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Home arrow Resources arrow CanPalNet Publications arrow Report Back from the West Bank
Report Back from the West Bank PDF Print E-mail
Jun 23, 2003 at 11:53 PM

Destroyed civil administration buildings in Hebron
Destroyed civil administration buildings in Hebron

Two CanPalNet Members spoke at a public event after nearly 3 months in the West Bank. The venue which was rented cancelled the contract at the last minute, saying the event was too political. After much discussion, the board relented and let the event continue. Read the report on the West Bank by Katagiri below, and Canpalnet's statement about the cancellation and reversal which was read out at the event. Photographs by Cindy Reeves.

Israeli soldier checks Omar's ID in Hebron
Israeli soldier checks Omar's ID in Hebron

Report by Pat Katagiri

I could give you facts and figures about the Intifada and the Occupation - but facts and figures don't really convey what life is really like in the West Bank and Gaza.

To help you understand I'd ask you to imagine yourself there.

You're a Palestinian man, in your late 30's. You're unemployed, as are 50-60% of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. You live in Hares, a village in the Northwest that's surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. You used to work at Barqan, an industrial complex that was built on land expropriated from your village, but since the Intifada began most of the villagers who used to work there have been let go. There's no work for you in Israel, like there used to be, or at the illegal settlement - Ariel - so close to you, you see it from your bedroom window. It was built on part of your own family's land.

Hebron under 'curfew'
Hebron under 'curfew'

Your wife's a teacher, but does only substitute work because there are too many teachers and not enough teaching jobs. She's been laid off anyway and went to the collect her belongings from the school today. It's not in the village - she works in Salfit, the nearest town, 8 kilometres away.

She's taking your daughter, even though there's school today. Your daughter used to love school but often doesn't want to go now. The school in Hares has bars on the windows because the Israeli army threw tear gas and sound bombs into it almost every school day last year.

It should take about 10 minutes to get to Salfit by car if she could use the bypass roads, but they were made for settlers only. No Palestinian can use them. So it'll take her two hours or more to get there. Unless the Israeli police or military stop the taxi or sérvice, which happens often, and then it could take all morning.

You walk with her to the roadblock at the entrance to the village. There are soldiers there today. That's not unusual, but they're taking everyone's photograph. No one knows why. If you refuse to allow them to take your picture or even question why, you may get arrested. Humiliated and angry, you let them do it.

Yanun villagers take a stand as Israeli settlers walk through the village.
Yanun villagers take a stand as Israeli settlers walk through the village.
She remembers the Israeli settlers that terrorized her home in Yanun.
She remembers the Israeli settlers that terrorized her home in Yanun.

Your wife climbs over the roadblock, takes a taxi at the other side - which drives to another roadblock, she walks over that, gets into another taxi. She'll change taxis three times before she gets to her school. She'll pay 2-5 shekels each time - 80¢ - $1.25.

There are roadblocks at every entrance or exit to your village - you can't drive your car anywhere except on the old rutted agricultural roads. But you can't afford to buy gas for the car, so it doesn't really matter. Your mother would like to go to Nablus, 30 kilometres away. It was a place she loved to visit. She's in her eighties and hasn't been there for two years. To get there you'd have to go through Huwarra checkpoint - pure hell at the best of times.

You walk back to your home. You see your neighbour sitting in his living room. He doesn't work either - but that's because he's paralyzed from the waist down. Two years ago, he was trying to get his brother's children to safety when soldiers entered the village. He was carrying his own two-month old child cradled in one arm. The soldier who shot him said he thought the baby was a bomb. Nothing happened to the soldier. No trial. No punishment.

This disabled man had been involved with peace activities since the beginning of the Intifada Many in the village had engaged in various forms of protest. The villages around Hares are extremely vulnerable to settler and military incursions. Many who were active at the beginning of the Intifada are in prison or have been injured.

Your neighbour's brother lives beside him and has two children, one 20-21, the other 2 years old. It's unusual for Palestinian families to have such a wide gap in children's ages, but this man spent 18 years in prison for opposing the occupation. He was released in 1999.

This depressed new mother said her husband is being held in a detention centre.
This depressed new mother said her husband is being held in a detention centre.

Your oldest son's in prison now. He's 17 and was arrested in February. He was in his last term of high school, at the top of his class, about to take his tawjihi - high school finals. The military will tell you nothing about him. You found out he's in Qedumim prison because Hamoked - an Israeli NGO that tracks prisoners, found out for you. There are no charges against your son. No one can visit him. Not you. Not your wife.

The night they arrested him -actually it was 2:00 o'clock in the morning - they threw your family into the street. It was a cold, wet night and no one was given time to get properly dressed. The soldiers made you go back into the house with them and search it for god knows what. Then they tied your oldest son's hands behind his back with plastic ties and made him walk in his pajamas through the street, as all of the neighbours watched, to where a jeep and soldiers waited to take him away.

It's winter. You go to the nearest store to get a few things. But there's almost nothing on the shelves. The entire West Bank had been shut down for the past four days. Complete closure. You're really tired of eating the same old thing. You can't buy much anyway - but you don't want anyone to know that. Would die if anyone knew that. You just want to make sure your kids eat at this point, although you know they're not eating what they need. You've already seen the signs of malnutrition in other kids on the street. You're afraid to acknowledge the same signs in the faces of your own children.

Your family lost a lot of land to the settlements around Haris, so what you have left is more important than ever. Working it is your main source of income now. You had to get help last fall harvesting your olives because settlers from Immanuel settlement shot at you and your family when you tried to harvest them.

You're waiting to see if you'll have any land left when the security fence - or Apartheid Wall - is built. Your friend who lives in Mas'ha, a village near Hares, used to have 140 dunums - 25 acres. He lost 80 to Elkana settlement and now 50 to the Apartheid Wall. Mas'ha village will lose 97% of its land. The 10 dunums your friend has left will be on one side of the wall and his home on the other. He'll have to ask for permission to enter it.

The wall will be electrified, with barbed wire and security cameras. Or concrete - 8 metres high with watchtowers and soldiers keeping guard with shoot to kill orders for anyone entering the no man's land in front of it.

You gather the dead branches that the wind has broken off of your olive trees and set up the small, portable wood stove that you bring from inside your home. Your wife comes back and both of you sit down in front of the fire and drink tea. Many people are outside on this late afternoon, enjoying a rare day of sunshine. Many have had the same idea as you and there are small wood fires burning in front of every other door. A neighbour comes over when he sees you both sitting there and you sit together, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes until the sunlight lasts.

He tells you about the plans for the protest peace camp against the Apartheid Wall in Mas'ha, and how the women's committee there is looking into starting up a collective business. Anything to keep their families going and their feet on the land.

That's part of what life is like under occupation.

  • I met the family of the unemployed man near the Hares roadblock
  • two of the taxi drivers are Eyad, and flying Mohammed
  • the disabled person is Issa
  • the man who was in prison is Nawaf
  • the boy who was in prison is Salman
  • the farmer in Mas'ha is Najeh

Slippers made from a detention centre sleeping mat.
Slippers made from a detention centre sleeping mat.

The International Women's Peace Service was formed last year. IWPS goes into areas of conflict, where there are massive, violent, human rights abuses occurring. An apartment was set up in Hares village in August, 2002. It has a population between 3500-4000. It's surrounded by settlements - Ariel is the biggest, built on Hares land - population 20,000. There are 4 teams of 4 women who live and work there with the help of volunteers.

In Hares
  • we provide what protection we can against settler and soldier incursions in our area and sometimes work with ISM (International Solidarity Movement) or CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams)
  • we work on campaigns - with NGO's - such as Defence of Children International who work to free child prisoners - such as of Ali Tawfiq - his parents are interviewed in the Right to Education video
  • we produce resource materials, documentaries. We are presently doing a video on the apartheid wall
  • we document on and report what we see - events general and specific - arrests, home demolitions, incident reports
  • we do advocacy work - mostly centered around the needs of prisoners and their families, but also related to particular needs of families in the village.
  • we join with Israeli and Palestinian peace initiatives - against the Apartheid Wall.
  • we offer IWPS as a centre for organizing peace efforts in the region
  • we provide a permanent presence in other villages that are vulnerable to soldier or settler violence - like Yanoun and Qarawat Bani Zeid - please refer to our website for reports

The Hares project will provide a working model and a foundation for the development of a much wider International Women's Peace Service that will provide Peace Teams to actively serve in other areas where there are massive, violent, human rights abuses occurring.

What did I do?

We tried to get children like Salman freed.

I went to meetings with Nawaf and Ta'ayush - a joint Israeli Palestinian peace group - Nawaf is one of the founders.

I stayed many days and nights in the peace camp against the apartheid Wall at Mas'ha with Najeh, other Palestinians, Israeli and International activists - and helped to organize activities there.

I did checkpoint duty regularly at Huwarra. There I witnessed the arbitrary arrests, physical violence, crimes against humanity meted out by the Israeli military day in and day out.

We gave out bread and water to people under curfew in Jenin - with ISM activists.

My team member rode in ambulances in Jenin in order to make sure the sick and injured got medical treatment.

We tried to prevent the kids from Jenin camp from being killed during curfew - two were killed -one 12, one 14, before we got there. We attended their funerals.

One week after we left , Bryan Avery was shot in the face for doing the same sort of peace work we were doing.

I went to Madama village after the town was invaded first by a settler - shooting up the place, then by soldiers doing the same thing. I tried to get them legal help when their olive groves were subsequently slated for destruction.

An IWPS volunteer, Laura and I went to Jama'in in the middle of the night - driven by Eyad - who placed his life at risk to do so - to try to prevent a house demolition.

I went to Hebron to see the ladder lady who you'll see in the Right to Education video and find out how the people of Hebron attempted to teach their kids despite curfews, closures, settler harassment and military incursions into their schools. I met Zeleka, a translator that I had met in 1991 and was devastated to see how more of the old city has been closed down. We came to Hebron on the day families received bags of food from the Red Cross and it broke my heart to witness that.

I went to Yanoun - a beautiful village - with another team member - Nijmie. Settlers from Itamar are threatening to expel the 16 families who still live there. I was given food and shelter from people who had nothing.

I worked with lawyers to help get Internationals out of jail or prevent them from being deported. Their crimes - being witnesses to what was happening in West Bank. and participating in nonviolent Palestinian resistance.

I helped to deal with the some of legal fallout after Rachel Corrie's death, Tom Hurndall's and Bryan Avery's shootings. Dunya, Laura and I helped dismantle roadblocks in Tulkarem with ISM and local political and community groups- on two wonderful days - one organized strictly by the women's groups there.

We also participated in IWD day with the same women's groups and ISM.

And on the night before IWD we kept watch with ISM in Tulkarem camp at night as jeeps, tanks, and apcs rolled around in the dark looking for any excuse to attack.

We worked with women's groups, local political and community organizations on a regular basis as needs arose.

We worked with the same groups to help prepare for what might happen to us during the war with Iraq.

* * * * *

I wasn't going to say anything more than this, but the circumstances surrounding this meeting tonight - the cancellation of our booking of this room and the reversal of that decision - warrant saying something more.

The apartheid regime of South Africa attempted to sell political, social and economic injustice to the world.

But it was a hard sell ultimately.

The illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is different.

Many of us in this room are activists. We can be clear about many things, try to see the injustices around us and act. The injustice the Palestinians experience isn't quite the same somehow. The issue gets clouded.

"Israel is a democracy" - how can it treat the Palestinians as badly as I say?

"The Palestinians live as they do, act as they do - because they're not like us - they don't know about human rights, democracy."

"You can't criticize Israel - you're anti-Semitic or you're helping give rise to anti-Semitism. Israel is the victim."

"The Palestinians, the Arabs want to push the Israelis into the sea."

That final statement will still be said as the last Palestinian is driven off their land.

I don't know what my telling you what it's like will do to change anything.

I can say it's bad for the Palestinians over there and talk about how and why the illegal 36-year occupation is the cause. You'll understand it, maybe feel it in your heart, go home

But you have to live your life here and when you think about Israel/Palestine there's always that something, that feeling that the Palestinian cause isn't as clear as the injustice of South African apartheid, the occupation of East Timor. We have to act, but with caution. Besides, how do we get involved? Are we the real stakeholders - a word that I hate - in this struggle?

A few days ago I was listening to a radio interview on the CBC about the 'Road Map' and the peace process. They'd invited a Palestinian woman who's living in Canada, someone from the Canadian Jewish Congress, and a woman from Jerusalem, a journalist or academic, to comment.

I wondered why a Canadian, an ordinary Canadian, wasn't asked to participate.

If the anti-apartheid struggle was still being waged wouldn't they invite one of the many Non-South Africans in Canada who took up that struggle?

Why is it that somehow this issue belongs to only certain constituencies?

Internationals like myself work in solidarity with the Palestinians - both in Canada and in the West Bank and Gaza. We do it, I do it at least, for reasons that encompass more than a recognition of the particular injustice I have outlined here. I do it because I also think I'm fighting against militarization, I'm fighting against war, I'm fighting for the right of indigenous people everywhere, I'm fighting against globalization, I'm fighting for women's rights.

When you live with Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza the injustice they suffer is clear.

It's not the kind of oppression that seeks to exploit you forever - or oppresses the groups around you a little bit more than yourself. It's always crystal clear to a people when your occupier wants to destroy your society.

Israel is really up-front about it - to the Palestinians.

Because it can lie about it to the rest of the world and get away with it.

Do we think as Canadians it has nothing to do with us?

Canada has a free trade agreement with Israel.

Canada runs interference for the US and Israel on the world stage when it's being denounced by human rights organizations or abstains or joins the US in support of Israel when UN resolutions sanction Israel for what it's doing. Canada has aligned itself with Israeli and US interests in the Middle East to exploit those relationships where it can.

Whether we like it or not, know it or not, it has something to do with us. The past histories and present fate and future of the people I've talked about are all connected to yours.

Pat Katagiri spent 2 ½ months working with the International Women's Peace Service (IWPS) in Hares. Katagiri is one of CanPalNet's founders. Cindy Reeves spent time with her "second family" whom she met while a student at Birzeit University in 1993. She wanted to see how Palestinian life had changed in the decade since the "peace process" began. With IWPS, Reeves acted as a deterrent to settler actions against the village of Yanoun and worked on a photo project depicting daily Palestinian life.

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ISM’s response to the Rachel Corrie trial verdict
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is deeply concerned by the verdict of Judge Oded Gershon that absolved Israel’s military and state of the 2003 murder of American ISM activist Rachel Corrie. Rachel was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the American administration stating that the Israeli military investigation had not been "thorough, credible and transparent" and the Israeli government withholding key video and audio evidence, Judge Gershon found no fault in the investigation or in the conclusion that the military and state were not responsible for Rachel’s death. Judge Gershon ruled  that Rachel was to blame for her own murder and classifies her non-violent attempt to prevent war crimes as proof that Rachel was not a “thinking person".

By disregarding international law and granting Israeli war criminals impunity Judge Gershon’s verdict exemplifies the fact that Israel’s legal system cannot be trusted to administer justice according to international standards.The ISM calls on the international community to hold Israel accountable by supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and continuing to join the Palestinian struggle in the occupied Palestinian territories.