January 2002

Tuesday January 29th
UPDATE: Definitely curiouser and curiouser. Saw a friend earlier who went to Artas to photograph the consequences of the Israeli action. He told me that the damage to the home I reported as demolished were a result of hand grenades being thrown inside. He said that the house concerned belongs to the Al Amori family. He spoke to one family member, a mother of four, whose husband was a suicide bomber. Her name? Shahinaz Al Amori, the suspected suicide bomber from Sunday. Huh?

There are so many odd elements to this whole situation. Why has no one claimed responsibility being the main one. One of the most important messages from a suicide bomber is the fact that Israel, despite all attempts to have “security,” cannot keep a Palestinian intent on his (or her?) mission out. That no matter how vigourously and brutally the siege is imposed, “they” can still get through. Even those inside Palestine seem to be unsure of what really happened on Sunday afternoon.

I remember viewing CNN somewhat cynically when the casualty figures were reported. To have a substantial difference between the initial report and one an hour later is understandable, but I was confused to see that 40 had been injured two hours afterwards and then 10 minutes later (I was clock watching) over 100 were now classified as victims.

The supposed bomber was a student in Nablus, but no one was sure where she was actually from. Palestinian universities and colleges do have records, the same as anywhere else, so why were the details so hazy?

Many are confused about the details of this particular attack and no-one seems to be sure of anything. A very odd situation indeed.

In the early hours of this morning Israeli forces entered a village called Artas, south west of Bethlehem. There were at least four Palestinians injured and six arrested. One home was also demolished. It is rumoured that Shahinaz Al Amori came from Artas. It is also rumoured that she was not in fact the bomber but an innocent passer-by and the explosion was set off remotely. There has been no more information released about her and no group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing. Curiouser and curiouser.

Following the raid on Artas there was some Palestinian shooting at Gilo, the illegal settlement built on Beit Jala’s land and referred to by Israel as a suburb of Jerusalem.

There is mounting concern that Beit Jala will be reoccupied, possibly tonight. If not tonight then it is only a matter of time. This has been expected for days now. A palpable sense of doom pervades the air and this constant build up of fear causes increased paranoia. Everyday I am told that ‘this’ will happen or ‘that’ will happen, but so far no large-scale attack in the area has occurred.

On the ‘other side’ the Israeli fear of attacks on Jerusalem has caused them to consider building a wall around the city. A decision is imminent.

Monday January 28th
2.40pm: There is an F16 buzzing over the area and has been for about 20 minutes now. As it seems to be flying solo I think it may just be trying to make people nervous. I hope that is the case anyway.

I woke up to the news that there has been a shooting near Tel Aviv. No more detail than that. I cannot believe just how crazy everything has become. Everyday people are injured and killed here but it seems only newsworthy when it is Israelis being killed.

Last week hundreds of Palestinians were left homeless following the demolition of their homes in Rafah, Gaza Strip. The IOF have actually reported that more homes were destroyed in than planned due to navigational error; the homes were empty. So that’s OK then?

There still has been no confirmation of where Shahinaz Al Amori was from. Rumours still persist that she was from Bethlehem but there seems to be more credence to the report that she was from Nablus.

The fear of a bombing attack against the police station in Bethlehem was high last night, to the point where the families of those incarcerated stormed the station and demanded their relatives immediate release. I have no idea what actually ensued, the news reports state that the prisoners escaped. Fortunately there was no attack but that does nothing to alleviate the feelings of pressure, tension and fear.

Sunday January 27th
UPDATE: I had a call to tell me that the suicide bomber in Jerusalem was a girl. I was also told that she was from Bethlehem. I went to try and find out as it had not been reported ‘officially’. Apparently she was a student in Nablus; her name, Shahinaz Al Amori. No-one was sure where she was from but I had to call a journalist I know so I asked him what he had heard. He had been given the same information as I, including the Bethlehem part. By the time I can actually post this I imagine that this will have been reported.

It is hard to know exactly what will happen but everyone has an idea. Everyone is tense. Walking home I heard a terrible rumble in the distance; it turned out to be thunder and there is a terrible storm brewing. Sadly, the terrible pressure that is being felt is not just climatic.

I went to Ramallah on Friday to spend my birthday with friends. It was really nice to relax for a little while. Of course, this relaxation never lasts long:

“Immediately we where called in by the neighbours, who served us tea, and the daughter-in-law told us not to be afraid in her proud, fluent English, as their little girl huddled closer to her mother with every explosion we heard from outside.” This is part of an account by Neta Golan who was trying to get to her home last week. The gunfight damaged Neta’s home; there were at least ten direct hits on their single-story house.

We got up late on Saturday and eventually made our way up the hill to go for lunch. Looking at her neighbour’s house we noticed Palestinian flags and a large group of people. We were with another friend who told us that this was the home of the Shaheed. Neta hadn’t known that the son had been killed two days earlier. We went back to the house to tell the others. We had no appetite.

In an interview published in Ha’aretz, Anthony Zinni has been talking about both Arafat and Sharon. Arafat, he condemns as a Mafia character and a habitual liar. By contrast Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla, a man accused by superiors during his military career of insubordination and dishonesty, Zinni referred to warmly as a “papa bear.” I find it incredibly hard to believe anyone, including his own staff, would EVER call Sharon a papa bear. Zinni’s comments are both inappropriate as a supposed actor in helping achieve a resumption in peace talks, and abhorrent to liken a war criminal and a sadistic murderer to a child’s cuddly toy. Is it too much to ask that a not so pro-Israeli negotiator be found?

There has been another suicide bombing in Jerusalem. I was going to go to Jerusalem today but got up late so was sitting in the internet cafe when the bomb went off. Various people called to check where I was and I went to a friend’s house to see the news reports. Watching reports in both Arabic and Hebrew it was difficult to tell the exact numbers of dead and injured.

Bush declares himself to be “disappointed” by Arafat’s lack of action against “the militants.” Well, quite frankly I am more than disappointed in Bush, and Blair, and all the other sycophants. Soon after September 11th we saw them courting Arafat, declaring their dream of an “independent Palestinian state.” Now, Arafat has been imprisoned in Ramallah, and he has to sit and watch as his security forces are decimated by Israeli attacks. “Arafat should do more,” Bush demands. What exactly can he do? He is trapped, has had control taken away from him, yet he is expected to be accountable for every single action taken by a Palestinian? His tattered forces have been making numerous arrests, but this goes unnoticed.

Ra’anan Gissin, Sharon’s mouthpiece, said; “Arafat is responsible since he encourages terrorists to commit suicide acts.” The arrogance of this man is astounding. Even though Arafat condemns suicide attacks, he is still responsible? Imprisoning Arafat is contemptible act against the Palestinians as a whole, not just Arafat. And Bush endorses Israel’s actions! Israel is a bully and America is its stooge. So, as long as there is such hypocrisy and disparity there will be a long queue of Palestinians not only willing but totally committed to fighting against Israel. And they will happily die for their cause. Violence begets violence.

Thursday January 24th
Beirut: A few hours ago Elie Hobeika was assassinated when he turned the key in the ignition of his car. He, along with three bodyguards, was blown up in a powerful explosion.

For those unaware of this individual’s bloody history, he was the warlord in charge of the Phalange forces in 1982, when the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla took place. No one knows the exact number of Palestinians who were horrifically butchered, it is certainly well in excess of 1,000. These massacres were carried out by the Phalange militia and Israeli forces, under the command of then defence minister Ariel Sharon, were complicit in this wicked act.

Sharon was undoubtedly responsible for this murder-spree. The (Israeli) Kahan Inquiry decided he was “indirectly” responsible, although that is just a matter of opinion, and he was forced to resign his position. It is for this that there is a growing effort to have him indicted for war crimes and be brought to trial to answer these charges. The calls are not confined to the international community; Israelis too are demanding to see that justice be done.

Hobeika said yesterday that he would “tell everything to clear his name”, and would testify against Sharon in any tribunal held.

There are certainly people who hated Hobeika: Hizbollah, amongst others, will undoubtedly feel some pleasure at his demise. He was detested by many. But the question that should be asked is who benefits most by this killing?

(Robert Fisk wrote an article about Hobeika that was published in the Independent.)

Yesterday the Mayor moved to the dizzy heights of the 2nd floor, opposite my office. One of the staff was told to bring the Palestinian flag up. It hung behind Fuad’s desk in his old, gloomy office. When I left this afternoon I noticed that the flag was on the roof. I asked Suzan and Elias since when had the flag been there and that next time the Israelis will be sure to hit us as they now have a distinct marker to aim at. They both looked up and started laughing. Whoever was told to take it up misunderstood and instead of installing behind Fuad’s desk as before had proudly flown it from the rooftop. Perhaps it wasn’t a misunderstanding after all!

Tuesday 22nd January
This morning Israeli troops made a dawn raid in Nablus, killing four members of Hamas. Hamas vowed to take revenge.

A gunman has just opened fire in Jerusalem, Jaffa Street, injuring some 20 Israelis. He was shot dead by police.

Just another part in evil Sharon’s plan; his deliberate determination to bring this area to the most bloody and bitter war is unremitting. How can anyone believe his hollow entreaties that he wants peace? A spokesman is on CNN now and his lies are the usual garbage trotted out. He talks about innocent civilians being killed, he talks about defence, he talks about terrorism and terror. Always the victim, never the aggressor. He demonises Palestinians to the world yet no one ever points a finger at his own demon (Sharon) who not only is more culpable than most for the mess here but also does all that he can to perpetuate it.

Yesterday a Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) worker was shot whilst attempting to evacuate casualties in Al-Tira (Ramallah). He was seriously wounded by a bullet that penetrated his leg. The medical teams present at the time relate how they were specificlly targeted by Israeli soldiers. To-date, there has been one PRCS EMT (emergency medical technician) killed*, 122 EMT’s injured and 68 ambulances damaged following 163 attacks against the ambulance service by both the Israeli army and settlers. (Obviously all terrorists working for a terrorist organisation.)

*The PRCS worker killed was evacuating casualties from a popular restaurant in Beit Sahour, following an attack from the Israeli camp at the base of the illegal settlement of Har Homa. He suffered a direct hit from a shell and was blown apart.

CNN are hilarious. There is an ad for their new Arabic language news site where they have some of the newscasters saying “ahlan wa-sahlan” (welcome). They obviously only practised their Arabic for a few seconds as they all sound quite ridiculous. One of them managed to make it sound Gaelic!!

Monday 21st January
The shooting started at about 9.30 last night. It was short lived but fairly heavy. An hour or so later it started up again. It was so hard to tell what was happening as the rain and wind masked the sounds of gunfire. I slept well, as I always seem to do.

I spoke to someone who has good knowledge of the current situation and asked how things are. He shook his head and said; “Things are bad, very bad.” Whoever was shooting last night, it was not the Tanzim.

It has actually been relatively stable around here of late, ie not much shooting. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I spent the night listening to gunfire and helicopters. With Tulkarem now completely re-occupied and the siege of Arafat in Ramallah it seems to be only a matter of time. Sharon has a plan and his evil game continues…

Sunday 20th January

The tension is rising. Four neighbourhoods of Ramallah have been re-occupied and there is an increasingly desperate situation evolving. I was meant to go to Ramallah later this evening to have dinner with friends but Neta called and said it would probably be wise to postpone. I was still up for going but her home is in an area where there was some fairly heavy gun fighting last night and it was hit by stray bullets, so it was probably a good decision.

Many people in Beit Sahour and Bethlehem are sure that something is going to happen here in the next few days; perhaps re-occupation. There is a definite nervousness when one asks people what they think. On the surface life goes on as normal but there is the constant underlying fear of what the Israelis may do next, and it comes to the becomes apparent when one actually talks about it.

There was a plane flying around a little earlier this afternoon for about 30 minutes. It is a rather miserable and grey day, drizzling and chilly, so the cloud cover is very low. I was not able to see the plane but I could hear it clearly circling the area. I know it wasn’t an F16 but it was probably a reconnaissance mission, which could in turn be a prelude to some violent action being taken in the area.

It is quite incredible to see how easily the world accepts Israel’s version of events. Each death serves only to lead to the next. Israel can assassinate a political figure without remark and the world wonders why there is violence. Arafat is held prisoner in Ramallah by Sharon, who is using the term terrorist and terrorism whenever referring to Palestinians. In the last 10 days or so many hundreds of Palestinians lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers. These demolitions were described as defensive actions and condoned by Colin Powell. America and Europe only seem to interfere in anything when it suits their needs, and interfering in Israel’s “business” is not something that America will ever do.

Arafat is held totally responsible for the actions of the suicide bombers yet no one questions the culpability of Sharon. How many Palestinians are being forced from their land, having their crops and homes destroyed and being injured or killed by the army and by settlers? Attacks by settlers rarely surface in the media but they happen regularly and are nasty and vicious. They don’t restrict their violence to Palestinians either.

I know of many incidents involving foreigners who have been here in support of Palestinians also being targets. The Christian Peacemaker Team based in Hebron has documented numerous accounts of the attacks there. In their latest newsletter there is a picture of a Muslim woman being kicked and her headscarf being pulled by a settler woman and a young boy. Soldiers are idly standing by, looking on. This is typical. So the world hears much about the attacks by Palestinians but very little of the those against them.

Wednesday 16th January, 2002
There was an Israeli Jew found dead in Beit Sahour yesterday. He had been abducted and then shot to death following a pre-arranged meeting, apparently for business purposes. The Mayor asked me to write a press release strongly condemning the murder, which I did. I was not allowed to make comment on the killing of the Fatah activist the day before, a prudent decision on Fuad’s part. I have subsequently found out that although he was Jewish and lived in a nearby settlement, he was well known to many people in the area. One friend told me that she was speaking to someone I know, a young man, who was almost in tears about it.

Wednesday January 9th
Back at work and frozen to my keyboard. The thought of a warm holiday is most appealing at the moment.

All over the West Bank, and Israel too I understand, there are large posters proclaiming “Better Pains of Peace than Agonies of War.” I think this is a quote made by a parent of a child killed during the Intifada and is a member of a Palestinian/Jewish organisation for bereaved parents. While I can understand the sentiments behind this there seems to be something very condescending in posting this all over the Occupied Territories. What are exactly the “Pains of Peace?” Seeing a family member shot by an Israeli sniper? Having tanks outside one’s door? Being abused at an illegal checkpoint by a child with an attitude and a gun? Having a home demolished? Burying yet more dead?

Tuesday January 8th
For people who enjoy religious holidays, Palestine is the place to be at the moment. Last month we had Ramadan, which gave me shorter working hours for a whole month, then a few days off for Eid. Then there was the Latin Christmas, and now I have another 2 days off for Orthodox Christmas. Chanukah fell shortly before the Latin Christmas, but obviously it’s not part of the Palestinian religious calendar.

Yesterday I went to Ramallah to have lunch with friends. It was bitterly cold but the sun was out and the threat of snow seemed to have passed. It takes on average two hours to travel from Beit Sahour to Ramallah, a journey of little over ten miles. Some days are better than others, depending on the soldiers on duty. Qalandia, another illegal checkpoint, is notorious as a place of regular hold-ups, humiliation and shooting incidents. Arbitrary ID checks, questions and general abuse have been a part of daily life for Palestinians who attempt to travel through for many months now.

Israel has announced that it is beginning to lift some of the restrictions of movement it has imposed on Palestinians. I noted this as I passed through Qalandia, in a vehicle for a change, without being stopped. One used to get out one side, walk through, then find another taxi on the other side. Actually, I had been in Ramallah on Saturday night and had traveled back to Jerusalem on Sunday morning. Instead of holding up Palestinians at Qalandia they had erected a ‘temporary’ checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah. As the van I was in crept passed I saw the usual scene of soldiers hassling Palestinian men, taking their ID cards and holding them indefinitely at the roadside. The weather was harsh: the wind was biting and cut through clothing and skin to chill the bone. A typical tactic of abuse by Israeli troops, delaying people for hours in such freezing conditions.

As soon as I got out of the taxi it hailed, heavy but short-lived. I made my way to my friend’s home and we decided to go and buy some food for lunch. As soon as we got outside it started to snow. It was beautiful, I love snow personally, but the area is not used to such conditions and within minutes the roads were white and cars were slipping around. I couldn’t help thinking of the many, many thousands of people who were shivering in homes without heating, without enough food or clothing, or in tents, their homes having been destroyed by Israeli demolitions or missile attacks. It didn’t seem so pretty then.

Wednesday 2nd January
Firstly I would like to say happy new year and I hope that everyone has enjoyed a peaceful and happy holiday. I would also like to share with you the Christmas message sent out by Ghassan Andoni from the Rapprochement Centre that sums up very well life for Palestinians.

We the people of Bethlehem wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

We wish that in your life there will never be a Sharon.

We wish that you will never live under foreign occupation and no one will control your life. We wish that your property rights be protected and no one will expropriate your land or destroy your home.

We wish that you will be able to continue move freely and never encounter military check points.

Simply we wish that you will enjoy all the things that we lack.

The last two weeks have seen some quite incredible scenes here. Our group of internationals, along with other organised groups, has been involved in a variety of events protesting the treatment of Palestinians. Some I was not able to be present for, such as our five days in the north where two of our group were physically attacked by settlers and when Sofia was arrested, but where our group helped Palestinians dismantle roadblocks and protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. I was office based for this section. The second week I was able to participate fully.

On Christmas day Beit Sahour held its annual candle procession. In more peaceful times the march would be from the Shepherds’ Fields to Manger Square. This year the march was to be through the checkpoint that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The response was fantastic. Buses of locals and internationals were ferried to the burnt out remains of the Paradise Hotel ready to march with candles and our message of peace.

Of course, we were not allowed through. Surprisingly (to me at any rate) the soldiers were not prepared for our arrival. We were stopped yards short of the checkpoint and told to wait. Depending upon ones point of view the events that followed were either only to be expected or utterly frustrating. I confess to be in the second camp.

In everything we do we have a strict policy to follow guidelines, one of which is to follow the judgment of our appointed negotiators and decision makers. We were stopped and told by the soldier speaking that he had to get orders as to whether our group of over 500 people could be allowed through. At this point our negotiators agreed for a five-minute wait. This only served to allow the military to respond to our group by deploying more troops, which is exactly what they did and affected our power to get through.

Military and border police arrived and our situation had altered dramatically. Our frontline was ready to walk forward into the line up of Israeli forces to try and open a point of access. By now there was a greater number of troops so we decided to have a sit-in. We managed to get the whole group to sit and sing songs while a couple of people continued negotiations. Fruitless in my opinion. The Israelis were obviously concerned at out strength of will as the area was declared a closed military zone – a typical tactic. The press was ejected but we managed to keep our two person crew form the BBC with us. At one point, as I was sitting at the front singing Silent Night, a BBC microphone appeared under some ones leg enabling me to explain the reality of what was happening to the wider world.

We remained for a while and then it was decided that we had to return to Beit Sahour. Some of the group were disappointed that we had not pushed it, and while I agree we have to consider the Palestinians who were present first. I could be detained or arrested but the treatment I would receive would be mild in comparison to how a Palestinian held would be treated. Still, there was an opportunity that was lost.

The next day we had arranged for the group to travel to Gaza and spend the night with families in the area. It all went horribly wrong at Erez crossing. Our bus was held at the so-called VIP section which just means those who are not Palestinian. We expected a wait but we had not expected to be refused entry. The excuse was security. I spent about an hour sitting in the office while the group danced and sang in the car park. The French, who had been allowed through before us, were waiting for our arrival. When they realised that we were all together (how many times did I tell them?) they sent a military escort to bring them back.

The group as a whole were very frustrated and about half wanted to proceed. After a few quick meetings we decided to put those who wanted to turn back onto the bus and move them out of the area and those who wanted to walk through to do so. Brian, as the only other organizer from out group, went with the group and I remained as an observer and negotiator.

The group of about 40 people started to walk into Gaza. I had two representatives from the French remain with me plus two others from the international contingent of ISM. As soon as they were in the no-mans-land between the barriers they shot live ammunition into the air. We continued with the group but made it clear that we were there to observe. They were then physically attacked so the group sat down immediately to try and protect themselves from the assault. Soldiers attempted to move us back but we remained. One of the group came back and was assaulted in front of me, his camera wrenched from him and thrown to the ground. Our buses were brought to where we were and the empty one, the one without those I had tried to keep at a safe distance, was forced to drive to where the group were and I watched as people were dragged and thrown back on.

We were also put on to the second bus and driven back. The Israeli officer in charge, Captain Joseph Levy, tried to have the buses driven straight out but I got mine to stop and allow me off as there were three of our group being held in the office for filming, their cameras taken and their film being destroyed. He agreed to have two people off the bus, so a French women joined me outside to negotiate the return of our group and our equipment.

Captain Levy was incredible. I found out subsequently that he was responsible for the majority of injuries and abuses suffered by the group. Brian was punched in the mouth by him and his description of how others were treated was unbelievable, had I not been there as a witness. He threatened to shoot and kill the entire group and was pointing his hand gun at people’s heads. Sixty-year-old women were body slammed to the ground, and that is no exaggeration.

I was trying to determine how to retrieve the one film still intact that he was insisting had to be sent to a nearby police station when he flipped out again and started shouting in my face to get back on the bus. He repeated himself like a stuck record, shouting inches from my face. He turned into an absolute madman and I was sure he was about to arrest me when he suddenly turned on the French woman. (Although she kept insisting to them that she was non-violent her body language was a little aggressive.) She had managed to get a friend of her bus, I was forced back on to the bus, the door was closed and we were driven out of the compound. The two French  people were arrested.

Our bus was escorted for about five miles with three military personnel to ensure we left. They were just kids, but they were being trained by a man who had absolutely no respect for other human beings, especially those who sympathise with Palestinians. I shudder to think how he would treat Palestinians unfortunate enough to come in to contact with him. We managed to joke with them a little but what chance do they have to mature into rational and reasonable people I wonder with a man like Captain Levi showing them how to behave?

Our big triumph was our demonstration at Surda, an illegal checkpoint that separates Ramallah from Bir Zeit university. Only foot traffic can pass, all vehicles, including ambulances are refused though. Each day students and workers alike are subjective to varying levels of harassment and abuse. Often men have their identity cards taken from them for hours and they are forced to stand in obedient positions until their cards are returned. It is humiliating, degrading and inhuman.

Our plan was to open the checkpoint so that Palestinians could move freely and without fear of being a target. Approximately an hour before we arrived 1,000 people were being held in a bottle neck. We were so concerned we sent five people ahead of us to observe as a checkpoint watch. (Checkpoint watch volunteers spend hours documenting and interfering on behalf of Palestinians being abused.) When our group arrived, which totaled about 150 as we had the French and the Italian groups with us, we found the soldiers had gone. We knew they would be back.

We had planned meticulously. There are two tracks leading onto the main road which military vehicles use. We had organised two groups to block this roads with their bodies. We also knew that, although we were there in a completely non-violent manner we would not be treated with the same respect. Four of the guys were ready as tear gas canister clearers. They were togged up in strong clothes etc and moved in to throw canisters away from people into a completely empty area of land.

It was not long before the first jeep arrived. Then the next. And then the APC. And another. Both the groups protecting the roads were incredible. Despite being heavily tear gassed they remained in position and held the military back. All the group, no matter where they were deployed stood firm throughout. Even when soldiers were training rifles on people, using the laser targets they remained.

The Palestinians were, on the whole, extremely happy to have us their. We were working with the student union so our presence was not a surprise. Vehicles could finally move and a couple of lorries, as they passed, took the opportunity to move some of the concrete blocks that make up the checkpoint. Then there was a mad dash to remove and slice open all the sandbags in the military post (so they couldn’t refill them). Finally, a tin hut up on the hill had the Palestinian flag placed on top of it and then, once the flag was safely removed, some shabab pushed it off the hill to the uproarious pleasure of all those present, except the Israeli military. They attempted to set fire to it and it was later used as a lavatory.

We remained from 10.00am until 4.30pm, then we pulled the group out. The Italians had left at midday and some of the French had also departed earlier. Despite our number being halved we still managed to keep the military at bay until we decided to leave. I stayed behind with a couple of volunteers to ensure that Palestinians were not abused once the bulk of the international presence had left. The first jeep came down and they busied themselves with putting the concrete blocks back. They were not happy and they were revving the jeep and skidding all over the place. One block that had been turned over had the Israeli flag painted on it. They attached a chain to it to try and pull it upright but it was too heavy and fell back down with a crash. It cracked in half and I had to turn away so that they could not see me laughing.

That day more than any will remain in my memory for a long time to come. Watching a video one of the group had filmed of the day was a wonderful scene. From a distance an old and fairly rotund lady, wearing hejab, walked through the group of men who were dismantling the checkpoint, dragged a sandbag to the barrier and managed to throw it over. She then looked around and threw her hands up, punching the air in triumph.

Many people stopped to talk to me during the whole event and they all said the same thing. They were so pleased for us to be there and for us to be doing what we were doing for them. As those who remained walked back to the hotel to join the others a family came down to meet us. They had brought us tea. They told us how they had watched the whole day’s events from their home and were thrilled with the achievements. They told us how miserable life had been for them, how their home is in danger of tank fire and how they fear for their children’s lives. Despite our triumph that day it was sad to know that after we had gone things would revert back to the normal ways of Israeli persecution.

The next day was to be our trip to Hebron. By now Israel seems to be rather concerned about our activities so we had barely got out of Jerusalem before we were pulled over at a checkpoint and told we could not proceed. I was aware that we may be stopped and questioned but I did not expect it to happen so far away from Hebron. Many of us were very upset as on of our day’s activities was to hold a children’s carnival. Then, not long after we had been pulled over 3 bus loads of Italians appeared. There were over 300 people milling about and becoming more and more frustrated. The excuse for not allowing us through? Closed military zone. Were any other cars, vans, lorries, buses, motorbikes or pedestrians prevented from moving? No.

After a couple of hours we gave up and went back to Jerusalem and gave our group three options for the day. Checkpoint watch, a free day or try to get to Hebron. Luckily 23 of us decided to try to get to Hebron so we went to Damascus gate to get service taxis. We had a BBC journalist with us so she took a private taxi with one of the group and her fixer. The rest of us got into service and, although we did get stopped at one checkpoint. Not the one we had been prevented from passing through earlier but one on one of the back roads designed to harass Palestinians trying to travel between their towns and villages. We told them we were delivering medical supplies.

We finally got there and were given a tour by CPT (Christian Peacemakers Team) who have a permanent base there. There motto is “getting in the way,” which is exactly what they attempt to do. I know how awful it is there but it was a real eye opener for those who haven’t been there before. Extreme right wing Orthodox Jews have built their settlements on top of Palestinian homes.

There are a couple of settlements constructed in this way right in the centre of the old city, near the Ibrahimi Mosque. This centre is H2 – Israeli controlled territory. H1 comprises the rest of Hebron and is supposedly Palestinian controlled. Palestinians are regularly attacked by settlers and the Israeli authorities stand by and do nothing. Internationals have also been attacked here. Walking through the narrow streets one can see military positions and soldiers on roofs. One area has a massive fence guarded by troops and what was once the fruit market is a closed military zone, having been wrecked. Netting is stretched between the houses from the first floor level in an attempt to protect Palestinians and their property. The settlers upstairs regularly throw items, including rocks, down on to people below or try to spoil goods in the streets.

We finally got to the playground and the children were thrilled to see us. We were close to the mosque and had already been told by military personnel to move on. Unbelievably they followed us and came in to the playground. They seemed rather confused by a group of internationals playing with the children, blowing up balloons, singing and playing chase. We told them they could play too if they put their guns down but they just sat and watched us for 20 minutes before giving up. If nothing else I am glad we got there just for that.

New Year’s Eve. Another attempt to walk to Jerusalem from Bethlehem. This time the march was organized by various Palestinian organizations and the heads of the Churches and the Islamic Waqf. I won’t bother detailing much about this as again we were prevented. It was a shame as many Palestinains had turned out and there was a great number of us walking to the checkpoint. We were meant to go to Jerusalem to pray and to have a human chain around the old city. Many of us were very upset as we could have got through had it not been for a couple of different factors.

The first was the Italian delegation took over as soon as we got to where the soldiers had been deployed, far before the checkpoint. A very carefully planned response had been agreed upon by all the organizers and we, along with the Italians were there as participants as far as I was concerned. The plan was known to all it seemed apart from the Italians. Whether there was a mix up in communication is open to debate however our chance was effectively lost by their interference.

The other issue was that, in retrospect, the religious factions had already accepted that the whole group would be denied entry. Apparently there had been a flurry of calls from Israeli security to them the previous night and instead of realizing the power they had they allowed Israel to dictate to them what they could or could not do. Internal politics too had an impact I am sure. So as the Palestinians sadly returned home the religious leaders drove through in their brand spanking new Mercedes and the internationals just walked through. I would not go through and join the rest of the demonstration in Jerusalem on principle. If my friends and neighbours could not go then neither would I. I am very glad to say that the majority of the group, when I gave them the choice but explained why I would not be going, all returned to Beit Sahour with me.

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