Lockdown.

Whilst you watched the Oscars last night, we sat inside the apartment keeping an eye on the news. We are currently under ‘lockdown,’ which rather dramatically means we are not allowed to travel anywhere in the West Bank, not even into the centre of Ramallah. This is because of the increase in protests and clashes following the death by torture of Arafat Jaradat in Israeli custody at the weekend.

Jaradat, a 30 year old father from Sair near Hebron, was arrested for an alleged stone throwing incident in which an Israeli citizen was injured, according to Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service. Yesterday evening it was confirmed by a Palestinian doctor that his death was caused by torture and he had no underlying heart conditions, it was the fractures in the body, laceration to his lips and bruises in his face and ribs which ultimately accumulated to his death by shock. He leaves behind two young children and a pregnant wife.

Upon the announcement of his death on Saturday, continuing through to his funeral which took place earlier this afternoon, thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest in solidarity. At the same time, 3000 prisoners have taken part in a hunger strike and impassioned demonstrators have turned out in force in Gaza.

His death comes after an Israeli soldier was criticised for posting a photograph of a young child caught in the crosshairs of his rifle last week, causing the international citizen media to speculate on the obscene use of violence by the Israeli army on unarmed Palestinian citizens.

Returning to the result of the Oscars, unfortunately neither Five Broken Cameras nor the Gatekeepers picked up best documentary. But simply having two films, one Palestinian and one Israeli, nominated, gives us some hope that the international community are not turning a blind eye to what is happening here in the West Bank.

I am personally yet to see either film. Perhaps, if we continue to be housebound, it would be appropriate to finally watch Five Broken Cameras this evening.

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An average day in an unusual office; human rights research in Palestine

Many of you have been asking me what it is I am actually doing here in the West Bank. What your kind-hearted donations have actually contributed towards. So here is a brief summary of a typical day in the research office;

My weekdays can be varied, but I have a set number of tasks to complete which are ongoing. The first of these is data entry. This can be really fascinating, but mostly just requires me to check figures for anomalies. I look through the information collected from the field, this can be qualitative or quantitative, and enter it into the database system. If there is a discrepancy it is usually a missing figure or basic detail – so, a household reports there are 7 members of the family, yet only 5 have had their details recorded, or, a family reports that they are refugees, but there is no record of their registration number.

The fieldwork is conducted via household surveys which ask questions about land ownership, agriculture, residency, access to work permits, and the impact of the Barrier on healthcare and education. It also takes into account movement and displacement, attempting to understand the challenges faced by Palestinians in their everyday life.

For me, the most interesting section is that which looks at the psychological impacts of the Barrier, settlements and life under Israeli occupation. Sometimes it is heart wrenching;

When a mother reports that she has sent her children to an orphanage so they don’t have to face the soldiers every day at Qalandia checkpoint.

When a young man with a young family says that he has stopped applying for work permits after facing constant rejection, pushing him to contemplate suicide.

When a new father cannot register his baby to take her through the checkpoint to visit his family, because he is forbidden from accessing the registration office in Jerusalem.

When a young girl reports that, after being chased by a military dog on her way back from school, 20 IDF vans came to arrest her in her home for throwing a stone to scare it away. 

Once you have seen things with your own eyes and heard peoples stories first-hand, it is sometimes difficult, particularly for a Westerner, not to see the Palestinians as victims. But I think victimisation is an inherently negative concept. In that view, I do not want this blog to be an outsourcing of pity for Palestine. Life here is not so different from life in England; indeed it is probably safer – and definitely friendlier – here than London.

Palestine is not a poor country, it is a rich country – rich in terms of the warmth of the people, the delicious food, the ancient history, the birthplace of three religions. Palestinians do not live in the war zones that we see reflected in the media, nor do they spend their lives in destitution. The people we meet say to us; go home and tell your friends and your family about Palestine! Make them understand that the challenges we face here are not in the form of guns and bombs, but in the form of a fight for justice and human rights. We do not want aid, we want to be able to work and visit our friends and family and feel free. We want to be treated like human beings. 

Closed shutters in the city of Hebron

03/02/2013 (Diary entry)

Early Sunday morning wake-up to catch a service taxi into the troubled city of Hebron. The journey is a good two hours, our driver flying over the winding hills listening to a child reciting verses from the Qur’an very loudly. On arrival we headed in the direction of the Old City. The journey from the service station through the modern shopping mall gave an odd impression of the place. I had heard so much about its turbulence, I was almost expecting to see more evidence of protest and struggle from the moment we arrived.

We were soon spotted to be foreigners by an eager teenage boy who offered to show us the five Israeli settlements within the city centre. We politely declined, we were told to be very careful in Hebron as the occupation has unfortunately presented an instance for a strange kind of tourism (I am all for supporting local Palestinian businesses however, especially when they sell such beautiful items. I bought a pair of trousers from a market stall for 10 shekels, which is less than £2! Unfortunately this was a one-off, most prices hover just below those in the UK).

We wandered through the souqs, being greeted and welcomed and asked ‘where are you from?’ by every other trader. The souqs themselves are small, bright, individual shops & stalls selling everything from fluorescent pink vegetables to traditional kaffiyeh scarves to mouth-watering baklava. Above our heads a wire mesh covered the entire top section of the market. In places the sky is covered with tarpaulin, in others, the mesh is on view. It is littered with rubbish. We were told that it is dropped by the settlers that live above – the mesh was installed recently to protect the people underneath. In one instance a massive concrete slab hung precariously above us, half way through the wire and directly above our heads. If it fell it could kill someone.

Kaffiyehs in the market

At the end of one intersection we met a man who invited us into his home to meet his family. Shadi had four daughters from two wives, all under four years of age. One of his wives (!) gave us all a sugary Palestinian tea, we played with the babies and then talked about living right next door to a large settlement. He showed us onto his roof terrace, pointing to the numerous settlements which encroached around three sides of his building, and the armed Israeli soldier on the roof of the fourth. He showed us the piles of rubbish lining empty streets – where the ghosts of once bustling markets roam, inaccessible to the Palestinians now. He pointed to the Israeli school, formerly Arabic, taken over by the settlers and proudly displaying the Jewish menorah. He told us that he keeps his daughters inside for fear of them being harmed, and showed us the three bullet holes in his water tank.

Wife #2 and baby

We each bought a kaffiyeh from him and he pointed us in the direction of falafel sandwiches, Hebron style. What distinguishes Hebron falafel from the average sandwich is the beautiful fried aubergine they put inside it. And the chips, veg and hot chilli sauce, superrrr yum. From here we found a tunnel hosting further souqs, the first of which was the famous Women’s Handmade Craft stall. Our team leader had told us to look out for Leila, the lady in charge who is well known to locals, aid workers and internationals alike. We met her straight away, she gave us more tea, and we perused her beautiful shop leaving arms-laden with pretty rings, more kaffiyehs, hand-stitched bookmarks, earrings and Hamsa ‘evil eye’ necklaces.

Leila also introduced us to a young boy, Issan, who works with her in the shops. He ended up as our tour guide for the rest of the day. He took us to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, seconded only to the Dome of the Rock in religious significance, and the reason for the existence of the five micro-settlements in the area. The site has two entrances, one for the mosque and one for the synagogue, guarded by two checkpoints. To reach the Jewish side we first had to cross a checkpoint into the settler area, leaving Issan behind. He told us that sometimes he could cross the barrier to accompany tourists into the isolated Palestinian shops on the other side, but today he was refused. He told us that no Muslims are legally allowed to cross the barrier into the Jewish side, regardless of their nationality. He stood behind a barrier with the soldiers, telling us to take our time as he’d be there when we returned. It was quite surreal; the barrier was not fixed, the soldier simply moved it to let us in and out. But it marked the edge of a boundary, an invisible line which foreigners can walk across when a local boy cannot. 

The boundary

We had reached Shuhada Street, the ghost town; a former Palestinian grocery market closed since 2000 and now home to military patrol vehicles, scribbled propaganda and ever-closed shutters. Shuhada, or ‘Martyr’ street, saw violent clashes between settlers and Palestine locals at the beginning of the turn of the century, and now acts as a kind of buffer zone between the two fractions. Walking through it we saw no one but soldiers, military officials and a solitary Jewish runner. Issan had told us that there are approximately 400 settlers in Hebron, with over 2000 armed soldiers permanently installed to ensure their continued security. There is certainly evidence of their existence along Shuhada Street.

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