ISM Updates From Palestine
1. Stolen Childhoods: Blood in the Streets of Nablus
2. Fire and Rain in Nablus: Three Reports on Solidarity Action for Fallujah
3. Report from Hebron
1. Stolen Childhoods: Blood in the Streets of Nablus
In the evening of Saturday, Novemeber 20, 2004, grief swept through the streets of Nablus. Two teenage boys, Montaser Hararah and Amer Binat, aged 15 and 16, were shot dead by Israeli military forces. There are conflicting reports on whether the two were throwing stones at the armored military vehicles when the military opened fire on them. Eyewitnesses said that only one shot was fired by the soldiers and that it pierced through both of their bodies. One of the boys was well known in the neighborhood as he worked in his father's grocery shop. Internationals with the ISM appeared on the scene as the Israeli military vehicles still were in the city.
The two families were reportedly overcome with grief upon hearing of the death of their children. When we arrived in the alley in which the shooting took place, pools of blood remained as indicators of the recent tragedy. With the frequent military incursions into Nablus and neighboring Balata Refugee Camp, such tragedies are bound to occur. Over the past two days, the Israeli military presence has become more frequently, as witnessed by both internationals and local residents. Such presence is provocative and can create deadly conditions, as evidenced by this evening's events. Report filed by john and ahmed in Nablus.
2. Fire and Rain in Nablus: Three Reports on a Solidarity Action for Fallujah
19 November 2004
Tonight, residents of Nablus along with members from the International Solidarity Movement showed sympathy for the city of Fallujah by displaying a message in fire on a mountain north of the city. For 10 to 15 minutes, Jabl-an-Naar (Mountain of Fire) was alight with the Arabic word "Falluja". The same message was displayed two days earlier, and repeated because of Nablus's appreciation of its success.
Internationals and local residents gathered in the late afternoon to work together to create the message. Since the path of the fire was still set from the previous fire, it was only a matter of reshaping the track, applying the fuel, and igniting the word. A first attempt was made at 5:30 in the evening, but was repeated when it was realized that more fuel would be needed for the message to show clearly and completely. At approximately 7:30, fuel was reapplied and the message was again lit. Observers in Nablus stated that the word "Falluja" appeared clearly on the mountain and that the effect was remarkable.
People in Nablus commiserate with the people of Fallujah: both have been victims of severe invasions of their cities by occupation forces, violating their human rights. One resident, Nizar Kamal, said, "The events in Falluja announce the death of international conscience
Tuesday, November 16, 2004 john p. and Ahmed in Nablus
Palestinians and members of the ISM in Nablus displayed a message of solidarity today with the people of Fallujah. At 5:30 PM, the word "Fallujah" was set ablaze on a mountain north of Nablus, known as Jabl-an-Naar (Mountain of Fire). Written in Arabic, the word was about 30 yards long and 10 yards wide, and expressed the commiseration that the people of Nablus feel for Fallujah, another city suffering under military occupation.
Like the war against Iraq with its attacks on Fallujah, which have had disastrous effects on civilians and civilian infrastructure in the city, Nablus has also suffered from invasion by occupation forces, ostensibly to combat terrorism. One Nablus resident, Nizar Kamal, stated, "On behalf of residents of the Old City of Nablus, the massacre in Fallujah announces the death of international conscience."
The press release for the event read:
People of Nablus will light the night sky with a message of solidarity written in fire to the people of Fallujah. It is to be held at 6 pm on the northern mountain in Nablus.
Around 3 p.m. Palestinians, along with internationals, began to arrive at the site. Shortly afterwards, neighborhood residents joined to help construct the path of the fire. Other groups from the community also arrived, including volunteer medical workers. Local Palestinian television arrived before the fire and interviewed many of the local Palestinian and internationals at the site.
Building the word that would be set on fire was challenging because the landscape was steep and rocky. Spelling out the word with rope and then using that as a guide to pour sand on it proved to be a solid plan. Sand was poured and people placed barriers of loose stone around it to help keep it in place. Petrol was poured on the sand and at approximately 5:30, as darkness set in, it was set ablaze. Although there was some uncertainty about the success of the project, it was ultimately successful, as the fire burned brightly and clearly for about 15 minutes. Reports came from all over the city that Nablus residents saw the message and were grateful and moved by the action.
There is agreement that there would be an attempt tomorrow to relight the fires. However, because the early winter's rains are beginning to fall, there is no guarantee that it can be done. If nothing else, the fire that lit up the mountain with the words "Fallujah" was an inspiration for those who witnessed and participated in constructing it.
1. Quick question to anyone. Day before yesterday, the lead story on the evening Al-Jazeera news was a film segment of American soldiers in Fallujah surveying wounded and dead Iraqis. One soldier says, "Is he dead?" Another says, "He's faking it. See? He's breathing." He then fires a couple of round into the man and says, "There. Now he's dead." The segment was apparently played on BBC, but I expected to hear something about it on U.S. internet traffic. Was this not aired in the U.S? Was there no reaction? 2. Day before yesterday, a few of us had the hairbrained idea of writing "Al-Falujah" in fire on the mountainside above Nablus. I was not optimistic. It would require the movement of large quantities of sand and gasoline up the steepest hill we could find, not far from the Israeli military post on the top of the mountain. Also, how well would it burn and for how long? How would we make sure that it was all lit at the same time? Would it really look like what it was supposed to. Still, we decided to do it, and spent the noontime getting materials to a suitable site. Neighbors in the area participated, as well as ISM volunteers and paramedics and friends from the UPMRC (Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees). 100 bags of sand actually made it up the mountain by hand, and the sign was completed despite the multitude of engineers arguing the right and wrong way to construct it. A metal pole was plunged into the mountainside with the flags of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine on it. A crew from the local television station did interviews. Then we waited. Some more journalists were on their way from Tulkarem, and wanted to be in on the story. They were supposedly delayed at the checkpoint, but even if that was not the reason, they came too late. Everyone got tired of waiting in the dark, so the sign was lit up. I have to admit that my skepticism disappeared immediately. The letters (in Arabic)came out clear and bright, and Nablus television captured it for those who didn't see it live. There were, however, plenty who did, and the folks in the neighborhood received lots of calls. The journalists who didn't arrive on time were disappointed, and asked for a repetition the following night (yesterday). Other journalists from Jerusalem were also interested. It seemed easy enough - just a matter of more gasoline on what we had already constructed. Then, of course, came the first rain of the season, a deluge that refused to let up. We went to the site to check it out, but the hill had turned to mud. Even though the sign was probably intact, there was no way to reach it. Oh, well. We hope the people of Iraq nevertheless take heart. It seems like such a small gesture against what they are facing. 3. Settlers from Itamar attacked Awarta, just outside Nablus, yesterday and burned some of their trees. The villagers called us, but according to many reports, the army and police actually intervened and stopped the settlers, taking some of them away for questioning. The villagers then asked us to send a few people to film in case the settlers returned, but they eventually changed their minds about that, as well. This seems to be another case where the military prefers to intervene rather than let us show solidarity with the villagers. I think it's wonderful. The military and police are likely to be far more effective than us in stopping the settlers. And if they are doing it because we would be there otherwise, we are indirectly being more effective than ever. Of course the down side is that they are separating us from the villagers by refusing to offer this protection if we are present. In addition, their protection is often sporadic, as illustrated by the burnt trees. However, I think our presence is meaningful as a prod to them, and if their "protection" wavers, we will hopefully be ready to step in, even if we don't have their clout. That's all for now. Paul
3. Report from Hebron. November 15, 2004. Ian
Every nation has its golden age - a time when life was simpler, friendlier, less frantic, less heartless. For 75 year-old Abu Younis, it was sometime between 1935 and 1938.
As a young boy on his family's farm in Wed Abul Houssain, a valley just outside Hebron, he remembers Jews and Arabs living as neighbours and friends. A Jewish family had a farm nearby, and Abu would take milk thereto be made into cheese.
In those days, land wasn't the currency of Occupation. Land was just where you were, where you had always been, where you would always be...
Now his farm - what's left of it - is caught between the forbidding, vast illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba on one side and the settler- only roa that serves it on the other. Six months ago the army took eight acres of his land for 'military purposes.' When Abu Younis was a boy the farm covered 20 acres.
Now he has less than five.
Our ISM group is here today to help him harvest his olives. He needs all the help he can get. He and his wife live by themselves in the farmhouse. His three sons have all left Palestine. His five daughters and their families make the occasional visit, but it's difficult. Roadblocks, soldiers, police and an invisible cloud of menace emanating from the fortified mass opposite keep most people away.
Those who subscribe to the idea of Israel's 'war on terror' should visit Abul Houssain. They would find plenty of support from the Israeli Army. Twelve soldiers were ambushed and killed here a year or so ago. What's not in doubt is that the gunmen were Palestinian. What is also not in doubt is that violent death is unacceptable. Some if not most of those slaughtered would have been young people who had no choice about whether to serve in the army. (although they can join the growing ranks of "refusniks")
Compulsory national service in the Israeli army ensures they bear arms. They are compelled by a state sustained by military power. No 18 year-old deserves a violent death. This place has seen too many dead teenagers.
What is worth considering is whether the killers were 'terrorists.' Their target was military, not civilian. Resistance, whether armed or non-violent, is exactly that - it doesn't happen in a vacuum. The obvious way to stop resistance to the Occupation is to stop the Occupation.
No, terrorism is what happens to civilians. And there's plenty of that in Wed Abul Houssain. Following the fatal ambush, there were the inevitable army reprisals - arrests, beatings, house searches. Farmland was cleared in a great swathe around the site of the ambush, new concrete barrier erected beside it.
Terrorism here is an everyday problem for Abu Younis and his neighbors. Every week he is powerless to stop between 50 and 75 settlers invading his land for a perverted Sabbath picnic. He and his wife must stay indoors and out of sight as the swaggering mob, with guns and dogs, promenade around his farmhouse and vineyard, eating the grapes or destroying them, depending on their mood. To challenge them is to risk his life. The soldiers do nothing.
One area of his land close to the Kiryat Arba boundary wall is desolate, the trees dead and grey. This is where in 2002 settlers, increasingly angry at his refusal to sell them his land, turned to a new, disgusting tactic familiar throughout the West Bank. A sewage pipe was diverted to discharge directly from the high settlement wall onto his orchard. Of course he complained to the local authority. But Rule Number One here is that settlers can shit on whoever they like. Eventually, the Red Cross got it stopped. After seven months. That part of the land is ruined.
Stress for the people of this valley is a 24 hour a day condition. Occasionally soldiers will wake them in the middle of the night: 'They put a gun on my heart and tell me I have young men hiding here. Sometimes they just come straight in to search the house.'
All the houses in the valley are, literally, a stone's throw from the settlement. Rocks are hurled by children and adults - at windows, atpeople, at anything they can reach. Several of the rooftop water tanks are now badly damaged. This is a serious problem - none of the houses has piped water, and rely on harvested rainwater and wells.
Every time you get into a converation with a soldier you hear the same thing. The Arabs are a primitive people. They are not civilised. It is not safe to walk among them. I thought of this as we sat beneath an ancient tree (planted, incredibly, when the Romans were here) loading up the last olives into buckets.
Abu Younis, oblivious to everything but his work, sang a beautiful song to himself. Like most folk songs you hear in Palestine, it was in a minor key. Around us, internationals were chatting. It felt like one of those perfect moments - people starting to relax after the earlier tension of starting work, hearing the settlers' dogs keen to get at us through the gates and wondering how bad things might get. We'd managed to get the olives picked. Each had inside us the obligatory three-person sized lunch. Despite the ambient oppression, it felt like life.
Drifting over from the settlement, where no sign of life could be seen, came the sound of big, barking dogs. And, when that subsided, muzak. You hear it wafting over from every settlement - mall music with the sonic quality of an ice cream van. Creepy, synthetic music, drifting from what looks like an enormous prison. It took me a few seconds to identify the tune: The Way We Were.