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ISM Update of 25/2 Rafah, Nablus, Susan Barclay

Rafah: Activists Fired Upon and Almost Electrocuted / British Government Refuses to Protest

At about 2 pm today the ISM in Rafah received a call that the Israeli Army had moved into El Hashash - an agricultural community northwest of Rafah, close to the settler road to the Gush Katif Settlement (settler roads are roads that are reserved for the exclusive use of Jews and the Occupying Israeli Army).

Last Sunday afternoon the Israeli Army moved into El Hashash and summoned all the men above the age of 14 out onto the road and then used rifle and machine-gun fire to herd them towards a tower guarding the Gush Katif Settlement. The 150 to 200 men were held beneath the tower from 3.30 pm to 7.30 pm where several of them were beaten and six of them hospitalised due to their injuries. When they returned to their homes they found that the Israelis had destroyed 25 of their greenhouses - the only livelihood of about three hundred people.

Although there has been no recent Palestinian resistance in the area, several of the residents of El Hashash believe that the attack might be part of a clearing operation in preparation for the expansion of Gush Katif.

When the six activists (from the UK and the US) arrived at El Hashash they clambered over the greenhouse wreckage to find two tanks, one bulldozer and three jeeps full of soldiers at work. They immediately announced that they were international activists and unarmed. In response one of the soldiers got out of his bulldozer and warned them to get away because there was a bomb in the area (it is possible that the bomb was planted by the Palestinian resistance to defend El Hashash from another incursion; on previous occasions the resistance has successfully used buried explosives to destroy the Israeli tanks in the Gaza Strip).

The activists then withdrew to some houses that were near to where the Israelis were working, to protect them in case the Israelis tried to demolish them.

When they arrived at the houses they received word that the Israelis were also demolishing houses in the Tel Zorab area of Rafah so four of the activists departed for Tel Zorab where they were joined by another (Palestinian) activist. At Tel Zorab they found two bulldozers and an excavator working on the rubble of a recently demolished building while two tanks fired into the streets and houses that had not yet been evacuated.

The activists then announced by megaphone that they were going to occupy one of the houses and approached it through the piles of rubble. As they approached one of the bulldozers blocked their path and forced them into an alleyway between a house and one of the Apartheid Walls Israel is building throughout the Occupied Territories, while a tank cut off the other end of the alleyway. The bulldozer then continued its demolition work, which included an electricity pole causing the wires to spark dangerously. When the wires fell across the alleyway the activists ran for their lives through a gap between the bulldozer and the house. Luckily they escaped but Ayesha, the Palestinian activist, and Alice, the British activist, were nearly electrocuted by the falling wire.

The activists then left the area and the Palestinian resistance tried to resist the Israelis with what weapons they had.

Meanwhile, back at El Hashash the Olivia and Rachel (from the UK and US), the two activists guarding the house had come under fire from the Israelis and phoned the ISM Media Office requesting that I contact the British Consulate. I then telephoned John Kane, a contact I had at the British consulate, and left a message for him to phone the Olivia.

At about 3.30 the Israelis detonated the bomb. When the activists left the house to investigate they were fired upon by the Israelis and forced back into the house.

At about 4.30 the Israelis left and the activists withdrew from El Hashash to Rafah where they are now sleeping with families whose houses in danger of demolition.

At 5 pm Olivia, the British activist, received a call from John Kane advising her to leave Rafah because it was very dangerous. She replied that she was concerned about the situation but had confidence that the British government would make the appropriate representations to the Israelis to ensure the safety of humanitarian volunteers working in the Occupied Territories.

Mr. Kane, then phoned the ISM Media Office and told me that he'd discussed the situation with the Israeli Army and they had informed him that, as far as they were concerned, they are fighting a war and they will shoot anyone who gets in their way regardless of what kind of passport they happen to be carrying. He said to please inform the British nationals working in Gaza this and that the British government has a travel advisory in effect advising its nationals to leave the area.

I said I would certainly pass this on but noted that these were very dedicated people who had traveled from around the world to work for human rights of the Palestinian people and that I doubted that they intended to leave and that the best thing the British government could do to keep them safe was not to reiterated travel advisories but to issue a formal protest to the Israeli government and demand that the non-combatant status of humanitarian volunteers be respected.

He replied that the British government had already protested to the Israeli government concerning home demolitions, not only by making bilateral protests but through the European Commission and had received a lot of criticism for being anti-Israel as a result.

I noted that Israel was always ready to bandy about accusations of anti-Semitism to silence its critics and asked whether Britain had stopped arms sales to Israel.

He said that some Israeli commentators had accused Britain of having an informal arms embargo against Israel.

I asked is there a formal arms embargo in place.

He replied that there was not.

I then asked whether the Foreign Office intended to issue of formal protest over the way British subjects doing humanitarian work are being treated in the Occupied Territories.

He said that they had already issued numerous protests relating to home demolitions and the excessive use of force and that British-Israeli relations were already suffering because of this.

I noted that the primary responsibility of the British Consulate in Israel was not the maintenance of good relations with Israel but rather to safeguard the welfare of British citizens and asked again whether they intended to make any formal representations to the Israeli government protesting the treatment of British humanitarian volunteers in the Occupied Territories. I also noted that over the past month Israeli intimidation of and violence against international activists had increased markedly in what we are sure is a deliberate campaign to intimidate us into leaving the Occupied Territories.

He asked me to name specific instances in which this occurred.

I then described instances of having bullets fired over activists' heads and at the ground in front of them, guns being pointed at their chests and heads, death threats, a head butt, tear gas, sound grenades, passport confiscation, one threat of rape, pushing, kicking, women being touched inappropriately and of Susan Barclay's case of being arrested at a checkpoint and still being in prison after a week.

He asked whether I had told anyone about this and I said that I had a long conversation with his colleague, Andrew Woodcock, about this a few weeks ago but that the had refused to take any action.

He said that it would be inappropriate to do so because that would be to support people putting themselves in life threatening situations.

I said that he couldn't possibly be serious saying such a thing when the British government was sending thousands of British servicemen into a life threatening situation in Iraq and that these people weren't doing this for oil but in defence of human rights and that they were only doing it because the UN wasn't doing its job.

He replied that if I read the latest news on Iraq I would know that there are no British troops currently in Iraq and that the British government was seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

I replied that he must think I was some kind of idiot trying that line on me and that I knew as well as he did what Britain's plans for Iraq were.

He said that he was only trying to avert a tragedy by advising them to leave Rafah immediately.

I said that I wanted to avoid a tragedy too but that they were dedicated activists who had traveled all the way to Palestine to help the Palestinians and that I seriously doubted that any of them intended to leave Rafah on his advice. I also noted that if he was really interested in averting a tragedy he would make a strong representation to the Israeli government now to avert such a tragedy rather than waiting until it happened.

He then repeated that Britain had already made representations to the Israeli government concerning home demolitions.

But not over the treatment of its nationals by the Israeli Army, I noted.

He acknowledged this and regretted that there was nothing more they could do and that he had other issues to attend to.

Then we said goodbye and hung up.

As requested, I passed Mr. Kane's advice onto the British activists in Rafah and asked them to consider it carefully, especially in the light of what he had told me of the Israeli position of not caring what passport an activists was carrying. The response I received from Olivia, who assured me that she spoke on behalf of the rest of the British activists in Rafah, was that they had no intention of deserting the brave people of Rafah whom they had lived with and worked with over the past months and that they suspected that the Israeli occupation forces were testing the waters by increasing the pressure on the ISM to see what would happen and if that was their game then they also intended to test the waters by standing their ground.

Nablus

Today Israeli soldiers withdrew from the last of the houses they were occupying in the Old City of Nablus and the ISM completed its survey of the houses of the city that had been attacked by the Israelis. They found 66 houses had been entered, all of which had suffered from various degrees of vandalism. Those that were the most fortunate had had clothing and furniture slashed and windows broken. Others had had their walls destroyed by explosives. Four and possibly and a fifth house were rendered totally unlivable.

Although the Israelis have evacuated the Old City, several houses throughout Nablus remain occupied. In these houses entire families have become prisoners in their own houses for months on end, with their lives regulated by the whims of the soldiers who use their houses as firing positions.

Tomorrow, the ISM intends to launch an international campaign to liberate one of these houses as part of its ongoing effort to, not only resist, but also roll back Israel's brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. Stay online to see how you can help in this effort.

Ministry of the Interior Appeals Against Susan Barclay's Release

Today Susan Barclay telephoned the ISM Media Office from Mikhal Detention Centre, where she has been held by the Israeli authorities since her arrest at Howarra Checkpoint last Thursday. She informed me that the Israeli Ministry of the Interior had appealed against her release so she was not going to be free any time soon.

Despite her ordeal she said she was OK but would appreciate some books, phone cards and cigarettes (which the ISM has had delivered to her by an Israeli sympathiser).

I told her of all the messages I'd received enquiring as to how people could help her and asked her what she wanted her supporters do regarding legal representation, publicity and lobbying for her release and she said she intended to fight her deportation every step of the way, that she wanted to return to work in Nablus if at all possible and wanted those who expressed their support for her to raise as big a storm as possible, not for her sake but for the sake of the Free Palestine for which she was being imprisoned.

Michael ISM Media Coordinator Beit Sahour Occupied Palestine Phone: +972-2-2774602 Cell: +972-67-862 439 web: http://www.palsolidarity.org


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