March 2002

Saturday 30th March, 2002
Ramallah is very, very bad. Adam and Caoimhe (pronounced “Queever”) are still inside Arafat’s compound. Desperate pleas have been issued for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to be allowed access to the injured. Still they are prevented, so those injured may die. What sort of democratic country has a policy of allowing injured to bleed to death in front of their eyes?

The tanks moved closer inside Beit Jala and power was cut to some areas. The internationals here marched into Beit Jala to demand their withdrawal. Although CNN have just reported that the tanks in Beit Jala have left, I can assure you they have not. (17.42)

Many people think that, as troops have been mobilising in the area, there will be trouble tonight. Will it be reoccupation or will it be targeted arrests? These are the two thoughts.

Assuming the worst-case scenario, we have split the group into two and they are going to spend the night in houses throughout the refugee camps. I will be bunkering down in the Indymedia office, keeping communications with the outside world going. (Visit the site for reports from the region, as they happen.) Of course, it may well be another quiet night and I can sleep in a bed, but it is too difficult to guess at the moment. At least if we are there and something happens we can get the details out immediately, until our power or phones are cut.

Five men were executed earlier. They were dragged out from a building and shot in cold blood, witnessed by many. The newscaster on CNN was visibly shaken by the account relayed to her by their reporter in Ramallah. More war crimes.

But let’s not get things out of perspective here. The Queen Mother passed away today, aged 101. George W Bush was “deeply saddened”.

Friday 29th March, 2002
2.00am: The tanks in Beit Jala are just playing nasty mind games. Revving up, moving around a little, that sort of thing. There is no Palestinian shooting so I think I will go back to the hotel and sleep in a bed, rather than the floor.

One anxious moment walking back: I had an American with me who was deferring to my judgement as I live here. We were just near to the turning we needed to take when headlights appeared from the direction of Rachel’s tomb. That is where the tanks live. I was so disappointed to find that, even running with the fear that Israeli troops may be invading and heading straight at me, I wasn’t able to run like a superstar. Pathetic! Round the corner was a large group of freedom fighters who I shouted very loudly good evening and peace to you in Arabic. I don’t want them to shoot me either!!

When I got back to the hotel I felt close to tears. Seeing those men out there in the cold and the wet, with a pathetic little roadblock to try to repel a tank, made me feel so miserable. They are trying to protect their families, their homes and their lives. This should not be happening. Anywhere.

Midnight. Just got a call that tanks are entering Beit Jala. Am in the IMC office on the main road through Bethlehem so if they come this way, we will see them first. They may well be on their way to Deheishe: the Italians who are staying there were contacted by their Embassy and told, very nicely of course, to leave before 11pm. They didn’t. It appears we are now staying in the office for the duration as it is not safe to go out right now. The hotel is about ten minutes away but the walk is though an open area, which I have been strongly advised not to walk through. More as it happens…

(Please excuse any errors in this – I am trying to update as and when I can.) I am sure you have all seen the images on your TV screens of today’s military action in Ramallah. Arafat has said he will die a martyr and has called on all Palestinians to fight against the Israeli military forces. Here in Bethlehem the day stared relatively calmly. There was little trouble overnight, which didn’t surprise me. Went up to the hotel in Bethlehem where the internationals are staying to help with the training. The course of the morning changed dramatically. A suicide bomber, from nearby Dehieshe refugee camp, blew herself up in a supermarket. As I write this, the whole area has been completely surrounded and sealed.

We have discussed with the group what to do in the event of an invasion and how best the presence of internationals can be used. I have rushed home to get film and recording equipment, along with a toothbrush and contact lenses. We have 35 Italians in Deheishe now and another 50 or so Brits and Americans (and a few others) who can go and act as human shields in homes across the region. I am not sure where I will be, but it will be somewhere in Bethlehem.

There was a little shooting earlier but I imagine tonight the place will erupt. Things are very, very bad.

In Ramallah, some internationals are riding ambulances (Red Crescent, Red Cross and UN) but they are coming under gunfire from the Israeli army. It is difficult to know how things will evolve over the next 24 hours.

Thursday 28th March, 2002
UPDATE: So far nothing has actually happened but most people are very nervous. I, to be honest, am not entirely sure what to think. There is undoubtedly going to be a military attack but where and against what type of targets? There are no police stations left to bomb, that’s for sure. So will it be re-occupation? The chairman of the Arab League just gave a speech where he said that they are “expecting a severe military response in hours.” There are 300 Italians being held at Ben Gurion airport. They have come to take part in solidarity actions and non-violent protests in support of the Palestinians (Ya Basta). The Israelis are holding them for “their own security.” The ISM delegates from the UK and the States are also meant to be arriving today. I got a call from the checkpoint to say that the soldiers have been shooting at people who walk around it, and even those Palestinians with Jerusalem ID who work there are not allowed out.

Wednesday 27th March, 2002
A very tense day. There is already a strong feeling of foreboding here in the West Bank following the most recent reoccupation of various areas, including Bethlehem. I got a call from Bob, an American living in Bethlehem, around 11am to tell me that there were Israeli border police in the area of Tantur harassing Palestinians. He witnessed three men being attacked; one was on the ground struggling whilst he was being kicked. Bob was told, in no uncertain terms, not to take pictures and to leave immediately.

I rang another friend to see if she was able to get up there immediately. We attempted to contact an organisation called Ibda, which is based in Deheishe refugee camp where there is a delegation of Italians staying in the hope that we could utilise them to go to monitor the checkpoint. I couldn’t get through. No luck there so I left work and met my friend to go and check ourselves. Armed with a digital camera and a mini-disc recorder we arrived to find that all Israeli personnel had left the area in question.

Made our way back by walking around the barren area behind the checkpoint to see if we could locate the tanks that had been seen there the night before but we could see nothing. Went back to Beit Sahour.

I had already been told earlier that there were grave concerns about what may happen tonight. There were various solidarity marches in many areas in support of Arafat, who has not gone to the Arab summit in Beirut. Again, I spoke to a friend who told me that there was much nervousness about another invasion. All checkpoints have been closed. I think this may have been expected as it is Pesach (Passover) so the Israeli forces are on high alert. I have also been told of unusual tank deployments in the West Bank, and presumably the Gaza Strip too. Rather concerning.

The weather is most unseasonal, one could say almost portentous. It is raining heavily and there have been thunderstorms. I got home at 7.30. Minutes later a report of a massive explosion in Netanya, a town north of Tel Aviv. An hour later the figures are 13 dead, 15 critical, dozens injured.

Tuesday 26th March, 2002
Went with two Finnish journalists and a Finnish friend who lives in Beit Jala to interview some of the villagers who have erected a protest tent in the nearby village of Za’tara. This is where land and homes are under threat from confiscation by the Israelis to construct yet another settler by-pass road. In this area alone, so that the Jewish settlers can enjoy an ethnically cleansed highway, 20 homes will be destroyed. These roads are carving the West Bank into cantons. This road is going to have a very bad affect in the area, all the way from Bethlehem to Hebron. Villages and towns will be cut off from one another, it will be even harder to travel, land and homes will be destroyed, many thousands of olive trees will be cut down and ancient water cisterns that are vital for local communities will be demolished.

I was in the internet cafe earlier and got talking to a man who lives near Rachel’s Tomb. He said that two tanks had taken up position near Caritas Hospital. That is not a very good sign. I have often seen jeeps around there, usually delivering supplies to the building that the soldiers took over a while back, but I have never seen tanks there other than when they are planning something.

Got back to my flat to see on breaking news that two international civilian observers have just been shot and killed near Halhoul, in the Hebron area. Sadly it seems as if they were mistaken for settlers, if the reports that they were shot by Palestinians is correct. That is the risk one takes, living and working in such a volatile area. It will be interesting to see how it is dealt with in the media, particularly following the killing of the Italian photojournalist. His killing at the hands of Israeli soldiers seems to have been quickly dismissed.

Monday 25th March, 2002
The usual events at the checkpoint today. I was going to Jerusalem with an American friend. We walked through Tantur where an Israeli has set up a peace tent and is fasting for the duration of her stay. There were three police stationed there, as there had been two days previously, but perhaps due to the presence of the media they were not stopping anyone.

Their colleagues, on the other hand, had no compunction in treating Palestinians with as much contempt as possible. Despite people having already gone through the checkpoint, two soldiers were stationed at the end of the path re-checking ID’s. A large jeep was parked behind the checkpoint on wasteland, a route often used to by-pass the ID checks.

There were two service waiting and it transpired that the drivers had had their keys taken away. I walked over to the wasteland to speak to the soldiers there and ask for the keys to be returned. There were four of them, new to the area as I hadn’t seen them at this checkpoint before, and particularly obnoxious. Only one would speak to me at all, and he was rude and arrogant. While I was trying to negotiate for the keys to be returned my friend called the DCO to complain. We were informed that the keys could be held but only for 20 minutes while they checked to ensure the vehicle is not stolen. They’d had the keys for at least 30 minutes but the solider, sneering at me, told me that they’d had them for just two minutes.

They then told me to speak to their captain who drove over from the road to where we were. He absolutely refused to speak to me, even though the DCO’s office told us to ask for the DCO representative, whom we assumed was the captain. The four others were enjoying their opportunity to give us a hard time. One of them waved his hand at me in a most demeaning fashion and told me to go home. I told him I was home, in Palestine.

Realisng the futility of remaining we went back to the guys at the vans. They asked me to speak in Hebrew and I told them I only know one word in Hebrew (not quite true) which is ‘ben-zona’. They laughed. (Ben-zona means son of a bitch.) We’d been given another number to ring so while my friend spoke to another border police representative I decided to take photos. One woman had her ID taken by one of the soldiers so I photographed him close up, which he didn’t like in the slightest. The woman had many things to carry so I offered to help her; she was walking up to the checkpoint. I picked up a large potted plant and began to walk along the road.

“Slicha, slicha.” I ignored him. He grabbed the Palestinian woman and told her to tell me to stop. He then demanded to know where my passport was. I replied, “in my bag.” He then asked if I was a journalist, which I said I was. He asked where my press card was. “In my bag.” He started shouting at me for it and I told him when I had carried the pot plant he could see it. He was fuming and demanded it again so I thrust the pot plant at him. He looked hilarious; puffy red-faced youth with a pot plant and a gun. He told me that I couldn’t take pictures so close up and I told him he had his job to do and I had mine, and walked off.

When I got back to the service the keys had miraculously been returned. We got into one of them, hoping to eventually get to Jerusalem, only to find that the captain pulled it over and my puffy red-faced youth opened the door and demanded that we get out. As he was speaking in Hebrew I just kept telling him I didn’t understand. One of the Palestinians in the service told me he wanted us to get out. I know – I indicated. The pettiness. He wouldn’t let us get the service! Of course, there was another one waiting further along the roadside so we were hardly inconvenienced.

Sunday 24th March, 2002
It is all rather quiet here, apart from the odd drone intermittently flying overhead. If one does not watch the news then it would be impossible to know that there is such a terrible situation here.

I brought back many press cuttings to give to the students that I was holding a conversation group with before I left. I showed them to one person, a very intelligent, articulate and educated woman, who was fascinated to see how the events here were being portrayed in the UK. There was one picture on the front of one edition which showed a young woman and her baby who were caught up in a suicide bombing attack. She looked at it and said that before she would feel such sorrow and even cry for these people. Nwo though, she says that she sees such images and feels glad that they to are suffering. She is scared that she is becoming a bad person for thinking in such a way. Sadly it shows just how much hopelessness and despair there is here now, through every level of society.

Friday 22nd March, 2002
I have, at last, returned to my home in the West Bank after spending a rather stressful couple ofweeks away in London. Watching the news and reading the headlines was very disconcerting: “Slaughter in refugee camp” and “As the tanks roll into Bethlehem the Middle East erupts.” The good thing was that some media seems to have realised that Israel is not an unchallengable entity and that they do not automatically hold the moral high ground, something that may come as a surprise to many of them. While there still needs to be more action, particularly from governments, at least there does seem to be more balanced and considered reporting to the public than before. I just hope enough people are reading it.

The tanks rolled out on Monday night, hours before I got back. I have not had the opportunity to visit all the areas that were damaged but I did have a quick walk around the centre of Bethlehem today. What used to be the police station is now just a vast area of rubble, twisted metal and debris. The homes opposite, uninhabitable. Everywhere there are signs of the incursion. Tarmac ripped up; paving stones and kerbs crushed; street lights horizontal. The costs to repair and rebuild must run into millions of dollars. Last October the re-occupation cost over $18 million. There was no money to pay for services and infrastructure before this latest aggressive act by the Israeli military so I have no idea how Bethlehem and the other areas that suffered over the last two weeks will be able to emerge from the wreckage and repair and rebuild again.

The Israeli police and soldiers are, understandably, far more twitchy than ever before. Three suicide bombers in as many days. I have been to Jerusalem twice this week; once for an interview and today to go to the Greek Embassy. I don’t usually venture into West Jerusalem, I have no real need or desire to, but driving around the Old City walls towards Damascus Gate one can see how deserted the area of Jaffa Street has become of late. There was a demonstration today outside Sharon’s residence; cafe and bar owners demanding more protection. I wonder how they would feel if they were living in refugee camps, being humiliated and abused, watching their property and homes destroyed and seeing their friends and families killed by spotty youths with guns? Who are Palestinians supposed to turn to for protection from an indiscriminate and inhumane military machine?

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