14 April – 28 August 2013
I spent three days being a tourist before cycling to Ramallah to join the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). This essentially involved being a witness to the ongoing occupation, recording and reporting as well as participating in demonstrations and offering solidarity to those I met. I had originally planned to volunteer with the ISM for three weeks but after my first day there I decided I would stay six weeks and then later four and half months until the end of August. During this time I experienced the wonderful hospitality and strength of the Palestinian people first hand in the face of the ongoing Israeli occupation. (All these photos are my own and the links with them are of the corresponding reports written for the ISM website by myself and other volunteers).
Dabke being performed in the ancient roman theatre in Sebastiya.
Mmm maklouba, midday feast in Asira after helping clean the Retaj Womens Centre.
Looking across the Jordan Valley on a visit to Duma with Ghasssan and Wael.
I witnessed many times the violence of the Israeli settlers and army towards the Palestinian people. I visited homes threatened for demolition or raided by the army the previous night. I met farmers attacked by illegal Israeli settlers while trying to work on their own land and saw fields and olive trees burn from fires Israeli settlers had lit. I saw army officers try to intimidate children on their way to school and invade family houses because no one would ever say no when they knocked on the door.
A house in Qusra that has demolition orders issued against it by the Israeli Army. Eight members of one family have lived here for ten years. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/qusra-demolition-orders-if-they-destroy-this-house-where-will-we-go/
Asira villagers desperately try to harvest crops before they catch fire whilst soldiers look on and prevent them from putting out the flames. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/arson-attack-on-asira-village-by-illegal-settlement-of-yitzhar/
Soldiers march down the street towards schools in Hebron before 9am in attempt to provoke and intimidate the children on the way to school. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/military-presence-at-hebron-schools-regular-updates-2/
I saw countless horrible acts that Palestinians endure every day that I know would be an outrage in my own country. And yet there it is commonplace, still horrible but never anything new. The price one pays for living under occupation. On the other hand I saw the steadfastness of the Palestinians in the face of this and visited social and cultural centres uniting communities and participated in demonstrations that protested the latest atrocities and the continuing occupation of their lives and land.
Women have their id checked by Israeli soldiers in order to pass through the Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah to Jerusalem. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/restriction-of-movement-remains-for-palestinians-during-ramadan/
Villagers from Urif speak with army after settlers have attacked the village. The illegal settlement of Yitzhar above Urif, Burin, Madama and Asira is considered one of the most violent in the West Bank by the UN. The Israeli Army are present to protect the settlers and maintain the occupation by violently oppressing the Palestinians, as happened this day. The soldiers used pepper spray, sound bombs and tear gas against the villagers while the settlers threw stones and lit the land on fire. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/villages-of-urif-burin-and-asira-violently-attacked-by-settlers/
The village of Burin holds its annual Kite Festival despite the Israeli army closing roads on the day preventing visitors access.
Each week villages across the West Bank hold weekly Friday demonstrations marching towards stolen land, the apartheid wall or a road gate. The people participating know they will be on the receiving end of the Israeli armies violence and face possible arrest but they demonstrate anyway. I have had my eyes and throat sting from tear gas and feared being shot with rubber bullets or sprayed with skunk water but all the while knowing as an international the violence I will experience is little compared to that a Palestinian could receive. At the end of the day the worst that was likely to happen was that I would be deported, I never had to fear months or years in a Israeli prison or being shot with live ammunition.
Children in Kafr Qaddum protest against Israeli soldiers who pasted posters in their village threatening to arrest them. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/06/we-are-the-armywe-will-catch-you-or-we-will-come-to-your-house-soldiers-threaten-children-of-kafr-qaddum/
Soldier about to pull the pin of a sound bomb on non violent demonstrators in Nabi Saleh after they got tired of listening to the demonstrators talk about the occupation. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/resistance-still-strong-in-nabi-saleh-video-and-photo-essay/
Demonstrator looks over the apartheid wall at the army in Nilin. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/06/nilin-words-versus-the-occupation/
I could go on and on about all the horrible crimes that the Israeli government and army commit against the Palestinian people but there is no end to this as the occupation continues. If I had been more organised/reflective then I could have written about things as they happened as a number of other long term volunteers did. At the end of an extremely violent day after the villages of Urif, Asira and Burin were attacked by settlers and soldiers I sat outside the home of a local activist in Burin with a fellow volunteer A from IWPS . We played with the young children as the sun set and the lights of the illegal settlement of Yitzhar shone out from the neighbouring hillside where the violence had begun. A summed up the day in an email she posted http://allsidesnosides.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/an-email-about-a-bad-day/
Violence is not the only method of oppression as C whom I volunteered with describes here http://whatisawinpalestine.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/watch-out-friday-youre-not-safe-or-sacred-either/. When in Hebron I saw the ongoing harassment of school children by Israeli soldiers, another fellow volunteer Ellie whom spent a lot of time there reporting on this writes about it here http://www.ellieceeoverseas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/palestine-spit-singing-soldiers-and.html. In this blog she also takes the time to discuss getting skunked and I can testify to being one of the sensible comrades who only got misted by rather less fearlessly running away from the action. It’s only an illusion of safety though as not even your own home is safe in Palestine. In the following link a fellow volunteer recounts our visit to a home in Sarra up for demolition and shows the harsh reality of a home night invasion and demolition by the Israeli army http://discorporatedo.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/reflections-in-broken-glass/.
Getting dressed up for a march through Nablus and Tulkarem to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe). http://palsolidarity.org/2013/05/photo-essay-march-through-nablus-and-tulkarem-commemorates-the-nakba/
Looking out the kitchen window of the Nablus apartment. Nablus, part of Area A which is technically under Palestinian Authority control but is regularly invaded by the Israeli army. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/video-israeli-forces-raid-nablus-during-ramadan/
Bedouin by tents and the apartheid wall in Anata at sunset. Every Friday the Bedouin community on the outskirts of Anata, East Jerusalem are caught between clashes of the Israeli army and young men from Anata. The Bedouin families are subject to the tear gas, sound bombs and plastic coated steel bullets used by the army against the young men despite having nothing to do with the clashes. http://palsolidarity.org/2013/07/video-anata-bedouin-communities-caught-in-crossfire/
If I could sum it all up in one story then this is the one. Five teenage boys are imprisoned in Israeli prison right now (December 2013) facing charges of 20 counts of attempted murder each for alleged stone-throwing despite the complete lack of evidence. I met Um Fadi, the mother of one of the imprisoned boys Ali a number of times in Bidiya where she worked at the Women for Life Centre. It was obvious to see the emotional and physical strain of having her 16 year old son imprisoned and the months drain by without any change (they have been imprisoned since March 2013). This is the epitomy of the occupation, wrecking families, young peoples futures and their communities. You can read about it all here http://haresboys.wordpress.com/ but more importantly can help by donating funds to the families here http://namlebee.com/index.php?np=proyecto&pro=27. If you can’t donate any money then you can support all Palestinians by educating yourself on the occupation and not spending money on Israel by participating in the BDS campaign (boycotts, divestment and sanctions). There are two sides to every story, one side is the occupier and the other is the occupied.