A day of calm reflection in an atmosphere of tranquility.
UN briefing picture:Labour2Palestine (creative comms licence)
We meet Ray Dolphin, in charge of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs at his base in Jerusalem. Ray, a calm and realistic Irishman, tells us a lot of what we already know. As a neutral he confirms the picture we’ve already got is authentic. He refers to “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and thinks there are perhaps 500,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank. He states the Israelis are in flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention in moving their population on to the turf of the defeated side. He says there are 250 Israeli settlements, all with effective Israeli Government support. In all there are 521 checkpoints and other closures on the West Bank, together blocking substantial access for Palestinians to education, health and employment.
The Oslo Accords stated that Israeli control was supposed to be temporary, he reminds us. The continuous growth of settlements undermines the two state solution.
Meir Margalit :Labour2Palestine (creative comms licence)
Later in the morning we meet Jerusalem City Councillor Meir Margalit, a calm and dignified man. He explains his small party, “Meretz”, has gone into coalition with its enemies – better some influence than none at all. Israeli house demolitions of Palestinian properties in Jerusalem have been reduced from about 100 a year to about 10, definite progress. But in answer to a question he agrees, ” I’m a collaborator”.
Overlooking settlements from Al Walajah (wall not complete) Labour2Palestine (creative comms licence)
At Al-Walaja we have lunch with Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, an independent, non-aligned political activist. Speaking informally, he says the Palestinian Authority is “not pointless, it acts as a subcontractor for the Israeli Government”. The Palestinians in Gaza, he claims, are making a mistake in pretending to have a government. Mazin thinks it would be better for the reality of Israeli domination to be brought to the world’s consciousness. He calls the Israeli Occupation the “most profitable occupation in history.”
We go out into the village and, depressingly, find out more and more evidence. The village of Al – Walaja has been reduced drom 23,000 to 2,500 due to Israeli pressure, if the Israelis are as good as their word it will soon be totally enclosed by the Israeli’s Separation Barrier which here is built in a circle. At one place a Palestinian house is on the wrong side of the wall, and one Palestinian, Omar, has been offered $1million to sell up. Tellingly, he won’t quit: he won’t be a quisling at any price. The Israelis are surrounding his house with walls.
Omar picture:Labour2Palestine (creative comms licence)
By now we’re almost used to tremendous Palestinian defiance, his actions don’t really surprise us. He’s been arrested, had rubble dumped outside his house and physically abused by the Israeli army; it doesn’t make any difference. Soon he’ll only be able to exit his house via a tunnel.
To say we’re appalled by all this would be a massive understatement.
There’s much, much more, too vast to report. In the evening we have drinks with Britain’s Consul-General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, an affable, informal man. The conversation remains private.