Palestinian Reports, April 2002, Pt 1

Sarah Irving, 17th April 2002ce

Introduction by Merrick

My friend Sarah went out to Palestine in December 2001 to work with a group of internationals protecting Palestinians. They dismantled illegal Israeli roadblocks, they stayed in Palestinian houses, knowing that the Israelis don't want to kill any international citizens for fear of people realising what they're doing to Palestinians.

At the end of March 2002 Sarah and others went back out to Palestine. This time she sent frequent emails back to friends and media.

When she went out, I didn’t know quite how extreme the Israeli military were about to get, nor what a superbly human and eloquent war writer Sarah would be. There was always a marked contrast between the story told by the corporate media and the story told by Sarah and other writers at the Indymedia site

Whilst Sarah’s writing certainly contains bias – and I defy anybody in her situation not to develop a bias – it is always open and clear, and has none of the outrageous selectivity of the mainstream media.

Her reports are powerful for many reasons. They are very immediate, often describing events still going on around her. They are articulate and eloquent thanks to her use of language. But there is something more; she does it without any wages or corporate sponsorship, which certainly makes a difference. While these reports were coming in, a friend of my brother's complained that ITV's coverage of the Queen Mother’s death was excessive and they should be covering Palestine more. He was told that, whatever the importance of events, they had to big up the Queen Mam to ensure maximum daytime advertising revenue for the day of her funeral.

And it is looking at it from that angle that we realise the real power of Sarah and Indymedia’s reporting. The real power of it stems from the fact that this is written by people who are not professional writers. These people have not spent their lives training to report things then going from one crisis zone to another, and so they react to extreme events in a way that fully feels the extremity, a way that you or I might do. Sarah is reporting not as a reporter, but as a humanitarian person. And so, while her reports may not have the audience of millions like the BBC, the people who do read them will be more affected, and the story will be more properly told.

Those of us who want our news dictated by importance rather than corporate commercials, and who favour justice and compassion over deference to obsolete institutions, need to ensure we keep independent media channels open.

Donations can be made to Indymedia at . Scroll down to the bottom to see where to do. The page also has places we can bombard with emails, faxes, etc.

I forwarded her emails to friends and media, and posted them on the Head To Head section of U-Know, but the writing is telling such an important story so well that they deserve to be archived properly. To that end, they are being posted here as permanent Feature articles.

we got here. a bit of an interesting journey - I got proposed to by a Jordanian taxi driver, and had no sleep for about 36 hours, which is always good. but then at the checkpoint at Tantur I got my first taste of how things have changed here - we got very used, in December, to breezing through there, often winding up the border guards and making our own merry decisions about whether or not to show id. this time, we were met from a distance of about 40 yards by a soldier brandishing an M16 rifle from the booth. we backed up and tried walking, in case they just didn't want cars, but met the same response. an attempt to walk round the back walkway was quickly spotted. so we walked back - in the bitter rain - to the head of the road, where a transeet driver told us that his sister lived by the Beit Jala checkpoint and we could get through there - which we did, with the suspicious soldiers doing no more than glaring at the freaks wandering through the street in front of the family home they've occupied as a base. the soldiers shot a 60-year old Palestinian woman about 2 hours after we tried to cross on the walkway, as she was doing the very same thing.

Bethlehem looks kind of different too - mainly because the bit we're staying in, not far from Manger Square down Paul VI St if anyone cares to look on a map - is where the tanks were last time, and there are big shell holes in the wall of the pharmacy and Bethlehem uni - still fresh enough to have sootmark coronas round them. And there is a perceptible tension amongst the ISM organisers that was not there last time, and neta and huweida are stuck in Ramallah, possibly, so I haven't got to see them yet and get some news on how things are in Ramallah and Salfit generally. only Bethlehem news from Georgie!

things in Ramallah sound appalling, and the plan (not on the schedule, of course, but then the schedule has obviously gone completely for a burton) was to go there and maybe help accompany ambulances, which are not even being allowed to move. 20 journos are holed up in a hotel, and the Israelis are holding 2 of the rooms in Arafat's compound. he made a speech this morning announcing that he welcomed martyrdom - we'll see about that. but it may be horribly viable - there are bodies lying around in the centre of the compound. god only knows what Sharon thinks he's doing this time, but it's sounding increasingly likely that it may involve taking out Arafat, in which case god help us. not that I’m such a fan of abu ammar, but...

there were supposed to be shiploads of ya basta! going to Ramallah, but they didn't get in either. even they're not omnipotent here...maybe they'll come here instead, in which case there will probably be more Italians than Palestinians - there's already a bunch staying at ibda.

anyway, we're not going to Ramallah, as there was a suicide bombing in Jerusalem about half an hour ago, and allegedly the bomber came from Bethlehem. so, we were expecting the tanks in here in the next few days anyway but now - maybe hours...there are thousands of troops massing in Jerusalem and people here seem fairly certain that they will be heading this way in the near future. everyone's been panic buying since yesterday afternoon, as if curfew is imposed it will be 24 hour, in all likelihood. so the talk is of maybe going to dheheishah refugee camp or to stay with families in Beit Jala to prevent their homes being taken over by troops, as happened last time. but again, who knows.

all vaguaries, I’m afraid, but then that's what things are like here. you don't seem to be too sure of what is really going to happen until it does. but somehow it feels like we shan't be wandering around fields with farmers tomorrow.

look after yourselves, all of you; I shall endeavour to do the same. I’ll be in touch as much as possible, but of course if curfew is imposed I can make few guarantees. and remember that no news is good news!



Sat, 30 Mar 2002 13:41:05

hello again,

well, no tanks in Bethlehem as yet - there are 3 APC[Armoured Patrol Car]s sitting on the main road through Beit Jala into Bethlehem and several more waiting higher up. there has also been Israeli shelling into the ida (sp?) refugee camp near Rachel’s tomb. there are huge numbers of Palestinian militia etc wandering around town with kalashnikovs - again, a big departure from last time. we've been warned to stay well out of the way if there is any shooting at all, as we will just be regarded as getting in the way by both sides - not that I have any desire to get anywhere near Palestinian efforts to keep the soldiers out, although some misguided peaceniks have apparently tried to do so in the past. we had a little march up to the APCs, who shot a little and then chucked a percussion grenade, but otherwise didn't react massively, but then called their slightly more aggro big brother from up the hill. the locals then tried to get us to withdraw, which the Italians from deheishaa who were with us refused to do, which is helpful, and totally in character.

we went round deheishaa refugee camp last night - 11,000 people from over 40 villages crammed into a square km of stark concrete. the demolished homes of martyr's families, and the barren homes of the rest of the inhabitants, with a few painfully defiant attempts to paint rural scenes on the walls - some in the colours of the Palestinian flag. the girl who did the suicide bombing in Jerusalem yesterday was from there - she was said to be very beautiful, and her family are devastated beyond belief, wild with grief. you can see why someone does that, being brought up in there their whole lives. not a place for any human being, especially children.

Adam from the ism team was riding with the ambulances in Ramallah yesterday and managed to end up in Arafat's compound, where he got a couple of wounded out but in some ways more importantly got a video camera in and seems to have got the footage to CNN, which is good, since the footage on ha'aretz at least was pure fiction. Arafat himself is at present holed up in just 2 remaining rooms, with no water or electricity. the Lebanese are also, apparently, offering for him to be able to go there, which would leave this place in god knows what sort of chaos.

the plan for tonight is to go and stay in houses in ida and al-Azzar camps, so that the Israelis are less likely to randomly shell it. and some of us will be on call to ride with ambulances if needed.

George, the guy running this internet cafe, whose family lives up by where the APCs are stationed and who needs to get there later, has just walked in and said that the Israelis tied up 5 people in Ramallah this afternoon and shot them through the head. that's execution. has any of that appeared in any of the fucking press with you guys. why do I think not. bastards. anyway, it's on al-jazeera.

take care, and I’ll be in touch when I can, but tomorrow is Easter Sunday and this is a Christian town, so I guess stuff will be shut.

Mon, 01 Apr 2002 18:35:05

well, here's another one. things are pretty fucked here at the moment, and there's been some casualties today - we marched up to the tanks at Beit Jala and the soldiers responded by shooting splintering rounds at the ground and wall in our immediate vicinity. 5 internationals were hurt, most of them were allowed out of hospital immediately, including kunle with wounds to the face and elbow. 'Kate' is still in hospital and will not be out too quickly; she had shrapnel wounds to the stomach and has been sedated for the night because she's in a lot of pain. she was under general anaesthetic for about 2 hours having it removed and cleaned up; she was holding a banner at the front of the march, kunle was one of the negotiators but they fired when the negotiators had only taken a couple of steps. they then followed us down the road for quite some distance, shooting all the time and then firing at the press corps there.

there are about 60 tanks up at tantur checkpoint and we are kind of assuming that they will come in tonight. we thought they'd be in last night and most of us were staying at refugee camps, which are generally the first places they go into. we had some fairly close shelling and could hear gunfire from the settlement at gilo, and there were tanks ringing the ida refugee camp near Rachel’s tomb, but no-one actually came in.

things are also terrible in Ramallah; total terrifying infringements of human rights including door-to-door searches and the arrest of most men between 16 and 60, including Palestinian Authority policemen labelled 'terrorists' for carrying their legitimate weapons. we also saw the news last night, which included footage of the Israelis going into the halls of residence at bir zeit uni and arresting people, including some of the Gazan students I met in December. the footage of Arafat cornered in the Mukata also included one of the officials I remember fetching us extra chairs and bringing us pizza and shashlik for lunch. pretty horrible to realise he will probably me massacred by some fucking fascist Israeli soldier in the next day or so.

anyway, the soldiers seem to have something like a carte blanche to shoot at anyone, including internationals, and tonight I’m emailing from and working in the media centre in Bethlehem, which is part of the Bethlehem TV building, and we all know from Voice Of Palestine what happens to television stations round here...

so, please, please, please, forward this to everyone you can, and if you have any media contacts tell them they can ring (international access) and then:

Tue, 02 Apr 2002 01:42:25

another desperate message from Bethlehem. we are under attack right now - there are tanks, APCs and bulldozers coming in through Beit Sahour and south Bethlehem. there are Israeli soldiers in dehaishe and ayda refugee camps, entering homes, and the ibdaa community centre there has been shelled.

there are also f-16s and helicopter gunships overhead, and they are shelling and firing rounds. the troops have taken over a building - we believe it to be the school - in the centre of Bethlehem.

7 internationals were wounded today in the process of a peaceful march in Beit Jala; one was seriously injured and has had to be operated on to have shrapnel from splinter bullets (illegal under international law and denied by the Israeli army) removed from her abdomen.

please get on to any parliamentarians, press etc you may be able to contact. lives depend on it.

for interviews and other press updates please contact the alternative media centre on:
00 972 67435459
00 972 55840767
00 972 22777558
00 972 67270398

all but the 7558 number are mobiles so should still be running even if we are shelled or taken out of the building, which seems very possible as we are in the Bethlehem TV building in the town centre, which has been a target before. we can also supply interview numbers and information on the situation in Ramallah.

sarah xx