The road is long…

Posted on 28 September 2014 | No responses

For most people, a holiday involves day trips, seeing the sites and enjoying time with family. But if you’re Palestinian, and you’re in your homeland—you know, the place you were born, your parents were born and generations of your family were born—then forget it.

We’d planned to go to Jerusalem. Partly as J had a meeting with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom; partly as he’d not stepped foot in Jerusalem for more than twenty years (despite it being a couple of miles north of home); and partly that’s what we wanted to do, as a family.

Advice was forthcoming from all sources. Go through 300; don’t go through 300 (main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem). Go on the bus; don’t go on the bus. Go through the tunnel, don’t go through the tunnel (the checkpoint on route 60). Go in a car; don’t go in a car. And so on, you get the picture.

For various reasons, J decided on the bus. We got on and had a short wait while it filled up, not entirely, but many seats were taken. Nearly all were Palestinians, but there were two differences between them and J. Firstly, although born in Palestine and with the dubious privilege of holding a huwiyeh (Israeli issued Palestinian ID) he did not have a ‘ts’reha’ (Israeli issued permit that allows the holder entry to Israel which costs quite a bit – the occupation is very profitable). Secondly, he does have a British passport which apparently becomes but a mirage when in the hands of Israelis.

When the bus gets to the checkpoint on route 60, it is pulled over—always. We knew this. All the Palestinians are forced to get off the bus and queue outside, whatever the weather, while their ts’reha is checked. Us lucky foreign passport holders get to remain in relative comfort while the soldiers get on and check our papers.

The female soldier glanced at J’s handful of UK passports and walked past. But we were unlucky. The checkpoint is manned 24 hours a day, but the level of security varies and there is no schedule that determines which forces are present at any time, it’s the luck of the draw. So then a border policeman also got on.

He asked J for our passports in his flawless English. J handed him the three passports. He said: “Where are your visas?” The visa one now gets on entry to Israel is a business card sized paper which has your photo and passport details on. I replied that we had been told to keep them very safe as we’d need them on departure, so I’d left them in our hotel room. He wasn’t fooled.

J didn’t have a visa because he doesn’t need one. His UK passport in not recognised, his UK citizenship is not recognised. He has to be admitted into the West Bank (via the Allenby crossing from Jordan) because he was born here. And being a perfectly-spoken English border policeman he was also a perfectly-able to read English border policeman who could see where Jamal was born.

This was the fairly brief conversation that followed
Perfectly-spoken English border policeman: “You cannot go through here.”

J: “Why not?”

PSEBP: “You were born in Bethlehem.”

J: “And I have a UK passport.”

PSEBP: “So you cannot go through here.”

J: “Why are you discriminating against me?”

PSEBP: “You cannot go through here.”

He then had a few soldiers come on the bus, just to show us who’s in charge, and took J off the bus. Throughout this short encounter, R became increasingly agitated. She had been sitting with J to start with so as he got up, she came to sit with me. But she was clearly distressed. He waved and blew kisses to us through the window and the bus pulled off. Rahel burst into tears.

This was the hardest part of the whole episode. We knew what might happen and were prepared for it. For a child though, she couldn’t possibly understand the many layers of history, hypocrisy, oppression and dehumanisation that led to this small incident. Most adults can’t.

A few of the other passengers spoke to me, expressing their disgust and concern. I assured them that we (J and I) were very well aware of the possibility of this happening, and my only concern was reassuring our daughter. After a while she stopped crying, but she made me keep calling J to see where he was.

He finally answered about an hour later. He was still being questioned and needed to know his mobile number! We spoke again about an hour after that when he’d got home. R insisted he stay there and not go anywhere. (We’d previously discussed him trying a different way should he have been prevented on the first occasion.) Obviously he promised to stay at home.

A couple of hours later we got home too. J told us what happened after we’d continued our journey and he was prevented from coming with us. He was taken into the office for questioning. He kept asking them why were they discriminating against him, why did they separate him from his family in such a way, why were they refusing to acknowledge his passport? They seemed rather uncomfortable as he kept pressing the points.

One of them demanded he speak in Arabic; he refused and spoke only English. Another gave him cigarettes and insisted he take a seat. They ended up talking about the character in Slumdog Millionaire, because of the lead character’s name.

He was then told he could go, but he was also issued with an interrogation order to attend the Mossad at Etzion. (For those who accused J of making up the entire episode on the basis that Palestinians are interrogated by Shabak, yes they are, but when one of these Palestinians also has a foreign passport, then the Mossad will have an interest.) As he left he said: “I shan’t thank you, but, should you ever be in London, please know that I’d never treat you the way that you treat me.”

J left Palestine two days before his interrogation was due.

Palestine’s ever decreasing circles

Posted on 31 August 2014 | No responses

Saturday August 30th

After lunch, which is usually at around 4pm, we decided to go to Wadi Fukin to visit family. I’ve written before about the village which sits directly east of the 1949 armistice line, more commonly referred to as the Green Line. Each time we visit, I am always shocked. This time was worse than I expected. The lush, fertile valley is being closed in by colonies, which will result in Wadi Fukin being surrounded. Read more

Five point action plan for political advocacy in the UK on Palestine around reconstruction

Posted on 31 August 2014 | 12 responses

Below are five points that campaigning organisations and individuals should be using in all discussions and correspondence with their political representatives in support of the Palestinian people. This is written as UK-specific because the UK government, through DFID, will likely play a leading role in co-ordinating Western-backed operations for the reconstruction of Gaza. The five point action plan relies on international law and the UK’s responsibility as a signatory of the IV Geneva Convention.

On October 12th there is a donors’ conference in Cairo and on the 13th, the UK parliament will debate recognising Palestine. It is therefore imperative that British voters start pressuring their MPs as soon as possible. I would urge all civil society organisations and individuals in the UK to read this, share it and help implement it as a campaign.

There is a general election in the UK next year, let’s work now to make Palestine a key issue for MPs, especially the issue of the Blockade. And if thousands of us demand action on the following points, we will be presenting the government with a cohesive, structured advocacy campaign that might actually result in action. Working together with one voice is far more effective than working alone and without a clear direction.

Palestinians don’t need endless rounds of talks, or talks about talks: they want action.

1   Demand Israel pays for the damage it caused

Israel (the ‘perpetrator’) must be held accountable, meaning, that UK taxpayers should not pay for Israel’s destruction of Gaza—Israel should. Taxpayers financially support the UK’s international development work through DFID and any UK assistance in the rebuilding efforts would be doen through this channel. We should therefore demand that Israel reimburses all of DFID’s costs. The UK government should send an itemised assessment, in effect a bill, to the Israeli government. The bill should clearly state that the UK government is issuing it as part of third-state responsibility to ensure accountability and prevent impunity for international law violations. Third party states must also take all measures to prevent (and deter) further violations, meaning, by making Israel pay for its violations, may deter Israel from bombing these UK-funded structures again. The UK is obligated as a third state party to the IV Geneva Convention to demand from the violator to pay compensation.

2   Demand that the UK government publishes details of all destroyed and damaged projects

UK taxpayers have the right to know what the UK funds in Palestine Government funding of overseas projects must be transparent. Part of the fulfillment of that right, is the obligation of the UK government to make public the complete list of all UK-funded projects destroyed and/or damaged and/or setback and/or delayed by Israel’s war on Gaza. This should also apply to the West Bank and East Jerusalem demolitions. This includes DFID funding of INGO’s who partner with local NGO’s, not just direct DFID funding.

3   Demand a ‘Gaza’ tax on all Israeli goods imported to the UK/Europe to be used for Gaza’s reconstruction

Accountability includes also guarantees of reparation for the victims by the perpetrator meaning that if Israel refuses to pay for the damages or for DFID’s reconstruction projects, then the UK and EU should not step in and use our tax money. Instead, they should impose a Gaza reconstruction tax, assessment or a fee on all Israeli imports. The fees collected will go towards a Gaza Reconstruction Fund. Further research into UK and EU trade laws is needed to develop this further.

4   Demand that Palestinians rebuild Gaza, not Israel

Assistance must be geared at local economic empowerment, meaning that DFID projects should be aimed at empowering the local Palestinian economy (local means all of Palestine). Israel should not profit from its violations, ie, its markets should be excluded from or be of last resort for providing materials for reconstruction projects.

5   Demand the blockade is lifted, open the international seaport

Third parties are obligated not to render assistance that accommodates an illegal action, meaning that the Gaza reconstruction materials should not be imported solely through the Israeli controlled crossing that sustains the blockade. For the last seven years, UK has demanded that its assistance projects effectively “abide” by Israel’s blockade- obligating projects to import their materials solely by  Israel’s crossing and its restricted rates of imports. This has just perpetuated the blockade. Ending the blockade means ending Israeli control of all imports and exports. The current paradigm needs to be changed through international political action: Gaza needs an autonomous crossing not controlled by Israel, for example, an international seaport. The EU proposal for a Cyprus corridor is a good first start and should be supported by the UK and EU.

It’s the BBC, but not as you know it

Posted on 28 August 2014 | 2 responses

Thursday August 28th

This evening I went to the BBC…that is, the Bethlehem Book Club. It’s been formed by a group of women living in the Bethlehem area, most of whom are married to Palestinians. They meet monthly, at one of the member’s homes which is large enough to accommodate everyone. Tonight I was an honorary member as I do not live in Palestine full-time at present, but one of my best friends is always trying to persuade me to come back now, rather than when R has finished her secondary education. So she took me along as part of her campaign to ‘Bring George Home‘! Read more

The route to university isn’t easy

Posted on 27 August 2014 | 1 response

Wednesday August 27th

Yesterday I drove to Birzeit University near Ramallah.We decided to hire a car rather than use the service (‘servees’ which are mini vans that drive from one place to another when full) as it takes so long, with at least three changes between vans, and it gets costly. Also, depending on the situation at any of the checkpoints, fixed or ‘flying’, being in your own car can give some semblance of ‘choice’. (Of course, living under an illegal military occupation actually ensures that you have no choice.) Read more

A cause for celebration?

Posted on 26 August 2014 | 2 responses

Tuesday August 26th
We’ve been home a few days and life in Palestine has been largely uneventful, by West Bank standards at least.

Tonight we went to an event hosted at the Alternative Information Centre in Beit Sahour. It’s an organisation that was established 30 years ago, and does some great work, especially around the theme of normalisation. Ilan Pappe, eminent Israeli historian and academic was speaking about the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis. Read more

Exposing the complex system of Israel’s domination over Palestinians and Palestine

Posted on 8 January 2014 | No responses

Also published by Palestine Chronicle here

Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction – Nadia Abu-Zahra Adah Kay, Pluto Press, 2013

The opening lines of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Bitaqat Hawiyyah (identity card) are a poignant reminder of reality for Palestinians throughout the world:

“Register me!
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand”

And it is most fitting that Nadia Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay quote these powerful words within the first few pages of their book, Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction. Read more

The rumours of a third Intifada have been greatly exaggerated

Posted on 19 December 2012 | No responses

This article is also published on Palestine Chronicle

Over the past few days, the talk of a third Intifada breaking out in the occupied Palestinian territories has increased. But it isn’t Palestinians living under the occupation who are talking up the chances of a third uprising against Israel’s continued oppression in the territories. Read more

Good old Israel?

Posted on 5 August 2012 | No responses

In his latest piece written for the New York Times, Avraham Burg asks: “Where is the good old Israel?” Assuming he is not being tongue-in-cheek, and there is no suggestion in the rest of the article that he is, he continues to peddle the same old clichés that liberal Zionists are so fond of. Propaganda is a powerful tool, but so is the truth. Read more

Roads to nowhere

Posted on 21 July 2012 | No responses

The drive from Bethlehem to Ramallah, or from pretty much anywhere to anywhere in the West Bank now, takes you along many roads recently established courtesy of USAID. At intersections there’s big signs, telling Palestinian travellers that this road is a gift from the American people. The signs omit to mention the other gifts from America, including military and financial support used to prop up and maintain the racist government of Israel and its policies that discriminate against the indigenous population. Read more

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