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Author shares stories of Palestine

Published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Updated: Monday, February 2, 2009 12:02

With contractions striking at 1 a.m. for Lamis, a Palestinian woman pregnant with twins, she faced one large barrier between her and the hospital - a roadblock patrolled by Israeli soldiers at Deir Ballut that was only open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Due to the hour, Lamis and her husband were not allowed through; they called an ambulance to hasten matters, but after the hour-long wait for its arrival, they were still denied passage past the roadblock.

Frantically, her husband contacted friendly Israeli coworkers who secured clearance for Lamis to pass through the checkpoint.

Her husband was not allowed to travel with her.

The babies, born two months premature but seemingly healthy, died en route to the hospital.

Lamis' story was one of many shared by Anna Piller at the presentation "Life in Occupied Palestine" on Tuesday.

Piller authored "Witness in Palestine: Journal of a Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories," using accounts from the five months she spent working with International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank in 2003, she said.

The IWPS accompanies Palestinian civilians to document human rights violations and support nonviolent resistance.

Piller, whose real name is Anna Baltzer, spent intermittent periods in Palestinian areas for the past four years, she said.

The event was co-sponsored by the International Socialist Organization and UT Anti-War and was attended by 33 students, faculty and alumni.

Piller outlined concerns about the roadblocks hampering daily life for Palestinians, settler encroachment into Palestinian villages and the construction of the "security fence."

Concrete cube or dirt-mound roadblocks put Palestinians at a serious disadvantage, Piller said.

The roadblocks as a form of protection are ridiculous, and most of the checkpoints are from one Palestinian city to another, she said.

With the proliferation of roadblocks, traveling 30 miles can take anywhere from two hours to an entire day, Piller said.

Inconsistent travel time makes it difficult for Palestinians to hold steady jobs, attend higher education classes and reach medical care, she said.

About 140 people have died in ambulances waiting to get through a checkpoint to a hospital, she added.

As non-citizens, Palestinians have segregated road systems where their roads are generally dirt and in poor condition, Piller said.

Palestinians can obtain a special permit to drive on newer, paved Israeli roads, but their cars must have green or white license plates to differentiate them from the Israeli drivers with yellow license plates, she said.

The plates are used for "flying check points" - where all green- and white-plated cars are pulled over, Piller added.

Piller said religion isn't the focal point of the conflict.

"This is a war about land, water and resources," she said.

The West Bank has about 240,000 illegal settlers, Piller said.

The Israeli government provides monetary compensation equal to about $20,000 in American currency for their citizens if they move to "occupied territories," she said.

The Israeli settlers that object to Palestinians on religious grounds rather than economic grounds can be dangerous, she said.

In the village of At Tawani, Piller helped clean up barley seeds that had been soaked in poison and spread across grazing land to kill off Palestinian sheep, she said.

Other incidents include burning village generators, urinating in or otherwise befouling water sources and stoning villagers.

Growing up Arabic, the Israeli-Palestinian issues were familiar to Nadia Elwardany, a senior majoring in business administration, but she felt a greater connection to the issue after viewing Piller's photos of Palestinians, she said.

"To see the pictures of the people affected by the human rights violations almost made me want to cry," Elwardany said.

Proposed lines for the "security fence" or wall do not follow the internationally recognized lines between Palestinian and Israeli land from the 1949 Armistice, Piller said.

In metropolitan areas, the wall is a concrete barrier up to 25 feet high, and in rural areas, it tends to be a wire fence using electric and razor wire, Piller said.

The wall creates small islands of land, cutting off people from families, villages and resources, she said.

Munira, her husband Hani and their six children are surrounded with fences as a result of the wall's construction, Piller said.

They were served a demolition order and can never leave their home completely unattended for fear it will be bulldozed, she said.

The family, former refugees, was homeless for 10 years before they built their house in Mas'ha, she said.

Almost 60 cities and one town, Qalquilya, will be surrounded by the wall, making little more than an "open-air prison," Piller said.

"The wall will annex at least 15 percent of West Bank land into Israel," she said.

That land is some of the best and most fertile in the area.

As a granddaughter to a Holocaust survivor, Piller grew up enamored of Israel, she said.

Traveling through the Middle East and hearing accounts from refugees in South Lebanon, Piller began questioning her views on Israel, she said.

At first, even her mother was unsure of her shift in beliefs, Piller said.

"[She] thought I'd been brainwashed by Arabs," she said.

Most of Piller's audiences are favorable, but a few in previous engagements have tried to label her anti-Semitic; however, disagreeing with Israel action does not equal anti-Semitism, Piller said.

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