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Date posted: April 28, 2003
By Roy Bard

On this morning of April 28, 2003, we learned the details of how a French civilian was 'detained' by a soldier yesterday in Asira Valley, just outside of Nablus. His detention consisted of being handcuffed, blindfolded, having a gun placed right by his head, being put in a Jeep, driven to a nearby settlement, being interrogated and released without arrest or charge.

The message is clear, we are not wanted in asira Valley, a checkpoint where ISM has worked for several months, watching villagers being terrorized by a combination of foot soldiers, soldiers in jeeps and in troop carriers. Often the villagers are held for hours, with no access to toilets, water or shade from the sun or rain. Often they are made to return back the way they come from - either from the village, or from Nablus. Many times they become aware of the presence of soldiers when shots are fired by the snipers on the hills, their uniform making it difficult to spot them in the greenness of spring.

Internationals have spent many hours staying with detained persons, negotiating on their behalf, phoning Human Rights Organizations and the Army command; to question some of the more obscure and inexplicable decisions that the seemingly omnipotent soldiers on the spot make.

Many times villagers are held for hours and released, their bags unchecked. Many of the soldiers have no support vehicles, they know they are dealing with an unarmed, frustrated civilian population. Many times they have told us it is a Closed Military Zone: it is not. Many times they have threatened us with arrest. Until yesterday they have not fallen through. Many times they have shot at us: we have regarded these as warning shots and have stayed.

Now, things are different!

We decided that a group of us would go and picnic in the valley. We needed to assert our right to be there. Someone has to monitor the daily misery that is inflicted on the civilians of Asira.

With our stash of hummus, foul, falafels, oranges, bananas, pita and water we catch the service taxi to Sabatash at the top of the hill. There we meet a number of Palestinians who want to go down into the valley with us. They know there are soldiers there. They know people have already been detained and refused permission to go home.

We trek down the hill, a raggle taggle band of 3 brits, 3 Italians, a South African, A Medical Volunteer from the medical relief Committee and Palestinian men and women.

All seems quiet as we approach the house in the valley. Then one of the local women points; the soldiers are there, skulking in the bushes in front of the house. Slowly we walk up to them. The "nasty" one comes out and greets one of the Internationals by name. "Why do you come here?", he asks. "You know that I told you I will arrest you if you do, Yesterday I arrested one of your friends from France".

Two Internationals attempt to engage with him, they tell him that it is not a closed military area, that we have come to have a picnic, that we are peaceful. "Go back to Nablus" he demands. We assert our right to be there. We bear passports that request that we be allowed to proceed without Let or Hindrance. We tell him that under Israeli Law we can be there.

"Fuck the Israeli Government", he tells us. It is getting bizarre, a soldier from an illegal occupying army who has no respect for the government that he serves. He turns his attention to the Palestinians. He takes their IDs, pockets them and motions to them to go into the bushes. His friend is standing in the bushes. They are detained. We ask why, no answer. We have taken the opportunity to get out the food and to start eating. We are not talking to them, we cannot see the detained persons, we are merely a token presence, having a picnic.

"If you don't leave' I will call for jeeps and you will be arrested like your friend. Then you will be deported like him." We tell him that we are prepared to be arrested and that the Frenchman was not deported but is now back in Nablus." The news doesn't seem to please him. He talks in his radio and then goes into the bushes where we cannot see him. We carry on eating. After a few minutes two shots sound out. We cannot see him, but we can hear where they are coming from. One of the group gets up to go look. The soldier emerges from the bushes, gun pointed straight at our group.

"IF YOU DO NOT LEAVE I WILL SHOOT YOU IN THE HEAD" he tells us.

I think of Brian Avery, my 24 year old American friend, in a hospital in Haifa, shot for no discernable reason. I think of Tom Hurndall, a 21 year old activist from the UK, lying in a hospital in Beer Shee'va, his brain damaged by a snipers bullet while he tried to direct a child out of the line of fire in Rafah.

We cannot risk another shot in the head over a picnic. We tell him we need our friend, the medical relief volunteer who is in the group of detained. He just tells us to leave, training his gun on us the whole time. We are prepared to be arrested, we are prepared to resist a deportation, but not this, not now. So we gather up our things, and start moving back up the hill, to the point where we can get phone reception. We start phoning Embassies and the media centre.

After about 15 minutes, the medical volunteer emerges from the bushes, holding his ID. He has been released. He tells us that before the soldier shot at us, he radio'd the base in Hebrew and said that we would not leave, and that he wanted to shoot at us. When he finished the call, he turned to his fellow soldier and said "I will shoot one of them in the head or the eyes."

The world has sat back and allowed Israel to kill Palestinians under the guise of "security", no probing questions have been asked, no sanctions imposed as they kill men, women and children with impunity. Now it seems that peaceful activists (the soldier checked neither our IDs or our bags, so it seems he knew this!) are legitimate game for these soldiers who are here in defiance of so many UN Resolutions.

Will the international community allow Israel to threaten and shoot at picnicking citizens from its own countries? Will they raise no fuss, ask no questions, impose no sanctions?

I fear the answer is yes.

For more information contact: Duncan 067 628 519

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