December 2002

Challenging silence

26 December 2002

The documentary Jenin, Jenin opens with the wild gesticulations of a young mute man charging around the now-famous lunar landscape of the Palestinian refugee camp. Seemingly dragging the camera by the force of his will alone, he points in passing at bullet holes in walls, at the rubble of demolished houses, at the air from which helicopters once rained down missiles. An incomprehensible mumble subtitles everything he remembers. Intermittently he clutches at his chest and makes as if to fall down dead, then quickly regains his footing and heads down a new alleyway to begin afresh. Later in this 55-minute film, his energy and recollections spent, he points an imaginary gun to the centre of his forehead and pulls the trigger.

The three cities most closely associated with Jesus — his birthplace in Bethlehem, the town of his boyhood in Nazareth and the place of his death in Jerusalem — are all resigned to another year without tourists or much seasonal joy this Christmas. Even the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will not be able to make his way to Bethlehem to lead the Christmas service in the Church of the Nativity. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has banned him for the second year running from attending. Instead he will remain cooped up in the remains of his Ramallah compound. Jerusalem is feeling the loss of visitors acutely. Once it had a thriving tourist industry, full of coach parties staying in luxury hotels, eating in the city’s expensive restaurants and buying gifts and religious icons at hugely inflated prices.

Living in Nazareth it is easy to forget that this is the city where Jesus grew up. Visitors prepared to brave the intifada to reach northern Israel’s Galilee region can often be heard complaining about the city’s lack of “spirituality.” Nazareth’s air of overcrowded squalor is interrupted only by oases of bland modernity surrounding its few holy sights. When Israel began in the mid-1990s to prepare for the pope’s millennium visit, officials realized that decades of underinvestment in the Arab city, and the congestion resulting from the confiscation of its lands, would be on show as John Paul II toured the holy places. Hurried facelifts were given to the city’s two most important religious buildings, both of which, it is claimed, stand where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary of her miraculous conception.

Israel is keeping Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in solitary confinement for giving a press interview. Is this a telling sign for the fairness of his upcoming trial. Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader being held by Israel on terrorism charges, was placed in solitary confinement for five days over the Eid Al-Fitr weekend as punishment for giving an interview through one of his lawyers, Khader Shkirat, to the media last week. His legal team said Barghouti was being “victimised” for expressing his political views and that this did not bode well for his receiving a fair criminal trial, expected to begin early next year.

Stand where the Israeli army sniper stood and the questions come flooding in. Foremost among them is how the soldier who shot Iain Hook in the back in Jenin refugee camp could have mistaken the lanky British UN official with a mobile phone to his ear for a Palestinian youth waving a gun, as the army claims. The sniper was only 25 metres from his victim, in daylight, and he had a telescopic sight. British officials say they are determined that the Israelis will not be allowed to get away with a cursory investigation into Mr Hook’s killing a fortnight ago. Whitehall, in turn, is under pressure from Hook’s two sons, both British officers, who visited the site of his death and came away sceptical about the Israeli version of events.

Terror talk

5 December 2002

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s response to the twin attacks on Israeli citizens last week in Kenya was as melodramatic as it was swift. He activated “sleeper” spies in Saudi Arabia and Yemen to wreak revenge for the hotel explosion that killed three Israeli tourists and 10 Kenyans and a near-miss missile fired at an Israeli- owned Arkia charter plane carrying some 260 passengers. A group calling itself the Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mombasa, but Israel’s external intelligence agency Mossad is working on the assumption, as are most other nations, that Osama Bin Laden’s Al- Qa’eda network is the real culprit.

he United Nations has been accused of downgrading, or even trying to bury, an investigation into the killing of one of its British workers, Iain Hook, in Jenin refugee camp 10 days ago. Sources say the UN is worried the inquiry could lead to a further deterioration in its bruised relations with Israel and the US. A diplomatic source said that, despite UN statements describing as “totally incredible” Israeli claims that there were Palestinian gunmen in the compound where Hook was shot, the final report of the UN inquiry was being delayed and “may not be publicised at all”. The source said that the UN depended on cooperation from Israel and the US in the future, and much of its funding came from Washington.

An Interview with Awad Abdel Fattah, General Secretary of the National Democratic Assembly [NDA] on Sept 23 2002 Q: There has been talk of reforming the Arab leadership in Israel? There have even been discussions about creating a national parliament for the Arab minority? What is the likelihood of such reforms? A: We have been calling for reform of the Follow-Up Committee [which comprises all the Arab mayors, MKs and leaders of the political parties, considered to be the representative leadership body of the Palestinian citizens of Israel] for some time. The NDA does not talk about creating a parliament but about building a unified national leadership.