February 2002

Thursday February 14th
Tree for Peace: an initiative of the Mayor of Beit Sahour and supported by the French city of Romans, a twin city of Beit Sahour.

Today I went with the French group to plant olive trees near Jabal Abu Ghnaim, where the illegal settlement of Har Homa is being built. The land was confiscated from Beit Sahour some four years ago and the Israelis have destroyed an area of outstanding natural beauty and built a monstrosity in its place.

The apartment blocks are depressing to look at, both because of their extreme ugliness – I have never seen buildings look so out of place in their surroundings – but also because I know the people to whom this land really belongs.

The weather was dry and sunny, if a little chilly, but a vast improvement on yesterday. Yesterday it rained, and it rained. Today the group was augmented with a class from the Latin School, who of course put me to shame with their ability to speak to everyone in French and English.

We split in to small groups and worked hard to plant around 200 trees facing the settlement. There was no confrontation with the Israelis, although the military camp established at the base of the mountain (where much of the shelling Beit Sahour has suffered emanates from), could see what exactly we were doing. I fear that they will just wait until the project has finished and they will come over and destroy the plants. Not much of a “media event” but we did have Reuters and some local Arab journalists appear.

The new road that is being constructed by the Israelis goes right through the area we were planting in. In fact, it dissects the homes from their land and the whole valley between Jabal Abu Ghanim and the houses of Beit Sahour will be lost due to the continued colonization of Palestine by Israel. On this new road we planted olive trees. I wonder how long they will be left in peace?

Thursday 8th February, 2001
Last night, just before 10pm, there was a massive explosion in Bethlehem. I, of course, didn’t hear it but this morning I did hear all about what had supposedly happened.

There was a suicide bomber who detonated, perhaps prematurely, by the Bethlehem checkpoint. That is according to Israeli sources. The thoughts this side differ somewhat. As the day progressed I found out more details and heard more opinions as to what had really occurred.

Earlier yesterday I had sat in on an interview where a Palestinian involved with security matters was interviewed by a visiting TV crew. It was informative, especially when the subject of suicide attacks came up. As usual, not all is as it may seem and there are some very serious concerns regarding the circumstances of some attacks. It has happened throughout history where attacks are staged by the apparent victim to further their own cause.

The bomber was from Bethlehem. A young man with no connections to any paramilitary groups. He had business concerns in Jerusalem, was well of and loved and lived life. In short, not a usual suspect for a “terror attack.”

At 8.45am I had a call from a British friend who is staying with me to tell me that the checkpoint had been completely closed and had been stopped well before the area. I suggested she should try going through Tantur, but, as they had told her a suicide bomber had attacked the post last night that there may be soldiers posted there and she may be detained. She by-passed the checkpoint unchallenged.

Later in the day, having already been told that the person named was a highly unlikely candidate for a suicide attack, I went to the checkpoint with another friend to investigate. It was strange how the story unfolded.

We walked to checkpoint and then turned through an open metal gate into the area behind the guard post where a taxi driver told us the explosion had taken place. There was a bulldozer working, flattening the ground and moving rubble and rubbish around. One soldier was sitting on some large clay pipes, sunning himself.

We walked over to engage him in conversation. At no time did he question us as to who we were or why we were questioning him. We asked him about last night?s explosion and he was happy to chat to us.

“It was over there,” he said, gesturing to a small area between some metal pipes and some more large, clay pipes. “It took us about an hour to locate the source of the bomb. I saw the body. His hands and feet had been blown. It looks like he messed up.”

“Where exactly?” to be sure of the area to investigate. He gestured to an area a few yards ahead, “You can smell it.” I went to look.

I left Brian speaking to him while I investigated the area. I had been told by everyone the explosion was massive. A taxi driver we spoke to later told us that his car, which was parked about 50 yards away, literally left the ground.

Imagining such force I found it hard to believe that the man’s body had not been blown apart. I thought of different scenarios to explain why it was his hands and feet that had been affected alone. None seemed rational. I also expected to find some obvious signs of an explosion of such severity; blood stains, burnt grass and surrounding debris, even small amounts of body tissue.

There was nothing apart from the smell. It was a burnt smell. There was no other sign of anything untoward having occurred. The rubbish and accumulated mess looked untouched by anything. The bulldozer carried on working.

Brian came to check the site and agreed that there was nothing to indicate even a small explosion. We went back to chat to the soldier. He told us he had finished his conscription and signed up for the army. He told us how he enjoyed the ‘fighting’ but not the ‘shooting’. He was born in Hadera and told us it was safer “here than there.”

We walked back out to the road and spent a while watching the checkpoint. A taxi driver Brian knows turned up and gave us his account. He showed us where the explosion was but he indicated the area that had been bulldozed. There was a large muddy puddle and that same smell. We walked in to the area that had been flattened out and noticed that the soldier stationed in the guard tower was watching us, but we were still unchallenged.

Again we could find nothing, but that was only to be expected as the whole area had been worked on. We came back out to the road and met another taxi driver we know, the one who told us how his car rocked to the explosion.

He knew the man well. He was sure that he would never have done anything like this. His brothers maybe would have, they were more involved, but not him. He told us how the army was out in the early hours cleaning the area with water for hours. That explained the muddy patch as it hasn’t rained here for many days. There had also been a film crew there earlier and the woman reporter had been pushed around and the army had demanded her film. He was very skeptical about the version being fed to us, as were we.

Oddly there has been little reported in the media about the event. Strange really, as there is usually such an effort to show the ‘terror’ perpetrated by Palestinians. The funny smell surrounding this is more than the one we smelt by the pipes.

Wednesday February 6th
It was my stint in the tent last night. Sadly, as travelling between Beit Sahour to Ramallah is so time consuming and I have to work it has been really hard to participate as much as I would have liked. Still, everytime I have been there the Israelis have responded with their usual violent behaviour. Tear gas, percussion grenades, rubber bullets. The tent has quite a large collection of these now. We are hoping to make some sort of art installation with them.

Last night, after the boys who like to throw stones were made to go home by the older guys, we lit a camp fire and the shabab started to sing songs, accompanied by an improvised drum (an old plastic container). Everyone was really getting in to the swing of it and we even had a dabke (traditional dancing) in the street. Quite a while passed before it all clamed down and there was more chatting. Then the singing started up again.

The Israelis were none too pleased at this unexpected evening of entertainment and eventually responded by firing off flares (quite often used just prior to an attack) and percussion grenades. It was the middle of the night!!! I wondered if they were going to tear gas us as well. There was also regular starting up of tanks, revving and moving about a bit. This was partly to effect personnel changes but the main point was try and make us nervous.

Of course, their actions only served to increase the enthusiasm of the group and we were literally shouting the songs. The songs were Palestinian resistance songs so there was great emphasis on certain sentences and words, like Sharon, Israeli or Intifada. I trust they got as little sleep as I did.

Sadly we only intended to erect the tent for a three-day period, mainly because of sustainability. The Palestinians who came down and joined were very insistent that they want the tent to remain. Some of the older Palestinians have been working really hard with the internationals to divert the younger boys energy away from stone throwing. They have been really excited by the positive signs and want to continue. The problem is, and I hate to say it, without a few internationals present there is increased danger to the Palestinians and there are not enough of us to sustain the tent indefinitely.

If I could stay a whole week I would, but I can’t and neither can the others who have work and commitments elsewhere. Some also don’t particularly want to but I just felt that it wasn’t my place to tell them that they cannot do something they so strongly believe is worthwhile. It is the same with stone throwing; I hate to tell boys not to, it is not my right. If only there was enough internationals here to have a rota system so that we could support them.

Sunday February 3rd
A few of us internationals here in Palestine had organized a protest against the continued presence of Israeli tanks in Ramallah; we erected a peace tent. It was, of course, not very peaceful. The IOF spent the day firing tear gas and rubber bullets at us.

As a way of passing the time, and to try and get the shabab to stop throwing stones for a while, we bought a football. We started playing in the street in front of them and they actually tear gassed us as we played! Unbelievable! They were also being very free with the rubber bullets.

I went into a block of flats next to the tanks and started to film them. When one of the soldiers noticed he kept pointing his rifle up at me, as if to shoot. Whilst I am sure he wouldn’t have done, I was not prepared to take the risk. After all, had he done so the IOF would have claimed that I was a suspected gunman.

There are some developments here that are very interesting. Yesh Gval produced a leaflet that was sent to the soldiers asking them to stop participating in war crimes. Over 50 reservists published a letter in Ha’aretz explaining why they refuse to participate in the occupation of Palestine.

(Read the English translation of both.)

Friday February 1st
A funny thing happened today. I was travelling back to Beit Sahour from Ramallah early and found the Bethlehem checkpoint closed. As I do not like to go through the checkpoint I often walk through Tantur (I was with an American friend).

Three soldiers were in the field searching a Palestinian. I started to photograph them and they told me to stop, which I did not. They then let him go and we walked to the road with him. He seemed quite relieved, thanked us profusely and shook our hands with gratitude.

The checkpoint had been closed and there were a lot of people milling around; I discovered that there had been a shooting incident. The men, numbering roughly 120, were lined up and body searched. One soldier seemed rather hostile and I saw him kick one man’s bag and roughly pull other mens’ jackets open.

Following this the men were then led farther up the road and made to sit on the pavement. The sun was blazing and it was very warm but the men had been forced to sit there and wait. For what?

We kept talking to the soldiers, asking what was going on, taking photos and insisting that the men should be treated better, if not just released. Their IDs were taken. We told the soldiers that it was too hot to leave the men in the sun like that and that they should be given food and water. I had rung a few people about the situation and had been given the name and number of the DCO for Bethlehem. I called him to complain.

Intermittently men were picked out, questioned and searched again. I even saw two men checked forensically. Finally, two youths were handcuffed and taken away, one by jeep and one by private car. I was extremely concerned for their safety but there was little that I could do on my own.

I was absolutely astonished to see a couple of soldiers bring over large water containers and mugs and offer the thirsty men refreshment. Then, even more astonishingly, bread and labaneh was offered too. I have never seen Palestinians treated like this, ever. Usually they are left for hours without any information and are often physically abused. They are never given food and water.

The checkpoint was re-opened and people and cars started to pass. The 120 were still there, sitting in the sun. Before the vehicles had been allowed through the checkpoint was opened specially; two buses of Jews were allowed through. They came in at different times and only had a few people on them. How fortunate to be the chosen people.

As they glided past in their comfortable, air conditioned coach, 120 men were being forcibly detained, left in the blazing sun and being denied the opportunity to earn a living. I imagine they must have felt so proud, watching this humiliation. One woman gestured ‘v’ for victory at me. If her idea of a victory is being a racist bully then I am glad not to be victorious.

As I was trying to take in the whole scene, the soldiers started moving men into the shade of an olive grove. I had to be dreaming. Surely this was not happening. Israeli soldiers being accommodating? Then, a Major General turned up to see what was happening! Had I been on a stool I most certainly would have fallen off. Major General Yacov Gannoth is the Commander of the Border Guard. He, or rather his English speaking aide, assured me the men would not be detained any longer than necessary. I told him they already had been.

I continued to pester the soldiers, they had become very helpful. I went over to the guard post and one offered without my prompt to ring to see how long the ID checks would take! I told them that I would call Major General Gannoth back if the men were not released within the promised 20 minutes. He asked me not to bother him.

After about 15 minutes or so the call came through that all the men could be released. I waited to ensure that each man did indeed receive his ID and was let free without further harassment. The time was 2.45pm, a full seven hours after I had first arrived.

The detention of these 120 men was completely unnecessary and an outrageous abuse of their rights. The Israelis stated from the outset that the person who attempted to shoot a soldier was young, so holding 120 men who ranged in age from about 18 to over 60 was unwarranted. Although there was no blatant physical abuse of these men that I observed, behaviour by Israeli forces that is commonplace against Palestinians, they were detained for a wholly unacceptable length of time and prevented from earning their living.

I strongly believe that had there not been me ad my friend present, observing events and pressuring the Israeli forces for fair treatment, these men would have suffered far more than they did. The length of time that these men were detained was a disgrace. I believe that the water and food offered, and the fact that the men were moved to a shaded area were efforts employed to pacify us and to prevent us from accusing the Israelis of severe abuse. Although our attempts to have the men released were fruitless and they were detained in excess of seven hours, had we not been there I am quite sure that these men would not have been treated with the same regard for their care

Bookmark and Share


Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

1948 activism ahdaf ameer makhoul BDS beit jala Bethlehem budrus checkpoint community deheishe economy gaza Ghassan Kanafani home illegal occupation Intifada Iran Israel juliano mer hamis Lebanon Leila Khaled nakba negotiations PA Palestine palestine papers palestinian PFLP popular struggle prisoners rap refugees resistance revolution Sam Bahour Settlements society students tunnels wadi fukin wall war Water west bank

Copyright © Georgina Reeves