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.

The battle for Jerusalem

Abdul Wahab Sabbah reports from east Jerusalem in this month's Socialist Review. You can read the article here.

It is worth noting that the eviction of families in the Sheikh Jarrar district is increasing with alarming speed. Yesterday i visited one family who were evicted a couple of weeks ago. The Israeli police and soldiers came in the middle of the night to enforce the eviction order. They are living in a tent in the front yard whilst the settlers - a group of students - occupy their home.

The settlers walk in and out of the house just yards from where the family sit. They are using water and electricity on the families account and refusing to pay for it. Around the corner Israeli police and soldiers are permanently stationed to respond to any 'threat' towards the settlers or attempt by the family and their supporters to reclaim the house.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Broqeen village - dump site for Israel's industrial waste

The Israeli industrial settlement which dumps its hazardous waste in Broqeen village stream

The polluted stream which runs through the village

Yesterday i went to the small Palestinian village of Broqeen in the northern West Bank.

What is happening in the village provides a clear example of how Israel's drive to control land and resources means trampling upon the basic rights of Palestinians.

Ten years ago Israel constructed an industrial settlement near Broqeen. On this settlement they built the fifth largest factory in the middle east, producing plastic and carpets. The factory was not built in Israel because it's industrial waste might threaten the health of Israeli citizens. Instead it was built in the occupied territories, near the village of Broqeen and other villages, where the only people in danger are Palestinians whose rights don't count in Israel's calculations.

The waste from the industrial settlement is dumped into the stream which runs through Broqeen village. The Palestinian Ministry of health has declared that the levels of pollution in the stream are extremely dangerous to human health.

The villagers only source of water is from the village wells, but they are located near the stream and there is concern that they have become polluted as the stream water seeps through the ground.

The mayor of the village said that at certain times the unbearable smell from the polluted stream drifts through the village, attracting flies and dangerous insects. Deaths from cancer have increased. The village is still waiting for research to be completed which will assess the link between the pollution and deaths in the village, but the villagers own experience tells them that something is very wrong.

A German company offered to build secure pipes which would transfer the waste through the village, but Israel refused permission to build. From Israel's point of view permanent infrastructure for the Palestinians is to be avoided, as it strengthens the Palestinian claim of ownership over the land.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Aida camp Bethlehem

This is the entrance to the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. The camp has refugees from both 1948, when Zionist militias ethnically cleansed the Palestinians from what is now the state of Israel, and 1967, when Israel illegally occupied the West Bank area forcing more people from their homes.

The conditions in the camp are grim, with the inhabitants reliant on UNRWA for basic services. Opposite the entrance to the camp is the separation wall and an Israeli military watch tower.

The key on the top of the entrance represents the refugees keys to their homes which they took with them when they were expelled.

This is some wall art near the camp entrance, again showing the symbolic importance of the keys which the refugees keep with them to this day, in the hope they will gain their internationally recognised right to return.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Last lessons at the UNRWA school

Some students from the UNRWA school in Abu-Dis

Yesterday i did my last lessons at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Abu-Dis.

It's been great working with the teachers and students there and it was a nice last day, albeit tinged with sadness, with lots of smiles, handshakes and nice words exchanged.

But after i left the warm feeling was replaced by one of anger. Anger that these children have been completely failed by the British government, and the governments of the world, who have allowed Israel to get away with building a monstrous, illegal wall through their land.

Many children at the UNRWA school live near the eight meter high concrete wall. It dominates their view which was once hills and trees. What message does this send to a young person about their place in the world and the value of their human rights?

Many more of the children at the school are growing up in poverty because the wall cuts off Abu-Dis from the center of east Jerusalem, devastating the local economy.

The center of east Jerusalem is the place where Abu-Dis children would normally be going for educational, cultural and leisure activities. To pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, see the historic old city, use the public facilities, and walk the bustling streets like Nablus Road and Salah Ed-Din street. Before the wall families could walk there in about half an hour from Abu-Dis. Now it is a dream for most people in Abu-dis, including the children.

It must be stated again and again that, according to any sense of natural justice, east Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Palestine. According to international law, any attempt by Israel to alter the final status of east Jerusalem, which the wall clearly does, is illegal. On every level the wall is an outrage.

The wall is also a problem for the world. After this precedent, which oppressive and power hungry regime will be next to build a similar wall - ghettoising a population it doesn't like and destroying their economic, political and cultural life?

At the time of writing, if you go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website you have to search a while to find out the UK government opinion on the wall. Higher visibility is given to the latest FCO campaign in Jerusalem, 'Speed sisters in the West Bank - the British consulate General in Jerusalem is running a campaign to encourage female participation in motor sports'.

I had a good time at the UNRWA school, but beneath the smiles of the teachers and students there is a lot of pain and sadness about what has been done to their homeland. I come away with anger at the injustice here and commitment to building solidarity with Palestine in the future.

In the next couple of weeks i will be visiting other places in the West Bank such as Hebron, Nablus and Jenin and hope to blog about my experiences there.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'Land day' facts

Yesterday was 'Land day' in Palestine, a day held every year to oppose Israel's seizure of Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Here are some 'Land day' facts:

10% - The amount of the West Bank stolen by Israel when it built the separation wall.

103 - Palestinian homes demolished in east Jerusalem in 2009.

596 - Palestinians displaced due to house demolitions in east Jerusalem in 2009, including 281 children.

4,100 - Houses destroyed during the Israeli aggression against Gaza in December 2008.

500, 670 - The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, 17.2% of the West Bank population.

Source: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics press release, March 30th 2010.

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed"

Banner at the Al-Quds university graduation ceremony

Yesterday some of the students at Al-Quds university in Abu-Dis had their graduation ceremony.

The bitter reality for many graduates is that it is very hard to find decent work in Palestine. I have met people who graduated two or three years ago and are still looking for work.

It is not easy studying for a degree in Palestine. The checkpoints mean that many students leave their homes very early to reach their lectures on time, and even then they can be late if the soldiers decide to cause a problem. Some students have had their education disrupted by being imprisoned by Israel for engaging in legitimate activities against the occupation.

The lost culture of Jewish Arabs

Thanks to my friend Mohammad for introducing me to the Yemeni-Iraqi Jewish band Tzion Golan.

Click on this link to see a video clip of them performing.

The music and dress of the dancers are very similar to what we would associate with Arabic culture. You may also notice the similarity in the sound between the Hebrew singing and Arabic singing.

The video is a small reminder of what was lost when the state of Israel was created and the divisive ideology of Zionism became dominant - a historic and rich Arabic culture which was shared by both Jews and Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and across the middle east.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Mustafa's story

After the recent protest in Abu-Dis

The interviewees name has been changed in this post for reasons of confidentiality.

Mustafa is 39 years old and teaches in schools in Abu-Dis and Ramallah. He lives in Abu-Dis with his wife, also a teacher, and their three young children. He is a kind and friendly man and works especially with disadvantaged students.

It is a cliche, but it is true, that everyone in Palestine has a story about Israel and the occupation. I have got to know Mustafa well over the last couple of months and only recently did he tell me about his experiences.

Mustafa was 16 years old when the first intifada (uprising) broke out in 1987. Like thousands of others he and his brother joined in the mass civil disobedience against the occupation.

"I did what most of us did at that time, throwing stones at Israeli tanks and soldiers. I also wrote anti-Israel graffiti on walls and raised the Palestinian flag in a mosque. For this I spent 1 year in prison".

"For the first two weeks they kept me in a cupboard size cell. I could only stand or crouch down. After that i was moved to a bigger cell. When they interrogated me they tied me to a chair in painful positions for hours. They hit me after asking questions. Then they would throw freezing water over me".

I ask Mustafa how he felt during this interrogation. He said, "I felt good. First you feel very afraid. During the first punches you are in pain and very scared. Then, when you don't say anything, it's a good feeling. You feel strong".

He then tells me about a 'room' in the prison. With his heavily accented English i think he is saying 'bedroom', but after some clarification it turns out that he is saying 'birdroom'.

"In the prison there was a room called the 'birdroom'. It is where they took all the prisoners to try and make them become spies for Israel. If you refused, which i always did, they hit you and threw you across the room. I was taken many times to the 'birdroom'".

Mustafa's story is common in Palestine. It seems almost everyone has either spent time or has a friend or family member who is, or has been, in Israeli prisons. In fact, Mustafa's sentence of 1 year was relatively short. But, as he says, "one day is enough in Israeli prisons, so one year was hell".

Despite his ordeal Mustafa is proud of the first intifada, and he says it was better in some ways than the second intifada (2000-2005).

"The first intifada came from the people, and everyone was united. In the second it was in the hands of the different organisations, and they controlled it more. Also, during and after the second intifada there was more of a division between rich and poor in Palestine. Now the government men, even in Gaza, have big houses and don't think about the people".

Mustafa is scathing about the current Palestinian leadership and the leaderships of all the different organisations. "Now, i hate Fateh, i hate Hamas, i hate Islamic Jihad, i hate the Egyptian government, and i hate the Jordanian government. They all just look for their own interests, and they don't care about the people".

"I love the kind man. I love the man who looks to those who are suffering and poor and doesn't forget about them".

The day after speaking to Mustafa i interviewed some boys that i happened to pass in the street.

I ask them what the problems are in Abu-Dis. The reply immediately, "the Israeli soldiers. They hit us. Its like a game for them". I ask them if many children are arrested for throwing stones. One replies, "Yes many, sometimes they are in prison for years. They miss the important years in school". He points to his friend, "He was shot four times in his leg by soldiers". His friend looks about 14 years old.

So, it seems, there has been little change since Mustafa was arrested over twenty years ago.

There was one big difference between the boys and Mustafa. Whereas Mustafa was not excited by the prospect of a third intifada, as soon as i asked the boys about it their faces lit up and an excited murmur circulated around the group.

After so little has changed in two decades, should anyone really be surprised if and when there is a third intifada?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

'Golden Ramallah' and Palestinian identity

If you ever happen to be in Ramallah i recommend a visit to the La Grotta cafe and bar in the old city. It does a great range of cocktails and arak including the locally made 'Golden Ramallah' (which i enjoyed). Arak, a strong aniseed flavoured alcoholic drink, is produced all over the middle east and La Grotta is well stocked with different versions from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

La Grotta is owned by two Christian Palestinian brothers. They, like most Christian Palestinians, are just as committed to the cause of Palestinian liberation as Muslim Palestinians. The painting at the top of this post is by one of the owners and hangs on a wall in the bar.

The Christian presence is a historic feature of Palestinian identity. The other day i was walking in the nearby town of Aizarieh, when i stumbled upon the most beautiful church, maintained and supervised with pride by local Muslims. Although a small percentage of Palestinians currently in Israel and the occupied territories identify as Christian, when the global Palestinian diaspora is included the figure rises to around 30%.

There are also those in Palestine who could be described as 'secular Muslims', people who value aspects of Islamic culture and practice as part of their identity, but do not make Islam the central focus of their lives. There is also a tradition of atheism which used to be associated with the left, but which seems now to have largely disappeared. The memory of it comes out whenever i confess my own atheism, a common response being, 'ah, so you are a red man.'

I think all this is important because much of the misinformation about the 'Israel-Palestine conflict' is based on varients of the 'clash of civilisations' thesis in which the Palestinians are portrayed as motivated by a fanatical, fundamentalist adherence to Islam. In its most ignorant and racist form this can be seen in the diatribes of commentators like Melanie Philips against 'the Arabs' in Palestine (anyone with decent knowledge of the term would know that being 'Arab' does not preclude being secular, Christian or even Jewish). There is a more liberal version in the arguments of Richard Dawkins, who seems to believe that the cause of the conflict is rooted in theological disagreements. Again this shows ignorance of the multi-faceted nature of Palestinian identity which has been formed by shared territory, culture and experiences of occupation, oppression and resistance.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

'Half the sky is better than no sky'

After spending time here it is possible to get a sense not only of the brutality of the occupation, but also just how absurd it is.

This emerges sometimes when Palestinians talk about their experiences. My friend told me about when he was interrogated by Israeli soldiers and one of them tried to make banal small talk. As he related, with a bitter smile, what the soldier said, it was as if it was from a dark comedy sketch.

I could also see this dark humor in a short film by a local Palestinian film-maker. With tongue firmly in cheek, the film is a mock holiday ad for 'The great wall of Palestine'. Under 'the great wall' you can enjoy the shade, and you can see the talents of local graffiti artists..... And, the film reminds us, the wall may cut off half of the sky but, 'half the sky is better than no sky'.

The absurdity of occupation can be seen in the description of recent protests in Nablus as an 'illegal riot' by an Israeli military spokesperson. Firstly there is the dubious legitimacy of an illegal occupying force defining a protest in it's territory as 'illegal'. Secondly, it would be interesting to inquire if it is possible to have a 'legal riot', and, if so, what is the application process?

During the recent protests in east Jerusalem an Israeli police spokesperson said, 'Throughout the morning we have been dealing with local disturbances...[groups] of Palestinians who are causing riots'.

From what i have seen in Abu-Dis this is clearly absurd. What happens is that protesters block off a road with rubbish bins and set fire to a few tyres. This isn't against the law because there is no civilian law under occupation. It is not any real danger to people or property. It is not any real inconvenience, as most people support it and after a while a passage is cleared for vehicles.

Everybody knows the 'disturbance' will only start when the Israeli soldiers turn up. Sure enough they do, at which point people throw stones at them (no threat to army jeeps made with reinforced steel) and the soldiers disperse people with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

The soldiers could just not come - and nothing much would happen.

But of course they never 'don't come'. They must force a 'clash' to happen. Firstly, they can't tolerate Palestinians having control of their own streets. Secondly they need to get some 'hits', in other words shoot some people to send a message to others - don't come on the streets, don't raise your heads, stay in your homes and ultimately just give up.

The occupation is brutal, degrading, humiliating - and absurd.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Reporting the resistance

A Palestinian man and child walk past Israel's separation wall in Abu-Dis, east Jerusalem.

For a report on the protests which i have been writing about visit Socialist Worker online here.

Also in this week's Socialist Worker Michael Lavalette asks 'Will there be a third intifada?'

Monday, 22 March 2010

Two boys shot dead in Nablus

Last week Mohammad Qadus, aged 15 years old, and Osaid Qadus, aged 17 years old, returned home on a bus to their village of Iraq Burin, near Nablus. When they arrived a protest was taking place against Israeli settlers who had invaded Palestinian farmland.

After they got off the bus both boys were shot in the head by Israeli soldiers using live ammunition, even though witnesses say that neither was involved in the protest. The doctor who treated them said the x-ray showed a "classic, pure metallic bullet".

You only have to imagine the outcry and condemnation if Hamas had shot two Israeli teenagers, to understand the value which is placed on Palestinian life.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Postcards to David Miliband

In some of my lessons i have been getting students to write postcards to the foreign secretary David Miliband about the situation in Palestine. I will post them from east Jerusalem. Here are two examples, both written by 15 year old students:

Dear David Miliband,

First i want to tell you that Palestine is a good country but Israel gives it a bad image in Europe. All the European countries think the Palestinian people kill the Israeli people but in fact they are wrong because Israel made us bad people, they killed our children, old people, and women. I want to ask you, "why did Britain give Palestine to the Israeli people?" They destroyed it and built many settlements in it.
We try to be safe here in Palestine and have a good life. I want you to help and support Palestinian people and try to give us our freedom from the Israeli occupation.

Dear David Milliband,

I read what you think about Palestine and Israel, and some of your thoughts are not true. Hamas is violent but it's not bad, actually Fatah is bad, it kills innocent people, and lots of Fatah guys are spies for Israel, they help it to arrest innocent people and put them in jail for a long time, and for no reason.
The situation in Palestine is now very bad, Israel wants to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and Palestinians are protecting it, so lots of people are injured and lots of them were arrested for throwing stones.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Update on the situation after the protests

There were no protests today, and apparently there was a very heavy police and army presence in east Jerusalem. It is possible there will be protests tomorrow across the West Bank.

The headteacher of a local school in Abu-Dis has reported that five boys are being treated for rubber bullet wounds, all in the back. Yes, that is the Israeli Defence Force. One boy reportedly had his leg broken after being shot and then beaten by the soldiers.

It seems that at least one protester in Abu-Dis has been detained by the Israeli army. It is common for protesters to be jailed for months or even years for throwing stones at the army. However even this 'offence' is never proven, because it is decided at a military court without the normal legal processes of a civilian court.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Protests in Abu-Dis.....and in Shuafat, Essawiyya districts and Ramallah

The main road in Abu-Dis this morning.

The road outside the community center.

Two of my students make their way home with their children.

Weapons used on protesters today in Abu-Dis, probably manufactured in the USA. Metal balls encased in rubber, a rubber bullet and a live bullet.

Today Israeli soldiers clashed with protesters in Abu-Dis and other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The trigger for the protests was the re-opening of the Hurva synagogue in East Jerusalem next to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims.

The background to this is a sustained campaign by the Israeli government to remove Palestinians (most of whom are Muslim) from east Jerusalem. This involves forced evictions, house demolitions and the denial of basic municipal services to Palestinian districts. Then there is the separation wall which breaks east Jerusalem off from the West Bank.

I started my day like i do every Tuesday, going to the community center for my lesson with the university students. I had planned an exercise called 'My daily routine'.

About half way through the lesson the protests started. One of the students had just said, "I had cornflakes for breakfast today" when there was a loud bang outside. A student calmly informed me that it was the Israeli soldiers firing tear gas. I asked them if they wanted to continue and they said yes, "we are used to it". So we continued.

"I usually drink a mug of hot cocoa before i go to bed", said a student. Then there was another loud bang and a large group of young boys ran past the window. "The soldiers are coming past the center", somebody told me. We continued, a student said, "I usually listen to relaxing music in the bath". More bangs from outside.

My next lesson was with a group of local women, aged between 30-50. One of the women arrived and told us she had just been pushed by a soldier. She said, "He told me to go home and i told him, 'don't you dare touch me, i am going to my lesson!', i shouted to the boys in the street, 'may God be with you!'"

We finished early because one of the women had her children with her and they were frightened by the banging noises.

We walked past some of the protesters, all young men or boys, who had been throwing stones at the soldiers. They were nothing less than courteous. "Hi, where do you need to go?", "Come this way, it's safe", "Welcome to Abu-Dis". I bumped into a couple of my students from a local school, "Hi Jon, how are you? It's safe for you this way".

I got talking to some university students on the street. They took me through the backstreets to a place where we could observe the soldiers from a safe distance. We watched as the soldiers spread out across the road and started the descent down the road to where the protesters were. I heard later of two protesters injured by rubber bullets.

The students then invited me to their house for coffee. We discussed Palestine, Barack Obama, and the British government. One of the students told me he was beaten for no reason by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, "I couldn't see for two days because my face was so swollen. After that, i was in a kind of blind rage". We then discussed music and a student showed me his dance moves. These are normal students living in an abnormal situation.

I went back to my flat. From my balcony i could see a helicopter in the distance hovering over the Al-Aqsa mosque.

What is called 'calm' in Palestine just means people submitting to intolerable conditions and the denial of basic human rights. Today people in Abu Dis and elsewhere said 'no' to this false 'peace'.

Only justice and freedom for Palestine can bring lasting peace.

Friday, 12 March 2010

'I love life on earth, among the pines and the fig trees, but I can't reach it...'

This picture shows how Israel's wall cuts off one of the most important hills in Abu-Dis. My friend told me that as a child he used to go there to fly kites and play with his friends. Now children don't really have anywhere to play except for the polluted streets.

Below is a small selection of the many images and messages which have been written on the wall in Abu-Dis.

Mahmoud Darwish - author of the title of this post.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

'Have a nice day!'

Yesterday I accompanied a family i have become friends with to east Jerusalem. This involved going through the Zaytoun checkpoint. This has turnstiles with thick iron bars and airport style security scanners. Israeli soldiers bark orders through a loudspeaker. They speak in Hebrew to the Palestinians, not Arabic.

If your identification papers are not in order, or if they take a disliking to you, you can be held for hours and even strip searched.

The latest technology is used, so Palestinians now place their hands on a special scanner in order to be identified. I met an old man who said he has problems with it because after a lifetime of manual work the marks on his hands have become worn away.

As someone with a British passport i got 'have a nice day!' from the loudspeaker. I didn't reply.

Under occupation, the development of basic infrastructure in Abu-Dis (roads, traffic systems, rubbish collection, housing) is continually frustrated, but no expense is spared for the upkeep and maintenance of the Zaytoun checkpoint.

This is what many Palestinian's have to experience in order to go where they have lived, worked and worshiped for generations. The family i was with were only permitted to go to east Jerusalem for a day because the mother had to have a health check up.

I accompanied the family to the hospital before we went for lunch in the old city. In the hospital we met an elderly women who had come for cancer treatment. She had been accompanied by her son but he was turned back at the checkpoint because of a mistake (not his fault) on the paperwork he had been issued with. She was now alone carrying her belongings.

In the evening me and another volunteer went for dinner at the house of a local woman who we are friends with. We were introduced to her family. Her father questioned me about Israel's war crimes in Gaza and the complicity of the British government. He told me that two of his daughters live on the other side of the separation wall and he cannot visit them.

One of our friends daughters sang us a beautiful song, and we looked out over the expansive view from the family home of the surrounding Palestinian towns and Israeli settlements. On the right was east Jerusalem and Abu Dis, on the left the ever growing settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, it's street lights glistening in the dark in neatly arranged rows like a suburb of the US.

A resident of Ma'ale Adumim consumes eight times more water than a resident of Abu Dis. The settlement controls the local water supply, meaning that in the height of summer Palestinian homes are sometimes cut off.

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's day in Ramallah

Today i went with around 30 women from Abu-Dis and Bethany to the International Women's day celebrations in Ramallah. Unfortunately the coach was late and by the time we got to Al-Manarah square the protest had ended.

This was disappointing but it was still an interesting day.

It brought home to me the continuing importance of women's liberation. One of the women who came to the protest from Abu-Dis was married when she was 15 years old. She has never had formal education, and looking after her six children is her full time job. Her husband was on the phone a couple of times today asking her why she had gone to Ramallah. From her everyday manner you wouldn't be able to guess at these difficulties.

For me this is why central to women's liberation has to be decent free childcare, social welfare and workers rights, so that all women, not just a privileged elite, can have the opportunity to pursue education, leisure, and not be trapped in exploitative relationships out of economic necessity. Of course the occupation here is a huge barrier to any of these things happening.

It made me wonder how many people marking International Women's day in Israel gave a thought for women in Palestine.

On the coach to Ramallah i sat next to a women who works for the General Palestine Federation of Trade Unions. She provided me with information about the landscape as we drove past.

She informed me that the main road from Abu-Dis to Ramallah would be closed off by Israel in the next three years, forcing Palestinians to use an alternative route to get to Ramallah and Jerusalem. This route is longer and more complex, and involves passing through one of the worst checkpoints, where Palestinians are processed like cattle through turnstiles and security gates.

She pointed out how the Israeli settlements were expanding as we went past, with the older settlement houses at the top of the hills and the visibly newer buildings spreading out down the sides. Each settlement taking more land, roads and resources for Israel and less for the Palestinians, making chances of a 'viable Palestinian state' even more remote.

In short, Israel is imprisoning a whole population, and trying to destroy their chances for a decent future.

But you can almost forget this when you are walking the streets of central Ramallah. Here you can visit shopping malls, dine in nice cafes and there is even a cocktail bar. There are no Israeli soldiers or symbols to be seen, and Palestinian police direct the traffic.

But, from what i saw on my way to Ramallah, this doesn't represent real liberation but is more like telling a prisoner, "you control everything here, except for the walls".

Ramallah market

I think Ramallah market beats Brixton market, but only just.

I think a small child got lost in here.



5 a day anyone?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A wall for Palestine

In its cruelties, its injustices, its repetitiveness, and its gifts, there is nothing more exaggerated than reality.
John Berger

Yesterday the students at the UNRWA school in Abu-Dis showed me the wall display they have created which highlights significant moments in the history of Palestine.

These are early Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Generally they lived in peace alongside Arab Palestinians, which is why they are portrayed as happy and friendly.

This is Theodor Herzl, one of the founders of Zionism, who wrote in 1895, "We shall endeavour to expel the poor population [i.e. Arab Palestinians] across the border unnoticed, procuring employment for it in the transit countries, but denying it any employment in our own"

This is Lord Balfour, the British cabinet member who in 1917 promised support for a Zionist homeland in Palestine. This meant colonising and partitioning the land against the interests of the Arab majority.

This depicts the nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, when more than half of Palestine's native population were forcibly expelled, and half of Palestine's towns and villages completely destroyed. Upon this act of ethnic cleansing Israel was created.