Bearing Witness

The Kayaktivist Rides Again

Well I’m back in the Middle East and I have to say it almost feels like coming home. The first morning in Cairo I woke to the sound of the call to prayer and from that moment on I have felt welcomed and supported. I am in Cairo to sort my entry into the Gaza Strip to assist with the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project.

WHY ?

That is a question I have been asked time and time again and if I am honest I have asked myself on several occasions, especially over the last couple months as I have traveled through the Americas. Leaving idyllic places and amazing people to travel to a part of the world that is under such violent oppression by the Israeli state, so much so that William Madisha (a South African trade union leader) has stated: “As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of Israel’s actions make the actions of South Africa’s apartheid regime appear pale by comparison.”

I guess I personally have several motivating factors. Firstly, the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my wonderful parents. Secondly, the fact that I have witnessed first hand the brutality of the Israeli state, while I volunteered with Project Hope <http://projecthope.ps/nablus/> in Nablus. After the joy of experiencing a new culture and meeting incredible Palestinian people, whose lust for life under such oppressive circumstance is truly remarkable, I realised that what I was witnessing in the West Bank was a systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine… there is no other way to describe it. Thirdly, that this oppression of the Palestinian people, more often than not, goes unreported in the western media and is unfortunately even supported by my very own Government. Lastly, but definitely not least, my time in Palestine ended with Operation Cast Lead where I saw the very worst effects of the Israeli Military Doctrine of “Disproportionate Force”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians – most of whom where civilians.

Since then I have become a member of Free Gaza Australia <http://freegazaoz.org/> . FGA is an organisation that stands in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza by directly changing the illegal blockade of Gaza, that has been in place (officially) since 2007. However, the restriction on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza dates back to 1991, when Gaza was first cut off from the West Bank and Israel. This blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, which is outlawed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and has resulted in what was once the economic centre of Palestine becoming home to a population of aid dependant civilians. With at least 70% of the population of Gaza now reliant on aid to provide the basic essentials of life – food, shelter and medical care. I have been honoured to be a part of both recent Australian delegations that have attempted to break the blockade, firstly with Freedom Flotilla Two <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/stay-human-the-story-of-freedom-flotilla-2-from-the-kayaktivists-perspective/> and then Freedom Waves <https://occupiedterritories.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/freedom-waves-1413831/>. Lets hope it is third time lucky in FGA’s attempts to break this brutal blockade.

My belief in the Gaza’s Ark <www.gazaark.org> project is also a motivating factor for me. While the Ark will challenge the blockade physically in the tradition of previous flotillas, our focus has shifted from sailing aid in, to sailing trade out. There has been a debate in recent times in Palestine and throughout the international solidarity movement about the effectiveness or otherwise of aid delivery to the Palestine people. Has aid merely maintained an unacceptable status quo? This is a question which is above my pay grade, however it is clear that if the Palestinians of Gaza were allowed to trade their products with the rest of the world, their reliance on aid would greatly diminish. The other benefit of this approach is that as the Ark is being built in Gaza, the process of construction is as important as the action of challenging the blockade – as we can show the difficulties of everyday life in Gaza under the blockade.

How ?

The movable feast that is the process of gaining legal entry into the Gaza Strip has been a difficult one to navigate. When I left Australia three months ago the process had to be undertaken in Cairo, however since leaving that changed to people wanting to enter Gaza needing to inform the Egyptian Embassy in their home country when applying for their visa. At this point there are three main options, firstly through getting an invitation from an NGO in Gaza and then working with your embassy and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo to get approval to enter through the Rafah Crossing. The second option is to be an accredited journalist and apply through the Press Office in Cairo and finally the third option is to attach yourself to a delegation that already has approval. I have been trying all three. Two weeks in I feel I am getting nowhere, if nothing else it has been a lesson in patience. I naively thought that while the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory has no doubt been a blow to the hope of Egyptians for a secular democracy, that it would make entry into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing easier. However it appears that Morsi – like most politicians – has mastered the art of talking the talk, but has failed learn how to walk the walk.

However the delay in my entry into the Gaza Strip has meant that I have had the chance to meet some incredible Egyptian activists and that I will be around to stand in solidarity with them on the second anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. Their passion and courage has truly inspired me, while their stories have helped put my concerns over living in Gaza into perspective. To me the Egyptian revolution is proof that the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, is as true today as it ever was.

What ?

While our strategy has changed focus from aid to trade our main goals are still the same as the Free Gaza Movement’s first attempt to break this illegal and brutal blockade: solidarity and awareness. I hope to show the Palestinian people that my Government does not speak for me on the issue of Palestinian human rights and to generate awareness in Australia and throughout the western world about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is my hope that people in the west will understand that this is not an Israeli/Palestinian conflict, rather it is the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.

You help make this happen by buying a symbolic share in Gaza’s Ark and the hope it will build <http://www.gazaark.org/2013/01/15/buy-a-symbolic-share-of-gazas-ark-a-share-in-hope/>

Image

The Kayaktivists in action

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Gaza's Ark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Village, Palestinians See Model for Their Cause

BILIN, West Bank — Every Friday for the past four and a half years, several hundred demonstrators — Palestinian villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists — have walked in unison to the Israeli barrier separating this tiny village from the burgeoning settlement of Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village’s land. One hundred feet away, Israeli soldiers watch and wait.

The protesters chant and shout and, inevitably, a few throw stones. Then just as inevitably, the soldiers open fire with tear gas and water jets, lately including a putrid oil-based liquid that makes the entire area stink.

It is one of the longest-running and best organized protest operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.

For that reason, a group of famous left-leaning elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter — who caused controversy by suggesting that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank amounted to apartheid — came to Bilin on Thursday and told the local organizers how much they admired their work and why it was vital to keep it going.

The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also on the visit, said, “Just as a simple man named Gandhi led the successful nonviolent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bilin are leading a nonviolent struggle that will bring them their freedom.”

Mr. Tutu, a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke on rocky soil, surrounded by the remains of tear gas canisters and in front of coils of barbed wire, part of the barrier that Israel began building in 2002 across the West Bank as a violent Palestinian uprising was under way. Israel said its main purpose was to stop suicide bombers from crossing into Israel, but the route of the barrier — a mix of fencing, guard towers and concrete wall — dug deep into the West Bank in places, and Palestinian anger over the barrier is as much about lost land as about lost freedom.

Bilin lost half its land to the settlement of Modiin Illit and the barrier and took its complaint to Israel’s highest court. Two years ago, the court handed it an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to stop building its new neighborhood and ordered the Israeli military to move the route of the barrier back toward Israel, thereby returning about half the lost land to the village.

“The villagers danced in the street,” recalled Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for the village. “Unfortunately, it has been two years since the decision, and the wall has not moved.”

The village is back in court trying, so far in vain, to get the orders put into effect.

Ms. Schaeffer was explaining the case to the visitors, who go by the name The Elders. The group was founded two years ago by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and is paid for by donors, including Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay. Its goal is to “support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.”

Both Mr. Branson and Mr. Skoll were on the visit to Bilin, as were Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland; Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil; and Ela Bhatt, an Indian advocate for the poor and women’s rights. Their visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories has also included meetings with young Israelis and young Palestinians.

Mr. Cardoso said that he had long heard about the conflict but that seeing it on the ground had made a lasting impression on him. The barrier, he said, serves to imprison the Palestinians.

Like every element of the conflict here, there is no agreement over the nature of what goes on here every Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent, and it was cited recently by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a key step forward in the struggle for a Palestinian state. Recently, one of the leaders here, Mohammed Khatib, set up a committee of a dozen villages to share his strategies.

But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.

“Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires at defense forces and the security fence,” the military said in a statement when asked why it had taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the night. “Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members of the defense forces have been injured in these villages,” it added, including three soldiers who were so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army. It also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year and a half.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, a village teacher and one of the organizers of the weekly protests, said he was amazed at the military’s assertions as well as at its continuing arrests and imprisonment of village leaders.

“They want to destroy our movement because it is nonviolent,” he said. He added that some villagers might have tried, out of frustration, to cut through the fence since the court had ordered it moved and nothing had happened. But that is not the essence of the popular movement that he has helped lead.

“We need our land,” he told his visitors. “It is how we make our living. Our message to the world is that this wall is destroying our lives, and the occupation wants to kill our struggle.”

* This article was written by Ethan Bronner and first published: August 27, 2009 in the New York Times.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel says shooting of unarmed American activist a justifiable act of war

The Israeli military has declared the shooting of an unarmed American peace activist an act of war. The activist, Tristan Anderson, was critically injured when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head in March. Anderson was taking part in a weekly non-violent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Nilin. The Israeli military says Anderson was involved in a hostile act, which would absolve the military of any liability for his injuries. Michael Sfard, an attorney for Anderson’s family, said, If [an] unarmed civilian demonstration is classified by Israel as an act of war, then clearly Israel admits that it is at war with civilians.

Link to footage of the incident on youtube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjVcluwdCC8

At least their admitting it now, as in my opinion Israel has been at war with civilians since the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948. For more on Deir Yassin go to http://www.deiryassin.org/  

August 26, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank

Israel’s targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan.

It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.

Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.

During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.

The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.

The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.

In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle”.

It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.

This article was written by Ben White for the Guardian and was first published on Friday 20th February 2009.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

B’Tselem: 33-year-old settlement as illegal as any outpost

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a report on Monday concluding that the legal status of the 33-year-old Israeli settlement Ofra is identical to that of any so-called “unauthorized outpost” in the West Bank.

Using data obtained from the Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli force occupying the West Bank, B’Tselem found that 58% of Ofra is built on land owned privately by Palestinans.

The Israeli state differentiates between more than 130 sanctioned settlements, including Ofra, and dozens of “outposts.” B’Tselems argument is that all such settlements are illegal under international law, and even violate Israel’s own criteria.

Israeli government decisions and high court resolutions prohibit building settlements on private Palestinian land.

* This article was taken from Maan News Agency website @ www.maannews.net

December 23, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different and grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians. These demonstrate the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military. While this reality which is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders exists in Israel’s back yard, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name. Discharged soldiers who return to civilian life discover the gap between the reality which they encountered in the Territories , and the silence which they encounter at home. In order to become a civilian again, soldiers are forced to ignore their past experiences. Breaking the Silence voices the experiences of those soldiers, in order to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created. 

The end of the month will mark five years since the outbreak of violent confrontation in the Territories, and the IDF still does not believe in writing regulations for opening fire. Maybe the killing of dozens of innocent civilians, in the “Wild West” as a soldier described it, would have been diminished if the soldiers had been given regular open-fire regulations. And if in the past there was an official booklet for open-fire regulations that was passed to every soldier who served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it has been buried since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. The soldiers receive the regulations orally from the commanders in the field, and they vary from sector to sector, unit to unit, commander to commander. This grey area allows for the winking and turning away of eyes, whether from negligence or from contempt for the value of Palestinian life.

The latest reminder of this grey area was received three weeks ago in the Tul Karem refugee camp. Five Palestinians were killed, and the statement of the IDF spokesman dryly noted that “An IDF force came across a number of armed fugitives who belonged to the Islamic Jihad organization.” The commander of the Nahal Brigade, Col. Roni Numa, clarified: “None of those killed was an innocent passer-by. Exchanges of fire took place between the force and the terrorists, fire-bombs and charges were thrown in their direction.” Later it turned out that none of the Palestinians was armed, it is doubtful if any of them was a dangerous fugitive, and in any case there were no “exchanges of fire.”

The following stories exemplify the opaque situation in which the soldiers find themselves.

“My team killed six innocent people, or probably innocent,” says “R”, a commander in an elite paratroopers’ unit. “We would joke about it and give them code names: the baker, the woman, the child, the old man, the drummer. Some of them by mistake, but as I see it, they were simply executed on illegal orders.

“There were many nights on which we received orders that whoever we see on the street between two and four in the morning is sentenced to death. Those were the exact words. We were in Nablus and we started to advance using the ‘worm’ procedure so as not to be exposed. The houses were adjacent and had shared walls. Blow a hole in a wall, pass through a house, blow a hole in a wall, pass through a house. We advanced slowly, until at the end we stopped and came across what is called a ‘controlling house.’

“We set up sniper positions in the windows and waited. One of the marksmen identified a man on the roof. Two roofs from us, a distance of up to seventy metres, at two in the morning, an unarmed man walking on the roof. I saw with my own eyes that the man was not armed. That was also what we reported on the radio. The company commander said ‘take him down.’ Just like that, on the radio, he made a decision and settled on that. You think about that, in the United States there is a death penalty, there are a thousand appeals and convictions and judges. Here a 26-year-old man, my company commander, gave the order from afar to kill him, and the sniper fired and killed him. The company commander defined him as a ‘lookout’.” But what is a ‘lookout’? How does he know what he is? He doesn’t know.

“The next man was the baker. We entered the Old City in Nablus, and as usual the open-fire regulations were that every man walking on the street at night is sentenced to death. The team commander said that it was from the brigade commander. The pretext of course was that there was information from Shabak [the General Security Service, Israel’s internal intelligence agency ]. Really. Shabak knows if Ahmad the baker or Salim the carpenter has to get up to go to work? We did the ‘straw widow’ procedure – enter a house, concentrate the family into one room, then set up sharpshooters’ positions in the windows. In the morning we send out vehicles as bait in the hope of attracting the armed men against us, then we shoot them. The idea is to take down the armed men.

“That night we took over a house in an excellent position, and about four in the morning the sharpshooters’ position identified a man walking with a bag. I saw him on Jami’at al-Kabir Street with the bag in his hand. I went down to report, and the sniper, a friend of mine, was on duty. I reported to the commander who reports to the company commander. The order was ‘take him down.’ And so a man fell, 70 metres from his house.”

Two residents were witnesses to this incident, which happened under the window of As’ad Hanun, age 50, from Nablus. “I woke up to the sound of a shot,” she said a few months ago to members of Btselem. “After the shot I heard yelling from the street, ‘brother, I’m wounded, people, I’m wounded.’ The voice sounded very close and I was afraid to look out. After a few minutes I opened the window. The street was dark and I did not see the wounded man, but I saw the neighbours’ son. I asked him who was wounded, and he answered that it was a young man and he was in front of him. Immediately I went down to try to help. The wounded man was sitting on the ground and wearing a white hat.”

A soldier from the unit, who watched from the house opposite, continues. “Right away the jeep from the command post came, and the company commander got down and carried out a barbaric kill-verification just like that, with grenades, and he even sprayed the body with bullets. It’s a good thing that the IDF spokesman denies that there’s such a procedure. Then they went and checked what he had in the bag. What do you think was there? Bread.”

“I saw an Israeli jeep approaching,” the neighbour also related. “I was afraid they’d shoot so I went back into the alley. In the meantime the street was lit up with flares that the army lit; afterwards I heard about 10-12 consecutive shots. I did not see who was shooting, but I heard the wounded man yelling. After the last shot I heard the sound of an explosion and after that I heard nothing, no shooting and no yelling. It was clear that he was dead because he did not show any sign of life.” The neighbour identified the killed man as ‘Ala al-Din, an employee of the a-Silawi bakery. “In the bag,” she corrects, “were work clothes, not bread.”

“K”, a soldier in the armoured corps, testifies that he received a similar order in the Gaza Strip. “We went out in a tank from the base after mortars were fired at the settlements and we drove on the Tancher Highway until we entered Deir al-Balah. On the radio the battalion commander announced the open-fire orders: every person we see on the street, shoot to kill. Without asking questions. I remember that when we went in, somebody was running there, unarmed, and right away we shot him without any particular reason until he was definitely dead. That is to say, he fell into the bushes and afterwards we emptied a great many bullets into him. In the company we were not excited about killing, but we were happy that there was action. We didn’t think in terms of right or not.”

“A”, a commander in another paratroopers’ unit, served in Jenin and says that he received orders along the lines of “no innocent person has any reason to walk around on the street during the night hours.” As he says, “in every big city there are people who walk on the street, even at three in the morning. So is it right to kill them from a distance?”

The drummer

As dawn approached, one night during the month of Ramadan, a Nablus resident walked the streets with a drum to wake up the occupants before the fast. “No one told us that in the morning in Ramadan there was a custom like that,” says “R”. “We saw him with something in his hand, and like in most of the times an expedited arrest procedure was carried out. That is, we yell ‘stop, stop’ quickly, according to the protocol, right away we shoot in the air, and if he doesn’t stop, we shoot to kill. No shooting at the legs.”

The terrified drummer started to flee and entered an alley, relates “R”, and they entered into pursuit of him until in the end they killed him in one of the alleys. “They did a kill-verification on him according to the procedures they knew, grenades and afterwards a bullet in the head. Only then did it emerge that what he was holding in his hand was a drum. Only afterwards, in the investigation, did we learn that they wake people up that way during Ramadan. OK, so we, the simple soldiers, didn’t know. But even at the Brigade HQ nobody knew? Could be that they should have been more careful, or moderated the open-fire regulations.”

According to the IDF spokesman, the “drummer” was Jihad al-Natur, 24 years old when he died. An officer at the Judge Advocate-General’s office stated in reply that the death of the “drummer” was investigated, “and one of the lessons was that it is also important to know about Ramadan and the drums.”

Live fire at the knees of a child

The unit of “M”, a soldier in the Giv’ati Brigade, was stationed close to the Ganei-Tal settlement. “They call it ‘easy’ when they shoot live bullets at the knees of a child. There is a long line that separates the Jewish settlements from Khan Younis [in the Gaza Strip] and in parts of it there is no fence. In front of Ganei-Tal was a dune, which was a dead zone regarding our ability to observe it. In order that they not penetrate into the settlements, we created a situation in which the Palestinians knew exactly how far they could go from the edge of the neighbourhood.

“The top of the dune was a garbage dump next to which children played every day. When the ball falls, we execute deterrent fire to keep them back, first in the air and then maximum 50 metres from them so they go back. That was the procedure. For a long period it was like cat-and-mouse and it lasted a long time, until one day my assistant company commander decided that he had had enough, that it was not effective, that the children played there too much. He told us, ‘next time, call me.’ He came, and fired from a modified M-16 rifle with a telescopic sight, at the leg of one of the children. A boy who definitely had nothing on him, there wasn’t even a suspicion that he had anything, besides the fact that he had crossed some imaginary line. To shoot a nine- or ten-year-old boy who was playing football and innocently chasing the ball, and make him disabled for his whole life, in my eyes that is more than problematic. The children ran away as long as their breath was in them, and adults came to evacuate the boy who was lying there. They understood the aggressive message. For a few days at least, the children were afraid to cross the line.”

“R”, from the paratroopers, who spoke before about the ““lookout”” and the “baker,” describes – this time testifying to what he heard on the communications system – what happened to the “child.” It happened when the Brigade Commander in Nablus was replaced, and “there was an operation that we jokingly called ‘the Brigade Commander’s horror show.’ At the last stage there were roadblock operations with plastic [barriers] that we called ‘New Jerseys.’ All the time the children, the ones who throw stones, would come and move them. It was a total mess. Then the battalion commander gave everyone an order on the radio: whoever touches a ‘New Jersey,’ shoot him in the legs. Live fire.

“In my Abir [military vehicle], we said right away, ‘is he cracked or what?’ Somebody touches a barrier and you shoot him in the legs? For sure he’s just showing off. But no. That battalion commander was actually a good guy. It was very important to him to set a personal example. At the checkpoint, where I was not personally but there were friends of mine there, the man saw a boy and aimed at his legs, but you know how it is with the commanders, they have so many meetings they don’t have time to calibrate their weapons. He missed the leg and hit the boy in the chest. I was not there, but when we returned from the operation to the base everybody was talking about it. They all said that the battalion commander shot a boy and were talking like he was a ‘murderer of children.’ Was the boy killed? I assume nobody went and checked for a pulse, but very few children survive a bullet in the chest.”

In the unit they give a confused explanation. “The battalion commander did not miss but deliberately shot to kill,” said one of the officers confidently. “We talked to him and he checked the incident personally. His gun was definitely calibrated, and everything was done with the intention to kill. It was a Fatah activist, Hani Qandul, 17. He was supervising a serious disturbance that was endangering the soldiers. So he was shot dead. The orders permit the shooting to death of a chief instigator.”

But Qandul’s ID card reveals that he was only 13 and a half when he died. Was this the dangerous activist that the battalion commander deliberately shot to death? It turns out that Hani Qandul was killed on another occasion; an eyewitness described it to a Btselem investigator, a short time after the incident. “Hani, who was 18, stood 20 metres from us, with his seven-year-old brother. Suddenly I heard shooting (…) I saw Hani fall to the ground.”

If so, the battalion commander killed Qandul in May 2004. And what about the “child” that the soldier “R” speaks of? “We don’t know of a shooting like that or of a child who was killed,” it was reported from the unit. “If there was an order to shoot at the legs, it was the result of intelligence information of intention to endanger the soldiers.” Operation Calm Waters ended with the deaths of five minors.

The Military Prosecutor responds: “Too bad the soldier told you that. If he had reported to us, it would have been possible to comment with more precision. I have not heard specifically about ‘easy.’ ”

Everyone who is standing on a roof

“A”, an officer in a “Kingfisher” [Shaldag] unit, was posted in Rafah during Operation Rainbow in May of last year, and “I had direct access to the brigade commander. I was in Command Group 2 of Pinky (Pinhas Zwartz, commander of the Southern Brigade at the time – S. G.). At the beginning of the operation I commanded a team, and a friend of mine commanded another team, and the mission was to do ‘straw widows’ [to occupy Palestinian homes] and to put snipers on the upper floors of the houses.

“When we entered, we saw that there was really no danger. It was an uncongested built-up area with greenhouses, in front were our tanks and a D-9 [Caterpillar bulldozer] that was destroying houses and greenhouses. We were there more than 24 hours and we didn’t see any armed people, and it was quite boring for everybody, if one can say that. But the whole time, about every hour or two hours, they called us from the command post to ask why we were not shooting. But our feeling of danger was very low. No one shot at us, we were not in a state of anxiety.

“The open-fire regulations were clear enough: every Palestinian on a roof is supposedly a ‘lookout,’ and the snipers shoot him right away. And every civilian on the street who bends towards the ground is suspected of setting explosives and they shoot him. At one point we saw somebody standing on a roof. Just standing, without binoculars. There was no reason to assume that he was on the lookout rather than just going up for a breath of air. I got authorization to shoot – and we hesitated. I agreed to second it. To this day I ask myself why.

“The procedure was that the three snipers shoot together. He got two bullets in the chest and died on the spot. Afterwards we heard ambulances. Hand on heart I had a feeling that it was not OK, but the guys pressured me and I backed down. I failed. That time I did not withstand the pressure from above and from below. There were three snipers who had spent a lot of time training and wanted to put their skills into practice. At the end of the day an officer from the brigade operations branch did a cursory investigation, about two minutes. The question of whether the shooting was justified at all did not come up. Afterwards I and four other officers who saw similar incidents were so surprised, that we decided to write a letter to the corps commander, with a copy to the Chief of Staff, what is really going on.” At the end of Operation Rainbow the IDF spokesman announced that dozens of armed men were killed as well as 14 civilians.

At the Southern Command they know that the order to open fire on every person on a roof is not legal. The matter had been clarified a half year before, when a soldier in the Paratroopers refused a similar order. “I served in Netzarim, in which there are dozens of guard posts,” relates Zafrir Goldberg. “At the briefing they explained the open-fire regulations and I was shocked. I talked to the company commander, and he said that he was sorry, but those were the regulations. I also talked to an officer in the Intelligence Branch and the assistant battalion commander.” The Association for Civil Rights contacted the Judge Advocate-General and warned about a “patently illegal order.” At the beginning of January 2004 the Judge Advocate-General replied: “We have instructed the command elements to ensure that the briefings given to soldiers do not include such an order.”

The reply of the military prosecutor: “International law permits attacking any combatant, including those who are observing and guiding. The question is how to determine whether someone is a lookout and not someone who went up to hang laundry. I do not know the specific incidents, but theoretically it could be that a soldier who shoots does not see the whole picture. The requirement for authorization from a higher level teaches a certain degree of caution. A soldier who identifies an armed terrorist shoots without authorization.”

The do not identify. They shoot

The unit of “K”, a soldier in the Haredi Nahal Brigade, was positioned above Ramallah in order to dominate the al-Bireh neighbourhood. According to him, “In our position it was relatively quiet, occasionally there was shooting in our direction from a Kalashnikov. It was ineffective fire because of the distance and because the shooters were below. But it was clear that according to the regulations we were not to be passive but were supposed to shoot back and ‘return fire to the sources of fire.’ The problem was there was no chance of identifying the sources of fire, and in practice we returned ‘general’ fire, in the direction of the houses.

“At first, whenever there was fire towards our position, we immediately went into the return-fire procedure: we fired wildly towards the neighbourhood. We sent down a rain of MAG [machine-gun] bullets and thousands of M-16 rounds without identifying a source of fire. It was clear to me that it was not logical. I went to the company commander and told him that it was a waste of money. Isn’t it pointless? I didn’t explain to him that there were residents and children living there, because everyone understood that. I only said that it cost a fortune. I suggested that they bring snipers who would try to take them down one by one.

“The first houses were about 600 metres from us. The source of the shooting was further back, 900 metres from us. There was no chance that they would hit us with a Kalashnikov, and for sure there was no chance of hitting them with return fire. After a month and a half the situation changed: when they didn’t shoot at us, we got bored. So the soldiers decided that we wouldn’t wait for them to start. They said something like today it’s our turn to start, and we’ll shoot first.

“We called it ‘initiated’. It was a kind of routine that the whole company knew, that happened dozens of times. Everybody recognized the word ‘initiated’, and the meaning – just start freely spraying bullets towards al-Bireh. Just shooting, and when possible, towards the windows when they were open. Obviously if anybody complained, we would say that the Palestinians fired first. Every day they would empty several ‘bruces’ (wooden ammunition boxes – S. G.) of ammunition. There were times when I saw ambulances go in, but I didn’t know what happened. On at least one occasion I know that we wounded a girl, because I saw an ambulance, and a day later there was a report in the newspaper that the IDF returned fire to sources of fire in al-Bireh, and that there was a girl whose leg we took off.

“The staff knew everything and gave us to understand that there was no problem. For example, when we had to calibrate our weapons, the Company Commander encouraged us to aim at the fluorescent lights of the mosque. I’m sure that the Brigade Commander knew about it as well, because at least once they reported to him, after an officer from another unit visited the position and reported to him. He heard shots, and asked the soldier what he was doing. The soldier said that they had shot at him, and the officer said, ‘hold it, I heard, don’t lie.’ He reported it to the brigade commander, and they talked about it for several days, but nothing happened. That whole period we were in contact with the people from the Pisgot settlement, whom we were guarding, and after a week they told us that the matter was closed, that an officer like him won’t last long in the brigade.”

The IDF spokesman, in an initial reply: “Commanders of the unit were replaced and retired and it is hard to get comments from them.” IDF spokesman in a second reply: “According to the commanders, they were not there at that time.” Lt.-Col. Libman: “There are no open-fire rules ‘just to shoot’. There are regulations that deal with shooting at an unidentified source of fire, which are subordinate to the basic rule that you do not shoot at a place where you endanger a civilian population. The regulation is supposed to be transmitted to the soldiers at briefings and before all actions and it makes clear what is forbidden.”

“M”, from the Giv’ati Brigade, tells of those unwritten procedures, when he served in a position in front of Rafah in May 2004. At the edge of the neighbourhood was an abandoned house from which armed men occasionally opened fire, and the soldiers returned fire, including with a 40 mm grenade-launcher. “The problem is that the way to shoot well with a grenade-launcher is the way they used to do it with mortars in the armoured corps. First you miss, identify where it landed, and adjust and improve accordingly. Every hundred metres of divergence is a few millimetres to move the gun. In a discharge there are about 20 grenades. Every time you shoot to the right of the building, you hit the neighbourhood. That’s also how they calibrate the machine-gun. It’s clear that it’s impossible to hit right away, and of course there were live grenades that fell in the middle of the neighbourhood. I remember times we saw ambulances going in after our shooting. Why did they go in? I don’t believe that somebody in the neighbourhood had a heart attack right then. Logically we simply hit people. That shooting was done regularly and received all the authorizations from above, at least up to the division commander.”

Shooting at the population also happened in Nablus, as related by soldiers from a paratroopers’ unit. “R” recalls a young woman of 24 who was shot in the neck, due to what he describes as his and his friends’ “irresponsible shooting” towards houses, and an old man who took a bullet in the belly, that he himself apparently fired in similar circumstances. He too describes a reality in which they believe in the sentence: “You must return fire to the sources of fire,” even when nobody identifies them. “In practice everybody shoots freely in 360 degrees at [rooftop] water reservoirs and at everybody whom maybe they identify in the windows.”

“To say that we were under pressure is nonsense,” says “R” in reply to the necessary question. “In my opinion most of the shots that I and my friends fired were not because of nervousness and fear, but from the desire to put an X on our guns. Everyone who was a combat soldier knows how much he wants that X on the gun. Without that you’re not a man. I have one in my team with five X’s, and he doesn’t care. They tell you, ‘listen, they’re not naive. What was she standing at the window for?’ or ‘an unfortunate mishap.’ In my opinion it’s just the result of irresponsible shooting. Needless and senseless killing.”

* For more on Breaking the Silence checkout www.breakingthesilence.org

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

Why ?

As rewarding as this experience has been, it can be quite depressing here – as what I am witnessing is systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

 

Whether it’s checkpoints and road detours; encouraging settler violence and expansion; strangling the economy; separating families through assignations, imprisonment or the permit system; forcing them to live in refugee camps for generations or merely the trauma that comes with living in a constant state of fear. It all amounts to a and meticulous plan to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of the Palestinian people, through forced transfer – basically make life so difficult, they leave.

 

How can the world celebrate the 60 the anniversary of the declaration of human rights while this is occurring ? And not just in Palestine – Darfur, Burma, Chechnya – and unfortunately the list goes on. When will the world realise that the protection of human rights are more important than strategic alliances and profits ? 

   

December 16, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment

The lights on the hill

The Israeli Occupation Force [IOF] is a constant presence in Nablus, weather it’s at the checkpoints, on the streets after 11.00pm – when they take over from the Palestinian Authority soldiers inside Nablus, during one of their nightly incursions, or just the fact that every time you look up your reminded who’s in control by the foreboding lights on the hill. Hard to believe that Nablus is one of the few cities in the West Bank, apparently, under Palestinian Authority control ?
Israeli Occupation Force base above Nablus.

Israeli Occupation Force base above Nablus.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , | Leave a comment

Hebron update

The evacuation of 250 right-wing settlers from a Palestinian house in Hebron touched off violent settler attacks across the West Bank.

Witnesses said that there are Palestinian families “who are besieged in their homes” that were set on fire by Israeli settlers, while the Israeli army prevented Palestinian medics from reaching the homes. Ten Palestinians were reported injured as a result of the army’s inaction.

B’Tselem claimed that the Israeli army knew “in advance” that settlers would attack Palestinians in reaction to the eviction.

While Hebron Governor Husein Al-A’raj held the Israeli army responsible for the consequences of the events in Hebron, demanding they stop the settlers’ attacks and affirming that “the protection of residents who are in an Israeli controlled area is the responsibility of the army, according to the Geneva Conventions.”

* Article taken from Maan News Agency @ www.maannews.net

Let’s start with the positive, the Al-Rajabi home is back in the hands of it’s rightful owners – the Al-Rajabi family. Even if it did take over a year, would it have taken that long to remove Palestinians from a settlers home ?

Now the Al-Rajabi house was just the effect not the cause of  a much deeper issue, the real issue in Hebron and through out the West bank is that the Israeli Occupation Force [IOF], who are responsible for protecting civilians in the occupied territories, rarely for fill these obligations. More often than not they are protecting the perpetrators of this violence, settlers, not the victims – in other words the IOF is facilitating the violence against the villager’s they are charged with protecting. If IOF had of protected the Al-Rajabi family in the first place, there would be no issue. This has been the case again over night as settlers attacked villagers across the West Bank, even shooting two unarmed Palestinian men in Hebron and shutting down the road to Huwara checkpoint just outside Nablus, with no intervention from IOF. Why does the world let Israel fragrantly disregard international law with no consequences ?

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Thoughts | , , , | Leave a comment

Hebron

 Barak in talks with Hebron settlers, seeking to end crisis.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold last minute talks on Wednesday with right-wing settlers occupying a Palestinian house in the West Bank city of Hebron in hopes of ending two weeks of violence in the city.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said he hopes the settlers will leave voluntarily, but said Israel would use force if necessary to remove the settlers.

Also on Wednesday Israeli settlers reportedly set fire to a Palestinian house in Hebron, and Israeli forces broke up a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the city.

On Monday night and Tuesday, hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, throwing stones and beating residents with clubs while Israeli soldiers and police looked on.

Palestinians and their property were attacked in the Ar-Ras, Wadi Al-Hussain and Al-Ja’bari neighborhoods. Settlers also released dogs to attack the Palestinians. Israeli soldiers also fired tear gas and sonic bombs towards Palestinian houses.

Dozens of Palestinian citizens were injured. Witnesses reported that the settler mob numbered in the hundreds.

Settlers groups have descended upon Hebron over the last two weeks since Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered 13 settler families to leave the Palestinian-owned Ar-Rajabi house, which the Israelis have occupied since 2007. Rumors spread on Monday that the Israeli military was preparing to implement the order.

“It is not about Ar-Rajabi building. Settlers want to occupy Al-Ja’bari and As-Salayma neighborhoods as well as Wadi Al-Hussain, Ar-Ras and the Christian neighborhoods in order to connect Kiryat Arba’ and Kiryat Kharsina settlements with other outposts,” said Munawwar Ja’bary, an elderly woman from Ja’bari neighborhood.

She added, “Men, women and children have been attacked and injured. Our houses have been damaged. We have been prevented from leaving our homes. Our cemeteries and mosques have been desecrated in order to force us to leave, yet we will steadfast whatever they do.”

Several houses and shops were also attacked, especially water reservoirs on tops of the houses. Settlers also attempted to force shops’ doors open using crowbars and hammers. Two houses were partially torched. The windows of four cars were shattered and fire was set to two others.

The violence continued all of Monday night. On Tuesday morning settlers resumed their attacks, pelting Palestinians with stones from the roof of the Ar-Rajabi building.

Witnesses said Israeli police and soldiers stationed in the city did nothing to prevent the attacks, and in some cases facilitated them.

* Article taken from Maan News Agency @ www.maannews.net
 

Would the Israeli Government be holding talks with Palestinians, if they had occupied a settlers house and terrorised the rest of the settlement ?

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment