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Palestine – The Realities of Occupation

August 22, 2011

My understanding of the situation here has drastically changed over the last months. I think it would be fair to say that in my last blogg I may have gotten carried away with the whole excitement of living in Nablus, a city I was and still do find a great place to be. I stick with my assessment of the safe environment for tourists here and the truly great reasons to visit Palestine. However it may be said that due to my lack of understanding, experience and local knowledge, I may have been guilty of failing to properly emphasise the reality of what it means for Palestinians to live under occupation.

Many horrific events have unfolded in the past months, including the burning of village lands surrounding Nablus and other areas within the occupied West Bank carried out by Israeli settlers and aided by Israeli military, attacks on local farmers, the confiscation of agricultural equipment by Israeli military, demolitions of Palestinian homes and tragic killings of 3 young men in two separate incidents in Al Farraa and Qalandia refugee camps carried out again by Israeli military.

The burning of Palestinian agricultural land by Israeli settlers has become an almost daily occurrence in recent months. The settlers tend to set fire to dry grass land near the trees in order to spread the fire quickly across the agricultural land. The spreading of the fires is then aided by the Israeli military, who refuse Palestinian fire brigades access to the area in order to extinguish the fire. Live ammunition has been reported to have been fired at fire brigade vehicles and fire fighters as well as villagers, by both settlers and Israeli forces, when trying to extinguish these blazes.

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Video showing settler setting fire:

For those living in the villages around Nablus and throughout the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territories, harassment from settlers is not confined to the burning of fields. Within the last month at least four shepherds were attacked by settlers and a number of their sheep killed.

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Five separate incidents of settler violence on International observers have also been reported in the last 30 days, with one of the incidences reportedly consisting of two Internationals being beaten with metal crowbars as they attempted to protect a local shepherd.

A farmer in the Jordan Valley was victim to Israeli military harassment last month, when he was accused of ‘stealing water’ from a well. This ludicrous accusation resulted in the Israeli military confiscating the farmer’s tractor and water tank. The fact that the water tank was empty renders this accusation ridiculous enough. However that is only if you consider it possible for anyone to be able to ‘steal’ water in the first place. These wells are controlled by illegal Israeli settlements, ‘illegal’ being the important word here. How then is it possible for an illegal settlement to have legal control over the access to water in this area? After taking the farmers tractor and water tank, the Israeli military did not then take it to a designated military base or Police station as you might expect, they took this equipment to the nearby settlement. Why? Because these illegal settlements are often the places in which these military units are based.

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The issue of wells and access to the water they wield is one that affects many villages and refugee camps within the Palestinian Territories. Water wells essential to agriculture, amongst other needs in the region are constantly destroyed and pumping equipment confiscated by Israeli military forces. This affects thousands of Palestinians and often denies many of those who are affected of the only source of income available to them.

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House demolitions within the Jordan Valley and the Hebron hills have been on a sharp increase throughout 2011, with 103 residential structures being destroyed by Israeli forces, 33 of which were destroyed in the last month. Destroying these structures, which are predominantly made up of tin houses and tents has left 706 people homeless, 341 of which are children. The Israeli forces have deemed much of these areas as ‘firing zones’ and prohibited Palestinians from living in the area. However the Israeli government have not only failed to prevent illegal settler outposts and Israeli agricultural colonies in these areas, but have also provided them with much logistic and military support.

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In just the last six weeks, three young men have been killed by Israeli military within the West Bank. Ibrahim Serhan, a 21 year old student from Al Faraa refugee camp near Nablus, was shot in the early hours of 13th July as he left the mosque after morning prayers. The young student was on his way to meet his parents to say goodbye, as they were about to leave the camp on a trip to Mecca. Accompanied by his uncle, he made his way to the main street, walking approx 5-7 metres apart. On their way they encountered a group of Israeli soldiers in a narrow alley way. Not becoming aware of the soldiers presence until one of them shouted ‘stop’ in Hebrew, Ibrahim’s first reaction was to flee. His uncle being closer to the soldiers stopped and was arrested (he was released without charges approx 3 hours later). The soldiers pursued Ibrahim, who had turned left up a slightly wider street. The soldiers shot at Ibrahim reportedly missing; however another group of soldiers then engaged Ibrahim from a side street on his left hand side and shot Ibrahim in both legs with one bullet.

The bullet severed Ibrahim’s Femoral artery and he began to lose large amounts of blood. He managed to carry on running up the street, until due to his massive blood loss he collapsed outside a house. Israeli soldiers pursued Ibrahim and from one end of the street, reportedly began to fire at Ibrahim and other residents of the camp attempting to help him. He was then dragged around the corner, by other residents, out of the range of gunfire. Ibrahim was then carried to another house, where after following the blood trail the Israeli soldiers found Ibrahim and detained him. As he lay in a pool of blood, residents of the house pleaded with the Israeli soldiers to leave him where he lay until an ambulance arrived, however after providing ‘medical treatment’ in the form of breaking a leg from a wooden stool and tying it to his leg, they took Ibrahim from the house to another location in the camp. The ambulance arrived at the house to find Ibrahim had been moved and then had to divert to his new location with the military. The paramedics found Ibrahim in a semi conscious state, having suffered heavy blood loss. They report that Ibrahim’s leg had been tied with a bandage in an attempt to stem the blood but that he had not been supplied with the vital liquids he needed. Ibrahim tragically died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The paramedic reports that in his opinion, if Ibrahim had been provided with the appropriate medical assistance straight away he may have survived. Ibrahim’s family describe him as a caring person, who saw it his duty to help the family. His mother says that Ibrahim was the person who all of his sisters went to in order to tell their secrets. His Father describes him as ‘a real man.

The Israeli Military stated that Ibrahim had been shot during a ‘standard arrest procedure’. Within three weeks of Ibrahim’s killing, two more men were shot dead by Israeli soldiers when the military invaded Qalandia refugee camp near Ramallah. The day before the Holy month of Ramadan was to begin; local reports say that Mutasem Manasra a 22 year yeard old Law student and 23 year old Ali Khalifeh, were killed after Israeli soldiers began indiscriminately firing inside the confined streets of the refugee camp. Mutasem was reported to have been shot in the head and died instantly, whilst Khalifeh was shot three times in the chest as he sat in his car, he later tragically died in hospital. Another young man was seriously injured when he was shot by the Israeli military in the back. These killings were also said to have been carried out in what Israeli military describe as ‘standard arrest procedure’. However the Israeli military repeatedly refuse to publish its full engagement procedures, citing security concerns. These killings would seem to be direct violations of not only International and Human Rights law, but also Israeli rules of engagement. In the very little that has been published by Israel, it is seen that in 2006/2007 these guidelines explain that deadly force may only be used during an arrest if the suspect continues to pose a threat to soldiers after warning shots have been fired. The soldiers must also call for the suspect to stop both in Hebrew and Arabic. International law states that deadly force may be used against a person when they pose an imminent threat to life. How much of an imminent threat to life, did any of these 3 young men pose?

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This blog admittedly provides only a short summary of a small number of the horrors that Palestinians living in the occupied Territories face. Daily, outside the Palestinian Authority controlled cities, Palestinians face harassment, suffering and threat of violence and homelessness. An event I witnessed at Qalandia checkpoint which is the gate way for the few ‘lucky’ Palestinians who are permitted access to Jerusalem, for me summed up the daily humiliation and despair that must be felt by many. After being herded single file into tunnels made of metal bars, those who attempt to make the crossing are forced to wait for a ‘green light’ which then allows them to push the heavy metal turnstile in order to gain access to the next stage of the ‘security process’ which consists of emptying pockets and placing bags through a scanner, walking through a metal detector and then being interrogated by an often teenage Israeli soldier sitting behind security glass, whilst they have their ID’s checked. When the green light is illuminated it is often accompanied by these teenage soldiers shouting in Hebrew and Arabic for the person to hurry through the turnstiles.

When an elderly Palestinian woman, who was two places in front of me, started to make her way through these heavy turnstiles the teenage soldiers decided to stop the mechanics of the stile and render this elderly women stuck in between the bars for around 3 minutes. Standing their stuck in the middle of these bars holding her many bags of shopping the women made no attempt to struggle or shout for her release. It was as if this was all too common and she had an understanding that any protest would be in vain and could make matters worse. In the queue behind me, mumblings of distaste for what was happening rang out but again no one made a significant call for her release. I myself and my friend where instantly filled with anger and sympathy for the women but felt so intimidated by the environment and the fear of retribution evidently surrounding us, that we too felt helpless to do anything for the trapped women. Imagine just for one second that this was your mother or grandmother? Can you actually imagine what it would do to you not being able to put a stop to her humiliation? As a stranger it was completely agonising and filled you with a feeling of frustration and anger. However, still needing to assure your passage through the checkpoint you are forced to be at least civil if not pleasant to these soldiers who had just inflicted this humiliation on another human being right in front of you. This elderly woman being stuck was not an accident as instantly after she was released, my friend then attempted to walk through the turnstile with the soldiers again stopping the mechanics of the stile so that she would also become stuck. Luckily they left just about enough room for my friend to squeeze past and she was spared the same humiliation as the elderly women.

An incident such as this may possibly be viewed as ‘trivial’ when considered in the grand scheme of events that happen in the Occupied Territories. However for me it served to demonstrate the helplessness of Palestinian people when it comes to dealing with the occupying Israeli forces. Completely at their mercy, the course of a Palestinians day or indeed life can be determined simply on the mood, actions and feelings of a teenage man or women who happens to be a soldier in the Israeli military. Whether it be soldiers deciding to have a bit of ‘fun’ with a turnstile or firing live rounds upon unarmed civilians or demolishing the wells and homes of Palestinian families, the fate of the Palestinian people at this point in time would seem to rest firmly in the hands of their occupiers.

One Comment
  1. Carol Blakeborough permalink

    Thank you so much for this information, most of us are angry at what goes on but remain ignorant of the daily routine people are forced through.
    Keep up your good work and keep safe.
    Carol Blakeborough
    (friend of your Mum)

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