An Ordinary Operation
Askar Refugee Camp, October 31st, 2002
Last night at approximately 3:15 a.m. IOF soldiers came into Askar refugee camp in Nablus. A completely ordinary operation to arrest one man, so normal in fact that it wasn't even mentioned in the Israeli or International press. What exactly does a normal, routine arrest entail?
The IOF arrives in the camp and opens fire indiscriminately and incessantly to awaken and simultaneously paralyze everyone with fear. Everyone means families: mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It means students, store owners, officials, secretaries, doctors, sanitary workers, taxi drivers and the unemployed; people who ate humus, falafel, rice, cheese, salad, or nothing but bread that day; people with lots of money or some money and those with little or none; parents who worry about feeding their children, who think about how to educate them, how to clothe them and most of all how to love them.
It means hundreds of human beings packed into dense homes, homes so close you can hear your neighbor sneeze, that awaken in the flash of a second to bullets, thundering through the thin alleys, ricocheting off cement walls, garbage cans, and steal doors.
Soldiers entered 6 houses in their serach for Naser Abu Aliz, yet another one of the thousands of wanted men in Palestine. The IOF began by blowing up his front door to gain entry into the house, and continued by exploding a second door inside. They found the house empty and ransacked it nonetheless, destroying and damaging nearly everything.
They then went to his brother's house, Jilal Al Jabaji, and blew off his door.
The soldiers ransacked his house as well, and even fired live ammunition while the parents and children, one 6 years old and one 8 months old, witnessed literally terrified. The flood of children's tears moisten a mother's shirt and the echo of their screams ring in their parent's ears, waking...
Another house, that of Mamoud Abu Sada that had 5 people inside when the IOF calmly and precisely blew off its door. Three children, one 7, one 5, and one 2 years old, screamed and cried when the bathroom door was blown up, the tiles destroyed, their big table ruined; they all riveted in panic from the shooting inside their supposed sanctuary, watching dark shadows holding M-16's aimed, shooting, invading their rooms and then running on to....
The next home where the soldiers found Iyad Itiyim, his wife and 8 month old baby. They ransacked the house, fractured the walls with their 'routine' explosions and shot bullet holes in a dresser that we ran our fingers across this morning.
And still they did not stop; they went on to Ahmed Abu Hayeh's home and then to Ehab and Mahammed Bahar Ildam's home. Same old story: an explosion that blows up the front, metal door, fractures the thick cement walls, and breaks every window within a few meter radius; ransack the house, break the chairs, tables, fans, dressers, and small appliances and open fire in the face of the heads, hearts and hopes of young children and their parents.
At 4:50 the IOF left Askar camp; another routine operation come to an end. In their tracks lay 6 houses in utter disarray, 9 other homes with their windows blown out, and clusters of children, families, glued together in sticky, terrified tears.
We know because we walked the camp this morning, surveying the very extensive, yet routine damage. We touched the bullet holes, picked up pieces of broken glass, and walked over blown up metal doors bent into oblivion, contorted beyond imagination. We know because we took pictures of the broken windows and whispered curses upon seeing the damage. We know because we saw the fathers' faces, greeted the mothers, and held the hands of the children.
One enormous tragedy of war is that inhumanity, violence, and terror become normal. Human beings are very adaptable and remarkably continue even in the truly worst of situations. But this does not in anyway mean that what has become normal is healthy or humane.
What is normal about terrorizing children? Coming in the middle of the night firing rounds of live ammunition in rooms where babies sleep?
Destroying furniture, appliances, equipment, walls, and windows in the search for a man? Routine for the IOF amounts to trampling on all security and safety, breaking hearts like glass, and then jumping back into their jeeps and tanks and driving away.
One child looked up at us this morning with big, beautiful brown eyes and showed us past the broken bits of glass, over the obliterated door, into her home, walked over to the dresser, looked in the mirror cracked by the bullet of an M-16, and still miraculously managed to smile.
No, there is absolutely nothing normal about this.
Saif Abu Keshek, Aisa Kiyosue, and Susan Barclay.
Jenin 30/10/02 - Day 6 of the Invasion
I am writing this during the 4 hour curfew lift - the town has throbbed into life again. There has been 24-hour curfew here since Sunday, enforced by live ammunition (Illegal under the geneva conventions - smoke bombs, teargas, rubber and plastic bullets only) fired from tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps, snipers in occupied houses and soldiers on foot.
Approximately 40 tanks and APCs (numbers vary drastically, some say 20, others 70, I have seen about 15 myself but there is a very full depot, more cluttered with tanks and APCS than Ive ever seen it before, out on the way out to Jalamiya, there's got to be at least 50 there) entered the city and camp of Jenin 6 days ago in response to the suicide bombing of last Saturday, carried out by Jihad Islami activists from Jenin.
Soldiers have taken up sniper positions all around the camp and killed 2 people - a 14-year-old boy, out in the street and a 23 year old man, shot through the heart as he peered out of his window to see what was going on. 8 have been injured - mostly young boys, one shot through the cheek, another in the neck, and 2 just under the heart - all wounds consistent with attempted assassinations.
Electricity and water supplies were cut to the camp on the first day of entry. Yesterday soldiers detained two water tank drivers and arrested one, bound for the camp. I myself tried to de-arrest him, but he (the driver) said not to worry. He was blindfolded and taken into an apc. I tried my absolute best, yanking him, pushing the soldier away, getting
In between, getting into the APC, but maybe it was just inevitable. When water was finally driven into the camp, many people cheered, women did that funny song-bird tongue waggle call of joy, children fell over themselves with plastic jugs and burly men dragged out big oil drums and filled up as much as they could.
6 homes have been demolished in the past 3 days - one was exploded in the camp damaging many near by homes - windows blown in, walls cracked, shaking from the foundations. The sound of the explosion was heard all the way in Shoohadda, some 5 km away. We saw 2 being destroyed by a vast creaking ugly military bulldozer. One was of a woman whose sons were activists - Aqsa I believe. One was killed by a rocket, the other 2 are in jail. She was screaming and wailing and having a breakdown basically as we picked her up in an ambulance - she couldn’t walk. She was saying, “I have nothing, I have nothing, they took my sons, now they took my home, I have nothing.” We saw warm coloured wallpaper and pictures and clothes and tables just trashed, just absolutely mangled before our eyes. The IOF needs to give just a 15 minute warning. Many family members are usually too distraught to move quickly and coherently in that time span. Another was the house of my friend - his brother was military leader of Jihad Islami in the West Bank.
He's in jail now, the brother, facing 300 years. Another house was bombed out - the home of the father of one of the suicide bombers. His apartment was just black smoldering rubble and debris. The family was in shock, a little girl had to go to hospital. The other kids were very very nervy and wide-eyed and over-chatty and just fucked up. All the kids here are pretty fucked up to larger or lesser degrees and very suicidal. I had to stand in front of a kid screaming “Shoot me shoot me” and hitting his own chest with both hands as an APC and tank rumbled towards him and his mates all luzzing bricks and rocks and bottles. Kids regularly run towards tanks and APCs here yelling, in not-yet-broken voices “ALLAH AKHBAAAAAAR!!!!!” Full of energy and frustration, and fire, pure fire.
Soldiers have occupied over 30 houses in the camp and city, forcing families of up to 30 into one room, depriving them of food and water and holding guns to their heads when they wish to go to the toilet or another part of the house. The homes are being used as military bases for snipers to shoot from, soldiers to log and monitor all activity in the area and as temporary jails for arbitrarily arrested men. The mosque in the camp has also been occupied and has almost certainly been desecrated inside. Camp residents all chipped in money to renew and restore the mosque after it had been occupied in June and held a big festive celebration marking its re-opening. During the June occupation, the mosque had been utterly trashed. Graffiti, feces, urine, and rubbish littered the floor and walls. The same is sure to be the case this time.
Soldiers living in occupied homes have smashed doors and windows and furniture, left faeces, ash, cigarette butts and other bits of rubbish on the floor and have repeatedly declared when asked if food can be delivered to families held inside, that 'this is Our Home'. They have also stolen money and precious items from people's homes. Tanks tore up a carefully tended garden of one home and troops there stole over $1000 dollars, the life savings of an entire family, keenly putting away money for the grandfather to complete his religious life pilgrimage dreams - to go to Mecca. He will never make it now. People sink a lot of money into making their homes beautiful and cozy and welcoming to the many many guests and family they receive there. Their homes are everything, its all they have, built up generation after generation from the uniform green thick canvas tents of 1948 to the sturdy ,well cultivated family homes they have today. And dont forget that Arab families are HUGE - average of 10 kids each so the home is central, absolutely vital to everything, personal and cultural.78487
Over 200 men have been arrested - arbitrarily, including 4 medics - 2 doctors and 2 volunteers, taken from their ambulance in the center of town, leaving the patient alone, stranded, with a French volunteer. He was eventually driven to safety by the French volunteer. International activists have been working on the ambulances to minimize the racism and hostility of soldiers at checkpoints who detain and sometimes turn back ambulances responding to serious emergency calls such as heart attacks, gunshot wounds, births and scorpion bites.
People as young as 13 (2 known cases) and over the age of 50 have been arrested. (usually those snatched are aged between 16-30). Soldiers occasionally take thearrestees with them on house to house searchers to act as human shields. Despite soldiers denying this, I myself saw soldiers shielding behind them when door to homes were being exploded. The IOF (Israeli Occupation Force) regularly use civilians for military purposes. Those arrested are taken to either Jalamy or Salem military bases. Those who have been returned say they were beaten on the way there, beaten at the bases, made to sleep outside in the dirt, cuffed and blindfolded, denied food and water and prohibited from going to the toilet -some for up to three days. Upon release, somewhere made to walk to Jenin (3 hour walk) cuffed and blindfolded. Some had their IDs stolen (a regular IOF practice). Palestinians moving without IDs can be arrested and jailed at anytime. Due to 24-hour curfew here, enforced with live ammunition, they are in danger of being shot on sight.
Due to the curfew, relief and aid agencies have had great trouble meeting peoples most basic needs such as access to food and water. Competent local service providers have been paralyzed by the curfew. Yesterday 4 Palestinian Red Crescent Workers, 2 UN workers, a water tank driver and some of the only bakers in town still able to bake bread for people, were arrested.
There appears to be no coherent military strategy at play here. All the wanted people have left - they left days before the attack in Israel and Sheback and Mosad must know that by now. The behaviour of soldiers is erratic - some are nuts, others you can reason with - but the arrests are just arbitrary. As the days wear on, it is becoming obvious that it is yet another case of an intensification of the Israeli state's strategy of collective punishment. No water, no food, no education, no medical supplies, no movement, destroying and damaging many homes, mass arrests and beatings - social strangulation, community spirit breaking.
The soldiers said about 5 days ago that the operation was scheduled to last just 1 week. It is estimated to cost $100k per day to keep them in Jenin. We await tomorrow's events. It will be 1 week since they came here. They have been leaving occupied homes but then reoccupying others so it’s hard to predict what they’ll do.
Gaza Strip Update from Kristen Ess
29 October-2 November, 2002
Rafah, Gaza Strip
In the southern most part of the Gaza Strip a Palestinian man sits near his young daughter and tells me that the Israeli military gave him no notice before demolishing his home. His neighbor pounded on his door shouting that the soldiers were coming. The man says all he had time to do was gather his children and run out of the house. It was one o'clock in the morning. He stood on the street with 75 other newly homeless until 5 am, not knowing where to go. He says that all of his family's belongings are under the rubble. They are left with nothing.
His wife was unable to reach his crying daughter as Apache helicopters fired missiles behind the house he now stays in. The man says this is to frighten the people. He said that they are terrorized also by " the plane without a driver. " These are the drones that continuously circle camps and cities, sounding like a mosquito that will not leave ones ear. He says, " We are going crazy. " Since his house was demolished he lived for a few days in his restaurant, but it was shot at so often the family could not stay. Now he sleeps in the kitchen of a friend's house with his wife. The children sleep in an office area. His daughter wets her bed every night and most often cannot sleep. This is consistant behavior now in most Palestinian children, according to Palestinian human rights organizations in Rafah and Khan Younis.
The Israeli soldiers continue to shoot into this area of Rafah, Block O, not far from Salahadeen Gate, every night. The houses that still stand are uninhabitable. In one night 75 houses were demolished, in another 6, and another 50. According to the Municipality of Rafah, over 50 Palestinians were killed here last week.
The head of the Water Municipality in Rafah tells me that it is ironic that the name of the area means peace. He says it should be changed to war. A pile of gray cement, once a family's home, sits next to the street. Directly in front is a small white tent. This is where the family now lives. There is no furniture, no clothes, no family pictures. They are all somewhere under the rubble. Each day at least 6 Palestinian homes are demolished, except Saturday which is a holiday for Israelis.
In the Block O area of Rafah, Israeli soldiers in armoured bulldozers, tanks, and cranes, bulldoze homes and dig into the ground. They are buliding a wall, 8 metres high and 10 metres deep, between Rafah Egypt and Rafah Palestine. This area was divided in 1982 based on the Camp David Accords. A small group of international activists stood between Israeli tanks and two Palestinians in straw hats so that the workers could unclog the sewage lines. If it rains again, the area will be flooded.
The cleanest water for the Palestinians in Rafah comes from a well in Tela Sultan, an area in the western part of Rafah, close to the Israeli settlements which take most of the water. The area is unsafe. Israeli soliders shoot at the children who play in the sand. Water that comes from outside is diverted by Israel for its own agriculture in the Negev Desert. The head of the Water Municipality in Rafah says that the severe water shortage is because of Israeli policy. " If they didn't take our water, there would be enough for us. " The population of Rafah is 130,000.
Permission has been granted to Palestinians by Israel to repair some of the buildings in its airport, destroyed by the Israeli military last year. They will not give permission to rebuild the runway.
At the Tufah checkpoint between Khan Younis camp, where residents are described as " people with nothing left to lose, " and Mawasi, where I am told that " the life is dead, " 300 people waited for the fourth day to pass by heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Some soliders sat in a sniper tower while two others played, running and jumping in the sun. Clearly they were not afraid of the Palestinians carrying heavy bags of rice and hauling water. Soldiers sitting in the sniper towers next to the checkpoint spent the afternoon shooting at three buildings, already destroyed. The area was quiet only when the soldiers took their lunch break. I was implored by a small girl, 10 years old with freckles, to squat on the ground in order to avoid being shot.
In the morning the ground flooded with rain while Palestinians had to wait for the checkpoint to go home. The water dried, leaving dust and intense heat while the people continued to wait. Just beyond is the Mediterranean, flanked by palm trees. This is unreachable for Palestinians, even if they eventually make it through the checkpoint. On this day, 10 women in 2 groups of 5, were allowed through. Hundreds, tired, fed-up, afraid, were not allowed to go home again. They had to turn around and leave the area because the Israeli soldiers shoot throughout the night.
Families are harvesting their olives in the interior villages of the Gaza Strip. Any trees near Israeli soldiers and settlements have been demolished.
The dusty streets of Rafah were crowded today with children coming home from school and people going to and from work. Retaining infrastructure is impossible so the streets are just dirt, there is no where to put the garbage, and most of the water is undrinkable for Palestinians. They are living their lives while being forced into a smaller space each day, squeezed by Israel until there is no where left to go.