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Why I'm proud to be a
Sussex University student

May 05, 2002
By Candide Kirk

So today I went to a discussion group organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and some Sussex University students who had ventured into Ramallah during the latest incursions on a humanitarian trip. The idea behind the meeting was for the students to discuss their experiences out there (I also found out that the main organisers were the Socialist Labour Party).So anyway we got there and there was a really good turnout... very few arabs though which I still can't decide whether it's a bad thing (since these English people are more interested in our cause than we apparently are), or whether it was a good thing since so many English people ARE interested enough to show up on a perfectly sunny bank holiday weekend! Anyway to the point...

After a brief introduction by the SLP guy there... a man from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign talked about their work here and how to join and help out... then cleared the floor for the Sussex students.

First off it was our student union president Dan Glazebrook...he gave an excellent talk about their experience... how they were harrassed as soon as they reached Ben Gurion airport because some had arabic sounding surnames, and because they were meeting Palestinian students on their visit... how the harrassment at the airport was cut short by the arrival of a group of 250 Italian peace activists wearing the Palestinian flag on their T-Shirts!!

Anyway.. then their Palestinian driver took them to Jerusalem... and on the way pointed out all the villages that used to be before being reduced to rubble in 1948 (and further along the way in 1967)... he also told them how he had been imprisoned and tortured during the first intifada for the criminal act of joining a demonstration.. then they met an 8 year old boy who proudly showed them his bullet scars in his stomache... nothing new for you and me but quite shocking for my English friends... the students decided to go to Ramallah because they sensed that an invasion was iminent... now I have to mention here that amond the Sussex students there was an Israeli born Jewish girl - Karen Wheeler - who I respect so much for making the trip with the students. Anyway.. once in Ramallah the boys stayed with some members of the Medical Relief Committee (MRC) while the girls stayed with a Palestinian student who lived roughly 400m away from Arafat's headquarters. Two days after they got there the incursion began... tanks moved in at six in the morning and since the MRC ambulances had all been confiscated the guys felt helpless watching Al Jazeera to get news of what's happening outside their windows. Dan talked a lot about Al Jazeera and the excellent coverage which the UK does not and will never see...  he talked about the man in Bethlehem locked into his bathroom with his six children with the bodies of his mother and brother rotting since no one could get to them to help... when the ambulances were finally returned the guys helped packing food and medicine and riding around in ambulances distributing to the people in Ramallah... he talked about how they would get stopped every half hour and detained for up to four hours.. how the medicine and food was often confiscated and thrown away.. how only 2% of the parcels they packed got to the families of Ramallah! Dan and the guys also went to help out at a hospital, and when they asked if they could donate blood, the doctor laughed and said that blood was available and there was no shortage.. but that it was useless because there was no way to get the injured into the hospitals in the first place...

Salma Karmi, a student of Palestinian origin, spoke next. Her experiences were different in Ramallah since she, along with the other two girls, were trapped in the flat they were staying in with no electricity and hence no TV to even know what was going on. However, as she put it, the IDF did her the favour that, instead of going out looking for action, the action came to visit. The girls were woken up early morning by around ten IDF soldiers. The girls, still in their pyjamas and obviously harmless, were ordered to sit in the living room floor. The Israeli girl with them obviously caused offence by being there to show support to the Palestinians, and was therefore used as a human shield to go into the rooms of the house. She was told that if they found anyone hiding in any of the rooms she would be the first to get shot. When the soldiers couldn't find anything in the flat they started going some holiday pictures they found and demanding to know who is in the pictures (obviously clueless as to what they were supposed to be doing - looking for any excuse to make trouble). Then the soldiers made Karen walk in front of them while they searched the flat upstairs, where they looted 3000 US Dollars in cash, a watch, and some other belongings. Salma then talked about the reactions they received when they returned, she pointed out how the media distorted their story and made it seem like they were crying for their parents and the consulate to get them out of there... while in reality they wished they could stay longer and do more.

Next in line was an Indian guy who I've seen on campus talking against the sanctions in Iraq... a real activist... he spoke about how amazed he was by the spirit of the Palestinians.. which refused to be defeated into submission... how when the curfew was lifted for a couple of hours one day, people almost looked celebratory... how we could all learn from this proud people... how the intifada wasn't only about the militant aspect.. how every mother who teaches her children to be proud of their Palestinian origin is advancing the intifada... as is every doctor giving aid... as is every volunteer distributing food in spite of the curfew and the blockade... he also talked about how when they left Palestine and arrived at Heathrow they were detained by the British police under the new Terrorism Act... how some zionist coward on campus threatened him because he wore a badge that says Free Palestine... how that same badge got him detained again on another trip back from Brussels... how he was questioned about his links to Palestine and why he campaigns for it... how he was threatened that if he did not cooperate he could be detained without charge (also under the same Terrorism Act) for up to seven days... how his friend had indeed been detained for 72 hours also apparently because he wore the same badge...

Then there was a discussion and question and answer slot... the crowd there was truly amazing.. except for a couple of people who pissed me off (excuse my french) with their stupid questions about suicide bombers (which were cleverly answered by all three students). I really found the support overwhelming... there was a woman from Amnesty sitting behind me distributing leaflets... when the PCS rep told the audience about the campaign and how to join, I overheard her say "do join - it's great fun, and delicious Palestinian food - Maklooba! ... she was very sweet and after the meeting was over she and a couple other Amnesty workers stood outside with black flags in commemoration of the Palestinian dead. I was amused when the main speaker called us Comrades... I felt it was like out of a movie or something.. I may have inadvertently signed up for the SLP but right now with all they are doing for our cause I couldn't care less!

The students also talked about an upcoming trip to Palestine from the 1st till the 10th of June... and listed numbers for people who wanted to join them...  they also talked about the great Rally to be held on the 18th of May in London for Palestine... and they gave us all stickers of the Palestinian flag with the words: Boycott Israeli Apartheid written on them... the lady from Amnesty also distributed flyers about boycotting Israeli goods.. and she encouraged everyone to demand that store not stock up on Israeli products... I was amazed at the grass root action in Britain.. I was never aware of it to this extent... I also tried to do my bit and told the PSC members about and how they can help spread that campaign across the media here...

In conclusion... I have to say that I am extremely proud of the action my fellow students have taken... if anything at least now everyone on campus knows who Palestinians really are, and the conditions they are living under. The students will be releasing a documentary filmed by them while they were out in Palestine... I will pass on details on how you can buy it when it comes out!