Go and see the truth for yourself. I did.
I have been following the debate in these columns with a mixture of
interest and incredulity. I wonder how many of those who accuse Tom Hickey
and Derek Summerfield of 'anti-Israel bias' and 'anti-Semitism' have
actually visited the West Bank or Gaza to see the facts for themselves. I
had the good fortune to visit Israel and the West Bank for two weeks in
August. What I saw there changed my life forever.
We spent a lot of time at checkpoints in the West Bank.
Unfortunately, the word 'checkpoint' sounds so benign that it hardly
conveys the horror of the place. Have you seen a cattle shed crammed full
of animals? With only one gate to get out, guarded by a farmer with a
stick? Well, just replace him with an Israeli soldier with a rifle- and
the animals with Palestinians- and you're not far. At Huwwara checkpoint
near Nablus, we saw a queue extending for half a kilometre out of the
cramped shed and into the merciless sun. One by one, the Palestinians were
called forward and their documents inspected. Some got through, others
were turned back. Depending on the mood of the soldier. The explanation
given for the checkpoints- 'security'- is a lie, as the barriers mostly
stand between Palestinian cities and towns, not between Palestine and
Israel, through its system of 700 checkpoints, roadblocks and earth
mounds in the West Bank strangles the Palestinians' freedom of movement.
68 women have been forced to give birth at checkpoints since the year 2000
(www.ifamericansknew.org). Half of the babies involved have died, as have
4 of the women. Many of the babies born have suffered irreversible brain
damage. Imagine being the helpless husband or son of a woman forced to
endure the pain of labour on the baking earth at a checkpoint- with an
armed soldier looking on- and you will begin to understand how suicide
bombers are born.
18000 houses have been demolished by Israel since 1967, often over
the heads of their inhabitants (Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions- www.icahd.org). The reason given again? The big lie-
security. The truth is that even if a Palestinian owns a piece of land, to
build or extend an existing dwelling on it, he must put in an application
costing $20000. This is almost uniformly rejected, and as his family
grows, he is forced to build illegally. Then in come the bulldozers. The
Palestinian then has to clear the rubble themselves and pay the Israeli
government for the cost of demolishing his house.
There have been several references in these columns to the attempted
terrorist attacks by Muslim doctors in Britain. Such people would do well
to remember that the first 'doctor terrorist' was Jewish- Baruch
Goldstein, who gunned down 29 Palestinians at prayer in the city of Hebron
in 1994, injuring 150 others. A shrine to Goldstein has been erected in
the fanatical settlement of Kiryat Arba- a plaque there reads: "To the
holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah
and the nation of Israel". It has become a pilgrimage site for those with
extreme right-wing views.
In the old city of Hebron, 400 fanatical settlers- protected by
Israeli Defence Force soldiers- hold 30000 Palestinians to ransom. They
stone and kick the inhabitants, while the Israeli army forbids
Palestinians to drive- in some areas, even to walk- on the streets. I saw
for myself the concrete blocks, rubbish and human excrement thrown down
onto passing Palestinians by the illegal settlers occupying the flats
above Arab shops. The racist graffiti is shocking:
- 'Arabs to the gas chambers!'
- 'Watch out Fatima, we will rape all Arabs!'
- 'Mohammed is a pig'. Below this is a drawing of a pig reading the Quran.
- 'If you Arabs had just used a f***ing condom, then none of this would
(If anybody finds this unbelievable, give me your email address and I
shall be all too happy to send you photographic evidence.)
Walking through old Hebron, you pass row upon row of abandoned shops
with their doors welded together and spray-painted with the Star of David.
The resonance of the Warsaw ghetto is chilling.
As for the stance that Israel is the 'only democracy in the Middle
East' and 'treats all its citizens equally', I invite you to visit the
Negev desert in Israel. The Israeli organization Physicians for Human
Rights (www.phr.org.il) told us of the plight of Bedouins there. There are
60 villages which have existed before 1948, the existence of which Israel
does not recognize. As a result they have no healthcare, electricity or
clean water. Their infant mortality rate is 7 times the Israeli average-
in the 4th richest country in the world, with possibly the best healthcare
Those who grieve at the potential loss of academic freedom that a
boycott of Israel may cause would do well to learn about the violation of
Palestinian academic freedom. We visited Birzeit University just outside
Ramallah. There we were told by Yasser Darwish, the Public Relations
officer for the institution, how during the Second Intifada the Israelis
constructed a checkpoint between Ramallah city and Birzeit. This
checkpoint was nothing but a series of earth mounds, piles of rubble and
huge rocks stretching for a mile and a half- with the sole purpose of
obstructing the passage of people. This was not all- people trying to
reach the University by walking around the obstacles were often greeted
with beatings, rubber bullets and teargas. Sometimes students and teachers
would be allowed to go to Birzeit in the morning but the checkpoint would
be completely closed in the afternoon when it was time to go home. 5000
students and teachers would then have to take a circuitous route over
hills and through valleys to get home- this would take upto 2 hours.
Students- including females- were subjected to humiliating body
searches. Soldiers stormed the women's dormitories on several occasions,
breaking windows, doors and furniture. Electricity, water and telephone
lines in Birzeit and Ramallah were cut off, isolating people from the
Healthcare is not a 'basic human right' in Palestine. It is
incredible that some people have been highlighting the graciousness of
Israel in agreeing to treat wounded and ill Palestinians. Under the Geneva
conventions, an occupying power has responsibility for the health of the
people it occupies.
In Nablus, we visited Rafidia Hospital, the main general hospital. We
were met by Dr Sadaqah, the Deputy Director. He told us that each time the
Israelis invade Nablus, the first thing they do is to encircle the
hospital, preventing the passage of staff and patients and resulting in
unnecessary deaths. Sometimes patients need to be transferred to hospitals
in Jerusalem or Israel- however the Israeli authorities create hurdles at
every opportunity. Often by the time permission is obtained (a minimum of
2 days even for an emergency), the patient dies- this happened to a burns
patient two days before our visit.
At the height of the 2002-2003 invasions and curfews, Rafidia
received 8-9 cases of serious injuries every day. Staff ended up living in
the hospital for 23 days. The Israeli army prevented casualties from the
Old City from going to Rafidia- a clinic was set up in a mosque in the Old
City to deal with them. Dr Sadaqah told us that this clinic had to perform
two emergency amputations without anaesthesia. The Israelis would also
prevent bodies from being taken for burial- as a result the hospital
morgue overflowed and ice-cream trucks had to be used to store the bodies.
He also told us that the Israelis would regularly enter the hospital,
and actually removed 4 patients from their beds. One of these was actually
an intensive care patient who had just returned from major surgery. When
the doctors and nurses asked for reasons, they were simply pushed aside.
We were horrified to learn that when the soldiers removed patients from
the hospital, they were accompanied by Israeli doctors who never tried to
stop this happening. The soldiers would often remove patients from
ambulances while they 'checked' them.
Do you hear the Israeli Medical Association protesting against these
gross violations of human rights by Israel?
I had the good fortune to interview two students from Al Quds
University Medical School in Jerusalem. To understand the unique situation
that al-Quds students- and indeed all Palestinian Jerusalemites- face, it
is important to revisit 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza,
and illegally annexed East Jerusalem. Israel declared Jerusalem to be 'the
unified capital of Israel'; a position not recognized by the international
community, including the United States.
The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were offered Israeli
citizenship- however this entailed pledging allegiance to Israel.
Unsurprisingly, most of them declined. They were therefore declared
'residents' without citizenship, and are obliged to carry blue Jerusalem
ID cards. The space next to 'Nationality' on these cards is blank. The
residents of the West Bank, in contrast, carry green ID cards.
Blue ID holders cannot travel to the West Bank, and those with green
ID cannot enter Jerusalem. This situation has divided families- including
married couples. If a Jerusalem resident marries a West Bank Palestinian,
it is forbidden for them to live together either in the West Bank or
Jerusalem. As a result, many couples live illegally, in constant fear that
one of them will be discovered and expelled. The only precedent to this
obscene situation is that of South Africa under apartheid.
The students explained that the campus of the medical school is
located in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis. The main teaching hospital-
Maqassed- is in the city proper. You used to be unable to tell where Abu
Dis ended and Jerusalem started. Not any more. Israel's Separation Wall
has separated the two and for all practical purposes, Abu Dis is now in
the West Bank.
One of the students told us that of the 40 students in his year, 5
have blue ID and the rest green. You can imagine the consequences. To go
to Maqassed for their training, students with green ID need a special
permit- which is very difficult to obtain. Even those who manage to get
one can never be sure they will make it to the hospital as they are
frequently turned away at the checkpoint for no reason. Therefore most
green ID students are forced to travel to West Bank hospitals for their
clinics- across more checkpoints.
The converse situation is that blue ID students may be able to attend
clinics but are often stopped from going to lectures in Abu Dis. And this
is no straightforward trip- a journey that should take no more than ten
minutes can last an hour and a half due to checkpoints and the circuitous
route the students have to take.
When they do manage to qualify, al-Quds doctors are prohibited from
working in hospitals in Jerusalem and Israel as their qualification is not
recognized by Israel. The West Bank hospitals are only an option for those
with green ID. This situation forces many to go abroad.
As for those who claim that Israel, with its violations of human
rights, is 'merely defending itself', I would like to bring to your
attention the following statistic from the BBC: In 2006, 660 Palestinians
were killed by Israeli 'security' forces. These included 141 children. The
total number of Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2006? 23. Follow the
link below for the story:
Now that I am back in the UK- and have opened my mouth in these
columns- I know I shall be accused of being anti-Semitic. This is
intellectually bankrupt nonsense. I have many Jewish friends in Britain,
and now in Israel as well. They are disgusted at what Israel is doing, and
are fighting a brave and often dangerous battle, sometimes at the expense
of being ostracized by family and friends. The leading critics of Israeli
policy- Noam Chomsky, Amira Hass, Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, the late
Tanya Reinhart- are all Jewish.
This is not a centuries-old Jews versus Muslims conflict. (Also
remember- 12% of Palestinians are Christians, and this number includes
leading figures like Hanan Ashrawi and the late Edward Said.) It is a
matter of basic human rights. If one is criticizing house demolitions,
checkpoints, extrajudicial executions etc, and one is accused of being
anti-Semitic, then the accuser is bizarre indeed. In order for these
criticisms to be anti-Semitic, the accuser has to accept those violations
of international law as inherent characteristics of Judaism. So who is
being anti-Semitic here?
Another question I am likely to be asked is, 'There are so many
conflicts in the world today- why are you so obsessed with Palestine?' In
case you hadn't guessed by now, justice for Palestine is the key to peace
in the Middle East. It is a festering sore in the flesh of every Arab; the
longer it goes on, the more resentful of the West they become.
Yes, there are many terrible conflicts like Darfur, Somalia, the
Congo, Chechnya and Kashmir. But these are relatively recent, while the
oppression of the Palestinians has been going on for 60 years. It is the
longest ongoing occupation in the world today- and the only one apart from
Iraq. And the only one where the oppressor is being financed and armed to
the teeth by the 'civilized' world.
You may wonder what all this has got to do with the debate over a
boycott. Well, despite individual dissenting voices, it is clear that
Israeli academia and the Israeli Medical Association have failed to come
out as a body and condemn the occupation. This is despite repeated calls
by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations. By
their silence, they are complicit in human rights abuses- I have no choice
but to campaign for a boycott.
The 'exchange of ideas' has led nowhere- despite years of talks at
governmental level, a just peace for the Palestinians remains a distant
dream. It is time for people in other countries to adopt measures to
stigmatize Israel, something which their governments refuse to do. There
is a precedent- South Africa. Given the fact that many prominent South
Africans- including Nelson Mandela, Ronnie Kasrils and Desmond Tutu- have
publicly said that Israel's oppression of the Palestinians is far worse
than South Africa under apartheid- why the hesitation to enforce a
As for those who sympathize with the Palestinians but are against
boycotts, I have a simple question- in that case, what are they going to
do for the Palestinians- whom the world has boycotted and abandoned for so
long? If the academic freedom of Israelis is sacred, should that not apply
to Palestinians as well?
For a full account of my trip, please visit
I am a Muslim who refuses to be labelled an anti-Semite simply for criticizing the oppressive policies of the Israeli state.
Competing interests: No competing interests