Diary of an Illegal Emigrant

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After several friends had recently been refused entry at Ben Gurion aiport, I was somewhat anxious about what would happen. I suppose I was philosophical, though. If I was put on the next plane back, it wasn’t a problem. Perhaps I should be proud of the fact that I’d become an ‘undesirable’. Would mean that I was making waves, at least.

In the event, yes, they did know who I was and that I was ISM. I had a story prepared about why I was there at that time and intending to stay for a month — a story which was quite true, just with a few details omitted. Made no difference. As I related it, the girl from immigration just looked at me with an expression of ‘what are you wittering on about, we know who you are’. Not sure if my comment about International Society of Musicians helped.

However, it seems I had a choice. Either agree not to enter ‘Palestinian areas’ or leave now. When I asked the guy to define ‘Palestinian areas’ he just gave an impatient sigh and said ‘you know very well’. So I decided to drop the pretence. ‘Do you mean area A under the Oslo Accords?’ ‘A, B and C’ he replied. ‘I thought area C was under full Israeli control’ I said. Didn’t help. So I suggested the 1967 borders, or perhaps the wall. Still didn’t help.

Anyway, they gave me a visa, and I collected my luggage and headed for Al Quds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem).

Al Quds

It was Friday, so early afternoon I headed for Sheik Jarrah to see if the regular protest was taking place. At least I could go there quite legally. It was, and looked quite good. It was sad to see that the ethnic cleansing that was beginning back in 2008 when I was first there is happening at an accelerating rate.

I’d say, though, that there were a few hundred people at the protest, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals.

Sheikh Jarrah protest

Sheikh Jarrah protest

In the evening I went to see our contact, and we discussed what I could do while I was there. After that I went back to my hostel and went to bed just after nine, having been up for nearly 48 hours. The next day or two would be spent catching up on sleep and buying a few necessities, and not so necessities.

The next few days I spent as a normal traveller. Met a few people, went for meals in some excellent Palestinian restaurants in Al Quds, and went for drinks in an Israeli bar. A cool bar, as it happens. It is run by and frequented by the ‘leftists’, as they are called. The Israelis who attend the protests at Bil’in etc. and advocate boycott. Noam, the young Israeli who took us there, had obviously mentioned to some of them my predicament, and they were coming up to me and saying “you’re the guy who’s been banned from the West Bank” then proceeded to advise me on what to do. One, from Anarchists Against the Wall, basically told me to ignore it. As long as I wasn’t arrested I should be fine. So I confessed that that was the plan.


A couple of days later I was off to Ramallah for the ISM training. You do the training when you start, and if you’ve been away for more than a year or so. This was my third time.

I remember the feeling as we passed through Qalandia checkpoint. “A step further for me”, I said to my companions. I was now illegal, according to the Israeli state. So what did it have to do with them? I decided to call myself an ‘illegal emigrant’. Seemed the best description.

Palestinian scouts outside the hotel in Ramallah

Palestinian scouts outside the hotel in Ramallah


After the training we all went to one of the weekly Friday protests. I plumped for Bil’in, as I was hoping to meet up with some of my Israeli friends from Boycott from Within.

The protest itself seemed as usual. There was quite a bit of tear gas. The army had positioned themselves this side of the fence, so we couldn’t even get near it. Egypt was at this time in revolution, so there were loads of Egyptian flags. The Popular Committee released a press statement:

Popular Committees Against the Israeli Occupation


Press release Date: Feb.4th 2011

The great Arab nation The Egyptian Arab nation; the cradle of great history and future We salute this great Arab nation, our bothers. This is the salute of freedom from the people of Palestine who have been fighting for decades for freedom and independence, and to retain the honor of Arabs. The Palestinian nation is still standing against the Zionist occupation that is seeking to control all the Arab region, aided by the United States of America. To the people of Egypt, standing tall like the pyramids and the great dam, to the heart of this Arab nation, that many thought went into a coma, at a time when Palestinians kept hope that something will come out of the Arab nations regardless of different setbacks and defeats, we kept hope that one day Arab nations will revolt to make one last stand against oppression and bring an end to the Zionist occupation of Palestine and all Arab lands. To the great Egyptian Nation The Palestinians are watching what is happening across the Arab world in general and Egypt in particular with great pride, from one side because of what the nations are reflecting of its will to change internally to a great better future without criminal outside interference, but from the other side with fear of losing direction.

Even though we fully trust the will of this rebelling people to differentiate between the good and the bad, and its ability to bring the revolution back on track, this could only be achieved, our brothers, by determining the goal and achieving national unity.

The goals set by the youth are clear — a decent life and a society that can be up to the local and international challenges that face the people, the country and the nation. Since those demands affect all sections of society and do not go against any group in principle, we ask you, as our blood flows for freedom, do not let outsiders infiltrate and cause a deviation and, God forbid, the loss of this effort for change. This is what our enemy wants — to destroy our hope once more. We see our future with the unification of our Arab nation; this is the great goal of this uprising in Egypt and all over the Arab world which will reflect positively on all the free nations of the world and especially on the Palestinians.

We call upon you from wounded Palestine, the Fathers and the martyrs, the children who still fight the Zionist occupation regardless of oppression, from Palestine that suffers from the internal split among its people, which is like a poisoned dagger in the back, we warn you of internal clash, and we say unity for our Arab nation.

Because our fight is with the Israeli occupation, it is not over until the occupation ends — from our position that this occupation is the common enemy of all Arab nations and the free world; because of its terrorism on this region’s regimes; because it is the source of nation’s suffering, supported by the USA and some other countries; because of our duty to our cause we announce:

  1. We salute the Egyptian and Tunisian people and reiterate the nation’s right to live in freedom and pride.
  2. We call for national unity and the preservation of civil peace, and to protect the home front and tolerance among all segments of society, and to deal with conspiracies and foreign projects in order to pass this historic stage successfully.
  3. We hope that the rebelling Arab people make it their priority to demand from any government or leadership to come to sever their ties with the Israeli occupation and abandon the Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty. We believe it would be better to direct the masses towards the Israeli embassies and interests as an alternative to targeting the capabilities of the Egyptian people and the headquarters of its security.
  4. We call on all free nations in the world, especially Europe and the U.S., to get out in massive demonstrations on 11 \ 2 \ 2011 to confirm the right of peoples to live in freedom and dignity — a day of anger against the Israeli occupation of Arab land, and as a beginning of the Global Intifada.

Long live Palestine

May god protect the Egyptian Nation

The Popular Committees Against the Israeli Occupation – Palestine

The tear gas started before anyone had got near the soldiers. But we marched anyway, and there was a kind of standoff. We were all standing, some were singing, others shouting protests at the soldiers. Regularly people who were further back tried to come forward, but were repelled by volleys of gas.

Tear gas in Bil'in

Tear gas in Bil'in

The front of the protest

The front of the protest

At this point, the shebab (youth), had not begun their usual symbolic stone throwing. It only happened as we were walking back to the village. I was caught between the shebab and the army. I decided to scarper, but still found myself in the midst of a load of gas. One of my Israeli friends was, despite being a seasoned veteran of the protest, almost disabled by being in the middle of a large cloud. She had to ask me to help her out of there, as she could barely see.

Video of the protest

Afterwards we all went our separate ways. I was heading for Nablus, a place of fond memories.


Anyone who’s been to Nablus loves it. It’s a thriving city, with the friendliest people you could meet. A visit to the shops to buy a few supplies nearly always ends with a gift of sweets or fruit. It’s also a centre of the resistance to the occupation. During the intifadas it was a major place of conflict. Nowadays it’s a lot more peaceful, but only because the main resistance now is non-violent.


Nablus on one of the few sunny days I was there

Our contact there, Wael, was recently in prison for months, where he was interrogated and tortured. That fact is hard to believe when you meet him. He still has the old sense of humour that I remember from my last visit, and is still one of the warmest and friendliest people I know.

There are many illegal settlement around Nablus. They are close to villages which are constantly harassed by them. Two of the most infamous are Yitzar and Bracha. They are inhabited by extremist ideological settlers who believe that the land was given to them by God. They are serious nutjobs. Last time I was here, I spent most of my time sitting or sleeping in the road outside a half-built house that settlers from Bracha kept on trying to burn down.


The graves of three residents killed by settlers or soldiers in the village of Burin, near Nablus


Abandoned house


A house on a hill in Burin, abandoned because settlers and soldiers terrorised the owners


The illegal settlement of Bracha

There was still a lot of trouble, and while I was there a nearby village had many homes and livestock sheds demolished by the Israelis. A copy of the demolition order was translated by our Palestinian guide as saying that the land was reserved for Israelis.

We spent our time visiting villages, encouraging them to call us if there was any trouble. On one visit we were at a house in the village of Asira close to Yitzar, which had been attacked by settlers just half an hour earlier.

We also took time to explore Nablus itself, and even managed a sauna and massage in one of the famous turkish baths. And, of course, ate plenty of knafeh, a local delicacy of goat’s cheese, honey and pastry.



Nablus cats

A couple of guests at the Nablus apartment

An Nabi Salih

The village of An Nabi Salih is very close to an illegal settlement. Every Friday, like many villages around the West Bank, it has a demonstration against the occupation. However, this one tends to be more violently repressed than others by the Israeli army.

The first week we were there, though, it was seen as quite strange. Normally the army move into the village early, and as the march gets under way, the tear gas, sound bombs, rubber-coated steel bullets, and even live ammunition begins. This time it was different. There was very little intervention by the army for the first couple of hours. After that, as the shebab began their symbolic stone throwing, there was some response, but not much. We spent most of the afternoon sitting outside a house. After we left, though, the army moved in and arrested three people.

Next Friday was different. The army and Border Police were seen entering the village in the morning, and they stationed themselves around.

As we tried to get to the march starting point by the mosque, we were stopped by a number of Border Police who told us that the village was a ‘closed military zone’, and if we didn’t leave now, we would be arrested.

Border police

The Border Police stop us

We went back to the house where we’d stayed the night, waited a short time, and started out a different way, guided by Neriman, our host’s wife. It meant running across the road hoping the army didn’t see us, then we went up to the mosque to join the others.

The begining of the protest

The begining of the protest

After a number of speeches, the march set off. A little down the road the army were waiting. At the head of the march the main group of villagers, internationals and Israelis gingerly moved forward a step at a time. Then, suddenly, all hell broke loose. High velocity tear gas cannisters (shot straight at us, quite illegally), sound bombs and rubber-coated bullets flew our way. We ran for cover.

The military waiting for us

The military waiting for us

After the initial volley, some of us crept back down towards the army. They began to move. A jeep drove by me and a few other internationals with it’s door open. I’d seen this in videos of previous demonstrations, so wasn’t surprised when, as it passed us, an arm came out and threw a sound bomb at our feet. Actually, I regretted not taking a video of it. Instead I covered my ears (in a particular way — it’s not good to just press your hands over your ears), and stood there, defiantly. Or vaingloriously. There was quite a concussion from it.

The military taking over a house

The military taking over a house

We all moved up to the village square. There were army and Border Police all around. I saw a couple of us filming one group, so went to join them. One of the Border Police who stopped us earlier was there. After a short while, he climbed over the fence between us and came towards us. The Border Police have the power of arrest, and are particularly nasty. In our training we are told to avoid them. So, taking our cue from Neriman, we ran. This was the general scheme of things for the next hour or two. We’d find somewhere they weren’t, until they were, they’d chase us, sometimes shouting ‘we’ll arrest you’, we’d scarper. Once, one of them shouted something, presumably in Hebrew. I don’t know what it was, but I don’t think it was ‘have a nice day’. Then he threw another sound bomb at us. We escaped by running very fast and jumping down a six foot trench. We weren’t sure where to go, but the villagers, many of whom were sitting outside their houses, would gesture to us if it was safe, or if not. If necessary — and one or two had to when they got separated — we could take refuge in anyone’s house.

Finally we saw some of our friends on someone’s roof, so we joined them and had an hour or two’s peace, with tea and coffee from the residents.

Eventually we ventured back out again, after reports from some of our friends that things were quiet again. We went back to the main square, and all sat on a porch drinking more coffee. We watched what must have been one of the greatest acts of non-violent resistance ever. The soldiers in the square, armed to the teeth, were standing around trying to look in control. Meanwhile, the local kids had made a makeshift BMX track and were riding their bikes all around. And playing frisbee. All round the soldiers. It was a sight to behold.

Boys playing around the soldiers

Boys playing around the soldiers (photo by Lena)

After a while, Bassem, one of the organisers, suggested that something may be about to happen, so, we started back to his house. We were only a short way there when we heard sound bombs and tear gas grenades back at the square. We ran back, cameras at the ready.

There was a bit of a skirmish, but the army was just pulling out. A Border Police jeep drove out of the square. The shebab threw stones at it. One of them smashed the window.

We kept an eye on the army, who were further down the road. They wouldn’t take this lightly. Sure enough, they began to move towards us, jeeps and the skunk wagon. The villagers quickly put up a roadblock made of boulders.

When the army convoy arrived, the place became a battleground. Shebab throwing stones, high velocity tear gas grenades flying everywhere, skunk water spraying at us. We ran. I don’t think I’ve run so fast ever. Running from tear gas, skunk water, and Border Police jeeps. My legs nearly gave up and it was all I could do to remain on my feet. I nearly fell over with a jeep bearing down on me.

Unfortunately, where we’d run to was pretty much in the middle of the shebab. Skunk spray was all around, and where it wasn’t, tear gas was. Three of us caught a mass of gas, and were coughing severely, our eyes in severe pain. We believe it may have been a new type of tear gas, much more severe than usual. I kept on trying to think ‘don’t rub your eyes’. That would make it much worse. We found our way to the same house we’d been at earlier, where they administered well-tried remedies.

Gingerly we made our way back to the square, where it seems it was all over. What we’d just experienced was the final parting shot of the army.

We slowly recovered, and made our way to a house where there was a huge spread of food for us all. I ate some, but the smell of the skunk on my clothing hindered my appetite a little.

Settlement, Nabi Salih

The illegal settlement by Nabi Salih

Young boy injured by a rubber coated bullet

Young boy injured by a rubber coated bullet

Watch this video from IWPS about Nabi Salih:

Here is an interview from 10th March 2011 with Bassem:


After a day like that, we decided a bit of relaxation was in order. Although strictly ISM rules say that drinking in the West Bank is not allowed, this was relaxed slightly recently. We can go to a Palestinian bar, but obviously discretion is required.

We went to a lovely bar where some sort of party was going on. A wedding, maybe, or whatever. Some Israeli activists arrived who’d been in Bil’in that day. They were also there illegally, as Ramallah is in Area A of the Oslo Accords, under full Palestinian control, and Israelis are not allowed. This did not deter them, though.

You often see ‘peace’ initiatives, cultural collaborations between Israeli and Palestinians, such as Daniel Barenboim’s West East Divan Orchestra. What I saw that night, however, was the real thing. Nothing artificial, just both sides enjoying each other’s company. Seeing them all dancing together must give hope to all who witness it.

Al Khalil

Al Khalil is the Arabic name for Hebron. Another of my favourite places in all the world. A wonderful city, but also a tortured one. It is divided into H1, the Palestinian area, and H2, where 500 Israeli settlers live amongst Palestinians, guarded by several thousand soldiers. These are real ideological settlers too. There is always trouble.

Shuhada Street

Shuhada Street in Hebron, closed by the Israeli after the 1994 mosque massacre

Shuhada Street used to be a thriving shopping centre, but after the 1994 Al-Ibrahima Mosque massacre, the Israelis closed it to Palestinians. Every year, on February 25th, there is a protest. Here is a video of this year’s.

Most of our work there involves keeping an eye on settlers. We stand near schools in the mornings, where the children are often terrorised by settlers.

One day settlers attacked a house. We weren’t far away, so we got there as soon as we could. It was all over by then, but we were able to document what had happened. Some settlers had come onto the land near the house, shouting abuse and throwing stones at the Palestinians living there. They vandalised some trees. This all happened within yards of an army watchtower, but of course the soldiers did nothing.

Another evening we’d been out as guests of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), whom we work with closely. After a delicious meal and a good chat about each other, we headed back to the apartment. At the nearby checkpoint, a Palestinian man was being detained by the soldiers.

We decided to keep an eye on the situation. One of the soldiers, however, didn’t like this, so he took the man’s ID from him and said that he wouldn’t give it back until we’d gone. So we left, with the intention of returning in a few minutes.

When we got back, the situation had deteriorated. The soldier was being a total plank.

If we tried to film or photograph what was happening, we were told to stop. They had no right to say that, but they were the ones pointing guns. I did my favourite trick — turned the video camera on, and held it by my side to make it look like I wasn’t using it, but casually pointed it at whatever was happening. Thus I was able to film the whole thing anyway.

We called TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), an organisation set up by various governments, who are there to observe. They produce secret reports, which are seen by the Israeli government, the PA, and the Quartet. They do not intervene, although sometimes simply being there can act as intervention. They are also untouchable. They cannot be stopped at checkpoints, or interfered with. Oh, and also very highly paid!

This time their presence seemed to help. The police were called, and soon after the man was released. A small victory, perhaps, but at least we’d helped in some way.

One day, we heard that settlers were building something on a hilltop near an illegal settlement just outside Hebron. Two of us jumped into a taxi to go and see what was happening. Unfortunately, the driver spoke no English, and we had to phone someone to instruct him where to go. Didn’t quite work out, though. He ended up stopping right at the gates of the settlement. So there we were, in a Palestinian taxi, we and the driver wearing kaffeyes, surrounded by settlers. We shrank down into our seats, thinking ‘get us out of here’. Another phone call, and he set off again to a nearby house. The family there spoke English. It seems that two of them had lived in the US for some time. They knew who we were, having had some connection to ISM previously. They were also able to tell the driver where we were supposed to be. So, more coffee later, we were on our way again.

We found the place, and two members of EAPPI were there observing. Some bulldozers were on the hill. An army jeep drove up to them, and it seems this time they were actually on our side (albeit reluctantly), as work then stopped.

It was on a road next to an illegal settlement where schoolchildren were often harassed by the settlers. The various groups — ISM, CPT and EAPPI — shared the ‘school run’ there. We would sit by the road, and our presence could help to protect the schoolchildren as they walked past on their way home. That day was ISM’s turn, so we stayed. Fortunately it was a quiet day, with no trouble.

It’s not all gloom, though. The Palestinian people themselves make the whole thing worthwhile. At one point, as we sat there, a Palestinian women walked by with her son, stopping to talk to us. She spoke good English, and thanked us for what we were doing. She was a professor of computing at the nearby university. Her husband was a professor of agriculture there. Naturally we were invited for tea.

A while later, just as we were preparing to leave, a car stopped. The man inside also thanked us. It seems he was a professor of agriculture at the nearby university! His name was Sufian Sultan. He also invited us for tea, so we got in the car and drove to his house, where we were given delicious cake and tea. We talked at length on the situation in Hebron and Palestine in general. At one point Sufian seemed to be nearly in tears as he was talking passionately about his beloved homeland.

After a couple of hours, we left — having promised to stay in touch, and to return one day.


I’d heard that sometimes passports were scanned at checkpoints on the way back into Israel. If mine was, since I was in the West Bank illegally, I could expect alarms to go off and to be led away in chains. So it was a bit daunting when I had to finally head back to Jerusalem. However, I was lucky. I was able to stay on the bus with other foreigners, disabled, and mothers with young children. Normally I’d get off the bus anyway in solidarity with the Palestinians who also had to, but this time I thought it best not to attract too much attention to myself. The young girl soldier got on the bus and checked everyone’s passports. She barely glanced at mine. Another hairy moment over.

I was expecting trouble at the airport, too. At least a major interrogation and search. But they totally swallowed my ‘chilling out in Jerusalem’ story, I was given a security rating of 3 — tourist — and I was through. I have to admit, though, I only began breathing again when the plane accelerated down the runway.

I doubt I’ll be allowed back in anymore, something which breaks my heart. I already miss the beautiful countryside, and most of all the warmth and hospitality of the people.


I now have my own street in Palestine

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From http://jouwstraatnaam.nl/

Askar is a refugee camp near the Palestinian city of Nablus. The refugee camp (established in 1950) became actually a densely populated town that lacks proper planning, facilities and streetnames. The families that live within the refugee camp have no hope to ever return to their abandoned homeland. With your support the Palestinian Child Care Society (PCCS) will complete and renovate the crumbling youth centre, which is indispensable for the local youth that are born and live in poverty and social deprivation. A proper youth center with facilities for after school reception and activities will make the living of the children in Askar more bearable.

Make yourself immortal!

We and the children are very delighted by any donation. But if you support our project with100 euro, a street in Askar will be named after you. So if you are generous you deserve your own street! Ofcourse you can give your street any name you would like. That’s up to you!

I decided to go for it. Here’s the result:

Solidarity in tear gas

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Every Friday after prayers the people of Bil’in, near Ramallah, are joined by other Palestinians, internationals, and Israelis in their protest against the Apartheid fence which cuts the villagers off from their lands. The protests have been going on for five years, and have become symbolic of the non-violent struggle of the Palestinian people.

The march sets off.

The march sets off.

The Israelis on the march

The Israelis on the march

The Scottish contingent

The Scottish contingent

Every week, the Israeli army responds with violence. Tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets, sound grenades, and even live ammunition. Although their newest weapon is seen as the worst in many ways. Called the skunk officially, or more commonly ‘stinky water’, it’s a foul-smelling liquid that sticks to clothes and skin for days. We’re told that it’s harmless, and it’s actually organic (though there’s still uncertainty about its fair trade status), but if they begin using it, run!

Fortunately, this week they didn’t. We set off from the village Mosque at about 1.30pm and marched down the hill to the fence. We could see the Israeli soldiers on the other side. The protesters then began to clear the razor wire away from the gate that leads to the area in front of the fence, then climbed over and began to approach the fence itself.

Moving the razor wire

Moving the razor wire

Moving the razor wire

Climbing over the gate to the fence

Climbing over the gate to the fence

John, who was perhaps a little more adventurous than I, suggested joining them as they inched towards the fence. I hesitated. Was this the right thing to do? What were the dangers? Then I saw one of the Palestinian organisers encouraging people to climb over. He looked at me, saw that I was dithering, and just smiled and waved me over. That answered my question. He wanted us, as internationals, to join the others, and that it would be (at least relatively) safe to do so. This was something I have witnessed many times. The Palestinian people are very welcoming, friendly, and caring. Not the image the Israeli government would like to portray — if you believe them, you are in constant danger of being killed or kidnapped by these ‘terrorists’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So over I went. I didn’t stay for long, though. At that moment the army attacked — coming through a gate in the fence. Everyone who’d climbed over the gate suddenly began scrambling back over. I was the last, and for a moment thought I may have been in danger of arrest if the soldiers got to me before I was back over. Fortunately I escaped.

See what happened next:

Video of the demo:

The demo gets tear gassed

The demo gets tear gassed

Some of the locals were used to it.
Some of the locals were used to it.
But they remain defiant

But they remain defiant

An Israeli protester shouting abuse at the soldiers

An Israeli protester shouting abuse at the soldiers

Soon the organisers announced that the demonstration was over. They thanked everyone for being there, and invited everyone to iftar (breaking of the fast) that evening.

Our group headed back to Ramallah, and John and I then took the service back to al-Quds.

The next two days were spent in Ramallah at the ISM training and briefing.


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After a day of catching up on sleep, I’m able to spend a few days as a ‘political tourist’ in Jerusalem, or al-Quds, as it’s known in Arabic.

I met up with a few other people who are, or intend to be, with ISM. It’s a small world. Sitting in the Palm one morning drinking tea, a girl comes in, says hello, then looks at me. She says ‘I know you’. It was Anna, whom I worked with on a PSC stall at a festival a couple of years previously.

I also met John, from Scotland, and through him a group from the Glasgow Palestinian Human Rights campaign (GPHRC) — see them in action. They are quite amazing. I would never get away with what they did. Take an incident by the Damascus Gate, the Old City, al-Quds. It was Ramadan, and Muslims fast during daylight hours. This means no eating, drinking or smoking. Often the Israeli soldiers decide to mock this by doing these things in front of the Palestinians. Not when GPHRC are there! One soldier lit up a cigarette, only to have Veronica begin to shout at him: “it’s Ramadan, what are you doing”. Then she gets out a camera and begins to take photos of him. He’s so embarrassed by this he discreetly puts out the cigarette. The Palestinians watching this are rather impressed. I overhear one guy talking to people around him, in Arabic so I don’t know what he’s saying, but he’s pointing to the soldier and to Veronica. He’s sees me looking at him, and simply says “thank you”.

While in al-Quds, there was another thing I had to do. In the report of my last trip I spoke of the time spent in Sheikh Jarrah defending the home of Um Kamel al-Kurd. A week after I left, the family were evicted in the middle of the night by hundreds of Israeli police and army.

Recently, two more families were evicted in the area — the Hanouns and the Ghawis. Both families then set up protest tents outside their occupied homes. I went to see the Ghawi family.

The protest tent in Sheikh Jarrah.

The protest tent

The Ghawis house — note the damage done during the eviction.

The Ghawis house — note the damage done during the eviction.

The family are determined and resilient, qualities the Palestinian people possess in abundance. They get regular visits from all kinds of people, from their neighbours to heads of state. One person who has been noticeable by his absence, however, is the ‘Middle East Envoy’, Tony Blair. Who lives a few hundred yards away in the American Colony Hotel.

I told them about the work of PSC in Britain, the boycott campaign, and the protest we held outside the Israeli Embassy the day after their eviction, and they seemed quite encouraged.


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I took a night flight, Heathrow to Tel Aviv, and arrived at 4.30 in the morning. Not much to say about it, except that before I’d even got off the plane I witnessed an incident that pretty much sums up the nature of the Israeli state.

It was a direct flight, so it was full of mostly Israelis, and one Muslim woman in a niqab, surrounded by a small football team of infants. Of course, she had to wait for everyone else to leave the plane before she could get off. Presumably escorted by meathead security guards.

I was expecting a bit of a grilling when I went through passport control, but it wasn’t too bad in the end.

I then headed towards Jerusalem and the Palm Hostel, where I will stay for a day or two while I make contact with ISM.

The first trip

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In October 2008 I spent two weeks in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement. This is a report about my experience.



On 9th November, at 4.30, the al-Kurd family were evicted by Israeli police. Seven Internationals were arrested. Full story.

Further update:

On 22nd November, Mohammed (Abu Kamel) al-Kurd suffered a fatal heart attack. Now, Um Kamel (his wife, Fawzieh) must fight alone. She is supported by ISM and other volunteers and is camping in a tent close by her rightful home. Despite further attempts by the Israeli army to discourage her, this time through fines and destruction of her canvas shelter, she and her fellow protesters are persevering.

Day one

Well, that was easy. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories about people being interrogated by the police on the way through Ben Gurion aiport, questioned about their purpose for visiting, etc. In the event, the nearest I got was being stopped going through the green customs channel by a plain-clothes policeman, who showed me his badge, asked ‘do you speak Hebrew, where did you fly from, how long did you spend in Istanbul — only a transit? — OK, enjoy your time in Israel’.

I only realised I was in when I went through a door and found myself on the street.

After that it didn’t go quite so well. After being dropped off in Jerusalem, or al-Quds as it is known in Arabic, I found that the accomodation I thought I’d booked knew nothing of it. So I headed for the Palm Hostel, which was next choice. All I knew is that it was near the Damascus Gate. So I spent several hours walking through the maze of backstreets of the Old City, getting hopelessly lost, in an increasing state of panic, until by chance I came across someone who had heard of the hostel. Still had some trouble finding my way out, but eventually landed at the Palm.

Day two

Today I caught up on sleep (after having been up for over 36 hours), got lost in the Old City again, and met the contact for ISM, and will begin tomorrow.

Day three


The camp

After a short trip to Ramallah I’m now back in East Jerusalem, camping in the back yard of the house of a Palestinian family. However this is no holiday. There are four of us here, guarding the house against Israeli settlers. They have taken over a large part of the neighbourhood, including even part of this house. These are not economic settlers, tempted by cheap housing and large government grants, but hard-core idealogical settlers, driven by the desire for Eretz Yisrael. At some point we expect the army to arrive to evict the Palestinians, in which case we intend to chain ourselves to the door and call for help from Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Anarchists Against the Wall, and, of course, the media.


The door on the right is the Palestinian household. The one on the left is the settlers’ door.


The neighbourhood.

Day four


The resistance.

A house occupied by settlers
One of the team taking a well-earned rest

Today, being Shabat, was very quiet. The settlers were away until early evening, and the only activity was us, the al Kurd family, and the security guard who comes by every 40 minutes or so.

I’ve been finding out more about the situation. More info here:

Palestine News Network


The Guardian

The Guardian story is, of course, slightly inaccurate. Apart from anything else, the extension was built perfectly legally before 1967, but was then declared illegal by the Israelis when they occupied East Jerusalem. I’ve not fully grasped the legal intricacies that make it perfectly legal for the settlers to live there, but not the Palestinians.

Day five

After the peace of Shabat, it didn’t take long for trouble to start. Just after 10.30 this morning one of the neighbours came running to us, seemingly in some distress. She was shouting ‘bring a camera’ and ‘child’. I picked up the video camera, and four of us Internationals followed her to a nearby children’s playground, where some sort of argument was going on. I began filming. There were a number of settlers, quite a few Palestinian women, and four settler security guards, at least two of whom were armed. I moved around filming several arguments, then began taking still photos.

Apparently one of the settler women had taken over the playground, and slapped one of the Palestinian children (about 4-5 years old) to make her get off the swing, so her own child could use it.

I couldn’t help but see the struggle for land going on in front of me. But this is the whole purpose of what we are doing here. It is not just about Kamel al-Kurd’s house, it is about the whole future of East Jerusalem itself. The Israelis want to make it theirs, and remove the Palestinian population who have been living here for centuries. For the Palestinians this is not acceptable. This one house is symbolic of this entire struggle. The owners, Mohammed and Kamel al-Kurd, were even offered millions of dollars for the house. But it is not for sale. al-Quds is not for sale. It is the capital of Palestine, and, with the courage and determination of people like Kamel, will remain so. I am honoured to have been able to help in some small way.


One of the settlers’ Guards


The argument in the playground. The man in the orange T-shirt was one of the armed settlers’ guards.

Day six

Today was a very quiet day. I’ve been told that without our presence, things would be very different. The Israelis would like to evict the al-Kurd family quietly, but cannot with us watching all the time.

Day seven

I took a day off today, and went to visit Suzana in our twinning town of Aizaria, near Jerusalem, but cut off on the other side of the Apartheid Wall.

Days eight and nine

These were set aside for some ISM training. We stayed in a hotel in Ramallah, and learned about the principles of non-violent direct action, and how to deal with various situations, such as being arrested, resisting arrest, dealing with the numerous weapons the IOF use, such as tear gas, sound grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets. The box of old weapons that was brought out, collected from demonstrations, was quite scary.

Afterwards, on Thursday evening, we all split up into groups to go to the places where ISM has a presence. Two of us decided to go to Hebron.

Day ten

We arrived in Hebron late last night, after travelling from Ramallah by ‘service’ (shared minibus/taxi). We encountered one flying checkpoint on the way, which was fairly easy in the end. I expect the soldiers were just bored. After a cursory check of our passports, we were allowed to pass. Less expected was a Palestinian Authority checkpoint between Bethlehem and Hebron. The soldier seemed quite concerned about us travelling at that time, but we reassured him that we had contacts and somewhere to stay in Hebron, and we were quickly on our way again. When we arrived we had some trouble getting through the checkpoint at Tel Rameida (a major settlement in the middle of the city), where the flat is, but eventually our contact came down and negotiated our passage.

This morning we were to join several other groups, including Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), Eccumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI), and the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) in accompanying Palestinian farmers picking their olives in the shadow of a major settlement.

On this occasion, the army were there to protect us, rather than intimidate us. Although if the settlers were to attack, they are not likely to be very helpful.

The weather was sunny and hot, and, if there were to be no violent incidents, it looked to be a very promising day.olive_picking1.jpg

Shortly after we began picking, the police arrived. After a short discussion with the farmers, they insisted that all the internationals gather round to be filmed. I guess I can now expect a grilling when I leave.

Interestingly, the CPT and EAPPI were made to leave.

With them gone, we were left with six from IWPS and the two of us from ISM. The policeman insisted that only seven internationals should remain. So my comrade Jim was made to leave. I was not even allowed to take the video camera from him. The policeman was really quite aggressive.

At this time, some settlers appeared near where the police were stationed.

However, this proved to be the only hairy moment of the day. Soon afterwards, the police left, the settlers disappeared out of site, and we carried on picking.olive_picking2.jpg
Later, most of those who had been made to leave came back. One more pointless exercise in authority by the police.

At about four o’clock it began to rain. But the harvest being nearly done, we were able to call it a day.

The three of us from ISM (Liza joined us later) went to the Old City to meet a family in their shop. It sells embroidery and handicrafts made by a women’s group. We had earlier been invited to dinner at their house in a nearby village. So off we went to a typically delicious meal.

Then came the time to get back to the flat. We knew that the checkpoint at the entrance to Tel Rameida was out of the question, but fortunately we had Liza with us, who knew a back way in.

While looking for it in the dark, a Palestinian man suddenly shot out of his back door shouting ‘do not come here, this is my land’. He obviously thought we may be settlers come to take his house. Of course the sight of Liza saying ‘salaam alaikum, machsom [checkpoint], help’ was enough for him to realise who we really were. I believe the ISM are quite famous around here. So he became most friendly, and showed us the way. So we climbed over a wall into the road where the flat is. So much for IDF security.

Tomorrow we are going to try some checkpoint watching, and on Sunday I may be in Nablus, or may be going to a demonstration at the Eretz crossing in Gaza. However, the siuation can change very rapidly here, so what actually happens could be quite different.

Day eleven

We began the day with some checkpoint watching. We sat near to the checkpoint at the top of the road, and simply watched. Soon an amry jeep drove past, stopped, and parked right next to us. That was all — no-one got out, they simply stayed there.

So we decided to see what would happen if we attempted to walk up to the settlement. As expected, the soldiers stopped us. Then the jeep came down, and the soldiers inside got out.

Liza managed, after some time, to negotiate going into the settlement with one of the soldiers. Normally, only settlers and family of the Palestinians living there (and then only with the correct permit) would be able to go. We stayed behind and tried to engage the remaining soldiers in a political discussion. You can imagine how we fared.

After this, we went up the hill a short way and sat down. A young Palestinian boy came up to us, shook our hands, and gave us thumbs up signs. The only English he could manage was ‘come’, while making drinking gestures. We followed him to his house where we were invited for tea.

Patched bullet holes in the water tank

We didn’t speak much Arabic, and the family didn’t speak much English, but we were still able to communicate. They knew what we were doing in Hebron, and showed us the damage done by settlers to their house. A broken window, bullet holes, damage to doors.

A window broken by settlers
These girls approached us and gave each of us one of the flowers
Some more of our friends

Later, as I was getting ready to go to Ramallah my phone rang. It was the co-ordinator saying that there had been an invasion in the nearby village of Husam and could we get there. The three of us left immediately and went out to get a taxi to the village. We didn’t know where it was so we just found a taxi and asked the driver to take us to Husam. What was happening? Details were sketchy. I didn’t know if the whole village had been closed off, or what. Apparently, if it had been, we would have to use local people to help us get in. Probably by climbing something, so my comrade Liza said.

I’d been given the name of a contact and his phone number so in the taxi on the way I called him. He asked to speak to the driver. The driver took us to a parking area somewhere outside the village and there we met the contact. We got into his car, and he took us to the village. On the way he told us what had happened.

At 2.30 that morning the army had arrived and taken over a house in the village: fifteen members of the family, from a 75 year old man in a wheelchair to a four year old child, had simply been thrown out onto the street. The reason given was that someone had been throwing stones onto a settler-only road that ran next to the village.

We arrived to find the house surrounded by army vehicles and soldiers. The road in front had been closed off. There were a number of people already there from Tay’oush, an Israeli peace organisation, although they left shortly after we arrived.

We were taken to a house close by where the family were staying, where we were greeted enthusiastically and offered the usual tea and coffee.

Then we went out into the road and took our station next to the roadblock, armed only with our cameras.

What we were faced when we arrived at the village
The house the army had taken over

The place we were was right in front of one of the village mosques. After evening prayers, many of the locals gathered with us. You could feel the tension rising. At one point, an elderly man approached me to say that if he could not go home past the soldiers, he would have to take a detour of a kilometre and a half. So he began to walk past the roadblock, with a glance towards me to see that I was there, with my video camera trained on him. One of the soldiers shouted at him, walked up to him, then saw me with the camera pointing right at him. He fell silent and waved the man on. A minor victory, but it felt good.

Another ISMer joined us, a Jewish girl from the US. From then on it was something of a waiting game. We sat. They stood. Every now and then a group of soldiers would leave and march off down the street. We followed, me with the camera.

Obviously they didn’t like this. Every now and then some would turn around and shout what I would guess was some kind of insult, maybe wave their guns around a bit, but there was not much they could really do. At one point we lost them as they disappeared into a dark grove. We thought they might have gone into a house, so we went round to the front where several of the locals pointed inside. We entered, hands clearly visible, shouting ‘internationals’. The owner of the house appeared, and gestured for us to follow him upstairs. It turned out that he wanted us to look from his balcony. Most of his family were there, and greeted us enthusiastically. There was no sign of the soldiers, so we went back downstairs, after having to decline the offer of tea and coffee. Not what you should normally do, but the family understood that we were busy.

We returned to the roadblock to find that the soldiers had also come back.

This happened several times. Each time we followed. The locals always greeted us warmly, with comments such as ‘welcome to our village’; one man was in his shop with the door half closed. When he saw us he leaned forward to wave. All the kids would wave at us and shout ‘hello’. I’ve never felt so popular. Except with the soldiers. At one point they stopped and doubled back, walking right past us. One of them spat at my feet. Definitely one of my prouder moments.

We were joined in our watch by many of the local shebab — the youth. It was quite a party atmosphere for a time, sharing coffee, food, nargilas (the water pipes used for smoking), jokes and songs. My contribution was this, to the tune of the ‘Dad’s Army’ theme:

Who do you think you are kidding Mrs Livni
When you think old Palestine’s done

This was too much for the soldiers, though. They suddenly appeared mob-handed and told us to move 15m down the road. We tried to protest, but the shebab suggested we should do so. I wondered if it was so they could tear gas us, but this didn’t happen.

At about midnight the two girls went to get three hours sleep, to take over watch at 3am. Little more happened, except for two soldiers who came up to us and began chatting about who we were, what we did for a living, etc. It was quite surreal having such a friendly talk with them. The remaining shebab chatted as well.

When the girls returned, it was our turn to grab a few hours sleep. We awoke to find the soldiers had removed the roadblock. Then they put it back.

Two members of Machsom (checkpoint) Watch arrived. They took pictures, talked with the army and the family, and left.

Then the unexpected happened. A settler drove up, stopped, talked to some of the locals, then the soldiers, picked up one of the shebab, and drove off. It turned out he was friendly with the villagers, and had complained to the soldiers about what they were doing, saying that no stones had been thrown at the settler road. The politics of this region are so mixed up, even the ‘enemy’ are often friends.

Three of us left — two were leaving to go home, and I was to pick up some things from the flat in Hebron and return. But, typically, it didn’t end up that way. We arrived in Hebron to find the situation with the settlers had deteriorated, and so I had to stay there on standby.

Day twelve

Fortunately, the feared violence didn’t happen. The day before, the army had evacuated an outpost near the Kiryat Arba settlement, and many of the settlers had vowed revenge against the army, Palestinians and Internationals. We were still on standby, however, as the situation remains very tense. The flat is near the Tel Rumeida settlement, one of the hardline religious settlements, and there is a lot of activity. I tried to go through the checkpoint into H1, the area controlled by the PA, but could not even go down the road. Not only were the army present, but there were many armed settlers as well.

Jim and Liza have now left, and I have been joined by a group of Danish students doing a project on ISM. I met them after I had walked the long way round into H1, and after a short tour of the Old City and Souk, where they interviewed Marwal, who runs a shop selling handicrafts made by a women’s collective, we attempted to re-enter H2 via the checkpoint. I knew it would not be possible, but wanted to show them what it was like.

Of course we didn’t get through. The soldiers claimed that the area was a closed military zone, something they often say, whether it is or not, and when asked for the documentation, said that they did not have it — the police did. This time they called the police so that I could see it. Slightly worrying, as the police might have decided to arrest us (there was no cause, but they might have just held us for a time). So I started calling around my contacts, so that they knew what was happening. Anyway, the police arrived, shouted at us a bit, and held up a piece of paper from a distance, and swiftly put it away when I began to approach.

So we left, got into taxis, and went in by the back way. A journey of two or three miles in order to travel a couple of hundred yards.

When in the flat, the students interviewed me about my work with ISM. In the middle, they witnessed first-hand what it was like — I received a phone call from one of the local co-ordinators asking for three Internationals to spend the night in a local farmer’s house, as protection against settlers. It seems the family were being targeted.

Unfortunately, there weren’t three of us available. Later in the day I was joined by Jo, a Danish girl who had been with ISM for some time. The two of us were taken to the farm where we were to stay the night. It was next to the outpost which had been evacuated, thus explaining the family’s concerns. We were given phone numbers for the army and police in case the settlers attacked — they would be much more likely to do something if Internationals called them, rather than Palestinians. Which tells its own story.

Once again, it turned out to be a quiet night. We sat outside until about one o’clock, when the farmer decided we could retire indoors.

The final two days

I returned to Jerusalem and stayed for the last night in the Palm Hostel. The next morning I headed for Tel Aviv airport.

Leaving was not as straightforward as entering. I was pulled aside by security and questioned about where I’d been, who I’d met and so on. Apparently it was the small size of my luggage that aroused suspicion. But after being grilled, roasted, frisked, scanned and sniffed, I was then fast tracked through the rest of the departure procedure. Even so I felt that I’d got away safely only when the plane was airborne.

Did I achieve anything while I was here? Yes, I think so. Generally, it was quiet. I could feel a lot of tension, but didn’t see any serious violence. But I really do believe that it was our presence, as Internationals, that helped to diffuse many situations. Certainly the night in Husam, when the army took over a house, could have gone very differently had we not been there to watch their every move. And everywhere, but most especially in Hebron, you could feel the tension, as if there was always something about to happen.

Of course it’s not always quiet. Since I returned just a few days ago, I’ve been reading reports from the ISM about settler attacks in the very places I’d been. Nevertheless, the presence of Internationals still gets the word out, and curbs the worst of the violence.

According to Israeli military law, it is permissible to use live ammunition against protestors, unless there are Israelis or Internationals present. Such a ruling speaks for itself about the racist nature of the Israeli state. And I do mean the state. Many of the peace activists I met were Israelis, and don’t forget the settler in the village of Husam who was a friend of the villagers. Many more Israeli are fed lies and disinformation about what is actually happening in the occupied territories. In fact, Israeli citizens are forbidden by law from entering the occupied territories. It is the nature of the state that is the problem.

I now look forward to returning as soon as I can.

International Solidarity Movement