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Three Days of Curfew in Saida

1. Three Days of Curfew in Saida By Donna and ISM volunteers in Saida

Saida is entering its third day under curfew, with no let up and no end in sight. It was at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning that the curfew was announced. The military trucks and police jeeps were revving loudly up Saida's narrow, gravel roads. More and more military vehicles were gathering around the house we were in. The five of us ISMers went out onto the porch to be visible to the troops gathering outside. Soon there were fewer vehicles parked near the house, and then none.

A beautiful house further up the hill was occupied shortly after that, and two of the ISM volunteers went there to show support to the family inside and stayed there for the next 30 hours or so. Curfew is a mass house arrest. People are forbidden to enter or exit their homes for the duration of the curfew. It is announced through loud speakers that blare across the town from the tops of jeeps and trucks, and no end-time for it is given. In Saida these megaphones replaced the muezzins: there has been no collective worship since the curfew. Houses' gates were being decorated with palms to welcome those returning from the Haj to Mecca – they would be waiting longer than they had expected.

While the house up the hill was being occupied with approximately 50 soldiers settling in the lower floor, the military operation in the village began. House to house searches were conducted through most of the houses in the village, with the worst treatment seemingly meted out to the houses of the men who are "wanted" by the Israeli authorities. In these homes crockery and glassware were smashed, furniture broken, walls in cellars and outhouses hacked through with sledgehammers, and worst of all – nearby village wells were blown up.

Collecting water in run-off tanks, and boreholes is common practice – when the well is destroyed, it cannot be used. To replace a well can cost up to 5000 shekels and may take up to three months to replace. In the meantime, neighbors help out. When we asked one man whose two boreholes had been blown up whether he would be seeking compensation from the Israeli authorities, he laughed. "The issue is whether they will blow the new ones up," he said.

Later in morning, the generator failed, leaving the village without electricity. Our hearts sank. By late afternoon power from the local generator had been restored. The mayor said the troops had been in touch with him about it that day, because they needed the power themselves, so they allowed one of the men from the village to tend to the situation despite the curfew.

On Wednesday, three of us broke curfew. People looked out from their roofs and through their window grills: do they want anything from the shops? We asked. No request for help of that kind was asked for – rather people wanted us to get the curfew lifted. So in the afternoon we went up the hill to the occupied house to appeal to the commander. The senior officer we tried to approach treated us like a large fly, brushing us off with a wave of his hand.

"Can we have just a minute?" we asked. "I won't give you one minute; I won't give you one second."

And he ordered us to be escorted back to the house where we were staying. He showed up shortly thereafter with a couple of his men and addressed our hosts angrily – "Yours is the only house that's open," he remonstrated as if it were flies. "I want this door closed," he declared, "and no faces in the doorway, or I shall post a guard on your porch."

So much for our care for the villagers' wishes. So much for the army's ethics, published on their website, always to be decent and polite in carrying out their duties.

The sunny afternoon was punctuated with enormous explosion reverberations. We are told that these were wells and caves being exploded. From the town, the search had fanned out into the fields and hills surrounding the highest of villages in the Tulkarem region. This was all part of a West Bank wide mission, we are told, to round up wanted men.

In the evening we smuggled ourselves to the mayor's house. He had just returned from a leniency trip facilitated by the army – to buy bread in the neighboring village and distribute it in Saida. The mayor was hospitable, as are all the Palestinians we meet. He served us sweet tea, and opined that the Israeli army's actions are designed to frighten the local people. The army did not give him the courtesy of letting him in on their plans, their intentions, or the duration of their stay. "The people can't go to work so they will lose their salaries. Many people are farmers and people cannot get to their land," he said.

At that point, one of the men in the room said, "When you're ready to leave, I have feed I need to get back to my goats, will you accompany me?" Outside he mounted a large bag on his shoulder, and one of us heaved the other on his shoulder and hefted the loads down to the goat shed near the man's dwelling. His gratitude was palpable, but we were sorry we couldn't stay to drink tea and acknowledge his appreciation. It was dark by then, and the soldiers would have been jumpy.

The whole purpose of this mission should be called into question by one factor; Israel's massive Separation Wall. The Israeli government states that the Wall is being built to provide security. This Wall, illegal according to the International Court of Justice, has been completed throughout the entire northern part of the West Bank, including the region surrounding Saida. Israel's security interests in this area, therefore, should have been fulfilled. A mission on the scale that we're seeing in Saida is not only inhumane, but completely unnecessary.

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2. Press Release: Saida Village under Curfew - Water and Electricity Cut

[Tulkarem, West Bank] Twenty Israeli military vehicles and two bulldozers have been occupying the village of Saida in the northern Tulkarem district since early Tuesday morning placing the village under curfew and conducting house to house searches. Electricity and the water supply in the village was cut out as nobody could adjust the generator because of the curfew. The Israeli military has closed all entrances to the village and are occupying the boys' school. A number of family homes, one belonging to Mohammed Zaki Raddad, are also occupied. Villagers fear that the bulldozers are there to demolish the homes of families of men wanted by the Israeli army.

Volunteers from Canada, England and Denmark, who work with the International Solidarity Movement, are present in the village in one of the homes where the Israeli soldiers have occupied the roof and ground floor of the home, trapping the family inside on one floor.

Israeli soldiers have invaded the village every night since the Eid, searching homes and harassing villagers. The soldiers told the villagers they intend to remain in the village for at least three days.

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3. Account of my Arrest - Patrick O'Connor

On Monday January 24, undercover Israeli agents set up a temporary checkpoint and pulled over vehicles on an empty stretch of road near the West Bank village of Biddu in order to arrest and deport me. The effort and resources they deployed to catch a 41-year old humanitarian aid worker committed to nonviolence demonstrates the Israeli government's distorted priorities and fixation with crushing legitimate opposition.

The prelude to my arrest was an uplifting and peaceful event. Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals joined together to plant olive seedlings to replace olive trees bulldozed for the construction of Israel's Apartheid Wall. Almost a year ago the village of Biddu mobilized to peacefully protest the construction of the Wall on their land. Five people from Biddu were killed by the Israeli military during the early protests. Before Monday's event, we learned that despite an Israeli Supreme Court decision requiring the modification of the Wall's path to take less Palestinian land, the newly announced Wall path will take more of Biddu's farm land.

The turnout of Biddu on Monday of Israeli and international peace groups like Rabbis for Human Rights, Anarchists against the Wall, International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and International Women's Peace Service (IWPS) demonstrated the strong relationship with the village established during their nonviolent campaign against the Wall. As we planted, we chatted, renewed old friendships and established new ones. Among the first time participants was a group of Jewish American college students on a study abroad program in Israel making their first visit to the West Bank. The Israeli military was nowhere to be seen.

After lunch in Biddu, thirteen of us piled into a van to return to Jerusalem. At the edge of the village we got out, climbed over a dirt roadblock and got into a second van. After a few hundred meters, two men in civilian clothes, on either side of the road waved at our van to stop. As our van approached the men, one put on a blue Israeli police hat. Two more men in civilian clothes with pistols joined them. They took our passports. A white jeep then pulled up and two plain clothes Israeli agents climbed out carrying M16s. They took a long time examining the passports. They then came back to the van and asked for me to get out. They started moving me away from the van while one of the men with an M16 waved my Irish passport and yelled at me, "Your passport is fake, I can see from the ink its fake. Its fake." I insisted it was real, but he said they wanted to take me with them just to clear this up. He said I was not being arrested. However, three men began pushing me to the car, with one yelling at me.

They put me in the back seat of a small, unmarked white car with one agent sitting next to me. We sped away and two minutes later, the agent told me I was under arrest and handcuffed me. He told me I had entered the country using a false passport. As he continued to aggressively question me, I realized they were taking me to Ben Gurion Airport.

It became clear they were lost and could not find the detention center and their bravado and certainty gradually dissipated. We drove around in circles for twenty minutes, stopping, restarting, crossing lanes, with drivers honking at us and the agents talking on their mobile phones until they finally found the Ben Gurion detention center. I then asked them if they were still so certain they couldn't be mistaken about my passport. Instead of their previous hostile responses they were quiet.

The Israeli government continues its campaign to harass and arrest Palestinians, internationals and Israelis who peacefully protest Israeli policies. Despite a ruling by the world's highest legal body, the International Court of Justice, that Israel's construction of the Wall on Palestinian land is illegal, the Israeli government treats supporters of the ICJ ruling as opponents to be crushed.

Almost two years ago the Israeli government declared me a "security threat" for my involvement in peaceful activities against the Wall and the Occupation, and attempted to prevent me from returning to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As with thousands of Palestinians, they based their claims on "secret evidence" that my lawyer and I were never able to see or contest. I challenge the Israeli authorities to reveal their secret evidence against me because it will not stand up to scrutiny.

Despite the Israeli government's efforts to crush legitimate opposition and prevent human rights advocates from visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals will continue to oppose these unjust policies. Ultimately, Israel's disregard for International Law will fail.

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