A trip to Palestine

The racial profiling had gone a bit wrong.  We’d been walking along al Shuhada, a street in Hebron which is strictly off-limits for Palestinians, flanked by some nervous-looking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, when one of them demanded to see some ID.  He’d picked one our small group of British Lib Dems who was obviously of Indian origin.  Our Israeli guide, ex-IDF himself, gently reminded the young soldier that as ‘internationals’ we had rights not granted to Palestinians.

Our trip to Palestine earlier this year lasted only six days, but as well as Hebron, we visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, some outlying villages and towns, a Bedouin settlement threatened with demolition (but still there today), and a refugee camp for internally displaced people.  You can’t learn everything about a country in such a short time, but whatever you read or see in the media, there is no substitute for being there and meeting the people.  We were warmly received by the Palestinians we met – unsurprisingly, given that our (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) stated aim is to campaign for the rights of Palestinians, although it is maybe just a little surprising when you consider the past role of the British, exemplified by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and our hasty departure from Palestine in 1948.

The context for our journey was provided on day one, at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As well as working to improve the lot of the Palestinians, they collect data on casualty numbers on both sides of the ongoing conflict, and they showed us on a series of maps the steady decrease in the land occupied by Palestinians, due to the illegal (under international law) settlements in the ‘Occupied Territories’.  

The West Bank and Gaza were overrun by the IDF in a brief war more than fifty years ago, but are still subject to martial law.  We visited Military Court Watch, which independently monitors court proceedings when the accused are young Palestinians (under 18).  Typically, the charge is throwing stones at settlers, for which the penalty is usually several months in prison.  Around 200 children were in Israeli prisons when we were there; military courts operate differently from civil courts, and although evidence is not always available, the conviction rate is 99%. 

Sometimes our guides were Israeli Jews who were out of step with the current right-wing Israeli government, and they and their Palestinian counterparts impressed us with their calm determination to see their land freed from conflict.  One thing they all stressed was the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  The views and support of the outside world really matter.

But it wasn’t all politics.  We sampled the street food in Jerusalem’s magnificent Old City, and were given other local dishes by our generous hosts.  We saw where Jesus was born, and where he died, and visited Abraham’s tomb.  

On our last morning we sat sipping coffee and admiring the priceless artwork in the Walled Off Hotel.  Across the road was the towering concrete wall built to divide the two communities.  The hotel itself is, of course, Banksy’s ironic celebration of man’s inhumanity to man.

* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire

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5 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 6th Aug '19 - 9:55am

    I attended a joint meeting of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine at a federal conference.
    I also remember Liberal Croats talking to Liberal Serbs during a Liberal International conference in Iceland.

  • Andy
    Thanks for this brief and light summary on the trip. I have been campaigning for Human Rights in Palestine for years. But making this trip brought home the Inhumanity and barbaric nature nature of daily abuses carried out by the Israel Military, the illegal Jewish Settlers and the Israel local and national Government policies and racist legislation.
    The Palestinians are not allowed to live in a dignified life. I am now even stronger campaigner for Palestinians than I have been for all those years.
    Thanks for your summary here.

  • Ronald Murray 7th Aug '19 - 10:27am

    Excellent article sums up the experience of friends who have visited and lived in Israel. A friend from the TAVR emigrated to Israel spent time in the IDF and forgot to return from leave. He felt the tactics were too extreme. Nobody approves of terrorists and it should not be forgotten that British soldiers from the Intelligence Corps two Sergeants were among those murdered by the STERN gang. The Israelis cannot think the situation can be sustained forever ignoring international law. I know British Jews who object to what goes on in Gaza in fact some marched with us in Edinburgh against the bombing in Gaza. Note to Mossad I am not anti semitic.

  • Andrew Daer 8th Aug '19 - 6:52am

    @Ronald Murray – thanks.
    IDF tactics in the West Bank were described to us by international observers as being ostensibly to protect ‘settlers’, but in reality designed to provoke tension, and to sow fear and distrust in the Palestinian community. We were told many of the young men and boys convicted of stone throwing had ‘confessed’ after suffering psychological and physical abuse during detention. The Military Court Watch web site is worth a visit. http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/index.php
    And as you say, some IDF soldiers are beginning to speak of their unease about what they are asked to do. See their site at https://www.breakingthesilence.org.il

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