Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Last Word

On This Earth

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April's hesitation, the
aroma of bread
at dawn, a woman's point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the
of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute's sigh and the invaders fear of memories.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: the final days of
September, a woman
keeping her apricots ripe after forty, the hour of sunlight in prison, a cloud
reflecting a swarm
of creatures, the peoples' applause for those who face death with a smile,
a tyrant's fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: on this earth, the Lady
of Earth,
mother of all beginnings and ends. She was called Palestine. Her name
later became
Palestine. My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

Mahmoud Darwish

Information and action

My time in Palestine is nearly over and there is so much i could say about my experiences here. I know i will never forget the people i have met and what i have seen.

This is the end of this blog, but when i return to the UK i hope to write more about the struggle for Palestinian liberation and, most importantly, to continue campaigning in solidarity with Palestine.


At the moment, one of Israel's main concerns is the 'crisis of legitimacy' it has experienced after the attack on Gaza in December 2008. There are now many good books which will help people challenge Israeli propaganda.

Here are my top five recommendations:

The Myths of Zionism, by John Rose

An effective demolition of the falsehoods and distortions put forward by Israel about the Palestinians and Middle East history. Rose recovers the shared heritage of Jewish and Muslim Arabs and identifies Zionism as a pro-imperialist movement.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,
by Ilan Pappe

Without reading this book i don't think you can understand the nature of the state of Israel. The grim facts about Israel's expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 are unrelenting and shocking.

Israeli Apartheid: a beginners guide
, by Ben White

This is a useful and reliable primer on the nature of Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. It has lots of information on all the main issues such as settlements, house demolitions, and Palestinian prisoners. It also has a good 'Question and answer' section taking on the pro-Israel arguments in the media.

The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab world, by Avi Shlaim

The importance of this book is that it locates Israel's role within the wider state system in the Middle East. It shows that from the beginning Israel's mission has been to fight 'Arab nationalism', the attempt by the masses in the Middle East to take matters into their own hands.

Egypt: the moment of change
, edited by Philip Marfleet and Rabab El-Mahdi

This book looks at the movements for change which have emerged in Egypt in the last few years. A revolution from below in Egypt against the pro-western dictator Mubarak would be a big boost for Palestinian liberation.

You can buy them all online from Bookmarks - the socialist bookshop by clicking here.

Also anything by Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein on Palestine (i.e. interviews, books, You tube clips) is also highly recommended. I think they are two of the most powerful supporters of Palestinian rights and critics of Israel today.


Local initiatives are very important in supporting Palestine - holding a meeting or film show, organising a boycott campaign against a shop or supermarket in your area, or twinning your city, town, borough, or village with somewhere in Palestine.

These initiatives are strengthened by being part of national networks. Recall the big demonstrations and wave of university occupations which took place during the attack on Gaza.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The main organisation campaigning for justice and freedom for Palestine in the UK. Some of its branches are very active.

Viva Palestina

Helped to organise the aid boat to Gaza, i have heard many Palestinians talk highly of this.

Boycott Israeli Goods

I think an important act of solidarity with Palestine, with a powerful affect, is boycotting.

Twinning with Palestine

A good way of forging practical links with Palestine. Enabling teachers and nurses in the UK to meet their Palestinian counterparts can be very powerful. Palestinians really appreciate people coming to Palestine to learn about the occupation and offer support.

Stop the War Coalition

Campaigns against the new imperialism - enacted under the guise of 'the war on terror' - of which Israel's oppression of the Palestinians is a part.

Socialist Workers Party

For me the struggle for Palestinian liberation is part of the struggle for freedom and equality across the world, and an end to the exploitation and violence of capitalism. The Socialist Workers Party is the best organised and most effective organisation in the UK fighting for this.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


“They were warned by loudspeaker to get out of the house before I come, but I gave no one a chance. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give one blow, and wait for them to come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To get as many as possible. I didn’t give a damn about the Palestinians, but I didn’t just ruin with no reason. It was all under orders.”
Israeli Army bulldozer driver Moshe Nissim, recalling his work in the invasion of Jenin in 2002 (my emphasis).

The city of Jenin is located at the very most northern point of the West Bank, surrounded by lush green hills. It is home to around 20,000 refugees from the 1948 nakba (catastrophe) and the 1967 occupation of the West Bank.

In 2002 Israeli forces invaded Jenin and massacred 50 Palestinians, most of the victims were from the refugee camps.

"On 4 March, Dr. Khalil Suliman, director of the Red Crescent in Jenin, was killed by gunfire at an ambulance in which he was travelling on the way to evacuate wounded in the Jenin refugee camp. Two other members of the medical team who were with him the ambulance were wounded. IDF soldiers also fired at an ambulance, wounding two medics, that had come to treat the wounded in the first ambulance" - B'Tselem, Israeli human rights organisation

The photo above is of the ambulance Dr Khalil Suliman was driving when he was killed.

A picture of Dr. Khalil Suliman in the Red Crescent Hospital in Jenin.

A UN worker, Ian Hook, was also killed by an Israeli sniper during the 2002 invasion. A UK inquest in 2005 held at Ipswich Crown Court found that his death was 'deliberate'.

This horse stands at the entrance to the refugee camp in Jenin. It was made from parts of cars which were crushed by tanks during the invasion.

Today there are some positive developments in Jenin. One is the 'Freedom theatre' which provides opportunities for local people to take courses in acting, script writing and theater production. You can visit the theatre's website here.

This is a small local sweet factory which uses its profits to fund a community center in Jenin.

Back to Broqeen village

This week i went back to Broqeen village in the northern West Bank. I have blogged previously about the concerns of the villagers that their stream and drinking water is being polluted by a nearby Israeli industrial settlement.

As yet no research has been completed which establishes the link between the pollution and health problems in the village. However, research by the Palestinian NGO 'House of Water and Envrionment' found high levels of untreated sewage from Israeli settlements in the water sources of Salfit district, which includes Broqeen village. Furthermore the report summary states that, "chemical analysis of the wastewater of Ariel and Burqan settlements...shows high concentrations of sulfate and chloride which do not meet the WHO standards". As i mentioned in my previous blog post, Burqan is the industrial settlement located near Broqeen which dumps its waste upstream from the village. You can read a summary of the report here. Unfortunately the full report is not available online.

These are water pipes which the village had purchased to safely transport the polluted water underground. Israel denied the villagers permission to use them.

I met a number of people in the village who have a family member who has died from cancer in recent years. The villagers say these deaths are unusually high. I was also struck by the sickly looking skin of the villagers near to the stream, especially the children. I have not seen children looking so sick anywhere else in Palestine, even in the refugee camp i visited in Nablus.

This is one of the families who live near the polluted stream in Broqeen. They told me of an unbearable smell produced by the pollution in the evening, which attracts dangerous insects. They have stopped using the spring near to their home as they believe it has become polluted.

House demolitions

The other problem the village faces is house demolitions. Under the logic of the Oslo 'peace accords' some houses in the village are classified as 'area A', nominally under Palestinian Authority control, and some are 'Area C', under Israeli control, and therefore vunerable to being demolished at any time.

This is an 'area C' house in Broqeen which was demolished by Israel.

In Salfit district Israel plans to move the apartheid wall further eastwards, close to Broqeen, in order to expand the already huge 'city-settlement' of Ariel. As a result some people in the village have been issued with warnings that their houses are 'in the way' of the planned route of the wall and may be demolished.

This is a family in Broqeen who live on the outskirts of the village, near to the planned new route of the apartheid wall. The mother is bringing up the children on her own after her husband died from cancer. The piece of paper she is holding is an order from Israel which forbids her from doing any building or renovation work on her home. The implicit threat is that it may be demolished in the next few years.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Amongst the ruins of Lifta village

This storm is what we call progress
Walter Benjamin

When you enter the city [Jerusalem] through Lifta and Romema....there are no Arabs.
Diary entry by David Ben Gurion, 7th February 1948

In a valley in west Jerusalem you can still see the remains of the Palestinian village of Lifta, one of the first to be ethnically cleansed by Zionist militas in 1947.

Our guide Yacoob, who spent his early childhood in Lifta until he was expelled with his family in 1948

"The village was a fine example of rural architecture, with its narrow street running parallel to the slopes of the mountains. The relative prosperity it enjoyed...manifested itself in the construction of new houses, the improvement of roads and pavements....it was a large village, home to 2,500 people, most of them Muslims with a small number of Christians" (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p.67)

Israeli cyclists and ramblers relax in what used to be the village square

"Social life in Lifta revolved around a small shopping center, which included a club and two coffee houses...One of the coffee houses was the target of the Hagana [Zionist milita] when it attacked on 28 December 1947. Armed with machine guns Jews sprayed the coffee house, while members of the Stern Gang [Zionist militia] stopped a bus nearby and began firing into it randomly....[the Hagana] ordered another operation against the same village on 11 January in order to complete the expulsion. The Hagana blew up most of the houses in the village and drove out all the people who were still there'" (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p.67)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Warm welcomes and warm baths

Changing room in the Turkish bath in Nablus old city

I have been doing my own mini tour around the northern West Bank for the last few days, and there are things i witnessed related to the occupation that i will blog on soon.

But i wanted to mention some very positive experiences i've had. On my first night away in Salfit, i stayed in the house of a local contact, a university student. He and his friends provided a big meal of grilled meat, bread and salad. Then someone played the Oud and sang songs by famous Arab singers such as Fayrouz and Umm Kulthum.

Even though i have been travelling on my own i have always felt safe and relaxed. Many people will talk to you and help you out. On my way to Jenin, the man sitting next to me paid my fare and then took me by foot to my accomodation. That evening, i ate at a local restaurant and the owner refused to take any money from me.

The next day in Nablus, i was walking through the market in the old city and passed a traditional coffee shop, with a group of middle aged men sitting inside smoking shisha. One of them called me in and asked me where i was from and what i was doing in Palestine, before buying me a coffee and giving me his phone number should i need any help.

In Nablus i went to the Turkish bath in the old city. It was built in the 16th century and retains the old style of building. It is a beautiful place to relax, with domed ceilings speckled with small round stained glass windows. It cost the equivalent of 6 GBP (including soap and loofer) and the owner gave me a free cup of tea at the end.

Leaving the Turkish bath and wandering through the narrow alleyways of the old city market with the sun shining, things seemed beautiful and the violence of the occupation felt far away.

Of course, like anywhere in the world, in Palestine there are friendly people and unfriendly people. But if you come here in solidarity, you are pretty much guaranteed a warm welcome and a good time.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Colonisers not just settlers

Travelling across the West Bank in the last few days has made me realise that the words 'settlement' and 'settler' are too benign to describe the occupying colonies and their inhabitants which Israel plants across the West Bank.

Every settlement steals land and resources from Palestinians. Palestinians have to buy back their own water at high prices when it is taken by a settlement. Hills, farmland and roads are all taken for the settlers exclusive use. There are cases of waste from settlements polluting Palestinian villages and farmland. In places like Hebron and Jerusalem settlers take over Palestinian homes, the evictions backed up by Israeli police and soldiers.

The fanaticism of the settlers varies - but all settlements serve the same purpose. Some settlers are lured by the attraction of cheap housing. Most are religious fanatics who refuse to see the Palestinians as equal human beings. They believe that Palestinians must be expelled from the land or enslaved. There is a bloody history of settler violence against Palestinians, including massacres in mosques and universities.

It may be that the words 'settlement' and 'settler' have to be used as they are most commonly recognised in the public discourse on Palestine. But it should be stressed that 'settlements' are colonies and the 'settlers' are occupying colonists.

Plaque in memory of a priest who was killed in Nablus by a settler with an axe.

Rubbish thrown by settlers who have taken over the houses above the Palestinian market in Hebron.

Hebron market, now largely deserted after years of settler intimidation and violence. Hebron has suffered particularly from settler violence, in 1983 settlers entered Hebron university and shot dead three students, in 1994 a settler entered the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and massacred 29 worshipers with a machine gun.

A hill top settlement opposite the Palestinian village of Assawiya. The land below the settlement is full of olive trees and used to belong to the village. Now it belongs to the settlement. Three farmers from the village have been injured by settlers after trying to harvest their olives.

Rows of olive tree stumps as seen from the road to Ramallah. They were cut down after the land was seized by a settlement. Olive trees are an important source of income for Palestinians.