Sunday, January 04, 2009

Unhappy New Year

Making comments about Israel and Palestine on the Internet tends to be the most surefire way imaginable of getting loads of mad crazy people from the extremes of the debate from both sides to launch insane cyberhate campaigns against one.

But I cannot just sit here and say nothing about this appalling revolting vile murderous indiscriminate killing launched on the people of Gaza by the Israeli government. Not that it's any surprise that the Israeli government (any Israeli government) would decide to start killing Palestinians (apparently as a particularly disgusting murderous electioneering tactic, or perhaps just - just - a massive collective punishment). What is really sickening is the craven mealy-mouthed non-condemnations emanating from the so-called "International Community". All Bush has done is condemn Hamas for firing rockets, and has said nothing about the bombing of women and children in Gaza - like it's OK. They are only Arabs after all. (And the US has refused to sign a call for a ceasefire in the UN. Why? Because they actually want more deaths? I guess so. The EU has done sod all too, and where is that "envoy" Tony Blair? What the fuck is he doing?

And then there is the media coverage. I've watched this unfold on various TV channels, and all of them post the whole thing as some kind of Israeli "response", and just a self-defence. Why do we have to have the media (and I'm talking about the BBC, CNN, etc here) just parrotting the Israeli government line? We have that scumbag Mark Regev on our screens every couple of hours smoothly and calmly explaining that he sees the Gazans as victims too (well if you lifted the siege and stopped bombing and murdering them they might noit be quite such victims, Mark, you vile apologist for mass murder). It's not even remotely balanced, and anyway, why should there be balance? We don't ask our news channels to present the murderers point of view when there's a trial. Why now, when this massively heavily armed war machine is indiscriminately killing women and children, bombing mosques, schools, shopping centres, and universities, dropping bombs on one of the most overcrowded places in the world with no mercy, no thought for people as people, why now do we have to give prominence to the view of the aggressor? And of course Israel doesn't allow any reporters into the Gaza Strip, so we just have sanitized pictures from outside, of tanks massing.

It's disgusting, and barbaric and vile and a massacre. And the mass media is saying nothing. Nothing. Bastards, vile motherfucking bastards. I cannot watch TV anymore, it disgusts me so much.

I'd normally make an apology here for my intemperate language and for saying nothing light-hearted, but I won't. In fact I have moderated my language somewhat.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

De Facto Terrorists

Finally, an Israeli leader has admitted what has been obviously true for years and years - that he considers all Palestinians to be de facto terrorists:
Israeli military officials said that the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had approved a "limited operation" for southern Gaza, aimed at "terrorist infrastructure".

Israeli planes also attacked three bridges and the main Gaza power station, knocking out electricity in most of the coastal strip.
(from yesterday's Guardian)

And what exactly has bombing a power station got to do with rescuing a kidnapped soldier? Clearly nothing. Even the IDF can't come up with an explanation for that one. (The bridges, they say, laughably, are being destroyed to stop the kidnappers moving him around). Although, finally, someone did provide an explanation (and it's actualy the real one):

An Israeli army spokeswoman said: "During the night, the Israeli airforce hit three bridges in central Gaza and a power station south of Gaza City. Israeli forces entered the south of Gaza near the village of Dahaniya and the airport and they remain there at the moment."

She said the operations were designed to stop the kidnappers moving the soldier. However, security sources told Israeli media that the attacks were also motivated by revenge. "To exact a price for the kidnapping incident and to restore deterrence," one official told the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Aronoth

Collective Punishment. And what do the "international community" do? They urge Israel to "show restraint". Woohoo. Is anyone ever going to stand up to this government, this army and tell it like it is? Convict people of war crimes, insist on UN resoluations, that kind of thing? I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile, for the people of Gaza, more misery and pain and death and destruction.

But, at least somebody's happy:
Gazans have not begun to think how they are going to get through the coming weeks and months without electricity. The wrecked plant was only fully on line for three years and it will cost about £8m to buy and install new transformers.

There may be an interim solution. Israel provides about 40% of electricity in the Gaza Strip. It used to supply it all and may do so again, meaning that Israel's electricity company could make a handsome profit from the army's destruction
Chris McGreal

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Double Standards

The democratically elected Palestinian government are told they will not be talked to or supported or anything unless they “renounce violence” and recognise the state of Israel. Fair enough, perhaps. And I certainly have no time for Hamas and their tactics in the past. It’s clear there needs to be dialogue and discussion in order to get closer to some kind of just peace, and it seems unlikely that an organisation which doesn’t even recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist is going to be able to negotiate with it.

The new democratically elected Israeli government are welcomed to the table and feted by world leaders. Funding and investment is free to flow. Has this government been asked to recognise the State of Palestine? No. Has it, even more crucially, been asked to renounce violence? Has it bollocks. It is still as violent as ever, and the daily tally of Palestinians killed by the Israeli state mounts. Why are there these double standards?

No need to answer that question. We all know why there are double standards, and why there will continue to be double standards even if the Palestinians elect a party of neo-liberal Gandhis. The world will continue to shit on the Palestinians, and nobody in power will do the slightest thing about it. Indeed, it’s in Israel’s interests (and a fair few other countries) if Palestine dissolves in Civil War and implodes. It certainly looks like that’s the current intention of the “international community” (whoever they are).

Now Olmert wants to redraw the borders, ignoring the internationally recognised borders of the Palestinian State. As laid down in various UN Resolutions. How is this supposed to help anyone? Israelis fundamentally want safety and security (and I believe that while there are some scummers within Israeli society who want to annex Palestine and ethnically cleanse the territories and even commit genocide, the vast vast majority just want to live in safety). How is this supposed to help that? Israel will forever have on its borders a dispossessed angry bitter people, supported by tons of other people around the world who see the injustice of the situation, me included. Is that what Israelis want? It may be what Sharon and his ilk want, but it’s not, I suspect, what the average Israeli wants. Israel will always be a pariah state and the people living across the green line – fundamentalist settler or not – will always be hated by most of the world. Sorry guys, that’s your fate and that’s your future if you go along with this Olmert plan.

Blog resurrection

I have decided to resurrect this blog as I can no longer sit idly by and say nothing as the world’s media seemingly bows down to the idea that starving Palestinians because some of them voted for the wrong people is kind of an OK policy, and that the Olmert proposal to steal even more Palestinian land is the best way forward. (Of course, Israel still claims that the world’s media is against them, which is laughable. Even the BBC is seemingly just ready to kowtow to the Olmert/Sharon line – though I was glad to see recently that an independent inquiry had discovered what most non-blind people had been able to tell for years, that the Beeb is actually biased against the Palestinian cause). Anyway, whatever’s below this post and written before 2005 is stuff I wrote when I was in the West Bank, and everything above this post and written in 2006 and beyond is stuff I am writing from elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A note about this blog

The pieces below were written and distributed by email and in some cases published while I was living and working in the town of Zababdeh, near Jenin, in the West Bank. I wanted to publish them on a website of my own creation, but lack of creativity meant that I never got around to it. However, my discovery and use of (through my blog at ) made it clear that I could probably post them here with much less hassle.

I have posted them and datestamped them with the dates they were written originally. Unfortunately, that means they appear in the wrong order. I'd recommend reading them from bottom to top, starting with Patience.

Any comments would be welcome.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Macho Posturing

It’s been years since I have been violently shoved in the chest. That peculiarly macho act of aggression, usually a precursor to a fight or flight, a statement of dominance, I’d left behind in the playgrounds of my youth. It is such a boyish thing to do.

Returning from Jenin yesterday, we happened upon a so-called pop-up checkpoint. Usually a tank or an armoured personnel carrier pulls up and blocks a road, while soldiers check IDs and decide on a whim whether to let people pass or not. This one was not accompanied by the vehicle, though as everyone in the area knows it is not far from a military encampment. This encampment is close enough to our house for us to hear the low pitched grinding of tank engines as they come and go every night, bound for points unknown. Approximately 6 soldiers were visible, two sitting down in the shade, relaxing, the other four checking ID’s and stopping traffic. We joined the long line of cars, trucks and taxis waiting in the midday sun to reach the front of the queue. As we waited, a bedouin man on a donkey ambled past, along the line, skirting the road. One of the lounging two soldiers stood to check his ID too, the odd sight of a very young man, dressed in body armour and weighed down with high-tech weaponry, holding out his hand to stop an whiskery old man, dressed simply with the typical bedouin headdress, atop a donkey weighed down with bags of vegetables brought back from the market. Truly the meeting of the old and the new.

As we inched forward it became clear that no-one was actually being stopped from passing this checkpoint, no-one was being turned back. It was maybe a show of strength, a reminder, as if reminder were needed, that the army was still here, and still had total control over the population. Ahead of us a shared taxi full of men, women and children had stopped and the soldier checking it was aggressively forcing only the women to get out of the car. Only 10 feet in front of us, Ziad, Suzanne and I could easily see the fear and distress on the women’s faces. I left our car and walked forward, to see if there was anything I could do to help. Sometimes the presence of a foreigner is enough for the soldiers to tone down their actions.

I got to the car and the women outside pleaded with me to help. The soldier, who I could now see was very young and very aggressive looking shouted at me in Hebrew. I asked if he spoke English, and explained that I didn’t speak Hebrew. He came round the car towards me and shouted again, looking very belligerent. I stretched out my arms in the universal gesture of non-understanding. That was when he transported me back to the playground, pushing me roughly in the chest back towards my car. I took a step back and tried again “Is there something I can do to help? Is there a problem? Do you spea…” Another forceful shove accompanied by harsh tones. “What’s the problem?” A third shove and a gesture with the gun intended to convey that the shoving may now be at an end. I slowly walked back to the cab, feeling a whole mixture of emotions, from anger to amusement, from bitterness to resignation. It’s difficult to imagine a worse person to hand out weaponry to than a teenage boy, but unfortunately, all over the world, it is precisely these people that do walk around tooled up.

As I reached our cab, another soldier, motioned us forward. He took our IDs and had just begun inspecting them, when my new friend, flushed, possibly, with the success of his antler bashing shoves earlier, came over to us. The solider with our IDs, an Ethiopian, said something to him in Hebrew and he barked back at him. Ziad, our cab driver and friend who speaks Hebrew, told me later that the Ethiopian has told him that he should return to the other car and leave this one to him. The kid told him to fuck off, in that tone that the superior reserve for their perceived inferiors. It was fairly clear to me that despite the Ethiopian’s greater age, it was his skin colour that made the white kid feel that he was in charge here. He snatched our IDs from the African’s hands and came over to the passenger door, where I sat. I once again asked what the problem was, and spat something back in Hebrew. “He wants to know why you were interfering in military matters” said the Ethiopian. I told him that I was only asking if there was a problem, and if I could do anything to help. The kid pulled the door open and put his foot on the seat next to me, pushed his face an inch from mine, his gun pressing against me, trying to intimidate me. Unexpectedly I did not feel intimidated so much as mildly amused. The posturing of macho teenagers is not so much scary as comical – even (to my surprise) when they are carrying a gun. I wish I could say the same about Ziad. He sat motionless in the driver’s seat. Having spent 3 months detained in an Israeli prison without being charged for a crime, he knows that these young boys with guns have the power to destroy the cab, take his keys and toss them in a field, imprison him – or shoot.

Susie, in the back seat leaned forward toward the soldier and interjected. She protested about him being so aggressive and told him that he needed to remove his foot, since this was not his car. He glared at her and hissed angrily. Now it was my male instincts which reacted.. I returned an equally hard stare and raised my voice menacingly for the first time, saying, “That’s my wife.” He muttered something in Hebrew (later not-translated by Ziad, as being too crude for him to say in front of Susie). Suddenly, he threw our passports back in the cab slammed the door and kicked the cab. The Ethiopian waved us through, and also the other cab that was still sitting next to us, doors open, abandoned by the kid. A brief smile played across his lips. Then I realised the reason for the unexpectedly abrupt end to this brief encounter. The captain was coming across to see what was going on. Suddenly the surge of power that he had felt around these unarmed people, and his black colleague, was coming to an end, and perhaps he didn’t want us to be there to see it Or maybe he just wanted to make sure we didn’t complain. Either way we left, soon to be passed by the other cab, beeping happily.

I was left with feelings of guilt for the trouble I could have caused Ziad, anger at this jerk and the situation that gives him control over peoples’ lives and puts a gun in his hand, and frustration that I didn’t have the skills necessary to deal better with the situation. My conflict resolution specialist in the back seat gave me pointers on what to do, next time. What the Israelis are now calling "interference" by foreign observers, is really just questioning injustice. But they hold the guns.

Eyeless in Gaza

We wanted to visit Gaza to see Mostafa, a friend who we haven’t seen for 3 years. Israel and the Palestinian Territories are not that large, so in theory a long weekend would be enough to have a good amount of time there. Thus it was that on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, we set off for the Strip.

Initially everything went very well. We left Zababdeh, our village in the Northern West Bank, at 6.30 am and headed south. The trip from the Jenin area to Qalandya, which is the main crossing point between Ramallah and Jerusalem, can take anywhere from 3-8 hours. Before the current restrictions and Israeli shut down of occupied Palestine, it was a journey of just over an hour. Partly this is because Nablus lies between Jenin and Ramallah. Nablus has almost taken on an Atlantis-like mythical status. The only way in appears to be on muleback over a large mountain. I have begun to question whether or not it even really exists. So it is that one must skirt Nablus on the way south, which of course adds significant time to the journey. Then there are the ubiquitous checkpoints. There are three permanent checkpoints between Jenin and Qalandya, and an indeterminate number of temporary ones, set up in the middle of nowhere, for undisclosed time periods. This trip down was a breeze. Only the three permanent checkpoints were in operation, and at one of them we didn’t even have to get out of the minibus style shared taxi. At the second there was a few minute wait in the hot sun as the soldiers checked the van for whatever it is they check for. Always at these times, at least one of my Palestinian travel companions will turn to me and ensure that I am aware of what is going on “You see? You see what we have to go through?” Of course, I do and I don’t. I see and am appalled by the constant harassment and humiliation. But deep down, I know I can and will soon leave. I can’t imagine the thought that this life is indefinite.

Despite the checkpoints, though, and the circuitous route to avoid the Nablus-that-time-forgot, we were in Qalandya in two and a half hours. A new record. Maybe, just maybe, there really had been an easing of travel restrictions due to Colin Powell’s recent visit. It is difficult to know. The transportation hub of Qalandya was buzzing with life. I suspect it always does. It’s the main, and usually only way from north to south, from Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. If the Barak plan had gone into effect then the West Bank would be littered with Qalandyas – entrances and exits from every tiny bantustan set up under that offer, the offer that we are supposed to believe was incredibly generous. The mass of humanity shuttled themselves between minibuses coming and going from all parts of the occupied West Bank, watched over, ominously, by Israeli soldiers sitting high up in their tower in the middle of the action. We slithered down a hillside and crossed over to get a van to Jerusalem.
Qalandya Checkpoint

Only one checkpoint later and we were at the Damascus Gate to the Old City. A total door-to-archway time of about three hours. A miracle of sorts – although in reality only a relative miracle, a smooth journey that only took twice as long as it should have under normal circumstances, but half the time that it might have. We hadn’t expected to be here so early, but there is always plenty to see and do in the Arab quarter of the old city, so all was well. Plus we had a number of people to contact to ease our passage into Gaza, so now we had the chance to do it at our leisure. We called the Israeli border contact we had been given, to ask about how to skirt the long wait. His assistant told us that we would have to fax down our passport details. A bit of a hassle, but no major problem given the time we had available. We called again. “Gaza is closed today, but we’ll see if we can get you permission.” We waited, and then called again. “Only diplomats are allowed in today. I’m afraid you’ll have to try again tomorrow”
Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate - Jerusalem

We couldn’t give up so easily. We had lunch with two Israeli friends and then called a journalist acquinatnce who often goes into Gaza to report for the Dubai based TV channel MBC2. He told us that he too, along with all other journalists, had been denied entry that morning. A BBC camera crew had been stopped with him at the checkpoint and denied entry. All of them had protested, arguing that this was censorship and that the IDF must be planning to attack Gaza, and that as press they had a right to be there, to see what was happening. As a democracy and a supposedly free society, Israel ought to allow them access – unless of course they had something to hide. None of this worked and they were all turned away en masse. They had all contacted their various governments in order to protest, but were resigned to waiting until the next day to try again.

The next day we awoke in the Armeinan Quarter of the old city to the news that overnight there had been a major attack on Gaza City and Khan Younis, the two biggest cities in the Gaza Strip. Tanks, apache helicopters, F-16s in and above the crowded streets of the towns. The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world – over a million people living in an area of a few square miles. The potential for “collateral damage” in any operation against such a place is huge. At least 15 people had been killed in the incursion, and countless people were injured.

We called our checkpoint contact again. Again we were told not to come that we wouldn’t get in. The only people allowed in were diplomats and medical personnel. A small but significant difference from the previous day’s restrictions. We called Mostafa in Gaza, who sounded exhausted. No-one in the city had slept the night before as the noises of open warfare raged around them. We explained that we had been told that we couldn’t get in. He sounded desperately disappointed. “Please try. We need people to see what is happening here. Perhaps you can get in through Egypt.” From Jerusalem it would have been about an eight hour bus ride to get down to the Egyptian border, and then back up through Egypt to Rafah. Plus of course there were the imponderables – the border crossings, the checkpoints, and the possibility that at the end of all of that, we still would be denied entry and have to make the reverse trip for another eight hours.

We went through every possible scenario. Should we go anyway and be denied access? Because it was closed, there would be no service (shared) taxis from Jerusalem to the Erez checkpoint. We’d have to take a long bus ride to the nearest Israeli town and then get a private taxi down. And then of course, with 99.9% probability, come all the way back again. The Egypt route was out of the question, we didn’t have that kind of time. We had, by this time, become a small ad hoc group of the disempowered. One of our number, A Swedish woman representing the World Council of Churches, actually lived in the strip and was just trying to get home.

By now we had also learnt that if we were ever allowed in, we would have to sign two pieces of paper – the first a waiver essentially giving the Israelis the licence to kill us, if they so chose, and the second a paper saying that we were not members of the International Solidarity Movement and that we had had no contact with that group. We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but of course every one of us had some contact with members of ISM. We had become friends with them. The first paper was as a result of the new apparent Israeli policy of targetting foreign observers – be they journalists like James Miller, or those, like the ISM, like Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, who come to observe, stand beside injustice and try to relieve some suffering. The optimists amongst us saw this as the last flailings of a doomed occupation, the pessimists as the beginning of the end, the beginning of a concerted effort to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian Territories.

Ultimately we failed. Failed to get into Gaza, failed to see for ourselves what was going on there, and failed to provide the eyes that the world needs to observe the brutality of the occupation. Eventually, days later, and after a storm of international protest, journalists were allowed back. By that time I had returned to Jenin, after a short trip to Bethlehem. Jenin is seen by many as the wild end of the West Bank, the place where the struggle is at its most visceral. In Jerusalem, when I tell people where I live, I instantly gain a new respect, and a series of questions “How is it in Jenin?”, “What’s going on up there?”. It’s far from the cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem and as such is out of the range of most. It’s also the home of the fiercest on the ground resistance outside Gaza. The resistance fighters in Jenin still have power and influence, and still defy the occupying army. To my mind though, the occupation is more visible and more depressing in Bethlehem. Yes, there is a semblance of normality in that city, yes there are restaurants, and cinemas, and a bustle on the streets, but as you look above the city, on every hill, in every direction there are the settlements, brand new California-style condos, standing guard over Palestine, rubbing the noses of the people in the loss of their land. In Jenin this is not the case. While Jenin may be underdeveloped, under-regarded, under curfew, it still feels like Palestine.
Settlement above Bethlehem
Settlement looming above Bethlehem

The way home was even smoother than the way up. One of the permanent checkpoints was even unmanned, and at the most difficult to pass, we were waved through with barely a glance at our IDs. Perhaps the army had been forced to redirect its resources, its front line to Gaza. It speaks volumes about the situation and how it has squeezed people’s hope from them, that on passing the last checkpoint, the mood in the van was not one of relief, or of happiness, but of trepidation. Why exactly was it so easy to pass? Was something being planned? It remains to be seen.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Beit Sahour

Today, Friday May 9th at 12.30 p.m., more than 20 Israeli military vehicles drew up outside the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in Beit Sahour. Dozens of border guards, soldiers, and intelligence officers poured out of these vehicles and raided those offices. They took computers, discs, papers, every piece of data they could lay their hands on. They also arrested the three women who were in the office at the time. One, a Palestinian, works for the Palestinian peace organisation “Rapprochement”, whose offices ISM share. She has since been released. The other two women, internationals both, are still being held pending their deportation. One volunteers for ISM while the other works for Human Rights Watch and is in Palestine doing research on home demolitions. She was unfortunate enough to have been visiting the ISM offices at the time of the raid. In bare numbers, the loss to the organisation is 6 desktop computers, 3 laptops and countless discs. $10,000 and more than two years work. They don’t expect to ever have the computers returned to them. George, the Palestinian coordinator in Beit Sahour, told me that the information is of no value to the Israelis, but of course the loss of their office will have a temporarily paralysing effect on the organisation in the Territories. He affirmed that they will not stop working to observe and prevent army atrocities.

How is it that ISM, an organisation with 60 people currently volunteering in the Occupied Territories has managed to invoke such fear in the Israelis? What exactly are they afraid of? In less than two years of its presence here, the movement has welcomed over 1000 internationals from all over the world. From the USA, the UK, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, amongst others. 15-20% of the volunteers have been Jewish. The average age is over 30 – many are over 50 and there have even been volunteers in their 70s. They come from all walks of life, and come to support justice. Israelis too, have worked with ISM and have faced the same levels of violence from soldiers and settlers. It is this disparate collection of concerned individuals who have caused such consternation in the corridors of power in Tel Aviv.

Daily news comes in confirming the suspicion that the Israeli authorities want no more foreign witnesses to their actions in the Occupied Palestine. Yesterday a new policy went into effect that all foreigners entering the Gaza Strip must sign a waiver to absolve the Israeli army of any responsibility should they be killed or wounded while there. In effect giving the Israelis permission to shoot them. Three foreigners have been killed or critically injured by the Israeli army in the last two months. Now if we wish to go there we have to sign a piece of paper allowing the army to kill us. Of course the vast majority of foreigners entering the Territories are UN or NGO relief workers, teachers and journalists. One wonders how long before this policy goes into effect for the West Bank too, and how many of those relief workers and university teachers will decide to leave rather than give the army carte blanche to target them.

It seems difficult to escape the conclusion that the Israeli government is scared of non-violent resistance. Scared of witnesses to their crimes. Speaking to ISM representatives in Jenin and Beit Sahour itself this evening has been fascinating. Obviously downcast by the Israeli actions, they are still able to see the positive side of this development. Yousef, the Palestinian coordinator based in Jenin, is hopeful that this may result in a positive shift in Palestinian thinking towards the option of active non-violent resistance. After all if such a small organisation can have such a big effect, and can cause such disquiet in the higher ranks of the Israeli government, it must be doing something right. “Why?” Yousef asked me this evening, “Why are they afraid of peaceful resistance? We are not fighting, we are just writing”.

60 International observers and 10 Palestinian coordinators have scared the world’s 4th most powerful army into taking draconian measures to try and stop them. It’s a testimony to the effectiveness of their work. They will keep coming.

[Published on at ]

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Law and Order

Phase one of the “Roadmap” calls on both sides to halt violence. For their part, the Palestinians are asked to stamp out terrorist actions and to rein in the actions of the militant groups opposing the occupation. It seems, on the face of it, a fair enough request and condition for peace. In reality, however, it is hard to imagine how the Palestinians are supposed to actually accomplish this.

Police HQ
Jenin Police HQ

Today I visited the police headquarters of Jenin. The police headquarters of Jenin is a two story pile of rubble, and has been since Israeli F-16 jets bombed it into oblivion over a year ago. Nearby is a rock-strewn field where the jail once stood. A couple of blocks further away lie the ruins of the ministry of information and security. Most destruction happening from the air, finished off by shelling from tanks on the ground. Another building, the Jenin governorate offices, lies in a similar condition, official papers strewn around the rubble, the shells of computer terminals, a set of torn curtains blown into a tree by the force of the explosions when the air attack came. It is presumably through these mechanisms that the Palestinians are expected to weed out terrorists and bring them to justice.
Governorate Buildng
Jenin Governorate Offices

Yousuf, the former policeman who showed me around his old place of work and the other buildings, was at a loss to explain how this could possibly happen. There are no police now in Jenin – to be a policeman when the Palestinian Authority had control here, was to be respected, and, of course, armed – and to be armed once the soldiers moved in again was to be a target. Small wonder that the policemen who survived lay down their weapons and uniforms and took up other lines of work, whenever work was available. Not only are there no police, but there is no judicial system, no jails. As we drove around the city, I asked him whether there was a lot of crime now. Ever the cop, he shook his head mournfully and pointed out a car driving the wrong way down a one way street “Look there. You see there is crime”. I asked whether there were other kinds of crime - robbery, violent crime - as well as traffic violations. “We are not an angelic society you understand, but we are all suffering together. I think in such cases there is a kind of collective consciousness that prevents most crime on each other”

Ground Zero, Jenin camp
Ground Zero, Jenin Refugee Camp
Yousuf and Salah, his friend, took me into the Jenin refugee camp, made famous last year as the scene of the biggest battle of the current Intifada. Depending on who you talk to it was either a massacre, an operation to weed out terrorists, or a heroic moment of truth when Palestinian fighters fought back against the might of the Israeli army. Whatever the reality, it has carved a huge hole out of the camp and out of people’s lives. Deep in the heart of the mazy streets and narrow alleyways, there is suddenly a huge open space. 13 months ago the space was occupied by 400 houses, stores, workshops. 400 families scratching out a living in the midst of the longest running unsolved refugee crisis in the world. The camp stretches up the hillside, reminiscent of the favelas of Rio, and looks north towards the hills around Nazareth. Most of the families who live here fled the land that is visible to them from this vantage point when they were forced out of their homes in 1948. Now 400 of those families have been made refugees once again, displaced and split asunder, families who lived together in small spaces divided between uncles, brothers, grandmothers in other parts of the camp or the city itself.

A new road
A new tank-sized road in Jenin Refugee Camp
There are half-houses too. Corners of buildings ripped off as the tanks made themselves tank-sized roads through the camp. In some cases, gaping holes in buildings are covered by blankets, tied down but buffeting in the wind, covering living rooms and kitchens from the intensely public world of the overpopulated camp. We said our Salaams to Salah’s mother who has lost a third of her house to the tanks - rooms that are now open to the world, used no more, hanging out on to the newly formed streets, wires and pipes leading nowhere.

They took me to the “martyr’s cemetery” where the dead from the incursion were laid to rest. Two of Salah’s nephews, twins, lay side by side, born on the same day as each other and killed on the same day as each other. One grave is of a nine-year old girl whose body was never identified. In another graveyard nearby, lie others who have been killed by the Israeli army. One of Salah’s brothers, killed at 20 in the first intifada, and near the entrance, a 17 year old boy who was killed just last week, the latest “martyr” in a long and seemingly never ending line.

Iain Hook's office
Iain Hook's office and small memorial to him
At the United Nations compound a few hundred metres from the cemetaries, a small memorial has been constructed to another martyr of the occupation, Iain Hook, a British engineer who was in charge of the UN’s rebuilding efforts after last year’s events. He was picked off by an Israeli sniper hiding in a nearby building as he stood outside his makeshift office, the two bullets entering his back and exiting his abdomen. After his shooting, the IDF refused to allow an ambulance in, so his colleagues spent an hour creating a hole in the wall behind one of the huts so they could smuggle his body out for medical attention. They were too late.
Escape route
The hole in the wall

Since I have been here Jenin has been closed down more than it has been open. An ever-present curfew that even when it is lifted can be reimposed at any time. Today it was open, people going about their business uncertain of when the next shutdown will start. It has been open now for two whole weeks, and the people of Jenin are starting to hope that things are slowly getting back to what passes for normality. As yet, there are no restaurants open in Jenin – cooking large quantities of food is just too much of a gamble - only falafel stands remain in operation. Another of Salah’s brothers owns one such restaurant, but a tank has been parked outside it for months now at an impromptu checkpoint. He doesn’t know when he will get to even visit it again.

As we drove back into the centre of the town, we witnessed a number of traffic violations in this policeless place. Yousuf tutted from time to time, holding back his grief at the breakdown in societal norms. For the roadmap to survive the inevitable Israeli calls for its scrapping, it is now up to Abu Mazen to somehow stop the terrorists. Yasser Arafat has already been discredited in the eyes of the world for his inability to stop the attacks, despite the obviously abundant security resources at his disposal. It’s hard to see how the new prime minister will have any better luck at preventing this roadmap going anywhere but the wrong way down a one way street.

[Published in The Brattleboro Reformer]