Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign

 

Welcome to the Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign Website. Last updated: 17 January, 2010

PALESTINE VISIT DIARY
FRI 15 Feb - Sat 23 Feb 08
Jamie Wells - Mike Gurney - Dave Clinch

Friday 15 February 2008 - Dave
Said goodbye to Liz, naturally she’s worried. Will try to reassure her by keeping in touch via diary and phone. We’re with good people in Palestine. All precautions taken. Itinerary all set.

5.00pm - Leave Lizi and Mike’s in Exeter for Jo and Nick’s place in Wembley. Jamie doing the driving in his very cool VW camper van. Lots of techno stuff eg ipod playing through car radio etc. Early start 5.00am cab for Heathrow. Would be a great way to travel to Palestine if we had more time.


Saturday 16 February 2008 Part 1 – Dave
Who will rid me of this turbulent plane?

For a couple of minutes (probably a lot less) it seemed we might be going the same way as old Tom Beckett! According to the extremely calm, almost nonchalant tones of the pilot we had hit the edge of a jetstream.'Bricking it' would be an accurate reflection of my thoughts at the time, especially when the pulldown table on the back of the seat was cleared of its contents.

We are now at the Ambassador Hotel near Damascus Gate and have had a lovely meal. This area of Jerusalem is famous for its hummus.

Its Shabbat so the city is relatively quiet.

It's a all little unreal right now, as we know we will be meeting people who are struggling to survive under occupation.

Can't work out how to set up a blog so it'll have to be in emails for now.

Thanks for the messages of care and support. We believe we have planned the visit well. Our itinerary is busy. Hopefully we will bring back a first hand narrative from those we meet in schools and elsewhere.

Tomorrow we are going to meet a Palestinian friend, Amneh Badran, who will take us to the Old City. She completed her Doctorate at Exeter University recently and is now teaching in Jerusalem. We are also going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We will be meeting a woman, Bozenna Rotblat, who is going to take us to the Avenue of the Righteous where there is a memorial to llse Sonje Totzke. She is the heroic young woman who I was researching and also wrote a song about. She refused to compromise under Gestapo questioning in 1941 saying that she had no problem with Jews or any other nationality. She was sent to Ravensbruck and then Auschwitz.

Going for a short walk now.



Sunday 17 February 2008 - Mike
Amneh Badran collected us from the hotel. She took us to Al Quds University where she lectures in political science.

Whilst there one of her students, Montaser Bellah Razouq (montaser_dorgam@hotmail.com) took us to the Abu Jihad Museum which is has been built to recognise and support the 11000 Palestinian men women and children who are incarcerated in Israeli jails.

We were guided around the museum by Abdalaziz Judeh Abdal Baqi (abdalaziz.1946@hotmail.com)  a former prisoner, now a lecturer at the
university. They have strong links with the Irish Republican prisoners. Bobby Sands was mentoned on one of the information posters. The Director, Fahid Abu Hajj (fabualhaj@admin.alquds.edu) (imprisoned for 10 years) was introduced to us. We had a long conversation with them after we had seen the exhibitions. Lots of photos. They didn't like Blair and Bush!!!

A highlight was Dave singing a song - "Caught in the Crossfire" in the Director's Office! They were very impressed and asked for the lyrics to be emailed to them.

The archivist (whose name we've sadly forgotten) made the point that the
academic staff at the Hebrew University were complicit in the occupation -
he called them "Professors of the bulldozer"! We were struck and shocked by the proximity of the Wall which was barely 100 metres away - the irony of a museum dedicated to Palestinian Prisoners and yet the whole of the Palestinian people (at least West Bankers) are being kept imprisoned! Many parallels in the museum to the situation of Irish political prisoners.

Then Amneh took us back into Jerusalem for a lightning tour of the Old City including the Wailing Wall (loads of heavily armed soldiers) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The markets were amazing but in large part were not that busy - the effects of the Wall stopping West Bankers coming into the Old City and the lack of tourists. Were still some evangelical Christian groups from all over - but notably the US and West Africa. Falafel sandwich excellent.

Taxi to Yad Vashem where Dave had appointment to discuss Ilse Sonja Totzke - a German woman who was sent to the death camps for being different and refusing to condemn Jewish friends and neighbours. Did not get to meet the appointment (we were late) but Dave did find her name on a memorial. Much discussion of the Holocaust but also of how it could be that a peeople who have suffered so much could in turn oppress another people.

Back to the Hotel - Amneh taking us to see her family tonight for a meal.

 


Monday 18 February 2008 - Dave
We were warned about the arrival of snow. Nothing yet. 800m above sea level in Jerusalem. Yesterday was warm, not a cloud in the sky. Such contrast. There was a snowfall some weeks ago.

We were treated to Palestinian hospitality yesterday evening by Amneh Badran and her family. From their front garden we saw the old city with the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque lit up.

Our conversation was wide ranging. We discussed daily life for Palestinians who need a pass ''for the air we breath'' said Souad, Amneh's sister in law who is a psychologist working with the victims of torture. Both her husband Ismail (Amneh’s brother), a lecturer in Physics at Bir Zeit University with a PhD from Ohio University, and his old friend Taher were imprisoned and tortured in the ''Russian Compound'' in the late 80's. They were then moved to several prisons to make life difficult for them and their visiting families, eg 3hr journey to be told no visiting today etc.

Taher is a furniture maker. We are sitting on the most beautifully upholstered sofas. All this is his work, along with the tables. He can only work in the West Bank. To take his furniture elsewhere he needs a pass. This situation has come about in the last two years. Amneh's sister Jamila, an editor for Palestinian TV, explained how she had to take chicken through the settlement road rather than come through a checkpoint where it would be taken from her. She described herself as a ''chicken terrorist!''. I asked Amneh's mother after all she has witnessed did she have hope. No hope, she said. No hope! Yet, she welcomed us three into her home to share the food she had cooked for us. Hope in short supply, humanity in abundance!

Earlier in the day we had been taken to Al Quds University at Abu Dis where Amneh lectures in Political Science. We visited the Abu Jihad Centre for political prisoners. (Separate attachment). Whilst there we were given a guided tour by Abdal Aaziz Judeh Abdal Baqi and then introduced to the Director Fahid Abu Hajj, who was himself taken prisoner at the age of 16, and who managed to learn to read, write and to finish his schooling while in jail, and who later studied for a higher diploma at Al-Quds University, he embodies the spirit which it is hoped that the museum will present to its visitors.  I sang ‘Caught in the Crossfire’ for them.

Ilse Sonja Totzke's name I found with the help of a a couple who were visiting the Garden of the Community of Righteous Nations at Yad Vashem. Strange seeing the name of this extraordinarily brave woman in alphabetical order among the hundreds more names of those who had helped Jews in Nazi Germany. I said to Jamie and Mike that I was convinced that she would have supported the Palestinians had she survived. She told the Gestapo, who recorded everything diligently, in Wurzburg in 1941 that she did not see a problem with Jews or any other nationality. For that she was murdered in the Holocaust.

It is such an irony, a contradiction, that the Palestinians have to suffer so much now. How can this treatment ever be rationalised? How does torture and collective punishment sit with the memory of the Holocaust?

Off to Bethlehem today to meet our colleagues from the General Union of Palestinian Teachers GUPT


 

Monday 18 February 2008 Pt 1 – Jamie
Our trip to Bethlehem today was at worst most disturbing and at best a truly eye opening and uplifting experience. We met with officers of the Palestinian teachers union, visiting two schools one was a true state community school with students from the nearby refugee camps as well as Bethlehem itself. The other a German Lutheran private school that Hazem teaches in. The city is virtually surrounded by the separation wall as well as Israeli settlements built like citadels on the hills that surround it, a true demonstration of power and might.

We were shown around the private school by Hasem and visited a couple of classes. introduced to an English teacher to whom we expressed one of our aims regarding international links. The school being what it is has a number of established links already, so although they were very welcoming of the idea we think that efforts might be better placed with the other school we visited though by no means excluding Hasems own.

What a contrast the state school offered in comparison, in location, condition and resources. It is a 14 to 16 girl's, most state schools are single sex. We recieved a wonderful welcome from Wafa, the headteacher and after tea we were taken into one of the classes in session at that time.  I believe it was a history class though time and the way the conversation developed with the students we did not find out what history topic they were studying.

Some of the girls gave us short anecdotes about their lives and experiences.

Some half remembered quotes – ‘soldiers came to my house in the night and with loud banging woke us all up, they shot my brother in the leg and took him away, he is in prison’
‘the separation wall has made travelling around very difficult, families and their lands are divided by it’
The girls were lively, friendly and sparked with life.  After seeing the conditions in which they live it is hard to imagine that they could be so cheerful, and their English was so good!

We shared our aims and email addresses with them with the promise that we would make and keep contact and provide support for their school from our links in the south west.

A short tour of the school showed what sparse resources they had, it would be our intention to provide musical instruments for them in the first instance as the least we could do. This is a school where the keenness of the students and given the circumstances in which they exist and their thirst for learning could really set any project we decide upon alight.

We had a lift into Bethlehem from Mr Mohammed, a GUPT officer but had to make our own way back through a massive checkpoint, a most disconcerting and disorientating experience but I suppose that's the whole point. After Hazem gave us a tour of the wall he dropped us off by the checkpoint and told us which way we should go. We walked up to the massive wall and up a walkway bordered by high grey railings.  When we had passed through a turnstile inside we thought that we were through but there were more to come, likened to those at a football stadium by Dave who has knowledge that I don't possess. The path continued into a building which at first looked like a bus terminus but turned out to be a terminus for people, who would be channeled through railed off paths through to more turnstiles, security scanners to a passport and ID booth.

We were disorientated and a disembodied voice spoke in Hebrew over the tannoy.  We thought it was a travel announcement but then in English it told us in no uncertain terms which way we should go.  A Palestinian woman who spoke no English was helpful in guiding us through though in retrospect it probably worked both ways.

The gun carrying guards were kids in their late teens or early 20s doing their national service.

Coming the other way through this checkpoint was a tide of Palestinian workers who looked on us grimly and who could blame them, our attempts to exit were frustrating theirs to get back in and to their homes, the experience was probably unsettling them a little.  It was massively so for us.  When we eventually got out into the open there was a palpable and collective expression of relief.  Smiles and merry banter resumed as we looked for a taxi to take us back to Jerusalem.

We will have snow tonight so that might scupper our plans for travelling on to Ramallah and Hebron, It's been glorious sunshine until now and the shift has been quite dramatic.

Best wishes

Jamie


 

Monday 18 February 2008 – Mike
Picked up by Mr Mohammed GUPT President who drove us to Talitha Kumi a German Lutheran school in Beit Jala where Hasem Qumsieh (GUPT International Officer) works. Very well resourced co-ed Christian school with 900 pupils charging $600 pa. Private schools seem to make up approx a quarter of the Palestinian schools - there are also Govt schools and UNWRA schools in the refugee camps.Shami and went to Govt School for girls - Al Awda School (Right to Return).

600 girls age 14 to 16 - two thirds Muslim and one third Christian – and
getting along fine!! In contrast to the claims in parts of the media of
Christians in Bethlehem being under siege from Muslims there is no conflict.

Met the very impressive Head Wafa Hemeid (wafa.hemeid@yahoo.com) who took us to see 10th grade (16 years) class. Introduced ourselves and stated what we were doing - 5 or 6 girls spoke - the first a refugee from Dheisheh camp who spoke excellent English and welcomed us to Palestine and thanked us for coming. Others spoke in English or Arabic and recounted what had happened to them - another living on Aida camp, one had a brother who was beaten and then arrested, one more had had her house surrounded at hight by the IDF and her father (on the municipality) arrested - still inside 2 months later. However the good humour, resilience and commitment to getting the best education shone through - even though they are taught in classes of 40!

In discussing their education with the Head we discovered almost by
accident that although the pupils do receive music lessons the instruments
avalilable are pitifully inadequate. Talked also about the problems that
pupils face from the Occupation and the efforts of the school to deal with
these. I stated to the Head and Huzem that my wife Lizi had worked in Dheisheh in 1995 in a unit for children with Learning Disabilities with Buthania al Laham - it turned out that the first girl who spoke to us in the class from Dheisheh was a member of the al Laham family. She (Beirut al Laham) was summoned to the office and I wrote a quick note to her father explaining that Lizi would like to be in touch and leaving my email.

Wafa expressed great interest in being involved in a school linking project
and I explained about the Devon Global Centre's Communities in Conflict project. We were then given a real treat as some of the girls put on a Dubke performance for us - excellent! However they had to do it on a classroom with chairs and tables cleared as they have no other area to perform.

Hazem then took us to Beit Sahur to the Tent restaurant by Shepherds Field (where the shepherds saw the star) - an excellent and huge meal which of course he paid for before we realised what was happening! Attempts to contribute were useless - but he did say he'd accept a donation to union funds when we see him and Mr Mohammed again on Friday. Hazem pointed out the Har Humar(?) settlement which Jamie quite accurately described as a Citadel atop a hill opposite Beit Sahur - there were other settlements on 3 other hill tops surrounding Bethlehem.

Hazem then gave us a quick tour of Manger Square and the Church of the
nativity - a fair few tourists which is good to see if only for the number
of people who it means have some sort of job. Bethlehem has suffered less than the rest of the West Bank due to its tourism. But even here the
presence of the Wall was never far away - and indeed we saw one tourist shop which had been very busy which was now devoid of shoppers due to a bloody great big watchtower and wall approx 5 metres from its door!

By now the weather had really changed - icy cold wind. We then endured the experience of passing through the Israeli checkpoint (as Jamie has written above) - a very unpleasant time but nothing compared to the way the streams of Palestinian workers coming the other way were being treated. Back to the hotel and hoping that it doesn't snow...

MG


 

Monday 18 February Part 2 – Dave
The wall dominates this region. It snakes and it circles and it seeps into conversation. At Beit Jala the top part of the wall is at a 30 degree angle. Not sure why, maybe to prevent stone throwing.

Young conscripts, male and female, in green or brown uniforms, and armed, are never far away.

At first sight the checkpoint looks fairly innocuous. What you might see at any border crossing. Grey metal pillars supporting a high roof. First unnerving moment, ''put the camera away'' says Mr Mohammed, President of GUPT and taking us down to Bethlehem to meet Hazem Qumsieh, The International Officer of GUPT.  At the glass booth sits the soldier checking details, the permit, the queue. Standing close by the automatic rifle toting guard. She looks too young.

We reach Hazem's school, Talitha Kumi, in Beit Jala and are asked to sit ourselves down. We are treated to Arab tea. Hazem talks about the day. Have we any particular plans? ''Yes, we would like to go to Dheisheh refugee camp if possible. (Created in 1948, and where thousands have been cramped together in a 500m square area during the intervening 60 years since what the Palestinians call ''The Catastrophe'' or ''Naqba''). We are in your hands otherwise.''

Hazem makes a few calls on the mobile. UN permission not given to go to the refugee camp but we are able to visit another school.

We are introduced to the Talitha Kumi teachers and students who greet us with great warmth.

After a good chat with the German Headteacher we are headed for a school called Al Awda (The Right to Return), a girls' school in the poorer part of town. On the way we see the wall up close and also collect a GUPT teacher, Elayain, who does casework etc. The Headteacher, Wafa Remeid, welcomes us in to her office and takes us to meet one of the classes.

This has been covered by Mike and Jamie elsewhere.

For us three it was inspirational and intensely moving. I figured that tears were not what they wanted to see, but was only just successful. When I did speak to the group I said that first we were here to express our solidarity with them and their struggle for justice and freedom. Furthermore,  the occupiers would never be able get inside their heads however much they were harassed. It was there that their imagination and learning would continue to flourish. The very name of their school recognised their resistance. The strength of those girls, who came to school despite huge difficulties, was impressive. Beirut, a journalist in the making we discovered later, and wearing a brown ''hoody'' was first to raise her hand.

She speaks with cool assertiveness - ''I am a refugee from the Dheisheh camp . . .', but also with great warmth – “we thank you for coming to our school.'' Soon others want to speak in either English or Arabic. We hear several accounts of the violent bullying of the occupying forces and of family members wounded or jailed. We promise them that we will tell their story back home. We plan to build a link that will survive, grow and develop. Later we are treated to a cracking performance of the "Dubka" the most well known Palestinian folk dance. The girls and their teachers were proud of the achievements of Al Awda school, including shelves groaning with sports silverware! Wherever and whoever we have visited there has been a burning desire for education and learning.

Reluctantly we depart. We cannot help but be overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the Palestinians we have met.

Time for lunch in Beit Sahur. High on the hill opposite is an Israeli settlement. Building development continues in the distance. Bethlehem, which lays claim to being the world's oldest city, is surrounded and surveyed from above by the occupiers

We are taken to the ''separation wall'' the ''racist wall''. I ask Hazem if it's ok to take photos from outside the car. ''Be careful and keep the camera out of sight of that watchtower there''. I hadn't even seen it. I walk over to a garage with a sliding, corrugated shutter. Gesturing to the mechanic I ask if I can stand there, inside the door, out of sight, to photograph the graffiti showing solidarity with Palestine. We've already seen some brilliant Banksy stuff earlier. The owner I guess, asks me what I want - in English. “Can I take some photos of the wall?”
“Of course,” he says, “it's free!”

Later we visit the Church of the Nativity. At Christmas 2002 it became a haven for Palestinian fighters who were besieged by Israeli Security Forces for some weeks. Remember the women we saw on TV braving gunfire to take in food to them?

Hazem drops us at the checkpoint (Gilo) through which we will pass to find a taxi to Jerusalem. We say our farewells, having arranged to meet on Friday in Jerusalem. He will need to make an hour and a half hour journey around Jerusalem to meet us and Mr Mohammed (who is going to treat us to a traditional Arab meal at his home), thus avoiding the checkpoint and the necessity of a permit. Ugly memories of apartheid South Africa are raised.

The fucking camera battery is dead. It's Jamie's and he hasn't packed the charger. It's down to himself and Mike now to keep the other cameras going during the week.

We think we've sailed through the checkpoint. But no, confusion, disorientation and fear. It's like we're in part of a bus garage but the doors are all locked.  A tannoy announcement sounds like we should be at a station. Young uniformed faces again gaze with arrogant disdain at the frustrated lines of workers coming the other way, desperate to return to loved ones. We are helped by a woman wearing the hijab, who not only has her documents checked, but her hand is biometrically scanned having placed it in a machine which separates her fingers. I whisper this observation to Mike who's in front of me waiting for his passport to be checked. We're in Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem with our passports out for checking! Borders within borders.

The covered woman is forced to walk, shoeless, through the turnstile on the green light. She is old enough to be someone's mum, maybe she's a gran. They try to humiliate her, yet she helps us. With the warmth of her eye contact, the hidden solidarity, she makes us feel a bit safer, puts my stuff through the conveyor belt scanner for me, I'm a bit "flustered, scared, she lessens the confusion. And we honour her.

This was just one encounter for greenhorn visitors. How can this daily punishment be allowed to continue? What is the UN supposed to be doing?

The taxi driver doesn't talk. He hears us nervously chattering. I catch his eye in the rear mirror. We think he's Israeli, especially when he decides to put on the Hebrew radio station.

Now we are in the ''Ambassador'' again. It's raining, bucketing down. The talk of coming snow persists though. We talk about the day, the girls at Al Adwa. What we can do? How can we make the links to our students back in the South West?. Ideas are flying everywhere. A benefit gig is an immediate possibility. Perhaps the money raised could fund some new instruments. There's a longer haul too. How do we sustain links? One thing's for sure, we will try. Our teacher colleagues are a creative lot. Much is possible on this journey.

Earlier I had asked Wafa, the Director, an inspirational character herself, about music lessons at the school. Each student has one hour per week. I asked her, could we have a look at the equipment? We were shown a cardboard box on top of a cupboard. It was half full with plastic toy drums and tambourines. Underneath the box was a keyboard. This represented the musical equipment for a school of 600 girls, who have aspirations, who've done nothing other than be born into a stolen land, the land of their parents and the generations who came before.

They are encircled, imprisoned behind a 33ft high wall, but, be assured, their minds are free. And they will win.

In solidarity

Dave

PS Thanks for the text messages of support and solidarity


 

Tuesday 19 February 2008 Part 3– Jamie and Dave
We wake to the promised snow. Some decision making at breakfast over
lashings of coffee at the Ambassador. Mobiles out, calls to Ramallah and Hebron. Yes we can go, the roads are clear. Taxis called. It's 10.00am.

Jamie and me wish Mike well as he heads for Hebron to meet Hamed Qawasmeh an old friend of Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Funny how shaking hands has a new meaning now.

Our driver, Yunus, volunteers his story on the road to Ramallah. He tells us that he has no documents and is stateless in his own country. He is talking animatedly about the problems for the Palestinians under occupation. He says he can live and share with all peoples regardless of colour, race or religion. He then spoke of Mohammed Al Durah. I told him about my song. We see another checkpoint on the other side of the road. Fortunately we do not have to go through this time. He tells us that he would love to visit London to see his football team The Arsenal play. That started an argument, with my Tottenham affiliations rising! He didn't like Man U, I'm afraid.

New Israeli shekels (NIS) change hands along with our farewells and we are welcomed by Marco at the Reception of the Royal Court Suites Hotel in
Ramallah.

After coffee in the fifth floor restaurant, just us two there, we go to our room where our bags have been taken for us. It's lovely, with a sink a table, computer access asnd comfortable if short beds. I promise Jamie I won't fart tonight!

We head for the Tamer Institute in the heart of the city. The driver does
not understand my pronounciation. Mobile to the rescue and ring Renad
Qubbaj, Director of the Tamer who gives him the instructions.

Behind steel doors lies a busy enterprise. We are welcomed in to Renad’s office. Arabic tea and a long, intense conversation about ideas and books.  We covered many things. We return to the ground and try to focus on practicalities. Good ideas maybe, but they need legs to make them work. We all know this.

We also learn about the work of the Tamer Institute. The Tamer is the date carrier, a metaphor for nourishment through education and literature. Many books are translated and produced beautifully in Arabic. Some are bilingual.

The Institute has links with Diakonia, Unicef, Unesco, the Ann-Lindh Foundation and the British Council,  amongst others.

Renad introduces us to the office staff and to Ruba, a former student and a graduate in English Literature. More discussions about Irish writers. We are taken on a tour of the Institute. We see the hundreds of books from Book Aid. They are sent every Christmas, then sorted and classified. It' a big task. The purpose of the Institute is to support reading and to develop the imagination of students as far away as Bethlehem refugee camp for example.This is the road to freedom of the mind under occupation. No checkpoints to deter the wildest fantasies of the young readers' minds.

We talk of links with art, music design etc. of what can be done back home.

Renad has some work to do with her team. Needs an hour. We explore Ramallah. Lots of posters of Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazem (Mahamoud Abbas). It's raining, the mist is down and it's cold. Most of the shops are closed. Why? Because it's wet and it's cold and the snow was down this morning. It appears to be run down, yet there are beautifully kept pharmacies for example, I buy some Nivea cream for my drying face!

The seven lions at the central square are said to represent the seven
families who founded the city. We enter a mall. Before us we see a stall
with military equipment for sale including a helmet and khaki
boiler suit. We bring a gift of assorted biscuits from the patisserie as a token of our thanks. Renad and Ruba take us for the most wonderful Arabic drink, Sahlab, white and milky, quite thick, with nuts on top, best taken by spoon!

A short tour of the city brings us to the Al Muqata’a compound where President Yasser Arafat was held by the Israelis in his office for over two months and where he is now entombed. Ruba explains that he was literally imprisoned in his office, where he slept on the sofa.

We see the destruction. Some buildings have been rebuilt. Renad tries to drive in but the guard says ‘No’. Ruba says something to him in Arabic.
Jamie jokes that she's flirting with him. Needless to say the response was
immediate and very disparaging! Not her type! We see Hannan Ashrawi’s house opposite the compound.

Renad takes us along with Ruba to her home to meet her children, Noora 14, Samer 16, and Nala 3. Her husband is currently in Morocco on business. We are also introduced to Olfat, a friend of the family.

We have no idea we are going to be fed, It is not expected. Everyone helps with the preparation of the meal. Noora is a talented violinist who plays classical European music and Palestinian compositions too. What an
opportunity for us two to show off! 

The conversation at the meal table is eye opening and wide ranging regarding the political history of Palestine. We are engaged full time in this respect by Noora and Samer. He tells us about his grandmother whose house in Haifa was stolen in 1948. He hopes she will be able to return. She, like the thousands of others who were removed in this ethnic cleansing keeps the key to that old house, hanging on the wall of  her home in Ramallah (the mountain of Allah). Both Noora and Samer attend the Quaker Friends school in Ramallah. He would like to study Political  Science at Birzeit University an institution of which he is intensely proud and where his father has been a lecturer.

Noora wishes to continue her studies too. Not sure what direction after she finishes the International Baccalaureat. She tells Jamie that she intends to stay in Palestine though. If she has children they will be reared here. Both of these young people are highly articulate and keen to discuss and argue about the complications arising from the occupation.

The two storey house in the Alteera neighbourhood  is beautiful. But, just
down the valley is a road which no Palestinian is allowed to go near.
Separation is always lurking. We were shocked by the fact that none of the people we met today in Ramallah are allowed to go to Jerusalem. The
Palestinians are heroic people. Probably not how they would want to be described. Generosity, friendship grasped in the fleeting moment of a visit
by us internationals.

We both felt that this is no stereotype. Most importantly it is impressed on
us by Renad and Hazem yesterday that we are safe here and that our friends and colleagues should be encouraged to step over the BBC version of the truth and book their plane tickets to share their friendships, witness their lives and experiences and tell their story, as it is, back home.

Mike has sent instructions re getting to Hebron tomorrow,. His account is
already here. First we will go to the British Council in Jerusalem via
checkpoint. We at least can make the journey. Our friends in Ramallah remain a shining light in our memories.

Now it's off to find a bar for a nightcap.

With solidarity and love

Dave and Jamie


 

Wednesday 20 February 2008 – Jamie and Dave
Having breakfast in Kings restaurant on 5th floor.

Looking over the city in front of us. Black water tanks huddle on roofs vying for space with the inevitable satellite dishes. Rerminds me of transistors inside a radio.

In the time we have been here the mist has raised. It has descended again within 30 min.The minaret in the distance is shrouded again.  Bob Dylan's lines come to mind

Even though a cloud's white curtain in a far off corner flared,
And the splattered mist was slowly lifting,
Electric light still struck like arrows fired but for the ones,
Condemned to drift, or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An' for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Jamie is recalling his visit in 1974. Spent some time in the Negev Desert.

Nick Grant, a good friend and NUT Secretary for Ealing in London, has texted the news from Cuba. He's there with a group from Cardinal Wiseman school in London. In room 203 - balcony view - we watch CNN busily pumping out the Bush line.

Across the road is the HSBC bank. Might get some shekels from the ATM. Even the shekel has another meaning. Twice yesterday we were told by Yunus, the taxi driver and Ruba that the shekel represents the power of the Israelis over Palestine. There is no currency for Palestine just like there is no place on any school map. Jamie calls it a shackle.

We must leave now. Too many partings. We' have written down Mike's instructions for reaching him today in Hebron. Printer not working! Where have I heard that before? He's given us the fares he paid for taxis. 'Don't get ripped' off, he says in his message.

Must go, Jamie's hovering with the rucksacks. ‘You talk too much!’ he says.

In solidarity

Dave


 

Wed 20 February Part 2 – Jamie and Dave
09.30am  Ramallah is full of life today. The mist has lifted again. Falafel sellers, barbie dolls staring blankly from their boxes, the Pele Sports Shop, well stocked shoe shops and plenty of fruit and vegetables on sale.

Taxis toot gently. We realise that it's our business that they want. The rucksacks are a giveaway I'd say!

Ramallah shares the bustle of any big city. Life must continue. Some kind of normality must be maintained. We are not talking victims here. The signs of occupation are never far away but Palestinians are not cowed. Back home the struggle will continue to support and stand alongside Palestine.

We drop in to the Tamer Institute to say goodbye to Renad, the Director. We talk briefly of making contact with authors who can come out to Ramallah to work with students.

10.15am Jamie and me on the road to Jerusalem in a small green and white bus with yellow (Israeli) plates. There are schools, supermarkets and homes also along the way. Lots of rubble in the  spaces between buildings, some marked out for new homes/shops etc.

10.40am  Arrive at a checkpoint. Young, grimly green uniformed soldier boards the bus and checks passes. We show our passports. He smiles, rifle held pointing to the floor, finger on trigger and cheerily says OK. We're through. The bus turns about. Not sure what's happening. It seems we are waiting for passengers who are walking through the checkpoint on the other side.

We are now tracking alongside the apartheid wall. We are unsure what is on the other side. Is this the Israeli or Palestinian side? we know that it has literally separated gardens from homes. We also know how important it is for Palestinians to grow their own food. Even this is prevented.

We pass the Al Quds University Arts Faculty sign and the Rosary Sisters High School.

11.00am  Jerusalem- we are directed towards British Council by a passenger. Walking past St George's School our conversation revolves about normality. We listen to the voices of children playing. On arrival at the building, as I am phoning my son Fergus, we see a police wagon parked across the front of a bus like the one we were on. I say goodbye to him. A young Palestinian man wearing a keffiyah is being searched, his belongings are on the bumper. Three men with rifles stand around him, another stands across the road. The occupation intervenes again. Normality?

The other passengers wait their turn.

We pass through the security and find ourselves in the British Consulate. Eventually we find the British Council and have a good discussion re how they can help with links etc.

1.40pm  We head for a taxi to Hebron. Have a bagel on the way. Haggle with the taxi driver, Mohammed, who later invites us to his home for coffee to meet his family. He leaves us at the Gilo checkpoint where we had been on Monday. The wall looms over us. I think of what Samer, Renad's son said yesterday. "Palestinians are living in a ghetto".The irony was not lost on us. I remembered Ruba, the young graduate of English, saying yesterday that she would not humiliate herself by going through a checkpoint. We proceed through with less tension but still some confusion.

We are met by a crowd of taxi drivers vying for a fare. More haggling. "To Hebron 230 NIS " one man says. Jamie says “100 shekels.” We agree on 150 shekels.

Khalid, our driver talks of the struggle. Like Yunus yesterday he is at pains to explain the situation. He too invites us to his home for coffee. Again we have to say it's not possible, only because we have a busy timetable. He gives us his card when we arrive at Health (Sihha) Square and hopes we'll phone. Handshakes all round.

3.00pm A group of young men are standing in front of a food shop smiling and laughing. 'Welcome to Hebron' says one as he slaps and shakes my hand. Other young men of school age welcome us. 'Where are you from?' You are very welcome in Hebron'. Hamed is contacted by Jamie who enlists the help of a another local to tell him on the mobile phone where we are, in Arabic.

A UN Jeep arrives. Hamed greets us and we are reunited with Mike who tells of his experiences here. Driver Adeeb drops us off at Hamed's home then we are taken to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)  He shows us a detailed topographical map of the area where Israeli road closures are mapped using GPS. Later we see an example on a road into Hebron. Piles of earth spread across the road.This is a punishment for a recent suicide bombing. The funeral is being held today. Green Hamas flags are prominent. The Palestine Authority (PA) police do not intervene.

This is a city the size of Exeter. Population 170,000 approx under the iron fist. Far fewer resources than Ramallah. The infrastructure is worse. It's a tough place, yet we are welcomed warmly.

Hamed takes us to the Amal School for Deaf Children. We talk of links. Possibilities of improving equipment etc.

Then to the 'King of Falafel' for the very best in the business!

6.00pm  The Imam is calling the faithful to prayer. Hamed take us to his home to meet his family and where we will be staying tonight.

Lots of conversation and out for a meal.

A very busy day ahead.

In solidarity

Dave


 

Tuesday and Wednesday 19 – 20 February – Mike’s Diary
A fairly shocking couple of days...
Tuesday awoke to snow - worried about getting down to Hebron. In the endagreed with Hamed to go to Bethlehem and review the situation.

Taxi to Gilo checkpoint - ripped off by taxi drivers going to Manger Square
- snow! RE teacher in me took over and went into church of the nativity -
barely any tourists and saw JC's manger. Walked to Service taxi place – and decided to get one as they were running to Hebron. Load of shebab
(youths) got in - asked where I was going. Me defensive and worried that they thought I was Israeli! They rang Hamed and I found out later asked him what the hell iwas doing going to Hebron on such a bloody awful day.

Service set off but turned off the main road by Israeli army (IDF) - took to
the back roads for a very round the houses route nearly getting stuck in the snow. Eventually rejoined main road at Halhul checkpoint 5km outside Hebron but road blocked by IDF - why?? New friends took me from service across junction on fooor thru snow to tent serving coffee - took video of IDF stopping three PRC ambulances and not letting them through. We set off on foot for Hebron! but managed to get a service into town.

Hamed met me and took me to UN OCHA office - he explained the main road shut cos of the snow and IDF don't want Palestinians on the road - they say cos snow means have to drive slow and thus Israelis would be a target !!??

Another example of harassment. Hebron is a city of 170,000 yet the 11 roads in have been reduced to ONE - the rest closed by barriers or earth mounds etc. Means longer journeys and part of the process of cantonisation of the West Bank- economically strangled slowly.

Jawad Nairoukh, an old friend of Lizi's comes to the office to take me off
for the afternoon and evening and night. I will see Hamed tomorrow. Go to the Nairoukh household - meet family who looked after Lizi when she came to Hebron in 1991. They are ovejjoyed to see me - because Lizi made such an impression on them and was such a fighter for Palestine when she was here. I give them presents and take photos etc.

Then Jawad takes me off to meet old friends of Lizi's - Adli from the International Palestinian Youth League - we meet in a house that was used by internationals in the 1990s and saw much action. Much talk of the politics of the situation -Jawad and friends are of the left and we are watched by a big Che poster. 2 Irish guys from Schools across Borders who are involved in school linking and conflict resolution with Palestinian + Israeli + Irish schools - useful to chat to and it is clear where their sympathies lie.

Jawad tells of the huge impact Lizi had on him and Hebron society in the
early 1990s - "a real revolutionary" he describes her - transforming the Al
Ihsan centre for learning disabled kids, challenging the most overt sexist
elements of Palestinian society and having a go at the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) and Israeli settlers both verbally and physically if possible!! She was an inspiration he said - I've never been prouder of her and had tears in my eyes - both last night and now as I write this.

Then back to the Nairoukh household - Jawad off to his family. I am with Mr and Mrs N and son Mahmud and cousin Bilal from Hebron - manage to have a chat with Mahmud and Bilal and dad - then off to bed sharing room with Bilal and Mahmud - too many blankets so too hot despite the cold.

Next day say farewells and Hamed picks me up - with Adeeb Salman - in the UN jeep. Adeeb also knew Liizi from working with her in Dheisheh refugee Camp in 1995. He says things are far worse than back in the 1990s. We load up with firewood and blankets. They take me on a shocking tour of the south of the West Bank. OCHA documents all the road closures and maps them- a Geography teachers dream!

All Palestinian towns are reduced to just one road in, which can easily be blocked off by the IDF. They do this to minimise the number of Palestinian drivers onthe road - also means that economy is damaged more and the roads are the preserve of settlers. According to Oslo (Accords) Israeli settlements were to have a 150 metre buffer zone - Israelis take this to mean all roads(!) and have demolished many homes on either side. We pass Dahareea (pop 30 thou) and Ar Samu (25 thou) each of which have only one road. Some villages (eg Karma very inappropriatley named) has had its road permanently blocked despite there being lots of handicapped kids.

We drive through the rural areas which are in Area C as defined by Oslo -
the Israelis have total control and deny and Palestinian new build without a permit - which is never granted. 18% is Area A (Palestinian towns), 22% Area B (Palestinian admin but Israeli security) and 60% area C. But even in Area A the IDF launch operations - as they did in Hebron last week when they came into town (warning the Palestinian police to vacate) to close the Western Union money transfer!! If Pals build in Area C they will be served with a demolition order which they can challlenge in court but whihc takes ages and costs money and has a rare chance of succcess. Building includes sheep pens and even tents!! Denied the right to build in area C the Palestinians are reduced to living in what amount to ghettoes - which is ironic given Jewish history.

The southern half of the West Bank benefited from it being the last bit to
be built - after the Northern half was built the ensuing court battles led
to the Wall being re-routed much closer to the Green Line. We go to the
southern tip of the West Bank - Beit Yatir where the Wall does divert from
the Green Line to encompasss a settlement. We have to show passes, hands me my passport.

We visit a sheep farmer Mahmud Abu Obeita who is stuck between the Wall and the Green Line. He cannot receive visitors from the West Bank, or even gas bottles unless they are smuggled round the wall - when it is finished he does not know how he willl get gas. He has tried to build sheep pens but they are illegal and have either been demolished or have demolition orders against them. The result is 60 of 200 sheep have died this winter cos they can't take cover.

He lives in atrocious Third World conditions right up against a European living standard settlement. OCHA have helped him to secretly build a cistern to collect water - he built it on Shabbats! He is prevented from reaching grazing areas and cannot work in Israel without a permit from a contractor. Truly shocking. He gives us tea in a concrete house which has water leaking in. The concrete roof is illegal and covered on the outside to camouflage it. Hamed and OCHA leave the wood and blankets - supplied from their Humanitarian Emergency Relief Fund.

Then go to village of Twani where the Christian peacemaker team are doing amazing work. They found in 2005 that Palestinian kids from a nearby village (Tuba) were being attacked by settlers cos their route to school in Twani went near the settlement - they were frequently stoned etc. Whe the CPT accompanied the kids they too were attacked - the resulting fuss meant that the IDF were forced to accompany the kids - with the CPT observing. The settlers still attack approx once a month. They also attack shepherds with stones and sometimes guns. They have put poison in wells (killing 100 sheep and goats) and cut down trees. The villlage itself has demolition orders served on the school, clinic, mosque and generator building - they can't have electricity from the main road and now there is an attempt to deny them having it at all.

Lastly we go to the Bedouin village of Um Alkhair which is right next to the big Israeli settlement of Carmel. Like Africa and Europe side by side. T2007 and 9 outstanding - including sheep pens and even tents!!

Knackered now so briefly back to Hebron for lunch - meet up with Jamie and David, visit Deaf school and see administrator - Exeter Deaf school keen on link. See funerals forming up for 2 suicide bombers - bombed Dimona, from Hamas - see Hamas flags which is the first time for ages as driven underground. Falafels and warm welcome at Hamed’s house - sweet kids and me holding the baby - beautiful! Hamed appreciative of the Blackadder DVDs I brought him. It is bloody freezing and will be sleeping in my clothes – hope Dave doesn't snore but as Hebron is ‘dry’ hopefully I won't have to resort to earplugs again!!                                   
Mike


 

Thursday 21 February 2008 - Mike
Dave + Jamie arrived last night and then we stayed at Hamed's house - very cold. met wife Ritiyba and four lovely kids me holdng the baby Rama, also Ro'a and Riwa and son Hisham.

170 thousand live in Hebron City and 570 thousand in the Governorship - there are a total of 2.5 millon Palestinians in the WB but now 460,000 settlers , half of them in East Jerusalem where they outnumber Palestinians by 2 to 1.

Last night the two bodies of the Dimonas suicide bombing arrived in town - saw the funeral forming - first time Hamas flags been seen for some time in the West Bank.

Hamed shows us round Hebron. Visited the Al Amal Deaf School - 55-60  kids and deaf school in Exeter interested in link. Shown round - teachers doing amazing things and the kids fairly amazing. School atacked last August by IDF - still a smashed door. This was cos the mosque from which they rent space is attached to Hamas.

Then to General Union of Palestinian Disabled. Met boss Abu Hasan and chance to meet Sharifa - who is coming to the UK on women’s speaking tour in March - she should be excellent. Interested in what the Disability Discrimination Act means for UK.

Then to Old City of Hebron - shocking to leave the hustle and bustle of Hebron(H1) and have to pass through checkpoint into H2 - absolutely dead. The main road in has been open to traffic 27 days in the last 10 years. only IDF and settlers allowed to drive. 650 shops shut by military order and the rest closed due to lack of business as people don't want to  enter such an oppressive area where there are soldiers on every corner. Why? - because there are 4 settlements in the middle of the city - Hebron is the only city which has this.

Go to Qurtuba school which is directly opposite settlement - kids often atacked by settlers - later we see some absolutlely shocking (I know I keep using that word but even though I've read about the situation it is just that) video of settler kids punching and stoning Qurduba kids on their way to and from school. The IDF just sit by.

Meet Head Reem al Shareef who is an amazing Head and woman. We discuss how we can develop the links that there are already between the school and Bowhill school in Exeter. They would like as many links as possible and are receptive to involving the Devon Global Centre. They do have problems - not just with the settlers but also lack of facilities. Would it be possible to get the British Council (who Dave and Jamie met) to fund a link if the school took part in the DFID funded Global Centre project?

Paths that were built by TIPH for the kids to avoid the settlers were ripped up in the middle of the night. The school runs its day from 7.30 and finishes at 12 noon to avoid the settlers. We will aim to help the school and leave - later we discover that Reem's son is held at a checkpoint for 90 mins that day - because he is her son and they harass the family.

Then we go on a short walking tour of the Old City with Hamed - we vist Hashem al Azzeh who lives just below the Tel Rumeida settlement where there are some extreme very zealous settlers. Hashem has been frequently attacked - eg his 9 yr old nephew was attacked by a settler woman who crushed a stone in his mouth, wrecking his teeth. Though supposedly prosecuted she refused to attend court but is still free as the settlers refuse to accept the authority of Israel - but they do have the protection of the IDF.

Recently a group of UK MPs were attacked with eggs. Curfew from 2000 to 2003 - it was only lifted for two hours every two weeks. When Hashem's wife Nisrin was pregnant he had to try to carry her to the checkpoint, breaking the curfew he was turned back by the IDF and an officer said to him "Let her die in your house". Some time later he managed to get out as another IDF officer let him through - that man is Yehuda Shalim who formed the Breaking the Silence group of ex IDF soldiers. Yehuda and other Israeli Peace activists (Beth tselem) frequently come to Hashem's house - as we discuss, this shows that it is not Jew v Muslim, rather it is a fight against the racist Zionists.

The settlers are mainly from Brooklyn and bonkers! Wife Nisrin is an accomplished artist. While Hashem talks to us his 9 year old daughter comes in from the shops - she has had stones thrown at her by a settler woman - this is an everday occurence for the family and is said very matter of factly. Later I meet the family at a party for the Ecumenical Accompanier and discover that I know Hashem's cousin in London Adnan, one of Lizi's friends. The family receive great support.

The Old City was truly appalling - a visible army of occupation, mad settlers, and Palestinian people trying to maintain their lives with the support of Internationals and Israeli peace activists.

Briefly
1 - viist Kayad Dana who lives up against the big settlement of Kiryat Arba. Again masive harassment. When the settlers started 30 years ago they aimed to equal the Palestinian population of Hebron by 2000. They have failed in that.

2. Attend EAPPI party - the number of activists is small but we have useful discussions and meet many brave people. Later meet Jawad Nairoukh, Lizi's old mate who takes us on a tour of old haunts!


 

Friday 22 February - Mike
Off with Hamed early - but stopped on Route 60, the main road north, by flying checkpoint. Have to take back road which adds 30 minutes to trip. The Israeli Government aim to make Route 60 a settler only road and contain the much bigger Paestinianl population to the much worse, windy back roads - part of the policy of slow strangulation.

To Dheisheh Refugee camp where 11000 live one an area of 480 metres square. This is a "red citadel" a base for the PFFLP and still one of the poorest areas. We have a talk and tour.

Back to Jerusalem and meet the GUPT (teachers union) for a lovely meal at the President’s house - takes 30 mins to get there instead of 10 cos of the Wall and the lovely views are somewhat spoilt by the Wall running through the back garden!! Amazing hospitality as usual and much chat.

Back to Jerusalem, - see Amneh Badran once more and then cab to Neve Shalom in Israel where there is a peace community that aims to bring Jew and Palestinian together. We chat to Reem one of the Palestinian teachers. Middle class rubbish or a brave efffort? Lots of people think the former but at least they ally themselves with the Peace activists and oppose the Wall. We have to get a very early cab to Ben Gurion tomorrow - hope we get through all right with photos etc.

An amazing and disturbing week - but what will count will be what we do when we return to the UK. Shame I have to also teach and organise for a strike ballot etc etc!!!!

Mike


 

Thursday 21 February 2008 – Dave
Hamed takes us on visits to schools, which Mike has detailed.
We are overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people we meet.

At the Al Amal Deaf School, we see teachers working in cold and damp conditions with their students.

Later Hamed takes us to visit Qurtuba School (which was renovated in 2007) in the H2 part of the city. The children are leaving after their day has finished. They have to start very early at 7.30am to avoid the settlers. They work all morning until 12.00pm with one 15 minute break.

Reem Al Shareef, the Head, is dynamic and an extraordinarily courageous woman. Dressed in a black trouser suit, her face framed by a stylish, patterned hijab she tells us that it is very hard for the children. She writes to the Israeli Authorities to report when any of her 119 students, aged 6-16, are being stopped or attacked. They have to pay about 40 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) a year to come to school.

She says ‘You must make your own judgement about what is happening here, I will not try to influence you’. I think to myself that there cannot be any human justification for this situation to exist.

‘In order to run my school I need someone to look out during the morning and afternoon’, she says. Once when the guard, who is just a young local man, had gone to a funeral the settlers entered the school. Fortunately they only managed to get on to the balcony.

Her daughter is about to leave as we are talking to Reem in her office. We ask whether she walks home through the checkpoint. She does, but with her friends. Later Reem interrupts our conversation as her daughter has left the house keys behind. She rings her on the mobile and asks for her to return to collect them. It’s a worry - back through the checkpoint. We carry on our conversation.

‘The school regime is very tough on the children’, the Head says. They have a permanent social worker, as students often need counselling. ‘We lost so much during the Second Intifada. The Israelis stopped our right to education. There is much catching up to do’ Reem says.

Some girls deliberately marry very young, eg at 16 so that they can leave this area of Al Khalil/Hebron.

Prior to our meeting with Reem we took some photos. ‘Gas the Arabs’ is spray painted on a gate near to the school, passed by the students each day. The irony is acute. I ask could they paint it out. Reem says it will merely provide a canvas for more racist bile if they do.

‘We would not be able to survive without friends and institutions in Palestine and around the world’, she says.

The area is bereft of any trade, unlike the hustle/bustle of H1. The vegetable market and the garage have closed because there is no trade. There were 650 shops until approx 1999-2000. None remains. The settlers are pushing up against Palestinians in Tel Rumeida trying to rid the area of them, house by house.

Reem accompanies us back down the steps to the school, showing us where there was a serious attack (including stoning) on a group of the Qurtuba girls by settler girls and older women two years ago. Her predecessor was also attacked as she tried to help the girls. This was before they had even reached the humiliation of the checkpoint. The soldiers had just looked on. The school has links with the Holy Cross primary school in the North of Ireland,

We will see her later at a party to mark the changeover of a group of volunteers working for EAPPI - Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. She would tell me that her teenage son had been held for 90 minutes at a checkpoint today. The soldiers had seen him talking to her in her car. He had missed his table tennis training. She said that he was a good prospect.

Hamed works far beyond his remit to help those who are facing extreme hardship, as Mike has referred to elsewhere. I name him the Angel of Hebron. We had met his mother earlier that morning. She wore a full length grey coat and a white hijab. She was very proud of her son and recognised his bravery. She said that he didn’t see enough of his family whilst he did this very dangerous work. She said ‘He is for the people’, I remember American folklorist Alan Lomax saying that about Woody Guthrie in a programme once.

Hamed’s mum talked of the three million Palestinians who do not have a right to return home since the ‘Catastrophe’ in 1948. and also after the 1967 war. Some are allowed back on one month permits to see their families.

We talked of Hamed and his wife Rityiba’s lovely children, twins Riwa and Ro’a (4yrs), Hisham (3yrs) (who the previous evening was being ‘flown’ around the room by me in his superman suit, just like I used to do with my own son, Fergus) and Rama, the baby. ‘The next generation’, he says with a resigned look.

We have had Arabic tea with scented herbs, Miramiya (sage). Lovely taste.

He takes us to meet Hashem Al Azzeh following our visit to Qurtubah School. To reach the house we have to climb a steep path which can become very slippery and muddy with the rain. We arrive at the side of the house and notice that each of the vines has had the stem cut, so they cannot bear fruit. We realise this has been done by the settlers. His two or three olive trees have had all the fruit taken from them also.

Hashem invites us in and introduces us to his wife Nisrin. We admire her paintings. One has the slogan ‘Peace for Palestine’.  There are two windows which are barred. It’s a small, cold, square shaped room with a sofa at one end in front of a window, with chairs and other seating alongside in a U shape. A computer sits on a table opposite the sofa. Whilst we talk we are given Arabic tea, later we have coffee. Hashem explains what is happening (Mike has detailed much of this in his diary).

I am struck by their extraordinary bravery in the face of such naked hatred. Hashem says, ‘this is my home, I have the right to live here’.

They have had many visitors. Their house is a centre for the advocacy of the Palestinian people. MPs and groups such as the Israeli organisation Beth T’selem who record instances of torture and also attacks by settlers, for example come to visit him. The settlers know this of course.

It’s astonishing courage.

The area where they are  living is surrounded by five checkpoints. Raghad, his daughter, brings in some cigarettes for Hashem and whispers quietly that she has just been stoned by a woman. We are watching a video on computer of a settler attack on the Qurtuba school girls. I wonder how they could do this to a 9 year old girl. We note that she seeks no solace in her mothers arms. There have been too many times. What effect is this all having on her? They have a young son, Yunus.

Hashem, another cigarette between his fingers, describes the threat by a settler Rabbi who came to his house. ‘This time I come with the girls, the next time it will be with the guys and the guns and I will kill all your family’.

The IDF do nothing. They only protect the settlers. Incredibly there are four soldiers to every settler. We realise that every second of their lives Palestinians worry about being attacked here.

The children receive psychological courses, have bad dreams

Now we are given coffee. Jamie says, ‘You make good coffee too’ which causes a laugh all round.

I can feel the tears rising again. I know we will soon be gone whilst these people will have to remain here. Showing tears is only likely to upset them, but it’s like my heart is crying now.

We return through the checkpoint. I feel the stare of the soldiers in my back.

It’s a relief to be back in H1.

Later we visit Kayed Dana at Kiryat Aba. Another courageous Palestinian living between a watchtower and a settlement. He is frighteneed when he leaves his house to go shopping, that the soldiers or the settlers will come and take his house. His family have lived there for generations.

The dirty water from the settlement runs along a track next to the dividing wire fence. It is then guided into Kayed’s property deliberately at the entrance to his home. There are sensors every couple of feet on the fence so that the soldiers know exactly where you are if you touch the fence.

Later we have a meal in a restaurant and then back to Hamed’s to pick up our belongings and presents from Rityiba. Farewell to the children too. We give them some sweets. We are off to the party. Reem and Hashem are there. We meet volunteers and the Schools Across Borders workers from Dublin. Hashem invites me to stay at his home the next time I come. He also wants to come to Britain with Naheel who works for the UN World Food Programme. She is keen to find out what we have been doing.

We say our farewells. Hashem and Naheel ask that we help them to do a speaking tour in Britain. We will try to arrange this. We are invited to Naheel’s home for coffee. We have to decline, too much on elsewhere. Hashem hugs me and slaps my back three times. It reminds me of a similar goodbye to my Uncle Jimmy at the train station in Kilkenny back in 1975. We kiss in the Arab way three times on the cheeks.

Later we buy some presents at a glass making /pottery small factory.

We are staying with Mike and Lizi’s friend Jawad tonight. First though it’s time to visit Adli’s Office. He’s the Director of the International Palestinian Youth League. We sit around the table listening to stories, discussing politics to the strains of Billy Bragg, Luke Kelly et al on Adli’s computer.

Jawad makes us comfortable back at his apartment.


 

Friday 22 February 2008
Hamed meets us in the UN Jeep and takes us to Dheisheh Refugee Camp. There’s a delay at the checkpoint, so we have to make a lengthy detour. (Mike has referred to the visit).

Back to Jerusalem meet Mr Mohammed, President of GUPT at the Ambassador hotel. He takes us to his home for a great meal, mensef, for special occasions only. The separation wall cuts through his garden. A camera high on a mast watches his house.

Meet Amneh in Jerusalem. Presents for friends back in England including Amal. Phone call for me at the hotel. Have left my passport in Mr Mohammed’s car.  He comes back to the Ambassador to give it to me. Won’t take any petrol money. When I shake hands and put the shekels in his hand he chases me and puts it in my jacket pocket. ‘I do this journey because it is for you’. He has now had to face an extra checkpoint stoppage because of this. We will see him and Hazem at NUT Conference.

Amneh takes us too Damascus Gate for a taxi to Neve Shalom. She agrees a price with taxi driver Hamadi and he takes us. He also says he will take us to Ben Gurion tomorrow. We say we need to leave at 4.15. ‘I’ll be there at four and a quarter’.

We sort out our rooms. Meet Reem who gives us the history and aims of the place. Back to rooms. Check our story for Ben Gurion and security/customs etc. Bit like The Great Escape.’ Please don’t let me make a mistake like Gordon Jackson did’,  is running through my mind.

Cards are torn up. Notes hidden, memory cards hidden. Contact details emailed home.

At 4.15am exactly Hamadi arrives from Jerusalem. We are very nervous.

Arrive at Ben Gurion entrance. Stopped by an armed soldier. ‘What is the purpose of your visit?’ Mike offers the rely. ‘Tourism’. Passports checked, taken away and returned. ‘Have a safe journey.’ Taxi takes us to the terminal. We are met by a young woman in black, with a white open necked shirt. ‘What is the purpose of your visit?’ ‘What are you carrying in the hand luggage?’ A bizarre and confusing conversation ensues re who is carrying what presents for who. She labels our bags and we continue to the scanner. Jamie and I go through. Mike is taken aside for a search. Later he says the guy had been to Glastonbury.

We check in our rucksacks and have a coffee. Quietly talk of what’s happened. Now to more security for hand luggage. Mike is again separated from us for a check. We think afterwards it’s because he answered the questions at the start. I am stopped by a young woman. Passport checked. ‘Is this your bag sir?’
‘Yes it is’.
‘Are you sure you have not been given this bag?’
‘Yes’. I even check to make absolutely sure. More out of nervousness I think.
There is a delay. I’m bricking it now, thinking that they’ll strip search me, like they did to Frances in 1984. I could be held. They’ll open the posters from the Tamer Institute in Ramallah. I’ll have to explain. I am quite scared. It’s another checkpoint, another wall within the walls that separate and encircle Palestine.

She hands me back the passport.

We board the plane. Videos of Glastonbury and Amy Winehouse ease my nervousness. Feeling more relaxed. Still not able to talk openly. Mike nudges me at one point as Jamie and I start to talk garrulously of Palestine.

We’re back – Left a present for Jo Lang and Nick Grant who put us up the night before we left. Now heading down the motorway.

Lots to be done. Home to Liz, school work, union issues, the telling of this story. I think of the incredible people we have met. We talk about it all.

And yes, we will go back!

In solidarity

Dave

 


Ella Gee, who wrote the poem below back in 2004 could not have possibly known how close she would get to the truth.


To the Palestinians

Bombs,
Shattering my home.
Glass litters the ground.
I step with care,
Blood,
From the cut
That lies across my face,
Cuts me in half.
They stand with their guns,
Silent and still.
Their wary eyes,
Watching us,
Their fingers tap, gently,
Against the metal of their weapons.
I feel their conscious thought
Follow in my footsteps,
As I return.
Home.
My grip tightens
On the rucksack
Slung so carelessly across my back.
In my mind,
An anger grows
So strong,
That I cannot fight it.
Rage grips at my soul,
With hands so cold,
That I cannot escape.
My hatred is silenced.
Forcefully, my voice is lost.
But I have a weapon too.
I have something that they cannot fight.
With their piercing gaze,
I feel that they see through me
To the warrior I have become.
I keep my secret
Out of hope,
Clutched to my darkest, deepest fear.
Here,
They cannot find it.
And here,
It will grow,
Besides my sister’s smile,
And my parents’ voices,
Besides the grief that keeps me prisoner.
And one day,
It shall break free
They will see.
But today,
I will walk quietly past
My eyes won’t stray,
To the soldiers who hold my life.
Because I know
That tomorrow
My resistance shall begin.
And I will win.


Ella Gee
King Edward VI College Totnes, Devon 2004


Written following a videoconference between Ilfracombe College, KEVICS and other Devon schools and the Tamer Institute, Ramallah and Thandokhulu High School, Cape Town in May 2004