Palestinian Reports, April 2002, Pt 6

Sarah Irving, 19th April 2002ce

Wed, 17 Apr 2002 09:13:02

it appears that, despite their protestation, the IDF did try to get into the nativity church yesterday, but failed and are now trying to backtrack. it's possible they were trying to get over the walls using grappling hooks like they did into the university, having assumed that after the psychological torture and starvation of the people inside they would not meet resistance. interestingly, though, even he Israeli government has finally admitted that only 30 of the people inside are armed - a pity, then, that most of the press keep talking about the 'gunmen' or 'militants' inside the church and not the 220-odd civilians and religious there. there was a lot of shelling and gunfire noises all night, including a sniper positioned just behind our building - I spent an interesting half hour crouched by the window watching dying flares or tracer bullets and then the heavy-calibre shots that would follow them, slamming down towards bab al-zqaq. we also had gunfire in the alley at the back of our building, which is unusual and must have been terrifying for the families whose houses line it, many of whom have small children.

in 3 villages in east Jerusalem - al-tur, Isawiya and Beit Hanina - families have been evicted and homes are threatened with demolition in the quest to 'eradicate nests of terrorism.' these are areas slated for demolition anyway as the Israeli state expands its illegal settlements in east Jerusalem, colonising more and more Palestinian neighbourhoods. people returning home from work were kept out for hours, and the men and women were being separated out. it still astounds me - looking at press coverage - that anyone still thinks that this is a war against terrorism, or that anyone can believe that committing genocidal massacre and hideous individual human rights abuses can possibly stop the desperate actions of a few suicide bombers. where do these people think that desperation comes from? there are all these myths about religious fanaticism - the al-aqsa suicide martyrs, for example, are a secular organisation, and any religious elements for them are entirely a personal issue. these actions, horrible as they are, and born of repression and desperation, not some kind of inbred racial religious fanaticism, which is what many of the rightist Zionist posters on the imc website seem to believe.

I got a call this morning from one of the guys who came out here nearly 3 weeks ago for the ISM, and who I thought had left - he's actually leaving today. he's from Colorado and in his 50s, I’d guess, a quiet, unassuming, pleasant kind of guy. he's spent the last 2 weeks volunteering with the Palestinian water authority, using his skills as a civil engineer to put water back into the houses of those who've had their supplies cut by shelling etc. a great example of the way in which people's skills from home can be put to such good use in this situation and the way that absolutely anyone, with any range of talents, can be of use, since he thought he was coming here to do direct action and awareness-raising work for back home, until the IDF intervened. and given the apparent unwillingness of the international community (political or aid) to get off their well-padded arses and actually do anything useful round here, that kind of help is really needed, since again international volunteers can get places Palestinian workers can't, or can replace Palestinian workers trapped under curfew or within closed military zones.

there's a horrible feeling of anticipation here, not helped by the howling wind outside and close, low clouds. how can the Israelis justify still being here after these weeks? how can the international community justify letting them be here? a couple of white farmers get shot in Zimbabwe and the entire world is up in arms, embargoes ahoy etc, and hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians can get slaughtered and be denied human rights enshrined in myriad declarations and yet nothing much happens...and I wonder why I lost my faith in parliamentary politics years ago...

s xxx

Wed, 17 Apr 2002 17:32:42

hello my dears

nothing too much reportable at the moment in a proper bulletin (everything's a bit quieter here in Bethlehem today, and we don't have enough details of what's going on in Tulkarm, except that the IDF have gone in again, or news from Jenoin or Nablus that you won't have already probably seen or heard) so thought I’d just send you all something a little lighter - sort of.

the first is the end of a wonderful conversation about sport and politics with Georgina and 2 Palestinian security guards at Bethlehem university who invited us into their office for coffee while we were tiptoeing through the curfew at lunchtime:

guard, pointing at himself: "I support the PFLP" [People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine]
pointing at Georgie: "she supports fateh"
and pointing at his friend - " and he supports Manchester united."

our next call was at the star hotel, to check up on people, especially locals, who were still there under their new condition of occupation. things are pretty surreal in there. everyone, including the Palestinians there, is pretty much carrying on as normal, sitting on the ground floor most of the time, drinking beer or sprite or coffee, smoking and chatting, surrounded by a slew of flak jackets, helmets, cameras and those TV microphones that look like guinea pigs on sticks. in the actual foyer area, though, which isn't separated off from the rest of the floor, there are 4 IDF reservists standing, looking bored rigid and not a little narked at just being stuck next to a bunch of people who exude varying degrees of dislike at them and are doing lots of things they can't - like smoking and drinking beer. such a weird atmosphere. there are 2 APCs stationed outside, but things seemed pretty relaxed, except the press are pissed off at not being able to see the nativity church any more. as we were leaving, another APC pulled up, stuffed to the gunnels with rucksacks and kitbags, so I don't know if the soldiers have just all brought lots of makeup with them or if they are planning a pretty long stay . I’m sure the management at the star will be delighted...

Indyfada the pseudopedigree Palestinian petite pickle puppy is growing by the second and has developed a very capable bark and growl, especially when she is shaking rags to death in true ratter fashion. she's ever, ever so cute, especially when wearing a kuffiyeh. but not when she's chewing your feet with her needle-like little puppy teeth. the star hotel have a puppy too, now, a tiny little thing that got stuck there on the way to her new home. Awni seems to be taking a break from his new job with the BBC to play dad to it, prompting lots of jokes from Mohamed about being a daddy and how much it looks like him. I’m not sure how much they were appreciated.

take care, all, and see you soon.

s xxx

Wed, 17 Apr 2002 20:55:18

all quietish here, just a little gunfire. after last night's failed attack on the church, and some news from Ramallah (see below) it's hard to know if this is good or bed.

a Swiss woman in Jenin reported finding feet and other body parts lying in the streets of the refugee camp. another international in the area said that "if we wanted we could swing from Taibe to Jenin on tank cannon barrels." this is a fairly substantial distance...

in Jerusalem, internationals and Israelis are tonight protecting a house in the sheik jarrah neighbourhood. the family, who have lived there for 40 years, have been served with an eviction notice after a sephardic congregational organisation claimed the building belonged to them. they have not been able to make this claim stand up in court, but the family are facing forced eviction by the Israeli authorities anyway.

in Nablus, a 2-year-old girl with neurological diseases who had run out of her medicine and was trapped in an IDF closed military zone in the village of Deir al-Khateb died this morning on finally being allowed to hospital. she had been comatose and convulsing for some hours, having run out of her medication 2-3 days ago, and medical aid having been prevented from reaching her at least since Monday.

from Ramallah, we have a report from the muqada that certain assurances were given by Colin Powell during his meeting this afternoon with president Arafat. these included: that the church of the nativity will not be attacked again, and that Ariel Sharon has a timeframe for withdrawal from Palestine, although this timeframe could not be given. he also stated, worryingly, that he could not offer any such guarantees regarding the safety of the presidential compound or those within it, which included Arafat, several hundred Palestinians and several dozen international activists. whether Powell's assurances are worth the oxygen used to utter them is a different matter...

the IDF has re-entered the west bank town of Tulkarm.

sarah xx

Thu, 18 Apr 2002 15:55:00 +0000

hello all,

today, a group of about 30 or so of us barmy internationals tried yet again to get food into the manger square area. today's bunch included Christian peacemaker teams and fellowship of reconciliation members, as well as the international solidarity movement usual suspects of the last few weeks. at least we got further in than last time, past the burnt-out and exploded cars we saw being detonated on Saturday and down Paul VI Street to about 200 yards from manger square. then we were stopped by the IDF, who, in another improvement on Saturday, did not open fire on us. instead, they just made it very clear we were getting nowhere. we sat down in the street for about 40 minutes whilst negotiators tried to impress upon the soldiers that the IDF was breaking international humanitarian law in preventing food and medicine from reaching civilians trapped in their homes. not that it had any effect, and in the end we left, realising that our presence was complicating things for people living further back along the road who were trying to return from the areas where curfew was lifted. the food went to people in the immediate vicinity, who also have little opportunity to access food.

and then we came out into the near-rioting of curfew lift, with people grabbing at any bit of food available in their desperation to replenish their stocks and to reach the first fresh vegetables we've seen in Bethlehem in three weeks. three hours of madness, and then back to lockdown and the menacing presence of twitchy soldiers.

in Ramallah, the people in the muqada say that the IDF is preventing the municipality from taking the rubbish generated by the 3-400 people in there away, resulting in a growing health hazard.

in Jenin, there are reports of urgent need for water. descriptions of the state of the camp and the injuries and deaths inflicted on those in it are truly horrific. one man from Jenin I spoke to in Bethlehem, who started a job here just a few weeks ago and cannot take time off to grieve for fear of losing it, has lost a cousin and 3 friends that he knows of, and also knows that the whereabouts of their bodies is unknown...more details of the situation in Jenin and Nablus from

s xxx

Fri, 19 Apr 2002 16:59:24 +0000

hello all,

my last message from Palestine. tomorrow the circumstances of my life dictate that I will get a serveece out of Bethlehem and I will cross the border into Jordan and come back to Manchester. I am longing to see my friends, but the idea that I have to leave Bethlehem whilst the curfew is still down, the tanks still rumble up and down the streets, and the people here - including people that I love - are still suffering devastates me.

today I sat in the IDF-infested lobby of the star hotel, Bethlehem’s journalist residence, and listened and answered phones whilst plans were made for the next few days - plans I won't be around to see come to fruition. on Sunday there will be an attempted march from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. and we are trying to arrange the medical evacuation of a guy who lives up near the peace centre, right by manger square. he had open heart surgery just before the invasion and urgently needs proper medical care and medication. and g & d went out and found themselves being shown the house of a family who were raided at 4am today, the food in their cupboards thrown on the floor, the husband arrested but then returned and the place generally trashed. the little girl, maybe 10, had marks on her face where the soldiers had hit her. how many nights will it be before she sleeps properly again? and there have been more house-to-house searches in the beautiful, quiet, ancient little town of Beit Sahour. tomorrow, people will try and get food up to villages in the Bethlehem area which are not necessarily under full military control, but which have no access to food and where many people have no money left even if they could get to shops, because they haven't worked for three weeks. another way in which the Israeli state systematically eradicates any viable Palestinian economy and makes the road back to peace and decent living conditions that bit longer and harder.

update! the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rep here for the nativity church negotiations was the person we tracked down to try and reach the guy who had surgery and couldn't get medical care. as a senior churchman, he'd been able to get into the square whilst activist scum like us couldn't, but as a former doctor he was also a great person to do this job. he just rang to say that 'us peaceniks' were doing a wonderful job, and if we wanted to know that we'd achieved just one thing it was that today we'd saved someone's life by getting him up there. the guy was in a really bad way and would not have lasted many more days, but he's now been properly checked over, been given a supply of the medication he needed, and will be ok. a minor thing given the scale of the horrors that have happened here, especially at Jenin and Nablus, but the world to one family - the wife of the sick man was on the phone to us almost screaming that she didn't care about food, she just needed her husband's medication.

for continued information on the situation in Palestine, keep checking, and for a personal perspective on life in Beit Sahour and Bethlehem see Georgie's online diary,

thanks to everyone who has received, read, forwarded and acted on my emails, and to those who have replied and given me their support and love, which has allowed me to keep going through the last few weeks, and to pass on some of that energy to do what tiny bit I have been able to help the Palestinian cause.

s xxxxxxxxxx