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Newbury News: “Peace worker’s tales of war”

by Neil Welch, December 1st

Human rights worker teams up with Newbury shop owner to raise funds for the woman who saved her life

A HUMAN rights worker who spent last Christmas in an Israeli jail has visited Newbury to help raise money for the woman who saved her life.

Sharon, 33, won’t give out her surname as she fears Israeli authorities will use the information to ban her from the country or lock her up again. She gave a talk and showed a video at Friends Meeting House in Newbury on Wednesday to highlight the plight of Palestinians in Israel. Sharon was put in prison after being banned from a peace conference in Bethlehem on December 21 last year, spending 11 days behind bars.

“It was ironic that I was trying to get to Bethlehem and they wouldn’t let me,” she said.
Although her time in prison was hard, she wasn’t subjected to the same abuse as some of her fellow peace workers. “My colleague Vic was beaten by seven guards to try and convince him to get on the plane back. They just shouted at the girls,” she said. “Another peace worker arrived on Christmas Day and bought decorations and chocolate coins – those were our presents.”

But this wasn’t the most difficult time in Sharon’s travails. On April 1, 2002, Israeli soldiers opened fire on her and nine other peace workers at a protest. She was left with near-fatal wounds. “We had our hands in the air and were walking backwards,” she said. “I was shot in the stomach. “It was April Fools Day – and the first time the Israeli army had used live ammunition on human rights workers.”

Sharon said that despite the bloodshed, the hospital was nearly empty because the army wouldn’t let Palestinians out of their houses, even for medical attention. “Children were spending the night in their homes with their dead parents,” she said. It was in hospital that she met Abla, the nurse whose care helped save her life. “Her dream was to study public health, and she couldn’t achieve that without outside help,” Sharon said.

Jacqui’s Convenience Store, on the corner of Berkeley Road and Blenheim Road in Newbury, is helping raise money for Abla, 29, with a collection tin. The shop has raised around £170 so far, which has helped to put Abla through her first two semesters at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

Jacqui Finch, who owns the store, said she was glad to aid the cause. “It’s great to help Abla achieve what she has done so far,” she said. “People are happy to contribute when they hear her story – even school children are putting their pennies in.”

Sharon, who is trained as a medic, works for the International Solidarity Movement, a group made up of Israeli, Palestinian and Western human rights workers. She visits the Middle East around three times a year, and spends her time in the UK raising awareness of civilians’ plight. And after spending last Christmas behind bars, she has no intention of relaxing with some turkey and a glass of wine this year. “I’ll probably go and work in Lebanon for Christmas,” she said.