Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Visitors to West Bank Describe Palestinians as Overpowered, but Not Resigned

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Visitors to West Bank Describe Palestinians as Overpowered, but Not Resigned

Article excerpt

ON A TWO-WEEK TRIP to the West Bank, Greta Berlin, Mary Hughes-Thompson, Hedy Epstein and journalist Alison Weir twice were removed from buses for taking photos, Berlin's passport was confiscated, and Epstein was barred from entering Hebron through a Palestinian-only path because she is a Jew.

The biggest difference they noticed since their last trip to the West Bank two years ago, Berlin and Thompson said, is the recognition by the Palestinians that they are militarily overpowered.

"This is not to say the Palestinians are resigned to defeat," Berlin clarified, "so much as an attitude that this, too, shall pass-history is on our side."

The veteran International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers were incensed at the way Israel's apartheid wall has carved up the ancient city of Bethlehem.

"The wall has locked up Bethlehemites into a prison within a 27-foot wall that snakes through the city," Thompson said. "People are herded into a mechanized terminal where soldiers shout orders in Hebrew. I protested that Bethlehem isn't in Israel, so why were they speaking Hebrew?"

One of Berlin's first tasks after crossing the Sheikh Hussein Bridge from Jordan into Israel on Aug. 11 was to join Neta Golan and Mohammed al-Khatib to help prepare a power point presentation the latter was to make in Brussels on Aug. 30 and 31.

For nearly two-and-a-half years, Al-Khatib has led weekly nonviolent demonstrations in Bil'in village to protest the erection of the apartheid wall that is fencing off more than half of Bil'in's agricultural lands from villagers so as to expand the huge Modi'in Ilit settlement.

The ISM volunteers were in Bil'in on Aug. 18 to take part in the 132nd consecutive demonstration. As usual, the peaceful, singing villagers approached a phalanx of jeeps and armed soldiers awaiting them at the wall.

"Eight actors in full clown make-up led the 300 demonstrators," Berlin recalled. "The Israelis shot tear gas canisters, releasing the new CS gas which really is heavy duty mace. The clowns were overwhelmed. It was a surreal sight as their make-up began to run while the clowns gagged and staggered."

That day, Berlin said, she helped villagers pick up 150 tear gas canisters-lethal projectiles which shatter metal particles when they hit an object.

Thompson and Berlin were thrilled about the moral victory Bil'in achieved Aug. 31, when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of its petition to change the route of the apartheid wall, allowing 575 acres of agricultural land to remain within the village.

"I credit this victory to Mohammed al-Khatib and the Committee Against the Wall's steadfast and courageous insistence to conduct those weekly demonstrations that caught the world's attention," Berlin said.

Having last been to Jenin in 2003, the activists were astonished to see a completely rebuilt refugee camp paid for by the United Arab Emirates. The children's theater and restaurants have re-opened, but, they lamented, each night the Israelis make deadly incursions into Jenin and Nablus, capturing and killing civilians.

Thompson was particularly disturbed about the plight of an elderly Palestinian whose East Jerusalem home overlooks the Wailing Wall. He is receiving legal notices that he has "sold" his home to a Jewish buyer who intends to take possession of the house, Thompson said. But the Palestinian was never approached by anyone about selling his home and has never received money. The home owner is poor and can't afford an attorney; since there is no office or agency for him to turn to, she noted, he could be evicted at any time.

Asked why she has elected to travel to the dangerous West Bank six times-including a 2002 trip during which settlers severely beat her as she assisted Palestinians harvesting their olive crops-Thompson, a 73-year-old retired documentary filmmaker, replied: "I can't NOT go back. Each time I leave, I feel I'm leaving a little more of my heart behind. …

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