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Visit to a Palestinian peace activist

Lewis's description of the Narnia children coming home to dear old England, having had adventures beyond the conception of the people in their narrow world; or Tolkien's description of Bilbo Baggins coming home to the Shire, where the only thing that matters is intrigues among neighbours who have known each other all their lives... ring true because they remind us of the things we hide from our own parents and circle of friends; or, if we do try to relate them, we know that what we say will go over the top of their heads and they will immediately resume the talk about matters that are more intelligible to them. And probably there are matters that my own kids don't discuss with me, though they might talk about them with their friends. There is a bubble effect even among people who know one another well. Most Israelis live in a bubble. They could not imagine visiting Palestinians in the West Bank, while people are being shot at and killed.

On Friday, during a period of Palestinian strikes and "days of rage", we went into the West Bank to visit a disabled Palestinian peace activist; a victim of the second Intifada - he had been shot on his doorstep by a soldier while trying to usher some children out of the firing zone. Since then he is in a wheel chair and paralyzed from the waist down. But he remains committed to peace and reconciliation. We had gone to see him with a visiting French Buddhist monk. Our friend took us on an outing to a lovely wadi where both Palestinians and Jewish settlers were out picnicking and enjoying the fine Spring weather; though keeping a bit of distance from one another.

Our friend's village, and the two adjoining villages have three entries. At the first entry there was a group of soldiers preventing access. They were armed to the teeth and carrying several kilos of military equipment. They said that there had been three incidents of throwing stones and molotov cocktails and they had orders to the close the village. At the second entry there was simply a locked iron gate, and nobody to argue with. At the third entry; reached after a lengthy detour, there was another group of soldiers, but these could be persuaded to let people in. In our case, they said that it was legally forbidden for us to go in - they pointed to a large sign - but that we could do so on our own responsibility. We had been warned. (Israelis are normally permitted under Israeli law to enter Area B, unless it is declared a "closed military area", due to local tensions, as was the case on the day of our visit).

On the way back to lunch at his house, our friend also took us to see someone who some of us also knew. He had built a fine new house - one of the largest in the village, perhaps. In order to pay for it, he was working two shifts a day at a Jewish settlement industrial park, and was up to his neck in debt. A week ago he had received a demolition order on the house. Although, when he purchased the land and built the place, it was in Area B (i.e. under Palestinian administrative control), a more recent aerial survey had moved the line, and the Israeli authorities had decided it was in Area C (under Israeli administrative control), and, since building by Palestinians is virtually never permitted in Area C, they had served him with the demolition order. He's attempting to fight it legally, but the fate of the house will probably be the same as the various other demolished houses in the village. The time between receiving a demolition order and the bulldozers is usually about a month.

Our nice meal was cooked by our friend's Jewish partner. His own wife died of cancer a year ago, leaving behind a family of five children. But a Jewish woman peace activist quickly stepped in to take her place . A brave woman indeed. She manages to speak to the kids and the villagers in her Egyptian Arabic. There are two or three other mixed couples like this in the area.

In the course of our discussion following the meal I asked our friend what he would tell his eldest son if he too decided to "throw stones" (I think we both understood I might mean something worse). He said carefully that it is "not for him to tell any Palestinian how to resist the Occupation". Violence is not our friend's way and, I think, not that of any of his children, but still, it would be their right to resort to violence, however ill advised this might be, or how badly it might turn out. (This reminds me of Aurobindo Ghose's early essays against British rule in India.) The tension is very high just now. A settler and a soldier had recently been killed not far away from the village, while in Bethlehem there had just been a horrendous incident in which it looks as if soldiers were culpable.

We returned home in the evening. The iron gate at the village entrance was still locked; but the soldiers had gone from the other one. A temporary peace had returned to our friend's village. My wife was able to visit on Sunday with the other Buddhist monks and nuns for the bi-weekly meditation and meditation meeting in our friend's home. The whole country is tense, however; a missile fell on a family home north of Tel Aviv; Netanyahu returned home from the US; reprisal attacks took place across Gaza; Palestinian rockets continued to be launched, and the army is today sending another infantry brigade and artillery battalion to the Gaza border. We're a couple of weeks away from a general election.