6 February 2004

Visited Yasser Arafat in his compound in Ramallah with a retired doctor from England, who runs a peace foundation here, and three young Americans who are doing church work with Palestinians. Arafat gave us a warm welcome.

Yasser Arafat’s compound

I greeted him on behalf of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and said that we are doing all we can to inform people at home about the conditions the Palestinians are living under. I told him about the shop in Edinburgh, Hadeel, which sells Palestinian handcrafts, helping employment.

When asked how he managed to keep going through such difficulties he said: "About me is not important. What is happening to our people is a real tragedy like nothing anywhere else in the world." He told us he had been speaking to a woman from South Africa who said that her people had never had to face anything as bad as what is happening in Palestine.

He said that the Israelis have failed to implement the many agreements they have made. The Road Map proposed by the US, the UN, the EU and Russia was accepted by the Palestinians but the Israelis have stalled on 14 points on which they claim reservations.

"The wall is to ensure the seizure of 58% of the West Bank, destroy the best Palestinian agricultural land, and ruin the Palestinian economy. It is causing great difficulties for Palestinians," and he mentioned Qualquilia "which has now become a prison for 47,000."

He said that altogether 64% of olive trees have been uprooted in the occupied territories. All services for Palestinians have been severely affected. "They are also stealing our taxes: the amount of import duty raised on goods destined for Palestine coming from Jordan kept by the Israeli government in the past 42 months amounts to billions of dollars. So we have great difficulty each month in paying public service employees such as health workers, teachers, and the police."

The wall stops most Arabs and Christians from praying in Jerusalem. He said that the Patriarchs asked for a gate in the separation wall in Bethlehem so that a route could be maintained between the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but the Israelis refused. Israelis have occupied the ancient Mosque of Abraham in Hebron, preventing Arabs from worshipping in it.

There was international condemnation of the Taliban when two ancient rock carvings were destroyed in Afghanistan. Arafat was therefore surprised and saddened that other countries did not respond when what was believed to be the oldest existing church in the world, the Church of St Barbara in Aboud village close to the where we were meeting, was destroyed up by the Israeli army. Likewise there was no response from the outside world when the statue of Mary on the Church of the Holy Family in Bethlehem was damaged by IDF gunfire.

"What is happening to the Palestinians is not happening to anyone else in the world. For example people are being denied life-saving medical care. A number of mothers and their newborn babies have died at check points because soldiers have prevented them going to hospital for delivery."

Arafat calls what happened at Jenin, Jeningrad, and at Rafah, where more than 1300 houses have been destroyed, Rafahgrad. "Rachel Corrie tried to stop one of these houses being demolished but was crushed under the bulldozer and is now one of our heroes and so is Tom [Hurndall]." He has their pictures on the wall of his meeting room.

"We are still trying to follow up what we signed with Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who wanted to make peace, but who was assassinated by a fanatic. The Israelis do not want peace. They will not implement the Road Map. They continue their crimes against us every day."

The doctor who had arranged the visit said that he regarded the Chairmanís lack of vindictiveness in spite of the enormous provocation a miracle. To this Arafat replied: "In the land of peace, no one can stop it."

7 February 2004

Joined a march and demonstration, by an estimated 4000 people, against the wall at Abu Dis, 3 km from Jerusalem, adjacent to Bethany. As far as I could judge, there were as many Jewish Israelis and internationals as there were Palestinians. This might seem surprising but Jews and internationals can travel fairly freely whereas Palestians are prohibited from doing so. I was told that the demo was covered by CNN but not, I am sorry to say, by BBC TV. Our meeting with Mr Arafat featured on Palestinian TV.

From Tony, Bethlehem.

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