Friday, December 18, 2009

Reporting from the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Dear Friends,
as you may have gathered from my last post, I am currently back in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Over the coming weeks, I hope to file regular posts about what is happening on the ground here.

I am still trying to get an accurate assessment of where things are politically. However, the first thing you notice is the deepening and 'normalisation' of the occupation. While there are still arrests, house demolitions and restriction of movement occurring on a daily basis, it is clear that 'normalisation' has been occurring at a much high level than when I was previously here.

Travelling from Hares to Ramallah, this 'normalisation' is evident in the number of the checkpoints which had existed when I was here in all my previous visits that are now "unstaffed" by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). This did not mean, however, Israeli soldiers were no present either at checkpoints or in the surround vicinity. It simply means their ever present presence is not as "visible" as it previously was.

For example, at Zatara, the major junction which divides the middle of the West Bank from the North of the West Bank, while the checkpoint coming from my village is unstaffed, soldiers are still present, armed and on duty at sniper points on the nearby hill and the roundabout. When making the trip a few days back, my team mate and I while waiting for a 'service' (Palestinian shared taxi) to go to Ramallah when we observed the Israeli sniper on the hill top yelling at Palestinians who walked through the junction to get to their villages to stop and lift their trouser legs. Presumably this was to see if they had explosives or weaponry. The second soldier stationed at the round-a-bout at one stage came up to harass the Palestinians near us waiting to also get transport, apparently because they were standing to close to the settler bus shelter (which services the illegal settlers from the colony of Tapuach).

Despite or perhaps because of the increasing "normalisation", the occupation continues to deepen. On the day that my team mate and I arrived in Hares, we were immediately contacted by villagers in both our village and in the neighbouring village about the IOF invasion of the villages and kidnapping of teenage boys (16 yrs) – 5 in Hares and 3 in Dier Istyia. According to the families in Dier Istyia, the children were taken at 2 am in the morning, accused of stone throwing. One has already been sentenced to 80 days jail and a fine of NIS 1500 (around $500 Australian – a small fortune for a Palestinian family).

Earlier in the week, the IOF carried out a number of raids, arresting civil society/non-violent struggle leaders of the anti-occupation struggle in Nablus and Ramallah, with the Ramallah arrest being of Abdullah Abu Rahme, a highly visible leader of the non-violent struggle in Bil'in village. Previously, the IOF have informed the Israeli lawyers working with the leaders of the Bil'in struggle that they would seek to use legal means to destroy the non-violent struggle (note: if Palestinians are arrested, they will often be detained for the length of the court proceedings, which could be up to 14 months, even though they have not been found guilty of anything. Thus by arresting leaders of the non-violent struggle, they can detain them for extended periods of time in order to destroy any organized dissent to Israel's brutal occupation).

On the same day, that non-violent activists in Sheikh Jarrah were being beaten by Israeli police and occupation forces defending the illegal settler, in one of the villages not far from where we live in the West Bank, Israel settlers entered a mosque and burnt the dozens of copies of the Quran, pray mats and furniture. There are now calls by Peres and Netanyahu for the culprits to be caught, but this of course more PR than anything else, as the Israeli military continue to protect and often aid the settlers.

Despite all of this, the Palestinian people remain sumoud (steadfast) and continue to struggle. In the short time I have been back, many of the Palestinians I have spoken to have asked that both myself and other internationals continue to speak out in support of the Palestinian people and their struggle for human rights, freedom and dignity. I have promised them that we would.

As the first anniversary of Israel's murderous war on Gaza looms, please consider what you can do to be part of the campaign to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It could be as simple as making a donation or writing a letter to your local newspaper or politician or talking to your friends about what is really happening in Palestine. It could be holding an educational film night or stall in your local mall, joining your local Palestine solidarity group, organising a solidarity action or demonstration, moving a motion in support of BDS in your workplace, community group, church or union and getting your colleagues actively involved in the campaign. No matter how big or small, what ever you do helps and is important.

End the Siege of Gaza!
End the Occupation Now!
Free Palestine!

In solidarity, Kim

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