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March 15, 2006

A Letter from Doug Johnson

To all,

I'm writing you from St. Margarets hostel in Nazareth to tell you that I'm fine and unhurt. The president of my university insisted that all western teachers leave until things "calm down," although I feel that our evacuation was unnecessary.

I was abducted by about 15 young men with machine guns and pistols as I was leaving the university yesterday. We had been warned about an hour earlier by campus security that there might be reprisals against westerners due to the Israeli attack on a prison in Jericho. The Americans and British had agreed to help safeguard the Palestinian political prisoner Ahmad Sadaat, but when the Israelis came to take him, the Americans and Brits walked away, leaving the Palestinian police and prison guards to battle it out with the Israelis. Several people were killed in the fighting.

For some in Palestine, this betrayal was the last straw. The US has financed the Israeli military occupation almost from the beginning and continues to support Israel's numerous violations of UN Resolutions, including Resolutions 194, 242, and 338. The military encroachment into Palestinian land and lives has been relentless and brutal, and the people here now find themselves imprisoned within a wall that surrounds most of the West Bank, and some cities entirely.

Furthermore, movement inside the walls is severely restricted and most people inside the Jenin district are confined here unless they go through tons of red tape to get permission from Israel to travel. Even within the confines of Jenin there are dozens of permanent checkpoints and many more "floating checkpoints" that can pop up anywhere and turn a 15 minute drive into an eight-hour ordeal. This happens day after day after day. It's rare that I don't have students who show up late or don't show up at all because of checkpoints.

During "closures" entire cities are shut down, the roads to and from the city are blocked, and even leaving your home is prohibited, sometimes for months at a time — except for an hour or two a week to get food. These daily restrictions have disrupted every aspect of Palestinians' lives. Israeli soldiers roaming Palestinian streets keep kids from going to school and adults from going to work. The economy is destroyed and the employment rate is through the roof.

Naturally, the reaction here ranges from frustration to desperation to rage. Does that surprise anyone? Similar restrictions in America imposed by a foreign power would elicit a similar range of reactions. If a neighboring government built a wall around Louisville, Kentucky and told Louisvillians when they can and can't leave, some would hold candles on a street corner while others would pick up arms. This is human nature. The young men who abducted me probably felt they had no other recourse because nobody will listen to them otherwise. Is that so hard to understand?

I'm not going to talk about the blow-by-blow account of the abduction. The bottom line is that I walked away that day while several poor souls perished in Jericho while fighting for their freedom and rights. Why is it a "story" if some white American has a gun pointed to his head when so many others of "color" died yesterday in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine? Why doesn't CNN call to interview their grieving families?

The leader of Al Aqsa personally intervened to help me, rode in the backseat of a car with me as he took me back to the university, and then apologized publicly at AAUJ to the president and the full body of foreign teachers. When has George Bush ever apologized? Don't hold your breath.

I feel safe in Palestine, and I invite anyone who reads this to walk a mile in the shoes of a Palestinian. Come here and see for yourself what I'm talking about. Trust me, you won't ever see what I see on CNN.

Doug Johnson