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Passover near Palestine: some scenes from a diary

Ann Jungmann
28 May 2003

Friday 14 March 2003

After flying in to Tel Aviv at 5am having spent most of the night in the transit lounge of Athens airport, I go straight off to a demonstration in support of the refuseniks. Our trip is organised by Jo Bird, a peace activist in Manchester, who has already made two trips to Palestine under the auspices of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Jo began to gestate the idea of organising a group of British Jews to go out and talk to peace groups on both sides of the green line.

The demo is in a rather scruffy park in the centre of Tel Aviv. I am expecting a bedraggled dozen or so protestors surrounded by abusive onlookers, but not at all. The crowd must count nearly a thousand and as far as I can see not a single counter-protestor: families with children in tow, old lefties in caps who looked like Trotsky, Palestinian women in headscarves, lots of school children and every kind of young person – punks, hippies, bohemians, intense politicos and a sprinkling of African and Asians.

The atmosphere is carnival-like, groups sitting on the lawn and picnicking, people chatting and laughing and greeting each other warmly, music playing – it all feels rather 1970s in its relaxed good humour.

That evening, my cousin has invited twelve friends round. Hadass is a remarkable woman, but I wonder what her friends will be like and how much I should say to them. Last year Netta, Hadass’s younger daughter was very badly injured in the bomb that went off in the dining room at the Hebrew University. I emailed and said I would understand if she was not sympathetic to the tone of my visit. She emailed back, “No I am a dove, do come” but I think she finds it difficult. Elie (Hadass’s partner) is a lovely old peacenik, who survived the war in Poland by living with his nanny as a peasant. The guests arrive but I have had no sleep at all and wonder how quickly I can nip off to bed.

kid
A still from Promises, a recent project by Israeli-American filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg. The film explores the conflict through the eyes of seven Palestinian and Israeli children between the ages of nine and thirteen.

Most of the people I chat to tell me straight out that I am naïve and do not understand the intractability of the problem and get quite cross, which is exactly what I had anticipated. It is hard to argue. One woman, who had grown up in Egypt, is very open about her racism: she doesn’t like Arabs. Despite living in Paris for many years, she wouldn’t go there now – too many Arabs.

I ask her if she has ever gone back to Egypt. “No, now it is full of Arabs.” “But it always was”. “Yes, but we didn’t see them, they didn’t touch our lives,” she replied. “They emptied the rubbish,” I said. She agrees but feels that this was as it should be.

The open racism of some older Israelis in particular has always shocked me. Maybe the fact that Zionism developed during the high noon of European imperialism and the attitudes that went with it, are responsible for this. Some ideas in Israel became frozen in a colonial mentality. The younger generation, who take gap years and travel, will perhaps be more open-minded. I make my excuses and retire after talking to a charming couple – she from Russia, one of four children of a soldier in the Red Army who retreated eastwards during the war, had amazing tales to tell.

“Did she ever regret that her mother brought her to Israel?” I ask. “No, never,” she replies emphatically. “We did something here, we achieved something.” I look around: everyone is talking Hebrew, a dead language a century ago. Yes, they have definitely “done something” remarkable, in spite of all. Her daughter, she tells me, has written a novel in English: can I help? I say I will talk to her and then crash into bed.

Saturday 15 March

The trip starts in earnest with a taxi ride to a small town on the border of the green line. We are to go with a group of physicians for Human Rights to an impoverished Arab rural village on the West Bank.

We find a scruffy garage-cum-restaurant where everyone congregates. There are about fifteen Israeli doctors and nurses, who give up a Saturday to offer free treatment in the territories. An Arab doctor will join us later. We all crowd into three dilapidated mini vans and set off on a major road. The landscape is bleak, a thin earth cover liberally endowed with unfriendly-looking rocks. After a while all the cars stop and the drivers jump out and remove part of the metal fence at the side of the road. After much manipulation of the car we go down a dirt track. I am puzzled. It is to avoid waiting at the roadblock, I am told. Looking down the valley I see a long queue of cars in both directions on the main road and Israeli soldiers searching them.

After ten minutes we get to what is not a village in the English sense but a rather large conglomeration of houses. Presumably for defensive reasons people live in larger groups on hills and go out to the fields in groups. This has never been a peaceful land! We drive through the village, the subject of much curiosity, till we arrive at the municipal centre, a new building on the outskirts.

Huge crowds are waiting, women on chairs under the trees, the men in the front. Most of the men are wearing trousers and shirts with a few in more traditional dress; the women are all in long dresses and headscarves. We are treated with great friendliness and respect. The doctors start to set up shop; there is nothing for my group to do. People keep getting us chairs and there is much smiling and nodding and looking at babies.

One man speaks Hebrew and through an interpreter wants to show us the new school. We go off to a half-finished building directly next to the municipal centre. Apparently it cannot be completed because so many of the men who used to work in Israel are now out of work. Far less money is coming in. We are shown the ground floor that is functioning, classes of small boys sitting in desks, learning very seriously. There is a staircase that only leads to rubble. I am shocked that young children are left in such a dangerous situation. One of the teachers speaks English, he tells me about the National Curriculum that the Palestinian Authority is devising. They are now up to year 3. They take education very seriously.

I look around: it is very basic, few books, little of everything. Adel takes me to see the exhibition they have put on for the parents. It is rather sad, dominated by pictures of the martyrs of the first intifada launched in 1987. Some of the children’s drawings are up, many tanks and guns and planes. They are in rather subdued pencil colours and I compare them to the bright work done by children in Britain, in paint and wax crayons and magic markers. The drawings are good; they would only need good materials to work with. I offer to send Adel some of my books and he is delighted. At least the covers will brighten up the rooms, even if they can’t read them.

The school is built apparently on the site of the children’s playing field, because the nearby settlement won’t let them expand any further. Suddenly, school is out and the boys all swarm from the building and up to the municipal centre. The crowd around us giggling and pushing, it is hard to know how to react, apart from smiling and reading the words on their T-shirts. No one seems to have much to do. I think how alien it must seem to all those work-oriented Israelis.

Also the place is a mess, tyres and rubble, rubbish and weeds are everywhere. What a contrast to the neat watered lawns of Israel; one can see how mutual confusion might arise. I notice that everyone is well dressed and very clean. None of them look hungry. It is quite different in Gaza, I am told.

Before we leave they insist on feeding us. We all go upstairs. What a feast: dips and kebabs, pita and spiced mince, yoghurt and pickles, Greek salad and lamb’s liver stew – all delicious. Then we get fresh fruit and Diet Coke. It is all served by men, though clearly prepared by the women. I feel guilty, I did nothing to deserve this but the laws of hospitality must be observed. I sit next to a darling old lady, with a punk haircut and hippie clothes. She is over 80 and a nurse on a kibbutz and comes every Saturday.

Afterwards, I talk to an attractive young Israeli woman doctor and to a dignified older man who turns out to be internationally known – Israel’s leading expert on Aids – but who feels he has to do these trips. They are an impressive group. As with so many of the people we will meet, they are self-selected members of the opposition. I like them a lot.

We go back along the dirt road, dozens of cars coming the other way. The fence on the main road is permanently wrenched back. The group eat together and debrief and discuss experiences and impressions.

Sunday 16 March

Ora, the girl who has written the book, comes over with the manuscript. When I tell her why I am here, she lights up.

She is very involved in peace activities and her partner even more so. She is so different from the older people I had met two days before. Ora had travelled and enjoyed varied cultures and currently worked as a therapist. Jacob, her partner, is professor of Japanese and Chinese Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a Zen master. He is trying to get money to train people to work as enablers with mixed groups of Israelis and Palestinians. Groups always fall apart, she tells me: the levels of rage and recrimination get too much and groups fracture. Jacob wants to train people specially to get groups over that stage. We agree that I will meet him. I look forward to it.

The group is going to drive to Haifa to meet up with a girl refusenik, Tal. When I lived on a kibbutz between Haifa and Tel Aviv, I regularly hitched along what was then a simple two-lane road. It was beautiful: the coastal plain on one side with corn, bananas and oranges growing at the side of the road and magnificent biblical mountains, rising up on the other side. The sort of mountains you might expect an angry prophet to descend from. Now the highway is six or eight lanes, and hideous. On either side are ugly housing estates. The population has more than doubled since then. A nice memory is expunged! But Haifa is still a charming town on a hill with attractive Arab architecture and a modest aura.

Tal is a tall attractive redhead of 18. Her English is fluent and she is very articulate, confident and passionate in her beliefs. She tells us that girls can refuse to serve – unlike the males, they are allowed to have a conscience. She is not threatened with prison for her refusenik status, but many people shun her.

Tal talks sympathetically about the boys who are in prison for refusing their army service and admires their bravery. She points out that this is a very militaristic society and that your role in the army is indoctrinated from a very early age. Not doing army service is unthinkable to most people; you have to be exceptional not to give in to pressure from peers and others.

Tal has experienced anger from people who don’t want to go to the territories but feel either that it is their duty, or that they can’t cope with the disgrace. Most of the young are very resentful that they have to surrender years of their lives and quite possibly their actual lives to protect the settlers. This is a constant theme: the real dislike and rage against the settlers.

The movement to refuse has several branches. The most famous and most effective was the group of officers who came together and wrote to papers with their protest. They did stress that they were still Zionists but did not want to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, the occupied territories. Some of the younger ones refuse from a non-Zionist or post-Zionist position, like Tal herself. Some won’t go into the army at all, others are just not prepared to serve in the territories. Tal now plans to work giving advice to potential refuseniks and helping them in any way she can.

Boredom seems to be a big part of the occupation. Arabs are bored constantly queuing to move around, soldiers are bored looking at endless identity cards, Israelis are bored being searched at every bus station, cinema, shopping complex. The vast army of security guards is also bored. It makes people tense and edgy. The whole country seems to be wired and on a short fuse. It seemed to me that all of Israel/Palestine is a prison: the Palestinians are in an overcrowded prison and their Israeli guards are caught up in the same psychological space.

Tuesday 18 March

I miss the visit to Windows – an Israeli/Palestinian group dedicated to trying to put the other’s view across. They produce educational materials putting out the two narratives that the sides hold. I gather the group had a fascinating trip. After that they went off to Bethlehem with the ISM. I decided not to go, as I want to see my Palestinian friend Sonia in Ramallah.

checkpoint

I ring Sonia and tell her I am leaving Jerusalem, taking a cab to the roadblock outside Ramallah, after a drive through a bleak and rocky land, with ugly buildings scattered about which detract from the Biblical splendour of the area. At the checkpoint there is a great crush of people, piles of rubbish and a crazy mass of hooting cars. I get out and walk across the checkpoint. No one asks to see my passport. Maybe they don’t care who goes in that direction.

At the other side I take another cab to “The Maxi Mart Supermarket” as Sonia told me. I expect a Tesco-type building, but it is small and modest, “Maximum Value and Minimum Prices”. Sonia is there waiting for me. I am introduced to the woman who worked in the shop and it was all very friendly.

Sonia and I have a long chat. Then we take a cab for Birzeit university, where she teaches. It drops us about a mile from the university and we have to walk over a very rough stretch of road for about ten minutes and then pick up another taxi at the other end. This completely pointless exercise seems to be a part of routine Israeli harassment. Sonia says it is really bad in very hot, very cold or very wet weather. What makes it even more of a problem is that the length of the distance that has to be walked changes regularly, hence it is impossible to judge how long the journey will take. People are often very late or very early arriving at the university.

On the way to Sonia’s lecture we meet a professor of English, who is feeling devastated about the destruction of the national museum and library in Baghdad. She experiences it as an attack on the history and culture of the region, something the Americans had permitted or even encouraged. I feel that the disintegration in Iraq is traumatic for many Palestinians.

In the canteen afterwards, the students look like students anywhere, chatting and laughing, some flirting going on, mixed groups talking away. Lots of different styles among the girls, some totally western, some a mix with the headscarf, others also wearing long dresses. Then back to the house. This time the distance to be walked is longer: at the other side wait Anise, Sonia’s husband and her son Qays aged seven. What chaos at either end of the university road, what madness!

Back to Sonia’s for tea, where people come to meet me. Sonia’s sister-in-law is bringing the food. It all happens early at around 6pm, probably a habit from the days when there is a curfew. Sonia’s brother Said turns up with his beautiful wife and their daughter, soon joined by Jehan, who runs an English-language centre for children and another very jolly woman who works in one of the ministries. The conversation is very lively: everyone eating, talking and laughing a lot.

They want to know how things are in Israel. Of course they cannot travel there. I try to be even-handed. Said describes the successful demonstration he had led that day to demand the release of Marwan Barghouti, his job being to try to get the release of political prisoners. Apparently it had been well supported. Said has spent eight years in an Israeli jail for being a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from the age of 16 to 24. Sonia also was in jail for three years for the same “crime”. What can one say? Said is very bright, charming, articulate and funny. I enjoy listening to the discussion in excellent English on the rapidly changing world situation. They do not feel hopeless. They are much encouraged by the huge protest anti-war marches all over the world and feel that United States forces will get bogged down in Iraq and that America is not as powerful as it thinks.

They all believe that Iraq is “Sharon’s War”. They are not sure if the result will be positive for the Palestinians or not. Israelis are delighted and are being better humoured than usual because they feel they are on the winning side. No one seems very enthusiastic about the new Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen. So many of their best people are dead or in prison or broken. I am shocked to learn that Jehan’s husband had disappeared into an Israeli jail and had never returned. She had hoped for twenty years: but no longer. I understand that he was an outstandingly clever man, a potential leader. No wonder the Israelis can’t find anyone to make peace with!

There is also rage at the fact that the Israelis are occupying Palestine and yet continue to experience themselves as the victims. That is incomprehensible to most Palestinians and almost so to me. Also on both sides they seem to feel there was a ‘golden age’ not so long ago, when peace seemed likely, if not inevitable. Each side sees the other as responsible for the breakdown, and as a consequence feels a great sense of betrayal. Two comments stand out for me from that evening, one from Said and one from the jolly lady.

laughing kids
Another still from Promises

She says that the Israeli army who patrol the streets now are not the same as the ones who arrived in 1967. In 1967, they seemed quite human, but the ones they deal with now do not. Sonia says that she could not see them as human, until one day she saw one without his shirt or hat or shoes on and suddenly the automaton became a very vulnerable young boy. They all feel that the occupation is having a brutalising effect on Israel and that the men that they confront on a daily basis cannot go home and become good fathers and husbands. As I read that the statistics of violence against women and children in Israel have soared, this may be the case.

The other memorable statement was Said asking, “You think I’m a clever, amusing, interesting fellow?” I agree that that was indeed so. “Well,” he continues, “you should see me at a checkpoint in front of the soldiers. Can I speak English? No, I can’t speak English. Can I speak Hebrew? No, I can’t speak Hebrew. Can I speak Arabic? Well, hardly, I’m just a gibbering fool. That is what the soldier sees and wants to see.”

Israelis see Arabs as either the idiot who sweeps the street in Tel Aviv or as a terrorist. At the point of contact, it is better if they think the former rather than the latter.

“What can I do to help?” I ask.

“Just pass the word round that we’re normal people who want normal lives, to work, send our kids to school, go on holiday, visit our families.”

Wednesday 19 March

Ramallah is where “The Leader”, Yasser Arafat, lives. Many journalists go there. Partly for this reason, it is the least-destroyed and least-patrolled town on the West Bank – the one foreigners can see.

I ask to see Arafat’s compound. There it is, a pile of broken concrete, rubble and twisted metal in the centre of the town – as though Trafalgar Square was reduced to rubble and just left. But the market and the main street – “our Oxford Street”, Sonia called it – were pleasing and we have divine fruit juice and wonderful ice cream.

Sonia tells me about the night in 2002 when the empty barracks next to where she lived were bombed. Suddenly, the lights went out and there was a terrible noise when Sonia was alone with Qays. They were both terrified. She ran out into the hallway but there was broken glass, so she ran back into the flat and lay on the bed in the room farthest from the bombing, lying on top of Qays. She tried to comfort him, saying that everything would be alright but also told him what to do if she got killed. Qays has not been able to sleep alone since then. What is being done to the next generation!

Time to go back to Jerusalem. Passover was to start that night and the borders would be closed. I would like to stay longer and maybe go to Jenin or Nablus and get a more realistic view of the situation. Sonia’s parents live in Jenin but she can’t visit much. Her mother has diabetes and is losing her sight, but is not allowed to go to hospital in another town. It is all too terrible.

Back to the roadblock. This time I have to queue in squalid conditions. I stand in line for twenty minutes. It is very cold and windy. I feel cross and resentful. Eventually I get to the soldier. He is telling a man and his wife that they can’t come through. “But I’m a lawyer, my wife is a doctor, we want to visit our family in Jerusalem,” the man says in a rage. The soldier shrugs, “I said no, now go.” The couple have to go back. The same soldier, middle-aged, bearded, going grey with a jolly face looks at my passport. “Which part of England are you from?” “London,” I tell him. “Oh,” he says breaking out in a smile, “anywhere near Hendon? I had a girlfriend in Hendon but now I am married to an Israeli girl.” I think he is trying to find out if I am Jewish and I decide not to tell him. “Hendon is quite near,” I inform him. He smiles nicely and wishes me a nice day. What a contrast! This occupation is very bad for the soul of Israel and Israelis.

Back to the lovely Knight’s Palace hotel and the Jews in the group decide to have a Seder, as it is the first night of Passover. Most of the group are off in the territories with the ISM over the next few days. Rica brings a very progressive Haggadah and we enjoy the ceremony, which feels very relevant with its emphasis on liberation and freedom.

Thursday 20 March

Tom Hurndall
Tom Hurndall photographed by Kay Fernandes

A young Englishman, Tom Hurndall, has been shot and seems likely to die. Everyone is a bit anxious.

Saturday 22 to Sunday 23 March

We sit at a round table in what was probably once a religious building in Jerusalem’s Latinate Quarter – a charming old Arab building of gracious proportions – and catch up with the group’s experiences of the Territories. Those who went to the territories stayed with Palestinian families and lived very simply. Everyone talks of tanks and roadblocks, arguments with soldiers and their responses to the occupation in action. When a cameraman was shot in Nablus they went to his funeral, which was hijacked by Hamas, who portray him as a martyr. They were disturbed by what they saw. Jo says, “It was not genocide and it was not apartheid, but it was occupation.”

Pam stayed with two families of suicide bombers, her choice, and felt they so glorified their dead children that they cannot mourn them or recover. It sounds like the perpetual boredom goes for ISM as well, most of the time was hanging around at check points, watching or waiting for something to do. Everyone is very shocked by the shooting of Tom Hurndall in Gaza, which sounds like the worst place to be for anyone. There is a rumour that the Israeli government may ban the ISM – it leads to such bad publicity for them. Most Israelis feel about Rachel Corrie that “she shouldn’t have been there.” Rachel Corrie’s picture is everywhere in Palestine. She is seen as another martyr.

Jo asks if we would like to go to a Jewish settlement the next day. The sister of someone she knows in Manchester lives in one and would like a visit. We are all riveted by the idea, feeling it would be another piece of the puzzle to help complete the picture. In the end it is agreed to make it a Jewish-only trip.

Monday 24 March

We set out for the settlement on a special bus. This bus doesn’t go anywhere except to the settlements. We pay a tiny amount for the fare and are plainly the only non-religious people on this bus. Later we are told that the bus is both armour-plated and armed. It travels on one of the infamous “settler roads”, avoiding all Arab centres of population. The hills are peppered with these menacing, armed settlements that glower down on the valleys. The landscape is so sparse and poor, I ask myself again, “why would anyone want this land?” We go into settlements through military points and iron gates. What a way to live.

After an hour we get to Door Lev, the settlement we are aiming for. As we leave the bus, the driver gives us some money back. The further you go the cheaper it is! It reminds me of the joke about the “first prize is one week in Philadelphia, and the second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia!” The government subsidises the fares; the further away you are, the bigger the subsidy.

0004_Jungmann_MaaleAdumim.jpg
The settlement of Ma'ale Adumim photographed by Efrat Shvili.

We are met by Mark (from Sheffield). It is raining and the settlement is surrounded by mist. We are taken to a detached, very modern house with a garden round it. Michelle (from Manchester) is waiting. She is wearing a long dress and a hat. She makes us tea and serves it in paper cups, as it is Passover. They start to tell us about their life there. She says to ask Mark: he likes to talk.

Mark works in Tel Aviv as an electrical engineer. I am amazed he can travel that distance daily. Mark says it is less than an hour and I realise that although we travelled for an hour to get to the settlement, we are in fact only minutes from Ramallah, which in turn is less than fifteen minutes from Jerusalem. We had travelled in a circle to avoid Arab settlements. Unlike most of the women in the settlement, Michelle doesn’t work. She has six children to look after.

They tell us how much they love their life. They particularly like the ”quality of life” aspect – they have a large house surrounded by a garden and feel the children can play “safely”. It is the first of a number of jaw-dropping statements we are to hear.

They go on to tell us how they were shot at last year. They were driving home one night on the settler road with three of their children, when two Arabs leapt up and shot at them from both sides of the road. Both the parents were badly wounded and one of the sons shot in the leg (which may keep him out of the army).

Mark drove on as fast as he could despite his wounds. They came to a roadblock, where a paramedic happened to be, and an ambulance happened to be passing. “A miracle,” claimed Michelle. They spent six months in hospital. She was wounded in both elbows, one bullet went into her stomach, another into her liver. She is lucky to be alive. Mark was also badly injured.

The community looked after the children while they were in hospital and convalescence. Everyone was very supportive of them, bringing food when they got home. They decided very strongly against moving. None of the children wanted to go. How they can want to live in such a bleak place, surrounded by rocks and enemies, I just do not understand.

Mark and Michelle feel they have more than a right to be there. God gave them the land. However they also paid for it, bought it from a local landowner, who now lives in a very grand house in the local village (which Mark points out to us), so why do people say the settlements are illegal? They deny the land was stolen and do not understand Arab hostility. Michelle says in an indignant tone, “why do the Palestinians think they have a right to this land?”

There is a shocked silence, which I finally break by saying “well, their grandparents and great-grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents are buried in those hills, and they are buried there because that’s where they have lived for hundreds or even thousands of years, which is how most national claims evolve.”

We argue about America and genocide against the native Americans, quote Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They are trapped in a terrible colonial view of the world, stuck in the past. They do not rate the Palestinian claim. That hotline to God is a real barrier to any communication! The atmosphere round the table is getting tense. They blame Arafat for the deteriorating situation. They are amazed when I suggest angrily that Sharon is a man of violence, too. At that point three of our number decide to go. Ivan and I stay on. I like the children and am still trying to understand these strange people.

Mark tells us that they would leave the settlement peacefully if they were negotiated out of existence. “Would everyone feel the same?” I ask. “No, there would be a hard core who would resist violently”. “Would it mean civil war?” “Almost certainly,” he says, “there are huge stocks of arms in these settlements.” “So you realise that many people, myself included, think you are the most dangerous people in the world?” I ask. “Yes”, he says, “and it makes me very sad.”

Mark thinks the refuseniks are “very selfish”. He does his one-month military service a year and finds it “terribly boring”. He feels some of the young soldiers often over-react. Mark now wears a bullet-proof vest, even in bed and is hurt that other settlers suggest this shows a lack of faith in God!”

Ivan and I take a walk around the settlement in the rain. It is so dull and suburban, like the new suburbs around Australian cities. The houses are a bit different but essentially the same and are surrounded by overly green gardens, a marked contrast to the colours of the surrounding landscape. It is eerily quiet and so different in every way from the bustling, untidy, sprawling Arab villages: so completely inappropriate and out of place.

Ivan and I get on the bus back. Mark is clearly delighted that we came. Out through the gates, passed lots of soldiers and back along the settler road to Jerusalem. Both Ivan and I are troubled; it is confusing when you meet nice, kind people with the most appalling ideas. One of life’s great contradictions.

Tuesday 25 March

As Ivan says of our recent trip, “you feel so alive here, it may be troubling but it is never boring.” It’s true. Today, we go off to the offices in East Jerusalem of the Palestine-Israel Journal – a first-class quarterly, though in serious financial difficulty. The editors and staff are equally Jewish and Palestinian and the articles are also divided between the two sides. The Palestinian editor can no longer come into the office, but the Israelis sometimes go over and visit him. Otherwise they have to do it by phone and email. “It is not the same.”

We talk a lot about censorship and the media and their attitude to the situation. They feel that Israelis are just not told what is going on in the territories. Recently, four Israeli soldiers were accused of killing a Palestinian, either by accident or deliberately. When people read about this they are shocked and surprised.

We ask about the magazine being in English and they say it does limit the impact but that English is a neutral language. They are thinking of translating some articles in Hebrew and Arabic and photocopying them to give them wider distribution.

We talk quite a lot about the economy. The Israeli economy is in very bad shape. Thousands of teachers and civil servants have been sacked in recent months and the standard of living is falling for everyone. The cost of the occupation and the settlements (including the subsidised bus fares) is unsustainable. The settlers are hugely unpopular with most Israelis. They and the religious groups receive huge amounts of government money. Because of the proportionate nature of the Israeli electoral system, only coalitions can ever rule and they need the religious vote. These realities distort the society and no one knows what to do about it.

Meanwhile, one of the Palestinians tells me that the Palestinians will never go back to working in Israel. They will go east but not west. In Gaza, people are now going hungry and the diseases of malnutrition are reasserting themselves. Peace is absolutely necessary for both sides.

Wednesday 26 March

I am taken to the airport by a Cheroot (a large cab that transports eight-ten people). We drive all over Jerusalem picking up travellers. It is a most beautiful city, how sad that it is also so tragic.

At the airport, I am about to put my bags in the X-Ray machine, when I remember that in the hand baggage is a pair of trousers on a metal hanger. I have been warned that there will be dire consequences if one is found with a nail file or scissors or anything sharp. I step out of the queue and remove the hanger and put the trousers back. Jo has also warned me that I will be interrogated and advises me not to admit to having been in the West Bank or to have any Palestinian addresses.

I suddenly remember that I have Sonia’s address. Please God, they won’t look. They don’t, but a very pretty girl stops me and questions me for five minutes. I am sure she would rather be doing something else at 5am too.

“What have you been doing?” “Visiting my family for Passover.” “What is their address?” I tell her. “Did you go anywhere else?” “Jerusalem,” I say. “Why? Where did you stay? For how long?”

Only afterwards I think, how dare she, it is none of her business. But at the time I am intimidated. As I am lying through my teeth it is probably sensible not to be obstinate. Then she wants to know if I speak Hebrew. I don’t. “Why not?” “A lousy linguist,” I tell her.

“Did you meet any Palestinians?”

I stare at her, amazed. “No, of course not,” I say indignantly.

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