Friday, December 08, 2006

Human Rights Watch denying Palestinians the right to nonviolent resistance - Jonathan Cook

The Electronic Intifada, 30 November 2006

If one thing offers a terrifying glimpse of where the experiment in human despair that is Gaza under Israeli siege is leading, it is the news that a Palestinian woman in her sixties -- a grandmother -- chose last week to strap on a suicide belt and explode herself next to a group of Israeli soldiers invading her refugee camp.

Despite the "Man bites dog" news value of the story, most of the Israeli media played down the incident. Not surprisingly -- it is difficult to portray Fatma al-Najar as a crazed fanatic bent only on the destruction of Israel.

It is equally difficult not to pause and wonder at the reasons for her suicide mission; according to her family, one of her grandsons was killed by the Israeli army, another is in a wheelchair after his leg had to be amputated, and her house had been demolished.

Or not to think of the years of trauma she and her family have suffered living in a open-air prison under brutal occupation, and now, since the "disengagement", the agonising months of grinding poverty, slow starvation, repeated aerial bombardments, and the loss of essentials like water and electricity.

Or not to ponder at what it must have been like for her to spend every day under a cloud of fear, to be powerless against a largely unseen and malign force, and to never know when death and mutilation might strike her or her loved ones.

Or not to imagine that she had been longing for the moment when the soldiers who have been destroying her family's lives might show themselves briefly, coming close enough that she could see and touch them, and wreak her revenge.
Western observers, and the organisations that should represent the very best of their Enlightenment values, seem incapable of understanding what might drive a grandmother to become a suicide bomber

Yet Western observers, and the organisations that should represent the very best of their Enlightenment values, seem incapable of understanding what might drive a grandmother to become a suicide bomber. Their empathy fails them, and so does their humanity.

Just at the moment Fatma was choosing death and resistance over powerlessness and victimhood -- and at a time when Gaza is struggling through one of the most oppressive and ugly periods of Israeli occupation in nearly four decades -- Human Rights Watch published its lastest statement on the conflict. It is document that shames the organisation, complacent Western societies and Fatma's memory.

In its press release "Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks", which was widely reported by the international media, HRW lambasts armed Palestinian groups for calling on civilians to surround homes that have been targeted for air strikes by the Israeli military.

Noting almost as an afterthought that more than 1,500 Palestinians have been made homeless from house demolitions in the past few months, and that 105 houses have been destroyed from the air, the press release denounces Palestinian attempts at nonviolent and collective action to halt the Israel attacks. HRW refers in particular to three incidents.

On November 3, Hamas appealed to women to surround a mosque in Beit Hanoun where Palestinian men had sought shelter from the Israeli army. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the women, killing two and injuring at least 10.

And last week on two separate occasions, crowds of supporters gathered around the houses of men accused of being militants by Israel who had received phone messages from the Israeli security forces warning that their families' homes were about to be bombed.

In language that would have made George Orwell shudder, one of the world's leading organisations for the protection of human rights ignored the continuing violation of the Palestinians' right to security and a roof over their heads and argued instead: "There is no excuse for calling [Palestinian] civilians to the scene of a planned [Israeli] attack. Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful."

On HRW's interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war criminals.
There is good reason to believe that this reading of international law is wrong, if not Kafkaesque. Popular and peaceful resistance to the oppressive policies of occupying powers and autocratic rulers, in India and South Africa for example, has always been, by its very nature, a risky venture in which civilians are liable to be killed or injured. Responsibility for those deaths must fall on those doing the oppressing, not those resisting, particularly when they are employing nonviolent means. On HRW's interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war criminals.

HRW also applies a series of terrible double standards in this press release.

It refuses Palestinians the right to protect homes from attack, labelling these civilians "human shields", even while admitting that most of the homes are not legitimate military targets, and yet it has not said a word about the common practice in Israel of building weapons factories and army bases inside or next to communities, thereby forcing Israeli civilians to become human shields for the army.

And HRW prefers to highlight a supposed violation of international law by the Palestinians -- their choice to act as "human shields" -- and to demand that the practice end immediately, while ignoring the very real and continuing violation of international law committed by Israel in undertaking punitive house demolitions against Palestinian families.

But let us ignore even these important issues and assume that HRW is technically correct that such Palestinian actions do violate international law. Nonetheless, HRW is still failing us and mocking its mandate, because it has lost sight of the three principles that must guide the vision of a human rights organisation: a sense of priorities, proper context and common sense.

Priorities: Every day HRW has to choose which of the many abuses of international law taking place around the world it highlights. It manages to record only a tiny fraction of them. The assumption of many outsiders may be that it focuses on only the most egregious examples. That would be wrong.

The simple truth is that the worse a state's track record on human rights, the easier ride it gets, relatively speaking, from human rights organisations. That is both because, if abuses are repeated often enough, they become so commonplace as to go unremarked, and because, if the abuses are wide-ranging and systematic, only a small number of the offences will be noted.

Israel, unlike the Palestinians, benefits in both these respects. After four decades of reporting on Israel's occupation of the Palestinians, HRW has covered all of Israel's many human rights-abusing practices at least once before. The result is that after a while most violations get ignored. Why issue another report on house demolitions or "targeted assassinations", even though they are occurring all the time? And, how to record the individual violations of tens of thousands of Palestinians' rights every day at checkpoints? One report on the checkpoints once every few years has to suffice instead.

In Israel's case, there is an added reluctance on the part of organisations like HRW to tackle the extent and nature of Israel's trampling of Palestinian rights. Constant press releases denouncing Israel would provoke accusations, as they do already, that Israel is being singled out -- and with it, the implication that anti-Semitism lies behind the special treatment.

So HRW chooses instead to equivocate. It ignores most Israeli violations and highlights every Palestinian infraction, however minor. This way it makes a pact with the devil: it achieves the balance that protects it from criticism but only by sacrificing the principles of equity and justice.


Israeli soldiers use a Palestinian man as a human shield to plant an automatic shooting machine in a besieged house, in contravention to the Fourth Geneva Convention, during a military operation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 3 November 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

In its press release, for example, HRW treats the recent appeal to Palestinians to exercise their right to protect their neighbours, and to act in soldarity with nonviolent resistance to occupation, as no different from the dozens of known violations committed by the Israeli army of abducting Palestinian civilians as human shields to protect its troops.

Women vounteering to surround a mosque become the equivalent of the notorious incident in January 2003 when 21-year-old Samer Sharif was handcuffed to the hood of an army Jeep and driven towards stone-throwing youngsters in Nablus as Israeli soldiers fired their guns from behind his head.

According to HRW's approach to international law, the two incidents are comparable.

Context: The actions of Palestinians occur in a context in which all of their rights are already under the control of their occupier, Israel, and can be violated at its whim. This means that it is problematic, from a human rights perspective, to place the weight of culpability on the Palestinians without laying far greater weight at the same time on the situation to which the Palestinians are reacting.

Here is an example. HRW and other human rights organisations have taken the Palestinians to task for the extrajudicial killings of those suspected of collaborating with the Israeli security forces.

Although it is blindingly obvious that the lynching of an alleged collaborator is a violation of that person's fundamental right to life, HRW's position of simply blaming the Palestinians for this practice raises two critical problems.

First, it fudges the issue of accountability.

In the case of a "targeted assassination", Israel's version of extrajudicial killing, we have an address to hold accountable: the apparatus of a state in the forms of the Israeli army which carried out the murder and the Israeli politicians who approved it. (These officials are also responsible for the bystanders who are invariably killed along with the target.)
Palestinians carrying out a lynching are commiting a crime punishable under ordinary domestic law; while the Israeli army carrying out a "targeted assassination" is commiting state terrorism, which must be tried in the court of world opinion

But unless it can be shown that the lynchings are planned and coordinated at a high level, a human rights organisation cannot apply the same standards by which it judges a state to a crowd of Palestinians, people gripped by anger and the thirst for revenge. The two are not equivalent and cannot be held to account in the same way. Palestinians carrying out a lynching are commiting a crime punishable under ordinary domestic law; while the Israeli army carrying out a "targeted assassination" is commiting state terrorism, which must be tried in the court of world opinion.

Second, HRW's position ignores the context in which the lynching takes place.

The Palestinian resistance to occupation has failed to realise its goals mainly because of Israel's extensive network of collaborators, individuals who have usually been terrorised by threats to themselves or their family and/or by torture into "co-operating" with Israel's occupation forces.

The great majority of planned attacks are foiled because one member of the team is collaborating with Israel. He or she not only sabotages the attack but often also gives Israel the information it needs to kill the leaders of the resistance (as well as bystanders). Collaborators, though common in the West Bank and Gaza, are much despised -- and for good reason. They make the goal of national liberation impossible.

Palestinians have been struggling to find ways to make collaboration less appealing. When the Israeli army is threatening to jail your son, or refusing a permit for your wife to receive the hospital treatment she needs, you may agree to do terrible things. Armed groups and many ordinary Palestinians countenance the lynchings because they are seen as a counterweight to Israel's own powerful techniques of intimidation -- a deterrence, even if a largely unsuccessful one.

In issuing a report on the extra-judicial killing of Palestinian collaborators, therefore, groups like HRW have a duty to highlight first and with much greater emphasis the responsibility of Israel and its decades-long occupation for the lynchings, as the context in which Palestinians are forced to mimic the barbarity of those oppressing them to stand any chance of defeating them.

The press release denouncing the Palestinians for choosing collectively and peacefully to resist house demolitions, while not concentrating on the violations committed by Israel in destroying the houses and using military forms of intimidation and punishment against civilians, is a travesty for this very same reason.

Common sense: And finally human rights organisations must never abandon common sense, the connecting thread of our humanity, when making judgments about where their priorities lie.

In the past few months Gaza has sunk into a humanitarian disaster engineered by Israel and the international community. What has been HRW's response? It is worth examining its most recent reports, those on the front page of the Mideast section of its website last week, when the latest press release was issued. Four stories relate to Israel and Palestine.

Three criticise Palestinian militants and the wider society in various ways: for encouraging the use of "human shields", for firing home-made rockets into Israel, and for failing to protect women from domestic violence. One report mildly rebukes Israel, urging the government to ensure that the army properly investigates the reasons for the shelling that killed 19 Palestinian inhabitants of Beit Hanoun.

This shameful imbalance, both in the number of reports being issued against each party and in terms of the failure to hold accountable the side committing the far greater abuses of human rights, has become the HRW's standard procedure in Israel-Palestine.

But in its latest release, on human shields, HRW plumbs new depths, stripping Palestinians of the right to organise nonviolent forms of resistance and seek new ways of showing solidarity in the face of illegal occupation. In short, HRW treats the people of Gaza as mere rats in a laboratory -- the Israeli army's view of them -- to be experimented on at will.

HRW's priorities in Israel-Palestine prove it has lost its moral bearings.


Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His book, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, is published by Pluto Press.

Village punished for successful olive harvest - checkpoint closed indefinitely



As I get out of the taxi, bullets fly over my head. It is dark and the soldiers are jumpy. The checkpoint commonly known as “Sabatash”, named after the Palestinian security forces that used to maintain a presence there, has been closed indefinitely for all civilian traffic bar humanitarian transportation such as ambulances and medical supply deliveries. This turn of events was suddenly announced a little more than two weeks ago to the residents of Asira Ash-Shamalia, located on the far side of the checkpoint from Nablus city.

The checkpoint is located in a sharp bend in the main road to Nablus; a thoroughfare used daily by- and crucial to university students and workers. It has developed from a makeshift checkpoint consisting of a muddy trench and a few cement blocks to a permanent terminal with a watchtower, walls and two vehicle lanes. Palestinians have been humiliated, stripsearched, made to stand in a meter of cold ditch-water, beaten and shot here every day since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada. Although notorious for its extremely violent soldiers, the checkpoint has still been the preferred route for most Palestinians, as walking around over the mountains is even more treacherous. If spotted by Israeli soldiers, one runs the risk of being shot or detained for many hours.

One villager was detained by soldiers a rainy winter day a couple of years ago. He can hardly hold back his tears as he tells the story of how he ventured over the mountains in order to buy warm winter clothes for his son. On his way back, soldiers ambushed him from behind some bushes, very nearly shooting him dead. After making sure that he was not carrying any explosives, the soldiers calmed down and their commander started talking politics for over three hours, all the time in a civil manner. All of a sudden, the commander’s attitude changed and he ordered the man to be handcuffed. The soldiers then proceeded to beat, spit and pee on the man as he lay defenceless on the ground. The commander ordered the Palestinian man to undress, produced a video camera and told the man that he would be let go if he said on tape that he is a dirty Palestinian who does not deserve to live, to breathe oxygen or to drink water.

The man agreed to testify on tape and, shivering in the cold, proclaimed that “I am proud to be Palestinian and to be walking home to my family in my village breathing my air. I was under the impression that you were a civil man, commander, but I am afraid I was mistaken for you have lost your humanity and therefore lost everything.” The commander then attacked him, thrusting the butt of his rifle into the man’s naked stomach. The man was then forced to lie down on the ground with his head ten centimeters away from the chains of the tank. Revving the motor, the commander explained to the man that they will now run him over. The Palestinian man asked for one last favour before he was to be killed – for the soldiers to deliver the warm clothes to his son and wife. The soldiers then took the clothes and burned them in front of the man as he lay naked on the ground.

After more than 12 hours of humiliation, the soldiers pushed the handcuffed man down a steep slope, cutting his skin on thorns and rocks. Nearby villagers rushed out to take care of him as the soldiers left and he eventually returned home, with both arms broken. This is but one horrific story out of many experienced by the citizens of Asira Ash-Shamalia. About one month ago, 25-year old Haithem was shot with live ammunition at close range for daring to protest against the soldiers’ treatment of a group of young women at the checkpoint – forcing them to run their hands tight along their own bodies. He is still in hospital being treated for the wounds sustained that night.

Now, the checkpoint has been closed indefinitely. Instead, the villagers are forced to travel in a 40km arc around the checkpoint to get to Nablus. Flying checkpoints are set up by Israeli military along this road, meaning the journey can take anything from 40 minutes to several hours. Despite contacting various human rights organizations, legal experts and military commanders, the villagers have not been able to find out why the road has been closed.

It could be an incidence of collective punishment due to the village’s successful olive harvest campaign. A committee of ten dedicated villagers spent the autumn months encouraging villagers to tend to their lands, even those close to the nearby military base and to stand their ground in case of confrontation with the military – “just try to have a calm logical conversation with the soldiers. The words will come naturally to you. After all, it is your land!” They also organized the removal of close to one hundred roadblocks scattered within and around the village, so as to allow for the passage of tractors and other heavy equipment needed during the harvest.



Greatly empowered by the committee’s work, the people of Asira Ash-Shamalia have this year harvested olives from land that has lain idle since the beginning of the first intifada. Furthermore, there has been a revival of old harvesting traditions, with young and old congregating in the fields to work, sing and eat together. In the past, a couple of adults from each family used to sneak to their fields and hurriedly pick as many olives as they dare before rushing home - almost as if “stealing” their own olives. This year, the harvest has been an open, joyous event, despite repression in the form of teargas and gunfire from soldiers manning the military base on the mountain Ebal.

The Israeli military have tried all sorts of measures to control the village’s newfound sense of self-determination. In the evenings, they would come and try to grab individual villagers from the olive press factories. After wrestling men to the ground and dragging them out of the building, the soldiers were forced to see themselves defeated as villager after villager struggled to get free and returned to the press. Whatever the reason for the sudden and unexplained closure of Sabatash checkpoint, this will not quench the spirit of inventive resistance that thrives in Asira Ash-Shamalia.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The checkpoint generation - Amira Hass

Article published in Haaretz concerning Haitem Yassin, 25, who was shot by Israeli soldiers at "Sabatash" checkpoint in Nablus a few weeks ago. Please see http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2006/11/06/sabatash-shooting/ for report on the incident.

For nearly a month now, a young Palestinian has been hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital; soldiers shot him at a checkpoint in northern Nablus on Saturday, November 4. Haitem Yassin, 25, is conscious now, but he is still hooked up to a respirator. In recent days, he has been suffering from a high fever, apparently caused by an infection in his abdomen, which was wounded in the shooting. His family is still waiting for a report from the hospital about the number or type of bullets that caused the serious injury.

At the Samaria Brigade, they are still investigating what happened that day at the fortified and isolated Asira al-Shmaliya checkpoint, through which only the inhabitants of several villages are permitted passage. However, according to testimonies taken by a researcher for B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, it emerges that Yassin had irritated the soldiers. He dared to suggest to them that their demand of women to feel their own bodies to carry out a "security check" was inappropriate. So annoying was he that a soldier shoved him.

Yassin, who had returned from overseas a few months earlier, had apparently not yet internalized the fact that it is dangerous to remind a soldier that a Palestinian is a human being. When the soldier shoved, Yassin shoved back. The soldier, according to the testimonies, started to scream and curse and hit. He quickly received reinforcement from two other soldiers, who fired into the air and at the ground. Even though Yassin fell to the ground after the shooting, the soldiers, relate the witnesses, threw him onto a concrete block, handcuffed him and kicked him. They also kicked him in the head, according to the testimonies, and beat him with their rifles.




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In a village in the Nablus area, S., another young Palestinian, is recovering from the trauma he suffered from a harsh beating at the hands of a soldier at the Jit checkpoint, midway between Nablus and Qalqilya. The office of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman has stated that it was the young man who had shoved and hit a soldier who told him to return to his vehicle, whereas the soldier only fended him off, but the testimony of S. is completely different. He, like many others on that day, November 9, had got out of his vehicle while on the way to the Jewish settlement where he works, in order to find out why, just when everyone was hurrying to work, the line of cars at the checkpoint wasn't moving.

According to one taxi driver, the soldiers announced that the cars would not be able to go through until noon. S., according to his own testimony, intended to return to his vehicle when the soldier approached him and looked as though he was going to hit him with his rifle. S. grabbed the rifle and pushed it aside. This apparently really bothered the soldier, who grabbed him, pulled him away from the rest of the people, flung him to the ground, and proceeded to him in all parts of his body. Including his head.

Other soldiers, at the Beit Iba checkpoint west of Nablus, also got annoyed: At a student who felt he was suffocating among the mass of people who flocked to the checkpoint on October 9, and who felt the only way he could get some air was to climb a pole. When he refused to obey the soldiers' orders to come down, because there was no room and no air, they fell upon him and beat him with a rifle. According to the testimony of a friend, who spoke to an activist from Machsom Watch, the soldiers also broke his glasses and punished him: They detained him in "solitary confinement," in a kind of punishment cell into which the soldiers and the commanders throw Palestinians who "misbehave." The cell is intended for security suspects, but all too often people who dare to argue with the soldiers are thrown in there, or held in another sort of punishment cell at other checkpoints.

In tens of thousands of homes in the West Bank live others, who may have not ended up in the hospital, but who every day accumulate harsh impressions of the nature and behavior of almost the only Israelis whom they encounter - the soldiers at the checkpoints. The non-Palestinians who pass through the checkpoints can also reach a similar conclusion - that most of the soldiers stationed at them are crude, arrogant, boastful and definitely hardhearted. All too often it appears that the soldiers intentionally cause the line of cars and people to dawdle at a checkpoint for a very long time. All too often they are seen laughing and grinning at the sight of the hundreds of people jostling and crowding in the slow line behind the narrow inspection turnstile.

The Palestinians are not interested in, and do not need to be interested in, the explanations that Israel will give: It's a difficult mission; the soldiers are afraid; maybe someone will come bearing an explosive belt; they're young, still children; they're defending the homeland; if they weren't posted at checkpoints in the middle of the West Bank, suicide terrorists would be free to enter Israel.

The truth is that even the soldiers' parents should not be interested in these explanations. They should, however, be very worried about their country sending their sons and daughters on an apartheid mission: to restrict Palestinian mobility within the occupied territory, to narrow the Palestinian expanse in order to enable Jews to move freely within that same occupied territory and in order to increase their expanse within it. In order to carry out this mission in full, facing the natives, the soldiers must feel and act like "superiors."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Breaking the fast - Ramadan under occupation

Hardly anyone I know lives up to her legends like Al-Quds (Jerusalem) does. The grand old lady of violent faith - chalky and inviting in daylight, golden and shimmering at sunset, forbidding yet enticing at night. I sit up in a garret-hole above Damascus Gate, where Israeli taxis will not normally take you. The call for prayer will sound in about ten minutes and already the crowd below my feet is starting to move as one body toward the dome of Al Aqsa. The gate opens up to a marketplace and a small amphitheatre-like arrangement of steps, with street vendors perched along every row. It is the next to last Friday of Ramadan and I cannot believe that I am here. It is wrong. It hardly means anything to me except what I can superimpose on the event from my own holy days. The matted shine from the bauble-shaped lights hanging on crisscrossed wires above the streets remind me of Santa Lucia with candlewax dripping onto her hair. The shooting star hung up next to where I’m sitting makes my mouth water after hot spicy wine and saffron buns.



I have climbed over a fence to get here, walked along the perimeter of the Old City wall in order to enjoy the sight of Muslim women and men flowing through the streets to their prayers. But I already know that there will be no familiar faces in the crowd. Earlier today, I hung around Qalandiya checkpoint for a couple of hours before midday prayers. Qalandiya looks like an air terminal. It is a huge complex of parking-lots, taxi-stands and automated turnstiles, x-ray machines with conveyor belts and metal detectors, obnoxious signs asking people to “empty their pockets”, wait their turn “patiently” and to “enjoy a safe and pleasant stay”. The letters of these signs are gradually being removed, the yellow plastic scratched and unintelligible. Orders are barked out by way of a loudspeaker system that continuously breaks down and soldiers rarely leave their booths.

Sometimes, the turnstiles are left open or malfunction, allowing people to run through the checkpoint. The week before, Israeli soldiers and police gassed and beat people with batons after about 300 people had made their way through the terminal in this way, desperate to reach Al-Quds before the prayers. This week, police were standing in two lines outside the terminal, refusing people entry into the waiting-area and even the parking-lot. Checking IDs, they claimed that the checkpoint was closed to all men under the age of 40, even if they had wasted hours in queues to obtain permits issued by the District Coordination Office (a civil administration division of the Israeli Occupation Forces). There was very little resistance this week. Only sighs and suppressed anger.

Beating their batons on the metal sheet walls of the terminal and shouting into the ears of people with their megaphones, the police quickly dispersed the crowd. An hour later, a row of abut 15 men stood facing the same white metal sheets with their heads bowed down. Thinking that they had been detained, I rushed toward them, only to realize that they were praying. No one could bare to look at them as they prostrated themselves in front of the terminal, renamed to the Israeli Atorot, not even the policemen themselves.

I thought of my friends who right at that moment were probably waiting in line at Huwarra or Beit Iba checkpoint, places just as ugly and disgusting as the terminal in front of my eyes. Of how arguments would probably start to simmer among the fasting, tired people and how that would break the spirit of Ramadan so carefully kept since the morning. I have seen how soldiers take care not to insult people during Ramadan, instead lounging around their post, closing the checkpoint at will, wasting people’s time even more than usual. I have heard how Israeli commanders admit, not without pride, to enjoying the sight of so many suffering irritable people, to purposefully making them wait a couple of more hours in the blistering sun. I have seen how they smile as two old women start to yell at- and beat one another with their bags, arguing about who jumped the line. The generosity and forgiveness of the holy month that are now revealed to be sullied and fragile, without any relevance to the lives led here in the wretched corners of the earth.

I know that many people, men and women, would risk many years of imprisonment and even torture in order to be able to reach the Al-Aqsa mosque. They dream of sneaking around checkpoints and falsifying permits – all desperate strategies at last foiled by their concern for their loved ones, the urgent demands of family life. With thousands of extra border police milling about the Old City and setting up checkpoints at every street corner, it would be almost impossible for a Nablusian without a permit to pass unnoticed.

That is why I am sitting here, marveling at the beauty of rooftops at nightfall, hoping that at least someone will be able to relive this night vicariously through my words when I return to Nablus, and trying to block out the cold. A cold I imagine that my friend Azem would not be able to feel, were he able to get here. As one more man is turned back by a garish blonde policewoman at his last checkpoint, I wonder how far he has traveled, looking for clues as to his origin from his style of dress. Looking at his face, her small manicured hands waving nonchalantly in front of it, it feels like something just broke that cannot be fixed.

Saying goodbye

The day before yesterday, I was talking to my mother on the phone, trying to persuade her to come visit me in Palestine. She was tempted. And I started planning what we would see in the week she would spend here, who we would talk to, where we would sit down and have tea. My mother and I were talking on the phone, in a bubble of first-world assurance that we would see each other again. Yesterday, only a few hours after we had hung up the phone, I woke up to a completely different reality. Sharp cracks and screams had rung throughout the night, as Israeli forces invaded Ein Beit El Ma refugee camp in the early hours of the morning.




As soon as they entered, the Israeli military started to fire teargas, concussion grenades and live ammunition into the streets and narrow alleyways of the camp. Returning fire, a group of seven or eight resistance fighters were quickly pinpointed and surrounded. 20 or more houses are occupied around them, the families evicted downstairs to sleep on mattresses behind frontdoors. An elderly lady and her daughter are woken up at half past 4 in the morning by a concussion grenade right outside their window. Unable to go back to sleep, they move into the livingroom and wait for things to calm down. Ten minutes later, 12 Israeli soldiers make a hole in the wall between their neighbours and them with a sledgehammer. While entering the home with large black dogs on leashes, they push a heavy wardrobe onto the bed where the two women had been sleeping only moments before. After locking mother and daughter into the kitchen, they proceed to shoot from their bedroom window for over five hours.

Another elderly lady a couple of blocks away is worried about her three year-old grandson who is being held by soldiers upstairs along with his parents and siblings. As I knock on the door I am surprised to hear a reply. A soldier is telling me to fuck off or he will kill me by blowing up the door. The same door that he is standing behind. At last he opens the door but I can’t see him, only his gun. A second soldier is standing in front of him, his arms shaking and sweat streaming down his temples. Ten minutes, he says. Ten minutes and we will be gone. After three minutes, they evacuate, leaving a large hole in one of the outer walls, punching a hole in the top of a martyr-poster where the head is supposed to be. Other houses exhibit greater devastation – shards of glass hanging from broken window-frames, half-empty tin cans of Israeli sweetcorn and yoghurt stuck in vases and fruit baskets, overturned beds with rubble piled on top of them, childrens’ stuffed toys sliced open and sullied.




The resistance fighters want to leave. I watch as they pull flimsy leopardprint and flowery dresses over their black and green, recognized worldwide as the uniform of the streets. One of them forgets his mendil, and his sister runs after him with it clutched in her hands. It is light purple and looks soft, like she has just wrenched it off her own head. I hope it still carries some of her scented warmth in its fabric as he wraps it around his bearded face. The tall, gangly frames look awkward in the dresses, even with the soft padding of the military style jackets underneath. Some of them are wise and take the time to laugh and adjust each other’s headscarves. One looks like a young girl, serious and heartbreakingly earnest. One of their little brothers stands holding dresses and long coats over his arm, afraid for his older friends and heroes. The guns lay wrapped in the swaths of hiked-up skirt as they dash through the alleyway one by one, live ammunition overhead, the last one triumphantly shooting down the street at the soldiers before making his way out of the camp.

They survive, the quiet fear in their eyes gradually replaced by rowdy gratefulness. Allahu akbar. And they are gone.

One of their companions had been shot in the waist a few hours earlier while patrolling the streets. His name was Baha’ and he was 26 years old. A doctor tried to get to him in an ambulance but the Israeli soldiers would not let him enter the camp so he bled to death in a relative’s home. As I enter the camp at 7 o’clock in the morning, the mosques are announcing his death, and the cries of grieving defiance ring out. Rocks, bottles and pieces of wood are hurled in the direction of the soldiers. This time they do not return fire.

Teargas lingers in invisible clouds outside Baha’s home, off the main street leading out from Nablus city. I walk with Baha’s mother and little brother through the camp. I know she is behind me because I hear her stifling her sobs as best she can. Finally, we arrive and enter into the kitchen. Baha’s body lies outstretched on a mattress, his shoed feet sticking out at the bottom and his jaw tied up with gauze. He appears to be sleeping, a duvet carefully tucked over him up to his shoulders. His cheeks look smooth and gaunt, a babyface. We have the same chin, jutting out in a slight underbite. He looks determined. Like he is in pain but does not want his mother to notice. Better not to say anything. The feeling in the room says that he was a good loving son. At least that will make the goodbyes a little easier.




His mother is crying freely now, running her hands through his cropped hair and along his shoulders and arms, kneading his knuckles between her palms. She is reminding him of something funny he said last week, bowing down her head close to his so that only he can hear her whispers, occasionally overcome with frantic grief and offering it to the world, to anyone who will take it. She beats her cheeks and rocks to and fro. The women are soon joined by neighbouring men, stamping their feet and shaking their heads at the tragedy like horses at flies. Soon they are shooed out and told to come to the funeral instead. There are still soldiers in the camp and we do not wish to attract too much attention to the place.

They abduct two young volunteers with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC). They were standing at the outskirts of the camp waiting for permission to enter in their ambulance, when they are snatched, handcuffed and blindfolded, bundled into a jeep. There are crowds of young boys on the streets and they start to hurl rocks and big boulders onto the military vehicles, rocking the jeep with the two young men in it. I wonder what they are thinking. They are later released, none the worse for wear except for chafed wrists, after lots of phonecalls have been made to various military units. Alhamdulillah for friends in high places and with white faces.

We leave to find a stretcher for the funeral, sneaking through the camp only to find that the soldiers have left. It is 11 o’clock and the children pouring out onto the streets on tired sleepless legs look grey and drawn. There is a car dumped upside down on the refuge between the car lanes, a pole sticking up through one of its side-windows. A dear friend tells me later that the pettiness of the violence disgusts her. It is devoid of all meaning, good or bad. Other cars are turned upside-down, smashed or thrown into ditches. Two bulldozers have been charging up and down the camp all morning, narrowly missing one of the ambulances, letting their blades hover above people’s heads and homes before crashing onto the tarmac below. I do not know why.




The funeral takes place half an hour later. PFLP flags are unfurled and duets about mothers and sons blare out of a car stereo. Men shoot into the air and everyone chants. The body is carried on a stretcher high above people’s heads and Baha’s mother faints as she says a second, more hurried goodbye among the crowd. I retreat to a couch in one of the post-occupied homes, drinking a cup of tea with Lubna, an 11 year-old girl now propped up against me trying to keep awake. Her brother and I read a text message from a mutual friend, congratulating us on Palestine’s independence day, the 14th November. It is sad enough to warrant a smile. Lubna’s father has spent the entire night waiting at a checkpoint in the freezing cold, worrying about his children in the camp but unable to reach them. He speaks about his life in such poetry and saves my day without even trying. Two of his sons are in prison, four outside. He turns to my friend and says, for the tenth time, that he is not attacking her. Only her government. He has nothing but love for the American people. If he did not, he would say so, for his words flow directly and unmediated from his heart.

We are welcome to share his tears and his laughter. His words sit in my ears like cotton wool as I walk through the narrow alleyways of the camp one last time. Friendly eyes peer out from behind lace curtains, people are still up and busy tidying the mess left by the soldiers. Muddy footprints on floors and mattresses are scrubbed away, glass scooped up into cardboard boxes and lifted out onto the streets, holes in walls stuffed with towels and bedlinen. Stories are shared and compared, the morning’s heroes appointed. Words and cutlery all tucked away into history - the bustle of everyday existence must be allowed to continue quickly, the children must be allowed to feel that they are alive amongst the living. And so life is jumpstarted once again.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tales of the prophets: harvesting in the shadow of the settlements



“He turned his walking-stick into a giant snake that swallowed up all the others’ tiny snakes. And so the Pharoah knew that Moses was a prophet and not just a simple magician.” Rada, 29 years old, is telling us stories while we kneel along the edges of the tarpaulins picking up stray olives from the ground. Her voice is soft and soothing, almost like song, even though her English is taken directly from North American sit-coms. She especially likes Seinfeld and Friends.

Rada’s family are spread out along a mountain ridge some 300 metres from the Israeli settlement of Itamar, just west of Rujeeb village outside of Nablus city. The village is effectively an expansion of Balata refugee camp, built by families wishing to escape the insecurity and cramped environment of their former home. Perched on branches and standing on the ground pulling the olives off of the boughs with nimble fingers, we are cheerful but guarded. Despite the pretty surroundings and the spring-like weather, it is difficult to forget that the settlement houses and the perimeter fence with its alarmed gate loom menacingly behind our backs.

A settler militia van comes driving along the road and an armed settler steps out, opens the gate and looks around. A military jeep hurries behind it, screeches to a halt and soldiers step out to converse with the, seemingly self-appointed, settler deputy. After five minutes, both vehicles drive off and we discover that we have been holding our breaths all the while.

The day proceeds quietly. We finish picking the trees closest to the settlement and move on to a second plot of land adjacent to the settler by-pass road. In the morning, soldiers tell the international pickers present to get out of the area as it is a so-called “red zone”, implying that only people officially residing in Rujeeb may be there. Their will to enforce this rule, however, seems halfhearted and we are not interrupted again.



As we walk back toward the village, with Rada singing a Sami Yusuf tune written in ode to his mother, we pass through a valley flanked by the main settlements and outposts of Elon Moreh and Itamar. Rada’s husband tells us about how settlers planted a bomb under the car of the mayor of a nearby village, crippling him for life, after he had brought the settlement’s claims of land ownership to the Israeli Supreme Court and won.

We decide to meet tomorrow at the same time and wave goodbye to the children, wishing them a goodnight in the village accent that they have tried to teach us all day. It has been a good day, promising plenty of good days to come. Welcome to the olive harvest in Nablus, where harvesting is resisting.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hate does not come easy

“I tell my children it’s my fault that our house was demolished. I say that because daddy didn’t have a building permit, I broke the law and so they had to tear it down. I would rather they believe this than that they be angry about the truth. I want them to grow up without being full of hate so that they can concentrate on school and on building a future for themselves.”

The 15-year old house of Hani Totah, proud father of six children and one Arabian thoroughbred mare, was demolished upon orders by Israeli police in November 2005. A year later, he now sits in his brother’s living-room explaining why he feels compelled to lie to his own children. “I want a good life for my children. But how can we have peace when the Israelis want their own house, but won’t let me have one? And the Israelis want their children to grow up to be doctors and engineers, but want my children to be homeless criminals?”

Totah’s house is but one of about one hundred family homes in the East Jerusalem district of Wadi Ij-Juus that have been targeted for demolition. The reason offered for this is that the houses are built too close to the Jerusalem Wall, although Totah and his neighbours are certain that the Israeli authorities simply do not want Palestinian communities to erect buildings within the confines of the city. Yet with rents prohibitively inflated, there is little other choice than to build one’s own house, especially for families with children.

Having earlier been forced out of the rather exclusive inner-city neighbourhood of Qatamon, Totah’s family are now once again being chased off their land. A former rubbish-dumping site, Wadi Ij-Juus is now seen as increasingly attractive for expansion of the Old City’s tourist facilities and contractors have long been eager to exploit the area. Israeli police and judiciary have also long tried to pressure Totah into relinquishing his land – a decision that he says would not be up to him alone but to the entire family as they are all old Jerusalemites and intimately connected to this “the most beautiful” of Palestinian cities.

Tired of waiting, the authorities then decided to take the issue into their own hands. As Totah summarised it; “If we sell, they buy. If we don’t sell, they take the land anyway.” Without prior notice, they arrived in the middle of the day in order to tear the house down. Upon receiving a phone call from his frantic wife who at the time was home alone, Totah had to force his way through the police barricades blocking all the entrances to the valley and the doorway to his own home.

Confused and angry, he attempted to dissuade the police and demolition workers present from going through with the demolition, explaining that they had received no warning. It was explained to him later on that what the authorities usually do is go to homes at times when they assume no one will be home, stick a notice on the door, take a picture, remove the notice and then leave. Totah hurried to the Israeli court in order to have the demolition order overturned. With the help of a lawyer, his emergency petition was successful and a court official informed the Israeli police at the scene of their decision to halt the demolition.

As soon as the police heard this, the bulldozer was put to work, eating away at the red-tiled roof. By the time Totah’s eldest son arrived home from school all that remained of the former family home was a large pile of cracked walls and tangled wires. His father, up until then having channelled his sorrow and anger into action, could no longer contain himself as he saw the tears roll down his son’s cheeks. Occasionally stopping to salvage some belonging identified among the rubble, Totah stumbled about blinded by tears and disbelief.

As if this was not enough, Totah and his family are now forced to pay 420 NIS every month until year 2012 to cover the municipality’s expenses for the demolition and the massive police presence. The thick stack of bills and receipts is a constant reminder of the violent injustice of the Israeli legal system visavis Palestinian citizens.

Israeli media were quick to cover the story, an American embassy official was there to witness the destruction and all the Palestinian political factions expressed their vehement condemnation of the act. Although comforted by these expressions of support, the family were in dire need of practical help. After having spent two weeks crowded into a small canvas tent donated by the Red Cross, one of Totah’s brothers insisted that they move in with him. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, ICAHD, has since taken upon itself to locate funding for rebuilding the house and in helping with the construction.

The rebuilding has, however, not been easy. The municipality has repeatedly warned the Palestinian construction workers that if they proceed with the work, they might be arrested and two workers have indeed been detained and later dropped off outside of a Jerusalem checkpoint. International volunteers from Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) today joined in the work in order to act as some sort of deterrence against police interference. As wooden rafters were being hammered into place overhead, internationals cleared the broken tiles and other rubble from off what will eventually become the floor of the house.

Totah’s young boys eagerly joined in, shovelling stones and shards of glass into buckets with their bare hands. Every once in a while, they would stop to listen to their father explaining how beautiful their home used to be, snuggled in between friendly neigbours and with lovingly tended flowerbeds at the back – now a pile of rubble, a home, a crime-scene. As they sifted through a pile of sand, one of the boys found a collection of shiny stickers which he carefully dusted off and put in his pocket. He glanced up at one of the international volunteers, flashing a shy little smile, as if embarrassed over his sudden nostalgia.

In the afternoon, a cement truck arrived and the construction workers proceeded to guide a giant hose spitting out wet cement at high speed around the roof. Half-way, the cement supply ran out and the second truck had not yet arrived. A few tense phone calls later, it was explained that the missing truck was stuck at a checkpoint somewhere in Jerusalem. Totah sat himself down on a rock to wait. “I look calm but my heart is beating hard in my chest. They have to hurry, the police could be here at any minute and that would be it.” Fortunately, the truck arrived only moments later and the work could continue. Now, the cement must be let to dry for at least five days and so work is suspended until after Eid.

It is estimated that the house, which when finished will be about half the size of the original home, will take a couple of more weeks to complete. Until then, Totah and his family are still living with one of his brothers. For two of his other brothers, the home demolition proved the last straw. Afraid for their families’ safety, they now live in the USA and have no plans on returning to Palestine in the near future. “You must understand”, Totah says. “We are from Jerusalem, not Nablus or Ramallah or Bethlehem. We have more then 300 years of history in this very area. If we cannot live here, we would rather move to somewhere completely different.”

Grateful for the fact that no one was injured during the demolition operation and that his family is still united and strong, Totah seems determined to face the future with the careful optimism of someone who has decided once and for all to overcome every obstacle. “Hate does not come easy”, he remarks as we are watching the video footage of his house mercilessly being torn down, “but these kinds of things make people so angry they lose their minds. I do not want this to happen to my children. And it does not have to happen to them. The only way to win is through love. When you love people and people love you, there is no one who can beat you. When you rule by force of power, you are always under threat.”

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Today

Today was a day not much different from any other day in Palestine. You could be forgiven for feeling that there is not much need to distinguish between today and tomorrow, today and yesterday. You would be wise to forgive people for crumbling under the weight of a relentless present. Yet the days are separable through the little spaces of joy created by people here. People determined to live. And lives are organized in a chronology of sorrows. In this way, the meeting is 14 days after the old man from Kafr Qallil was shot in the leg while enjoying the early evening breeze on his veranda. And the baby was born two months after the death of his uncle.

Today was different in so many ways. This morning, two young resistance fighters were given a knapsack filled with bread, boiled eggs, fresh thyme, cucumbers and bags of tamarind juice. An elderly woman took pity on the men, who are unable to sleep at their families’ homes for fear of arrest, and decided to treat them to a Ramadan breakfast worthy of kings. They savoured the flavour of friendship seated on the cool stone slabs of a beautifully arched Old City doorway, laughing at sugar–saturated boys throwing fire-crackers under the feet of sleepy-eyed and irritable early risers.

An hour later, a bunch of sleepy-eyed international solidarity activists joined a family in the eastern village of Azmut in picking olives. They climbed trees, so old they have names, which have remained untouched by Palestinian hands for more then 10 years due to harassment from Israeli colonists from Elon More settlement. They giggled and joked as they worked, a fine film of dust lining their nostrils and lending all the world a faint fragrance of summer rain on dirty tarmac. They sewed up big white bags full of olives and packed them onto a surly donkey, its thin little legs stumbling over rocks and bracken. They ignored tired young soldiers on ridiculous missions, finishing when they wanted to finish and not a minute before.

As the group worked, thousands of Palestinian men and women stood held up at checkpoints straining their shoulders and their minds to keep their young children and valuables above their heads to avoid them being crushed by the soldiers’ fervour to subjugate. Young men were detained while trying to go around, their faces beaten and their plans for the afternoon shattered as the soldiers decided to set an example and keep them there for 6 hours. After 45 minutes an off-duty settler cop in an orange kippa arrived to gloat and smoke cigarettes in front of the fasting men. Students, budding farmers, shopkeepers and bankers – all this besides the point, all reduced to men sitting cross-legged on the ground opposite a truck parking-lot.

As the men waited, a Hamas city council member was shot by Fateh gunmen and hospitalised. Palestinian society was seen internally combusting in the pressure-cooker called occupation and armed guards swarmed around the municipality building. Women told their taxi drivers to speed past the site and even the teenage boys stayed out of sight for the first few hours.

As the Hamas politician struggled to survive, a 12 year-old boy from Beit Furik was fatally shot in the stomach by one of a gang of Israeli colonists come down to steal sheep from the village or deal out some other blow to the Palestinians people’s chances of survival. The boy was playing with his pet dog in a field when the bullet killed him. A police report was filed and an investigation is to start tomorrow. But we can already say today that this investigation will lead absolutely nowhere. This is how the days here intertwine, this is how we travel through time, this is how the future is held and foreseen today. Time makes sense and is given meaning here only when projected through the prism of hopeless pragmatism.

Early afternoon, a father and his daughter were told that their trip to Salem was in fact a waste of time and money as their son/brother had already been given his verdict two days prior. They returned to Nablus in dismayed silence, not having seen even a glimpse of their loved one. They bought steaming and sweet knaafe for the son’s mother on their way home but then threw it away in the doorway, the contrast to her red-rimmed eyes turning their stomachs. As the soldiers entered the camp that same night, the youngest sister sat bolt upright in her bed near the window willing the soldiers to see her and shoot her dead with one bullet to the brain. Her big sister saw her craning her head out of the window and read her mind, pulled her inside and turned the radio on ever so quietly. Together they danced and embraced in the night, until the sadness had ached out of their limbs and they could go to bed once more.

As Israeli officials carelessly delivered the news to the imprisoned son’s father, a group of Palestinians and Israelis were chopping away at a roadblock, dust and contrary orders flying through the sticky air. Soldiers arrived. They were ignored. Shovels were wrangled out of people’s grips. They used their hands and feet. Arms were grabbed. The group was united. At last, an opening could be seen among the multi-ton cement blocks, glaring like the gap of promise in the mouth of a six year-old who has just yanked out his front tooth. His gums still bleeding, the six year-old triumphantly walked up the hill with the rest of the villagers, their victory accentuated by loud chants and clapping of hands.

Meanwhile, a recently arrested man was put into isolation. Unable to stand up straight or lie down in the tiny cell, he crouched and prepared himself for the fortnight to come. A second man, arrested 11 days ago from his bed, was let out of isolation only to be beaten unconscious by five prison guards. On this his 20th day, a third man was locked into the fanciest hotel room he has ever seen on TV to recover from his wounds. A beautiful voluptuous woman unlocked the door and entered the room. She walked toward him and smiles, slipped behind him and began to massage his shoulders, sore from fear and determination. She pulled her fingers through his hair and kissed his neck lightly. He clenched his fists and prayed aloud to Allah while a camera silently took pictures of the scene. A fourth man was shown pictures of himself sitting on a double-bed with a woman. He was told that if he didn’t talk these pictures would be sent to his mother and father, his boss and his principal. The man thought for a while and then asked if he could have a copy for himself as well. He does not remember what happened next.

Late afternoon, the streets were left without human company. The trash flew about unhindered and the cats prowled without danger. An occasional taxi-car screeched and swerved around corners, carrying hungry dry-mouthed people laden with sweets. It is Ramadan and time to break the fast. The last remnants of the day’s sunlight were reflected in shop-windows and billboards. Everything was bathed in a golden shimmer and I loved the Nablus of Ramadan with its rumbling stomachs and its prayers to the extra-ordinarily attentive divine.

This evening, hundreds of children went to bed with good food in their stomachs and sweet words in their ears. And hundreds of other children went to bed still hungry despite their mothers’ best efforts. Teenage girls read romantic novels hidden under their pillows to calm themselves enough to be able to succumb to sleep. Young boys, their futures still clearly staked-out and devoid of the dilemmas of adulthood, fall asleep before the woolly blankets with the giant flower motifs have even been tucked around them.

Today was a day not much different from any other day in Palestine. Yet it was special in all its joys and sorrows and it will be remembered by all of us who survived it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Settlers try to break us

As we walk away down the craggy biblical landscape, she turns around to wag her finger at him and say “Remember… it is no defense to say you were only following orders.” The soldier looks perplexed and puts his hands out, letting his gun hang down from its strap. He looks like he’s struggling to find an appropriate reply - the insult of her words, echoing the Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, hitting him hard.

The soldier, an Officer, is guarding a military outpost adjacent to Susiya settlement. The woman, a representative of Ta’ayush, an Israeli anti-occupation group, is visiting the Palestinian villagers in the area with activists from Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP). On Monday, soldiers from this outpost accompanied seven young armed settlers to the home of an elderly couple where they watched as the settlers pushed, taunted and beat the old man and woman with sticks.

This happened four days ago but the officer on guard says that it is impossible. “It could not have happened. If I find out about any of my soldiers are doing a thing like that, I will beat his ass. I will break his bones.” Nevertheless, Haj Khalil’s legs are now sore and swollen from the beating, one of the bones in his calf fractured. His wife buries her head in her hands as he talks, punctuating his sentences with nods and sighs of despair.

“It is very important for us to have internationals here. They must be here always. Otherwise they will come again,” says Haj Khalil. Ta’ayush, PSP and Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron are planning to collaborate on creating a permanent international presence in the area. The villagers, dotted about on the barren slopes of the Susiya valley, with solar cell panels and home-made TV antennas breaking off from the otherwise traditionally Bedouin homesteads made up of tents, goat pens and snarling watchdogs, all regularly fall victim to settler aggression and military complicity.

Furthermore, the villagers have been unable to tend to or even visit their olive groves for several years. The trees surround an Israeli military base, one grove right next to a field used by the soldiers for shooting practice. Among the trees, lie discarded result charts, shot-through pieces of paper showing how soldiers learn how to “zero in” on their targets. The military wish the entire area from Susiya settlement to the large town of Yatta to be evacuated of all Palestinian civilian populations, to make it what Israel calls a “free fire zone.” This process has been frozen due to stern non-violent resistance on the part of the Palestinians living in the area, but is legally difficult to challenge since Israeli courts generally do not meddle with what they regard as being ‘professional assessments’ by military experts on issues of security.

The settlers from Susiya, established in the mid-80s around the same time that many Palestinian families were forced to move from their cave homes nearby to make way for Israeli archeological excavations, did not approach the villagers today. The settlers stood by the soldiers, their white clothing breaking off from drab military wear and red earth. Their little girls wore long skirts and colorful ribbons in their hair, playing with a pet dog as they skipped back to the settlement. Haj Khalil, leaning on his walking-stick, shook his head in silence.

The villagers of Susiya all have their own stories to tell about the fathers and brothers of these little settler girls. Most of them have bruises or scars to support their accounts of hooded men setting their tents on fire in the middle of the night, cracking their skulls open with the butts of their rifles or slashing their arms with a knife. All of them have learned that the official Israeli military policy stating that soldiers should protect both Palestinians and Israeli settlers is a sham – that while the Israeli military may sit and bond over a glass of wine with the settlers, they come to Susiya only to watch the oppression unfurl.

Devoid of protection from both the legal and military institutions of Israeli society, the Bedouin of Susiya are left to fend for themselves, and therefore invoke the support of Palestinian, international and Israeli solidarity initiatives. The villagers remain determined to continue living as they have always done, and each new breath, each stone overturned, each drop of goat’s milk bears witness to the steadfastness of their resistance.