Editor’s Note: Here we continue Stuart Littlewood’s Radio Free Palestine series and a selection of photos taken during his trip to Palestine.
Stuart Littlewood remonstrates, while the relocation of Israel’s Gaza settlers was given maximum airtime, the displacement of the Palestinians is given almost no airtime in the mainstream media. At the same time, apologists for Israel in the West continue to bend over backwards to apologize for any backlash against the illegal and criminal occupation of Palestine.
O little town of Bethlehem is “surrounded by nine Israeli settlements… by a network of roads restricted to Israeli use only, and by what the UN estimates are 78 Israeli checkpoints and other physical obstacles to Palestinian daily movement, who have had only limited access to their surroundings for decades. Completion of the Seperation Wall on its northern and western sides, separating it from Jerusalem, is the “final closure on Bethlehem’s breathing room,”
The continuing failure to apply an acceptable standard of law and plain human decency, let alone find a just peace, is storing up big trouble for the future, and at some point you say, as Stuart Littlewood appropriately quotes:
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
Editing: Debbie Menon
Who says the Palestinians aren’t fit to rule themselves? In any case how trustworthy are those “other Arabs” or, for that matter, the UN?
Soldier-saint George – Al Khadr – is a unifying symbol and a figure sacred to Muslims and Christians alike. He is patron saint of Bethlehem and of England. Many Bethlehem houses have a panel of St George carved in stone and set in the wall above the front door. This one crowns a door in the Church of the Nativity. photo: Stuart Littlewood
During the Christmas festive season 2005, British television screened an Israeli documentary showing distraught settlers being evicted from Gaza by Israeli troops after 38 years of occupation. The footage portrayed at great length the tears and anguish, and played to our sympathies. But weren’t these the same settlers who earlier had been only too happy when the same troops evicted thousands of Palestinians, bulldozed their homes and confiscated their lands and water to make way for the illegal settlements?
An old English saying seems appropriate: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
Banksy’s ‘bad art’ provides Bethlehem’s imprisoned population with a view of the Swiss mountains. photo: Stuart Littlewood
Amnon Rubinstein, writing in The Jerusalem Post at Christmastime 2005, observed: “The only practical possibility is that the Western powers undertake responsibility for the West Bank or, at least, that Israel make such an offer. Or, if that idea is not acceptable, that a UN mandatory regime be entrusted to the two Arab states which made peace with Israel – Egypt and Jordan. “If the Palestinians cannot rule themselves and the Israelis should not rule over them, let other Arabs rule the Palestinians under a UN mandate.”
On good terms with his Muslim brothers. Fr Manuel Musallam, Gaza’s veteran Catholic priest, faces the cameras with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh after discussion with our group. photo: Stuart Littlewood
Who says the Palestinians aren’t fit to rule themselves? In any case how trustworthy are those “other Arabs” or, for that matter, the UN? Nick Deardon of War on Want wrote inCounterpunch at the start of 2006 that the British Government tried to prevent the International Court of Justice ruling on the illegality of the Separation Wall, and while paying lip service to international law was actually busy helping Israel get away with murder.
“In the first six months of 2005 the UK granted licences for £10.5m of weapon components to Israel, over three times the amount sold by the same point in 2004. Meanwhile the European Union, fully supported by the UK, continues to reward Israel for its appalling human rights record with the EU-Israel Association Agreement, allowing Israeli products preferential access to European markets.”
The Agreement is based on “respect for human rights” so should actually be suspended under its own terms, he says. “The Government falls over itself to praise the Disengagement from Gaza, ignoring the worsening situation on the West Bank, where an additional 14,000 illegal settlers have moved this year, more than compensating for the 8,500 settlers who left Gaza.”
Deardon reminds us how foreign secretary Jack Straw apologised to the Israeli government after a British court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Major General Almog on war crimes charges. “Head of the Israeli Army’s Southern Command from 2000-4, Almog was responsible for dropping a one-ton bomb on Gaza in 2002 which killed 15 and injured 150, and for the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah refugee camp. Almog was made aware of the arrest and refused to leave his plane at London Heathrow, promptly returning to Israel. Nonetheless, Straw felt the need to apologise to this terrorist ‘as a courtesy’.”
The continuing failure to apply an acceptable standard of law and plain human decency, let alone find a just peace, is storing up big trouble for the future.
Massachusetts poet, playwright, journalist and human rights activist Genevieve Cora Fraser made the point most eloquently on the Arabic Media Internet Network website (26 January 2006):
“What is the effect of political violence on Palestinian children? What is it like for children to have Israeli soldiers enter one’s home in the dead of night with remote controlled dogs that attack them in their beds? How do children feel when trapped by a three storey high wall with armed guard towers which encases their village, town or city, with only one gate in or out and the gate is mostly locked?
“How do Palestinian children of Hebron remain sane when marauding gangs of Israeli settler children and adults attack them on their way to school? How does a small child react when their father, or uncle or brother is slain before their eyes by Israeli soldiers, and armed tanks roam the streets? How do children feel when their homes are demolished to make way for illegal Israeli settlements with all their possessions inside, or when Israeli attack jets and helicopters invade the skies and strafe their communities with missiles?
“These are not rhetorical questions but literal realities that face the children of Palestine. Death or injury is a not a random occurrence but a realistic possibility during a curfew or at a checkpoint. Israeli jets fly by with regularity in Gaza exploding sound bombs that disrupt sleep and increase the possibility of their mother suffering a miscarriage or father having a massive stroke or heart attack.
“Israel complains that Palestinian media feeds Palestinian children anti-Israeli propaganda. No, Israel creates chaos, confiscates farmlands and water supplies, creates a dizzying array of permits and policies that block food and medical supplies and barricade the normal flow of life as a method of fascist control. The Arab media merely reflects this reality.
“These incidents weave into the fabric of a Palestinian child’s life and lay the foundation for what clearly Israeli policy makers hope will someday result in a broken, submissive society. But instead, what they are creating is an emerging society that has nothing left to lose. And that society’s population is likely to far outstrip that of Israel. Children make up 53 per cent of the Palestinian population.”
That’s nearly double the percentage of Israeli children.
The evil of the Wall
There, the concrete barrier is a grey monster, snaking its way through the landscape. photo : Stuart Littlewood
Unless you’ve been there you wouldn’t believe what’s happened to Bethlehem. Encased by the evil Wall… that’s exactly what has happened to the Little Town of Bethlehem, treasured in the imagination of every Christian child. Remember this?…
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night….
Our “Little Town of Bethlehem”, now encased in a concrete obscenity and economically crippled. These images show the ugly reality that has been forced on romantic Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity. photos: Stuart Littlewood
Former CIA analysts Kathleen and Bill Christison, writing in Counterpunch in January 2005, described Bethlehem as a dying little town now partially encircled by the Wall and cut off from Jerusalem, its religious and cultural twin. “Already surrounded by nine Israeli settlements… by a network of roads restricted to Israeli use, and by what the UN estimates are 78 Israeli checkpoints and other physical obstacles to Palestinian movement, Bethlehem has had only limited access to its surroundings for years. “Completion of the Wall on its northern and western sides, separating it from Jerusalem, is the final closure on Bethlehem’s breathing room. A huge terminal went into operation in November, requiring travellers entering and leaving Bethlehem to pass through multiple turnstiles, x-ray scans and permit checks. Palestinians must have hard-to-obtain permits to leave Bethlehem.
The terminal is manned by both Israeli military and civilians. It functions like… an international border, except that the guards and soldiers on both sides of this border are Israeli.”
I had seen Palestinian workers at dawn queuing for hours on their way to work, so one evening I caught the ordinary service bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and joined them returning home. After waiting ages surveying the inhuman set-up while bloody-minded Israeli guards played go-slow I was spotted, plucked from the queue and fast-tracked to the exit. But I’d seen what no civilized person should tolerate.
Bethlehem University, a place of beauty and good ‘vibes’, has to work in difficult circumstances. photo: Stuart Littlewood
Bethlehem was the first university in the West Bank, opened in 1973 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers with the co-operation of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches. It has been closed at least 12 times by the Israeli invader and shelled by Israeli tanks. Its staff and pupils are continually harassed by the Israeli occupation forces.
Subversive graffiti artist Banksy from Bristol, England, had been up to his tricks even at Bethlehem, where he’d paint-sprayed a splendid window view of the Swiss mountains through the hated Wall.
“The segregation Wall is a disgrace,” says Banksy. “The possibility I find exciting is you could turn the world’s most invasive and degrading structure into the world’s longest gallery of free speech and bad art”.
There’s a tale of a tense encounter between Banksy and an Israeli soldier….
Soldier: “What the f*** are you doing?”
Banksy: “You’ll have to wait till it’s finished.”
Soldier (to gun-toting colleagues): “Safeties off!”
Troops have fired shots in the air but so far Banksy remains unscathed.
Another encounter, this time with an elderly Palestinian man, however, was more thought-provoking…
Old man: “You paint the Wall, you make it look beautiful.”
Old man: “We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this Wall, go home.”
The ugliness of military occupation has caused havoc. “Only a few years ago,” says Open Bethlehem, “one could see shepherds roaming the biblical valleys, providing an uncanny counterpoint to the trappings of modern life in Bethlehem. Today, the sheep graze on urban refuse sites, a reminder of how little of pastoral Bethlehem remains.
The concrete barrier with a barbed wire crown is often laced with graffiti, at least in the accessible spots — photo: Stuart Littlewood
“Economic hardship has resulted in waves of emigration from the city and reports warn that the face of Bethlehem will change forever. The emigration is particularly marked among Bethlehem’s Christian communities. Since the year 2000 alone more than 400 Christian families have left the area. This development means that the birth place of Jesus, home to the oldest Christian church and the oldest Christian communities in the world, will have nothing left of its history other than the cold stones of empty churches within a few generations.”
I’m not a religious person. These days I only enter a church to admire the architecture, not to praise the Lord. Faith served its purpose in the brutal chaos of medieval times. But those times have come again to the Holy Land and the power of religious belief is, once more, what sustains the Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, in their darkest hour. That is why the Israeli plunderers will enjoy only the hollowest of victories.
Even my cold heart was deeply moved by this offering by an unknown author, sent to me by my Palestinian friend Neveen, who is a fervent believer…
“Tomorrow morning,” the surgeon began,
“I’ll open up your heart…”
“You’ll find Jesus there,” the boy
The surgeon looked up, annoyed “I’ll cut
your heart open,” he continued, “to see
how much damage has been done…”
“But when you open up my heart, you’ll
find Jesus in there,” said the boy.
The surgeon looked to the parents, who
sat quietly. “When I see how much
damage has been done, I’ll sew your
heart and chest back up, and I’ll plan
what to do next.”
“But you’ll find Jesus in my heart. The
Bible says He lives there. The hymns all
say He lives there. You’ll find Him in my
The surgeon had had enough. “I’ll tell you
what I’ll find in your heart. I’ll find
damaged muscle, low blood supply, and
weakened vessels. And I’ll find out if I can
make you well.”
“You’ll find Jesus there too. He lives
there.” The surgeon left.
Later he sat in his office, recording his
notes from the surgery: “…damaged
aorta, damaged pulmonary vein,
widespread muscle degeneration. No
hope for transplant, no hope for cure.
Therapy: painkillers and bed rest.
Prognosis…” here he paused, “…death
within one year.”
He stopped the recorder, but there was
more to be said. “Why?” he asked aloud,
searching the heavens. “Why did You do
this? You’ve put him here; You’ve put him
in this pain; and You’ve cursed him to an
early death. Why?”
The Lord answered and said, “The boy,
My lamb, was not meant for your flock for
long, for he is a part of My flock, and will
“Here, in My flock, he will feel no pain,
and will be comforted as you cannot
imagine. His parents will one day join him
here, and they will know peace, and My
flock will continue to grow.”
The surgeon’s tears were hot, but his
anger was hotter. “You created that boy,
and You created that heart. He’ll be dead
in months. Why?”
The Lord answered, “The boy, My lamb,
shall return to My flock, for he has done
his duty: I did not put My lamb with your
flock to lose him, but to retrieve another
The surgeon wept… He sat beside the
boy’s bed; the boy’s parents sat across
from him. The boy awoke and whispered,
“Did you cut open my heart?”
“Yes,” said the surgeon.
“What did you find?” asked the boy.
“I found Jesus there.”
This concrete barrier seperating the Palestinians from the Israelis is also a clean slate on which to express their anger, their fear and their hope laced in graffitti. These are sometimes friendly, sometimes not. photo: Stuart Littlewood.
© Stuart Littlewood