February 2003

20th February, 2003
I write this from the comfort and safety of my flat in London. I never thought I would be back here, especially with a full-scale war about to explode in the region, but none of us knows how our lives will change from one moment to the next. I came back to London to get married.

My husband, a Palestinian refugee, and I deliberated long and hard before deciding to leave Palestine, our home and his homeland. It was one of the most difficult choices either of us has ever had to make, and when we left, it was terribly emotional for me, my friends and my husband and his family and friends.

Sadly, Israel is achieving its aims, slowly. Ethnic cleansing, or transfer, is the preferred option for many Israelis and Zionist supporters, to rid the land of Palestine once and for all of its people. Jamal was not forced with a gun to his head, or herded in a large group and expelled, but he may as well have been.

He has left his home, his family and his land, and for what? For the chance to have some security, some future and some peace? Some say he is lucky. I am a British citizen, which enabled him to leave. But how lucky is he to have had to leave his home in this way? I will never forget his mother crying.

In the weeks before we left, the day we left and even now, when he calls home, she cries. The tears are a mixture of relief that he is safe and not at risk of being abducted by the Israeli forces, and sadness that her treasured son had to leave just to find a life. What sort of choice is that for anyone?

We left Bethlehem on Christmas day, 2002. The moment I woke, at 4.30am, I was a bag of nerves, not knowing what the day would bring. Will we get stopped at a checkpoint before reaching Jericho? Would the Israelis deny him permission to leave and take him for interrogation? Would the Jordanians refuse to allow him into Jordan? Would I see him in a few hours, or a few months? The taxi picked us up a little after 5.00am.

As it was Christmas the Israelis were lifting curfew: it makes them look good in the media, allowing the Christians the opportunity to celebrate their holy festival. As we’de lived under curfew for pretty much the last eight months on and off, we knew this was likely to be our only chance. We got to the first checkpoint, a little way out from Wadi Nar.

The queue was long and not moving, the taxi freezing as the windows were wound down for the men to smoke. My heart thumped and my stomach was in knots. We had to get to Jericho before 7.30. There was a system, which has now been superceded by the Israeli order banning all Palestinian men under the age of 35 from leaving the country.

A total of 200 Palestinians per day were allowed to leave, if Jordan accepted them, that is. We had to make extensive arrangements with family in Amman to secure the correct papers issued from the Jordanian ministry of whatever (abuse of Palestinians is what I prefer call it) granting permission to enter Jordan. We had to send copies of the flight tickets, the visa as well as proof that he had relatives who would provide for him financially.

I had never left this way before, having always gone the privileged international way. We arrived at a holding station where there were hundreds of hopeful Palestinians, all frantically trying to get on the four buses for that days quota. Passports were handed in, lists were compiled, names shouted out. If your name’s not on the list, your’e not getting on.

We had a moment of anxiety when I was being herded onto the bus but Jamal’s passport had disappeared with some official who had neglected to add his name. I got our bags in the luggage compartments, stood on the steps then refused to move. He was allowed on the bus. I was, of course, the only ‘foreigner’ there.

The journey to the border terminal was short. As we got off I was told to get my bags and go through the international side. Lucky me. I watched Jamal walk into the building, not knowing what would happen to him. Feeling very edgy I went in and was expecting to be interrogated, especially as I had been seen getting off the Palestinians bus. Nothing, absolutely nothing. My bags were not even looked at, my camera and laptop ignored. I was through in less than ten minutes.

Another ten minutes and I had been stamped into Jordan. Usually, as a Brit, the Jordanians are obsequious in their politeness. They were, until I told them I was waiting for my Palestinian husband and where should I go. Suddenly I was little more than a bad smell under their nose. I was escorted to the grubby part of the terminal where all Palestinians arrive and depart from. I was not allowed to remain inside the hall and had to sit outside, being bothered by flies and the heat.

A little after 9.30 and I knew I would have a long wait, I just didn’t know how long. I decided not to get worried for at least three hours. At around midday, after at least 10 cigarettes, I marched off to ask someone what was happening. Had the Shabak taken him? Had he been sent back? “No idea, he is not on this bus.” I waited another hour.

People were coming out in dribs and drabs. My imagination began to run riot and I went off again. The same reply to my questions. At about 1.30 a man came over to me. “Are you Georgina?” he asked. “It’s ok, Jamal will not be long, the police are just talking to him.” I wasn’t sure whether this was good news or bad. It meant he was through the Israeli part, but the Jordanian police had taken him off.

I fretted a while longer then went back in the hall. One official told me to get out. “No.” His colleagues were sniggering and talking about me. “I want to talk to someone who speaks English.” They wandered off and left me for a while. There was no way I was leaving that hall without Jamal. Finally a man came over and I told him I wanted to see my husband and why were they holding him. He started to mutter something about procedures and I looked down the end of the hall to see Jamal coming out to the luggage collection area. The relief I felt was unbelievable, I almost wanted to cry.

I won’t bore you further with all the details but suffice to say 5-6 hours is not an unusual amount of time for this to take. I am so used to being treated with a modicum of respect, or at least processed quickly, that the waiting felt interminable. When we left the border there were still people patiently waiting for loved ones to come out, and they had arrived a short time after I had. They are obviously used to this as I seemed to be the only person bothered about it. What a life.

Jamal told me that their bus had been held up for almost two hours, in no-mans-land. The Jordanians were refusing to allow a little old woman, who was at least in her late 70s, in to Jordan to see her family. She was inconsolable, especially as they let her grandson through, so she stood in front of the bus, tears streaming down her face. She was eventually forced back to the Israeli section, her grandson went with her.

So, we are now in London, trying to settle into new lives while our family and friends suffer the relentless barbarism of the Israeli army. Everyday I think about everyone there, everyday I wonder what is happening, who has been arrested and who has been killed. Most of the news we get is from family and friends, the media are so caught up with Iraq, Bush, Blair and the congestion charge that the daily body count from Palestine, which has risen dramatically over the last few days, seems irrelevant to most of them.

But it isn’t to me, nor many, many thousands of people who know what the truth of the illegal occupation means. Or how the lives of over three million Palestinians are being made so utterly wretched and miserable that they either want to leave or bomb themselves.

I shall continue to report on what happens in Bethlehem and Palestine, but sadly it will not be my first-hand accounts any more. We will return, though, and while are in London, we will do all we can for Palestine. I just hope that we can do something.

Of course we went on the “stop the war” demo here in London on Saturday. It is really something to be in a demonstration of getting on for two million people. It gave me some hope to see so many different types of people getting up of their arses and saying “NO”.

For Jamal it was the first time he had ever been to a demonstration where he was not concerned about being shot or arrested. It even took a while for me to realise that this time I was not going to be tear-gassed or beaten up a bit. Quite odd after the last few years in Palestine.

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