Israel & The Occupied Territories 1990

Looking back, there are three signposts of particular significance in my journeys toward justice. The first was simply beginning to experience the world beyond Australia. The third was the encounter, described later in this book, with indigenous Australia. On the way there was a second encounter of deeper than usual significance -- my first visit to Israel.
For me this represented a real loss of innocence. For a start I realised that I had been deceived about Israel. This hurt. I had believed the common Western myths surrounding the creation of the modern Israeli state. To these had been added some beliefs about what the Bible said on the matter. All of these were to come under challenge over the next few years as I tried to understand what the experiences of Israel and the Occupied Territories really meant.
If ever I had experienced the impact of social engineering, I encountered it in Israel and the Occupied Territories -- on both sides.
If ever I had wondered how to operate effectively as a development aid agency in a complex and contradictory world, I found more questions and fewer answers here.

If ever I had experienced that truth is not always what is presented to you as truth, I discovered it more distressingly here.

Playing the Security Check Game
'Welcome to El Al Airlines. We have to ask you a few questions for security reasons.' The man at the security counter before the check-in counter was about twenty years of age. There were five of these counters. The others were attended by women who seemed teenage. Everyone carried a clip-board.
'May I see your passport, please?'
'Sure.' It went under the clip on his clip-board. He laboriously read the first page, looking up to see if my face resembled the photo. He was apparently satisfied that new glasses and a trimmed beard had not obscured my identity. He flipped through the passport pages. There were forty-eight of them, with visas on forty-four from all over the world. Even I thought it was interesting reading.
After five minutes of silence he said, 'May I see your ticket, please?'
'Sure.' It went under the clip on his clip-board. He studied the ticket. He was reading everything -- even the notice that suggested one should not take hair spray on board.
Roll Out The Welcoming Committee
'Is this your first trip to Israel?'
'Yes. First time.'
'What will you be doing there?'
'I'm a tourist.'
'What do you plan to see?'
'Well, I'm not sure until I get there.'
'Is someone arranging your itinerary in Israel?'
'Who is that?'
'My office there.'
'Ah, you have an office in Israel. Do you have their address and phone number and the names of the people there?'
'Sure. You want to know that?'
'Yes, please.'
I got out my digital diary and tapped in W-A-R-N-O-C-K. I gave him this name, and the office phone number. He wrote this information down on the pad on his clip-board.
'What business is this?'
'World Vision.' I had to spell it (it was my accent for sure).
I offered him my business card. It went under the clip on his clipboard.
'And what does this World Vision do?'
'Development assistance.'
'What is that?'
'Well, you know, we work with kindergartens, health programs, agriculture.'
'And what will you do in Israel?'
'I will visit some of these places where we are offering assistance.'
'Do you have a letter from this organisation inviting you to Israel?'
'No.' Although I wasn't surprised, I tried to sound surprised. Since when did you need a written invitation to visit Israel?
'Where are these places you will visit?'
'I don't know, frankly.'
'Jerusalem? Haifa? Tel Aviv?'
'Maybe. I really don't know my itinerary until I get there.'
'This Bill Warnock will meet you at the airport?'
'Yes, and he'll know what we are doing.'
'Yes, me and my companion.' The Rev Graham Beeston, a French citizen who also happens to be my wife's brother, was travelling with me.
Please Describe Every Step Of Your Journey. EVERY Step.
'Who paid for your ticket?' I was just getting used to the other line of questioning and he was off on another tangent.
'My company.'
'How have you come to the airport?'
'You mean right now? Or from Australia?'
'From Australia.' I was sorry I asked.
'Well, first I went to a conference in Germany, then ...'
'What was this conference?'
'It was a meeting of all the directors of World Vision from around the world. We meet irregularly, and this was one of our meetings.' I was starting to get bored. We still had a long way to travel.
'Do you have a brochure of this meeting?'
'I have the conference notebook. Do you want to see that?' I was sure he would. He did.
I laid my large aluminium Zero Halliburton suitcase on the floor, dialled the combination code and opened it up. Inside, near the top, was my bulging conference binder. I took it out and handed it to the interviewer. Amazingly he managed to get it to stay under the clip on his clip-board.
'Close the bag please.' I closed my bag.
Now he took a long while to look over the notebook list of contents. He tried to look knowing. Then he returned his attention to my ticket. Whenever there was a lull his eyes and fingers fell on my ticket. He would scan it with his index finger as if proofreading. Suddenly he would spot something.
'How did you come from Frankfurt to here?'
'Well, that's a bit complicated.' Bad answer.
'You flew to Lyon. Why is that?'
'My brother-in-law lives near there.'
'So you stayed with him last night?'
'No, I stayed with his brother-in-law last night.' To his credit, his eyes did not flicker.
'So what did you do in Lyon?'
'I just got off the plane and my brother-in-law picked me up.' I took pity on him and continued. 'Then he drove me home to his place in Romans-sur-Isere, and I stayed there on Wednesday night. Then we came to Paris yesterday.'
'How did you come to Paris?'
'By train.'
'You have the tickets?'
'No, he has the tickets.' I nodded in the direction of my bon frere.
'Where did you stay last night?'
'At his brother-in-law's place.'
'Where is that?'
'I don't know. I just went with him.'
'You don't know?'
'Well, it was not far from a station called Mairie D'Issy.'
'Then how did you get to the airport?' This was even more complicated. Graham's brother-in-law could not take us at the time required, so he rang his son, Michel, and then Graham's brother-in-law's wife (following this?) drove us to Michel's place, where Graham dropped off a gift for Michel's new baby, and then Michel drove us to the airport in his car.
'His son drove us.'
And, By The Way, Some Questions About Security.
'Who packed your suitcase?'
'I did.'
'Every day.'
'No. When did you last pack it?'
'This morning.'
'And where has it been since?'
'In the boot of the car.' He seemed to understand 'boot'.
'Has it been out of your possession any time since you packed it?' Now these were sensible security questions at last. He had stopped a line of questioning that presumed I was a terrorist. Now the presumption was that I might be used by a terrorist.
'No. It has been locked. And it was locked in the car.'
'Are you carrying any gifts for people in Israel?'
'Did anyone give you a parcel for you to carry for them?'
'Think hard.' I thought hard. My brain started to hurt.
Back to the ticket. A long silence. I inspected the seat allocation counters behind. Most airlines let you walk right up. El Al is security paranoid. Even if such paranoia was justified, it subtly reinforces the image of Israel as a beleaguered state. At this stage I was convinced that the security questioning was sincere, based on a real danger. Later I wondered whether other matters of a more political nature were the main motivation.
Back To Each Step Of The Journey
'Why are you going to Athens after you leave. Israel?' I had been told to expect this question from others who had received this treatment. He was not reading the ticket as carefully as he pretended. The answer was under his thumb.
'It's on the way home.'
'Why Athens?'
'Because that is where I connect with the Singapore Airlines plane that will take me to Singapore, then to Melbourne.'
'Just transit.' Ah-hah. 'Why did you go this way?' Persistent fellow.
'I don't know. Because it's the quickest way home, I suppose.'
'The travel agent made this choice for you?'
'Please wait a moment.' All during my interview he had repeatedly checked the progress of a similar interview being done with Graham, two desks away. He noted that this interview had now concluded and Graham's female interviewer was standing in the middle of the waiting area talking to a more official, older person.
Sorry Sir, Your Car is Worthless
Our two interviewers huddled with this first man for about five minutes. They referred to their notes and looked back at us from time to time. I felt like I had a second-hand car as a trade-in and the salesman, after kicking the tyres and tut-tutting his way around the car, was now having a mock conversation with his manager, from which he would return to tell me, very sorrowfully, that the car was worth only half its apparent value.
The result here was similar.
'Would you mind waiting over here for a few minutes? It will take a little time.'
Somewhere in the next thirty to forty minutes the phone rang in our Jerusalem office. Bill was out. The accountant took the call from a person who asked abruptly about me and my visit. The accountant verified that World Vision was indeed expecting me. More than that he did not know. They should wait for Mr Bill.
At the same time in my office in Melbourne, a colleague took a call from a person saying he was ringing from Israel. He asked to speak to me and was informed that I was travelling overseas. The caller hung up.
After half an hour another woman came and took me off for a second interview. The questions were all the same. The interview was much shorter, and she seemed unconcerned about how I had got from Frankfurt to Paris although Graham and I thought this by far the best part of the story. After all, why had two Middle Eastern looking fellows been sitting in our reserved seats when we got on the TGV in Vallence? And why, when we went to the Buffet Car, had a third swarthy chap taken over our position? Was this a clever PLO plot to sneak a bomb into our bags?
The young woman who had interviewed Graham came over to us as we waited and apologised for the delay. 'It takes a little time', she said. Meanwhile, others were being slowly processed. The queues were getting longer. One young American was taking as long to get going as we were. But then he looked like a hippie. We seemed to be in a role play about stereotyping.
Maybe I'm A Stooge For Someone
After more than an hour I was invited for a third interview. Now she concentrated only on the possibility of us 'being used'. 'You charity people are targets', she said. I agreed this was a possibility and said I was aware of the risk and was very careful. My suitcase was always locked unless I was present with it. I did not accept parcels except from family, and then only if I knew what was in them. She seemed satisfied and asked us to wait again.
At last, some minutes later, we were ushered to the check-in counter, our bags and tickets stamped with brown security stickers. We received our seat allocation and walked away. Then, loudly in French, a policeman with a loud hailer announced the area was being evacuated. Two other gendarmes held a long tape and gradually moved the crowd back. We went upstairs to the departure lounge. We never heard an explosion.
What's This All About Really?
The whole process had been strangely curious. At no stage was our baggage searched or, as far as I could tell, X-rayed. I was asked if I was carrying a weapon, but they just took my word for it. Would a real terrorist be less convincing? I was not searched. Perhaps we walked through a metal detector but I cannot recall doing so. There were booths for doing body searches but they were not used.
Why had it taken them more than an hour of simple questioning to decide my security risk to El Al? If they were concerned about whether we were carrying weapons, there was a very easy way to find out. They could have asked to search our bags. We would have said yes. No-one seems to mind a little inconvenience to know that bomb-carriers have little chance of getting on board. But this was clearly not what it was about.
What if your real aim was to create in the traveller's mind an image of insecurity and threat? Since you wanted to concentrate on image creation, you must concentrate on the person. See how carefully and in how much detail they checked me? I was scrutinised; my bags were not. I came away with an impression of security rather than the fact of it.
After that, No Welcoming Committee
After that, the flight was unremarkable. We arrived on time in Tel Aviv to find no-one waiting; apparently the message that we had changed to an earlier flight had not been received by Bill. I said to Graham, 'We'll wait until 7.30 p.m., then we'll take a taxi to Jerusalem'. I think I was more relaxed about this than Graham, but mix-ups of this kind are part and parcel of travel. Bill arrived at seven, and we enjoyed the drive in the dim evening light to Jerusalem, where we fell into bed in a pleasant room at the YMCA in East Jerusalem.
At 4.00 a.m. the room echoed with the Islamic call to prayer from the speakers of the mosque across the road. 'Come to prayers. Prayer is better than sleep.' It is a noble sentiment, but we were humble of spirit at such an early hour.
Don't Plan To Do What You Plan
We planned to go the next day to two Palestinian villages in the West Bank, but plans had to be changed. The day before someone had allegedly thrown a stone at a settler's car in a town named Biddu and the army put a curfew on the town. No-one could come out of their houses.
The problem for us was that this town was a key crossroads. Access to the villages on our itinerary was via Biddu. We would not be allowed to pass through.
Nevertheless we set out by bus, the driver saying we would take an alternative route -- the 'World Vision' road, an agricultural road (read 'dirt') built by the community with support from Save the Children Fund and World Vision.
Hello? Here's Richard Nixon!
On the bus was 'Richard Nixon', so named by his friends because of his likeness to the former US President. Bill said the kindergarten teachers loved him because he worked so willingly at the kindergarten. Nixon had been shot in the legs during an incident in his village some months before. Israeli soldiers had fired tear gas until it ran out, then rubber bullets until they ran out, then live ammunition. One of these bullets hit Nixon. Finally, the soldiers were separated from their vehicles long enough for women to set their jeeps alight. Once reinforcements arrived, twenty-five men from the village were arrested. Four of these were still in jail. (Seven others from this village were already incarcerated.)
Richard Nixon told us he was now '100 per cent'. 'I am made of iron', he said.
It's An Ancient Land
We passed olive and fig groves in terraces on hills whose size surprised me. These were major hills, rivalling the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne. Some of these terraces were 5,000 years old. The ground was very rocky and it was easy to see why the Palestinians threw stones. They were an unlimited resource.
First Introduction To Collective Punishment
We left the highway by an unmade road, then we joined the 'World Vision' road for a slow and rough grind up and over the hills to the village that was our destination. The journey took over an hour. 'If they had not put Biddu under curfew it would take us ten minutes', said Bill. 'Also, when Biddu is under curfew that means there is no school for the teenagers from the whole district, because that is where the only high school is.' Everybody got punished, including us, when someone threw a stone at a settler's car.
At the village we discovered the soldiers had been the day before. Women had been required to paint over pro-PLO slogans on the walls. Children had been made to pull PLO flags down from the mosque and overhead wires. Windows were broken in some houses. One soldier took a pot-shot at a roof top water tank. The speaker on the mosque was taken away. A new one had already been put up.
Teaching The Kids ... What?
The children in the kindergarten were gorgeous. They sang unmelodic chants. Some words were translated:
We are the Palestinian children,
The Flag expresses who we are.
We shall not stop until we have our freedom, our state.
If the Israelites don't give us our land,
The Jews will break themselves.
I was a bit troubled by the blatant indoctrination of the children. This was a highly politicised education program. I was not surprised, however, as I had read of this in David K. Shipler's book Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in the Promised Land. (Viking Penguin 1987) It appeared that indoctrination of children was an important part of the struggle both for Arab and Jew. But is this World Vision's business? I wondered.
I Meet A Cave Man
We began to meet people. One man, Mahmoud, told us he had spent only three nights at home in the last year. He went out and slept in a cave or on a rock, for fear the soldiers might come and arrest him. 'The night is not special for you', he said, 'it is for everyone. Thieves, soldiers.' During the day he could see a kilometre in any direction, but at night he hid. Many men of his age did this. So far he was not on a wanted list. Later we heard he was.
I asked if the soldiers had ever come to Mahmoud's wife when she was alone. 'Yes', she said, 'and our little son, who had mumps at the time, sat up in bed and said, "Go away. I hate you." And they went away!'
People had ID cards that identified where they were from. Blue for Israel. Orange for the West Bank. Green was a special card preventing the owner from going to Jerusalem.
The Men On The Wanted Posters
A group of wanted arrived. All but one of about six men said they had been in jail at least once. Some were bingo people: at times the army would stop people, line them up and go along the line looking for people they wanted. When they recognised one, they said 'Bingo!' The Arabs had never seen a game of Bingo, but they understood the rules.
'How long are you staying?' asked one man.
'Five days.'
'Is it enough? You need to put yourself in the people's place.'
Normal Gets Redefined
We asked this man if he had been in jail. He replied, 'Yes. It's normal.' I found this shocking -- the extent to which life under occupation had become normal. Questions about being arrested, about curfew, about beatings, about harassment, about confiscation of land, about anything that seemed extraordinary to me, were treated with a perfunctory dismissiveness that was disarming and bemusing. At first I thought they didn't want to talk about it. Then I realised that it was so commonplace that talking about it was itself unusual and extraordinary.
Torture -- It's Normal
One man told his story.
It was at the beginning of 1988, one year into the intifada. At 1.00 a.m. there was a knock on his door. They called his name. There were twenty soldiers at the door, and another forty surrounding his house. He had one wife and one child. He opened the door. The Captain, named Zuheer (they always seemed to use this name), announced, 'I have a licence to arrest you for six months'. They asked him to sign a paper in Hebrew. He was afraid they might have been settlers disguised as soldiers; they were sometimes more violent. He was in his pyjamas. They would not let him get dressed, nor to put on shoes. His hands were tied behind his back with 'American' rope that got tighter if you struggled.
His mother hit a soldier. They fired a shot in the air. He was walked (no shoes) one kilometre over sharp rocks. Two soldiers punched and kicked him as he walked. They stopped him by a pole on which was a picture of Arafat. 'Who is that?' they asked. 'I can't see', he replied, knowing perfectly well who it was. 'Do you have a light?' They produced the light. As he craned his neck back to look up, they bashed his head forward against the pole.
At the end of the village there were thirteen jeeps and one large truck. He figured he must be a Very Important Palestinian. He put one foot up onto the jeep and they threw him head first onto the floor. They climbed in and put their feet on him. Each time he spoke they kicked him. Another three were arrested at different villages. They were all on the floor of the truck now, under the soldiers' feet. Any noise, they were kicked.
At the prison they tied him kneeling with a sack over his head. The sack smelled of donkey manure and urine.
'What's that feel like?' I interrupted.
'It feels normal.'
'Good answer', his friends said, wryly. I admired their black humour -- the good humour of the oppressed. 'No-one can reach freedom without some pain. So this is normal.' Here was the willingly paid price of a liberation struggle. The oppression was simply creating heroes and martyrs. It was back-firing.
He was taken to an interrogator, who began pleasantly, 'Tell me your story'.
'I have no story. No problems.'
'If you won't, I will.' The interrogator mentioned an incident in which one of the shebab, the young men of the village, had been killed. 'Where were you?'
'In the field working. I heard about it from my mother when I returned.'
Then the interrogator began using bad words. He described the man as the 'brother of a bitch' and 'the son of a prostitute' -- words, he said, that hurt the Arab Muslim to hear much more than the Israeli Jew to say.
Next the interrogator brought his file. This contained information from 'dogs' (collaborators). There were twelve allegations -- member of Fatah, threw stones, bottles, many things. His brother was out of the country and a member of Fatah. 'What do you get from your brother?'
When there was no answer, the bad guys came in. They hit him. He said there were three kinds of interrogators -- the nice man, the one who hits, and the half and half. For ninety minutes they beat him. Punched his face, chest and back. Whipped him anywhere. They kicked his genitals twice.
At this point another man reminded us that this happened early in the intifada so this man had been lucky. Recently, one young man had been repeatedly kicked in the genitals. Now he took one hour to pass urine.
This treatment went on for forty-one days: questions and beatings, the same every day. For six days more they put him in a cupboard about one metre square. It had nails in the walls and water on the floor. Once a day they let him out to go to the toilet, but only after he had cried out for an hour.
The story seemed incredible later as I went over my notes. Yet there was no guile or dissembling that I could discern. Here was an ordinary honest man, telling his story in an unremarkable way. It was normal.
Meanwhile, Kids Watch TV Propaganda
While we listened to this story, the children were watching a video. It showed scenes of Israeli clashes with the shebab and of PLO marches. Graham, me and our hostWhenever the images on TV gave the V sign, the young children responded enthusiastically. Later I discussed this disturbing politicising of the young with Bill.
'But every country politicises its young people', he said, starting to recite 'From the halls of Montezuma ... 'to remind us that the USA also has chauvinism in large part in the education system of its young people. Of course, I agreed with him. I sang badly 'Allons enfants de la Patrie', and Graham and Bill rushed to correct the melody.
'I regret that any country exhibits chauvinism and jingoism in place of a healthy national pride', I said. 'I regret it in Israel. I regret it in the Occupied Territories. I regret it in the USA; I regret it in Australia. Ultimately it divides and stereotypes rather than. builds bridges between people. The danger here is that young people learn to hate rather than to love. Jesus' way would be to place love for neighbour first, and love for country second. I agree that, practically speaking, the politicising of the young is understandable for the Palestinians. Some may even argue that, given their oppression, it is appropriate. I don't suggest it is, in the world's terms, a bad thing. I just regret it wherever I see it. Of course, there is much more to regret here than the politicising of the young.'
I didn't quite realise how true this last statement was, nor how small-minded a discussion of the politicising of the young appeared in the context of the much greater issues of human rights that existed in this country. These I would encounter soon enough in my visit. But first our friend had to finish his story of being in prison.
After forty-seven days he was transferred to another prison. In all he was behind bars for six months. 'Why six months?' I asked. It was a law from the British Mandate used with convenience in the present situation. The law stated someone could be kept in detention without trial or charge if there was a severe security risk. 'You know what they do?' Of course, I didn't. 'They watch the area where you come from while you are in jail. If there is no trouble, they know you are the trouble-maker so they keep you another six months.'
'The Israeli oppression is meant to weaken us, but it does not work', the man went on. 'Instead it works the other way. It strengthens and unifies. When my village was nine days under curfew, I went to another village. They welcomed me and I stayed there, building friendships and solidarity.'
The TV was still on. There was a scene of a lone Israeli soldier with a rifle and a single Palestinian youth with a stone. The soldier cowered behind cover while the youth stood defiantly in the open, throwing stones at him. The soldier poked his weapon around the corner and fired blindly at the youth. He missed, then turned and ran away.
'See, the Israeli soldiers are cowards', someone said. Reminded of reports I had read that both sides saw the other as cowards, I asked whether all Israeli soldiers were cowards. 'They cannot stop their jeep from being burned by some women. You think they are not cowards?'
They Don't Care About Chickens
During our conversation we heard that a curfew at a nearby village threatened the lives of the chickens that World Vision had provided because the people could not venture out to buy chicken feed. Bill was angry when he heard this. 'The chickens will die', he said, bitter at the waste.
'What do you expect?' the Palestinians said. 'They do not respect humans, why should you expect they care about chickens?'
So? What Do You Want?
Finally, after being in this place for four hours, I asked, 'So what do you want? What outcome?' Their reply was typical of what we heard from Palestinians over the next few days.
The Palestinians would quickly say the Israelis were all crazy. But they did not ask for revenge or compensation. They asked for peace, real peace. For Jew. For Muslim. For Christian. Of course, only Palestinians fit into the second and third categories. 'We want the UN to sponsor a peace process. All we want is to be human. That's it! To be on the list of humans. They do not treat us like humans. To them we are animals. We want to be human.'
When did they hope there would be an end to their oppression? 'We don't know. We have hope. This might be God's test of whether we are worthy of his love. Our patience is being tested. Perhaps my sons will also be tested even more, as my father was tested before me, and his father, and his father.'
When? When? When?
'Tomorrow in the season of the apricots.' The apricot season is about three days long. The saying means never.
'When the salt has flowers.' Same meaning.
We went for a walk among the olive and fig trees. It was hot in the sun but cool in the shade. The hills were all terraced, although perhaps little more than half were properly cultivated. The new road was opening up old orchards again. The orchards were steep. The men asked me to throw a stone. I gave it my best shot and it sailed beyond some bushes less than a hundred metres away. Each man hurled a projectile in long impressive arcs far beyond my pathetic effort.
Shooting Season in  Gaza
The next day was Sunday, and Bill arrived with the awful news that a gunman in a white Peugeot had opened fire with a machine gun on a group of Arabs going to work inside Israel. Seven had been killed. The gunman got away.
Later we heard that he had been dressed in military uniform, and had lined up the people, demanded their identity cards, then opened fire. A police helicopter chased the Peugeot and they arrested an Israeli man in his twenties. The news said he was not a military person. It quoted an army official saying the man was suffering from a mental disorder and that the attack was not an expression of nationalism.
This last claim took my breath away. That an army man could assess a criminal's mental condition within one hour of capture was very impressive. Over the next few days it was revealed that the man had been discharged from the army after a bad service record, that he had troubles with his girlfriend and that he had been molested a few years earlier by an Arab. An editorial in The Jerusalem Post said that the crime was little different from someone in the US shooting at a crowd in the local McDonald's, and that Israel should have been congratulated for its speedy police work.
Doubtless the speedy police work was commendable. But the cnme could not be directly paralleled with a McDonald's shoot-up or Melbourne's 'Hoddle Street Massacre'. Incidents like this, even if they were aberrations, sprang from the context of systematic oppression of the Palestinians by Israel. They were, as the Israel Labour Federation's Council for Jewish-Arab Coexistence said, 'the fruit of the influence of nationalist hatred'. An Israeli woman, representing a lobby group, said 'It is impossible to separate the gunman's actions from the political context. He may have been crazy. Perhaps he was lovesick for his girlfriend. But he put on an Israel army uniform and killed Arabs.'
Every Arab we met dismissed the notion that this was an action unrelated to Arab/Jew relations with cynical incredulity.
'When a Jew kills on Arab, he is a crazy person. If a Palestinian were to kill a Jew, it would be a clear case of anti-Semitism.'
'There are two standards of justice here. Rabbi Levinger gets five months for killing Palestinians. The Palestinian who killed Israelis on the Gaza bus got thirty years.
'If this man is crazy, then every Israeli is crazy.
Although I felt this last statement generalised Israeli responsibility unjustly, I agreed that the man was crazy. Anyone who cold-bloodedly killed seven other human beings was crazy in my book. More than seven others were to die that day. That also was crazy.
Running The Check Point
After beginning the day on this grim note, we drove to Gaza wondering if there would be a curfew. Near the checkpoint there was a stream of Gaza vehicles. The workers were returning from work early. A police car drove by the column and pulled out any vehicle (like ours) without Gaza plates. We followed him, thinking this was special treatment for Jerusalem cars (another case of discrimination towards Israelis), but we were wrong. At the checkpoint the police car pulled off the road indicating for everyone to follow. We drove straight up to the checkpoint. There was a police camera and what looked like a foreign TV news crew.
Bill said, 'Shalom'. The soldier spoke to him in Hebrew and Bill lapsed into English. Meanwhile a soldier asked me, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'Gaza'. Better to be obvious; I thought this was the only place you could go on this road. 'You cannot. Turn here.' Bill got the same message and he turned the car away, then slipped into a small car park right beside the checkpoint. 'Let's walk through', he said. A friend was supposed to be picking us up on the other side.
We walked briskly. Graham, looking like a rabbi, lagged a bit, and Bill hurried him along. 'Just keep walking. Don't look back.' Loudspeakers and loud hailers sprang into noisy life. Nothing was said in Arabic or English so we could not understand if they were asking us to stop (although we suspected that they were). I expected to hear the sound of army boots running up behind us; to feel a rough hand on the shoulder; or to hear a volley of warning shots. None of these happened. Once we were fifty metres away, it went quiet. Probably confusion about whether we were Israelis or foreigners, or whether we were heading for Gaza or the Israeli settlement, combined with our purposeful and confident gait to get us through.
Angels Arrive in a Renault
Our friend was not there to pick us up. At a service station Bill called the hospital where he worked. The news was bad. 'The whole of Gaza is in flames.' We could see columns of black smoke. One person was dead already in one refugee camp. There were reports that the Israelis were shooting at people from helicopters. It would be impossible to get in. It was the worst day in Gaza the hospital had ever seen. People were crazy. Soldiers were crazy. We should come only at our own risk. Regularly that day we prayed for angels to go before us and behind us. Bill said, 'We have to pray whether God wants us to go ahead or turn back.'
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' (This is a wilderness road.) (Acts 8:26)
Right then a Renault R4 with a UN flag flying pulled up. That was the fastest answer to prayer I ever had! I didn't even get to say 'Dear Heavenly Father'. I had a quick picture of God saying, 'I know, I know. Get on with it.' The UN official offered to take us into Gaza to the Ahli Arab Anglican Hospital where we were planning to make a short visit anyway. We accepted.
Before we left, the man in the service station, who had offered us tea and cigarettes while we waited (we accepted tea), said, 'Look at these people [the Israelis]. We ask and ask and ask for talks, for peace. And this is what they do.'
The UN official said, 'Today, ten will be killed in Gaza, I predict.'
Entering A War Zone
Along the way, blazing tyres littered the road. The driver described them as 'the Palestinian symbol of protest against the Israeli occupation'. Symbols of the IntifadaStones were everywhere. Gaza was like a war zone. Houses and shops were boarded up. People huddled in doorways and up alleys. A couple of stones came our way, but mostly people waved and offered the V sign. We encountered two army jeeps. The shebab had scattered. The soldiers were running up an alley, crouched over, rifles pointing. We had to go another way. The driver ran the slalom of rocks and flames with skill and daring.
We arrived at the Ahli Arab Hospital by 11.00 a.m. They had coped with the first wave of emergency cases. All medical staff had been found and brought to the hospital, mostly in ambulances. Non-urgent in-patients were sent home when the news of the first massacre was heard. The hospital administrator, Jorgen Rosendal, a Dane, knew there would be trouble.
There were reports that the army was using its stone throwing machine from helicopters. They also had a water cannon that fired hot and dyed water. It burned and marked its targets for easier identification.
Now we heard that three dead had arrived at Shifa Hospital (the nearby government hospital). There were over 100 casualties in camps, but no ambulances to bring them. Two quick Fiats arrived and people scattered. Two young men with head wounds were despatched into the emergency ward.
Throughout the day we heard the boom of tear gas cannon, the occasional burst of gun fire and the calls to mourning on the Muslim loudspeakers. As we walked to Jorgen's office we saw a soldier on a nearby roof top watching us through binoculars. It felt eerie.
Why didn't the soldiers pull back? The official announcement was that they were trying to minimise the outbreaks of violence. But evidently their presence created the context for violence, if it didn't incite it directly. There was no violence in the streets we drove through unless the army was present.
A Danish Perspective
'I expected this', said Jorgen as we sat down, referring to the mounting casualties.
'For two to three months there have been clashes in the street outside two or three times a week. This is much more often than before. Gaza bombsA curfew was imposed. The street was so littered with stones you could not see the footpath. School girls are now throwing stones atjeeps. An old man tried to stop them. Nobody can control the shebabs (the young men) anymore. They are really nationalistic now. I am very worried.'