Life in the bubble

Posted on 30 July 2010

So, less than 24 hours and already we’ve been to a wedding. It’s the height of wedding season, and as Ramadan will be in just a few weeks, everyone is cramming them in now. As I write, there are two weddings going on, one either side of the flat. How R has managed to sleep is beyond me. I imagine this must be what it’s like to sleep underneath Blackpool pier.

We just got back from the wedding of the eldest son of one of J’s sisters. He was second eldest, until Israeli forces hunted down his brother and assassinated him in 2002. Since we were last here, a memorial has been painted on the wall opposite the road to his parents home in Deheishe to commemorate Sa’id. As M watches her other son embark on life as a married man, I am sure she is also thinking of Sa’id and the life he has missed.

Yesterday we walked through the old city, just to catch the vibe see how things have or have not changed. It feels so different, but in a very superficial way. Netanyahu promoted an “economic peace plan” which, he claimed, would sit alongside a political process to bring peace: but the reality is it helps to embed the occupation further and has done little, as far as I can see, to create a vibrant and successful economy. Money has poured in from donors and sloshes around the local economy. Earlier this year the Palestine Investment Conference was held in Bethlehem. I’ve read its mission and vision statement, then gave up at that point as it’s just meaningless nonsense.

As we walked through the streets which were certainly bustling with activity, I was taken back to 2002 and the horror of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. We came to a small crossroads: the road on the right has been renamed Martyrs Street in memory of the mother who was killed when a shell hit their home. Their home is deep in the heart of the old city, so the military’s erroneous claim of trying to avoid civilian casualtys was laid bare. The family was trapped inside for days with their mother’s body decomposing. I had tried to negotiate with the army to allow access, we even tried to escort an ambulance but we were forced back. I can’t remember how many days it was before they finally allowed the Red Crescent access.

We stopped in at the Peace Centre, a building I have many memories of. I used to watch films there and attend other events. It was also used as the main Israeli military command base during Operation Defensive Shield: they trashed the place. I went in hours after the military had left, and the carnage and their utter disregard for a centre which sat in the heart of the community was both appalling and unsurprising.

The centre was built with funds from the Swedish government as part of the Bethlehem 2000 celebrations. Now there are no funds. I spoke to a young man inside who opens and closes the centre. There is an interesting story of politics and corruption which has led to its current sorry state. We’d gone in to ask about the current programme only to find there’s none. There is just the permanent Christmas exhibition that has been there for years. They cannot get any funding and Sweden has stopped supporting it.

The Sulta (PA) appears to be punishing the area for electing a mayor who is not a member of Fateh. Access to funds and support depends on who you are, who you know and your political affiliation counts for everything here.  Civil society’s attempt to flourish is being stifled by the ruling party. Fateh is desperate to cling on to power, but it seems that people are disillusioned more than ever. This is why the elections have been cancelled, not, as the PA asserts to allow the rift between Hamas and Fateh to be healed: they feared losing power for good.

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