With the Wounded and the Homeless in Nablus
I’ve been sitting with a 15 year old girl, a volunteer for the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, under a grapefruit tree here in Nablus. Earlier today about 25 internationals and 6 Palestinian UPMRC workers, including 3 medics, a doctor, the girl sitting with me, and her 16 year old friend, were attacked by Israeli soldiers.
After a sleepless night due to heavy tank shelling and the unceasing mosquito buzz of Apaches and their missile fire into nearby Askar Refugee camp, we attempted to deliver food aid by foot to the camp on the east side of Nablus that has been held under curfew by the Israeli military for 14 days. Communication with some inside the camp reveals an absence of food, clean water, medical treatment, and electricity.
Although we have been told that press is reporting a quietting in Nablus, and although we have heard Sharon say that Nablus is no longer a closed military zone, we were unable to pass the Israeli tank and APC that confronted us 2 km from the camp. The Israeli soldier atop the tank shouted, "this is a closed military zone." He said if we did not retreat he would be forced to shoot us. A few of the five soldiers shot warning shots and a hidden sniper hit metal pieces next to us. Although our only fear is of the Israeli military, the soldier atop the tank told us it was very dangerous to be here. He kept shouting he would have no choice but to shoot us.
We turned back, passing Balata refugee camp, where earlier we delivered a bit of food aid to the camp brimming with garbage and open sewage. Many of the 22,000 residents of Balata fear epidemic disease because of the lack of garbage removal due to the curfew. One bulldozed home inside the camp was pointed out as belonging to a man who is being held by Israeli soldiers inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Some news reports indicate that Sharon will not stop terrorizing Bethlehem any time soon, and I have heard from friends inside the town that Israeli soldiers have taken the Bethlehem Star Hotel. The 5th floor is windowed on 3 sides and it’s the highest point in the town, giving it a view of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Gilo Settlement, the areas near the refugee camps, and Manger Square where Church of the Nativity is.
As we passed Balata Refugee camp on our way back to the UPMRC center here in Nablus after our Askar camp attempt, we were shot at by Israeli snipers near Jacobs Well, a space where, I am told, the prophet Jacob dove into the well.
The 15 year old girl is still sitting with me, sometimes resting her head on my shoulder. She was among the 6 Palestinian medical relief workers and 25 internationals who were then confronted by an APC, several soldiers, and a tank. We were detained, not allowed to return to the UPMRC a 5 minute walk away, for 3 hours. In total 7 tanks, 4 APCs, about 30 soliders, and 2 Israeli police jeeps surrounded us. As I attempted to neogotiate between an Israeli lawyer via cel phone and an Israeli soldier at the bequest of one of the Palestinian medics, the soldiers attacked us. They tried to force the
internationals to separate from the Palestinians. We refused and were beaten and thrown to the ground. A French man was stomped in the face by an Israeli boot. A British boy was kicked in the head and another drug throught the strreet and beaten by 3 soliders. I was attacked for being on the cel phone telling the lawyer what was happening. Soliders screamed at me and charged, grabbing at the 2 phones in my hands, knocking me against a wall and twisting my fingers around and back. The soliders smashed our cameras on the ground and exposed our film.
They do not want anyone to know what is happening here. (A few days ago in Taiba a group of activists was denied entry via an Israeli checkpoint because, the soliders said, "you might be a group of journalists.") Many other internationals were brutalized with rifle butts, boots, and fists.
But this does not compare to the brutality suffered by the Palestinians. The doctor and paramedics were kicked in the face and all over the body, were punched in the head, stomach and legs, and were drug across the dusty and gravelly street. They were hand cuffed with plastic cuffs and thrown face down in the dirt. They were kicked and bloodied further and then forced to face a metal wall while sitting on their knees, hands behind their backs in the tight plastic cuffs, with Israeli guns pointed at their heads, execution style. We were sitting in piles on the two Palestinian girls in order to keep them safe from the soldiers who had stopped beating the internationals by then. The girl sitting beside me now was crying, rightfully fearing for her life.
The soliders could not kill all of the internationals without repercusion, and we assume they knew we would tell what had happened, so allowed us to negotiate the release of the Palestinians.
Although the soldiers continued to try to separate us, we refused. They ordered us to get our bags and leave Nablus. The Israeli soldiers said they did not want us to mingle with the Palestinians and that we were unwelcome in Nablus, a Palestinian city where 8 ambulance drivers and medics have recently been killed by the soldiers who target them. The Israeli soldiers currently terrorizing Nablus are, I am told, a specially trained group called dovdenum, usually used to carry out asassinations in Hebron.
A group of French complied with the evacuation order and were escorted out of town at gunpoint. The rest of the us, about 11 internationals, stood in solidarity with the Palestinians. A solider told me that if we were with the Palestinians, then we were under curfew, another form of humilation and terror for Palestinians that leads to starvation, illness, and death, and
were not to leave the UPMRC. Often in Palestine the Israelis will lift the curfew in certain parts of a town for a couple hours, but will shoot people anyway when they leave their houses. I spoke with a reporter for Reuters living here in Nablus via cel phone. He confirmed news reports that his colleague, a Palestinian photographer also working for Reuters, has been arrested and his press credentials torn up. He is not allowed, as a Palestinian journalist, to be in the streets and tell the story either.
When the brutalized Palestinian medics, doctors, volunteers, and the internationals returned to the UPMRC, we cut off their plastic handcuffs and they treated their wounds as well as ours. One, the doctor, was energized by the day, dishing out rice and yogurt for dinner as if we were at a party. He said, "We showed them. They know now. We are in solidarity."
Kristen Schurr is from New York City.