I have just spent the past week in Tulkarem.
Tulkarem straddles the line of the West Bank and Israel, where you can see the lights of Netanya and the sea in the distance. But the city is completely isolated, and this imprisonment heavily enforced by the surrounding Israeli military.
This is a city where extreme violence carried out by the Israeli military on all Palestinian citizens is hushed up. Journalists are strictly forbidden from this 'military zone'.
Apaches this past week have been flying low over the city day and night, firing into Tulkarem camp and city with routine frequency. Tanks have occupied the center and outskirts of the city, also firing often. And the soldiers in jeeps, many of them Druze, drive around constantly, shouting that if they see anyone on the street they will shoot.
The military is very busy arresting and shooting at civilians, on many occasions children as young as seven years old. Journalists have been threatened with arrest unless they get out of town immediately, their film confiscated on site. This week Ha'aretz reporter Gideon Levy's car was fired upon with no provacation (a bullet straight in the center of the windshield), the only thing saving his life being the bullet proof glass.
COLD BLOODED EXECUTIONS
On Tuesday, August 7th, the military executed one of the men on their " wanted list " , Ziad D'ayas, 28 years old, in cold blood. They also murdered two Palestinian civilians in the vicinity, afterwards claiming they too were " wanted " . This official military statement is an absolute untruth.
One, Mahair Jesmawi, 17 years old, was a student who had just learnt moments before he had just passed his end of the year school examinations. Elated, he stepped out briefly onto the street and was killed. The other was Mohammed Saidz, 24 years old, a mechanic working in his shop who had the bad luck to be happened upon by soldiers going after Ziad. He was shot and died a slow death after ambulances were prevented from retrieving him.
This military action was conducted in a particulary gruesome way. According to eyewitnesses in neighbouring buildings, it started around 9 am that morning. Snipers, and soldiers, many in plain clothers surrounded the area of the mechanic's roof where Ziad was sleeping. They proceeded to aim and shoot, hitting Ziad in his leg and neck. Ziad fell off the roof into the shop, breaking his limbs but still alive. They then proceeded to bash him all over his body with their guns, before firing 9 dum dum bullets directly into his head, killing him instantly. Their dogs were set on the body, and acid was poured on his arms, legs, and stomach.
Ambulances were prevented from moving for five hours that morning. One tried to retrieve the three bodies that the military held in a small field outside the mechanic's house, but the ambulance was fired upon and had to turn back. Finally, a civilian car rushed the bodies to the government hospital as soon as the soldiers left the the vicinity.
I viewed the bodies as they came in. Ziad's body was grotesquely tortured, limbs broken, and his skin peeled off in huge sections from the acid. His head was half blown off. Mahair, the 17 year old student, was shot in the head. And Mohammed, the mechanic, had a bullet in his torso.
Meanwhile, the houses in the area of the murders were emptied of families, as the soldiers went through each one, damaging furniture, stealing money on two occasions. A group of roughly thirty men were arrested and taken to Israel, including two wounded by live ammunition.
THE HOSPITAL AND AMBULANCES UNDER SIEGE
The ambulance dispatch center is next to Tulkarem's government hospital. On three occasions this past week both the hospital and ambulance entrance have been blocked by tanks and jeeps. Apparently this is quite normal.
On these occasions, soldiers scream at the hospital gate keepers to close the gates. Once, to punctuate their point, the soldiers fired live ammunition through the gaps in the gate, towards the emergency room entrance, hitting a car in the process. Thankfully, the car had no occupants at the time.
On these three occasions the Red Cross has been informed by the military that the ambulances cannot move AT ALL. Shooting at moving ambulances is unfortunately not uncommon in Tulkarem.
A DECIMATED AMBULANCE
Three days ago, the ambulance center wanted to deliver an ambulance that had been decimated by tank fire on March 7th, to the main ambulance center in Ramallah.
The attack on this particular ambulance resulted in the death of the driver, Ibrahim. The vehicle was shot upon without warning by a tank as Ibrahim was heading back to the hospital after delivering a patient. He was killed by numerous bullets to the head. His passenger, a medic called Sophia, was pushed down onto the floor of the ambulance by Ibrahim moments before he was killed, so luckily escaped with only shrapnel all over her body.
The ambulance center had to negotiate with the soldiers at Tulkerem's checkpoint to transport this badly damaged ambulance through. When a soldier saw the 30 odd bullet holes in the windshield and body of the vehicle, as well as Ibrahim's blood and hair smeared on the inside of the driver's door, he asked me what happened. When the story was told, the soldier's response was, " they must have been fired upon by their own people " . " No, it was definitly an Israeli tank, " I said. [caught on film, eyewitness accounts, as well as the medic's account] " Well... then they must have been terrorists, " the soldier adamantly replied.
SUMMER CAMP FOR KIDS CONTINUES UNDER FIRE
The summer camp for children is popular, but often caught up in the violence. The kids have been in the downtown camp on numerous occasions when the tanks come in to the downtown area and start firing.
The kids who attend (roughly 7 - 10 years old) are from both the city and the camp. Every morning the kids, escourted by the teachers run single file along the sides of buildings to reach the summer camp. The same routine happens upon their return home.
Running to the homes of the kids one afternoon we came across a tank and had to duck into a nearby house. The kids were terrified, one 8 year old girl sobbing with fear uncontrollaby. The tank opened fire outside the house as we cowered on the floor.
Thankfully, there was a small kitten lounging on the floor. We used it to divert the kids' attention from the blasts outside, playfully pulling the kitten's tail and saying " look,look. " They focused on the kitten and the small girl stopped crying. We left when when the street fell silent again, and ran to their houses.
TO SUM UP
It is hard to conclude this essay of what was witnessed this bloody week in Tulkarem. The violence was so strong, and details brutal. For more information please call: