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Guardian: Foreigners bring in the harvest and the wounded

by Chris McGreal
Originally published in The Gaurdian

Among the most active groups organising foreign volunteers in the Palestinian territories is the International Solidarity Movement, which brings hundreds to the region every year.

They have worked alongside Palestinians harvesting olives under attack from Jewish settlers, and joined sit-down protests to block construction of the 250-mile “security fence” along the West Bank which separates Palestinian villages from their land and virtually encircles whole towns.

Israel is deeply suspicious, often stopping its volunteers entering the country, or deporting them. The latest to run foul of the authorities, Susan Barclay, was arrested at a Nablus checkpoint last week and told to leave on “security grounds”.

She is on bail after lodging an appeal.

Volunteer groups say the presence of foreigners can calm things down, and encourage Israeli solders to moderate their behaviour.

Last year, during the Israeli reoccupation of West Bank cities, Shane Dabrowski, a 30-year-old paramedic from Alberta, volunteered to help the Palestinian Red Crescent Society rescue people from Jenin.

“I wouldn’t say I was scared, I was just overtly aware of my chances of being whacked,” he said.

Volunteers with medical experience often go to the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, which offers healthcare to those prevented by checkpoints from leaving their villages, and takes the wounded and sick to hospital.

The union says that simply having international volunteers on its ambulances and mobile clinics often enables their emergency teams to get into areas otherwise impossible to enter.

This weekend a ship carrying food, medical supplies and clothing provided by British volunteers for for Palestinians in Gaza is expected to dock at Ashdod.

A Devon couple, David and Sue Halpin, put up £95,000 for the mission, although donations have offset some of it.