I saw the green Israeli military jeep speeding down the Israeli road towards us, the roar of its engine had alerted the Palestinian farmers who had taken cover under a tree, but there were two fences between us. They’re probably just coming to see what we are doing, I told myself. The two soldiers got out of their vehicles M16s in hand, helmets on their heads and their bullet proof vests fastened. They opened the gates and entered the buffer zone between the two fences, and then they opened the second gate and entered Palestinian territory.
Some of the British students taking a walk through the farm, looking at the ancient olive trees, ran as soon as they saw the soldiers. One of the soldiers ran towards me and grabbed me, he attempted to twist my arm behind my back, pushing and shoving me, I resisted. “Stop!” he shouted in my face, all the time trying to twist my arm into some sort of lock. Some of the students protested, but the two soldiers had already grabbed the two brown people in the group and were quickly trying to push us into Israeli territory.
As I resisted mildly, the soldier showed me a small white container that he held in his right hand, “I will use it!” he shouted. I assumed it was CS spray and I did not fancy getting sprayed with it so I had no option but to comply with what their demands. In a matter of minutes a midday stroll through a Palestinian farm, looking at the ancient olive trees with their thick intertwining trunks, trunks that generations of Palestinian farmers have rested against, had turned into an Israeli incursion onto Palestinian territory to snatch a British journalist and five students. The Israeli road serves only the settlement, perched high on the hill top, shaped like a medieval fortress, looking down on the Palestinians, serving as a constant reminder of the inequality they face.
Six of us were dragged into Israeli territory as more jeeps arrived, rushing down the road, soldiers dismounted, M16s in hand, fingers on the triggers, steely eyed and intent. We tried to explain that we were British citizens and that they could not do this. “This is Israeli territory,” said the soldier. “Yes it is, but we were just in Palestinian territory until you dragged us here,” I protested, the soldier just looked away. “You damaged the fence,” said sharply a blue eyed soldier, he looked Eastern European but I could not be sure. We had got close to the fence, but damaged it? That was stretching it, nevertheless this was the official reason they were using to hold us. The soldiers captain arrived, an older man in his mid-thirties of large build. He said his name was Munir, an Arab – Israel regularly recruits Bedouin Arabs from the northern Sinai.
Munir began to ask us for our passports, we told him that we did not have our passports on us – we were not going to hand our passports over to the Israelis, especially since the cloning incident and the foreign office advice not to give our passports to the Israelis- the last thing we wanted was for our names to show up as would be assassins in some foreign country.
Munir questioned me again and again as to my nationality, he found it hard to believe that I was British- it must have been my permanent sun tan. He spoke to us in Arabic, but when we said we did not speak Arabic he asked again but louder, “Are you sure?” he said in Arabic repeatedly. Telling them that I spoke Arabic would open up another barrage of questions that I wanted to avoid.
We were taken to a checkpoint as the sun beat down on us. One soldier was kind enough to bring us a bottle of water, two of the women were taken to a toilet when they asked. We waited in the sun, sitting on the floor using the curb as a seat. We realised that the Israelis had a problem. They had just carried out an incursion onto Palestinian territory that under the Oslo agreement the Palestinian authority and snatched six British citizens. The Israelis may have thought that two of us, being of Asian origin, were Palestinian, but they had made a mistake.
Munir, the captain, got in his jeep and drove away. We waited and watched as another army jeep turned up and they began to empty out the content of one jeep to another. We thought they were emptying out for us, to transport us to another location. By this time we had rung the British consulate. The consulate told us that there was not much that they could do and would give us some names of some lawyers but we had to pay and that they would get back to us the next morning! Good old British foreign service.
A soldier wearing a skull cap came over and asked for our names, we gave them, he did not ask us to spell them. Then, just as we had suddenly been snatched, they escorted us to the gate, and the huge gate opened, “Welcome to Bethlehem,” said the soldiers. We were free. Relieved, hot and tired, we had just tasted and had a very small insight to what it must be like to be a Palestinian. Throughout our time at the checkpoint we could hear Palestinians at the gate and now we had seen the wall from both sides. Welcome to Palestine.