Israeli army seizes land and terrorises
19 December 2002
When I arrived at the ambulance station for the
afternoon shift, a crew returned from "clashes" looking
exhausted. A young boy had died from six bullets to head, chest, abdomen
and thigh. The Israeli army is very well equipped and obedient to
orders: every day they fire into residential areas in Rafah and Kahn
Yunis - and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories - killing actual
and suspected resisters and unarmed civilians.
At 10 pm we could hear tanks which had entered
the town. Throughout the night there were bursts of gunfire from Israeli
positions a kilometre away. The station is shielded by adjacent houses.
21 December 2002
At 5 am we went to a house which had been blown
up by explosives two hours earlier. The ambulance had been called
because a woman was distraught and faint following the arrest of her
husband. She has no idea when he will be released: it could be hours
or it could be years.
After breakfast I went to Gaza with Suliman, the
station leader, to get a repair done on an ambulance. We were held
up in a half mile queue of traffic near Netsarim settlement and army
base just outside Gaza. A tank had been menacing traffic and stopping
it from passing. When we arrived it was between the road and the settlement
on a big swathe of land more than a kilometer wide which had been
cleared of houses, olive and citrus trees, and crops. It then came
up behind the traffic, firing over us. It was like a wolf chasing
sheep and everyone drove off as fast as they could. We returned from
Gaza in the evening, having ascertained that the road past Netsarim
was clear, and that a checkpoint near Khan Yunis had opened after
being closed most of the day.
Walked round the refugee camp close to where I
am staying in Kahn Yunis with a student who lives in the camp. On
lamp posts and walls there are many pictures of ‘martyrs,’ the word
used for all dying as a result of Israeli military activity, whether
resistance fighters or civilians. In a road named after a prominent
resistance fighter killed in the first intifada, I was introduced
to the local Hamas leader. He said: "We want peace. We are not
terrorists. But the Israelis kill our children and shell our hospitals."
A ten-year-old boy added: "They bomb and shell us at night; we
We walked through a market which had been relocated
from the outskirts of the town after being shelled by a tank, killing
a man and a six-year-old girl. The mother was distraught. The girl
was her only child.
In the main street bordering part of the refugee
camp near Gush Katif Israeli settlement, there was a picture of a
martyr who was a Palestinian police explosives engineer. As he entered
a house to inactivate explosives which Israelis had laid, they blew
it up by remote control.
Palestinian policeman who died
trying to save a house
Nearby was a picture of a 21-year-old shot dead
by a settler when driving his donkey cart past the settlement five
days ago. Then we passed portraits of three young men killed by a
tank on their way to visit a friend. In a marquee down a side street
people were mourning the death of a 42-year-old woman following five
months in intensive care after being shot by an Israeli soldier.
We went to the edge of the camp where the road
from Khan Yunis becomes a dirt road going to Mawassi, a Palestinian
enclave lying along the coast to the north. Mawassi is cut off from
Khan Yunis by a series of Israeli settlements and its inhabitants
suffer considerable deprivation because the army restricts entry of
food, and the provision of health care, education and other services.
Fifty yards from us is the ominous 25 foot high concrete wall surrounding
one of the settlements. In fact these are towns occupied by Israelis,
and all are illegal under international law - as are all the other
200 plus settlements which have been established throughout the Occupied
The road to Mawassi
Every night there is gunfire from the settlements
into Kahn Yunis, directed particularly at houses close to the road
we had come along. For the young Israeli conscripts assigned to the
settlements, this is a shooting gallery. For the Palestinians, it
can be a dangerous place to be during the day and is lethal at night.
Many of the houses are in ruins. Further into the town, the houses
and shops are riddled with bullet holes. Three evenings ago I was
here with Suliman who had to report on the work of his ambulance station
to the local Red Crescent treasurer. Bursts of machine gun fire hit
the house we were in and those round about. During a lull in the firing
we drove off towards the centre of town at full speed. There were
more prolonged bursts of firing after we got clear. What hypocrisy
of Israelis to accuse Palestinians of terrorism without acknowledging
the terror to which the army continually subjects the Palestinian
The shelling and shooting which have occurred every
night I have stayed in Khan Yunis are the initial stage in creating
a wide barren strip of land round a settlement. The next stage will
be to order families to leave their homes. Armed soldiers will then
place explosives in the houses and blow them up. Finally the remains
will be levelled by 60-ton armoured Caterpillar bulldozers while tanks
hover around to machine gun or shell anyone inclined to interfere.
This is how the Israelis ethnically cleanse the
Occupied Territories. 1.3 million Palestinians and 7500 Israelis live
in the Strip. The latter thus form only 0.6% of the population, but
the land occupied by their illegal settlements, the associated roads
which Palestinians are not allowed to use, and the agricultural land
razed by the army, now total 40% of the area of the Strip. The stealing
of Palestinian land is continuing relentlessly, day after day. This
crime started in 1948 with the removal of Palestinians from 400 villages
in what is now Israel. It continues today but the international community
takes no concerted action against it. Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans
was not tolerated; why is it tolerated in Palestine?
More than 200 Khan Yunis civilians have been killed
since the start of the intifada in September of 2000. Brave, frustrated,
foolhardy boys throw stones at the bulldozers and tanks, but the Palestinians
can offer no effective resistance. They face odds made impossible
by the United States’ enormous financial and military support of Israel.
A man said to me: "The suicide bombers: they are our tanks, our
helicopters, our F16s."
An old man appeared on the road from Mawassi. Khalid
was born in 1948 near Be’er Sheva. He does not remember his birthplace
because it was ethnically cleansed by the Israelis when he was six
months old. The families were forced to flee to Gaza, and Khalid has
lived in the West Camp refugee camp in Kahn Yunis ever since.
He invited us into a badly damaged house on the
edge of the camp. His daughter gave us small glasses of Arab tea -
sweet and flavoured with mint. He told us that he had built the house
and moved into it in 2000, but five months later the intifada started,
and shelling by the Israeli army forced the family to move out. They
now live in flats in Khan Yunis but are unable to pay the rent because
none of the adults has found work. They are fed by UNWRA.
Each day Khalid comes to his house because a downstairs
room can still be used to store things people want to take to relatives
living in Mawassi. Passage through the checkpoint controlling entry
into the isolated enclave is unpredicatable: it may or may not be
allowed, or some people may be let it, depending on the whim of the
soldiers on duty that day.
The house that Khalid built
The settlements between Kahn Yunis and Mawassi have replaced much
agricultural land. Formerly people from Khan Yunis could go to the
sea, but this has been stopped and Mawassi’s two small two small fishing
ports have been closed. These measures - the taking of arable land
and interfering with fishing - reduce the food supply of Palestinians
living in the Strip, and intensify the already alarmingly high level
of malnutrition caused by Israeli policies towards the Occupied Territories.