Eight Days in Palestine – Day 3
A new feature with excerpts from a Diary by “Ted from Liverpool”.
Day 3 – Abu Dis to El Birah
Tuesday 3rd November 2009
We had an extremely busy day on Tuesday – before leaving Abu Dis we stopped and took photographs of the Wall which here runs alongside the road out of the town. Between the road and the wall was a half-built house, overlooking the Wall. The municipal authority had given building permission but the Israelis had now issued a demolition notice; presumably too near to the wall.
On the way to our next visit we were stopped at a checkpoint where we were instructed to pull over and an IDF soldier instructed the Palestinian sitting next to me, behind the driver, to open the sliding door. This he did but the soldier went to the back and opened the rear door where he examined the contents. As the soldier returned my neighbour provocatively slid the door shut – the soldier gestured for it to be opened, which it duly was, and then the two eyeballed each other for a couple of minutes with neither giving way. The upshot was that both the driver and the Palestinian were taken to the checkpoint hut for questioning – where they stood and waited for a quarter of an hour or so – it transpired that both were known to the IDF, having served time in Israeli gaols. Back in the van we four UK men hotly discussed the merits of passive resistance or whether discretion was the better part of valour. There could be no conclusive answer although later it occurred that the rockets of Hamas were similarly ineffectual and that perhaps the guile of a serpent and the wisdom of Solomon might be more effective.
Our next visits were to a women’s centre, the Society of Inash El Usra, at El Birah, then the Palestine Medical Relief Society followed by a centre to protect women in Israeli gaols. We are getting a insight into what is an oppressive occupation
The Women’s Centre at El Birah was most impressive, established in 1965 to empower women and teach them skills, now grown from small beginnings to a large modern complex. The current president, who is the daughter of a former mayor of Jerusalem – a Palestinian born in BethSheba, spoke of their success and this growth at some length.
She then spoke about the troubles and appealed to us that they should have world wide assistance. She introduced a Palestinian lady of about 70 who had lost one son, killed by the Israelis and who had a further four sons in Israeli prisons. We were later to learn that 1 in 4 men have been in Israeli prisons; of the 3 men accompanying us, 2 had been in prison, the Palestinian of whom I spoke earlier (clearly a born rebel) on 8 occasions. On enquiry, we found that most men with whom we met had been in prison – all of them seemed kind and thoughtful men. For Israelis to say that returning 1000 prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier is too great a sacrifice is arrant nonsense – in any event, we were told, the 1000 who will be chosen will be those coming to the end of their sentences.
Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) is a grassroots, community-based Palestinian health organization, an extremely large NGO working in healthcare all over Palestine. A vast majority of PMRS’ work relies on the help of local and international volunteers – working with approximately 40,000 volunteers, 3,500 of whom are health professionals, in order to accomplish nearly 50% of its work. It was interesting for me to note that the deputy director of the Medical Relief Society had been trained at the Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine.
At the centre to protect women in Israeli gaols, we were informed that there were currently 27 women in prison, mostly for providing accommodation or food for their husbands when the latter were being sought by the Israelis. It was their children and families that the Society helped.