Damian Clarke’s Update From Palestine (12)
Damian Clarke is a 31 year old from Miramar in Wellington, NZ and is currently in Palestine under training with the International Solidarity Movement - a group of internationalists campaigning for peace in the Middle East. Damian is writing to Scoop regularly about his experiences.
On Saturday I went from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to visit some of the holy sites there. I had finished volunteering for ISM and wanted to play tourist for a day. I caught a Palestinian service taxi to get there.
Palestinians walking between roadblocks at Beit Jala.
Photograph taken by the security staff at Ben Gurion airport with my camera when I was searched.
Road closure outside Rachels tomb in Bethlehem.
Palestinian Authority building in Bethlehem- destroyed by F16 missiles.
Apartheid is well established in Israel/ Palestine. Different coloured taxis and different number plates allow ease of access to tourist sites for Israelis and tourists, while making it difficult for the indigenous Palestinian population to move within their own country. Needless to say there were no other tourists in the taxi van that I travelled on.
We had only travelled as far as the outer suburbs of Jerusalem when two Israeli soldiers pulled the van over. They boarded the van and spent about five minutes giving a blind man at the front of the taxi grief for not having his papers in order. They then inspected all ID cards and my passport. Four men were taken from the taxi and the taxi left without them. No-one in the taxi seemed surprised. I don't know how long they were detained for. There is a maximum stay of six months for administrative detention. This means you can be jailed for six months without charge. One man I met had been detained for six months after which they walked him to the gate of the detention centre and back to serve another six months. A year in prison without charge. I can't help but feel the Israeli spies in New Zealand custody for passport fraud have been let off lightly.
The taxi got as far as a place called Beit Jala where we all had to get out of the vehicle and walk between two road blocks (mounds of rocks, concrete blocks and dirt) to get another taxi the rest of the way to Bethlehem.
Once in Bethlehem I visited the church of the Nativity where Jesus Christ was born. It was guarded by a Palestinian policeman armed with only a mobile phone. The Palestinian police aren't allowed to carry guns or even batons by the Israeli Occupation Forces, yet Ariel Sharon will be quick to blame the Palestinian Authority for breaches of security.
On my way back to the taxi stand after visiting Rachel’s tomb and the Palestinian Cultural Centre I missed a road that I was supposed to turn down. I accidentally came across a demolished building. I took some photographs and went into a store across the road to ask what had happened there. It turned out to be the Palestine Authority building which was destroyed by missiles fired from F16 fighter jets two and a half years ago. The taxi journeys back to Jerusalem were without incident.
In Jerusalem later that night I met up with some ISM people who I had been with in Marda. They had left the town because it had been quiet for the last few days so they were taking a couple of days off. One of them received a text message while I was there saying that the Occupation Forces were in Marda again with a lot of vehicles. I was leaving that night so couldn't do anything about it. It just made it harder to go knowing that I was leaving behind friends I had made who had to continue living with the daily abuse of the occupation. Some people I met are now looking at the possibility of taking the military to court in Israel for their abuses in Marda.
In the mountain town of Budrus where I had also spent some time they have managed to have the planned route of the wall changed so that it is now only taking a small amount of land from the village. This concession has taken months of protest action and sacrifice by the people of Budrus. Hopefully the planned path of the wall stays changed. There are many towns in Palestine like Marda and Budrus who are suffering badly because of the illegal apartheid walls being built in the West Bank, not to mention the cities, but I have only written of my personal experiences in Palestine.
I'm now in Athens. I fly to London today. My stay in Palestine is sadly over.
I made an error in my last journal. Instead of "Tayoush" I should have written "Ta'ayush" as the name of an Israeli Human Rights organisation.