December 3, 2012


I rose before dawn to watch women in the Palestinian village of Susya baking bread in the traditional way, using an underground taboon oven. The rising sun painted the clouds in pinks, oranges and reds. It also shed its rays on the Israeli settlement of Susya, which has electricity, running water and a swimming pool.

Every structure in the village, built by people who have deeds dating from the Ottoman period, has a demolition order: the school, the clinic, solar panels and people's homes. The residents are not Bedouins; they live in tents out of worry that Israel could demolish their homes any day. Two days before our visit, the Israeli military demolished a small tent near the village. Our host told us his five-year-old son had inquired, "Dad, are the soldiers here to destroy our house?" The child lives in this fear every day.

Villagers who attempt to farm their land near the settlements face intimidation and violence from settlers and arrest by soldiers, all in the name of security for Israel. Yet during our visit a group of settlers accompanied by soldiers casually walked through Palestinian ploughed and planted fields passing very close to the villagers' tents.

When I witness the discrimination and abuse that Palestinians face, I am ashamed that my government abstained in the UN vote to make Palestine a non-member state and did not vote 'yes'. How many more villages will have to be demolished, how many more Palestinians beaten up and arrested? How many more children will have to live in fear of losing their homes and schools, before the UK stands up and supports Palestinians' right to self-determination?

After the beautiful sunrise I went to our hosts' tent. From their solar panel-powered TV emanated sounds and images of celebration. The new dawn saw Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank sharing in the success of recognition. Following as it does the release of Fatah prisoners by Hamas, and Hamas prisoners by Fatah, rather than merely boosting morale, could this moment unite Palestinians into a stronger nation and country?

In Christian Peacemaker Teams, we often speak of the importance of loving the enemy. It happens here every day. My government issued the Balfour Declaration and even now they will not support Palestine without making ridiculous preconditions. Yet Palestinians, knowing I am British, still offer me exceptional hospitality and welcome. Yesterday a Hebron shopkeeper offered me a fresh piece of shortbread to celebrate the first step towards Palestinian statehood.

The U.S. and the UK criticized Abbas for unilaterally approaching the UN and not negotiating directly with Israel. The U.S. goes as far as to say it damages the way to peace! How does Israel respond? By promising to build 3000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which will be very damaging to the way to peace. My government did criticize this decision. But this is not enough. Every day I have been in Palestine I have seen people brutalized and humiliated by the occupation. Enough is enough! The new dawn must see Europe and the world saying 'no' to Israeli abuses that contravene International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.