Days Under Fire
Days Under Fire
This document consists of diary entries from two British solidarity activists who worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Occupied Palestine. The entries are long, but both highly analytical and vividly descriptive.
Claire's journal -- Aida Camp, Bethlehem
Tuesday, 30 July
Israeli television announces more suicide bombings are to come. At the Hebrew University in East Jerusalem, a bomb explodes in the cafeteria over lunchtime, killing seven people and injuring 70, 11 of them seriously.
Yesterday, the Reverend Jesse Jackson visited Bethlehem, where he met with the municipality and NGO representatives. Local television in Bethlehem broadcast the entire visit. Here in Aida, we all watched, hoping for comfort and some sense of justice.
Unfortunately, as so often, all we heard was that "both sides" have to make compromises, and that "both communities" should recognise the "humanity" of the other.
In Aida camp, which is by no means the most severely affected part of Palestine at this moment, the experience of Israeli "humanity" is that of a cruel and ruthless military occupation, unfolding in complete illegality in front of the whole world. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people suffer under the burden of impossibly contradictory demands.
This afternoon, I walked out to the edge of the camp. The fields here used to serve as both playground for the children and pasture for the goats, while busy shops lined the street opposite. The new ghetto wall has cut off the families living in the camp from the families on the other side. All the shops have been closed, and the fields are a mess of trenches and barbed wire. I went to visit five families living in a building on the 'other side'. They have neither Israeli permits nor Jerusalem ID cards, though they now officially reside within the borders of Jerusalem municipality. One of the men was arrested, only to be released two days ago, when the IDF entered his home and he could not present a valid permit.
The factories and offices in Bethlehem and the surrounding area have stopped paying wages when the curfew is not lifted. The lifting of the curfew is decided randomly by the occupying army; the Palestinians are informed by local television. Promises are often made which then do not materialise. As a result, it is impossible to plan anything. During a curfew, anyone who ventures out onto the street can be shot without warning.
The workers of Bethlehem have to brave the curfew to go to work and feed their families. Most men have a long way to walk to work (a two-hour walk is nothing unusual), and cannot afford to take the risk. Their families have to survive on two or three days' wages a month. This means that a normal family in Aida will eat chicken or meat once or twice a month, surviving most of the time on bread and rice. Sometimes, UNRWA hands out flour, sugar or oil.
Instead of a dignified life as a hardworking society, the Palestinian people are made to feel a burden on the international community and a useless population.
This is the "humanity" that we ought to recognise on behalf of the Israeli occupant. Can you name anything remotely similar in the experience of the Israeli population? The only threat to Israel's shameless oppression are the desperate young people misled in their longing for peace and justice, who seek to make a stand as they die instead of "peacefully" accepting to be killed at checkpoints or on their way to work, when they are not murdered in the middle of the night when an F16 bombards their houses.
Thursday 1 August
JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: We accompany Abed on his journey home to Jerusalem, where he lives with his wife and children, two boys aged 2 years and 5 months. A curfew had been imposed, but he had gone to work "illegally" all the same at the pharmaceutical laboratory in Bethlehem.
We set off at 5am from Aida, walking through the empty streets of Bethlehem, hoping to find a car on the move. There is no one at all on the streets, save for a group of children who are making good use of all the empty space to drive their little cart. They are happy to see the pictures we take of them with our digital camera.
A few hundred metres down the street, we meet an Israeli jeep and four soldiers standing across the street. There is no alternative route, so we just carry on towards them. They check our papers and don't ask us "Internationals" any questions. Instead, they question Abed in English, probably for our benefit, reminding him that there is a curfew and asking why he has been to work and why he is on the street. Rhetorical questions receiving factual answers:
"I was at work because I have to and I am going home because these are the only two days holiday I have."
"Will I see you out again walking during curfew?"
"If I have to work, yes."
"I don't want to see you again on the street during curfew, do you understand?"
Abed nods. We are through. Shortly afterwards, we find a lift in a minibus that is driving a group of workers home. The driver will take us all the way to Jerusalem. He takes the "road of fire", named for the time before it was laid with tarmac. In those days, the gravel and sand made this route very slippery and dangerous, and many lives were lost when cars left the road and rolled down the steep slope to land at the bottom of the valley.
In addition to his job in Bethlehem, Abed also works in Aida camp, where he runs the cultural centre. As a Palestinian from Aida, he has no permit to live in Jerusalem. Since he married Nahil, three years ago, the Israeli administration has been happy to take his money in taxes, but has given him nothing in return -- no health insurance or access to other services. Nahil is a Palestinian from Jerusalem and therefore carries a Jordanian passport. Yet her passport doesn't give her free entrance into Jordan. Palestinians obviously cannot be granted the same rights as other people, whatever country they live in. Abed and Nahil are still trying to get their papers sorted out. Everywhere they go, they carry with them temporary certificates explaining their situation. Yet even these papers do not much help when they are stopped at checkpoints.
On our way across the valley, we see the Israeli settlements perched on top of the hills, their houses spreading around water sources in what had previously been green spaces. At the second checkpoint, we join the queue of cars and lorries waiting to be let through. It is very hot. We get out of our cars and stand around chatting. Suddenly, an Israeli army jeep drives straight at us, with its loudspeaker blaring, as if it is going to plough right into us. The voice screams, ordering us to get into our cars and turn around. We have only a very narrow piece of road on which to manoeuvre, beneath which the hillside falls away precipitously. As our minibus driver cranks the wheel around, I feel no terror at this manoeuvre only because I am still watching the jeep, which continues to drive right at us.
Then, no sooner have we safely turned round, than the jeep disappears back up the hill and the cars which were in front of us are able to drive on through the checkpoint. However, our driver has had enough of the road of fire, and wants to look for another route instead. He starts to wrack his brain, searching for streets he hasn't had to take for years.
Abed turns to me and says: "You see how the Israelis work hard to make us Palestinians more clever and more resourceful?"
When even getting home from work turns into a victory over a powerful oppressor, people feel even less like giving up their rights, and are prepared to fight for them all the harder. The daily trials of occupation only strengthen their resolve.
We pass through the third roadblock just before a crane finishes positioning a series of large concrete blocks across the road to create a new checkpoint. Abed wonders how we will make our way back on Saturday. A hundred yards further on, a watchtower and a few cement blocks marked the location of a previous checkpoint, now abandoned. Moving checkpoint locations, like changing the times at which curfew is lifted, is a way of throwing people off balance, of showing them "who's boss".
At last we arrive in Jerusalem. Here, there is no curfew, doubtless because so many Israelis live there. The building where we stay is facing the Old City, and we can see the Al-Aqsa dome glistening in the sunlight. We sit on the roof with our host, and as we look around, it really seems the most wonderful sight in the world. As the night comes down, we can see the lights of the city, interspersed with those, much stronger, which surround the new Israeli colonies in the heart of east Jerusalem.
Saturday, 3 August
This evening, the Abu Srour family gather together in Aida. It is a rare event; there is usually a curfew starting from 7pm. But news has come through that the Israelis have decided to reward the people of Aida for their recent "good behaviour" by lifting the curfew indefinitely. We are so pleased at this news, we even start making plans to meet tomorrow in Doha and visit Abed's brother in his beautiful house and garden.
However, somewhere in our hearts, doubts linger on. And sure enough, at 10pm we hear that there will be no lifting of the curfew. Then at 11pm, we are told that the curfew will last from 9am until 1pm. If you believe that, you will believe anything. It is just as well that no one in the family has planned to get married during the next curfew lifting. In the face of such repeated frustration, I can understand how people grow so desperate they think even death must be sweeter than this constant psychological torture. When I look at the Palestinians around me, I realise that they have temporarily cut out of their brain the function for making plans for the future. This is the only way they can survive.
Even the children I interviewed this morning had problems when I asked them about their wishes for the future. At first, they answered "nothing", as if they were afraid of tempting fate.
CHECKPOINT STORIES: Everybody has hundreds of stories to tell about the checkpoints. Here are two.
Nahil is a primary school teacher at a girls' school in the old city of Jerusalem. She has to be at school at 7.30am. Her mother looks after her two children during the day. In order to reach her mother's house, she has to cross a checkpoint. She leaves home at 6am to allow plenty of time for the crossing. On foot and in normal circumstances, it would take 10 minutes to reach the house; but because of the children, she takes the car. She considers herself exceptionally lucky if she only has to wait 15 minutes at the checkpoint; usually, it will take between 1 and 2 hours each way, making an average of 4 hours a day spent waiting to be allowed through.
Last month, a soldier asked her to get out of her car, hold her hands above her head and come towards him to show her ID card. (This is not unusual.) He then asked her to call the children out of the car and lift their shirts. It took him a while to understand that they were too small to do this. After a while, he agreed to come to the car himself, by which point the two children were hot, frightened and both in tears. He then asked her to empty all her bags, before finally letting her through.
Nahil is lucky because she has a Jerusalem ID card; she can usually get through the checkpoints if she waits long enough. When she was pregnant and went into labour, her only thought was, "How am I going to get through the checkpoint to get to the hospital?" Had she gone into labour in the middle of the night, she would not have dared make the journey; during these hours, soldiers shoot at anything they see moving. At the Qalandia checkpoint in Ramallah, pregnant women are regularly asked to lift their robes and show their stomachs.
Last winter, the Al-Ram checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem was closed off. It was very cold and a large crowd had gathered waiting to be allowed through, including many women, children and elderly people. After a long wait, a soldier announced that he would open the checkpoint for five minutes and that everybody would have to run through; once the 5 minutes were up, he would close the checkpoint and open fire on those who were left behind. People were very frightened and everybody started running, including the elderly. After 5 minutes, the soldier closed the checkpoint as he had said.
No one doubted that the soldier would also do as he said and start shooting. It is not unusual for soldiers to open fire on a peaceful crowd, and later cover their tracks by claiming that members of the crowd had started throwing stones at them first.
Sunday, 4 August
Hamada, a 13 year old boy, asks me to interview him and is promptly joined by 6 other children. He lives and was born at Aida camp. He goes to school in Beit Jala and comes to Al-Rowwad centre to do theatre, dabka dancing, computer skills, English and French. The children make a list of what they want for their lives:
Freedom; green trees; a school like a castle and not riddled with bullet holes; for Palestine to be as beautiful as it used to be, with no destruction and no killing; for the prisoners to come home; to see Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and to go there tomorrow if possible.
Once, Hamada saw his home village, Beit Natif, which is also the home village of many children in the camp. It is now inhabited by Israelis, but he was able to see how beautiful it is.
There followed a playful argument between the children regarding which of their home villages is the most beautiful, Beit Natif or Beit Jibrin, all the children being worried I would write down that one was more beautiful than the other.
STORIES FROM EAST JERUSALEM: Drug addiction is increasingly a problem among the young Palestinian population in the old city of Jerusalem. The Israeli police never make any arrests among dealers who sell to Palestinians, they only arrest those who also sell to Israelis. In those cases, they hit the dealers hard, handing down long prison sentences. Meanwhile, the police exploits drug addiction and the consequent need for money by bribing people into becoming informers. The struggle necessary to obtain up- to-date ID cards and passports is also manipulated in the same way. As a result, people are suspicious of anyone who is able to obtain such papers rapidly. Abed has been waiting three years to get his situation as a West Bank Palestinian residing in Jerusalem regularised; during his first interview, he was offered just such a deal -- preferential treatment in return for 'information'.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem pay the same taxes as Israeli residents, but are far from enjoying the same rights. They do not get equal pay for equal work, they are not entitled to social security or health insurance, their streets are not cleaned and their rubbish is not collected as often as Israeli rubbish. Road works in the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem can last for several years, while in the streets inhabited by Israelis everything is neat and tidy, and any problems are dealt with quickly. At major road junctions where roads reserved for Israelis meet those reserved for Palestinians, the traffic lights are ridiculously long on the Palestinian side, while the Israeli cars speed freely by.
The old city of Jerusalem is crowded. Palestinian residents are not allowed to buy land and cannot obtain building permits. When families grow through marriages and births, people are forced to make illegal extensions to their houses, exposing them to the risk of large fines. There is a lot of space around the old city, but it is largely taken up by huge Jewish cemeteries dating from the 1967 war. These cemeteries form a kind of belt at the foot of the city walls. It costs 70,000 shekels to get a permit to build a house (equivalent to 12,000 dollars). Even if a Palestinian family manages to save up for the permit, they have no money left to actually build the house. Palestinian families spend their whole lives saving up for things that are more or less given free to their Israeli neighbours. Palestinian parents struggle so much to make ends meet that they feel they are forced to neglect their children. Worrying about checkpoints, ID cards and money consume all the time and energy of the average Palestinian parent in Jerusalem.
There is more work in Jerusalem than in the West Bank at present, not least because there are no curfews. As a result, many people move there from the West Bank. By doing so, they give up their rights to ever reside in the West Bank again (though the two territories are contiguous, separated only by a checkpoint). Palestinian homes in Jerusalem are crammed with these extended families, with up to 10 or 12 people living in the same room. Teachers often complain that the crowded home environment makes the children difficult to control and aggressive. These children have nowhere to play, either at home or in the street, (always a dangerous place for Palestinian children). It takes next to nothing to "provoke" an Israeli security guard into using his weapon, so parents do not allow their children to go out.
Jewish settlers are buying houses in the city of Jerusalem; sometimes, one floor of a house will be occupied by Israelis, and the next floor by Palestinians. Every time the Israelis want to leave their flat, they are escorted by security guards, terrifying any Palestinian child who finds himself in their way. If any one threw anything towards the guard, he would shoot without warning. The situation is extremely tense and is not helped by the numerous CCTV cameras which line the streets.
Despite all this discrimination and hassle, the Palestinians have learned the lessons of history -- their own history since 1948, and that of their persecutorsÃ¢ the history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. They would rather die where they are than become refugees again. They listen to the constant reminiscing of the eldest, who still miss the homes and villages in which they grew up as children. The younger generation think of themselves as refugees too; for them, the native villages of their parents and grandparents are their true homes. This new Palestinian generation will not leave. "At least we will die in peace," they say, "instead of living a miserable life somewhere where we will be strangers for the rest of our life."
THE INTERIOR OFFICE: In West Jerusalem, the interior office, where you obtain ID cards and other legal documents, is spacious and cool thanks to the efficient air conditioning. You never have to wait for more than half an hour and the doors are always open during opening hours. You have your file there, in which the administration keeps track of all your documents, and you don't need an appointment to see someone.
In East Jerusalem, the interior office is officially open only from 9am until 12 noon. There is a gate at the door, which the guard opens every half hour, if he feels like it. Outside, there are two long queues stretching down the street (one for men, one for women). Some people spend the night on the street to make sure they will get an interview the next day. And of course, if the queues get too long, and people start pushing and jostling for position, then the guard may decide to close the doors for the day and turn everyone away.
To get an appointment, you have to phone beforehand, but the line is always busy. When you eventually get through, if you are lucky, you may be offered an appointment in one month's time. No one keeps any record of the documents you present, and every time you go, you need to provide more and more proof that you are actually a Jerusalem resident: bills, housing tax, wage slips. etc. So every time you need an official document, you have to go through the same hassle, lumping along with you the same pile of papers proving your existence.
"TEACH ME WHAT PEACE MEANS": Nowadays, "conflict resolution" and "non violence" are leitmotivs for many Palestinian organisations. Israeli-Palestinian peace conferences bring together people from both sides to try and advance the peace process. However, there is a fundamental difficulty for all Palestinians who are willing to work for peace: they have no experience of it, no concept, no memory. All they have known all their life is occupation by one country or another, oppression and deportation to refugee camps.
They meet the Israelis and try to discuss matters with them. But they are not allowed to start by telling them how much they hate what the likes of them have done to their country and its people. So they sit with them in hotel lobbies, drink beer and, as one participant put it, his head is clear but his heart isn't.
This is a difficult position to be in when planning for the future. But there is no other choice for the Palestinian representatives since the Oslo accords in 1993 recognised the right of existence of Israel and the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza, thus granting the right of existence to the Palestinian Authority.
For the first time, the Palestinians have their own embryonic self- determination. For many, it is worth going through these mental contortions in order to try advance the process a little. But "conflict resolution" can never be an easy business, when the little land allocated you is constantly subject to brutal reoccupation by the army of the other side.
Thursday, 8 August
HOUSE DESTRUCTIONS IN BETHLEHEM: Last night we heard three explosions, at 4am, at 4.30am and again at 6.30am.
Today, we drive around with some Palestinian friends to assess the extent of the destruction.
The first house we visit is in Beit Jala. It used to be three stories high. Forty people lodged there, from six families. Now, nothing is left of it but a pile of rubble, and the three adjoining houses are also severely damaged, their windows blown out and their furniture destroyed.
The targeted house belonged to Mousa Allan, whose son was arrested in Nablus recently because the Israelis suspect him of having been an accomplice in a car explosion. The soldiers came at three o'clock this morning and warned the inhabitants that they had 20 minutes to get out and clear everything they wanted from the house. All the furniture taken out of the house was, of course, destroyed in the explosion. Small children are playing with a teddy bear they found in the rubble. The men sit beside the rubble, on top of which flies a Palestinian flag.
The second house, in Ertas, belonged to Dahud Abu Swey, a martyr who died two months ago. His photo is placed on top of the pile of rubble where he once lived.
The third house we visit is in Doha. It was blown up at 4am this morning. 11 people lived in it. One of the sons blew himself up last March in Jerusalem. There is a Palestinian flag on top of the pile of rubble and a photograph of the son. The father, Isaac Abdallah Ibrahim Nabiti, shows us around. The explosion partly destroyed the houses next door, and Mr Nabiti's front door is stuck in the wall of a house across the street. Bits of his house have been scattered as far as the end of the street, some 200 metres away.
On the wall of a house on our way home, we see a graffiti which reads: "Resistance is not Terrorism".
Peggy's journal -- Nablus
Friday, 2 August
The Israelis reentered Nablus on 31 July and today I traveled from Jerusalem to Nablus. A taxi took a group of us to Bourin. From there, we had to walk for nearly 4 hours with heavy bags in 38-39 degrees C temperatures over the mountains. We got to the medical centre as night was falling. The tanks were grinding around intermittently all night, and we heard the occasional firing.
Saturday, 3 August
In the Old City, the water has been turned off. This is a regular occurrence. The total curfew is continuing. The streets are empty, the shops are closed. It is like being in a ghost town.
The houses that have been demolished are like miniature bomb sites. Most of the destruction occurred in March, but the policy has resumed with the new incursion. Often, several adjoining houses collapse at the same time due to the force of the explosion. Doors are drilled through or battered down, windows are broken, and on occasion, the soldiers tunnel through the walls from one house to another. The streets are littered with glass and debris; among the rubbish, we find a small box of cheap jewelry and some family photos.
It is the practice to line people up in the street while their house is being searched, ransacked or trashed, ostensibly in search of arms. We come across one group who have been standing in line for six hours already when we arrive. We engage the soldiers in conversation and challenge them about what they are doing. Some wish they were back home, some are very aggressive:
"We stop the Palestinians from killing the Jews!"
"All Palestinians are dogs and terrorists!"
We reply: "You are the terrorists. You have the guns and the tanks, while the Palestinians are unarmed."
The soldiers are wearing thick fatigues (uniforms), they are very dirty and sweaty. We have the impression that they are leading miserable lives. Sometimes they will turn people out into the street so they can eat food or take a siesta in their house.
Later, we come across an ambulance parked near some APCs. The driver has been waiting for two hours to get his ID back while the patient languishes inside on his way to hospital. The ID is returned when we come on the scene. We Internationals enjoy a certain privileged immunity, as the Israelis are wary of injuring any of us.
Later again, we visit a house which has just been burned down. Black smoke is still billowing up, and the smell of burning pervades everything. There is a constant rumbling of tanks, churning up and ruining the roads, and in some places breaking the water and sewerage pipes. The streets are full of rubble and sand, the walls are damaged, and as the tanks pass, they emit plumes of black smoke as well as stirring up huge clouds of dust. There are heaps of refuse on every street corner, as no refuse removal is possible, and the stench is sometimes unbearable.
What a violent contrast between these images and the wealth and sophistication of the settler camps which we saw as we were travelling to and from Jerusalem, with their good roads and handsome buildings! There, no expense is spared. Every support is given to the settlers who are living on land which belongs to the Palestinians. Like the soldiers, they also have guns, and they are determined to protect their privileged lives on these territories they have usurped, perched at vantage points on the hills around every Palestinian town.
Whenever we approach them, the tanks train their guns on us. We walk around the streets, heading towards any noises which might indicate trouble for the Palestinians, so that we can witness what is happening and relay these events to the rest of the world. We try to engage in conversation with the soldiers, but they only tell us to go away and point their guns at us threateningly. We stand our ground as long as possible, sometimes we manage to face them down, sometimes we take the part of discretion. We film and photograph as much as possible. On one occasion, a soldier tries to snatch a camera and we all join the struggle, but he succeeds in taking it and removes the film. Later, we hear that one American international who was filming soldiers engaged in some of their dirty business was handcuffed and made to sit on the ground with a gun pointed at his head for 10 minutes.
We take turns to spend the night at the houses of Palestinians who have given up their lives in attacks against the Israelis -- their only form of defence. These houses are liable to be destroyed as a form of punitive revenge.
With a 17 year old German girl, Fiona, I spend the night of 3 August in a house where a 24 year old man was shot by a soldier the previous morning while he was standing on the roof. They had to wait a whole day for the body to be taken to hospital. The brother and his friend, who also live in the flat, are afraid of being arrested as "terrorists". On the day of the death, a group of ISM were asked to try and remove the blood from the steps leading down from the roof, but it was impossible to get rid of the large bloodstains.
Another family with two young children live in the flat above. They are terrified of retribution, though their only crime is living in the same building. We try to arrange for an ISM to be present with them 24 hours a day.
Every murdered man is a martyr. Their photographs are posted up in the streets everywhere you go, amidst the Israeli graffiti. In Balata Camp, the Palestinians point out to us the yellow circles painted on the walls by the Israelis. These symbols indicate the houses which the Israelis intend to destroy. It reminds us of the history of the Jews of Europe, who had the Star of David painted on their doors.
Sunday, 4 August
Fiona and I leave the flat where we have been staying as a protective presence. The streets are completely deserted. We walk cautiously back to our base at the Red Crescent centre. After 2 minutes we hear the sound of battering, and turn to see two Israelis bashing in the door of a shop. They call to us, but we walk on slowly, pretending not to understand. Their cries become more voluble, and we have to turn back. One soldier asks where we are going. I play stupid: "to find our friends at the big door". I repeat "big door" several times, making a semi-circular gesture with my hand at the same time (the "big door" is at the entrance to the old city). He is non-plussed, and finally gives up and sends us on our way after checking our IDs. This soldier was very young; many look about 18. These kids are the people who are sacking Nablus, ruining the city, and oppressing the whole Palestinian people.
Later, we see the Qasaba museum being broken into. A Palestinian is made to smash the lock, then the Israelis batter the door down. We circumnavigate the building, emerging through a narrow street at the top, where we meet two very angry and aggressive Israeli soldiers. They point their rifles at us and tell us to be on our way in no uncertain terms. As we leave, they fire their guns into the air. Later, we learn that the Israelis believe that there is a network of tunnels under the museum leading into the old city.
On the way back down, a woman calls us into her home to show us how it has been trashed. The windows are broken, everything had been pulled out of place, and all her possessions and furniture lie jumbled up in a heap on the floor.
Monday, 5 August
ISM colleagues tell us about a building they visited which has been occupied by the Israelis. Everyone living in the building has been crammed into the ground floor. There are five families in one room, and all the doors are locked and guarded. They accompanied a doctor who was visiting there. Four Israelis were standing against the wall with video cameras, recording "their compassion and kind treatment of Palestinians". No doubt these images will be shown on Israeli TV as propaganda.
We move to Balata Camp where we will spend several nights with families of kamikaze. A boy of 13 has been shot that day. He was playing football with his friends when the Israelis arrived. All the other boys scattered and tried to hide. He was unlucky; he was shot through the chin and the chest. He was only 13 years old.
Throughout the night, we can hear the churning of tanks and shots being fired.
Wednesday, 7 August
Today is the day of our big operation. Hopefully the press will be there to see us. We have planned a march from the village of Hawara to the nearby checkpoint. About 40 Internationals will join forces with some 200 Palestinians. We are demonstrating against the curfew and for the Right of Passage for the Palestinians. This village had been under constant curfew for about 45 days, and it is very difficult for the people there to procure food and medical care. We set off with our banners in a large group towards the checkpoint, which is on the road to Nablus. Before we get to the top of the hill, Israeli soldiers force us to stop. They are very aggressive and there are many scuffles. They throw sound bombs and tear gas. We quickly disperse through the choking gas, then regroup. Families standing along the sides of the road distribute bunches of onions and show us how to press them to our noses. The relief is almost instantaneous.
We are now standing in three groups. The largest consists of all the Palestinians and about 30 Internationals. The Palestinian Authority asks them to return to Hawara. About 12 Internationals remain on the road. Five ISMs are arrested. The rest of us try to prevent the APC from taking the arrested men away. Some men lie down in the road as the APC manoeuvres, and eventually we all sit down in a line across the road. We are removed by force. Those who resist most vigourously are dragged across the road, receiving cuts and bruises, and their clothes are torn.
We try to negotiate the release of the arrested ISMs. We say that we will leave peacefully if the soldiers let them go. We stand by the side of the road in a group, waiting for a decision to be relayed by telephone from their commanders. Suddenly, a group of Israeli police in their dark uniforms arrive on the scene. They are very aggressive, and start yelling at us to get off the road and out of the way. They push the seven of us who are left at liberty into the ditch at the side of the road. While they are attacking us, the APC is able to make its get away with the arrested ISMs inside.
The group made up of the Palestinians and the remaining ISMs are making their way down hill back towards Hawara. The Israelis seize their chance and wade in, targeting the Palestinians. The Internationals try to prevent the Palestinians being arrested. There are violent scuffles and some brutality. Nine Palestinians are arrested along with four more Internationals. That makes nine ISMs altogether; they will probably face immediate deportation. We are very concerned about the fate of the Palestinians, who are always the targets of beatings and mistreatment. A group is formed to stage a presence at the jail, and offer support and coordination. We are fed and watered by the Palestinian Authority and are ready to return to Nablus in the late afternoon. As it is now impossible to return via the checkpoint, a taxi takes us the short distance to Bourin, then we walk the rest of the way over the mountain route to Nablus.
Thursday, 9 August
Today is the day of the funeral of the first two men to be killed when the Israelis reentered Nablus at the end of July.
There was a funeral yesterday in Tulkarem. Israeli soldiers arrived on the scene, and began firing indiscriminately into the funeral procession. Many Palestinians were wounded, though fortunately none were killed.
Hoping to avert any similar violence, we accompany the Palestinians as they make their procession to the Nablus cemetery, armed with our onions. But the funeral is allowed to pass off peacefully.
We then proceed to remove a road block, using a pick, shovels and our bare hands. Having successfully opened the road to vehicles, we move on to a second roadblock. We have almost completed the removal of the earth and rocks put there by the Israelis, when a digger rolls up, driven by a Palestinian. To huge applause, he finishes off the work which we began. All the passing vehicles hoot to show their support.
Claire Theret, 45 years-old was born in Paris. She is a teacher of French and German at a High School in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Peggy Henderson, 71, is a retired teacher who lives in Hexham, Northumberland. She taught for some years in Tunisia. She is currently a member of the University of the Third Age, an organisation giving pensioners the chance to participate in further education.
Peggy and Claire are members of the British Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Through PSC, they found out about the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and both decided to volunteer.