Update from the battlefields

Dispatches from Nablus and Jenin.

THE FOLLOWING are recent posts from Kristen Schurr, 33, a former Seattle Weekly editorial assistant now in the West Bank as part of a delegation from the International Solidarity Movement. The internationals are in the Middle East to be nonviolent witnesses to the Israeli occupation and to show solidarity through their presence, protests, rebuilding, and tree planting. To read more about Kristen's experience read our original story, "A Rumor of War," April 11.

APRIL 27, 2002

Corporate media have been reporting that Israeli soldiers are pulling out of the West Bank. This, as two-thirds of Hebron is currently occupied by Israeli tanks and soldiers, just as Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, and Ramallah have been and still are. Tanks and soldiers surround Jenin and Nablus and remain inside Bethlehem and Ramallah. Yasir Arafat is still trapped, and more than 200 Palestinians remain hostages at the hands of Israeli soldiers surrounding the Church of the Nativity. Still no medical relief or food is being allowed in.

Twenty more tanks rolled into Hebron two days ago—devastation like we have seen throughout the West Bank is imminent for Hebron. The area to its south is also fully occupied following a pattern similar to the Israeli incursions of the last month.

In the midst of the rubble of Jenin, Palestinians devastated beyond the point of tears continue to search for the limbs of family members in the ruins that were once their homes. Hearing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell argue against using the term "massacre" seems a cruel joke; undetonated explosives litter the camp and doctors fear epidemic disease. Many Palestinians from Jenin who were arrested, then tortured at the Salem checkpoint have returned to the camp—with bruised and broken limbs—to search for their families.

Israeli soldiers are reporting that their orders for Jenin were to put bullets in the windows of all Palestinian homes, making the (public relations) spin that only the homes of fighters were targeted even more painful. Many Palestinians say the situation is "like Kafka." Some Israeli soldiers are also admitting that they did not allow Palestinians to leave their homes before they were bulldozed. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to forbid the United Nations fact-finding commission from entering the camp. F-16s still fly overhead.

Nablus is a disaster area, and the targeted infrastructure is beginning to be repaired by Palestinians, but Israeli tanks and troops surround the city, making deliveries difficult. Ambulances, medics, and doctors are still being targeted and the water supply is contaminated. The number of dead in the Old City of Nablus and within its camps is in the hundreds, but remains officially uncountable as of yet, just as in Jenin.

The Palestinians of Jenin continue to resist the U.S.-sponsored seige by marking "return to sender" on U.S. emergency aid. The network of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations will announce on Saturday that they stand in solidarity with this act of resistance to continued colonialism and massacre and will refuse to accept any U.S. emergency aid as well.

Sharon is going ahead with his plan to put an electric fence around the illegal Israeli settlements of Jerusalem and continues to confiscate Palestinian land and demolish homes. He is also fomenting support in the U.S. and Europe to move the Green Line in by eight miles around the West Bank. Palestinians say Sharon and President Bush continue to turn the de facto apartheid into a political agreement.

While Palestinians do resist with their hearts, the demoralization of the brutal 54-year occupation is evident. As one Gaza resident told me, "We are dead people who are just breathing."

Many do not believe that Sharon or the Zionists have deviated from their original plan dating back to 1897, which would leave nothing of Palestine. This seems evident as United Nations resolutions, including 242 and 338, and the Fourth Geneva Convention are dishonored by Israel and the U.S. Bethlehem is being surrounded by settlements in order to cut it and East Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank. Even after 58 percent of the land in the West Bank was confiscated in 1967, illegal settlements and settler-only roads are being built; homes, olive trees, and lives are still being destroyed.

NABLUS, PALESTINE APRIL 16, 2002

I've been sitting with a 15-year-old girl, a volunteer for the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), under a grapefruit tree in Nablus. Earlier today, about 25 internationals and six Palestinian UPMRC workers, including three medics, a doctor, the girl sitting with me, and her 16-year-old friend, were attacked by Israeli soldiers.

After a sleepless night due to heavy tank shelling and the unceasing mosquito buzz of Apaches and their missile fire into the nearby Askar refugee camp, we attempted to deliver food aid by foot to the camp on the east side of Nablus that has been held under curfew by the Israeli military for 14 days. Communication with some inside the camp reveals an absence of food, clean water, medical treatment, and electricity.

Although we have been told that the press is reporting a quieting in Nablus, and we have heard [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon say that Nablus is no longer a closed military zone, we were unable to pass the Israeli tank and armored personnel carrier (APC) that confronted us two kilometers from the camp. The Israeli soldier atop the tank shouted, "This is a closed military zone," and said if we did not retreat, he would be forced to shoot us. A few soldiers took warning shots, and a hidden sniper shot and hit metal pieces near us. Although our only fear is of the Israeli military, the soldier atop the tank told us it was very dangerous to be here. He kept shouting he would have no choice but to shoot us.

We turned back, passing the Balata refugee camp, where earlier we delivered a bit of food aid to the camp that is brimming with garbage and open sewage. Many of the 22,000 residents of Balata fear epidemic disease because of the lack of garbage removal due to the curfew. One bulldozed home inside the camp was pointed out as belonging to a man who is being held by Israeli soldiers inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Some news reports indicate that Sharon will not stop terrorizing Bethlehem any time soon.

As we passed Balata on our way back to the UPMRC center here in Nablus, we were shot at by Israeli snipers near Jacob's Well, where, I am told, the prophet Jacob dove into the well.

The 15-year-old girl is still sitting with me, sometimes resting her head on my shoulder. She was among the six Palestinian medical relief workers and 25 internationals who were then confronted by an APC, several soldiers, and a tank.

We were detained, not allowed to return to the UPMRC—a five-minute walk away—for three hours. In total, seven tanks, four APCs, about 30 soldiers, and two Israeli police jeeps surrounded us. As I attempted to negotiate between an Israeli lawyer via cell phone and an Israeli soldier, the soldiers attacked us. They tried to force the internationals to separate from the Palestinians. We refused and were beaten and thrown to the ground. A French man was stomped in the face by an Israeli boot. A British boy was kicked in the head, and another dragged through the street and beaten by three soldiers. I was attacked for being on the cell phone telling the lawyer what was happening. Soldiers screamed at me and charged, grabbing at the two phones in my hands, knocking me against a wall, and twisting my fingers around and back. The soldiers smashed our cameras and exposed our film. They do not want anyone to know what is happening here. (A few days ago in Taiba, a group of activists was denied entry via an Israeli checkpoint because, the soldiers said, "you might be a group of journalists.") Many other internationals were brutalized with rifle butts, boots, and fists.

But this does not compare to the brutality suffered by the Palestinians. The doctor and medics were kicked in the face and all over the body, punched in the head, stomach, and legs, and dragged across the dusty and gravely street. They were handcuffed with plastic cuffs and thrown facedown in the dirt. They were kicked and bloodied further and then forced to face a metal wall while kneeling, hands behind their backs in the tight plastic cuffs, with Israeli guns pointed at their heads execution style. We were sitting on the two Palestinian girls to keep them safe from the soldiers, who had stopped beating the internationals by then. The girl sitting beside me now was crying, rightfully fearing for her life. The soldiers could not kill all of the internationals without repercussions, and we assume they knew we would tell what had happened, so they allowed us to negotiate the release of the Palestinians.

Although the soldiers continued to try to separate us, we refused. They ordered us to get our bags and leave Nablus. The Israeli soldiers said they did not want us to mingle with the Palestinians, and that we were unwelcome in Nablus, a Palestinian city where eight ambulance drivers and medics have recently been killed by soldiers who target them. The Israeli soldiers currently terrorizing Nablus are, I am told, a specially trained group usually used to carry out assassinations in Hebron.

A group of French people complied with the evacuation order and was escorted out of town at gunpoint. The rest of us, about 11 internationals, stood in solidarity with the Palestinians. A soldier told me that if we were with the Palestinians, then we were under curfew—another form of humiliation and terror for the Palestinians that leads to starvation, illness, and death—and were not to leave the UPMRC [center]. Often in Palestine, the Israelis will lift the curfew in certain parts of a town for a couple hours, but shoot people anyway when they leave their houses. On cell phone, I spoke with a reporter for Reuters living in Nablus. He confirmed news reports that his colleague, a Palestinian photographer also working for Reuters, had been arrested and his press credentials torn up. He is not allowed, as a Palestinian journalist, to be in the streets and tell the story, either.

When the brutalized Palestinian medics, doctors, volunteers, and the internationals returned to the UPMRC, we cut off their plastic handcuffs and they treated their wounds as well as ours. One, the doctor, was energized by the day, dishing out rice and yogurt for dinner as if we were at a party. He said, "We showed them. They know now. We are in solidarity."

JENIN REFUGEE CAMP APRIL 24, 2002

An International Relief worker briefed me yesterday on how to identify undetonated explosives, and the Palestinian explosives expert I snuck into Jenin with has given me a crash course in disarming them. Three small children were hospitalized after coming across a live tank shell yesterday, and one died. For an hour, I heard an explosion every five minutes. There have been at least 14 serious injuries in the past couple of days due to mines, booby traps, and discarded explosives left behind by Israeli soldiers. The relief worker described the camp as a minefield.

Many Palestinian families are terrified that their homes have been booby trapped by the soldiers who occupied them during the invasion over the past two weeks. Much of the camp is a dusty rubble pile that was once many homes. People wander through the ruins; some sit and stare. The mosque, which has a kindergarten in the basement, has been desecrated and [it is covered] by bullet holes. Most of the homes that were occupied by Israeli soldiers are still partially standing but are ruined. In one, the mother's lipstick was used to draw Stars of David on the mirrors. The soldiers blew out the door and, I am told, handcuffed two family members to the railing, where they were beaten. In the living room, there are bullet holes everywhere; a pile of children's clothes is partially burned. Tin cans from soldiers' food litter the floor, as does excrement and the belongings of the Palestinian family. The beds are broken and soiled. The children's toys are dismembered. The mother handed my American friend the head of a doll and said "Thanks for what you've done."

I met with a student yesterday who laughed and cried and shouted while he told me that his friend's mother had lost her mind. He told me she watched her son die, handcuffed and blown to bits by a tank shell. He was shaking and said, "A tank against one guy with no gun." He also congratulated me, an American. He said, "Congratulations for ruining my home, my life, for killing my mother, my brother, and five of my friends." He looked at me and said: "And you call me a terrorist."

Free Palestine.

Kristen Schurr

info@seattleweekly.com

 
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