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Thread: Eight days in the Occupied Territories - An Eyewitness Account

  1. #1
    Partridge Guest

    Eight days in the Occupied Territories - An Eyewitness Account

    Eight days in the Occupied Territories - An Eyewitness Account
    An original piece by Partridge

    Kids in Nablus flash the Victory sign.

    As some of you may know, I recently spent just over a week in the West Bank (Occupied Palestine). A group of about 25 Irish people went out (on an individual basis, not as part of any campaign) to see the situation for ourselves. Of course, we had to lie to the Airport Security and at Israeli Checkpoints and say we were travelling as tourists to the Holy Land - which is not entirely untrue, it's just not entirely true either!

    What we saw with our own eyes shocked us to the core - and none of us were excatly unaware of the oppression before we travelled.

    This is not an objective account of my experiences, it is an account of what I and others saw, and what we felt. We were on a 'political tour' organised by the wonderful multi-faith Alternative Toruism Group, based in the Christian Arab village of Beit Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem. We were based in Bethlehem, and every morning travelled to various places within the West Bank and East Jerusalem - all of which is Palestinian territory under occupation by the Israeli State. Every checkpoint, settlement, settler and Israeli soldier you will see in these pictures are on Palestinian land - not in Israel. The only time we spent in Israel was in Ben Gurion Airport.

    Day 1: Arrival in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

    I won't go into the trials and tribulations of our journey too much, just to say that it took an hour to clear passport control - due to it being 5am when we arrived, and there being 1000's of Jewish Pilgrims arriving from around the world for the holy Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

    After all but one of us cleared passport control, we found that one of our number (the only one who had been to the region before) was missing. After waiting around for about 30 minutes and some inquiries as to her whereabouts, we all had our passports taken off us, and were put in a room and questioned repeatedly as to our resons for being there, the relationships between us, where we would be going and so on. After about an hour of pointless questions we were eventually given back our passports and were free to go. "Welcome to Israel" indeed! We then boarded to bus and made our way to the hotel for some much needed sleep (we had spent over 24 hours travelling by this time).

    The view from my hotel window. In the red square you can see part of the Wall, and behind it is the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa.

    Day 2: Bethlehem

    When I awoke I found that most of the group had gone off to Manger Square (the birthplace of Jesus Christ), so I decided to take a wander on my own. Right outside our hotel is the Wall, so I just followed that, reading the messages people had graffitied on. My personal favourite was "Romans Go Home", a reference to the Life of Brian. Life of Brian references would keep cropping up, perhaps unsurprisingly given that we were in the Holy Land.

    Graffiti at the vehicle checkpoint leading into and out of Bethlehem to Palestinain East Jerusalem. Any Palestinian wishing to visit East Jerusalem, the third most sacred site in Islamic culture, and the most sacred in Christian culture (Bethlehem and its surrounding villages have a large Christian population) must pass through this checkpoint. They must also have permits, which are very hard to get especially for males - and last only three months. Even then (as I will detail from personal experience later), there is no guaranteed access.

    Of course we have all seen photos and reports of the Wall, but standing there, staring up at 25ft of grey concrete (some of which is being provided by an Irish company called CRH) and watchtowers - which annexes the agriculutural land of Bethlehem - was overwhelming, and I'm not afraid to admit that I had to choke back the tears. In the past year, the Wall has annexed Rachel's Tomb (a Jewish holy site), which has resulted in the bizarre situation that one house inside Bethlehem and next to the Tomb has been surrounded on three sides by this architectural monstrosity.

    The Wall cuts through Bethlehem, and Israeli watchtowers observe the comings and goings of the local population.

    Onr thing that particularly struck me about Bethlehem was the virtual abscene of an economy. Bethelehem, along with Jerusalem, is one of the most scared sites in Christian theological history. One would expect it to be flooded with Pilgrims from all over the world, rather like one sees in the Vatican - and after all the Vatican is only a centre for Roman Catholics, whereas Bethlehem as the alleged birthplace of Christ is a site for all christian denominations. But it was simply not the case. Tourists were few and far between, and most of those I talked to where staying in Jerusalem, and not Bethlehem which is a crucial point. A tourist economy cannot survive on daytrippers alone. To make matters worse, the Har Homa settlement pictured above plans to build hotels to house (presumably) Christian Zionist religious tourists. Who knows, maybe one day the Church of the Nativity will also be annexed into 'Greater Jerusalem' (as all of Bethlehem's annexed land is now euphamistically called by the Israeli State) and Westerners will never even have to see an Arab face in their time there. As it goes, the people of Bethlehem, and the majority of the Palestinains as a whole live on about €1 a day.

    More to follow...

    Last edited by Partridge; 10-14-2006 at 02:03 PM.

  2. #2
    PhilosophyGenius Guest
    Great work.

  3. #3
    AuGmENTor Guest
    How exciting for you. Musta been a really interesting trip. C'mon and put up the rest of it!

  4. #4
    Partridge Guest
    Well I've spent all day trying to sort out the photos first (digital cameras are confusing!). There's like over 500 of them! Not that I'll be posting anywhere near that number.

    And I still have about 40 to rename.... ho hum.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    I "took on" the anti-semitic thing... as did Kevin Barrett.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Is that the kind of wall they're going to put up between Mexico and the U.S.?
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  7. #7
    Partridge Guest
    Ok, so I can't compose a coherent narrative of my time in the Palestine, so here's some photos with some random thoughts about what I experienced.

    One Friday in Ramadan

    Palestinains queue at the Bethlehem Checkpoint on the second Friday of Ramadan in an effort to get to the Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray and/or work in Jerusalem. They queued from about 8am to past noon in the horrible heat. They day before they were told that all people over the age of 45 were to be allowed travel without special permits - this was not to be case. The age limit kept aribtrarily rising until it was "everyone over 60". It's hard to convey from pictures alone the terrible atmosphere at this checkpoint - IDF soldiers screaming through megaphones, sirens wailing, people being pushed back, denied entry even though they had permits, and the unprovoked throwing of sound bombs by the IDF causing panic among the elderly and wailing among the children. A day in the life of a Palestinian under occupation.

    Among other things at the checkpoint, I witnessed the disgusting spectacle of an IDF soldier pouring a bottle of Coke on the ground in front of the people waiting in the searing heat - this being Ramadan and most of these people being Muslim.

    Some men wait in the shade at the Bethlehem Checkpoint.

    Smoke billows from an IDF sound bomb - and the top of the sound bomb recovered by my mother. In all, between 10 and 15 of these were thrown during a two hour period. All were unprovoked - the worst I or anyone other international there saw (and my mother stayed at the frontline for the whole period) was occassional shouts of anger from Palestinians. After the initial barrage of 3 sound bombs, some kids (like aged 10 or 11) grabbed stones, but they were quickly stopped by older Palestinians. Yet the sound bombs kept coming. eventually, and for no perceptible reason, the crowd was driven back down to the bottom of the hill (see no. 5 in the figure below), then for reasons equally as unclear, after about half an hour, were allowed halfway back up the hill.

    The entire operation seemed to me to be little more than an excercise in humiliation and intimidation.

    On the 'Israeli side' of the Wall at Bethlehem (remember, this is all West Bank, now illegally annexed into what is euphamistically called 'Greater Jerusalem') Palestinian Olive Trees are left to die as their owners cannot access them.

    As an international I had no trouble crossing the checkpoint - my passport was barely glanced at. However, what I saw in the checkpoint terminal was horrible.

    People who had already passed through checkpoints 1 to 3 (3 being an X-Ray machine), who had valid permits (they showed them to us - and besides they would not have got that far without permits) were simply being turned away at the final (4) checkpoint. They were not being given reasons, merely 'not today'. Maybe one in every 5 or 6 were being allowed past.

    A nice message from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as you enter Bethlehem. Awww, isn't that sweet.

  8. #8
    Partridge Guest
    A Sunday in Hebron

    On Sunday we attempted to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Alas, it was not to be.

    An illegal Israeli settlement in the middle of Hebron. The Hebron settlers have the reputation of being among the absolute worst of their kind.

    In some parts of the Old City, Hebronites have been forced to erect wire meshing to prevent rubbish and stones being thrown down upon them by the settlers who live in the houses above.

    When we got to the checkpoint in the Old City, we found it was deserted and closed up for the day. So we went around the long way to the other Hebron checkpoint on the far side of the city. After explaining why we were there (ahem: "Christian pilgrims on a visit to the Holy Sites"), we were told by the IDF "Sorry, but we cannot guarantee your safety" - presumably they meant from the settlers, because every Palestinian we had met in Hebron (and everywhere else for that matter) was extremely friendly to us, willing to talk to us at length about their lives and willing to pose for pictures. The only hassle I got in the eight days I was there was from the IDF (who among other things boarded our bus and made us delete pictures of Palestinians in a 'holding pen' at a checkpoint from our cameras) and Airport Security.

    Needless to say, Jewish tourists and settlers had no such problems with entry. The picture above shows an IDF jeep escorting a Jewish tour bus out of Occupied Hebron - the sign on the side of one of the many such busses we saw was "Paid for by [some Jewish foundadtion], Los Angels, USA".

    Palestinian kids on a school bus passing through into 'unoccupied' Hebron.

    After standing around trying to negotiate our entry for about 20 minutes, we were eventually ordered to leave the area as we were 'creating a disturbance' - The 'disturbance' being that we were interacting with the locals. In the picture above, the IDF go to hassle some kids - this on the allegedly 'unoccupied' side of the Hebron checkpoint.

    Well we didn't get to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but we did learn a lot in Hebron.

  9. #9
    Partridge Guest
    Beit Jala & Herodian

    Palestinian men pass the time waiting at a checkpoint in Beit Jala, a village not far from Bethlehem.

    A couple of kids on a donkey at the Beit Jala Checkpoint.

    Armed illegal settlers from a nearby settlement pose for the camera. These guys loved having their pictures taken. (The woman is not a settler, but one of our group).

    A new illegal settlement in the shadow of Herodian, about 1/2 a kilometre from a Palestinian village. This settlement is illegal even under Israeli law (they have no planning permission, hence the temporary nature of the structures), yet they are still being protected by the IDF.

  10. #10
    Partridge Guest
    Bethlehem & Beit Sahour

    A Christian family stand in the doorway of their house in Bethlehem. When they foudn out we were here to see the Occupation, they invited us in, gave us food and had a chat with us. They stressed the point that Bethlehem is a mixed city, and that the conflict is not between Christian and Muslims, but between Palestinians and the Occupation. A point that I would hear repeated often in my random chats with people.

    Girls playing street football in Bethlehem.

    An Othrodox Priest, a PNA Policeman and a curious passerby outside teh Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.

    One thing that really struck me about Bethlehem was the almost complete lack of tourism. Given that Bethlehem is one of the holiest sites in Christian theology, I expected it to be flooded with pilgrims and sightseerers. However, what few tourists we did see all seemed to be staying in Jerusalem and daytripping to Bethlehem. Our group seemed to be the only tour group actually staying in Bethlehem (and our hotel was lovely, and cost like €30 a night!). I would urge any of our Christians (especially you Flash) to visit Bethlehem and stay at least a couple of days, spend some money and talk to the locals. In our hotel was a German Carmelite Priest (Fr. Reinher) who has been coming to Bethlehem every October for 10 years. He was real hardcore, at the checkpoint he was getting in screaming matches with German IDFers. He paid the women of a nearby Refugee Camp to hand weave Bible covers for his congregation, he wandered the streets at night looking for IDFers to get into arguments (at night in Bethlehem the IDF cruise the streets lifting 'suspects', which really reminded me of the way the British Army used to operate in Northern Ireland). And I've never seen a priest drink so much - and I'm from Ireland! Fr. Reinher, what a legend!

    Speaking of booze... (Advert in a pub in Beit Sahour).

    Needless to say, this being an Irish delegation, much of this was enjoyed. And it was actually not bad. But the Bethlehem red wine was much nicer (so much so that we totally depleted the hotel stocks).

    The ultimate in Christian kitsch. Available in a gift shop in Beit Shaour, near Shepherd's Field.

    A real cool dude in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. 11,000 people in less that 1/2km square of land. Why do Palestinians stay in these camps you might ask? the answer is simple - they have not given up hope of returning to the lands stolen from them in 1948. Many of the houses in the camp still have the keys of their old homes displayed in their doorways. The kids of the camp were great, in fact all the kids were great.

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