August 2008

Yehudit Genud hardly feels she is on the frontier of Israel’s settlement project, although the huddle of mobile homes on a wind-swept West Bank hilltop she calls home is controversial even by Israeli standards. Despite the size and isolation of Migron, a settlement of about 45 religious families near Ramallah, Mrs Genud’s job as a social worker in West Jerusalem is a 25-minute drive away on a well-paved road. Mrs Genud, 28, pregnant with her first child, points out that Migron has parks, playgrounds, a kindergarten, a daycare centre and a synagogue, all paid for by the government.

A poet for the people

21 August 2008

After the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat four years ago, it is difficult to think of another Palestinian, other than the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who could have commanded three days of national mourning. Darwish spoke to the refugee experience: his passionate and sometimes angry expressions of loss and exile echo across the Palestinian diaspora. Six decades after the establishment of Israel, some four million Palestinians still live in mostly makeshift camps across the Middle East.

There are few clues to help locate the cemetery of al Birwa. Its unmarked entrance is at the end of a dirt track, and most of the gravestones are strewn across untended, rocky ground. The brittle, sun-blasted stalks of Galilee thistle that shoot up from the ground here each spring are the only reliable visitors. This is the spot, close to the coastal city of Acre in northern Israel, where the family of Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s “national poet”, said he would have chosen to be buried. Instead, he is due to be laid to rest today in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Niveen Abu Rahmoun appears an unlikely target for the interest of Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet. The quietly spoken 26-year-old from the village of Reine, near Nazareth, is a civics teacher in a local high school. However, she has been barely out of the thoughts of Shin Bet agents since her interrogation at a Nazareth police station in March. Officials have phoned her three more times demanding that she come for further investigation. She has refused. “It’s clear that they have no evidence against me. They are simply trying to intimidate me because of my political views.”

In the first hours of dawn, Nader Elayan was woken by a call from a neighbour warning him to hurry to the house he had almost finished building. By the time he arrived, it was too late: a bulldozer was tearing down the walls. More than 100 Israeli security guards held back local residents. The demolition, carried out four years ago, has left Mr Elayan, his wife, Fidaa, who is now pregnant, and their two young children with nowhere to live but a single room in his brother’s cramped home. It is the only land he owns and he had invested all his savings in building the now destroyed house.