Turning the West Bank and Gaza into Prisons


[Interviewed by Cynthia Peters]

1. Describe what's happening in Jenin.

This is a society that's slowly being choked to death. It is marked by fear, random violence, and irrational destruction. No one is allowed peace of mind. Even the relatively well-off -- those with jobs and some money -- live in constant fear. The poor, of course, are the hardest hit.

Virtually everyday the IDF come in tanks and armored cars, and they drive around threatening people, sometimes killing them, destroying property.

Recently, I watched as Israeli armored cars moved into a part of Jenin and positioned themselves to hold an intersection. They advanced firing into the air, sometimes pointing guns directly at people. The people gathered there and responded by sometimes throwing rocks, sometimes just chanting or singing, sometimes retreating and getting out of the way. It was incredibly tense. The reason they took over this intersection was in order to blow up a nearby bank -- where they said terrorist bombs were being made. But it seems unlikely that that was happening. More likely they blew it up for the same reason they commit most of the violence around here -- to show they're in charge. To show that they can. That's what the violence is all about. To show people that this is theirs.

Just before I got here, several children were killed by Israelis because they were out after curfew.

Last night, a young man came in after he was hit in the face by a rifle butt. His eye was severely damaged. He had to be driven around to several hospitals in an effort to get the proper treatment.

In a nearby village called Al-Fara, the IDF entered the village shooting, and they managed to hit a 10-year old. He had to be transported by ambulance, which means going through checkpoints. An hour went by from the time we heard about this shooting to the time he arrived at the hospital.

Today, there was a girl who happened to be in a car that happened to be shot up by the military. She also had to spend a lot of time in an ambulance making its way through checkpoints.

The medical infrastructure is still functioning here. But it's gradually being affected by the checkpoints. For example, there is broken X-ray equipment at the hospital that hasn't been fixed for months. It's too hard for repairpeople and equipment to get here from Ramallah and other places. In some places, they don't allow vehicles, so someone would have to walk in with the equipment, which is impossible.

Thousands of people are in jail -- something like 8000 people have been arrested in the last couple of months. Jenin is one of the most militant places, but the April invasion was designed to break that -- kill the leaders, imprison others, physically destroy the place.

2. What is the effect of having international volunteers present?

To give you an example, the other day we went to the building where lots of students would be taking their post-high school exams. This was an obvious potential target for the IDF, an opportunity to round up lots of young people. So internationals went there to protect them and be witnesses to whatever might transpire. In this case, the students completed their exams without interruption.

Just the act of proceeding with this type of "normal" event is almost an act of Palestinian resistance in itself. During the April invasion, it was more of a military fight. Militants here responded with mines, bombs, and guns. Now it's stone-throwing and other kinds of resistance, much of which is non-violent -- such as simply surviving in the face of all the oppression. People keep on waiting at the checkpoints. They keep on providing health care despite all the obstacles put in their way. They go to school despite all the attempts to disrupt education. They take their exams.

3. Tell me about checkpoints.

They are extremely porous, humiliating, and disruptive to basic functioning and survival. They are not really about security. It's fairly easy to avoid them and walk around them, and many people do. But you risk getting caught, shot, beaten up, and/or having your ID taken away.

Recently, someone was killed going around a checkpoint because he was carrying a suspicious looking bag. It turned out to be a bag full of his work clothes. He was late for work, and took the risk of going around the checkpoint. It's expected that people will do this. Society couldn't function otherwise. But it creates more opportunities for killing.

Basically, the point of the checkpoints is to control daily life. Or rather disrupt it. One guy I talked to said that, because of lost days at school due to time wasted at checkpoints, it would take him 6 years, instead of the usual 3, to complete his degree in civil engineering.

Many people sleep in their offices even though they live only 15 minutes away. It would take hours to cross the necessary checkpoints and each time you do it, you risk being detained. You can't hold down a job and regularly go through checkpoints. You can't participate in family life or in your community because the checkpoints cut people off from each other, segregate them, keep them isolated

4. According to CNN, there was discussion in the Israeli parliament on Sunday of deporting "militants" to Gaza -- which is surrounded by a fence, and therefore offers better "containment" of Palestinians. Do you see evidence of this starting to happen? What do you think the effect will be?

Yes. There's evidence that it's starting to happen. When the IDF entered Al-Fara, they did so with the intention of destroying the houses of the families of suicide bombers. It is obviously brutal and unethical to punish the families of the people who commit crimes. They not only wreck families' homes, but also deport any relatives of suicide bombers.

They're trying to turn Gaza into a prison but they can't. Or rather it's an effective prison for innocent people. Those who intend to bomb Israeli targets will get out somehow or another. The people who won't be able to get out are the most vulnerable (the wounded and the sick) and the least likely to have any goals besides participating in daily life (those who need to get to work and school).

5. What was the Palestinian reaction to Bush's speech in which he called for "new Palestinian leadership"?

The people I have met here in Jenin did not have much of a reaction. They're spending their time reacting to a whole set of different things -- like curfews, shootings, beatings of children, the siege, the armored cars driving through every day and night.

In Jenin, people feel betrayed by everybody -- the international community, other Arab countries, the U.S., the Israeli peace movement, and by the Palestinian Authority as well. While the April invasion and massacre was going on, Colin Powell was travelling around the world, taking his time to show up in Jenin. People here are looking for a real change in their situation, not empty words from Bush.

Addendum (June 26, 2002):

Seven-year-old Bassam Al-sahadi was killed today in Jenin by the IDF. His friend was also hit and is currently in surgery. They had been playing just outside Bassam's house after curfew, which apparently is randomly set by the Israelis and can occur any time of the day or night. In this case, it was early afternoon. After killing Bassam and injuring his friend, Israeli tanks continued to roll through Jenin. An explosion cut power to many homes as well as the maternity hospital in Jenin.