Saturday, August 30, 2008 4:31 AM
From:"George S. Rishmawi"
The Peace Cycle arrived to Jerusalem yesterday. They have met with Sabeel and the Interchurch Center in Jerusalem. Toured the Old City, observed illegal settelments in the old city and visited holy sites. The Cyclists are resting in Jerusalem before they travel back home.
Sunday August 24th – Qalqilya to Belin
When I told a friend in Ramallah that we had cycled from Qalqilya to Bilin, he burst out laughing, before asking ‘you can’t be serious?!’ We ourselves could hardly believe our itinerary was serious, when we read we were cycling over 60km through the most difficult terrain so far. The route was a never ending succession of massive hills and potholed roads. These proved not only exhausting but dangerous too, as two of our cyclists (Ish and Fizza) had quite serious falls about 4 hours into the ride. Nathan, our first aider-come-bike mechanic-come all round magic man, patched them up on the roadside and we continued, passing settlement after settlement along the way. The settlements (illegal under international law) are blots upon the landscape: identical, ugly and soulless. Settlers have absolute priority over West Bank water resources, meaning that on the settlement side of the road the grass is green, whilst on the opposite side it is brown.
We limped our way up the final hill to Bilin, at the end of our physical limit. With the exception of Nathan, who pushed more than one of us up the final slope! We were welcomed into the home of Iayad Burnat and his beautiful family, and watched a documentary on the non-violent resistance in Bilin. The village of Bilin is one of the places where the wall diverges most drastically from the 1967 Green Line (i.e. Israel ’s ‘official’ borders), cutting deep into Palestinian territory and surrounding Belin on three sides. The people of Belin have responded to this with an innovative campaign of NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE, with weekly demonstrations held at the wall which are often joined by internationals. The Israelis respond to these demonstrations with tear gas, bullets and stink bombs. One of Iyad’s sons showed us his collection of rubber bullets, before giving us each a real one to take home as a souvenir. We later saw the scar where he had been shot in the knee on a peaceful demonstration. This boy is 10 years old, and was shot when he was 8.
Then we went to see the wall for ourselves. The ground around was littered with empty teargas canisters and rubber bullets, bringing the documentary we had just seen sharply into reality. The wall in this part of the West Bank is actually a double electric fence topped with razor wire, so you can see through it. Within 5 minutes of us being there an Israeli army jeep approached, and 4 soldiers got out and asked what we were doing. Having spent the past week witnessing again and again the HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AND OFFENCES AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW COMMITTED BY THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION, it was impossible not to challenge the soldiers. Nick rightly told them how the Israeli occupation is akin to Nazi Germany, and all of us asked of the wall: ‘how can you do this?’ The response from one soldier was ‘the wall’s to stop terrorists’. To which there was only one response: ‘Then build it on your own land!’
We returned back angry, but glad to have confronted the soldiers, even if only to have our worst preconceptions confirmed. Then finally to a much needed sleep, after a physically and emotionally exhausting day.
Monday 25th August 2008 – Prisoner Release in Ramallah
...The arrival into Ramallah was spectacular with crowds of people in their vehicles making their way to the Ramallah compound where the prisoners were to be released. The atmosphere was electric with people shouting and cheering as we stood on the other side of the road observing the slow procession. In no time at all a police escort was arranged for us, leading us through the back roads (up and down 'flat hills' as George would describe!!) enabling us to reach the Ramallah compound at the start of the releases.
We pushed our way to the front of the crowds enabling a good view of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as he announced each prisoner released. At the end doves were released as a sign of peace. Though this was a joyous occasion for many families, we were still aware that 10 000 people(INCLUDING HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN) were still imprisoned including Iyad's brother who had now been jailed for six years.
...We next meet Dr Ayman Rabi from the Palestinian Hydrology Group. This was a very informative presentation with regards to the supply of water within Palestine , the shortages faced and how Israel controls the supply of water. In most villages water is a scarce commodity and the people rely on tanks to deliver water to them. This is costly and so the use of water has to be maximised so that it is not wasted. It became clear that the Israeli's have not only colonised above ground but the precious water resources beneath it. The inevitable consequence of this is the ability of the Isralei's to expand their illegal settlements whilst restricting the Palestinians development of their own land.
Our final presentation of the day was with Ala who works for Addameer, Prisoners Support and Humanitarian Rights Association. He gave us an insight into wrongful arrest, TORTURE, violation of prisoner rights and difficulties of visitation by families. The military rules work against the Palestinians in every way making it near impossible for them to be released once they are imprisoned. Ala provides free legal aid and support to the families of those imprisoned. His harrowing testimony reminded us that THE ISRAELI'S ROUTINELY USE EXTREME FORMS OF TORTURE TO DESTROY THE PALESTINIANS BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY.
We enjoyed our evening in Ramallah which is a more cosmopolitan place, and appreciated the hospitality of the restaurant owner and the great food and ambience.
TPC2008 Tuesday 26th August 2008
Today saw us travel from Ramallah to the outskirts of Jerusalem by bus through a series of intimidating and busy checkpoints. To see the Apartheid Wall from a distance snake its way around the Holy City was shocking enough but to see it up close can sometimes be totally demoralizing.
On our way we passed thousands of OLIVE TREE STUMPS – this symbol of peace and source of revenue for the local Palestinians destroyed by the Israelis for ‘security reasons’. This is the Israeli trump card – anything can be justified in the name of security -including the forceful annexation of land, destruction of homes and the imprisonment, maiming, torture and killing of anyone (including children) who wishes to protest these human rights abuses.
But these are DARK-SKINNED, Muslim Arabs so it is obviously fine to do all that surely? IF IN OUR MODERN TIMES WE EVER SEE ANYTHING LIKE WHAT THE ZIONISTS HAVE DONE IN ANY OTHER CONTEXT THERE WOULD BE AN UPROAR IN THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS. UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTIONS AND SANCTIONS WOULD BE APPLIED AND ENFORCED...and regime change would follow. Alas not so for the people of Palestine who have been subjected to a systematic program of ETHNIC CLEANSING from their historic land FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS.
Yet there is always hope! At lunchtime we visited the YMCA in Beit Sahour who are coordinating the ‘Olive Tree Campaign’ which aims to replant thousands of olive tree saplings in the areas around the wall where the ISRAELIS REMOVED ONE MILLION TREES for its construction. Members of TPC purchased olive trees in honor of their loved ones and to support the Palestinians – WHAT GREATER SYMBOL OF PEACE than the life giving an OLIVE TREE that can live for A THOUSAND YEARS in this special land?
In the afternoon heat we cycled the remaining 10km uphill to Bethlehem sheltered by the miraculous appearance of a shade-giving cloud! As we reached the town of Jesus’ birth our excitement was dimmed by the reality of the Apartheid Wall here – CUTTING PALESTINIAN COMMUNITIES IN TWO--it is not about security but a simple land grab. The town is cut off and Christian pilgrims and Palestinians seeking to reach their places of work and families have to pass through an ugly checkpoint that Gordon Brown recently described as a visible sign of the need for justice for the Palestinians. Nice words, but we need action on the ground to tear this monstrosity down Mr. Brown!
A visit to a refugee camp and stretches of the wall culminated in our cycling into Manger Square, home to the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in Christendom, having been inaugurated by Constantine’s wife Augusta in 327CE. Even this revered place hasn’t escaped the brutality of the Occupation – it was the scene of a vicious siege by the IOF in 2002 which resulted in many casualties and significant damage by Israeli tank and shell fire.
Home for the next three days is the Arab Women Union Guesthouse in Beit Sahour, just down the hill from Bethlehem. Even George our ‘flat-hill walla-walla’ guide jumped on a bike to cycle down to it to the cheers of the locals and cyclists alike! Next time try up-hill George!
...We visited a primary health care centre near Bethlehem where consultations are done for several villages. Mobile clinics are also operational as checkpoints always hinder mobility. Major health problems which consist in the West bank area are MALNUTRITION and PSYCHOLOGICAL troubles.
...In the afternoon we met Dr Mazen Qumsiyeh in the Siraj center. He is a biotechnologist, studied in the States and wrote a book on the situation in Palestine . We all discussed together about how to organize resistance all over the world (boycott, advocacy, to visit Palestine, to involve the Palestinian Diaspora, to support the Israeli peace movement). It was an interesting exchange. He is quite optimistic about the future predicting that the Israeli system will collapse within 5 or 10 years. A hopeful message and we will all try to contribute!!!
Thursday August 28th 2008: Hebron
Cyclists visited the Old city in Hebron, visited the Hebron rehabiliation committees. Cyclists observed the injustices of the settelments in the old city and how the old city contains ONE HUNDRED AND ONE CHECKPOINTS.
George S. Rishmawi
Siraj, Center For Holy Land Studies
Beit Sahour, Schoold Street
Website: sirajcenter dot org
Tel: +972 2 274 8590
Fax: +972 2 274 8774
Mobile: 0599 180 872
USA number: 1 989 607 9480