Posted on December 6, 2011, by & filed under News.

However much you might have read beforehand, nothing prepares you for the shock of standing next to the Separation Barrier for the first time, for the weeping Palestinian grandmother near Tel Aviv describing how troops and bulldozers came one morning to destroy her sonsa houses, for the brand new illegal settlements on the hill-tops of the West Bank, for the school with walls made out of old tyres in a Bedouin settlement east of Jerusalem, under threat of demolition but achieving excellent results. Nothing prepares you for the stories of casual bureaucratic cruelty: the family in Hebron who can get to their house only across rough steep waste ground because the road access is reserved for Settlers; the nine year old girl with her mother, going to Jerusalem for the first time in her life, told to take her trousers off at the Bethlehem checkpoint; the soldier not allowed to let a man in an ambulance with a severed leg through a checkpoint because at that time in the morning only school children can cross.

The cumulative effect of all the actual and threatened house demolitions we saw, in Israel itself, occupied East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, was profoundly shocking. The remnants of villages in the Jordan valley, denied access to water but close to illegal settlements with plentiful water and endless plantations of date palms, speak of a relentless and heartless policy of ethnic cleansing.

And yet it wasnat all doom and gloom; we came away with as many positive memories as depressing ones. We were welcomed so warmly by all the Palestinians we met; we were so impressed with their dignity, determination and steadfastness. Some had terrible stories to tell of their houses being demolished time after time, their land stolen by settlements, their lives made almost intolerable. Some were helping to organise resistance in their village or community. _Living here is resisting the Occupation e Our life is the struggle._ Others are working in NGOs and local government providing mediation and medical services to cope with the effects of the Occupation, and trying to build the relationships and networks which a future Palestinian state will need. All of them made clear how important it is for them not to feel isolated in their struggle for human rights and equality. _This is the Wall that kills the spirit of the people,_ said one. They need our help to make the situation they are living in known to the world. And we met wonderful Israelis too, working hard to expose the evils of the apartheid system and standing alongside the Palestinians in their struggle.

One of my happiest memories is walking along a dusty shabby street from our hotel, through a gateway, and into the beautiful courtyard of Bethlehem University: young people, Christian and Muslim, relaxing and chatting like any other students, waiting for classes to begin. A hopeful fragment of a better _ a normal _ future.

Richard Barnes