Settling Back into “My” Palestinian Village
This is the first of my newsletters this autumn from the village of Deir Istiya in the Salfit region of the northern West Bank – for those of you who want to locate it on a map. But your map will not show you the reality on the ground here. Only specialized maps produced either by OCHA (the UN Office of Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs), or those of the Good Shepherd Engineering Company in Bethlehem, will reveal this reality: of some twenty ancient Palestinian villages that make up the Salfit Governorate nestling in rolling rolls but surrounded on all sides by modern phalanxes of mass-produced housing of illegal Israeli settlements. Your maps will not reveal how Deir Istiya, Kifl Hares, Bruqin, Marda, Qiri, Karawat, Jinsaffut, Jit and thousands of similar villages in this land of Palestine, are now surrounded by such places as Immanuel, Revava, Qarna Shamron, Yakir, Barqan, Kafr Tappuah and the city of Ariel – with a combined population of 600,000 throughout the West Bank and E. Jerusalem.
All have been built in the last 45 years of this military occupation and every one of them – including the horrific takeover of East Jerusalem and its surrounding villages – are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Every one has been built with the connivance – even encouragement – of western governments that have wilfully turned a blind eye to their own obligations under international law. These settlements and their accompanying military and industrial installations, settler-only roads, the Wall which encloses them into Israel itself – the huge infrastructure of this occupation – affects every single aspect of Palestinian life adversely and catastrophically. More has been written about this catastrophe – this nakba – than most around the world. And yet no trouble spot remains as intractable and none is so hidden, distorted or lied about in the western press, as this one. However many times I come here it never fails to shock.
It can perhaps be witnessed most clearly in three ways:
in the collapsed state of the Palestinian economy, kept – through international agreement – in the stranglehold of Israel, making Palestinians artificially dependent on outside aid; in the cruel restrictions on freedom of movement both externally by border controls and internally by the Wall and checkpoints throughout the West Bank; and in the apartheid legal system by which all Palestinians are subject to military law and all settlers – who live next door to them – are subject to regular Israeli civil law. This is the purest example of a racist infrastructure, making Israel a clear example of a classic apartheid state.
2 of us arrived here in Deir Istiya to re-open the house rented by the International Women’s Peace Service on 14th September. We quickly built up to the 5 people we are now – from Britain, New Zealand and Germany, and soon we shall have our maximum number of 8, adding women from the United States and Montenegro. We shall be a mini United Nations!
We are hoping very hard that one of our experienced volunteers, E. from London, will be able to join us as planned on Tuesday, but we won’t know that until tomorrow as she is at the moment under house arrest in Tel Aviv after being arrested nine days ago at the harsh demonstration in the nearby village of Kafr Kadum. We shall know tomorrow whether she and the 3 other internationals arrested with her, and brought to court on the ridiculous pretext of stone-throwing, will be deported. (I will write a separate newsletter about this when we know the outcome.)
The short time we have been here has been concentrated upon preparing for the olive harvest which begins next week. We have attended 2 co-ordinating meetings in Nablus and Ramallah to discuss with village representatives, the UN and other human rights organizations how best to spread our availability to provide a protective presence to those farmers who fear settler attack as they pick their trees. We are also painstakingly ringing round our contacts in all the villages of the region to repeat our offers to help – not an easy job at all but a function that lies at the heart of our work.
We have also participated in village rituals surrounding both marriage and death, for life goes on here in all its normality and intensity.
Here are a few stories from our first weeks here:
M from Nabi Saleh:
Most Fridays we go to support the demonstration at the tiny village of Nabi Saleh, so named after the prophet who is believed to be buried there. The demonstration was provoked 3 years ago when the nearby settlement of Halamish took over the village spring used for irrigation which lies in the valley below the village.
Before the demonstration began, and whilst relaxing in the home of NT, one of the leaders of the Popular Committee in the village, M, a young man in his 20s came in and joined us. We were told that he was released from prison 3 days ago following his arrest from his bed on 26th August together with 2 other shebab – or young men. He will appear in military court at the end of October and until that time he is under house arrest in his own home. He does not know the charge against him but “stone-throwing” is the standard one. But in order to free him his family and community have had to pay a kind of bail/fine of 5,000 shekels – equivalent to 1,000 pounds (sorry there is no ‘pound’ sign on my computer!). The tiny community of Nabi Saleh, numbering about 400 people, have, during the three years that their weekly demonstrations have been held to protest against the taking of their spring by the nearby settlement of Halamish, paid out upwards of 600,000 shekels in this way. They have suffered the loss of about 120 prisoners, including some of the young women of their village. The PA (Palestinian Authority) used to support a central fund to help pay these fines in all the resisting villages but they have long ceased to do so. Funds are therefore very much depleted – and yet this is one way in which international donations could really support the struggle. It’s very difficult politically however, because whoever provides the money for such “bail/fines” pays straight into the coffers of the occupation. So while M is able to wait at home for his trial, his fellow arrestee, Z, is still in prison for lack of funds to get him out, whilst the third man is serving a suspended sentence from a previous arrest.
MX and R
In the same group gathered in NT’s home was a young couple, MX from Ramallah and R from Salfit. They had met whilst attending the weekly demonstration in Nabi Saleh and had fallen in love under the effect of tear gas. They are now engaged to be married next summer. We are warmly invited to their wedding which they plan will take place at the stolen spring which the army will never allow them to reach. Maybe they are addicted to tear-gas – or, as NT commented, love conquers even the occupation!
MZ from Azzun
MZ is an old friend to IWPS, and we have tried to support each other’s resistance work on and off over the years. G and I met him by appointment last Wednesday in his town of Azzun near Qalqiliya and the Green Line. He took us to the nearby hamlet of Izbat to see the latest building to be served by a demolition order – the village school, community centre and clinic, one building holding all the critical village services whose opening I attended two years ago. The army issued the demolition order on 3rd September’ giving the village one month either to demolish it themselves or appeal. Since Izbat suffers the misfortune of being in the “wrong” position – in Area C, like 63% of the West Bank – it falls under total Israeli control according to the fig-leaf of the Oslo Accords. It is in Area C that most house/business demolitions take place and there have already been house demolitions in this tiny hamlet. The Oslo Accords in the 1990s were a terrible betrayal of the Palestinians but I will save an attempt at explanation till another newsletter.
MZ took us on a helpful journey in his car to show us what is projected in this area in the future, when the Wall will be driven through, disconnecting villages in order to connect settlements to each other. We studied our valuable OCHA map together, overlooking the landscape to be affected by the projection of the Wall, and it revealed how seriously it will affect movement and accessibility for the villages we were looking at.
Much of MZ’s own land was taken by the settlement of Alfe Menash and some of his olive trees even now lie between the houses of the settlement. He hasn’t been there for a couple of year so doesn’t know what state his trees are in and indeed whether they are any left. But he has the right to apply for permission to go and see and to take his olives. But to go there he has to get 3 separate permissions all of which cost money: one from the army which gives out all permits it allows to Palestinians who want to move in restricted areas or to travel across the border into Israel, one from the settlement itself to go through their security, and one from his own municipality. But in addition he needs to employ an official taxi to take him there for he cannot go in his own car, and he has to hire both a driver and a settler security guard to be with him at all times. If he takes anyone with him they too have to go through the same process. No wonder he didn’t get round to going to his land last year, but now he feels he wants to assert his right. We stand by ready to help if we can. . . . . Kafka would be happy here – his nightmares are all for real in this land.
R from Deir Ballut
Deir Ballut is one of several villages we are visiting at their invitation to re-establish IWPS contact with them and to assess need for accompaniment during the olive harvest. I have never been here before. It lies on the edge of our area and as we drive there it feels as if we are also going to the edge of the known world. It lies west of the town of Biddiya and is very close to the Green Line. So it is approached through a series of rolling hills in a deeply pastoral landscape. En route we pass through a couple of other places that are scarred and impoverished by being close to the Apartheid Wall which in these rural areas is a high, electrified fence accompanied in classical military style by ditches, no-man’s land, military road, reams of razor wire, military watch-towers, electronic sensors and dire red warning notices. This hideous piece of Israeli engineering imagination cuts its destructive swathes through the landscape as it weaves in and out, purporting to be the border demarcating the boundary. But in reality it is twice as long as the recognised 1967 Green Line boundary, cutting deep into the West Bank, surrounding and cutting off villages in this area whilst imprisoning the whole of the West Bank behind its monstrous fortifications. It is within view of this barrier that Deir Ballut sits on its escarpment from where the distant high-rise coastal plain of central Israel is evident less than 20 km distant and much nearer is a vast military camp.
We are especially interested in going to the municipality here because Deir Ballut has a woman mayor –an extremely rare phenomenon in Palestine and the only one from a village. R was sitting in her seat of office under the twin photos of Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat. She greeted us warmly but didn’t stay because of business to be done. Instead, we were in the competent hands of another young woman, A, also a member of the municipal council, who speaks good English, having graduated in English in the United Arab Emirates. She herself was born in Libya and only came to this village on marriage a few years ago. After our formal meeting about the olive harvest she showed us round the village centre when we had an opportunity to talk more personally. It was then that she made no bones about the fact that she hates being in the village where she feels trapped after her husband’s application for American visas came to nothing. But she provides strong support to the mayor and is enthusiastic about the improvements that R’s term of office has brought to the village. We were very saddened to hear that R is standing down in the forthcoming council elections this October because, after a long struggle as a woman to maintain her position in a conservative village where her authority has been challenged or ignored, there are now only 3 people left on the village council who take their responsibilities seriously in this severely threatened community. For me, just for this once, it was really good to see R and A, clearly in decision-making roles and supporting each other closely. We had a very warm reception here and had to resist an invitation to a village wedding that very day. But we shall return.
When I write next the olive harvest will be underway and that will bring many tales and intense experiences with it.
Travelling in Palestine
24 November 2012
Whichever way you look at it, travelling by public transport in Palestine has its challenges, both because of the Israeli occupation and the system of ‘services’ – shared taxis, rather like the airport shuttles. You order a service and if you are lucky, it comes almost on time – inshallah. Relationships with the other passengers can be very companionable. When 3 of us went to Ramallah this week, we got chatting to a very friendly, warm student, Ahmed. Then when we came to Ramallah, while we were held up in traffic, we were stuck beside a pastry cart. Ahmed bought us all one, absolutely refused payment. This kind of generosity is so typical! And the pastry was so delicious too, nothing like it in the village.
Coming to Jerusalem yesterday took me 3 ½ hours from Deir Istiya to the Jerusalem suburb of Arnona where I am staying with friends. That was very good, considering I made 6 changes of transport: from Deir Istiya to Salfit to Ramallah to Bethlehem to Jerusalem with a couple of taxis as well. (I went the long way round to avoid the more searching checks at the Qalandia checkpoint.) Usually there are considerable delays while one waits for the service to fill up – timetables don’t operate here. From a western point-of-view, quite quaint, but it makes for a relaxing pace of life. Of course, the time should be much shorter but the route includes the long roundabout ways imposed by the checkpoints and blockages of the Occupation. The ‘scenic route’ into Bethlehem imposed on Palestinian traffic is terrifying – very steep, narrow and windy. I would certainly not like to do it in a full-sized bus. For the Palestinians, a longer round-about way, avoiding the checkpoints at least has some predictability. But think of the added cost to the Palestinian economy and cost of living, not to speak of wasteful carbon miles.
For example, on Wednesday, the day just before the cease-fire, when we were going to Ramallah for a meeting, we had to go a long way round because the route through the colony of Ariel, usually open to Palestinian traffic, was blocked.
We then went to the bus stop nearby, hoping for something to come along. We waited with the Palestinians, 50 metres down the road from where a group of settlers were waiting. No bus or service came, so we hitch-hiked to the Palestine side of the Qalandia checkpoint. (People talk about the dangers of Palestine but we feel perfectly safe. It’s a poor country and everyone hitch-hikes. So much for stereotypes.) The driver, Abdullah, was doing his PhD in archeology and history. He gave us a passionate denunciation of the Occupation and the attack in Gaza, still rolling on at that point.
But of course, there is all the unpredictability caused by the Occupation. We were not only blocked from the short-cut through Ariel, but were held up for half an hour by a flying road block. It was clear later, as we saw the train of official cars that this was for La Clinton, heading for a flying visit to Ramallah. The ceasefire had been expected the night before at midnight. What‘s the betting that it was delayed till 9pm the following night to allow La Clinton to take some of the credit? Extra deaths, injuries and wrecked homes? Too bad!
A day with nice occupation soldiers very near Revava settlement
On Tuesday I had the most amazing experiences while picking olives with one of my IWPS colleagues with an older man form the village of Haris near Deir Istiya. First of all Abu S. had olive trees right next to the perimeter of the illegal Revava settlement, to the extent that we could hear the hammers banging in the ever expanding number of houses which have made Revava reach to the edge of a busy… road leading to Ramallah and Qalqilia in the opposite direction. In the afternoon the settlement children played on the playground which was probably less than 20 metres away from where we picked. We were suspended in the midair trying to reach from the rocks the branches of a large tree overtaken by thorny ivy, when a jogger run by. A skinny guy with the kippa, turned around and said ‘sabah alhair’ smiling and sped off. I could not believe it! Couple of years ago some friends from Haris told me that once a settler jogged into Haris, which was raided at the time daily by the Israeli Occupying Army, without a worry in the wold saying hellos to the bemused villagers. Our jogger looked exactly as if he was just turning the corner in some remote part of the NYC’s Central Park in the early morning, before he would take a shower and take a metro to his Wall Street office. Except that this was no NYC and he was an unwanted coloniser in the occupied West Bank. What was his jogging route? To another settlement? Are joggers connecting the colonies on the stolen tops of the West Bank hills, like the maze of ‘settlers only’ roads do, making the West Bank look like New Yersy? Is there a group of soldiers with their evil looking skinny machine guns jogging at his tail making sure that the settler joggers, like all other illegal Jewish colonisers can do what their hearth desires in this place? Abu S. was a sweet man. he replied ‘sabah anur’ and smiled. Abu S. wanted things to be good. He talked about the need for the peace in the World and his respect and good feelings for all the people. ‘If I would see a lost Jewish child I would put them in my car and take them to their parents’, he said. ‘Wallahi I would’ , he stressed. He told me that in that location he had 500 olive trees which were cut as the settlement expanded over the last 20 years, first slowly and than with particular vigour and ruthlessness form about six years ago. Now he has only 70 trees and majority of them are young trees which he planted to replace some of the old ones settlers destroyed. And when Abu S. said ‘destroyed’ he always added ‘pulled out with their roots’ because he said that the cut olive tree would grow back, and that is not what the intruders wanted. Abu S. was a very gentle and nice man but he was not surrendering and giving up easily. They destroy and he rebuilds what he is allowed to rebuild. Soon after the jogger episode a four wheel drive arrived with 2 soldiers carrying machine guns and an unarmed civilian. They stopped a few metres away from where we were picking and politely called good morning. Abu S. responded and than informed us that these were ‘very good soldiers’ who were there to protect him form the settlers. Abu S. harvests alone because his wife is ill and his children live in Jordan and near Jerusalem. His army escort was arranged via the Israeli organisation Rabbis for Human Rights who, I am told, have particularly good relationship and regular meetings with the Israeli occupation forces. There is no doubt that if Abu S. had a large family to help him harvest they would never be allowed on their land that near to the illegal colony. Soldiers parked under the massive pine tree nearby where they had plastic chairs ready for a whole day shift. At mid-morning we had our breakfast under the same tree where soldiers sat with their guns. Abu S. planted it as a teenager 50 years ago. He told us that there were many more pine trees nearby, but they were also uprooted by the settlers. In fact the massive dent was visible in the red earth where the large pine was standing not so long ago, it seemed. ‘This was a place were people form Haris used to come and sit when the weather was hot. The temperature here was at least 10 degrees lower than in Haris’, Abu S. reminisced. He spent many nights sleeping in those fields as a child with his parents, brothers and sisters during the olive harvest which lasted for couple of months. Harvesting 500 trees is a massive job and the whole family would move into the field house, whose remains were still there, very near one of the settlement houses. Abu S’s tone with the soldiers was conciliatory and it was obvious that he surrendered to what he thought was inevitable. But he felt that he needed to tell us this: ‘Don’t think that I forgot that settlers took my land, but there is nothing that I can do because America and Britain want it to happen, and they support Israel’. We had our breakfast of cans of fizzy orange drink and traditional Palestinian breakfast of houmus, yogurt, pitta bread etc. and soldiers and the civilian, who was probably a settlement security, started having theirs. Abu S. invited the soldiers to eat with us and they politely refused. I could not believe it! We are picking olives right next to the expanding settlement with, friendly joggers and soldiers protecting us who we are exchanging pleasantries with. When we finished our breakfast and started walking back to our half harvested large tree, one of those which Abu S. said settlers forgot to destroy, the soldiers asked us where we were from and I asked them why they were there. ‘To protect you and the settlers’, one of them said. ‘What threat are we – one elderly man and two elderly women with a bucket and a stick for tapping the olives off the branches’, I asked. The soldier smiled in agreement. He looked like he did not feel good being there and like he knew very well who the baddies and who the victims were. ‘I am a religious man and I have two kids and I do not wish any harm on anybody’, he said. He spoke perfect Arabic and when my colleague asked him where he leaned it he said that his grandparents moved to Israel from Yemen. His grandmother spoke Arabic at home so he leaned it. My friend than said: ‘Do you know that you should not be here’? ‘It is all in the Bible…’, the Yemeni soldier started to say. ‘That was very long time ago’, interrupted my colleague. ‘I don’t decide about these things. If I refused to be here I would go to prison. This is what politicians choose to do’, said the Yemeni soldier. ‘ You are participating in an occupation which is illegal under international laws and very few countries in the world do not condemn it’ , continued my colleague. The Yemeni soldier repeated that he would be in prison if he refused to be there and the other soldier who spoke very little gave us a disapproving look. The Yemeni guy practically nodded as my friend continued to explain why they should not be there and Abu S. became fidgety fearing an escalation with an uncertain outcome and we went back to our olive tree. Before we finished the large olive three ‘the settlers forgot to destroy’, the civilian companion of the solders approached us calling ‘ya zalame’, which is how local Palestinians say ‘hey man’ to each other, carrying 3 hot coffees. I was so surprised that I took them and than as he left I thought that I should have refused them. It as not just a boycottable Israeli coffee but it was also served by an Israeli settler and I took it and said ‘thank you’! We moved to the next olive tree which was even nearer to the settlement buildings, with a wide dirt road leading into the settlement. Abu S. was worried because the soldiers could not see us and we left a half finished tree to move to the one which was more visible. ‘ These soldiers are good’, insisted Abu S. ‘What can they do? This has all been decided by Obama and Britain’. And than the last shock of the day came in a shape of a tall and big soldier who jumped out of an army car and approached Abu S. as if he was his long lost father. ‘Job well done my ya zalame’, he said’ with a wide grin. Me and my colleague were picking and I was not sure again how I was supposed to be reacting. Do I say ‘hi’ or give this friendly occupation soldier a nasty look? I picked olives thinking ‘what the bloody hell is going on here today’? ‘Is that your tree’, asked the big friendly soldier. ‘Yes it is’, answered Abu S. ‘and not only this tree but that over there too’, said Abu S. smiling and pointing at the settlement. ‘ OK than, keep u a good work, my man’, said the noisy soldier and jumped into a jeep. ‘He is a good man’, said Abu S. ‘He is Druze and I did tell him what is mine’.
Arrested in Nabi Saleh
On Friday the 16th of this month we arrived early to Nabi Saleh. We feared that the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) would close the village, as they have done several times before, to prevent people from coming to the first Friday demonstration since the murder of village resident Mustafa Tamimi on the 9th.
Other internationals and Palestinians did the same and a group, including some from the Jenin Freedom Theatre, chatted for a while in front of the house of Bilal Tamimi – known for his footage of Nabi Saleh demonstrations. To our great surprise the UK Vice Consul joined us and we questioned him about the UK stance on Palestine. ’How come you are here when you do not support the Palestinian UN bid?’, asked a Spanish journalist. ’ Let me just say that two years ago UK would have voted ’No’ and this time we abstained and that illustrates a change in UK position’, said the Vice Consul.
An unusually large number of jeeps were driving past us, up the hill towards the main mosque where the Friday demonstration always starts, after the midday prayer. Many displayed ‘foreign press’ signs on their windscreens and some were complete with security in sharp suits – we were told that Spanish and French Consular staff and the UN were also present. ‘It is sad that somebody needs to be killed for the world media and diplomats to become interested’, said a fellow activist.
We all knew that this demonstration was going to be both large and particularly emotional, following the brutal murder of young Mustafa Tamimi and the violent response of the IOF at his funeral on Sunday the 10th, when mourners were ‘treated’ to more than the usual quantity of teargas, skunk water and rubber bullets.
We all went first to Mustafa’s grave, which is on the top of the hill in a quiet shaded plot of land near the mosque. While we were waiting for the prayer to finish, a fellow activist asked me if I wanted to take a part in an action in front of the Halamish illegal settlement on the nearby hill, which has caused so much suffering to the Nabi Saleh villagers over the years.
The settlement was started more than 30 years ago and it expanded by taking by force more and more land belonging to the Nabi Saleh villagers. First the illegal colonisers decided to build a factory and two years ago the village spring was ‘annexed’ for the exclusive use of the illegal settlers, which sparked the regular and ongoing Friday protests.
I liked the idea of bringing the demonstration to its source, in front of the Halamish illegal settlement. Five female internationals were to sit near the settlement gate holding Palestinian flags. We were hoping that it would be a surprise action, catching the IOF unawares, giving us time to make our point to the perpetrators.
Just after midday we drove west of Nabi Saleh, through the village of Abud and onto the road, going past the green area surrounding the stolen spring. It was a strange feeling to see the spring from so close, rather than from the glimpse we usually get from top of the hills during demonstrations.
One of the women in the car said that she had previously been to the spring with one of the Nabi Saleh women. ‘You go there and after five minutes the army arrives to throw you out’, she said.
An army van, which looked like a troop carrier, was parked in front of the spring and we sped past, stopping at the side of the road leading to the settlement entrance. We had to run about 20-30 metres to reach the settlement gate.
There were no army jeeps at all in the vicinity, indicating that we had indeed surprised the IOF with our action. However, before all of us had even sat down on the ground, several Border Police and Army jeeps came to a screeching halt, inches away from us. Dozens of soldiers and police ran out and started to pull at us, disentangling individuals from the group and picking us off one at a time. We tried to cling to one another as hard as we could.
I saw a couple soldiers grabbing one of the women, pulling her into a standing position and then smashing her head against a jeep parked nearby. As I was waiting for my turn, hoping that more protesters would join us as they arrived, I saw behind me two soldiers removing one woman. At Mustafa’s funeral she had confronted them at the road near the spring, holding Mustafa’s picture and asking each of the soldiers ‘Did you kill him?’ From the way they grabbed her, it was clear that they knew exactly who she was and were therefore particularly targeting her.
There was a lot of screaming and shouting. An Israeli activist I was holding onto shouted that she did not recognise their racist occupation. They took her and one more, until finally it was me who got all their unwanted attention. I was left until last, so there was nobody I could cling on to. I felt fingers digging into my upper arm and screamed and screamed and screamed.
More fingers dug in and my arm was twisted behind my back, pulled up so high that I felt it would break. My hand was then skilfully and excruciatingly twisted outwards. The pain was unbearable and so was the rage.
I tried to wriggle away and succeeded for a moment but the next thing I knew, I was on the ground, face down with three soldiers completely covering me from above and digging their knees into my back. I was suffocating, and as panic swept through me I thought “That’s it! This is going to be deemed ‘a regrettable, rare and tragic accident’”.
I thought about my son, my husband, my brother and my sister – who would go hysterical at the news. Fortunately, it did not last long and the soldiers pulled me up and repeated the same excruciating arm twist, which is probably is a routine restraint practice they picked up at some army training.
I screamed and screamed again and I focused on screaming in order to forget about the pain and the fear. It seemed that for a long time, although in reality it was probably only seconds, me and the group of soldiers attached to me, pulled on each other, staggering in different directions through a crowd of people – demonstrators, soldiers, police and lots of media, directing camera lenses at us.
I was surprised that actually they did not seem to be able to effectively restrain me and stop me from moving away from them. However, they then began pushing me ahead of them, faster than I could walk, holding both of my arms high up behind my back. Thinking back I should have sat down and made them carry me.
As we reached the army jeep with its door open and waiting for people like me to be pushed in, I managed to release myself somehow. I thought about how to escape but was soon spotted by two soldiers who grabbed me again. I caught the jeep antennae and held on to it for a few seconds before I was peeled off and pushed into the car. Nobody tried to protect my head from hitting the car entrance, as seen in American films. In fact, whoever was pushing me from behind tried very hard to actually make it impossible for me to avoid my head colliding with the top of the entrance. I still have a painful spot on my head as testimony to their success. The army of heroes of the only democracy in the region indeed!
Three people were already inside the jeep, handcuffed. That is when I first noticed that they had only managed to put a ‘cable tie’ on one of my arms but not on the other. An Israeli woman with her hands tied behind her back asked me to pull up the woolly hat covering her eyes, which I could therefore do. They then pushed Mohammed Khatib from the Bil’in Popular Committee to the floor of the jeep, where he lay prone for some seconds, before recovering enough to move inwards. More people were bundled in and shortly afterwards, we were driven to an old building inside the settlement, which I realised was a British Army garrison for the Mandate times. I had previously been told that this was where the first illegal settlers moved in 1977 and started their Halamish project.
We were ordered out of the jeep and told to sit outside the building on the side of the street. This was done in the way that dog trainers ask their dogs to sit, and some of us refused. The soldiers shouted and made threatening moves and noises. ‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ I said, ‘I could be your mother or even grandmother’. ‘My mother would never do what you are doing’, replied the soldier. Fair enough.
‘Maybe we would sit down if you said please’, said the Palestinian standing next to me. The army had no intention of being so polite, but in the end gave up trying to force us to sit. Mohammed Khatib told me that had been attacked by a settler during the protest and there was blood on his nose indicating the truth of this allegation. His hands were tied in front of him and when a soldier wanted to change this to tie them behind his back, he pushed Mohammed to the ground, where two more soldiers joined in, pinning him down. The injury on his nose started to bleed more and we all stood up and shouted at the soldiers to leave him alone. I told the soldier nearest to me to take a red keffiyeh, which was lying on the ground nearby, to put under Mohammed’s face. He bent to do so, but then changed his mind, instead pushing it towards Mohammed’s face with his booted foot. Mohammed said he would stand up on his own accord if they stopped forcing him. The soldiers agreed to that, so he stood up and his hands were tied behind his back.
Minutes afterwards, a civilian car appeared with two men inside and Mohammed recognised one of them as his earlier attacker. The settler came out and stared taking pictures of us. We protested and demanded that the soldiers stop him, but they did noting of the sort. One Israeli activist stood up and went close to him and the settler slapped her across the face. It was infuriating to see the settler be able to attack an individual in police custody, whose hands were bound behind her back, with complete impunity, whilst the soldiers looked on.
All five or six of us stood up, staring and shouting in disgust, asking for the settler to be arrested. A Palestinian prisoner shouted that it was typical of soldiers to protect woman-beating fanatics. The soldiers reached the settler and reprimanded him, whilst we loudly repeated his car number-plate, trying to remember it. It was either 44233 or 33244. We all chanted it for a while and later in the day, a policeman actually asked us for the registration plate number! They clearly let him go without taking any of his details.
The soldiers kept bringing more and more people and when there were about 15 of us, we were taken into the building. The room looked like an abandoned dormitory with metal beds and dirty, torn sponge mattresses. We sat on them and started talking to each other about what had happened.
Phones were taken away as people tried to make phone calls or as their phones rung. Both of my arms were hurting and one was swelling up and starting to feel numb. More people were brought in, including a large group of Israeli activists and Mohammed Tamimi from the Nabi Saleh Popular Committee. They reported to us that the demonstration was still going on in the village, and that the response of the IOF was more aggressive than usual.
Mohammed Tamimi joked and laughed all the time trying to cheer everybody up. A woman activist had heard that Mohammed had told a soldier ‘You have killed my brother and now you are arresting me’, and that the soldier started to cry! Whilst I did not witness this, there was certainly one soldier who looked in my direction often, checking if I was comfortable. However there were other soldiers there who did not act so humanely.
At one point the policeman in charge came in with a soldier carrying a booklet of photographs – the product of the hard work of army photographers seen regularly at demonstrations, pointing their lenses at the protestors. They inspected the faces in the room and called Mohammed Tamimi out.
People wanted to go to the toilet but were made to wait. I asked to see doctor because my arm was hurting badly and starting to feel numb and a soldier came and said: ‘You will have to do with me, I am a medic. It is probably nothing’ he diagnosed in the next sentence, without any examination. ‘How do you know?’ I asked, to which he replied, ‘How do I know that you are not making it all up?’
I therefore insisted on seeing a real doctor, who arrived shortly afterwards. We went to his surgery on the ground floor with a soldier in tow, where he asked me if he could touch my arm and whether I could make a variety of different movements. He concluded that my arm was not broken and offered me painkillers for what he called something like ‘pressure bruises’. His use of language was interesting and he said something like ‘your arm was exposed to handling which is now causing pain’, which almost made me laugh.
Back in the dormitory, we sat around, guessing what was going to happen to us. Two internationals had a flight home at 11am the next day which they were concerned about missing. Two Palestinian women worried about the reaction of their families to their arrest and one was particularly concerned about having been asked the names of her siblings during questioning.
The place was cold and I had left my jacket in Nabi Saleh, thinking that I would be too hot running up and down the road and the hill. The soldiers would from time to time bring a bottle of water and plastic cups and put them on the floor in the middle of the room, as well as replacing any handcuffs that had fallen off. The view out of the windows was of a children’s playground and we found a handful of rifle bullets, which looked unused, on a windowsill.
Two Border Policemen kept coming in, calling our names and asking us to step one by one out of the room. The process was chaotic. We were first asked for our names, then we were all called again because they forgot to ask for our dates of birth, after which the same was repeated to take IDs, then all of our possessions except our purses were taken away, and finally we were all thoroughly searched. One woman soldier searched me, over my clothes, top to toe and looked inside my, by now, smelly trainers with a torch, whilst another watched. After this, at around 9pm – eight hours after we had been detained – we boarded a bus which was to take us to Binyamin Police Station in another illegal settlement near Jerusalem.
Before we left, we were called out individually to a modern four wheel drive police vehicle. When my turn came, one of the two policemen who had dealt with us all afternoon told me that I had been arrested and accused of being illegally in a closed military zone. He asked me to sign a form confirming this.
According to Israeli laws, foreigners cannot be detained for more than three hours without being arrested and, as far as I or any of the other foreigners detained were concerned, we had not been informed of our arrest, or at least not in a language we understood. Another set of much harsher rules apply to Palestinians, of course.
Most of us refused to sign and we went on our way to Binyamin, where we found ourselves in a modern heated building, which smelled of coffee and had an accessible toilet. In Halamish we were required to be accompanied by a soldier to the toilet, which was outside in a port-a-cabin. One female soldier tried to get into a cubicle with a Palestinian woman, but stepped out when the detainee told her that she would not use the facilities in front of her.
Our handcuffs were cut off and a box with bread, chocolate spread, fruit and large bags of yogurt (without cups), was dropped on the floor. Most of us were exhausted and people were falling asleep where we sat, on the floor and on chairs. We were told that we would be called in for interrogation individually and that we could consult a lawyer who had been provided by the Israeli activists.
I was called soon and the interrogator started by asking me who I was, before clarifying that he would ask me for the details of my participation in an illegal demonstration, held inside Halamish in Israel. He stated that I had remained inside a closed military zone despite being shown an order by the army which stated that I would be arrested if I did not leave.
He produced a copy of what he said was the military zone order, in Hebrew, and I told him that this was the first time I had seen one, and that I had been told in Halamish that I was accused only of being in the closed military zone, and that he was now expanding the accusations to include my presence in an allegedly illegal demonstration in Israel.
‘Why did you think you were here? Did you think that you were brought here for a picnic?’ he said, and asked me to sign the paper summarising the accusations against me. He explained that this did not amount to and admission of guilt, but was just a confirmation of the accuracy of his notes in Hebrew. I refused and asked to see the lawyer, who I had initially I would not need. The lawyer came in and after the interrogator asked him for his ID, he translated the notes, which were accurate.
The lawyer and I went out I told him that the policeman was widening the accusations and that I had been hurt during the arrest and was in pain. He wrote my name down and I returned on my own into the interrogation room. The interrogator asked many questions and I replied to each of them that I wished to remain silent. When he asked me finally if I had anything to add, I started telling him about the brutality of my arrest. He replied ‘ You cannot claim that you do not remember anything of your participation in an illegal demonstration and now come up with all these details’. I responded that I remembered very well what had happened, but I was maintaining my right to remain silent. We went in circles, repeating the argument for a while. ‘If you participate in an illegal demonstration you should expect a rough treatment’, he said.
He resisted including my description of the settler taking pictures of us, insisting that I tell him whether I had personally asked the settler to stop taking pictures, which I could not remember and maintained had not been my responsibility to do anyway, as we had been in police custody. When I said that I had been distraught to witness the settler slap a handcuffed woman, he said that I should stick to what had happened to me. In the end, after a long and arduous exchange, I finished by saying that we had been held for eight hours without being told that we were arrested, which is against Israeli law.
Another man in light blue uniform had joined us and stood by, listening to the whole exchange. I have no idea what my interrogator wrote in Hebrew during this time, if any of my ‘additional information’ was ever recorded and even if it was, whether it will ever reach anybody outside that interrogation room.
Back in the room, the other arrested protesters said that they had been told that it was likely that we would all be released conditionally, except Mohammed Tamimi who was accused of stone throwing based on photo evidence and Mohammed Khatib for the alleged assault of a soldier during his arrest.
The atmosphere was grim and one of the women started to cry. Mohammed Tamimi continued to joke and comfort everybody saying how happy he was for us to be released and saying that his only worry was being without a computer and access to Facebook. When he came out of the interrogation room he said that not only it was not him in the picture but that the picture was not even taken in Nabi Saleh.
I was dozing off and every time I woke up there would be fewer people in the room. The last four people to be released, at around 4.30am, were all from the original sit-in group, including myself. Israeli activists were waiting for us outside, to take us to Qalandia checkpoint where taxis were available.
We left behind Mohammad Tamimi in one of the Israeli activist’s jacket – his own was torn in a number of places – and Mohammed Khatib. They were expecting to go to Ofer prison. Two Israeli women activists also remained. I later read that, unlike the rest of us, they had refused to sign the release conditions not to go to Nabi Saleh for some weeks, instead choosing to be arrested in solidarity with the two remaining Palestinians. Thank god for people like them!
Leaving Mohamed Tamimi and Mohamed Khatib behind felt like abandoning them to their fate. It still feels that way now.
Today we were invited to return to the village of Hares, where two homes were demolished a few days ago. We were joined by Israeli women from MachsomWatch, who came to meet with Hares women at the mosque and to join the children’s march to the demolished homes. The meeting was rather chaotic with a crowd of women speaking in Arabic, Hebrew and English, until our friend, Palestinian peace activist Issa Suf, arrived and from his car spoke to the group who moved outside.
Issa was deliberately shot by an Israeli soldier in 2001 as he shepherded his brother’s children into the house during IDF (so-called Israeli Defense Force) shooting. The bullet entered his shoulder and lodged in his spine. He has had years of rehabilitation, but expects to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He drove to an area near the mosque and spoke from his car to the group of women and crowds of children who were arriving from the school.
Issa spoke of the need for peace, saying that if the occupation is not stopped, there will be more and more victims. He spoke of writing a letter to the soldier who shot him, hoping that one day they might be able to meet. He was quoted as hoping he would be able “to change something for him. To clean his head. To purify his heart.” He was also quoted as saying, “I don’t feel hatred for anyone. Only for the politicians who drag us, the ordinary people on both sides, into becoming victims of their power struggles and their interests.”
Hares village has for years been harassed by Israeli Army and illegal settlement bullies, who uproot olive trees, steal olives, and beat farmers and their families with iron bars while soldiers stand by and watch. Hares land was stolen for illegal settlements surrounding the village, including Burqan industrial zone, Revava illegal settlement, and the largest illegal settlement Ariel, as well as two wide bypass roads. Burqan spews industrial waste and Revava dumps raw sewage on Hares land leading to environmental pollution and killing trees. Additionally, most of Hares’ homes were placed under demolition orders.
Nonetheless, undefeated village children and community members carried Palestinian flags and chanted as they marched from the village mosque to their recently demolished homes. Just before we started, I asked one of many women if she knew anything about the woman lying in front of the first demolished house, who I helped carry out of the bombardment. She did and two Israeli women translated as she told me the woman was her husband’s mother.
Together we marched with the children in a growing crowd to the demolished houses. It was both heartening and sad as we watched school boys plant Palestine flags on top of the ruins. We were offered strong coffee and shared strong words about the actions of the United States as we returned on the dusty road. Afterward, as we walked back to town, a young man we didn’t know started walking with us. Later we learned that he was part of the wounded woman’s family, some of whom were also walking with us. A small van then picked us up and took us to their temporary home. The woman was the mother of the family whose home was demolished first. I learned that her leg had been broken when a soldier pushed her into the bulldozer, but was so happy to see that she was alive and smiling. We were both overwhelmed at remembering it all. I learned that the young man who helped me carry her was one of her sons. The young man sitting next to me on the ground as I held her head was another son. The man who got in the ambulance with her was her husband.
The next day Salfit District governate brought two busloads of people and dignitaries to march in solidarity with Hares villagers. After the visitors had left, the Israeli Army started firing teargas and ammunition at Hares youth. As we sat with those who had been rendered homeless by cowardly and brute force, a young girl returned home from school frightened by the IDF. As we left the demolition area, there were five IDF vehicles full of heavily armed soldiers on both sides of the road. And tonight we hear that Israeli soldiers had lined both sides of the road from Hares into our village and are currently camped in a valley on the edge of town. Evidently, the Israelis refuse to let villagers peacefully assemble with supporters to mourn the loss of their homes and celebrate their Independence Day.
Hares is heroically rising undefeated from its ruins once again. But my own country, the United States, is sinking – the loss of integrity and pride in our own country reflects Issa’s words. “I don’t feel hatred for anyone. Only for the politicians who drag us, the ordinary people on both sides, into becoming victims of their power struggles and their interests.”
Where is Obama?
We were called this morning by our friend who was disabled by a deliberate Israeli Army (IDF) shot that lodged in his spinal cord. Israeli soldiers were in our neighboring community, his home Hares, to carry out demolition orders on three homes. Five of us crammed in a taxi, but had to walk the last distance because IDF had closed the roads to the threatened area. Cars and people were streaming into the rural area from all directions. The unpaved road through olive orchards was full of heavily armed soldiers, military vehicles and a huge apocalyptic Hyundai bulldozer-backhoe-demolition hammer.
Fairly soon, we stood in front of the soldiers and tried to talk our way in, while they pointed their rifles at us and old village women while yelling, firing and chasing youth through the orchard. At one point we were caught between the youth who were throwing stones and the IDF firing teargas. Eventually, we were inside the closed area in front of one of the threatened houses. The mayor had arrived with a faxed order allowing the villagers extra time, but the officer refused to recognize it.
Quickly the soldiers got into battle positions. A woman had collapsed between the threatened house and the huge demolition bulldozer – I was afraid they would run the bulldozer over her, but suddenly they fired a barrage of teargas, stun bombs, and live ammunition. Another man and I lifted her up and dodged the barrage to run blindly, unable to breathe and half carrying her to get her past the Army vehicles and up the road. We stopped where there were a few injured villagers in the olive orchard. A young IDF woman said she was a doctor and started treating the woman assisted by young male soldiers. She never removed her rifle.
The village woman appeared to be failing rapidly – they gave her oxygen and tried to start an IV, but weren’t good at it. I asked the IDF woman what kind of doctor she was and she claimed to be an MD, but I doubt it. The village woman seemed to be failing and many other wounded were arriving – several serious. I believe one of the young male soldiers was crying after I angrily asked him if he had a mother. I couldn’t leave her – she clung to me after we carried her to safety. Eventually they put her in the back of an IDF vehicle since the ambulance couldn’t get in. Meanwhile they kept firing ammunition and demolished one house.
There were at least forty IDF in our area and I wasn’t sure how I would get out, but when a Salfit activist started walking out with a photographer who had been wounded in the foot, I went with them. We weren’t allowed to go past the next house ready for demolition to the other side and were trapped in the middle. The IDF unleashed another barrage and we got teargased and stunned again.
They quickly started in on the second home. It was heartbreaking to see the family’s dreams being demolished so quickly and brutally. One house was to have been the new home for a family of eighteen, five of whom were taken to hospital with serious injuries during the demolition and the other for a family of fourteen who were living in two rooms. Most of the soldiers were cocky and disgusting, especially a female who kicked the Medical Relief Society woman in the shoulder.
The whole community was depressed at what happened. They collected a big pile of teargas canisters and shells of live ammunition. Some sat on top of the ruins. The youth were frustrated at being powerless, although they had been able to throw stones and burn tires and keep the IDF busy.
I was depressed, too, knowing that the USA paid for the travesty. We will be back there tomorrow – I cancelled my leave, knowing I could not enjoy it if Hares was being assaulted again. I hope to find out about the woman who was taken to hospital.
As we left the village, a young man coming back in asked, “Where is the United States? Where is Obama”? Where indeed?!