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Date posted: October 20, 2003
By International Solidarity Movement

Hi there, with a special hi to strangers across the globe as I understand that now these updates are being forwarded all over the place. My writing is completely insufficient for that kind of attention, but there is almost no one else here to tell the story, so Iíll do my best to convey it. Perhaps at some point the media will send real writers here, perhaps not.

So, last time I hollered I was about to leave for our Peace Camp, near the Apartheid Wall, in a village outside of Jenin called Tora Shakir. Our plan was to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinians there, in particular the farmers. The wall has taken the best of their land and they are being denied access. Building new homes without permits is illegal, but no new permits have ever been issued. Customs there dictate that a couple can't get married until the husband has built and furnished a home, so the entire social culture has been put on hold. All of the events occurring in Tora Shakir fit into the larger rubric of making life unlivable on many levels for the Palestinians, so they'll leave.

We went to Tora Shakir Tuesday; I was part of an advance group of three, with the rest to follow later. The road closures and impromptu roadblocks around Jenin are complete and suffocating. Using several cabs, walking at times, and driving thru olive orchards etc, we reached the village in two hours. It is an 8-10 minute drive when things are allowed to function. The rest of the group required even more time but finally arrived. The media, other West Bank ISM volunteers and sympathetic Israelis were unable to come because of the IOF stranglehold around the entire Jenin area. So, from the outset our action was greatly compromised.

Around 2 oíclock we set up our tents etc, about 20 yards from the wall, in a host farmerís field. The poor village has everything dictated by the IOF, with a constant presence of cruising American military vehicles and armed settlers on its only road. We had a soccer game with the kids and talked about life, love and struggle with our hosts, in broken English and Arabic.

After about an hour some Israeli soldiers pulled up in a Humvee, asked what we were doing there, we told them and asked if there was a problem. They said no, and were pretty casual. They remained parked there though, keeping us all on edge somewhat.

At sunset the DCL pulled up {they're regional cops of a sort}, and told us we had to take down our camp. We spoke with them at length; he was fairly polite but uncompromising. The bottom line was that we would have to take down the camp as it was a "closed military zone" and whatever assurances the soldiers had given us earlier didn't matter. We would've liked to have told him that we were quite sure it was in fact an ancient Palestinian village, but we had a cover of innocence and naivetť to maintain. "Just thought it would be a cool experience for us backpackers to pick some olives and glimpse the country life." Any realization of who we were meant arrest, interrogation, deportation, etc. So after dragging our feet for awhile, attempting to negotiate, pointing out that it was now dark and too late to tear down and move etc, he said "you will take down the camp now or be arrested. Up to you, I don't care." The elderly, worn, host farmer asked if we could stay at his house for the night if we took down the camp. The commander agreed.

We took it all down in the pitch black, carried it to the farmer's house and sat down to have tea with the two dozen or so locals who had been watching from his yard, on their way to visit but stopped short by the obvious military presence in our camp. We felt pretty sad about having been forced to acquiesce to their illegitimate power, but still excited about the next days plans of harvesting olives across the wall, as were the farmers.

After 5 minutes Humvees pulled up into his driveway, soldiers with big guns got out and came towards us. They told us we had to leave the area. We said we were at this house in direct obedience of DCL orders and had nowhere else to go. The soldiers re-iterated their demand, but were finally convinced to check out our story {which was true}. They did so, and told us that we would have to leave in the morning.

As we spoke to them, the well feared Israeli police pulled up, jumped out of their jeeps and stormed, and I do mean stormed, the house. They were yelling madly, insanely, blind with rage, especially the commander. They stormed the house wildly waving guns, knocking over chairs and ordered all Palestinians into the house, barking at them like animals, like they were herding animals. A few who tried to drag their feet, both out of concern for us and their own pride, were focused on so intensely that we yelled at them to please go in, as we genuinely thought they would be shot. They went in, most of a village packed into an old man's small house like cattle. The police started in on us, especially my new good friend, Moustafa, a Canadian of Egyptian heritage. The Captain Insane-o commander ran towards him, knocked the cell phone out of his hand, pushed him and tried to remove him from the group. The situation was such pandemonium, so out of control, it made any kop riot Iíve seen at home look casual. They had guns pointed on us, were yelling so violently, it was really terrifying.

Two things came to my mind, first the fact that I felt like I was in a Bantustan in South Africa 20 years ago, the cop reminded me of an Afrikarrner secret police, his hatred so very clear, his willingness to use violence palatable, in fact he wanted to very badly. Second, was the mental image of Jewish neighborhoods being stormed in the night, orders barked, confusion and raw fear created, friends and possessions left behind in a slightly controlled panic.

We were given conflicting orders simultaneously by the soldiers and the police, with each verbally assaulting us and gesturing violent acts when we listened to the other. As the soldiers told us to gather our things, the very armed police knocked the things out of our hands. As the police told us to line up and present passports, the soldiers screamed at us to walk towards the road, "Right Fu##### NOW!" An older English woman in our group of 11 picked up a sleeping bag at the behest of a soldier, and had it really roughly knocked out of her trembling hands by the police commander.

Finally we were marched into the road, at gunpoint, it was completely dark. We were scared, straight up, also for the farmers who we had been forced to leave behind to who knew what (since then we have found out they're ok). We physically held onto Moustafa who was still being targeted verbally etc. They marched us down the road to the checkpoint in the wall. We were forced to stay there for over an hour; sure we would be arrested and deported at the very least. The cops made jokes to Moustafa about Islam, repeatedly offering him alcohol in a menacing manner etc. We whispered contingencies, plans, info to each other while staring at the ground. For us guys especially, every time I looked up I was mad-dogged (an energetic mean look) by a cop or soldier.

Finally they decided to load us into a police van, drove us across the checkpoint to the Israeli side, took us a good ways down an Israeli highway and stopped. Then they let us out, took our info in detail and much later, let us go.

So, were stranded on a highway late at night, but it was a better outcome than we expected. We caught a bus to the Israeli town of Afula, where we laid shivering in a park all night, too cold to sleep as we had not been allowed to take our camping stuff. No one would let us use their bathroom.

Four others and I took a 5:30 bus to Tel Aviv, to go to Jerusalem, we made it. The others were attempting to come later in the morning when three were detained by local police, Moustafa among them. He was suspicious looking, a.k.a. Arab. Two were questioned all day and released; he was in jail for two and a half days.

We all met in Jerusalem Friday night and snuck back into Jenin Saturday (an epic in itself), so they can just blank my blank. The beat doesnít stop, and we're here back at work, getting ready to witness an invasion that is soon to hit Jenin by all accounts. I am proud to be here no matter what they throw at us or more importantly the folks who live here. I would no sooner leave here than I would leave any of you in a burning house.

I will write again as soon as possible about what we've heard about the looming invasion, and the other daily events here, anyone of which are just so heartbreaking. For example, I met a man about to die due to lack of heart medicine that is available only in Nablus, but the roads are closed, no exceptions. Met a guy, two months from finishing law school, had to drop out due to road closures. Met a woman struggling daily with suicide because she never gets to leave her house due to curfew, two brothers in prison without sentences, can't get married due to previously mentioned housing permit restrictions. Met a man, home destroyed during Jenin camp invasion April 2002, son in prison, daughter's husband in prison for life for political activities, she has a toddler son who now has no dad. The barbarity and disruption of the occupation is absolute, and the IOF should be no more shocked by occasional bombings than MinuteMaid is when at the end of the day they see they have produced orange juice.

Read More ...

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