The Siege

Posted on 30 May 2015 | No responses

Last Saturday night (May 23rd) we went to see the final night’s performance of The Siege, a Jenin Freedom Theatre production based on the siege of Bethlehem’s Nativity Church in 2002. The company is touring the UK and we went to the wonderful Battersea Arts Centre, part of which was recently devastated by fire. Despite the massive damage, the theatre was still able to play host to the amazing talent that Palestine has to offer.

For almost 90 minutes I was utterly gripped. The opening was very clever, with ‘Issa’, the Bethlehem tour guide, drawing the audience in to a place of comfort and security. For those who know Manger Square and the surrounding area, the local tour guides are ubiquitous. Cheerful, multi-lingual, persistent, but usually with good humour; Issa was no different. His calm, cheery manner was starkly contrasted when the stage shifted suddenly to the heart of the story: the siege of the Church of the Nativity.

The stage darkened and footage of the invasion of Bethlehem and the subsequent dash of fighters and civilians to Nativity Church was projected onto a massive screen. Suddenly, the stage was invaded: the tension and urgency was palpable. Palestinian fighters were in the Church—seeking sanctuary, trying to stay alive.

Drawing on testimonies from the 13 Palestinian fighters who were exiled after the 39 day siege, the five fighters on stage began to share these untold narratives. Throughout the siege, Palestinians were portrayed as terrorists, armed men, fighters; not as fathers, husbands and brothers. This invariably is the way all Palestinians are portrayed: the truth of their struggle is erased by the need to ensure that Israel remains the victim. The voices that we heard were deeply passionate and human. They told stories of love and fear, of memories and passions, of life and humanity. It was tragic and comic, touching and humbling.

The narratives of Palestinians have been suppressed, distorted or misrepresented for many decades. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient for the West to confront its role in allowing the injustice Palestine to continue; nor does it wish to confront its complicity in the creation of this bloody mess.

The Siege is a vital piece of theatre that has finally given a truly Palestinian account of events that, until now, have been entirely shaped by others. It was also a very powerful reminder that all Palestinians are fighters, no matter who or where they are. And in particular in Palestine, where each day is a struggle against injustice and oppression.

And for me in particular, this was personal… intensely personal. I was living and working in Bethlehem during this time. I’d been in Palestine since the start of the second intifada, September 2000, and experienced the uncontrolled descent into chaos. The play transported me back 13 years to a time of darkness and despair. I remembered things I’d forgotten and it stirred emotions that have been buried deep. The juxtaposition of the footage and the actors was immensely powerful, linking the faceless and mechanical relentlessness of military might to the human cost of such actions. The script, staging and performance were outstanding and as good as anything I’ve seen on stages with far more resource than the Freedom Theatre could hope for.

The day the siege ended is one that I shall never forget. I had lived in an office for six weeks with numerous people from all over the world coming and going, but that morning I was alone—and I was so glad I was alone. I turned on Bethlehem TV and watched as the men came out, one by one. And I wept as I knew the price that had been paid by so many already, and the price that many more to come will continue to pay. And as I watched the closing scene on that stage in London, which included that very same footage from Manger Square all those years ago, I wept again. This time I was not alone.

Read my journals from April and May 2002.

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. Read more

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 | 13 responses

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

Regardless of the ‘symbolic’ nature of the UK parliament’s vote to recognise Palestine, it is still a significant step in the political establishment’s attitude towards Palestine. Now, more than ever, individuals and organisations need to work hard at the political level to ensure that Palestine remains an issue that needs to be addressed, and that MPs and government departments are regularly and repeatedly receiving questions from their constituents on the subject.

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.

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.

These five points are written to complement the AIDA policy paper: Reconstructing Gaza: Five Principles for Transformative Change.

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

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