October 2002

Monday 7th October, 2002
I am now in a new flat but have no phone line, so updating my journal is going to be difficult again. I have also been away, in Jordan, with a friend from New York who is Palestinian and has some family in Amman.

It was refreshing to be away, even though it was only for two nights, but it is also hard knowing the difficulties my friends here are facing each day. Nothing happened in Bethlehem whilst I was gone, but apparently we are due to be reinvaded again, tomorrow so the rumour has it.

The rumours are strong and based on the comments of Ben Elizier, who stated that many so-called ‘wanted’ men have fled here from other areas as it is supposedly safer. The rumour is also that Arafat is going to come here instead of staying in Ramallah. Someone from the PA told me that isn’t true, but who knows.

The land confiscation in Beit Sahour has reached a new level of crisis. Demolition orders have been issued for in excess of 100 homes in the area adjacent to Jabal Abu Ghnaim, where the illegal colony of Har Homa has been built. It is also the area where a new road is being constructed which will mark the new border of Jerusalem.

The Israelis keep taking more and more, the land of Palestine is being eroded away and colonised by Jewish settlers. Yesterday the hearing to oppose the demolitions was held in the Supreme Court. (I don’t know the outcome yet.) Despite the rightful owners having documents to prove title, the Israelis continue to do as they please. I wonder how much outcry there would be if the situation were reversed? Or it was in Washington, or London, or somewhere other than Palestine?

Over 600 people will be made homeless.

Friday 11th October, 2002
The issue concerning the home demolitions in Beit Sahour has taken up most of the working week at the Municipality. There have been constant meetings with various parties, including the Greek Consul.

Some of the land in question, including the Greek Orthodox housing project, belongs to the Greek Patriachate, so the Greek Consul has taken a special interest. The Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli Government must produce its evidence and reasons for the demolitions, before the beginning of next week, followed by a 30 day period where the judge will examine all the evidence. Then he will give his decision.

Most people are understandably despondent. I am not aware of any case where the Palestinians have succeeded in keeping their land or their homes. As Beit Sahour residents saw Jabal Abu Ghnaim taken from them seven years ago, they know how hard it is to fight against the colonialist policies of Israel. There is a solidarity tent set up and we hope that internationals will come and stay, particularly when the bulldozers come. But despite the support, there is little hope to save the homes.

Sunday 13th October, 2002
An ominous day. Yesterday I was told that the Israelis are planning to reinvade Bethlehem on the 15th. Rumours abound constantly here and although I listen to them, I do not necessarily believe them. At about 8pm this evening I changed my mind. There was a loud explosion. I was cooking dinner with  a friend and we wondered what it was.

It wasn’t a home demolition, nor was it a missile form a helicopter or an F16. It was another assassination. A member of the Abayat family was blown up when he used a pay phone outside the Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala. (The hospital is about 100 yards from Bab Isqaq, the main crossroads in Bethlehem.)

We rushed over there to find a few hundred men in the street, looking at the scene. The payphone was obviously wrecked, a mass of tangled metal. The feeling, I felt, was calm but angry. I then went to a friend’s house and we discussed what had happened and what may happen next.

The man assassinated is the sixteenth martyr in the family, the third killed by a targeted assassination. This fits well with the pattern of Israeli operations. Bethlehem has been very quiet since the last invasion but this may change things dramatically.

The man killed is supposedly linked to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part of Fateh. If so, what will they do? Will they shoot at Gilo (perhaps the most obvious response) or will they do something else? Whatever they do, it will be used as the excuse to come back into Bethlehem. It also fits disturbingly with the date bandied about for an invasion. And this is not the first time that a date has been given in advance.

Obviously, for a man to be killed while using a public telephone in a main street, there had to be collaboration. The Israelis had to know when he would be there, when he picked up the receiver, when to detonate the explosives. It makes people feel very nervous to know that this was all planned and that it could not have been done without help from here.

It shows how unsafe everyone is, regardless of whether there is an invasion or not. Who does one trust? Who does one not trust? Anything can happen at anytime. There is no such thing as an ordinary life here; everyone gets dragged into it.

The phone is just outside the hospital entrance and goodness knows how there were no other people killed or injured. I drove back later to show someone and most people had left the scene, there were just a couple of cars parked outside. I wondered where the people who may respond to this were and what they were talking about.

I hope that nothing happens, I hope that Bethlehem remains free of Israeli invasions, but it is too much to hope for that people can ever lead a normal life here or have any sort of hope for their future under these conditions.

Wednesday 16th October, 2002
Went for lunch with a friend in Jerusalem today. Leaving was fine, a few cursory questions but no hassle. Coming back was a nightmare. “Closed” said the soldier. He was refusing to allow anyone through.

Actually that is not quite true. There were a few bus-loads of Jews and they were going in. I demanded to go through, as did some Palestinians, but to no avail. I called the British Consulate (my lunch appointment funnily enough) and they called the DCO. Apparently the only way I would be allowed back to where I live was to go all the way round to the DCO checkpoint at the top of Beit Jala, a few miles away.

During my phone conversation one soldier roughly manhandled a little old lady who just wanted to go home. I shouted at him to stop it. Some of them have no shame, I was sickened to see him be so rough with a frail woman.

The Consulate kindly offered to send me a driver to get me to Beit Jala but they were not sure when someone could come so I managed to share a taxi with some other people who had arrived and been turned away at the same time. Before I left I asked on of the soldiers why the checkpoint had been so comprehensively closed. He told me: “So Jews can pray at Rachel’s tomb.”

Thursday 17th October, 2002
I had to go and photograph the area where the homes that are under threat in Beit Sahour are located. I took various shots of the buildings, some finished and some not, and the by-pass road, which will be for Jews only. The road is carving up the northern edge of Beit Sahour and is the reason cited by Israel as why they want to demolish so many homes.

I wanted to go behind the site to take some pictures of the illegal colony of Har Homa, built on land expropriated from Beit Sahour in 1995. There was a van a little way ahead and as we pulled up by it an armed man got out and demanded we stop. He wanted to know who we were and why we were there. I told him I was a journalist and he let us go on but he followed us and watched our every move.

Of course, he was Israeli security, not Palestinian. And he was cheerfully sitting at the bottom of Palestinians gardens, ‘guarding’ the road that runs to the most northern point of the district. A district that is Palestinian, not Israeli, but perhaps for not much longer.

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