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ISM Journals and Reports

ISM Journals and Reports

1.Successful olive harvest in Jenin!

2.Diaries from Tel Aviv to Ramallah

3.Balata Refugee Camp, West Bank.

4.Reunion in Budrus

5.What hope in the deepening violence of the occupation?


1.Successful olive harvest in Jenin! John, Jenin, The West Bank, November 25, 2004

Over the past two days, internationals with the ISM assisted the Turkmen family in the Jenin region in completely their olive harvest. The olive field that the family sought to harvest was in an area that the military calls "restricted". It is restricted because it is close to an Israeli settlement. The settlement, built partially on the family's land has since then annexed further lands for "security", such as military access roads, fencing, ditches, etc. To access the 30 or so olive trees, the family now needs to cross a high mound of boulders, the military access road, and through the, yet to be completed, razor wire fencing they are erecting.

The military has prevented the family from accessing the field by the use and/or threat of violence. A short time ago, one of the family members ventured toward the fields and was met by the military who them proceeded to beat him severely. In a number of other instances, the Israeli military shot at their houses and the 35 people who occupy them. The family didn't believe that harvesting the trees in that area was possible without the assistance of internationals.

Yesterday, three internationals walked with one of the women in the family to the military road. She told us to call out to the soldiers who occupy a military encampment inside the settlement. A warning shot was fired and the Palestinians backed up the hill a bit. We remained there until a military jeep arrived. We told him that the family wanted to harvest olives in the area today. After some discussion the soldiers agreed to "allow" the family to pick olives (on their own land).

Today, the situation was a little different. We sought to try the same technique as yesterday – by calling to the soldiers from the military access road. After a few minutes they yelled back saying "go away, you are not permitted to enter this area!" We tried a few more times to communicate with them but they kept repeated that we are not allowed to enter the area. At that moment we decided to have the family go back to a safe place toward their home with an international and have one person filming while the other 3 went into the fields. As we began picking olives, two warning shots were fired. We ignored the shots, as we wanted to force the soldiers to speak face to face with us. About 5 minutes later a military jeep showed up on the road. We went to them and told them that we were going to pick today and that the family would like to join us.

They agreed. About 4 hours later the olive harvest for the family was completed. The family was extremely happy about getting to these harvest these fields since it is on land that is unlikely to be assessable in the future after the razor wire fencing is completed.

Since the mid-1980's when Israel decided to build this settlement on their and their neighbor's land, the Turkmen family has been under siege. Not only from the harassment and violence from the military when they tried to work in fields close to the settlement, but also from other means. For instance, the military has three times pulled down their house because they lacked the proper permits to have built it. Such is a problem for all Palestinians who are forced to build housing for their expanding families.

It is absurd that Palestinians must request building permits from Israel to build in Palestine! Further, permits are almost always denied. This is just one more way that the Israeli government and military controls almost all aspects of life for Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Turkmen's suffer in ways similar to most in Palestine – they have little control over their lives or land. Victims of an ethnically driven apartheid system that gives full citizen ships rights to Jews who live in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, while denying political or legal rights to the very people who are indigenous to the land.


2. Diaries from Tel Aviv to Ramallah

My day began in Tel Aviv, continued in Jerusalem and I'm now in Ramallah. I spent two nights in a beautiful old Arab home in Tel Aviv (actually Jaffa) that has been converted into a hostel. Of course, nothing in the house says that is is Arab, but even if it belonged to Jews 150 years ago, they would have been Palestinian Arab Jews. Not that the house ignores history. There is a sign to the right of the entrance that says, "This house is dedicated to my parents, Mali and Yitzhak Zalman, who had compassion and respect for every living soul." There are also artifacts and articles about the house on the walls, as well as tourism posters of Israel. It is, however, highly improbable that Mali and Yitzhak were the first owners or residents, and there is no trace of what might have preceded them except the beautiful masonry, sijjad tiles and floor plans that testify to its Arab origins. Perhaps the plaque about the Zalmans is accurate, but it sounds a bit defensive. Lots of room for speculation. I left early in the morning to meet Kate in Jerusalem. She volunteered to help me inquire about immigrating to Israel. Wonder of wonders, we were in the office of an immigration official within less than a half hour. I explained that I was thinking of retiring here, and wanted to know the procedure for immigrating and becoming a citizen. "Are you a Jew?" she asked. "No," I said. "Well then you can't emmigrate here." "But there are plenty of non-Jews here." "Yes, but they have to have some Jewish blood or be married to Jews." "What about Lebanese Christians who were accepted as citizens?" "There are a few exceptions for those who remain for a long time and provide great service to the state. If you stay here for a long time, it might be possible to consider your request as a special case." "But how can I stay for a long time without immigrating?" "You can apply for visa extensions. Of course there is no assurance that they will be granted." The above is approximate and to some extent condensed, but pretty faithful, I think I have a recording that I'll have to edit in order to determine the verbatim conversation. The discussion continued, touching on permanent residency, citizenship by marriage (to any Israeli citizen, whether Jew or non-Jew). I guess I was a mild curiosity in the bureaucratic order of things, but not particularly offensive, and so there was no confrontation, merely a proper orientation to Israeli population classifications and their function. In Ramallah, I paid a visit to the tomb of Arafat. It was actually the first time I had been inside the Muqata'a (governmental compound), and I was unprepared for the profound impression it made upon me. The simple tomb amid the ruins, along with the wreaths and flowers from childrens groups, world leaders and solidarity groups seemed appropriate for such a historic figure who sadly failed to see a free Palestine and whose Palestine is today in much the same condition as his compound. On the way out, I took a lot of pictures, and just as I was taking the last few, I received a call on my cell phone. It was a mundane call from a friend in Tulkarem, but it placed some of the fighters in the compound on alert. They ordered me to show my camera and explain the call. The combination of the two was suspicious, suggesting the possibility of scouting targets. I apologized, saying that I had no control over who calls me or when, and let them look through the pictures on the camera, explaining some of the more interesting shots and videos of young men in detention at checkpoints, the fresh photos of the site where two children were murdered in Nablus, etc. I also explained who I was and what I was doing there. They warned me to respond more promptly next time or I might get shot. I replied that the Israelis has already shot me in one leg, but that I had another that was available. After a little political discussion, the matter ended very cordially, with each of us wishing the other success in our efforts towards liberation. Time now to wrap up, get ready to go, and carry on in my other home, where my next job will be to edit the video footage, pictures and audio, and get them to everyone who wants to see them. My next report will probably be from San Francisco. Paul ___________________________________________________

3. Balata Refugee Camp, West Bank. Sunday, November 28, 2004

At 6:30 in the morning a small incursion of Israeli military vehicles entered Balata Refugee Camp. There have been at least 5 such incursions over the past 2 weeks. The military, supported by a few armored jeeps as well as Armored personnel Carriers (APC's), usually merely sets up near main intersections while one drives around the outskirts of the Camp. Today, however, they entered the Camp several times driving on both the main street (Market Street) as well as numerous small side streets that crisscross it. The timing of the arrival of the military was particularly bad as children were just beginning their journey to school. Hundreds of children poured onto Market Street and walked toward the intersection when the jeeps met them. Not trusting the intentions of the military's actions, the children backed up and sought alternative routes to school. At least 6 tear gas canisters were fired into the center of Balata from a distance of over 100 yards away. One of gas canisters hit the Mosque and another landed in a U.N.-run compound. A number of sound grenades were also fired at seemingly random moments. The effect of all this was that business' were closed, people driving taxis and trucks frantically made U-turns to avoid coming into contact with them, and people stayed in doors or away from where the military was. Internationals on the scene documented the actions and a couple of times prevented the jeeps from entering the camp by standing in the road and refusing to move. The jeeps would drive aggressively toward us but stop a couple of feet in front. They would then back up and leave the camp. The reason that blocking the Jeep's entrance into the camp was taken was to prevent them from creating the hostile and confrontational environment they seek. The military is well aware that the inhabitants view their actions as hostile and that rock throwing by the youths will be the response. Such a response by the youths gives justification to the military to kill or badly injure them. Such is what occurs often, as evidenced by what happened in Nablus last week when a Jeep entered the Old city and proceeded to shoot dead two teenage boys. Because Balata is notorious amongst the military as a place that has an active resistance to the occupation they receive the bulk of incursions in the West Bank. As far as we were able to access, only one shot was fired from the military. As a jeep was passing through the center of town on Market Street, it fired down an alleyway that was only moments before evacuated by Palestinians and an international. At the time of this report, we were not aware of any injuries. At 10:00 a.m., the military vehicles just picked up and left. They obnoxiously gave us a wave goodbye as they headed out of town. Within minutes of them leaving, all the shops in the area opened up for business. Opening their steel doors and windows, turning on their lights, the streets quickly filled up again with pedestrians and thus completing another "normal" day for the besieged residents of Balata Refugee Camp.

Jon _____________________________________________________________

4. Reunion in Budrus

I left the West Bank only eight months ago and I find it amazing how much has changed. The physical landscape continues to be scarred by bulldozers, Israeli tanks and humvees. More checkpoints, more trees destroyed to make way for the wall built by the Israeli government, more roads exclusively for Israeli settlers, more children and adults killed on both sides, more concrete walls, isolation and separation.

I returned to Budrus this week to visit my friends there. Of course I was greeted with more than enough coffee and tea to last me the rest of the year and sweets and sweets and more sweets. Thankfully I have learned a little Arabic and I can sometimes decline these offerings politely. The first night I arrived in Budrus, while I was visiting my friend N, we got a phone call. Israeli soldiers killed one of N's close friends in Ramallah, just moments before while we were sipping tea and playing games with the little kids. The soldiers said there was a wanted man in the car. Bullets reigned into the vehicle that N's friend was in, killing three Palestinians. N's friend was not a wanted man. His body was found with several bullet holes in his chest. He had just married and had a baby. After hearing the news the joy of our reunion quickly disappeared, the children stopped crawling on top of me, and sorrow filled our hearts. What do you say to a grandmother who has seen so much death and whose village is being encircled by the wall?

I am sorry, my tax dollars most likely bought those bullets that went through your friend's chest. I just sat there and held her hand while she cried uncontrollably.

The last time I was here N told me that she had learned to stop crying because if she started to cry she would never stop because there is so much grief every day in the Palestinian life. But there I was holding her while she cried, trying to hold back my own tears in front of her. The next day I went to visit N to see how she was and of course she said she was fine and happy to see me but I could still see the pain she carried with her.

After 48 demonstrations against the wall in Budrus, construction continues. The area of the wall which was being constructed when I was here last is completed.

Now the wall is continuing to the other side of Budrus. The forest and mountains where many people from Budrus would have lunch and bring their sheep and goats to graze is now behind the wall. The last time I was here many families took me to this place for picnics and beautiful walks. The little kids would pick flowers and find turtles in the mountains. Now soldiers stand there with guns pointed towards the village, harassing anyone who goes close to the construction area to harvest their olives.

I went with Abu Ahmed's family yesterday to harvest olives maybe 400 meters from where the wall is being built. In the middle of the harvest while the teenage girls sang Palestinian songs there was a large explosion that made the ground shake. We all jumped and turned around to see a huge plume of smoke rising into the air. Apparently these explosions occur often now, to break up the bedrock so the wall can be built. The soldiers do not even give a warning or check to make sure that no one is in an olive tree harvesting before the explosions occur. Constant gun fire is also heard from a nearby Israeli military training camp.

My friends built their house on this side of the village to be close to the beautiful pine forest. Now they have a view of bulldozers, soldiers, destroyed and confiscated land. When there are demonstrations near the wall, the tear gas from the Israeli soldiers infiltrates their house, making it difficult for their three-month old son and elderly mother to breath. Their dream house has become a construction site for their permanent imprisonment.

One night while I was in Budrus Abu Ahmed's four-year old daughter woke up in the middle of the night screaming, "Jesh, Jesh." ("Soldier, soldier.") She awoke crying, and sweating and with a fever. I imagine that this happens to most children in the West Bank and Gaza.

Budrus has proven to be an amazing example of resistance. They have won international attention for their 48 demonstrations and their perseverance. Yet they will still be encircled by a wall with eight other villages with no access to hospitals, higher education and most jobs. Budrus was fortunate that they did not loose more lands and trees. Recently the Israeli government actually gave the village back lands that they confiscated in 1948. This happened because of Budrus' relentless struggle against the wall. However, this land does not have any olive trees on it to replace the olive trees destroyed in Budrus or the pine forest, which served as a refuge for so many people. Sar _____________________________________________________


It hangs over me like a heavy fog that doesn't break. I can't get it out of my mind. Gaza is an unbelievably decimated area.

When I entered Gaza on November 5 through the Erez border, I clearly entered a war zone through the long "tunnel" of cement walls and mounted guns and turnstile checkpoints that had not been there a year before. It still didn't prepare me for what was to come. I was conscious of the recent 17-day relentless invasion by the Israeli military in the north of Gaza.

The main road to Gaza City from the border is no longer functional. I saw land devoid of trees ripped out by Israeli bulldozers, and demolished homes. It was an eerie feeling of desolation.

I was warmly greeted by Fr. M., the Catholic priest in Gaza City who welcomed me for a visit. He has built two private schools. The Latin Patriarchate lower grades school has 510 students. Thirty-five are Christian, the rest are Muslim. The Holy Family School for upper grades has 600 students. He is a prisoner in Gaza. If he leaves, he knows he will not be allowed to return. His mother died in the nearby hospital because they did not have the basic medicines she needed. He could not go to Bir Zeit to the burial of his mother or father.

It didn't take him long to begin pouring out the anger and pain of life in the Gaza Strip. Here are a few of the heartrending stories.

"A child of 13 in our school, whose father is a teacher there, was eating dinner one evening with his family. He heard a noise. He said to his father, `I have something in my arm.' One tank shell broke his arm, another landed in his side, his chest. They took him to the hospital. They tried to repair the arm. The nerves of his hand and fingers were going numb. They couldn't remove the shell from his chest. It was too big. The parents took him to Egypt. The Israelis on the border of Rafah stopped them for three days. When he went through the security door, the security system rang. He could not go through security because of the metal in his chest. They told him to remove the metal from his body, and then he can go through security! He is now in America. My cousin took care of him. His hand is beginning to regain feeling."

"A man killed yesterday is the father of three children in our school, ages 11, 9 and 7."

The stories go on.

"The school was hit by three missiles. One entered the kindergarten class. The second hit the first floor. Glass and desks were shattered. This happened at 9:00pm. In the morning, when the children came to school, they insisted on seeing the rooms. When I spoke about it on TV, children remarked that I was very stressed. A child asked me a simple question. `Do you know why Israelis bombarded our school? Because our school is the best in Gaza and they don't want us to continue our education.' Another child, age 7, asked me `Abuna, why are you a liar?' I asked why this question. The answer, `Always you tell us the Israelis will not bomb a school or church. What you told us is wrong. You lied.'"

"A month ago, at 9:00pm I received a phone call from the Governor of Rafah. `We need you tonight, Father. We need you.' Over 90 small kids, age seven to 12, with 12 teachers, came from Rafah to Gaza (City) to spend a day at the seashore. At 2:00pm they tried to return to Rafah. At Mizarim the road was blocked. From 2:00 pm to 9:00pm they were enclosed in buses without permission to leave to go to the toilet. The Israelis blocked the only road for seven hours in the middle of Gaza, with 100 students. I called my friends and they brought the two buses here to Gaza City. I sent the children to our old school. It was 10:30pm by then. The children were hungry and wanted to sleep. I sent a group of friends to a restaurant. They prepared two kabobs for each, and potable water. They couldn't drink the salty water in the school. It was the first time they had ever seen a kabob.

I bought mats and a covering for each one and they slept on the floor. By this time it was after 1:00am. I paid $1,300 for that night. In the morning, I provided something to eat and drink, and at noon a chicken-rice meal."

In the 17 day invasion in October, 140 men, women and children were killed, over 500 were wounded, and 200 houses were destroyed or damaged in Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun, and Jabaliya. Many more trees were uprooted. One of Fr. M.'s teachers took me around Beit Lahia and the outskirts of Beit Hanoun. I spoke with a mother standing beside her destroyed home. She and her family are homeless. I spoke with several others, all with stories of grief resulting from that recent invasion. When I saw the complete destruction of everything for several blocks in Beit Hanoun, it shook me deeply.

Fr. M. said "We are crying for peace, but they don't accept peace. They are practicing terrorism on us, and call us terrorists. What are they asking us to do? Three thousand houses were destroyed in Gaza this year. Hundreds of thousands of trees were uprooted. Roads and infrastructure was destroyed. What is justice, then, for Palestinians? This closure, it is punishment of a nation. Why? Close the border for 23 hours. Why?"

Yet in all of this suffering, he is a man of peace and believes Israelis and Palestinians can live together. "Those who believe in peace will increase their treasure of peace. They become stronger. Hope can increase the possibility for a good situation. Hope is a sign of life. Courage can help to save us."


Our team of five from the Michigan Peace Team in October joined with seven other internationals in Tulkarem in the West Bank, through coordination by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Palestinian farmers are faced with Israeli settlers or Israeli soldiers who come by and drive them off their fields to prevent them from harvesting their own olives. Our hope was to intervene the best we could if settlers or soldiers came. Eight of us agreed to go to the olive harvesting of a family near Shufa, near the Israeli settlement of Evne Hefits. (The other four went to be with another family on the other side of the settlement). We joined in the olive picking. The days were very hot, even in late October. It was good to be working in solidarity with the family members.

One day, while we were picking olives, a farmer who is the nearby village mayor came and asked us to go with him. Communication was poor since none of us knew Arabic and the farmer didn't speak much English. We were driven to another nearby farmer's land and saw the problem. The fence defining the settlement boundary was below us. A new razor cyclone fencing was put up during the night, encroaching on the farmer's land, taking about 10 olive trees. I felt a sense of violation, only a fraction of what these farmers had to feel. The settlement is illegal to begin with, taking Palestinians' land, and here was an example of the continual encroachment. We reported this to the ISM coordinators and were told that they organize demonstrations demanding the return of land to the farmers.

One afternoon in Tulkarem we were debriefing from the day's venture in the olive field. We heard shooting. A., our ISM coordinator, found out that the mosque two blocks from our house was under siege by Israeli soldiers. We went immediately to the site, and attempted to walk up to the two snipers (special forces), who had black masks on, at the mosque entrance. One made it clear with his M-16 rifle pointed right at us that we were not to come closer. There was no doubt he would shoot us. We stood in the street, communicating that as internationals we are watching. Some Palestinians were in the street. In the street behind us, some youths began throwing stones at military vehicles, and a sense of chaos developed. Both snipers began lobbing sound bombs in our direction and shot over the crowd's heads. A. indicated that when youths throw stones, we cannot really do anything. We retreated from the street with the crowd, and saw a jeep at an intersection. Youths were throwing stones at it, and A. said he believed someone would be killed (by the Israeli soldiers).

The two soldiers stayed at the mosque, and not much more happened then. A. got a call from the press asking us to accompany them, saying that soldiers were searching a house across from the mosque. They wanted to get as close as they could. When we walked down the street with them, we held up our passports to indicate we were internationals. We were able to inch closer and closer, but were still nearly a block away. Eventually, the soldiers took two young men from the house with them, and the several jeeps and other military vehicles drove away.

We learned that the Israelis got a tip that a man they were after was visiting his sister in her home across from the mosque. They entered her home, made everyone get out of the house and stand face against the wall as soldiers searched the house. Other undercover soldiers, posing as Palestinians, had searched the mosque while the snipers kept guard. They did not find the man they were after, but took two sons of the sister, ages 20 and 16. This is a form of collective punishment. A soldier also took one of the woman's cell phones. A. said later in the day he believes no one was shot or killed because of our international presence.


ISM urged internationals to go on October 31 to the demonstration against construction of the separation wall in Budrus, a town close to the Green Line (the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank). We joined up with Palestinians from the town and about 30 other internationals, including Israeli activists. Our task was to accompany Palestinians that would attempt to get in the way of the bulldozers doing the construction work, joining them in this direct action. We marched from the town to the construction site and were met by about 6 Israeli soldiers. The soldiers ordered us to get back. They started to beat a couple of Palestinians, and internationals successfully intervened. One Israeli activist who got near the construction machines was arrested. He yelled to us that he had been arrested 16 times, and that he was all right. As Palestinians retreated, we internationals followed them. Two more Israeli activists were singled out and arrested.

Then soldiers ran to a garden with rifles raised, chasing kids who had started throwing stones at them. We internationals shouted to them "Don't shoot- they're just kids! Don't shoot the children!" As soldiers and crowds moved into the town streets, there was confusion as to what was happening. We were told soldiers raided a shop. Kids were throwing stones and soldiers went after them. We internationals followed them shouting "Don't shoot the children!" Usually in retaliation for actions by Palestinian, Israeli soldiers will arrest someone as collective punishment.

Things calmed down after awhile. We had a few conversations with some soldiers, as they stood near their jeeps in the town. They told us they were doing this for the security of the settlement up the hill. We challenged the occupation of Palestinian territory and connected with them when we could on a human level. They brought up the Tel Aviv bombing that morning, that killed Israelis, and we said we abhorred violence on either side.

They detained a young Palestinian man who was walking by and demanded his papers. They made him stand against a wall. We gathered around, watching, making our presence felt. They asked him questions, and phoned in—presumably to their superior. They eventually let him go.

After that a few soldiers once more went after some kids in a garden who threw stones, and some of us followed saying "don't shoot the children!"

As the afternoon wore on, one team of internationals said they would spend the night in Budrus, to keep an international presence. There were no injuries or deaths that day.The Tulkarem team returned home. This had been demonstration number 47 in Budrus against the separation wall.

END THE OCCUPATION The Israelis have killed many thousands of Palestinians and destroyed tens of thousands of olive, orange and other trees. Yet there are tens of thousands of trees still standing and three million Palestinians still there. Israel can't kill them all or transfer them all off their land. Just surviving each day is resistance to the Occupation.

Since the United States gives over $3 billion a year to Israel for the Occupation, we have a great responsibility to do everything in our power to end it. Even in the present darkness, Palestinians believe there will be peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Their living hope for the future of their children should motivate us to commit ourselves to the struggle.

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