Ray Davies Return to Palestine October 2010
After being imprisoned and deported by the Israeli security forces back in 2004, I was desperate to return to the Occupied Territories to help the Palestinians in their campaign for a just peace. I joined a nonviolent direct action group to help with the olive harvest. The presence of internationals serves to protect Palestinian farmers, by deterring attacks from the illegal Israeli settlers during the harvest.
I arrived at Tel Aviv airport and was immediately taken to the police cells, strip-searched and interrogated. When they were about to refuse me entry, I told them I was coming to join my wife for our wedding anniversary, and I was eventually, reluctantly permitted to pass through the gates.
For the first part of the week, I joined the olive pickers. I noticed the police and settlers taking long-range photographs of us. We helped the Palestinian farmers pick hundreds of tons of olives, which would sustain them through to next summer.
Between the picking, we visited refugee camps in Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where the situation is pitiful. The Israelis refused permission to build schools, so in some instances refugee camps ran 3 shifts in the classroom; nothing would deter them from giving their children an education. A UN report stated that the literacy level of Palestinian children leaving school was higher than in Israel itself. Water shortage problems continue to grow, with the continuing population growth of the Palestinian community and the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. Israel gets 70% of the water; Palestinians below 30%. Every Palestinian home needs a huge water tank on the roof, in order to store water in the winter for which they pay a large sum of money, to sustain them through the summer. When the tanks are empty, they have to pay an exorbitant amount to refill them. The water comes from the Occupied Territories, goes into Israel and is sold back to Palestinians at a high price.
The destruction of Palestinian homes continues. Since 1967, over 200,000 homes have been demolished. I joined some Israeli peace activists and ISM members blockaded a Palestinian home that was due for demolition. Despite teargas attacks, we prevented the bulldozers from carrying out the demolition. But one soldier snarled, "We'll be back".
We met the brave professor Jeff Halper who leads the Israeli committee against House Demolitions; a hugely successful campaigning organisation. A call for help came from Belin, a small village of mainly farmers on the border of the Jordan Valley.
Over 2500 acres of their land was being commandeered for "security" reasons. We were asked to bring as many internationals as possible, and I joined 23 olive pickers along with 10 other internationals and 3 Israeli peace activists. With drums beating, and chanting from the Palestinian farmers, we marched right up to the Apartheid wall and the Israeli military camp. We demanded that the officers come out to hear our protest: we shouted in Swedish, Japanese, Chinese, English, but to no avail. Their response was a hail of rubber bullets and teargas canisters, which left us gasping, choking, unable to see. We were pulled to safety by the medics. 2 or 3 brave Palestinians were hit with rubber bullets, and I sustained an injury to my hand, which broke a small bone.
We found out 2 days later that, so successful was the march, that the Israeli authorities have agreed to return 1000 acres of stolen land. But the Palestinians are determined to get back all their land, and the campaign goes on.
The next day, unable to pick olives with my injured hand, I joined efforts to stop the scandalous theft of a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem. The Israeli courts and Military had evicted the occupants, and settlers had taken over their home, and were watching us through the window. But the brave Palestinian family built a huge tent out of olive and palm tree branches. Along with ex US president Jimmy Carter, we marched up to the stolen home. It was a fantastic demonstration of solidarity, and such acts of resistance to the occupation go on daily. The Palestinians refuse to give up.
The next day, I joined the Red Crescent (Palestinian equivalent of the Red Cross) where 4 Palestinians who had the courage to stand as Independents in the last elections had been arrested, their citizenship taken away from them. They took refuge in the Red Cross building where they have been ever since. This demonstration took place by the Damascus Gate where many internationals enter and leave the Old City.
I was asked by the organisers to speak to the demonstration, with drums beating in the background, a massive presence of Palestinians and some Israeli peace activists.
I appealed to the crowds passing through the gate to buy their souvenirs and gifts from Palestinian vendors, and when they go home, tell their friends of the Occupation, the misery of the refugee camps, the thousands rotting in Israeli prisons, the house demolitions, but more than that, the fact that the Palestinian people will never give up their fight for freedom.
Anxious to get to Gaza to see the situation there for myself, I shared a taxi with 3 other internationals for the long drive to the Gaza checkpoint; but the Israeli commander at the gate adamantly refused to let us through.
Next day, I tried to leave Tel Aviv airport as quietly as possible. But again, I was arrested, strip searched, and interrogated by at least 8 Israeli security people. They called me a barefaced liar, and said that my purpose in entering the occupied territories was to interfere with the political situation. With my plane due to depart shortly, I was bundled into a police car, where I thought I was going to prison; but they dumped me in the departure lounge and I managed to catch the plane home by the skin of my teeth.
The visit for me was a brilliant recharging of my batteries. It convinced me that the Palestinians would continue to resist the occupation until they won the right to control their own lives.
I appeal to anyone who would like to join the olive harvest in a very peaceful but effective action, to get involved in next years' olive picking.
Ray Davies, PSC Cymru