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July 2004
Diary of an artist in Bethlehem
Youths attacke Israeli army landrover att Ayda  refugee camp, Bethlehem.
Youths attacke Israeli army landrover att Ayda refugee camp, Bethlehem.
Leicestershire artist Paul Gent is spending the summer in Palestine working with families whilst creating some stunning art - read his diary.
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Paul Gent is an artist from Leicestershire who has travelled to Palestine to work with families and children

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Thursday 01 July

We started mosaic work on the wall today, while the young girls painted - all of us fighting against the sun drying everything as we work.

I was beginning to wonder where all the boys had got to and what the acrid stench was that had suddenly began to restrict my breathing.

Nidal pointed over to a cloud of tear gas forming over the trees. I went over to the street parallel with Nidal who insisted on escorting me.

'It's no problem, I always show the internationals what happens here.' Two Israeli soldiers climb back into their land rover, they seemed to be laughing as we approached, trying to hold our breaths from the tear gas.

'You see that gun, that is the new design - it fired six gas bombs at a time.' The Soldier drove off up the hill. As we turned round the corner where the local youth were waiting with stones in hand and holding their T-shirts over their faces.

The Land Rover returned, leaving Nidal and I stuck between the Israelis and the angry boys. We moved to the side of the road to allow the boys to hurl their rocks.

'This is not a good place to be" Nidal explained and we decided the best option was to get behind the lads with their stones.

The Israelis made no attempt to fight back; they just waited, seemingly for me to go away. Not because I would make much of a match against the Israeli army, but because I was an international presence.

This carries a lot of weight in Palestine, as the Israeli army is afraid to be seen taking unnecessary measures of defence.

Nidal and I went back to get on with the mural, and the soldiers got on with their tear gas and percussion grenades for the day.

As we packed up I kept being disturbed by patters of feat and giggles from the younger children after they would taunt and run away from the Land Rover speeding past.

At one point, a boy heard the roar of an approaching engine and hurled a great stone to greet… only a butane gas lorry delivering his round. We did laugh!

'Do you know why the children throw stones?' Nidal asked over pizza and beer. I asked a boy once; I asked what could he do to an armoured vehicle with a stone? He said to me "I don't want the soldiers here, I don't want them coming to our homes, I can't talk to them - this is the only way I can speak"'

"Over 40 gas bombs were exploded in Ayda camp today, along with quite a few percussion grenades. Three of the boys were put in jail, some with plastic bullet wound to their legs. It is always like this in Ayda camp. It is in the worst place in Bethlehem, next to the Gilo (Settlement) checkpoint and now the wall.

Even Sharon said in a speech on the TV "We must do something about Ayda"' Nidal released a quick smile. 'During the first Intifadah in the eighties, everybody came out on the streets to throw stone and resist, this time people came out at first but then it was the Kalashnikov against the M16 - it has gone too bad now.

Two Apaches attacked Ayda camp once and killed five people and injured about 30. It was the noise that the children made, hiding in their houses that made me think how important it was for us at the Lagee centre to allow them to be children again. That is what we do- allow them play if they are five ten, fifteen…they should be allowed to have some enjoyment," said the boy.

Paul Gent

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