Friday, April 25, 2008

Taking back the land: joint, non-violent resistance against Israeli occupation and apartheid

24 April, 2008

Today, for a few hours, Palestinians took control over an illegal Israeli settler outpost on the outskirts of Ramallah. Replacing Israeli flags with Palestinian ones, Mohammed Al-Khattib and other members of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall, accompanied by Israeli anti-occupation activists from Anarchists Against the Wall and international activists from the International Solidarity Movement and the International Women's Peace Service, non-violently took over the site for more than 3 hours.

The illegal settler outpost, which is made up of a number of cargo containers, was set up two months ago on privately owned Palestinian land which straddles Area A and Area C of the Occupied West Bank, when Israel occupation forces withdraw from a checkpoint on the land to a nearby military based. Area A is supposedly territory fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority (including full security control), while Area C, except for its Palestinian civilians, falls under the control of the Israeli military.

The military checkpoint had been set up at the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada in 2000. In place of the military checkpoint, the Israeli occupation forces installed permanent road blocks which prevented Palestinians from using the road which connects the Palestinian village of Ein-Qinyah and Ramallah. Prior to taking control of the illegal outpost, the Palestinians, Israeli and international activists were able to use a bulldozer to successful remove the illegal road block which prevent Palestinians from using the road.

Once on the site, Palestinian activists were able to erect at least a dozen Palestinian flags signaling that Palestinians had reclaimed a section of Palestinian land occupied by the illegal settlers. It was a full hour before the Israeli military in the nearby military outpost realised that Palestinians had successfully taken back their land. Once they realised what had occurred, Israeli occupation soldiers advanced on the unarmed demonstrators and began firing live rounds from the road between the military base and the illegal outpost.

When the occupation soldiers arrived at the illegal outpost, once again firing indiscriminately on the unarmed demonstration, the Israeli anti-occupation activists and internationals moved to the front calling in Hebrew and English for the military to remain calm and non-violent. The Israeli occupation forces, however, continued to fire on the unarmed demonstrators hitting a journalist's car when protestors attempted to find cover from the military aggression.

The occupation soldiers quickly moved to remove the Palestinian flag from the main cargo container, however, in an act of defiance it was quickly replaced once again with a Palestinian flag by the Palestinian non-violent activists.

For the next hour, the non-violent demonstrators continue to remain in control of the land, despite the presence of the Israeli military. When armed illegal Israeli settlers from the nearby illegal settlement began to arrive and attempted to intimidate the non-violent demonstrators, Israeli ISM activist, Neta Golan and Mohammed Al- Khattib stepped in front of them, non-violently preventing them from continuing to harass the other non-violent demonstrators.

In an attempt to remove the non-violent, peaceful protestors from the reclaimed land, the Israeli occupation forces declared the area a Closed Military Zone (CMZ). Declaring an area a CMZ is a regular tactic used by the Israeli occupation forces in order to increase their attempts of martial control over an area. Anyone in such an area is deemed illegal and can be arrested. However, as was the case today, the Israeli military apply this martial control selectively, applying it only to Palestinians, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists, not to illegal Israeli settlers. As one international activist wryly noted today, while the Israeli occupation forces frequently use rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas to try and intimidate Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists and enforce a CMZ, their preferred tactic in relation to illegal settlers seems to be to try and "scare" them with handshakes.

Despite the area being declared a CMZ, the non-violent anti-occupation activists remained in the area, moving to the section of the illegal outpost which was located in Palestinian Authority controlled Area A, where supposedly the Israeli military has no security jurisdiction. Illegal Israeli settlers, who were armed, continued to physically intimidate the non-violent, unarmed demonstrators. When Israeli ISM activist, Neta Golan attempted to prevent the continued harassment, she was violently arrested by the Israeli occupation forces who attacks the non-violent demonstrators with rifle butts and batons*

In the third hour of the protest, the Israeli military called in an armoured bulldozer to re-install the road block which had been successfully removed earlier in the day by the demonstrators. The Palestinians, Israeli anti-occupation activists and internationals attempted to block the movement of the armed bulldozer by standing and later sitting in front of the bulldozer as it attempted to make its way up the road located in Palestinian Authority controlled Area A. The non-violent demonstrators were able to block the bulldozer for approximately 45 minutes before being violently dispersed by the Israeli occupation forces. One Palestinian activist, Adeeb Abu Rahme from the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall was arrested*

Protestors remained on the scene for another hour in an attempt to gain the release of the two detained activists. During this time, more armed illegal settlers began to illegally amass in the CMZ but were not arrested or violently harassed by the Israeli military, as the unarmed Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists had been. The Israeli occupation forces then escorted the large group of illegal settlers up the hill to where the non-violent demonstrators had been sitting peacefully, allowing the illegal settlers to abuse and physically intimidate the anti-occupation activists. The armed illegal settlers, including settler children between the ages of 12 and 16 years of age, attempted to intimidate the Israeli anti-occupation and international activists by verbally threatening them, while also attempting to physically attack the Palestinian non-violent activists. The unarmed demonstrators, however, refused to be intimidated and stood their ground demanding that the Israeli military remove the illegal settlers. After 30 minutes realising that the Palestinian, Israeli and international anti-occupation activists would not be intimidated and would not leave, the Israeli military finally began to try and politely convince the armed, aggressive settlers to leave. When the illegal settlers finally began to disperse, the unarmed demonstrators voluntarily decided to end the demonstration.

Mohammad Al – Khattib said the demonstration symbolised the refusal of Palestinians to accept the illegal Israeli policy of road closures and separating Palestinians from their lands. During the action, speaking to both local and international media, Khattib called on all Palestinians to begin to mobilise to open the illegal closed road, calling for "resistance to barriers, settlements and the apartheid wall". Similarly Abdullah Abu Rahman from the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall said that the idea of the action was "to send a message to the Israeli army and settlers, this land is our and [we] will never leave".

* Neta and Adeeb were released by the Israeli military later in the day, after being taken to an illegal Israeli settlement police station.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No Child's Play in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Today I witnessed, for the first time, a Palestinian child being abducted by the Israeli Occupation Forces. This, of course, is not the first time that a Palestinian child has been abducted in such a manner. It happens every single day in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, more than 2500 Palestinian children have been arrested by the Israeli forces [1]. Thousands more have been abducted and detained for several hours, often beaten and then released. In May 2007, there were 416 Palestinian child political prisoners in Israeli jails, while today of the 11,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, more than 380 of them are children [2]

Despite being aware of these facts, having seen photos of young men and boys arrested by the Israeli military and having made several trips to Palestine and lived in the Occupied West Bank for more than 12 months, it still came as a shock to see the young boy, aged 14, sitting hunched over and blind folded on a rock with his hands tied behind his back. It seemed a surreal and sickening image to me.

For several months now the village of Marda, which is located directly below the illegal Israeli colony of Ariel and two kilometres from where the International Women's Peace Service is based in the village of Haris, has been subject to a systematic campaign of harassment by the Israeli occupation forces. This campaign of harassment has included almost daily and nightly incursions, searching and occupation of family houses, throwing sound bombs and teargas, imposing curfews and blocking off the only entrance left to the village that is not permanently closed by barbed wire and iron gates. The campaign has sought to target the village youth under the pretext of preventing stones being thrown at the settler road. Teenagers and young men from Marda are frequently detained, threatened and abused to try to pressure them to inform on other youth of the village.

The young 14 year old boy had been snatched from his grandfather’s house, detained and abducted under this usual pretext. Two hours earlier, Israeli occupation forces had invaded two homes in the village in search of a “stone thrower” in an orange t-shirt. At the first home, they detained a mother and her six children, aged between 6 and 16 years and interogatted the oldest son, aged 11 years, demanding he tell them who had been allegedly throwing stones. The child, however, was unable and unwilling to give them any information. When the father of the family, who had been at work in another village arrived home, the soldiers tried to prevent him from approaching the house, aiming a gun at him and threatening to shoot him. When the father insisted on joining his family, the occupation soldier opened fire with live ammunition, the bullet only missing the father’s head by centimetres.

At the same time the first house was being invaded, in another part of the village, another group of Israeli occupation soldiers randomly entered a second house looking for the same alleged stone thrower. The soldiers ransacked the house, again detaining the family and terrifying the children inside the house. At this house, however, they detained and abducted the 14 year old grandson of the house owner, despite the fact the child had been wearing a different colour shirt to the alleged suspect the soldiers were looking for.

By the time my IWPS team mate and I had arrived at the village, after being called by the father of the first family whose house had been invaded, the terrified young boy from the second house had already been snatched by the occupation soldiers. As we arrived in the taxi/car from our village, we saw the young boy bound and blindfolded next to an Israeli military jeep on the side of the illegal settler highway which runs past our village and Marda. After making sure the family of the first invaded home was alright (we were unaware at this time that a second home had been invaded) we began to walk to where the boy was being held. However, before we could get close enough the military jeep suddenly speed off with the boy inside. Two soliders remained on the side of the road. It was clear when we spoke to them, that they had absolutely no proof of the boy having thrown any stones, instead the boy's detention and abduction was purely random. He had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The child, they said, was being held by other soldiers from their unit who would determine whether or not he had indeed thrown stones and whether or not they would formally arrest him. Our request for a phone number to speak to the other soldiers was denied, as was our request for name of the soldier's unit. The child will not be hurt they assured us. “We don’t do things like ‘that’ ”, they said. Refusing to give us any more information on the boy's whereabouts, the soldiers began to pack up and leave as we took down the unit identification numbers stenciled on their jeep.

We spent the next four hours in Marda village, determining the identity of the child, visiting his family, getting the relevant information – his name, age and identification number – and making phone calls to Israeli anti-occupation activists and the Israeli military trying find out the whereabouts of the child. When we arrived at the child’s home, we found his mother - a woman in her mid 30s - laying distraught on a mattress in the family’s living room, being conforted by her 16 year old son and her daughter. She had been crying for several hours and was suffering shortness of breath and arm pains having gone into shock after hearing about her son’s abduction.

Her other son, aged16 years, was solemn and quietly angry, while sadness and concern for her mother flowed from the woman's daughter's face. Her son who had been snatched, she told us, had been in the house all day studying and only left the house just before he was abducted, to visit his uncle who was at his grandfather’s house. A week or two earlier, she informed us, his 16 year old brother had also been abducted for more than 12 hours by the soldiers, interorogated at the illegal settlement of Qedumim. He had been badly beaten and required medical attention for a facial injury he had recieved during the beating.

We collected the relevant information and drank tea with the family. Even in times of great stress and sorrow, Palestinian hospitality is never far away. We then went to visit the grandfather's house. As we left the village at 10.30pm, we saw an Israeli military jeep drive up to the entrance. We soon discovered, after making several phone calls to contacts in the village and ringing the boy’s mother, that the soldiers had released the boy. The boy had been detained and interogotted from more than 6 hours. He had been beaten, but luckily did not require medical attention.

According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory, a child is every human being under the age of 18 years. However, Palestinian children from the age of 16 years are considered adults under Israeli military regulations governing the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Inviolation of both the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Israeli military's own operating orders, Israeli occupation forces regularly detain, abduct and arrest Palestinian children as young as 11 or 12 years old from checkpoints, their homes, schools and from the street.

The Freedom Now campaign run by the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International (DCI-P), which campaigns for the release of Palestinian child political prisoners has noted that Palestinian children are detained, abducted and arrested by the Israeli occupation forces for four main reasons [3]. The first reason being to intimidate and threaten those who are active against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine by conducting widespread arrests of both children and adults. By imposing harsh treatment and maltreating prisoners, the occupation forces are attempting to discourage Palestinians from engaging in struggle against the occupation. The second reason cited by DCI-P is in order for the Israeli occuapation forces to obtain confessions to incriminate others. According to DCI-P large numbers of confessions are extracted from Palestinian children under duress and torture conditions, with the children being forced to sign confessions that they cannot read, as they are often written in Hebrew. A third reason for the abduction, detention and arrest of Palestinian children is so the Israeli occupation forces can hold them as "bargaining chips" with the aim of pressuring not only their family, but their village and the Palestinian population as a whole. Such collective punishment is illegal under international law. The fourth and final reason, notes DCI-P, is in order to recruit future "collaborators" who can used by the occupation forces as informers. DCI-P documentation of abduction and arrest cases has found that Israeli occupation forces use threats of force against the children, telling them they will be transfer ornot be released or they will be killed if they did not agree to work as collaborators for the Israeli military.

Similary, Addmmeer, the Palestinian Prisoner's support and human rights association notes that “Palestinian child detainees are subject to physical and psychological torture during their interrogation in order to force them to confess to activities they may or may not have done. The majority of confessions and sentences are related to throwing stones. Under extreme physical and psychological pressure, children often confess to such activities to end the circumstances they find themselves, often confessing to things they didn't do” [4]. During interrogation, notes Addameer, the "children are isolated from their families and lawyers are often not informed of the place of their detention. The child is usually not allowed to meet with a lawyer during the first period of interrogation, confining the child's world to the interrogation room and the interrogator, adding to the psychological stress the child already finds himself/herself in".

The 14 year old boy from Marda was "lucky". He was released after 6 hours of abduction and detention, with only a beating. Many other Palestinian male children who have been detained but have never been charged or sent to trail are held under "administrative detention" in adult prisons for extended periods of time, ranging from months to years. Currently there are around 30 Palestinian children being held in such a manner [5]. Other male Palestinian children who are abducted, arrested and found guilty of some crime, usually stone throwing, are tranfered to adult military prisons such as Meggido military prison. Currently more than more than 80 male child prisoners are being held behind these prison walls, often forced to live in tents. Female Palestinian child political prisoners are often held in the Neve Tertza prison near Ramleh. In 2005, there were 11 Palestinian girl political prisoners being held in Israeli prisons [6].
While held in prison, Palestinian child prisoners are often subject to deliberate sleep deprivation, lack of adequate food, forced to remain in dirty clothing, live in unsanitary conditions and are refused toilet breaks. In addition, they are subject to medical neglect and educational neglect with no provisions made for their schooling while they remain prisoners [7].
This Thursday, April 17, will marks the International Day in Solidarity with Palestinian Political Prisoners. Through out the Occupied Palestinian Territories demonstrations will be held, with families demanding the release of their loved ones. This year, Palestinian political prisoner support groups and their families are calling on all Palestine solidarity groups and prisoner solidarity groups to hold vigils, actions and demonstrations in support of both adult and child political prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

Palestinian children, like all children around the world deserve to live in freedom and in dignity and wtihout fear. However, as long as the Israeli occupation continues, this will be an impossibility. This Thursday, we will stand in solidarity with Palestinian pollitical prisoners – children and adults – and call for their freedom. We will also call for and continue the campaign to end Israel’s illegal occupation. Only then will the children of Palestine have a chance to live in freedom, in dignity and without fear.

[1] The politics of prisoners by Bex Tyrer and Tone Anderson, Alternative Information Centre

[2] Palestinian Child Political Prisoners: Semi Annual Report 2007, Defence for Children-Palestine

[3] Defence for Children-Palestine, Freedom Now campaign

[4] and [6]ADDAMEER, Prisoner's support and human rights association

[5] Palestinian Children's Day 2008, Press Release, Defence for Children International – Palestine

[7] and [8] Palestinian Political Child Prisoners in Israeli Prisons,
Child &Youth Department, Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, UNDP

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Return to Palestine

Dear friends and supporters,

Just a quick update to let you know that I am back in Palestine and hope to keep you updated on what is happening on the ground here over the next few months.

It is wonderful to be back and I am looking forward to seeing all my Palestinian, Israeli and international friends.

Over the past few days, however, Israel has once begun carrying out military attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip. Four days ago at least 7 people were killed, including three children in Khan Younis when Israeli warplanes and tanks launched attacks along the northern and eastern border of the Gaza Strip. On the same day, two Israelis were killed when Palestinian resistance members entered the Gaza Strip's Nahal Oz crossing point. The Popular Resistance Committee's An Nasser Salah Addin Brigades said the raid had been aimed at abducting Israeli soldiers. Two resistance fighters were also killed in the fire fight.

On the same day, Shimon Peres, Israel's President and former Prime Minister, called for a full Israeli invasion of the Gaza and for Israel to reoccupy the region. Israel also moved on Wednesday to deny entry to the incoming UN Human Rights investigator for the OPT, Richard Falk. Falk, a Jewish –American professor of international law at the prestigious Princeton University in June 2007 compared Israel's ongoing siege and occupation of Palestine as similar to what happened to Jews under Nazi Germany. Israel says it will attempt to prevent him from taking up his position because of his prejudice against Israel.

Despite the ongoing siege of Gaza and the everyday sorrows and hardship that the illegal and brutal Israeli occupation continues to bring both there and in the West Bank, the Palestinian people remain sumoud (steadfast) in their refusal to give up their land, their culture and their heritage. And like the Palestinian people, we too must remain sumoud in to opposition to oppression, human rights violations and the dehumanization of more than 4 million people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This year, as no doubt many of you will be aware, marks the 60th anniversary of Al Nakba (the catastrophe) which saw more than 700,000 Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. In the lead up to the 60th anniversary of Al Nakba in May, the Palestinian people and Palestine solidarity activists around the world will once again organising actions and activities which will be calling for an end to Israeli brutal and illegal occupation. While our governments stand by and do little, it is up to us to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, so please consider how you can be part of this.

It can be a simple as writing a letter to the newspaper and/or to your local politician. It could be joining in with or organising a stall near a busy shopping mall or on your uni campus to inform people about what is happening in Palestine or it could be holding a film showing or a forum on Palestine. Or starting a Palestine solidarity group on your campus, in your town or city, at your church, if there is not already one there. It could be joining or organising a speakout or a rally or a vigil to mark Al Nakba.

Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, it makes a difference. As Australian Aboriginal songwriter and singer, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly, once penned about the struggle of our people in Australia, "From little things big things grow" **

For an end to the Israeli occupation and for a Free Palestine NOW!

In solidarity, Kim

** From Little Things Big Things Grow is a song about Aboriginal leader Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people who carried out a 8 year strike at Wave Hill Station in Australia's Northern Territory from 1966. In 1975, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, handed back some of the land to the Gurindi people. Whitlam famously poured sand from the land into Vincent Lingiari's hands, signalling the recognition of the Gurindji's ownership of the land. It was the first time any Australian government recognized the rights the Aboriginal people and the claim to land and the right to practice cultural and law on those lands.

Song Lyrics can be found at: