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Life in the Ruins of Nablus

“Life Goes On,” is what Mary Kelly from Ireland said to me when I commented about food supplies being stored where dead bodies had previously laid. The bodies of 19 Palestinians who had been murdered by Israeli soldiers were put in a courtyard of the Al-Beq Mosque in Old Nablus. They had laid there for four days because no one was allowed to transport them to the morgue at Rafidia Hospital. The mosque is being used as a hospital and an operating room.

Getting into Nablus was quite an adventure. Six of us from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) attempted to go through the main Nablus checkpoint (from Ramallah), but were turned away by the Israeli soldiers. We decided that by one way or another we were going to get into Nablus.

Our taxi driver took us to a small village about 3 to 5 miles from Nablus We would walk in from there. We were cautioned about several settlements in the area and helicopter gunships flying overhead. It felt like we were in the movie “The Sound of Music” trying to get out of Austria away from the Nazis.

We began our walk making our way up the steep rocky hills. For about three and half hours we walked up and down hills, over rocks and through olive groves. The first Palestinian house we came to was in the village of Bourin. Everyone was so excited to see us, especially after we explained why we were there.

They served us tea (which is a Palestinian staple) and visited with us for a while. Talking to the Palestinian women was wonderful. They took us around their homes and showed us one of their babies born just two weeks before. My Arabic is almost non existent, except for a few words, but we had fun communicating with smiles and hand gestures.

I would have expected hatred from the Palestinians towards any American venturing onto their land. It is just the opposite though. We are welcomed with such warmth and kindness, with every need taken care of. After visiting with a family from Bourin, we made our way to the next village of Juneid. We spent the night there with a family. They made us delicious dinner and breakfast.

In the morning we reached Nablus, making our way towards Rafidia Hospital. On the way there we were confronted by Israeli soldiers on the completely deserted streets. They were crouched down and aiming their guns at us. They motioned for us to stop. We were asked what we were doing there. After several minutes of convincing the soldiers that we were there visiting injured people in the hospitals we were let go.

Fifteen minutes later we encountered another group of soldiers. Again we were asked why we were there and were asked if we were journalists. After a few minutes they let us continue on our way. We were all stunned that we had slipped through the soldiers’ fingers twice.

At Rafidia Hospital we were told of the conditions in Nablus. The bodies of Palestinians lay in the street and the wounded and dying were cut off from medical care. Ambulances were not being allowed to move unless they wanted to be fired upon. Israeli soldiers were driving through the street, yelling over a loudspeaker to the Palestinians, “We are stronger than you, you are weak. You are all alone and no one is going to help you.”

We met up with a reporter from Reuters who witnessed Israeli soldiers pulling people out of an ambulance outside of Balata refugee camp. The ambulance driver, assistants and wounded passengers were made to take off all their clothes and then one of the Palestinian men, a man at least 70 years old, was taken down the streets by one of the soldiers while he was writing “dog” on his forehead and arm. Taken hostage by an Israeli soldier who held a gun to the old man’s neck and made him enter a mosque so the soldier could check for “terrorists.”

A French journalist was shot in the chest the day we got to Rafidia Hospital. I talked to the surgeon who had operated on him and he showed me the bullets he had removed from his chest. The surgeon told me how lucky the journalist had been because the bullet had missed his heart by two millimeters.

And every Palestinian has a tragic story of how the occupation has stolen a piece of their life. Leaving the church for our next action we walked past an area where a home had been bombed by an F-16 fighter jet and a family of 15 was still in the rubble, dead for sure.

Everyone in the group was eager to do something to help in Nablus. Serving as a human shield in the ambulances was what was needed. Hours after we arrived the ambulance drivers were told by the Israeli soldiers that if any foreigners rode in the ambulances they would fire on them. We still wanted to go. We were told we would be retrieving a body laying in front of several tanks and that there would be bombs laying all over the street. It was the moment of truth for me. Would I put my life on the line for the Palestinians? Yes, I would.

I tried to prepare myself for possible injury or death. The injustice of the situation in Palestine gave me courage. I only felt honored to give whatever I could in the defense of the Palestinians.

Though I was prepared we ended up not picking up the body, instead we were dropped off at a temporary medical clinic.

This morning I heard Israeli soldiers going throughout Nablus yelling at the Palestinians, “Everybody come out of your house and buy bread!” Speculation is the Israelis are trying to make their invasion not look so bad for US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit. Yet dozens of tanks still ring the city. And I can still hear occasional gunfire.

And beyond heartbreaking is how the Israeli military has systematically damaged and destroyed ancient religious sites. At the end of my day I walked past the destroyed remains of the Yasmina Church, in the old city, shelled from an F-16 fighter jet (paid for by US taxpayers), now just a big pile of rocks.

Beth Daoud is one of five members of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace who have joined hundreds of internationals in Palestine to protest and help end Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine. More on their trip at: http://www.ccmep.org/palestine.html

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