Holy Land: peace campaigners provide vital links with outside world

 Peace activists in Bethlehem are keeping lines of communication open between Palestinian refugee camps and the outside world. Despite a strictly imposed curfew and the constant threat of attack by Israeli forces, internationals living with refugee families at camps scattered all over the West Bank, are trying to defy the odds by getting information out and bringing food and medical supplies in. Liz Yates, from Kent in England, has been living in Aida, the country's second largest refugee camp since the end of March. As a member of the International Solidarity Movement, the 63 year-old campaigner moved in with her host family before the Israeli incursion began almost two weeks ago. Since then she has shared the same risks and restrictions which apply to her hosts. "We (the internationals), have an advantage because we know people on the outside, so when all this trouble started and we realised most people here were completely isolated, we began calling everyone we knew so that we can make sure that all aspects of what is happening here are covered," she told ICN. Until such contacts were established neither the Palestinians nor their guests knew what the outside world was being told of the invasion or what was being done, if anything, to find a solution to the escalating violence in the region. Aida, a half mile from Bethlehem, has a population of 2000 and has seen many raids and incursions in the past but according to the people there, none was ever as bad as the present situation with families living each day in the hope that they will not come under direct attack. "So far Aida has been alright," Liz said. "The people here are used to invasions of this nature so they are always well stocked up with flour to make bread, pasta and other essentials to see out a long siege. At the moment we are under almost constant curfew and even the brief lifting of them have been badly announced so some of us don't find out that we can move about and go and get supplies until the curfew is back in force again." Liz like many of the other internationals dotted throughout the camps, has been told that her life has been threatened by dissident Palestinians, she believes, in a ploy to get her and other activists to leave the camps so the Israeli forces can act with impunity. "There is a lot of disinformation around so you have to double check everything," she said. "We were told that our lives were at risk but when we checked with our host families and Palestinian contacts this was not the case. So we are left with the thought that this is propaganda most likely being spread by the Israeli authorities to try to scare us out. The Palestinians we speak to every day want us to stay," she added. The International Solidarity Movement has been a fixture in the West Bank for some time with most of its volunteers working with local people to rebuild shattered farms, plant olive trees and help till the land. Although their website states that they recognise the Palestinian right to resist Israeli aggression and occupation through armed struggle, ISM members are committed to non-violent direct action.

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