These are emails which Tom sent to his friends describing events in and around Ramallah during 2002.
An article in the New York Review of Books, from 9 January 2011, shows similar events through the eyes of the Israeli soldiers. It includes excerpts from a book by soldiers about their experiences in Palestine, titled “Occupation of the Territories. Israeli soldiers’ testimonies 2000-2010” published by Breaking the Silence, Jerusalem. Some of these can be found here, in an article by David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
PAL Notes 1
In front of me at the foreigner’s entry desk at Tel Aviv I noted they stamped someone’s passport. So I approached the desk, saying, “Could you put the stamp on a separate piece of paper?” The officer asked me where I was born, I said Palestine and then as an afterthought (genuine), Israel. She said, “But where?” I said “Haifa.”. She disappeared into an office for a few minutes and returned saying, “Why aren’t you an Israeli?” Even in my anxious state, I remembered Bruce Stanley’s advice: “Don’t tell lies, but don’t volunteer information.”
“Because I am British.” She looked blank and stamped my form. No questions about where I was going or what I was doing.
I arrived at my friends’ flat – about two minutes from Beit Brodeski, the hostel I stayed in for the first few months 43 years ago. At that time it was in a raw new area surrounded by sand and with no pavements and no protection from the sun. Now Ramat Aviv is, tree-lined, pleasant, shaded and with high income flats. A coffee and six hours driving around Tel Aviv to see the El Al building. It is the worse for wear and the design not improved with age.
In Jerusalem with friends. Some people express themselves forcefully as being “left”, but draw very hard lines and blame extremists on both sides for the current situation. For me this misses the point. I think 1993 and the Oslo accord was the birth of the new Palestinian killer. It was inevitable that not only would Jihad and Hamas develop, but that Palestinian citizens would not be able to condemn the violence. The source of the Intifadas had been clearly building up for generations.
Set out to walk across the Western (Israeli) city. The city map makes no sense until one realizes that one is walking or driving between hills. The hills are smaller in diameter than Rome, but much steeper. , The development over the last 50 years has been linear and new stuff is still geometrically simple and retains its roots in early modernism. A friend took me to Jaffa Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City. The city has a complete wall, it is one of the most moving and romantic places I have ever been in. I spent hours walking through tunnelled markets, the Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and was never hassled. The next day I asked directions. On two occasions, young Palestinian men said to me,”welcome to Palestine”. From the Wailing Wall I left the City and walked steeply down the mountain into
Silwan, one of the many Arab villages incorporated into Jerusalem. It was badly run down, it didn’t feel unsafe, but it did not feel friendly. I was not surprised.
Notwithstanding the Bat Mitzva killings (in reprisal for the assassination of an Al Fatah man, a man opened fire on a celebration in Hadera, killing six, and wounding 30 people, before being beaten to death and shot himself), spent a great evening last night, dinner with friends, including the first to express concern. To some extent I put it down to general fear and demonization of the enemy. I was told we might be doing something valuable, but it was dangerous. . We talked until 2.30 in the morning. I spent the rest of the night being resentful; I have enough good quality natural fear built into my psyche. I woke up this morning feeling I did not want to talk to another Israeli who might offload his/her own anxieties on me.
PAL Notes 2
My Ramallah Arabic course couldn’t happen due to checkpoints and searches and the unpredictable road blocks. I was both disappointed and greatly cheered; now I would be studying at the Birzeit University campus.
To Damascus Gate, the northern entrance to the Old City. Found a Ford Servis, a communal taxi, or very small minibus, seven passengers, very little room and certainly none for any luggage. We arrive at Qalandya check point, not a checkpoint at all, a 300 metre strip about 25 metres wide with concrete barriers on both sides, topped by steel fencing about five metres high. Beyond the barrier were demolished buildings, piles of rubble. We walked though, unchecked. The route was solid with people and a few cars and trucks hooting their way through. Nobody was searched. . I found another Servis at the other end. The road had been deteriorating since we left Jerusalem. Now it started to get quite rough, a half-built, half-demolished landscape. I think we passed three refugee camps. Approaching Ramallah the urban landscape became more and more destroyed or neglected, we drove in and out of twisting, steep slum tracks where two cars could not pass, until we entered what is a noisy, lively Middle Eastern town.My flat is really the entry floor of a house, on a San Francisco-like steep road at the junction of the two principle roads, Main Street and Jaffa Road. A glazed-in porch into the main room with all rooms leading off: three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, very basic. There is a telephone, so it was, after all, worth lugging the computer. I could email easily.
To Birzeit University (BZU), out at a checkpoint, another Servis, through the beautiful mountains of Samaria to the campus where hundreds of students were sitting chatting on wide flights of steps.
The return to Jerusalem was a repeat, but with tempers running short in the early evening, everybody was tired. In Ramallah, a demonstration was coming through Midan Al Manara. Petrol was poured on some car tyres. Just past Qalandya, coming into the outskirts of Jerusalem, there were very long traffic jams. I thought this was the rush hour. It turned out to be a pair of Israelis, one sitting behind sand bags at the side of the road, while the other stopped every fourth or fifth vehicle, seemingly at random. A gun was pointed at the Servis; we stopped, he opened the door, peered inside and waved us on. I see the checkpoints simply as corridors of humiliation. Back in Ramallah at a plumber’s shop I tried to pay for some tap washers. The shopkeeper said, “welcome to Palestine,” and wouldn’t take anything.
Rubble – picture post-war Dresden or Berlin – I was told that Ramallah was paradise compared to Gaza City.
PAL Notes 3
I have spent hours in an out of shops. I had the best felafel of my life – the Israelis learnt it from the Palestinians when they, the Israelis, were still Palestinians!
Unbelievable hospitality and warmth everywhere. One man even apologised for the welcome he was giving me: – I’d had to repeat myself, because he didn’t hear me first time over the machine gun fire a couple of blocks away.
When I arrived this morning, there was intermittent shooting. As I unpacked it got louder and when I went outside I realized it was coming from three directions, although, because of the mountains making echoes, I could not be sure. By the time I got home at 5.00 pm the noise was terrific, both automatic weapons and machine guns. In Main Street I watched it live on a TV in a shop window. Ambulances whizzed around. Only an hour ago, but I am already muddling which bits I saw in real life and which on the screen.
My fellow lodger P has just turned up. He is working as an intern for the Goethe Institute, 33 years old, and has studied Sociology and Middle East Studies at Freiburg. We have shopped for the same food. I think we are going to get on fine.
PAL Notes 4
At dusk a combination of sounds: the amplified call to prayer over the equally-amplified gun fire; the call sounds to my ears like a lament
P and I talked into the early hours. He belongs to the younger generation of the German Left and his views on the Palestinian situation don’t carry onerous baggage. It makes for a healthier discussion. Spent the evening with young Germans and a Palestinian film editor. Drank Black Bush.
It was quiet overnight. This morning guns have started up. The town above me is hidden in dense cloud, it is raining hard and I can’t see the road, as the cloud dropped. Both sides seem to have decided it’s a waste of bullets and it is quiet again.
Someone was killed on the outskirts here last night by “friendly fire” in the fog. The sun is out. Walking in this city is a huge pleasure; it is not a pretty place but great faces and food sights.
At BZU the orientation days are cancelled. I am the only new student “because of the situation.
The television in the flat only gets one programme so I don’t really know if the tanks are still in town. I haven’t yet found an English newspaper.
There is no postal delivery to ordinary houses, one has to have a PO Box; There is argument about what street I live on. Even my neighbour says “sometimes it is known as Chicken Street (in Arabic, of course) because you will have seen that there are a number of shops selling live chickens here.” Pigeons, too, and other birds I do not recognise and mountains of beautiful white eggs.
No, the tanks haven’t left. At 1.30 am, a very noisy demonstration marched through Al Manara. At 3.30 am I was woken up by tanks moving through the square.
On my way home from the campus in the early evening I watched kids with David and Goliath slingshots throwing stones at soldiers sheltering on the upper floors of a half-built office building. First the children collected old car tyres and set up a huge blaze, then sheltered behind the dense black smoke, a foot or two from the blaze, they found a car, pushed it along the road, hiding behind it and jumping out around the sides to throw their stones. Old men sat chatting on the pavement, apparently so used to it that they carried on talking about whatever an old man talks about – I suppose I should know. Every ten minutes the Israelis shot a tear gas cartridge at the kids, who ran around kicking it like a football. In between the soldiers let off a round. No-one was hit. I assume that by now the Israeli soldiers have been told by their spin doctors that killing children whose stones fall at best 50 to 80 metres short is bad publicity.
PAL Notes 5
The acoustics of the town are such that I have an aural ringside seat. It has taken a week to interpret the sounds.
Ramallah has grown in a strange way. It sits on a short east-west ridge, only the width of a street. To the north where we are, it drops away so steeply that a five-storey building on Radio Street is eight or nine storeys at the back of the building.
For a week now, I thought that the town was full of building sites – buildings, where the foundation and the lower part of the walls had been started and then abandoned. This morning it dawned on me. The unbuilt land right into the middle of Ramallah used to be old mountain terraces, the stone terrace walls are still intact, but cut in length into short pieces. Many are used as unofficial dumping grounds, badly-drained and making a landscape of water, broken televisions, black plastic and wrecked cars as foreground to the buildings, and beyond them, to the terraced mountains.
On Friday, I was sitting in the window of a coffee house in the centre reading a potted history of the area, surrounded by men playing cards. Like clockwork, every half hour or so, there would be an exchange of shots and within minutes, the traffic would stop while one or more ambulances would scream through the town centre, going west to Old Ramallah a five minute walk along Main Street. My assumption (hope) is that they were answering the call of the shots rather than any specific call to a wounded person. A precautionary approach.
I got into conversation on the pavement of Main Street. It started innocently about my camera and moved on to the only topic which could be discussed. The accord was virtually total for ten minutes until I was informed of a string of “facts” about international Jewry. I only just managed to stay out of hot water. With so many generations of young Palestinians brought up through the war, if and when it ends, the blanket hatred and distrust may take another few generations to die. My pessimism grows by the day;
The BZU Orientation Notes for the foreign students say: “do avoid lengthy or friendly conversations with strangers”.
I am trying to learn Arabic script, with the three-to-five-year-olds in the courtyard below and mum sitting on the wall.
Adah rang an hour ago: another bomb in Jerusalem and talk of the Israelis moving in, in an even bigger way.
I have a strong sense that, while not denying the existence of the Islamic Fundamentalist element, this is not the underlying basis for the suicide attacks. The older people are angry but resigned, the young ones have no hope and, with very little twists of logic, nothing to lose. I have spoken to a number of men in their early 20s and I think that the harder the Israelis push the more likely it is that the number of young men who cannot see any way out will grow. From London I could say that I did not support this terrorism. Here, I can only say that if I could do anything about it, I would try to remove the causes which make these young men so ill. The Israelis seem determined now to militarise generations of Palestinians.
PAL Notes 6
Registration yesterday at BZU. There are 4000 students on this new campus, started 15 years ago and still building, on a mountain side about ten miles north of Ramallah. Well over half the students are women, roughly half of these wear the scarf and are in traditional or modern dress; a very few with faces covered. The other half are in western dress, smart and made up. And whichever dress code, there is a preponderance of wonderful eyes.
A seething mass of students is sitting, working, chatting in every conceivable corner, on the stairs, on the floor. Two young women wearing scarves sat down and immediately talked to me, no reserve. They “instructed” me that they would meet me here every day. Half an hour later they were back to introduce others. In the library, where I now generally settle to work, one of these young women asked me if she could help me in any way at all.
A woman blew herself up in Jerusalem yesterday, injuring scores of people. Now the Israelis at the check point are in full battle gear. They seem to move the concrete blocks every day. Today the blocks force one to practically brush up against the weapons. The soldiers lean against their vehicles, informal, but threatening. I think the Palestinians look straight through them, as if the soldiers did not exist. I stare at them,
On the way to Birzeit the main street in the village of Abu Qash was closed a month ago, with deep trenches at both ends. The driver takes a different route every day through the backstreets, depending on the weather, the ruts and the depth of the mud. Now I understand why I can never get my bearings. The rain has been fierce and very cold for two days with dense fog again. Driving through it in the mountains is more scary than the army.
I was asked to sit in on a presentation in the lecture theatre by a student in the English Dept. and was instructed to “ask questions”. The student was a young Palestinian woman. Her subject was “the intellectual and self-destruction” in the context of Hamlet, Jude the Obscure and Meridian by Alice Walker. No way. However, before she started, the audience was asked for definitions of “intellectual”. All the replies came from women students; each one was negative, from mental illness, asexuality to an inability to take any action. The whole thing was carried out at a hectic pace with loud interruptions from both the students and two lecturers; one, a blind woman in her 50s, obviously in charge. It was an enormously exuberant affair. Given the West’s view of Arab women, I was surprised to hear sexuality, beliefs, and Freud etc discussed – shouted about – with such abandon.
It underlined my feeling in the first few days that Birzeit is a place of terrific energy, if not hope. A significant proportion wants their degrees in order to ‘get out’
PAL Notes 7
At the Sourda check point at 7.30 am soldiers watch as we push past them. Every few minutes they coral a group of men. The men bring out their papers one by one and are questioned and searched. They show nothing on their faces.
Recently, a 29 year old young man at one of the Ramallah check points got cross and showed it. A soldier hit him with his gun and the others joined in. He put up a struggle and was shot. They dragged him into the back of the Jeep. Somebody at the checkpoint called an ambulance on his mobile. When it came, the soldiers told the ambulance people that they had already called an ambulance. The ambulance was turned away and the man later died in the Jeep – the other ambulance never turned up.
At noon I heard a voice on a loudspeaker. It was hot and sunny and I went for a walk towards the voice. The clothing market at the side of the main mosque was seething with people, mostly men. One man got out a small carpet, laid it on the ground and stood behind it. Within about five minutes, everybody, except a few children and a handful of men who were probably Christians, had organised themselves into rows, shoulder to shoulder, with bits of plastic or scraps of cardboard. There must have been 3000 – 5000 spilling into the vegetable market and streets beyond. The sellers had gone quiet. After the prayers stopped, the market noise started. It was like turning a ghetto blaster full on. Within minutes, hundreds of banners appeared and people streamed out of the mosque and market. It was visually very exciting.
Today I got dropped off near the Mukata (Arafat’s headquarters) on my way back from Birzeit. Children and a couple of photographers were perhaps 200 yards from the Israeli position and were getting bolder. I sort of sidled up to them, looking as foreign and benign as possible for the benefit of the soldiers. Really not sure what I was doing there but felt I should be doing something. The children were in full swing (literally) with their slings, when the Israelis stepped out and fired of a few rounds of tear gas. As they hit the ground, they bounced in haphazard directions – a lot of running around. The children retreat and regroup. Quite quickly the number of grenades increased until they were arriving three or four at a time every few minutes. I was backing away when one grenade landed in front of me, I was turning to run back when one landed behind me, I held my breath, but of course, I couldn’t completely close my eyes. I ran to a wall, sat down, my eyes were stinging badly. I retreated back to the people in the Mukata by the tent erected by Internationals for Palestine. Behind the tent were the burnt out remains of the car children had been using as a shield last week.
Teenagers by now were throwing stones from behind a terrace wall. About 30 yards away the army was jumping back and forth from behind a half-track. An Irish woman came up behind me and suggested that I move back because they were now firing live ammunition. I had heard a ping on the steel grid pole next to me. We all started taking nominal shelter. A stone hit the Irish woman in her side, thrown up by a bullet. A Palestinian American woman (there are a large number in the University, learning written Arabic) took my email address and said I would go on the mailing list of the Internationals, an informal support group.A man and a woman in their early twenties were marshalling the smaller children out of range. They sat in a group in the middle of the road singing and clapping – a much safer activity and maybe as much fun. One of the Internationals later told me that they felt a little responsible for the dangerous activities, as that morning they had marched up to deliver a petition. She thought that perhaps this might have been taken as a sign by the children that it was OK to move in so close. Clearly the soldiers were getting nervous, occasionally, the grenades fell very short. Huge cheers as soldiers tried to get out of the way of their own gas.
Give or take a few bouncing bullets, this must be just about the safest town in the world, walking the warm streets at night feels amazing.
PAL Notes 8
Today, Friday, is a holiday and I slept late. Out in the conservatory, I set up my books. At midday, the mosque was blasting out and then the demonstration started, just as last week. I can see Radio Road across the gorge between a large gap in the buildings and watched the demonstration through the gap.
Then I heard the first of the explosions. I stayed put. Finally, with the din having gone on for two hours, I couldn’t resist and walked up to the Mukata.
Israeli soldiers were running between vehicles up on the higher ground. A lot of gunfire above us; and a much faster moving scene than with the children. I watched from a safe distance. Vehicles, including a tank, seemed to be roaring up and down the track in front of us, like pacing, angry lions regrouping, rushing and retreating. The teenagers really were very good with their slings. They could reach the soldiers from a distance of perhaps 100 metres. A charge, an explosion and a huge, very dense cloud of grey smoke. Through the edge of the smoke, I could see figures running about. The tank’s withdrawal was fast and dramatic with loud cheering.
Someone was running around with two orange boxes. The crowd then backed up all the way to the Mukata’s main gate. I then walked away; I needed to get on with my Arabic homework. Someone called and I turned around to see half a dozen men behind me with a young soldier beckoning.
The soldier very politely asked me if the Minox was a camera. I told him I was interested in the group of children. He shook his head and explained a number of things to me: I was not allowed to photograph in this area unless I had a journalist’s pass. He then said that the boy I had seen earlier had stolen two ammunition cases of bullets under the cover of the smoke -the orange boxes. And if a photograph of the boy got into Israeli hands this would be very bad. He asked me for the film. I pleaded with him (without I hope, grovelling too much) and told him that this was my only film and that I could not buy another one in Palestine, nearly certainly true. I assured him that I had not photographed the boy with the boxes. He said that a higher authority would have to decide what to do. I didn’t think he meant God.
He very gently suggested that I come with him and took me into the Mukata courtyard, told me that I was welcome and made great efforts not to frighten me. Another man asked me if I wanted tea or coffee. The building, I knew, had been the old Ramallah prison, probably built by the British. I was taken into a very bare room. I presume it was once a cell. He questioned me a bit more, two more men came into the room, my tea arrived, a cigarette, and then another four men arrived. I shook hands with everyone. By now the room was crowded and we were really getting into the story. I couldn’t remember the name of my street, and anyway nobody locally could agree on the street name, so I mentioned various BZU people. When I told him who taught me Arabic, things got lighter – my teacher was a relative of one of them. Finally, one of them told me that he would telephone me every day until I gave him the picture when it was developed. Inshallah. He had studied English Lit at the University in Gaza. After a lot of shy smiles all around and handshakes, he said he hoped he had not “disturbed” me and I said that I completely understood their concern.
PAL Notes 9
I should probably start the diary with me today. I am in good shape in all senses. But these last few days has been my worst since I got here. It is really sinking in – this is the long slow death of a whole country. I have spent more time bursting into tears in the last 48 hours than in my whole life since the age of about eight.
Israeli planes have bombed central Gaza city in retaliation for the death of two soldiers. The centre of Gaza was a civilian target.
In the cafeteria today, I sat chatting with a guy who studies and also works for the PA (Palestinian Authority) in the department which investigates collaborators. He looked the type in khaki donkey jacket, a long face and a three-day beard. He was earnest and very sweet. He also thought that the suicide bombing had nothing to do with fanaticism. His view was that in general, it was helpless rage and attempts at revenge for killed relatives. The inequality of fire power and armoured protection in the streets here is like ant to elephant.
He is a Christian Arab and has no reason to defend Islamic extremism. In fact none of the students, Christian or Muslim, do so. There is nothing extreme here about trying to get rid of an occupying army which has been present for 35 years. That excludes the years between 1948 and 1967.
I met a young man and I did not take to him. He seemed sour and complaining, and I thought I did not need that kind of friend. He is at BZU most days. He chain smokes and spends much of the time sitting, looking at his knees, often from 8. 00a.m until I go at about 4.00 p.m. When we talk it is always about who to approach, how to get a grant and how to get out of Palestine. He dropped out of classes here about three months ago. His family is in Gaza, he has not been home for 18 months and he does not dare try the 60 miles to get there. The Israelis probably would not let him out again. I asked him over and over, what he wants to do if he gets out. In a conversation lasting an hour, he was not able to think that far ahead. I think he is very ill, and is either not receiving help or the help is not helping. He may be an extreme version of a phenomenon, but I am sure he is not an isolated case. I am now very much more certain that my early guess, in the first few days here, was correct. If he doesn’t get a lot of help or indeed does not get out, he could well end his life. In that situation, it would only be a relatively small step for him to look for an “effective” way.
Having said this, my overriding impression of the students here is of energy and ebullience.
On the way back to Ramallah from a demonstration in Tel Aviv, with a couple of hours to spare, I did a sort of checkpoint watch by myself at Qalandya. After 20 minutes a soldier asked me what I was doing. I said “nothing”. He was too busy to follow up. An hour later another soldier scrambled down a steep embankment from a pill box next to the road. He told me that I had been there for one and a half hours. I told him I was minding my own business. This really upset him.
After dinner with friends in Jerusalem, met a flat full of architects, Israeli, Brazilian, and Palestinian. Our discussion meshed arguments about urban planning and siting, and the political and religious implications. I have never had a discussion like this in Europe.
Up at 6.00 to get to BZU for the classes. Arrived at Sourda checkpoint to find even more chaos than usual: a tank, six jeeps and about 30 very worried and aggressive soldiers blocking the road. Later discovered on the internet that a soldier had been killed at this checkpoint last night. On the way back I walked between two young Palestinians. The traffic was backed up half way around the mountain. One of them was unshaven and wearing a dirty jacket, he was stopped, so I stopped with him. I was told to move. I said that he was my friend. After looking at his papers, we got through without being searched. Back home I slept for a couple of hours, only to be woken up by Israeli “retaliation”. .
Just got back from an extraordinary trip through the Desert Mountains to Jericho. We visited two Greek Orthodox monasteries hanging from the face of vertical cliffs, one looking out over Jericho and the desert around the oasis of Jericho, the other in a desolate, winding canyon with a tiny water canal. This fed the monastery that has been there since about 550 AD. Near the bottom of the canyon are green ledges with orange and lemon trees. The abbot told me they no longer support themselves, because the Bedouin steal the food from the terraces and what the Bedouin did not take, a very curious animal (he showed me a photo) came and ate. The abbot was temporary, a Canadian from Toronto who told me the wooden house where we used to live had been demolished and the area was now a ghetto inhabited by drug addicts. He replaces the old abbot, buried in the garden vertically below us, who was killed by Palestinians in June. They had mistaken him in his car for a Jew. Very easy with a long black beard, black shift and a black, close-fitting woollen hat.
PAL Notes 10
I have started my ‘official’ checkpoint watch, on duty at Sourda checkpoint. It is an open-topped concrete structure about 2.3 metres high, with the side open above a cube concrete block. These are sandbagged, with the soldiers behind them. Guns are laid into the sandbags shoulder high and pointing at us as we go by.
As usual the traffic was chaos at Sourda checkpoint. The communal taxis were packed on the BZU side, and I noticed that either side of the concrete blocks of the checkpoint there was no traffic. The road was wide and clear for about a hundred and fifty metres and soldiers were crouching behind a U-shaped set of cubes, armed with automatic rifles pointing in all directions. Camouflage netting erected on the embankment above was now draped over the soldiers’ enclosure. I started to walk along the open stretch of road approaching the blocks, when an armoured jeep revved up and did a series of loud, fast manoeuvres in the middle of the road, reversing and turning. I got out of the way and watched. The street sellers were gone. But in the empty section of the road there were two relatively new cars parked at 45 degrees to the road. The jeep approached the cars from the side and rammed into the first one, shoving it along the road until it smashed into the second car. The jeep sped away to a position near the soldiers who were no longer checking anybody. A few men looked sideways at the smashed cars as they passed. The women and kids didn’t look. I walked back to the cars and then paced the distance between them and the concrete blocks. It was 45 metres. Another checkpoint watcher made notes of the damage. This all happened three hours ago and it’s taken that time for me to stop shaking with anger and frustration at the ferocious and gratuitous behaviour. It is clear that this is a direct result of shooting two nights ago when, I gather, shots were fired from a car parked in front of the roadblock. But these cars were nearly certainly those of two of the professors at BZU. Nobody else on this stretch of road could afford them. Pure malice.
The Sourda checkpoint is an-800 metre stretch of road between two sweeping bends two thirds the way up a mountain in an area of beautiful – and at this time of year, bleak – mountains. Both Arab villages and Israeli settlements rest on the slopes in all directions to the horizon.
On my way to BZU, the communal taxi stopped at the first bend. We all got out. The Israelis had closed the checkpoint. Some of the young men started up a track to the right. But I was told that I might get through if I walked the 400 metres to the checkpoint with my arm held up showing my passport. I did this. About 50 metres away, someone shouted from behind the sandbagged enclosure. I stopped. Two soldiers came out, sighting me down their automatic rifle barrels. One beckoned me forward. Still with my arm as high as it would go, clutching my passport, I came within a couple of metres. The usual questions, but the now there was always one gun aimed at my head. I tried to insist that I had a right to pass. The soldier with a rather melodious US accent ran out of argument, but hit on what he thought was a plausible reason for turning me back: “You can’t go through, and you should know that this is for your own safety”. I looked at his gun – the only item I could see that could compromise my safety and told him so. He was unimpressed. I walked back down the road to the bend and started to climb a very rough track. Two guys were about 100 metres in front of me. After climbing for about 10 minutes these two disappeared to the left, just as the track turned right. I didn’t understand why until I got there: just around the bend was an APC with a soldier in the machine gun turret. He shouted at me, I calculated that he would be too scared to get out of the APC and follow me into the field and human enough not to shoot. So I jumped into the ploughed field after the other two. The soldier went on shouting until I disappeared behind an outcrop. From there it was just a hard slog rising up to rejoin the track at the top, parallel to the road. After 500 metres I came into a village. I met up with a woman on the road and asked directions. She said that this was her first time here. We descended to the road at a point which I had – correctly – judged would be out of sight of the checkpoint.
The university was another seven kilometres. When I got there, I found a few students who lived in Birzeit village. Otherwise the place was locked up. I thumbed a lift with a middle aged man and a child. For ten minutes he talked: he would give no support to attacks within Israel, but he would defend his home with his life. He thought the Israelis were mad. He could not believe that someone in Israel did not know that two countries were being destroyed: if the Israelis did not pull out soon, they would destroy themselves, and the Palestinians.
I am bowled over by this Palestinian moderation.
At 5.00 am I was woken up by a loud explosion. I lay listening. After a few minutes, an ambulance screamed through Radio Street. I could see its lights from the bedroom window. Then a cockerel – thinking it wasn’t too late – tried to wake everybody up. I stayed in bed, it was pitch black. A slight hum started, which I thought must be a drone plane – I’d seen one at Sourda yesterday – got louder over a period of a few minutes, by which time I was outside on the front terrace. The noise was immediately overhead and deafening. Looking straight up a large red ‘shooting star’ above me moved north, then an explosion and the ‘red star’ moved out of sight above Al Manara Square. The sky lit up with a white light, followed by an explosion. I was bare foot on the tiles. A helicopter was still above, but I was about to go inside with frozen feet. Then the whole thing was repeated. At about three minute intervals, they fired off another three rockets. I came in and climbed back into bed with the Mac at 5.30am.
PAL Notes 11
Clearly the attack was Sharon’s response to the killing of six Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint – which ALL Palestinians view as a legitimate target, namely an occupation army. More Palestinian guerrillas are dying – rather than being wounded – than Israeli soldiers. This might be because of the way the Israelis treat Green Crescent ambulances. I have watched many ambulances with sirens screaming, stuck at checkpoints. A more cynical view would have it that the Palestinians are given “les coups de grace”, perhaps as suffering animals put out of their misery.
The BBC reported a rocket had been fired at the Mukata. I rang Adah to say that it had been five rockets and I had watched them from the balcony. BBC Radio 4 rang back and did an interview. During the next few hours, the BBC Northern Ireland and Radio 5 Live both rang for a commentary.
PAL Notes 12
BBC TV’s 6.00 pm News rang. They had heard my Radio 5 Live interview this morning and wanted me to do something.
It is my only long weekend. Until the recent shelling, I had thought to go to Gaza, was told that it is closed. So the intention is to go to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Then I was told we couldn’t get to Jerusalem today.
The IDF are panic shooting. At Qalandya checkpoint they are shooting up cars. They have shot a woman in labour, being taken to hospital, and killed her husband. The IDF helpfully got hold of an ambulance, and got her to a hospital. She had a baby girl in spite of a bullet hole in her stomach. . I am assuming that the British Press do report these casualties.
Shelling, missiles and shooting here in Ramallah all afternoon.
I have been down for six days with pneumonia on my left lung and I am brim full of antibiotics. But I am on the mend this morning. I did a lot of sweating up a mountain during the day and then standing at the checkpoint on the side of a freezing mountain in the dark. Loss of sleep, too much Arak most nights and other excesses that don’t go well with wrinklies.
The BBC’s Orla Guerlin wants to follow me round with a camera for a day. I said they would be bored out of their minds, but OK. I told her that I was a Jew. We agreed that we would be in touch after the Id Al Adha feast that starts today.
Sat on our front step in the sun reading, while our neighbours’ family arrived turned up before lunch. There must have been a total of 20 or more. Imad, one of the sons, invited me to join them. I declined and explained that it would put the family under pressure to feel they had to entertain in English on this special feast day which is very like Xmas, except that it’s sheep or goat not turkey.
With Clemens Messerschmidt, a young German hydrologist working and studying here, I set off rather late at about 5.15 for Jerusalem – we’d decided to go by the settlers’ route. He had a pair of magnetic strips of the German flag, one for each door of the car – a disincentive for Palestinians who might otherwise take shots at us on a road built for the Jewish settlements and the army. But of course they would need light and it was getting late. After a few minutes, I wound down the window and was horrified to realise that the strip had fallen off. We retraced our steps, didn’t find it. Clemens found in the glove compartment an A4 bit of paper which had the German colours. I stuck it in the side window next to my head. It looked not unlike something you might stick on a wall for target practice.
The track led through army barracks and Clemens bluffed with some German Embassy paper work. The road was straight with long sweeping bends through red stone cuttings. Just a few kilometres out of town the country is beautiful, wild. We travelled as fast as this very beaten up car could go. After a large sweep into the desert mountains, as it was getting really dark, we turned back onto the Ramallah-Jerusalem road at exactly the Qalandya checkpoint. Clemens had to drive back to Ramallah early in the morning and wanted to know if the checkpoint would be open in the morning. We stopped, Clemens got out and after a few paces soldiers with guns aimed, I am sure very accurately, at his head, and screamed at him. Clemens shouted his question, but the screaming just continued. He jumped back in the car. Up to a week ago, it appeared to be enough that a soldier would sort of hold the gun at waist level. Now they seem to have orders to make it a head shot, with no misses.
At dinner with friends the conversation was single-tracked and radical. I met Amira Hass, the only Israeli journalist living in Ramallah. She reminds me of Pat Arrowsmith about 45 years ago in the Swaffham rocket base days. Amira is softer, but still tough. Her articles are very hard hitting and must make the Israeli authorities grind their teeth. Last week Misha wrote from Australia, that Amira Hass agreed with my analysis of the bombers and depression. I am very flattered I told her and got a grin.
After 3 hours sleep I went to the German Colony for breakfast with old friends. I was surprised that I got into such an argument with them. Of course, all these friends think that the situation has to change and all agree that we are witnessing criminal behaviour. The crunch seems to come when it is pointed out to me that the other side is not blameless. There does appear to be a very clear break line between Israelis who accept that the Palestinians will settle for the pre-67 borders and those Israelis who after all this time, feel that they can insist on all sorts of adjustments, all to the detriment of a viable Palestinian state.
Curiously, and with hindsight, most Israelis whom I know would agree that had they turned around and walked out of the occupied territories, days after the six day war, we would be living in a very different land. From the perspective of Adah and me in 1967, it was so obvious. The Palestinians would still have lost out unfairly, they would have been the expendable pawn, but by now who can guess in what ways they might have adjusted. Cynics here tell me they would still be trying to slaughter Jews. I doubt it.
By Saturday afternoon I thought I had flu. By Monday I was taken to the doctor who declared that I had pneumonia. Friends have been fantastic, offered a bed and nursing for as long as it took. I’ve been reading the Herald Tribune and Haaretz daily. The checkpoint killings have escalated. Before leaving Ramallah, I was sent some photos of the beatings at the Sourda checkpoint on the day after my Watch. One photo showed a soldier who was being particularly nasty on my watch: he was with bloodied Palestinians lying on the ground. One photo shows a man with a boot print on his head. Haaretz is reporting that civilians are being shot at 300 metres from the checkpoints.
Leo and Najla got married yesterday. I got reports from the party all day and could just feel the atmosphere. Haven’t been homesick all this time, but I was yesterday.
PAL Notes 13
Should one be more outraged by a man who kills himself while murdering others, than a man who does not kill himself while murdering others?
Is a man in the gun turret of a tank blasting away at a refugee camp, protected by an inch of armour, any better than a sniper who crawls away?
Why is a tank shell exploding in a house any better than a bomb exploding in a café?
The slaughter is terrible. But I just do not understand the indignation. While I was ill, I took down a book on the last days of Treblinka from the bookshelf. I knew nothing about it and since my grandmother had been killed there, I thought perhaps I should read it. Out of 1000 prisoners who took part in the final revolt and destruction of the camp, 40 survived. From the survivors ‘accounts, the 960 knew that they would not. They wanted one person to survive to tell the story. Why cannot the Israelis remember the Jews who committed “suicide” in Treblinka or the Warsaw Ghetto? Don’t misunderstand, I am not comparing like with like, just the individual’s will to avenge a wrong or, at least, to leave some record of a meaningless existence or meaningful end.
The army has been occupying the towns, one after the other. Last night they attacked Ramallah with 150 tanks. I am in bed in Jerusalem. I’ve just talked on the telephone to Huda my landlady in Ramallah, who telephones me from Radio Street and I can hear the din of the tanks down the telephone.
My flat in Ain Musbah Street has “guests”. They came last night. The women and children are staying next door; the men are staying in our flat. They are from a part of the town that has been completely taken over by the IDF. The theory is that if the army comes in to search, the women will probably be left alone. Our flat will be turned upside down and the men taken away. The hope is that, with a foreigner present, the soldiers will be less excessive.
From the newspapers in the last few days, it sounds as if the Israelis do not want to be “in control” for more than a day or two in each town, just long enough to flex muscle, kill enough people to satisfy the “reprisal syndrome”, and find some bombs and guns. If they stayed longer, they would have to take over the civil administration. They don’t want to do that.
Adah has come out to take care of me. The pneumonia had a second go. Travelling is impossible to plan more than an hour or two ahead. The hope is that next week she will be able to get to Ramallah. It dawns on me that for 50 years I have avoided planning in the future. Here it stands me in good stead.
PAL Notes 14
Rang Ramallah. Fighters were enticed into the centre of town and then 30 were killed and 80 wounded. The Israelis call it a “battle”. They sit inside their tanks and slaughter the men in the street. Our guests have enough food for the time being.
Adah and I got to Ramallah through Qalandya yesterday. The Palestinian Authority is rebuilding at a fantastic pace. It feels wonderful to be back.
PAL Notes 15
There is a Christmas Eve panic-last-minute shopping atmosphere in the town. In the souk I bought a chicken in Chicken Street then Adah sent me out to get another one. By 3.00pm all the chickens had flown.
Last night came the news of a bomb in Park Hotel in Netanya, in Israel, during a Passover dinner. Thirty people have died. We are speculating on the Israeli response. Foreign embassies are advising their nationals to leave.
PAL Notes 16
Last night, we spent the evening next door waiting for whatever was going to happen. At 2.30 there were rumblings and explosion and bright flashes. I went out, but it took me half hour to realize it was the beginning of a very fierce electric storm. Watched telly and went back to bed. After 3.30 tanks shelling and very close street gun battles went on all night and into this morning. Sometimes, the shooting – every few minutes – is in the gardens around the house. The corner shop has just sold Adah some candles and kept her there for a few minutes while the fighting went on in the street.
Ko a Japanese photographer who came with photographers from Jerusalem this morning phoned to say he has reached a hotel next to the Amari refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah and will get here if the shooting lets up.
During the night people must have been killed or wounded. But not a single ambulance passed – until this morning.
From our bedroom balcony we have a panoramic view of the buildings in the gorges to the North and to the centre above us.
About 100 metres down the hill there was a battle earlier this morning. A woman was killed by a sniper. Neighbours say she was trying to get to a shop.
An hour ago, in front of the shop 50 metres up our street, a man was shot through the leg. We were told that he managed to get to hospital – that ambulance that passed us – but his bones were smashed up. The shopkeeper again kept Adah in the shop, until he considered it safe.
An Israeli sniper is in position at the top of a tall building in Radio Street – with a good view of the side of the house and our rear balcony.
Tanks roar continuously, drowning out the machine guns, going up and down the hills behind us. In the two months I have been here, I can feel that the attitude to the Israelis has firmed up. Arafat is not in control of the factions, and probably never has been. So the current invasion of his compound (we can see the top of the building only) is pointless.
During the afternoon we watched tanks, armoured cars and APCs from the bedroom window, firing shells directly into the centre.
Sitting in the glazed-in balcony we see colourful birds of all sorts in the little fruit tree outside. A single shot hit one of the branches. The birds have gone. I moved away from the glass front.
We spent the afternoon with neighbours downstairs, Lamis who works in the Gender Studies Department at Birzeit and her mother Feyrouz. They invited us in for a coffee; we stayed for a hilarious afternoon learning to play Pinochle. Feyrouz was a terrible cheat and we spent most of the time in loud dispute. Outside the explosions and shooting continued. The tanks were breaking into Arafat’s headquarters
Several friends back home think we can do as much or more by being in the UK. . I did not believe this to be true before; now I am sure that what happens in the West will have little or no influence.
Apart from the storming of the Mukata, there has been a marked difference between the battles during the night and today. I have just worked out why. When I poked my nose out in the middle of the night, the machine guns and automatic rifles fired for minutes at a time, and then stopped for 10 minutes before starting up again. The cloud had come down and it was pitch black. They were firing, not at targets, but at the other flashes. Ko Sasaki, the photographer, has just managed to get here, having reached the hospital and Amari Camp to photograph casualties etc. With him came Tizo another very young Japanese photographer. They walked the last three kilometres with their hand high in the air, shouting “Japanese” every minutes or so. They will stay with us.
Adah and I have been on the bedroom balcony watching the tanks smashing around below us. It was raining and Adah had her hood up but the balcony is in plain view of an Israeli sniper position in Radio Street and I suggested she let her hair get wet.
The TV has just announced that Sharon intends to stay here for some time.
PAL Notes 17
Tanks carving up the road in front of the house woke us up. Soldiers smashed through the building next door, a five-storey new atrium shopping centre. Instead of breaking the lock, they rammed it until the 8 metre high gates came off their hinges. I walked up to the soldiers. They tried to take my friend’s camera but he showed his press card. I sheltered behind the press card and watched the soldier breaking into every shop all the way up the building. I’m told that this destruction is being repeated all over the centre.
Ko and I and another Japanese friend climbed over the rear gardens down the hill to find a shop open. We got some food, but no cigarettes. On the way back, neighbours invited us in for a coffee. The extended family, three generations with about 20 people gathered on the terrace and the kids entertained us. They had this experience two weeks ago and stockpiled cigarettes, so we were able to buy a few packs.
After the Israelis agreed that the power workers could fix the destroyed power supplies, the workers are now under fire. Hourly we hear of people bleeding to death because the ambulances are either fired on or turned back. Here we now form a community of two Palestinian families, beside and below us, and two flats of Internationals; sixteen of us. We swap food and cook for each other. We had a great meal here for nine of us, cooked in three households: three Palestinians, one German, two Japanese and the hybrid very British Kays.
Adah and I were going down to our neighbour for our game of Pinochle. Two tanks were coming down the road. I photographed them as they passed and to the “consternation” of my little audience, did a little dance in the road. One tank waved its gun at me like a huge trifid. Big discussions followed about how foreign I look. The consensus was that I do not look foreign enough to stop a little target practice. I followed one of the tanks into the road only to find that it had chosen to play a game at the point in our road where a car had been parked on the pavement in front of the house next door. There were no other cars close to it. Now there was little left of the car. The tank had squashed it flat on one side. I was speechless and started to take pictures of what was left. The tank disappeared; the owners came out of the house. They said nothing. To have a car here, even an old one, is something that takes years of saving. They were in shock. We are seeing TV pictures of the killings at the top of the road; we hear it, the tank shell and the gun fire, but we stay put.
Last night, I mused about the tanks. Inappropriately perhaps, I think that they are wonderful objects. They lumber about like rhinos and roar like angry elephants. And like octopi, their various appendages move independently. They belch different colours of smoke when starting, turning and accelerating. There is a massive elegance.
PAL Notes 18
Arafat has been warned that he may – or may not – travel to the Arab summit in Beirut under Israeli and US protection if he meets their conditions and orders a ceasefire; he is being told to come out with his hands up or else.
There has been an unofficial full curfew for three days. It is now 24-hour and official. One or two whole families still run up the road looking for a shop which will open its shutters. Palestinian men who are on their own really cannot move, for fear of being shot without question or picked up for questioning.
The IDF have sufficient tanks on the move to keep everybody awake most of the night. Early this morning, it seemed quiet enough for me to go out to find a shop. At the junction two doors away, a group of young men were sheltering at the side of the building. I recognised them as living in the building next door that is also used as a student hostel for Birzeit University. They asked me if I could get the shop to open up and let me in. Eventually with a lot of banging we did get in and the steel shutter was locked again. The shutter was unlocked for all of three seconds while I slipped out. Tanks and APCs came down the road from Al Manara. One APC stopped about 15 metres from me while both roads were blocked. I held up the two shopping bags and the five kilo bag of rice and waited. Nothing happened. After a minute it occurred to me that I could be holding two bombs, so I put the bags on the ground and moved away from them. Still nothing. So I sat down on the edge of the pavement. Two soldiers ran up to me. The conversation was unpleasant, with some gun-waving, and they told me to go home. I started down towards the tank. Some soldiers, not having seen the first encounter, came round the corner and I went through the same little performance in front of the second tank.
Only when I got onto the terrace did I realize that I had not been the centre of attraction. They were after the young men who they had probably spotted going into the shop with me. For another hour or so there were a lot of tanks and shouting and breaking of doors
The soldiers worked their way down to us and searched our neighbour‘s place. I was out front taking photos, which upset them greatly. They wanted the camera and we had quite a conversation about it and what they and I were doing here. One of them told me “to go home to my wife”. Adah had been washing her hair, but came out with her head in a towel. Adah did most of the shouting. Trouble was that it was at me, not at the soldiers. So she and I had a row, I think much to the amusement of the soldiers. Adah being Adah, I had to retreat into the glazed porch. She persuaded them either not to go into the flat below where an elderly woman was already frightened out of her wits, or to let her come with them. They posted two soldiers in front of the terrace to ensure I didn’t come out to take photographs, and then broke down the cellar door. I took my pictures through the window. Rather effective, though I say so myself! It took them about 15 minutes with a sledge hammer, a crowbar and an electric grinder to get in. They found a single old oud, an Arabic stringed instrument. The soldiers are trained, I think, to be polite, so they can say lousy things with “a good temper and a smile”. I said this to one of them and he assured me he was just as polite to Palestinians!!!
Armoured vehicles and soldiers have been searching the gardens in front, behind and above us. Fifty troops flitting among the trees. I peeked out of the front door, watching the student hostel. Two men were on a balcony at street level, talking to about six people sheltering in the under croft. It looked as if there might be an argument as to how safe it was to go back inside, through the front door. My guess was that the majority had been rounded up earlier. Before I had time to say anything, there was a shot and one man fell over. He started screaming. There was a second shot and another scream. An ambulance got here nearly two hours later. It was daylight, the men were clearly unarmed. The Japanese photographers staying with us have been at serious risk in the town today. They came back much shaken by what they saw.The getting -out situation changes by the hour. It is anybody’s guess how long the university might stay shut down. Ideally I would like to give it another few days here. We shall see.
PAL Notes 19
Power has been cut again.
Tanks were in all the streets, including in front of us.
The troops came back, still searching. We waited for APCs and troops to move on. Then we phoned the shopkeeper brothers – who agreed to open the shutter when we came. It was bolted immediately we got in. I had assumed they lived above the shop and I was more than surprised to learn that they did not. They asked what had happened to me with the army outside the shop two days before. They had been really scared that the IDF would see which shop I’d been to and break in. The rumour was that this was happening all over town. I said that I had not told them where I’d been and my hand was shaken to bits. They had stayed in the shop for 48 hours sleeping on the floor without blankets, too scared to come out. They were now grateful to us because they felt that they could leave with us. We left and they ran for the hostel with food for their families. In fact we were no real protection, but it made them feel safer to have us there, if only as witnesses to what might happen in the street. I later learned that the soldiers had been breaking into buildings, mostly shops and arcades. There seemed to be little looting, but what is true is that they are stealing money and valuables from the homes they go in to.
The occasional blasts and shots have suddenly been replaced by loud explosions, very close. Half an hour later 40 or 50 shells were fired. It felt too dangerous to look outside the door. Are they still after the remaining young men?
I don’t get used to it. Tactically, it really is not sensible to fire at armoured vehicles. What comes back is enormously destructive.
We’re living a strange life the four of us, wandering around the house rather aimlessly. Adah is getting a bit of work done. I can’t read a book. Some areas of Ramallah are without water. We have been filling every conceivable container. This afternoon our neighbour said that he was sure there would be a well under the front yard. We found it. I was going to break it with a hammer, but was dissuaded because it might sound like a gun shot. I levered off the padlock with a mason’s chisel and, lo and behold, we had huge quantities of water.
We ran out of gas for the heater last night. The freak cold weather seems to be lasting. The sun makes a difference. Every few hours the sun comes out for ten minutes. We all rush outside, snipers or no snipers. The living room is very dark and gloomy, which must be great in summer, but rather oppressive now.
We also wander in and out of each other’s places. Notes are being written for German and Japanese radio stations. The Japanese photographers have given up going into the centre, now that journalists have been ordered out. Too dangerous and anyway the “action” seems to have moved to our doorstep. Adah is acting as mum to everybody who will let her. I got an email from the BBC in Jerusalem and I am now backing in touch with Radio 5 Live in London. I sent them the PAL notes, which they want to use on the BBC website.
Downstairs to neighbours, eight of us, for a huge couscous and lamb stew supper, and later we had a Pinochle evening. Feyrouz who is 78 and a wicked cheat, tries it on all the time, explodes with little pretend tempers and dramatic body throwing movements, but grins at the same time. She speaks more French than English. She has aches and pains but is surprisingly agile when no one is looking. She and Rehab our other neighbour’s mother in the flat next to ours, blanches at each shell explosion.
The temperature has dropped sharply. It is really like winter. From 3.00am onwards, helicopter and tank guns were very close, on and off for the next four hours. Later we heard that the target was west of us, Betunia on the outskirts of Ramallah, the Preventative Security Headquarters. At 5 in the morning a telephone call: someone who worked there saying that the building which had been five storeys was now about two storeys and that the soldiers were in the ground floor and basement. The phone went dead.
More news about the about the man in the hostel who was shot in the leg. Our neighbour went into the hostel to talk to the men and learned that another man dragging the first one inside was himself shot through the stomach. The ambulance picked up both of them. We don’t know if they are alive.
When I came here nobody I met here openly supported carrying the fight into Israel with civilian bombings. (Which doesn’t mean that nobody did). Now it feels different. While not actually cheering them on, some people that I have met in the last two weeks imply that the bombings at least bring matters to world attention and that nothing else seems to work. Palestinians are being shot, armed or not. There is still an inference in Israel that the whole problem started with Camp David. But through all the so-called reasonable premierships, the illegal settlements continued at a great pace.
Spirits are low.
Rain, icy. At two o’clock, telephone rumours are circulating that the curfew will be lifted for some hours. At about three o’clock I saw a car race by and some women in the street. Adah and I went out about fifteen minutes later to find the local shop crowded. We gave up and walked up towards Al Manara. We happened to be with some teenagers. We were fired at from a side street. None of the shots came anywhere near us. Adah and I stopped. The boys walked on. Al Manara and the radiating streets were humming with people. Very few shops were open, a few stalls set up selling vegetables. We were in the icy wind and rain and the cloud kept dropping to ground level and then rising again. There were APCs and jeeps and soldiers both on the road and in every gun turret. We were home in under and hour.
I went out again with a camera. In Jaffa Road I walked up to a crowd of men, looking up at a flashy, leaning glass building on the curved corner. The glazed wall stretched at least 40 metres down Jaffa Rd. Virtually every window had been shattered by machine gun fire. I was greeted by the men and asked why I was still here. I was given a big hug and my hand was shaken by the others. I walked up to the building to take a photo, only to realize that I was in the line of fire from both sides of the street. I worked out that I was not in any danger. To shoot at me the soldiers would have to shoot at each other. In the centre, many shop fronts were smashed in. The iron gates to every arcaded or atriums shopping mall were forced off the hinges by something like a tank or a bulldozer. Rumours of looting by soldiers, but I don’t know.
I moved on in the direction of the Mukata, passed a road block in Radio Street formed by a line of upended cars and nearer the Mukata a mess of metal in the road. I couldn’t think what it was, until I saw a couple of car tyres. To obtain this effect a tank would have had to go back and forth over the car. This gains nothing but contempt for lack of discipline.
I was stopped about 150 metres from the Mukata, but even from there I could see the destruction.
On my way back, I was hooted by a car with ‘TV’ on all windows. It was Amira, ferrying some people home. I said if she had time she should come in for coffee. Got home at about 5.20pm. By then the streets had emptied, but there were still a few people about and a few shots were fired. At 5.45 Amira banged on our door. The Israelis had done it again, she said, rather late they had announced a 6.00pm curfew. They were now shooting at cars.
We talked about our origins as Jews and Amira said that her experience told her that we should be open about it. Adah acted on the advice by going downstairs and telling Lamis our neighbour downstairs. She was upset we had not told her earlier.
Lamis had an American guest who had done four solid days with Mustafa Barghouti’s Medical Aid people, driving around delivering food and picking up dead bodies. Her stories are horrific. She arrived here in tears at the same time as Amira.
Another friend, whose family has a place on the road Qalandya, rang to find out how we were. Her family is ok. We are very aware of the need to avoid the use of emotive words such as looting and massacre; she confirmed that her best friend, living in a flat nearby, , had been an eye witness to the soldiers breaking into a jewellers shop in Roukab Street.
Amira is stuck here, taking calls from all over the place for eyewitness accounts of what’s been happening. She is also writing daily news reports. It really looks as if I will have to leave with Adah. I feel very sorry to be forced to bale out like this.
PAL Notes 20
We are now on well water; the power has been off for 36 hours. It is two days since the curfew was last lifted. The four households in the two buildings around our yard plan meals together, it is as if we have all known each other for years. One of our neighbour’s father brings over anything he thinks we are short of: hurricane lamp, tomatoes, and a sweater for the Japanese photographer Tizo, who is bored and frozen. The family had run out of meat and Adah took over cans of corned beef and tuna fish. Another neighbour has promised to bake bread.
I am sitting near Amira who, without a computer, has been writing her reports and articles by hand and phoning them in. She spends much of her time checking and verifying phone calls with the huge number of contacts she has in the Palestinian towns. She won’t accept anything unless she speaks directly to the eyewitness. A neighbour’s brother is the director of a hospital; he has just confirmed gross behaviour by troops.
Amira has been listening to our discussion about going home. Adah was expecting to leave by the convoy to today. I don’t think it left because the curfew was not lifted. The anxiety it has been causing family in the UK has been extreme and Adah felt she had to do something about it. Amira said nothing. Later Amira talked to us and Adah also talked to some friends back home about personal choices and the responsibility of parents to children. When does it stop? She thought that perhaps she had a right or even a duty to do now what she really felt was important. Having thought on, Adah decided to stay.
Some of you may not understand. In a nutshell, we came to do something positive in a negative situation. What we did not realize was how important just being here was to the Palestinians we meet, including those who just see us in the street. Much more so now. With foreigners leaving when they can with “safe passage”, the people here feel that the world has – and will – forget them. True, there is lots of news coming out in spite of the Israeli instruction that journalists should get out at the end of last week. But it is not the same. For one thing, the journalists and TV crews are moving around in bullet-proof vehicles. The Japanese photographers Ko and Tizo are exceptions. Up to Sunday they had been moving about on foot. They were brave. The curfew has been official since Monday, which means the Israeli snipers can shoot anyone they see. The family downstairs have run out of everything. They sent the boy out looking for something some time ago and have now asked Ko to look out for him. Adah and I advised him to decline. The soldiers have night sights on their guns and the vehicles are still patrolling the streets.
Being locked up like this is actually very boring after seven days. Tizo feels it most, he has no literature in Japanese and only very basic communication with us. We keep him going with hugs, pats and slap handshakes. It is a fantastic crowd of people here. And in reality we are all well. It is very moving, the place is full of machines, Amira is sitting with a candle, writing in the glazed-in balcony, Ko and Tizo, are wrapped in blankets on the sofas with their candle; Adah is keeping a handwritten diary, I am not reading it, but I am curious. I am hogging the kerosene lamp at my Mac.
A column of tanks deafened us passing by. Amira had to stop talking on the phone.
About ten soldiers ran into the yard with guns, as usual, waving. I opened the door and Amira talked to them in Hebrew. Soon they were shouting. The men on the vehicles had machine guns aimed at us, so did other men on top with their Uzis or M16s.Amira translated. She had been telling them off for frightening the families. Finally one of them told her to get inside. She said she had a right to be on the terrace. It went on… until one of them told us to go inside or they would shoot. By then there were four of us in front of the door. One soldier called her the daughter of a whore. Her reply to them:“heroes of Israel”. Amira said that an APC had broken down and the rushing around in the yard was a precautionary search for possible snipers. After ten minutes two came back and Amira went out to talk to them. They were officers apologising for their subordinates swearing. All the soldiers are permanently connected by intercom earphones. For the next 20 minutes they got a political education: Amira describing brainwashed young men. The broken APC got fixed and they left. The Palestinian neighbours didn’t open their doors; I kept them informed by shouting the position.
PAL Notes 21
Last night we were swapping stories by candle light. Amira got a message from a neighbour who heard through the Palestinian Civil Affairs office that the curfew would be lifted today between 8.30 and 10.30 Amira checked, and yes, it was to be lifted. But the US envoy Anthony Zinni was coming and the IDF delayed it to the afternoon. I wonder if it is to give Zinni a ‘peopled’ view of the place – a ghost town is not a good advert. The main Friday prayers are at 12.30 and the customary demonstration follows the prayers. Have the Israelis remembered this.
Guns wake us, but the sun has come out and our spirits are lifted. Our neighbour has baked bread and out on the front steps about ten of us are eating: Zatar on pitta and baked egg in pitta (no pan to wash) tea and coffee. Two women walk up the road to empty their rubbish in the bins. The sun has made people optimistic. As we sit here the tanks are still blasting into buildings and continuing the house searches. Maybe the sun calms fear.
Just heard the reason for one of the actions we heard half an hour ago. Journalists drove up towards the Mukata. The army stopped them with stun bombs, noise bombs, tear gas grenades and warning shots. So the journalists are still in town. They came out in the sun.
PAL Notes 22
The four families – dare I say it, organised by Adah – spent the morning running around drawing up shopping lists and dividing up tasks. The serious stuff like meat and fresh vegetables were left to the women. A war doesn’t change everything.
At 1.00pm we were all on the pavement waiting for the off when the curfew was due to be lifted. At about 1.10 we started up the road to Al Manara. Burst of gunfire and machine guns, Amira went back to the house and phoned a source who had an army ear. At 1.15 she came out to tell us that the IDF had “postponed” the lifting of the curfew. We didn’t knowing what to do. Others were striding up the road. Within minutes, cars were revving up and tearing around. The army was going to have to shoot a lot of people to put the curfew genie back in its bottle.
At Al Manara, soldiers were trying to stop the cars using their side of the roundabout. It was chaos, dozens of smashed vehicles, broken windows, car contents dragged into the road. In some streets every single car was vandalised. The Israelis were looking for car bombs. Smashed shop windows, metal awnings lying in the road, trees uprooted, services dug up, overhead cables pulled down. Children racing through the streets carrying away scrap metal from the windows of the blown out fronts of the office buildings.
The water supply here rises on the building fronts to a height of about 1.5 metres. In many streets a soldier must have walked along hitting the pipe joints with a rifle butt. They are spraying all passers-by.
Some streets are not spraying water, probably because there is no water supply
I was photographing yet another glazed frontage – the IDF had raked the front with a machine gun and this one was in part blackened from the fire inside – when a woman rushed up and asked me to come into her building and photograph what they had done. It had a central staircase between two suites of offices on each floor. She introduced me to her husband, Mahmud a lawyer who owned the building, occupied one floor and let the other four.
While the curfew was lifted they were cleaning up, carrying down wrecked computers, climbing over furniture thrown down the stairs by the soldiers. Glass everywhere.
In Mahmud’s offices, they had destroyed all his house plants and smashed the huge earthenware pots, the computers, the glass table tops and every door. They had broken into one room off a corridor by smashing the door on one wall. Next to it there was a man-size hole in the wall. In the adjacent corridor, they had made another large hole. All the windows were broken and all his files were pulled onto the floor and kicked open.
In the afternoon, when I was photographing a bulldozed road surface (the point of interest being a dug-up drain and a severed mains electricity cable), about 100 Italians wearing white shirts with printed peace slogans passed on their way to the Mukata. They must have entered while the curfew was lifted and I presumed would have to leave within the three hours. They were a welcome sight to Ramallah’s residents. I thought they would have a better chance of getting to the Mukata than me alone. But no, the tank at the corner of the Mukata swung its turret around to us; two jeeps raced up and stopped us.Soldiers are now enclosing themselves in reels of barbed wire. I had an argument with one group when I got my camera out; they were shouting ‘don’t shoot!’ We discussed who was “shooting”.
I met our neighbour Georgette in the road. She lives on the edge of our yard, but her entrance is on the road so we could not see her during the curfew hours. It was the destruction of her car I described a week ago. There are many stories, which I do not write about.
She is mid 50s and comes from Ramle, South of Tel Aviv. In 1948, the Israelis arrived and panicked everyone into buses. Her parents grabbed the children – she was only one year old – and got on a bus.
Back at the yard, or “compound”, the various shopping expeditions returned and laid out our collective stores on our dining room table. Dividing the spoils isn’t taken too seriously as we mostly eat together. Each household only takes what is needed for any special requirements! Shooting started immediately after the curfew deadline.
The Israelis are now really in a hurry. Colin Powell is coming: the house must be clean, tidy and the children put to bed.
In an interview on the World Service a spokesman stated that the anti-terrorist operations will be completed soon and that the Israelis had no intention to embarrass their good friends the US.
At 4.00 in the morning the tanks were on the move and the shelling started up. At 6.00am a series of explosions that continue all day. From the rear we watched soldiers break into the office building of the PFLP. There are house-to-house searches. I spent the afternoon with a neighbour doing an application for the National Film School in the UK. Normal things inside, fighting outside the front door.
We gathered for early supper chez nous and then to a neighbour to watch a video. Tanks roared up and down our street. One of the bullets ricocheted around the yard. Trying to leave, we stood at the open door for ten minutes, waiting for the shooting to die down. At night the sniper in the building across the road might shoot.
Just after midnight, Adah called us to the balcony overlooking the gorge with views into the streets of the valley and the centre. There was a high wind and clouds were so low that we were inside and above them every minute or two. The sky itself appeared in flashes like black smoke, moving at the speed of a car. We crouched behind the balcony parapet – partly to avoid frightening the soldiers and even more to keep out of the wind – and watched soldiers rushing into a block about 150 metres across the valley. The stair lights went on and off for about half an hour. Adah offered us biscuits and hot chicken soup handed through the balcony door. We were smiling at our own sick jokes cuddling each other to keep warm. Ten days is too long not to crack a few smiles.
Our neighbour is on the phone to the water authority. Ramallah had four water pumps at Betunia supplying the town. The Israelis smashed all four on day two of the invasion. The water people in collaboration with the Red Crescent transported two pumps in. Fifty-five per cent of Ramallah has a supply but there is no water in the high areas of the town or in the hospital. For the last ten minutes, we have had continuous machine guns down the road and now half a dozen tank shells. Ko is asleep in the chair next to me. The explosions don’t wake him up. There is a dog walking up the road in the shade. I do a double take, wanting to warn the dog that it is not safe.
PAL Notes 23
I have just left Adah climbing over the debris of the town in the middle of a three-hour curfew lift. We walked through the ruins of the Medical Aid Ophthalmic Centre. I am bursting with anger, I feel physically sick. What is happening here, I will never forget for the rest of my life. Every floor of the five-story building – offices, examination and treatment rooms – is vandalised. The sheer scale means it must have been sanctioned. Inside everything is wrecked, the equipment, the computers, the bookshop. The target was clearly the Medical Centre. The Israelis had broken through the party wall to the neighbouring building where there is a beauty parlour: it was left untouched. In the Medical Centre, the Director, is wandering around the debris, touching things, saying nothing.
In the eye-testing and fitting room, we found hundreds of pairs of metal and plastic framed spectacles in a pile on the floor. I don’t have to be an extremist to remember our visit 25 years ago to Southern Poland and the little museum of Auschwitz. Thousands of pairs of spectacles, sanitised and dimly lit, behind a glass wall. What has become of a Jewish collective memory?
In a shopping arcade, the gates are pulled off, shops inside (about five storeys around a gallery) are vandalised, even the toy shop. The glass walled lift has been machine gunned. Window frames are on the ground, the children in a frenzy picking up bits of metal and rushing off, I presume, to a local scrap yard. Others are picking up Tonka toys.
What is happening? It feels like the sacking of a city in biblical times. Perhaps I exaggerate but the intention is clearly there. Day after day- it is the eleventh day. These young soldiers want the Palestinians out of Palestine. This invasion is not just a mistake.
PAL Notes 24
The days begin to run together. I think its day 13. About 17 of us in the compound. People wander in and out of each other’s places, we know each other’s basic stories; we endlessly discuss attitudes and each other’s reactions to news items. But, particularly the men, we sit about relatively silently.Manar Sofren, our neighbour, was shot while hanging out the washing in the garden at midday. There were two shots at the back of the house. IDF soldiers with guns seemingly aimed directly at us, rushed around, we ducked down, people started screaming, a lot of people.
Most of what we saw looked like white smoke as the stone facing of the building was shot away. The soldiers were not hiding or sheltering. We are all very silent.
The garden is surrounded by chain link. There are a few fruit trees to one side, but the woman’s position as she was hanging out the clothes must have been in clear view of the marksman. It could not have been a mistake.
I rang Barbara Plett of the BBC. She is stuck in the City Inn on the Jerusalem Road and is going to try to organise a vehicle to get here. If she does, I said I would take her to see the family. I doubt she will get here.
Amira rang to ask me what I had “seen”. I told her I had not seen the shooting.
As I write this, Barbara Plett, unsurprisingly rings to say there is no way she can make it. Have had long telephone chats with Daniel Williams of the Washington Post and with Barbara Plett. So if you hear of a reprisal killing (because that is what I think it was) then the BBC got it from us. In journalist-speak, they are holed up in the City Inn on the outskirts.Neither they nor the photographers can get anywhere near us.
The explosions became more frequent and violent this afternoon, some either so close or so big that they rattled all the windows. Daniel tells me that the international press has generally been ignoring Ramallah, the ‘real action” having moved on.
Supper this evening was a beautiful spread of salads, but we sat eating in near silence, either so depressed or still so shocked.
I think we had all thought that the worst was over. Maybe we even started to relax – then we saw news from Jenin, clips of the mass burials, and the dead and wounded both in the streets and in the hospital. We see footage from Al Jazeera of one building after another being dynamited – the Arab news says that this is because the IDF are facing such resistance that they can’t get into these houses – often without warning and the inhabitants are still inside.
PAL Notes 25
The big rubbish containers on the road are overflowing. We are lucky that it is warm, but not hot yet. Smoking for 50 years has dulled my sense of smell. From the top floor a neighbour an elderly lady whose entrance is onto the street, throws down a bag of rubbish. Our neighbour Rehab nervously crosses the yard to retrieve the bag.
Borrowing from neighbours has taken on a different meaning here, it happens countless times a day: scissors, tools, kitchen stuff, staples, luxury goods, and candles. Coffee, tea and other goodies are served to whoever is within sight. The computer sits in a very central, exposed place on our glazed in patio, so we benefit from these activities. We hear that the IDF have entered Birzeit village and that tanks have surrounded the university campus.
The British Council rang. The curfew is due to be lifted for three hours this afternoon. Barbara Plett will meet us in Al Manara at 2.30pm to go round some of the places mentioned in the Notes.
In the late morning we all scrambled through the gardens to the house of our neighbour who was killed. Only this morning did the various neighbours dare to leave their gardens and go in to pay respects to Manar. The children looked completely dazed. They went around shaking hands with everybody, as if they didn’t know where they were. We, the foreigners were assumed to be journalists. They knew us by sight only – we had often waved to each other, us from the yard and the terrace, they from their windows. The curfew had done that.
Manar’s father sat very still. We were conducted round the house. In a bedroom, a young woman in black was screaming and throwing herself about very violently. Two women held her. I think we should not have been there. We sat with the family. Coffee was served.
There were bullet holes in the glass screen: one was chest high, the other above head level. Manar was actually killed standing inside the house.
1.15 p.m. Adah and I went up into Al Manara. There was a small gathering in front of the barbed wire fencing round the soldiers. Adah started talking – shouting in Hebrew to the soldiers: “Don’t understand what you are doing here … do you? How will you live with yourself after all this is over…?” The reactions never satisfy her, so she goes on… until they clam up. A little more of a crowd gathered to listen. As we turned to go, something must have frightened one of the soldiers, I heard a shout, turned around in time to see the soldier throw a ‘stone’ at us, a sound or blast bomb. We walked away with ringing in our ears.
The railing and front gate of a church were flattened by a tank, the glazing had been shot out, a chaotic mixture of jagged glass colours and shapes.
We walked back into Roukab to the next IDF establishment in the street housing the British Council. Adah had a quiet nose-to-nose conversation. Amira, by chance, was doing her shopping (the best vegetables in town are here) as we arrived and, standing a few yards away, was able to help Adah find the words whenever her Hebrew gave up.
Walk about with Barbara Plett. She commented on the smell. When we walked towards Chicken Street suddenly there was a lot of shouting and movement at Al Manara. Three tear gas grenades and two blast bombs had been thrown into the crowd. It vanished in seconds. The wind was away from us and we walked down Chicken Street. But Adah got caught by the gas on the other side of the square.
I took Barbara Plett to meet Manar’s family.
Amira came in for a coffee and again we went to see Manar’s family. This was very different. About a dozen men sat in the glazed porch. Amira talked to them in Arabic, some answered her in Hebrew, some in Arabic. They knew who she was.
The grandfather of Manar’s husband Sami came from a village near Jerusalem. His father was killed as they left the village in 1948. The grandfather lives in the garden flat here, and the four flats above house four brothers and their families.
Manar had been in the glass porch, she had seen the soldiers on Radio Street, aiming guns down into the valley towards her. She opened the door to call Sami and her youngest child in from the garden. Two shots were fired, the first killed her.
I spent the day in a state and made life hard for Adah. The World Service broadcast Barbara Plett’s recording at 10.00 am. An hour later, phone calls came from other stations. Waiting on the line for Jimmy Young, the producer came on. His advice: “Jimmy is great, but doesn’t always ask the right question. If this happens, ignore him and get out what you want to say”.
There was a question about Palestinians’ reaction to me saying I am Jewish. Over my time here, I have had both serious and joking reactions to being British… either that I might feel responsibility for Mr Balfour’s Declaration or that I should answer for Tony Blair. But I have had nothing but totally positive reactions to announcing the religion I don’t have.
Massive explosions during the day, but it’s been wonderful to be able to sit on the front steps in the warm evening. We move between the places quite slowly at night. It is difficult to make myself look British in the dark – I have neither a bowler hat nor an umbrella, and even without the curfew, one cannot buy The Times. Massive explosions down in the valley at midnight making, the tiled concrete floor vibrate.
Mahmud brought in 4 coffees. Adah went next door. An hour later I found her with Rehab preparing an elaborate dish of stuffed cabbage leaves and talking about a Palestinian cook book.A Swiss fellow student rang. She is pregnant, her family is insisting she goes home at least until the baby is born. Her husband, a Palestinian teacher at BZU, has to stay. She cannot get through Sourda checkpoint and the Swiss Consulate is not helping her. She says the IDF took away about 100 young men from Birzeit village itself and then they blew up the Post Office, the Municipality building and the police station
Phones dead for 4 hours – just back on.
PAL Notes 26
Phones out again. We’ve been calling the British consulate to find out when the next curfew lift would be. Don’t know and can’t find out. The Consulate rang back later: curfew would be lifted tomorrow for three hours. Then we heard that the curfew is in place except for press, so I and the Japanese photographers ventured out wearing as much camera gear as possible.
Not a single person in sight. At Al Manara, a soldier shouted. Ko said the Press were allowed out. The soldier shouted, “Go down that road”, pointing in the direction of Jerusalem, “and keep walking”. And in response to Ko’s report of the radio announcement about the curfew, he added, “I believe you but I am here and I am telling you”.
This has been said so often, soldiers seem to be able to make up the rules as it suits them. Finally, he said he’d sent 100 journalists down the Jerusalem Road that day, “Go, go, go, go”, which we did. I turned around and took a photo. That pissed him off.
At 4.00pm garbage truck, accompanied by an International Red Cross vehicle emptied bins for the first time in two weeks, but they were in such a hurry that the rubbish around the bins was left. We got out and cleared it up, unpleasant.
Colin Powell has come and gone, together with the circling helicopters. And we learn that the office of the best known Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish in the Sakakini Centre, has been trashed A girls school has been blasted – a cousin of our neighbour, who works there, was marched ahead as a human shield. We have seen TV footage of the Sakakini Centre, a beautiful old stone building converted into a cultural centre (we went to a concert there a couple of months ago): the interior, and parts of the exterior, had been wrecked.
The town centre is being blasted again; just empty, already vandalised buildings. The news at midnight said the Israelis are destroying administrative records and institutions. The destruction of the town’s records and archives, all the property records, even those of the UN Relief and Works Agency. It is as if they are trying to wipe out 54 years of history. Maybe they think that without a recorded history, the Palestinians will just cease to exist.
We are watching the soldiers moving about, Very low spirits.
What does it mean? Both Al Jazeera and the BBC announced yesterday that the Israelis are pulling out of Ramallah, except for the Mukata.
3.00 am we got up and sat on the bedroom balcony watching: in the gorge below the silhouettes of soldiers in the dark, with flashlights, going through every room on six floors of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine building. This was the second time. At 4.30 am they moved up the road to a two-storey house. All the lights went on. A silhouette in the doorway, then the noise of digging and destruction in the garden. Withdrawal from Ramallah is a myth. By the noise of traffic in the morning we realised that, with no warning, the curfew had been lifted. At midday a group of us took a taxi on a long trip through the suburbs to Qalandya checkpoint. The destruction of cars, telephone and electricity posts was not confined to the city centre. Piles of rubbish everywhere and becoming very ripe. At the checkpoint things were worse than usual. Up to two thousand people waiting to be searched by two men. The rest of the soldiers were involved with “crowd control’.
A man behind the barrier asked me to give a UN woman in front of me a roll of film. I tried to, but a soldier took it. A woman behind me with several children was taking one to hospital in Jerusalem. Could I help? No.
Back home and before midnight army vehicles were crashing into the houses or garden walls on both sides of the road in the gorge below us.
The curfew is still in force. A shepherd on the mountain terraces takes no notice – he is out there with a flock of sheep. The Israeli garrison launches a fireworks display – celebrating Independence Day. This of course coincides with Nakba day, the day of mourning for the Palestinians’ 1948 defeat.
The Palestinians cannot win this battle, but they cannot lose the “war” unless Israel decides on some form of genocide.
Explosions start up within an hour of Colin Powell’s visit.
Adah has gone to London.
I tried not to let the Kays down by making spaghetti bolognaise.
Our little community has retreated slightly behind our doors. Maybe we can’t go on so intensely. Maybe part of the glue has gone to London.
My first early night in three months. In bed by midnight. An explosion very close set off the car alarms in the yard. .
12.15, light out again, 2 single shots – an explosion, near enough to shake the window frames. Out on the balcony I hear them working with sledge hammers.
The radio says the curfew would be lifted at 1pm. Everything here revolves around the “lifts”. At 1.30pm nobody is in the road, the “lift” has been cancelled.
3.30pm I watched a raid on the DFLP building – the fourth I’ve seen.
19 April photo IDF outside house
The Consulate rang; the curfew will be lifted between 1.00 and 5.00pm.
This morning the army searched the three houses just down the road from us.
When they left they threw a grenade into one of the gardens. The occupier does not know why.
This afternoon the curfew was lifted and I went out to find out what they did.
For a week, the press has been reporting that the IDF is on its way out of here. The house searches, explosions and machine gun fire have continued to this minute. Where we live is two minutes walk from the centre and we have panoramic views over about a quarter of the town. The tanks and APCs promenade around the streets all day and night, and it has been completely quiet for only two periods: during Powell’s two visits. There is no withdrawal.
We are still under curfew, now into the fourth week, lifted for three hours every few days.
Yesterday during the curfew lift I was at Al Manara Ramallah’s central square – actually a small roundabout with six roads radiating out to other towns and villages. Stationed at one of the exits the IDF have 6 APCs, tanks and armoured jeeps with guns trained into the square and Roukab Street. Following the second curfew lift two weeks ago the IDF now surround themselves with barbed wire. On a few occasions Adah or I have talked to them across the wire. No Palestinians would dare
At the roundabout, the traffic was heavy and noisy -the curfew lift is never long enough for people to get everything done, from shopping to visiting relatives to going to the hospital. I watched a soldier launch two gun-mounted grenades at the cars. One of the other men took a photo of the car panic. The gas is a new type, and particularly painful both in the lungs and the eyes. Car windows were being wound up as fast as possible. The traffic came to a complete standstill. The grenades’ gas gets into the cars, and blows thirty metres down Jerusalem Road where the vegetable market is in full swing. These weapons are now fired at every curfew lift to signal the end. They are very cleverly designed rubber balls and bounce in all directions and are impossible to pick up and throw clear.
When the gas clears, I picked up two grenades. One had a red band around it printed in Hebrew, the second a band printed in English.
A friend’s brother is the director of the maternity unit at the Red Crescent hospital and I took a 10-minute walk up Nablus Road to see it. This road, like many others in the town, now looks like a wide dirt track. Ambulances got to the entrance via a back road.
The whole of the West Bank was long ago turned in Bantustans, now the town itself feels like a series of Bantustans, with road blocks in all directions.
A car had been going too slowly along Nablus road. It dropped into a hole.
Ramallah people were stretching the curfew lift. At 6.00 I was home, at 6.30 the APCs were touring with loudspeakers: “Get into your houses”.
PAL Notes 27 A night diary
Not sure when a diary days starts when the days run together through nearly sleepless nights. Since the so called ‘withdrawal’ during the night of 20-21 April, there has been what I now realise is an entirely systematic night harassment. At first I thought it was haphazard and that the IDF still had uncompleted ‘work’ in the town. But we had had three nights of interruptions generally from early evening after darks since they left. Treat this as an insert of night time harassment over a few days!
I got to bed before 1.00 am.
Dreaming of the Occupation, not the Invasion I was woken up at 2.00 by a muffled explosion, inside a building on the opposite slope of the gorge. From our balcony I could see army vehicles roaring up and down the roads and a tractor breaking up the road surface and making a road block out of the excavated rubble. This road had been blocked in the same way about four weeks ago. Now they are shredding the sewer, the telephone and the electricity cables as they go. The road block is now 50 metres nearer to us, and denotes the official perimeter of the military zone around Arafat’s headquarters. The rest of Ramallah is an even more dangerous unofficial military zone.
Again went to bed “early”, couldn’t sleep, and at 2.00 am heard shots. An APC sat in the road below. From the horizontal ridge opposite, APCs and tanks converged in the roads coming into the valley. The original APC had obviously been there before the shots were fired.4.00 am. Very regular explosions in the valley. After the first two, I started to time them: they came at about 45 minute intervals and I thought they were sound bombs. They continued until dawn. These bombs have a sharp blast with a definite edge to the sound, and then echoes, depending on which part of the town.
Emailing until 2.00 a.m. when sound bombs started going off. I timed them at nearly exactly 15 minute intervals until 3.30 am. I jumped out of bed at the sound of a loudspeaker. On opening the French windows I hear the broadcast sound of dogs barking. After about 30 seconds, it stopped, and then real dogs took over. Very effective, the sound travels across the many valleys and gorges, and the chorus is picked up. The purpose is either to wear down the resistance of the town’s people, or to add one more drip to the encouragement of an exodus from Palestine.
People are either terribly frightened or terribly angry. The IDF has dropped the pretence of fighting terrorists.
PAL Notes 28
The IDF as left town except for the Mukata.
1st reaction: Elation and relief
2nd reaction: Why am I elated?
3rd reaction: What is there to celebrate?
4th reaction: Now the world is going to forget Palestine again.
Ko Tizo and an older Japanese journalist came into Ramallah. They had been in Jerusalem after 2 days in Jenin camp being fed and bedded by camp residents. We set off to visit the brother of a friend who is director of the maternity Unit at the Red Cross hospital. On our way near Al Manara I noticed a tractor had four flat tyres. The tractor tyres had been let down by the IDF during the night, it had been parked near a newly-built road block. The driver arrived in the morning and started pumping up his tyres with a hand pump.
One realises that the whole of the centre if not the town itself is still under surveillance, as an APC has arrived on the assumption that the tractor was about to remove the road block. They arrested the driver under suspicion. The BBC tells us the IDF has withdrawn – bullshit.
At the Maternity Unit the director began by telling us about 12 March. Very simple, he said. The tanks came, entered the office building opposite, set up a machine gun at its fourth floor windows and fired into the hospital windows, shooting up most of the Gynaecology Department. Nobody died.
On 15 April, the IDF emptied the hospital of staff. He described how there were premature babies in the incubators. One was in a critical condition and had to be monitored continuously during the two-hour search. In the lobby the soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded two doctors, two male nurses and a cleaner. One soldier took out a camera, another posed with his arm over the shoulder of one of the captive doctors. The director asked what the photo was for. “For me” said the soldier. The five hospital staff were taken to Ofer prison and released after three days.
The Japanese photographers staying with us told terrible stories of Jenin, the dead and body parts in the rubble. People were fighting over what little food was being distributed.There were truckloads of food, but most were not allowed into the camp. The smell was awful. A friend rang to say that she had seen Ko at a child’s funeral in Jenin. He could not stop crying. She was worried for him.
The Christian shop, up the road from us, has been stripped out, a bare large hole in the street wall.
A member of the Board of Jewish Deputies is in touch with Adah. She is on a platform tonight at a meeting in Conway Hall in London.
Here, the clean up started.
We – mostly Palestinian Authority workers and young Palestinian volunteers – spent the morning street cleaning: brooms, shovels, hoes, tractors and dump trucks. We worked from Al Manara to the old town. Shopkeepers on the way supplied soft drinks. Tomorrow the cleaning starts at Clock Square. Everywhere, repair work has started. Men at the bottom of huge holes in the road, rebuilding main sewers; shop fronts are being hastily – not necessarily beautifully – welded together. If the number of greetings in the street reflects the number of people I know, then I have been very busy socialising. I now smile at just about everybody.
We’re story telling while we work. An old lady lived with her cat in a house. The IDF moved in, smashed up every room, put bullets into the wedding photo on the wall and beat the cat. She loved the cat so much that she used to get special cat food sent by relatives in the US. She was heartbroken. Every story describes disgusting graffiti. Lina, a film studio co-ordinator, moved back to her parents’ house on the first day of the invasion. The IDF told them to move to the basement for an hour while the upper floors were searched. At gun point, everything was done politely. Twelve hours later, after getting up the courage to bang on the door, they were let out by a soldier. He said that he had forgotten they were there. The IDF was billeted on the top floor. When they left, one of the many inscriptions left on the walls, this one in poor Arabic: said, “We came, we ate and we destroyed”. And they did.
Elsewhere in Ramallah, however, the inscriptions read, “we came, we ate and we shat”. There is a single letter difference in Arabic between the two words.
On my way home, I dropped in on Elias who runs a wine shop with a stock to match the best in London. We retired to his office at the back and chatted for an hour over tea and nuts.
He was educated at the Friends Boys School in Ramallah, and he’s never left Palestine. Over the last few years, he has had such difficulty importing wines through Israel, that his son has set up a separate business in Jerusalem. If the IDF had discovered his shop behind the shutter, they would have emptied it. This happened at the top of our road to that wine and grocery shop. So on the first day of the invasion Elias filled his van with the most expensive wines and whiskeys and took them home. Ramallah has changed from a large Christian majority to a large Muslim majority, following the influx of refugees in ‘48 and ‘67. He fears that in times of conflict between the two communities, he, as a Christian selling alcohol, will be an easy target
Completely shattered. Did nothing.
I was to make supper tonight. Marinaded the chicken and put it in oven. As we were about to eat something was happening in the valley. A small crowd was gathering. Turned off the oven, went down.
A car had stopped to allow an APC to pass, but seeing the APC bearing down very fast, went over a curb and over the edge – an eight metre drop. Ambulances drove away, leaving soldiers looking over the edge, more APCs arrived. I stayed with the family, taking pictures of the IDF. The soldier in the turret beckoned me to the APC. He asked for my papers. Before I could reach him, he shouted something else. Couldn’t hear anything except, “I told you to … “ and each time he repeated it, I came closer, until I was at the side of the APC, a vertical slab of steel. “I told you to back off”. He then told me to take everybody into the house and close the door. Inside, I was shown upstairs to a side window. Even there I was ordered to move away. The IDF acted as if they had done something wrong. I stayed till the APCs left. By the time I was home, it was agreed to delay supper to the following night. As it happens, both Adah and I always thought that sweet and sour chicken tastes better on the second night
When I arrived in January I found a dead gecko on the floor. I picked it up. It felt like rubber. It might have been a toy left by the previous tenants. Just in case, I put it into an empty CD case and closed the lid; every few weeks, I look at it. I would have liked to take my five – empty – gas grenades home for Finn to juggle with. Gecko will have to be my only souvenir. My normal souvenir when travelling is a local knife. The people at the checkpoint and airport would not appreciate it. The empty grenades will have to be buried in the garden, in the hope that one day I can come back to an unoccupied land to collect them.
After supper, a group of us thought we’d go out for a drink. Our first outing to the Sangria and friends in four weeks.
As we were left the house we saw an APC in the valley below, a car, diagonally across the road and an ambulance – at the same place as the “accident” yesterday. We learned that the APC shot the driver as he was coming up the road. A soldier nervously told us that although there is no curfew they would rather we didn’t use cars at night
Heavy machine gun started up in the bottom of the gorge. It was a bright night. I could see very clearly. Guns mounted on a tank parked in a garden were firing at the DFLP building opposite. There was no return fire, only one light on, shells exploding inside, red glows. Shells hitting the stone face, threw off moving showers of sparks. The red tracer shells came towards us, hitting the inclined waste ground less than 40 metres away from us. White flashes from single automatic rifle below us. No ambulance came and the IDF moved off. So there is either a dead or wounded man below us, or he got away.
PAL Notes 29
At 8.00am a battle tank (they are huge) opened fire from the slope opposite. Traffic continued to flow, a school bus stopped to pick up children. It was surreal. The background to the bus looked like a wartime B movie that nobody would watch. I know a number of people here who are living on the tender tips of their nerves.
Birzeit held a meeting for all those who could get there. The servis detoured through the stunning mountains past dumps of recently wrecked cars. About 800 staff and students made it. The debate was: should classes resume? Three quarters of the students couldn’t get through the checkpoints from their homes.
At Sourda, there is no longer a checkpoint, just a tank. But sometimes it just closes the road. Uncertainty is the name of the game.
I got back from BZU in time for an interesting march a women’s group, school girls all in green and white striped dresses and satchels, school boys, who wouldn’t be seen dead in school uniforms, “activists”, mainly men and lastly politicians leading the . Approaching Al Manara we stopped at a road block within a minute or two, tear gas canisters landed from the IDF position beyond the earthwork. The demo scattered. A young man and a middle aged woman collapsed. Within a few minutes the only people left were photographers and young men, who started throwing stones. Too far away. Still, gas grenades were fired at a fantastic rate. There was a side wind. They were shot in a very high arc, most landed on the roof tops or the walls of the office buildings. Many of those which did land were thrown clear onto building sites downwind. The tear gas continued for half an hour; at the peak, grenades were landing every few seconds. Hundreds in total.
PAL Notes 30
I am getting flak from a few Jewish friends, both in Israel and the UK. It is suggested that I moderate my language. The argument is that I harm the Palestinian struggle for freedom. However, Pandora’s Box has been opened and decent Jews around the world will have to get used to this kind of language. Many good citizens from many lousy regimes have had to learn to live with collective shame. Not least the British, the French and the Germans, who each in their time have done atrocious things to other humans.
I have been thinking for many days about some of your comments concerning my reference to the pile of glasses on the floor of the Optometric Centre. I had intended to convey that it had brought to my mind only the image of what I had seen 25 years ago. It was stupid of me, since it was a comparison of images, although not of circumstances. Because I had intended these notes originally for ‘loved ones and friends’ with whom I was chatting and musing, I have been less than careful. Since January the notes have been reaching a wider audience and I did not change gear when I should have. In particular this was thoughtless and naive in relation to published or broadcast material. I am very sorry.
PAL Note 31
29 AprilWe thought the IDF was leaving tonight. There was what sounded like a desperate battle going on behind the house. Amazing tree shadows raced across the facades as the flares dropped among the trees. I timed it and it dawned on me that it was not a battle at all, it was an alarm set to go off every half hour, interrupted only once by a car exploding in flames in the early hours.
In the morning after about three hours sleep, I had an interview with Radio 5 Live. The first question was “will lifting the siege to the Mukata make a difference?” I spent the allotted time correcting the impression that the IDF had withdrawn from the rest of the town. The IDF are supposedly surrounding only Arafat’s headquarters, the Mukata. In fact a large chunk of the north of the town is a no go area. So to get to BZU, we drove through the mountains of Ramallah and then north. The road winds for miles around the slopes. As far as the eye can see in any direction, the whole landscape is tightly terraced – like the way architectural students build model hills out of ply or thick card. These terraces were first constructed in the Bronze Age. Maintenance is heavy because the pitch is so steep and the terraces are too narrow for anything but a person and sometimes a mule, and even now, farming is by hand. Apart from olive trees, great stretches of the terraces are uncultivated now – the farmers can’t compete with Israel’s farming method. The final factor is that produce has to be carried by hand across the road blocks or unloaded and then reloaded at checkpoints. Sometimes this entails a ilometre walk.
I have been puzzling for months about the Palestinian way of building into or onto the steep slopes. Some structures are built stepping down the gradient, with, at times, a difference of up to five floors between the front and the back of the building. Others are built on excavated platforms; the rear of the platform sitting ten to fifteen metres into the mountain. No shoring-no piling, just a vertical excavation. Clemens, the geologist, has finally explained. The layers of marl – a lime-rich mudstone – are in the end, soluble. If the bed is horizontal or angled into the mountain, vertical excavation can take place. If the bed tilts outwards, additional loads would cause slippage and instability. Architecturally, I prefer the cascading buildings, but clearly, I will have to pick my sites carefully. Joke I am not thinking of starting a practice here.
The IDF raided the hostel again between two and four a.m. Some shooting and a number of arrests
At 4.am until 5.30 they repeated last night’s performance. Many thousands of rounds of ammunition, with explosions shaking all the windows. Again the targets seemed to be dead buildings. The intention is to tire us out. I suppose. If everybody in the town is exhausted, there will be less resistance.
Clemens is back from Germany, which pleases me no end; and Amira dropped in to give us an account of her days in Jenin.
Spent the evening in the Flamingo with Clemens, Bassam, Chris, Njoky, Mike, Peter and Nahed.
To Birzeit and back for the May Day march. The IDF left the Mukata in the middle of the night, rattling away with symbols of manhood and letting off a few sound bombs as they went.
7.00 am. Radio 5 Live interview. Question: Is there any difference now that the IDF has left?
Answer: The IDF is still surrounding the town. The closures between one town and another are tighter than ever. The students, for the most part, still can’t travel. Ramallah is now zone B, under IDF controls. If the Intifada is finished, another is in the making.
At the Mukata machine gun bullets lace the whole façade like ornamental scroll work. Hundreds if not thousands of windows are shattered; piles of wrecked cars in every courtyard, carefully stacked in some cases reaching 1st floor windows. I was allowed to wander freely around inside the buildings. The destruction was complete. Furniture, walls, doors and windows. In one office I found a workman surveying a machine gunned wall, the path of the bullets carefully taking in every picture and photograph. He picked up a framed diploma and carefully hung it on a nail just above the line of bullets, moving back and forth, straightening the frame. I did not see a single usable piece of equipment. Every box file was on the floor with the contents strewn around. The graffiti is crowing. The rooms used by the IDF stink, knee-deep in old clothes, rubbish and left over food. The toilets are indescribable. The few rooms used as dormitories for Arafat’s men were bare and tidy, with mattresses on the floor.
A friend visited one of the Ministerial buildings next to the Mukata. The desk drawers had been removed, crapped in, and then put back. He wanted to take me so that I could photograph. I told him this was an offer I could refuse.
Our friend Nahed, who had also been there filming, showed us her story that evening. She found a large glass vase, surprisingly unbroken. The mouth of the vase was tightly criss-crossed with string and from this web dangled another string down into the vase. Tied to the end, hanging in the middle of the vase, was an opened full tin of sardines. Next to the vase was pinned a note, which read:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR HOSPITALITY
SORRY WE HAVE LEFT A BIT OF A MESS
PLEASE DON’T FORGET TO FEED THE FISH
Ko turned up from Jenin with another Japanese photographer. It had not been a massacre, they said, but terrible, nonetheless. Ko stays with a family in the camp. Everybody shares what they have; they will not accept payment or contribution from the visitor, so he picks up luxury foods and cigarettes to take back, which they do not refuse because they cannot be viewed as contributions to the meals.
After the bombing at a pool hall in the Israeli city of Rishon Le Zion we are bracing ourselves for what will come. Both the local corner shopkeeper and the butcher want out. If the non-violent young adults give up and leave, who will be left but the old, the young, the armed resistance and the bombers?Roadblocks on the way to BZU now mean a kilometre walk in the middle of the mountain. Old people struggle over rubble, women carry babies and children, everything from car engines to boxes of fruit is manhandled for the distance.
I have been invited to be a Visiting Professor for a year from September. A great offer.
The Likud party has come clean: no Palestinian state now or in the future.
I spent the day waiting for a man from Apple to fix the computer. He phoned every hour; still at Qalandya checkpoint. He will try to get back in the morning. One of his colleagues lives in Al Amari camp on the edge of Ramallah. The IDF still raids every night. The Palestinians’ Ramallah cage is larger, but it is still a cage.
PAL Note 32 Photo
Most nights the IDF re-enter Ramallah, – not reported abroad
The road block at Sourda has been increased in length, now local people find it necessary to have a wheelchair sitting at both ends, not only for the disabled people, but for the very young and old who cannot walk far in the heat.
Shots were fired this morning and the checkpoint was closed until 10.00. I was assured that guns were getting through Sourda. One sociology student, pointing to the crowd of men at the barbed wire next to us, said that another five suicide bombers would emerge from that desperate crowd.
Before I left the scene, the IDF had launched half a dozen sound bombs among the women and children going through. The children were screaming. A little girl in a white communion dress with white socks and shoes and a white bonnet, broke free from her mother and ran crying down the hill.
PAL Notes 33
The Israelis closed all the checkpoints around Ramallah. We are effectively locked in. They let off volleys of shots at each checkpoint early this morning. I found myself sitting staring into space. Helicopters are circling with searchlights. Rumour has it that the closure will last three days. A week ago Nahed visited her family in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem for the weekend. She has not been able to get back.
A few days ago I received an email saying that there will be an action to save the villages west of Ramallah on Sunday at Ain Ariq roadblock.
There will be an international delegation to visit Deir Ibzi’a and other villages under siege in the region since February, organised by the Rapprochement Centre and the ISM (International Solidarity Movement).
Three of us met – there are not that many foreigners left in Ramallah – Anita Abdullah, a Swiss married to a Palestinian, who has lived here for 35 years, Benjamin Barthe, a young French freelance journalist, recently arrived, and me. We got going on the road to Deir Ibzi’a at 11.00am
It was a short drive through the mountains. A few people were scrambling up the mountain a few hundred metres behind us. Three IDF men were on a terrace above, cutting across to intercept us. They had already stopped a number of villagers under an olive tree. The IDF quizzed us and let us go on. We caught up with a strong-legged old woman after a few minutes who told us that when a little girl had started crying, a soldier had turned his gun on her and told the mother to make her shut up. They said they wanted to catch the people coming up the mountain and the girl would have been a warning.
The terraces faded into rock shelves and we continued to the top. Tel Aviv is clearly visible and the sea shimmers in the background. The old woman told us that a week ago they had shot her cousin through the hip while she was carrying her two-year-old child. She was walking towards the Ali’a Yusef checkpoint, to visit another cousin in Betunia, a town now joined to Ramallah.
Another ten minutes and we were at the first houses at the top of the village, new and mostly still under construction. Our host lived in the first. He showed us into a large room with 30 industrial sewing machines. He had tried to start a local industry, selling in Israel. It failed, unable to withstand Israeli taxes, cheap imports, and transport costs. We met a Palestinian who had lived in Hamburg for 22 years, married a German woman, moved to Jordan, then Ramallah and finally back to his village where he is probably the wealthiest man. He said he could survive another six months before his finances collapsed.
They have two teenage daughters in their teens, now living in Ramallah so that they can continue at school. On the journey up and down the mountain twice a day, soldiers seemed to make up the rules day by day, sometimes turning people back, sometimes making them stand for hours, sometimes letting them go. We met a young man of 19, shot as he tried to bypass the soldiers. His arm had been shattered by what the hospital described as a dumdum bullet. Later the soldier asked why the boy had run away. When he replied that he was afraid, the soldier responded, “I don’t understand this psychology”. Since February, seven people from the village have been shot; six on the mountain and one in the village.
Sitting, drinking tea, on the terrace, we watched the IDF 100 metres away intercepting people on the rocks. We went up on the roof to get a better photo. Back on the balcony, two soldiers came over to the house and demanded to know who had been on the roof. Even watching them is some sort of a crime. When quizzed about our reasons for being here we had said that we were visiting a German friend. If enough people turn up this afternoon and tomorrow, this explanation will have worn a bit thin.
On our walkabout, we went into the now deserted and derelict old village, tight packed, rough stone houses with stone steps onto the roofs, olive press machines in vaulted spaces, beautiful stone relieving arches, compressed views down into shaded alleyways and tunnels. Very special, even for the eastern Mediterranean.
We are in an area containing 30 villages with 25000 people – excluding half a dozen Israeli settlements which are easily recognised by their orderly, orange pitched roofs, strung out along the contours and served by specially-built roads for their exclusive use. These roads, too, are easy to spot. They are the only ones with any cars. All other roads into this region have been blocked to the outside world since February 20. Deir Ibzi’a is one of the largest with 1600 people. Groups of villages are cut off from one another by roadblocks and checkpoints. No Palestinian can walk through the road blocks.
A spring that supplies the village is being cut off: Recently, Israel has started to build a settlers road and when it is completed the source of the spring will be cut off from the village. The settlers come to the source now and use it as a swimming hole. They come armed and the villagers dare not use it.
Villagers told us that for the first week after 20 February there was a total curfew. All the houses were searched, and these searches go on intermittently. One man said his house had been searched ten times. But our friend said that there have never been weapons in the village, nor any “activists”. None of the factions have claimed to have sent a bomber from here, nor has Israel claimed that any have come from here.
The truckers from Ramallah used to do a back-to-back delivery to and from this region: unloading, manhandling over the roadblock, and reloading. Many of the drivers have given up. Capricious decisions at the checkpoint meant that they never knew whether the goods would be allowed through. Even so, I watched a woman, with a heavy head bundle, clambering up the rocks.
Little comes from Ramallah now, the climb is too ferocious. The local shops are supplied from Israel. All goods are taxed by the soldiers as they come in.
To some villages this means two, or even three, loadings and unloading across roadblocks. The price of everything goes up; the village shopkeepers become even poorer. The few shops looked poor indeed. Deir Ibzi’a is one of the most easterly villages and suppliers try to sell on their way through the other villages. Sometimes the trucks are empty before they get to Deir Ibzi’a. Because of this, in one village a product will be relatively cheap. Two villages down the line, it will be expensive.
I watched a donkey climbing, heavily loaded with onions. Donkeys are sometimes turned back down the mountain.
After ’93, the villagers trooped daily either across the Green Line to labouring jobs in Israel, or to work in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Many, including professionals such as a civil engineer here did this because the pay, as a manual worker, was so much better than the professional wages here. When this Intifada started, all this stopped. The rate of unemployment has shot up. Ten per cent of the villagers work directly or indirectly for the Palestine Authority. Since February 20 the PA has tried to help by employing an additional ten people per village for 15 days.
The local schools are in a desperate state. Teachers, who commuted by car ten minutes between village schools to give lessons, could no longer go with any certainty outside their own village. Local teenagers either have stopped going to school (in Ramallah) or their travel time is between one and four hours – assuming they get there at all -instead of 15 minutes each way.
Last Tuesday, the army came into the primary schoolyard, perhaps “provoked” by shouting children. They threw tear gas grenades into a classroom.
One of the school teachers told us that in the afternoon three “strangers” entered the yard for a drink of water. The IDF followed them in, arrested them and then closed the school. Asked why the tear gas on Tuesday, one of the soldiers joked, “we are afraid of the children
Services are cut regularly; telephones were off for two weeks.
Over the last decade, cheap agro-industry food from Israel has wiped out the local terraced farms. Now the food is expensive. Neither Fatah nor Hamas are operating organisationally here.
A few Fatah supporters, but no activists. Since 1993, there have been no elections; the village Councils were appointed by Abu Amar. (Arafat).
In the last two months the village council has been trying to reorganise to ensure reasonable distribution of goods available.
Before 20 February, we were told that many families would not accept distribution from relief agencies. This is now changing. Until recently, there was a local co-operative chicken farm. It has now been killed off by the high cost of chicken feed coming from Israel. Chicken, the cheapest meat, is now affordable only by the wealthier villagers.
A month ago, this region, which had been Area B, was declared a military zone for six months. I do not know exactly what this means, but the economic result is clearly devastating.
During the time I was in the village, the APCs came through the streets at least 20 times, night and day. Even the kids know better than to throw stones. These villages are out of the public eye and the villagers’ experience has shown that, without the press looking on, the consequences are nasty, even if not deadly. Few dare to walk outside their homes after dark.
Until the military zone was declared, villagers could use their cars within the village. Now at night, the IDF regularly slash the tyres of the few cars left on the streets, including, most recently, the electricity line repair truck. The only vehicles still out and about during the day are farm vehicles and a few trucks.The civil engineer lives on the edge of the village. He was instructed not to move his car because his house was outside the IDF’s declared village boundary. The routes from the mountain into the village pass his house.
Here are some stories from villagers in no particular order. Many are entirely consistent a few would need checking:
The IDF threatened to blow up the petrol station unless it closed. It closed.
A Canadian volunteer tried to bring in medicine from Medical Relief for Palestine. The PA told him they had a clinic in the village, which was true, and that the PA would get their own supplies in. That was ten days ago. Nothing has yet got through the checkpoint.
A sick villager tried twice to get to Ramallah on the road and twice she was turned back. She died on the road.
One villager told me that he had been held for seven hours on the mountain and then told to go back.
A teen age girl tried to cross the valley and got shot. She said she did not hear the IDF shouts. The IDF said she had tried to avoid them.
In answer to a woman who complained an Israeli soldier replied, “Did you not hear that we are closing you in? If you want bread, you must bake it. Walking through the village I saw many iron ovens resuscitated in the courtyards. I took a photo of one through the gateway and a little boy rushed after us with wonderful hot bread. Very like a huge chapatti. It fed four of us as we walked.
We visited a middle aged man lying on the sofa with a broken leg. He fell on the mountain. His mother, probably in her late seventies and very overweight, was worried. She said, “It takes four people to carry me. What will happen if I have to go to hospital?”
A beautiful little girl called Noura, aged seven, was discovered to have diabetes four years ago. They had the equipment for testing and the injections and she stabilised. Now the father is unemployed and cannot afford her treatment. . The girl is now epileptic. Every half minute or so she does a slow blink. The PA does not or cannot supply insulin to the villages. We should contact one of the international medical agencies.
On our way back to the civil engineer’s house, we skirted the village and walked along the mountain road towards the checkpoint. Coming around a bend at the point where one would normally leave the road and get into the olive groves, we saw a tank on the road in front of us. Not unusual. Suddenly it opened fire with its heavy machine gun. We ran for cover behind the trees, until we saw that they were firing tracers into the trees across the valley into the side of the next mountain. It was dusk and anyone outside the village in the olive groves seemed to be open game. Having forced people off the roads between villages, the IDF would know they were likely to be shooting at people trying to get home.
Back in the village, the armoured jeeps and APCs were racing around. Only at the mosque is there any level ground. The APCs make a terrific noise on the hills. The villagers might sleep through it. I did not.
Marylene, an impressive weather-beaten German woman in her seventies, arrived
During the evening, many phone calls were made to find out if sufficient Internationals would be arriving tomorrow to front a demonstration. Without enough of us as witnesses, the villagers would not think of confronting the IDF at the checkpoint.
Bad news: Neta Golan informed us that eight out of the sixteen she was with, in Balata Refugee Camp, had been arrested and that the rest were staying to support them. (Her story of what happened in the camp is on the Gush Shalom site on the internet).
The Rapprochement Group were stuck near Bethlehem.
Sourda, from where a number were coming, was still closed. By telephone, we heard that the students sitting in the road today at the checkpoint had been shovelled up by a road builder’s bulldozer. A number were injured.
We were to meet the villagers next morning to discuss what might happen. It did not look hopeful.
In the morning the numbers grew: Canadians, Palestinian Americans, and Germans.
A German television crew arrived.
Another lot had arrived in the village below and we went down to meet them on our way to the village meeting. They included sixteen people in red caps; Americans from the Christian Peace Team based in Hebron.
On our way to the mosque courtyard, we gathered up many dozen children. By the time we arrived, there must have been 150 people. The courtyard was like a summer party. No formal discussion. Everybody chatting. An IDF APC arrived, rumbled around us and then left. After an hour we moved off through the village, with more villagers joining us as we went. Efforts to chase away the children were only partly successful. “Father Bob” of CPT, practised in non-violent action, took charge and we proceeded slowly towards the roadblock. Three soldiers blocked the road, an armoured jeep followed within a few minutes. By then there must have been 250 people. We sat down; I didn’t because I was scooting around taking pictures. In the first rows were the Internationals, then the men villagers and at the back on a mound, the women. There were various speeches. Some of us circled the jeep and talked to the soldiers and their commander who never left the jeep. Whatever we said, the reply was polite: “I cannot discuss this with you”.
We stayed about an hour and a half. The IDF will now have realised that this operation in the mountains is in the public domain.
One can only guess at the reasons for the IDF action since 20 February and one guess is that they are preparing
Collective punishment for Palestinian actions elsewhere
An easy place to weaken the economy even further without risk of retaliation
Making the Palestinians give up on any semblance of a compromise
To force out 25000 people and create a bulge in the Green Line which would take into Israel half a dozen or more expanding illegal settlements, together with 30 villages and a great deal of land.
Nahed has been locked in at Beit Sahour for ten days. Even the huge roundabout routes she normally takes to get home to her family were blocked. She has just arrived home.
The IDF have been raiding Al Bireh here for the last two nights. In Ramallah, there were hundreds of students at the ‘servis’ stand. Nothing moved. In the end, three teachers and I took a taxi.
Sourda has become a nightmare. In the middle of the hike between roadblocks, they have brought back the concrete bunker, and on either side, they have laid three parallel reels of barbed wire down the road. No Palestinian men were allowed through. Hundreds were standing waiting to get into Ramallah from the villages.
The closure at Qalandya has meant that neither of the university staff I need to meet has been able to get in.
PAL Notes 34
In the afternoon Clemens put my suitcase in the car to take it to Jerusalem. After the car bomb in north Israel yesterday, Nahed ran out to suggest that I jump in the car and go with him because there is a good chance that the IDF will come into Ramallah tonight. They’d also gone back into Jenin this morning. But I had the flat to clean, my last lesson at BZU and my goodbyes – and I’ve heard rumours many times before.
2.00 am I woke up to a familiar combination of grinding and rumbling. The tracks of a tank make an ear-piercing screeching noise when the tank turns hard. Within minutes, there was machine gun fire and automatic weapon shots, the latter I assumed from the security services in the compound. By 2.10 the shelling started. I sat on the balcony watching the tracers and the explosions. The targets seemed to be both the Mukata across the valley and the 8 storey Esra Building up in the town centre. I rang Adah. I would try the BBC in Jerusalem, while she tried to raise them in London. The shelling stopped at about 3.00 and Radio 5 Live rang. I described what I was looking at and I agreed to do a second interview at 8.00 am.
Between 3.30 and 4.30 am the heavy machine guns and the tank shells were being sprinkled like confetti. More shells must have been fired in that hour than in the whole three and a half weeks of the previous invasion and occupation of the centre. The road building bulldozers started work.
I could see the searchlights on the various headquarter building as they worked. The demolition sounds were unmistakable. Explosions and shelling went on intermittently till about 6.00 when I fell asleep,
Two lots of F16s came over. In a period of about three minutes, I counted 52 shells or other devices, exploding.
At 7.20 there was the loudest explosion of the night. Clemens discovered that it had broken the next door’s windows. The previous withdrawal was celebrated with a big one. Wondered if this might be a repeat.
At 8.00 I confirmed to Radio 5 that the IDF must have gone. There were a few cars on the road. Radio 4 Today programme at 9.00, Radio Scotland at 9.45 and Radio Wales at 10.00
I set off for Birzeit and my last lesson at 10.15, but the servis drivers told me that Sourda was closed. Walked past the Esra building where the Israelis used the top floor and pitched roof as target practice for a few nights some weeks ago, and this time they knocked down the wall across the road, turning the guns onto its glass front. They shot out 75 per cent of its windows. My guess is that the glass façade has seen its day here. About time, it feels inappropriate in this “climate”. It was 10.30 and the streets were packed as usual. Cleaners and bulldozer were already at work on the streets’ glass floor. Went on to the Mukata, Arafat’s compound. What the Israeli managed to do two months ago was a game compared to the destruction last night. There are about ten buildings in the compound, many of them built with amazingly heavy reinforced concrete slabs, walls and columns. Some of them look like balsa wood models after an elephant sat on them.
During the last month, there has been great activity rebuilding the compound’s smashed outer wall in stone-faced reinforced concrete. This time the IDF broke through sections previously untouched.
By the time I got back to Al Manara, the town centre was as noisy and busy as ever. There has been, and will be, terrible suffering. As a people, they are irrepressible.
Now I am in Jerusalem after three checkpoints in less than 20 kilometres.
PAL Notes 35
In Jerusalem Uri took me to his office, little cemetery and public toilets on Mount of Olives, then the synagogue over the old air raid shelters and three houses, planned on the diagonal. Externally severe, a throwback to the Bauhaus, internally interesting interconnecting spaces both vertically and horizontally on the diagonal.
Then to a party at his place via the American Colony Hotel extension.
Amira turned up from Germany, a lovely surprise, at a gathering of friends and neighbours, including a negotiator at Camp David when it was agreed to split Jerusalem. His version of events was that it was Arafat’s fault for accepting the expansion of settlements that doubled the number of settlers. Both Amira and I lost our cool with a prissy South African who could not bear the use of the words Bantustan and Apartheid in this context.
Got lost in Jerusalem. Then took a bus to Ashkelon and to Erez checkpoint entrance. It was totally empty. I mistakenly walked the Palestinian route and was turned back to VIP route. It took some time for the army to check that I was neither a Palestinian nor an Israeli with a second passport. Either would have barred me from entering Gaza. “Born in Palestine” seems to ring an alarm bell. In Gaza rubber wheeled donkey carts replacing cars in very rutted sandy streets.
Over the next four days, the most striking single thing was the population of children. Both in the towns and the camps, the streets and alleyways sounded like children’s playgrounds. Up to the age of about seven, the both boys and girls have beautiful faces. From seven on, the boys’ faces change. They grow old quickly. The number of girls reduces dramatically. Most are at home or close to the doorsteps.
The Almiss’hal house faced onto a sand square recently turned into a children’s playground. There are hundreds of children and they are deafening in the early evening.
They had waited for me for a huge Palestinian lunch. We talked politics for three hours, the first of half a dozen lengthy discussions of ethics, morality, politics and family structure.I was taken on a tour of the fishing harbour. Sometimes the boats go out. At other times, the Israelis fire on them and they return with nothing. At best, the limit is 1.5 kilometres, beyond that the Israelis take over.
Further south, we went onto the beach and sat at a table drinking 7 Up, the only soft drink available. It is bottled in Gaza City. For days nothing has been able to come from Ramallah, where Coke is bottled. The beach café under fairly tattered canvas is like Uncle Gustel’s description of the first café on the Tel Aviv beach run by my father Leo and Mr. Pilz in 1935/36. Power cuts are a way of life. The noise of the generators on the pavement makes it impossible to talk.
11.30 Supper. The power is cut between ten to fifty times a day. The family has a clever device which turns on a battery-powered lamp when the power is cut. It gives up the ghost if the power is cut for more than an hour, or if consecutive cuts don’t give it time to recharge.
They are generous with everything. Bed at 1.30 . I am clearly a disruption, but for four days, I am spoilt with gentle attention, and great sensitivity to time/space when I want it.
The army is back in Ramallah.
9.00am: Started off towards the sea about 2 km away. Within ten minutes, I was having tea on the pavement with a water supply engineer and his assistant, surrounded by his workforce filling a pavement trench with concrete. It is part of a ten km water pipeline replacement project. The streets are dusty, wide and hot, in any 100 metres I had some sort of conversation with men sitting outside and invitations to coffee or tea.
I walked west through a mixture of post ‘93 flats and dunes and children. By the time I clambered down the dunes onto the beach, I was accompanied by a couple of people and by the time I left the beach an hour later, we were a gang of about 15. No one spoke English; I have 50 words of Arabic. They joked about becoming suicide bombers. I frowned and tried to say that maybe a gun was better. The level of discussion was certainly not sophisticated.
Back across the dunes into the western edge of the oldest camp, Mo’askar Shatee Beach Camp. Narrow sand-filled alleys, single-storey, continuous walls, built 50 years ago too cheaply. The private open space to each one or two room dwelling, was an open passage about 5 metres long by 80cm wide. The eastern edge of the camp towards the town, probably built with more adequate foundations, had second storeys added. I had conversations every 100 metres and often tea. It is less expensive than water. Drinking water everywhere in the strip is bought from donkey carts in swappable cubes. Very hot and getting tired by 3.00.
I went to two markets, one fresh vegetables and fruit, donkeys and mules and quite tough people; the other more like a traditional souk. There were three or four kids per adult, earning a few shekels a day, and the usual pestering for photos from stall holders and children. During the last two years, anyone with a camera must seem to be “press” and might bring their situation to the attention of the outside world. All Palestinians and the Left in Israel use this word situation. Most Israelis, however, call it War. During my four days in the strip, people gave me information, either emotional or sober and calm. With only one exception, it was always assumed that I was already “persuaded”. One very fat man in the market blocked my path and lectured me. I kept telling him to ask me first why I was here. He just talked through me. I gave up and moved on. A boy, grabbing at my arm to come with him, eventually got me into a temper. I turned on him. Perhaps I grabbed his arm. He was cleaning vegetables with a kitchen knife and answered me very logically by bringing his knife up at me. I did my roaring act, which I had found effective in the past. The market men shouted at the boy and everything calmed down again. Apart from a few pebbles thrown, this was the nearest I got in three days to anything serious.
“No thanks” is not understood. One has to flick one’s head up and click one’s tongue without turning to the seller. After a delicious sha’warma in the street I went home to the Sheikh Radwan district, having covered about half the city. Supper of sea bass or something similar after a nap. The family has a great cohesive feeling. Before the Intifada, their friends and family were accessible from all parts of the Strip. Travel is now one big hazard. There is a full curfew again in Ramallah.
Normally, servis taxis with specific destinations fill up within minutes. I sat for an hour, waiting for fellow passengers. This reflected the numbers who could afford 4 shekels – 55 pence – to get to work at Khan Yunis. There has been trouble at the checkpoint at Netsarim settlement and it is closed. So we took the coast road past beaches and straw shelters, kids in the surf, then inland via Deir el Balah through date palm groves to Kfar Darom checkpoint and a kilometre of trucks and a few servis taxis. Nothing moved for an hour. I got out and wandered in the sand among the vendors. When things started moving, I tried to find the car. It was gone. A few minutes of worry until they found me. The checkpoint consisted of massive concrete cubes across the sand, two high cylindrical concrete towers with slots around the top for the gunners and a level-crossing barrier. Three hundred metres down the road there was an identical setup. The crossing closes for anything from one hour to four hours. Some days, it doesn’t open at all. The IDF game when they wanted to catch someone was to open the barrier, let the space between the two barriers fill up and then close both barriers. If it happens towards evening, it means sleeping the night in the open.
Most people were travelling for free in the open backs of trucks. So when the barrier was opened, it was a mad scramble to get through before it closed. The waiting was designed to humiliate and disrupt: no vehicle or person was checked for arms, bombs or anything else.
Khan Yunis made Gaza City look positively wealthy. It’s an oil rich city compared to Rafah. The border being closed, there is only one way in: through Kfar Darom, unreliable, and at times, dangerous. Generally neither the women nor the children go through Kfar Darom. It is the “end of the line” so everything is even more difficult than elsewhere in Gaza.
Arabic script is made for graffiti. Everywhere mixtures of drawing and scripts are – unlike Western graffiti – entirely legible to the uninitiated. A chain of graphics encircled the white plastered dome of the main mosque. There are two camps here, Shaboora that faces the settlements, and Gibna that faces the Egyptian border. Both are fronted by the IDF.
The last few kilometres before the Egyptian border are effectively Israeli. Both camps at Khan Yunis and Rafah are fingers projecting into this territory. The few streets are sandbagged to prevent the settlers shooting straight up them. I am told that the army vastly outnumbers the settlers. Palestinian villages are virtual prisons. The settlers have their own road network, partly new and partly taken over from the Palestinians. The beaches are not accessible to the camp kids. The kids differed from the beach camp: exposed to settler and army harassment, they saw themselves as young fighters. I was taken from one machine gunned or shelled wall to another, while they described their experiences. One boy took me to his house to see his father, who, it was said, had been shot and was dying. He looked very sick indeed and stared at me without taking me in. The family gathered and insisted I take a photograph. It felt very wrong, but there was always the assumption that I was Press and I might be able to help by publishing. From Rafah, I went back to the Khan Yunis camp. I was completely mobbed. The little ones gave me quite a few surreptitious hard pinches, pulls at my bag, and generally made life a bit miserable. At first, I looked surprised and laughed, but eventually I took to roaring. Things were getting out of hand. A teenager appeared out of nowhere on a bike told me to jump onto his crossbar and we peddled away, kicked and punched by little hands and feet for 50 metres before we lost them. The teenager was very apologetic and gave me his explanation: the kids really don’t like the Brits and the Americans.
At Kfar Darom, the servis was at the back of the queue at the checkpoint. It was nearly 6.00pm. A fellow passenger persuaded me to walk forward to the checkpoint. Near the barrier I saw an Italian water engineer sitting in his four-wheel drive talking to a Palestinian, complaining that he would rather at this moment be in Afghanistan. He said “My friend, Palestine is your destiny, not mine”. I asked him what would happen if I held up my passport to the watch tower and walked through. “Sure, you could do that. There is an 80 per cent chance that they would shoot you”.
I found a truck and the driver let me climb into the open back. Quite soon there must have been 15 of us. After half an hour of IDF barking down a loudspeaker and trucks starting and stopping, the barrier opened for all of 30 seconds. The IDF opened fire at us, bullets kicked up the sand. Within seconds, there was only four or five of us left in the truck, while he reversed hard in the sand. The truck got back to its old position, with a full complement of men. Suddenly, the barrier opened and the truck engines raced, but not fast enough to clear the backdraught of sand dust. We were bright yellow.
To Tel Aviv and our old friends and then to London
PAL Notes 36
From Jerusalem to Ramallah with Clemens where we went straight to a great party, in spite of the night curfew. All but one bar in the town is closed.
Yom Kippur. Full curfew. Theoretically this is the first official day at BZU. These 24 hour curfews are weird, all institutions must close. A few shops outside the centre leave one of the steel shutters unbolted and open a few inches. Children are in the street. Cars do large detours to avoid Israeli patrols. However, there is always the threat of meeting a patrol with the “right” to shoot – one is breaking their law.
Sections of the four-metre high roadblocks at Sourda have been worn away by trucks. For the first time since I arrived I could sit in the Mercedes servis and be carried through the Sourda roadblocks back from BZU, – creeping across with engine revving, destroying the clutch, the chassis grinding across the top of the rubble
The Department appears somewhat unprepared for students. With time so short I suggested something simple on campus, such as a single person apartment behind the small clinic building, as a site.
An exchange of fire during the night. I’m worried about not sleeping. It’s too hot. A curious notion entered my head I was thinking about the Palestinian somewhere outside, and thought, “Well, he is doing what he knows best and I am doing what I know best.”
18 SeptemberSetting off for BZU my neighbour Nahed called me back. An IDF soldier was burned by a Molotov yesterday, thrown onto a tank in Al Amari refugee camp. So, another full curfew.
I spent the morning writing a lecture. Adah went to Al Haq to do some editing work.
An 11-year-old playing in the street has just been shot. Later we heard he was killed.
During curfew Amira took us to see a flat she is thinking of renting. This very courageous Israeli journalist lived for some years in Gaza and now lives in the West Bank, writing every day for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Her reports are often twisted or softened by the editors, but are nevertheless powerful. Her book about the first Intifada is frightening, but moving reading. Both her and my parents were communists in the ’30s. Hers remained so until they died. We share an antipathy to the racism implicit in Zionism as now practiced by the state.
Amira thinks that most of the shots we heard today were either rubber bullets or tear gas fired at stone-throwing boys. In the evening we heard that a Palestinian killed himself and an Israeli policeman. So for sure the 24-hour curfew will continue. The emotional chaos the closures cause to both staff and students is quite as serious as the physical disruption.
19 September At 9.00 am curfew was confirmed. I went into town to look for a chicken for supper. I asked a man if he knew anywhere which might open up to sell me a chicken. He took me a few doors away, unlocked a huge padlock and sold me two chickens. He was the butcher. Al Manara was empty except for two tear gas grenades
The 1 o’clock news showed the bombing at the Allenby Street bus station in Jerusalem. Horrific as it was, Barbara Plett described the attack without using the word terrorist. Questioned, she agreed that this was terrorism, but followed immediately with a short description of the complete frustration politically and militarily which leads to such acts. We are waiting for Sharon’s retaliation.
Again this afternoon, I went looking for beer and olive oil. Nothing was open. On my way back I heard a loudspeaker and screeching wheels. The few boys out and about dived into doorways. I was just off Clock Square in a small street, a yellow Ford person carrier, the type used as a servis, came around the corner, followed by IDF armoured cars. The car stopped, soldiers jumped out and without hesitating fired two tear gas grenades into the car. I was about 20 yards away and the gas caught me very badly. Inside the car it could easily kill.
Friends arrived at 7.30; they had been next door since 6.00. Amira rang at 8.00 to warn us to stay inside. The tanks were moving into the centre again. At 10pm we called for a taxi. Our friends have left, walking home, avoiding the centre. Switched on the news just now. The tanks have gone into the Mukata. From the balcony I could see the tanks hear their walkie talkies as they moved around us.
The giant bulldozer moved in and has been shoving digging, pushing and bashing the Mukata compound. The IDF talked to Arafat through loud speakers.
We sat on the bedroom balcony again, watching and got to sleep at 4.00. At 5.00 am, I woke up to find myself standing on the floor next to the bed. A massive explosion echoing through the mountains and, in the half dark, a large black cloud coming from the compound. Adah and I had climbed the rubble to look at what they were doing in the Mukata a week ago. A lot of the perimeter wall had been rebuilt, the concrete frame of a large building was already standing, and prefabs had been brought in, presumably to house some of the displaced people. Amira says that people were warned there would be a big one coming.
Ambulances have been the only things on the streets. The weather is warm and the windows were open in every room overnight. The only window that was closed was shattered. A massive bomb has just hit the old British prison building, used as administrative offices and dormitories. It has disappeared from the skyline. Rifle fir
PAL Notes 37
Mukata demolition continues most of the night. A long trail of smoke from it in the morning.
The IDF issued a warning that they would demolish the conference centre building next to where Arafat is holed up at midnight.
Just after midnight sounds of a jackhammer like a slow deep voiced machine gun together with sounds of tearing and ripping but no explosions.
Looking towards the town centre and along the valley, see signs of stirring, people on the streets, building barricades and ambulances manoeuvring in to position at various points. Whistling started taken up all around us.
We started up to Al Manara and bout 100 metres away found a dozen young men building barricades. Nearer Al Manara the stone throwing was getting under way. A young woman told me that a peaceful demonstration at 11pm was dispersed by tear gas. Army vehicles with headlights, searchlights and bullhorns were circling and charging about in Al Manara.
The shabab (youth) were racing around with handfuls of rocks. Shots were fired. I stood very still with the camera. The hail of stones was heavy. There were shots and I saw a guy I had seen earlier wheeling a steel barrow up the road fall. He was dragged away. There was a lot of blood on the road and one of his mates said he had been hit in the head. He was dead.
Woke up shattered from the noise of demolition which continued all night and well into mid morning. My lack of conscious reaction to last night’s violence found its outlet in wild nightmares.
Later in the morning went up to the Medical Aid for Palestine building and sat in on an ISM meeting planning a demonstration for the afternoon.
In the afternoon we met a group of around 50 internationals. The plan was to do a symbolic peaceful march to take water to the Mukata where Arafat’s people had all services cut. We walked slowly north up Irsal towards the Mukata and within minutes confronted 8 jeeps and 20 or so soldiers. We expected tear gas and had cut onions with us.
The atmosphere was unusual. Most of the soldiers were standing in front of the jeeps, their weapons diagonally across their bodies. IN other situations they would have been inside the vehicles or with guns chest or shoulder high aimed at our heads or bodies. We advanced slowly while the bull horn bellowed in Hebrew and Arabic. We finished up in contact with the soldiers. There was a lot of shouting and chanting but disciplined and non violent. We had asked the shabab to stay away. Did the soldiers sense this? They didn’t look frightened and again for the first time for months people were engaging the soldiers in conversation. Apart from two soldiers the only aggression was from the camera crews who pushed and elbowed us to get their shots.
When it was clear we were not going to move back, the soldiers got their orders and lined up moving together with jeeps and pushing us back.
Last night and today have achieved something major; the curfew is broken.
PAL Notes 37
A curfew lift.
On my way back from the market in Jerusalem Street 30 metres from Al Manara there was a lot of commotion. About 10 men came racing out of the square. Then something unprecedented happened. Two APCs completely battened down, their machine guns swinging on top, came a full speed (still slow) out of Jaffa Road (one of the radials off the square) and around the square. Unbelievably 20 or 30 kids were keeping up with the APCs and pelting the armour with small rocks. The noise was impressive. The chase was maintained for 50 or so metres up Nablus Road. By the time I caught up the APCs had disappeared. The kids were doing a kind of victory dance.
About a minute later two jeeps with headlights on came towards the kids. Nothing was said but rocks were gathered and thrown towards the vehicles which stopped just out of range. Another 10 seconds and the jeep doors opened, 5 seconds and they closed. Then they started reversing before doing 3 point turns. Finally they stopped 300 metres away facing towards Al Manara but the centre belonged to the kids. The jeeps left. I came back and told Amira. The story will appear in tomorrow’s Haaretz.
PAL Notes 38
Only yesterday and I already can’t remember what happened.
We read in bed earlier than usual, leaving Amira banging away at her machine in the living room.
Two nights ago when I was recording the sound of the jack hammers demolishing Arafat’s place, Adah come out next to me, she wanted to bang pots and pans in protest or maybe in competition. I discouraged her: I was after the hammer noise.
This time, however, it seemed appropriate and we banged a frying pan Amira joined us, with a rather more sophisticated beat and a tremendous whistle. Within minutes, rhythms were being picked up from one end of town to another, post-modern compositions being scored. The mosque below (we learned later) had joined in by making an announcement. We got dressed and a group of us went up to Al Manara.
There were maybe 50 people and every conceivable surface was being banged with things from spoons to uprooted railings. Fires were lit with rubbish and tyres and the contents of the street containers. The IDF were stationed in a row of jeeps facing up Irsal about 250 metres away, with headlights on. In Al Manara real numbers started gathering, men, women, children, the elderly, and the shabab. Families had come out with the contents of their kitchen cupboards. I had brought up a pocket full of soup spoons. The frying pan proved useful. Adah was on the TV news. The frying pan also made a great sound on corrugated iron walls and steel lampposts. The noise was terrific and in the light of the various fires, it was exciting and heart lifting. First the shabab and then the demonstrators in general started a slow movement towards the jeeps. By that time, I would guess, there were close to a thousand people. Burning containers pushed down the road, huge steel objects, became communal drums, beaten by up to a dozen people at a time, quickly knocked into unrecognisable shapes in the flickering light. Every metal street sign was occupied by a percussionist. A sort of wild mardi gras. The vanguard seemed to pulse forward in little mad rushes and then retreat for a few minutes before advancing again with howls and swirling slingshots.
This went on for half an hour or so before the IDF decided that the rocks were falling rather close – the vanguard, outstripping the others, had been busy with slings. First came stun bombs, which stopped most people. Then the shooting started. A hard core of shabab seem determined to be martyrs. They dance in the middle of the road. I told one of them that I would quite like to see him at the next demonstration. He shrugged and rushed out into the road again. We retreated back to Al Manara where the party was still going.
Over the next hour, I was greeted with great warmth by a lot of young people I got to know earlier in the year. We got home at 2.30 having witnessed another nail in the 24-hour curfew coffin.
We were woken by a young guy selling newspapers we did not want. Bloody bully. We saw him beating up a little companion in the road.
A little later, we came out to find a man hiding below the steps, terrified. A tank had “chased” him into our yard; his bread cart had tipped over. There were loaves everywhere.
Another demonstration at 6.00 pm. The main demo was headed by Mustafa Barghouti, the progressive leader of the movement for civil society and grass roots activism. Banners, chanting and moving on foot, but not very far, as the army really didn’t want us going in the direction of the Mukata. In Al Manara a group sat in a circle, chanting and clapping. This was Fatah. The shabab in Al Manara tried a repeat of last night, by banging railings, water tanks and street signs. They gave up.
The curfew was lifted, and I went to BZU, taking the roads winding around the wadis.
We eventually got about 20 out of 50 students together to give the introductory lecture. The women outnumbered the men by two to one, sitting at the front and asking most of the questions. Curfew was re-imposed at 3.00. It was a short day, but fortunate for me – my back is shouting.
There is to be a candlelit curfew breaker tonight.
PAL Note 39
I put my back out on my way to the demo last night, and I have been lying flat out since then. A medic turned up, gave me some magic and I am up and about again. It is a second day of full curfew so am not getting into BZU. In the town, many people are ignoring it, which makes for dangerous confrontations.
5.00pm. I rushed outside at the sound of two blast bombs and an APC on the move in front of the house. Soldiers chased someone across the terraces in front of the house. One soldier came out to the middle of the road and aimed at the kids. Adah shouted at the IDF to stop shooting children. .
The soldiers stopped two cars and took the keys. A friend’s brother was in one of them and overheard one soldier say to the other, “take the keys. Don’t you want a Renault Sports car?”
The shabab are still trying to reoccupy the centre. There are demonstrations two or three times a day now.
We are waiting to hear what Hamas will do after Israeli assassinations in Gaza.
PAL Note 40
Noises of occupation and curfew all day. The metal banging started and went on for much of the evening.
Ellen’s birthday; Finn rang before we could ring her.
The curfew is still in force, but I found a servis at Al Manara and waited 20 minutes while it filled up. Most of the passengers were going to Birzeit village, not the university. The route was magical, through the dirt tracks and roads half way up the side of a series of wadis, in great twists through the hills, giving new panoramas every couple of minutes. Steel debris and large rocks everywhere. We do the most skilled slaloms and only once had to get out to shift a boulder. Streets are strewn with “shabab” ammunition; parallel actions are going on every day.
At Sourda, we got out of the car to raise the suspension an inch or two over the road block, already partly worn down from three to two metres. We climbed the block and got back in, and repeated the performance a mile later at other end of the road block – a ditch.
There were a few hundred students on the campus, registering and chatting. They are all living in Birzeit village and thus not breaking the Ramallah curfew. In front of the union building, an impromptu demonstration set off to the edge of the campus overlooking the approach road below. There was the IDF in two vehicles. They left.
For a few hours, I sat at my desk, working on the lectures, with the door open and anxious but friendly students drifting in an out for chats. Not much I could tell them about the timetables or the programs. But the time wasn’t wasted. They were clearly as interested in whom I was, as in what was in store. I sent those in the third year off to draw the site of the first project. But it is chaos here. My time here may be a series of improvised teaching sessions. I have no computer in the office. There is a staff strike. Everyone has been on half pay for about 18 months and even that cannot be paid on time. There is a risk of the University grinding to a halt without additional funding from outside.
Getting back to Ramallah was more difficult. First I had to go to the village and then bum a lift. Half an hour after getting home, there were two shots and a scream of brakes outside. I rushed out with the camera to find a jeep and a yellow Mercedes taxi servis and lots of shouting in Hebrew. I started taking pictures from the front steps. Three more jeeps arrived, the occupants of the servis were lined up and documents taken. Adah, beside me, went back in, got her knitting, sat on a plastic chair and watched, saying nothing. Madame Defarge. Unusually she let me embarrass ourselves by doing the shouting, in both Hebrew and English. It all lasted about 20 minutes. But before they went, two of the soldiers called over to me, posed in the open door of a jeep and told me to take photograph. Quite proud of myself, I shouted back in Hebrew, asking them if they thought they were on holiday.
A demonstration in Al Manara in the evening. A dozen or so kids were playing with fire, kerosene or petrol torches before the march itself reached the square and circled through the streets. These evening demos are becoming like ‘passagiato’ in Italy. One not only meets friends, but is introduced to new ones.
At Al Manara, a degree of organisation instead of the usual anarchy. Fatah men lined up with their backs to the jeeps. They held hands in a chain across the road. Various Palestinian personalities stood chatting. I think the idea was to try to approach the soldiers and have a “conversation”. I was taking pictures. I felt a very hard bang on my forearm, which was across my stomach. Can anyone explain this? I felt it first, then I saw it? A rubber bullet travelled across the road towards me. I was knocked backwards a step, but stayed on my feet. Being a possessive old bugger, my hand tightened on the lens barrel.
I turned to run, other shots were fired – I learned later, all tear gas canisters. Only one rubber bullet. Everybody was running. I found myself going into the gas cloud. I ran, shouting “my arm”. But my shirt sleeves were rolled down against the mosquitoes and perhaps people assumed that I was collapsing because of the gas because people picked me up by my arms and legs and went on running. Nightmare. As they ran, they were shouting for an ambulance. I asked to be put down, but they said they couldn’t because we were still in a gas cloud. By the time I was in the ambulance, I was aware of commotion and pain, but not much else, and as they trolleyed me into the hospital, I must have passed out. When they got my shirt off, I saw a lump the size of half an orange sitting on my arm. I suddenly saw Adah’s face. I was put out because I thought one’s loved ones were supposed to exude love and tenderness. How naïve. Adah was angry, “Well, what happened?” Standing next to the trolley was a guy, Mahmoud, one of those who carried me up Al Irsal. He stayed with me for the next couple of hours. Short, tough looking and lovely. He suffers from asthma and is apparently often brought to hospital after a gas attack. There were two phone calls to the hospital. The man on the phone wanted to send me flowers and told me he was from the president’s office. It turned out to be Arafat’s office. Adah was hissing into my ear that I should not allow myself to be used politically. Later I found out they had been filming me as I was carried to the ambulance.
1 OctoberI’m back in the university.
Television pictures of me being carried along got onto Al Jazeera. I get even more “welcomes” from street traders and students.
The IDF – apparently under US pressure – left Arafat’s compound.
PAL Notes 41
The IDF are still roaring around the residential streets, tanks belting along between the cars. Any cars on the road don’t dare take chances and get out of the way, bouncing onto the pavement.
First formal lecture that I have ever given – on design theory. A bit late in life, I find it intensely interesting. Whether it should come first, before a student gets a fist around a pencil, is another question. I will be giving eight weekly lectures and mugging up like crazy before each one. The first one went well.
The Israelis went into Gaza yesterday. A missile went into a crowd. They closed the checkpoint at Sourda. Hundreds of staff and students waited around in the morning to see if it would be opened. It’s as if the army, nervous about their own devastation, fears that tempers here will reach breaking point for what it has been doing elsewhere. At 11.30 I tried again to get through and found a servis willing to go via a mountain route. We passed through rough landscape into the hills, close to the Israeli army camp bristling with tanks and then Beit El, a Jewish settlement of neat red roofed houses on the hill. My companion told me that it is expanding every year, like a part of a necklace round the North and East of Ramallah. We were very close indeed, 200 metres away from the place, surrounded by wire and high powered lighting. Either side could kill from this range.
In BZU my studio session had been cancelled, but I spent a productive four hours with individual students in my office. Still no computer. A lot of embarrassed faces in the department, particularly since as second year co-ordinator I am supposed to put all assignments, markings, and appointments etc on the university internal web site. It is called Ritaj and is impressive, in theory enabling work to proceed even when we are closed down by the Israelis. In practice, this works with some departments who use text books and set written work.
On the way back, I met Hosam, who runs the print shop in the students’ union building. He and his brothers also run a print shop overlooking Al Manara. Now I have an open invitation to take my camera up there. It’s like the presidential balcony from which I have a bird’s eye view of the deeds of all parties. Hosam explained why Sourda was closed: the IDF got fed up with the fact that the disruption at Sourda was diminishing as the trucks gradually ground down the height of the excavations.
Went with Omar to see his new flat which is huge, still under construction on a ridge out of town. He explained that the concept of starter homes does not exist here; you put a down payment on what you will want in 10 years time. He is single and will move into the flat in two months and will be married within another six or nine month. In answer to my question, he told me I would be the first to meet her when he knew who it would be. I have promised to do a drawing for his kitchen. .
Clemens arrived back from hiking in the Tyrol with Bassam and brought Glenfidich which we heavily dented until the early hours.
I got to Sourda this morning. I was very shocked and dare I admit it, angry. The Israelis had spent yesterday digging up hundreds of cubic metres of the main road. The hole was two metres deep, up to the cliff above on one side and a steep drop down the mountain on the other. The rubble was piled into the beginning of another mountain, right across the road, about six metres high. A water pipe had obviously been cut. The hole was a sea of mud. I arrived to find dozens of people scrambling up and over.
At last my timetable has been sorted. I will do four very full days teaching with a three-day weekend. This will give me time to recover and also to travel. Distances are small, but routes can be a nightmare and can turn 50 km into several separate journeys with hill-scrambling in between. Nablus is only 50 km away, yet can easily take six hours, and the method and route change by the week.
PAL Notes 42
Life has settled into a very (for me) tough routine, but enormously enjoyable. The students are enthusiastic and terribly under-taught: a direct result of the occupation. With tax revenue virtually dried up, teachers on half-pay, the on-off closures, the curfews and unpredictable delays at the various checkpoints and road blocks, it is easy to understand the absenteeism of both staff and students.
Into BZU by 7.30 on Mondays to set up, and from then it does not stop until Thursday evening. Curfew is at 5.00 pm, so I have to be careful to leave in time. Understandably, the servis will not risk the open roads for the few shekels they earn from BZU to the Sourda checkpoint or from the checkpoint into Ramallah.
I am year co-ordinator in the second-year design classes and teach the second, third and fifth years. I have two students working on their final project: in my mind, very inappropriately, a yachting marina in the Gaza strip. I harangue them about their elitism. They half admit to escapism.
I have four design studio periods of personal tutorials in my office. The studios are over-subscribed so the tutorials have been stretched; each studio should be about twelve students, I have up to 20, with a total of 56 students. Unlike the UK, a studio is run by one tutor. For juries one might be able to drag in another. If there is money (which there is not) one theoretically can ask for a teaching assistant if one is over-subscribed. I have been given Hanadi, a graduate student, as assistant for six hours to help cover colleagues’ studios while they are away at a conference. We are very much in tune and I think she enjoys our work together. I do.
Just spent 36 hours in Jerusalem, an intense time seeing friends. But we felt uncomfortable in West Jerusalem, in spite of being with wonderful people.
There is a bar which dares to break the curfew. But only one. I would love to describe how and why, but that might alert the wrong people. With friends we had a loud, beery time complete with argilla (bubble pipe). That being the form of smoking I permit myself. We knew a lot of the young ones there and, by the end of the evening, knew many more. One of the young men to carry me to the ambulance did not swear allegiance as a brother; he went one step further and told me that I had another son.
Njoki and her two friends sang acapella for my birthday treat. They started with Killing Me Softly and finished with Happy Birthday. I started by standing dumbly on the floor, but found it less embarrassing to do a sedate little dance for the whole e bar. The joke was that I was smoking the argilla and carrying the whole contraption with me as I went, a sort of dancing partner – amazing how a little beer loosens the joints.
Huda, the landlady, came to discuss with Adah our broken washing machine. She brought her friend, a woman in her mid 50s, who had some basic English and she and I had a sort of conversation while she waited for Huda. Suddenly, very vehemently, she came out with: “Dirty Jews”. I banged my chest and bellowed: “I am a dirty Jew, so is Adah”. When I had cooled a bit, I explained the difference. She was shocked but didn’t seem to understand. So I set out for her my grandmother’s death in Treblinka and pointed out that I made a distinction between Germans and Nazis. I thought that this would help her to understand. Desperately trying to make amends, she shouted “Dirty Germans”. If I hadn’t been so cross, I think I would have fallen off my chair laughing at her answer.
I looked rather grim I think and started shouting again. She backed out of the house repeating, “Sorry, sorry, sorry”. Huda came in and said that she did not generally volunteer information about us.
Adah cooked up a storm for nine people from six countries. It felt like London times, though parties tend to break up earlier; few taxis will brave the curfew as the night wears on.
PAL Notes 43
Ramadan for the last three weeks, families gather and eat together after sundown. To get back home, they would have to break the curfew. The Israelis lifted the 12 hour curfew, so that the town has been bubbling at night after the breaking of the fast at about 5pm. These are a vivacious people. It is bizarre, as characters they remind me so much of Israelis. As Adah says, their idea of fun and their self-deprecating sense of humour are similar; it is much as I remember my friends in Tel Aviv 40 years ago.
Amj, one of my brightest students, asked to be excused from the studio on Tuesday. He needed to get to a lawyer. Another student, a friend from childhood, had been arrested and was in Beit El, the Israeli army detention centre on the edge of Ramallah. Last night, the army had come into Al Bireh, and for an hour shot up a house. At the end of the hour, they announced by loudhailer, that anyone still alive should come out and his friend emerged. He had been alone in the house because his father was in Amman having an operation and his mother had gone to visit him.
For the last three weeks, we have been the only town on the West Bank not occupied and not under curfew – too good to last.
Last night we heard that the tanks were back and a 24 hour curfew re-imposed. We had been expecting it for some days and our fridge is full.
At 4 am there was an almighty thunder storm. It took us a minute or two to realize that it was not tank guns and explosives. Then at 5 am sound bombs were exploded to wake us up, followed by the Israeli version of the Town Crier, touring the streets in their armour announcing “Mana Ta’jawwal”: curfew.
The killings go on day after day here. CNN will report each civilian and military death of an Israeli and repeat it hourly, yet the continuing and greater death toll of Palestinian civilians is mentioned only in passing. A bullet was fired through the heart of an 8-year-old coming out of school into a road in which children were throwing stones at a tank. Not reported on CNN. In all the time I have been here I have only once seen a stone-thrower get within hitting distance of the Israeli soldiers. In the first volley, the boy was shot.
When the soldiers are inside their armoured vehicles the kids cannot hurt them. By getting out of the jeeps, they make themselves vulnerable, they can then “legitimately” defend themselves, lethally.
The road block at Sourda has been lengthened. Each time they change the position of the blocks, the IDF dig up another section of road to make the barrier. They have built two new road blocks nearly 2 km apart in these last few days The weather is turning, and in the wind and rain on the exposed mountain it can be very unpleasant As I walk past, I am looking at perhaps 20 to 30 men lined up against the cliff face, waiting to have their papers checked by radio. Yesterday, there were between 60 and 80 men lined up. I no longer dare to confront the soldiers. In addition, I think they have also been instructed not answer questions or enter into conversations with awkward or inquisitive foreigners.
Earlier this week, I had been invited by the architectural students to break the fast with them in one of the studios. It was a lot of fun. However, it did mean negotiating the check point back to Ramallah in the dark. Being challenged in the dark and beckoned into the tank’s spotlight, made my two Palestinian student companions a little nervous. We had our story ready and I did the talking. Soldiers on the ground make up the rules as they go along. This time I was told that the checkpoint had closed an hour earlier. I pointed out that because of Ramadan, there was no curfew and that we had to get home after the fast, and we had the choice of getting through or spending the night standing in the dark. If I had been a Palestinian I think I would have been told to stand there until in the morning. We went through.
A week ago, Adah made dinner for a house full including two visiting jazz musicians from the US. Now we have an English trombone player, Camilla, staying with us, while she tries to run workshops here and in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. She is less than lucky. In Beit Sahour she lived under full curfew and within 24 hours of getting back here, we are revisited by the curfew.
Lamis, is back from the States and Peter, Nahed’s partner, has passed his exams in Germany and is also back. Clemens too is just back – from a conference on the Middle East aquifers and the conflicts they engender. So the courtyard community is at full strength and socially I expect to have a ball, notwithstanding the latest incursion here.
Adah and Camilla have just arrived back from a bit of shopping. Three APCs and soldiers instructed them to get back in the house. No warning shots, so the curfew is not being strictly enforced. However, the jazz concert tonight is of course cancelled. No organisation can take the responsibility of inviting people into the street under curfew.
At BZU, we are into a rhythm of hard work and the curfew could again play havoc with the teaching and project programs, which get tighter every time the university has to close. It cannot be squeezed any further.
PAL Notes 44
The 24 hour curfew lasted 3 days from 29 November and when it was lifted on Sunday night the town centre was like Carnival for a few hours.
On Monday I tried to get to BZU but the IDF shut down the Sourda checkpoint. It opened on Wednesday, 4 December, by which time most of the students had given up and gone back to their towns and villages. Another week lost. One cannot settle to anything.
A third year student came into BZU by the mountain road from Jawwal. Walking past a mobile checkpoint, he was passed by a servis, which had been stopped by the soldiers and allowed through. Seconds later he heard shots. An old woman in the back of the car was killed. The papers say that she was 95 and that the soldiers said that they had shouted for the car to stop. These are large heavy old Mercedes, more than likely the driver heard nothing.
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine building in the wadi below us was shelled and ransacked in the spring and it has been empty since then. We have been looking down onto its shattered windows for months. Recently, it was occupied by a branch of the PA police. My guess is that those members of the DFLP who are not in prison would feel it foolhardy to come back. Tonight we scrambled out onto the balcony to watch a gun battle in front of the building. A lot of shouting, no ambulance, no injuries. It turned out to be a protest by a group of men from Qalandya refugee camp, relating to a police raid in the camp.
During the days of Sourda closure we helped Amira move flat.
The holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan has been cut from a week to two days. BZU is now running a six-day week, trying to make up for lost time, but we feel less and less in control and everything is half done.
Supper with a Rudayna a fellow teacher and friends. Omar and Inge also there. Omar played the oud beautifully, another played guitar and Camilla pulled out her trombone. The food supply never stopped, nor did the music. The interior was a surprise, serpentine snaking spine wall, with changes of floor level separating what amounted to themed spaces. It worked beautifully.
Omar and Inge stayed overnight with us. He took us to see his buildings. I am getting a late education and can see the attraction of the method of design, raking angular and shallow curved collisions, with very “impure” material changes. The geometry has an internal logic, which sets aside structural necessity and replaces it with formal sightings
17 DecA student arrived late with a large plastic carrier bag containing his paper spanning structure project. At Sourda, the soldiers emptied the bag, flattened the model and handed it back, telling him they were looking for a bomb. The model was an A2 piece of paper intricately folded to span a maximum space. No enclosed spaces, nowhere to hide a pin.
I walked back through the two km Sourda roadblock with an ancient, very wrinkled Bedouin. As often with these “walking” conversations, the few monosyllables conveyed a great deal. He told me that for every Palestinian woman or child killed, two suicide bombers were made.
On another walk through Sourda, a Ramallah woman with two teenage children talked about transfer and the still daily killings in Palestine. She told me that she had wanted only two kids, but that she was glad that the village women were still having ten children. She was sure that the Israelis were trying to empty the country, but for every person killed or shoved across the border, there would be many more.
Tom was job architect on the El Al building when he worked in Israel 1959-61
Ramallah’s Piccadilly Circus – a traffic roundabout in the centre of town. Will refer to in future as Al Manara.
Tom lived in Canada as a child