May 2002

Thursday 2nd May, 2002
Overnight has been awful. Shooting and bombing at and around the Church. Two fires were started by flares, although those inside did manage to extinguish them. Still more shooting this morning. A man already injured has been shot again, about half an hour ago. The Israelis keep saying they are not shooting on or into the Church. So how come people have been shot then?

Arafat is out, so the Church remains as the last siege point. I have a horrible feeling that there will be more deaths in the Church and the Israelis are certainly getting very anxious to end it. There are now two cranes in the Square and a few vehicles that have been squashed by tanks litter the area. There is also now a big sign in English at the press barricade that says “no entry, closed military area”. This is in response to our attempt to get in on Sunday. They were certainly surprised by our efforts and audacity.

Friday 3rd May, 2002
Oh, what a fantastic afternoon we had yesterday! Really invigorating. I haven’t stopped for two days as we planned our second, and successful, ‘assault’ on Nativity Church. Since yesterday afternoon I have been on the phones non-stop with media, legal advisors, consular staff and goodness knows who else. I have spent the majority of the day trying to track down the whereabouts of those who were arrested. I have finally succeeded, more or less.

With full coordination with Palestinians inside the church we decided to get food and medicine in, as well as people. I have to stress that they welcomed our attempt and were happy for internationals to go in with them. Having been in touch with people inside, I got a list of the foodstuffs they needed. With a friend, we collected as much of the food that they had asked for in the morning, then waited for a group of internationals to arrive from Jerusalem. I’d already done a recce around Manger Square, very carefully of course, to determine the best way for a group to approach the church.

17.45: The group was split in to three to cause diversions, and make their way in to Manger Square. The soldiers were, again, caught totally off guard. Snipers in the windows were yelling at us, “Stop! Go back” but no-one took any notice. There was a final dash for the door, which was opened for those going in, and ten people went through. There were meant to be only five.

The group received a rapturous welcome. Although we didn’t get a huge amount of supplies in, it was better than nothing. Also, one of the group is a nurse, something they so desperately needed.

The others had a less hospitable welcome. As they made their way back across the square they were detained and dragged in to the Peace Centre. They were then held for seven hours before being carted off in jeeps. The men were taken to Hebron police station and held overnight. The five women fared much worse. The group is now awaiting deportation.

The response from everyone, except the Israelis, has been phenomenal. The locals all thought it was wonderful and really welcomed what we did. They don’t see anyone else really making much effort to help them so a group of internationals prepared to help is a real boost for them.

Monday 13th May, 2002

I cannot believe how mad, frantic and depressing the last ten days have been. There is a lot that I cannot write about now – there is just too much and I need to take some time to record accurately what happened, particularly with my friends in the Church of the Nativity. I was in a very unique position and it is important to record the facts.

At the moment however, my time is spent supporting the guys in prison. There were, in total, 22 internationals held. Those from the church have been arrested, the others who helped them are detained without arrest. None are charged. So far, ten have been illegally deported, those remaining will be deported in the following 24 hours. That is really rough for them as they have paid a very high price for their belief in justice and freedom as they will probably never be allowed back in to the country.

I find it incredible that Israel can be ‘allowed’ to do this! They were carrying food, for fucks sake. The people in the Church needed help and no government was prepared to stand up and do the right thing – someone had to do something. Today I had so many local people come up to me to thank us for everything we tried to do to help them.

Before all the shit happened the guys wrote a statement, which I have never issued. It is a shame as it told of the jubilation over their arrival. When they arrived they were greeted with such enthusiasm and gratitude. “Now we know that everyone has not forgotten the Palestinian people.” That is what the Palestinians said after they arrived. It was a very emotional and warm welcome. The departure was even more emotional but full of sadness, disbelief and some anger.

Despite the reports of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the district, they have not gone. They are out of the centre but they are still close. A CNN report I watched this morning had some excitable woman driving around Bethlehem, talking about how everything is getting “back to normal”. Does she not understand that nothing is normal here; occupation is not normal.

There were also reports of the “surging crowds” mobbing Arafat, as if he is a hero. It is not true. Most people I know are horrified by the expulsion of the Palestinians. I have heard a variety of comments, most unprintable. I agree with them, what happened was just awful. I was at the house of a friend and her mother-in-law expressed her disgust. She cried as she spoke of a young man, one of her son’s best friends. The tears streaming down her cheeks told the truth of how people here feel.

Tuesday 14th May, 2002
There is still no end to the outrageous treatment of the detainees. My phone does not stop ringing and I wonder what I am going to do to occupy myself when they finally are all deported. The worst situation is for the original guys who have been illegally incarcerated since 3rd May. Trevor has been on hunger strike since then, the others joined four days later.

The American Embassy has been shamefully apathetic over their treatment. It seems that to the American government its own citizens take second place over Israel. All the people who are being or have been deported did was take food to starving people. Israel arrested some and detained others illegally. They were in area A, where Israel has no judicial authority, yet still they languish in prison. Their lawyer and I are having so many calls about them, I am trying to deal with as many as possible, especially media.

As well as all my work trying to help the illegally detained I am also back at my day job. I had to go to Jerusalem again to see the lawyer about the further land confiscation issue that Bait Sahour is facing. I decided to go my ‘special’ way, avoiding the checkpoints. I have been using this way since the invasion and it is a matter of a lift to a certain point, get out, then walk 20 feet across a hump between two makeshift car parks. I was horrified to find that the whole place had been bulldozed yesterday and now there is a ten foot high mound of earth to clamber over.

While I was waiting in the car to leave, an elderly man tried to negotiate his way over it. Bear in mind that this barricade splits houses in Beit Jala from one another. The man was overweight and not agile. The guy I was with went to help him and the poor man could not manage. He ended up falling and sliding all the way down. It was so embarrassing, I didn’t want to watch his humiliation. Other people too were having great difficulty. Women wearing nice clean clothes and heels having to scramble over. So life is back to ‘normal’.

Thursday 16th May, 2002
Since the start if Israel’s “Defensive Shield” operation in Palestine there have been over 2,000 foreigners refused entry and over 50 deportations. I am at a loss to understand what scares Israel to have resorted to such actions. Humanitarian aid workers are even being persecuted, including an American doctor who is currently in detention being questioned about terrorist activities. He visited Jenin camp and dared to criticise Israel for its actions there.

Anyone who is interested in seeing justice and humanity prevail is being thrown out. If this were any other country, not only would there be a political outcry but probably American marines assaulting the region. I am staggered that the world can remain silent despite all the sinister signs.

Some of my friends are still languishing in prison, the rest have been deported already. All of them had been detained illegally and without due legal process by the Israeli authorities, yet there has been no international outrage nor media coverage. I have been trying to do all I can, working with Allegra Pacheco–an American/Israeli human rights lawyer–to secure their release. It has been an incredible battle against an apathetic regime. Israel is a rogue state and is not a democracy, depsite its protestations to the contrary. America, through its Embassy, has been totally complicit in the absue of its citizens. (See Indymedia Palestine for more information concerning their detention and subsequent mistreatment.)

So many people have been working hard on their behalf, mainly in America, but we are just small voices against a very powerful and brutal opponent. I just received a telephone call from Rev. Jesse Jackson’s office. They have already taken up the case of the doctor and have been following our situation closely. Rev. Jackson spoke to Shimon Peres earlier this week regarding the deportations and detentions, and he has been waiting for a response. There has been none. I was told that they had contacted Peres’ office today but were told that there is a Jewish holiday, perhaps Monday. The religious holidays are observed without interruption regardless. At this time, six Americans, four of whom are on hunger strike and have been for over ten days, are still being held hostage in an Israeli prison but they will have to stay there until the powers that be have enjoyed their freedom to celebrate their holiday uninterrupted.

In Bethlehem the depth of anger and depression runs very deep. Israel, even as it withdrew, stated that there are two men they want who were not in the Church. Forces seem to be on standby and everyone thinks it is just a matter of time before they come back in. Gaza, too, is expecting the worst. I spoke to a man in Gaza today about internationals coming and his joy at knowing that people are prepared to come was overwhelming, but more so was the acute despair of the situation. He told me he just wants to show people what happens to Palestinians at checkpoints and how miserable their lives are under Israeli occupation and oppression. I spoke to an American who has just returned and she was in shock. She said she could never have expected or believed that life there could be so horrific.

Saturday 18th May, 2002
Due to the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot, the guys remain in prison with no hope of being deported until Monday, at the very earliest. One of them managed to call me last night and sounded remarkably well, despite being on hunger strike for 11 days. All of them, those still here and those already deported, have been magnificent.

I hope that people realise the extreme price the guys have all had to pay. One thing is for sure though, all Palestinians on the street, and I mean all, are 100% behind them and cannot express enough how much what they did meant to them. Everyday I get strangers as well as people I know coming up asking after their welfare and to say thank you.

The price Palestinians pay, though, is far worse. Many have been wrenched from their families for years now. Families are split up, some living in refugee camps outside Palestine, some in Israel and some here in the West Bank and Gaza, with little hope of being reunited. Even worse is the fate of those who were expelled under the Nativity deal. Those in Gaza are at least still with their people, but those exiled abroad are alone. It is terrible to witness and the source of much sadness and anger.

Sunday 19th May, 2002
Some things never change. I went to Jerusalem this morning and had little trouble at the checkpoint. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Palestinians. On my way back, I found six Palestinian men lined up against a wall, arms up and splayed, in the glaring sun. I challenged the soldier who checked my passport. I had spoken to him earlier on my way out and I felt he was uncomfortable with what was happening. I asked him why hold the men like that, that this does nothing to help anyone and that it causes more tension, anger and hatred. He agreed. He said he would speak to one of the officers but I know there was little he could do, even if he wanted to.

I walked through Bethlehem for the first time yesterday since the Israelis withdrew. The mess in and around Manger Square is, again, testimony to the blatant vandalism and destruction perpetrated by Israeli forces during such invasions. Pavements are rubble, the Mosque is scorch-marked from fire-bombing, and while people are out and about, they are subdued.

At the main crossroads, Bab-isqaq, there are the shells of three burnt-out cars. I wondered how they came to be there. They had obviously been destroyed where they stood, and as I had been there the day of the withdrawal, I knew that they had not been victims of the invasion. I couldn’t understand what had happened.

I found out after speaking to a friend I met afterwards. Israel had demanded that stolen cars (that is cars stolen from Israel and sold in the West Bank) are to be found. He had no idea what order had been given when finding the cars in question. Force 17 were out in large numbers and were stopping everyone.

Three cars believed to be of Israeli origin were taken to the side where the service taxis park, petrol was poured over them and they were destroyed. Within a matter of hours, what remaining parts of use had been stripped from the skeletons. My friend noted that the locals had achieved in hours what it takes a British mechanic days to accomplish. Engine blocks had been removed in entirety and any small parts undamaged by the fire had been removed.

He also told me of another experience, one that had happened to him. He went to Ben Gurion airport to meet a group visiting. They were, of course, coming to the West Bank and are ‘pro-Palestinian’. (As if being pro-Palestinian automatically equals anti-Israeli.) He was in the Nesher service taxi, and as is usual, the vehicle was stopped at the entrance to the airport. His passport was taken for a short time, then returned.

As soon as the van arrived at the terminal, though, he was intercepted by security. He was then held for three hours of questioning. He was only going to meet people! After the interrogation he was made to wait in the baggage arrivals area, holding his sign with the names of the people he was due to meet. He threw the sign away, knowing that as soon as his colleagues appeared they would be carted off for the same treatment. And this is democracy?

Monday 20th May, 2002
The afternoon, although clear and sunny, was punctuated by the sounds of distant explosions. I have no idea where they were or what the source was. I wondered if it is part of the work being done by the Israelis constructing a new road for settlers which is carving through Beit Sahour, and running south-east toward Zat’ara. Even now, at 7.00pm, I can hear the occasional rumble in the distance. Maybe it is something else.

Tomorrow, Reuters is coming to interview the Mayor and to go out and film the Israelis bulldozing: the road runs along the edge of a built-up area. I watched them work this afternoon, from the balcony of a friend’s house. Her house is in the centre of Beit Sahour, and I could clearly see the tank, the bulldozer and a yellow JCB ripping their way through the earth.

The construction of this new road, with yet more Palestinian land being taken from its rightful owners, is the evidence of Sharon’s desire for ‘peace’. Peace means Israel is in control. Peace means that Palestinians are either transferred or cowed in to submission by brutality. Peace means an Israel for Jews and no one else. With each grab of the land the prospect of peace diminishes. How can anyone expect a people to accept such treatment? It is absurd to think that an Israel governed by a man who has so openly shown in the past his desire to eradicate Arabs and to take all the land is sincere in its calls for peace negotiations.

Wednesday 22nd May, 2002
A day of depression and despondency. I am afflicted by the Palestinian mood of hopelessness. I even wondered today whether to leave. What possible difference can I make when the people with power ignore what is happening. Although this will be a short-lived bout of despair it is still quite debilitating, and perhaps more so as I can leave when I like: so many of my friends do not have the ‘privilege’ of holding anything other than a Palestinian passport. So many people I spoke to today are making efforts to emigrate.

Again, I watched the bulldozers, tanks and soldiers from my friend’s balcony and I felt utterly miserable. I wonder what the world will think of this time in history, when they look back in the years ahead. Will they feel ashamed, responsible, culpable? Or will they just see it as another event that, perhaps, could have been avoided? Or will they feel nothing? Words loose their meaning so quickly: shot dead, killed by a tank shell, crimes against humanity. The word humanity, more than any word, means absolutely nothing here.

A friend called me today. She lives in the north of Israel and is married to a Palestinian. She has lived here for many years and is very active in her support for Palestine and the people. She called as she had visited a young man who is from Bethlehem and is being held in a prison near Haifa. This prison was closed down a few years ago as the conditions were so bad. It has been re-opened, specifically to house West Bank Palestinians.

The young man she visited has a two year sentence, for being in Jerusalem without the required permit. He is in an overcrowded and cramped cell, and his family cannot visit him. So my friend does, and she takes him clothes and provisions to try and alleviate the dire conditions in which he is incarcerated. He told her he is lucky though; “If I were not in this prison I would be in a bigger prison (the West Bank). In this prison I am safe, they won’t kill me. In the other prison they may.” His father had a heart attack the other day. His other son is missing, believed to be detained by the Israelis. They have not been able to find out where he is.

Saturday 25th May, 2002
21.00: All week people have been talking about another invasion, and that it would be on the 25th. Knowing how the mood has been it is not unreasonable, but to know the date?

I should have listened. As I write this, there are Israeli soldiers in my street. I heard some shooting, and decided maybe there was a wedding. Five minutes later a friend called, demanding to know exactly where I am. “In my flat,” I replied. (I moved today to a new flat in Bethlehem, close to Manger Square and above the EMS Red Crescent building. “The Israelis are in your street now, stay exactly where you are.” I said I would go and have a look from over the roof and was told in no uncertain terms not to.

I called a few media numbers and a few friends. More shooting and a small explosion (as opposed to a big, fuck off, lots of dead people type of explosion). A helicopter is overhead. I watched a column of tanks or APCs move in from the south. I did think that maybe it was going to be a few short hours of invasion and a rather specific assault, looking for an individual, but now, I don’t know.

Another call: It is just my neighbourhood. The rest of the area has got troops and tanks moving around but they are concentrating on the road I am in. Two more very loud explosions, next door. The helicopter is still overhead. I am playing the Chemical Brothers, loud, to drown out the sound of the helicopter and the shooting.

Monday 27th May, 2002
21.40: I spent some of this afternoon and this evening working an ambulance shift. All bar one journey involved young children. Driving from a village near Beit Sahour, where we had picked up a woman and her very young baby, we approached the old city centre, and Manger Square. There was some shooting nearby, troops shooting at what, I do not know. Two jeeps pulled us over and the ambulance was searched. As the soldiers questioned the EMS guys I heard a little sniff. I turned to look at the young mother and saw tears streaming down her face, she was so frightened, presumably for her child more than herself. I felt so hopeless, I couldn’t say anything to alleviate her fears. They let us go.

A man stopped us before we could move. He was with his wife and young child, maybe three-years-old. He begged them to take them to Caritas baby hospital, so they got in too. The mother looked fearful, the child, dreadful. The poor thing had a very high temperature and was very glazy eyed. She did manage to point at me so I smiled and waved. As we prepared to pull away an APC blocked us, right after the jeeps had let us pass. We had to go through the same rigmarole once again. Finally, we got both mothers and their children to hospital.

I have it from a good source that this current invasion will last two or three days. I managed to get to a shop when I was out with the ambulance and, of course, bought nothing useful. Crisps, peanut M&Ms, diet coke and cigarettes!

15.30: It has been very quiet, so far. No shooting and I have only heard one explosion close to where I live and the intermittent rumble of APCs trundling past. Of course, that doesn’t mean that things are not happening elsewhere, I just don’t know about them.

I do know that in Beit Sahour the army has taken over the building known as ‘Ararat’. There are eight tanks in the road outside and many houses are being searched. Deheishe, too, is full of troops and some men have been rounded up, cuffed and blindfolded. It doesn’t seem as if they will be pulling out tonight. The empty building opposite me has become a snipers post. Three APCs are parked in front and I watched the soldiers going in and out. One side has got the customary khaki webbing slung across windows and breeze blocks in place. I wonder if the shooting will start after dark?

08.15: Got up and thought, “gosh, it seems rather quiet.” Still, had to go to work so pottered off down the road to catch a bus to Beit Sahour. No cars on the road but people were on their balconies. Walked into Manger Square to be confronted by an Israeli army jeep. They hadn’t seen me so I turned and walked back to my flat, feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Rang a friend to find out what was happening and discovered that Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala are back under curfew and the army is searching everywhere.

I can now see on the hill opposite a few jeeps and APCs, where a new apartment block is being built. They are just sitting there. As am I, but I have no food and no credit on my phone! I can also see (and hear, of course) a pair of F16s flying around, but surely there is nothing left to bomb?

Tuesday 28th May, 2002
Woke up late to an almost silent Bethlehem. Did get a ridiculous ‘hate’ call at about 2.30am. “We know where you are,” came the American voice down the phone. “Great, send me pizza, I’ve no food” and hung up. I wonder what other pathetic things he would’ve said?

Went out on to my roof and noticed the nearby sniper position had gone. Jeeps slowly trundled by then the shelling started. About an hour of intermittent booms pulsed through the air and I watched thick, black smoke billow from a house down in the valley opposite me. A little shooting and that was that. I spent most of the day working on various projects for the Municipality and the Red Crescent, so didn’t have time to notice that I wasn’t supposed to go outside. At about 4pm I began to get a bit fed up so went and sunbathed on the roof instead.

Wednesday 29th May, 2002
Despite the rumours yesterday, the army is still here and do not look as if they will be going anywhere fast. Another three days is the expectation. The curfew was lifted from 11.00 until 15.00 across the district. I went out earlier to avoid the rush! Still, by the time I got to Beit Sahour the streets was chocka with cars and people. The shop was mobbed and everyone was buying frantically. Everyone was, and is, very, very fed up. There were three APCs opposite the internet cafe, which was shut, so I took a few photos of the soldiers lounging and a few young boys daring to go near.

Went home eventually and received an email from a friend who is in Jenin. They have had daily incursions, rather than a full takeover like here. I haven’t cried about anything for ages, but this account of the tragic and unnecessary death, or rather murder, of a 55-year-old baker made me weep tears of anger, frustration and the most terrible and deep sadness. Here follows the text:

Hassan Shreem, 53, owns a bakery in Jenin City. On Tuesday morning around 3:30, he was walking from his house to the bakery to begin his work for the day. His walk to work was more dangerous on this day because the Israeli military came with jeeps, tanks, and APCs into Jenin and the Jenin Refugee Camp an hour earlier. Nonetheless, Hassan had to go to work to support his family in these most difficult times for the average Palestinian (more than half of the 3.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza now live below the poverty line and many of these have no income at all. This is due to the strict closures of the past year and a half imposed on all Palestinian villages and cities, which do not allow the people to move from city to city, even when they never cross Israeli territory).

As Hassan walked, he was shot by the soldiers in his leg. He fell to the ground, bleeding, screaming for help. His cries were heard and an ambulance attempted to rescue him. However, the soldiers would not allow the ambulance or anyone to get near to Hassan, so he continued bleeding in the street by himself. For three hours the Israeli military held back any help that tried to get to Hassan, shooting and hollaring at them. After these three hours, Hassan had lost too much blood and finally died.

It was clear that a gunshot wound in the leg was not life threatening. He could have been treated at the hospital and survived. He died due to the Israeli military forbidding any medical services to reach Hassan, a common practice in recent months of Israel’s self-declared ‘war on terrorism.’

Hassan was a bakery owner, a father, a brother, and a friend. He was not on anyone’s wanted list. He makes bread for a living and died on the street alone.

This was the third time in 11 days the Israeli military has invaded Jenin andthe Jenin Refugee Camp. The ruins of the camp remain from the massive operation of the Israeli military from 3-18 April and many people still do not know where there relatives are. Are they dead? Are they in prison? Are they still buried under the rubble? One-third of the camp lost their homes when over 800 of them were bulldozed, rocketed, or shelled. As to date, no one knows the total number of people killed in the camp or the number of missing persons, though estimates range from 3-400 and 120-150 respectively.

This is not a war on terrorism; this is a war on a civilian population to put down any resistance to Israeli’s continued colonisation of Palestine.

Thursday 30th May, 2002
Walked to Beit Sahour to go and visit friends and have a hot meal–the first this week! As I got to Manger Square there was quite a commotion. A local man who recognised me came and spoke to me. Apparently, a young girl from Beit Sahour, who is “crazy” (his words) had walked in to the square with a small knife and had been arrested. They asked me to go and speak to the soldiers to see what was happening.

The soldiers and border police were quite happy to talk to me and all wanted their photos taken. I asked what had happened and what was going to happen to the girl. The Colonel told me she had a big knife (the locals said it was a fruit knife) and that she had tried to attack one of his men. I asked if I could see her but he refused and told me she was under arrest and that she was to be taken to the Muskabia (Russian Compound),  the notorious police station in Jerusalem. But the young girl appeared to be mentally unwell and needed help, not being sent to high security detention. He did at least write down her name for me so I called friends in Beit Sahour to try and notify the family what had happened.

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