A Bullet Between Small Bones
A Jewish American says he was a human shield against advancing Israeli troops at a Palestinian camp near Bethlehem
Dispatches by Israeli and Palestinian Activists
An Israeli in Palestine
A Bullet Between Small Bones
I am so different than I was this morning.
The curfew lifted for the second day in a row from 9am to 3pm. Such is the state of oppression that to be permitted outdoors within a few square kilometer area during daylight feels like freedom.
I remember saying that it feels like they might loosen things up, that maybe they will let us out a period each day. Others agreed.
I needed a little release. As doors closed once again in the late afternoon, I did not go visiting friends or photographing. I stayed in my room, in want of some quiet. I put my Walkman on and ignored the tanks as they rolled in front of the camp.
They will come again, I thought as I debated whether or not I should be videotaping or sound recording. I would love a day off. It is so stressful here.
I listened to a dance mix tape that I bought when I ran errands in Bethlehem. I bought several tapes for the kids. The sound of shooting broke through the dance beat. I watched smoke rise above the camp. Curfew as usual.
I turned to stretch, to dance, and to move. My body aches from confinement in small spaces without the distance to go-
As a turned back toward the window, I witnessed something I had not seen so closely before: I saw soldiers taking two blindfolded men into a tank.
Several soldiers ran back into the camp, guns pointed. I decided to watch from the top floor.
As I got to a prime lookout window, I saw a group of soldiers coming down a pathway directly toward the Ibdaa center. They had two more captives, both blindfolded.
As I peeked out a window, a soldier saw me. He pointed his gun right at me. I pulled inside.
I went to another floor and tried to look out again. He saw me again, and pointed his gun. I went to my room. During the last curfew, they shot into the center with 50 foreigners staying here.
With some final blasts, I knew they sent tear gas spraying everywhere to mark their departure. Like the kids in the camp, I am able to identify some types of shooting and bullets.
Three small kids brought handfuls of dirt to quell the waning tear gas canister in the middle of the road.
I looked out my window to see a mother carrying her small boy into the UN clinic next door.
The boy was 5 years old. He was lying on the doctor's table crying. There was a bloody circle the size of a quarter in his forearm, near the bend. He was shot.
Yassir is the UN ambulance driver for Dheisheh camp. "Yalla, Smith,' he said to me. Let's go.
I got into the ambulance with the mother and child and headed to the Beit Jala hospital.
When the doctor showed me the x-ray, I thought the image of the article lodged in the boy's bones was somehow enhanced in size to help them see it better. I thought that an object that large could not have gotten into this small boy. It looked as if half of a cork was in his elbow.
When the boy was on the operating table, two doctors worked on him and one assistant held his legs down. His mother held him and stroked his other arm and his face. He was pleading that they should stop.
After dressing the wound, one of the doctors dove into his open flesh with what looked like scissors, but with ends with which to grab.
It seemed to take so long. The child was screaming with all his might. I was crying as I videotaped the event. I could not bear to witness his pain.
At some point, one of them noticed I was crying and reached back to put his hand on my shoulder.
They could not get the bullet out without difficulty.
I could see the doctor re-angling and probing the instrument deeper and deeper. It seemed impossible that so much of the metal could disappear into the boy's arm.
Finally, accompanied by the child's wild, fevered scream, out popped the bullet.
The `bullet' was the size and shape of ¾ of a wine cork. This is the `rubber bullet' the Israelis deem `safe' to use.
I realized that the x-ray did not lie. The bullet is impossibly big. It is sharp on the edges. I thought of the speed with which it must have traveled to get so deep under his skin, and to lodge into his bones.
The operation was not over.
The child's wailing subsided until he learned that his arm must be sewn back up. With the first stitch, his screaming began again. He begged his mother to let the wound stay open.
The worse was over. The mother carried her son to a recovery area. I was told that he would stay overnight.
"Yalla, Smith.' Yassir called. "To Dheisheh."
Driving back a call came over the radio. Another bullet wound.
We went straight to the clinic where a slightly older boy, maybe 12, was lying on his stomach on the table. Family members watched from the hallway. He was quiet. I believe in shock. He was hit in both his lower leg and his upper back, where there was considerable swelling and a large bump. He was put onto a stretcher and put into the ambulance.
Back at the hospital, I walked alongside the stretcher. Once inside, Yassir called me to an area behind a closed curtain.
How to describe with honor to the injured the horror that I saw.
On the table lay a 16-year-old boy. His head was bandaged and bloody, his eyes swollen purple. Blood was coming from beneath the bandages and had puddled on the floor. He had many tubes already going into his body. He was still breathing.
I watched as four doctors worked quickly to hold together his shattered head. "His brains are outside," Yassir told me pointing to a large obtrusion under the blood soaked bandages. Someone was mopping the floor of blood as they kept rolling the bandages around him.
A news team arrived.
"Hallas," the head doctor said to all of us with cameras. `Enough.' I went outside the curtain and watched many doctors and assistants come and go with bandages, instruments, bottles, and towels.
"There is nothing they can do for this one," Yassir said as the doctors wheeled him into the operating room and closed the door.
Over the radio came another call and we headed back to Dheisheh.
Rather than take the straight main road between Dheisheh camp and the hospital, just a few miles apart, we took back roads to avoid confrontation with the tanks.
Entering the camp is no easy feat. The streets are narrow, barely enough for a vehicle. People step to the side and jump into doorways when vehicles pass.
We stopped at an intersection. Yassir received a call saying that the soldiers had entered the front of the camp. We waited for a clearance signal.
Three middle-aged women came to Yassir. One was crying, the other two shouted. He said something to them and they left, comforting the one who was crying.
"It's the boy's mother," he said, gesturing to his head to imply which boy. "She wants to go to the hospital to see him, but I don't think she should. What good will it do to see him? He is dead. I received the call that he is dead."
There were five injuries worthy of hospital attention from Dheisheh camp today. There will be one funeral tomorrow.
A Jewish Americansays he was a human shield against advancing Israeli troops at a Palestinian camp near Bethlehem
Lipton a peace activist from Berkeley, California was among about 20 foreigners who were evacuated from Bethlehem on Wednesday. They are part of a larger group of about 100 international activists who are in Israel showing solidarity with Palestinians.
After a series of bloody suicide bombings, Israel launched its weeklong offensive in the West Bank, seeking to wipe out militant networks. The foreign activists decided to go into various Palestinian refugee camps, hoping their presence would deter the Israelis from bombing the areas.
Lipton, 43, said he spent two nights in the Aida refugee camp, where he witnessed the Israeli invasion.
"The first night in the camp there was very heavy machine gun fire. The Palestinians did not return fire. They do not have heavy weapons, although I could hear the occasional pop pop of some small guns and then the giant roar of tank fire," he said.
The next day, the Israeli tanks and armored vehicles moved in closer and Lipton spent a sleepless night waiting for an attack.
"I was really afraid. But the reason I got through the night was I knew the Palestinians go through this every day," said Lipton, the co-ordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, a U.S. organization calling for an end of Israeli's occupation of Palestinian territories and for America to suspend military aid to Israel.
"There were such wonderful people everywhere around us," he said. "The thing I admire the most is their fortitude and civility under duress."
He stayed in the home of a biologist who was born and raised in the camp and who recently returned from a stay in France. "He was a wonderfully urbane man living in a crowded but clean house, who writes poetry in French. He is soft-spoken and we had long discussions late into the night," he said.
Lipton stayed with the biologist's elderly parents in a children's center attached to the house. He slept on mats, was welcomed by neighbors and was treated to small but excellent meals.
"People were really pleased to have us there and provided us with wonderful food and hospitality," he said.
Fortunately Lipton said the expected attack never came and a few days later he decided to leave Bethlehem.
As a Jewish person, Lipton thinks many Israelis are "trapped in an ideology of fear," and he felt that his Jewishness has been turned into support for Israel.
He condemned the suicide bombings, but he said Israel's response to the attacks was wrong.
"Just because there is violence coming from one side, it is in no way comparable to the unbelievable state violence coming from the Israelis," he said.
Dispatches by Israeli and Palestinian Activists
Gila Svirsky, one of the lead organizers of the Israeli Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, sends the following commentary on the rising political dissent in Israel against Sharon's policies. Svirsky includes at the end of her commentary the text of an ad taken out in today's Ha'aretz by 53 Israeli soldiers who declare that they henceforth refuse to serve in any IDF mission that aids the occupation and repression of the Palestinian people. In an act of courageous refusal, these combat officers and soldiers announce that they "will not go on fighting a war for the peace of the settlements." No longer will they fight beyond the Green Line that demarcates the border of Israel proper from the occupied territories. Svirsky adds that the voices in Israel critical of Sharon's "iron fist" approach have been growing particularly since Israel's demolition of Palestinian houses in Gaza (and the loss of credibility by the military spokesperson). A major rally by Israeli peace organizations is now planned for February 2nd. Svirsky's communique, and the powerful text of the statement of refusal, are worth reading. --LS
Let me not overstate the critique, but it is beginning. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this. The first was the brutal demolition of homes in the Gaza Strip, leaving hundreds of Palestinians homeless. Israel's claim that "no one lived in these homes" was drowned out by the photos, journalistic reports, Red Cross aid, UN statements, and reports of all the human rights agencies, including Israel's trustworthy B'Tselem. The second disheartening event to Israelis was an assassination of a Palestinian by the Israeli army, which shattered almost a month of ceasefire. Whether this was a deliberate act to destroy the ceasefire (and thereby avoid negotiating for peace) or not, no one could deny that the effect was renewed terrorism inside Israel, including deadly spray-shootings on the streets of Hadera and Jerusalem. Even our Deputy Defense Minister (Dalia Rabin Pilosoff) characterized the assassination as "bad timing".
And so, Israeli citizens -- even those who believe that an iron fist is the only way to deal with Palestinians -- are beginning to wonder if Sharon has acted well or wisely to protect Israeli civilians. In a sense, having Ariel Sharon as prime minister also has a positive aspect -- it gives clarity to the issues. Either one supports Sharon (occupation and repression), or one supports efforts to make peace. The two are not compatible.
Many Israeli peace organizations have never stopped explaining that occupation and peace are not compatible, and have relentlessly kept up their day-to-day protests, vigils, tree-plantings, home rebuildings, checkpoint monitoring, blockade dismantling, etc., etc. The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace has been able to create mass rallies for peace on several occasions. But recently, we are seeing more in the media and even on the streets. A broad spectrum of peace organizations is planning a huge rally in Tel Aviv next week (Saturday, February 2nd), which I'll report about another time.
But I saved the most significant for last: In today's Ha'aretz newspaper, a large ad signed by 53 combat soldiers and officers in the Israeli army, announces, "We hereby declare that we shall continue to serve the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves the defense of the State of Israel. The mission of occupation and repression does not serve this goal -- and we refuse to participate in it." (Full text below.)
This is an unprecedented call by Israeli soldiers to other Israeli soldiers not to serve in the army of occupation. It is an incredibly courageous act for soldiers to announce that they will no longer continue fighting in the territories "for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation, and humiliation of an entire people." This is a very powerful statement for soldiers still on active duty, and in the rich moral tradition of Yesh Gvul and New Profile (two organizations that have consistently advocated this position), but in unprecedented numbers. The media have flooded them with interviews all day. May their numbers multiply. I will keep you informed.
With more hope, Gila Svirsky
This report is written by Neta Golan, the Israeli peace activist and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, who has lived in Palestinian villages for the past year and a half. Neta has been one of those actively resisting the Occupation, by tearing down roadblocks, taking Hebron children who are subject to 24 curfew outside to play, and physically placing herself in front of Palestinians, to deter the Israeli army from shooting at them. By happenstance, she recently came across the soldier who had killed her Palestinian friend Muhammad Duad several months ago, and who was boasting of his achievements. Neta writes about their conversation.-AG]
Neta on an olive tree
in one of the olive tree
I had spent the day with the villagers of Dir Istiya in which we planted trees on land coveted by the settlement of Yakir. I was on my way home. Two soldiers recognized me and asked in Hebrew: "Neta how are you?" To them I was a novelty. "You know who I'm talking to?" one of them asked a friend who phoned his cell phone. "Neta from Peace Now" ( I am not from Peace Now but thats as far left as they could fathom).
We talked. At one point one of the soldiers told me: "when I see a terrorist lying on the ground in his own blood it gives me an appetite".
He hesitated before continuing. He wanted to reveal to me something he was proud of. "There was a time when someone in Hares village picked up a huge boulder to throw at me. Do you know what I did?" he asked.
"You killed him." -
"That's right" he smiled self-satisfied.
I know the two children and the young father who where murdered in Hares in the last fifteen months by Israeli soldiers so I asked him when it happened, On what day? By his answered I realized the soldier in front of me was the murderer of my friend Muhammad Daud. -
" Let me tell you who you killed" I said. -
I don't care. -
"I know you don't but I want you to know who you killed. His name was Muhammad Daud he was fifteen years old he was retarded and I loved him very much..." I told him every thing I could think of about Mohammed and about his family. He didn't want to hear it. "I know where he was standing" I said "I saw his blood on the ground. There is know way he could have thrown a stone at you from so far away, let alone a boulder." -
"You weren't there." He was screaming now. -
"OK. You were there. So you tell me. How far do you think he could have thrown that "boulder"? three meters? Ten meters? Lets just imagine that it was humanly possible to throw it a hundred meters you where over three hundred meters away. -
" You weren't there. " -
"That's right I wasn't there. You were there. So you tell me how far away where you when you murdered him? He kept trying to stop me but I wouldn't stop. It was all I could do. And the fact he didn't want to hear it was the only indication that maybe somewhere deep inside there is a piece of humanity still intact in this boy.
After they walked away I was lucky to have friends with me who held me as I wept. Meeting his killer reopened the wound of losing my friend, a wound that never healed. I realized that if any man was evil the soldier I just spoke to was, and yet he was a boy, an ignorant and stupid boy that never should have been given any power. That never should have step foot in any village. that never should have had a gun.
Young Soldiers, many of them like Muhammad's Killer control every Aspect of the lives of millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Ignorant youth like these have the power of life and death over Palestinian elders and children alike. This cannot continue. To stop this injustice we need help. Help us.
An Israeli in Palestine-
At 7:30 this morning (Monday. July 09, 2001), as I was about to travel with other members of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions to the besieged town of Beit Umar, near Hebron, where tons of produce cannot be transported to market and are rotting while the inhabitants face severe hunger, I got a call that six bulldozers accompanied by hundreds of soldiers were entering the Shuafat refugee camp to the north of Jerusalem. The ICAHD members proceeded to Beit Umar (a report on that later), while Arik Aschermann of Rabbis for Human Rights, Liat Taub, a student and ICHAD staff member, Gadi Wolf, a conscientious objector who just served time in jail, and I headed for Shuafat.
Jeff Halper (53) is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University. He has lived in Israel since 1973.
On the way I had that sinking feeling of powerlessness mixed with outrage that always accompanied me to events like this - an equal mixture of responsibility, anger at the injustice, the fundamental unfairness of it all, and helplessness in the face of an unmoving, uncaring, cruel and supremely self-righteous system of oppression. On the way we all worked our cell phones, Arik calling the press, me calling the embassies and consulates (both the American and European consulates are very responsive and forthcoming), Liat and Gadi calling our lists of activists to join us, keeping in touch with our Palestinian partners as well. Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem City Council from the Meretz party who has been a steadfast ally, and Salim Shawamreh, our Palestinian partner who lived in Shuafat before building a home of his own in nearby Anata, which was demolished three times, waited for us.
We passed through the familiar and profoundly banal streets of West Jerusalem, with people all around going about their "normal" lives, passing the thousands of apartments built for Israelis in East Jerusalem (50,000 more or less, so that the 200,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem today outnumber the Palestinian population), neat stone-faced apartment blocks framed with trees, shrubbery and lawns, served by wide streets and sidewalks.
Once past the neighborhood/settlement of French Hill, however, the landscape changes, though we remain within the city of Jerusalem as defined by Israel in 1967. The hillsides become barren, strewn with shells of old cars and garbage. The houses are small, scattered and made of unattractive cement blocks. No trees, no lawns, no sidewalks, certainly no parks - just narrow, dusty, pot-holed streets with no street lights.
People, kids walking on the shoulders, competing for space with mini-vans and old cars. The Third World just a hundred meters down the road, and in the same city. And then the soldiers. As we approached the main entrance to the camp, we saw hundreds of soldiers, Borders Police and regular police, some mounted on horseback, others in the dozens of military jeeps that blocked all the entrances to the camp and patrolled its maze of alleyways.
We parked and walked in - careful to stay in touch with Salim, who sent some people to escort us, uncertain how Israelis would be received at such a time. We were received well. Walking with our hosts I was struck by how "normal" life was continuing. Kids played in the street, men worked in the garages along the roads, women went about their business. Just a few minutes away houses were being demolished, the camp was completely overrun by soldiers, yet people had developed a way to continue their lives no matter what. Sumud, steadfast, is the Arabic name for it.
We walked through the crowded camp of some 25,000 people, finally coming out on the top of a hill overlooking the periphery of the camp and, across the wadi, the narrow valley, the Jerusalem settlement of Pisgav Ze'ev looming over Shuafat from the opposite hill.
Juxtaposed in this way, the injustice virtually hit you in the face. Here was a crowded camp, layers of jerry-built concrete homes separated by the narrowest of alleyways, leading down a slope where the raw sewage of the camp flowed to the houses where the bulldozers had already started their demolition work (you could hear the hack-hack-hack of the pneumatic drills collapsing the concrete roofs), and then, just a couple hundred meters away, the massive modern housing project of Pisgat Ze'ev ("Ze'ev's Summit," named after the Likud's founding father Ze'ev Jabotinsky) with its manicured lawns and trees. And separating these two world: the stream of sewage down below (Pisgat Ze'ev has its own closed sewage system, thank you), and the "security road" where the army patrols at night, guarding the residents of Pisgat Ze'ev from their neighbors.
In order to avoid the soldiers and police, we walked through the alleyways and down the slope, sloshing through the sewage to come up to the scene of the demolitions. The army and police had their backs turned to us as they guarded the bulldozers and drills from the angry Palestinian crowd - including the frantic home-owners who were about to see their life savings go up in dust. We quickly ran to the bulldozers and lay down in front of them. A symbolic action, to be sure, but one which created a scene and gave news photographers something to "shoot." (Because we are Israelis, we have the privilege of being shot only by cameras&.) For the soldiers our actions are simply a stupid and incomprehensible, and they cart us away unceremoniously.
We don't bother to argue with them or explain to them; it is enough that we act as vehicles for getting the images of demolitions out to the world. Later, when the reporters talk to us, we can explain what is happening and why it is unjust and oppressive. Our comments will find their way into official reports (this evening the US State Department officially deplored the demolitions, and we know that European and other governments take note). That is our role. Helplessness in the face of overwhelming force and callousness, yet faith that all of you, once you know, will generate the international pressures necessary to end the Occupation once and for all.
As an Israeli, and speaking strictly for myself, I have despaired of ever convincing my own people that a just peace is the way. Israelis may passively accept dictates from outside, but a just peace will not come from within Israeli society. Arik, Liat and Gadi are hauled away in a police jeep, presumably arrested. There isn't room for me, so I'm left sitting in the dust, my clothes torn, just a little bruised from the man-handling and being hauled over the rocks, but glad to have an opportunity to take pictures of the demolitions (you can see them at www.alternativenews.org today or tomorrow) and to relay the ongoing developments to reporters.
The Palestinians across the way either watch impassively, helplessly, or when the bulldozers leave the last rubble heap and approach their homes, react by climbing to the roof, yelling at the soldiers (women even dare push them sometimes), occasionally throwing stones. At these times the soldiers reactions are quick and violent: high-powered rifles are aimed at the protesters, people are shoved into police vans, tear gas is thrown (sometimes inside the houses, though the instructions on the canisters - produced in the Federal Laboratories in Pennsylvania - clearly state "for outdoor use only." People often get shot, though that didn't happen today.
The soldiers and police, who just a few minutes before were joking with each other (from conversations with them over the years, I haven't encountered any who saw anything wrong with what was happening, or had any problem blaming the Palestinians for the demolitions of their own houses, and who refer to what they are doing as "work"), suddenly become violently enraged. As if the Palestinians have the chutzpa to resist, as if they are the criminals, as if "we" now have an opportunity to get even with "them," to extract revenge for not accepting our Occupation. And one by one the houses are systematically torn down, this one a shell not yet completed, that one a four story building intended to provide decent shelter (at last) to 30 members of an extended family (I watch the grandfather crying on the side, wiping his tears with his kaffiya, trying not to lose his dignity altogether). Fourteen "structures" (as Israel calls them). By 12:30 the operation is over.
The soldiers are in no hurry to leave - indeed, at least a hundred more arrive in the camp as the demolitions are winding down. Israel loves to leave the Palestinians "messages." In the end an army jeep came and I was tossed in the back. We drove up the security road to Pisgat Ze'ev, where I was told to go home. Walking over to a bus stop, dirty, smelly from the sewage, my clothes torn, a woman asks me what happened. Reluctantly I tell her that I was trying to resist the demolition of some of the homes of her neighbors in Shuafat, nodding in the direction of the camp.
The reaction was painfully predictable. "Terrorists! They're trying to move their houses into our neighborhood! Why don't they build with permits, like we do? They don't pay taxes and expect free houses and services! This is our country. When I came here from Morocco&..") The bus pulls up, we get on and she tells the driver: "Leave him off in Shuafat. They'll kill him there." (Though Mayor Olmert declares that at every opportunity that Jerusalem is a "united" city, there are no municipal buses to Shuafat or most of East Jerusalem, or street lights, or sewers, or postal service, or even street names.) An invisible city to Israelis.
According to LAW, the demolished houses belonged to:
Fourteen houses demolished out of 25 that received demolition orders yesterday (the owners were given no chance to appeal to the courts). Some 2000 demolition orders outstanding in East Jerusalem alone, another 2000 in the West Bank and Gaza. 8000 Palestinian houses demolished since 1967, 500 during the course of the second Intifada, since September. And WE will not resume negotiations until THEY stop the "violence." I wind my way back to Shuafat.
Arik, Liat and Gadi made it back before me and managed to get arrested formally this time (they were released an hour or so later). I meet up with Salim and Meir and we plan an "action" for the next day or so - perhaps the rebuilding of one of the houses, if the Shuafat people are willing.
As I head home for a shower and a change of clothes, I hear Olmert on the radio: "You cannot build in any city in the world without a permit. They want to build on green open space that we set aside for their own benefit. The Palestinians tell me quietly that they support my efforts to fight illegal building. I don't demolish homes in West Jerusalem because Jews only build illegal porches, not entire houses. Etc. etc." All lies. But being one of the few Israelis that ever experiences Palestine, I find it impossible to convey to my own people, my own neighbors (good people all, even the Likud and Shas voters), what occupation means, why they should feel responsible and resist with me. Israel is a self-contained bubble with a self-contained and exclusively Jewish narrative.
The struggle continues.