Peace Talks? Bring Them to Seida, Please!

Peace Talks? Bring them to Seida, Please!
By Aaron Lakoff
January 30, 2005 – Seida, Palestine

For the last seven days, I have been in the Palestinian town of
Seida. Seida's 3500 residents sit between the cities of Tulkarm and
Jenin in the West Bank. For four long and difficult days, I
witnessed Seida under military curfew.

Curfew is an unnatural, inhumane thing. It is unnatural because
it renders a city's streets bare. No children playing marbles, no
shopping for fresh fruit, no walks to the mosque for prayer.
Seida was empty like streets in the wild west before a shootout at
sundown. A dead city. Cue the tumbleweed.

Curfew is inhumane because it is a mass military tactic aimed at
collectively punishing. While there were eight wanted men alleged
to have been in the village, the whole population had to suffer the
consequence. The city's fragile economy lies still, and no one can
get to work. Children can't get to school, and young men and women
are racked with nervousness about missing their final exams at
university. Livestock go unfed, and sheep bray incessantly in pain.
Ambulances need permission to get to injured children. These are
all examples from the last week in crippled Seida.

As each day of the curfew passed, the situation became more severe.
The first day was a shock to everyone. We, for instance, were pulled
out of bed at 7:00am, just as the first of the jeeps had invaded and
soldiers were beginning to occupy homes. Even though Seida residents
knew the situation could be bad, everyone generally had enough food
and essentials to get by.

What struck me most were our relations with the soldiers as
internationals in the village. Some were nice, and some were nasty,
but we thought none would dream about stopping us from carrying on
about our business. However, we could never get a straight answer
when asking them questions about the operation. On the one hand,
some wouldn't tell us anything, while some would tell us flat out
lies. This became increasingly more frustrating when they would tell
us things like the curfew would be lifted for four hours here and
there, but no action would be taken.

By the second day, food supplies weren't a huge problem, but the
animals in this farming village were another story. That evening, a
farmer in his mid 40's looked at us with desperate eyes and asked if
we could accompany him to bring feed to his goats. We obliged, and
he was filled with an enormous sense of relief.

As the days wore on, more and more little missions would pop up for
the ISM team, and people were beckoning and pleading for us from
rooftops and window grates.

In fact, the rooftops seemed to breed an interesting culture during
the curfew. Everyone in Seida got up on the flat roofs of their
tightly-packed houses. News was able to travel from one end of the
village to the other in a few short minutes, even during electricity
cuts, because it would just get shouted from person to person.
Residents even threw provisions to each other if they were within
range. The sense of community and solidarity was overwhelming. It's
almost as if Palestinians predicted that having flat roofs would be a
necessity under curfew.

Another amazing act of community was the organized bread deliveries,
which also became essential by the third day of curfew. Even with
the army following in tow, guns drawn, a group of young men on the
back of a truck were determined to get at least one bag full of fresh
pitas to every household.

By the fourth day, the situation was nearing a genuine humanitarian
crisis. The army had to let up at some point, or things were going to
get severe. The soldiers were also getting more and more frustrated
with us internationals, as we kept defying their orders to stay inside
and were working our hardest to keep the eyes of the world on their
actions. One of our team members almost paid a high price for this.
She had a riffle laser pointed at her for long time, simply because
she had the courage to videotape some soldiers who were holding a
family at gunpoint.

Finally, at around 4:00pm on Friday, after approx. 105 hours of
collective house arrest, the curfew was lifted. A mixture of joy and
relief swelled up in Seida, as children once again flooded the
streets and shops were reopened for business. Old men with wrinkled
smiles shook hands and kissed each other. People had their hands up
in the air as if to say, "Humduleylah! Thanks to God!"

The army stayed on in the village, occupying two homes, but it was
clear their operation was winding down. Some of the soldiers
confessed to us that they too wanted to go home.

Looking back now on the situation from the nearby city of Tulkarm, I
am frightened by the lack of attention that this invasion was given
in the Eastern or Western media. Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas will
be holding historic meetings on February 8th, 2005, and this is
making all the headlines. In the West, everyone is talking about
peace prospects for Palestine and Israel. However, what we witnessed
in Seida, while it may have been shocking, was fairly routine as far
as the occupation of Palestine goes, and this carries on even after
the election of Abbas.

There is no peace in Seida. The only peace one can find is in the
magnificence of the surrounding view – green valleys, olive trees,
and fresh air. Unfortunately, that's just not enough.

--To view Aaron's pictures of the Seida invasion, visit
http://gallery.cmaq.net/album30