Monitoring The Mayhem (Pt 3)
A chronology of news events presented by independent media sources from The West Bank (March-June 2002) plus eyewitness testimonies from activists on the ground.
April 16, 15:15: Nablus:
The Israeli military cut the phone lines and destroy the water supply. Of the four camps in Nablus, at least two, Balata and Askar, have been without food, water, and electricity for 13 days. The camps are sealed off by soldiers and tanks. As of last night, they are shelling the camps. No ambulances are allowed in.
"There are few patients in the hospital, not because there are few injuries or deaths, but because ambulances are not allowed to reach the dead and dying. A Red Crescent ambulance driver told me that he has been arrested four times in a week. They are forced to take off their clothes, handcuffed , blindfolded and made to stand in the sun for 2 or 3 hours while the soldiers shoot their guns around them. He showed me the bullet holes and broken windows in the ambulance. He hasn't seen his wife and two young children in thirteen days."
Yesterday a boy found an unused tank shell. It exploded and left his eyes burned shut, his body blackened, and blood pouring from his stomach. His cries revealed a voice in the process of changing. He could not have been more than 12 years old."
- MARY KELLY - IRISH NURSE AND ISM ACTIVIST - via e-mail APRIL 15
April 16, 2002 16.30: Nablus:
A group of internationals, attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Askar camp are intercepted by the IOF.
"Today we planned to take food and medicines to Belata and Askar refugee camps which have been under attack and curfew for weeks. We were six Palestinians - a Doctor and 5 paramedics - and 25 activists - 15 from France, 5 from the UK, 3 from US, 2 Danes and myself from Ireland. Before long we met an army checkpoint with IOF soldiers and one tank. We declared our mission, showed our passports and got through to Belata. The people are suffering terribly from diseases from lack of hygiene. They have no fresh food or medicines, 16,000 people live in this camp.
Our efforts to visit Askar were stopped by two tanks which blocked our way. The soldiers fired warning shots from machine guns. We turned back and started walking home. We were stopped at the same checkpoint but this time they did not let us through and wanted to punish us for taking food to Belata. They made us wait for 2 hours. We tried negotiating but the commanding officer said he was awaiting orders. Then, we were suddenly surrounded by four tanks and two police vans. Machine guns were fired into the air. Things escalated quickly. We were told that they wanted to arrest the Palestinian doctor and the five paramedics, but that we [the internationals] could leave. We refused to leave without the Palestinians. They warned us that things would get ugly if we did not obey. We quickly formed a protective ring around our Palestinian friends. A concussion grenade exploded into our group, then the soldiers started beating us kicking, punching and rifle butts were used. They managed to drag the four Palestinian men away from us, beat them, forced them to kneel and handcuffed them. We were very shocked to put it mildly! Many of our group were injured, especially the men, but we still had the two Palestinian women in our midst. They threatened us with more violence but we refused to move and linked our arms tightly around the women. They destroyed the film in our cameras.
We refused to leave until they returned the four men. A stand off situation went on where we expected another attack from them. We let them know we would not move until they returned the four men. After what seemed like a lifetime, they returned the prisoners to us and allowed us to go home. They beat us but did not win."
- MARY KELLY - IRISH NURSE AND ISM ACTIVIST via e-mail
April 19: Nablus:
The IOF raids the Naseiriah neighbourhood killing one Palestinian. In Nablus, seventy Palestinians, including many children and women, are killed during the attack. They are buried in a mass grave during a 5-hour lift of the Israeli military curfew imposed on the city.
April 19: Gaza Strip:
Fifteen Israeli tanks attack the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday, killing at least three Palestinians in the Brazil neighbourhood. A 15-year-old Palestinian boy is shot dead in the Sweidiah neighbourhood.
April 22: Gaza:
Four Palestinian children are wounded, including a three-year-old shot in the head, when Israeli troops fire on them as they threw stones at Israeli bulldozers.
April 24: Ramallah:
A delegation from the EU, holds talks with Arafat today. This is the ninth day that the moqata'a (presidential compound) has received no food or water. The Israeli authorities refuse to allow the injured out. One activist has a broken back, another went out to speak with some of the soldiers and was told: "Tell them to come out, then we will shoot them."
April 25, 0600:
The Presidential Compound, Ramallah:
The IOF cut the water supply in to the moqata'a "International law forbids the building of the settlements, but 34 new settlements have been constructed in this year alone. Collective punishment is illegal. But Israel has now escalated from interrupting food shipments to completely shutting off water to the city of Ramallah, endangering the lives of 120,000 people. The shelling of innocuous Palestinian civilian structures such as power plants, schools, and sewage facilities, is occurring at an alarming rate. Unarmed civilians are being killed on a daily basis.
Israel is making a mockery of international human rights law, and by its tacit acceptance, the UN is severely eroding its credibility in the region and beyond."
- NETA GOLAN AND IAN URBINA, MOQATA'A COMPOUND
April 25, 14.00:
A group of over 50 internationals join a 1000-strong Palestinian civil society march to protest against the continued siege of their town, and to demand an immediate withdrawal from Palestinian territory. 16:00: Seven people injured at the protest in Ramallah, one of them with a bullet to the head. Although clearly unarmed, tear gas, sound bombs and live ammunition are used.
The person hit by a bullet to the head dies.
April 25, 2002: Jenin:
A truck bringing aid from the USA is turned back by residents of the camp. The boxes, including baby clothes and toys, are marked 'a gift from the United States'. Some of the goods were clearly manufactured in Israel. One man points to the destruction caused by two US made Apache helicopter missiles and says: "This is the biggest gift we got from America."
"With reference to accusations of Palestinian Ambulances carrying bombs, I refer to a Press Statement by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) of March 27 2002.
The ambulance in question was carrying a mother, three children, a doctor and a medic and was travelling from Nablus to Ramallah. It passed through four checkpoints and was searched by the Israeli Army, before it was forced to stop at a checkpoint south of Ramallah. All passengers were ordered out. The IOF said the ambulance was carrying explosives. The driver who has been with PRCS for 6 years was arrested, the others were told to leave the area. The IOF's claim that they had arrested "militants on their most wanted list" is untrue. The PRCS statement says: "We are amazed at how the Israeli army managed to invite the media and press corps to the area even before confirming the presence of an explosive device [the incident was used by the IOF as 'proof' that ambulances were being used for military purposes]. Our investigation leads us to believe that this was a staged event by the IOF in order to taint the reputation of the Red Crescent ambulances. The Director of the Red Crescent in Jenin was killed with a doctor when their ambulance was bombed by an IOF tank in March 2002. Two medics were killed in Gaza and 2 in Turkharem. Over the past 19 months, 225 medical workers have been wounded. Many wounded have died due to ambulances being stopped and shot at, and many women have given birth in horrifying circumstances while being held up at checkpoints."
- MARY KELLY - IRISH NURSE AND ISM ACTIVIST April 25
April 27 12:00: Nablus:
A woman in the Kalandiya camp, holds close the body of her dead child, torn apart by an explosive "dum-dum" bullet. Pointing at her other sons she cries: "I did not hate Israelis, nor did my sons. I don't want to hate them. I don't want my sons to kill their sons. Help us."
April 27, 01.30: Bethlehem:
As the corporate media focuses on "encouraging developments", IOF shoot one person leaving the Church of the Nativity.
April 28, 17:00: Bethlehem:
A group of 20 internationals force their way through barbed wire to gain access to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.
"8am, we went to a briefing. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to help break the month-long siege at the Church of the Nativity and get food and a team of international observers inside. The Israeli army had been shooting indiscriminately at the church ever since 26 people had been allowed to leave safely a few days earlier. Two parts had been set on fire by the army the night before, and a man had been killed there that morning. The hope was that the killing would stop once there were internationals inside.
We travelled to Bethlehem via back roads to avoid checkpoints, switching vehicles from time to time, decamped and walked in small groups to be less obvious, clambering up a stony grass bank into a car park where a group of about thirty people from at least eight countries slowly assembled, waiting the verdicts of the scouting parties.
Someone brought card and a marker pen and drew a map. "There's the church, there's the square, these are the alleyways we'll approach through. This is the barbed wire we'll have to go over. There's a tank here and another one here. There are snipers here, here, here, here and here." Oh. Not just security cameras then?
We stuffed toilet paper in our ears in case of stun grenades. We soaked scarves and hankies in case of gas. We were told, if we were shot at, they'd almost certainly be shooting over our heads, in front of us or at the ground, so under no circumstances should we run or get on the ground.
They only wanted five internationals to go in the church and they wanted all men because it was all men inside. We'd talked about whether we were up for going in, and decided we were, if we were needed; now that we couldn't, we wanted to more than anything. The rest of us will carry food. I went with my group down the alleyways, lined with posters of martyrs, people killed in the intifada and occupation, carpeted with broken glass and splintered wood, partially blocked here and there with burnt out and bullet-ridden vehicles, devoid of people, confined to their houses by the curfew.
I've never been so scared in my whole life. Perched on a step with Kate and Marcia, Trevor and the two Nathans. Feeling my pulse thundering through my temples. Trousers falling down - why didn't I sew a top button on them? Through the gap in the buildings, the famous juxtaposition of the cross on top of the Church and the crescent on top of the mosque. Walking out of the alleyway, into the wide square, tanks in front, the church ahead, a shout, no shots, a roll of barbed wire approaching, how am I going to get over it without getting caught up? My hands are full. Walking though it, pulling my trousers along with me, walking as fast as my legs will go, ignoring the shouts, the backs of the people in front my only focus, dimly aware of a khaki man running, glancing across at him grabbing someone, can't see who, wrestling them down, walking faster, wanting to run, people ahead running, still no shots, running too.
Shield the door and the doors open and hands are reaching out, taking the food we're passing in, a woman pushes through into the church. That's not meant to happen, doesn't matter now, all the food bags are in. The door closes. We've done it. Walking away. A quick hug of pure joy. "Faster. Come on." Israeli troops in front of us, blocking the way, linking arms, trying to push against the line. Pulled apart from each other, still clinging to Trevor's arm one side, bulldozed into a corner created by the Peace Centre and a load of cammo netting. Everyone else bundled into our corner with us, Jeff bleeding. Sitting down to resist being pushed inside the building. Clinging to each other, arms linked with Trevor, legs round Marcia, physically lifted from the ground and carried into the Peace Centre, dumped on the floor. Skulking in a corner hiding the dictaphone tape recording of the action in my pants.
Bizarrely, a khaki man says to Huwaida, "We're not at the University of Michigan now you know." At some point in some other life, they were both at the same college in the US, this Israeli soldier and this Palestinian-American activist.
The soldiers were unimpressed: "We were really close to a final solution and now you've ruined it." Final solutions frighten me. There had been signs of an intent to storm the church and end the siege with an intense burst of violence, potentially the deaths of many of the refugees inside. Yeah, we ruined it, and amidst all the uncertainty of being detained by them, there was a defiant high, which their fury only fed.
We were separated and asked to call the people in the church and tell them they had to come out. Apparently the Palestinians inside the church wanted the internationals to leave, but rather than simply ask them to go, they had asked the negotiators to ask the soldiers to ask us to ask them to leave. Yeah right.
After a while I climbed out of the window of the office I was locked in, reached up to the rafters above and swung myself onto the roof of the Peace Centre. I knew the trapeze training would come in handy one day. The stars looked amazing up there, the moon just past full, so much more real than the tanks surrounding it. There was nowhere to escape to and eventually they got me down.
Hands bound, we were put in a lorry and taken to the Bethlehem checkpoint. The women were taken out, tied hands and feet and put on the floor of a van. We were driven to the middle of nowhere and they opened the back doors. Bastards! they were going to dump us in the arse end of beyond at two in the morning, having taken all our ID and phones!"
JO WILDING - UK ACTIVIST after deportation.
"My first glimpse into the darkness was of two armed Palestinians, dressed in full flak-suits, crouched down aiming rifles at us as we passed through the gate. As the gate was closed, the small antechamber we had entered plunged into darkness. In the confused moments to follow, torches were lit, our faces checked, then the door to the main church opened. We walked through to a rousing reception from the 150 or so Palestinians waiting on the other side."
Within ten minutes we were sitting with a few representatives of the food distribution committee. We handed over all the supplies. Spokesmen of the various factions formally welcomed us, thanked us and made it clear we were free to leave at any time. We explained that we intended to stay until the siege was concluded.
We were warned not to walk past windows that looked out onto the buildings that surround the church. All were barricaded, and the gunshot holes obvious. It was explained that there were IOF snipers on or in most of the surrounding buildings. We were also shown the sniper crane. This crane 100-200m in height, which looked down into church complex, was fitted with a camera and rifle remotely controlled by an IOF soldier on the ground.
The church itself is a complex of courtyards, offices, gardens, halls, priest's quarters, towers and tunnels. We were shown an office burnt out by IOF incendiary devices. One man had been killed by a sniper there, while fighting the fire. All the windows in the upper reaches of the church were smashed and the walls pockmarked with bullet holes.
We were shown a bell tower where a few weeks earlier the bell ringer had been shot and killed, and priest quarters that had been gutted by fire. We were led out to a rooftop area where we were told an IOF assault team had been repulsed with fatalities on both sides. The blood was still evident on the floor.
Altogether, there were about 180 people inside the church, but it's difficult to be accurate as everyone was spread throughout the complex. There were thirty priests from the Armenian, Franciscan and Greek Orthodox traditions who share the church in an uneasy alliance of faiths. Of the approximately 150 Palestinians, about two thirds were civilians the remaining third armed. All those present were adult males excepting a handful of nuns and the three female international activists. It was clear that all those present were there of their own accord and that reports of a hostage situation were totally unfounded.
The Palestinians had not eaten properly for weeks. Many were gaunt in the face and all looked thin. There were a few people who were obviously ill. One man was falling in and out of consciousness and occasionally having fits."
- ALISTAIR HILLMAN - UK ACTIVIST - report posted on www.squall.co.uk after deportation
MONITORING THE MAYHEM (Pt. 1)
MONITORING THE MAYHEM (Pt. 2)
MONITORING THE MAYHEM (Pt. 4)
PALESTINE -- NABLUS -- 25-April-2002
INSIDE THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY - Bethlehem - May-2002