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News :: Human Rights
Violence in the Palestiniian Territories: July 2004 update
by john petrovato
Email: jpetrovato (nospam) hotmail.com
02 Aug 2004
Below is a news summary for conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the month of July, 2004. The monthly report outlines the violence and terror of everyday life in which the Palestinian people suffer. The information in the report is drawn largely from Israeli and Palestinian newspapers, as well as from the BBC and other new sources. The report outlines the invisible nature of the conflict that Americans are unaware of.
Report on conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: July 2004.
While Americans and the media have focused so much attention on the Presidential conventions as of late, the U.S. government continues to fuel economic and political support into regimes that are guilty of widespread injustice, suffering and death around the globe. This is true in regards to the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Occupation is illegal under international law, and U.N. security resolutions have demanded that Israel retreat and allow refugees the right to return, yet Israel maintains its defiance of such resolutions as it continues its assault on the Palestinian people. As America is mesmerized by the spectacle of “democracy”, most people on the planet suffer the cruel fate of living in nations that are at war with their citizens – nations that are far too often supported by the U.S.
The near blackout in coverage regarding the constant violence to ordinary people in the Palestinian territories is normal. It seems that no matter how much the violence and atrocities are increased; Israel may count on American media to downplay the reporting of such. This has been particularly true this year, as the world has seen a noticeable rise of abuses against Palestinians as evidenced in U.N. reports on human rights abuses. Reports from varying NGOs also tell a similar story. Scathing reports have been circulated regarding Israel’s illegal actions of demolishing people’s homes, the destruction of entire commercial centers, the plowing of agricultural land, occupation and closing of schools, the closing of roads, and the assault against almost anything that somehow contributes to Palestinian infrastructure.
The month of July witnessed an increase in Israeli military operations that included full curfews of cities and towns, the searching and/or destruction of ordinary Palestinian homes, placing more than one hundred Palestinians into administrative detention (arrests and imprisonment without a charge), the wholesale annexation of large swaths of land, and the random shooting into Palestinian neighborhoods, to mention but a few.
It is troubling that in the midst of such wide-scale human rights abuses, the U.S. media continues to show a distinct and unflinching bias toward Israel. Besides leaving undiscussed the structural and implicit violence that shapes everyday life for ordinary Palestinians and the fact that the conflict’s roots are the Occupation itself, the media tends to focus on spectacular violence, such as that of Israeli gun ships firing missiles into buildings or cars (argued for “retaliatory” reasons) or savagery of Palestinian suicide bombings. Without understanding the context, the selective media presentation conveys that Palestinians are “not like us” – they are violent, uncivilized, and dangerous. Less visible “non-spectacular” forms of violence – the kind that is repeated daily and has become part of every Palestinians’ daily routine is left undiscussed. As a result, Americans who do not study the conflict are unable to understand the context in which the conflict occurs and continues. An interesting side note is that the Israeli media itself tends to be more open to dissenting points of view regarding the conflict than here in America. Because of the lack of context as well as selective reporting, most people in the U.S. and Europe don’t have a clear understanding of the basic issues. This explains the results of a survey of Britons’ opinions on the subject, reported in the British newspaper “The Guardian” on July 14. The results are astonishing: most people interviewed believed that “the Palestinians were occupying the occupied territories”. Many others believed that the conflict was basically a border dispute between two countries that were trying to grab a piece of land that separated them. The great bulk of those interviewed had no idea where the Palestinian refugees had come from – some suggested Afghanistan, Iraq or Kosovo. As we celebrate “democracy”, one wonders whether it is possible if those who participate in it cannot understand the points argued.
A note about the sources used to collect information: Much of the information collected below was from Israeli newspapers such as Haaretz (Haaretz is considered to be the “New York Times of Israel” and as such, is the most respected and quoted of Israeli news sources). Other sources this month include reports from the U.N., the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, reports from ISM volunteers working in the West Bank, Palestinian newspapers, the BBC, and a host of other sources.
The Normalization of Violence
Over the past two years, the world has witnessed (and to a large degree accepted) the massive increase in the levels of injury and death to ordinary Palestinians (non-combatants) by the occupying Israeli forces. Most of the Palestinians killed or injured were civilians who were not involved in any militant activity. Further, as evidenced by some of the incidents below, many of the deaths were the result of random live fire into residential neighborhoods. Firing live ammunition into neighborhoods is usually for the reason of intimidation or for imposing a curfew. It is a practice that usually leads to injury or death of unsuspecting individuals. It is a practice banned under international law (especially as Israel, being the occupiers, must provide protection as opposed to terror for the population). Below are just a few of the incidents that occurred in July:
On July 3rd, a Palestinian man who was protesting the presence of Israeli military armored vehicles outside of Balata refugee camp was shot dead. The man, Mahmoud Alahwani, whose brother had been killed by soldiers just 10 days earlier, was shot when the military opened fire into the demonstration.
On July 5th, in the Gaza strip community of Rafah, a four-year-old girl died of wounds after being shot by Israeli gunfire a week earlier. On the same day, three other children were wounded in Ramallah by military fire as well. Injuries to Palestinian children were also reported in Hebron on July 5th when they were attacked and beaten by Israeli settlers.
On July 7th, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian professor named Khalid Salah and his son in Nablus. The incident occurred when the military had ordered all residents to come out of a building after a rocket struck it. The daughter reported that the explosion had damaged the door lock and they could not get out. The professor called to the soldiers in the streets in English but was met with live gunfire killing him and his son who stood next to him.
In a separate incident on that day, a 12-year-old boy in Gaza was killed when Israeli troops shelled a Palestinian neighborhood in the city of Kahn Younis.
On July 9th, witnesses reported that the military opened fire on a passing car in Heja village (Qalqilya) killing one and wounding another (like other “attacks” no explanation was given why such occurred). In Gaza on the same day, four women were wounded when soldiers randomly opened fire toward a neighborhood. Included was a four-year-old girl who was shot in the head. The ambulances carrying these women to a hospital were then denied passage through a military checkpoint and had to thus return to a local clinic.
Random gunfire from the military continued the following day in Gaza and resulted in a pregnant woman being seriously wounded when she and her daughter were returning from buying food. Later that day, in an unrelated incident, a car had been mistakenly identified as a target and blown up by a tank shell killing all four inside.
On July 12th, a 70-year-old disabled man who evidently didn’t hear calls to evacuate his house, was found dead amidst the rubble after the Israeli military demolished it. The BBC reported that his daughter pleaded with the military to give more time so she could retrieve him but the soldiers ignored her and proceeded to blow up the building.
The shooting of innocent Palestinians continued throughout the month with deaths and injuries reported almost everyday. There is an unfortunate pattern of gross negligence on the part of the Israeli military to protect innocent life. By innocent I mean people who are non-combatants, who are civilians not engaged in military efforts to end the occupation (of course, it should be mentioned that international law gives Palestinians, and all people living under occupation, the right to resist in a military manner). The Israeli’s lack of concern with the wellbeing of Palestinians directly violates the Geneva Convention that states that the Occupying Power must provide protection for the occupied people. Not only have they failed in this regard, the Israeli military has actively engaged in a policy to destroy the material conditions with which to support life.
Indeed, over the past three and a half years, the death toll of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories killed by the Israeli military has reached 3394 as of July 25th. This number includes 624 children. 107 of the deaths were the direct result of ambulances being held up or denied passage at checkpoints. 45 of the dead were victims of settler attacks. Medical personnel were also targeted, which left 31 dead. 9 Palestinian journalists were slain during this period. Injuries to the Palestinian people average 10 times the number of deaths.
Destruction of homes:
The destruction of homes represents another violation of the Geneva Convention and international law. Israel claims the right to destroy the homes of individuals (and the homes of their extended family) believed to be involved in resisting the occupation. They also destroy homes for “security reasons”: to provide a flattened area for better surveillance of a community. During the first two weeks of July, dozens of homes were destroyed. Some were demolished by the use of rockets from Apache helicopters, some by tanks, others by bulldozers. Houses were destroyed in Rafa, Khan Younis, Nablus, Qalqilya, Jenin, Beit Hanoun and elsewhere. In Beit Hanoun, they also leveled green houses, hundred of agricultural trees, and destroyed the electricity, telephone, and water networks.
Some houses were not destroyed, but seized and occupied. Again, citing “security reasons”, soldiers may seize a house that has “strategic value” and imprison the occupants and/or expel them. On July 13th, four different houses in the Gaza strip were seized for such purposes. The people who owned these houses were either forced to all live in one room or forced to find refuge elsewhere. No compensation to the families is provided. The occupants of the houses, upon being allowed to return (usually in a month or two), most often find that they were vacated in a most hateful manner: destroyed furniture, stolen items, food left rotting out, and even cases where the soldiers urinated in various rooms. Besides the dozens of houses occupied in this manner during July in Gaza alone, in one week (the third week of July), 35 houses were also destroyed in the Rafah (Gaza strip) area.
The Israeli army also increased the destruction of other aspects of Palestinian infrastructure. For instance, on July 14th, Israeli military hit metal workshops with missiles in the Gaza strip. Claiming that they “may” have been used for weapons production, the metal shops were demolished. Rather than investigating and arresting so-called “violators”, the Israeli army simply destroys first and asks questions later. Meanwhile, for over 60% of the Palestinians who live on less than $2.00 a day, the destruction of workplaces continues to erode hope of supporting their families.
In the village of Bart’a Sharqiya, July 25th became the 23rd day in a row that the town was invaded by the Israeli military. The military has rampaged through the town destroying houses and facilities, agricultural land, and occupying residential buildings.
Related to the story of the destruction of the Palestinian economy, the World Bank reported in July that nearly a half-million olive and fruit trees had been destroyed in the last 15 months.
In response to the question of why the destruction of family’s homes and land is necessary, the answer is simple: the military deemed it necessary for “security reasons”. Explanation of why specifically an action was taken is not necessary. What is evident, however, is that the military has no concern for the local population; no concern that impoverished people are made homeless by such actions; no concern that the violence has led to the UNICEF report on July 21st that Palestinian children are suffering from serious psychological problems, especially in areas where they witness violence (which is the majority of areas); no concern that such actions are leading to a rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world due to the hateful actions of the military; no concern that they are fueling hatred and anger for generations of Palestinians. Armies that have no concern for the population they are policing are likely to commit human rights violations.
Settlers and Settlements
Of course, the violence against Palestinians not only occurs from the military occupiers, but also from ideologically driven and violent Israeli civilians as well. Settlers occupy Palestinian land in both the West Bank and Gaza (in effect, the same action previously called “colonization”). These settlers mostly come from the United States, Europe, and Russia and reside in Palestine for either economic or religious reasons. Not all of the 400,000 settlers who illegally live on Palestinian land engage in a campaign of terror and violence against the local population, but many do (often those who come from the United States). Every month, settlers engage in violence against Palestinian people, land, and infrastructure. Below are a few of the examples of settler violence that occurred in July.
On July 7th, armed settlers stormed the Palestinian community of Al-Khalil while the Israeli military stood by (the primary purpose of the Israeli military in the Occupied territories is to provide protection for these settlers, even when they act in aggressive and violent ways). Though the settlers rampaged through the village leaving a path of destruction in their wake, no settler was arrested.
On July 13th, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that settlers had contaminated a Palestinian drinking well in a village south of Hebron that was used by local schools. The contamination occurred by settlers by throwing 6 rotting corpses of chickens into the well.
In a July 10 article, the Christian Science Monitor reported that opposed to the “Road map” and to Sharon’s promises, settler “outposts” have not been dismantled, but have actually grown and increased in size. Settler “outposts” are even “illegal” under Israeli law because they were not authorized by the state. Rather, outposts are born out of the initiative of local settlers who conquer Palestinian lands for the expansion of their settlement. While the seizing of Palestinian land is considered justified by the military, the Israeli government doesn’t official condone civilians doing the same. Of course, as the CSM notes, even when outposts are not approved and considered “illegal”, the government does not actively try to stop their development. And once they are “established”, they are then under the protection of the military.
In an article that appeared in Haartz on July 29th, Yossi Sarid, an Israeli writer, reported that a leading candidate in the Mayoral race in the settlement of Ariel, was someone blamed for war crimes against Palestinians. The candidate, whose name is Yahuda Meir, was found guilty of inflicting unreasonable cruelty against Palestinian non-combatants during the first Intifada. The incident in question occurred in the village of Hawara (outside of Nablus) in January of 1988. Sarid writes:
“The auxiliary company of one of the better-known battalions was given an order to gather 12 people in the village. They were gathered by the mukhtar at night, without putting up any opposition. The soldiers cuffed them – hands and feet – walked them out to a nearby orchard, and had them lie on the ground. Then they stuffed their mouths with “flannelit” (cotton strips used to clean rifles), so they could not be able to shout. And then the soldiers obediently followed orders: “Break the Palestinians’ two hands and two legs with truncheons, without any blows to the head. After breaking their hands and legs, leave the cuffs and leave the people out there in the fields. And leave a “local” with broken hands, but unbroken legs so that he can run to the village and call for help”.
The military, in reviewing the incident, found that while the operation was extreme, the officer should be dealt with in a disciplinary manner as opposed to a criminal one. Of course, not only did the future mayoral candidate not receive serious punishment, he actually was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
The Israeli high court had a different opinion on the case and informed the military that it saw the case as problematic. The military responded to the court’s suggestions by demoting the candidate to private. He did not spend a single day in jail for the extreme hatred and violence against innocent civilians. In a recent interview with the Ariel newspaper, he recounted the incident with pride saying that he expresses no remorse and suggests that he joins the good company of other great Israeli leaders (like Ariel Sharon) who had also been implicated for war crimes against Palestinians.
The prison that is Gaza
Gaza strip, a small swath of land roughly the size of Manhattan and the home to well over one million Palestinians, is viewed by residents and commentators alike as a prison. Completely enclosed by a wall, and having no control over their water resources, the impoverished population has no place to go. The southern tip of Gaza borders with Egypt, though they have also no control for securing that border (Israeli maintains all control over that border as well). Gaza residents, like those living in the West Bank, are citizens of no country and have no political rights.
Residents of Gaza are allowed to pass through the border to Egypt, but returning to their homes in Gaza is not always easy. On July 29th, the BBC reported that over 2,500 Palestinians were being held at the border trying to return home. Many of the people were returning from Cairo where they receive medical treatment (as evidenced by wheelchairs crutches). The BBC believes that many of the people had been waiting for over 2 weeks to pass through the checkpoint. The Israeli chapter of “Physicians for Human rights” reported the situation as “appalling”, with people waiting in squalid conditions without basic supplies. For instance, there were only 8 portable toilets set up for the 2,500 to use. Egyptian authorities have responded to this situation by delivering water supplies for those stuck at the border.
Hope and Justice
On a positive note, the first half of July did see a promising development: the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial authority of the United Nations, ruled that the 420 mile “separating fence”(the Wall) that Israel is building is illegal under international law. In its opinion, the ICJ recommended that the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly consider what steps are necessary “to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall”. The court stated that Israel must immediately halt construction to the fence/wall inside the Occupied West Bank, dismantle the sections already built, and make reparation for the damage caused.
The European Union agreed that the barrier (which is built on Palestinian rather than Israeli land) is a hindrance to a peaceful solution. They stated, “We have underlined that the wall not only results in confiscation of Palestinian land and causes untold humanitarian and economic hardship, but also could prejudge future negotiations and hinder a just political solution to the conflict”.
In contradiction to the International rulings, the Sharon government announced that construction of the Wall will continue and that they flatly rejected the decision by the International Court of Justice. Sharon called the ruling immoral, one-sided, and a “slap in the face” in what he described as “the global fight against terrorism”. As usual, Sharon downplayed the fact that it is not the wall in and of itself that Palestinians are concerned with, but the reality that it has been built on Palestinian, not Israeli land.
However, in response to the ruling by the ICJ, the United Nations General Assembly heard and also voted on the ruling. Overwhelmingly, the UN adopted a draft condemning the West Bank Wall by a vote of 150 to 6. Under the resolution, the assembly would demand that Israel comply with The Hague’s ruling that the barrier built on Palestinian land was illegal and should be torn down. While the United States was one of the six that sided with Israel, no European nations did so. Thus in response to the European Union’s siding with the ICJ ruling, the deputy chief of Israel’s UN mission Arye Mekel said Israel was disappointed that the EU nations “surrendered to Palestinian dictates” and added that it would be difficult to see how the Europeans could fulfill any part in the peace process. Amazingly, Israel views only those who side with them (such as the United States and Micronesia) as the only parties able to help in the peace effort.
The response that is “American”
As is typical, the Bush administration supported the Israeli decision to ignore the court’s ruling. Brushing aside the decision, the Bush administration stated, “We do not believe that that’s an appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue. This is an issue that should be resolved through the process in place, specifically the ‘road map’”.
The United States has veto power with the United Nations Security Council and has indicated that the U.S. would veto any attempt at punishing Israel over the court’s decision. Indeed, the international community has reasons to believe that the United States will veto almost any security resolution against Israel: of the 79 security resolutions that the U.S. has vetoed in recent years, almost half of them were critical of Israel. Many countries throughout the world have good reason to believe that the United States has hijacked the United Nations by using (or threatening to use) their veto power.
Non-Violence persists against all odds
While this ruling was briefly discussed in the mainstream American media, mention of the continuing Palestinian non-violent protest movement was completely eclipsed. Over the past month, dozens of protests occurred throughout the territories. The non-violent protests are usually met with disproportionate levels of violence by the Israeli military.
In one particular case, protesters at a demonstration on July 10th were gassed with an unknown substance. While tear gas and rubber bullets are usually used, Palestinian medical authorities reported that over 130 people (including international activists) were being treated for problems stemming from inhalation of an unknown gas weapon. The gas is believed to be associated with chemical/ nerve weapons in which people experience spasms in the legs and hands, shock, semi-consciousness, hyperventilation, and other symptoms associated with the nervous system. Such chemical warfare against peaceful protesters should have received the attention of the international media, but instead was completely ignored. Equally eclipsed is the fact that reports of this unknown gas have been circulating for 3 years, reportedly tested on communities in Gaza as well as Palestinian detainees in prison.
Other protests, like the one on July 28 in Ya’bed, were met with the usual barrage of gas bombs and concussion grenades. In that particular incident, the protest that sought merely to bring attention to the travel restrictions placed on the village by roadblocks, left 10 Palestinians and 7 internationals with the ISM injured.
In its efforts to control pubic opinion by controlling information that is reported from the West Bank, Israel has sought to identify and prevent international human right activists from entering the country. They have been successful in that over 70 people have been kept from entering Israel. Further, another 36 who had gotten in had later been deported of recent.
No Hope and No Justice
In the midst of international condemnation over the “separating barrier” and the suggestion by the international court of justice that it must be torn down, the reality of the situation on the ground remains very depressing indeed. One example is in the village of Jayyous (the village I personally spent a month working in last year).
When I was there last summer, the wall was being built on the land of Palestinian families and not the “green line” (the internationally recognized border between Israel and the Palestinian territory). Over 80% of the village’s agricultural land was to fall on the other side of the wall. Israel promised to put in place security gates that would allow the farmers access to their lands. As opposed to journalists and human rights activists, the Israeli government maintained that the land on the other side of the wall (the Israeli side) was not being annexed and would remain firmly in the hands of the current owners. However, like so many other instances, the outcome has turned out to be exactly what critics expected: the land has been made inaccessible to Palestinian farmers. For a short while the land was accessible during the daylight hours to these farmers. Then, a couple of months later, the gates were closed almost all of the time (except 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening). Then, the Israeli military only allowed people to their land if they acquired a permit to work in Israel (even though they were on their own farms in Palestine). They only gave such permits to people who were unable to do agricultural work such as the elderly and children. Thus, the Israeli government may still claim that Palestinian farmers have access to the land and that the gates are “open”, but the reality is that farmers are being barred from their lands in contradiction to Israeli governmental claims. And in accordance to Ottoman Empire Law (that the Israeli government only evokes in reference to the non-Jewish population), the land may “legally” be taken by the state if it is believed that the land is not being used. Thus, by the closure of the gates and the selective granting of permits, Israel has created a situation whereby Palestinian land is “legally” (by Israeli law) seized and given to the settlements.
Israeli civilians who reside in a nearby settlement to Jayyous are now demanding indeed the process of dispossession of Palestinian land. They are arguing that the lands between the Wall and the Green Line are now “Israeli lands” and are trying to get political support for expanding and building new settlements there.
In addition to these demands, there are reports that these settlers are involved in military training exercises on these so-called new “disputed” lands. The military has recently built a camp along the wall in Jayyous and for the past 10 days they have set up tents, made roads, and created barriers made of concrete blocks. As a further indicator of ownership and annexation, all this land between the Wall and the Green Line are now littered with signs that are written in Hebrew only, as well as Israeli flags.
America and its candidates
While the Bush administration’s views are well known on the issue (support of illegal colonial settlements built on Palestinian land; support of the “Security Barrier” (wall) in opposition to the ICJ and UN decisions; working with the Israeli government but not with the Palestinian Authority, etc.), the Kerry/Edwards ticket does not offer much of an alternative. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on July 31st that Democratic candidate John Kerry assured Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon of his commitment to Israeli security. The telephone conversation happened on the 31st when Sharon called to congratulate Kerry on his nomination and acceptance for the Democratic Party presidential candidacy. Kerry told Sharon that he has no argument with Bush’s support of Israel’s rejection of a “Palestinian right to return to Israeli territory”. In contrast, the international community has given the Palestinian refugees that exact right. International law allows for any refugee population forced from their lands during conflict the right to return. When Palestinians fled from their lands during the 1948 and 1967 wars, the UN Security Council demanded Israel to allow the refugees to return. Not only did Israel proceed to burn entire emptied villages to the ground, they flatly refused to allow this right. Further, the very acceptance of Israel into the UN was based on the allowance of the return of Palestinians – which never happened (yet Israel has somehow become a member anyway). By both Bush and Kerry saying that they agree with Israel’s refusal to allow refugees back, they are saying that they reserve the right to selectively back international law (i.e. when it is convenient for them). One can see why the U.S.’ moral position in the world slips every time it supports violations of what is supposed to be universal law.
Lastly, the UN economic and social commission released a report on July 30 regarding the economic and living condition for Palestinians. The report said that 63% of Palestinians live below the poverty line of about $2.00 a day. “Most economic and social data shows marked deterioration of living conditions of the Palestinian people, including new forms of dispossession and destruction of private assets of all kinds”. The report concluded that the current conditions are not able “to ensure a sustainable life with dignity and rights for the Palestinian civilians under Occupation”.
The violence of everyday life that Palestinians endure is unfathomable to most Americans. As Americans are caught up in the presidential election and a supposed celebration of democracy and of democratic values, they allow their tax dollars and government to support the denial of others the same privileges. Perhaps this is the reason that many people in the world see America as hypocritical: supporting and advocating democracy for some while denying it for others. They support one people’s right to security while denying others the same right.
Without U.S. support, the occupation would be impossible. Israel could not financially afford to militarily occupy Palestinian land. Without the political support in the form of the U.N. Security Council veto power, Israel would have had to bend to international pressure and respect International law (as South Africa had been forced to do). While we our spending the next few months celebrating our democracy, pouring millions into the process, Palestinians and other unfortunate second-class citizens of the world suffer from our complicity and inattention.
This work is in the public domain