Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Monitoring The Mayhem (Pt 4)

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-May 2002

April 29: Bethlehem:
Nidal Hueida, 28, is shot dead in the compound of the besieged Church of the Nativity.

"The sniper crane caught out many Palestinians. The crane afforded the IOF a view into the otherwise invisible courtyards of the church. This crane was routinely raised, lowered, and moved. People would get used to a habitual safe route around the complex, which would suddenly be rendered dangerous. It was in this way that many of the deaths and injuries occurred. While we were there, one man was shot. We had been speaking with him the day before in the place where he was shot. He was friendly and generous towards us. He was the father of eleven children. The IOF claim he had been pointing a gun out of the church. The Palestinians claim he was hanging his washing out to dry. He was badly injured having been shot in the lung and was taken outside by the priests. We later heard he died.

Food was distributed by a committee, which arranged the cooking of one meal a day. Most days a typical meal for one person would consist of between half and one cup of a weak spiced soup containing maybe five pieces of pasta or a sprinkling of rice, a few leaves and perhaps 10-20 lentils. On sparse days, some people would cook up a weak salty soup of mustard leaves found in the gardens, and others would fry lemon leaves until edible. After a [food] delivery, the first meal would be good in order to raise health and morale. While we were there, three deliveries were made: our delivery; the one and only token effort by the Israelis that included Pot Noodles! (enough for 10 people and an obvious press stunt); and a delivery by Bethlehem women. The week we were there was an exceptional week in terms of deliveries."

ALISTAIR HILLMAN - UK ACTIVIST - report posted on after deportation

April 29, 04.00: Hebron:
Israeli forces enter the Palestinian port of Hebron. Nine Palestinians are killed and 25 wounded. Several buildings are destroyed, including a television station. Throughout the day Israeli tanks patrol the city while sporadic shooting is heard. A curfew is in place. The IOF say their goal is to arrest persons suspected of being connected to Saturday's attack against the Israeli settlement of Adura. Ninety Palestinians arrested.

May 01: Hebron:
Overnight more than 300 people are detained following what witnesses describe as the 'targeting of students'. Student houses are attacked and one is firebombed. The IOF is preventing fire crews from attending.

May 02: Gaza:
Sabha Abu Ghanem, 48, is hit in the chest as Israeli tanks and bulldozers are used for incursions in the centre and south of the Gaza Strip.

May 05: Bethlehem:
Easter Sunday. The siege at Nativity Church continues. There are conflicting reports in the media concerning the situation and treatment of some of those inside.

"The last days were exhausting. Time and again, the negotiations appeared to be hours from closing and then would break down. Spirits within the church would be raised with the hope of evacuation by the evening, early hours of the morning, midday, etc. One event of note occurred a few days before the end when we were asked to leave by a Palestinian "go-between" negotiator. He claimed the negotiations had finished, that we were to leave immediately, and that the Palestinians would leave one hour after us. We were in contact with a representative in the compound in Ramallah who was in direct contact with Arafat. We were told that we certainly should not leave as the negotiations were in no way closed. Italy was not accepting the exiles and no agreement had been reached as to how the weapons in the church would be decommissioned. The "go-between" spread rumours and caused a situation where it appeared we were deliberately holding up the proceedings. Tensions between us, and some of the Palestinians, were high. However, those we had most contact with were aware of the reality of the situation and defended us, and our decision to stay. Later that day, our consulates applied similar pressure. I explained that they were misinforming me, deliberately or otherwise, and that they should not bother to contact me anymore. By nightfall, Italy's refusal to accept the exiles was out in the press, and tensions dropped.

Next day, many Palestinians thanked us for not leaving and seemed aware of the trickery that had been attempted. Exactly who was to blame for this incident is hard to ascertain but given the vast array of interests involved in the situation that's hardly surprising, but then, that's politics. We were lucky to have contacts we could trust both inside and outside the church which enabled us to make the right decision for the people in the church and to avoid the political wrangling. During the last few days, we decided not to comment to the press on either the content of the negotiations, the rumours of solutions that flew around the church, or the mood within the church in detail. We thought this could only negatively impact on the negotiations and that the continual rumours of an imminent close could well have been a deliberate ploy to psychologically exhaust the Palestinians."

ALISTAIR HILLMAN - UK ACTIVIST - report posted on after deportation.

May 06:
Internationals held: Nathan Musselman, Nathan Mauger, Tom Kaoutsoukos begin a hunger strike in solidarity with Trevor Baumgartner, Huwaida Arraf and Jo Wilding who are themselves in the fifth day of a hunger strike in protest at their detention. Today, two of them are hospitalised and, despite tests showing their blood sugar levels to be dangerously low, they are returned to detention. At least two have been deported without due process. The rest are denied information or access to lawyers. The men are being held at Kiryat Arba, an illegal settlement in Al-Khalil (Hebron). 152 foreigners have been refused entry to Israel since April 3, including a Greek team of doctors, Italian members of Parliament, and British, Belgium and French peace campaigners.

May 06: Hebron:
Dozens of tanks, which had been gradually pulled out in the past weeks, come back in force. Soldiers brake into houses and offices, destroying equipment indiscriminately. Hundreds of inhabitants are arrested and ordered to strip almost naked, to show they are not wearing explosives.

May 07: Nativity Church:
Under arrangements brokered by the US and EU, 13 Palestinian militants will be sent into exile in Cyprus while 26 others will go to jail in the Gaza Strip. The other Palestinians inside the church are interrogated then set free in an effort to end the 36-day standoff.

"Every night before we arrived, the IOF would routinely fire at the church, use concussion grenades, play high volume disorienting noise (barking, white noise, alarms, etc.), and shine high power lights through the windows. After we arrived, this stopped, greatly increasing the morale of the Palestinians. I personally doubt that we were instrumental in preventing the church being stormed. Although this is possible, I believe that storming the church was politically impossible for the Israeli government. It is true that they had tried a minor incursion in the first fortnight but I think that this was more than likely a test of strength. Basically, the preferred IOF method of dealing with siege situations - literally bulldozing resistance - was just not applicable to the holiest site in Christendom.

Although I think that we did speed up the timing of the eventual political solution (we were an additional political embarrassment) it is possible that we were a hindrance. I certainly do not think that we had any influence on the content of the agreement that was signed.

Were we supporting terrorism? No. We were in the church as international observers to feed and protect the civilians and security forces that had taken up arms against the illegal occupation. I condemn terrorism whether perpetrated by individuals or a state. Whereas the Israeli government likes to portray its acts as a righteous reaction to terrorism, it is clear to me that both the state of Israel and some Palestinians are engaged in terrorist acts I find abhorrent. In a complicated situation like this, humanitarian aims should not suffer because of an inability to engage with the complexities of the situation. Wars are ugly and complex things, and they happen to be where humanitarian aid is most often needed.

While governments attempted a political solution to the siege and the NGOs waited for permission to act, those inside were left to rot. Individual action by international activists and the Palestinian women of Bethlehem managed to ease the situation for those occupying the church. This is repeated across the occupied territories time and time again, more internationals are needed there. If you can, go?"

ALISTAIR HILLMAN - UK ACTIVIST - report posted on after deportation.

May 07:
Israeli forces move back in to Deheishah camp.

May 09:
Apaches and F16's sporadically shell the Balata refugee camp. Tanks are again moving on the Jerusalem road.

May 10:
The IOF withdraw from Bethlehem city after 38 days of killing, demolition, and curfew.

June 2:
Israeli tanks go back into Nablus. Only women, children and old men are left in Balata refugee camp after all males between 13 and 60 are rounded up and taken to a detention centre. Twenty ISM activists trek through the hills and make it into Balata despite being shot at by an Israeli tank. Eight activists are subsequently taken into custody by Israeli police and held without charge. An Israeli tank and two armoured personnel carriers sit at the entrance to Rapidiya Hospital stopping and searching ambulances responding to emergency calls.

For further information:
Hebron Christian Peacemaker Team -
LAW society (Palestinian human rights group) -
Palestine Solidarity Campaign -
Electronic Intifada -
International Soldidarity Movement -
Jerusalem Indymedia

Other Useful Links

Related Articles