June 30, 2007 A good-will package, invasions included

Dear friends and family,
We returned from Nablus last night. It had been invaded by the Israeli occupation forces early Thursday morning and we received a call at the house from the ISM coordinator at about noon asking us to come and help them out. Kim, one of the other IWPS womyn, and I arrived there at about 5:00 pm and found 18 other Internationals and half a dozen Palestinian coordinators of ISM organizing three teams to go out into the Old City and Balata Refugee Camp. Both areas were under curfew with houses that had been transformed into military posts.

Sami, one of the Palestinian Coordinators and a member of the Palestinian Medical Relief Services, led my team of eight Internationals through the Old City. We were looking for any families who might need medical assistance or food. We saw a few military jeeps but they didn’t seem very interested in us, much to my relief. In the past when I have participated in this kind of activity the soldiers have told us to leave because it is a closed military zone and if we don’t we will be arrested. Being arrested often means automatic deportation and banishment for at least 10 years. This is one my greatest fears. (Much greater than being hit at a demo or getting caught in crossfire.)

While out walking we saw many people on the street which surprised me since there was a curfew in effect. I remember walking through Ramallah during curfew and it was like a ghost town. But Nablus is a different story, considered to be much more militant. Even so, mostly it was just young boys and teenagers out on the streets looking for jeeps to throw stones at. There were a few men sitting outside their closed shops drinking tea. We also came across a family consisting of a father, three sons and a daughter. (I presume the mother was at home.) They father thanked us for being there and the kids smiled at us so sweetly. The smell of tear gas was suffocating and we constantly heard explosions and gunfire. We did not come across anyone who needed aid, nor did we find an occupied house to help out. (One of the other teams did help a womyn with a baby get back to her home.)

We went back to the hotel at about 9:30 pm where we were to spend the night. At about 10:30 pm one of the medics came to ask us to accompany him to a house that had just been demolished because he wanted to retrieve a body that was under the rubble. He had tried and the soldiers wouldn’t allow him to do it. He thought they might if we were there. But it was dark and we couldn’t walk since the Palestinian coordinators said that it was too dangerous. In the dark the Israelis would think we were Palestinian fighters and the Palestinian fighters would think we were Special Forces. In either case we would be shot. So the medic tried to transport us in his ambulance but just when we were piling into it an army jeep rounded the corner. A soldier got out and said he’d arrest us all, including the Palestinian medic, and so we skedaddled back inside the hotel and the medic went off by himself.

The next day the military retreated after carrying out numerous arrests and an assassination of a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Brigades. Mohammad, the lead Palestinian Coordinator said that the army could very well be back in just a few hours and he asked us to stay awhile. So we visited three of the houses that had been occupied during the invasion. The families told us that they had been either locked in a small room of their own house or forced to leave and go to a neighbor’s house. The houses were completely ransacked and damaged. The soldiers had broken down doors, thrown electrical equipment to the floor (breaking it), and had emptied closets, cupboards and drawers such that things were strewn all over. In many places the soldiers had bored holes in the floors and walls, presumably looking for weapons or tunnels. In one home the ceiling was ripped out and the wood paneling on the walls was pried off.

We also visited two hospitals that had been under siege by the military. We talked to doctors, nurses and staff who told us that they had been delayed or prevented from going to work. Even an emergency patient’s entry had been delayed. Furthermore, the hospitals had great difficulty getting in basic food supplies, such as bread, and the Israeli forces even tried to prevent oxygen and dialysis treatment equipment from being delivered. These were finally delivered but only after the hospital director intervened by a call to the Israeli District Command. We were also told that the soldiers had opened fire five times on one of the hospitals during the course of the invasion, splaying the walls of the hospital with machine gun bullets.

The military did not return that afternoon and so we finally went home to Hares at about 5:00 pm. We promised to come back if they were invaded again. Which could be tonight, tomorrow or next week. One can never know.

When we returned to Hares, our landlord (and convener of IWPS), Abu Rabia, invited us to come and talk to him. He knew that we had gone to Nablus and he wanted to explain the situation to us, as he sees it anyway. He is not only an avid supporter of Fatah, but has a relatively high position in the organization. He told us that Israel is trying to weaken Fatah so that the same exact thing that happened in Gaza will happen in the West Bank. I didn’t really understand his point exactly but I think it may have been that it is to Israel’s advantage to have chaos and internal fighting among the Palestinians.

In the meantime Olmert, during a summit convened by Mubarak in Egypt supposedly offered a number of goodwill gestures to Abbas, including the release of 250 Fatah prisoners and the release of tax money that has been withheld since Hamas came into power. I am left wondering how this invasion figures into the good will.


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