Breaking through to Mufkara

13th April, 2002
The Editor,
Wilmslow Express Advertiser

Dear Sir,                            Re: Breaking through to Mufkara

Last November, you kindly reported on a coffee morning that "The Noah
Project", from Manchester Reform Synagogue, together with friends from St. Chad's Church, Handforth, had organised a coffee morning in support of "Rabbis for Human Rights" in Israel to replant olive trees on Palestinian land destroyed by Israeli troops.  In the latest Newsletter of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, "The Other Israel", March 2002, No.101/102, we learn of their latest courageous action in bringing relief to besieged and destitute Palestinian villagers, in the face of Israeli troops, their heavy weaponry and aggressive settlers.

Organised by Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership) the rabbis joined by activists from some of the thirty or so different NGOs (non-government organisations) devoted to practical peace making, 57 private cars set out towards the hamlet of Mufkara.  They were carrying blankets and tents for its Palestinian inhabitants whose houses and even emergency dwellings in caves had been destroyed.

On the way they encountered an Israeli army roadblock. The officer in charge decreed the area "a closed military zone".  Convoy organisers pointed out that Mufkara was outside the 'closed' area and that taking blankets to destitute people was not a threat to security.  They were eventually allowed to proceed.  This was only to be met further on by members from the nationalist-religious settlement of Susya.  It is these settlers who have been egging on the army to expel the inhabitants of Mufkara and other Palestinian hamlets and they were angry at the "leftists" interfering and taking humanitarian aid to them. Armed and shouting abuse at the convoy, they had parked their cars to block the road ahead.

The police then intervened and promised to move the settlers so that the
convoy could get through.  The settlers left.  Unfortunately this was because the police had promised them that the convoy would be blocked and to justify this had issued a new "closed military zone order".  The convoy organisers pointed out that this had been fabricated on the spot and signed illegally by a low ranking officer. Nevertheless the road was kept closed.

Undaunted, the activists decided to go on foot and carry the blankets and
tents with them.  Thus some 250 people, ranging in age from 20-70 and
including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israeli citizens and international
volunteers, walked through the muddy fields.  Immediately, the police arrested two of the organisers, Dr. Gadi Allgazi and Shmulik Sheintoch. But, the two shouted to the others, "Keep moving, keep moving!"  They did, walking ahead in rows of about 15 with arms linked.

Then scores of police violently set upon them kicking and pushing them.  They were kneed in the groin, grabbed out of line, put into a neck lock, hit over the head and choked.  And, the Arabs in the group were systematically singled out for more brutal violence.  Throughout it all, defending each other, the activists continued to move forward chanting "Down with the occupation"!

Meanwhile, the settlers, thus delayed from reaching Susya before the start of the Sabbath, honked and yelled at the peace activists and one actually tried to run over a group of them, hitting a policeman by mistake.  The police, forbidden to shoot their own Israeli citizens (though free to shoot
Palestinians) realised they could not stop such a large group of determined activists so offered to release the two detainees and allow the convoy to continue as long as they kept to the hills and off the road until they had passed the Susya settlement.  The group then began the 5 kilometre trek up the mountain to the accompaniment of teenage settlers (prevented from confronting the convoy by the military and police) screaming "Traitors" and "You are all Arabs".

Suddenly, Yasser Akawi an Arab Ta'ayush activist was jumped on by a policeman, kicked and punched severely and accused of assaulting him, whereupon the activist Salamka Danievsky ran to the jeep where Uasser was still being hit and pushed her way through to defend him.  The rest of the group kept moving while some 25 activists surrounded the jeep and prevented Yasser from being taken away in it.  Word was passed to the larger group ahead, who stopped and stay on on the road blocking the way of screaming settlers.  Again the organisers negotiated with police and eventually Yasser was released.

United again, they climbed the last stretch of hillside to Mufkara.  The
mountain air was turning extremely cold when they met the besieged villagers to whom the se of the road had been denied since the outbreak of the Intifada.  The supplies were loaded on the small old Palestinian tractors.  They drove slowly up the muddy paths, giving lifts to the most exhausted of the activists.  On both sides soldiers were making the ascent in order to "guard" the Israelis who repeatedly informed them "We are among friends, we don't need you to guard us" - which the soldiers ignored.

Finally, at dust, the Ta'ayush group reached the hamlet.  The residents,
sheltering in the few remaining caves, greeted them with hot tea and told the group how much their solidarity had meant to them.  "We know how difficult it was for you to get here.  They do it to us every day", said one.

So, I think I ought to hold another coffee morning, out in the open air of my
own garden, in order to sell seeds (and plants) of hope to raise some more
funds for Rabbis for Human Rights, don't you?  Will you support me?  Will my own MP, George Osborne?  Will Tony Blair?  Will he support the entry of United Nations troops carrying blankets, tents and much needed food and medical supplies to destroyed villages like Mufkara?  I wait to see, though I am not, as you might imagine 'holding my breath'!

Yours sincerely, 

Mrs. Joy Pagano
Co-ordinator, The Noah Project, at Manchester Reform Synagogue.

c.c. Rabbis for Human Rights UK and Israel, George Osborne MP, Peace
Activists, Green Party, Zac Goldsmith, Editor, "The Ecologist", Christian
friends, BBC journalists.