The Huwara checkpoint which guards Nablus is the worst I've seen yet. At least 20 or 30 soldiers, guns pointing at the men, women and children waiting in the hot sun at the checkpoint. I tried to go through, but as I'd been told to expect the answer was no, internationals are not allowed into Nablus. The army doesn't want the world to see what's going on there. Plan B was swung into effect. A prearranged taxi picked me up along with a doctor from Nablus with his wife and three young children. The wife and children cannot get a permit to live with their husband and father in Nablus because they are from Jerusalem, so the only way they can get to live with him is by sneaking in via the back route. We changed into an unmarked van and were hastily dumped by the side of the road and told to walk up a hill. I began to realize this wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped when the family suddenly ducked to the ground and told me to get down as an Israeli police car drove along the road. Eventually we saw another van waiting for us just beyond a rubble roadblock. After driving not far the doctor and driver suddenly started shouting and we turned up a hill and drove swiftly up to a village where we were bundled into a house. They'd spotted two army jeeps on the road into Nablus, so we had to divert in order to avoid being caught and arrested. We stayed in the house until the jeeps returned to base then set out, but as we were leaving the jeeps started driving back down again, so the driver hit the gas big time…! Another roadblock obstructed the road further on so we had to drive offroad (didn't think the old jeep could make it!) for a while to get around it – the kids loved the bumpy ride! Arriving in Nablus was a relief, but we still couldn't get to the internationals house because an army jeep was blocking the road and we're not supposed to be here. But more waiting and it eventually left, so we came up to the house by the evening.
Lots of interesting conversations yesterday and today with various Palestinians and internationals about the situation in Nablus. The occupation is much more full on here than in other Palestinian cities – whereas in Ramallah jeeps would only occasionally drive in, and only during the night, they invade any time in Nablus, during both the day and night. In the old city Israelis permanently occupy some of the houses. The last person killed in Nablus by Israeli bullets was only last week. Most of this clearly nothing whatsoever to do with security – just like the wall, the settlements, the roadblocks and checkpoints, it is clear that the major aim is to provoke Palestinians into responding, and encouraging them to leave Palestine. The predictable result of this situation is that the hatred in Nablus is worse than anywhere else I've witnessed so far. It was upsetting to hear just how much people here have learnt to hate. One of the Palestinian volunteers working for the NGO I'm with said 20 of his close friends have been killed by the army. How can there be peace in an atmosphere like this? As a guy waiting for the share taxi to Nablus with me said, 'all we want is to be treated as equals, is that too much to ask?'. How can Sharon expect Palestinians to take any offers of negotiation seriously when he continues to kill and imprison Palestinian's family and friends all around? As Chomsky described in a lecture I attended in Oxford last term – if Sharon wanted peace he could have it any time. But he continues to provoke Palestinians to turn to radical groups and to bomb Israelis, because that gives him a pretext to continue the occupation and the theft of Palestinian land. Unfortunately the media gobbles up his pretext all too readily, and Sharon's war against both Israelis and Palestinians continues.
I tried to argue the case with some of the Palestinians that the soldiers themselves are not to blame, they are just brainwashed and sent to Palestine to kill people before they have a chance to say 'no', but unsurprisingly many had little sympathy for this argument when they'd seen their own family killed in Israel hands. I was shown a video reenacting an eyewitness account of a Palestinian, arrested by the army, shot whilst under arrest. Its hard to be sure whether or not the brainwashing defense holds water. Soldiers can say 'no', so should they really be excused for their actions? How much of an excuse can brainwashing provide? When does ignorance of moral atrocity count as culpable ignorance? All these are difficult questions which Palestine has forced me to confront. Interestingly, the Palestinian lady who runs the NGO I'll be teaching for told me that most of the soldiers when they start out here are fairly well behaved, but they become screwed up by fear and by the orders of their superiors in the military, so that after only two weeks they start doing things which they would previously have recoiled at. The Israeli Demolition Force is destroying not only the homes and lives of Palestinians, but also the souls of Israeli children.
A ray of hope… I have discovered that there is one group of people in this land who are at peace. The Samaritans. On a hill above Nablus is a Samaritan village where a community of Jews who have lived here since biblical times reside. They speak both Hebrew (not modern Ivrit, but an older form) and Arabic, and count themselves as Palestinian. Despite Israel's attempt to get them to move into Israel they have insisted that this is their home and this is where they will stay. The Palestinians
regard them as fellow Palestinians and have no tensions with them, and the Israelis regard them as fellow Jews and treat them will all the privileges that that entails (for example, unlike Muslim and Christian Palestinians, the Samaritans are allowed to move freely within both Palestine and Israel). Both sides in this conflict have something familiar to latch onto with the Samaritans, so in place of fear and fighting, peace is allowed to dwell.
Am really looking forward to starting teaching. It was so nice to laugh and play with the kids in the refugee camp in Ramallah, to forget for a moment about the horror of the occupation and just be children being children, playing in the street.