Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Refugee’s Story

A journey back in time

Predating the modern offices and apartment blocks in Ramallah are two refugee camps.  My visit to one,  Jalazon, was with Mohammed Aruri, long time Trade Union organiser in the West Bank and Gaza for which he has been targeted by the Israeli authorities and imprisoned 4 times. He has travelled widely and spoken at many conferences including Unite and Unison and I value him greatly as he is my translator! We visit the home of one of the 17,000refugees to meet the retired camp leader Abu Hazin. About 85 years old, he sits with his wife next to a two electric bar fire and tells me his story. I have read many accounts of the Nakba of 1948, read Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and heard him speak but nothing was more heart wrenching then to listen to a survivor recount his experience

Al Nakba

In 1948, 531 villages were depopulated and /or destroyed by Israeli forces and Abu Hazin and family, with many others of the village of Bait Nabala, came east and ended up in Jalazon to live in tents. Abu quickly became camp leader organising the camp and food supplies.  Fast forward to 1967, the camp became more amenable and rooms were built for families, which eventually became houses. In  1970  Abu and his wife returned to visit their destroyed village.  He tells the story in an impassioned but restrained way and the room’s atmosphere is full of their relived pain and suffering

We will  never forget our homes and villages”, says Abu.

A photo on the wall shows them looking at the destruction

Abu Hazin visiting his destroyed village

 Imprisonment and House demolition

Abu has been imprisoned by the Israel three times.  The first time was in 1970, when he 2 of his sons and three of his daughters were prisoners as well.   The last time was between 1993-6 for being a PLO supporter.  His original house was also demolished.

During the first intifada there were many arrests and Abu’s son was killed by the army.  Abu’s wife was left alone in the house, but the soldiers still came round to harass her speaking Hebrew.  Managing to find an interpreter she said :

Why don’t you leave me alone, it is only me and my god living here now”.

Abu Hazin and his wife


Picture of son killed in 1st Intifada

I leave the camp with a heavy heart knowing that they will live the rest of their lives never being reunited with their land and that the destruction of Pal homes, livelihoods and political arrests is still goes on after 47  years of occupation.

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Out of the mouths of taxi drivers

 “What do you think, are we sleeping?”, he asked. I replied, obliquely, that there were some pockets of resistance but nothing is unified over the West Bank. It was a short ride so I didn’t find out his opinion.

TheRamallah Bubble

I am sure if you do not step outside the Ramallah city boundaries, it is easy to think that the West Bank is calm and peaceful. No army incursions, no violent clashes between teenage boys and soldiers, no resistance to the occupation apart from smallish demonstrations like the one marking Obama’s visit .

 In Hastingsas a small bunch of activists we are used to the majority of people not engaging in our peace issues. Are the inhabitants in the Ramallah suburb where I am staying of a similar mindset tin spite of everything that has happened from the Nakba onwards? The people people around seem to have good jobs – most of the cars are smarter than mine (not too difficult I hear some of you say). Trees line the pavements, flowers are carefully tended, 10 minutes away there are bars which could be in London or Paris. So in Ramallah it is easy to think you are in a pop-up European city that has sprung up from nowhere. Is this the face of ‘normalisation’ ? Well, Ramallah is only 22 kilometres away from Bethlehem, where in Aida Camp there is a different story to be told.

 Last year I was inspired by the cultural resistance in the Aida Refugee Camp, found in the Al Arowwad and Lajee youth centres. But for some of of the young people this is not enough. They vent their frustrations by focusing on the watch tower and the Wall that invades their space.Gill 2013 A the guardpost

The day of my visit the camp was calm, but this is not always so as the following events show.

 Last Monday, April 8, Mohammed Al-Azza, a Palestinian cameraman was shot in the face. Monday, Israeli soldiers entered Aida Refugee Camp through a gate in the separation wall dividing Rachel’s Tomb from Bethlehem. There were no clashes at the time, and their presence in the camp was not provoked. He was merely photographing the soldiers from the second-floor balcony of the Lajee Center, where he has long volunteered in the media unit. He was eager to use the centre’s new camera, a Canon 600D with a 50-250mm zoom lens.*Palestinian photographer shot by Israeli forces, Beit Jala, West

 The back story – making a hole in the wall

This January, several youths decided to take action against the Wall. They chose a spot near the guard tower from which the army frequently fire and which was already weakened by the continuous burning of tyres. They drilled a hole using a electric hand drill, and after two nights the hole was large enough for them to pass through. On January 15 two did.

Salah Ajarma, the director of the Lajee Centre said the idea to make a hole in the wall came from an activist identified only as “Ali Wall,” who began a campaign against the barrier in Aida camp shortly after its completion in 2006. His dream was to make a hole and go to the other side to play in the field.

 (The Palestine Monitor spoke with several witnesses to the drilling and saw a video of the youths drilling the hole. Photos taken after the drilling was done show a hole several feet high and perhaps a foot wide, large enough for children to pass through.)

 “The purpose of the hole was not to launch attacks on Israel or otherwise endanger the Zionist state’s security”, Ajarma said. “The hole was drilled by the camp’s residents out of a simple and universal desire for freedom”.

 “They don’t want the wall close to them, they don’t want the towers, they don’t want to see the Israeli army in the camp… That’s how they feel. Like if we open a hole, [there’s the belief that] we can reach every space, we can reach Jerusalem, or we can go to have a picnic or to have barbecue on the other side of the Wall. Because that’s what children want. They don’t want walls, they don’t want towers, they don’t want bullets. They want a free area and free space for them”.

The killing of Saleh

Frequent army incursions occurred after the drilling of the hole and, on January 18, 16 year old Saleh Elamareen, who eyewitnesses say was merely standing near the Lajee Centre, was shot in the head. He subsequently died in hospital.

 Aida camp is witnessing a brutal crackdown on its young residents. The youth are the beacons of change in every society as they represent the future. When Israel arrests youth on unknown charges they are robbing them them of education, the right to a family life and of Palestine’s right to their future.”

 So Palestine continues to be perplexing and tragic, hopeful and doomed and denied any political solution for the freedom and justice it deserves.

 * I was not there to witness what happened last week the italicised extracts come from the Palestine Chronicle.


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The Palestinian Spring – This Week in Palestine

 Weather wise it is certainly spring in Palestine (sorry Brits) and I have been springing up too, all over the West Bank – Jenin, Nablus, Sabastya, Nabi Saleh, with little chance to blog.

But as for a Palestinian Spring, a popular uprising, there have only been pockets of rebellion, although there were devastating events this week that could have acted as triggers. One event was the shackled death of the Palestinian hero Hamydeh; Hebron particularly erupted. The second was in when two teenagers were killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces in an angry demonstration over Hamydeh’s death. A third event could occur if the hunger striker Issawi dies. However I am reminded by the Jewish writer Uri Averny that the two previous intifadas started spontaneously, without obvious triggering events. . 

Eyes have turned to another way of attacking the occupation, the hacking of the Mossad website, which revealed the names of spies and collaborators.

 Children’s Day, Nabi Saleh

 And who’s the party poo poo? Well as it is Friday in Nabi Saleh it has to be the Israeli Occupation Force, today shooting more skunk water than usual. Maybe the wind is in the right direction.

 Before the march I sit in the sitting room of Naji and Boshra, and catch up on emails. At the start of the demonstration I have a surprise reunion with Ellie, a solidarity activist who I first met at the Peace News Peace Camp back in England, and then again in Palestine last year. She is back in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement, and we swap experiences (ISM is mainly in Hebron). Last year she had been under house arrest in Tel Aviv for activism, so had to change her name to get back into the West Bank this time. She gave me information on how to do it painlessly.

Then the children lead the march, singing joyfully, holding balloons.

Nabi Saleh kids at the beginning of the peaceful march

We turn a corner and, half way down this road, as usual, we meet the army and border police. They begin to spray skunk water on us. It catches Nariman and she runs home to shower and take off her putrid-smelling clothes.Gill 2013 'Skunk' sprayer

 For me one run up the hill, and one lot of tear gas, is ‘khalas’ – enough! I go back to Boshra’s where I listen to Ehad talking about the village council’s strategic plans, and discuss an English conversation programme I am going to. A bit surreal because in the distance grenades are still going off and people are to-ing and fro-ing: going out to observe the Occupation Force entering the village and coming back to escape the tear gas.

Gill 2013 Boshra

The IOF leaves the village at 3.30 and I help Boshra weed her smaller terraces while a local farmer turns over the larger terraces, ploughing them with his donkey. The men go off to formalise arrangements for an upcoming marriage, as is the custom here. Dinner follows and an evening to relax. The way Palestinians switch from resistance to carrying on ‘normally’ never ceases to amaze me!

 Major-General Sami Tugeman has recently been sworn in as the new chief of the IOF. He said in his inauguration speech:

 “A quick glance around us reveals new and old threats, close and far, that present before us a complex and sensitive reality,” he said during the ceremony. “With the ability and preparedness of our units we will deter (Israel’s enemies) from fighting (us), but if (there will be fighting), we will strike shrewdly and forcefully.”

 Using skunk water, tear gas etc against the threat of the non-violent demonstrations for Palestine; Palestinians demonstrating non-violently for their rights? Please! By ‘far threats’ does he means Iran? The IOF will not be needed, surely – the attack will be with drones.

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Film set in Israel Palestine conflict to be shown in Bexhill

On this coming Tuesday 9th April, Hastings and District Interfaith Forum is showing a new film Two Sided Story from the Israeli-Palestinian Berieved Families Circle.  It documents the reactions when Israelis and Palestinians from different generations, backgrounds and political  groups get to know each other as human beings.  It shows what happens when hardline Israeli settlers meet Palestinian resistance fighters, and when Israeli soldiers meet Palestinian ex-prisoners.
The meeting is from 6:30 to 8:00 at St Martha’s Church Hall, Birkdale, Little Common, Bexhill, TN39 3SL.  200 yards from the A259 at Little Common roundabout; turn down the B2182 Cooden Sea Road.

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Road Sign – In Reality a Symbol of Occupation and Apartheid

As I travel in a ‘Servis’ (7-seater mini bus), from Ramallah to Nablus, I notice the proliferation of new road signs at the road side entrances to Palestinian villages. They remind me of zoo warning signs for dangerous animals! No need to put similar signs in front of settlements – they are well protected from ‘intruders’ by high wire fences and patrolling armed security staff. Palestinians are only allowed to enter settlements if they have a work permit. Settlers, on the other hand, are free to roam Palestinian land at will, even to attack farmers and uproot trees.

Gill 2013 road sign warning against Palestinians

Correction from last post

How could I get it so wrong? In my last post I said that Tommy Donnellen had been hit by a gas canister. I’ve seen enough wounds by now that I should know the wound was from a steel coated rubber bullet.

Gill 2013 Tommy with wound

He was standing behind the wall of the petrol station, where I often stand with other photographers, professional and amateur, to snap the interplay between the boy stone throwers (‘shebab’) – and the occupation forces. There were no medics around last Friday so Anne, a French photographer, and I were trying to get some ice on the wound, but he was stoically holding out! Tommy is a relentless activist from Galway Ireland who who has been documenting Palestinian non-violent resistance* for a few years, Maybe that was why he was targeted. I hope that he is healing.

Ongoing oppression tactics

Did a truce ever exist? As I write this, Gaza is being bombarded by Israeli air strikes. In the villages surrounding Ramalla land confiscation goes on for military expansion.

* Friday protests are always essentially non-violent. Peaceful marches are halted by the Israeli occupation forces using skunk water and tear gas, then as the march breaks up teenages (‘shebab’) throw stones at the soldiers, who respond with more tear gas and rubber bullets.

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