Like thousands of other Palestinians, Abed Al-Rahman Al-Ahmar tasted the bitter fruits of Israeli occupation during the first Intifada when he was jailed without trial for throwing stones at soldiers. But in the years of the Oslo peace process and now during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the 34-year-old human rights worker from Bethlehem has been learning an even harsher lesson about Israel’s policy on human rights for Palestinians. Arrested in May last year in Jerusalem, Al-Ahmar has been held in “administrative detention,” Israel’s term for imprisonment without trial or charges, for nine months. The only information his lawyer, Allegra Pacheco, can get from the Shin Bet security service is that he is considered a danger to the Israeli public.
The principle of press freedom was reformulated by Israel last week when it announced to international news organisations that the Palestinian journalists they employ are to be refused both press accreditation and entry into Israel. The tough line was officially admitted only after media groups, including news agencies Reuters and the Associated Press and leading European and American television companies such as the BBC and CNN, protested to the authorities that their Palestinian staff were being denied press cards. The row erupted shortly before the Israeli army’s attempt to silence Voice of Palestine radio by bombing its five-storey building in Ramallah. The station was back on the air a few hours later, transmitting from a secret location.
At the site where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is believed to have received the Archangel Gabriel’s revelation of her miraculous conception, stands the biggest church in the Middle East. Until the Intifada began 16 months ago, the Basilica of the Annunciation attracted queues of thousands of pilgrims from around the globe each day. But for the past three months, the peace inside the church has been shattered by pneumatic drills and bulldozers digging in the neighbouring car park, as well as the five-times-a-day call to prayer by the local sheikh using a loudspeaker mounted on a makeshift pulpit of palm leaves.
When the Arab village of Al-Naim got its first junior school two years ago — a caravan — the teacher spent the first day explaining to her 35 new charges what a toilet was. It was the first one they had ever seen. Al-Naim, a huddle of 100 rusting and battered corrugated tin huts and ragged tents fashioned from Colombian coffee sacks, could be located in Afghanistan or the remoter parts of Ethiopia or Yemen. But its 700 inhabitants are all Israeli citizens living a few miles from Haifa, one of the country’s most modern and vibrant cities. The village has existed here, in the blue hills of central Galilee, for more than 150 years — a fact the Israeli authorities have done their best to conceal. You cannot find the village marked on any map, nor will you find a road sign to direct you there.