I won’t burden you with the trials and tribulations of my “cheap flight” from Toronto to Is/Pal via American Airlines and FinnAir, except to say that next time I have a flight abroad with an overnight in the US, I’ll bus or train there . . . Also, though not as dire as portrayed by Fascinating Aida on their hilarious and highly recommended YouTube video (just Google Fascinating Aida cheap flights for a good laugh), the AA portion of this particular Cheap Flight wasn’t really worth it (although the AA personnel were great – and were even understanding when my usually dormant claustrophobia kicked in at the sight of the inside of the smallish plane scheduled to take me and what looked to me like WAY TOO MANY other folks from To. to NYC and said I wanted off . . . * ).
FinnAir was fine, and the airport in Helsinki was quiet and had both free wifi and plenty of places to recharge
both electronically** and physically. I took advantage of both, figuring I needed the sleep more than a look at a new city, especially since that would have involved changing some of my precious few US dollars into Euros and paying a hefty, 5 Euro commission for the privilege. An interesting sidelight: no special security for TA, and only ‘lip-service’ paid to the usual Israeli paranoia about exploding planes: a last-minute change of departure gate, a ride in a special bus – that ended up, not in the middle of the airfield, but beside a plane ‘docked’ at yet another gate.
And so on to Ben Gurion airport (erroneously referred to as Tel Aviv – it’s actually in Lod (formerly a Palestinian town called Lydda). Nesher taxis still run an excellent to-your-door service to Jerusalem and environs, now up to 20 US or 64 NIS – quite a bargain, since getting to the much closer Tel Aviv late on a Friday night/ Saturday morning (12:30 a.m. coming; 1: something going ) costs at least twice that. Luckily for me, I have nightowl friends in both cities, and headed for J’lm, which I reached around 2:30. After the inevitable catch-up chat, I got to bed by 4, comfortable in the knowledge that I didn’t have to be anywhere in particular before 8 p.m. or so.
Having lived in Jerusalem for 7 years (Dec ’89 – mid-Oct ’95) and returned for ten visits ranging from 4 days to 6 weeks in intervening years, I was quite aware of the interesting mix of pre-planning and extreme last-minutedness of the activist’s life in this region. But since my time on the ground this time is only 14 days, I wanted to be as pre-prepared as feasible. A combination of some tentative arrangements to meet with old friends and colleagues made beforehand, along with e-mail notices from ActLeft, and following up website notices by Ta’ayush and the Villages Group meant I sort of had an idea of what my time would look like. But this is the Middle East . . .
Still, my first contact – pre-arranged when I received the notice on Wednesday night in New York (where the only really free wifi for non-subscribers to local services were at eateries – mine being The Bean coffee shop on 3rd St and 2nd Ave fyi, and a nearby McDonalds) was at the “unrecognized village” of Dahamesh, between Lod and Ramle; i.e., INSIDE Israel. Being unrecognized means that for whatever reason, the powers that be don’t recognize your community as wielding the kind of authority that can issue a Town Plan and, therefore, of course, it cannot issue building permits and/or rule on the status of a given plot of land. In the case of Dehamesh, demolition orders had been issued for a number of homes built on land designated as “agricultural” and for which the ruling regional authority refuses to issue building permits. The orders are in the process of being appealed, but judge recently refused to rule that the orders be stayed until after an upcoming hearing (due to take place tomorrow), and there was some fear that an attempt might be made on the three houses that were not quite ready for habitation (another 11 under threat are inhabited and due to be demolished Sept 22 unless a stay is gained on the 10th). The notice from ActLeft was a general appeal to activists to show up at 8 p.m. and stay the night – as well as to come for any length of time at any time of day throughout the period up to and including Sept 22. Interestingly, as I found out from Yoav Beirach, sender of the notice, this is not an activity of a specific organization, but has been an ongoing concern of several years’ duration, for a number of folks who are also active in groups such as Ta’ayush (www.taayush.org ), Tarabut (http://www.tarabut.info/en/home/), and the ubiquitous Anarchists Against the Wall (www.awalls.org).
I was met at the Ramle bus station and driven to the village, where we joined a dozen or so local folks and Israeli activists from Tel Aviv and other cities (two of whom it turns out I knew; it’s a smallish community…) in the ‘protest tent’, a canopy in front of the threatened three houses. We heard more of the history from a village man who had obviously been involved in the struggle over the years and knew all the details, historical and legal, and his opinion on what was going on (“They just don’t want Arabs in their local authority”). He also gave the example of another location where the Jewish town went to bat for their Palestinian neighbours and ended up with a combined local government structure. But not here. We toured the threatened three houses and chose to spend the night in the one most likely to be the first target. While several folks, joined around 1 a.m. by additional activists, sat and discussed their plans for the morrow, I decided sleep would be the best thing I could do. But between jet-lag and anticipation, I don’t think I did much of that. Many of the group (including a photographer who arrived around 5 a.m.) went our separate ways at around 8, with a few going to the local police station to inquire about intentions, and others staying in the house. I’ve been promised updates.
Sunday I got a ride to Tel Aviv and caught an express bus back to Jerusalem. Even at the senior’s half-price fare, I saved nearly a dollar over the shorter trip from Ramle to Jerusalem (which was less than $4 at 12.90 NIS vs 9.90). And crashed for a few hours. I had spent quite a bit of Saturday obtaining two SIM cards and some prepaid time for my local phone (my Orange SIM had expired after a year of non-use; and I had left my Jawal SIM with the ISM folks in Ramallah when I left after my 4-week stint in Is/Pal in 2012), buying staples like “black bread” (whole-wheat pita fresh from the oven for under $1 for half a dozen) and labne (like Greek or Iranian ‘thickened yogurt’). I’m told I’m allergic to dairy, but labne has never bothered me, and so far, so good. Sunday and Monday were mostly spent setting up much of the rest of my time here–and locating the few places where I could actually access free wifi that was open to non-subscribers*–and sitting with Jeff Halper for an hour-and-a-half in front of a cafe with really good, steady wifi for customers, which we were, in a small way. Tomorrow evening is set – a meeting with George N. Rishmawi at the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement (www.PCR.ps) in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, a project supported partially by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC – http://www.quakerservice.ca), and attendance at an AIC Cafe event, also in Beit Sahour, with a speaker from ARIJ (www.ARIJ.org) speaking about the ongoing huge land confiscations in the West Bank. The rest of the day, and the next morning are yet to be planned, but I’ve got some ideas to follow up on in the morning.
* They let me leave; but while processing my request, gave me every opportunity to change my mind, which I did when I heard a) that the baggage handlers would have to remove 80 pieces of baggage to get to mine and b) they could move me up from the last or second-last row to the fifth. The last time I had an attack of claustrophobia, as far as I can recall, was in 1989, when a few of us were returning to Jerusalem from Ramallah in a shared taxi and the army set off tear gas canisters; I wanted to get out into the open – if not so fresh – air and wasn’t allowed to . . .
** Finland uses the ‘other sort’ of European plug – dual round prongs, like Pal/Is, but a bit fatter; fortunately for me, not the strange setup used in the UK, which I hadn’t thought to bring along.
* * * On my last couple of visits, I found open wifi pretty well everywhere, including through the walls of my hostess’s house. This is no longer the case in Jerusalem (I haven’t checked out the West Bank yet), and I was told that this is because of people wanting to protect their accounts from the ever-more-ubiquitous smart-phone users. This means the fact that it’s much cheaper to phone land lines inside Israel from Skype-to-phone than using my Orange SIM doesn’t always help – if there’s no wifi, I have no Skype . . . One of life’s little challenges.