I recently spent a week in Palestine on a trip arranged by Olive Co-operative.  Olive organizes several trips throughout the year, primarily to raise awareness of the situation in Palestine, but also to help the olive farmers during the harvest period.  Olive markets Zaytoun olive oil and also other products made from the olive tree.   


I found the trip traumatic, but also inspirational—we met so many people there, Israelis and Palestinians, working so hard for change in such desperate circumstances.  Seeing the situation really internalised it for me, and I now find myself almost unable to stop thinking about it.  We were based in the West Bank--Bethlehem and Ramallah areas, and we spent one night with a Palestinian family in Beit Sahour. 


Mordecai Vanunu


We were able to meet Mordecai in the Jerusalem Hotel, which is just outside Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, near to where he is living in St Georges Cathedral.  He was just about to be given his third year ban on leaving Israel, talking to foreigners and talking to the press, but seemed in good shape and positive about his future.  He ignores—obviously—bans on talking to foreigners, and is awaiting prosecution for 21 such offences.


Groups and people that we met


Olive arranged a number of meetings for us, where we gathered useful information, and we travelled all over the West Bank, in and out of Israel through numerous checkpoints etc.  The control mechanisms are powerful, disruptive and inhumane.


I understand that about 650 Israelis have now refused to serve in the Army—these are mainly people who have served their initial period and are refusing call-back periods, but we did meet one young man who refused after one year.  He was imprisoned, but then discharged as unfit to serve.


We went to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp—in operation since 1948.  The refugees there are living in very overcrowded conditions and with very little health care and educational provision.  The camp still operates under the auspices of UNWRA. 


We also met an Israeli doctor from the group--Physicians for Human Rights—this group tries to help people in the occupied territories access health care and provides legal advice, ambulances, mobile clinics etc.  Health provision in the occupied territories is poor, but even when people are referred to an Israeli hospital for treatment, the difficulty in getting a permit to travel, the restrictions on movement etc mean that they frequently miss their appointments—this often, literally, becomes a matter of life and death.


We visited the village of Yanoun, a small village near Nablus, where the villagers had been terrorized by the settlers in nearby Itamar, who had attacked them, killed their animals and pulled up their crops.  There is now a constant international presence in the village and attacks have diminished.  The Israeli military provides protection at harvest time.


The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions provided us with a huge amount of information about the Israeli government policy on house demolitions, and we went to see a house that had been demolished 5 times.  There is a plaque outside this house in memory of Rachel Corrie and Noha Sweedan, two people demolished by Israeli bulldozers!  ICAHD arranges summer camps every year and volunteers help to rebuild demolished properties.  12,000 houses have been demolished since 1967 and 15,000 have been damaged.  180,000 olive trees have been uprooted.


We also visited Neve Shalom-Wahat-al- Salam, the experimental village where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs live together, and an organization called ‘Windows for Peace’, which facilitates meetings between children of both sides.




Someone recently described the situation in Palestine to me as ‘genocide by strangulation’.  This is an awful expression, but, in my view, accurate.  Gaza is an open prison, so strictly controlled that the people are running out of food and medicines—industry is moribund and 75% of the olive crop was wasted last year.  There is massive unemployment, constant Israeli air attacks and health and education provision is suffering.  The Israelis invade the West Bank at will and have annexed East Jerusalem.  They continue to build their settlements and the separation wall.  The Palestinians, even the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, are discriminated against and their institutions are being starved of funds.  The Israelis are in almost total control, and by their actions, have rendered any remaining Palestinian state completely unviable.


The international community bears a large part of the responsibility for the current situation in Palestine.  The Israelis must be made to conform to international law, in particular the 4th Geneva Convention, UN resolutions, Human Rights Law etc and the approach of the quartet must be more even-handed.  The Israelis are very susceptible to international opinion and for this reason I think that the best thing that we can do, as grass roots activists, is to call for sanctions. 


N.B.  Profiting from the Occupation - A People’s Tribunal to expose the Corporations behind the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, on Sunday 9th July 10.30-18.00
at Amnesty Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA


Carol Clisby