Rocks Against Rifles - Nablus, West Bank
In her latest dispatch back to SQUALL, Ewa Jasiewicz describes the relentless and injury strewn scrapping between stone throwing Palestinians and heavily armed Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Nablus.
5th June 2003
Two days ago, The Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) blocked both entrances to Balatta refugee camp, Nablus, with jeeps and tanks.
Due to the Road Map summit in Egypt and Jordan, tensions were running high in the West Bank and Gaza. Having the ground sold out from under your feet has an unsettling effect. The IOF said they apprehended a youth on his way to make a suicide attack in a taxi just outside Balata. The same 'intelligence' was cited as the reason for placing Jenin under curfew yesterday.
Soldiers in jeeps shot teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at people in the main street of Balatta two days ago, from 7am until the early evening (everybody goes home for Magreb [dinner], tanks or no tanks). Soldiers shot through round sniper holes situated in the back, side and front of their jeeps. The long black barrels of their M16's poking out and scanning for targets. Children threw rocks, molotovs, glass bottles of paint, sand and black slick oil at the jeeps. Clashes flared in the old city area too with armed resistance fighters attacking jeeps and tanks making incursions into the city. A total of 50 people were injured throughout the day.
One of the injured was the best friend of Amer Abu Ayiesh, a 19-year-old Balatta resident and Hamas fighter, who did a martyr operation against a settlement a few weeks ago. His friend, also aged 19, was shot four times with live ammunition in the chest, leg, and shoulder areas of his body. He hasn't opened his eyes since and is in a critical condition in hospital. Amer's brother said his death had affected him deeply and he's gone 'nuts' throwing stones at the soldiers that day, again and again and again and again. A foreign volunteer with the UPMRC (Medical) Polish/UK was also deliberately shot in the shoulder with a rubber bullet.
A total of five homes were occupied in Sufian Street, Fahtmiye Street and Adyll Street in the city of Nablus, near the old quarter by squads of approximately eight soldiers, all equipped with surveillance equipment - cameras, binoculars, night-vision goggles. Four homes were occupied in Old Askar. Families - in the case of the Abu Jierade household 30 people - were all hoarded and imprisoned in one room. Soldiers in the Abu Jierade house snatched neighbour and family member Manal Abu Jierade, aged 33, from the street and forced him to remain imprisoned in one room with the rest of his family. He had come to enquire about the welfare of those trapped inside.
A home overlooking the crossroads outside Balatta camp was also occupied with soldiers taking up sniper positions inside.
The soldiers stayed for between 1-1 and half days in the occupied homes, forcing residents to ask for permission to eat food, drink water, and go the bathroom. From the people we managed to speak to, families were fed up but in good spirits and were being allowed food and medical attention when needed and had not been beaten. Nor had they had their belongings destroyed or stolen, as is often the case when the IOF sets up temporary military bases/sniper posts in civilian homes.
The following day - yesterday - 35 people were shot including one young boy in the leg with live ammo, another in the hand, also with live ammo, a 6-year-old boy in the head with a rubber bullet (Rubber bullets by the way are just hard rubber coated square pellets made of steel, not unlike ear plugs in their shape and appearance). Another very young boy was shot in the leg. A teenage shebab had three back injuries - raw, bloody bruise/grazes which looked very very sore.
Clashes errupted when at 2am, the IOF bulldozed all the entrances to Balatta refugee camp, leaving large piles of dirt and mangled steel, crushed rock - made by their tanks and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) tearing up the streets - blocking all the roads in and out. Soldiers also shot out all the streetlights in the camp and along the roads to Nablus old city and Askar refugee camp. This besiegement meant that ambulances, water trucks and market traders could not enter the camp which is home to over 25,000 people. The roadblocks were still up today.
International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers attempted to remove one of the blocks at the main entrance to the camp at approximately 9am in the morning but were apprehended by soldiers and had their shovels stolen. A 5-year-old girl was also shot in the leg by a rubber bullet at the same time outside the Camp's Mosque.
Very very young kids, I'm talking scattered, crazy 4, 5, 6, 7-year-olds, approximately ten of them in total, took the back of the camp to fight off a bulldozer, APC and Jeep. Older kids and shebab took the front. The front area was the casualty hotspot with 7 injured by 1pm. An elderly Hajji (people call people Haj [man] and Hajji [woman] a lot here, it just means someone who''s off to Mecca to make Al Haj, the compulsory pilgrimage for all the Muslims on earth to visit the sacred stone which is said to have fallen from Paradise/God) - anyway, she commented to me, 'Why? why do they do it?' gesturing at all the young boys lamely tossing rocks and ducking behind mangled oil drums, shrinking at the blasts of lead over their heads. She makes a casual screw-y gesture with a long, wrinkled finger to her head 'No brain'.
But the soldiers have to hear the sound, they have to hear the sound of rocks - later that afternoon, enormous blocks of concrete were dropped from the top of a building by brave shebab which were later having to duck lazer-guided sniper bullets - smashing down, continually raining down on their tank/jeep/bulldozer. I've heard of soldiers listening to their walkmans in their tanks, which kind of undermines the Palestinian 'strategy of tension', ie when is that rock maybe not a rock but a molotov or a grenade or when does the sound just infuriate the hell out of you; the sound of defiance, made by sheer courage, the fact of picking up anything to hand and throwing it at your enemy just to show them resistance, and rage, just for the honour of fighting back.
Anyway, at one point, after set-piece clashes between shebab peering, yelling and luzzing from round alley-corners and some from behind the huge bulldozed roadblock - now serving as a large trench and barricade to throw from - two soldiers exit the jeep and begin to make their way, commando style, stopping behind stone arcade pillars and then stepping out, guns forward. An international volunteer then made her way to apprehend them and confronted the larger, live-ammo carrying (the other was desperately but failingly trying to load his gun up with teargas and baton rounds) soldier, a commander, who said he was from Holland, was fat and miserable looking but wry, his face not unlike that of comedian John Goodman. He kept muttering to his contact in Hebrew through a helmet-attached mouthpiece.
The volunteer kept putting herself infront of his gun and taking his arm and pushing the gun down, moving with him, infront of him at all times as he made his way to get closer to the kids behind the alley walls, the Mosque corner. At one point she tripped up backwards over a rock and fell full on backwards, leading to a big Balatta-wide rumour of the soldier having grabbed her by the hair and thrown her to the ground (Not true!!). At one point the soldier spun around, laughing slightly to himself, gun out, in a mock-giddy where-would-he-shoot-where-would-he-shoot? way. The other soldier never managed to make his gas-rubber-bullet gun work but he pretended to try to shoot the volunteer.
Eventually, the fat Dutch commander receded, followed by the volunteer, all the way until both soldiers entered their jeep and vroomed off. Later, a larger group of volunteers arrived and began to observe soldiers in a larger jeep try to shoot guys on the roof of a large building.
News came through of a soldier having been injured on the other side of the camp, leading to whoops of delight from the shebab. The soldiers from the larger jeep then shot live ammunition up at the roof, manoeuvering around in their vehicle to get the best shooting-range, and then later shooting a few live rounds at the group of 8 or so internationals standing under some pillars, under the roof they were targeting. The group was then shot by rounds of rubber bullets. Noone on the roof or on the ground in the area was injured.
An hour or so later, the Dutch commander soldier who had tried to take out some shebab in the camp succeeded in repeating his advance and shot a boy in his leg, shattering his bone.