July 2002

Monday 8th July
Was woken by my Red Crescent boss this morning, by phone, at 10.30. He was ringing to welcome me back and to let me know that there is a lot of work to do, but as the files I need are on the computer in the office, which he can’t come to unless curfew is lifted, we have to wait. It’s a shame as we need to submit a large research report to the EU urgently. Eveything remains on hold during curfew.

That included six weddings in Beit Jala which have been postponed. One bride has had her wedding postponed five times now, and there is no guarantee of when the curfew will be lifted so no plans can be made. Supposedly Thursday we will gain some ‘freedom’ for a few hours. Originally the curfew was meant to be during the night, from 7pm to 7am, but it is constant and only lifted every fourth day or so. I have never seen people so depressed or beaten.

Apparently, this reoccupation will continue for as long as it takes for Israel to build the security fence. At least six months, maybe even a year. It is totally inhuman. I walked to Beit Sahour to visit friends today, and was shocked to see how depressed and miserable they have become. There is no will left to stand up against this tyranny. They see no point: the world doesn’t care enough to demand a stop this brutal oppression, the politicians couldn’t give a damn, so the Palestinians are being left to rot in hell. I felt the world was ugly and selfish today as I walked through the deserted streets, listening to the distant roar of military machinery and intermittent explosions. No one deserves to live like this.

Lists of many hundreds of names are being submitted to the Red Cross for urgent food assistance, vouchers will be supplied to provide families with some basic necessities. The way things are I cannot see how society can continue to function: it has been teetering on the edge of an abyss for many months now and I am amazed that it has held together for so long. A testament to the will and tenacity of the people, but a major catastrophe is tapping at the shoulders of Palestinians and much of the world chooses to ignore the warning signs. The future here isn’t bleak anymore: there simply is no future.

04.00: Yesterday, with no difficulty, I returned to Palestine through the Allenby border crossing, from Jordan. I did have a good ‘reason’ for my visit, one that was not challenged, so I made my way back to Bethlehem after a few hours sitting in waiting areas both sides of the crossings.

Getting back into Bethlehem was a little harder. By the time I managed to get near to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, curfew had been re-imposed, so I had a friend meet me in Beit Jala. The checkpoint was closed so I had to clamber across a road that had been sealed with rubble and boulders.

The roads were deserted, it was like ‘old times’, bad old times. as we neared my flat we came across two jeeps and one APC. The soldiers ignored us. We wondered why, turned left and drove straight in to a tank. We had to reverse hastily and as we turned we could hear it following us. The other military vehicles had gone so it was a split decision whether to turn right, in to the old town, or left, back the way we had come. With a tank revving up behind, decisions are taken quickly. We went right.

As we came around the corner a soldier pointed his rifle at us and held his hand up to stop us. We did. He then beckoned us, then stopped us. Then he motioned for us to get out, (he was flanked by four or five other rifle-bearing adolescents) and we walked towards him with our passports (my friend has a European passport, as well as Palestinian ID) in our hands. He told us to stop as we neared him and made my friend lift his clothing up and turn around.

He kept speaking to us in Arabic but we told him to speak English, although he knew we knew what he was saying. Then he told us to go, although we explained I was trying to get to my home, which was behind them. He still told us to go. We decided to try another route, funnily enough driving straight through Manger square. There was no one there. We got to my flat without further incident but as we sat chatting abut my recent holiday and what our respective future plans may be, percussion grenades were being let off in the street behind my flat. The army now throws either percussion grenades or teargas at anyone in the streets, as a warning for people to remain locked in their homes, which are now their prisons, for most days of the week.

Tomorrow may be the same, maybe it won’t. I have to go to the neighbouring town and the likelihood is I shall have to walk there. If I am lucky, I won’t come across any soldiers. If I am unlucky, I will. If I am lucky, they will recognise me as a foreigner and will not shoot me or beat me. If I were Palestinian, I would likely be inclined to stay at home and not take that risk.

Palestinians are being regularly harassed and intimidated by the occupying military. Mostly, it seems to be taking the form of attacks with gas and grenades and the occasional besting. So basically nothing has got better since I left, in fact, it is worse. Curfew will remain indefinitely, everyone is trapped, running out of money and food, and slowly being worn down by the invasion. The mental state of people is at an all time low and, I am told. It will get worse over the coming months.

Wednesday 10th July
01.30: I was going to bed early to catch up on lost sleep, and, as I turned off the CD player and the lights, I could hear a loud commotion in the street below. After a few seconds I realised what was happening. The shebab were playing football all along our street. It was a little after 10.00pm and this was undoubtedly the most noise I had ever heard during a curfew, apart from gunfire and explosions. These were, however, the first real sounds of life that I had heard.

They ran up and down the entire length of the street. The noise gradually crashing past, fading away to almost nothing, then returning with an energetic rush. The shouts, the claps, the thud of the ball on walls and doors. Having felt utterly miserable all day about the curfew and its consequences on so many people, I felt rejuvenated. The life and energy being carried in their voices, the ecstatic laughter and cries, shouts of ‘yallah’, ‘aiwya’ and ‘goal’, the younger boys cheering, I felt life really was out there for once. The guys had completely forgotten what their lives were like, just briefly, and were able to enjoy a simple pleasure; playing a game of football.

A friend had said to me that many years ago they lived under a long curfew but it was only nightly, from 7pm – 7am. He said that everyone knew that the day might belong to them, but that the night belonged to the army, and no one dared go out. Tonight it was the other way around. This night belonged to the Palestinian guys out in my street. After a while I felt concerned that maybe the soldiers would show up and how awful it might be if that were to happen. Then I realised I didn’t care, because the guys outside in the road didn’t care. Because, for once, they didn’t want to care.

I didn’t want to sleep anymore, their exuberance was infectious. I was so glad to hear the game that I wanted to sit and watch them play. I don’t know what time they started playing, but at about 10.40pm they had exhausted themselves so were sitting in groups along the street, chatting, with a couple of them kicking the ball about a bit. At 11pm they livened up and the second half started.

They were just playing in front of my building now. If I was a guy, I could have gone down and joined in, but I had to content myself with sneaking a view from my roof. I don’t know why but I didn’t want to intrude and I didn’t want them to know that someone else was watching, it would have spoiled it. I thought of taking pictures, but again, I just felt like I was intruding on something that was theirs and not mine. I could still take pleasure in watching from the roof and I sat there for ages. At 1.50am the game was still going, the score, 9 – 8. I knew one of the guys playing so I was rooting for his side, and they were winning. Finally, at 1.15am, they stopped. My team won.

Sadly, their happiness will be short lived. Tomorrow, in the cold light of day, everyone will be back in prison, but for one night at least they had a sense of freedom.

Tuesday 16th July
I am having internet access problems so am relying on having an office key to be able to keep in contact with the outside world. Curfew was lifted for a brief time today. I actually went to Jerusalem yesterday and returned this morning to find Bethlehem almost gridlocked. Everyone is frantically trying to get done in a few hours all their shopping and visits to family and friends.

It is an intolerable situation and I am astounded that there is no intervention or pressure from the international community. I go out each day, usually I walk to Beit Sahour, and I am utterly frustrated. I cannot imagine how the people who remain in their homes must feel. To be locked up for days on end, with nothing to do and no freedom is horrible. For Palestinians, the West Bank is one big concentration camp.

Friday 19th July

But I still love the smile on your face
But I still love everything about this place
I’m so happy I know I can never leave
Even though my, my brain it fucking bleeds
lyric: Manic Street Preachers, Wattsville Blues

That just about sums it all up. After some deliberation about my future and thinking of making a move to the so-called ‘real world’, I sat on my roof. Late at night, or early morning, depending upon one’s perspective, and watched the stars, felt the breeze and inhaled the air. It was truly beautiful, and I was close to tears. Despite everything. Despite the fear, the pain, the heartache and torment of living in Palestine, I can’t leave, not yet anyway. Palestine has this habit of trapping one, without warning or notice. A few days spent in innocent travel and conversation becomes one’s only possible future.

There is something special and magical here, but there is something dark and sinister, too. The history of Israel’s past military actions fills me with dread and foreboding for the future of Palestine. There is no such thing as a happy ending.

Sunday 21st July
20.00: Apparently a deal has been struck between the PA and the Israelis, following negotiations earlier today. There will be a staged withdrawal, starting with Bethlehem and Hebron. This is supposed to start in the next two days. I will believe it when I see it.

I visited friends in Beit Sahour today. Curfew is being lifted in Ramallah everyday now, apparently, but not here. My road was quiet, only a few children were out, and as I walked toward Beit Sahour it grew quieter and quieter. I was surrounded by an eerie silence, which I hate. It was strange, too, as the past few days has seen more people venturing out under curfew. Not enough in my opinion, but still, it is better than none at all.

It was a sad visit. The whole family is depressed and hoping to leave very soon to live in America. My friend’s mother lives in Miami so they are going to go there, for their children’s sake. Their eldest son already lives in the States, he is studying there, but he was forced to return here as the American consulate want to interview the entire family. Just getting here was a nightmare as he returned under curfew.

Her eldest daughter, who is 15, told me she is looking forward to going as life here is so miserable. She has missed so much of her education due to the continued closures and she wants to go to school. But she is sad also. She said she doesn’t want to leave here for good, it is her home.

Her mother told me how difficult life has been. She said that they have had enough, all they want to do is leave. “Take the land, stop taking our blood.” Her eyes were empty and her face a blank mask. She doesn’t want to leave her homeland, but she has no choice. She has four children whom she wants to see grow up in peace and have the prospect of a future. There is no future here.

She spoke of the first Intifada, when her two eldest children were seven and four. She said how hard it had been living through those years, but the violence from the soldiers occupying their land this time is far, far worse. “We are treated as animals, worse in fact. Allowed out of our prison for a few hours now and then. What is this? This is no life. We have no life, nothing.”

She is right; at the moment at least there is no life here, there is no future. It is such an inhumane way to treat a whole population and there can be no justification for it. Israel is using all its power to make life as unbearable and miserable as possible so that those who can leave, will. This is ugly and shows the reality of Israeli policy. This is ‘transfer’ without apparent force. But it is forced, no matter what Israel says.

People are leaving for the sake of their children, not because they want to live elsewhere. They have made heartbreaking choices: leaving other relatives, their friends, the homes they grew up in, their land, because of their fear for the future of their children. This family is not alone in their plight. Countless others are in the process of obtaining visas for other countries. Transfer has begun.

Wednesday 24th July
Gaza. Another dead child, a four-year-old boy, has just been pulled from the rubble. Nine children killed by a one ton bomb delivered by an F16 in to the heart of a crowded residential area. Peres told the BBC that those who sanctioned the attack were “apparently not aware” that the bomb would explode in a densely populated district. The Gaza Strip is a densely populated area by definition, 1,178,119 Palestinian inhabitants in 360 square km plus some 7,000 illegal settlers (source: CIA), so someone must have been acutely aware as to the extent of devastation, injury and death a one ton bomb would cause.

There has been scathing condemnation and criticism, both internationally and within Israel. Even the Jerusalem Post, not generally associated with balanced reporting toward Palestinians noted: “Top generals said that had they known innocent people would likely be hurt, they would never have approved the strike.” Come on! Really!? (This is obviously not sympathy toward Palestinians rather an observation of the pathetic excuses the Israeli authorities tried to employ following the raid.)

Hamas was due to sign a ceasefire agreement today, with the Palestinian Authority, ending its suicide attacks inside Israel. Sharon, whose military career is littered with atrocities, knew the only way to prevent any peace from breaking out would be to target a high-profile Palestinian activist. To him, the deaths of ten Palestinian children means nothing and the threat of peace, with all that entails (giving Palestinians their rights, their land, justice, etc), is just too much for him to consider.

The attack is a means to an end: to ensure that there is no end to the violence. Even people who have always condemned suicide attacks are now saying that Hamas should strike back and whatever happens it serves them [Israelis] right. There will be no end to this bloodshed while Sharon continues to destabilise any sincere efforts between the parties who have been negotiating.

It was such an obvious and calculated effort to destroy any headway that had been made. Having just read Robert Fisk’s excellent ‘Pity the Nation’, and having seen other periods of calm here shattered by Sharon ordering assassinations, I am not in the least bit surprised that this attack happened. I just wonder what price both Palestinians and Israelis are going to have to pay for this?

I have to go to Jerusalem tomorrow and I am even feeling a little nervous about it. I have to go to West Jerusalem, to a consulate there, and everyone is saying be careful, don’t go to West Jerusalem, stay here. Everyone knows that something will happen, it is just a matter of where and when.

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