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Updates from Nablus and Tulkarem

Updates from Nablus and Tulkarem

1/Institutionalizing Occupation and Isolation 2/Two Dead in Balata, Situation Rapidly Escalating 3/These are the Indians…

1/Institutionalizing Occupation and Isolation, By ISM Nablus March 16, 2004

[Nablus] While movements within the West Bank got easier in the past few months, the villages around Nablus still suffer from very tight closure measures. Checkpoints added to hundreds of roadblocks and several no man's land areas prevent many villagers from reaching their fields as well as the markets. This situation has been lasting for years now and the consequences for the villages are fatal.

In the past few weeks we visited many villages surrounding Nablus. Wherever you go – Beit Furik, Salem, Iraq Burin, Tell, Deir El- Hatab, Azmut, Asira ash-Shamaliya, Tallusa, Far'a – the same story repeats itself: isolation from Nablus or neighboring villages due to closure measures, complete destruction of the local economy, incredibly high unemployment rates leading to increasing poverty … These towns' survival depends on their access to the city and this access is heavily restricted for all Palestinians.

Asira ash-Shamaliya for example, a town of around 10 000 inhabitants in the north of Nablus (behind Mt. Ebal), used to be about 10 minutes driving distance from Nablus. Now, it takes the villagers at least two hours to reach the city. Instead of a few kilometers through the close valley to a hill known as "17" and then down to the neighborhoods of Nablus, they now have to travel through an- Naqura to the checkpoint at Shavei Shomron colony. Only a few kilometers from there, they need to pass another checkpoint, Beit Eba, to enter Nablus. This way is at least ten times as long as the usual way through "17". While last year it was still possible to walk through the valley below "17", this way is now completely closed and no one dares to go there anymore. While last year people used to be detained and humiliated behind the roadblocks in the valley for often more than 5 hours, they now risk their life when entering this area. Soldiers don't hesitate shooting from the nearby hills anymore.

This results to a lot of difficulties for the villagers. Not only it takes them more time and a longer way to reach Nablus, but the travel costs dramatically increased as well. While "17" was still accessible (despite all the difficulties), they spent less than 5 Shekels for their way to Nablus. The long way through Shave Shomron and Beit Eba now costs them around 20 Shekels. Many people cannot afford paying such a big amount of money on a daily base. Lots of students left the village and rented a flat in Nablus. Many privately employed workers from the village either lost their jobs or started to stay overnight in Nablus. Most of those 30 percent of workers employed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintain their jobs, at the cost of a lot of difficulties reaching their workplaces.

The isolation of the village hits the local economy harshly. While in other villages like Tallusa almost no money is being paid anymore to work inside the village. In Asira, some people are paying electricity bills with olive oil. Asira has a huge capacity of producing olive oil and the quality of the village's oil has a widespread, reputation of excellence. However, only a very small percentage of the approximately one million liters oil that are produced in two years can be sold outside the village. Since many villagers lost their jobs in other regions of the West Bank, in Israel or Nablus, Asira completely depends on the local agriculture. While producing agricultural goods became more difficult (e.g. many roadblocks hinder the farmers from reaching their land, without any obvious security purposes for the Israeli army), the distribution of these goods in large amounts is almost impossible. Although the village is very close to Nablus, selling goods on its markets has become almost impossible.

The medical situation of the village is alarming as well. Accessing Rafidia Hospital in Nablus is almost impossible, forcing the villagers to take the patients to Jenin or Jericho hospitals, dozens of kilometers away from the village. Minor health problems, light injuries or delivering children are now hazardous for the concerned people and sometimes end fatally.

A few years ago the villages of Asira, Tallusa and Yasid opened a new High School. As it is located about 5 kilometers outside Nablus, in the middle of the triangle Asira-Yasid-Tallusa and as the Israeli army is controlling the junction leading to the villages and the school, no one can reach the school anymore. School children have no choice but going to access education through a "shift" system. The first shift is from 8 to 12 a.m., the second from 12 to 4 p.m. Next September, the teachers and headmasters from the area are planning to reopen the High School outside the village.

The result of these occupation-rooted problems is that each tenth family depends on support programs by the Red Cross. Harmful consequences such as increasing rate of people leaving the village, diseases, malnutrition, no-investments in local construction work are numerous. However, since this daily harassment of Israeli occupation is not spectacular, the villagers' situation ends up being ignored and/or forgotten by the outside world.

Azmut, Deir El-Hatab and Salem as well as the town of Beit Furik provide other examples of this increasingly difficult situation. The first three villages are located only a few kilometers east from Nablus and Beit Furik is further away southeast from the major town of the region. Salem is overlooked by the illegal Israeli colony of Itamar. On the mountain topping Salem, Deir El-Hatab and Azmut is located the colony of Elon Moreh.

Between Nablus and these three villages, there are a military road, a huge Caterpillar-made trench, sometimes filled with sewage, a yellow military gate and most of the time at least one Israeli army jeep. Azmut is further isolated from the other two villages by another military road, leading to the settlement road above the villages, cutting them off from a major part of their land and olive groves. Beit Furik is cut off from Nablus by a checkpoint and a recently built watchtower at the settlement road from Elon Moreh to Itamar. The Israeli army also added roadblocks at several locations between Beit Furik and the checkpoint.

While last year Salem (about 5 000 inhabitants) and its two neighboring villages Azmut and Deir El-Hatab (together counting about 5 000 villagers) could not be reached by car anymore, the gate is being opened now sometimes by the army. Food and other goods do not need to be brought to the villages by donkey anymore. The villages can also now often be reached easily by crossing a nearby field and the trench in the south as well as a steep valley in the north. These ways are more or less accessible now – though only the young and fit part of the population can use it. Most of the time, this area is guarded by only one military jeep. However, many people who cannot walk around the checkpoint are often turned back and/or sent to the Beit Furik checkpoint. From there, they would reach Salem by crossing a settler-road and a wide, open field where they can be easily spotted, caught or shot at by the Israeli army. The same way is often used by vehicles of all kinds to get people or goods to Nablus. At least once a day, cars or trucks would get stuck in the trench in the middle of the field. Then, the army would show up and harass the driver, sometimes destroying the tires or other parts of the vehicles. Very often, the Israeli soldiers shoot in the air or across the fields, often hitting houses on the edge of the village.

Besides these restrictions on the movement of the villagers, Elon Moreh colony constitutes one of the worst problems. About 80 percent of the villages' land lies behind the settler bypass road which was built to allow the few hundred residents of the colony to settle and expand illegally on Palestinian land on the top of the mountain. Water for the three villages comes to pipes from Marda. Unfortunately the settlers control water. A 4-inch pipe distributes water to the colony and a 3-inch pipe goes to the 10 000 people in the villages. Because the pressure of the water floating through the pipes is reduced on purpose by the settlers, some Palestinian houses cannot get water. In summer, usually about 70 per cent of the villagers don't receive water through the pipes and depend on water they buy from outside the village, which often leads to diseases like hepatitis due to its bad quality.

The settlement road prevents the villagers from delivering garbage to the appropriate place which is located outside the village. Since the army built many roadblocks along the broad Israeli highway through the olive groves, the garbage-truck cannot reach this place anymore. Therefore villagers are throwing the garbage on the edges of the villages as well as into the trench surrounding them. They sometimes burn the garbage along with other material coming from the close industrial zone of Nablus. Increasing cancer rates are one among other consequences of this unhealthy practice.

As a large amount of the land of the villages is illegally occupied by the settlers and as the rest of the land behind the settler road is very difficult to reach, the production costs of olive oil – the major, if not only, source of income for the farmers – have dramatically increased. Meanwhile the price for olive oil has fallen down to a third of the former price. Other goods produced in the villages, such as cheese for instance, are even more difficult to sell. This led many farmers to sell their cows, even when flocks constitute the only livelihood to most of the villagers.

The restrictions of movement for the villagers had very severe social consequences. In Salem, agriculture employees and private sector employees (workers in Palestine as well as in Israel) have been impoverished . 65 percent of the inhabitants now depend on aid from outside. In the beginning of the 2nd Intifada the rate was around 10 percent. While some years ago around 80 percent of the population used to work, the percentage now fell to about 20 percent. And still, working doesn't mean earning enough money for a living. It mostly means that people are working some hours a week and earn not even enough to sustain their families…

So far, we only addressed a few of many problems these villages are facing. Another worth-mentioning aspect is the frequent incursions of the Israeli army, during daytime or more often at night. Heavily armed young soldiers enter the villages, shooting around randomly, provoking the youth, firing tear gas canisters or shock-grenades in gardens or backyards. Most of the time, the only obvious purpose of night incursions is to terrify the inhabitants for hours.

The willingness of many people to fight and confront the repression by the Israeli army seems to be lower than it used to be in the past years. More and more people are exhausted because of the occupation and they fear the endless consequences resulting from actions against the occupying army – despite their situation could hardly getting worse. This added to the lack of numerous international presence in Nablus area – which could support nonviolent resistance against the occupation – lead to a sentiment of hopelessness. The situation is getting worse while the world remains blind and silent…

2/Two Dead in Balata, Situation Rapidly Escalating, by ISM Nablus March 22, 2004

[Balata Refugee Camp, NABLUS] Today, Mohamed Abu Halimi (22), a radio-journalist from Sot Nablus (Voice of Nablus) radio station, who lives on Rujip Street in the camp, was shot in the stomach by a live round fired by Israeli soldiers at 10:45 am and passed away at 11:30 am. Abu Halimi is the 13th journalist to be killed by Israeli army fire since the beginning of the second Intifada.

The Israeli military entered the Balata camp this morning at around 10 am, with 6 jeeps for no apparent reason but to provoke Palestinians in the wake of news that Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was assassinated today in an air strike (along with 8 others, including his son).

Abu Halimi's death comes a day after Balata buried another teenage victim of the conflict. Mohamed Shtawi (17) was shot to death the evening of March 20th at 9 pm while walking home from his sister's house on Shar Al-Quds (Jerusalem Street) by Israeli army soldiers.

The Israeli military spokesperson would later claim that Shtawi had approached the soldiers with a weapon, but eyewitness accounts at the scene and the testimony of medical personnel belie the claim. Shtawi was buried in the Balata cemetery on March 21st at a funeral attended by thousands.

The streets of Nablus today, like those of other West Bank cities, are furious with anger and spontaneous demonstrations have been occurring through the city since the morning - with a large convergence currently taking place at the Duwar in downtown Nablus.

Most of Nablus and Balata are closed today, with a general strike declared throughout the country in a sign of mourning and as a show of protest against Sharon's murderous administration.

Reports are filtering in throughout the region of further casualties, including the news that a 13 old boy, Musab al-Khalban, was shot to death by occupation forces in the Khan Younis camp. The boy's death comes a day after Fatma Al-Jaled (8) was killed by Israeli army 'warning shots' in the same camp.

Currently in the streets of Balata, local shebab are waving black flags in an expression of mourning at the days events, many with the green banners of Hamas rapped around their necks like capes. Families and groups of men and women of all ages are slowly making their way to Abu Halimi home on Rujip street to pay their respects to the relatives of the assassinated journalist.

3/These are the Indians…, by Phyllis March 25, 2004

Today I visited Baka El Sharkia, a village split by the wall. Rather than a demonstration, the town got together and put on a "market" about the wall. I sat next to the regional governor who translated a bit of it. All, of course was in Arabic. In fact, I didn't need translation. I heard what the people were saying in a way that I wish I could convey to you. A 10th grade young lady, Ayshi, the student of a woman named Inshirah was acting as master of ceremonies. She spoke with such power and challenge that she reminded me of myself in the same grade back at Trinity High School in debate and original oratory classes. I was good, but was speaking on whatever the topic I was assigned. In this case, in a language I could not understand, she shared with me, her brown eyes reaching deeply into my soul as she told of her love of the land, her connection with the land, her childhood fears (no regularly childhood bogeyman, this occupation and dreads, her hopes and dreams. She spoke of the helplessness and yet not hopelessness of her people. She spoke, as she read and recited pieces written by her classmates, eloquently of loss of innocence early, as soldiers broke in and carried away her brother. She spoke the groans of her grandfather and great grandfather whose lives were given for her country. She wept the cries of her mothers and grandmothers, the fears of her friends, the dreams and knowledge that she is of this land and it is of her.

She introduced the young boys in a drum corps who, following the opening blessing and prayer, marched in, scouts, as we have in the United States, who want to learn (as ours) to do their duty for God and for country. Their rhythmic chants willing away the wall that separates them from family, farm, friends, education, healthcare and livelihood. Things we, as children, took for granted. We expected it. It was nothing desired or longed for. It was ours. The poems spoke of the checkpoints, the soldiers searches and disregard for their humanity, for their dignity.

And then the younger boys, tiny scouts, one very small one with a kaffiya wound around his head, with a toy machine in his arms. He stood in front as the 2nd and 3rd graders sang of the need to protect their homeland, their desire for peace, their desire for a life. These are the Indians...when we used to play cowboys and Indians as kids....they are the ones who, because they throw stones, are killed. They are the ones who never had a chance with a bow and arrow, before we cowboys tied them up and then shot them.

The tiny girls in red skirts, white shirts, white leggings and green head crowns with "the wall must fall" written across them. They sang of their homeland, the land of their fathers and brothers whose lives were taken from them. The land they loved, the land they would die for.

It was a day of hope. It was a community celebration. I'm afraid I can't give you the flavor of this gathering. It wasn't surrounded by soldiers. Had they known, they would have blocked the way so that people couldn't have gotten together for this project. I remember in the 50s buying war bonds and fearing the Soviets, our Enemies. These people I met today, Asyshi, Inshirah, Hanon, Suhael and so many more are, according to mainstream media, our Enemies.

And then, I went into gallery next door and was immediately hit by the enormity of what is happening to these people. On the wall were children's drawings, virtually all with tanks and guns, jeeps and hummers...always the Israeli soldiers, killing, blocking, bulldozing. Little boys throwing rocks at tanks. I nearly cried when I saw a Caterpillar bulldozer drawing of a young child, bulldozing his house down. His rendition of something he experienced. My father retired from 36 years of Caterpillar in East Peoria. It fed us. Bulldozers, turnapulls, road graders...these, to me, are instruments of construction, not destruction.

The children's sayings: "Give me a happy childhood." "I am a child. Let me dream and let me live." "Children of the world! Notice that my childhood has been killed and my toys damaged"…

… and on and on. There were photographs of the wall, towering 25' of concrete above a 4 year old Palestinian child, someone the media would call a terrorist because and only because he is a Palestinian. Photos of a woman in traditional Palestinian garb sitting in her potato fields, a bulldozer in the background as they begin to uproot her plants on land her family has had for generations. Photographs of the olive trees some families call "grandfather" because they are over 700 years old.

"I will die for this land" these children say. Is it any more than we as Americans have sang and said for years.

I signed the guest book, asking forgiveness for the people of the United States for not knowing.

© Scoop Media

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