Keith left this morning and the remaining two of us went to the Jerusalem Women in Black protest at Paris Square. It took just over an hour to get to Al Kuds from Ramallah. This time we not only had to go all over the place and back to avoid walls (hardly seen a fence since we arrived one near Bethlehem) but we went through a smartish settlement and I can't think what most people on the bus thought but they were very quiet. It is quite ridiculous to herd people around like this. The walk over the rubble at Qalandiya is always a bit tricky but we saw an old man who was having trouble and saw him later at the revolving metal bars you have to go through having great trouble because, like some revolving doors, they are not wide enough. The young female soldier on duty gave him a hand and he smiled.
On the way back this afternoon, we saw a man in a wheelchair at the bus station opposite the Jerusalem Hotel. I suppose he will have had to be taken along the road at Qalandiya to get through the checkpoint but even if they let him use the road, how would his very rickety wheel chair, with a bind-a-twine footrest, cope with the rubble? Ordinary people not allowed to move freely in their own land is against all human rights.
We heard yesterday that 80% have trouble in their normal routine and 60% have trouble getting to work. One of the problems is that as people get used to being herded around like this, they will become grateful for *any* relaxation of the routine but really the restrictions caused by walls and checkpoints shouldn't be acceptable in any form.
Schoolchildren in a village near Tulkarem also have to cope with the wall. In many places the gates are only opened twice a day so if a child is late for school, they can't go at all. ( Ditto of course, for teachers, librarians, shop workers, etc.) If a child is ill, leaving school early is out of the question. Children at the nursery school, which normally ends at 11.30, have to stay at school until the gates open at around 2.30.
At times the soldiers will turn up without the key and then they just shrug and the gate stays closed. A child who misses exams because they couldn't get through the wall, must resit the whole year. Maybe that's one reason why there are so many good English speakers here! One graduate of Al Kuds, who works as a waiter, told us that on occasion he had to climb the wall, 9 metres there, to get to college.
At the local university, Beir Zeit, we were told that there are now 0 new students from Gaza, in a university that prided itself on attracting students from all over Palestine. There are now 0 new students from Jenin. Suddenly there is an influx from Tulkarem, because now students cannot travel just down the road to An Najar Nablus University because the road blocks only open twice a week.
University degrees often take longer to complete than in England. We spoke to Yasser at Beir Zeit who said his BA had taken 8 years because of all the closures. For instance Ramallah was closed for 35 days in 2002 and the road block which has now gone but comes back from time to time (a flying road block) between Ramallah and the university prevented him and many other students attending college.
From 1987-8 to 1992 the colleges were closed for 4 1/2 years. Classes were then held in homes or community colleges, churches or mosques. Students and schoolchildren were arrested for carrying books - the word is so powerful. Teachers were arrested for holding classes. A class held in a private house for female university students from Ramallah was raided and the blackboard was smashed. Female students were often body searched by men and this is awful enough for anyone but especially degrading for Muslim women. In 2002 in Hebron 6000 students were without proper classes for 8 months. In fact, Hebron students hacked down the locked gates of their university and held classes for 6 weeks before they were again evicted. Students know they have a right to education and that they were not acting illegally.
There are now 71 students from Beir Zeit in prison. The majority are held under Administrative Detention, i.e. not charged, held indefinitely at the whim of the Court. Neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to know what charges they are being held on. 2 students have been held like this for 2 years. Teachers are not alowed to visit them. 20 Beir Zeit students were on hunger strike this week for a week in solidarity with the striking prisoners, with only water, salts and milk to eat.
School children have also been imprisoned in this intifada. 2500 of them and 361 are in prison right now. 95% of them suffer some form of abuse including torture. (One adult told us how he was made to stand when a child, half naked and on one leg which was beaten until it was numb and then forced to stand on the other and that was beaten until numb.)
We were told that children in Cerda do not play cowboys and indians or cops and robbers but checkpoints and soldiers now.
As more and more schools and colleges are targetted, playgrounds attacked, often by settlers whose children are allowed to carry guns, places of learning are now considered unsafe. Recently tear gas and rubber bullets were fired through the gates at the University here. Soldiers often turn up and sit at the gates and taunt students into reacting but luckily they often don't. The soldiers have been caught on video throwing rocks into the grounds and daring students to throw them back.
So, we travelled back from Al Kuds today, as I said, through Beit Hanina and on to Ar Ram where the High Court decreed that the wall building should stop and where we took photos of the destruction of half the road, and oblongs of concrete wall lying beside the road only last Wednesday (today is Friday) and discussed how people would live, their town divided in half. Today, the wall is going up. Two sections are complete. People now have to travel a long way round to get from Qalqiliya checkpoint to Al Kuds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem) and this is why it took us an hour this morning. It was really shocking to see. The effect is as though, living in Abingdon you were forced to get to Oxford via Cowley and even then you would have to go through at least one checkpoint on the Watlington Road. It would be like having a wall through Wolvercote along the middle of the road so that if you lived in Meadow Prospect you'd be able to get into Oxford relatively easily, though you'd have to walk a long way for a bus because your main road is now only one way but if you lived in Rosamund Road, you would be sent all the way to Kidlington, via various road blocks, to get to Oxford. Added to that, if you lived in Kidlington or Wolvercote you would not be able to travel to Oxford at all unless you had the right permit.
Finally, this is our 3rd night here and the town has been "invaded" - the term, not mine but used by a local woman - all three nights. Tonight we heard an explosion, probably a percussion bomb, some time ago, and then sporadic shooting.