A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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An Exercise in Persistence: Palestinian and Israeli Activists Not Going Anywhere

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 23rd, 2011 | Middle East

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Also posted on the AIC Website.

Standing on the hilltop we hear the goat herder before we see him. The voice of a young boy, 11 or 12 perhaps, whooping and hollering to urge his goats forward and onto the grazing land his family has been unable to access for the past 10 years. After a long battle, Israeli activists and lawyers have won the support of the Israeli High Court and these Palestinian shepherds are once more reunited with their land.

palestinian boy
palestinian boy

David, a lean Israeli activist with a cigarette perpetually dangling from his fingers, surveys the group of activists gathered in a Jerusalem parking lot. He has a slight smile as he explains today’s schedule. First we join the Palestinian shepherds to intervene in the event that settlers show up to harass them. Then we will help to clear away rubble from a demolished village nearby before heading to a recently constructed Israeli outpost to survey the scene. “Last week we were told it was a closed military zone and were asked to leave. This week it will probably be the same thing, but we will go anyway.”

Thirty minutes after meeting up with the Palestinian shepherds, a cloud of dust rolls forward before dissipating into the air to reveal an IDF jeep on the horizon. Cameras instantly appear in the hands of almost every activist as they circle back together and warily eye the approaching soldiers. David pulls a number of maps out as he and the Israeli soldiers discuss the situation. A wry smile flits across his face as he waves us off the land. “This land is for Palestinians only.” Soldiers lean against the jeeps, assault rifles dangling lazily from fraying shoulder straps, as we walk to a nearby hill to continue watching the shepherds.

Later in the afternoon after a few hours of clearing away rubble from a demolished home, we walk to the site of an old battered tent; an outpost set up by Israeli settlers to lay claim to the land. The soldiers unscrupulously defend it and angrily push video cameras away for a few minutes before giving up and circling around it to prevent any of the activists from getting too close. Three settlers show up to speak with the soldiers before we are escorted off the land by three military jeeps and dozens of heavily armed soldiers. An Israeli woman walking next to me mentions that last week they had tear gas canisters fired at them. A few weeks before that, activists were assaulted by the IDF as they protested against the expansion of a settlement. Footage from the scene shows David being violently shoved to the ground, a cigarette still dangling from his fingers.

Israeli Outpost and Soldier
Israeli Outpost and Soldier

A member of the Christian Peacemaker Team points to a road nearby. “This is where the IDF accompany Palestinian children to school to prevent settlers from attacking them. Internationals used to do it, but after a few were critically wounded, the Knesset voted that the IDF should take charge.”

At the end of the road the soldiers stop and we continue to the bus waiting to take us back to Jerusalem. Along the way we stop at a small shop selling stacks of watermelon, dented cans of soda, and an eclectic assortment of snacks. Sitting underneath an olive tree, David grins, “We can enjoy good watermelon and support the Palestinian economy.”

“You do this every week?”

A young man sitting next to me nods. “Sometimes we meet twice a week. We also join weekly protests against the wall on Fridays.”

“For how long?”

He takes a bite of watermelon, the juice dripping down his hands, and shrugs “Until it [the occupation] stops.”

Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil’in Popular Committee, sits before the crowded room at the Alternative Information Center in Beit Sahour. On the screen behind him, images flash from six years of nonviolent resistance against the construction of the Israeli separation wall through Bil’in: a soldier pointing a gun at a child; men and women ducking as a milky cloud of tear gas spirals from a container at their feet; activists being forcibly removed from the protest by soldiers.

In June, Israeli army bulldozers began work to dismantle the wall in Bil’in. After two years of protests, the Israel High Court ruled in 2007 that the path of the wall was illegal, but it would be four more years and hundreds more weekly demonstrations before any dismantling of the wall began. A time during which, Burnat explains, protestors suffered 1300 injuries, 2 deaths, and 100 prisoners were detained for 4 months or longer.

On our way to the wall
On our way to the wall

When asked if the Israeli soldiers sometimes interact with weekly protesters in a friendly manner, he responds “Not here. They have no human reaction. They function only on orders.”

A clip from a recent documentary detailing the events of the past six years is shown. All eyes are directed toward the screen where international activists are chaining themselves to olive trees as Israeli bulldozers arrive on the scene. An older Palestinian woman screams at the soldiers, “We want just to live like you live. These trees are all we have left. You want to tear them down? This one is 1,000 years old.” The bulldozers push the trees forward; the silver leaves are shoved into the soil, their roots pointing toward the sky and the scorching sun.

The lights flick back on and Burnat sits quietly in front of the audience for a few moments before explaining that popular resistance is not something that Bil’in invented. “It has existed in Palestine for generations. There were other villages and communities engaged in resistance before we [Bil’in] adopted these weekly protests. We made it appealing to residents and internationals so we did not invent the wheel, but rather set up a model that is being followed.”

He continues that they are pleased with their success in moving back the construction of the wall by 500 meters, but that they are not resisting simply the wall. They are resisting occupation and they will continue their weekly demonstrations until the Israeli occupation has ended.

“Do you have the motivation to keep fighting?” someone asks.

Burnat looks straight ahead. “Yes.” There is a brief silence in the room as everyone gazes expectantly. “Every Friday we have hope [that the occupation will end]. If not this Friday, then next.”

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

A Day in the Hebron Hills

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 18th, 2011 | Middle East

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Standing on the hilltop we hear the goat herder before we see him. The voice of a young boy, 11 or 12 perhaps, whooping and hollering to urge his goats forward and onto the grazing land his family has been unable to access for the past 10 years. After a long battle, Israeli activists and lawyers have won the support of the Israeli High Court and these Palestinian shepherds are once more reunited with their land. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Palestinian Shepherd Boy
Palestinian Shepherd Boy

Nestled snugly between settlements, the shepherds are often harassed and driven off the land by aggressive settlers. At 6:30 a.m I join a group of Israeli and international activists and drive to the Hebron hills to participate in weekly activities that support Palestinians facing harassment from Israeli settlers in the West Bank.


Shoving the goats aside, a young boy approaches me. “What’s your name?” His sole English phrase. I reply with one of my few Arabic phrases and ask him his. Mahmoud points at my camera. Snapping a photo of him, we shield our eyes from the sun to see how it turns out. He smiles shyly before his mother calls him to help. Just above us clouds of dust roll forward before dissipating into the hills to reveal an IDF jeep.

IDF monitoring
IDF monitoring

Three jeeps and 12 soldiers cluster together. There is a discussion with the organizer and we are asked to leave as this land is designated for Palestinians only. We retreat to a nearby hill where we can still keep an eye on things. The IDF remain. The police show up to investigate, but retreat without asking anything.

After a few hours we trek to a nearby cluster of tents and rubble to help move rocks. A few tents are perched above the remains of houses that have been demolished multiple times by the IDF, who say the Palestinians build there without the necessary permits. These permits are almost never issued so Palestinians often build anyway or live in caves and tents. The hypocrisy of it is almost too much to bear as the Israeli settlements surrounding these “illegal” Palestinian homes seem to expand by the minute.

It’s dusty and hot and we carry buckets of rocks to an older man who dumps them near the entrance of a cave where his wife sits making tea for us. There is no running water and she carries a bucket from the bright yellow water tankers sitting along the outskirts of their community. Little girls in brightly colored clothing hover near the outside of a beige tent peering at us intently and bursting into giggles when we say something to them in English. Another IDF jeep appears on the ridge, but does not venture into the community.

IDF and water tankers
IDF and water tankers

After a few hours and many buckets of rocks, we stop for lunch. Sitting on a rock eating falafel and squinting into the scorching sun, I draft a letter in my head to Obama. It’s a letter I know that I will never send, but I write it anyway. As a political analyst,  I understand why Obama bows consistently to the pressure of Netanyahu, I understand why the U.S. turns a blind eye to the oppression here and why this perpetual suffering is not only allowed but tacitly endorsed. However my heart does not. It will never understand this mess. In this respect I am naive. I am naive and idealistic to believe it is morally unsound to enable the suffering of millions to preserve a political and economic alliance.

The overseeing of justice falls once more on the shoulders of activists as politicians continue to sacrifice democracy for diplomacy. Dozens of unarmed activists, American and Israeli, stand their ground against soldiers outfitted in part by U.S. tax dollars. This is the visible discrepancy between what the U.S. is and what it should be.

Israeli Outpost and Soldier
Israeli Outpost and Soldier

Surrounded by Israeli activists taking enormous personal risk and facing increasing threats in the form of an anti-boycott bill passed by the Knesset last week, their dedication strikes a chord within me. The soldiers push us back as we approach an illegal Israeli outpost, a tent set up by the settlers on Palestinian land to claim it.

Watching the IDF defend this outrageous illegal activity, I realize that as afraid as I am of being considered irrational or of losing credibility by taking a strong stance, I am more afraid of living in a world where the greed of a few and the complacency of a few more oppresses and impoverishes millions. Three jeeps and dozens of heavily armed soldiers escort us off the land as three settlers stand in the distance overlooking the scene.

Flotillas, Flytillas, and Freedom

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 9th, 2011 | Middle East

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Yesterday my colleague and I spent the day in the Jerusalem office, covering the phones and trying to find out as much information as possible about the 700 international activists participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign.


Visitors, volunteers, and activists wanting to get into the West Bank are obliged to lie about their activities while going through Israeli airport security or risk being questioned extensively or deported. It’s considered another form of the blockade on both Gaza and the West Bank, restricting the movements of goods and people not just between Israel and the oPt, but also within the oPt itself. In the West Bank it’s estimated that there are over 700 checkpoints and road blocks. Some of them are minor inconveniences while others like “The Container” checkpoint between Bethlehem and Ramallah are notoriously tedious.

The idea behind this campaign was to invite around 1000 internationals to visit the West Bank for 10 days to do a tour of the region, participate in educational activities, and learn more about nonviolent resistance in Palestine. The catch is that instead of lying while going through Israeli airport security, they would tell officials their true intentions: to visit Palestine.

At 4:00 in the morning, unable to sleep, I scanned my e-mail and found the first press release. Already Israeli authorities had sent blacklists to airlines, alerting them of those individuals who would be refused entry into Israel. Lufthansa, EasyJet, Malev, Alitalia and Air France subsequently prevented hundreds of European activists from boarding planes to Tel Aviv. Protests and demonstrations took place in airports and other locations across Europe. In Paris, the riot police were sent to quell the “uprising.”

Those activists who were able to board their planes met with quite a scene upon their arrival. At least two EasyJet flights from Rome and Geneva were surrounded immediately by Israeli airport security and special forces units. Suspected activists were removed from the plane and taken to a separate terminal for screening. One woman was reportedly violently arrested when she resisted.

At least six Israeli activists were arrested at Ben Gurion airport when crowds showed up to welcome and support activists. As of right now it’s difficult to say how many activists were able to get through. We know at least 6 have been deported while 65 more are sitting in detention centers. Hundreds more were prevented from boarding flights.

In spite of this and in spite of the fact that Israeli police are calling the Israeli response a success, it’s hard to see it as a campaign failure for activists. If Israel had simply let the activists through, they would have toured the region, returned home and that would have been the end of the story. Nobody would have cared to report it. As it is, I have to admit I am discontent with the apathetic coverage of this situation in U.S. media not to mention disappointed with the role the U.S. has taken in preventing the flotilla to Gaza from departing Greece. Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland urged those interested in helping Gaza to send humanitarian aid “through appropriate channels.” When asked which channels the U.S. deemed appropriate, she mentioned that Israel is now allowing more goods into Gaza and that the Rafah crossing into Egypt has been opened.

First off, the Rafah crossing is a passenger crossing. It’s not open for goods and despite Egypt’s promises, it’s barely open for passengers. Secondly, this has never been about humanitarian aid. The U.S. boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, is not even carrying goods…only letters of support from the American people. This is about ending the blockade. It’s about ensuring that the Palestinian people are not caught in the cross-fire (political or otherwise) of Hamas and Western governments.

Israel has long touted itself as the only democracy in the region, but after a week of covering home demolitions, well demolitions, multiple arrest of minors, settler violence…and then witnessing the mass deportation of nonviolent activists, it’s hard to see it as such.

Some say, “Go home. This is not your concern.” But when I see empty bullet casings stamped with the words “Made in U.S.A,” I can’t help but feel that this is very much my concern.

Fellow: Nikki Hodgson



activism adapting AIC Alternative Information Center American Israel Public Affairs Committee Bil'in blockade Congress Culture daily life Diplomacy Flotilla Flytilla Freedom Theatre Gaza Glenn Beck Green Line Hebron human rights hypocrisy IDF Israel Jenin Jerusalem Matzpen Palestine Protest Restoring Courage Settlers Theatre U.S. West Bank




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