Palestine

Israeli army seizes land and terrorises
Khan Yunis

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.

22 December 2002

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 cannot sleep."

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 Territories.

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 population.

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.

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