Reports from the villages of Palestine from the 20th of December through to the New Year. On arriving here the first thing that I realise is that there is so much to do here because the military repression occurs throughout this land on every level. Not just in the incursions and massacres that we see so often on TV but in simple things that we as non Palestinians take for granted like there being a separate and inferior road system for Palestinans to use, and the fast super high way settler roads for those with the Isreali car nuimber plate. The Apartheid here is a rigorous and active racism.
Devlish's journal of time spent observing Israeli army manoeuvers in the village of Talluza somewhere near Nablus.
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.: ).
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.
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 Israeli fascism and military 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.
Olive Tree planting protest in lands stolen from Jayyous village by the Israeli Apartheid Wall December 30th and 31st 2004.
30th of December 2004.
Myself and ten other Internationals arrive at Qalqilya checkpoint to camp out on the Israeli side of the Apartheid wall prior to a symbolic olive tree planting action the following day with Tayush members (an Israeli peace group). This symbolic planting of olive saplings is happening on the site of the apartheid wall plundered land of Abu Hassan. We will be staying in a hut on his stolen earth and then join with the 300 strong Tayush group for our peasant action in the early afternoon..
Abu Hassan takes me on his tractor along with all the other internationals baggage. There is no trailer on this baby and our many backpacks are crammed in around Abu Hassans body. I am standing on some kind of suspension chain thingy clinging on for dear life. We bump through muddy trenches, the tractor sometimes lurching to capsize point..
Wow! All around me are orange and lemon trees this place is beautiful. The luggage and I are transferred to another tractor this time one with a trailer phew! I munch tangerines handed to me by the farm workers.
We arrive at our sleeping destination, a workers hut but really a well-equipped cottage. The others arrive some time later, and Abu Hassan tells the tragic story of his stolen land over an evening campfire.
The initial land for the wall, in Jayyous region was sold by a farmer to the Israeli state, masked men later executed him as a collaborator in his home; his sons did not try to defend him. The Israeli state then looked about acquiring the surrounding lands but the other farmers refused to sell. So they just took the land by simply redrawing the maps. In the case of Abu Hassan they made a quarry of his olive groves and gave no warning as they blew up his hill. The explosion ricocheted like an earthquake through his orange groves.
Their wicked plan is to build a settlement, wall and road right across these beautiful orchards. The next day’s action is to plant tiny olive saplings along the scar of their explosion and then march to the gateway separating Jayyous’s lands from Jayyous village to meet with the protest coming from the Palestinian side of the fence (electrified).
31st December 2004.
Morning breaks and a hummer drives past our hut as we sit outside having breakfast. We spot soldiers watching us from behind the water tower. The previous night we had climbed this tower to watch the moon rise, everything had seemed so tranquil awash in the moon’s warm glow and now the hectic desperation of a fascist state despoils this land. We had not realized how close the army was to us.
The Tayush three hundred arrives with banners of peace and fifteen security vehicles trailing them. They set about enthusiastically planting the saplings in front of the TV cameras. There are various sorts of police and army who arrive with the group, the normal army, the blue uniforms of the border police, and the settler police in white people carriers. This bunch of uniforms escorts the protest down towards the gateway. The border police and army keep trying to throw cordons in front of us, but the group moves around into the olive groves hopping over dry stonewalls all the time pressing forwards to the fence. The uniforms force the majority of the protest back to the narrow path flowing down hill between two walls. This leaves us with a problematic exit strategy should things turn nasty. About three hundred yards from the gateway the path travels up hill and round a sharp bend where it continues along side the fence, which splits the farm, lands from Jayyous village. We are prevented by the security forces from continuing to the gateway to meet the Palestinian protest, which we can see in the distance running towards the gate. A small delegation of four from the Israeli protest is allowed through to the village side, this includes Abu Hassan and a woman toting an olive branch.
There are cheers as they cross and then return. At the same time as this a donkey cart carrying two farm workers lurches along the bumpy road through our protest. The army /border police halt the cart then allow it to continue towards the gate. It makes its slow and painstaking journey up the hill where the personnel of two jeeps stationed there halt it once more. One man is asked to get down and move away from the cart. Then once more they are allowed to continue. They move alongside the fence this time towards the hummer stationed one hundred yards from the gate.
They are stopped and not allowed to carry on. Myself and another activist watch the progress of the cart with concern. Mean while the Tayush are being dispersed back to their buses. We alert them to the situation of the donkey cart and ask that they stay and show solidarity with the men in the cart who are probably being held up because of our protest. The Tayush seem anxious to return to their buses and one participant said, “ Why should I worry about this, this happens all the time here!”.
Another said “ I came all the way from France to plant these trees don’t spoil it, this happens all the time.”.
“ But surely that is why we here”, we say, “Because this happens all the time, please stay and show solidarity, it is not just about your symbolic protest!”.
The Tayush ignore us and walk quickly back to their buses, leaving a small group of us ISMers arguing with the border police who then force us towards the buses on the other side of the quarry away from our hut. We move deliberately only just keeping ahead of the soldiers and border police. The road track is pitted with large puddles which we gingerly edge around fearing the jeeps zooming through and soaking us.
The settler police roar past the soldiers in their people carrier soaking them, we laugh as we hear their indignant cries of “lo! Lo! Lo!” A sneaky activist managed to get a shot of the hopping mad wet and muddy soldiers.
We try to return to the hut across the illegal quarry, a hummer growls up behind us and two soldiers jump out demanding to know where we are going. We explain that we have to get our things then we will be leaving. “ We shall escort you “ say the soldiers.
“I’d rather you didn’t, I don’t like people with guns.” I say.
They walk behind us as we clamper over rocks and thorn bushes back to the hut. They crouch behind the water tower once more as we settle down in plastic chairs to coffee and tangerines. I have never eaten so many in all my life!
We await the arrival of Abu Hassan’s mighty tractor replete with trailer this time, which ferries our stuff and us to Jayush village. The trailer is crowded containing all eleven of us so not much foot room. We cling on singing as we travel in to the setting sun towards the gateway. The Swedish contingent is singing about Pippi Longstocking and we stagger towards the soldiers. They demand that each of us get down from the tractor. I approach them singing the sesame street theme tune as I hand over my passport. They let us all through and we process through the village to meet the internationals on the Jayyous side.
We celebrate New Years Eve together in a wild fest of Pringles and Fanta, sharing our wishes of peace for the year to come.
1st January 2005.
We have decided to stay in Jayyous for another day at the request of the villagers to help pick their olives. With the imposition of electric fences and gateways across their land the Israelis have granted permits for the farmers to enter their own fields, no permit no entry. The number of permits issued is extremely limited and does not allow for the labour needed to successfully harvest a full crop. The olives are often left rotting on the bough. The villagers hope that with our passports we can enter the land and help harvest the olives.
They tell us that that gates will open at 8.00 so we split into two groups my group will go with Mohammed’s land which can be accessed through gate 26.
We arrive. The fence is comprised of two layers, the inner electrified the outer surrounded on either side by moats full of looped razor wire it seems to continue on to infinity. A sign on the outer gate says when they will open up. The times are scrawled on the sign in marker pen and can be changed on the whim of the army. Three lots of fifteen-minute intervals ranged throughout the day are the only times when the villagers and only (those lucky enough to have the rarely given special permits) can enter their own land.
And yes the times have been changed by the evil army pixies in the night. The morning gate opening is no longer 8.00 until 8.15 but is now 6.00 until 6.15. We have missed the morning access point. One of our number calls the hilariously named ‘humanitarian hot line’ they will not admit they are anything to do with the gate. Next we try the emergency number, they are as helpful as a corpse and tell us we can call whom we like but they will not help us!
A hummer stops by for some reason and tells Mohamed that the gate will open again at 12.30. We leave for the time being but plan to return at 12.30 to see if they are lying or not. We return and yes you’ve guessed it they lied! We bang on the gate in a improvised percussive sound experiment, and sing “let us in let us in !”
Some children throw stones into the gully of barbed wire, this seems to set off a sensor. Another hummer drives through the village right up to us. They tell us that our passports will not get us through the gate and that only those with the farmers permit will be let through
At 1.45 the gate opens, tractors pass, and a huge flock of sheep, this is such a So traditionally biblical image but it is incongruous seeing this image commonly used by Christian illustrators everywhere, passing by an electric fence and razor wire. Two little children herd the sheep through behind their grandfather Shepard along the infinity of razor wire.
We are not let through without us Mohamed sees little point in crossing so we return to the village feeling futile.