|A Day in Palestine|
Michael Prior of Hebden Bridge is in Palestine as part of the International Solidarity Movement
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Jennun is a small village at the top of a remote valley. It is really two
villages on different levels about a kilometre apart with about 90 people living
in the two. It is the most beautiful place which I have seen in Palestine only
marred by the watch towers, cabins and sheds, all linked by a power line, which
lie on the skyline of the horseshoe of hills which surround the village. These
are the edges of the notorious settlement Itamar.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Having been returned involuntarily to Jerusalem the plan is to move on from the zone around the wall and to go to a village called Yannun which has been harassed by settlers. First I must get my luggage so the plan is to travel to Sonniriya where I left the bag and then on to Yanoon, a trip which would take 3-4 hours in a car. So this is how it goes.
I go by taxi out to Calandria, the checkpoint outside Ramallah which is the main centre for servis taxis going north. I want to go first to a small town called Funduq and I wander around for a while before finding that nothing is going anywhere in that direction. I take a taxi to another checkpoint a few kilometres away but this has been totally closed. A friendly Palestinian takes me back about 50 metres and we clamber over a bank and across a stony field with the soldiers at the closed checkpoint visible about 100 metres away still busy stopping anyone from passing. Back on the road we walk up to the checkpoint from the other side and get in a servis going to Hurrawa, the checkpoint outside Nablus. This takes the Ramallah by-pass, a good hard-top for about 10 minutes before being stopped by a temporary road-block. It then turns east for some time until after dropping down it turns north again. There are date-palms and bananas in the fields and I guess that we have arrived at the Jordan valley. After some time we turn west and climb up until stopped at a road block. The taxi is turned back and the passengers walk through.
I am in the middle of a large expanse of nothing much at all; one lorry parked by the road with a couple of Palestinians standing in its shade. The other passengers get into a car going to Jenin. On the MP3 player I have Jimmy Cliff, I Can See Clearly Now. Time passes and eventually a servis - a big Mercedes - comes by with just space for one more in the back row, three adults and two children. It is going to Tulkarem. They have all come from Jordan over the Allenby Bridge. We bump along back roads, sometimes just dirt-tracks for a couple of hours until the servis somehow sidles into Tulkarem by the back entrance after the news has come through on the radio that there has been a bomb at Tiber close to the city. The servis driver takes me to a taxi station where a driver promises to take me out to the city checkpoint from where I can get a taxi to Funduq, a town which still seems the best bet as a jumping off point for Soniyyra. When I get there, the taxi disappears and I am left at a cross-roads with army vehicles everywhere and not a taxi in sight. I phone the ISM coordinator in Tulkarem who tells me that the army has made an incursion into the camp and the city and that a curfew has been declared. I will have to walk back into town.
In the morning I get a taxi out and after about 10 kilometres see a large
green signpost - Jerusalem is just 67 kilometres away down the settler
road. I am
supposed to be going to Hurrawa but before this we encounter another checkpoint
which stops tha taxi and all Palestinians from crossing. I am allowed through;
solar energy forever. On the other side I find a taxi willing to take me
to Acraba which is near to Yannun and, after a little negotiation, omward
itself. We climb up a long valley to a cluster of small houses at his head.
Outside one of the houses there is an international wearing a jerkin of the
Eucumenical Accompaniers who do just what it says on the label. The trip
has taken nearly 12 hours travelling time, 11 taxis and cost almost 250
- about $50.
Thursday, October 9, 2003
The day started at 6.30 when we gathered at the village mosque to walk down to the gate. We are in the village of Jayyous which lies right on the apartheid separation fence which is being built mostly on Palestinian land to divide Israel from the occupied territories. Jayyous has most of its land on the other side of the wall and has to get access to it by two gates which are opened irregularily if at all by the soldiers. Today the farmers are holding a demonstration against this supported by internationals and with some media presence.
The ISM has about 20 internationals gathered in, less than hoped as some are still in the Maqata compound in Ramallah acting as a presence against the threat of an attempt to kill or expel Arafat. There are another 15 or so from other groups and some Israelis have promised to pitch up from Jerusalem.The previous evening we had discussed 3 scenarios. A: being blocked at the main north gate when we would sit down in protest. B: being blocked at the gate of a settlement which has Palestinian olives trees actually inside it and which has stopped familiews entering. C: all gates open in which case we help pick olives. Tactics have been planned in detail: who is willing to be arrested (this is mainly judged on intentions for staying in Palestine for long or short times); groups formed; roles allocated, legal, media, medical. I am grade one expendable, arrestable. no skills, no video camera.
The wall is about 15 minutes away and the farmers are gathering there. The wall is a strange structure. A huge gouged dike-like snake with stone blocks on the Palestinian side about two metres high. On top there is a dirt road, a fence and on the Israeli side a metalled road. Razor wire is coiled all along the sideas of each road. It is impressive and violent as it cuts through olive groves as far as one can see. Yet the fence itself is really rather disappointing, little more than something which might go round plyground with some barbed wire on top. Its supports are already rusting away and some of it has already been bent back by the farmers.
It turns out that the gate is in any case not locked and unguarded but before we can work this out a jeep comes up and two soldiers secure it with a padlock. The then go saying the gate will be closed all day. It seems as if the Israelis are being intelligent; leaving us in the sun and ignoring us. The internationals sit down as if protesting, the farmers mill around talking. After about 15 minutes one gets a piece of angle iron and breaks the padlock fastening with one heave. The gates are opened and the farmers rush through; carts, pickups and one large water tanker disappear into the olive groves followed by the internationals. On the Israeli side nothing stirs. Some of us follow the farmers into the trees the rest walk off down the track which leads to the settlement to meet the farmers who wantto go inside. Four are left at the gate to watch more farmers through. Part way down more are asked to help farmers in the olives so when we arrive at the settlement we have about 20 internationals but no farmers. Phone calls from the gate assure us that at least one of the Noful family is near us but he cannot be found. So we wait. Then phone calls tell us that two army jeeps have pitched up at the agte and they want some more support so 5 go back. It turns out that they have closed the gate and that most of the Nofuls have not passed through in time. One however is still on the loose and after some phoning it turns out that he is at another settlement gate. So it is decided that 5 internationals should go with him and the rest return to the gate. It is believed that other farmers are gathering at the south gate which has been permanently closed whilst villagers from another place want to be escorted through. Just then a rather smart bus rolls up with some young Israelis who have driven up to give us support and want to know what they should do. Access from Israel is of course virtually unrestru\icted.
We are now at scenario M. FUBAR. Fucked up beyond recognition.
At the gate there are one jeep, one humvee and one police jeep and about 6 soldiers and police. The gate is closed but actually unlocked as the sturdy padlock still hangs from the broken and rather puny catch. It is also clear on closer inspection that the various sensors and cameras attached to the gate are all inactive with wires that lead no where. We open the gate and take photos. After about ten minutes one young Palestinian comes down from the village wheeling a bicycle. He seems to want to take water to his family but the soldiers refuse to let him pass. We argue with them about the absurdity of their actions given that dozens of Palestinians haahev been let through unchecked and that we are wandering back and forth. They refuse and after a while decide that they want us too on the Palestinian side of the fence. There is a little pushing but mostly we just argue about the pointlessness of their orders. Eventually they move us though and swing the symbolic onlockable gate closed. The internationals decide to go back to the village to regroup ant to decide what to do next. The young Palestinian askes for some support at the gate so three of us stay behind.
So now we have 5 internationals and one farmer inside the settlement, about a dozen internationals and uncounted farmers in the olive groves, another dozen international in the village, unknown numbers of farmers at the south gate and us three plus one Palestinian with bicycle at the north gate. It is about eleven and very hot. There is no shade. I talk with the Palestinian who explains that he was late as he had been at school. He is in the business stream there and wants to get through to go to his greenhouse on the other side of the wall. The water is for this. He wants to study business so that he can expand the marketing of the produce. We talk a bit about a time when there will be no wall. It will seem then that all this was a dream I say to him.
Then Huwaida, our graceful Palestinian coordinator who walks though soldiers as if they do not exist, appears on the other side of the fence. She has been asked to meet with some Palestinians further down to talk with them about returning. Then off she goes, ignoring the jeeps and into the trees.
After a while another jeep drives down and, after consultation, a soldier calls me over to the fence. This is now a closed military zone he declares and if you do not leave you will be arrested. He produces a scruffy photo copied map and a paper with some Hebrew typing to prove this. We will arrest you you in 60 seconds if you do not move, he says.
And so they do. The gate is swung open and the soldiers come through take away cameras and handcuff us bhind our backs with plastic binding. We are marched back to the Israeli side where we wander about ignoring commands to move here or stay there. The soldiers stand around uncertainly while I harangue then about the manifest idiocy of arresting three harmless internationals at an unlocked gate whilst dozens more pick olives. What is the point of all this I keep saying. What are you achieving by this? Why are your padlocks so crappy? Finally, the senior officer, shaven headed, sunglasses, folds up his map which for unknown reasons he had been consulting, and barks out orders. He ignore our requests for explanations, he is action man and we are put into jeeps and off we go. I shout out to the young Palestinian now waiting with his bicycle some way off. Salaam aleikum. Peace be with you. It will be alright.
My jeep has one soldier who has obviously taken against me and one who is rather curious and wants to kow why we are here "in this mess". I give hin the standard and truthful reply of having been asked by the farmers to help them pick their olives. He seem genuinely baffled by this. The lip-curling soldier refuses to answer when I point out to him that the gate is now both unocked and unguarded. We drive for about 30 minutes and I slip my wrists out of the binding. We are taken out at a border crossing between Israel and Palestine on the Israeli side and wait around for perhaps an hour. Officer shaven head consults a map. He ignores me when I ask if he is lost. Israeli civilians waiting at a bus stop stare curiously at us. My phone rings out Ode to Joy, my chosen ring tone, and I answer it thus revealing my lack of binding and almost make it before my phone is taken away and new handcuffs, proper ones, are use. The others chat to the soldiers, each in their own way.
Eventually it is explained to us that we have been bad people but that we are not being charged. Instead our names and passport numbers have been taken and if we are found again in the Wesrt Bank we will be deported. And this is recorded in a notebook which one of the policemen produces. Our bags are returned and all our belongings are there. Our passports are returned and our handcuffs removed. It takeswhile to find the key to mine. And then we walk off to the bus 20 metres up the road to get the next bus to somewhere as we have no idea where we are and are certainly not going to ask the soliders.
Later we drink a beer in the small town on the bus route. Our cameras are all in order but every one of my sound recordings has been carefully erased. My companions want to head back to their village in the West Bank that night but I need to work things out. My bag is in a village called Sonniyra, my bedroll in Jayyous but I have money and credit cards so I will stay the night in Jerusalem and work out a route back in the morning. And so we get a bus to Jerusalem and they get a taxi to the Calendria checkpoint while I check in an the wonderful Jerusalem Hotel in east Jerusalem.
Later in the evening I learn that back in Jayyous, they have been using teargas to disperse the crwod at the gate, solidiers pushing up the hill towards the village, possible declaring a curfew. It is not clear if all the internationals are back or whether some are trapped in the olive groves with the farmers. No one has any idea what will happen next.
And so it goes. Arafat is still alive. Some olives have been picked. Almost unnoticed a goup of Palestinian farmers have shown defiance and have asserted the right to pick their olives peacefully. Where it will take them is uncertain. Probably down a road of curfew, lock-down and gates permanently shut. ISM is committed to keeping some international presence with them but they will have to live with their decisions not us. And a young Palestinian's vegetables will probably wither through lack of water. It is not all large-scale violence just endless, pointless small-scale repression which leads to continuous pressure and humiliation until something cracks.
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