December 2001

Friday 21st December, 2001
What an absolutely frantic few weeks I’ve had organising the International Solidarity Movement campaign, which started last Saturday, December 15th.

So far this week I’ve laid in a road in front of an Israeli tank in Ramallah pretending to be dead; been on various TV stations; met Arafat – one friend noted that he ‘smells funny’ – and had lunch bought by him; met someone who is ex IRA; been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The campaign seems to be going well apart from yesterday when Sophia was arrested and dragged off by the police. She has since been released and charged with assaulting a police officer. Strange as she was the one who had been physically assaulted. The whole demonstration was videotaped.

The most difficult part has been sorting out the transport. Our actions have been in the Salfit region for the last few days, which has been a logistical nightmare. We have had to use yellow plated buses, which means Israeli. The drivers have Israeli citizenship but are Palestinian. There are two problems. Yellow plates equal Israeli, so there is a fear of Palestinian attacks. Although Israeli the driver is Palestinian, so if the police stop the bus he will suffer from harassment. The latter is exactly what has happened for two days in a row now.

Yesterday’s driver is refusing to work with us after being fined almost $200, detained and threatened. It transpired that two individuals separately called MKs to intervene (Knesset members, the Israeli parliament), one an Arab and one a left wing Peace Now activist. He was eventually released. He was told that the group was here illegally, despite everyone having valid visas. Typical tactic. Today’s driver was also hassled and fined. He was told to leave the area immediately and to forget about the group. When I rang to see how he was and to ask if he would pick up everyone he was more than happy to do so. Then when he got there the group weren’t ready so he drove off.

Today saw how effective our media alert campaign can be. I was one of the first people outside Hebron to know of the helicopter attack that left two children dead, I was called minutes after the missiles had been fired. We issued an alert using the email but also put out message on pagers. Within minutes I was receiving calls from journalists who didn’t know anything about the attack.

The victims were Shadi Ahmad Arafe (13) and Burhan Mohammed Himuni (3). Little Burhan was horrifically injured by the blast, half his head was missing. At least 3 other children were also hurt. One of the adults, the supposed ‘target’, was Mohammed Ayoub Sidr, 26. He is reported to be seriously injured. Israel says he is an Islamic Jihad militant. Even if he is I cannot see the morality of an attack that murders little children and is sanctioned by a country which attempts to describe itself as a democracy. Extra-judcial killings are not very democratic, nor is continual human rights abuse, house demolitions, illegal settlement building or humiliating and oppressing people.

The response I got from the journalists who did call was very encouraging. Maybe they will take our alerts more seriously now we have shown that we can get honest information out to them quickly. We usually have little response from them, which is a shame as the information we are sending out deserves to be disseminated more widely so people outside can understand what is happening here and why.

I recently saw a truly abhorrent man called Alon Pinkas interviewed by CNN. He claimed that there have been absolutely no new settlements established or existing settlements expanded since the Sharon took power. Absolute bullshit. I have the pictures to prove it! We have put out at least three stories about settlement activity over the last ten days alone.

Friday December 7th
Two Palestinians have just been killed by IOF forces in the north of the West Bank. The IOF claim that they were on their way to commit an act of terror. They were described as “militants” by CNN. As yet I have not received any information to support this, which I will if it is correct. It is so hard to know what the truth is here. One side says one thing, the other say something else. Disinformation is everything and Israel holds the monopoly. I am, of course, skeptical regarding any information offered by the Israeli army. After all, I know that civilians have been shot and killed without any reason whatsoever. The reoccupation of Bethlehem in October was a clear example of this.

Even watching CNN it is becoming clear that Israel is determined to destabilise and destroy Arafat. Does Israel not realize how dangerous a game it is playing? That is what I felt when watching the news whilst I was in Turkey, and what I feel now. Israel is determined to encourage extremism. There is dwindling support for Arafat ‘on the street’ but there is still an understanding that he is the probably the only one who can hold this situation together. Destroy Arafat and destroy the only chance for peace at the moment. Civil war will ensue and I fear that is exactly what Israel wants. Sharon is such a war-monger. A CNN poll just gave the following results: Who is the stumbling block to peace in the MiddleEast; Sharon – 66%, Bush – 12%, Arafat – 22%……interesting…….78% non-Palestinian.

The media alert campaign has been causing me some frustration. I sent out an alert earlier this evening regarding the siege of Salfit. Unfortunately I did not have all the information clearly and I made an error when I stated it was Salfit village instead of saying it was the whole region. All the villages there are completely closed. This has very serious effects and implications, not just in relation to the two men killed earlier tonight. No one can travel anywhere, not even on foot. No emergency vehicles can move, no food can get in, everyone is a prisoner in their own home. The punishment inflicted upon Palestinians for living under occupation.

Obviously it is all their own fault and they ought to just acquiesce to the illegal military control of their lives. Poor Israel; how harsh it is for a country to suffer the consequences of their actions. How terrible it is for them to be able to go to the shops, or to go to work, or school, or the cinema, or a restaurant whilst the inhuman Palestinians, those awful people who just want to see justice after being invaded and brutalised by military occupation, are confined to their homes, denied food, water, access to their land, to medical care and a normal life.

There is a photograph that was taken yesterday in Gaza by a Reuters photographer. I have not had the opportunity to see how widely disseminated it was, but it is truly disgusting. Men were told to strip to their underwear, then approach an Israeli tank with their hands in the air. The picture only shows one man, and I know there were more, but does it matter? How humiliating and degrading. And people wonder why Palestinians will give up their lives for their struggle? How would anyone feel to be treated in this way?

I am well aware that innocent lives on both sides have been taken in atrocious acts of horror. But I do not understand how, when international law has determined that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel is illegal, that any act of resistance against this is deemed an act of terrorism, but that is exactly how Israel describes it. They neglect to mention the settlers that are armed by their government, and that the killing or physical abuse of Palestinians is accepted and encouraged. Sometimes I feel there is no hope for anyone here.

Thursday December 6th
I arrived back from Antalya today and of course was subjected to the usual practice of discrimination at Ben Gurion airport. I was questioned and had my bags examined. Oddly, coming in to the country is a far easier experience than leaving. When I left on Sunday I was body searched, my bags were completely unpacked and examined and I was questioned intensely. At one point I had six security staff hassling me. Despite my protest they took all my belongings away. I was not concerned about my clothes, there is relatively little damage even they can inflict on a pair of trousers, but I was concerned about my camera and phone. My fears proved to be founded when I realised that my camera had been taken apart. I shudder to think what the complaint procedure will be like.

Beit Sahour, considering the current climate, is functioning ‘as normal’. Coming through the checkpoint was the usual strut through without showing my passport. I was with a German woman who is married to a Palestinian from Beit Jala. She has been doing this for nine years! Before the Intifada she was able to have her visa extended, but now she has to leave every three months. Sometimes, if border staff are feeling particularly nasty, she only gets a month. They tell her they know that she is only travelling to get a new visa so issue her the minimum to make her life difficult. She also told me how her home was taken over by Israeli soldiers to shoot from during the last reoccupation, and how a group of civilians, her friends and family, were kept captive, enabling Israeli forces to target Palestinians.

Saturday December 1st
On Jabel Abu Ghnaim now sits the Israeli settlement known as Har Homa. This settlement, construction of which has not yet been completed, is being built on land confiscated from citizens of Beit Sahour, and has provoked much concern and anxiety in the area. Not only have local people lost their land to an Israeli settlement, its proximity to Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and numerous smaller villages has left locals feeling vulnerable and threatened. At the base of the settlement is an Israeli military outpost; numerous attacks on Beit Sahour have emanated from here, as well as from the Military camp on the eastern side of the town, which has been under Israeli control since 1967. The town has been subject to repeated bombings, shooting and rocket attacks since last September.

On Wednesday 28th November, a bulldozer and two tanks started construction of a road through land that lies between the Har Homa settlement and Beit Sahour. The area in question is classed as Area C, ie Israeli controlled, but has been owned by various residents of Beit Sahour for many generations.

Issa Rishmawi, one of the landowners concerned, contacted Beit Sahour Municipality. Suzan Sahori, who I work with, issued a plea to international diplomats to assist and investigate the Israeli intentions. This resulted in a visit from UNSCO – the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Earlier this afternoon, Andrew Gilmour (chief, regional affairs) of UNSCO, accompanied by two colleagues, came with Suzan and me, as well as Issa Rishmawi to inspect what exactly has been done and where.

The base for a road, estimated to be approximately 5km long, has been dug. At the moment it runs from Beit Sahour, through Tel Al Diq and stops in the middle of a field on the edge of Na’aman. Directly ahead is another field of trees, many of which will be destroyed.

In addition to the destruction of land and property, the motive for building this road is unknown. The route appears to be circuitous, and its destination is unclear. The owners of the land have no idea what is going on, have received no notification from any authorities regarding this road and were too afraid to go near the Israelis to try and find out for themselves.

Whilst in the Na’aman area a couple of residents came out and described their situation to the UN representatives. They were told that since 1990 no expansion of the village has been allowed as Israeli authorities have told residents that they live within the boundary of Jerusalem (it has been annexed), however the residents do not have Jerusalem ID, they only have Palestinian Authority ID. This implies they are West Bank residents, not Jerusalemites.

One man told of his six-year court battle to save his house; each time his case comes before the Supreme Court a reason is found to adjourn to another date. As ‘Jerusalem residents’ they are prohibited from building any structure without a special permit.

The construction of this road has also cut through the water supply pipe to the village and despite attempts to repair it the village has been without water for over 24 hours. Residents have to rely on bottled water. A resident explained that the Israelis would not allow them to bury the supply pipe to safeguard it.

There is great concern regarding the implications the building of this road has. It is still not clear what the purpose is however ARIJ (the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem) are conducting an investigation and a full report will be issued soon.

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