August 2002

Thursday 1st August
I seem to be finding it increasingly difficult to write much, hence the lack of entries. Not because there is nothing to write about, there is, but because of the boredom and lethargy that living under curfew inspires.

The bombing of the Hebrew University yesterday has affected everyone I know here really badly. Everyone is in shock and totally disgusted by it. Despite the reports that all Palestinians celebrate the deaths of Israelis through such acts, it is not true. Not all Palestinians feel like that, just like not all Israelis want to transfer Arabs from their land. But, those who do show jubilation are portrayed as an indicator of all the people and helps engender the myth that to be a Palestinian is to be a terrorist.

Many people support attacks against Israelis. After all, they are suffering attacks from the Israeli military, but against what are regarded as ‘legitimate’ targets such as the military, settlements, that sort of thing. One friend, with tears welling up in her eyes, said that she felt as angry watching the news of the university bombing as she did at the monstrous attack in Gaza last week where 15 people were killed, including  nine children.

The suicide bomber from Tuesday, who exploded himself at a falafel stand in Jerusalem (nearby to the bank I regularly go to), was from Beit Jala. He was just 17. During the early hours of this morning, the Israeli army came in to Beit Jala and destroyed his family’s home. This type of ‘punishment’ does nothing to stop the surge in violence. The same way exiling family members to Gaza will do absolutely nothing to stop bombings against Israel.

The way in which Israel deals with the Palestinians does nothing more than instill hatred and anger. The Palestinian people have been brutalised, humiliated and degraded for decades. Many Israelis do not even regard Palestinians as human beings. Watching teenagers in an army uniform assaulting old men, seeing young Palestinians blindfolded and cuffed then dragged in to military vehicles to be taken who knows where, seeing old women struggling with bags through checkpoints where the only way is to scramble through dirt and climb boulders does nothing to make me sympathetic towards Israel. I have never seen such nasty behaviour as I have here and it is thoroughly unpleasant. It is little wonder that Palestinians choose to go and blow themselves up.

I don’t think any of us can possibly imagine the suffering that many Palestinians have endured through their life. Of course, not all soldiers treat Palestinians like this, but enough do to make it seem acceptable behaviour. I have tried to intervene at checkpoints sometimes, I have tried to make them realise that by treating people brutally  they will react and that reaction is the bombings that occur in Israel. One soldier nodded sadly, his eyes made it clear he understood exactly what I meant, but said he could do nothing to stop his colleagues behaving in this manner. There really seems to be no end in sight as long as both sides continue in this fashion. The future here at the moment is very dark.

Friday 2nd August
Dividing society: Last night, the Israeli authorities announced that the curfew would be lifted today, a Friday, from 7am until 7pm.They added that all Christians would be allowed to travel to Mar Elias, to celebrate the feast day of Saint Elias. Never has curfew been lifted on a Friday. Never have the Muslims here been able to go to pray on their holiest day. Christian friends of mine expressed their anger; they viewed this as a deliberate attempt to create tension and division between the two religious communities of Palestine. Most people viewed it this way, with one friend remarking that people should not go to Mar Elias.

Still, as it is a special day in the Christian calendar, and as most people are not that politically sensitive, many cars and buses drove up to the checkpoint. Mar Elias is situated between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I was at work when we got a call, a little after 10am. “The soldiers have stopped us all, they are firing tear gas at us.” Everyone was forced back to Bethlehem and curfew was re-imposed, a few short hours after it was lifted. Steel bullets sheathed in rubber, which despite the rather innocuous sounding name of ‘rubber bullets’ can be lethal, were also used to subjugate the crowds.

One friend came to the municipality on his way back home. He was very angry. “The soldier told me to go but I said no, you might as well shoot me now. I will not go home. Why should I?” He told me that life has no meaning anymore, that life is so depressing, he might as well get shot by the Israeli army. He doesn’t care anymore, like so many people here. There is nothing to care about as their lives have become so empty and their every movement, action or need is controlled totally by Israel.

And why do this anyway? What possible purpose was there in opening curfew, creating religious friction then attacking the Christians? Like everything here it is not about ensuring security, it is about oppression and humiliation.

Saturday 3rd August
Sometimes I can manage to forget the horror and heartache of living in Palestine, albeit briefly. I have always been moved listening to the Muslim call to prayer: not because I am religious, as I am not, but because there is something very evocative and calming listening to the voice of a Muezzin.

Outside my bedroom window there’s a speaker that relays the voice of the Muezzin and Imam at an incredibly loud pitch. Sad to say, the usual chap is not too tuneful and visitors have remarked on his uncanny skill at mimicking a strangled cat, in between dropping the microphone. Tonight, however, was different.

The voice was crystal clear and loaded with emotion. His voice rang out in harmony with the other calls across the valley. As he finished each sentence, I could hear the echo of others in the distance. It was incredibly calming and very peaceful and evoked strong images in my mind of tranquility and serene solitude. The sounds of these voices washed over me with a strength I hadn’t really felt before. I sat on my roof and felt very calm and relaxed, watching the lights from houses across the wadi sparkle brightly in the dark of night. It is a rare moment to feel such tranquility and harmony here. It won’t last for long.

Tuesday 6th August
There is much tension in the district. Families of ‘Shaheed’ (in this instance those who choose to blow themsleves) are living in fear and terror of having their homes demolished. Regardless of debate concerning the suicide attacks themselves, I cannot see how any government can possibly justify such an abhorrent practice as this. Since when can a person be judged by the crimes of their brother, sister, father, mother?

The same goes for enforced exile for those with suicide bombers as relatives. This is morally repugnant, but, as anything seems to be OK in the Israeli campaign to fight ‘terror’, which is nothing more than a campaign to effect subjugation and transfer of the Palestinian population, it is hardly surprising.

The night before last, a home was demolished which used to belong to a suicide bomber. The new owner showed the soldiers the documents proving who he was and that he legally owned the house, but to no avail. The house is now in ruins. The Israeli High Court of Justice has ruled that no notice needs to be given to families whose homes are to be demolished. This is supposedly to protect the Israeli forces perpetrating the demolition. Of course, care or regard for those who live there is not an issue to be considered.

I got a call on Tuesday morning, about 1am, from a friend who told me there were two homes at risk, that the electricity had been partially cut in the area of Deheishe refugee camp, and that people were very scared. Yesterday the number of homes at risk had risen to seven: three in Deheishe and four in neighbouring Doha

The army doed not make an appointment to carry out this heinous collective punishment. Rather, they turn up, usually under cover of darkness in the early hours, and destroy peoples homes and lives. We could not be sure if they would come or not, but we felt we could not just let it happen without trying to do something.

The families in Deheishe camp would have welcomed the presence of some internationals, not because they could stop the demolition as they can’t, but at least to have the knowledge that they would face this in solidarity with people willing to risk injury, arrest and deportation to support them.

Sadly, for various reasons, this ended up being too complex to achieve, although it shouldn’t have really. I was actually rather upset and quite annoyed today as I heard that, in preparation, the people of the homes had gone to other camp residents for donations of food to look after the guests. They were very disappointed that, in the end, no one came.

I had a friend staying with me and we were both willing to go, although not be arrested. The friend I was communicating with at the camp said no, as she feared the likelihood of arrest, should the military turn up, was high. I can’t afford to be shipped out on a deportation order so we decided to stay put but said, if anything happened we would come over and at least call the media and document it ourselves.

So tonight, these families are in the same position again. Will they be woken by the sound of a bulldozer approaching to smash their home into dust, or will they not? Will they even sleep? Every night for Palestinians is a night of terror, foreboding and helplessness.

Wednesday 7th August
Overnight the Israeli army entered Bethlehem and destroyed a house about five minutes away from where I live. The area is known as Wadi Shaheen. Despite the home being blown up yards from my flat, as I sleep so heavily I didn’t wake. I wondered whether it is a psychological reaction to all that is happening as I’ve slept through shellings and bombings as well.

One wall of the house remained, just, and debris ws strewn across the road. A car was also destroyed. The mangled remains were pushed by the bulldozer in to the rubble of the home. Yehiheh Daamseh, a local resistance fighter, was arrested, along with his son. The homes in Deheishe were untouched, this time.

In addition, at least four Palestinians, members of Fatah, were executed in Tul Karm by Israeli ‘special forces’. According to a British woman, who is at the hospital where the bodies were taken after medical staff were eventually able to evacuate the dead in safety, they had all been shot in the back of the head at close range, and had been tied up and dragged through the streets tied to the back of a vehicle before being dumped.

It is not known whether they were shot before or after being dragged. After the bodies were abandoned and the ground forces retreated, helicopters opened fire in the area, preventing immediate evacuation.

In Israel, four of the ‘refusniks’ have started a 28 day jail sentence. There have been 110 soldiers and officers imprisoned since January of this year, all for refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gush Shalom is also the subject of an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. Gush Shalom has been compiling evidence regarding the actions of Israeli officers and are putting together a report which they intend to hand to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

I walked to Beit Sahour earlier and was lucky enough to get picked up by a friend driving by, a local journalist. He told me that there was a border police jeep patrolling in Bethlehem, and that they were confiscating car keys from drivers. This happens a lot, and people have learnt. Nearly everyone has a spare set of keys now!

It had been announced that curfew was to be lifted, from 9am until 3pm, but less than an hour after the announcement the military re-imposed curfew. It wasn’t even 9am yet. Everyone always asks ‘why do they do this?’ Was it because of the demolition of the house? Was it because the Tawjihi results (graduation exams) were to be announced today? To me it seems quite clear; it is just because they can. They like to remind the Palestinians that the control of their lives is not their own, and that Palestinians are not free in their own land.

I was pleased to see that in Beit Sahour, at least, the curfew was being enthusiastically ignored. A long stream of cars and vans were parading around and around the main streets. All the students were celebrating their results. They were sitting on car doors, hanging out the windows, even sitting on the roof of one large van. They were screaming and cheering and all the car horns were being tooted continuously. The first joy these kids have felt for a very long time.

The results were printed in the paper and shown on TV (something I am awfully glad not to have been subjected to when I was studying), and consistently the marks were in the 60-80% range. Truly remarkable given the fact that schools have been closed due to repeated invasions and that the students, as with all Palestinians, are suffering severe and chronic psychological trauma from their experiences during the violence. It was really uplifting to see hundreds of young people celebrating their achievements.

Sadly though, this will be just a temporary joy. The cost of education is high and many families struggle just to pay the utility bills, let alone college or university fees. One friend said to me that for Palestinians it is as important to feed the mind as it is to feed the body. Many parents will make huge sacrifices for the sake of their child’s education.

But what if they do succeed to put their child through college? Unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, all have reached enormous proportions, so what chance for a future do these students have anyway? The brightest and most gifted will seek sponsorship or scholarships to study abroad. They cannot see a future here. Very few people can. So tomorrow, after the jubilation of today’s results, the heavy blanket of gloom and despair will cover everyone once more and people will wake and wonder, ‘where on earth do I go from here’?

Sunday 11th August
Still no more demolitions but last night the army was driving around like lunatics. All part of the grand plan to terrorise everyone, particularly in the camps. I could hear the APC driving up and down between Deheishe, Aida and Azza for about an hour. There is a new complement of troops on duty and they seem to be very nasty and very provocative. I have not seen any military in the centre of Bethlehem for weeks now but this one APC trundled through Manger Square at about 11.45am. The funniest thing was all the children ran down the hill after it.

Two boys in Deheishe were not so lucky. The APC was driving around the main entrance to the camp and a few young boys threw stones. Stones the size of a plum versus heavily armoured military vehicle. Soldiers shot back. I still find it utterly incomprehensible that a soldier can raise a gun and shoot a child for throwing a stone. Two boys had to go to hospital: one was seven, the other just five-years-old.

I was chatting with a friend, a member of Fateh. We were discussing the prospect of elections and what may happen. He does not think there will be elections for at least a year. He also has the same opinion as some foreign diplomats I spoken to: Arafat should disolve the PA and call the Israelis bluff.

Of course, Arafat will do no such thing. He will cling to what he perceives as power to the very last moment. My friend told me he will not vote for Arafat when the time comes. He also won’t be telling other Palestinians that. I wonder just how many feel the same way?

Friday 9th August
The last few nights have been very tense and many people have spent the time sleepless in anticipation of home demolitions. On Wednesday night the whole district shook from three separate explosions. Three homes destroyed, countless families either homeless or in homes that suffered damage due to the excessive use of explosives. I can only suppose that this was designed to harass and humiliate people further.

I went to visit one of the homes destroyed in Doha, near Deheishe refugee camp. It was a scene of widespread destruction. A large, three-story building was the target and there were large chunks of masonry far from the foundations. Neighbouring homes had also suffered damage as a result.

The Israelis claim that they are destroying homes of sucicide bombers but this is the third instance that I am aware of where the owner of the building had nothing whatsoever to do with a suicide attack or was related to a bomber. The owner of the home I visited had the misfortune to have rented a flat within the building to a Jordanian a couple of months ago. This man subsequently blew himself up near Ma’ale Adumim, killing a policeman. For this the home was blown sky high.

Last night I slept at a friend’s house, very close to Deheishe as there was such concern that the Israeli army would be back with their explosives and bulldozers. Of course, there is nothing I can do to prevent this, but at least by being in the area and ‘on-hand’ the people know that they have people there with them in solidarity and will do what they can to help, be it writing about it, taking photographs or digging through the rubble to help rescue what they can.

After ascertaining that Deheishe had spent nothing more than a sleepless night, I got ready to go to the beach, at Yaffa (Jaffa). I was going with the friend I stayed with and three of her nieces (on her husband’s side). My friend has an American passport but the three girls are West Bankers, so cannot go to Israel so we sort of snuck out. (My friend’s car was on the ‘outside’.) Two of the three had never been in to historic Palestine, where their grandparents are from. Nor had they ever been to the beach.

Yaffa is a predominantly Palestinian area near Tel Aviv but Israeli yuppies are moving in in droves and many families are being forced from their homes for a second time. The first was in 1948–many of the residents of Yaffa fled from nearby villages.

The beach was beautiful and uncrowded and the girls were so excited once we got there. We ran in to the water but the girls were wary at first, they had never seen the sea before. Initially they were nervous but their fear soon disappeared and they didn’t want to get out when the time came to leave. We had to get back though so we stopped for ice cream, then drove back to Bethlehem.

My friend needed to take her car in so we decided to risk the checkpoint. We went to one of the small checkpoints that is used to “protect” a small settlement south-east of Bethlehem. The girls were instructed not to say a word and as we drew alongside the soldier. We stuck our passports out the window at him. He looked at the passports and called over another soldier who asked for our visas. I showed him mine, his friend was looking at the other passport but he spoke no English so he couldn’t tell whether there was a visa or not.

They handed the passports back and pointed at the girls, asking who they were. We smiled nicely, said thanks and drove off before they could stop us! They assumed we were going to the settlement, but at the last moment veered to the left and sped off. I looked back and immediately shouted at the girls to get on the floor. The soldiers were aiming their guns at the car, but we’d cleared the ridge and were out of sight before they could shoot. Nice trip to the beach!

Tuesday 13th August
I was woken at about 4am by yet another huge explosion. Yet another home is a pile of dust and rubble. It seems as if the politicians and the diplomats have forgotten something called the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In this vast document, specifically written to protect civilian victims in times of war, there is article 33. This article states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence that he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

Daily these conventions are disregarded and contravened by Israel, as the occupying power. Article 4 (2) states: “The wounded and the sick shall be collected and cared for.” I have witnessed flagrant disregard for this stipulation. Article 49 states: “Individual of mass forced transfers, as well as deportations….are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” The list of abuses by Israel against Palestinian civilians goes on and on and on…..

It is very depressing to see how Palestinians are not only abused by Israel but also by their representatives, the Oslo Accords being a prime example of this. Corruption and nepotism in the Authority and with other influential characters makes life even harder for the ordinary hardworking and honest Palestinian.

For example, at the moment we have a huge problem trying to find ways to help support school and college students. Most families are in such financial trouble they cannot find the yearly fees required. One friend told me that the PA awards a certain number of scholarships each year. Last year, the daughter of a woman I know scored over 95% in her exams, one of the highest scores for the year. She applied for a scholarship and was refused. Her parents are not wealthy by any standard and now, with the rate of unemployment so high, it is a struggle for them to keep her at university. The same year, two young men, both sons of local political figures and from privileged backgrounds, got the scholarships.

Some of the local guys are trying to establish a new youth organisation. The arguments and tensions that have ensued are quite ridiculous. One person demanded that he should be included at a high level, despite the fact that he knows nothing of their objectives, and probably wouldn’t care that much if he did. It is all to do with having one’s name on the board and money, in some cases.

The whole point of the new organisation is that it is being set up and run by younger people, people with new ideas, those who have had a better education and have an open minded, modern approach. Not old school sycophants. It is such a shame but is indicative of the difficulties Palestinians face at all levels.

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