report from Palestine, August 2, 2003


Jayyous food delivery, July 28

Steve writes from the West Bank:

Qalqilya
Aug. 2, 2003

At 3:00 last Friday morning, I was awakened by Kevin,
a member of the ISM Qalqilya action group, and a local
photojournalist I'll call Ragheb, and told that the
Israeli army had again entered Qalqilya. Four of us
went out to see what was happening. After the
shocking attack on a house earlier in the week, we
felt that it was important that we be present, albeit
at a distance, visible, and out of the line of fire,
in the hope that international witnesses might inhibit
the Israeli army from their worst excesses.

We proceeded to the main street, and spoke to a few
people who were out. An old man said to me, "Why do
you want to drink from that cup?" Others called out,
"Thank you for what you're doing." Some young men
told us that the soldiers had been firing into the
air.

A jeep and an armored personnel carrier (APC) entered
the road from a side street. Both were completely
enclosed, with tiny reinforced windows, so that it was
impossible to see the human beings inside. The APC
stayed at a distance, and the jeep stopped with its
bright lights on us for a long time. Then they sped
away.

We continued down the street in an attempt to find the
house(s) being raided. The jeep and APC returned, and
stopped a block away. We're pretty sure we were
visible to the jeep. A few shots were fired. A
volley of machine gun fire followed, and in the dark
we couldn't tell if the gunfire was directed at us, at
the buildings opposite the vehicles, or in the air.
I said, "This is how Brian Avery got shot." We got
out of sight of the army, and returned to our house.
We continued to hear sporadic gunfire as the two
vehicles sped up and down the street. On Friday
evening, we all had a long talk about going out at
night when the army is in town, and decided that we
would only consider going out if we had specific
information about where the army was and what they
were doing. Marwan, our local coordinator, said that
there's nothing we can do if the army has come to
arrest someone, but if they're planning to demolish a
house, we might be of use.

On Friday afternoon we visited two of the houses that
were raided. In the first, the wanted man was not
present, and we saw the usual scenes of gratuitous
destruction, although the house was not riddled with
bullets like the one we saw previously. As usually
happens in these situations, there were children in
the family who were eager to take us from room to room
to show us the damage and to bring us spent shell
casings. The family had "Peace Now" stickers in
almost every room, and the soldiers had tried to rip
one of the stickers off the wall.

The adults in the family told us that a large number
of jeeps and soldiers had shown up, and that the
entire family had been made to stand outside for
hours. Apparently, the one jeep and one APC we saw
shooting up downtown were distractions designed to
keep folks scared and in their houses. I wonder if
the soldiers were wearing white sheets.

At a second house that was raided we were invited to
stay and drink tea and coffee. Their son was taken,
and they didn't know where. We gave them the number
for HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization that
tracks Palestinian detainees.

In the news in the United States, we hear about the
three-month cease fire. It seems to be that the
Palestinians are the only ones holding their fire.

I got a couple of hours of sleep after we returned
from our failed intervention, and then headed out for
a day in the villages south of Qalqilya with Samir, of
the State Information Service (sort of a statistics
and publishing office) and Courtney, Lysander and Lisa
from our action group. Samir is from Habla, a village
immediately south of Qalqilya. His family came there
from Arabia in the 17th century, and was the first
family in Habla. He can name every other family in
the village, and where they came from (usually other
places in Palestine).

We needed to walk through another farmers' gate - it's
now had hurricane fencing installed, so that one can
no longer crawl through it. We waited until an APC
drove away, then tried to open it, but couldn't figure
out the mechanism. We stepped back to figure out what
to do, when a little boy on a bicycle flipped open the
gate. We ran across the 100 meters of empty space to
the Israeli army's gate on the road into the village
of Habla. Samir was waiting for us there.

Samir took us around the nurseries there, and a
nursery owner told us the now-familiar story of the
ruin of his once thriving business. We had tea and
grapes with Musa, a cousin of Marwan, our local
coordinator. He told us how Israeli soldiers had come
to him while he was working and demanded to see a
permit to be working the land.even though he owns that
land himself.

The construction site of the "security fence" wound
around this area of nurseries, orchards, and farms,
cutting it off from Habla and from Qalqilya. At one
point, we walked right up to the Green Line (the
border between Israel and Jordan between 1949 and
1967), and crossed over it. The fence doesn't
separate Israel from the West Bank at all; it annexes
West Bank land to Israel. A farmer with a tomato field
just over the Green Line into the West Bank showed us
how his crop had been ruined when Israeli settlers
released pigs into his field two weeks earlier.

Samir brought us to a spot where a front loader and a
number of workers on foot were putting up the fence at
breakneck speed. He explained that this was his land,
now all consumed by the fence. The workers on foot
were Palestinian.work is so hard to come by for
Palestinians that they will take jobs building their
own prison. Samir is a gentlemanly and businesslike
man, but when we were on his ruined land, he seethed.
We took photos of his irrigation pipes, dug up and
tossed aside by the front loader.

Ragheb took a photo of the Jewish Israeli operator of
the front loader, and armed security showed up and got
right up in his face, screaming at him in Hebrew and
demanding his camera. He didn't give it up, and they
didn't lay a hand on him.perhaps because Courtney,
Lysander, Lisa and I were there.

We went to look at a centuries-old mosque in Habla.
The security fence was just feet away from the mosque,
with an Israeli settlement across the road. Samir
explained that this particular portion of the fence
had been built in 1996, four years before the
beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

We spent midday at Ras Tira, a hilltop village across
the ravine from the sprawling Israeli settlement of
Alfe Menashe. Opened in 1982 and expanding
constantly, Alfe Menashe now has 40,000 inhabitants
and sits on top of the region's main aquifers (one
Jewish Israeli West Bank settler is allotted twenty
times as much water as one West Bank Palestinian
resident). At the bottom of the ravine, Israeli
soldiers hold military exercise, and when villagers
attempt to approach their olive trees further down the
slope, soldiers shoot at them.

Ras Tira is one of several villages, with a combined
population of 1000, being fenced in with Alfe Menashe
and cut off from any other West Bank communities.
They have been given until 2005 to accept Israeli ID
cards or leave the village. Many of them have ID
cards now that list a place other than Ras Tira as
their home. I doubt those people will be given the
option of Israeli ID.

Ras Tira has already been erased from Israeli
government databases.

We stopped at a giant road block next to the
Israeli-only highway that cuts through Habla on the
way to Alfe Menashe. The only way to pass from one
side of Habla to the other is on foot. I stood at the
side of the road for a long time, looking at the faces
of the drivers passing by, trying to will them into
realizing that everything they have is at the direct
expense of someone else.

We went to Samir's home for a sumptuous lunch. He and
his wife both work in Qalqilya, and keep an apartment
there because the passage to and from Habla is too
difficult to do every day. Habla is a few hundred
yards from Qalqilya.

When we got back to the gate into Qalqilya, it was
locked (no army around), and lots of people were
milling around on the Habla side. Then a boy-he must
have been about 10-opened the gate, and all of us,
men, women, kids on bikes, someone on a horse, rushed
through before soldiers showed up. The kid seemed
delighted when each of us stopped to thank him.

On Saturday, we were invited to the end-of-summer-camp
presentation of the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
One of the skits was about an ambulance stopped at a
roadblock as the patient dies. The little kids who
played the mean Israeli checkpoint soldiers were
intense.

On Saturday night, Basem, an ISM volunteer, invited
the men among us to celebrate his having passed the
tawjihi, the extremely rigorous end-of-twelfth-grade
comprehensive set of exams. The party was in what
looked exactly like a Brooklyn wedding palace, and was
absolutely packed with deliriously happy young men
dancing to traditional Arab music. At one point, they
began chanting as they danced "kus uchtak yaa Sharon"
(fuck you, Sharon). They were thrilled when we joined
in. After the party, we went for a midnight swim at
one of Qalqilya's 2 pools-men only, of course.

On Monday, while four from the Qalqilya action group
(including Dena and Eric from JAtO) were participating
in the "break the gate" action in Annin, outside
Jenin, that got international attention, another four
of us (including me and Ryan from JAtO) met up with
David and Nirit from JAtO, other internationals from
ISM, Boston to Palestine, and others, and activists
form Jayyous in another delivery of supplies to the
Bedouin family trapped outside the Jayyous fence. The
army stayed away, realizing, I think, that they had
provided the media with unfavorable photo ops the week
before. The delivery went off successfully, but it
was incredibly sad to see an old woman from the family
standing at this enormous fence, waiting for handouts.
She allowed the media to interview her and photograph
her, and while she was talking to them I saw that she
was crying. In the attached photo, she's on the
right. A man and boy from the family are loading up a
donkey with the supplies thrown down to a Jayyous
activist. All three entered the no man's land between
the razor wire and the fence for the purpose of the
delivery. I don't know the names of anyone in the
Bedouin family. I couldn't speak to them. I was
behind the razor wire barrier with everyone else.

Again, the land "inside" the fence in this picture is
in the West Bank. The land "outside" the fence is
also in the West Bank. This is not a border fence
between Israel and the territory it's occupied for 36
years. Those of us opposed to the fence believe it
has a two-fold purpose: incorporate valuable land and
water resources outside the fence into Israel,
decreasing the resources available to (and therefore
the viability of) a future Palestinian state, and to
pursue a policy of ethnic cleansing of areas inside
the fence, as Palestinians, deprived of income, are
forced to leave. The more Palestinians leave, and the
more Israeli Jews arrive as settlements are expanded,
the more occupation becomes annexation.

On Wednesday, international activists arrived in
Qalqilya from Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm, Jerusalem,
Nablus, Jayyous, and elsewhere to participate in the
Qalqilya face of the week's Wall actions. None were
allowed through the checkpoint. Some snuck through
the checkpoint when soldiers were otherwise occupied.
Some crawled under a farmers' gate in the fence. Some
snuck through another gate. Some stayed overnight in
a nearby village after failing to get in (and nearly
getting arrested), and succeeded upon trying again
early in the morning. And some were unable to enter
at all. Ady (JAtO) and Tim from our action group were
also able, with help from arrangements Marwan made and
accompaniment from Ragheb, to get 8 big helium tanks
(!) into town.

Thursday was the big day - the payoff after
approximately one million planning meetings with
everyone in Qalqilya from the mayor on down, and with
each other, after creating a giant banner ("No
apartheid wall" in English, Hebrew and Arabic)
designed to fly 15 meters above the ground, after
filling countless balloons with oil paint to fling at
the wall (and then discovering that oil paint corrodes
latex-oops), and after browbeating the press from Tel
Aviv to Toronto (they usually wanted to know if there
was going to be bloodshed). We marched from the
municipality in the center of town-50 internationals,
and Qalqilyans from the Prisoners' Club, local
government, the PFLP, the Peasants' Union, and many
others-to the point at which the wall meets the fence,
joined by a military gate and a sniper tower. It was
a beautiful site as activists flung paint balloons at
the hated wall, and covered its surface (the lower
half, at least) with messages of liberation. We were
met by soldiers in jeeps who had their guns at the
ready, but when they saw that the line of
internationals facing them was neither advancing on
them nor heeding their orders to disperse, they chose
restraint. It's entirely possible that restraint was
a policy insisted on from above, considering that the
photo of soldiers teargassing activists in Annin on
Monday went all over the world.

The giant banner flew only briefly before the balloons
popped, but long enough for some good photos. It will
now hang from Ash-Sharqa Girls' School next to the
Wall, a school that has been teargassed in the past by
the Israeli army while the students were present.

There was a fair-sized crowd of Israeli activists from
Gush Shalom and other groups outside the military
gate. They got short notice from us about the demo,
but filled a bus for their companion demo nonetheless.
We ended with Noura, Palestinian-American from ISM,
delivering a message of peace to them (which was
permitted after a lot of wrangling with the soldiers0.

A lot of the Qalqilyans I've spoken with are very
pleased about the demonstration, although some had
hoped for a larger turnout of locals. I think that,
now that we've proven ourselves, we'll have a bigger
turnout next time.

Yesterday (Friday) activists in Tulkarm succeeded in
removing the razor wire in front of a gate there, but
were unable to tear down the gate before the Israeli
army opened fire with rubber bullets. There were a
number of injuries among activists, but none serious.
I stayed in Qalqilya, holding down the fort as it
were. I joined the Prisoners' Club at the Qalqilya
Zoo (the only zoo in the West Bank) for a party for
the children of prisoners, and in the evening, after
the rest of the group returned from Tulkarm, we
participated in another loud, spirited, multi-party
march through town in support of prisoners. It seems
that yesterday prisoners in Ashkelon Prison were tear
gassed while locked in their cells, resulting in 100
injuries, 9 serious. The president of the Prisoners'
Club named for me the 3 prisons in which he was tear
gassed while locked in his cell.

Today, Saturday, we'll be talking about our work in
the surrounding villages. I may be moving to nearby
Jayyous, in which case my telephone service will be
spotty (but not nonexistent). I'm not sure about
email access there...I'll check it out when I arrive
(assuming the move happens).

That's all for now.

--Steve Quester