A vision from Rugby prison
Observations on Palestine
From next Thursday, at the Kufa Gallery in Bayswater, west London, you can see paintings that give a far more striking vision of Palestinian reality than the news photographs that have normalised the destruction and fear of everyday life in the West Bank. One shows a settlers' road cutting through the mountain behind Battir village - a village that the painter's grandfather negotiated with an earlier generation of Israelis to keep on the Palestinian side of the 1949 green line, but which is now being squeezed to death as Ariel Sharon's apartheid wall snakes through Palestin-ian land on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Another, painted after the Israeli attack on Jenin, shows onlookers' backs and trickles of blood across the refugee camp.
The paintings come from Rye Hill Prison in Rugby, where the artist, Jawad Botmeh, is serving a 20-year sentence for "conspiring to cause explosions". He was convicted in 1996, with Samar Alami, a Palestinian/Lebanese woman.
Car bomb attacks on the Israeli embassy in Kensington and a Jewish charity in north London in July 1994 injured 19 people. The trial was remarkable not only for the lack of evidence against the two convicted students, who both had alibis, but for a strange series of events. The Israeli embassy security cameras ran out of film at the critical time; MI5, MI6 and the police "mislaid" a warning to the security services of an impending attack on the embassy by an organisation not linked to the accused; evidence was blocked; the drivers of the cars used in the bombings disappeared.
The bombings were most probably the work of an experienced group who got away. They came a week after the similar blowing up of a Jewish charity in Argentina that killed nearly 100 people, and for which Argentina tried, and recently failed, to extradite the former Iranian ambassador in Buenos Aires from Britain, where he was studying.
Botmeh and Alami had been students in London for ten years, active in Palestinian student politics. They had also dabbled amateurishly in explosives, which they dreamed could fly in model aircraft to the West Bank.
Led by Botmeh's two sisters, PhD students, and supported by their solicitor Gareth Pierce and the barrister Michael Mansfield, campaigning against the convictions, and then against their dismissed appeals, has never let up. The European Court of Human Rights will now consider the case.
Botmeh could get parole in 2005, or even earlier if the European Court finds the trial unfair, but Britain has destroyed his chance of going home to Battir - which is itself now nothing more than a prison.