Personal accounts of current events in Palestine and Israel; commentary and analysis from the Middle East, the USA and Europe
Personal Accounts

Uri Avnery's Column

Gideon Levy articles & opinion

Avraham Burg - Opinion

Commentary by
James Wall

The Two-State Illusion
by Ian S. Lustnick

A Palestinian Pastor's Advice for President Obama
by Rev. Alex Awad

Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's path to Palestinian Solidarity  by Rabbi Brant Rosen

"Change without Progess in the Middle East"
by Ambassador Chas Freeman

"Justice Requires Action to Stop Subjugation of Palestinians"
by Desmond Tutu

"Why I Refuse"
by Moriel Rothman

Messages from Janet Lahr Lewis, UM Liaison to Israel-Palestine

Personal Accounts: Testimonies of Methodist Ecumenical Accompaniers


"Goldstone's Legacy for Israel" by Naomi Klein

"Mourning the Jewish New Year" by Prof. Marc Ellis

"Palestine Papers Expose US as Dishonest Broker"
  by Alison Weir

"Top 10 Reasons for  
Skepticism on Talks"

  by Josh Ruebner

"Boycotting the boycotters"
by Gideon Levy

"Apartheid in Holy Land"
  by Desmond Tutu

"Nakba Day is a Reminder"
    by Yousef Manayyer

"Israel's racism spreads"
   by Zvi Bar'el

Holy Land Christians' Decline
  Al-Jazeera video report

Two articles on Israel's
Independence Day 2010
  by Burston; Avnery

Presbyterian General Assembly 2010 - News and Commentary

"End US Tax Exemption 
for Settlements"

  by Sama Adnan

"A Call for Livable Futures"
  by Rela Mazali

"Israel 2007: Worse Than

Ronnie Kasrils, SoAfrican

"Israel's Greatest Loss:
Its Moral Imagination"

by Henry Siegman

Can Muslim & Jewish  
Narratives Co-exist?

Jewish Respect for Islam

Muslims & Jews Closer  

Tragedy of Monotheism

Using Qur'anic narratives

From the General Board of Church
& Society, UMC:


The best way to find out what life is like for people in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is to go there and talk with them in person.

For those who are unable to travel to the region, however, testimonies from people in the region can help to paint a clearer picture of how their daily lives are affected by the Wall and ongoing violence.

• Children of the Nakba (Mennonite Central Committee, 2005, DVD, 26 minutes)

• Defining the Barrier— A Washington Post multimedia section on the Wall

• One Family Fund: Survivor Stories (click on “Portraits” à “Survivor Stories”)

• Sawahreh: Against the Wall(World Council of Churches, 2005) (click on “Documents” à “Security or Segregation?”)

• Separated Families, A report by Anna Seifert, Ecumenical Accompanier, January 2005

• Testimonies from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel(EAPPI) (click on “Accompaniers' Reports”)

• Testimonies from B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights
in the Occupied Territories

• UNICEF: Real Lives

• UNICEF: Voices of Children in the Occupied Territories

• The Wall Around Bethlehemby Zack Sabella
From a Report to the Methodist Conference 2010
of the Methodist Church of the UK (Great Britain):

"Justice for Palestine and Israel"
Stories: Testimonies of Methodist Ecumenical Accompaniers

I was a General Practitioner for over 30 years. It was an enormous privilege to have
been allowed to accompany so many wonderful people along signifi cant stretches of
their life journeys.

Being an Ecumenical Accompanier is somewhat similar. For three months we
accompany ordinary Palestinians along a short but signifi cant stretch of their life
journeys. We stand beside them as they strive to maintain some sort of normality
to their lives in the face of the continuing Occupation and the human rights abuses
associated with it. We support Israeli peace activists as they demonstrate against the
Occupation and try to give practical help to those suffering as a result of it.

I remember sitting in a small ward in the Maqassad Hospital on the Mount of Olives
with the parents of a teenage boy who had been shot in the head by Israeli police
during a peaceful demonstration against the Gaza War. The television was showing
continuous footage of the war – and we talked about peace. I can hear Hamam’s
father now in his slow voice, ‘All we want is peace – peace for Palestinians, peace for
Israelis, peace for everyone.’ Never once did I hear this man, a devout Muslim, utter
one word against the Israeli soldier who shot his son.
For many Ecumenical Accompaniers, our three months living in a country under
Occupation are a life-changing experience. We return home with a passion for the
country, a passion for the people and a passion for peace and justice for all. That’s
why we continue to engage in the struggle, to write letters, to start projects and to
travel around the country giving presentations and urging others to campaign with us.

Liz Burroughs

In January 2009 I left Britain to serve as a volunteer with the Ecumenical
Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This programme placed me with an international team in Hebron in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory.
My three month placement in Hebron opened my eyes to life under Occupation.

Hebron is a microcosm of the Israeli Occupation in that it has at its centre the reality
of settlements and a heavy military presence. Approximately 500 Israeli settlers live
within the heart of the city due to their ideological belief in the importance of Hebron
as the home of the patriarchs (Abraham is believed to be buried here). Tension
between Palestinian residents and settlers is rife and leads to attacks and disregard
of property. The consequence of Israel ensuring the security of its settlers is that
checkpoints and closures are evident all over the city; there are numerous soldiers on
patrol, and Palestinians experience discrimination in restricted movement.

I share one story of an experience towards the end of my stay in Hebron. I had been
invited to the home of a schoolgirl’s family. At the time of our scheduled meeting we
were unable to meet as Israeli soldiers had imposed a curfew forbidding her to leave
her home and a checkpoint preventing me access to her road. I fi nally got to the home
once the closure had been lifted. The hospitality was generous, but what impressed me
was the attitude of the family. They appeared unembittered by the frequent restrictions
on their freedom and talked of working non-violently for change in their land.

It was also heartening to share with Israeli peace organisations concerned about the
militarisation of society. ‘New Profi le’ is an admirable organisation seeking to support
Israeli young people who choose to be conscientious objectors. Similarly, ‘Breaking
the Silence’ seeks to support former Israeli soldiers who wish to give testimony about their service in the army. I was able to accompany them on one of their tours round
Hebron, which aimed to raise awareness about the consequences of Occupation.

As a returned Ecumenical Accompanier I am committed to engaging in action,
which strives for a just peace in the region. It is impossible to forget the injustice of
Occupation having witnessed this reality in the West Bank.

Shari Brown

A Vignette: Jesus Wept
by Lucy Janjigian

For more than two thousand years, Palestine has been the destination of Christian pilgrimages. Sadly, now about 1.5 percent of its population is Christian. This is the cry from all the leaders of Christian denominations.  

Born in Jerusalem, I attended an English Anglican School with Arab (Muslim and Christian), Jewish, Armenian, and other girls of many nationalities. Our home was in an international quarter where Abyssinian, Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, English, French, Jewish, Polish, and Russian families lived in peace and within proximity to each other.  Around 1946, militant Zionists began blowing up British soldiers and policemen. July 22, 1946, was Palestine’s September 11. Irgun Zionists blew up the King David Hotel that housed the British Mandate Government, killing 92 Arab, Armenian, British, Greek, and Jewish personnel, including my aunt’s sister Eugenie, and a Greek girl I knew, a recent graduate from our school.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations announced the Palestine Partition Plan. The house we lived in landed in no man’s land with bullets flying through the windows between Arabs and Jews. One night, the four-storied Mandelbaum Apartment Building (that was behind our house) whose Jewish residents had evacuated that day, was blown up by Jewish forces. Our windowpanes shattered, dogs barked, pictures and dishes crashed to the tiled floor.  The blast terrified us and shook us out of bed.

The next morning we were uprooted. At the urging of Bishop Stewart, we abandoned our home and moved to St. George’s School across the street, where my father had taught both Arab and Jewish students. For us to move safely, a temporary two-hour ceasefire was agreed upon. Carrying a few personal belongings, the street we crossed became the boundary between Israel and Jordan. Jerusalem was now a divided city. Travel between Jerusalem Jordan and  Jerusalem Israel had to be through the Mandelbaum Gate. This barbed wire fence in front of our demolished home was monitored by UN personnel. It was dismantled after the 1967 War when Jerusalem became a united city by illegal Israeli annexation that has not been recognized by the U.S. or by other international governments.
June 11, 1948—The first cease fire was signed by UN’s Count Folke Bernadotte, with high ranking Israeli and Jordanian military and civilian officials, in our living room at St. George’s School. During the ceasefire both sides rearmed. We left Jerusalem and found refuge at the Anglican Girls’ Mission School, Amman, Jordan; where
other refugees shared their room with extended family.
Upon our return to Jerusalem in 1950, I worked with United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) among Palestinian refugees in tented camps. That was an eye-opener and a heartbreak. In the past sixty years, the 750,000 refugees have since multiplied to millions. Sadly, they have not been allowed to return or compensated for their land and property.
It was an honor to be on this journey with the Presbyterian General Assembly-appointed study committee. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit Ramallah, Gaza, or refugee camps.
Israel evicts Palestinians, demolishes their homes and cisterns, confiscates their land, and cuts down their orchards, which are frequently their only means of livelihood. Palestinians are deprived of their human rights and are humiliated on a daily basis. We saw an example of this the day we visited Hebron. An Israeli soldier carrying his gun entered our bus to check our identities. As he was getting off, out of the blue, he spat at a young Arab boy passing by minding his own business.
Palestinians feel imprisoned and choked by the Separation Wall (sometimes referred to as Wall of Tears or Apartheid Wall) and continues to build illegal settlements on Arab lands and hilltops converging onto villages, even though President Obama asked for a freeze on settlement building. Palestinians are harassed, denied water and freedom of movement. They are required to carry identity passes that are checked at numerous checkpoints making travel difficult and time-consuming. Furthermore, they have to use unpaved, winding roads that prolong travel time, while Israelis have access to direct exclusive paved roads.

“Israel acts as a spoiled child,” remarked one Israeli activist. “America has helped create this undisciplined child. It depends on the U.S. for its lifeline of funding and weapons.” She continued to say “that even though the state of Israel is supposed to be a democracy, it acts as a Nazi state.” She did not feel she could live in the country much longer if it continued to be an oppressor, ignoring human rights.
We were privileged to attend Dar Annadwa’s 5th Annual Conference—“The Kairos & the Intersection Between Theology & Politics—A South African Perspective” in Bethlehem.
Israel has violated human rights, broken Geneva Conventions, ignored UN Declarations, and gotten away with it. This I cannot understand. The U.S. government must stop providing Israel with unlimited funds and weapons.

I weep, with Christ for the Oppressor,
the Oppressed, Jerusalem—The Holy City.
I pray, hearts of stone to melt into hearts of flesh,
Peace to reign with Justice, resulting in a two-state solution
Reinstating the 1967 borders,
Jerusalem declared an International City
Open for ALL.
May justice and peace reign.
[Lucy Janjigian is a Palestinian American born of Armenian descent in Jerusalem. She is also an artist. She has served as a short-term volunteer with the Armenian Missionary
Association of America and is an elder at Westside Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey.]

Source: Breaking Down the Walls: Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assemble (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
At our Print Resources page>>

Testimony: Israeli Security Agency exploits illness of Gazan to try and force him to become a collaborator
September 2009

In the summer of 2007, Israel instated a new procedure regarding residents of the Gaza Strip wishing to exit Gaza in order to receive medical treatment. According to the procedure, authorization some of these requests are authorized only if the resident first undergoes a questioning by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). In a response by the Prime Minister's Office to a letter from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on 22 May 2008, the purpose of the questioning was described as “evaluating the degree of danger posed by the applicant”. However, testimonies given to human rights organizations in Israel indicate otherwise. The organizations have documented cases in which the ISA has exploited the questionings to exert inappropriate pressure on ill persons, with the aim of forcing them to collaborate with the Agency and give information to agents, as a prerequisite for receiving a permit to exit Gaza for medical treatment. As the questionings take place in Erez Checkpoint, the ISA has even used them, in some cases, as a means to arrest persons and take them to interrogation within Israel .

As part of a petition relating to several individuals filed to the Israeli High Court of Justice by PHR on 8 November 2007, the organization requested that the ISA be forbidden to condition exiting Gaza on giving information and collaborating. After solutions were found for most of the patients for whom the petition was filed, the justices chose to refrain from the addressing the phenomenon itself.

According to data collected by PHR, from January to August 2008, of 3,760 patients who submitted requests for exit permits from the Gaza Strip, 325 were questioned by the ISA and 1,310 had to cancel the medical appointments set for them and re-submit their requests.

‘Abd al-Karim al-‘Atal, a resident of Jabalya, in the Gaza Strip, was arrested and interrogated by the ISA in September 2009. His description of the events clearly demonstrates the ISA's wrongful use of this procedure.

Al-‘Atal, 18, is losing his sight. According to a testimony he gave to B'Tselem, physicians told him he needed a cornea transplant, and that it could not be done in Gaza . In July 2009, the physicians referred him to St. John Eye Hospital , in East Jerusalem.

According to al-‘Atal, he requested the liaison office in the Gaza Strip to coordinate his entry into Israel for treatment. Following the request, he received a call from the ISA summoning him for a meeting at Erez Checkpoint.

On the morning of 6 September 2009, he arrived at the checkpoint, and after undergoing a security check, he was taken to a waiting room. A few minutes later, two Hebrew-speaking men searched him, cuffed his hands behind his back, blindfolded him, and took him to another room.

Al-‘Atal related that he was questioned for several hours, during which he was asked about the physician who had referred him to treatment in Israel, about his uncle, who is residing in Egypt, and about family members. The interrogator accused him of having forged the medical documents and threatened to arrest him for forgery. The interrogator also accused him and his brothers of being commanders in the Hamas military wing, and warned him that, given these suspicions, it would be very difficult for him to enter Israel unless he aided the ISA and spied on his relatives for the Agency. According to al-‘Atal, at the end of the questioning, the interrogator told him he was being detained. He was taken by jeep to the detention center in Ashkelon , where he was examined by a physician and then placed in isolation, as he described:

    "I was standing there. They removed the blindfold, took off the cuffs, and told me to enter a cell that looked about 130cm X 130cm large. The walls were black and very rough, so I couldn't lean on them with my back or straighten my legs. There was a yellow light bulb. Next to the cell was a toilet hole which stank and had lots of insects around it."

Later, he states, he was taken to court, where the judge ordered that he be detained for ten days. Al-‘Atal was then taken to interrogation, which he described in his testimony:

    "He handed me a piece of paper. The prison's laws and instructions were written on it. I was so tired and exhausted, I could barely read it. Also, I couldn't see well. I handed it back to him. He said they wanted to bring me a copy printed in Braille. I replied that, if it is Allah's will, I'll be able to read Braille one day. Then he ordered me to sit on a small chair that was fixed to the floor, bound my hands, behind me, to the chair, and told me to put my legs next to each other. This is a very tiring and exhausting position. Then he accused me of all kinds of things. He put his face right in front of mine and said I'm a terrorist and know where weapons are stored, and that I'm in contact with my uncle Mansur Shalail, and with Salem Thabet and Amir a-Sharif, of the al-Aqsa Brigades. He shouted in my face, and saliva spattered from his mouth. When he stopped talking, I told him I didn't know anything. He said I did, and that they'd hold me 180 days, and that I'd talk at some point. I told him I was ill and couldn't see, and to do those things, I had to have better sight. He continued until three in the morning."

In the days that followed, al-‘Atal states that he was repeatedly interrogated while tied in painful positions and held in freezing cold under an air-conditioner. At some stage, he was connected to a device that policemen told him was a polygraph machine. As the ten-day period of detention was coming to an end, he was taken to a room with persons who were presented as detainees, but were apparently men who were planted there to encourage him to talk. They, too, tried to extract information from him.

The next day, he was taken back to court, where his detention was extended again, this time for eight days. He was taken back to interrogation. Four days later, he was taken to Erez Checkpoint and released. No legal measures were taken against him.

As yet, Al-‘Atal has not received a permit to enter Israel to obtain medical treatment, and he is liable to lose his sight.


A Vignette: 58 Years in Israel and Palestine
by John Huffman

I am theologically a moderate pro-Zionist. While I cannot embrace the triumphal enthusiasm of the ultra-dispensationalists with their detailed eschatological charts, I on the other hand cannot bring myself to deny the significant role of the Jews in both human history and salvation history. Even as in my Reformed theology, I affirm the Church to be the New Israel, I am stopped in my tracks as I see an exiled people return to a land once theirs, more than 2,000 years since they have had complete sovereignty over that land. There is nothing comparable in history. This convinces me that some of the prophecies of Scripture are being fulfilled in our day in a most amazing way.

At the same time, I am forced to raise issues with today’s zealous Jewish Zionism and the State of Israel in its present policies and actions in regard to the Palestinian people. There is no biblical mandate for such a lack of hospitality and such flagrant injustice. Something must be done.

I first visited the Middle East as a twelve-year-old in 1952. As my parents had tea with Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Lambie at the Berachah Tuberculosis Sanitarium south of Bethlehem, I stood on the roof of their house looking out into their backyard and the hillside beyond observing more than 30,000 Palestinian refugees of the 1947–48 war, still living in the squalor of camelhair tents, behind barbed wire fences, eking out an existence on United Nations rations. Seeing other such encampments, I then, as a youngster, sensed that these refugee camps would inevitably become hotbeds of resentment and even potential terrorism.

In my subsequent thirty trips to the area, the most recent being with our task force this past August, I have been perplexed by the complexity of the situation, troubled by acts of terrorism on both sides, and ultimately appalled by the arbitrary expropriation of Palestinian land and the exponential increase of that expropriation since 1967 and the use of that land in violation of international law, the most visible evidence of that being the building of Israeli settlements housing what soon will be one-half million settlers.

It was with great reservation that I accepted the invitation to join this General Assembly task force. I know how controversial is this topic and how viciously attacked any truth-tellers are by majority voices in the American Jewish community that are quick to attach the label “anti-Semitic” to anyone who even suggests that there are serious ethical and legal issues at stake. I support the security of the State of Israel and believe that American tax dollars should be used for that purpose. But it should not be done at all costs on Israeli-dictated terms resulting from a masterful manipulation of the United States political process.

Whatever else our report recommends, I personally plead for a reversal of the apartheid actions that now are integral to Israeli domestic and foreign policy. Something must be done to remove the ghastly wall that is such a reminder of the Soviet unjust endeavor to exclude. And I would hope for the negotiation of a land swap that will inconvenience the fewest possible Palestinians and Israelis in a realistic understanding that, as painful as it is, the clock cannot be turned all the way back to 1948 but that reparations can be made. I beg for a more humane approach by Israel to implement the conditions undergirding God’s covenant blessing on His people, an implementation that will not deny realistic security threats but will endeavor to alleviate the suffering of the second-class status of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. If this is not forthcoming, I must reluctantly join that lonely minority of Jewish and Gentile
voices that call for justice even if it takes divestment to force the issue. And I urge our American U.S. foreign policy to cut off our elaborate financial/military support of Israel until there is full compliance with international law and the standards of justice in any respected society. Short of such actions on the part of the Israelis, I see a continued heightening of tensions and circumstances evolving in the larger Middle East that could even ultimately threaten the existence of Israel as a continuing Jewish homeland.

[John A. Huffman has just retired from his position as senior pastor of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, California. During his life, he has traveled to Israel Palestine thirty-one times.]

Source: Breaking Down the Walls: Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assemble (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
At our Print Resources page>>


Childhood in ruins
The Guardian
Dec. 17, 2009

Last December, Israel began a 23-day bombardment of Gaza, killing around 1,400 people. One year on, a generation of children is growing up amid the wreckage of that attack, traumatised – and radicalised – by the experience

Children play in the rubble of their homes in Jabaliya, destroyed by the Israeli offensive in January. Photograph: Ashraf Amra/Polaris/eyevine

Ghiada abu Elaish's fingers twist in her lap and her eyes cloud over as she recalls the day an Israeli shell killed four of her cousins and left her in a coma for 22 days. She has had almost 12 months to reflect on the tragedy, a time in which hatred and anger might have consumed the 13-year-old. Remarkably, though, not only has she survived shocking injuries and a dozen operations, with many more to come, but she has retained both her sweet nature and faith in a bright future.

Which makes it all the harder for her to return each day after school, dressed in the ubiquitous Palestinian uniform of blue-and-white-striped smock over jeans and trainers, to the scene of the massacre – her family home.

It was Friday 16 January and Ghiada was studying for exams. Her father, a pharmacist, woke from a nap, demanding tea and shouting at the younger children to be quiet. "Suddenly I could hear my cousin downstairs, screaming 'Dead! Dead!'" A shell had hit the building – a block of five apartments, housing the extended Abu Elaish family – smashing windows and causing extensive damage to the flat below.

In the ensuing panic, Ghiada defied her father and followed him downstairs. "One room was completely black. I saw Aya [my cousin], she was on the ground with wood on top of her. There was a big hole in the wall."

Ghiada tried pulling Aya out from under the furniture. A second shell struck. "There was a big light for a second," she says. "I saw some windows smash and I heard screaming all around. A piece of shrapnel hit me. I started to scream for help and then fell down unconscious."

Ghiada's father, Atta Mohammed abu Elaish, rushed into the room. "I saw bodies without heads and legs. I saw my daughter. I saw her mother screaming." He ran outside to call an ambulance. "The Israelis stopped the ambulances 250 metres from the house. Some boys from the street came to start ferrying the bodies and the injured out of the building."

The attack was one of countless assaults during Israel's 23 days of war on Gaza – Operation Cast Lead – that began on 27 December. But it was also one of the most notorious because Ghiada's uncle – Aya's father – was a doctor who worked in Israeli hospitals and was well known to Israeli viewers for advocating peace and reconciliation. All through the conflict, Dr Izzeldin abu Elaish gave regular eyewitness accounts by phone in fluent Hebrew to Israeli television. Within minutes of the attack on his own family, he was back on the phone to a journalist in a Tel Aviv studio, weeping and begging for help as Israeli viewers listened: "My daughters have been killed."

Indeed, they had: Bissan, 20, Miar, 15, and Aya, 14, were dead, along with another cousin, 17-year-old Nour. Ghiada was in a critical condition; another of the doctor's daughters was also wounded.

The injured girls – thanks to that live TV broadcast – were unusually and swiftly evacuated to a hospital in Tel Aviv, where Ghiada was found to be suffering from multiple problems with her heart, kidneys, stomach and legs. She remained in hospital in Israel for four and a half months.

Now, Ghiada says, she thinks about that day "always", but tries not to let others see her pain. "When I am crying, I go to my room and cry alone," she says. Does she feel angry? No, she says, just sad. And she plans to stay put in Gaza: "Maybe others would like to emigrate, but that's not for me."

Toll of death and destruction

But if Ghiada expresses no bitterness, her father insists she is angry and so is the rest of the family. "It's very hard for us," he says. "That accident took Bissan, Nour, Miar, Aya – and my brother." Dr Abu Elaish has left Gaza for Canada. "He is the eldest brother, the father of the family, and now he's gone. How can we forgive?"

The shelling of the Abu Elaish family was unusual in that it caught the attention of the Israeli public, but what Ghiada continues to endure 12 months on is shared by many of Gaza's 750,000 children – half of its population.

More than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 23 days of the Israeli assault, including several hundred children. The actual number is in dispute. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) documented 313 deaths, almost 40% of them less than 10 years old. Other Palestinian groups say the toll was much higher. More than 1,600 children were injured.

But the 23-day war is only part of the story. The long history of Israeli assaults on Gaza, and the two-and-a-half-year-long blockade of the territory after Hamas took power, has exacted a toll on almost every aspect of children's lives: schooling, housing, leisure time, what they eat, what they wear, how they see the future.

A Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) survey earlier this year found that about 75% of children over the age of six were suffering from one or more symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost one in 10 ticked off every criteria.

"The majority of children suffer many psychological and social consequences," says Dr Hasan Zeyada, a psychologist with GCMHP. "Insecurity and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness are overwhelming. We observed children becoming more anxious – sleep disturbances, nightmares, night terror, regressive behaviour such as clinging to parents, bed wetting, becoming more restless and hyperactive, refusal to sleep alone, all the time wanting to be with their parents, overwhelmed by fears and worries. Some start to be more aggressive."

Dr Abdel Aziz Mousa Thabet, professor of psychiatry at al-Quds university in Gaza, says the conflict has a different impact on boys and girls. "Girls have more anxiety and depression, boys are more hyperactive."

Some children no longer look on their homes as a place of safety, security and comfort. Others don't even have a home to go to. The Israeli bombardment damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses, forcing some families into tents and others into crowding in with relatives. Hamas distributed money to displaced families to rebuild their homes but the Israeli blockade has created a desperate shortage of materials. Almost one year later, some children still have no roof over their head.

Hanan Attar, a slight 10-year-old wearing flip-flops several sizes too big for her small feet, is wistful as she recalls the house destroyed by an Israeli tank shell. "We had land, my father is a farmer," she says. "We used to grow watermelons, but the land was too close to the border and we can't get there now."

Home is now a tent on a patch of scrubby sand, shared by 10 members of her family, including a 50-day-old baby sister with a pinched face and a tin of formula milk perched on her rusting iron crib. The baby, Haneen, is seriously underweight at only 3kg, and is not growing. Her mother, Arfa, 40, cannot breastfeed because she is taking medication for back problems; the formula costs 45 shekels (£7.50) a tin, money that the family has to borrow. The father, too, is sick as well as unemployed. He reaches on top of a tall fridge that dominates the tent to pull down a sheaf of x-rays showing how his leg, broken in the conflict, is pinned together with metal.

"We are civilians, we don't belong to any faction," he says. "What are we guilty of so that we have to live like this? I spent my entire life building up my home. In one hour everything was gone."

Hanan doesn't complain about the tent, but says "the house was better". She adds: "A snake came one night and bit my mother. I can't sleep at night; I'm scared of the snakes and the dogs."

Meals are cooked on a Calor gas stove; the toilets – a hut donated by an Arab charity – are shared by all the families in the compound of tents. "There are big queues," says Hanan. Winter is coming; the tent is "freezing", she says.

There is a community of tent families, circled round the shared lavatories. The children play as all children do, kicking a football, wrestling, dragging sticks through the sand. The families are doing their best in near-impossible circumstances. Some families have even planted small gardens in the scrub: corn and a few flowers.

But Hanan – who wants to be a doctor so she can treat the sick – says she spends most of her time in the tent with her seven brothers and sisters. Do they think they will ever go back to a proper home? "God knows," says Arfa.

Overcrowding, lack of privacy and poverty are contributing to what some in Gaza call the "mental siege" . Tensions within families are increasing, say Gaza's mental health experts. "Some parents themselves have depression and anxiety. Some become more aggressive towards their children," says Zeyada.

John Ging, director of UN operations in Gaza, puts it like this: "Parents are sitting there in their homes, very upset and very frustrated at the their situation, and that is of course having ramifications for the home environment." Has there been an increase in domestic violence? "Of course . . . children are losing respect because of the breakdown of the role-model structure. They see their parents as incapable of providing for them, they're seeing their parents as a failure."

Lost childhoods

Part of the problem is the lack of release and entertainment for children. There are few gardens or parks, no cinemas or theatres, many sports facilities have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombing, and one of Gaza's great natural advantages – a 25-mile stretch of sandy beach facing the Mediterranean – is hiding a fresh danger.

In the summer months, families flock to the beach on Fridays and Saturdays. The sight of children splashing in the waves is cheering until one remembers that every day 20m gallons of raw sewage is pumped into the water. Since Gaza's sewage processing plant was bombed after the kidnap of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in July 2006, there has been no alternative means of disposal. Now, according to Save the Children, children are developing skin diseases as well as bacterial infections from swimming in polluted water.

"There are not enough safe places for children to play," says Mona al-Shawa, head of the women's unit at the PCHR. To counter this, the UN organised a hugely popular "Summer Games" during the long school break, despite objections from Hamas about boys and girls mixing together. "There were those on the political side saying kids should be going to summer camps, not doing sport and recreation, but preparing for a future life of militancy," says Ging.

Ging says schooling has also suffered. Thirty-two of the UN's 221 schools were damaged in the Israeli assault, plus scores more government ones. None have been repaired because Israel does not allow construction materials into Gaza, saying they could be used to make weapons.

"So the schools, where the windows were blown out or other damage was done, have been cleaned up, made safe, and continue in operation today without the physical repairs because we haven't been allowed to bring in one pane of glass or one bag of cement since last January," says Ging.

Israel did permit a consignment of wood into Gaza to make school desks for 8,000 children, but then blocked delivery of the steel necessary to complete them. "Now you see three kids squashed on to a desk," says Ging. "How are teachers supposed to give each child the attention they need?"

There is also a shortage of school books and pens, and what does arrive mostly has to be smuggled through underground tunnels from Egypt.

The result is children attending overcrowded schools on a double or even triple shift system that has contributed to a continuing decline in education levels. One in five of the 200,000 pupils at the UN's 221 schools in Gaza failed basic Arabic and maths exams this year.

Engendering extremism

"It's shocking for them but it's also alarming for us in terms of the future," says Ging. "The objective of the [Israeli] policy is to counter extremism. Education is probably the most effective tool through which you will counter extremism, by developing a positive and well-educated mindset. And yet we are being prevented by the policy from educating these children."

It is, he says, "facilitating the destruction of a civilised society and, worse than that, the development of an extreme society".

One of the starkest examples of school destruction is the American International school, Gaza's elite fee-paying institution in Beit Lahiya, which was bombed in the early hours of the morning of 3 January. The Israeli military claimed it was being used as a rocket-launching site. Now, where once stood science laboratories, computer rooms, a music centre and sports fields, there is a mountain of crushed masonry, twisted metal girders, broken glass and droppings from the sheep that roam the deserted site. To the side of what was once the main building lies a row of burned-out schoolbuses. The odd fragment of textbook can be seen amid the rubble.

Then there is the difficulty of trying to concentrate in class when children are clawed by hunger. Three-quarters of Gazans rely on food handouts, according to the UN. Save the Children says it is seeing newborn babies suffering from malnutrition. Anaemia, especially among girls, is common.

The UN has started feeding children in its schools because, says Ging, "they're coming to school without breakfast and therefore their attention span is very short and the academic results will then reflect that".

Food, at least, is something that is relatively easy to fix. There are many less tangible issues that concern child experts, such as a lack of healthy role models. "During the war, children could see that their parents could not fulfil their needs," says Zeyada. "They see their fathers as weak, powerless. They see parents can't give them feelings of security, can't protect them. So they look towards other figures. That might be God as an absolute power – so children might go towards religion, become more fanatic. Some identify with fighters from Hamas and other groups.

"Without hope, we are moving fast towards more aggressive children, more fanatics. If the siege ended you would see positive changes among children. They [Israel] are creating their enemies. They are pushing a new generation of children to believe in violence as a way of solving their difficulties. They are creating their own enemies of the future."

In September 2007 Israel declared Gaza a "hostile entity". "I said at that time, and I continue to say it, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Ging. "You designate it as a hostile entity, you treat it as a hostile entity and in fact what happens is you generate hostility. And that's precisely what we have been witnessing here at the grassroots level for the last two and a half years under this illegal siege . . . We have more extremism in Gaza every single day."

Yet through it all, it is striking how many Palestinians cling to a belief in a better future. For all her traumas, Ghiada hasn't given up. She attends a thrice-weekly English lesson after school to improve her chances of fulfilling her dreams.

The teacher hands Ghiada a question to answer to the class in English: If you were a colour, what colour would you choose? The girl doesn't hesitate. "Red," she tells the class.

The teacher asks the students what the colour red means to them. Blood, suggests one; danger, says another, both witnesses to last year's carnage. Ghiada considers for a moment, then replies: "It makes me happy. It's the colour of love."

And what will Ghiada do with her English? She wants to be an airline pilot, she says.

Ironically that's one career choice that will certainly require emigration: Gaza has no aeroplanes and the runway of its only airport was bulldozed to rubble by the Israeli army years ago.

Bilin activist: "Words are not enough"
Iyad Burnat and Jody McIntyre writing from Bilin,
occupied West Bank
14 December 2009

The following is Palestinian nonviolent resistance activist Iyad Burnat's story as told to The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre:

My name is Iyad Burnat. I am 37 years old, married with four children. I am the head of the Bilin Popular Committee.

I started my life in jail at 17, during the first intifada, a popular uprising amongst ordinary Palestinians. It was not the first time I participated in nonviolent resistance. I have always believed that this is the way to end the occupation. But as the intifada clearly showed, the Israeli military does not understand let alone sympathize with such methods.

One night, the Israeli army surrounded my home, and took my father from his bed to come and knock on my door. They told him that because I was a child, they just wanted to speak to me for five minutes. Some of the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes, and they grabbed me as soon as I opened the door.

That five minutes became two years, in the worst place in the world -- Naqab prison [in the Negev desert]. I spent the first 20 days in solitary confinement. I was kept in a room I could only stand up in, with terrible food and no showers, and during the night in a room I could lie down in but had a hole in the roof, at a time when it was raining and snowing. Every day the soldiers were beating me, and every night they would bang on the door so that I couldn't sleep. The whole time, they were also asking me if I had thrown stones and what political party I belonged to, so in the end I admitted that I had, at some point, thrown stones. By the end of those 20 days, I smelled like an animal.

The jail was extremely bad. In the winter, water leaked from every corner, and in the summer it was unbearably hot. After six months inside, I got the first visit from my mother. My family left their home in Bilin at 3am, and didn't return until late the next night, just to see me for 30 minutes. We couldn't even shake hands because of the walls which separated us. She told me that my grandmother had died.

After two years in the Naqab prison, I was released, and given the new "green" ID, handed out after the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA). At the time, people with green IDs were not allowed to travel and were essentially under house arrest. Even now, Palestinians with green IDs are forbidden from traveling to Jerusalem, our capital.

In 2005, we began our nonviolent demonstrations in Bilin against Israel's wall in the occupied West Bank and the illegal settlements that have been built on our land. We practice nonviolent methods as a way of resisting, such as tying ourselves to our olive trees when they were due to be bulldozed and uprooted by the Israeli military. For the last five years, we have succeeded in sending our message to the whole world, to tell the people that Israel's wall is not for security, but it is an apartheid wall built only to steal our land for the purpose of expanding illegal Israeli settlements.

On 4 September 2007, we had a major breakthrough. The Israeli high court made a decision ordering that the army remove the wall from the land of Bilin. Despite this, the Israeli military refused to heed the decision of the court, and instead resorted to violence in an attempt to crush our peaceful struggle. During our nonviolent demonstrations, they beat us with batons, fill the air with tear gas and sewage water, throw sound grenades, and shoot us with a range of projectiles, from lethal high-velocity tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets, to live ammunition. Over 1,000 people have been injured, more than 200 arrested, and one close friend of mine, Bassem Abu Rahme, has been killed.

The Israeli authorities want to stop us because they are afraid of our model of nonviolent resistance, and fear that the world is waking up to the reality of this situation.

During one demonstration, we had marched to the wall as usual, and Israeli forces immediately began shooting tear gas and rubber bullets. I was caught in the crossfire and started to suffer from severe tear gas inhalation. When I stopped running to allow the doctors to treat me, I saw two soldiers approaching. They told me that I was under arrest, and that they had photos of me throwing stones.

Iyad Burnat being arrested by Israeli soldiers at a demonstration in Bilin. (Haitham al-Katib)

They put me on the other side of the wall, near the military base permanently stationed on our land, and the commanding officer came over with a photo in his hand. He asked me who the man in the photo was, but I didn't recognize him. He said that if I told him where the man lived he would release me, but I couldn't. So he told me that in the courts he would claim that it was me, and took me away.

After spending eight days in Ofer prison, I was finally taken into court. The moment the judge saw the photo he said it wasn't me, and that the prosecution had another 24 hours to bring additional evidence. When they couldn't, I was ordered to pay 4,000 shekels ($1,060) bail for my release. I told my lawyer that I would not pay one penny, and after one day I was back at home with my family.

During the last five years, the Israeli military has invaded my house many times. The worst thing is that I cannot look at the faces of my children because I am afraid that if I describe their fearful expressions I will start to cry. I want my children to see that I am strong in front of the army. The soldiers don't seem to care whether Palestinians are adults or children -- they start to kick the doors, throw the children outside, and ransack their bedrooms. If my children see their father being beaten by soldiers -- I cannot describe how difficult this is.

But I have taught them that every time I am arrested you must continue this struggle, even if I am killed you must continue. I have told them not to be afraid, because we are on the side of justice, and we must return to our land.

None of the kids in the village can sleep anymore, because of the night raids during the last five years. The Israeli military invade the village in the early hours, shooting sound grenades in the streets and tear gas into people's homes. Six months ago, the most recent wave of these night raids began and the soldiers invaded almost every night. They relaunched a campaign of harassment and intimidation against the people of Bilin, in an attempt to arrest all the people who participate in our nonviolent demonstrations and subject the rest of our residents to a constant state of terror. Since this most recent wave of night raids begun, we haven't slept a single night.

I remember after one of our demonstrations, I came home and read in the news that US President Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I started to go crazy! The Americans are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Palestine is still under occupation. We haven't seen any change, so I wondered why they didn't give the prize to George W. Bush, when he was in power.

I am so sorry Mr. Bush -- you worked so hard for eight years, killing children, starting wars around the world, and supporting the Israeli occupation of our land, and they gave the prize to another man! And you got a pair of shoes instead? That is a real injustice.

We are a simple people, and more than anything we want to see peace, but before there is peace there must be justice, and we must have our freedom. We are not against Jews or Israelis, but we are against the occupation.

One of the important elements of our struggle is the international volunteers who come to stay in the village. They are our messengers to the outside world, and it is so important for them to tell our story in their own countries, in order to counter the strength of Israeli propaganda in the mainstream media.

But words are not enough. We need people to be taking direct action, both here, and in their own countries against the embassies and governments who support this occupation.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled "Life on Wheels," which can be found at He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.


Testimony: Army deports Muhammad Abu Sultan to the Gaza Strip and prohibits him from rejoining his wife and children in a refugee camp
October 2009

Alaa Abu Sultan
I am married and have three children: a son, Riad, who is three, and two daughters, Raja, who is six, and Riwa, who is two years old.

In 2001, I married Muhammad Riad Shhadeh Abu Sultan. My husband is from the Rimal neighborhood in the Gaza Strip. He came to the West Bank in 1996 and lived in the Tulkarm area until 2008.

I met him while he was working at my parents’ clothing store. In August 2001, we prepared a marriage contract, and we got married in March 2002. We lived in our house in the Tulkarm refugee camp, and he worked at my parents’ store and also in construction.

Alaa Abu Sultan and her childrenMy husband had a Gazan resident identity card. A few years ago, the Palestinian Authority announced that residents of Gaza living in the West Bank could exchange their identity cards for West Bank identity cards. Muhammad went to the Palestinian Population Administration office in Ramallah and on 1 October 2007, he was issued a West Bank identity card. He did it too feel safer, even though he used to travel to Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, and Jericho and never had any problems or trouble at checkpoints.

On 12 January 2008, we went to Nablus on a visit. We entered the city from the west, via the Beit Iba checkpoint, and crossed without any problem. At noon, on the way home, the soldiers detained Muhammad at the checkpoint. I waited for him there until midnight.

I begged the soldiers to release him. My sisters, who also live in the Tulkarm refugee camp, came to find out from the soldiers what had happened, but it didn't help.

Around midnight, the soldiers told us that my husband would be sent to the Gaza Strip. I begged them and explained that we’d been married for six years and had small children who needed their father, but nothing helped.

A little while later, while my brother and I were waiting by the checkpoint, two soldiers came over with Muhammad, to let him say goodbye to us. They said they were sending him to Gaza because he is a resident of Gaza. I was in terrible pain and cried a lot. Muhammad cried as well, because all we had done was go together to Nablus in the morning, and now I had to return to the Tulkarm refugee camp alone with my brother.

My baby daughter was born on 12 November 2007, and was only two months’ old at the time. Because of my suffering after the separation from Muhammad, the milk in my breasts dried up, and I couldn’t breastfeed her any more.

My pain over the deportation of Muhammad, who is now living in the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza, grew during the war in the Gaza Strip. I constantly worry about him. He calls me daily to ask how the children and I are. But Riwa is already two years old and my husband hardly had time with her. My children don’t get a father’s hug, and they call their grandfather “daddy.”
In addition to missing Muhammad, I also suffer from the restrictions society places on women who live without their husband, especially since I’m young.

I hope that my family will be united and that my husband will return to live with me and our children in the Tulkarm refugee camp.

Alaa Hassan Muhammad Abu Sultan, 23, married with three children, owns a clothing store and lives in the Tulkarm refugee camp. She gave her testimony to ‘Abd al-Karim Sa’adi at her store on 11 October 2009.