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More strangeness from the Occupation in Palestine

Devlish | 05.02.2005 16:21 | Palestine | Repression | London | World

Reports of humanitarian work in the west bank between the 7th & 18th of Jan 2005

Friday January the 7th”. I am in Hebron on the eve of the Jewish Shabbat two days before the Palestinian elections.

We have decided to patrol the old city late on this Friday because traditionally on Shabbat eve, the Settlers parade along Shahuda street to Ibrihimi mosque to taunt Palestinians at prayer and according to Art Gish of the Christian peace maker team in Hebron, to sometimes go on the rampage vandalising Palestinian homes in the name of ‘a land for a people for people without land’, Zionism.

Shahuda Street has been completely closed to Palestinians since the Barrach Goldstein massacre when acting on a message from God, he fired a machine gun into a congregation of men and boys praying at Ibrihimi mosque, killing 29.


Following this incident the army helpfully welded up the front doors of Palestinian homes facing onto Shahuda Street So that now their only way in and out is across the back yards and through the back facing windows which are up on the first floor. One afternoon watching from the roof of the CPT building I saw a mother and her two small boys, laden with shopping bags negotiate this difficult route into their home.

We slip out late on this Friday, night, down the uneven stone steps leading from our apartment. We split into two groups so as to approach Ibrihimi mosque from different directions. It is so quiet that our every noise resounds through the ancient streets. We take the passage way at the end of the market through to the mosque, the arched alley ways are variegated between the sodium orange street lights contrasting with the shadows crouching in doorways like decay in a molar. Overhead the rubbish dropped from the settlements hangs rotten in the protective mesh.

At the end of the alley our way is blocked by a heavy iron gate we had never noticed in the day time. We retrace to find the other group, this whole scene, the stillness; the ancient walkways could have been artificially generated for a computer game.

We meet the others, and trek across a grave yard, over an area of bulldozed earth and onto worshippers’ way where its’ start is manned by a sentry box. There is much hurried rustling as we approach, we hear the soldiers fumbling with their clothes and they appear at the window looking guilty, they quickly wave us on with a breathless “whose there?”

As we look across at the hills surrounding Hebron, we see figures under the pale street lights on the walk way from the settlement connecting Worshippers way, they are carrying guns. We move on towards the Mosque an injured kitten cries from a rubbish dump and two armed settler boys cross behind us but leave us be.

At the Ibrihimi mosque by the tourist café (for non Palestinians only) the army shifts are changing over, a huge truck brings in the new team of soldiers. They think we are settlers so smile and wave at us; we turn away and watch two large white dogs dive in and out of a skip full of rubbish. A few settlers are out walking on Shahuda Street but they seem peaceful so most of our group return to the apartment but a few of us decide to carry on wandering the streets.

Back in the winding ways of the old city we run straight into a patrol of soldiers lurking in the shadows with their guns aimed. We Jump and they jump. We walk way from them; they follow us after we have turned a corner. They are trying to move silently but we can hear their uniforms creaking as they walk, they are standing near our apartment, and we do not wish them to see exactly where we are based so we walk down another alley. The alley way broadens into a road and a car pulls up, two men get out, one man puts a knife into his boot as we hiss “jesh“(army) at him, he makes a gesture as if to say ‘so what !’

We walk together through the dark streets. The men show us a stable with a sickly Arab mare huddled up on dung. I feel sorry to see the mare kept in such a bad way, we leave and say goodnight to the men. When we return to the apartment we find that mobile phones and money have been stolen from the main room that faces out onto the market. Our guess is that children could have climbed in through the window and taken the most obvious things lying around. Some days later the phones are returned with apologies and offers of free fruit. Hebron is truly a strange place.

Sunday 9th of January Palestinian Election Day in Jerusalem or Al Quds

Have returned to Jerusalem to cover the elections, my initial plan was to cover the situation in Gaza but Gaza is now closed to journalists. We have left it too late to enter.

Of the 27,000 East Jerusalem based Palestinians eligible to vote only 5000 were allowed, due to Israeli registration complications. At the Jaffa Gate polling station a paltry 8 people managed to cast a ballot, with those arriving to vote being sent away to polling stations outside of East Jerusalem. Some settler children, wearing yellow stars, were harassing voters and electoral observers outside the Jaffa gate post office.

I went to the media centre at the Peoples Palace in Ramallah, everything was very quiet. An emergency press conference announced that the polling stations would remain open a further three hours due to the difficulties people had faced trying to vote.

As we left Ramallah a few fireworks were being let off outside a roadside café as the results for Abu Mazan came in. When we arrived at the check point near Jerusalem the soldiers were very cheerful upon seeing a crowd of European journalists.

“Sorry for the hassle guys “they said as they handed us back our pass ports. I felt sickened by their friendliness as I recalled one occasion, whilst accompanying a family with their sick child to a doctors in the neighbouring village after dark. At the check point the soldiers made us all get out of the vehicle; they made me stand on one side of the car and the family on the other. The soldier kept demanding, why the fuck was I in Palestine? He then insulted my appearance and insulted the family I was with. Israel routinely dehumanises Palestinians and this chirpy attitude to the journos on Election Day only served to illustrate this more clearly.

13th of January 2005 Jenin Olive Planting at Arab As Suweitat Farm

Four of us have travelled up to Jenin from Nablus because a farmer at Arab As Suweitat Farm, who has had his land commandeered by the illegal real estate carve up that is the security fence, needs to plant olive saplings on his remaining dinums which border the fence. Previously he has had problems from both the settlers and the army so we invited to attend the planting to report on any intimidation that he might incur whilst working his own land.

It is the situation here that if a farmer does not keep his land productive it can be requisitioned by the Israeli state for settlements so it is crucial that his trees are planted.

We arrived at the farm early in the morning, shivering in blue dawn light, after chai to warm us up; we made our way over stone walls towards a pile of little olive saplings. The workers, the farm children and ourselves each grab a couple of baby trees and then scramble over the bumpy ground to the planting point. The men quickly dig the land while we watch the settlement and the road which stretches for eternity alongside the cursed razor wire fence. The settlement opposite looks like a scene from the Walton’s with its neat white houses fronted with homey looking porches just waiting for a grey haired grandmother to sit and rock the little ones to sleep in her big comforting arms. Instead of granny though, some men appeared and seeing us planting trees fetched a chain saw and tore down some graceful pine trees surrounding the settlement. An army jeep drove past us, backwards and forwards as the trees were put into place. The soldiers were obviously bored with nothing better to do then to keep staring at us. What a waste of British tax payers’ money I thought as I remembered the support Britain gives to this regime.

There is no escape from tea and coffee in this culture two tiny girls came scrambling over the rocks bearing a tea pot and little tea glasses. We all sit together in the morning sun singing songs with the kids, and then return to the farm for lunch and even more tea.

15th of January 2005 the great road block Mistake at Izbet At Tabib.

“And your mission if you choose to accept it is to travel to Izbet At Tabib where the Israeli army have bulldozed the main access road which has cut off the water supply to 40 houses in the village.”

So we are back in a service heading south of Jenin in the pouring rain to a small cluster of houses a few kilometres from Jayyous to negotiate the removal of great piles of concrete and rocks dumped by the army across the villages’ main access road which has smashed the water pipes underneath, before they can be fixed this huge heap of rubble has to be cleared. We clamber over this quagmire of mud and rock that has cut the village off and are then taken inside a house to be updated on the situation.

We are told that on Friday the 14th of January a D9 bulldozer loomed over the horizon of At Tabib and then churned up its main access road piling up three road blocks aprox 2.5 metres high about 100m apart which have smashed water pipes severing the supply to forty houses in At Tabib.

Phone calls are made to human rights groups who have the ear of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and soon we learn that someone from the DCL (the administrative branch of the army will come out to assess the situation. In heavy rain we wait by the side of the road for Captain Ohar of DCL to appear. An army jeep and hummer eventually arrives, four soldiers escort Captain Ohar towards the road blocks. I am not sure what the difference is between the admin branch of the army and the army branch of the army, as they all have massive guns. Captain Ohar (it is hard to type ‘Ohar’ without imagining a trumpet resounding ‘Ohar! Tadah!’) Demands proof that the village is without water. We enter the court yard of a house nearest the road block I wonder how the people feel on seeing the army at their door. Captain Ohar!! Trumpet resounds! Sees that yes indeed there is no water and explains that these road blocks were just a mistake.

Er a mistake? Tonnes of rubbish and massive boulders on the main access road a mistake?


Yes apparently they had to clear a road block from a neighbouring village( which had in fact never had a road block) but by accident they had made three road blocks in At Tabib whilst clearing away a road block some where else but hey! Don’t worry we will clear these ones up tomorrow!

Watch out the next village along in case the army decides to add four road blocks instead of clearing away At Tabib’s three road blocks.

I get captain Ohar to repeat three times that if the army do not come in the morning as promised it is ok to call him and demand to know where the army is. He says it is ok to call him.

16th of January 2005

Out comes the sun and dries up all the rain and a great big Caterpillar D9 bulldozer comes along the next day and shovels the boulders and road blocks to one side. The At Tabib children sit up on the piles of rocks watching this lumbering machine responsible for demolishing so many Palestinian homes, roads and lives in the quest for the Zionist dream. The road blocks cleared I ask the villagers if the army will fix the broken water pipes but the men say that no they will have to do it and they seem to prefer this to having the army hanging around and I can’t say that I blame them.

Yanoun 18th to 21st of January 2005

Evening of 17th of January

My telephone rings and I am asked if I would like to work with the International women’s peace service (IWPS) to watch Yanoun an ancient and remote village south east of Nablus facing the Jordan valley, so that the regular observers can take a break.

It is essential for internationals to maintain a presence in Yanoun at all times as the surrounding hills are populated with settlers of the Itamar settlement who continually harass the people of Yanoun. In October 2002 armed men from Itamar evicted the entire village at gunpoint. Following this, Israeli peace groups and International observers moved into deserted Yanoun to prevent settlers from taking over the village. The local people returned feeling a degree of protection from the international presence. However it is now necessary to keep internationals permanently in the village to monitor and act as a deterrent to future settler violence and invasions.

I look on the map for the location and groan when I see it means yet another trip back to Beit Tiba and then a lot of car and bus changes until the final destination is reached but hey, a good excuse to see more beautiful country side.

18th and 19th January 2005

I am alone in Upper Yanoun in the international house; Yanoun is divided into upper and lower areas and is over 2000 years old. The encircling hilltops are under the control of the Itamar settlers and if any one other than then these vigilantes of Zion visit, then they risk a bullet in the bum. Quote by Leah Goldsmith of Itamar settlement “We, the local settlers are inquisitive about any vehicle that is not a bullet proof bus on these roads”

Very nice! The only vehicles I have seen here so far are two small ford fiestas!! The horizon is ringed with sentry towers stood next to prairie style bungalows and caravans. Upper Yanoun’s slopes are ridged with, beautiful dry stone walls and ancient gnarled olive orchards.

So I sit here on this grey rainy day awaiting the arrival of more internationals F of IWPS with whom I traveled here is in lower Yanoun visiting families before she returns to the IWPS house.

Meeting up with her yesterday in Hares after the trip south from Jenin was a complex process. I arrived at the madness that is Beit Tiba checkpoint and as usual the sunshine yellow services are parked at crazy angles with their engines running, and the drivers touting for business are crying “Ramallah! Ramallah! Ramallah!” over the continuous blaring of horns. Dust from the quarry blows everywhere creating a khaki fog to match the APC’s and hectic crowds cross the check point in a stop go, motion regulated as the army likes.

To reach Hares I was advised to take a service to Fouldoon for five shekels and then another onto Hares. At first nobody understood where I wanted to go as I had pronounced Hares “Harris” in a very English way. I soon realized it is pronounced Kharese, this misunderstanding sorted I then received the wise words “take a service to Fouldoon.”

In the service a serious young woman traveling with her little sister offers me chewing gum, and told me that she was at university studying mathematics and computing.

Fouldoon, I am told that services do not go to Hares but they can do a special for 20 Shekels I say no thank you and am then advised to take a bus. Some one else tries to sell me a special for 20 acting as if buses are a legend from the distant past, three minutes later I am on a bus whizzing through stunning mountainous lands. The bus stops and one man gets out, I carry on sitting waiting for the bus to continue, the driver raises one eyebrow at me in the mirror. “Hares” he says, I smile as I think that London bus drivers would just leave me sitting there taking me miles out of my way.

I climb up onto a pile of rocks to wait for the arrival of F, she appears a south African activist of Muslim Indian origin, she is used to being in command and wants to know that I am self sufficient and independent. I do my best to appear so. We then take another bus to a checkpoint situated in some hills between two main roads. I have no idea where we were, and then it’s into a Taxi to Aqraba (a good Arabic name) from where a lift is arranged onto Yanoun. At Aqraba a white transit van pulls up, the driver, a smiley man with his two children in the back, bumps us up the mountains to Yanoun, past olive trees so old their thick rugged trunks are three feet wide and date back to the Roman times.

International House is bright and cheery the walls painted spring green with colourful knitted patchwork blankets thrown over chairs. A welcoming destination to arrive at. Next to it is a tiny cave like shop where we met three old wise women, who sell handmade olive oil and goat’s cheese. They serve us tea and hand us little chocolate sweets as we leave, like everyone else here they find my attempts to speak Arabic hilarious but are patient and encouraging. They are very beautiful in that same way the ancient olive trees are. Their skin is shiny brown, lined and leathery, their eyes twinkle beneath bright hijabs.

We leave them to go to meet the mayor of Yanoun, Rashid, who serves us chai and lets us sign the Yanoun visitors’ book. The book dates back to 2002 and it was good to see names from so many lands that have come to this remote and wonderful place because of their concern about the villagers’. Rashid’s four children play peacefully together in front of a small wood burner in the middle of the room. I notice children here are not spoiled with tonnes of toys, I have seen a few that have marbles or toy guns but other then that they play very creatively with each other, telling stories or running about in the streets.

I then recalled a few days before walking in the Arab As Suweitat district of Jenin, we stumbled on a decayed fair ground with a rusted old Ferris wheel, at the centre. The proprietor his hands grimy with oil offers us tea from a giant gold urn. The tea ritual is everywhere, as we stand sipping from little plastic cups, crowds of small boys gather. “What’s your name? Where are you from?” The boys have a manic energy on which they can barely keep the lid and they are about to spill over.

“You yahoodi? You Israelian?”

“La Israeli” we say

“Israelian Israelian!” they chant following us to the remains of a demolished house, they crowd us, half friendly, half threatening.

One boy keeps hitting my sheet of Arabic verbs from out of my hands; I chase him, catch him and swing him around. He laughs, for a moment pacified. The other boys still cannot make up their minds about us. We leave them for they are just a bit too boisterous. Small stones come flying towards our ankles, and they run behind us crying out “Jahudi! Jahudi!”

Some adults try to contain them but the boys are too hyped up at the sight of us to listen, hurt by the violence of the occupation it comes as no surprise that they see every outsider as a threat.

I have played with many children here and they often mime throwing stones when faced with a pretended danger. Their instant response is to pretend to throw stones, acting out the boy David archetype facing the bogey Goliath a heroic role play of children growing up surrounded by military oppression.

F has headed off into lower Yanoun beret on head looking very Che Guevara and I am alone waiting for more internationals to arrive, wondering what on earth I will do if something does happen with the settlers I just pray that nothing does I play the guitar and sing to distract myself.

It is peaceful here despite the situation, unlike my last night in Jenin, which was stressful. The flat below the apartment was a kind of computer store. At about 20.30 some men came and banged loudly on the door and then tried to smash it down. They were shouting, in a paranoid moment I thought that they might be looking for us incase they thought we were Israeli collaborators and had the wrong flat. The wind was howling around the apartment block I was totally alone without phone credit, the other ISMers were at the internet café. BANG! BANG! BANG! SHOUT! SHOUT! SHOUT!

I sneak a look through the door and see that the two men are angry. They are still shouting like crazy, my paranoia has peaked and I am ready to run down the stairs into the street or to start shouting from out of the window. I crouch in a dark corner clutching my out of credit phone poised to start screaming if anyone bursts into the apartment. The phone rings and my saviour from madness is my wondrous telepathic sister who I have not heard from since I left England. “How are you?”

“Er I am hiding in a corner terrified, how are you?” She calms me and the banging downstairs continues for just a little while longer and then the men leave and drive away in a van with bars on the back window. In Yanoun it was great to sleep peacefully despite the fact that the settlers might turn up at any moment with their guns and supremacist bigotry.