Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Life and Death of Naji al-Ali: voice of a nation

24 July, 2007

It has now been 20 years since reknown Palestinian cartoonist Naji Salim al-Ali was shot in London on July 22, 1987 by an unknown assassin. He lapsed into a coma and died five weeks later on August 29, 1987.

During his life time, al-Ali drew more than 40,000 cartoons and was know for his sharp political wit and criticism of not only Israel, the US but also the Arab states. In his work, he campaigned tirelessly for the rights of the Palestinian refugees, Palestinian self-determination and against the absence of democracy, corruption and inequality in the Arab world. His work was often censored and he frequently received death threats. al-Ali was also detained and jailed in various countries and expelled from others for his political commentary.

At 10 years of age, al-Ali and his family were forced to flee Palestine to Lebanon, when Israel invaded and seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, he like thousands of others Palestinians, were forced to live in poor and over crowded refugee camps. This experience gave birth to his most famous creation, Handala (sometimes spelt Hanthala or Hanzala).

The cartoonist christened his 10 year-old boy creation, who never spoke but was the guardian of the Palestinian cause, after a short bitter bush which can be found throughout all of Palestine. The bush although weak, if cut, has the reputation of growing back, time and time again.

Handala, dressed in rags and bare foot, according to al-Ali, represented him at the age of 10 years when he was forced to flee Palestine.

“The young, barefoot Handala was a symbol of my childhood. He was the age I was when I had left Palestine and, in a sense, I am still that age today. Even though this all happened 35 years ago, the details of that phase in my life are still fully present to my mind. I feel that I can recall and sense every bush, every stone, every house and every tree I passed when I was a child in Palestine”.

Handala, explained al-Ali is “a child who is not beautiful; his hair is like the hair of a hedgehog who uses his thorns as a weapon. Handala is not a fat, happy, relaxed, or pampered child. He is barefooted like the refugee camp children, and he is an icon that protects me from making mistakes. Even though he is rough, he smells of amber. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way”.

“Handala was born ten years old, and he will always be ten years old. At that age, I left my homeland, and when he returns, Handala will still be ten, and then he will start growing up. The laws of nature do not apply to him. He is unique. Things will become normal again when the homeland returns”

“I presented him to the poor and named him Handala as a symbol of bitterness. At first, he was a Palestinian child, but his consciousness developed to have a national and then a global and human horizon. He is a simple yet tough child, and this is why people adopted him and felt that he represents their consciousness."

According to al Ali, Handala “protected” his soul when he felt weary and prevented him from ignoring his duty to his people and their struggle:

“That child was like a splash of fresh water on my forehead, bringing me to attention and keeping me from error and loss. He was the arrow of the compass, pointing steadily towards Palestine. Not just Palestine in geographical terms, but Palestine in its humanitarian sense - the symbol of a just cause, whether it is located in Egypt, Vietnam or South Africa. I am from Ain Al-Helwa, a camp like any other camp. The people of the camps were the people of the land in Palestine. They were not merchants or landowners. They were farmers. When they lost their land, they lost their lives. The bourgeoisie never had to live in the camps, whose inhabitants were exposed to hunger, to every degradation and to every form of oppression. Entire families died in our camps. Those are the Palestinians who remain in my mind, even when my work takes me away from the camp”.

In 1982, al-Ali once again experienced first hand the military might of the Israeli Zionist state. Back in Ain Al Helwa refugee camp in Lebanon, he and his family and thousands of others were forced to flee from the camp. He and many others were taken prisoner by the invading Israeli army.

He recounted once he and his family were freed five days later, they sought to return to the refugee camp:

“We travelled by day. The corpses of the victims still lay in the streets. The burnt-out hulks of Israeli tanks still stood at the entrances to the camps. The Israelis had not removed them yet. From my inquiries into the circumstances of the resistance, I learned that it consisted of a group of no more than 40 or 50 youths. The Israeli army had burned the camp while the women and children were still inside their shelters. Israeli missiles had penetrated deep inside the camp, claiming the lives of hundreds of children in the camp in Saida. The young men in the resistance group had spontaneously taken an oath to one another that they would die before they ever surrendered. And, in fact, the Israelis never captured a single one of them. In daylight, the Israeli forces would attack. At night, the resistors would strike. This is what happened in Ain Al-Helwa, as I saw for myself. But I also know that there were other forms of resistance in the camps of Sur, Al-Burj Al-Shamal, Al-Bass and Al-Rashidi”.

The subsequent butchery of Palestinian refugees in the camps shocked al-Ali to the core, none more so than the infamous massacre at Sabra and Shatila camps. For two days the IDF surrounded the camp, closing off all routes of escape and than sat and listened as their allies, the Lebanese Christian Phalangists, carried out the dirty work of murdering 3000 unarmed Palestinian men, women and children. (Israeli Defence Minister - who was later to become Prime Minister - Ariel Sharon was found personally responsible by an Israeli commission for the massacre, while the Israeli military personnel were found indirectly responsible because they knew the massacre was happening and did nothing to stop it)

In response, Handala’s 10 year-old hands become more animated, raised in anger and against oppression: sometimes holding a Palestinian flag or throwing a stone as a sign of resistance but always in condemnation of those who betrayed the justice of the Palestinian cause.

His untimely death came just five short years later. Ten months after his death, Scotland Yard arrested a Palestinian student who turned out to be a Mossad agent. According to the agent, Israel were well aware in advance of the assasination attempt. Israel, however, refused to pass on any information they had on al-Ali assasination. In response, Britain expelled two Israeli diplomates and closed down Mossad’s last base.

Despite his death, al-Ali’s legacy continues to live on, even now 20 years later. He once remarked that Handala, "this being that I have invented will certainly not cease to exist after me, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that I will live on with him after my death".

al-Ali words continue to ring true and since his death, his creation continues to speak out, in deafening silence, for Palestinian self determination. Handala, the small refugee boy, dressed in rags, silent in defiance and strong in resistance can be found everywhere throughout Palestine.

And while his image is prolific, he is of course found most at home in the Palestinian refugee camps - the place of his birth - where he continues to remains a potent symbol of Palestinian resistance and defiance against all odds.

Samples of Naji al-Ali's cartoons can be found at: http://www.najialali.com/

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Israel’s “good will gestures": The distance between reality and rhetoric

For the past month, Israeli and international media has been lauding Olmert’s for his “good will gestures” which include the proposed release 250 Fatah aligned Palestinian Prisoners. While the news of the yet-to-be released Palestinian prisoners is all over the international news, barely a word has been said about the fact that Israeli has arrested more than 300 Palestinians, the majority from Abbas’ Fatah party, in the two weeks period after Olmert and Israel began touting their good will gestures. According to Palestinian News Agency, Ma’an, the figures were released by Fatah’s information office on July 10 reveal that Israel has continued to target and illegal abduct Palestinians.

This week, the PA run Palestinian National Information Centre also released its monthly statistics on the Israeli occupation. According to the PNIC, during the month of June, Israel occupation forces killed 49 Palestinians and wounded a further 147. During the same period, the Israel abducted and arrested 383 Palestinians and carried out 765 invasions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank and committed a total of 2,380 human rights violations against the civilian Palestinian population.

In their weekly report on Israeli human rights violations the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights noted that in the week of 5 July to 11 July:

•IOF killed 11 Palestinians, including 3 civilians, in the Gaza Strip and a 12th one on the West Bank.
•The victims in the Gaza Strip were killed during an IOF incursion into al-Boreij refugee camp.
•The victim in the West Bank was extra-judicially executed by IOF.
•30 Palestinians, including 25 civilians, were wounded by IOF gunfire in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
•24 of these Palestinians, including 20 civilians, were wounded during an IOF incursion into al-Boreij refugee camp.
•IOF arrested 2 of the wounded in the West Bank.
•IOF conducted 36 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and 2 incursions into the Gaza Strip.
•IOF razed at least 200 donums of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip.
•IOF damaged some public and private property.
•IOF arrested 69 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, and 10 others in the Gaza Strip.
•IOF have continued to impose a total siege on the OPT.
•IOF have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world and a humanitarian crisis is likely to emerge.
•At least 6,000 Palestinians have been stuck at the Egyptian side of Rafah International Crossing Point, and the number of deaths among them has mounted to 14.
•IOF positioned at various checkpoints in the West Bank arrested 3 Palestinian civilians.

So while the Bush and the EU laud Olmert for his (yet to be actually given) “generous gift” of 250 Fatah aligned prisoners and Abbas seeks to undemocratically retain control of the PA, another 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners languish in Israel’s jails. The road blocks Israel promised to remove still remain in place, as do the checkpoints and 380 prisoners take the place of the ones who are supposedly going to be released and the Israeli occupation continues ...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

We’ve tried to enter Palestine by land. We’ve tried to arrive by air. Now we’re getting serious. We’re taking a ship!


Dear friends and supporters,

please find below a copy of an article with information and interviews about the Break the Siege/Free Gaza campaign. The below article is an attempt to raise awareness and support for the campaign and includes a link to the campaign website.

Break the Siege needs your support - you can support the campaign in a variety of ways, including financially, but also by publicising of the campaign and organising solidarity events to coincide with the ship's departure to and arrival in Gaza.

Please feel free to distribute the article to your networks. Please consider talking to your social justice networks and the Palestine solidarity groups in your town, city or country about how they can support the campaign.

You can checkout the campaign website at www.freegaza.org

in solidarity, Kim

Palestine: Breaking the siege in Gaza
Kim Bullimore

14 July 2007


"We've tried to enter Palestine by land. We've tried to arrive by air. Now we're getting serious. We're taking a ship".

In August 2007, up to 70 human rights activists from 13 countries will attempt to non-violently break the Israeli and international siege of the densely populated Gaza Strip by sailing a ship into Gazan territorial waters with US$25,000 worth of humanitarian aid to donate to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Israel has prevented the activists — who include teachers, students, musicians, politicians and holocaust survivors — from carrying out humanitarian work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The campaign aims to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and to pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation.

Green Left Weekly spoke to three activists involved in the campaign.

Sharyn, who lives in Britain, gained the dubious distinction in 2002 of becoming the first international peace activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to be shot by the Israeli military, just four days after she arrived in the OPT. Despite this, Sharyn returned a further five times to carry out human rights work in the OPT before she was placed on the Israeli government's official blacklist of individuals prevented from entering Israel and the OPT.

Fellow Australian activist Michael, who was the ISM's media officer in 2003 when US activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death while trying to prevent an Israeli armoured bulldozer from demolishing a home in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, has also been blacklisted by Israel. When Michael tried to return to Palestine in 2004, he was detained for a week as a "security risk" and deported without ever leaving Israel's Ben Gurion airport.

According to Sharyn, "this blacklist has been [Israel's] plan B after plan A of simply shooting us drew international condemnation". Both Michael and Sharyn told GLW that the idea for the Break the Siege campaign was born in November 2006 because so many human rights and peace activists had been prevented from entering the OPT.

According to Michael, "The original idea was for these peace activists to arrive simultaneously at Ben Gurion airport and demand admittance to the OPT. However, it was soon decided that the real story was not Israel's treatment of internationals, but of the Palestinians themselves, and that we needed to focus on Israel's siege of Gaza." This led to the plan to charter a boat.

"Israel claims that since it pulled its settlers out of Gaza, the strip is a 'foreign country' that is no longer under Israeli occupation. If this is the case then its total control over Gaza's air space, territorial waters and border crossings [including those into Egypt] is a gross violation of international law", Michael said.

"The purpose of the mission is to draw attention to the fact that Israel is using its illegal choke hold on Gaza to wage economic warfare on an already desperately impoverished population by arbitrarily closing the strip's border crossings to exports, restricting the supply of food and medicines, closing offshore fisheries to Palestinian fishermen and brazenly stealing customs duties that belong to the Palestinian people."

According to Sharyn, Break the Siege is about showing "solidarity with people who are living under terrible conditions" and letting the "Palestinians know they are not forgotten", as well as placing international pressure on Israel.

Should they make it to Gaza, Sharyn expects "to be given gallons of sugary tea and have multiple families attempt to feed me their entire week's food supply in one sitting". However she doesn't expect the same welcome from the Israeli military, which is likely to "make it very evident" that it holds Gaza "in an iron grip" and "will attempt to stop our boat reaching the port. Since our Israeli colleagues will be on board with us, I hope the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will decide a violent attack wouldn't be a good idea."

Also travelling on the ship will be 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, whose parent's perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Hedy told GLW she received "a wake up call" about Israel and Palestine in 1982 when she learned "about the massacres in the two refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon".

"I needed to find out what and why it happened; what preceded it, what had taken place since 1948. The more I learned and the more I understood, the more I began to speak out publicly against the policies and practices of the Israeli government and military."

Hedy hopes that the Break the Siege campaign will also serve as a "wake up call" for others and will contribute to a sustained global campaign to educate people about the reality of what is going on in the OPT.

Michael said the activists hoped that the campaign would assist in "mobilising people against Israeli apartheid" and that people would not only publicise and help finance the campaign, but also organise solidarity actions around the world to coincide with the ship's departure and its arrival in Gaza.

"The Israel-Palestine conflict has become the defining struggle between racism and justice in the world today. It is impossible to support justice, human rights and democracy without opposing Israeli apartheid", Michael said.

The Break the Siege campaign needs your support. Visit http://www.freegaza.org.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #717 18 July 2007.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Would you like an invasion with that?: On Israel's peace making

2 July, 2007

For the past two weeks or three weeks, the Israeli, American and world media have repeatedly told us that since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency and dismissed the democratically elected Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh (from Hamas) and his government, that this is now the Palestinians best chance for peace. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert has publicly been reported as saying that Israel would recognise the new unelected Palestinian emergency government and “would work with it to advance the peace process as well as the U.S backed road map for peace” (Ha’aretz).

According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper on June 23, Olmert and Israel will do this by offering a “pack of gestures” to Abbas and the Palestinians. This “good will” package will include the release of 250 Fatah aligned political prisoners, release of Palestinian taxes stolen by Israel, not cutting of water, electricity, food and medicine supplies to the Gaza Strip, allowing Palestinian businessmen to enter Israel, transferring armoured cars to Fatah and “renewed” security cooperation. Ha’aretz went onto quoted Olmert as saying that, “We are not interested in punishing the population solely because they are ruled by a terrorist organization”. He further was quoted as saying "We are not indifferent to your suffering. We are not ignoring the need to bring it to an end, through understanding and peacemaking” and “As Israel's prime minister, I say to you: We have no desire to rule you... nor run your lives. We have no intention to make decisions for you. I believe that soon you will be able to live in your state alongside the State of Israel."

On Wednesday, the Palestinian people of Gaza and Nablus and several other cities in the West Bank got to experience first hand Israel’s “peacemaking”. In Gaza, Israeli warplanes and ground troops killed 13 Palestinians, including three children and injured another 44. In Nablus, Israeli troops put 100,000 people under curfew for almost three days, blew up houses, blockaded hospitals and killed one man and injured dozens of others, including children. Olmert, obviously inevertenly forgot to mentioned that his so-called “peace package” or “package of goodwill gestures”, also include military invasions, curfews, tear gas, rubber bullets and illegal collective punishment.

In response to the Israel’s latest efforts in “peace making”, my team mates and I recieved a call from the Palestinian coordinators of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Nablus requesting our assistance. My team mate W and I quickly packed our overnight bags and made our way to Nablus, which is about a half an hour from our village.

My first visit to Nablus was in 2004. At the time, it was a permanent closed military zone, which meant that it was closed to all international observers unless you have receive prior permission from the Israeli state to enter the area. Located on its outskirts of Nablus are three refugee camps, Ein Beit el Ma, Balata and Askar. While all Palestinian refugee camps are considered by the IOF as being “terrorist centres”, Balata tops their list. The small two square kilometre camp is home to more 80% of Palestinians internally displaced refugees in the OPT and the refugees there have played an active role in opposing the brutality of the Israeli occupation in both the first and second intifada. By the declaring the region a closed military zone, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) were able to act with impunity, carrying out continuous and no-stop military campaigns, “targeted” assassinations, house demolitions and illegal collective punishment without the prying eyes of human rights activists, the media and international observers.

In 2004, for a period of about 9 months, the only way that international volunteers were able to get into Nablus was by surreptitiously scrambling through the back roads and the mountains surrounding the city. On the day in 2004, that myself and four other volunteers attempted to enter Nablus via the hills, we were prevented by IOF soldiers being stationed at our drop off and pick up points. Although we did not hold much in succeeding, we decided to take the chance and see if we could get in through a checkpoint. Much to both our surprise and others, we became the first internationals to enter the Nablus through a checkpoint during that period. At the time, I remember our Palestinian friends in Nablus greeting our news with complete shock and disbelief.

According to friends, the permanent closure was lifted in 2005, so this time my team mate and I had a relatively easy job of getting to Nablus. Once we arrived, we were briefed on the situation, along with the international volunteers from ISM. Shortly we broke into four teams, with our main tasks being to patrol the old city, which was under lockdown and curfew, in order to see if any Palestinians were in need off aid, such as food, water or medicine but also to monitor the activity of the IOF. As we walked into the Old City, I was struck by how eerie the scene in front of me was. I had been in Nablus three weeks earlier and the streets of the Old City, as usual, were crazy busy, with vendors selling their wears, spruiking and hundreds of people.

For hundreds of years, Nablus has been the main Palestinian centre for agricultural and commercial trading. Prior to the Israeli occupation in 1967, it had a booming economy and was famous for its olive oil, soap, leather production and sweets (with Nablusian Kanefi being the most delicious and famous). However, now the streets were completely silent except for the sounds of Israeli military vehicles patrolling the streets and sound grenades exploding. All the shops were closed and locked up and as we walked through the deserted streets, we could smell the teargas wafting through the air.

As our group split into our teams, we could see the IOF hummers and tanks patrolling the streets. At first, the IOF ignored our presence on the streets letting us pass without hassle, only occasionally coming closer to see what we were doing. If we encountered any soldiers, myself and another ISM woman had been elected as the negotiators for our team. Our job was to negotiate with the IOF in order to either secure our passage through the military lines, to ensure the Palestinian civilians we were accompanying came to no harm and to ensure both ourselves and them were not detained or arrested. Of the four teams, it turned out that our team encountered the least problems. We were able to enter the Old City and make it to the Medical Relief office with very little trouble.

However, two of our other teams were not as lucky. One team, who were accompanying medical volunteers, was unable to make it into the old city as the IOF refused to let them in, saying it was a closed military zone. Another team was detained for an hour or more by the IOF, when they refused to leave the two Palestinian medics they were accompanying. The soldiers demanded the huwiyas (ID) of the medics ensuring they would not be able to leave or continue with their duties.

The confiscation of a huwiya by the military is equivalent to physically kidnapping a Palestinian. Palestinians can not travel anywhere without a huwiya. If they can not produce their huwiya, they will be immediately arrested and jailed. So if a soldier confiscates a Palestinians huwiya, he or she can not go anywhere and must remain there until his huwiya is returned. This can sometimes be for 10 minutes or sometimes it can be in 3 or 7 or 12 hours or even longer. On many occasions, IOF soldiers while not arresting Palestinians, have refused to return their huwiya, telling them to come back the next day. The Palestinians are then caught in a catch 22 situation. They are reluctant to leave without their huwiyas but do so because they know if they don’t follow the orders of the solider they run the risk of being arrested. However, they also know if they do leave, they now run the risk of being arrested because they don’t have their huwiya. In addition, they know that if they leave without their huwiya, they will mostly not get it back the next day.

After our initial patrol was finished, our teams regrouped at our original starting point. As we waited for all the teams to turn up, we could hear sound grenades being exploded and then one huge explosion. We all ran to the balcony, realising that the IOF had just set of explosive charges in order to demolish a Palestinian house. As we looked up, we could see the dust from the explosion rising into the air. As we watched the dust dissipate, we could hear more sound grenades exploding. About an hour later, around 10.00 pm, a second detonation took place. Shortly after, we received a call from the local Medical Relief teams asking if there were any volunteers who could help facilitate the entrance of the medical team and help with the rescue efforts as there were people trapped in the rubble. Around 15 of us raised our hands and quickly ran to get our bags.

However, just as the medical team arrived and we assembled on the street to accompany them, an IOF jeep spotted us and blocked our exit. The soldiers called over the chief medic and demanded to know what was going on. Myself and J from the ISM quickly joined the medic, as we had once again been elected the team negotiators. After 10 minutes of discussion, we were informed that we could leave but the Palestinian medic could not. We, of course, refused to leave without him. Eventually, we were finally told we could all leave. However, the medic was informed that if we accompanied him or any other medical teams that he and the medical teams would be arrested. We quickly discovered that these instructions were put out to all IOF vehicles. This meant that the medics would have to go without us because they could not run the risk of being arrested. They advised us that if they needed us, they would call us and we would try and make it to the site without them. However, this would be also be very dangerous for us to be travelling without Palestinians, as not only were there IOF on the streets but also Palestinian militants who were engaged in running battles with the IOF. All throughout the evening we could hear gun fire being exchanged between the two groups and we later heard that the militants had blown up three IOF jeeps, injuring several soldiers.

While we were frustrated that we were unable to accompany the medics to the site, we were even more upset by the knowledge that there were people caught in the rubble of the demolished homes and we could not help them. Upon our return to our accommodation, we learnt that the IOF weren’t letting the medical teams enter the demolition sites, saying it was a closed military zone. This was despite that there were injured people and people caught in the rubble. Twenty minutes later, we heard yet a third huge detonation, signalling a third demolition had just taken place.

Looking around I could see the grim looks on all my fellow internationals faces. Many of them were choking back their anger and trying to hold back their tears. Many of us tried to find a quite out of the way place, away from the main crowd in order to pull themselves together. It had been a long and hot day and we had witnessed already so much oppression. We were angry because we knew that people were hurt and injured and we had been prevented from helping them. We were angry because all day long we had been inhaling teargas and hearing sound grenades being discharged. We were angry and distressed because we saw people locked in their houses and treated like animals. We were angry and distressed because with each demolition explosion, we knew the lives of another family had just been irrevocably destroyed. We were angry and distressed that the Israel could continually collectively punish an entire people, something which is illegal under international law, with impunity. We were angry and distressed at the injustices we say and the fact that world seemed to be standing by and turning a blind eye to it all.

As I sat on the balcony, I starred up at the beautiful sky above me and tried to hold back my tears. In Nablus, the intensity of Israel’s occupation is overwhelming. More then anywhere else of I had been in Palestine, it is the city where death and oppression is all around you, constantly. In Balata, more than 600 martyrs have died during the second intifada and their lives are remembered on the walls throughout the old city and the camps. It should be explained, however, that In Palestine, the word “martyr” is used to refer to anyone killed as a result of the occupation, not just the militants who participate in suicide bombing operations or who are part of the armed resistance in the camps. They are also the innocents who had died at the hands of the Israeli occupation

Martyrs are the children - boy and girls - killed on their way to school, in their class room or while playing in their homes. They are the ordinary women and men - young and old - innocent by standers, who are killed by the Israeli security forces during the IOF’s 'target assassinations’. They are those who died, inside their houses, as the IOF bulldozed their homes and they are the women who die giving birth in ambulances delayed at checkpoints.

In Nablus old city and Balata, they stare down at you from the walls in posters commemorating their lives. It can be overwhelming and disturbing to walk down the street and see so many faces – babies, toddlers, primary schoolers, teenagers and young men and women in their 20s, as well as the middle aged and the elderly – staring back at you. As I sat there, my heartached for young children who would grow up in the refugee camps, such as Balata, and who would never know one single day free from brutal repression and occupation and who saw so much death and destruction around them. However, as I sat there trying to push down my angry, tears and feelings of impotency, I reminded myself that I could walk away from this at anytime but my Palestinian friends could not.

As I sat there, I marvelled at the strength of my Palestinian friends, who had chosen the path of non-violent resistance, despite all the destruction, death and oppression around them. I recalled, how during my last visit to Nablus three weeks earlier, my friend S told me how during the last Israeli invasion of Balata in February, how half an hour after having a coffee with a friend, he had to return to the same cafe to help recovery his friend’s body and pick up the pieces of his friends brain splattered all over the wall and sidewalk. S told me that this wasn’t the first time that he had to go and recover the body of a friend killed by the Israel military. I wondered if I had to do the same, would I have the same strength as my friend...

The next day, we were woken at 6.30 am by the Israeli military shouting orders about the curfew in Hebrew through the load speakers of their military jeeps. As we prepared to go to Balata, we heard that the IOF was beginning to withdraw from both the camp and the old city. By 9am, the IOF had left the city and people began to emerge back onto the streets. While the IOF may have left the city, our jobs were not over. Over the next 6 hours, our job was to document as much as possible any violations carried out by the IOF.

We visited three of the houses that the IOF occupied and used as military posts during the invasion. All three houses had been ransacked, with cupboards, drawers and tables overturned. In two of the houses, the doors had been smashed in and broken. The families were either locked in a small room or forced to leave and go to a neighbor’s house. In at least two of the houses, the IOF had bore holes in the floors and walls or ripped open the ceilings, supposedly in search of explosives, weapons and tunnels. We also visited the three houses that had either been partially or completely demolished with explosive charges. Rubble was everywhere and the families were distressed about the destruction.

Later in the day we also visited two of the three hospitals that had been blockaded by the IOF during the invasion. The doctors and nurses we spoke with told us how many of the medical staff were not able to reach the hospitals due to the Israeli curfew. They went on to tell us how all the staff and patients that did make it to the hospital were, either, delayed or prevented from entering the hospitals. Nurses at one hospital also reported that the Israeli military had opened fire on the hospital at least five times during the course of the invasion, splaying the walls of the hospital with machine gun bullets. The went onto tell us how the Israeli forces also prevented supplies of oxygen and dialysis treatment chairs from entering the hospital for more than a half hour, along with basic supplies such as bread.

After we finished out documentation duties, W and I made our way back to Haris. Despite being exhausted we promised to return to Nablus, if the IOF reinvaded. During the last invasion in February, the IOF left Nablus for around 12 hours before re-invading and placing the city under a renewed curfew for another three or four days.

For the moment, Nablus is free of Israeli occupation forces but the question is for how long ....