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Archive for November, 2007

So Annapolis peace talks have brought an extra 3000 Israeli soldiers to the West Bank.  In Azzoun yesterday, a small town in the Qalqilya region, where i have been spending quite a bit of time of late, three teenagers were shot during an Israeli army invasion – one, aged 16, was shot in the chest and is still in a critical condition; another, aged 13, was shot in the stomach; and the third, also 13, was shot in the calf and arm.  I had forgotten how small 13 yr old boys are before i came here.  The thought of bullets in bodies so small makes me shudder with sadness and impotent rage.

The invasion brought over 200 soldiers to Azzoun, a town already overrun on a regular basis.  They invaded homes, shooting them up, beating women and arresting young men.  Young men in Azzoun are in a very dangerous position.  They’re arrested randomly, because of their gender and age.  One family told us of soldiers invading their home, demanding “Give us all your sons”.  A couple of days ago I was in a carpark with kids playing football when soldiers drove in and grabbed a sixteen year old boy just because he was slower at running away than the rest.  Actually, i reckon he’s probably pretty fast, but that he stuck around to see what was happening.  I fear he stuck around because we were there, and he thought he’d be safe with internationals present.  He wasn’t.  He was taken into the back of the jeep, beaten and then thrown out of the moving vehicle half an hour later.  I guess after that they drove back out on to the main street, because we saw them out there, waiting, and as a couple of twelve year old boys were walking by with their dad, they opened the door and beckoned them at gun point.  My friend and I implored them not to get into the jeep, or to get within the soldier’s grasp, which afterwards seemed kind of a stupid thing to do.  But one of them could not resist the fear of the gun and so went forward and was grabbed and abducted.  Beaten and released later.  

The area has been under intense pressure for many weeks now, with curfews, roadblocks and “flying checkpoints” – the kind that just consist of an Israeli jeep parked in the middle of a road, stopping cars, checking ID and searching.   The entrance to the main road of Azzoun has been closed mostly since 31st October (blocked with concrete cubes put in place by Israeli soldiers), forcing people to enter through a nearby village, the entrance to which has now been blocked by an earthmound (a big pile of earth and rocks put in place by a bulldozer).  So now to drive in your own car to Qalqilya, a village 9km west, takes about 45 mins as you go via an extremely round-about route to the south.  Of course, if you’re taking a taxi you can go directly, but you have to change taxis twice – once to get past the earthmound at Izbit at Tabib, and then again when you go through the main checkpoint to get into Qalqilya.  That’s when road 55 is available for Palestinian use.  Of late that’s been pretty intermittent too.  

About 9 days ago a settler was shot and killed in a nearby village of Al Funduq.  The soldiers admitted that they knew the shooter wasn’t from the village (the villagers have historically had really good relations with settlers, even to the point where settlers would do their shopping in Al Funduq, which is generally unheard of) but they still imposed a 4 day curfew on the town, during which time people weren’t allowed to be out on the street; drive on the street; or open their shops.  Given that it’s an industrial town (in that it has a lot of factories), this was pretty devastating economically. 

Nearby settlers decided to get in on the collective punishment act, and set up a road block of their own, blocking traffic.  Of course, because the road was already blocked to Palestinians, it was only other settlers they were inconveniencing.  Whilst it was clearly stupid, I recognized too much of my own history of activism in their actions – I had no sympathy for their cause, but their tactics hit close to home.  The army was there of course, but stood by watching most of the time – it’s not really their job to interfere with those doing God’s work.  The settlers then turned their attention to the shops and cars lining the street.  Windows were smashed and houses were attacked.  It wasn’t until the local council turned out the street lights that they left, heading up to the nearest major intersection to stop cars there.

A couple of nights later about 300 of them went on a rampage through Al Funduq, again smashing homes and cars.  One Palestinian was arrested and a few more beaten by soldiers.

So while everyone knows that the shooter is nowhere in the region, the army are using this as an excuse to further implement repressive measures.  Such as invasions, road closures and curfews.

Whilst Israeli apologists deliberate over whether it’s better for there to be more or less troops in the West Bank over Annapolis, (the trade off between a show of good will and leaving oneself open to “showy attacks”) the pincers of the occupation draw closer, squeezing the West Bank to the point that life becomes untenable.   

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gee, it’s been a long time between posts.  the reason being, ultimately, that i left hebron, where i had 24 hour internet access in the penthouse (that’s right, we had two apartments – the penthouse and LA [lower apartment]).  actually, to say there was 24 hour internet access was a lie, i’m guessing it was roughly 12 hours a day that we had access – the other 12 hours we couldn’t connect.  it seems to be the most reasonable to suggest that this was because our internet connection was shared with one of the palestinian coordinators, and our modem cable ran from his apartment to ours – which was across the street and up the block a bit.  kindly, one of the neighbours allowed it to be passed through the bars on their window, so it didn’t sag too much.  i left hebron about two weeks ago, hence the silence, but there are still lots of interesting things that happened before i left that bear recounting.

The Virtual Hebron Tour

Hebron is a strange and tense place, i may have said it before.  it has a reputation that precedes it as being an intensely hot-spot of confrontation between settlers and palestinians.  or of the settlers in hebron as being especially crazy.  aparently they lack support from more moderate zionists, and most residents of ’48 – the palestinian-centric term to refer to the land that was taken from them by the UN in 1948 and named Israel. 

There are four main settlements within Hebron city itself, and many more in the surrounding district.  The three of them that are downtown have largely crippled the once-booming business of the old city – with 1300 palestinian shops forced to close under military orders, in order to ensure the security of the settlers; integral streets, such as shahuda st shut down, except for two entries – one Israeli only, the other through checkpoint 56 (meaning palestinians can only enter on foot); and a history of settler violence that has led to the famous wire cage lining the top of the market place because of the rocks (sometimes boulders), garbage and other crap the settlers throw down at the palestinians from their stolen homes above the market.  Not that this wire stops them from flooding the market below with whatever liquids take their fancy – often chemicals in order to ruin the goods that are displayed outside the shops and to drench whatever palestinians they can.   they’re good people.

closed Shahuda St

old city

img_1738.jpg

Beit Romano, as one of the settlements is called, appropriated a palestinian boy’s school in the process of their occupation, and has now turned it into a jewish religious school; across the road the Israeli Occupation Force took over a women’s centre.  Women and children first.

 old school, new school

post-feminism - what used to be the women’s centre

 About once a week the army will invade someone’s house in the old city and takeover their roof.  we were called to one such incident 2 weeks ago, where 6 soldiers entered a house where the only person home was a 14 year old girl, who, understandably, started screaming for help.  They stayed on the roof for about 3 hours – we got there after they’d been there for two hours already.  The army DCO (district coordinating office) claimed it was for “security reasons”.  it’s always for security reasons.

despite the overbearing presence of settlers in the old city (and it is an old city – it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – dating back to 35th centuary BCE) there are active attempts to reclaim it.  The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is doing just that, stone by stone rehabilitating ancient dwellings that are on the “front line” – the ones that back right onto settler houses.  Out of fear of attack, they work at night to make the homes safe for people to move into – often climbing in through the windows, which might then become the door of the premise.  They’ve renovated over 640 houses in the old city, in order to bring back the palestinian population.

 At the end of the old suq (market) is the entrance to the Ibrahimi mosque known as the cave of the patriarchs – where the tombs of abraham, sarah et al are.  And where Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 people and injured another 150 while they were face-down praying.   one man told me it was a river of blood.   obviously, if jewish settlers were upset enough to do something like that, then the situation needed attention.  the response of the Israeli government was to divide the mosque into two parts – one jewish, one muslim.  Not equal parts, mind you.  despite the fact that within hebron itself there are less than 500 settlers and 167000 palestinians, they divided it up 65/35 – jewish/muslim.  access to ibrahim’s tomb, however, is equal.  it stands in a room with grated windows through which the fervent can beseach the lord.  in the middle of the room is a pane of bullet-proof glass that effectively divides the stares of the jewish and muslims.  the glass is not so much to protect the jews, as the muslims have to pass through a number of checkpoints and searches before they are allowed to enter the mosque, it’s to protect the muslims, because it’s good behaviour for jews to relinquish their firearms before entering the mosque, but not compulsory.  released on their own recognisance. 

The new mosque dividing wall

i wish that i was bullet proof

Strange Palestinian Authority incident

 So on 30th October, Gloria and i were sent to check out a house in Wadalharia that had been the site of a major soldier incursion the day before.  Upon arriving there, we found out that it was actually the PA (Palestinian Authority) who had been the perpetrators.  Without really telling us what was going on, a young palestinian boy took us through the ransacked house, pointing out the blood splatters, the bullet holes, the trashed living room.  He took us into the toilet, where there were chunks – whether blood or flesh it was difficult to tell.  We obediently photographed the scene, not really knowing why, but presuming it was a pretty fucked up situation. 

Then we were told, in a round-about, incomplete and infuriating way, that hundreds of PA had turned up and invaded the nearby houses.  They had dragged a 4 yr old neighbour out of her house and used her as a human shield, as they killed one man and arrested two others.   

The neighbours, who had all been subject to “terrible violence” in their homes, couldn’t understand what had happened, except that maybe someone wanted had come into the house to hide from the PA.  After all, the residents were all good Fatah supporters, and no one knew the man who had been killed and then dragged from the house.  It came out that a PA policeman had been killed the day before, and they presumed it was related to this. 

Now i have a whole host of photos of the house, the blood, the spent shells found that i can’t bring myself to erase.

You will be executed

On 2nd of November I went along to the usual Friday protest of working on the Jabarri family farm, that i have written about previously.  We planted some new olive trees – only 8 – to see what would happen to them – ie whether they would be immediately ripped out by settlers.  There were a couple of settlers around, but it was a pretty quiet morning.  We were ready to call it a day, when one of the palestinian coordinators decided that we should have a go at clearing the land at the bottom of the slope – the land that lines the road across from which is the entry to kiryat arba – one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Information dissemination in Hebron ISM is particularly bad, you need to ask a lot of questions to get any real answers, and even then one is left with the feeling that half the story remains untold.  I understood that this was a rare situation of which we were taking advantage, but i wasn’t sure why.  possibly because the soldiers were less overbearing than usual. 

so we started to clear the land of rocks and debris, in order that it too could be planted with olive trees, when someone came up with the bright idea of using the rocks and tires to make a barricade of sorts at the edge of the road – preventing the settlers from parking there, which is obviously very bad manners.  soldiers grew very nervous at this, and threatened to arrest us if we moved any more rocks.  we continued to move rocks, but some stopped to negotiate with the inexperienced soldiers, waiting for those who had a better idea of the situation to turn up.  and they did, as did more police and security guards.  it became apparent to the authorities that we had every right legally to be doing what we were doing, with all the appropriate paperwork at hand, and so we continued under the condition that no more fires were lit (they set fire to particularly noxious and painful weeds).

i quite enjoy it when the cops turn up at the Jabarri farm.  Mainly because of the appearance of some of the female cops.  we have a few favourites in particular – one is naughty cop.  these are women who would never be able to get away with their presentation in any other police force in the world.  naughty cop, for instance, has hair cascading most of the way down her back, pants slung low, shirt buttons open immodestly.  sadly, naughty cop wasn’t there at that action, but there was one with  whom i was particularly amused.

Not-so-Naughty cop

and then the settlers turned up.  incensed, some of the young boys started to yell at us that “jesus was gay”.  their numbers swelled, as they realised what we were doing.  one of them shoved an international, but for the most part their rage was impotent.  they were incredulous about our presence – that we would be working with palestinians.  “Don’t you realise they’re animals?”, one female settler called to me.  “you’re as bad as they are”, she also said, not realising it wasn’t an insult.  And then the young boys (maybe 16 yrs old) started on me, culminating in the threat “you will be executed”.  They then proceded to ask if i knew what that meant, which diminished the potency of their threat somewhat.

We left the farm after building a reasonable barricade, but the family, who declined internationals’ offer to stay the night with them were subject to  settler attack overnight.  One man was beaten and the rest of the family was terrorised.

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