August 2001

Wednesday August 29th
Beit Sahour, West Bank

I am now sitting in an internet cafe in Beit Sahour after failing to get into Beit Jala. I got to Jerusalem easily enough. Then the problems started. I got the bus to the checkpoint and the soldiers refused to let me across. “There is shooting” they told me. Oh, really? I wondered whose fingers were on the triggers. I eventually showed them my press card and I was let through without any trouble. Got a taxi driver, who turned out to be vaguely related to George, to drive me to Beit Jala. The Israeli army has put part of Beit Jala under total curfew so some families are running desperately low on supplies.

The international solidarity campaign group had collected essential food and medical supplies to take in and I was due to meet them at 3pm in the municipality building. I had heard distant gunshots when I got off the bus and they seemed to be increasing in number. The taxi got to the hospital where the road was crowded with residents from Beit Jala, and shots were fired toward us. People ducked and hid behind cars, but there were only two shots fired and then it stopped.

The driver decided to try another route in. We went further up and around then suddenly there was a lot of gunfire, just in front and to the side of us. The municipality building was only a little further ahead. He stopped, looked thoughtful for a moment and said “too dangerous, we go back to Bethlehem now.” I tried to protest but realised it was not my place to put him in any further danger so I rang to let the group know I couldn’t get through. Through my phone I could hear the gunfire as if I was standing next to the weapon as it was being fired. Didn’t sound very good.

Got the driver to take me to Beit Sahour to meet George and I have been there all afternoon. We kept calling the group to see if there was a chance that we could get there to help. We didn’t manage to in the end but the group managed to persuade (read, refused to accept their denial of entry) the soldiers to let them through to the people trapped in their homes to give them the food and medicine. Sadly, they are desperately short of milk and there are a lot of children there, so tomorrow we shall probably have to try again.

Tuesday 28th August
I spent the afternoon with some friends and we went for a long walk on the beach. I think they think I am absolutely mad. Walking home from their flat I too wondered about my sanity, but then I always have. I promised them that I would come back to Haifa if I thought it was too dangerous in the West Bank. That is a bit of a joke really, as it is obviously dangerous and I would suspect too dangerous by most people’s standards.

I spent part of today in Nazareth, at the offices of the Arab Human Rights organisation. I edit its weekly news review. While I was walking through the town with a friend we saw four, what I believe were, F16′s fly overhead, toward the direction of Jenin. There has been no report of air strikes this afternoon, but that means nothing. Sometimes they just fly across areas to terrorise people, show them their power.

I just called a friend who is in Beit Jala; she is one of the ‘human shield’ organisers. The Israeli army has occupied parts of Beit Jala and some families are trapped in their homes. They desperately want to leave, for their safety and that of their families, but they also do not want to vacate their homes and their property, for fear of losing it to the Israelis forever.

The group was just about to leave for the local orphanage where the children who live there are currently holed up, terrified, in the cellar. Israeli tanks have taken up positions directly outside the orphanage and have been shelling homes from there. The group are hoping to be able to get the children out to safety at least, and will remain in Beit Jala until the army stop the attacks and leave. I will be going to Jerusalem in the morning and, if the roads are open, I’ll go on to either Beit Jala or Beit Sahour. One never knows what the situation is from one minute to the next, so whether I get there or not is another matter.

Walking back to the office I bumped in to a (Palestinian) friend in the market. She told me sadly, and with obvious concern, how her daughter had cried the night before on hearing of the invasion of Beit Jala. She asked her mother if the Israelis are going to start killing them too, like in October. Her mother didn’t know what to tell her.

Saturday 25th August
Oh, how much happier life is with a CD player, although the neighbours might not agree with my sentiments. I went up to the Carmel (a Jewish area in Haifa) to have coffee with Eve, whose birthday it is today. I tend to go to the Arab owned bars more often than not, but I do go to the Carmel occasionally.

It seemed much quieter than it was a few weeks ago and I noticed how much more sensitive people have become to what is happening around them. There was a car parked illegally opposite one of the cafes we were at and a police car stopped to check it out. Hardly unusual in normal circumstances but everyone noticed and looked, wondering if the area was going to be evacuated, or if perhaps it was going to explode.

Another car backfired and everyone turned around immediately. Even I have become more susceptible to the atmosphere now. Before I visited London last month I hardly thought about it, but since the attacks in Haifa the fear here is more palpable than it was. Despite Haifa being a (supposedly) mixed city, that is no guarantee of immunity from bombs.

I received an email in the early hours of this morning from George. At the time of his writing it the Israeli army were shelling Beit Sahour. (There is an Israeli military base on the eastern outskirts.) A house less than 400 metres from his was on fire, following what I assume was a direct hit. I scoured the internet for news items but, unsurprisingly, could not find a single report of this action.

There are so many terrible things happening in the occupied Territories daily that receive no coverage from the Western media. Most of the reporters keep to the relative safety of Jerusalem and there are only a few who venture in to the areas where the real suffering is. (Read The Independent for decent reporting and Ha’aretz English online edition for slightly more information than you get at home.)

Wednesday 22nd August

Haifa is strangely quiet. Last Friday a suicide bomber was caught just outside Haifa. The target was to be the City Hall – a nightclub on Shabtai Levi – which is situated at the end of the road where our office is. Actually, there is much debate and cynicism in some circles regarding some of these arrests; this is the second such capture in Haifa in recent weeks. Some people believe that these bombers are ‘plants’ to pacify the public who need to hear that the security forces are achieving some sort of success. This is not an entirely unreasonable assumption given the number of collaborators who have been housed in Haifa. There is one such character living on the top floor of my house, I am unhappy to say.

I have just spoken to George in Beit Sahour who tells me that things are fairly quiet there just now. This, of course, can change at any moment. I am on an emergency volunteer list for the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, which means if there is an Israeli attack on the village of Beit Jala I may be called to get out there as soon as possible. The reasoning for this is that the IOF are slightly less inclined to use extreme force and violence against Palestinian civilians when ‘internationals’ are present. The group is also comprised of some Israeli Jewish activists who are opposed to the occupation. The volunteers are strategically placed in houses and then the Israeli Army is contacted to inform them that if they start shelling the area they are just as likely to kill foreigners and Israeli citizens as well as Palestinians. Of course, this is not a failsafe method of stopping their attack, but it can prove to be a deterrent.

There is also an extremely small European observer force in Hebron. Hebron is home to 120,000 Palestinians, who live under almost constant curfew and military occupation, and about 500 Jewish settlers, who are protected by the IOF. The settlers have now started attacking these neutral monitors by throwing stones at them, so they have been reduced to patrolling the Palestinian areas only. The soldiers who are stationed in Hebron have witnessed these attacks but they stand idly by, completely indifferent.

Mr Sharon et al have repeatedly held Mr Arafat directly responsible for the actions of all Palestinians. Perhaps someone would care to ask Mr Sharon regarding his ability to control the actions of these Jewish extremists?

Bookmark and Share


Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

1948 activism ahdaf ameer makhoul BDS beit jala Bethlehem budrus checkpoint community deheishe economy gaza Ghassan Kanafani home illegal occupation Intifada Iran Israel juliano mer hamis Lebanon Leila Khaled nakba negotiations PA Palestine palestine papers palestinian PFLP popular struggle prisoners rap refugees resistance revolution Sam Bahour Settlements society students tunnels wadi fukin wall war Water west bank

Copyright © Georgina Reeves