Al-Quds, West Bank
International solidarity activist, Sarah Irving, sent this dispatch back to SQUALL from the West Bank
2pm, Sunday, August 4th 2002
One minute we're sitting quietly in the office, just trying to get started on some proper work, then there is the sound of small-calibre gunfire, a kind of flat popping. A call from M tells us a few minutes later that there is something big happening down by Damascus Gate. So H, S and I all go into mad mode and leg it down there.
Five minutes later, chaos reigns down there. Crowds of Palestinians heading towards the gate are being forced back by heavily-armed police, some of them mounted. We can't get to within about 150 yards of the gate, and all we can see and hear above the chaos are sirens, and ambulance and police van lights. H and S disappear off somewhere and I pretty much stick with the Shebab who are craning over the railings to try and see what's going on without being in the charging line of the police horses. At one point, though, this is insufficient to keep them fully safe, as a policeman leans over the railings and starts using his horsewhip on the faces of the young men. He pulls back when he spots this interfering white girl in the middle of things. A troop transport pulls past, carrying about 20 soldiers to add to the dozens of police already there (remember that here police routinely carry automatic rifles and sub-machine guns). The soldiers reinforce police efforts to drive all the Palestinians down my end of things further and further up the road. In the course of this, I watch them - and try to intervene slightly - as they bully and harass people. A heavily pregnant woman is made to stay standing in the sun. A man who tries to argue that he needs to pass has his id thrown into the dirt; as he kneels to pick it up the soldier kicks it further away and then a third time. An obviously seriously mentally handicapped guy who is also using a stick to walk is pushed around and falls twice. Several young men and a boy of maybe 11 trying to haul a vegetable cart out of the way are punched, hit and hauled around.
Phone calls up to M and H round by the Faisal hostel, which overlooks Damascus Gate and is often crawling with internationals, reveal that all this stems from the fatal shooting of an Israeli border policeman by a Palestinian. The gunman and another Palestinian have also been shot dead, according to a later check at Ha'aretz online. Even after all the Palestinians are released at my end of things - one second they're being hit round the head by Israeli soldiers, the next they're just allowed to go, all of a sudden - they are still beating people and harassing them down there. A group of Palestinians being held in a shop are abruptly released. M is beaten and put in a necklock briefly by an Israeli army commander who has seen him before observing harassment at Damascus Gate and has taken a major dislike to him. H gets some of this on videotape. - see jerusalem.indymedia.org.
As I walk back up to the office, shop-owners are looking grim and nervy but are starting to open their doors back up and remove the metal outer doors. I stop and look into a shoeshop at some shoes I've been letching at for weeks, and the owner comes out and invites me in for a cold drink (it's obscenely hot again today) and tells me about how his father was from Jaffa, where they had groves of orange trees and several shops, all gone. Replaced by incidents like today and being treated like a second-class citizen, and being forced to pay the outrageous taxes that are levied on east Jerusalemites by the Israelis, but without actually providing them with any of the services granted to the inhabitants of the west side of the city - including adequate electrical supplies and rubbish collection. This man, dignified and middle-aged, also tells me of his anger at the suicide bombing this morning. Like many Palestinians, he wants to see resistance to the Israeli occupation, but not in a manner which brings down so much more retribution onto so many others, perpetuating the cycle of violence which began in 1948 and escalated in 1967. The present Israeli regime needs Palestinian violence to continue, and by perpetrating the kind of brutalities that have been imposed in Nablus in recent days, it is making very sure that that will happen.