Author Archives: fromhastingstokabul

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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Evening for Palestine a Success

The evening for Palestine held in the White Rock Hotel was a success with about 35 people attending. Gill reported back on her recent stay on the West Bank, £40 raised as well as a large amount of Palestine merchandise sold. There was an excellent exhibit of art from children in Gaza.

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Be inspired! Palestine Twinning Conference January 12th 2013

Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian

Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian

And inspired the conference attendees were, by the talk of the Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian. I find it remarkable how varied Palestinians are, considering the small population ( about 4 million according to the World Bank). From skilled, but often uneducated, farmers to urbane academics; from powerful women protesters to those following more traditional roles, there is no ‘one size that fits all’.

Super articulate and upbeat, Ambassador Hassassian’s talk was peppered with good humour.

His key themes were

  • The importance of the Twinning Initiative. Our world is a world of images. Twinning circumvents the stereotypes and enriches the bonding of people.
  • Palestinians have their own sense of pluralism and democracy – universities are a shining example of what Palestinians can achieve.
  • Education is the Palestinian ticket out of the ghetto. Palestine has great universities and this achievement illustrates what it can do.
  • Israel is only interested in the West Bank to fulfil a messianic dream, it is not interested in occupying Gaza. It’s a democracy occupying another country: settlements are snaking their way over the West Bank.
  • Israel is a genius in crisis management but not in conflict resolution, it is virtually the 51st state of the US. They only want occupied Palestine as a market – Palestine is the second highest consumer of Israeli goods, US is the first.
  • The US has failed as an honest broker in the peace process; there is great disappointment in Obama
  • He considers Islamic fundamentalism a challenge. Religion is a zero sum activity.
  • There is no immediate solution to the situation – the next 5 years are going to be difficult

His resounding message:

“The process of history is made by people not governments”

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What price Palestinian Statehood? – West Bank Under Increased Threat

The jubilant celebrations that I witnessed in Palestine when the UN General Assembly voted for an observer state status are in direct conflict with the grim reality on the ground. All non-violent demonstrations that resist the occupation of Palestine are deemed illegal and suppressed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) – relabelled to reflect its real role as the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF). Any place where a demonstration takes place – village, street or field can be decreed a Closed Military Zone and demonstrators attacked using an array of deterrents: skunk water, tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets, live ammunition and arrests. In Nabi Saleh when I was there my friend’s brother, sitting on the hill overlooking the village spring ‘stolen’ by the settlement Halamish, was shot and subsequently died of his wounds.

Collective Punishment

The day after the after the Palestinians obtained a limited statehood at the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli government decided “to punish” them by tripling its illegal settlement building. Plans for building in E1 zone (see below) is a ‘game-changer’, destroying any chances of a viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

HFOY map for blog 15 Jan 2013

A New Form of Resistance

Last Friday, Facebook and Twitter were on fire with news of a tent village, optimistically called Bab AlShams, the Gate of the Sun, secretly erected in E1 but on private, Palestine land next to a Bedouin encampment.HFOY Photo of E1 occupation

Carefully planned with about 250 demonstrators coming from all over the West Bank, braving the bitter cold, the village was equipped with a medical tent, wifi hotspot, embedded international news outlets, kitchen, library and rubbish collection. One leader called it ‘constructive resistance’..

The village lasted two days, Eviction was temporarily halted when lawyers obtained an injunction from the High Court of Justice. Netanyahu demanded that this should be overturned, the Ministry of Justice claiming: “There is an urgent security need to evacuate the area of the people and tents,” suggesting without evidence that a few hundred unarmed activists presented a grave threat to public safety. This action illustrates Israeli racist policies: there are 120 illegal outposts (embryonic settlements) in the West Bank, which are never dismantled but are allowed to gradually expand before being eventually declared ‘legal’ by the Israeli state.

A New Model for Non-Violent Protest?

The camp was evicted by about 500 occupation soldiers. Protesters refusing to leave were assaulted, six needing hospitalization. Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee said: ‘ We will not remain silent as Israel continues to build Jewish-only colonies on our land. Bab Al Shams is no more, but during its short two days it gave new life and energy to all who passed through it. In establishing Bal Al Shams we declare that we have had enough of demanding our rights from the occupier – from now on we shall seize them ourselves’.

As the USA and the EU sit idly by, it is up to the Palestinian grass roots movement to stand up for justice again – is this the start of the 3rd Intifada?



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