global colonization that is happening in the daily lives of international indigenous peoples. This is the reality we face together as original people. The struggle of healing the intergenerational trauma that has happened to our people 500 years ago. Or fighting in the present day in the streets of the camps — the camps in Palestine and the camps like Standing Rock that are sprouting all over Turtle Island month by month.
The night went on with more exchange of stories and of knowledge, of wisdom and of decolonizing tactics and experiences. We continued in conversation continued over a meal of mujaddara, prepared by our hosts. The hospitality that was shown that night was a familiar feeling of the indigenous peoples from home. These parallels between the two people have been shining through more and more everyday that we are being shown the true side of Palestine. We stayed up late into the night, sharing stories from our own lives, our own processes of decolonization in our paths to solidarity with ourselves and with the original peoples from across the world. We shared stories of tragedy, laughs, and pure honesty.
We left a message to the youth of the camp, with some chocolates too: “Dear Shoruq Children, keep dancing, keep fighting, keep resisting! We stand with you young warriors.” We wanted to let the youth know that we are fighting the same exact fight. That you as a child have a voice. That we as adults see you children working hard to stay true to who you are and to your people. Our message had images of solidarity. A feather. A water droplet. “Water is life.” “Palestine will be free.” A Kumeyaay prayer: “May the fire inside you burn brightly. May the creator protect you in all that you do my fellow people, you make my heart feel good when you danced.” We know all the children of Dhesheih refugee camp will continue to resist until liberation.
— Melissa Hill, PYM Indigenous Delegation
Day 2, November 13: OM SLEIMAN, Political prisoners
Our delegation throughout Palestine continued in the morning with a visit to the Om Sleiman (“Ladybug”) farm in Bil’in. Found two years ago, the farm provides a sustainable subsistence model so that Palestinians can grow their own produce without relying on the Israeli market. The farm grows a mix of plants and vegetables from around the world and local Palestinian plants. Mohab, the farm’s founder, has bright back the zarour, a type of pear indigenous to Palestine. Poignantly, zarour is incredibly resilient when on its own land, growing back after being cut, but is unable to survive when uprooted and displaced to a foreign land.
A common reality that cuts across our settler-colonial experiences is the forced replacement of traditional subsistence methods with nutrient-poor foods mass-manufactured by our oppressors. The story of Om Sleiman, as an independent, Palestinian-run farm providing fresh, healthy food to local families resonated profoundly with the delegation members and culminated in the gifting of various seeds to the indigenous delegates.
We then met with Addameer for prisoner rights and advocacy and the Defense for Children International in Palestine about the conditions faced by Palestinian political prisoners, both adults and children. Each year, the Zionist state arrests between 500 and 700 Palestinian children. Most of those arrests take place in the middle of the night, terrorizing the children and their families. Throughout the interrogation and detention process, Palestinians are mistreated, detained indefinitely, and tried in military court with a near 100% conviction rate. These accounts of Palestinian prisoners resonated with our delegates because they too are facing high incarceral rates in the U.S. with little to no sense of justice. DCI highlighted their ongoing campaign, No Way to Treat a Child, which is advocating for an end to U.S. financial support for Israel because of its systematic oppression of Palestinian children.
We concluded the day with a barbecue in Ramallah’s old city and traditional Palestinian ice cream!
Day 1, November 12: al-quds, lifta, Battir
We had an incredible first day in Al-Quds and the surrounding area. We started our morning with Daoud from Silwan, who gave us a historical and cultural tour of the Old City. In the densely-populated Old City, Palestinians are navigating the escalating encroachment of the settler population on their everyday lives. In addition to forced evictions, the Zionist entity is intending to reconstruct Al-Quds’ demographic and dilute the Palestinian population through economic gentrification and tourism. We talked about the Old City’s metropolitan history and how the multiple identities within the city are under threat. Despite the contrived divisions Zionist colonization is imposing, Palestinians of Jerusalem have maintained their integrated ways of living. We discussed heavy Israeli security and military presence, including the contracting of private security companies. Daoud also showed us the Arab Blind Association, founded by Palestinians living with blindness to create opportunities for themselves and replicated all around the world. In fact, the first Quran in Braille was printed there.
We then spent the afternoon with Yacoub Odeh, a former political prisoner for 17 years, in his demolished village of Lifta, south of Al-Quds. Yacoub’s family and the rest of Lifta’s residents were expelled and displaced by Zionist militias in 1948. We witnessed the remains of Lifta through his memories: the home where he was born, the water basin and gardens where he played as a child, his mother’s taboon, the mufti’s home, and the village’s oil press- all now deserted and facing complete erasure. He left us with a poignant quote: “Lifta is not stones. Lifta is life. They killed the life, now they want to kill our memory.” We were touched by his generosity, his work with the Lifta Preservation Committee, and his unwavering commitment to return.
We concluded our day with Hassan Muamer in the village of Battir, a UNESCO heritage site as of 2014. Battir is an exemplar of community resilience through means of environmental preservation, creative adaptations of traditional farming methods in spite of ongoing repression. Their practices today build on traditions of the past - the way water resources are measured and distributed amongst villagers, the emphasis on youth education and social awareness, and craft cooperatives. Battir provides a model for creative ways to concretize resistance on local levels across contexts. The evening was capped with a traditional Palestinian maqlouba feast with Battir community members and spent uplifting stories of resistance. We left full, in many senses of the word.