Welsh pensioner turns freedom fighter in Nablus
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Welsh pensioner turns freedom fighter
Ex-bank manager defends Palestinian suicide bombers
Chris McGreal in Nablus
Saturday March 1, 2003
Anne Gwynne is conducting her own war on terrorism. A retired bank manager
from Wales, she originally planned to join the thousands of other foreign
volunteers who spend a few weeks each year picking olives, monitoring
Israeli roadblocks and acting as human shields in solidarity with the
But after nine weeks in the West Bank city of Nablus, with bullet shrapnel
in her leg and horrors she never imagined etched on her mind, she says she
has come to understand - perhaps support - the more extreme and tragic
tactics of a brutal conflict. She has found friends in the men with guns and
the proud relatives of suicide bombers, the "martyrs" whose pictures paper
"I had never seen a tank before. I'd never seen a soldier. I've seen dead
people, but I've never seen someone killed by these huge 25mm bullets. The
injuries are horrific. The cannon from the tank takes the whole chest off,"
she said. "This is terrorism gone completely and utterly crazy. There is no
other word for this because it's not one incident, it thousands of incidents
across the whole city.
"I really, really understand the martyrs [suicide bombers]. I am very good
friends with the family of the two who went on the mission to Tel Aviv. One
saw the other explode, and then he walked away and blew himself up. They are
such lovely families and very proud of their sons."
Twenty-three people died in those bombings in Tel Aviv in January, including
many poor foreign workers. Was it wrong?
"I agree that it is a strategic mistake but I understand why they do it,"
she said. "Let's not blame the victims. It's clear who the real terrorists
"I'm going to fight it."
It is not what she imagined for herself just a few weeks ago.
Ms Gwynne, 65, retired in 1998 after 15 years as a manager for Barclays in
Aberystwyth. Since then she has split her time between her two daughters,
one in Germany the other, at university in California, who took her to a
Palestinian solidarity meeting at which she was so outraged by accounts of
children shot by the Israeli army that she decided to see for herself.
She arrived in Tel Aviv proudly announcing her intention to help the
Palestinians. Immigration officers held her for three hours and tried to
persuade her it was too dangerous to go to Ramallah and to ask why she
wasn't there to help Israeli victims.
"I had three people telling me how dangerous it was to come to Ramallah,
which I find ironic seeing as the Israelis are the ones causing the danger,"
Through an encounter at a New Year's Eve party, she found herself in Nablus,
which has suffered even more than most West Bank cities under virtually
perpetual curfew for more than six months. She is working as a volunteer
"nurse" - although she has no training - with a Palestinian ambulance
driver, Feras al-Bakri, taking the wounded through Israeli army checkpoints
to Raffidia hospital.
It is dangerous. Last week Mr Bakri was shot in the hand and another man had
a testicle shot off by a soldier who opened fire for no apparent reason.
Nine weeks latershe is something of a veteran.
"It hasn't surprised me but it has shocked me to see a baby die because it's
mother has been dumped next to the roadside in the cold because the Israelis
won't let the ambulance through; to see a child in a hospital with its nose
shot off; to hear an Israeli soldier threaten to kill us all. He said: 'I
can kill you all in 10 seconds.' This is a crime of unimaginable proportions
unless you live here."
Ten days ago the Israeli army surged into Nablus's old city, the Casbah,
destroying homes, searching for Palestinian fighters. The killing went on
for a week. At the end 11 people lay dead, including three children, one a
14-year-old boy shotby the army alongside his grandfather.
Hundreds were wounded. Among them was a boy who took a bullet through his
"It would be better if they'd killed him. He's in hospital in a terrible
state," Ms Gwynne said. "I found it very difficult to handle at night. For
the first week I wept, but after that I became so angry I couldn't shed any
During the fighting she caught a piece of shrapnel in the leg while trying
to reach a woman who had gone into labour. She says an Israeli soldier
deliberately shot between her leg, even though it was evident that she was
"The Palestinian fighters say I am one of them now, wounded on the
Ms Gwynne is small and, at first glance, might be mistaken for fragile. But
in any discussion about the injustices perpetrated in Nablus, she offers by
far the most energetic denunciations, loudly berating the Israelis while
Palestinians who have lived with the misery for years almost mournfully
recount the suffering.
Threat of rape
"I've been arrested too. One of the Israeli commanders threatened me with
rape. He was very graphic," she said. "I've told Israeli soldiers that when
you say you're just obeying orders, please remember that it was what every
German soldier said.
"The soldiers say we must defend our land; God gave us this land; if I don't
kill them, they will kill us.
"I used to think it was all excuses, but they actually believe this shit. We
have nothing to kill them with, just a few AK-47s."
We? "I feel I am one of them. I want to live here now. I have a pension.
It's not a lot but it's a $1,000 a month and it's more than a doctor here
gets," she said.
Ms Gwynne plans to remortgage her house in Wales and use the money to buy a
computer and digital camera to document events in Nablus for what she calls
her own struggle against terrorism.
"I'm ashamed I didn't come before but I was working. I was a single parent.
I had children at university. Now I'm here as a witness."
Foreigners bring in the harvest and the wounded
Saturday March 1, 2003
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
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
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
A Devon couple, David and Sue Halpin, put up £95,000 for the mission,
although donations have offset some of it.
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