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Holy Land Reflections 5


ONATHAN COOK was a staff journalist on The Guardian from 1996 to 2001. To deepen his understanding of the Middle East he studied for an M.A. at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University. This brought him to develop an interest in the Palestinian people. He moved to Israel, from where he continued to write for newspapers. He married a girl from Nazareth and they have two daughters. He gave us a talk and then a guided tour around Nazareth. The second Intifada or rebellion by Palestinians began just after he arrived. Jonathan found himself immersed in the conflict in a place where no other journalists were reporting. Most of the journalists remained in Jerusalem, cocooned in the safety of the American Colony Hotel. He described to us how Gaza was made into an open air prison camp. The cutting down of all vegetation within a mile of the security fence has meant that valuable olive groves have been lost and farmers have become destitute. Within Israel there is legalised discrimination against all non Jews, supported by more than 30 laws which are blatantly racist. Officials enforce these laws with full state backing. Today there are 1.5 million Palestinians living in Israel. Those in East Jerusalem are not recognised as citizens, they are simply ‘residents’ with no voting rights. There is no civil marriage in Israel, and the intention is to discourage

marriage between people of different faiths. The only way to have a civil marriage is to make the short journey to Cyprus, and there are secular Jews who will do this rather than submit to strict Orthodox rules. The non-Jewish population of Israel is 80% Muslim, 11% Christian (more in Nazareth) and 9% Druze. All are classed as ‘Israeli Arabs’. In Nazareth he showed us a new housing area for Jews, built on top of the hill overlooking the old town, and named ‘Nazareth Elite’. It had been hoped that the high quality housing and facilities would attract Jews to live there, but people with any choice regard Nazareth as an uncomfortable place to live. The mosques are decorated with banners, and the text on them is in English rather than Arabic. The Christians have a vast new basilica, the Church of the Annunciation. There are countless Christian pilgrims. And no doubt most irritating of all are the shops selling a vast array of Christian goods with year round displays of Father Christmas. The result is that only Palestinians want to live in ‘Nazareth Elite’. Jonathan gave us a tour of destroyed Palestinian villages, like the one where Elias Chakur (author of Blood Brothers) was born. To hide the destruction, the land is given to the Jewish National Fund. The fund conceals the location of the destroyed village by planting trees, usually unproductive non-native

Jonathan Cook conifers in place of olive, carob and fruit trees. Jonathan says that every British Prime Minister has been a patron of the Fund until now. David Cameron resigned in 2011, when the new Green Party MP began a campaign in parliament to strip the fund of its charitable status in Britain. The destruction of Palestinian houses is slow and relentless. 40,000 homes are under demolition orders, and one or two a day are destroyed. Courts issue heavy fines each year to the occupants of houses which are under threat, and 50% of Palestinians live under the poverty line. The intention is to force them out economically. Land which is not farmed is confiscated by the Israeli state - so we saw one man ploughing his land which is now deprived of water just in order to retain his ownership. It is just one more example of the racist policies of the Israeli state. Jonathan’s life is now a campaign against the ethnic cleansing. His writings and details of his books can be found at

## Tom Ambrose

Newspaper photograph of a former village around a hill top, and the present view of trees planted by the Jewish National Fund

Holy Land 5  

Report from Tom Ambrose about his trip to the Holy Land