Palestinian Reports, April 2002, Pt 5

Sarah Irving, 17th April 2002ce

Sun, 14 Apr 2002 10:18:20

hey all,

very hot and sunny here. curfew has been lifted in Beit Sahour but not Bethlehem or Beit Jala. I don't know if this tactic of lifting it on different days in different places is because it's easier for the IDF to police or because of some malicious desire to make it harder for people to see family or get home if they were trapped somewhere distant.

yesterday we had another shot at getting food into the old city, the areas where as of tomorrow people will have been under unbroken curfew for a full fortnight, and some have not eaten for 4 days now. we went round the back of the star hotel this time, down the backstreets onto salesian street into the old souk. the sight that met our eyes was devastation; the IDF had been blowing up cars that morning and the road in front of us was full of smouldering vehicles. there was glass and twisted metal all over the streets and bullets coated the road underfoot. as we stood, gaping, there was an almighty bang from the other side of the house in front of us, and bits of car flew forty feet into the air, followed by a fat plume of thick, noxious-smelling black smoke. despite this, one family had responded to the noise of our arrival by venturing onto their balcony and were beckoning us to bring food. 2 people scrambled over a wrecked car and dumped the UN aid sacks at the foot of the building. then we saw people on the road to our right, which heads towards Manger Square, and we took a number of sacks and boxes of powdered milk over to them. people, mainly boys, began to pour from the houses and fight over the food, and we tried to split them up, but we'd deposited all we had - maybe 20 sackfulls - and had no more, and retreated. but the noise of yelling children had attracted an IDF soldier, who appeared from the direction of the initial explosion, and came out firing, uninterested in who or what he was firing at. things get hazy for me from here, as I got hit on the top of the head by a piece of shrapnel or flying masonry and was pretty freaked out by the quantity of blood coming from my scalp, and by the fact I couldn't see what the pain on the top of my head was. it's fine, just a clean flap of skin cut, but like all head wounds it looked gorier than it needed to, and I was kind of woozy for a couple of hours from the sharp rap on the skull from whatever it was. Georgie also got me on tape swearing at some stupid journalist who was trying to make me stop and tell her what had happened.

everyone else got back ok, but after some discussion at the hotel we decided that going back in was probably too risky, especially since most of the press that had come the first time had got their footage and may not have come back a second time. much respect to Jeremy Bowen of the BBC though for being the first journo to actually carry some stuff in on one of these runs, instead of cowering at the back like most of the foreign press. a bunch of us then went round to al-madbasa again to drop off some medication for a woman who was getting dangerously low on stuff. here, despite the devastated streets and broken pillars along the front of the buildings, people were in the street after an Italian consulate convoy had been allowed in with food supplies. there we met a UN volunteer in tears, who showed us the food-strewn bottom of the van she had been driving and the place where she had been punched by people desperate for food and hungry enough to fight for it. these people are starving, and they don't know when they will get more.

in Manger Square, meanwhile, the IDF have been up to something very strange. there is now a huge hydraulic lift with a giant speaker hanging from it; yesterday it played the most hideous shrill feedback noise at the poor bastards in the church for about quarter of an hour, but they don't seemed to have used them since. as well as the original blimp (or at least the third one there, thanks to the aim of some local shaobab) there are also now a blimp over Beit Sahour and fairground-style hot air balloon kind of over Beit Sahour, in the direction of the IDF military base at heriodian. and yesterday there were a couple of aluminium foil balloons lurking round the church and the peace centre, of the type I think are used for blocking signals - like the few mobile phones inside the church with any charge left? the tosser of an Israeli soldier who turned up at the star hotel with his APC yesterday evening to schmooze with the less discriminating journalists tried to claim that they were for 'decoration' and that the
loudspeaker was for celebrations of Israeli independence day...quite bizarre and sick. I’m supposed to be going to Jerusalem today, but I’m not sure that I can stand the thought of being somewhere festooned with the flags of this apartheid state, whilst they murder people just a few miles away. another man was shot by sniper fire in the church yesterday; he was initially thought to be dead, then breathed whilst being moved, but with 2 bullet wounds in the chest and no possibility of medical care there seems little hope for him. he was 26 years old.

for those of you who expressed concern about Khaled, the Bethlehem TV cameraman who was arrested at deheishe, he was released yesterday. he was held at gush etzion prison, where he says there were hundreds of people, many of whom had not been processed at all - the prison did not even know who they were holding. they were kept blindfolded all the time they were being held - whilst eating, sleeping and using the toilet. and the guards had a free hand to act as they pleased, beating and kicking the prisoners and preventing them from going to the toilet when they needed - Khaled described one weeping 16-year-old boy who was prevented from going to the toilet and then beaten when he went in his trousers. Khaled, whilst fine, is, not surprisingly, not his usual cheerily cynical self.

internationals protesting in Ramallah against the pitifully ineffectual nature of Colin Powell's visit had been prevented from getting anywhere near the muqada, and are presently at deadlock with the IDF. pictures from Jenin show the continuing atrocities there; including the burnt body of a small boy - see . houses there and at the balata refugee camp in Nablus bear the hallmarks of having been exploded from inside, by bombs carried into them by soldiers and then remotely detonated.

by the way, for another personal - and more long-term - account of life under occupation, go to for Georgie's diary from Bethlehem.

take care, and see you all soon(ish).

sarah xx

Tue, 16 Apr 2002 10:55:16

hello all,

back from Jerusalem. it was horrible - the Israeli independence day celebrations are tomorrow and the place is covered with the flags that I can now only associate with the fronts of APCs and Israeli army jeeps. got some aggro for wandering around even east Jerusalem with a kuffiyeh, but also got some wonderful responses from Palestinians. it was extremely strange being there - we all kept jumping at anything that remotely sounded like a bang - coke bottles being driven over etc. and all that fresh food everywhere...! surely vegetables come out of tin cans? but lots of productive meetings (!) and a better level of co-ordination than we've really managed so far. another group went up to Jenin this morning, and a group went to Nablus yesterday.

spoke to one of the guys who just came back from Jenin. contrary to what the press keep saying, it sounds like anyone with a bit of nowse and a convincing but vague story can wheedle their way in. not that many would want to - one of the internationals up there counted 14 bodies uncovered in 2 hours, but as soon as one came to light it would be spirited away by the IDF to an unknown fate, doubtless beyond the ken of its relatives. hideous to realise how many people must now be fated to never know what happened to their loved ones, or at least to have a damn good idea without ever really knowing...and do we think the IDF are including those 14 in the '45' dead they were admitting yesterday for the entire camp? French woman (in her 60s), though, is doing the most astounding work - she swiped a fire truck and has been driving aid around Jenin, and when she found an IDF-looted pharmacy she loaded up buckets with medication and doled them out. my hero.

in Nablus, the IDF has been shelling Askar refugee camp from tanks and helicopters all night, and has had it under closed military status for 4 days, so no access to the wounded for medical personnel - same old story. we just had a report in that the IDF are doing house-to-house searches there and have just killed a 10-year-old girl in the process.

Colin Powell's visit was, unsurprisingly, a complete non-event in terms of actually achieving anything remotely useful. scum. and now they've arrested Marwan Bagouti, secretary general of Fateh, and are rapidly preparing a mock trial for him, ask Mordechai Vanunu, as well as thousands of Palestinians, what Israeli justice looks like...

[Merrick adds: Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, released evidence to the press about the Israeli government secretly and illegally producing nuclear weapons. He was kidnapped in Italy by the Israeli secret service, taken to Israel and imprisoned. He served eleven and a half years in solitary confinement. He is still inside. For more details see]

here in Bethlehem, things are pretty tense, and it's pretty strange being back. the rubbish has been piling up so much that people have started to burn it, so the city smells of acrid smoke. the IDF killed a 24 year old woman and wounded her 8 month old baby yesterday whilst doing house-to-house in Doha. and they are still blowing up buildings here for no very obvious reason. there are also stirrings up by the nativity church, but with this atmosphere no-one is going up there...

in Ramallah, a Palestinian AP reporter was arrested by the IDF, and an international was informed that anyone seen out on the streets would be shot on sight. this seems a tightening of the situation there, as we had had reports that Ramallah was easier to walk around – less locked-down - than Bethlehem. Sharon seems implacable, and determined to ignore the opinions of the world and its peoples, especially whilst the USA slowly backslides its way out of what puny stand it took in favour of withdrawal.

take care,


Tue, 16 Apr 2002 12:36:42

oh 'eck

welcome back to Bethlehem...

the IDF just took over the star hotel, where we were staying to start with and which is where all the press, including a number of Palestinians, are staying. it is also, not coincidentally, where said press have been filming the nativity church and Manger Square from because the fifth floor has a ringside view and is the only place they can see it from...and that's where the people in the building are being excluded from. they've been told that this situation will continue for several days.

there are also a couple of apache helicopter gunships hovering around. they don't usually come out in daylight unless they have a purpose...

this is pretty worrying, mainly for the people in the church but also for Palestinians in the hotel, given that other Palestinian journalists have been detained today.

s xxx

Tue, 16 Apr 2002 18:04:07

it's a hot, muggy evening in Bethlehem, and smoke is cloaking the hill over Beit jala. some of it is rubbish fires, but some of us looks very thick and like it's from something bigger. always a worry, smoke.

the IDF are attacking the church of the nativity this evening. we've been expecting it for so long, but to know it's happening now is so painful. they've eliminated the only press witnesses by barring them from the top floor of the star. there are flares going off regularly over the sniper positions above al-Azza camp, and loads of gunfire. I’m not sure if the apaches are still around, but there is an IDF drone (an unmanned observation aircraft) buzzing around. they are revolting little things; they make a high-pitched whine and when it's dark you don't know what they can see with infrared or thermal imaging or whatever. locals report lots of explosions round the church and the possibility of gas being used to drive them out, and a rumour that a fire may have started in the church also. unconfirmed. note that a right-wing member of the Knesset [Israeli parliament] suggested several days ago, with no sense of irony, that the people in there be gassed out. what with the church and the arrests this afternoon and the threatened demolition of a block which houses 15 families (certified empty by the red cross for the IDF) and the deaths yesterday, there is a definite tension and sense of re-escalation here.

a group of internationals got the shit kicked out of them in Nablus today as well - poor, sweet Mika was beaten till he bled, and one woman may have 2 broken fingers. they were punched, kicked and smashed in the ribs with rifle butts, all whilst trying to get food and medicine in to camps which have been closed military zones - under complete lockdown - for 4 days.

and in Jenin internationals have been trying to get more aid and witnesses in, swathed in the reek of dead bodies.

meanwhile, Powell and bush try to set up 'peace summits' without Arafat. and over the illegal settlement (colony) of Har Gilo, overlooking Bethlehem, they are celebrating Israeli independence day with a firework display, the bangs of the rockets mingling with the sounds of civilians being shelled and shot.

s xxx