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.