Under the Occupation 

Palestine: It’s HELL / John Reese, Kristen Ess

1) Palestine: It’s HELL by John Reese
2) Reinvaded Bethlehem by Kristen Ess
3) This morning in Aida Refugee Camp by Kristen Ess

Palestine: It's HELL

John Reese

As I sit here in my office there are guns and explosions going off around me. Bethlehem is being re-re-re-re-invaded and more houses are, once again, threatened to be blown up by the Israeli Occupation Force. Three homes were blown up yesterday and five more today. Nablus is under curfew with more houses occupied then any time in the 6 months that I have been here (somewhere around 50 homes). Gaza is recovering from its latest bombing attack. Twelve homes where we were hoping to get people (if we had enough) have all been blown up. Five people were killed in Tulkarem on Thursday including one 12 year-old boy. Yesterday morning a friend of mine was shot in the leg by the IOF in Jenin refugee camp when she went to check on children being shot at by the IOF. An hour earlier an 11 year-old child had been shot and killed. And all the usual continues - the property confiscation, the beatings, the restrictions on travel, the humiliating treatment at checkpoints, etc....

As I prepare to leave Palestine and begin my tour in the US I only hope that as I go from city to city I can light some fire in people. Perhaps something that I say or pictures that I show will motivate people to come here. At the same time I wonder why on earth would anyone want to come here? It is, as my soon to be seventh month of being here can attest, HELL here. I have smelled death, seen the injured, been shot at, seen people kicked and beaten and seen the bodies of those killed. I have lived with sewage, piles of garbage, drank and bathed in contaminated water, been shoved and attacked by soldiers, been harassed and suffered their attempts at humiliation directed at me. Mostly though I have felt helpless - helpless as I hear the stories of humiliation, beatings, death and destruction.

I do have hopes though. I hope that the nonviolent direct action movement expands - both within the Palestinians and in the number of internationals that come. I believe that Palestine is ripe for a nonviolent direct action movement. I can see it slowly growing and there is hope it will get bigger and more organized - and of course more effective. It is these hopes that motivates me to return here after my tour of the US. I truly believe that we can make a difference here.

I have no doubt that our presence here has reduced the number of homes destroyed, the children beaten and the people killed. We have helped children get to school, taken food to those in occupied homes, made sure that water could be transported to those villages without, ridden in ambulances, and escorted sick and elderly across checkpoints. None of this would have happened without an international presence. Had we not been here quite the contrary would have happened.

It is not really that anyone would WANT to come here. They have to be motivated. Something has to move them. It is something they hear from someone who has been here or perhaps it is something that they see. For me, I had just had enough of the US government trying to annihilate more people. Even though the weapons that we sell to Israel are only supposed to be used in defense I don't see how any of what they do is defensive. It is not the Israeli Defense Force but an illegal Israeli Occupation Force, supplied by a country that knows exactly what it is doing - getting someone else to annihilate more people so they can maintain their planetary-wide control. So I had to come here to speak out about what our government is doing and try to reduce the effect of our government's misguided policies.

Sometimes I think fleetingly after a demo or seeing some form of injustice, " well tonight I'll go home and watch some TV and escape. " But I have no TV and at best I must walk through the garbage heaps and step over sewage running through the streets. At worst I will see someone being shot or beaten or a home blown up or a tank firing into a crowd of men, women and children.

I only hope that while I am gone someone will be here to help keep their lands from being taken, their homes from being destroyed. I hope that those whom I have met will still be alive when I return. I hope that somehow I can motivate you to come here and help. Can you hear the call? Please answer it by coming to Palestine. If you can't come maybe you can help send someone here. Maybe you can help fund me for my next trip here or others that are willing to come. For the sake of the men, women and children of Palestine won't you please help put an end to this HELL?

For pictures from Palestine go to: http://www.seattlecan.org/">http://www.seattlecan.org/ To call me from the US: 011 972 67 479 167, 011 972 59 307 081 or 011 972 52 693 433. From Palestine: 067 479 167, 059 307 081 or 052 693 433

The real threat comes not from the bullets of the occupying force but from

those who do not want the truth to be told.

Reinvaded Bethlehem

26 November 2002

The occupying Israeli army forces Palestinians to sit in their homes, trapped for days on end. Here in Bethlehem it has only been five days. In Nablus it has been months. Schools, shops, everything, is closed. A woman went to Ramallah for school one day. She is still there, but her school is closed. She cannot return home. She lives in Bethlehem's Aida Refugee Camp. Another woman is having a baby alone. Her husband went to Ramallah for work and has not been able to return. It is impossible to leave. It is impossible to get out. Israeli soldiers pound on the doors of homes and families jump up. If they do not open the door quickly enough, the soldiers will break them down or start shooting. The Israeli soldiers tramp through the homes in boots and helmets, wearing army gear and carrying M-16s. They shove the guns into old men's stomachs and demand identification. The families scramble to prove that the Israeli government has legitimized their existence. The children cry and the entire family is ordered out of their homes. Israeli soldiers hold guns to their heads and make them stand against walls in their own streets. Some are made to lie on the ground.

Hours pass. It's raining. Israeli soldiers eat candy bars and chit-chat with one another. The families are not allowed to speak. It becomes dark. The Israeli soldiers blindfold some of the Palestinians and bind their hands. They throw them into the back of jeeps. The Palestinians are on their way to Israeli administrative detention. They are held without charge for three months, for questioning. This means interrogation and torture. The torture, I am told by friends who have survived it, involves being bound to small chairs while beaten or made to stand on tip-toes with their hands cuffed high up on walls for days on end. They are hit and screamed at. Some are made to " confess " to " crimes. " Many allude to sexual assault. No one will tell me exactly what has happened to them. They look down and say they want to forget. Some smile, their eyes turn bright and wet, and say, " this is the life. "

The Israeli military has reinvaded Bethlehem and has put all West Bank Area A under curfew. Area A, under Oslo, is what Palestine was " given " sovereignty over. During the night the soldiers drive through the camp shouting from a loud-speaker, " All families in Aida Camp, you are under curfew. You are not allowed to leave your homes. " Who is this arrogant occupying army and why are they allowed to exist. The Israeli soldiers call out, " Al-Akbar, " which is part of the call to prayer for the Muslims in the camp, at all hours. They laugh and shout and gun the engines of the tanks. During the day families sit inside their homes. They cannot cross the street to see friends, or if the Israeli soldiers have entered the camp while they have dared outside, they are stuck for days in a friend's house. A man this morning opened his front door to check on the new house he is building across the alley. He was grabbed by Israeli soldiers who demanded his I.D. They told him if he is " caught " outside again he will go to the prison. This is a Palestinian refugee camp whose resident's original homes were already taken by the government and residents of Israel. They are not allowed into the narrow alleyways that pass for streets here.

A woman whose husband has been exiled to Gaza is pulled from her home with her three small children. They are made to stand outside all day and are made to feel grateful when they are allowed to go back inside their house, which has become a jail cell.

The Israeli " Defense " Minister is calling this " Operation Step By Step. " He tells the press, " we are just getting started. " He says the Israeli military will stay inside of Bethlehem until the Israeli elections in January. The Israeli military came into Bethlehem the night before the suicide bombing in Al-Quds. Now they use it as their excuse for being here.

A Palestinian journalist was arrested yesterday, and the Israeli soldiers stole his video tapes. This is part of the continued assault on the truth. International media has reported that the Israeli's are using " restraint. " This is an illegal occupying army and government. The Israeli military is shooting children with rubber bullets and tear-gas, beating and sometimes killing them. The Palestinians are using restraint. In resisting the continual Israeli occupation and this reinvasion, some people in this area throw stones. In this act of collective resistance, the spirit of the first Intifada is alive. Small children run after black smoke spitting tanks throwing stones which are really just bits of concrete they have taken from the rubble of their demolished homes. They build small road blocks with whatever they can find, garbage and an old tire. Many of these children will be put in prison, as has most everyone I know at one point or another. Throwing stones is the crime many were charged with that brought them five years in Israeli prisons during the first Intifada.

The Palestinian Authority police that came out of Oslo have largely been arrested now in Bethlehem. The Israeli government in its continual assault on Palestinian infrastructure does not believe in the right of the oppressed to have its own police force.

Abed Al-Ahmar, Amnesty International's " prisoner of conscience " from May 2001 through May 2002, was taken in the middle of the night. His family was held at gunpoint for two hours. His wife is the legal advisor to the U.N. Our friends who were there at the time tell me that the Israeli soldiers said he is not " wanted. " They just took him anyway.

Tanks are rumbling outside and a young man is peering out the window. Israeli soldiers have kidnapped over 50 Palestinians, adding them to the over 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners being illegally held in Israeli prisons. Israeli bulldozers have demolished many homes of family members of the " wanted. " Fear and resignation are palpable in this town. Old men are made to fear arrogant and heavily armed young boys who have the United States, Israel, and all who fear the US, behind them.

Kristen Ess

Stuck in Bethlehem,

Occupied Palestine

This morning in Aida Refugee Camp

27 November, 2002

The Israeli military still holds Bethlehem under curfew, despite Sharon benefactor Bush's dissembling demand to, " get out of Bethlehem now. " Soldiers went round to houses inside Aida Camp demanding names of all children in the families to add to their lists. Here in the camp all children are suspected of the crime of throwing stones at heavily armoured Israeli tanks that plow through their streets. Sometimes the tanks shoot at the little kids and their families, other times they come just to bully and threaten, to demonstrate that the Israeli military is in control.

For the sixth day, now approaching the last week of Ramadan, Palestinian Muslims cannot reach the mosque to pray. Israeli soldiers terrorized Deheisha Refugee Camp for the second night In a row. Well over fifty people were dragged from their homes the night before last and added to the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners sitting without charge in Israeli prisons. The count for last night is not in yet. Again today schools are closed. A friend considered studying for an exam last night, but instead closed his books and laughed. Another, one who limps because he was hit by Apache missile fire in April, is rehearsing for a play that now will only be performed inside the camp because getting out is not possible.

The general news so far today is: Israeli soldiers killed four people in Nablus. One was from Balata Refugee Camp, two were assassinated. Israeli soldiers killed two people in Jenin. One Palestinian died at Eretz Checkpoint near Gaza City. Apache missiles bombarded Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip. They destroyed a house and shot missiles into an empty school.

Kids are playing in the alley defying the Israeli imposed curfew that is meant to keep them trapped indoors for days on end. A man is yelling at his family. Israeli soldiers are gunning tank engines by the cemetery. The mosque is calling for prayer. An F-16 is flying overhead.

Now an Israeli military jeep is plowing down the dirt alley way shouting for curfew and kids are scrambling. A tank is following and has launched a sound bomb. Tear gas is coming through the window.

Kristen Ess