Sunday, December 28, 2008

Massacre in Gaza

The sun is shining.  Christmas has come and gone.  Most of us are on holiday and it's a relaxing, comfortable time. And while we are enjoying ourselves Israel is perpetrating yet another massacre upon the unarmed, captive population of Gaza.  So far, in the worst attack upon this tiny, crowded strip of land in over 40 years, the heroes of the Israeli Air Force have dumped over 100 tons of bombs, killing policemen, civilians, women and children.  Hundreds have been killed, many hundreds more have been wounded.

Israel claims that it is responding to the dozens of home-made rockets which have been launched by Gazan militants, killing one Israeli, in the past week. Cynics claim that it makes good sense, with elections coming up, for Ehud Barak and Tzivi Lipni to demonstrate their strength and resolve.  Either way, the response is totally disproportionate.  It is a war crime - if one can describe a few thousand lightly-armed men confronting one of the world's most powerful, best-equipped armies as a "war'.  No, it is a massacre.

Please, my fellow Australians, help end this slaughter by making your feelings known to our Foreign Minister: and Israel's ambassador to Australia, HE Yuval Rotem: 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Joe Sacco

Great Christmas present!  My son gave me a copy of Joe Sacco's comic book/graphic novel, "Palestine", published by Jonathan Cape in 2003.  Not normally a fan of the comic book and manga genre, I was entranced by Sacco's vivid account of his experiences in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in late 1991 and early 1992 - the time of the first intifada.  As Edward Said wrote in his glowing introduction: "With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco".

Terrible state of affairs indeed.  In the 25 years since Sacco visited the region the situation has not changed for the better for the Palestinians: the Israelis have left Gaza but have turned it into a huge concentration camp, starving its population into submission; in the West Bank the resistance has been imprisoned and disarmed while the American-trained forces of the Palestinian Authority do Israel's police work; Jewish colonist settlements increase and flourish while politicians worldwide ("the scum floats to the top") turn their backs.

Two things that have not changed are the indomitable will of the ordinary Palestinians to resist this genocide and a growing core of decent people, in the West and within Israel, willing to speak up on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Alan Ramsey

My heart was heavy when I learned that today's column in the Sydney Morning Herald was Alan Ramsay's last. Alan has been a fearless critic of all that was false, pretentious and immoral in our society. He was virtually alone amongst Australian mainstream journalists in criticising Israel's vicious and inhumane treatment of the subject Palestinians.  For this he was pilloried and denigrated by the Zionist lobby.  Still, he held firm and would not resile from his beliefs.

Where does this sort of courage and integrity come from? I wish I knew. But he had it in abundance. And now, the light that he shone on this most important arena of human rights abuses is dimmed.  We, as a nation, are the poorer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Homage to Bil'in

The farming village of Bil'in lies west of Ramallah, close to the border with Israel, in the Occupied West Bank.  Since 1967 the villagers have seen their agricultural lands and orchards stolen, acre by acre, tree by tree, and absorbed into nearby illegal Israeli settlements.  Nowadays very little remain of the traditional lands which once were theirs.

The people of Bil'in have fought this theft of their lands through peaceful demonstrations and protests.  Each Friday after morning prayers, accompanied by international human rights workers and Israeli anarchists and supporters, they attempt to march to the site of the apartheid barrier hemming in the village.  Invariably, they are confronted by troops from the Israeli Occupying Force and the brutal Border Police, whose violent methods of dispersal have caused a number of deaths and serious injuries to the protestors.

One old man travels in the bus from Ramallah each week to join in the protest.  With his sunburned, weatherbeaten face and courageous spirit, clad in the traditional keffiyah and ageyl and wearing Palestinian flags and a badge of Yasser Arafat in his lapels, he came to symbolise the spirit of the popular resistance to me.  This portrait is a homage to him and to the people of Bil'in.

Monday, December 8, 2008

God Cried

"The best-equipped army in the Middle East, supported by one of the most powerful air forces in the world, backed by a navy, and outnumbering its opponents by a conservative five to one, was totally unable to knock off a band of ragged-arse kids equipped with the sort of weapons that might just about control a football crowd in Uruguay...."

So wrote Tony Clifton and Catherine Leroy in their book "God Cried", about Ariel Sharon's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut, by which he intended to finally destroy the Palestinian armed resistance and its leadership.

Twenty six years later and the Israelis have still not been able to realise their grand Zionist dream of driving the indigenous population from all the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.  Gaza is undergoing a slow genocide, East Jerusalem is being ethnically cleansed, the West Bank has been split up into a series of impoverished Bantustans where Jewish colonists control the hilltops and water resources.  The resistance has been disarmed, jailed or gone into hiding. Surrounding Arab states appear indifferent to the fate of the Palestinians.  

All of this would indicate a disastrous state of affairs - if it wasn't for the will of the people. Humiliated, starved, beaten, jailed, tortured, dispossesed, they continue to resist. They deserve our admiration.  They need our help.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


 Shehada St, Hebron, the shopfronts welded shut. Palestinians are forbidden to even walk along this street. Apartheid is alive and well.

With the news that the economies of the UK, the USA and Germany are now officially in recession the question has to be asked, "Can Australia be far behind?" Lots of people are doing it tough here, some are losing their homes, but it will have to get much, much worse before we see anything like the Depressions of the 1930s and 1890s which our parents and grandparents went through.  (My parents, both hardworking people, finished up living in a tent on the beach.)

And spare a thought for the citizens of Hebron (Al Khalil) as they try to survive after nearly forty years of Israeli occupation.  Large sections of their markets remain closed, the doors welded shut by the military authorities. Other locations are roofed with protective mesh to block the rubbish and fecal matter dumped upon them by the rabid Zionist settlers squatting in the overlooking buildings.

Yet the people of Hebron have it easy compared to their Palestinian brothers and sisters desperately trying to stay alive in Gaza while their Israeli overlords prevent foodstuffs, fuel and medical equipment from reaching them. Their crime for this collective punishment of slow starvation?  To elect a government of their choice in free, fair and democratic elections.

Friday, November 28, 2008


This week Emad Bornat from Bil'in village, west of Ramallah, was taken to hospital in a serious condition after a tractor accident. Returning home after ploughing his fields, Emad was forced to detour down a steep hill because of the illegal apartheid wall separating his lands from the village.  His tractor overturned into the mesh and razor wire barrier.  Israeli road blocks delayed the ambulance from reaching hospital, where doctors removed his spleen,  for more than an hour.

Emad has fought the occupation with his video camera for many years.  He is never absent from the weekly demonstrations at Bili'in, documenting the theft of land and the human rights abuses taking place. He shows great personal courage, getting up close when the bullets are flying, even after his camera was shattered - while he was filming - by a live round. His video footage can be seen on YouTube.

I am proud to claim Emad as a friend.  Please pray for his safe recovery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The sun is shining

Another dove of peace painted on the apartheid wall. This one is bound and blindfolded, it cannot even attempt to fly.  A powerful symbol.

The poet Chaim Nahman Bialik makes the point, in what is almost a Jewish haiku:
"The sun is shining
The acacia is blooming
And the slaughterer is still slaughtering."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The dove

On a nearby wall in Bethlehem is this painting of a dove in flight, wearing a flak jacket and carrying an olive branch in its beak. A sniper has it in his telescopic sights.

The so-called peace process is equally doomed.  Year follows year of fruitless negotiations.   Nothing is achieved.  And this suits Israel's purpose down to the ground.  After all, the state of Israel was founded on terrorism and military might and, while "peace negotiations" drag endlessly on, the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, lands and businesses continues unabated.  As a militaristic economy, with the fourth largest sales of arms worldwide, Israel goes from strength to strength. Why would they want a peace agreement?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The struggle

What is one to make of this wall painting on the side of a building near Bethlehem? Two donkeys, their tails tied together, pull in opposite directions. The white donkey appears to have a Palestinian village on its back while the black donkey supports a Jewish settlement (the trees and the style of buildings give the clue). The donkeys - notoriously stubborn beasts - appear to be engaged in a futile, unthinking struggle.

If the artist has used the donkeys as a metaphor for the struggle between Palestinians and the Jewish settler movement then he (or she) is way off the mark. Settlements in the West Bank are encouraged, protected and supported by the government of Israel as part of its decades-old campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of its indigenous population.  Israel, with the fourth most powerful army in the world (one which has the power and military hardware to crush Australia's armed forces) is opposed by a handful of lightly-armed resistance fighters in Gaza. Economically, Israel boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in Europe.  It has imposed a "surrender or starve" policy upon the populations of Gaza and the West Bank, where poverty is widespread.

To depict this as a struggle between equals, or infer a moral equivalence in the Palestinian or Israeli positions is, quite frankly, disgusting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nothing lasts forever

A corner of the apartheid wall near Bethlehem, complete with watch tower, razor wire and graffiti.  On this side, Palestinians.  On the other side, the spreading cancer of Jewish settlements built on stolen land, and Palestinians cut off from their neighbours and families.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The human spirit

On this grey obscenity which has been designed to grab land and split communities -even families - apart, the human spirit shines through.  Amongst the political statements and messages of solidarity there are moments of happiness and even humour.

Talking to people throughout the Occupied West Bank I couldn't get over their lack of bitterness. Mostly, they felt bewilderment: Why do the Jews steal our land?  Why won't they live in peace? And the one I couldn't answer: If people in the West know what is happening here, why do they do nothing?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The evil you deplored

Great image!  The camel is being swarmed by tiny figures emerging from the depths. Down at the base of the wall someone has asked the question: "Israel - have you become the evil you deplored?"

For many of us the question is rhetorical - and the answer is "Yes".  Like the abused child who goes on to himself become an abuser, most modern-day Israelis are indifferent to the sufferings of the people they have dispossessed.  They enjoy their privileged lives upon the suffering, despair and pain of the indigenous population, the Palestinians.  So much pain and suffering, all predicated upon a belief that there is such a thing as a Chosen People.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'm from Texas

One of the more down-to-earth images appearing on the apartheid wall lampoons the 43rd president of the United States of America, whose foreign policy has proved such a disaster for that country.  He and his neo-con henchmen leave behind a legacy of death, destruction and misery throughout the Middle East. His delusional secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, recently declared herself: "especially proud of the situation in the Palestinian territories".

The hopes of millions around the world are pinned to the president-elect, Barack Obama. He seems like a decent sort of person. However, his appointment of Rahm Emanuel, son of an Israeli terrorist and himself a hardline supporter of the Zionist state, as his chief of staff, sends an alarming message.  If the Barack administration continues the disastrous policy of putting Israel's so-called interests ahead of American interests then Israelis and Palestinians will continue on in their lethal struggle for the forseeable future. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


This series of large-scale photo portraits has been pasted on The Wall near Bethlehem.  The grimacing faces make a powerful statement - the nature of which eludes me!

This part of The Wall is rich in graffiti and street art and has become something of an "in" tourist destination.  The nearby shops, however, struggle to exist, as foreign tourists are warned against entering Bethlehem (or indeed, anywhere on the West Bank) for "security reasons" by the occupying Israelis.  This is a strategy in their ongoing campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinian neighbourhoods - starve them out and they will, in desperation, abandon their homes and businesses.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An olympic sport

While I was photographing The Wall at Qalandia four young children came out of their nearby houses to see what I was doing.   I agreed to take their photos and, despite the lack of a common language, we established a rapport.  When it was time to leave I said my goodbyes and walked off.  I hadn't gone far before a shower of stones came whizzing past.  I thought I was their friend! Later, an acquaintance explained that stone-throwing amongst Palestinian kids is almost the national pastime, and if it is ever made into an olympic sport then Palestinians will be world champions.  *

Which is all very amusing until you reflect that a number of kids have been shot dead while throwing stones at Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and that many young stone-throwers rot in Israeli jails at this very moment.

*  I would like to add that, at the time, I thought: "Israeli soldiers and border police have fired rubber-coated steel bullets at me and missed (except once).  So give it your best shot, kids." But no, I didn't.  I was really pissed off.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Another world

The quote on the right, attributed to Arundhati Roy, reads: "Another world is not only possible, she's on the way.  Many of us won't be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully, you can almost hear her breathing".

Heartbreaking, when you think of the generations of Palestinians who have passed away while waiting to return to their beloved homeland.

Friday, October 31, 2008


One instantly-recognisable image, seen on walls all over Palestine, is that of Marwan Barghouti, his manacled hands held above his head in a gesture of defiance.  Widely regarded as a popular successor to Yasser Arafat, Barghouti was imprisoned by the Israelis on spurious charges in 2002. He was re-elected to the Palestinian Parliament in 2006 from his prison cell. 

An estimated 11,000 Palestinians languish in Israeli jails, including a number of elected parliamentarians.  They include women, children, sick and elderly.  Most of them are political prisoners - prisoners of conscience tried by military judges using archaic penal codes derived from Ottoman times or the pre-1948 British Administrative Detention system. These laws do not apply to citizens of Israel.  How's that for a healthy democracy?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kiwi Peace Call

I liked this graffiti on The Wall near Bethlehem.   Sonny Bill (Williams) is - or was, until he defected to rugby union - a star New Zealand rugby league player,  As is, I assume, TC.  

They may speak funny but those Kiwis have their hearts in the right place.  And, bless them, they have even painted their message in the Australian sporting colours!

Banksy (2) too

Banksy at Bethlehem.

Another Banksy wall painting, this one on the apartheid wall near Bethlehem.  It's quite a witty piece of role-reversal, the little girl patting down a spreadeagled Israeli Defence (sic) Force soldier.  Body searches at the hands of the occupying force are an everyday part of Palestinian life and are carried out more as a form of humiliation of the population than out of any concern for security.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A Banksy painting at Qalandia checkpoint.

The pseudo-anonymous British street artist Banksy works in an instantly recognisable style.  He uses a stencil technique to transfer his graphic images onto walls and footpaths.  His work is remarkable for its visual wit, often using satire to make his point.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stop killing my sons....

A Michelangelo-inspired wall painting near the Qalandia check point.

Contemporary visual arts practice is, for the most part, really boring.  Audiences have switched off in droves from the rampant egotism and posturings (hello, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin et al, are you listening?) of the young and not-so-young wannabees.  This kind of art just doesn't connect with ordinary people. 

An art of rejection has grown out of this.  For decades now young artists have turned to the streets, to walls, to railway carriages as their canvas of choice.  I'm not talking about the brain-dead "taggers" who disfigure our cities with their repetitive tags, but to the genuine graffiti artists who have something new and original and heartfelt to say.  Crikey, some have even become rich, like Banksy, or been subsumed by the mega-rich art market (Basquiat, Keith Haring and so on) and received the ultimate accolade - their paintings reproduced on tea towels and coffee mugs!

Massive, bland, obscenely expensive, Israel's separation or apartheid wall is a metaphor for the New York art scene.  However, in an act of subversion, graffiti artists from around the world have turned it into a huge canvas for their ideas and beliefs.  Over the next short while I'd like to share some of this with you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hooligan settlers

Soldiers watch on while settlers threaten olive harvesters.

Yesterday's editorial in Haaretz  "Hooligan settlers who call themselves Jews", condemned the actions of militant settlers in no uncertain terms: "They have been stealing the land of powerless farmers for decades and do not recoil from stealing the fruit of these farmers' humble land. A society that declares its longing for peace cannot accept such malicious Jewish terror against innocent Palestinian civilians."

Oh that our own quality newspapers dared to  speak with such objectivity and courage on matters concerning Palestinian human rights.  Instead, we must turn to an Israeli newspaper to find the truth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Harvest of hate.

Settler attack in Hebron olive grove (courtesy ActiveStills)

Haaretz has reported the most recent attack on Israeli, Palestinian and foreign helpers attempting to harvest olives near Hebron, in the southern West Bank. Several of the pickers were attacked, including Janet Benvie, a British volunteer with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, who was punched in the face after settlers attempted to steal her camera.

Israel Defence (sic) Forces arrived and promptly declared the area a closed military zone.* They described the harvest as a "provocation" because it had not been previously cleared with the IDF.

* Closed military zones have the effect of making Palestinians' presence on their own property unlawful.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Olive harvest

Olive grove at Ni'lin, Occupied West Bank.

Australian growers rightfully pride themselves on producing world-class olive oil, most of which, because it is a young industry and production levels are comparitively low, is sold at premium prices.  It is something of a luxury.

By contrast, in Occupied Palestine olive trees are grown virtually everywhere.  Wherever it is possible to plant and nourish these hardy trees they grow; on barren hillsides, in the valleys and in household gardens.  The fruits of the trees are eaten at every meal - as preserved olives, as a dipping oil, in salads or used for frying.  They sustain life.  Far from being a luxury, they are a basic necessity.  They are also, by far, the country's most important crop.
As in Australia, the olives are harvested once a year, in late summer.  However, Palestinian farmers face a threat which their counterparts in Australia (and Italy and Spain and Greece) do not - spiteful, sometimes murderous, Jewish settlers intent on disrupting or stopping the harvest.  As an encouragement for the Palestinian owners to abandon their lands Zionist thugs from nearby settlements routinely chop down and burn the trees, and attack villagers attempting to harvest their crops.

Despite these religous zealots bent on destruction and a complicit army of occupation, international volunteers go to Palestine each summer to help with the harvest and, by their presence, to discourage the worst of the violence.  I urge anyone who has the time and the means to do so to go and help the Palestinians bring in their crop.  You will be welcomed with open arms.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Tom Hurndall

The activists I met in the West Bank earlier this year came from Japan, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, the USA and Norway.  They were wonderful people, giving up their summer holidays and paying their own way to take part in a just, humanitarian struggle. 

Not all of the young volunteers who have come to Palestine over the years have returned home. Rachel Corrie, run down by an army bulldozer while protesting house demolitions in Gaza and Tom Hurndall, shot in the head by an IDF sniper while escorting young children to safety, also in Gaza, never went home. Both members of the International Solidarity Movement, they became martyrs in the struggle for Palestinian human rights.

So far this year 420 Palestinians (including 80 children) have been killed by Israeli forces. Amnesty International (UK) in a recent report describes a situation where Israeli military forces kill civilians in Gaza with "near-total impunity, week in week out". This is state sanctioned murder.
To read the full report go to:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time to leave

Israel's daily newspaper Haaretz reports on Middle Eastern issues with the kind of objectivity that news media in Australia and the United States - in thrall to the Zionist lobby - do not. It can be read online at: 

In today's issue an article by Avi Primor, "It's time for the IDF to leave the West Bank", argues that security concerns are the biggest drawback to Israel pulling out of the occupied territories. He suggests that an international force of armed observers could be installed in place of the IDF, thus ending 41 years of military occupation.

Such a force, I suggest, would be better disciplined, more humane and more professional than the IDF and the brutal Border Police.  Their role would be that of peacekeepers, not as oppressors of the native population and facilitators for settler violence.

Whether the Israeli political class can wean itself off its war mentality and relentless expansionism is another matter.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Watch out Fatima

The now-faint graffiti on the wall of a Palestinian home near the Tel Rumeida settlement in Hebron reads "Watch out Fatima - we will rape all Arab woman".  It is meant, obviously, as an encouragement for the indigenous population of this beleagured neighbourhood to flee their homes.  It reminded me of another slogan I had seen, years earlier, on a wall on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, "Death to all Arabs and Christian dogs".

These purveyors of hate are, sadly, everywhere.  In today's Haaretz ( the Israeli commentator, Akivar Eldar, gives an excellent analysis of the state of the "peace process" and observes that the PA has become "a fig leaf covering the nakedness of a deluxe version of occupation."  However, the published comments on his article come overwhelmingly from religious/nationalist zealots, whose hatred of Palestinians and opposition to a just resolution of the conflict is entrenched.

Hatred of Jews, hatred of Muslims, hatred of Israelis, hatred of Palestinians, all have their wellsprings in ignorance and fear.  All are abominations.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Young Israelis spend three years in the military forces and are sometimes posted to the Occupied West Bank.  Their duties may include manning checkpoints or patrolling near the many illegal Jewish settlements.

As one of several human rights workers with the International Solidarity Movement, based in the southern city of Hebron (Al Khalil), part of my daily routine was to monitor a checkpoint next to the infamous settlement of Tel Rumeida, scene of many vicious attacks against Palestinian residents. These residents were routinely searched and required to produce their identity cards before they were allowed to go on their way.  Whether these searches were security measures or part of the regime of routine harrasment and humiliation is open to dispute.

If they were approachable I would sometimes engage the heavily-armed soldiers in conversation. One of them, Dan, had two years' service under his belt and could hardly wait to get out.  He would sometimes joke and play with the local kids and he seemed quite a reasonable person. He told me that he wanted to study literature when he left the army. However, when I asked him what he thought about the situation in Hebron, he replied, "It's their fault, the Palestinians."

Such certainty!  It allowed him to justify the presence of the Hebron settlers in properties and on land stolen from the Palestinian owners.  It allowed him to condone the attacks these settlers make on Palestinian children on their way to and from school. But then, if he was to admit to himself that Palestinians are human beings like himself, and are entitled to the same human rights as Israeli Jews, how could he do the job he was doing?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Flipping Out

Pity about the late-night slot on SBS last night for the documentary "Flipping Out - Israel's drug generation". The Canadian film-makers went to North India and Goa to record the drugged antics of young Israelis "flipping out" after their compulsory three year stint in the Israeli Defence (sic) Forces.

With their 15,000 shekel severance pay from the army, thousands of young Israelis head for favoured destinations in India where they spend months, sometimes years, partying in a drug-induced haze. For some, the party ends only when they succumb to psychosis and, in some cases, repatriation back to Israel. Feeling (with some justification) that the world despises them they group together in tight communities, wrapping themselves in a sheltering, Israelis-only coccoon.

During their three years service some had served in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. When interviewed, a few felt remorse, others were indifferent to the suffering and humiliation they had inflicted upon their Palestinian victims. In a sense they, too, were victims of Israel's political culture which sees war and conflict as the preferred option.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pogrom in Assira

The village of Assira al Qibliya, before Saturday's rampage.

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli PM, has described a recent rampage by Jewish settlers through the village of Assira al Qibliya as a "pogrom".

In response to an altercation between two youths, one Palestinian and one Jewish, heavily-armed settler terrorists rampaged through the village on Saturday, shooting indisciminately and vandalising houses and property. Several villagers suffered critical gunshot wounds while soldiers from the Israel Occupation Force stood passively by.

A pogrom is a form of riot directed against a particular group, characterised by destruction of their houses, businesses and religious centres. The term is more usually associated (though not exclusively) with riots against Jewish communities in eastern Europe during the 19th Century. For Olmert to use it in this instance is both a correct choice of words and an indication that the government of Israel has lost control of the monster which it created - the settler movement.

Friday, September 12, 2008

School's a gas!

Once the children are at school they are still not safe. Reports are coming in that 50 students at a girls' school in the West Bank village of Ni'lin required medical attention after Israeli "Defence" Force storm troopers lobbed tear gas canisters into their school.

For the full story follow the link to the International Solidarity Movement website on this page ( for the article "I used to dream about my future".

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to school

Imagine this, where you live, here in Australia: You send your kids off to school in the morning. On the way, they are stopped at an army checkpoint, questioned and maybe searched. Then, before they get to the safety of the school grounds, they are verbally abused, stoned and spat upon by immigrant children and their parents. These immigrants have arrived in the country uninvited, illegally. The police stand by and do nothing. On their way home it is the same story - your children run the same gauntlet of abuse and humiliation.

Sound far-fetched? Well, not if you're Palestinian and live in the West Bank adjacent to an Israeli colonist settlement. Every day of the school week many children leave their homes in fear of their Jewish neighbours, whose sole aim is to drive them from this land. The situation is probably worst in Hebron, where settlers have established themselves in the heart of the city. Foreign human rights workers from such groups as the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Ecumenical Accompaniment and the International Solidarity Movement do their best to shepherd the children to and from school, hoping to ward off the worst violence, but they themselves are open to attack.

Last week school began again for the children of Palestine after their summer holidays. It should be a positive, enjoyable experience. But for many, school days are tinged with fear.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Home of the brave, land of the free.

One of the most depressing aspects in the run-up to the US presidential election has been the candidates' unseemly scramble to demonstrate his or her unflinching commitment to Israel. Not to peace. Not to justice or fairness. To Israel.

Obama or McCain, Biden or Palin, Democrat or Republican, it doesn't really matter, all are in the thrall of the pro-Israel lobby. They know that it is political suicide to demonstrate anything other than fawning admiration for the Zionist state. AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and other powerful lobby groups work unceasingly to purge the Senate, Congress, universities and public life of any American who dares to speak up for Palestinian human rights. It has come to this.

Israel may attack a US warship in international waters, plant its spies in US defence establishments, soak up billions of US taxpayers' money each year and thumb its nose at calls to respect the "peace process" with, it seems, impunity. Indeed, as the rape of Palestine accelerates, the stranglehold of the pro-Israel lobby grows stronger.

The Americans and their toadies (sorry, allies) will abandon Iraq in the not-too-distant future. Echoing the Vietnam experience, they will one day retreat from Afghanistan, with their tails between their legs. Their client state, Israel, has maintained a military occupation in the remnants of Palestine for over forty years. Unless a just solution to the conflict is found then America's woes in the region will not go away.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Support for Hamas is widespread throughout the villages and towns of the West Bank. Painted signs symbolise the religious and revolutionary nature of the movement (the green flag of Islam and the AK47 automatic rifle). For many, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas has failed to provide credible leadership. Indeed, the PA is widely regarded as carrying out the orders of the Israeli government by suppressing dissent and closing down charitable organisations linked to Hamas.

Like the liberation theology movements of South America, Hamas gains support from the people through its provision of social services and its opposition to tyranny and repression. Confronted by one of the largest and best equipped armies in the world Hamas has only a relative handful of lightly-armed men. All Palestinians know, of course, that only a political solution will deliver them any measure of justice, but they also know that without an armed resistance they are even more helpless in the face of Israeli depredations. Hamas gives them hope.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Israeli storm troopers invade the Beit Hanina house.

Mission accomplished.

Palestinian houses are often impressive affairs. Constructed of stone or concrete blocks, they may be two, three or four storeys high, built to accommodate growing and extended families. Their solidity reflects the importance of family life.

In the Occupied West Bank the Israeli authorities seldom issue permits for the indigenous population to extend their houses, let alone build new structures. In desperation, the home owner is forced to build "illegally". Then, as one of their strategies to ethnically cleanse the land of its occupants, the Israelis order the demolition of the house.

Last week the imposing, four storey home of Abu Majed Eisha in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian community close to East Jerusalem, was destroyed with explosives while his family, friends and supporters from the international community looked on, helpless. His crime was to have built additional floors onto the existing two storey home.

Israel has destroyed 18,000 Palestinian homes since it occupied the West Bank in 1967. A further 22,000 houses in East Jerusalem have demolition orders on them. As part of their agenda of land acquisition the occupiers aim to make life unendurable for the Palestinians, thus forcing them to leave and paving the way for the settlement of yet more Jewish colonists from the United States, Europe, Canada, Ethiopia and yes, shamefully, Australia.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ordinary people

So many of the international activists I met in the West Bank were there for two reasons: they had a commitment to justice and human rights and they had had a previous experience of Palestinian society - there is something about Palestinians and the way they live their lives which is very appealing. Who has ever been there and doesn't afterwards speak of Palestinians' hospitality, generosity and courage in the face of some of the worst injustice of our times?

Here are just a few of the acts of generosity which happened to me:

In the old city of Nablus my companion and I were vainly searching for a cafe which sold the famous kanaffa nablisi, that incomparable concoction based on goats' cheese and honey. Two passing men saw our predicament and showed us to "the best place". They sat with us while we ate and, before they left, told us of how they had spent 7 years and 12 years in Israeli jails for opposing the Occupation. When it came time to leave, we found that they had paid our bill.

The same thing happened in my share taxi from the Huwarra checkpoint into the city. The young bloke sitting next to me told me of how he had been forced to leave Nablus because of the economic stranglehold which the Israelis have imposed on his city and was now working in Amman. He got out before me and, when we arrived at my stop, the driver told me that my fare had been paid.

This sort of thing happened all the time; small acts of kindness. Like the tailor who sewed up my backpack and would accept no payment, and the shopkeeper who would add a slice of halva to my groceries, free of charge. I could go on and on. One soon learns not to admire someone's personal possession - like a watch, for instance - for fear that it will be offered, sincerely, as a gift.

So, forget the hype, forget the lies and misinformation. Go to Palestine and meet ordinary people who have not become embittered because the rest of the world has turned its back on their plight. They will show you friendliness and hospitality which will take your breathe away.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Allenby Bridge

The Allenby Bridge (also known as the King Hussein Bridge and, in Arabic, the Jisr Malik Hussein) is the main crossing point between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. Since 1967 it has been under the control of Israel. Its well-established palm trees, manicured lawns and trim buildings give the impression of an orderly, civilized establishment

Nothing could be further from the truth. While organised parties of European and Asian tourists may be checked through with reasonable despatch, for all others, especially those of
Middle Eastern appearance, the visa process is one of humiliation and discomfort. While queues lengthen the young, invariably female, security officers sit in their booths, chatting with one another, filing their nails, going outside for a smoke, shouting at the human cattle to straighten the lines. From time to time they deign to process one or two from the head of the queue. This can go on for hours. It is not something that we in the West would tolerate.

When the supplicant reaches the head of the line he or she is asked their reasons for visiting "Israel" and cautioned against spending any time in the West Bank (even Bethlehem is "too dangerous") and of having anything to do with Arabs. With luck, one is given a three month entry visa. My friend Nokia wasn't so lucky - his human rights record counted against him and he was turned back.

For others, particularly Palestinians, the process is not merely humiliating and uncomfortable, it can be fraught with danger. One such case involved Mohammed Omer, a young journalist who was beaten and hospitalised by security officers at the Allenby Bridge while attempting to return to Gaza after being awarded the coveted Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism in London. To learn more go to the link: on this page.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hey Nokia!

My friend Nokia has been refused a visa enabling him to return to the occupied West Bank. The government of Israel, which has imposed a military occupation over this land for the past 40 years, obviously considers him a threat to its security.

Nokia (in truth, Naoki) has spent this last summer in Palestine, mainly around the Hebron area, as a human rights worker. He would accompany children on their way to school, shielding them from attacks by settlers; he would go to the farms and the fields where settler violence was threatening the property, safety and livelihood of the indigenous population.

The presence of "internationals" from groups such as the International Solidarity Movement and the Christian Peacemaker Teams can have a significant effect in reducing and discouraging the worst excesses of settler violence and intimidation. Such people also bear witness to the colonisation and dismemberment of Palestine. For this reason their presence is discouraged by the Israeli government, which routinely denies entry to those with a record of speaking up on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

So Nokia cannot go back to Palestine. His presence in the streets of Hebron will be sorely missed. There will be no more cries of "Hey Nokia!" from the scores of children who loved this man, who delighted in his open, friendly personality and his commitment to their welfare. He won't be forgotten and, when Palestine is free, he will be welcomed back by his many friends.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beit Furiq

We had been asked to come to the village of Beit Furiq, near Nablus, to witness and report on the damage done by invading Israeli troops the previous night. During this large-scale incursion soldiers had ordered villagers from their homes while they conducted intensive searches, smashing down doors and damaging property.

We were shown over the balladia, or council offices, where doors had been prised open and files strewn around the rooms. The soldiers had also attempted to break into the children's centre, housed in a newly renovated historic building. Luckily, they had failed and the computer equipment, donated by the Australian people through Ausaid and Austcare, remained safe. (It's not unusual for the Israeli army to smash or steal such equipment in these circumstances.)

Beit Furiq is a peaceful village and the villagers were puzzled by the incursion. Some said that it was a rehearsal for an attack on Gaza, or for a future invasion of Lebanon. Who knows? Whatever other reasons lay behind it, it succeeded in terrorising a peaceful village.

Australians, you can have no idea what it is like to live every day under such an oppressive and brutal military occupation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

God's Bunker

"All the world hates Arabs,
And the main thing is to kill them one by one,
With these feet I stepped on my enemy,
With these teeth I bit his skin,
With these lips I sucked his blood,
And I still haven't had enough revenge."

(Song sung by children of Kiryat Arba settlement, Hebron, quoted in the SBS documentary "A Season in God's Bunker".)

Today, a different sort of poetry, the poetry of hate. The corrosive nature of such extreme sentiments are felt not only by Palestinians but they pollute and corrupt mainstream Israeli society, from within.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Come From there

"I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house, with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland......"

Shed a tear today for Mahmoud Darwish, the poet of the Resistance, who has died following heart surgery. Born in 1941 in the village of Barweh, Palestine, he became the voice of the expelled, the dispossessed. His spirit joins Abu Amar, George Habash, Naji al-Ali, Edward Said and the tens of thousands of
ordinary people who never lived to see their homeland again and who fought so that Palestine could be free.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hebron antics

It seems like every day there are reports of settler violence in and around Hebron. (Well, not, that is, in the Australian press; our news is sanitised to reflect the Zionist viewpoint.) They throw a boy off a roof here, they beat up an old woman there, they attack children on their way to school - it has become routine.

And it's not only ordinary people they terrorize. Yesterday a group of settler thugs attacked a vehicle containing a delegation of British diplomats, visiting the city under the auspices of Breaking the Silence, an organisation of Israeli ex-servicemen dedicated to exposing the evils of the occupation. An earlier delegation of European parliamentarians had been subjected to similar treatment, being physically beaten, to cries of "Nazis, Nazis." These people are relentless, empowered by their belief that they are a Chosen People and that all of Palestine is theirs by divine decree.

You see, they don't want the outside world to observe what they are doing in Hebron.

A walk through the streets of the old city is an education: it's exhilarating and colourful, throbbing with the life of a traditional Palestinian market. However, many of the shops remain closed, their doors welded shut by the Israeli military since the settler invasion of the old city. The local people have put up netting and mesh to protect themselves from the rubbish and excrement thrown down on them by their unwelcome neighbours from the houses above.

If only they would go back to New Jersey! But of course they won't and, like a festering sore, their ideology of race supremacy and hate continues to pollute this once-beautiful city.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The worst of the worst

On Saturday armed settlers from Kiryat Arba invaded a Palestinian house in Hebron where a wedding was taking place, throwing stones and harrassing guests. Two of the guests were wounded and one, 15 year old Hamza Abu Hitta, was thrown from the roof. He suffered a broken back and is in hospital, where his condition is described as serious.

Soldiers from the Israeli "Defence" Force, whose job it is to protect the settlers (but not the Palestinians), attended the crime scene. No arrests, of course, were made.

Israeli settlers from Kiryat Arba and Tel Rumeida, widely considered to be "the worst of the worst," routinely use violence against the Palestinian residents of Hebron as a strategy of intimidation in their efforts to ethnically cleanse the city and its environs.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Fear is a natural response, a protective measure awakening us to dangerous situations. In the course of our daily lives there are few situations which trigger our fear response. The nearest I would normally come is when I paddle out in a heavy surf - all surfers experience that adrenaline rush when the surf gets big.

At my first demonstration at Ni'lin, when the soldiers turned nasty and began throwing sound grenades and firing tear gas cannisters, followed by rubber-coated steel bullets, it was all rather fun. As we dodged down behind rock outcrops to avoid the metal cannisters and bullets whizzing past there was, sure, a rush of adrenaline, but no great sense of danger, that our lives were under threat. There was a feeling that, as foreign nationals, armed only with cameras and camcorders, we were almost exempt from the violence. Call it the westerner's sense of privilege. After my next demo at the same village, when I was badly gassed and hit in the back by a rubber-coated bullet, I learned to be more circumspect. I learned to keep my distance from the stone-throwing shebab, the village boys who were the Israeli snipers' prime targets. I learned to fear.

For the past three years the people of Bil'in have staged a weekly protest demonstration against the theft of their lands. Since May villagers from nearby Ni'lin have demonstrated almost daily against similar land thefts. The Israeli military has responded with increasing levels of violence and brutality resulting, this week, in the deaths of a young boy and a teenager in Ni'lin. But still the people come out, in their droves, defying the might of the great army machine.

What the Israeli government and the occupying troops do not seem to realise is that these tactics do not work. Instead of cowing the Palestinians into submission such brutal methods only serve to embolden them, to strengthen their resolve. And when they see heavily-armed troops running from stone-throwing boys to the shelter of their armoured personnel carriers, they know that cowards such as these can never, ultimately, prevail.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's just murder

On Tuesday a 10 year old boy, Ahmed Moussa, was murdered by an Israeli border policeman in the village of Ni'lin. Ahmed had gone with some of his friends to try and remove a barbed wire barricade from village lands. From a distance of 10 metres the policeman shot him in the head, using live ammunition.

In response to ongoing protests over the continuing theft of village land the Israeli authorities have issued new instructions permitting snipers to use live ammunition if no Israeli or foreign nationals are present.

Israeli military forces have now killed twelve Palestinians demonstrating against the theft of their land and the construction of the apartheid wall. Seven of those killed were children.

Photo courtesy of