Revolutionary Worker #1169, October 6, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
The following eyewitness account is from two Chicano youth in Los Angeles, members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB). This past summer, they went to the West Bank and hooked up with activists--the "internationals"--who come to Palestine from around the world to stand with the Palestinian people and oppose Israeli occupation.
In recent weeks, Israel has been carrying out a new wave of military attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli troops have destroyed most of the Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah, trapping Yasser Arafat and other officials inside the remaining building. As we go to press, the siege continues as Israelis demand that Arafat hand over about 50 people who are in the building. Protests have erupted throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to the new Israeli offensive. Dozens of protesters have been shot by Israeli troops. In Gaza, Israel has been carrying out new air attacks against crowded neighborhoods. Israel claims to be targeting Hamas militants, but many people have been killed or injured in these bombings.
Growing up in Amerikkka, being oppressed our whole life, being Chicano, young, and from poor working class (farm worker/janitor) families, we felt compelled to fight. For who and what we are, this system smacked us around as if we were nothing. We've been harassed and arrested by its racist police forces who occupy our neighborhoods. We've been kicked out of its brainwashing educational system. We've had our culture criminalized by this society. Even though we were born here, we feel and have been treated like foreigners. Our families were victims of America's imperialist domination of the world, forcing them to immigrate from Mexico to escape the conditions in their country created by the U.S. government and its fucked-up imperialist system. We've had friends that have been added to the millions in the American prison system.
This is what the American way of life means to us. A society where we cannot even walk the streets being Black or Latino or looking a certain way without the fear of being brutalized by the police. So when we were asked to take part in a delegation to Palestine, we agreed in a second.
One thing that we will always remember from our trip to Palestine is the inspiring experiences with the courageous and fearless Palestinian youth, the shibab. All throughout the occupied territories, you hear stories of them clashing and going up against the Israeli Occupying Forces (Israeli "Defense" Forces). For us--oppressed youth in the country that is the source of the oppression of the Palestinian people--meeting youth who are righteously resisting against the occupation of their nation was the best part of our trip. We were able to learn and hear about their struggle, the conditions they live under, and what their dreams and hopes are. We learned that as oppressed Chicano proletarian youth in the U.S., we have a lot in common with the shibab and the Palestinian people overall.
The First Confrontation
It didn't take long for us to encounter the everyday life for Palestinian youth. Our first day in the West Bank, not even a mile past the Kalandia checkpoint, we spotted three 13-year-old youth being blindfolded and arrested at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers. Their only crime was playing soccer. We later found out that their soccer ball had gone to where the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) had set up a military post, and the soldiers grabbed the youth.
We saw this from our taxi on our way to Ramallah, and we jumped out. We were greeted by 50 to 100 youth pointing to the post and speaking to us in Arabic. They ran with us to the post to confront the Israelis. At first, they hid behind a building to avoid being shot.
Huwaida Arrif and Adam Shapiro, the two main coordinators for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), worked on the release of the youth by getting on their cell phones and calling the media and other organizations.
The military post was an apartment complex owned by a woman from the U.S. The IOF occupied the house and kicked out most of the families who lived there. They set up tanks and APCs (armed personnel carriers) in the front and planted the Israeli flag. The soldiers constantly harass the youth of the area, arresting them, beating them, and letting them go after hours of being held.
The international activists confronted the soldiers and documented the arrest of the youth. A Jewish woman from New York went up to one of the soldiers and told him, "Don't you have family that survived the Jewish holocaust? Don't they tell you stories of the suffering that they went through, and you're doing the same thing to Palestinians?" The soldier walked away with his head down. The mothers of the arrested youth also confronted the soldiers, asking for the release of their children.
Our being there surprised the soldiers. It wasn't business as usual for them--the Palestinian youth were not isolated. There were people, most of us from the U.S., there standing with and supporting the Palestinian people.
The youth were getting closer to the scene, wanting to get it on with the occupiers. They asked what we were doing there, and the first thing we told them was "Free Phalesteen." ("Phalesteen" is how Palestinians pronounce Palestine.) Their faces lit up with smiles, and they shook our hands. They walked with us to where we were confronting the soldiers.
The youth are organized, with some form of leadership within their crews. With a translator we were able to communicate with some of them. One shibab told us that he didn't know how Palestine would be freed but that he wants the world to support their fight against the Israelis.
After two hours, the occupiers were forced to release the youth. The youth raised their fists in the air, celebrating a victory. This was our first day in the West Bank.
This incident reminded us a lot of the stories in the Stolen Lives Project, in particular Anthony Baez in New York. Anthony was playing football when his football hit a police car. For this, he was strangled to death by cops in front of his family. The Palestinian people face this same type of brutality on a more intense level.
Palestinians can't even walk their own streets safely. Military checkpoints do not allow Palestinians to cross into other areas of the West Bank or Gaza to visit their families. They spend weeks under curfew unable to leave their homes, even for food.
The Brave Youth of Ramallah
After a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, the IOF came into Ramallah throwing sound grenades and tear gas. The only people bold enough to be on the streets were the youth. They rode their bikes or flew their kites in symbolic forms of resistance (this is done throughout Palestine by the youth). The skies were filled with kites and defiance.
We internationals decided to walk the streets of Ramallah to defy the curfew. The people pointed us in the direction of the soldiers. We walked to where the masses of people were out of their homes, angry at the IOF. They had shot a tear-gas canister into a family's home, and the family came out coughing, unable to breathe.
On our way back to the center, five youth were sitting down in the main square of Ramallah. They said, "We're waiting for the tanks to come back." They walked with us as we continued to walk around Ramallah to make sure the soldiers weren't messing with anybody. Even more youth joined us. They rode their bikes alongside or they walked and talked to us. Some youth had started a tire fire and built a roadblock for the tanks.
We had an opportunity to interview some of the youth. We asked them what they would like the world to know about them. One youth told us, "We the Palestinian people are oppressed, and we defy the curfew because we are out for freedom--we're taking our freedom."
Another said, "If we live our whole lives under full invasion and occupation, we will continue to defy and take our freedom. They are killing us. They say that we are terrorists, but they are the ones that are terrorists."
We asked what motivated them to fight, and they told us, "We ain't got nothing, we've got to fight with whatever we have, whatever the price is."
One of the youth had T-shirt with the Palestinian symbol of Hanthala. Hanthala is a picture of a Palestinian child with his hands behind his back. It was a cartoon which depicted the hardships that the Palestinian people go through. Its creator, Naji al-Ali, was assassinated in London in 1987. The Palestinians have taken up this symbol to remember the tragedies that the Palestinian people have suffered. Throughout Palestine, there's graffiti pieces of Hanthala, and youth wear necklaces and shirts of it.
When we arrived back at the center where we stayed, we said our goodbyes to the brave youth.
The cities and villages in the West Bank are divided by military checkpoints of the Zionist-apartheid occupiers. They prevent Palestinians from crossing into other cities to visit their families there. Ambulances can't cross either, and people have been killed or have died at these checkpoints.
The next day in Ramallah we were asked to do checkpoint-watch to make sure the Israelis did not harm anyone and to show the Palestinians that they have our support.
The checkpoint we went to was on the road to the Birzeit University. Students, usually male between ages 15 and 30, are made to stand in the heat for hours while the soldiers run a check on them over their radios.
The teachers in this university are suppressed from teaching anything about Palestinian history or politics. The Israelis sometimes shut the school down for months.
At the checkpoint we gave water to the people who were being detained. We met a student who spoke Spanish (she had learned it at the university). She was waiting for her husband, who was being held by the IOF. She was among the large number of Palestinians who aren't religious.
Later on that day, at the youth center where we stayed, we had a chance to sit down and talk to a 18- year-old brother who is a student. He intends to come and study in the U.S. in his field, because what would take four years in a U.S. college would take 9 to 10 years in Palestine because of the conditions for students.
We told him we wanted to take back the voices of the people of Palestine to the U.S. He said it was hard for young people in Ramallah: "The army tanks stop you on the road, and they will shoot you--a lot of things may happen to you. It's dangerous... I was in prison when I was 14 years old--for 10 days. They always beat you up. The first week without food, just water--two liters of water."
"Everyone is fighting. Children too. No games, no schools--we have nothing to lose. The children say that. `What do we have to lose? Nothing!' They throw stones at the tanks... Fathers who work in Israel have no work now. They have no food, no clothing. Everything is very bad, everything."
We asked him what the question of land means to Palestinians. He explained, "This land is mine and they took it. I got it from my father--he got it from his father. It is the history of us. Palestinian history is on this land. When they take it, we have no history. We have no life."
Under Siege in Nablus
On August 2 we went into the city of Nablus, which was under siege. Israel had sent in 150 tanks and thousands of soldiers. Their excuse was that the suicide bomber at Hebrew University two days before was from Nablus--so they were seeking vengeance against the whole people of the city.
A checkpoint prevented entrance into the city, which the IOF called a "closed military zone." We had to hike two hours over mountains into the city. Palestinians do this basically every time they want to avoid the checkpoints.
Nablus is a beautiful city with ancient architecture. The sky was filled with kites, and the air was filled with the sound of tanks terrorizing the people. People welcomed us from their balconies and windows.
Within three hours of our arrival, activists and doctors were carrying the body of a murdered young Palestinian. His only crime was taking a look from his balcony. He was shot by an Israeli sniper. He had been dead for two days, but because of curfew the family had not been able to move the body.
Homes were blown to the ground with dynamite. Usually the IOF targeted relatives of martyrs. If the homes weren't blown up, the inside was destroyed, and furniture was thrown all over the place in Gestapo- type searches. Water pipes were broken, and water ran through the streets while the people went without water. Electricity was also cut. The beautiful ancient city of Nablus was left in ruins.
When the occupying forces first invaded the city there was some armed resistance. There were only eight armed resistance fighters with some guns and mainly homemade bombs going up against 150 tanks.
Throughout the occupation of the city, the youth resisted any way that they could. They fought with rocks and slingshots. We met a kid, about 11 years old, who told with great excitement of throwing a molotov at a soldier.
The international activists stayed in homes of families whose houses were threatened with demolition. Because of us being there, the IOF didn't have the freedom to carry out the complete raid, detention of Palestinians, and the demolishing of the homes. This action was effective. The Israelis do not want the publicity that would come from hurting internationals. They hate the fact that internationals are there aiding the Palestinian families. They want to keep Palestinians isolated, so they can just come in, terrorize them, and occupy their land. With us being there, it disrupted their whole blood-stained program.
In Nablus we met some really cool youth. These youth were fearless. Every day they were on rooftops with their slingshots. They showed us the graves of their martyrs. One youth, who was 21, invited us to his house for tea, and his dad cooked for us. They were surprised that we were Chicano--a lot of people confused us for being Arab. They found it interesting that people with a Mexican background were there supporting their struggle. We talked about Sharon and Bush. They said that Sharon and Bush want war, but that they were fighting for their freedom.
A sister comrade talked to some young women in the Old City of Nablus. The women didn't speak much English, but they huddled around wanting to talk. All of them, except for the family's daughter, wore chadors. They asked if the comrade was married. She said she wasn't married and didn't have kids. One of the women commented that it was better that way because you had more freedom. They asked her if she would want her sons to kill Israelis. She struggled to find an answer, and said she would hope her children would fight for freedom. They seemed satisfied with the answer.
We also spent some time in the nearby refugee camp of Balata. Resistance by the youth there was also strong. When we entered the camp, dozens of youth were lined up with stones trying to stop the occupiers from rolling through. During the last few days of the siege, a tank went around the camp. The Israelis in their tank shot a 13-year-old kid playing soccer, and then the cowards left. This is the reality for the youth under occupation.
In Balata, youth would rush up to talk to you. At times it was hard to communicate with them so we used a lot of hand gestures. They asked us to show thumbs up or thumbs down for Sharon, and we gave a thumbs down. They asked what we thought about Bush and we gave a thumbs down. Then they asked what we thought about Arafat. The youth were thumbs down for Arafat too, and we agreed. The youth, and a lot of Palestinians, view Arafat as someone who tries to please the Israelis more than the Palestinian people. They see him as a sell-out but also understand that even he is disliked by the Zionist fascists.
The rebellion of the Palestinian people is making things hard for the U.S. to carry out its plans in the oil-rich Middle East. The intifada inspires other people who are rising up against oppression. It can spark flames of resistance throughout this region.
Now the U.S. imperialists are preparing to go to war against Iraq. Their own Henry Kissinger has said, "The road to Jerusalem is through Baghdad." They think that conquering Iraq would demoralize the resistance in the Middle East, in particular in Palestine.
But the Palestinian people will continue to fight their righteous fight. The oppressed of the world will continue to support their struggle and take it up as their own. It's inspiring to see people who are courageously fighting off their oppressor--who is the U.S. government's right-hand don, with one of the world's strongest militaries.
The media speak of terrorism in Palestine. We saw terrorism in the West Bank firsthand--on the part of the Israeli soldiers. We saw it in the Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, M-16 rifles, hundreds of tanks, all provided and funded by the U.S. We saw it in the demolishing of homes and in the destruction of the right to human life.
The suicide bombings are happening in a situation where a whole people is driven to the edge of existence, when everything that belongs to them has been stolen, and when hundreds of their people have been murdered by the Israeli government. As revolutionary communists we don't uphold suicide bombings, because the wrong people are targeted. The real enemy of the Palestinian people is the Zionist Israeli government and their boss, the imperialist U.S. But we understand that some Palestinians are driven towards martyrdom because of the brutal oppression and occupation. The hypocrites in Israel and the U.S. have no right to speak when it comes to terrorism. Especially these bourgeois motherfuckers in the U.S, who have caused so much misery around the world and whose system is founded on genocide, slavery, and white supremacy. These imperialist hypocrites are the real terrorists!
Our trip and firsthand experiences in Palestine has made more clear that wherever there is oppression there is resistance, as comrade Mao Tsetung pointed out. We understand more deeply that the Palestinian people are righteously rebelling against a settler-colonial state and that it's right to rebel against Zionist occupation.
All our friends who constantly get harassed by police can learn a lot from the Palestinian youth who go up against tanks, dreaming of liberation. One sure thing that we've been able to understand and sum up from our trip is that the Palestinian people and we have the same enemy--the U.S. government and its worldwide system of capitalism-imperialism.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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