ISM Updates From Palestine
A) Prayer on the blood of family and friends by Anna B) Nightly Raid on Budrus by Khawaga C) Figure it out by Donna D) Army Land Grab in Jayyous by IMEMC
A) Prayer on the blood of family and friends by Anna
A few days ago I received the call I have been dreading... Four people shot in Deir Ballut. Four people shot anywhere is a tragedy, but I have a special affection for Deir Ballut and the people in it. My colleague and rushed to the village, my heart pounding the whole way, wondering which of my dear friends i might never see again. Two friends directed us to the land, where the shootings had occurred. one could hardly hold back her tears. We were stopped halfway there by a familiar sight: the soldiers had declared the area a closed military zone, and nobody was allowed any further... except, of course, the wall workers and the bulldozers which continued their destruction in the background. A group of women sat crying at the soldiers knees. one woman grabbed me and told me that her brother had been shot in the gut. she begged me to do something, to tell the world. i was paralyzed, not knowing how I could ease her pain.
two men stepped forward and negotiated with the soldiers to be allowed down to the land, where some people had remained after the shootings. i walked behind them, explaining to the soldiers that i felt there should be an international observer as i passed by. they didn't stop me. they did, however, stop a professional journalist and photographer who works for the french press because he is palestinian. Their reasoning: first you are an arab, then a journalist. for a while, i was the only reporter at the scene.
we walked quickly down to the land near the wall-work, where we found most of the mothers of the victims. they wailed when the saw me, holding up the bloody clothing for me to photograph. one jacket had a bullet hole in the shoulder and the back. i wondered whose son had been wearing it just a few hours before. i sat with the women in solidarity, and asked them to tell me the story when they were ready.
apparently the abdillah family had come down to their land to work that morning, as they had been doing for several weeks. each day they worked their land on one side of the valley, while the bulldozers destroyed it on the other. they were tortured by the injustice, but could do nothing. i asked if they sometimes threw stones at the bulldozers out of anger, but they shook their heads. what would be the point? plus, they knew the security guards for the wall and sometimes even drank tea with them. they weren't the enemy either.
but today that changed, said a man approaching who had heard me speak to the women. his name was marwan. he explained that he and four friends had walked a few meters towards the security guards that day, to appeal to them to stop the destruction of their land. they then yelled at the wall-workers to leave. According to him, the security guards then open-fired on the group, hitting his four friends almost simultaneously. he moved his hands past his head to convey the feeling of bullets flying past his ears, and thanked god that he had been spared. apparently, the closest sniper had been 10 meters away, and the rest were much further. He confirmed that not a single stone had been thrown.
marwan led me around the area of the shootings. he pointed out drops of blood on a few rocks, and then i began to notice the stains myself... they were everywhere.
there were pools of blood thinning to paths where the victims had struggled to walk away. i learned that one young man my age (25), samir, was shot in the leg and actually made his way the 3 or so kilometers (2 miles) back to the village with help from his friend and a donkey. his injury seemed less serious than the others, who had to wait for ambulances to arrive via, ironically, the path of the wall. majid, samir's 30 year-old brother, was the one shot in the shoulder and out the back. hamada, his cousin of 24, was shot in the chest. the oldest victim khalil, 58, was shot near his groin and out his backside. his 75 year-old mother was by my side the whole time until she found the blood of her son on the leaves of a plant, which she held up for all to see. i didn't know whether to take a photograph or cry. i did both.
as we mourned, a nearby soldier pointed me out to his partner and grinned. i wanted to vomit. how could he be so inhuman? he was not the only smiling soldier, and i was reminded of all the innocent young men and women of israel who have been dehumanized by their military training. how far this is from the traditional compassion of judaism! this occupation is destroying us all.
but it wasn't soldiers who shot samir, majid, hamada, and khalil. it was guards from a private security company hired to protect the bulldozers working on the wall. If it were the army, i could almost guarantee there would be no investigation. Does that go for private guards too? i can't understand it; what could those guards have been thinking? were they so threatened by 5 familiar unarmed men yelling at a distance from them? surely they aimed to kill if they hit one in the chest and another in the shoulder... these guards are subsidized by the israeli government to ensure the safety of the jewish people of israel... what about the safety of everyone else?
i am unable to imagine what those guards were thinking, and for this reason i found marwan's story unbelievable. but my skepticism vanished when i went to visit samir and hamada in the hospital the next day, and they both told the exact same story. hamada greeted me with a big dazed smile and a weak handshake. he had been shot in the chest, but thankfully the bullet went through his left breast from side to the side, not front to back. so his heart remained untouched, and it looks like he will be fine.
samir, a few doors down, was in far worse shape. after his long struggle back to the village, he was turned back at the checkpoint separating deir ballut from the road to ramallah. (this is the same checkpoint where a pregnant woman lost her twin babies last year when she was denied access to the nearest equipped hospital in ramallah because she went into labor during checkpoint closing hours [i will send out an update with the whole story shortly]. clearly things haven't gotten better. my good friend sofia almost had the same experience, and waited 3 painful hours at the checkpoint in the middle of the night before being permitted to pass to have her baby in ramallah six months ago.) samir was forced to take a long and extremely bumpy road to the town of biddya, where he was told that they didn't have the proper equipment to treat such a serious injury. only then was he permitted to reach ramallah, via two ambulances because he had to be carried over a roadblock in the middle of the trip.
needless to say, samir lost valuable time and a lot of blood during the ordeal, and remains in a great deal of pain. when i entered he recognized me but could hardly speak. he just kept biting his lower lip, looking up at the ceiling with tears in his eyes. apparenlty the bullet severed the source of blood to his feet (presumably a major artery), and at this stage even the doctors in ramallah are helpless. he is currently waiting for a passport (these are not automatic for palestinians) so he can try a hospital in jordan. who knows how his family will pay for it.
i didn't get to see majid nor khalil because they are being treated in Israeli hospitals (which means maybe the government realizes they are in some way to blame?), but i did go to visit their families in deir ballut. Majid's wife welcomed me warmly and explained how attached her husband was to the land they were losing. for him and many other palestinians, land is like a child, connected to you in that deep inexplicable way through interdependence and blood (the villagers' hands are calloused with scars from the rough manual labor). That's why he had taken the kids to work the fields with him that day, saying "if they take our land, they might as well take us with them." but the kids are now permanently traumatized, having witnessed a bullet fly through their father. apparently they gathered around him afterwards, screaming "baba! baba!" ("daddy! daddy!").
the children of khalil are my age and have children of their own. they appreciated my visit and told me what serious condition their father was in because of his age and the proximity of the bullet to his crotch. we sat in silence until the children started to goof around and break the somber mood, as children always do so skillfully. they asked me about my family and invited me to marry someone in deir ballut and settle down there. it's not the only time I've heard that this week, and each time i am more tempted. but i told them my response to every such proposal: i am here to do peacework, not to get married.
the next day, the village of deir ballut held a demonstration in protest of the wall-work and the shootings. their plan was to pray on the rocks stained with the blood of their loved ones. hundreds of villagers and several internationals and israelis gathered and marched towards the symbolic land. not surprisingly, the soldiers were waiting for us along the way, and formed a line across the path with their bodies to prevent the protesters from continuing.
the group responded to the obstacle in different ways. one group of men started talking to the soldiers in hebrew, explaining why it was important for them to pass. a group of women from the group "women for life" began singing a traditional palestinian folk song and other cheers, invigorating the group in the face of adversity. a few children climbed the rocks above the path, holding flags in silence as photographers documented the scene beside them. but the soldiers were unmoved; nobody could pass. and so the resistance stepped up a notch.
an old woman stopped yelling and started pushing. she pushed her way through the crowd and then through the line of soldiers, who hardly knew what had hit them. Then came another woman, whom they tried to stop, but by the time she'd passed a certain point, they could no longer attend to her because it meant a weaker stronghold with the main group. and so, one by one, several brave individuals broke through the line of soldiers. after each passage, the group cheered with refreshed energy and determination. the group of people who had made it through encouraged others to come join them. i saw my friend reem trying to get around the side of a soldier and I rushed to her side to help her. i put out my hand and a soldier scooted between us. still i pulled, and the solder pushed back, and before i knew it reem's husband had jumped in the middle to help his wife. he was angry at the soldier for touching her forcefully. then his brother joined in to help and suddenly things escalated and everyone was pushing and shoving. i saw reem's brother-in-law being dragged on the ground by his neck. then the soldiers began to throw sound bombs to scatter the crowd, one after another. reem and i watched from the side, paralyzed and clutching one another, the sound bombs exploded in our ears and faces. we closed our eyes and waited for it to be over. when we opened our eyes, we were relieved to see that reem's husband had emerged from the conflict unscathed, but his brother's arm was being wrapped from a sprain. still, i felt lucky that there were no more injuries and my heart-rate began to return to normal. i was thankful that the soldiers could not use tear gas because they were so close that they would be gassed themselves, plus the wind would take it away immediately.
the demonstrators were not deterred. when the smoke had cleared they returned to continue their struggle. it seems those most affected by the confrontation had been the soldiers, who seemed shaken. they agreed to let the protesters through, but only in groups of five. they seemed very pleased with themselves for their generosity. An israeli activist friend and i watched them work, wondering how it was that they saw it as their authority to give palestinians the red or green light to go to their own land. we couldn't understand the five person rule, except that it reiterated how things were being done on their terms, even though most would say they had been defeated this time.
the demonstration proceeded quickly to the land where the shootings had taken place; it was almost time to pray. parents, siblings, children, and friends of the victims lined up to worship together on the symbolic land. there were still drops of blood visible everywhere, and a young girl wore her uncle's jacket with the blood and bullet-holes for everyone to see. the imam called a prayer on the loudspeaker that echoed across the valley to where the bulldozers continued their destruction. The villagers prayed in unison, in solidarity, each connecting to the land individually for a moment. when they finished, they began their long walk home. it was a small victory in a long fight, but there was feeling of empowerment and hope within us as we walked, a reminder to those still nursing wounds from a few days before.
as i write this i learn that 3 young boys aged 14/15 were killed in gaza yesterday when they ran towards the "security fence" to fetch a soccer ball. the hell their communities must be going through. the violence continues, whether or not you hear about it on the news. these are not isolated events, we just don't usually have the misfortune of being so close to them.
in peace and solidarity, anna
B) Nightly Raid on Budrus by Khawaga
There is always a first for everything in Palestine. While this is my second time with the ISM I anxious and nervous with anticipation before my first demonstration and checkpoint. I guess it is the unknown that makes me feel that way, so waiting is always pretty bad. After I have the experience of whatever the occupation does to Palestinians on a regular basis, those feelings gradually fade away and give way to my rational side until the occupation faces me something new and unknown. Hence, those feelings came back to me on Saturday when together with two other internationals I went to Budrus (in the Western Ramallah District, not too far away from Tel Aviv) to stay overnight in anticipation of a nightly raid of intimidation, terrorization and arrests.
I had been to Budrus before and was looking forwards to go back to this beautiful village and also the see Abu Ahmed, a local leader of the struggle against the wall, whom I had talked to quite a bit over several cups of sweet, sweet tea and Turkish coffee during my last stay. However, to my disappointment I found out that Abu Ahmed was in Italy. "Never mind", I thought "I will see him later".
We were told that the Israeli Army wanted to arrest a 14-year old child for throwing stones, and that the family wanted an international presence to witness and document what was going to happen. A few days earlier soldiers had come to the village at night, photographed the kid and told them that if he was on pictures they had taken before they would come back and arrest him. I can't imagine what I would have felt like if I was told that as a 14 year old, but as I was later to find out this kid wasn't too upset. I guess that Palestinian boys know that sooner or later they probably will get arrested so maybe subconsciously they've already prepared themselves. There is nothing like a normal childhood!!! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that it is illegal to arrest children below the age of 15 under Israeli law. But never mind, like in apartheid South Africa there are different legal systems for different people, one for Israelis, one for Palestinians and one for immigrant workers and internationals (like me).
The "nightly raid" seems to be in vogue with the brass that is in charge of quelling the popular non-violent intifada against the Annexation Wall. What they do is to photograph every male over 14 years, usually in combination with beatings and arrests (or the threat of it), and the customary repression cocktail of teargas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. Intimidation and terrorization is the name of the game (I am sure the IOF have some other name for it in Newspeak), and in the last month or so the ISM has documented at least a dozen such raids on villages that oppose the construction of the Annexation Wall. This one village Bil'in, not too far away from Budrus had five of these raids in five nights last month!!!
When I got to Budrus I found out to my amazement that the kid that was threatened with arrest was Ahmed, Abu Ahmed's son (this might seem confusing for some of you folks, Abu Ahmed means father of Ahmed. Men are identified as the father of their oldest son), and I was pleased to see that it was in fact Abu Ahmed that greeted us!!!
Budrus was as beautiful as ever, except for the fact that the Annexation Wall had carved an ugly scar around it. However, things could have been worse for Budrus. Originally the Israeli government was to steal over 1000 dunums (about 1000 sq km) of the best land from Budrus, but because of their concerted non-violent resistance – 50 something demonstrations - they have "only" lost about 75 dunums. However, the villagers have paid for it with lots of arrests and intimidation, like nightly raids. Recently, the occupation forces invaded the village during a wedding, and outraged the villagers tore down the wall with their bare hands. Needless to say this was not appreciated by the IOF and Ahmed's threatened arrest is part of the punishment.
Most of the day was spent talking to Abu Ahmed, his family and other villagers that visited, as well as enjoying the hospitality I am always greeted with in Palestinian villages. Lots of tea and Turkish coffee was consumed over talks and discussions about what has, is and is likely to happen. Of course most of this was done in Arabic, so it was a good opportunity for me to add some new words to my limited Arabic vocabulary.
The thought of Israeli soldiers entering the village under the cover of a pitch dark night haunted my subconscious, and it wasn't made any better when Abu Ahmed told me that "they usually come with 30-40 soldiers". Now that sounds like a lot to me for just arresting a 14 year old child. Contrary to me, Ahmed (not Abu!) did not seem so scared by this fact, he seemed pretty relaxed. He told us that he'd rather go to jail than being wanted. I guess that is the sort of rationality you have to employ here. However, that day I was told by the female international in our group, he was given and seemed to want extra attention by his mother.
After a while four Israelis from the Anarchists Against the Wall (for whom I have the utmost respect) joined us, and as it got darker and the hours passed my nervousness faded a bit, helped by the fact that our numbers had just increased. Maybe the soldiers wouldn't even come. Maybe they had just been scaring a kid. In any case we had agreed that if the soldiers came we wouldn't try to stop the arrest (there is little we can do if they actually do have the order, and we didn't want to escalate the situation), just to bear witness, film the incident and hopefully shame the soldiers by the fact that the "suspect" is just 14 years old.
About 1 am we all went to bed and fell asleep, only to be woken up by Abu Ahmed two hours later telling us that soldiers had entered the village. I had slept with my clothes on in case this would happen so I sleepily slipped on my boots and went into the living room to discuss what we were going to do. My heart was beating considerably faster and anxiety filled me. I really had no idea what could possibly happen. After a short meeting we agreed that three of the Israelis would try to find the soldiers and film what they were doing in the village. I was tempted to go with them; I find it better to know where the teenagers with guns are. But the rest of us did stay in the house if they came for Ahmed the son.
The soldiers were somewhere in the village but we could neither see nor hear them. They did not come in with a bang as I expected. Every so often Abu Ahmed's house phone would shriek through the night, and the polyphonic tones from his mobile phone making the wait a bit surreal. Villagers were phoning him to tell where the soldiers were and what homes they were raiding. The Israeli anarchists had found the soldiers and we weren't sure whether they were detained until the operation was over or what was really going on. As I said initially it is the waiting and the unknown that makes things scary for me. We waited and waited and waited, and I paced around because of all my nervous energy. Luckily the soldiers never came, but for comic relief Abu Ahmed said "it is the army!" when the anarchists returned; my heart did skip a beat!!!
As one of the Israeli anarchists had filmed what had happened we proceeded to watch the footage. Most of it was pretty dark, with only the sound identifying what was going on. We were given a running translation of what was being said and it was kind of surreal in a funny way. First of all the soldiers kept hushing the anarchists all the time, I guess they wanted everything to be all cloak and dagger. The funniest thing was when one of the soldiers told the Israeli anarchist filming that it was he had the right of privacy so could they please stop filming. In the background his platoon were raiding a family's house, ordering at least one of the family members to report to Camp Ofer Military Prison. The irony of the moment was obviously lost on this specimen of a kid with a gun. Shortly after the army left, it was 4.15 am.
Thankfully Ahmed did not have to go to prison at 14 years old. For me it was yet another experience of occupation and I can't even begin to imagine what I would feel like if I were in Ahmed's shoes. "All" the army did was to give four villagers orders to report to the mentioned prison camp. I am sure those orders could have been given at some other time than between 3 and 4 am. As far as I can understand the nightly raids are only meant to intimidate, terrorize and wear down the will of Palestinians to resist or even stay in the 22% they have left of historical Palestine. They are part of the huge repertoire of oppression and are in this way no different from the "bigger" things like the wall, settlements (a poor euphemism for what is in fact classic colonization), checkpoints and the direct violence of M16s, tanks and Apache helicopters.
C) Figure it out by Donna
Over the weekend I watched 3000 heavily-armed Israeli soldiers and police converge on the narrow streets of Jerusalem's old city, surround its perimeter walls and clog nearby streets with dozens of checkpoints.
The heavy presence was a response to threats made by a right-wing Jewish group to storm the Temple Mount, the site within the old city of the holy Al Alqsa mosque revered by Muslims around the world.
The last time a right-wing Jewish person pulled a provocative stunt like that (that person being Ariel Sharon), it launched the second intifada (uprising) which has resulted in the death of more than 3500 Palestinians and more than 940 Israelis in the last four years.
So, understandably, the feeling around Jerusalem has been nervous the last few days.
Now you might be thinking how fortunate the Palestinians were to have 3000 soldiers and police protecting them and their holy site this weekend?
Well, in any normal, democratic country you would assume that the police and army would be sent to protect the ones that had the threats made against them by the extremist people.
But this is the state of Israel and nothing is normal, and if your name is Abdul, it is certainly not democratic.
The Police Chief was not so subtle when he explained the strong police and military contingent to the media.
He made it clear that the troops were there to protect the Jewish people against any Palestinian counter response to the attack. Yep. He said it just like that. I was stunned that he made no attempt to even pretend it was fair, to hide the state-sanctioned racism and to act as though he was interested in protecting those who had been threatened.
Again, as always, the onus was put onto the Palestinians. If anything had happened, it would have been their fault, not the fault of the extremist right-wing Jews who threatened the provocative action.
It turns out the right-wing demo was a flop, but the whole fiasco illustrates, a little, what life is like here for Palestinians.
Throughout the weekend, it was Palestinians that were stopped at checkpoints that had been set up around the old city. All men under 40 were refused entry to the old city. That meant the men could not go to school, to work, to open their shops, to Friday prayers, just do whatever they normally do. Many business doors remained closed because staff couldn't get there, suffering considerable economic loss as a result.
Meanwhile, religious Jews were parading into the old city in large numbers. Figure it out?
So the ones to suffer collective punishment from the threat of violence and provocation were not the ones who made the threat, but the ones to whom the threat was made, the Palestinians – figure it out?
This happens often in Hebron, a city in the West Bank which has communities of extreme Jewish settlers living smack-bang in the middle of town.
They are a charming lot: their habits include throwing rubbish and boiling water onto Palestinian children from their windows as the children walk to school, chopping down hundred year old olive trees, destroying property, beating people, spraying racist graffiti, spitting, cursing, general terrorising and murder.
Whenever the Hebron settlers get particularly violent you can always predict what will happen.
The Palestinians will suffer for it. I don't just mean just suffer the abuse, but in a bizarre way they always somehow cop the punishment as well.
For example whenever the settlers go on a violent rampage through the city, it is the Palestinians who are put under curfew, as opposed to the violent thugs. Figure it out?
And when the settlers go around turning over stalls and making havoc in the market, it's the Palestinians who are forced by police to flee the market and close their shops for days, weeks even months afterwards, not the violent thugs causing the havoc. Figure it out?
Last week two of my friends, young Americans, were beaten by settlers in the countryside while protecting a small village from the regular Jewish settler terrorism. When the Palestinians rang the police to report the incident, the police simply hung up. When the two injured Americans made it to the police station, it was they who were arrested for being beaten. (I'm not joking) Figure it out?
When settlers from the south Hebron area spread poison on the hills of a nearby Palestinian village in order to destroy their flocks, the police made no arrests despite several people witnessing the crime. Instead they appointed a man who was from the same settlement that spread the poison to `investigate' the incident. Despite the fact that many precious animals have been killed and the ground contaminated for years, we don't expect any arrests and, well, in a country that claims democracy, we just can't figure it out.
While the media talks about a peaceful cease-fire, here we know that dozens of Palestinians have been killed since the Sharm El Shiekh talks. You didn't hear about those lives? The media didn't report on that? Figure that out and then ask why?
The de-humanising check-points which maintain Palestine as an open air prison remain, thousands sit in jail still without a charge or trial, Palestinian land is stolen to build Israel's apartheid wall, home demolition orders are issued, shepherds are terrorised, three teenagers are shot dead this week, settlers poison grass and livestock and so it goes.
This is life for Palestinians under cease-fire. This is `peace' for them.
You didn't hear this point of view? Before I came to Palestine I had never really heard the Palestinian point of view at all, about anything. If I had not come and witnessed it myself, perhaps I would not have believed it could be happening.
In the last week I've spent time in Israel `proper' and got talking to many Israelis. They liked to tell me what they call the `Israeli' side of the story. I listened to their story and it sounded so familiar. Then it occurred to me that I've already heard this side of the story.
In fact I heard it almost every day of my life, I still do. I learnt about it in Sunday school, in the history classroom, in the media, on television, in books and in the movies. As a child I don't remember hearing anything contrary to the Israeli narrative of history. So I accepted it.
But now I've not only heard the Palestinian narrative, I've seen it, and I'm deeply disturbed by it, and I can't figure it out. And I'm disturbed by the fact that you may not have heard it. It should disturb you too and we should be asking why the other side of this tragic story has been so deliberately withheld from us.
I only planned to come to Palestine for a few weeks, but after three and a half months I leave tomorrow feeling heartbroken, sad, bewildered and angry.
As I return home, I urge you, please if you can, come here and see for yourself what has happened in the past, hear the stories you have never heard, see what is happening now, witness the stories you will never see on the TV news. Balance yourself.
You will see human rights abuses, state theft of land, a dirty big concrete wall, institutionalised racism and apartheid, de-humanising checkpoints, violence with impunity, breaching of UN resolutions, flaunting of international law… all this in a western- style `democracy'… and the world lets it happen.
D) Army Land Grab in Jayyous by IMEMC
The head of the Israeli `Civil Administration Department' in the Qalqilia area, informed dozens of residents of Jayyous, near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia, that the army intends to grab more of their lands in order to erect a road east of the Separation Wall.
Also, the army intends to close three gates of the Separation Wall leading to lands which belongs to the residents, two gates are in the west of the village and the third gate is located near Falamia village.
The residents fear that the new orders will completely bar them from reaching their farmlands.
A member of Jayyous' village council said that the council in cooperation with Al-Quds Legal Center managed to obtain a ruling from the Israeli High Court to rehabilitate the agricultural road which was destroyed by the erection of the Wall.
The Jayyous village council considers the new military orders as direct violation of the high court ruling.