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 ....


Joel Energy said...

Nothing like making statements but not describing them in context. Did Israel just summarily bomb Gaza as you've indicated? Or did they strike Gaza because the "peace-loving" Palestinians have been bombing Israeli territory (inside the Green Line) with Kassam rockets and mortars for two or more years? Does Israel have any right to defend itself against acts of war?

You are truly a dufus.

Kim said...

some statistics for you....

According to the Israeli human rights organisatsion, B'Tselem, between 29.9.2000-31.5.2007, Palestinians killed by the Israeli Occupation Force in the OPT is 4058 (another 61 were killed in Israel).

Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians in the OPT = 41

During the same period, the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians in the OPT was 233, while in Israel the figures is 471

The number of Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces in the OPT is 834 (another 2 were killed in Israel).

Israeli minors killed by Palestinians in the OPT is 39, while the number killed in Israel is 80

Palestinians killed during the course of a targeted killing = 340

Palestinians who were the object of a targeted killing = 210

Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces = 1288 in the OPT and 53 in Israel

Palestinians who did not take part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces (not including the objects of targeted killings) = 1970 in the OPT and 5 in Isarel.

Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces and it is not known if they were taking part in the hostilities in the OPT = 589 and in Israel = 3

The loss of any life whether Palestinian or Israeli is a terrible thing. However, as you can see from B'Tselem's statistic, the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation forces is more than 4 times as high as the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian militants.

The number of Palestinian children killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces is even higher, with 8 times as many Palestinian children killed by the IOF compared to the number of Israeli minors killed by Palestinian militants.

As I said, while the lose of any human life is terrible, it is quite clear from these statistics that it is Israel who is the aggressor not the Palestinians.

In relation to bombings attacks, its seems you are quite ignorant of Israeli history, so I would suggest you take the time to educate yourself and you will once gain find out that that it was Israel who were the aggressor not the Palestinians.

For example, Zionist militias such as the Irgun who bombed the King David Hotel in 1946, killing 28 British, 41 Palestinians, 17 Jewish, and 5 other. Around 45 people were injured. The man who ordered the attack, Menachem Begin later went onto become Israeli Prime Minister.

The Irgun and Stern gang were also responsible for the bombing of trains, train stations, an officers club and the kidnapping and murder of British personnel.

In 1980, well before any Palestinian carried out any sort of bombings, the Jewish Underground, which is affiliated to Gush Emunim (the block of the faithful - which is the backbone of the Israeli settler movement) carried out a series of car bombings against the elected Palestinian mayors in Ramallah, El Bireh and Nablus. The bombings resulted in two of the mayors loosing their legs.

In the 1990s, long before any Palestinians carried out any bombings in Israel, the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane carried out bombing attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. In 1993, they killed four Palestinians. (In 2002, two Kachites also attempted to bomb a Palestinian girls school but were prevented)

Before his organisation was finally banned, Kahane was elected to the Israeli Knesset.

The first suicide bombing carried out by Palestinan militiants only took place in response to the murder of 29 Palestinians who were praying at the Tomb of the Patriachs in Hebron. They were killed by an American-Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein.

Once again as I said, the loss of any life, whether Palestinian or Israeli is abhorent. However, it is Israeli occupier (both at state and individual levels) which has repeatedly been the agressor, not the Palestinians.

Abdul said...

Head over to this site to understand the situation better by viewing some documentaries about the ongoing conflict.


The site works best with Mozilla Firefox browser.

Rob said...

"As I said, while the lose of any human life is terrible, it is quite clear from these statistics that it is Israel who is the aggressor not the Palestinians."

Of course it isn't. There is no context whatever given for any of these statistics. If, that is, you believe B'Tselem in the first place.

Bhumika Ghimire said...

i knew this "invasion" was coming

israel and the allies are so in love with Fatah, the corrupt,incompetent gang that are completely ignoring its faults and are willing to do whatever it takes to root out Hamas..

Hamas isn't saint either but it is not the only terrorist in town

middle east desk,the newsroom

Kim said...

what context do you want? One of course is that, Israel has been a brutal occupying force for 40 years...

The fact is that this is what happens when you oppress and occupy a people - you can not lay claim to being the good guy... and these things do not happen by accident.

As Alissa notes in my most recent blog...

“At the beginning, I want to believe that there would be a just way to have a Jewish state, but the more I learn the more I realised that the occupation wasn’t an unfortunate consequence of a well intentioned state. It was what happens under colonialism, when you steal someone’s land, occupation is necessary to maintain it by force”

Why shouldn't B'Tselem's figures be believed? (I am tempted to ask would you believe their figures if they said that more Israelis were killed then Palestinians, but I won't...)

I would, however, point out that B'Tselem's figures are backed up by the figures of other human rights groups - Israeli, Palestinian and international - who come up with basically the same figures and ratios.