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“Go back!  You are not patients!  Go back!  You are not sick!”, screamed the Egyptian security officials at the Rafah border crossing, when intenational charitites tried to transfer four sick and wounded children through Egypt in order to travel to hospitals in France, on Saturday 25th January.
Officials demanded that 9 year old Iman Khadum, who is suffering from massive hematoma and nephrotic syndrome – as a result of falling down stairs in fright when a bomb landed near her home – get out of her ambulance and urinate on the ground, to prove that she really had a kidney problem – despite the fact that all the children had appropriate paperwork.  Iman, being a 9 year old girl, refused, “Out of shyness”, her mother explains.
The border officials then began pounding on the ambulances, screaming at the children, and the international doctors who were accompanying them, “Why did you come here?!  Why did you bring their relatives with them?!”.
This was the second attempt made by the charities PalMed and International Humanitarian Health Organisation (IHH) to take the children through the border crossing.  The day before, Friday, the children were also turned away, after border officials had allowed the accompanying doctors to pass through.  “On both days, it was the same result”, said Turksih IHH co-ordinator Adem Bark.  “But on Saturday the behaviour of the soldiers [Egyptian border officials] was much, much worse”.
The children are now being treated in al Shifa hospital in Gaza city.  Iman’s mother reports that Iman no longer even wants to go to France for treatment, because of her experiences at the Egyptian border.  “She tells me, I don’t want to go to France now”, explains her mother.  “She said: I don’t want to go back to them [the Egyptian border officials]”.
Iman, in al Shifa hospital

Iman, in al Shifa hospital

The children who were selected to travel to France for treatment, were chosen because their cases met certain criteria – that of being children who require multiple surgical procedures.  Hazem Abu Odeh, 12 years old, also has, like Iman, suffers from nephritic syndrome – but has the complication of it being steroid-resistant.  16 year old, Alaa Abu Dagan, suffers from multiple wounds to her back and abdomen; as well as fractures and a dislocated shoulder, caused by an explosion. Amira al Ghirim, 15 years old, has severe crush wounds and old, infected explosion wounds – she was found after 4 days following an explosion that killed most of her family.  The only other survivor, her mother, believed Amira to be dead, and buried body parts that she thought were Amira’s.
The four children were the first wounded Palestinians to be refused passage through the Rafah border crossing since the beginning of the Israeli assault, except for the third day of the war, when patients were turned back as a result of Israeli bombardment near the border, according to Dr Hassan Khalaf, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health in Gaza.  Theirs, however, are proving to be just the first cases in what appears to be a new Egyptian government policy of refusing entry of Palestinian patients to Egypt.  Whilst all other patient-bearing ambulances were permitted through the Gaza-Egypt border crossing on Friday 23rd January, 40 patients from Al Shifa hospital in Gaza city were refused, along with the 4 children, the following day.  The same 40 patients were again refused passage through the border on Sunday 25th, and a further 8 women were refused passage on Monday 26th.
Hospital and health officials are baffled as to why Egypt has adopted this new policy of refusal.  “Nobody in Gaza strip can answer this question”, advised Dr Khalaf.  “This is a purely Egyptian issue.  And a political issue…This is part of the Egyptian policy against Gaza”.
Egyptian officials, however, claim they are carrying-out instructions from the Ministry of Health Operations Room in Ramallah (West Bank), which on 22nd January, released the following statement:
“The Ministry of Health would like to extend their sincere gratitude to all fellow countries that hosted and are currently hosting injured children who were dramatically hurt due to the vicious Israeli war on Gaza. However, the MoH would like now to provide and ensure treatment for the injured children in Gaza close to their families and friends.

A high percentage of the martyrs have been children due to their vulnerability to tolerate severe injuries, and those who were fortunate enough to survive have been treated in the hospitals in Gaza. We therefore see no more reason to refer anymore children for treatment abroad.”

Of course the MoH in Ramallah has no way to “provide and ensure treatment for the injured children in Gaza, close to their families and friends”.  It hasn’t prevented them from issuing the decree, however.  Dr Khalaf, whilst generous in his praise for the work of the doctors and hospital staff in Gaza’s hospitals for the ways in which they coped during the attacks, is also realistic about the types of care than can be offered to patients in Gaza.  “We are not an eminent medical centre here”, he said, referring to Al Shifa hospital.  “There is a level of expertise that is available in Europe and the United States that is not available here”.
It seems the Egyptian government is not just operating under instructions from Ramallah, however.  Dr Khalaf advises that Palestinian patients who have been offered treatment abroad (eg. in Europe and the US) have been prevented by Egyptian officials from leaving Egypt since 11th January – long before the PA issued its ridiculous statement.  Indeed, currently there are 2 children from the PalMed/IHH program who are being held in Eyptian hospitals, after having been permitted to pass through the Rafah crossing.  Egyptian officials are reportedly refusing to allow them to travel on to France.
Mohammad al Ajla, 14 years old, has suffered multiple amputations as a result of explosion injuries; and Bissan Sallak, 8 years old, has multiple injuries to her abdomen, chest, diaphragm, lung and liver – also as a result of an explosion.
Currently, Egyptian authorities are claiming that only patients who cannot be treated in Egypt should be allowed to travel abroad, despite the fact that the patients in question are not citizens of Egypt, and, as such, in theory, in no way subject to Egyptian governmental decisions of this kind.
At the same time, the vast majority of Palestinian patients with white phosphorus wounds who have been transfered through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, have been channeled into military hospitals, where they cannot be accessed by journalists or civilians.  One might be forgiven for thinking Egypt is colluding in hiding Israeli war crimes.
At any rate, the actions of the Egyptian government, in refusing to allow Palestinian patients through to Egypt and further abroad, and in maintaining a closed border with Gaza throughout the siege, demonstrates an undeniable level of culpability.  As Dr Khalaf remarked: “They are playing an important role in our suffering”.
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It seems that in times of crisis, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority(PA) shows its true face.  Like its responses to the demonstrations here against Annapolis; and the demonstrations against the last major attack on Gaza, “Operation Hot Winter”; again the PA is brutally repressing any attempts at dissent that are not PA-authorised.

Two days ago, on 28th December, PA police (“shorta” in Arabic) shot 3 demonstrators in Hebron with live ammunition, as a coalition of Palestinian political parties and organisations marched through the streets together, protesting the war on Gaza.  I wasn’t there, but looking at photos and footage taken by my friends, it was a really nice sight of unity as the predominantly Hamas and PFLP supporters merged in a mass of red and green flags.  They chanted angrily against the slaughter of civilians that Israel claims is not happening.  And then they encountered the PA police, who started shooting immediately.  The crowd started running scared, except the amazingly brave Hamas women, who yelled at everyone else for being cowards, and, still moving forward, took up stones to throw at the cops.  My friend who was filming got caught behind the police-lines, at which point he got beaten up and his cameras stolen.  Later these were returned to him by the head of the PA secret police, because he had good connections.  The photos and footage were intact, although extra footage on one camera shows where the cops tried to mess with the footage but seemingly couldn’t figure out how. 

The next day, planned demonstrations were again thwarted by the intense police presence.  Groups of young boys (shabbab) were permitted to throw rocks at soldiers near one of the illegal Israeli settlements, Beit Romano, but the police maintained a heavy presence to ensure that no one got near to checkpoint 56, which divides PA-controlled areas from those controlled by Israeli occupation forces; as well as to ensure that larger numbers of demonstrators didn’t join the shabbab in their riots.

In Ramallah demonstrations, PA police arrested two protesters from PFLP and one from Hamas seemingly without reason, except that it is now illegal to belong to these parties.  When a few young guys went to the police station to argue for their release, they were also detained for being PFLP – an affiliation they didn’t deny when questioned.

Today, in Nablus, where resistance to the massacre in Gaza has been almost non-existent – restricted to a few meagre demonstrations marching cheerfully around the city streets as though children weren’t being slaughtered in their beds – the PA Governor for Nablus refused to allow a meeting of a coalition of political parties and civil society organisations (which explicitly excluded Fatah) to occur in the advertised meeting place.  A few hours before, he called the parties to advise that they would not be able to use the Masoud centre, and that to ensure this, he had positioned a unit of PA police around the building.

When questioned as to why there is no show of resistance in Nablus, people here lament that with the PA forces here, there is nothing they can do.  18 months ago, Nablus was controlled by the various fighting brigades, intent on resisting any Israeli incursions into the city.  “The knights of the night”.   And whilst this situation brought with it many problems, such as the presence of armed gangs with mafia-style operations, it also ensured that the responsibility of resistance to the occupation did not rest with one party alone.  However, with the establishment of the US-brokered and funded Nablus security deal in late 2007, which led to the installation of 500 PA police in Nablus, this began to change.  Working in conjunction with the Israeli occupation forces in defiance of Oslo accords, which decree that no Israeli military are allowed to enter any part of the West Bank designated Area A (such as Nablus and all other cities in the West Bank), the PA agreed to share security operations in Nablus withIsraeli military forces – with the PA police on the street from 6am-12am; Israeli army from 12am-6am.  Designed to “clean-up” Nablus, the true aim of this collaboration seems to have been to disarm the freedom-fighting brigades in order to concentrate all power with the PA.  Notably, in December of 2007, PA police spent one day overrunning the old city of Nablus- along the with refugee camps one of the resistance strong-holds in Nablus.  For hours police controlled the ancient passages, clearing out roadblocks that had prevented Israeli jeeps from penetrating deep into the warren-like suq.  That night, Israeli forces invaded, and were able to arrest more than 50 fighters from parts of the old-city they had never before been able to access.

The West Bank has now been pacified to such an extent that armed resistance against the Israeli-occupation (a right under international law) is now largely impossible.  As Gaza is destroyed, Israel announces increasing relaxations of travel-restrictions for the besieged city of Nablus.  Soon it will be possible for cars to travel in an out of Nablus without prior permission from Israeli authorities.  It seems the Israeli occupation has nothing left to fear from the once notoriously-resistant city.

Ironically, today Fatah leaders called on Hamas to return weapons it confiscated from Fatah-fighters when it took over the Gaza strip in 2007.

This level of collaboration (all nuances intended) has found new voice with the war on Gaza.   Two days ago, Mahmoud Abbas (President of the PA) asserted that the fault for the war on Gaza lay with Hamas.  He vociferated extensively about the lengths to which he and his cabinet had gone to try to convince Hamas to renew the cease-fire.  That if they had only listened to him…  Surprisingly, this is exactly the same line being pushed by Israel and the US (who have committed to funding the Israeli military at the sum of approximately $3 billion each year for the next 10 years).  Palestinians all across the West Bank, and those who have heard of it in Gaza, are reeling at this assertion. 

The Israeli plan for Gaza, I fear, will be modelled on the war waged on Iraq.  To destroy Gaza and install the Fatah-led PA as its puppet government.  It seems the PA are just biding their time.

The Gaza Massacre

More than 220 Gazans dead at most recent count.  And whilst Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev claims that you can’t trust the numbers given by Palestinian medical organisation – that those cunning folks from the Red Crescent are likely to exaggerate to garner international sympathy – the pictures of charred bodies on the streets suggest otherwise. 

It’s the single bloodiest day in the history of the Israeli occupation.  And it’s only the beginning.  The Israeli Occupation Forces assure that the attacks will “expand and intensify”. 

In Gaza there is not enough space in the morgues to hold all of the dead.  Watching shrouds being draped over corpses in the street on tv, I wonder what they will do with the bodies.  In March, when Israel carried out “Operation Hot Winter”, there was not enough cement to bury the fallen.  The situation now is so much worse, given that the only building materials that have entered the strip are those that have been smuggled through the Rafah tunnels.  People are forced to use bricks from demolished buildings to build anything – graves are a luxury Gazans can’t afford.

With more than 700 injured, the hospitals are experiencing severe blood shortages.  Hospitals that were already struggling under the Israeli siege, lacking basic medicines and equipment, are in a grim situation.  Sick patients have been evicted from their beds to make way for the injured.  The main hospital in Gaza city, Shifa, received more than 200 patients within the first 15 minutes of airstrikes.  Random wards, such as the orthopedic unit have been turned into makeshift emergency wards.  It is not just Israel that has been denying Gazan hospitals medical supplies, however – the head of Shifa hospital claims that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have also withheld the vast majority of supplies donated by the international community. 

Finally, Egypt has offered to open the Rafah border for the injured and cleared out two hospitals to make room for numbers which are only likely to rise.  Reports suggest, however, that no injured have, as yet, passed through the crossing, as most injured are too fragile to travel. Most cases are so extreme – mostly head injuries – that intensive care ambulances and helicopters are required to transport patients.

Israel claims they were targeting the “Hamas terrorism network”.  More than forty police stations were razed early in the day, when the bombing started at 11am.  Whilst the link between police and military is a tenuous one, the rain of missiles that continued across the strip until 11pm resulted in the majority of the dead and injured being civilians.  The rest were police.

Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister and Presidential hopeful, said that this attack is a is a “translation of Israel’s right to defend itself”.  She was referring, of course, to the barrage of home-made rockets that have been fired into southern Israel since the ceasefire expired.  The rockets that come from a variety of political groups in response to the ongoing siege.  Until today, 5 Israelis had been injured by the rockets fired since the end of the ceasefire.  The much-bandied term “disproportionate” seems like an absurd understatement.

At the same time, Israel has been killing fighters in Gaza almost daily; and injuring civilians, including children, in the process.      

Israeli politicians and military spokespeople have been hysterically decrying the refusal of Hamas to renew the ceasefire, citing this as another excuse for the massacre.  They neglect to mention that Israel first violated the ceasefire just four days after it was implemented, firing on farmers – injuring two, killing one.  They also fail to discuss the dozens more fighters and civilians the Israeli military killed in Gaza throughout the “ceasefire”; the airstrikes, attacks on houses and Israeli incursions into the Gaza strip that continued without pause.  Neither do they acknowledge the 22 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank during the so-called ceasefire; nor the hundreds more injured.  The failure to lift the siege on the Gaza strip, but rather the intensification of the siege, resulting in Gazans running out of basic foodstuffs, also failed to find its way in to their rhetoric.   Of course, the United States “holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire”. 

Hamas has, predictibly, vowed to strike back, to revenge this massacre.  Already rocket strikes have killed one Israeli civilian.  But what more can they do?  All they have are the home-made rockets that have little range and poor aim.  The claims ring hollow, as it seems Hamas has already done all they can.  They have called for a 3rd Intifada, though there seems to be little political will for this throughout the occupied territories.

Today in Nablus, spontaneous demonstrations broke out in the city centre, but attracted just a few hundred participants, whilst the rest of the city went about its business.  I wanted to scream at the businesses selling Israeli products, demanding to know what they are doing, why they are supporting the occupation when the Palestinian boycott of Israeli products during the 1st Intifada created one of the greatest economic crises Israel has experienced.  Instead I marched sadly, angrily, impotently.  The marches made their way through the city streets, before petering out, failing to utilise the small political will that did exist to, in any way, confront the Israeli occupation.  

There is a general strike throughout the West Bank tomorrow.  It will surely bring more clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Occupation Forces, such as those that were seen in Ramallah and Hebron today.  Whether these will be isolated flashes, as is so often the case, or sparks for something greater, is yet to be seen.

Mr al Kurd is dead.  Just 55 years old – younger than both of my parents – he died in hospital last night, just two weeks after Israeli police evacuated his family from their house in East Jerusalem.  His health had been poor for a long time, but he lived in his home, shuffling about in his pyjamas, sitting out in the sunny courtyard for much of the day.  But when 50 Israeli police came to their home at 2am on Sunday 9th November, first arresting the 8 internationals who were staying there, ready to lock-on in such an event, and then forcing him and his wife, Fawzieh, from their beds, dragging them out of the house without letting them even take a change of clothes, rendering them – in one fell swoop – homeless, he had to be hospitalised immediately.

Fawzieh has since been living in a tent on a nearby football pitch.  It’s a protest tent, designed to garner media attention, and as such Israeli authorities have been bulldozing it every other day.  Luckily, as it’s a tent, it’s easy to put back up again.  A small moment of comedic relief came a few days ago, when they also bulldozed the surrounding fence, which was erected not by the Al-Kurd family, but by Jerusalem city council.

Fawzieh is a strong, strong woman.  She has been a major force behind this whole campaign – a campaign not only to save her house, but to save all the other 28 houses in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood that face the same fate as hers.  For many months now she has opened up her house to the general public, letting it become the site of a media circus.  Night after night she has explained her story to countless delegations and solidarity groups.  Day after day she showed journalists around the area, with grace and alacrity.  She developed great media savvy, imploring cameras “Wayn al democrati, habibi?  Wayn al democrati?” (Where is the democracy, darling?  Where is the democracy?).  All this while caring for a sick husband and cooking two meals a day for the internationals who were camped out in her courtyard for months.

Right now, even in her grief she has set up a public mourning site at her tent.  For the next few hours she will receive visits from the hundreds of people who will undoubtedly come to pay their respects, despite the rawness of her loss.

How the state killed Mr Al Kurd 

Mohammad Al Kurd moved into his house in East Jerusalem with his family when he was 3 years old, in 1956.  Theirs and 27 other houses were built as part of a joint project between United Nations Refugee and Welfare Association (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government, for refugees who had fled the Nakba (1948 war that created 700 000 Palestinian refugees).  The families were granted ownership of the houses in exchange for giving up their food rations. 

After the 1967 war, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, two Israeli settler groups, the Oriental Jews Association and The Knesseth Yisrael Association, made a claim that they had owned the land prior to 1948, and, in 1972, got the land registered in their names with the Israeli Land Registrar.  Then in 1982, the lawyer hired to represent all of the refugee families in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood, Tosya Cohen, unbeknownst to the families, made an agreement with the settler associations to recognise the settlers’ ownership of the land in return for status for the families as “protected residents”.  It’s unknown why he did this, whether he was just stupid, or was paid off, or was ideologically on the wrong side to begin with.  At any rate, the families fired him as soon as they found out what he had done, and denounced his agreement, but it was, in many senses, too late.

Despite the fact that in 2006 the Israeli High Court found the settler associations’ ownership papers to be falsified, and compelled the removal of their names from the Lands Registrar, the Israeli Land Registration department then refused to rezone the land so as to register the land in the true owners’ names.  Further, the Israeli courts refused to allow any of this evidence into the separate case concerning the Al Kurds’ eviction, and so on 16th July 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court issued an eviction notice for the Al Kurds, for not paying rent to the settlers associations.    

In the meantime, while the family was in Jordan in 2001, getting medical treatment for Mr Al Kurd, the Jerusalem municipality gave the keys to the apartment they had built as an extension to their home to settlers – under the pretext that it had been built illegally.  Ironically, the usual excuse for housing demolitions is that, being built without planning permission, they are unsafe to inhabit.  The residents are being protected from themselves.  In this case the annex was unsafe for the Al Kurd family, but safe for the rotation of settler families who passed through there. 

As such, for the past seven years, the Al Kurd family had been living with settlers in their home – in the annex they built for their son and his family.  This brought with it all sorts of abuse, even from the small children; as well as harassment from Israeli police and security guards employed by the settlers associations to patrol the property.    

The settlers occupying the annex have also received an eviction notice to evacuate the property – but Israeli police have chosen not to carry-out the order.  In fact, the same day the Al Kurds were evicted, instead of evicting the settlers as well, more settlers just moved in to occupy the entire house.

All of this has not been the result of a series of accidents and miscalculations.  This is part a deliberate strategy to create the “facts on the ground” necessary to preclude the possibility of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.  This collusion between settlers and the Israeli state is the basis of the well-publicised plan to “Judaise” East Jerusalem.  Since 2004, more than 1200 Palestinians have been made homeless in East Jerusalem alone through home demolitions.  There are currently more than 80 Palestinian houses slated for demolition.   If the remaining 27 Palestinian houses in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood are evicted, those buildings too will be demolished to make way for a 200 unit settler apartment complex.  This will complete the ring of settler apartment buildings needed to effectively annex the old city in East Jerusalem forever.  The Al Kurds are just one family victimised by a series of policies whose ultimate aim is the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem.

And now Mr Al Kurds is dead.  A severe heart-attack.  He might not have been taken out with a bullet, or a bomb, but he was killed by the Israeli injustice system all the same.

Children in Chains

On Monday 15th September, Mohammad Saleh Khawaje, aged 12 years and two months, from the village of Ni’lin was released on bail after spending four nights in Ofer prison near Ramallah, charged with stone-throwing and disturbance of public order. His co-defendant, 13 year old Abdul Ahman is not so lucky; he will be kept in jail until his indictment on Tuesday 16th September, when military prosecutors will request that the judge refuse bail, forcing the child to remain incarcerated for the period of his trial – a process that takes up to six months. The difference in their treatment, according to their lawyer, is based on the slight age difference.

Acts like throwing stones are judged by the Israeli courts according to the level of public danger they present.  Throwing stones is considered “very dangerous” behaviour.  The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.  Although apparently no one ever gets that.  If convicted both children face approximately ten to twelve months in jail, advised their lawyer.

A clear indication of the apartheid nature of the Israeli legal system, Mohammad and Abdul will be tried and punished as adults, despite their young ages because Palestinian children are defined as adults at 12 years old; while Israeli children are treated as such until they reach 18 years of age.

Sitting shackled in the dock of the military court, their heads barely reaching above the railing, the boys wore brave faces, chatting excitedly when Mohammad’s father entered belatedly after being held-up pointlessly at the Ofer checkpoint – Mohammad showing his father his bandaged wound, sustained when Israeli soldiers dragged him from his family home at 2:30am on Thursday 11th September.

Mohammad’s father, Abd Saleh, believes his son has been arrested as an act of revenge visited upon him and his family by Israeli soldiers, following Abd Saleh’s complaints to both Israeli police and military about attacks on him at the behest of Israeli military Lt. Col. Omri Burberg – now notorious as the commander who ordered Israeli soldiers to shoot the bound and blindfolded Palestinian arrestee Ashraf Abu Rama in the foot after a demonstration in Ni’lin.

In a testimony given to the human rights group B’tselem, Abd Saleh detailed the abuse he suffered on 13th July 2008, when, as a volunteer paramedic for Medical Relief, he was present at a demonstration in Ni’lin. Abd Saleh has testified that at this demonstration Omri ordered another commander “Miki” to shoot tear gas directly at him. The gas landed between his feet, quickly overwhelming him. Abd Saleh was then violently arrested, and dragged along the ground, despite protests from witnesses that he needed medical attention. After two hours Abd Saleh was taken by military ambulance to Makabeem military camp where Omri refused to allow hospital transfer for Abd Saleh, despite a military doctor insisting it was imperative, and then proceeded, with other soldiers, to beat Abu Saleh severely for ten minutes, kicking and punching his entire body until he was unconscious. Upon awakening, Abu Saleh was taken to a military ambulance and tied to the bed, whereupon he saw and heard commanders Omri and Miki order a female soldier to take photos of him, in a practice eerily echoing torture photos of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Grahib. In the following hours Abd Saleh was again punched in the face; refused water; left for two hours; and then put back in an ambulance only to be violently picked up and thrown on to the ground.

Abed Saleh wasn’t home when Israeli soldiers invaded the village of Ni’lin on Thursday night and raided his house. “The soldiers came to the house to take me again,” he explained. “They asked where I was. When they found out I wasn’t there they took my son instead.”

I don’t know where Abed Saleh was at 2:30 in the morning when his son was arrested. There have been suggestions that he did as many in Ni’lin do when they suspect they are wanted by the Israeli military, and been staying somewhere else. After all, he has been threatened with arrest again if he continues to go to demonstrations. But as a paramedic he goes anyway, in the thick of the action in case people are shot or beaten or overcome with tear gas.

This is the second time in recent history that such allegations have been laid against Israeli soldiers under Lt. Col. Omri’s command. One month ago Jamal Amira, father of Salam Amira, the teenager who shot the infamous video in which Omri ordered the aforementioned shooting of Ashraf Abu Rama, was arrested as “Salam’s father” by self-proclaimed “friends of Omri”, and subjected to abuse strikingly similar to that Abd Saleh describes in his testimony.

This ethos of revenge is not however, limited just to soldiers under Lt. Col. Omri’s command, rather, it goes right to the heart of Israeli military policy, where it is standard practice to demolish the house of the family of any Palestinian who commits an attack on Israeli citizens. More than 628 houses have been demolished in accordance with this policy since the beginning of the second intifada.

Indeed, actions such as the arrest of Mohammad would also not be possible without a legal system that can try a 12 year old child as an adult.

In my last post, (oh so long ago) I made a slightly drunken assertion that all of the Gazans killed during “Operation Hot Winter” were civilians, because Palestine has no army. While most of the time I actually do make a distinction between civilians and armed fighters (whether or not they belong to a state army), I have a tendency to vacillate between the two positions. Often it depends on how angry I am. But mostly it is because there is quite an area of grey, for me at least, between these two categories.

Especially in Palestine how one becomes categorised is largely a racial matter. The moment a Palestinian picks up a weapon, they become categorised as a combatant – a viable target for the Israeli military. But there’s a huge swathe of armed Israelis who wander around with the supposed protection that civilian status affords – settlers.

A lot of people don’t really know what settlers are or what they do, so at risk of boring those who do, here’s a brief outline. Many Zionists (those who believe that the land of Palestine is the spiritual birthright of Jews) are not content with the huge part of Palestine that was given to them by England and the UN in 1948. They want the whole land – Eretz Yisrael – extending from the Nile to the Euphrates river, and so, armed with M16s and with the support of the Israeli military, they enter the West Bank (and in the past Gaza), and take it by force. Usually they take hilltops, land where Palestinians haven’t built, and put down their caravans. Then the Israeli military is obliged to move into the area to protect them from Palestinians. Then they convince more and more settlers to join them, and then create further outposts, usually on neighbouring hilltops, until they have stolen huge tracts of Palestinian land. The state of Israel then further obliges them by building big security fences around their settlement, and any other land they wish to appropriate. This is considered to be stage two of the building of the apartheid (also known as annexation) wall. This whole process is illegal under international law – it is illegal to resettle your population in lands you have occupied. But as very few members of the international community are willing to call Israel to account for this, it continues apace. And it is this process that essentially renders impossible the dream for a viable Palestinian state – because the settlements have carved up the West Bank in such a way that there is no contiguous territory; just a vague promise of transportational contiguity. Also these settlements are often positioned in prime locations – stealing the most fertile land; or worse, stealing precious aquifers, such as Ariel settlement in the Salfit region.

Settlers, however, do not limit themselves to just these nefarious land-grabbing activities. Once they have installed themselves, and have virtually zero accountability, they have tendancies to take out their racial hatred (and, I suspect, boredom) on neighbouring Palestinians – harassing them; burning or stealing their crops; beating and killing them.

While settler harassment goes on all the time, in the past week two incidents in particular have angered me such to prompt me to write. One was a particularly brutal attack happened in a village called Sousiya, in the south near Hebron. Sousiya is a tent-village mainly reliant on its shepherding activities. When we have the numbers, internationals try to maintain a presence around the area, just accompanying the shepherds because of the dangers they face from nearby settlers. On Monday 9th June, 6 masked settlers came down from the nearby settlement outpost of Havat Ya’ir and, after telling the Palestinians that they had ten minutes to leave the area, viciously attacked an old couple with baseball bats, hospitalising them, as well as some others from the village who tried to come to their aid.

http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2008/06/11/brutal-attack-in-susiya/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7451691.stm

The phenomenon of settlers covering their faces is quite new, and clearly a response to the increased use of video cameras by Palestinians and internationals, who have a few times been able to press charges against settlers with the aid of video evidence.

Four days later in the north, in the village of Huwarra near Nablus, two Palestinians were attacked in their home at dawn by settlers from nearby Yitzhar settlement – one was stabbed and the other hit on the head with a wrench. As a friend of mine noted, if a Palestinian had managed to stab a settler inside a settlement, the whole West Bank would be shut down. The surrounding villages would be placed under curfew for up to a week while they searched for the attacker, and likely the house of the attacker’s family would be demolished. In the case of these settler attacks, there has been no response.

The Palestinians who were attacked last week have all survived, but even in cases where settlers kill Palestinians, there is no police or army follow-up. In the case of 15 year old Hammad Khadatbh from the village of Beit Furiq, who was found murdered and mutilated in the lands of a settlement on 16th April – clearly tortured and dumped, naked with a broken neck, missing fingers and puncture wounds across his torso – Israeli police immediately concluded that he had been murdered, but there has since been no indication of any investigation of the settlement.

http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2008/04/18/body-of-15-year-old-palestinian-boy-found-mutilated-in-israeli-settlement/

Nor was there any investigation of the case of 15 year old Sharaf Ishtayah, who was murdered by an Israeli bus driver in what eye-witnesses report as an intentional act of the bus-driver swerving towards the young shepherd who was leading his sheep across an Israeli-only road.

http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2008/04/08/boy-killed-in-hit-and-run-on-israeli-only-road-nablus/

Not only do the Israeli authorities fail to investigate settler attacks, they often aid them. Stories abound of Israeli soldiers standing by doing nothing while settlers attack Palestinians. Common also are the situations such as in the village of Asira al Kibliyia, where soldiers handed Palestinians to settlers to beat; and reportedly handed their guns to the settlers to shoot out the water tank on a Palestinian home. In this same village, however, Nahla Machmoud, whose water tank was shot out by the soldiers and settlers, was told by Israeli police that if she ever did anything to a settler who came to her house to harass her family, even just hit one, she would be imprisoned.

Whilst there has been, in recent years, a public backlash against settlers in mainstream Israel, they form the very backbone of the apartheid state that Israel has established through its occupation. And while officially it is impossible for the Israeli government to acknowledge the strategic importance of the settlements (given their illegality) through their armed beligerance settlers have created the seemingly irreversible facts on the ground – thousands and thousands of dounums (a quarter of an acre) in the West Bank annexed to Israel; connected by a series of “Israeli-only” roads justified by “security purposes”, which then work to annex even more land – that for Sharon were the fundamental necessities for his “system of control”.

The West Bank has been erupting in a series of small-scale demonstrations and violent clashes as people try in some way to make some impact in regards to what’s happening in Gaza. Mostly it’s just an expression of anger and grief. People are reeling with each news report, watching the death count rise. It’s up to 98 since Wednesday. And counting. 67 were killed yesterday. All civilians (palestine has no army). 16 of them resistance fighters. 19 of them children – one a 2-day old baby girl. Over 200 people injured.

Apparently there’s not enough cement or coffins to bury all the dead – because of the siege.  This is the current Israeli siege on Gaza that has been in effect since they withdrew from formal occupation of the Gaza strip in 2005 – because Israel still controls all of the borders (except for Rafah, which is the crossing controlled by Egypt) including airspace and marine territories.  The intensification of the siege which took place in January this year was pretty widely reported, with Israel preventing all imports and exports, most entry and exit (approximately 25% of all people with dire medical conditions requiring treatment outside of Gaza are refused permits to leave); and an adequate supply of electricity and fuel (legally possible because  it declared Gaza a “hostile entity” in September last year).  ٍSo now not only are Palestinians in Gaza without water for most of the day, (when it comes through it’s sandy, dirty and contaminated with sewage), but the Ministry of Health is also having to beg Egypt for cement and coffins to bury the dead.

And all the international community can talk about is how Hamas needs to stop the Qassam rocket attacks on the settlements within striking range of the rockets (between 3-10km depending on the type), despite the Israeli defense minister in 2006 arguing that the threat of Qassams is more psychological than physical.  But this week one Israeli resident of Sderot was killed, and so many, many Palestinians must die.  In fact, 4 days ago Israel’s deputy defense minister threatened Palestine with a “holocaust”.  And cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit urged Israel to “hit everything that moves” in
Gaza “with weapons and ammunition.”  Luckily, the UN Security Council has agreed to express “deep concern” over the attacks on Gaza.  There was talk about calling for a cease-fire (which Hamas has already tried to do twice), but there was a widespread fear that the US would veto it.

But whilst a full-scale ground invasion is imminent, defense minister Barak has advised it’s not about to happen just yet.  Apparently now is not the right time, but that time is soon.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.  And if it does chances are we will see another war with Lebanon, because Hebollah has recently promised to join in the fight, should Israel attack Gaza.

At the same time, many people are suggesting (as seems to happen with some regularity) that the 3rd intifada is upon us.  All over the West Bank skirmishes between Palestinians and the occupying Israeli army are taking place.  Today a 14 year old boy was killed in Hebron by Israeli Occupation Force soldiers.  Many more were injured there, as well as in Bi’lin and Bethlehem, as Palestinians protested the attacks on Gaza.  Young boys spent the day throwing rocks at Qalandia (the major checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem).  Whilst I have grown increasingly skeptical of these declarations, it does seem very possible.

The last few days have been profoundly saddening and disempowering.  What has been perhaps most disturbing though, was the protest of 30 Hamas women that took place in Ramallah today.  Approximately 150 Palestinian Authority police surrounded one of the main mosques in Ramallah, waiting for the Hamas protesters to emerge so that they could be arrested, we heard.  But when they came out, the 30 women were allowed to march out into the street, cardboard posters held proudly, as they chanted against the attacks on Gaza.  We tried to film the demonstration, but within 30 seconds a PA cop in plain clothes was on top of us, trying to take the tape.  The media warned us to keep the camera out of sight – “Even we don’t film here” one said.  Already the guy from Associated Press had been beaten up.  The women were stopped at the first intersection they came to, surrounded by the aggressive cops wielding Kalashnikovs.  But still defiantly they chanted.  Held there for a while, they were allowed to march a bit further on, while men with enormous yellow Fatah flags ran up the side of the protest and blocked the women from reaching al Manarah (the city centre), hijacking the demonstration.  I was advised that the cops do this regularly, that they were the ones to give the men the flags.  Then, in a particularly fascist turn, the police started chanting Fatah slogans, trying to drown out the women.  Suddenly, as if on cue, batons were drawn and the women were attacked viciously, while the crowds around them were beaten, dispersing onlookers.  As we were herded down a side street, a local noted that this was “the new occupation.  This is the second occupation.”