by Eva Bartlett (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
The daily suffering and humiliation of Palestinian civilians at the hands of the Zionists is captured by Eva Bartlett, an International Solidarity Movement activist, who has spent much time in Occupied Palestine.
Since May 2007, I have lived in different parts of Occupied Palestine witnessing the crimes of the Zionist entity and sharing in the daily tragedies, injustices and realities of the Palestinians. In 2007, I volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement for eight months in the Occupied West Bank during which time I was detained at a protest against a Jewish-only highway, arrested at a roadblock removal action, and was finally deported and banned from Occupied Palestine.
During those months, I was witness to the ugliest aspects of life under Zionist rule: attacks by illegal armed Jewish colonists and by Zionist soldiers on Palestinian children, women, and the elderly; humiliating military checkpoints, some with zoo-like turnstiles all of which serve to delay or completely prevent the Palestinians’ movement; and raids and weeks-long lockdowns on Palestinian towns and cities, in which the Zionist army ransacked homes and usually abducted one or more member of the family, including children. There are currently 195 Palestinian children in Zionist prisons.
In Susiya, a hamlet in the South Hebron Hills, I witnessed land being stolen and quickly annexed by the illegal Jewish colonists. As we were documenting this annexation, a colonist gleefully admitted that the land was Palestinian but that the grape vines they’d planted on the land were worth 60,000 shekels (roughly $17,500) and were intended for wine production. “It doesn’t matter. See, the grapes we grow will be wine. And I will drink the wine. It doesn’t matter at all that you speak.”
I slept in the tents sharing space with Palestinian families who two decades earlier had been evicted from their homes. They now reside in ramshackle tents that also have been demolished by the Zionist army many times — and always under threat of the next demolition. We stayed with them in hopes of preventing the inevitable attacks by the nearby colonists. Hajj Khalil, an elder in his eighties, had been brutally beaten by the colonists the year before I met him. He was again brutally beaten along with his wife the year after meeting him.
In encounters with the army, which has a military base near Susiya, I would often hear them call the occupied West Bank “Judea and Samaria,” testament to their ignorance and brainwashing. Then again, the Zionist occupation army does not pretend to recognize Palestine either — historic or current — its website likewise referring to it as “Judea and Samaria.”
Al-Khalil (Hebron) itself is one of the most phenomenally brazen examples of illegal Jewish colonists’ control of Palestinian land. Some 800 heavily armed colonists have run H2, an area of al-Khalil under full Zionist control. Particularly in Tel Rumeida, attacks have been frequent and severe over the years, their sadistic aggressions supported by Zionist soldiers. Palestinians of all ages are frequently targeted, and families have been brutally evicted from their homes by the colonists who then occupy them (on February 25, 1994, a Zionist colonist from Brooklyn, New York, Baruch Goldstein, murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers including children and injured more than 100 others in the Ibrahimi Masjid during Fajr (early morning) prayers. He was overpowered and killed in the melee. The Zionists erected a monument to him to glorify his murderous act).
Many times over in Occupied Palestine, I found myself and other solidarity activists doing things which seemed to be an utter waste of time. In al-Khalil, for instance, we would stand for hours near the military checkpoints and monitor whether Palestinians were unduly being held back or prevented passage by the Zionist soldiers.
In some cases our presence shamed the soldiers and Palestinians were allowed passage, but in most cases the soldiers were so belligerent they didn’t care whether we saw (and filmed) their acts of cruelty against Palestinians. Often we, too, were detained or arrested by the Zionist soldiers when refusing to leave an area suddenly deemed a “closed military zone,” a tactic the Zionist army uses to both keep Palestinians and internationals out of an area, and also to annex more Palestinian land (as was the case of Susiya).
On Shuhada (Martyrs) Street — once a thriving and prosperous main street of al-Khalil, now a ghost-street, homes shuttered and racist, hate-graffiti sprayed on doors and walls — we would sit for hours under the sun, merely as a presence which might dissuade the colonists from attacking Palestinian children as they walked to school, or Palestinian women and elders as they moved about. Sitting for hours seemed like a colossal waste of time, but in many cases being present did actually enable a degree of safe passage.
We participated in rebuilding homes demolished by the Zionist military under feeble pretexts such as lack of building permits (Israeli-granted) or zoning laws. On one such occasion the family we were with was rebuilding for a third time. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that at least 27,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967 (not including those bombed in Gaza). Under the “Prawer Plan,” the Zionists intend to displace 70,000 Palestinians with “Israeli” citizenship, destroying 35 villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert, Occupied Palestine.
In olive season, we joined families in areas known for brutal attacks by the illegal colonists, harvesting olives with the Palestinian locals until the inevitable attacks occurred. On one occasion, a Palestinian received a nasty head wound from the huge rocks slung at him. I narrowly missed being hit by a rock on the temple, my camera-hand blocking it. The six or so colonists on a hill above us were not chagrined when we yelled that they were going to kill someone. It was, after all, their intent.
Another absurdity during olive harvest season, and in general to any farmer trying to access his/her land, is the need to obtain a permit, one granted (or not) by the Zionists. And even with this permit, there is no guarantee that the Palestinians will be able access and work on their land.
During a military invasion in the old city of Nablus, in the north of the West Bank, we walked the streets to bring food to Palestinians trapped in their homes, and escorted those who had been outside of their homes when the “curfew” (lock-down) was imposed. At one point during the evening lock-down, after escorting three women to houses surrounded by Zionist soldiers, a Palestinian medic we were with was taken captive by the soldiers, blindfolded and hand-cuffed, and used as a human shield to deter Palestinian resistance from fighting back against the invading soldiers. None of our attempts to negotiate his release were successful; informing the soldiers that taking civilians — medics at that — captives as human shields, was illegal but it had absolutely no impact. After all, Zionists are above the law…
Bil‘in, a village north of Ramallah, was one of the first villages to protest the gargantuan, illegal wall the Zionists are building which snakes deeply into the already occupied West Bank. Since 2005, men, women, children, and elders from Bil‘in have marched every Friday on their land, protesting this latest Zionist annexation and the loss of 60% of village land. They are systematically met with an assault of live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, and volleys of tear gas.
The “rubber” bullets are in fact metal bearings with a very thin coating of rubber, often intentionally split open before being shot, in order to inflict maximum injury. They are meant for use only on the legs, but Zionist soldiers routinely shoot at the face.
The amount of tear gas fired on Bil‘in protesters is staggering, but more lethal is the manner in which they are fired: often they are shot directly at the person, which in the case of Bassam Abu Rahme resulted in death. Shot from a mere few metres away with a high-velocity tear gas canister, Bassam did not survive. As of his killing in April 2009, he was the 18th person murdered by the Zionist army for protesting against the wall; many 14–16 year olds and a 10-year-old are among the dead.
Those seen as organizers are systematically abducted, both during the demonstrations and also during night raids on the village, and are usually kept without charge for months on end, some of the 134 Palestinians being held in Zionist prisons under “administrative detention.”
Participating in Bil‘in and the numerous other Palestinian villages holding such nonviolent protests, we marched with them and were likewise debilitated by the clouds of tear gas. When it seemed the army was going to abduct a Palestinian, we would attempt to “de-arrest” him/her. On one occasion, by wrapping our limbs around Adeeb, one of Bil‘in’s many times abducted protester, we managed to fend off his arrest, but took a beating to the body and kicking to the head before the soldiers lobbed a tear gas canister directly at us.
The irony of such brutality on the various nonviolent protests is that corporate media often say, “Why aren’t there any Palestinian peace activists?” But every day of surviving under Zionist rule is in itself nonviolent protest, not to mention the actual demonstrations happening every week.
While I have witnessed horrific acts of violence and degradation against Palestinians at the hands of the Zionist army and colonists, in my nearly four years in Occupied Palestine, I have also surprisingly seen much beauty, generosity, culture, and resilience.
This would not be surprising to anyone who knows Palestinians, but to an observer hearing only of the various wars the Zionist State inflicts on the Palestinians, one would hardly expect beauty and life to flourish.
However, suffering and tragedy far outweigh joy and hope, in an imbalance similar to that of the power imbalance between the heavily-armed Zionist State and the armed-with rocks-and-homemade-rockets occupied Palestinians.
The least I can do, we can do, is to work on shifting that power imbalance, toward one of justice.
Eva Bartlett is a member of the International Solidarity Movement and spent much time in Occupied Palestine. In December 2008 she was in Gaza and lived through the Israeli onslaught against the enclave.