The Israeli Army in Talluza
The Israeli Army in Talluza
i spent the last couple of days in a small and beautiful village north of Nablus, called Talluza. it is high in the hills, possessed of exceptional sunrises, sunsets and general quality of light, especially good olive oil and really cute donkeys. as i mentioned before, it had been under curfew for over a week, and army checkpoints prevented students and teachers from neighboring villages and the surrounding area from getting to the schools here. but a combined effort by ISM, Machsom [checkpoint] Watch, and a couple of Israeli groups [which i think were Rabbis for Human Rights and the Anarchists Against the Wall] succeeded in opening the schools and getting an agreement from the army not to block access.
so now, even though things had settled down considerably, we've been keeping a couple of internationals on hand in the village just to make sure everything stays ok. there was no military presence for 2 days, but then yesterday again there were hummers driving through the village before dawn, and periodically throughout the day and late that night. the border police set up a checkpoint on the way to el-Badaan, and the army set one up on the way to Asira [the 2 next villages over].
whenever our host family let us get away-- they did their best to convince us that our time would be much better spent drinking coffee with them-- we spent some time at each one, just monitoring, and as far as we know, there were no problems; everyone seemed to get through without trouble. the border police kept their distance from us, and we from them, though when we left, they yelled "goodbye, friends," through their bullhorn and then pumped up bad techno remixes of 80s classics like "Final Countdown" to echo off the hillsides.
the army on the other hand, came over to talk to us, and ask us who we were and what we were doing there [sitting on rocks among the olive trees on the steep road to the village]. they behaved in a reasonably friendly way, and we told them we were teachers, and weren't trying to pass, just to make sure that all had access to the school who needed it.
one of them came back a while later. "can i ask you a question?" he said. i said sure. "why did you come here? what do you want?" "well, we're teachers, and they needed teachers here," i said at first, continuing with our original excuse. "no, but they need teachers lots of places. why HERE?" "we're from the US," one of us said. "our tax dollars fund your operations. therefore we felt like we had an obligation to see what's really going on, and where it's going, to understand the situation better. we want to get awareness of all sides of the issue." "if you want all sides, then why aren't you over there? you should be in Israel." [ i can't remember exactly how he phrased the proper nouns...] "we've seen that side already," we said. "we know that side of the story. now we wanted to hear what these people have to say." he said sure, ok, and walked away-- is it wishful thinking for me to say, he walked away thoughtfully?
The Israeli Army in Talluza - By D
Talluza is a small village north of Nablus in the West Bank with a population of around 2,000. The village has been calm for two years following a number of house demolitions in 2002. The neighboring village of Asira, with a population of around 12,000, has been suffering constant harassment from the army for over a year.
I have been in Talluza one week and my duties have been mainly to observe the IOF checkpoint between Al Badan and Talluza and to give occasional talks at the Talluza boys’ school.
I arrived on Monday the 19th of December to Asira which is a Hamas Village so I am told. I stay one night there before moving on to Talluza the next morning.
When we arrive in Asira we are met by hordes of small children leaving school. “What’s your name? What’s your name?” they cry I find myself submerged in a flock of chirping infants. Two men wade in through this melee and retrieve myself and Nav. They take all of us to their home and feed us the most beautiful bread and olives, I think that this is prearranged by ISM and am surprised to find that they are just being hospitable to strangers, I could not imagine this happening in England. We leave them to meet the local ISM activists outside an internet café.
20th December 2004
When I arrived in Talluza I found the other ISM activists sitting in a stony field at the back of the school. The children had built barricades along the road outside the school to impede the passage of the army. The rest of the village totally supports this. The rebelling instincts of youth, seen as such a problem in Britain are utterly respected and necessary here to the resistance. The army has left the village for the time being so the teachers start to clear away the stone barricades, Tom and I assist them when, I am approached by the head teacher and asked to give a talk at the school on Scottish history of all things, I agree to speak to the class at 11.00.
At around eleven I am taken by a teacher into the school to meet the older girls who attend the boys’ school for special subjects not taught at the girls’ school.
I think I am being taken to give the Scottish History talk, however I have been abducted by another teacher so the girls can get their conversational English practice in.
One of the young women asks me questions but the others collapse into fits of giggles. “Why are you laughing?” I ask, laughing too because they are so infectious.
“Your clothes, your clothes are so funny” they gasp.
These chuckling girls are very beautiful and normally so elegant and serene but at the sight of my mock Russian hat and purple hippy Indian top over flared jeans topped with my Captain Birdseye navy coat, they are in hysterics. Tears of laughter fall down their cheeks as they struggle to breathe.
The girls are so friendly and they ask millions of things and then they ask me to sing a song. After this they march me off to their next class. I sit with them at the back of what appears to be a drawing class. I sketch their faces. They were so gracious and lively I was sad to leave them to return to the other internationals.
I then realized that I had been poached to speak to the girls by another teacher not the Scottish history man who was a bit peeved so I agreed to speak the next day. Off to check point watch at Al Bidan Check point watch at Al Bidan an amazing excuse to sit amidst the most beautiful countryside gazing at the dramatic olive treed slopes wreathed in mist watching the changing sky.
I have positioned myself about 100 metres from the soldier’s/ border police jeep parked at the bend junctioning two roads. The weather here can get very cold and because of the intensely hot summers central heating is just not a priority. The beautiful Palestinian high ceiling houses get very chilly almost colder than outside, so Tom ( a young British activist) and I decide to build a camp fire. I took the idea from the people of Asira (the neighbouring village to Talluza), who make small fires in the street, and serve coffee to passers by to get the gossip as well as minding their children playing out. We start to build the fire and then realize that neither of us have a light, it is very rare in the Middle East to find two non smokers together. I stupidly ask the soldiers for a light, they are very bored and with not much passing traffic to intimidate they rush about gathering fuel for the fire. This looks very bad as we appear to be chummy with the soldiers so T and I wander away leaving them building our fire.
Later the soldier shift changes and the new lot demand that we put out our fire, we refuse. They get very stroppy and try to prevent us gathering wood. Layla appears from out of a ‘Service’, the hybrid taxi buses, used here to get around. She has just returned from Jerusalem, she gathers wood in defiance of their silly impositions. The soldiers defeated by my fire tantrum, drive a bit further up the road we continue to watch them enjoying warmth of the fire, on this day they mostly wave people through the checkpoint.
That evening we have dinner at a families house which faces onto the main village street. Two army jeeps had stopped at the end of the high street just up from the mosque and were stopping shebab. I videoed them from the window of the families house they were checking ID. They patrolled the village, demanding ID cards. In at least one case, some young men were held in a jeep but later released. Activists witnessed a soldier aiming a gun at a young child and there were reports of beatings, though the activists did not arrive in time to witness these.
After this the family we were with were afraid to have internationals at their house so after the army’s appearance we left their home scuttling along back streets and yards, the boys taken to one house and us to another.
The youths guiding us were very nervous so we were just handed over to the house of Hassan although we were meant to stay elsewhere I think. Hassan, a cheerful old man who studied at UCL in his younger days was so welcoming he and his wife fed us fruit and argilah.
We stayed one night then the next day it was checkpoint duty again and Scottish history : ).
21st December Early morning at the check point people going to and fro to school with a lot of farm traffic.
The school was open as usual so Scottish history talk was on and activists spent the early afternoon meeting with a number of villagers. Israeli activists discussed contacting other Israeli groups to deliver medical and food supplies into the village and the export of local olive oil to Israel and beyond.
Internationals promised to be present during the school exams. These begin on December 23rd and will continue for two weeks. The villagers are concerned that around 100 girls will not be allowed to pass the checkpoint between Al Badhan and Talluza to take their exams. International activists will maintain a presence at this checkpoint to attempt to ensure safe and free passage.
At around 4pm, a Border Police jeep patrolled the village and the policemen fired at least one round of live ammunition. No one was injured, but children were nearby.
In the evening, while activists were in a house overlooking the main road, they heard a loud explosion outside. It turned out to be a homemade sound bomb thrown by teenagers. A barricade was built by teenagers in the main street and set alight in order to try to block the soldiers from passing. The army had been patrolling the village from around 5pm.
When an army humvee arrived at the barricade, it attempted to drive over it and failed. Soldiers then became aggressive and banged on doors of nearby houses, presumably in order to capture the kids who built the barricade. A Border Police jeep arrived soon after. Two activists left the house with a video camera and captured the soldiers’ activities on film from the roof of a nearby building. As the soldiers became more aggressive, the two decided to go outside and talk to them to try to ease the situation. In the ensuing dialog, the soldiers said that they were there because the kids had built the barricade and were burning their (the soldiers’, presumably meaning the Israelis’ (!)) village. One of the activists replied that the village was a home to the kids and they could do as they want in it. The soldiers replied that they are not there to talk politics. After further dialog (and some singing on the part of activists), another humvee arrived and cleared the way for all vehicles to leave. The situation then eased up and the village was quiet for the rest of the night.
Christmas day in Asira & Taluza 2004 By D
Christmas day 2004, in the village of Asira south of Nablus, next to a school four internationals are outside a narrow four storey white house which is home to a family of ten. The internationals are there, because the Israeli army has been occupying this home and the neighbouring school since midnight of the 24th of December 2004.
As one of the four internationals outside the house I am concerned for the welfare of the family. We know that the armies have imprisoned the ten members in one room at the top of the house and that the youngest held is a three months old baby. At the point that we approach the house, approximately 1600 hours on the 25th of December, the family has been imprisoned for almost 18 hours with one male soldier standing guard over them at all times.
We hope to enter the house and assess the family’s condition as well as to show solidarity and offer our support. To enter an occupied house is a potentially arrest able offence so we quickly decide who of the four are prepared to risk arrest two of us agree to attempt to enter. We aim to take the family food, water and baby wipes, the last item incase the army are preventing them from using the bathroom.
Two female activists approach the house hoping perhaps that our woman’s dulcet tones might soften the soldier’s hard attitudes. We call up at the windows entreating the army to speak with us and to update us on the welfare of the family. Within five minutes of us calling an army jeep pulls up and indicates that we should approach them.
We go to the driver, who curtly informs us that the family is fine, that they have everything they need, food water and medicine and that they will be released in two hours. We beg to be allowed in to visit the family as independent observers but despite five minutes of us entreating the answer is no. The driver tired of us closes the door and drives away.
We move away from the house for the time being so as not aggravate the situation further potentially causing problems for the family inside. After an hour we return to the house but station ourselves about 100 metres down the road opposite the occupied school.
We are less concerned about being outside the school for although the army have invaded it, the building is empty and it is probably good to have internationals visible on the street incase the army takes to firing indiscriminately at passers by.
We decide to once more approach the house and communicate with the soldiers. There is till no response from inside but we see the soldiers moving about on the stairs attempting unsuccessfully to remain hidden. All the lights are off in the house I feel badly for the family sitting in the dark under the control of one soldier at all times.
The shebab (youth) gather at the end of the road as we are calling up at the windows. This is good as one of our agreed aims was to alert the people of Asira that the army was clandestinely occupying a house in their village. This operation had been very discreet with the house appearing empty from the outside, all lights off, and no jeeps or army support vehicles stationed outside the home.
We move back towards the school as an army jeep patrols the village driving past the house twice. Two hours has passed, it is now at the time that the army had said the occupation would finish, 18.15.
There seems to be nothing occurring at the front of the house but the shebab tells us that a jeep and hummer is at the back. We walk to the back of the house, there are tyre track marks across the muddy grass and I notice that a door to the basement is open.
Myself and the other female activist decide to enter the house, we think it is better that two females go as this may be perceived as less threatening by the army and family.
We enter and I am surprised to see that the basement is actually a stable complete with a white donkey standing calmly in the stall.
We shout out, that we are two international women entering the house alone because we are concerned about the welfare of the family but immediately behind us pour in the entire shebab of Asira, so much for two international women alone!
In a noisy procession we move up through the house calling for the family. On the top floor their scared faces appear from out of a darkened room.
The army had already crept out an hour before at their set time but had threatened to come back and kill the family if they moved before another hour had passed. They had also threatened to shoot, if any of them had made any move to communicate with us when we shouted but they later said our shouting had given them hope.
The family were bewildered and traumatized; the soldiers had stolen from them 400 shekels, gold jewelry and all their ID cards.
We went back the next day to interview the family and they explained why they had thought the occupation of their home had occurred.
Two nights previously a hummer with a jeep tailgating were patrolling Asira. The Hummer braked suddenly and the jeep crashed into the back of it. The soldiers seemed to think that they were under attack and fired indiscriminately into the air, a Molotov was thrown from the direction of the school. The soldiers left and reported to their commanders that they had been ambushed by the youth of Asira hence their occupation in the buildings at the scene of the crash.
So another typical illustration of military fascism
and stupidity, which could have been potentially fatal. This
begs the question, when will the people of Palestine be
given protection from such routine acts of state terrorism
and when will the worlds’ countries penalize Israel instead
of rewarding her for violating the basic human rights of
families just struggling to live their lives.