With the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron
Oct 31st 2002.
With three other Quakers from Britain, I took a minibus from East Jerusalem to Hebron. When we reached the turning into the town there were surly settlers with guns who ordered us out of the minibus and demanded the ID cards of the Palestinians. When they let us back in, one of the settlers saw me getting my camera ready on my lap and demanded it. When it was explained that I had not taken a photo he was placated. He asked if I was a journalist. I said no and he let us go on our way. The settlers have no right to do this, but the law here is gun law. The settlements, of which we passed a number on the way from Jerusalem, occupy a large area of the Occupied Territories and are all illegal under international law, built on land stolen from the Palestinians by force.
At the edge of Hebron we had to leave the minibus and scramble over a road block the Israelis had made with a bulldozer [Photo 1]. We then had a walk a mile and a half to where we are staying with the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) people who have invited us here, and with whom one of our team of four will spend most of his three months in Isr/Pal. As we walked down to and through Hebron we were welcomed by many people, though small boys threw small stones at us. They throw a lot of stones at the hated Israeli police and army vehicles which patrol through the West Bank occupied territories. Though the adults make it clear that they are pleased to see us, Palestinians must feel some ambivalence because of US and UK support for Israel.
Down in the town of Hebron we found that girls who had just come out of school were being prevented from going home. When asked what the problem was, soldiers told us that there had recently been a shooting in the centre of town and that there was therefore a curfew and no one could cross the extra road blocks which had been set up. Two of us stayed with the children to reduce the likelihood of them being shot at. After about three quarters of an hour they were permitted to go home, and we went on to the CPT flat.
As we walked there we went through 2 road blocks manned by soldiers with automatic guns. Because of the curfew we met few people. It is good that so far during this curfew, now on for three days, the children have been allowed to go to school. In the centre of Hebron which, apart from the settlements and road blocks, is a small picturesque old town a bit the worse for ware due to shelling of buildings, we passed a big banner in Hebrew saying: "Hebron is now all ours." A number of settlers and visiting Jews were being bussed into the centre of the town to where Abraham is buried as there is a Jewish religious festival. During this time the Palestinians are being kept confined to their houses.
Life in the CPT flat is basic but congenial. There is no hot water and water is limited for us and the Palestinians, but not for the Israelis in the settlements who may have green lawns and swimming pools. The Israelis in these illegal settlements use 85% of the water in the West Bank.
Particularly during curfew, food availability is restricted. In the afternoon we walked round Hebron. Because of the curfew it was deserted apart from a few boys and one or two adults. One boy was blotting a bleeding calf where he said he had been hit by a rubber bullet. We saw a neighbour who had a bandaged arm after being shot at this morning. He had an X-ray on which I could see no bony damage. These people would have disappeared if they had heard police vehicles or army armoured personnel carriers coming. The army has been using APCs converted from Centurion tanks sold to Israel by Britain on the understanding that they would not be used in the Occupied Territories.
We came across soldiers detaining a Palestinian because he had returned home during the curfew in his car with a bundle of carpets. After talking with the soldiers, who told us to go indoors, we left two of our group with him to reduce the chance of him being assaulted or arrested. One of the CPT people told the soldiers that CPT had been here as international human rights observers for 7 years, and that they would stay with this man, curfew or no curfew. While we were there the soldiers took the man’s car keys (he probably had copies against this eventuality). After an hour he was allowed to go on his way.
Just near the CPT flats there is a house which has recently been occupied by settlers. They drove the Palestinian owners out at gun point. The Palestinians complained to the police and the army then evicted the settlers. But they have returned and the army has taken no further action. A bit further away is a doctor’s house, the top floor of which has been taken over by the army so they can command the centre of Hebron. They have a good view of some shops which have obviously been fired at repeatedly.
We talked to soldiers at the road blocks. Most were pretty fed up. Two volunteered that they much disliked being here. The CPTers say that the army is short of personnel for all the work (oppression) they have undertaken in the Occupied Territories - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On BBC World Service news this evening we hear that the new defence minister is a hard line ex general. Poor Palestinians; it seems their suffering cannot get much worse but it does.
This morning we joined CPTers walking round town. Curfew was being observed in the centre, but further out to the north many people were out and even taxis were running. We asked some boys about curfew. They said they were breaking it because they were so fed up with being indoors. It is Friday, so there is no school today. It is so wrong that the Palestinians in Hebron are having to remain indoors.
Shops were open by the hospital so we bought some food. Someone had been out earlier and had not found anywhere open. This is the only government hospital for 160,000 people living in Hebron. There are only 23 medical beds, and 40 surgical beds. There are also two private hospitals but they are beyond the means of most people, though they are able to deal with injuries inflicted by the soldiers and settlers as the costs are covered by the Palestinian Authority.
On our way back to the flats we stopped at a road block where 15 men were being detained. Most had been apprehended by soldiers because they were breaking the curfew by going to the mosque for prayers as it is Friday [Photo 2]. We arrived at 11 am. Some of the men had been there since 8 am. One of the men wanted to urinate and it was quite clear to the soldiers what he wanted but they would not let him until one of us asked the soldiers. Two lads of about 20 were separated from the others and made to stay in a makeshift cage. They were told that they would be kept for some time.
An old man going to the mosque said: "We don’t know what the Jews want." I can tell him what Prime Minister Sharon and the Zionists want: they want all Arabs out of Israel and Palestine, if not by fleeing the country, then by death. This is quite clear from the way the Palestinians are being treated. Life is made as difficult for them as the Israeli government and military can make it. Opportunities for employment and commerce are being severely restricted. Food production is progressively reduced by illegal seizure of land on which settlements are built. These are towns where Israelis and Jewish immigrants live in subsidized housing. Large swathes of good agricultural land surrounding the settlements are also taken from the Palestinians whose families have tended it, in many cases, for hundreds of years. Attempts to continue cultivating such land are prevented by attacks on unarmed Palestinians by armed settlers. This year’s olive harvest, which is now finishing, has been interfered with widely throughout the Occupied Territories and many thousands of olive trees cultivated by Palestinians have been cut down or dug up. In some places settlers have been picking Palestinians’ olives, stealing them before the owners came to harvest them.
The Israelis have seized much of the water supply of the Occupied Territories. There is a continuing programme of demolition of Palestinian homes. Movement of Palestinians and their produce between the Occupied Territories and Israel, and within the territories, is severely impeded by road blocks where people may be held up for many hours, and where, in addition to being held up, goods and produce may have to be taken off one vehicle and manhandled onto another. The delays involved severely limit Palestinian commerce and frequently make the movement of perishable food impossible. Poverty and malnutrition are the inevitable and intended outcomes of these policies.
At road block check points, arbitrary delays are humiliatingly inflicted on all Palestinians, including the young, the old and the infirm. Women about to give birth, and severely ill people in ambulances, may be held up without compassion. Readily avoidable deaths result. Daily there is wanton, often deliberate, killing and wounding of Palestinian civilians of all ages. Thus the Israeli Occupation Forces violate international law and are continuously committing crimes against humanity. Their humiliation and terrorization of the Palestinian population causes psychological as well as physical damage. How can a people who two generations ago suffered so terribly at the hands of the Germans now treat the Palestinian Arabs in such similar racist and sadistic ways?
We wanted to go back to the flat as arrangements had been made for us to meet someone whose house has been demolished. We asked the lads being held by the soldiers whether they thought they would be alright. They said that if we left they would be beaten. They just stated it, not asking us to stay. They are tough. I expect they have been detained more often than they can count since they were about 14 and have probably been beaten a number of times. The detainees were eventually given back their ID cards and let go a few at a time, after being held for up to six hours. The men told us that this sort of thing happens every day.
Atta and his family We walked out of Hebron the way we entered the town yesterday and continued until we reached the house of Atta Jaber, his third house in fact. Above the threshold is an inscription in Arabic saying: "God is the only owner of the land, and this house is full of love."
The extended family, consisting of 24‘nuclear’ families, have lived on this land for 400 years, and have title to it from the days of the Ottoman Empire. In August 1998, six homes were demolished, including that of Atta and his family [Photo 3]. 45 members of the extended family assembled to resist the bulldozing of Atta’s house. 21 of the 45 were injured by soldiers. A woman soldier beat a two-year-old baby. Atta held out his youngest child to one of the soldiers and said: "If you take my land and destroy my house you will need to look after my child because I will not be able to do so." He was then taken to court, charged with attacking a soldier with his child! He showed us pictures of himself in court to which he was taken in handcuffs and shackled by the ankles. He had a good Israeli lawyer and was acquitted.
He started building another house a few yards from the destroyed one. This partly- constructed second house was bulldozed in September 1998. He then went to court and got permission to build the third house, the one to which we were invited this afternoon. He showed us the legal documents authorising the building. It is likely that he got these only because the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions took up his case and the CPTers campaigned on his behalf. An Israeli woman had a six foot high poster made showing Atta’s face above a caption in Hebrew saying: "Atta from Hebron is against house demolitions and land confiscation." This was put up in 60 bus stations. None of the posters was removed or defaced.
After demolition of the second house the family was in tents for 5 weeks. Atta then started building the present house. He and a labourer were the only people allowed on the property until the house was finished. He had to meet friends in his father’s house.
After the house was built it was occupied by settlers, who did a lot of damage including making large holes in some of the walls. They put mattresses and pictures in the basement and set them on fire. Soldiers also occupied the house and messed the place up. He showed us a big black mark on the kitchen wall against which they had made a fire.
He told us that 60 settlers attacked an adjacent house with stones. When a boy retaliated by throwing a stone at the settlers he was shot, the bullet passing through his arm and abdomen. Fortunately he recovered from his injuries. He took the settler who shot him to court. The settler claimed he shot the boy in self defence, and was acquitted.
Atta was allowed to retain only about an acre of land of the hundred or so he inherited from his father and grandfather. Part of this has been confiscated (ie stolen) for the building of a road outside an Israeli settlement. On a number of occasions settlers have thrown stones at him and the people working with him on his land just below the road.
I hear on the news that Human Rights Watch has issued a strong condemnation of suicide bombing. They are right to do so but I hope they will also condemn the human rights abuses which the Palestinians are suffering at the hands of the Israeli military and settlers every day.
We joined the Christian Peacemaker Team school patrol at 7 am. Soldiers told us that no children could go to school because of the curfew. However, after discussion, they did let though a girl we were accompanying and other girls were also allowed to go to school.
When we got near the boys’ school, boys were running out into the road, encouraged by the headmaster. Then two tear gas shells were fired about 70 yards from an armoured vehicle at one end of the street, and another two came from the other end. Two vehicles rushed along the street a couple of times. They go fast partly to scare people but also to reduce the chance of being hit by the stones and bottles which the boys throw at them.
We were in the middle of the street where the shells landed. The smoke was unpleasant enough to make everyone run away from it to avoid irritation of the eyes and throat and lungs. It made us feel a bit nauseous and also causes headache. Holding a dry handkerchief to the nose and mouth helped but spitting on the hanky made a better barrier to the gas. People here advise holding a cut onion to the nose as they think it reduces the effects of the gas. Another thing we saw being used was air freshener sprayed onto a tissue.
The headmaster then told the boys that there would be no school today, and asked us in to his office for one of the CPTers to write a report. We were given little glasses of Arab tea: sweet, with mint. He explained that he was closing the school for the day because before we arrived the soldiers had not only fired tear gas shells into the play ground to drive the boys our of the school, as it is surrounded by the school buildings on three sides, but had also started firing "pellets." We think that these must be rubber bullets, but he seemed afraid they would start firing shells. Rubber bullets are in fact metal covered with rubber. Though they are not fired at the same velocity as ordinary ammunition, the do inflict wounds.
The report will be sent to the police and journalists and will be circulated to other CPT contacts. The head said that he is not allowed to speak out about what the army does to his school. He told us that the children are being prevented from attending school about two days a week.
On our way back to the CPT flats, three of us were asked into a school to see a girl of about 8 who was lying on a settee in the headmistress’ office. We were told she had inhaled tear gas, which was no doubt true, but by now she was just very frightened. We offered to accompany her home, but she was scared that we might be soldiers too.
In the afternoon we went into a little museum about the presence of Jews in Hebron since the 1880s when some arrived from eastern Europe and Russia. 63 Jews were massacred in Hebron by Palestinians in 1936. The museum was interesting but only put the settlers’ side. It is so wrong that the Jews of Hebron and Jewish visitors from outside - as well as ourselves - are able to walk about in the sunshine while the Palestinians were shut up inside their houses.
Passing the house stolen from the owners by settlers, we said ‘sabat shalom’ (peace on the sabbath), but they did not reply except to spit at us.
Most of the journey back to Jerusalem was by different roads to our outward journey. Some were narrow, rough and steep. At one point we went along a little track through a vineyard and then up a very steep little bank onto a road. We all cheered the driver when we got to the road, after the vehicle had scraped its underside on the bank. The ingenuity of the Palestinian drivers to avoid road blocks and earth banks thrown up by army bulldozers is amazing. My friend says that whenever she goes to Ramallah from Jerusalem the route is different.
You are very welcome to share this with others, but please check with Floresca Karanasou at Friends House if you wish to publish a substantial part (tel +44 (0) 20 7663 1073 or e-mail FlorescaK@quaker.org.uk).