Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign visit to Palestine
A delegation of 21 people (17 men, 4 women) from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign visited
Palestine from 20th to 30th June. Most of them were students, including some who were involved in the
election of Mordechai Vanunu as Rector of Glasgow University, but there were a few more experienced
people. As the Israelis control entry it is not possibly for political delegations to enter Israel/Palestine openly, we went in in small groups posing as ordinary tourists. We visited the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israelis are completely preventing outsiders from entering Gaza. We had a lot of interesting meetings, I cannot cover them all properly.
Getting around the West Bank can be difficult, since it is covered in Israeli checkpoints, including flying checkpoints which they sometimes put up, seriously disrupting traffic. In several places there are fixed checkpoints, where you have to get a bus or taxi to one side, walk through the security, and get a bus or taxi at the other side. The Israelis are normally stopping outsiders from entering Nablus, but our Palestinian contacts got us in through side-roads. Getting out was not easy, it was like getting on board
an aeroplane, going through metal detectors. We went through in small groups, being a bit vague about where we had been and where we were going, and e.g. avoiding wearing political T-shirts. Even so, the Israelis seemed quite surprised to see us, I was told "Do not enter Nablus again during your stay here".
In Ramallah, we met several people, including Rafid Husseini, a minister in the Palestinian Administration. It could be a matter of opinion how much you agreed with him politically, but he did come across as more open and honest about problems faced by the PA than most ministers in most governments, he admitted that there had been a lot of problems with corruption and mismanagement in the PA. I raised the Israeli pullout from Gaza. He said the PA did not ask the Israelis to come out of Gaza, they would prefer it if they came out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem first, he suspected some ulterior motive. We also met a representative of the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti, an important Palestinian activist, see: http://www.FreeBarghouti.org
One of the most dramatic moments in the trip was in Jenin refugee camp. Some
people from the camp were welcoming us in a community hall when a man wearing a
holster and a pistol quietly came into the room and started shaking hands with
the delegation. After a few seconds most people rose to their feet and started
applauding him, this was Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades and
one of the most wanted men in the Middle East. He came forward and made a short
speech through a translator, saying that he welcomed the role of internationals
in supporting the Palestinian struggle, and mentioned Rachel Corrie and Tom
Hurndall. The he took us on a short tour of the camp, and showed us houses
which they had rebuilt following the Israeli incursion. We met an old guy who
had a handicapped son who was killed in an Israeli house demolition, they hadn't
managed to get him out
of the house before the Israelis demolished it. There wasn't a lot I could say, I just shook his hand and
said "salaam aleikum". Then Zakaria took us all to a meal in a restaurant in Jenin city, some people found it a bit strange having a meal where the host had his sub machine gun sitting next to him. However he seemed a rather mild-mannered person, he said that he didn't get to see his family much, but he showed some people a photo of his son he carries about with him. In Jenin we also visited a children's centre and a school for deaf children.
In Balata refugee camp near Nablus we met two old guys from villages ethnically cleansed in what Palestinians call the "Nakba" (catastrophe), the war of 1948 which created the state of Israel. One came from a village near Tel Aviv which he had evacuated under Israeli fire at the age of 16. I said to him "The Israelis have claimed that the Palestinians only evacuated their villages in 1948 because they were told to by radio broadcasts from the Arab countries. What would you say to this?" I think he had heard this one before, he said "This is a fabrication. Actually, you were lucky to even have a single radio set in most villages in Palestine at that time. They were mostly in the cafes."
We visited several places close to the Israeli security wall (although in rural areas it's really a large fence with a security road), see: http://www.stopthewall.org. It looks like something out of the land of Mordor. If it was meant to be a purely security measure then the Israelis would build it on the pre-1967 border, but in places it wanders about the West Bank like a snake with a bad case of indigestion. In the village of Jayyus, close to Qalqilya, 30% of the village's land is on the other side of the wall. In order to get to their land, farmers have to go through Gate 34 which is only open for 3 short periods a day. At the time we visited, there had been a new military order which meant that the gate had been closed for the past few weeks, farmers were staging protests at the gate.
Qalqilya itself is now surrounded on three sides by the wall, going in we passed
through three tunnels
under roads for Israeli settlers, with gates that could be closed quite easily. Even in apartheid South
Africa, they never had separate roads for blacks and whites. The mayor of Qalquilya is currently in prison. We heard a presentation from a farmers' representative. During the period of Jordanian rule
(1949-67) the Israelis made repeated attacks on the across the border, damaging wells and petrol stations. Since it came under Israeli rule in 1967 settlements have been built in the area, not at random, but on top of access to water resources. In the Qalqilya area 35 square kilometres of land have been confiscated to build the wall, and 38 square kilometres are under military control, as are 19 wells. 1500 trees have been uprooted, 927 000 square metres of irrigation systems damaged. The wall has damaged people's health as patients now need to take long detours to get to hospital, and in one incident a doctor had to give a patient an injection through the fence. We had some discussion about whether the Israelis are simply trying to get the Palestinians to leave for other Arab countries, or trying to drive them off their land to turn them into a cheap labour source, the former explanation seems more likely.
In Jerusalem we visited Mordechai Vanunu, who is now largely confined to a Christian religious centre, I
said to him "Hope to see you in Glasgow soon." Some of us went and painted an SPSC mural on a stretch of the wall in East Jerusalem.
Most Israeli settlements in the West Bank are set apart, like nice suburbs on strategically important
hillsides. However, in Hebron you have a small group of Israeli settlers right in the city centre, with large numbers of soldiers guarding them. This was a bizarre place, we saw streets with grilles above them,
containing the rubbish which the settlers throw down on people from the houses above. What used to be the market in the city centre is now deserted, a new market has sprung up some distance away. We got into a confrontation with a soldier who objected to one of the group taking a photograph, this was the hairiest moment in the whole trip, but we persuaded the soldier to give the camera back.
We are now writing a formal report on the trip, which we intend to present to various bodies in Scotland,
including all MSPs. We hope to take a larger delegation out next year. I am available to give a report on the delegation anywhere, if my expenses are paid.