Eight-year-old Aya Fayad shot dead as she rode her bicycle

The Palestine Monitor, 2 Sep 2003

Aya Fayad was one little girl out of one million eighty-five thousand Palestinian children, who should be having their first day back at school today. Aya is not having hers because she was murdered; thousands of others will not have theirs, because of some 400 Israeli checkpoints and road blocks, which prevent passage between cities and villages.

According to her mother, Om Isam, little eight year-old Aaya was excitedly awaiting the first day of the school year. She was delighted with her new books, and for days she had insisted on carrying her new school bag, and wearing the new clothes her mother had bought in preparation. But Om Isam’s youngest daughter did not go to school with her five sisters and friends today, because she was shot on Saturday night as Israeli soldiers began shooting from the Nave Karim settlement into the Anum Sarwi neighborhood, in Khan Yunis, where Aaya was riding her bicycle. Aaya died instantly.

393 Palestinian students have been killed since the beginning of the Intifada, and 2991 have been injured by the Israeli occupying forces. Most children suffer from some kind of trauma or fear, not just as a result of the treatment they encounter at the checkpoints but because of the horrors they have witnessed and experienced, often, this is the death of their friends.

The city of Qalqiliya, for instance has approximately 26, 000 students in the city and surrounding villages. The Director of the Ministry of Education is particularly concerned about the problems faced by these students, and their teachers who must pass through checkpoints to move to and from school. The Director, Khalil Abu Libdi explained how because the city is surrounded on three sides, everyone is forced to pass through one checkpoint meaning people may wait for many hours. The Ministry of Education has, he explains, come to an agreement with the Israeli District Coordination Office so that teachers are given special identification in order to ease restrictions on them passing through the checkpoints, but often these IDs amount to nothing, as the attitude of the Israeli Soldier on the day can override any Palestinian documentation.

Naim Abu al-Houmous, Palestinian Minister of Education has little doubt that the year ahead will be another hard year, how can it be anything but, when it begins with the killing of an eight year old little girl.

For more information contact: The Palestine Monitor

+972 (0) 2 298 5372 or +972 (0) 59 387 087


September 14-16, 2003
Palestinian Labor Tour

South Central Federation of Labor Meeting
Monday, September 15
7 pm
Madison Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St.
Contact: Ron Blascoe, c/o RafahSisterCity at Yahoo.com

Multicultural Student Coalition Meeting
Tuesday, September 16
7:00 pm
See “Today in the Union” for room location.

There will also be a display on library mall the day of the event in commemoration of “Al-Nakbah”, the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948.

Contact: Genia Daniels genia02 at yahoo.com
UW-Madison Multicultural Student Coalition (MCSC), and
Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition

Representatives of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and The Farmers Union will be touring the United States September 10 through October 12. Two of the delegates are also representatives in the Stop the Wall campaign.

They will travel to several cities for speaking engagements. Topics will include labor and trade unions, the construction of “the Wall,” analysis of the Road Map to Peace, and the impact on workers and farmers. They will also focus on building relationships here in the U.S., and how we can get involved.

Sharon Wallace

Delegation members:

Abdel Raheem Saleh Abdel Latif Khatib, Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions
Mr. Khatib has worked for eighteen years as the official representative for the Hotel and Service workers in Jerusalem. He is responsible for the education and implementation of Palestine Labor Law, elections and bylaws.

His daily responsibilities include union organizing, collective agreements, addressing grievances and legal issues faced by Palestinian workers, (which included Palestinians working in Israel prior to the second Intifada). As a member of the Legal Affairs Department of the PGFTU Mr. Khatib works with the various unions of the Federation and international labor representatives.

Nasser Ai-Faqih, Palestinian Agricultural Development Association (PARC), Stop the Wall Campaign
Mr. Al-Faqih is program manager of PARC: Rural Development Program in locations impacted by the separation wall. He is on the steering committee of the ìStop the Wallî campaign. His duties include training and organizing men and women farmers and agricultural workers, providing legal and other services. He works out of Ramallah, West Bank.

Fayez Audeh Al-Taneeb, Farmers Union, Stop the Wall Campaign
Mr. Audeh is coordinator for the Farmers Union in Tulkarem, West Bank and coordinator for Stop the Wall campaign. His responsibilities include organizing and providing support services for farmers and families in the area, especially those affected by the construction of the Wall. Mr. Audeh can no longer work his own land as it was declared off limits by the Israeli Army due to the construction of the Wall.

Suhal Al-Salman, Stop the Wall Campaign
Mr. Salman is coordinator for the Stop the Wall campaign for the three provinces of Tulkarem, Jenin and Qualquilya. He has presented on the Wall extensively and provides, with visuals, an in depth analysis of the impact of the Wall on the surrounding areas, as well as the entire West Bank.

Children’s author faces Jewish wrath

Tale of boy’s life in West Bank prompts pressure groups to call for withdrawal

Fiachra Gibbons, The Guardian, August 23, 2003

Jewish pressure groups are calling on a publisher to withdraw a children’s book about a Palestinian boy growing up amid the intifada on the West Bank.

A Little Piece of Ground, by the multi-award-winning author Elizabeth Laird, is a fictional account of how a 12-year-old called Karim – whose family’s olive groves have been confiscated by settlers – copes when his father is stripped and humiliated by Israeli troops.

As the boy is swept up in the protest against the occupation, and his friends make a fake bomb, he dreams of developing an “acid formula to dissolves the steel in Israeli tanks”.

Macmillan has received three demands for the book to be pulped, and many bookshops are worried about stocking it, lest it provoke further protests from Jewish groups. So far, most of the attacks on Laird have come from North America, led by a chain of Canadian bookshops which made the first “vitriolic” complaint to her publisher. It is understood that others have come from Jewish pressure groups.

The New Zealand-born novelist wrote her book after visiting Ramallah as part of a British Council scheme to encourage writing for children. She denies the story is anti-Israeli.

“I did expect comeback, but to say that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic is doing Israel a disservice. This is an important story that should be told. It shows a child under military occupation. It’s terrible for the occupiers, and terrible for the occupied. I hope I have shown how awful it is for the soldiers too,” said Laird, who has lived in Beirut and Iraq.

“There is already a great deal of understanding of Israel. All western people have felt sympathetic to Israel, for good reason often; and I don’t think that should stop. The voice of the Palestinian child, on the other hand, has not been heard.”

Children’s writer Ann Jungman, a member of the liberal Jews for Justice in Palestine group, said that she admired the book but still found it biased. “It’s not what is in there that I object to. It’s what has been left out. There should have been a broader picture. All the Palestinians are reasonable, and all the Israelis are monsters.”

Laird, who has won the Children’s Book Award, the Smarties Prize and been nominated three times for the Carnegie Medal, claimed A Little Piece of Ground was not meant to explain politics. “It’s true, lots of Israelis are trying to come to an accommodation with the Palestinians, and many refuse to serve in the West Bank. But the book is written through the eyes of a 12-year-old who just sees men with guns. It would not have been true to my characters to do otherwise.

“The book is not so much about politics as about brothers, friendship, falling in love and football.”

The title comes from a scrap of waste land that Karim and his friends turn into a football pitch and which later becomes a flashpoint in the violence.

Laird insisted that everything in the book was drawn from real events. “A lot of the incidents have come from the main Israeli human rights website”, while others were taken from the experiences of her collaborator, Sonia Nimir, a lecturer at Bir Zeit university on the West Bank.

Laird said she “toned down” several parts of the book, but that the motivation for suicide bombing had to be tackled. “Suicide bombings are going on in the background, and in one scene I have Karim’s uncle questioning his [Karim’s] hunger for vengeance after his father is humiliated by the soldiers. He tells him: ‘Does that make it right for us to go and bomb them?'”

Britain’s children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo, has defended the novel. “Sometimes we need more than escapism. No one but Elizabeth Laird could have written this book. She has lived in the Middle East. She knows it, loves it, grieves for it, and hopes for it.”

He urged parents to encourage their 11- to 14-year-olds to buy it. “Read it, and we know what it is to feel oppressed, to feel fear every day. And we should know it, and our children should know it, for this is how much of the world lives,” he said.

Macmillan refused to discuss where the demands to pull the book had come from, but Kate Wilson, managing director of its children’s arm, said the firm had no intention of withdrawing it. “We thought long and hard about whether it was responsible to go ahead. We were aware it might provoke a range of opinions.”

She said Macmillan was not afraid of enraging Jewish opinion: “I do not think there is a powerful Jewish lobby in this country. Elizabeth is a remarkable writer, with an amazing ability to get under the skin of her characters – we see the perspective of the soldiers as well as Karim’s.”

Ms Wilson maintained that the book directly confronted Karim’s support for suicide bombers. “Its central theme in many ways is his clash with his uncle, who opposes them.”

September 9, 2003
Working Meeting

MG&E Innovation Center, 505 S. Rosa Rd., Madison

This is a meeting to gear up for our fall plans, which are extensive and growing.

SUMMARY OF MRSCP STATUS (Please review prior to the meeting; these will all be discussed)

MRSCP has four working committees at the moment: The Delegation Committee, the City Council Committee, the Material Aid Committee, and the Literature Table Committee. In addition we have a website coordinator and a treasurer.

The Delegation Committee is preparing for sending a delegation, probably around 10 people maximum, sometime in early winter. For further details, contact Jennifer.

The City Council Committee has been active over the summer, and has drawn up plans for approaching the City council sometime this fall, hopefully before the delegation is scheduled to depart. We have been talking to other Sister Cities (including officially joining the Madison Sister Cities Coalition) as well as meeting with numerous individuals to solicit their advice and support. We have secured a number of endorsements and have set up an Advisory Committee of individuals.

The Material Aid Committee had set up the framework for a Medical Aid Campaign, however, due to difficulties in implementation in Palestine this is temporarily on hold. The Committee will be deciding on a fall campaign, probably in coordination with the Olympia-Rafah Sister City, which will be supporting a Women’s Empowerment Center and a Children’s Center in Rafah.

A campaign may also be done in coordination with the delegation planning. The Well Fund Campaign collected just short of $2500 which is being forwarded to Rafah this month.

The Literature Table Committee is being split off from the material aid work. The lit table committee has a good stock of literature (although we can always use suggestions for more!) and had a very successful day at the Farmer’s Market on Aug. 23. We should also be at Bobfest this weekend and several events are planned for this fall.

Fragments of Rafah

An iron wall on the right, a line of rubble from destroyed homes on the left, one of many toxic untreated human waste in the foreground are all that remains in this part of the Block “O” refugee camp in Rafah. A mobile IDF watchtower in the distance looms over the remaining homes. (Mark Zeitoun)

Laura Gordon, The Electronic Intifada, 21 August 2003

And outside, they are shouting again, men’s voices fighting to stay afloat like it was an ocean they were drowning in. Down the street in Al-Awda Square, Hamas has been demonstrating since 8 pm between Christmas lights in bright colors and loudspeakers. Further down, the shooting from the tower dominiates the night, louder than angry men, louder than demonstrators. Earlier tonight, an ambulance’s urgent wail, me holding my breath praying. Death is so close now you can smell it. Already it has come like a rain storm beginning in Hebron, like the time I watched rain come towards me from across a lake and ran toward the forest and my feet were not faster than the rain.

In the West Bank, tanks close in, six dead in a day. In Gaza, five missiles from an F-16 assassinate Ismael Abu Shanab, a non-militant spokesperson for Hamas; kill his two bodyguards, and injure 20 bystanders, 5 seriously. F-16s paint the sky everyday, blue and white like clouds. But so far in Rafah, a military tower is shooting in the air, bullets have remained abstract in their threat, have not collided today with flesh, but still I see death everywhere, in the faces of my friends and of strangers in the streets. Shouting upstairs as the images paint TV.

29 August 2003 — In my haste to leave the Internet cafe, I forgot to mention in my last letter that just as we were leaving the hospital, one 17-year-old was dying in the ICU from the injuries he had received from the missile in Jabaliya Camp the day before, and crowds of people were flowing into the waiting room like rivers, falling all over each other and you could hear the sounds of hearts breaking.

And last night back in Rafah, I slept so well that I didn’t hear the two five minute bouts of gunfire near us or the two tank shells that landed near us, but woke up anyway with my whole face clenched and my head pounding which is how I wake up everyday for no reason I can discern, woke up to hummous and foole and shakshuka, bread warmed directly on the burner, don’t mess around here, Al-Jazeera playing war scenes in India and Iraq and Palestine; Al-Jazeera covering the blackout in London, CNN offering American talking heads going on and on in that disinterested stance that even seeps through the overdub.

Abu Ahmed’s shrill and disgruntled (existing for itself only) voice, demanding we find our way outside to where the air is softer, under the fig tree; to where Sally’s eleven-year-old legs all wrapped up in green bellbottoms are climbing the wall to find the freshest figs, deep purple like red grapes, insides full of erotic pink fibers disolving like sugar. Sally bickering tirelessly with her father over figs.

Can I tell you about this family? Can I tell you that I managed to sleep through high caliber gunfire and tank shells but wake up promptly at 7am every morning when the members of the family start hollering at each other about breakfast, and that they only cool down after they’ve eaten and after they’ve had tea and settled down to watch TV and climb fig trees and sit around all day together chatting and poking fun at each other. Abu Ahmed hollers all day I think just to holler and not because he’s deaf in one ear.

1 September 2003 — On Saturday we went to Khan Younis to visit the martyr’s tent of Hamdi Kallakh, who had been assassinated two days earlier, decapitated by an Apache helicopter missile at the age of 35. We were led to the house where women were crowded together on cushions, filling two small rooms. We walked in, murmering condolences in stilted Arabic, not knowing what to say. We asked about his mother, but she was unconscious from grief and from fasting. She hadn’t eaten since her son was killed.

So we walked on; The 20-something widow he had left behind was sitting in the far corner and lifted her niqab to greet us, revealing a soft face with large cheekbones. Everyone seemed a bit confused about what we were doing there. We sat down in a corner where people made room for us, between aging women, eyes wide and bottomless, coffee brown skin in delicate folds like the pages of old books. They wore looks of disbelief and soft white cotton scarves wrapped loosely around their faces, folding into soft hills over their full, fat bellies, and below that, heavy black jilbabs down to their bare callussed old feet.

We were served traditional coffee and dried dates, the bitterness of a person’s passing followed by the sweetness of Allah’s patience.

A younger woman with a round face and thin lips began to translate. She wanted to know what we had to say about the helicopters that had killed her cousin and why Bush was sending tanks to their borders and their cities. Bush and Sharon is one word here. More than a few times I’ve heard people say America to mean Israel without thinking. The old women pitching in their frustrations with the rest. Us agreeing with them, us angry out loud with them. At some point they heard our anger and it brought us toether into the room.

The young widow sat silently through all of this, lips smiling faintly, removed from the whole weight of the room and the agitated women, nursing her 4-month-old child, the youngest of seven. Someone brought in shaheed posters for us to examine. About the M-16 he was holding, they said his wife had pleaded with him to leave it so the army wouldn’t kill him and leave her and their children behind to pick up the pieces; but now that he’s been murdered by that army she’s proud and says she’ll give that gun to his oldest son.

But outside it’s the first day of school and you wouldn’t notice the grief. The streets explode with children in bright new uniforms, pinstripes and fresh blue polo shirts and shiny white mendeels are lining the streets in row formation. The entire youth population of Rafah in mass exodus in the eleven-AM sun.

2 September 2003 — And as students rush through the steets from their second day of school, we drive past them to the pale white of the shaheed tent of Ayya Mahmood, shot deat three mornings ago at the age of eight. What can be said about that. White plastic chairs hold men in long lines under the shade of the tent. Above, a mural hangs from the wall, a tree bleeds as it cradles the Haram al-Sharif (Dome of the Rock) in its branches.

We follow Ayya’s uncle up a pathway of stairs and through the narrow maze of refugee camp streets, through rusting doors. We sit with the mother and some men from the family who have gathered. Her retelling of the story is calm, unemotional until she breaks into shaking, silent sobs at the end.

Continue reading

Cycle of Bloodshed Resumes

Gush Shalom, August 20, 2003

The horrifying suicide bombing in Jerusalem, in which dozens of innocent civians were killed and wounded,
deserves to be condemned in the sharpest terms. We offer our condolences to all the bereaved families. But
it is imposible to avoid also considering how did this come to happen.

The renewed cyce of bloodshed has begun with the decision of the political and military echelons to implement – in the middle of the Hudna (cease-fire) – a series of “targeted liquidations”, knowing full well that that act would lead to retaliation bombings and to the breaking of the Hudna.

The perpetrators of the bombings came from Nablus and Hebron, two cities under full control of the Israeli army, and their deed of blood was committed in West Jerusalem, where the Israeli police is in charge. In none of these places does the Palestinian Authority exercise any measure of real control, and its police has no ability to operate there.

The real immediate solution is to remove the IDF from the Palestinian territories and hand over full control to the Palestinian Authority – as was laid out in the Road Map.

Israel’s New Citizenship Law

Jewish Peace News, 10 Aug 2003

[Israel’s new citizenship law, passed recently by a wide margin in the Knesset, denies any Palestinian who is married to an Israeli citizen the right to reside in Israel or acquire Israeli citizenship. Only Palestinians — who in the overwhelming majority of cases are married to ethnically Palestinian Israeli citizens — are singled out in this way. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the law as racist, and Israel-based B’Tselem claims that it contravenes the Israeli Basic Law.

Because Israeli citizens are themselves not permitted into the Palestinian territories under illegal occupation by Israeli forces, couples targeted by the law cannot live together anywhere in Mandatory Palestine and must, presumably, emigrate to a 3rd country. Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook — here writing in Al-Ahram, an official Egyptian Government organ — argues that this is probably the effect intended by the law’s framers. AWJW]

Racism Reinforced

New Israeli citizenship law targets Palestinians and empowers Israel’s transfer policies. Jonathan Cook writes from Jerusalem

By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram Weekly, 7-13 August 2003

[Picture Caption: Farahti with three of their four children. Ahmed Farahti is facing deportation back to West Bank even though he has been married to Samar for eight years]

Morad as-Sana and his wife Abir returned home from their honeymoon in Istanbul last Saturday to the news that the Israeli parliament had passed a law two days earlier that will make their planned life together impossible.

As the young couple crossed back over the land border from Jordan to Israel, they parted ways: Abir to her family in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and Morad to his apartment in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. Neither knows when they will be able to see one another again.

The enforced separation is the result of legislation rushed through the parliament last week on the orders of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, before the Knesset’s summer recess this week. Sharon made the new law — an amendment to the Citizenship Law barring Palestinians from joining a spouse to live in Israel — a vote of confidence in his government.

The measure was approved by a wide margin last Thursday.

All Palestinian applicants will now be refused residency permits and access to the naturalisation process that would lead to citizenship.

Thousands more Palestinian spouses who are already living in Israel — and their children — face an uncertain future. They will have pending applications for citizenship frozen or refused, and unless they are allowed residency status they too will be forced to separate from a husband or wife.

The law provoked almost universal condemnation as “racist” from international and local human rights groups. Btselem, an Israeli rights group, pointed out that it contravened Israel’s basic laws on equality as well as the Declaration of Independence, which pledges the state to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity”.

Before the vote, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch submitted a joint letter to the Knesset urging its members to reject the amendment on the grounds that it is discriminatory and violates international law.

Even the minister responsible for the new law was apologetic. At an earlier stage of submitting the legislation, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said of the measure initiated by his predecessor: “It would be best if the bill never made it to the law books, because an enlightened and humane society should allow reunification of families.”

The law only affects Palestinians and will not apply to other foreigners marrying Israelis. Most Palestinians seeking citizenship are married either to one of Israel’s one million Arab citizens, or to one of the 220,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem.

The measure is being introduced for a one-year period but can be renewed annually — and many observers suspect that, once the initial outrage dies down, it will become a permanent feature of the statute books.

Morad and Abir, like thousands of other couples, now face a heart-breaking future. Abir, a 27-year- old lecturer in social work, is barred from living with Morad in his home in the Negev; and Morad, a 30-year-old lawyer, is prohibited from moving to Bethlehem by army regulations that ban Israelis from entering Palestinian-controlled areas.

“The state is making it impossible for us to be together,” said Morad. “I am an Israeli citizen and this is supposed to be my state. What other country treats its citizens in this way?” Paradoxically, the couple met at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 2000 on a masters programme on peace-building, co-sponsored by the Israeli Embassy and designed to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to trust each other.

“What message does this send me and other Arab citizens apart from that our government not only doesn’t trust the Palestinians but it doesn’t trust us either,” said Morad.

Continue reading

Torturing innocent children and women

Mohammed Omer, Rafah Today, 8 Aug 2003

Everyone in Palestine tastes the Occupation crimes, this occupation which wasn’t kind to children, women, old men, old women, and youth also, every day. Thousands of crimes I saw at the checkpoints, many immoral crimes which are impossible to describe; yes, hard things, you don’t know what they are doing now against humanity. All over the world I didn’t hear about occupation which jails children and subjects them to all kind of crimes. Today, in Khan Yunis according to Nasser Hospital, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) killed a Palestinian in the camp. Also, AL Aqsa Martyrs Hospital added that the IDF killed an old man called Rawhi Al Haour (47 years old). He was injured in his belly while he was walking to his house.

The Occupation jails children and women. Did you hear about this new crime that no one from the human rights centers knows about even here in Palestine? I get this information from two women who were in the Israeli prison. There are more than 93 women jailed in the Israeli prison since the beginning of this Intifada, and 7 of these 93 women are girls under 17 years old. Here are their names:

    Asmaa Mahmoud, 16 years old
    Fedaa Ghannam, 14 years old
    Zenab Al Sholi, 14 years old
    Tamara Derbas, 15 years old
    Aisha Abiat, 16 years old
    Sana Amer, 15 years old
    Rabaa Hamil, 14 years old

And I also have most of the names of the other women who are still in the Israeli prison. New babies children were born in the Israeli’s dark prisons!! This was the luck of some babies who were born in the Israeli prison, by such women as Omima Al Aqaa, Samiha Hamadan, Majda Salamh, and Mervat Taha. This woman who gave birth to a baby called Waiel in the Israeli prison, on 8th Feb 2003 in Al Ramalla prison in Israel, suffered and is still suffering with her baby child from many medical problems because of the serious injuries received when they jailed her. The woman is still till this moment trying to let the people hear her voice, but no one hears. But I knew this information from one of the prisoners who was there, and promised to let the people know the truth of what is happening to the women and children in the Israeli prison.

Difficult experiences for all of them in the Israeli prison and in a very difficult time. And this was just a few things I wrote from this woman, and there were still many more crimes which the soldiers committed in the prisons against all these women.

2000 children have been jailed in Israeli prisons. According to the lawyer Hussein Al Shekh on 30th Jul 2003, more than 2000 children were arrested over 3 years, most of the children between the ages 12-17.

The children suffer from all kinds of torturing, as the soldiers don’t allow them their simple and basic needs. For instance, the lawyer interviewed one of the children and asked him what he wants to say. The child, Mohammed Shaker Haboush, is 13 years old and now in Atsioon Prison in Hebron. He said

    “They didn’t allow us to drink water when we needed it, and every day they hit us, and didn’t allow us to have a shower for two months. . . sometimes they exile the one who asks for water and food to a very small room, so this leads all of us not to ask for food or water to avoid this small room. The soldiers also forced me to sign papers, but I don’t know for what. Every day the soldiers hit us and force us to do things that we don’t like. I want to see my father, I want to see my mother, when will I see them, and what did I do for them to put me in this place?!”

If we just look at all these crimes against innocent children. Do the international Human Rights conventions say to do all these things against Palestinian children?! Or protecting child agreements and especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, which says we protect civilians in wars?

Many, many conventions which protect children are not working in the Middle East, and why?! Because here we have Israel, this country which did many things and didn’t respect the UNITED NATIONS conventions and especially Law 37 lines A and B which say that it’s not allowed to arrest children and do any things against them. Why did they sign this convention, that’s all, why?! Why don’t they respect these laws or at least respect the countries which created these laws and conventions. We have to look at these conventions, the United Nations conventions, and confirm what Israel is doing now and what they signed in the past. Or does Israel have new laws? If that is so, why didn’t we hear about it?!

Well, I have many things on this subject and went to many sources to get this information. Now, after realizing there are 300 prisons with people jailed months or years, many thousands in Rafah launched a very big demonstration asking the human rights centers and peacemakers to find a quick solution for the prisoners.

Removing the witnesses

Israel’s crackdown on international peace activists raises grave concerns.

Muna Hamzeh, Al-Ahram Weekly, 29 May – 4 June 2003

At a time when world attention is focussed on the Israeli government’s acceptance of the "the steps" set out in the roadmap and its complete rejection of the Palestinian right of return, the Israeli authorities have been escalating their crackdown on international peace activists and humanitarian organisations operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces arrested three peace activists, including two Americans, in Tulkarm refugee camp on Saturday as they attempted to leave the camp during an imposed curfew. Mike Johnson from Washington State, Matteo Bernal from Kentucky and Palestinian Ousama Kashou had been accompanying schoolchildren trying to return to their homes after Israeli troops clamped down a curfew and began conducting large scale house-to- house searches intended to root out the camp’s "terrorist infrastructure". The three are members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led group of Palestinian and international activists working to end the occupation.

The arrest of the ISM activists is seen as part of an alarming rise in the crackdown on international non-violent peace groups working to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population. ISM and other non-violent peace groups have increasingly had their offices raided and their members either denied entry to Israel or detained and deported. Some have even fallen victim to Israeli gunfire.

In one case, an Israeli sniper shot Tom Hurndall, 22, a British ISM activist in the head on 10 April while he was protecting children in Rafah from Israeli gunfire. He remains in critical condition. Meanwhile, Brian Avery, 23, an American ISM activist remains in hospital in Haifa after Israeli forces shot him in the face in Jenin on 5 April. Avery has suffered extensive damage to his face and will require extensive reconstructive surgery. Both these shooting incidents came less than one month after ISM activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer during a house demolition in Rafah.

In addition to the latest arrests in Tulkarm, Israeli troops raided the offices of the ISM and the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement in Beit Sahour on 9 May, confiscating and destroying equipment and files and detaining three women, including two Americans and one Palestinian. While the Palestinian was later released, the two Americans were taken away for possible deportation.

Another group being targeted by Israel’s occupation forces is the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Hebron. Comprised mostly of American and British religious pacifists, CPT has been operating in Hebron since the early 1990s and has been mostly left alone by the Israeli army. The morning of 20 May proved this was no longer the case. For the second consecutive search within a few days, Israeli soldiers raided the CPT apartment in Hebron’s Old City, examined the passports and visas of the seven activists present, photographed the apartment and its occupants, and searched the contents of the filing cabinet.

The officer in charge then laid down some harsh new rules, informing the activists that they were barred from entering the H1 area of Hebron (under Palestinian control since Oslo, but reoccupied in 2002). CPT members were warned that any activist found in that area would face arrest and deportation. The activists were also strictly forbidden from going near Israeli settler enclaves, particularly in Old Hebron. But most devastating to the group has been the stern warning that CPT activists were no longer allowed to engage in "school patrol", the group’s most critical and needed activity.

Since Israeli forces clamped down an almost continuous curfew on Old Hebron in November 2002, Palestinian schoolchildren have been finding it increasingly difficult to attend school. Harassment by settlers and soldiers alike is commonplace, as is the likelihood of Israeli troops firing tear gas or bullets at children who attempt to go to school under curfew.

Through "school patrol", CPT activists accompany schoolchildren to and from school, offering some semblance of protection. Indeed, out of 2000 students enrolled in area schools, only 1400 are actually able to reach their schools on a given day, partially due to CPT’s "school patrol" activity. Now, even this minimal form of protection is to be denied.

To emphasise their threats of detention and deportation, Israeli troops arrested CPT member Greg Rollins on 17 May while he was monitoring the arrest of several Palestinians in Hebron. Rollins, a Canadian from British Columbia, is being held in a prison in Tel Aviv and threatened with deportation. His attorney, Jonathan Kuttab, is seeking an injunction from the Israeli High court to block deportation.

Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities earlier this month denied entry for the second time in a week to a group of European volunteers with Youth Action for Peace, the Youth Euro-Med programme of the European Commission. The incident marks the first time that the Israeli authorities have denied entry to a European voluntary service group since the launch of the Euro-Med programme, one of the regional programmes set up in the 1995 Barcelona Process to establish dialogue between young people from the 27 Euro-Mediterranean partners, including Israel.

The rising restrictions on international peace activists coincide with new regulations affecting international employees of non-governmental organisations operating in the Palestinian territories. Starting 14 April, foreigners employed by international NGOs have been required to receive a B1 working visa, which can only be obtained if the applicants can prove they are working 40 hours a week in Jerusalem (excluding East Jerusalem) and that they don’t work in the Palestinian territories. The new regulation coincides with new Israeli restrictions preventing foreigners, with the exception of those holding diplomatic passports, from entering or leaving the Gaza Strip.

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