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Women From Washington State Shine for ISM


Women From Washington State Shine for ISM

Today's update focuses on two remarkable women from the US state of Washington. Rachel Corrie from Olympia writes an update on the Gaza Strip's hottest hot spot, while Susan Barclay writes a note of thanks to her supporters (yet still we wonder, is there a conspiracy of silence in the American press?).

Items 1-4 are from Rachel, and item 5 is given over to Susan.

Updates on the major projects ISM Activists in Rafah, Gaza Strip have been pursuing

1. Human shield work with the Rafah Municipal Water Authority (Leading to ISM activists coming under fire).

2. Direct action work aimed at stopping or hindering the destruction of houses by Israeli occupation force bulldozers along the border strip in Rafah. 3. Demonstrations in conjunction with community groups and individuals living in Rafah.

4. Investigation into human rights violations at the Mowasi-Tufah checkpoint, and in the case of men killed in tunnels near Salah El Dinn gate in Rafah, and in the case of the invasion of the agricultural El Hash-Ash area of Rafah on Sunday the 23rd.

These updates are followed by a brief calendar of events recorded since the tenth of February. Sorry, everybody, for the stress on your inboxes.

1. Human shield work continues with Rafah Municipal Water workers

February 25, 2003

Internationals in Rafah have been continuing support work with workers from the Rafah Municipal Water Authority since Sunday 16th February, following a break due to the Eid holiday. ISM-Rafah continues to send internationals to sleep at a third well in the immediate vicinity in order to protect it from destruction. The workers are currently building a barrier surrounding the "Canada Well (#P-144), in the Canada-Tel El Sultan area of Rafah. This well, along with the El Iskan Well (#P-152) was destroyed by Israeli military bulldozers on 30th January. On several occasions, the internationals have witnessed shooting from military vehicles on the settler road which passes along the northwestern edge of the sand-dunes and agricultural areas on the outskirts of Rafah. Bullets have not hit the ground or objects in the immediate vicinity of the workers or internationals, a change from previous human shield actions with the water workers.

According to the Rafah Municipal Water Authority, the Canada Well had a capacity of 180 cubic metres of water per hour—35% of Rafah's total water supply. The two wells destroyed were the largest of six in Rafah, providing about 60% of Rafah's total municipal water supply.

The Municipal Water office has made attempts to compensate somewhat for the emergency, by connecting the municipal wells with a private agricultural well which is owned by local farmers. The municipality also redistributed the remaining water according to districts, implementing a strict program in which each district has access to water for six hours a day.

The Canada Well cost US $250,000 at the time of its construction in 1990. Its construction was funded by the Rafah municipality. The El Iskan well was implemented by the Canadian International Development Agency—at a cost of US $205,000 in 1999. The municipality reports receiving $40,000 from the World Bank through the Local Affairs Ministry to repair the two wells. All of this money was used in the construction of fences and protective structures surrounding the well site. The municipality estimates that $300,000 will be needed to repair the Canada well, and $100,000 is needed to repair the El Iskan well. The municipality is waiting for money promised by the Japanese, Canadian, and Norwegian governments in order to restore the wells to capacity.

ISMers come under fire on two separate occasions

1st March

Today at approximately 10.30am, three internationals joined four men working for the Rafah Municipal Water Authority at the El Iskan Water Well (#P-152) on the outskirts of the Tel El Sultan, Rafah. This well is one of the two largest municipal water wells in Rafah, both of which were destroyed by occupation tanks and bulldozers on 30th January this year. This well is being repaired with funding from Norway and Canada. At full capacity, it provides twenty-five per cent of Rafah's water supply.

Workers at the well reported being fired upon on Thursday 27th February.

Saturday, a Municipal Water Authority spokesman reported speaking directly with the Israeli District Command Office. He declared that he had co-ordinated with occupation forces in the area in order to ensure the safety of the Palestinian workers.

Despite receiving this permission, and in spite of the presence of banners and megaphones, the activists and workers were fired upon several times over a period of about one hour. One of the bullets came within two metres of three internationals and a municipal water worker, close enough to spray bits of debris in their faces as it landed at their feet.

This well is located within sight of the Rafah-Mowasi checkpoint, settlement buildings and greenhouses, bunkers in the militarized zone surrounding the checkpoint, a low sniper tower to the south and a very tall sniper tower in the distance to the north. The activists were unable to locate the precise origin of the shots amongst the various occupation force buildings.

2. Internationals continue to take direct action aimed at hindering the demolition of civilian homes by Occupation Forces

Rafah continues to witness the destruction of homes and agriculture on a daily basis. The activists confront barriers to direct action work in most of these cases. These barriers manifest themselves in several ways.

First, limited numbers of internationals are attempting to respond to demolition which occurs without warning allover the edges of Rafah, a city of about 140,000 people. The most recent house demolitions witnessed were accompanied by the amassment of 20 tanks nearby in the border strip. There are currently seven international ISM activists working in Rafah.

Secondly, with a few exceptions, house demolitions in Rafah are carried out by bulldozers and tanks—which fire into the houses or begin to demolish them as notification to the inhabitants of their arrival. Many of the homes destroyed are empty, because the inhabitants have fled with their belongings after experiencing gunfire through windows and walls and the partial bulldozing of their houses. The homes here are not targeted because of any connection with suicide bombings, but because of their existence along an area which the Israeli army finds strategically useful. Thus there is little predictability about which homes will be destroyed next, and no opportunity for direct contact with the army in order to negotiate or notify them of the presence of internationals in the homes.

Much of the destruction occurs at night. Many of the streets of Rafah are impassable in the dark due to sniper towers positioned along the perimeters of Rafah. In the dark, internationals attempting to carry out non-violent direct action rely on battery-charged lights, banners, and the accuracy of unknown local collaborators to make the Israeli military aware of their location.

Another factor in attempting to stop the destruction of a home is a variable factor: the question of whether the driver of a particular tank cares about injuring internationals in the process of destroying the welfare of the Palestinians living here.

On the afternoon of Friday 14th February, seven internationals responded to reports of house demolitions in the block O area, with support from Palestinian organizers. They encountered two bulldozers and a tank, which fired shots around the internationals that seemed directed at Palestinians in nearby alleys. The internationals stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house. The bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house with the internationals inside. The driver then dropped a sound grenade out of the cab of the bulldozer, and continued to demolish the house, at which point the activists were able to escape, amid gunfire from the tank.

The next day activists responded to reports of house-demolition in the same area and approached a bulldozer while identifying themselves by megaphone and banners. They were unable to position themselves between the bulldozer and nearby structures, and were beckoned away from the frontline by Palestinians in the area.

On the 11th and 12th and from the 21st till 23rd, internationals arrived on the scene of demolitions (homes, greenhouses and a mosque) too late to respond. This is in addition to house demolitions which the internationals discovered several days after the event.

On the afternoon of 23rd February, six internationals achieved some success in interrupting the work of a bulldozer and a tank demolishing houses in the vicinity of Salah El Dinn gate.

The internationals arrived in the "Sha'ar" area near Salah El Dinn gate in the late afternoon, and found the bulldozer completing the demolition of a house and chicken-coop near the border strip. Palestinians in the area requested the internationals to do whatever they could to try to stop further destruction. The group approached the bulldozer and tank from the side, carrying banners and announcing their presence by megaphone. Although the tank moved into their path, the internationals were able to manoeuvre into the path of the bulldozer, at which point it moved to a nearby house and began to demolish a garden wall.

The tank again moved between the internationals and the bulldozer. The group split briefly while one member of the group moved onto the porch of the house from the back. The remaining internationals stood within several metres of the tank, which began to fire machine guns near them, close enough that one international was pelted with small brick fragments when bullets hit the wall next to her. The international on the porch led the way for the others to climb over the wall and into the house. They then proceeded to the roof. The bulldozer moved back to its previous work destroying a chicken coop and hitting the edges of other small civilian structures.

Two internationals remained on the roof, while the remaining four proceeded back toward the bulldozer. The tank again fired a stream of bullets in their path, but desisted as the internationals continued to walk forward, reminding the tank by megaphone of the clear absence of any threat to the vehicles, of international law, and of the right of human beings to housing and livelihoods.

As the internationals positioned themselves in the bulldozer's path, the tank and the bulldozer turned eastward and withdrew behind walls into the border strip some distance away. The four internationals followed the tank and bulldozer to the edge of the border strip, fearful for the homes of friends in the direction the vehicles headed.

The internationals returned to the partially demolished house and helped the family living there carry their belongings—bedding, furniture, family portraits, dishes, vases, all the elements of a family home—into a house nearby. Four internationals remained overnight with the family in the house where the furniture was relocated.

The activists involved felt they had some success in this action, as they were at least able to delay the work of the bulldozers in demolishing houses.

On 24th February at approximately 9 pm, on their way back to the Sha'ar area for another night, ISM activists received notification that the bulldozers had returned. Despite sprinting to the location, the internationals arrived in time only to see the last of this family's house completely churned into the earth, as the mother of the family wept, looking on.

Internationals continue homestays in the Sha'ar area.

Immediately adjacent to the Israeli military's Salah Eh Dinn sniper tower, from which two teenage boys were shot and injured today while playing in the street. The families in the area believe that they may be the target of house demolitions very soon, as collective punishment for their proximity to tunnels which run from Rafah into Egypt.

All of the homes which the internationals sleep in have bullet or shell holes in the walls. From the kitchen window of one apartment where a woman prepared tea for the group, the most immediate object in view is the eastern window of the sniper tower, about 100 metres away. The internationals observed several holes in the kitchen wall—apparently from shots fired into the kitchen window. The internationals have attached banners and stood on the roofs of some of the buildings with megaphones in order to make their continuing presence known to Israeli occupation forces in the sniper tower, as there is a recent history of houses demolished in Rafah by rockets fired from towers at a distance.

Sleeping in houses such as these on the front line, with the constant sound of machinery moving outside in the border strip and frequent gunfire from tanks, internationals report seeing small children get out of bed in the night in terror to come sit close to their parents, and report experiencing nightmares of their own homes being demolished. Internationals here, who can walk in front of tanks on Palestinian land without being killed, feel some degree of impotence in the face of this massive destruction of civilian homes. We can only imagine what it is like for Palestinians living here, most of them already once-or-twice refugees already, for whom this is not a nightmare, but a continuous reality from which international privilege cannot protect them, and from which they have no economic means to escape.

The Palestinians and internationals in ISM-Rafah are still discussing strategy about how to use their members most effectively.

3. Demonstrations in conjunction with community groups and individuals living in Rafah:

In the last two weeks internationals and Palestinians in ISM Rafah have participated in two spirited demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Iraq, and against United States and British policy in Iraq and Palestine. The first demonstration took place on 15th February, in conjunction with demonstrations around the world, and was attended by about 150 people. Reports on this demonstration have already been released widely.

The second demonstration occurred on February 23rd, and was attended by thousands. ISM was invited to participate in the planning of this demonstration by the Rafah National Committee for Development and Services, but planning for the event was a coalition effort on the part of many community groups and individuals. These include the Fateh Youth Parliament, the Rafah Popular Refugee Committee, the Rafah Children's Parliament, the General Union of Palestinian Women, numerous Rafah area school groups and many others.

ISMers drafted a joint letter in conjunction with the Youth Parliament addressing the inalienable rights of all children, and the denial of these rights to children in Iraq and Palestine. They also called upon the international community to apply equal standards to all states regarding to compliance with UN resolutions. Copies of this letter were distributed in Arabic and English at the demonstration, and are available from:

ismrafah@yahoo.co.uk

The demonstration began at 11 and lasted about an hour. Children and representatives from community groups gave speeches in Arabic. Masses marched carrying signs and banners that said "Peace for children in Palestine and Iraq" and "The real terrorists are in the United States and Israel", among many other statements against war on Iraq, and in support of the Iraqi people. The internationals recognized symbols and banners from numerous school and community-groups, Fateh, DFLP, FIDA, PFLP, Hamas and many individual demonstrators among those marching.

One international delivered a speech in English, translated into Arabic by one of the Palestinian coordinators of ISM-Rafah. This speech decried the behaviour of the United States' and British governments, recognized the linkage between war on Iraq and increased destruction of Palestinian lives, and also recognized the mass mobilization of people around the world on behalf of peace, justice, and human rights. The international thanked the Palestinian people for offering a continuous example to the rest of the world of resistance against all odds.

As this speech was delivered, a British national burned a large British flag, and a US national burned a large US flag. Both activists then burned numerous images of US president George W. Bush. The woman who deliverd the speech burned a picture of the houses of Parliament in London. As the speech concluded they began to chant, with the crowd immediately surrounding them, "Hurriyah la Falasteen" –Freedom for Palestine—repeatedly.

Other groups burned a giant papier-maché model of an F-16 bomber, an effigy of Ariel Sharon, as well as giant Israeli, US, and British flags.

4. Investigation and Documentation of Human Rights Violations

Mowasi-Tufah:

>From 11th to 13th of February, internationals working with ISM made initial investigative visits to the Mowasi-Tufah checkpoint, located between Khan Younis and the closed village of Mowasi. On their first visit, at approximately 1:15 on

February 11th, internationals found a group of Palestinians waiting at a road block within site of the checkpoint. Some of these people reported that they had been waiting there since 7 am. Many of the Palestinians there were fearful of talking to internationals, due to the threat of reprisals from occupation forces. They reported that the Israeli occupation forces stationed at the checkpoint told them that the checkpoint would open at 2 pm. This visit occurred on the most significant day of Eid, a major Muslim holiday during which most Palestinians in Rafah spend extensive time visiting their families.

At 2:40 pm a voice over a megaphone spoke from amongst the structures surrounding the checkpoint. And a small group of five men proceeded forward to a yellow sign approximately half way between the roadblock and the checkpoint. After a period of 5-10 minutes a voice from the megaphone ushered these men forward through a corridor of cement blocks. The internationals could clearly see machine guns pointed in the direction of the roadblock from bunkers adjacent to the checkpoint.

A slow stream of women and men, apparently in their 40's and 50's, accompanied sometimes by small children, came out from behind the checkpoint through a similar corridor that runs between the checkpoint and a massive concrete wall to the south. The Palestinians at the checkpoint reported that only children under ten, women over 35 and men over 40 are allowed to enter or leave Mowasi. One young woman reported that she lives in Mowasi, but has been unable to return there for three months. She was among those waiting at the checkpoint since 7 am.

The internationals observed that groups of five people—alternately women and men—were allowed through the checkpoint at intervals of 10-25 minutes. They witnessed one group of women turned back entirely after a man came out from the roadblock to speak to them, which precipitated some shouting over the megaphones.

On subsequent visits to the Mowasi Tufah checkpoint internationals reported attempting to enter Mowasi, and being denied entry by the Israeli soldiers stationed there. They described the security inside of the checkpoint as equivalent with that of an international airport.

23rd February Israeli occupation force invasion of El Hash-Ash Area

On the afternoon of 23rd February ISM activists in Rafah received reports of a siege in the El Hash-Ash agricultural community on the North-Western side of Rafah. Internationals were unable to respond immediately to this report, due to immersion in direct action against house demolitions described above. Reports received at the time reported seeing Israeli soldiers on foot in El Hash-Ash, with the entire area under the control of the occupation forces, and gunfire and demolitions in progress. At approximately 7.30pm, the group received notification that the occupation forces had withdrawn from the area.

On 24th February, three internationals went to the El Hash-Ash area in order to document the destruction there and interview people who had been present the previous night. The area they entered appeared largely agricultural, with small one-and two-storey dwellings interspersed among the remains of greenhouses.

As they approached the area, they saw large shredded sheets of clear plastic flapping from the mangled metal skeletons of dozens of greenhouses, leaving the vegetables inside completely exposed. In most cases, the metal frames of the greenhouses were bent beyond recognition and lying on the ground, crushing the beans, tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers which had been growing inside. In other cases, the plants had been torn off their training strings and crushed on the ground. A small, one-story concrete-brick house with a corrugated metal roof was also partially demolished.

A man living in the area reported that he was ordered from his house by soldiers in tanks, along with approximately 150 other males over the age of 14 who live in the area. The men were herded, by means of machine guns firing around them, out of the El Hash-Ash area and under a sniper tower at the edge of the nearby Gush Katif settlement. They were held there for more than three and a half hours until about 7.30 pm. Several of the men were beaten, including six who were hospitalized.

While the men were held, 25 large greenhouses were destroyed by tanks and bulldozers. Residents in the area report that these greenhouses supply the sole livelihood for 300 people.

Residents had no idea why this attack had taken place.

One man said, "Maybe they want to expand the settlement." Others stated that there has never been any resistance activity in this area. "This was our living."

Events Surrounding the Deaths of 2 Men in Tunnels beneath the Block O area

On 14th February, Rafah activists received word that two men were trapped or possibly killed in tunnels beneath the Block O area on the night of 13th February. After witnessing the continued presence of a large machine drilling holes into the ground on the border strip, witnesses also observed ground-shaking underground explosions. Activists concluded that the tunnels had collapsed due to Israeli occupation force anti-tunnel activity.

On 14th February, the activists received an indirect request from the men's families to act as human shields in order for the bodies to be brought from underground safely. These requests were retracted when it was reported that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated with the Israeli army to allow the family to recover the bodies themselves. That night family members reported that five men entered the tunnels in an unsuccessful attempt to recover the bodies, and that one of these men was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces.

16th February, a team of ten men entered the tunnels from holes created at the surfaceby the Israeli military, and were successful in recovering the bodies. They were subsequently all arrested and transported with the bodies by tank to the Israeli-controlled side of the Rafah-Egypt border checkpoint, according to their testimony to ISM activists on 18th February.

The men involved in the recovery of the bodies report that they were slapped and interrogated by IOF officers during their detention, and forced to sit overnight outside the buildings at the border checkpoint, in a circle surrounding the bodies, which they said was difficult, due to the fact that the bodies were in a state of decay. They report finding fragments of a tear-gas canister in the tunnel near the bodies, which they carried out of the tunnel, and which they report were confiscated by the soldiers who detained them. They report that when they found the bodies their skin was discoloured and bubbled, and that their chests were distended. The detainees were released on 17th February, as were the bodies of the two men killed, Zeyad Al Sha'ar and Mohammed Hamed Kishta. Activists in Rafah continue to seek more information about the cause of death of these two men.

Brief Calendar of Events

Tuesday 11th February

Underground explosions in Yibna and Rafah due to Israeli Army anti-tunnel bombs.

Group monitored, photographed, and demonstrated presence with banners. Tufah visits. Internationals witness aftermath of house demolition in Block J and another large explosion in block J-Yibna area. Abu Holi check point reported closed after army killed a man there. Principle day of Eid festival.

Wednesday 12th February

Continued underground explosions. Abu Holi closed several hours. Unsuccessful attempt to enter Mowasi-Tufah. 2 houses demolished in Block-J Eshroot area at 6 pm. Four tanks, two bulldozers and back-hoe returned between 9 and 10 pm. No further demolitions reported. Eid festival continues.

Friday 14th February

Reports received of two men trapped or killed in tunnels. Internationals respond to house demolition in Block O. Bulldozer partially demolishes house with internationals inside.

Saturday 15th February

International day of protest. ISMers participate in protest in Rafah. Tank blown up in Northern Gaza strip by resistance forces. Five person team enters tunnel in unsuccessful attempt to recover bodies. One arrested according to reports from family.

Sunday 16th February

ISM resumes human shield work in Canada/Tel El Sultan, Rafah after break for Eid holiday. Ten men arrested and corpses confiscated after recovery from tunnels.

Monday 17th February

Palestinian ISM activist witnesses assassination by military plain-clothes commandos and two tanks on road between Abu Holi and Gaza. Man killed is later confirmed by international media to be Riyad Abu Zeid, a Hamas leader. Unconfirmed numbers injured. ISMers see smoke rising from settlement/Mowasi area for much of the morning—unable to identify source.

Wednesday 19th February

11 reported killed in Gaza during night of 18th February. During day, four "Qassam" rockets reported by international media to be fired from North Gaza strip toward Sderot. Hamas claims responsibility. Water work continues.

Thursday 20th February

Checkpoints closed all day.

Friday 21st February

One man reported killed by army at Erez checkpoint, another killed at settlement in Northern Gaza strip. Medicines Sans Frontiers group report being fired upon while trying to cross Abu Holi checkpoint, despite prior permission from military. Mosque destroyed in Block J was abandoned previously due to earlier attacks.

Saturday 22nd February

Water work continues. Internationals, responding to reports of house demolition in Block J, witness further underground bombing. Reports are received that one house was demolished prior to their arrival. Heavy shooting in Block J during the night. Reports later confirmed by various sources that Israeli soldiers on foot entered at least one house in Hi Salaam area during the night.

Sunday 23rd February

Large scale demonstration in solidarity with the people of Iraq. El Hash-Ash area invaded and occupied. 150-200 men held under gunfire containment for 3-4 hours. 25 greenhouses destroyed. Internationals intervene in house demolition near Salah El Dinn gate. Eight deaths reported in Beit Hanoun—including possible deaths by stabbing. Five houses reported demolished in Tufah area. Internationals unable to return to Rafah due to closure of checkpoint.

Monday 24th February

All checkpoints in Gaza strip reported closed during morning. Water work continues. Abu holi checkpoint alternately open and closed during day. House protected Sunday is destroyed during the night of 24th February.

For information on the above reports please contact Rachel at 067-857049

Or e-mail corporatepenguin@hotmail.com

ismrafah@yahoo.co.uk.

5. Thank you message from Susan Barclay

To each and every one....

I just wanted to write a very quick note to let people know that I am indeed free, and beyond happy. I just wanted to say an immediate, incredibly sincere THANK YOU to all the people who worked so very hard to support me. I can not tell you how much it means. I have been very busy and will be meeting with my lawyer tomorrow to discuss various legal possibilities and then I hope to find the time to write an account of exactly what happened. THANK YOU AGAIN.

Salaam, Susan

At the time of writing, Susan's story still has been conspicuous by its absence in the American press, although other media concerns in the US have taken up her story. The British press has not overlooked her case, as you can see if you check out the following:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,905348,00.html

Please e-mail any American newspapers that you know of, and ask them why this story is not of any interest to them? Do they wish to be complicit in human rights abuses of their own citizens? At the very least, the story should have appeared in the Washington state press, some of the e-mail addresses of which are:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer citydesk@seattlepi.com

Seattle Times jsaul@seattletimes.com

The Olympian breakingnews@theolympian.com

Make your message short with the subject 'Susan Barclay is free.'

Obviously, don't mention ISM or any media co-ordinator's name.

David Watson Media Co-ordinator Beit Sahour Occupied Palestine Phone: +972-2-2774602 Cell: +972-67-862 439 web: http://www.palsolidarity.org


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