A recent article sent to my local press....
Alys is currently working in the West Bank [Occupied Palestinian Territories], with the International Women's Peace Service. IWPS is a solidarity group which witnesses and documents human rights abuses, as well as peacefully intervening to prevent them. They actively support the non-violent resistance to the illegal Israeli Occupation. She is based in Salfit district in central West Bank and sends this report.
"I have been in the West Bank for a month. The perpetual state ofshock I was in is lessening, but the reality is stark. My work here is varied and unpredictable. This week, for example, we were called to a threatened house demolition in the village of Al Walaja, near Bethlehem. The Israeli army has already demolished many houses to make way for the"Separation Wall", blatantly discarding the ruling of theInternational Court of Justice in July '04 regarding its illegality.
However, traveling in the West Bank is unpredictable. The checkpoint at Qalandia, a major "terminal" checkpoint near Jerusalem, was closed and our journey abruptly ended. Freedom of movement is hugely restricted by the Wall, the checkpoints, closures and curfews, affecting all aspects of Palestinian life.
Whilst images of the Israeli army invading the prison in Jericho, were flashed around the world a quieter invasion was happening here in Salfit district. It did not herald the arrival of the international press, or cause storms in governments across the world. An oozing tar is seeping over Palestine, as Israel steadily encroaches on more and more of the West Bank.
We spent several days sitting in solidarity with a shepherd named Sami. The army had declared his land a closed military zone, and issued demolition orders for his shack and animal pens. They had already acted on these orders in the neighbouring valley, demolishing the shacks and animal pens of three families, leaving behind a scene of utter destruction and chaos. For Sami, and the 30 people dependent on the income generated from the sheep, the future is uncertain. The Army has yet to return with the Caterpillar bulldozers, but the question is not "if " but "when".
My visit to Jenin refugee camp was a very powerful experience. Evidence of the severity of the 2002-2004 army invasions are everywhere. At the entrance of the camp is a huge metal horse, sculpted out of the remains of an exploded ambulance, which killed one of Jenin's best doctors. There are countless new houses in the camp, replacing all those which were demolished by the armoured Caterpillar bulldozers during the invasions. The remaining buildings are littered in bullet marks. The newly opened prosthetics department, with rows upon rows of artificial feet and limbs in progress was a stark image of the brutality of this Occupation. On the wall in the clinic were pictures by 11 and 12 year old children, showing the horrors that became reality during the invasions, bodies lying bleeding in the street, tanks, soldiers, fighter planes….
Contrary to what the media fanfare saluting the Gaza disengagement would have us believe, here in the West Bank there is an orchestrated plan for settlement expansion. Whilst 9000 settlers were evacuated last year from Gaza, 12,000 settlers moved into the West Bank.(Haaretz 06.02.06) The settler population now stands at 250,000.
Most of the settlers are not violent, but their presence is directly linked to the intensifying apartheid system which is operating here.One rule for the illegal Settlers. One rule for the Palestinians. The vehicles with the green number plates wait in line, sometimes for hours, show their ID, frequently get searched and risk arbitrary arrest. The vehicles with the yellow number plates sail past the queue unperturbed, back to the settlement. A recent announcement from a senior Israeli security source confirms what is already evident, that a segregated road system is being constructed.
Some of the settlers are extremely violent. In Hebron the sight of armed settlers was deeply disturbing, their weapons wielding huge power. Last week we were called to a neighbouring village to document the account of two shepherds who had been forced off their land by dozens of settlers, some of whom were armed. In the small village ofYanun, armed settlers attacked, intimidated and harassed the villagers for years, resulting in a mass exodus. The villagers returned, along with international and Israeli activists, who have kept a continuous presence since.
The Wall is carving up the West Bank as it weaves around the settlements, cutting through Palestinian villages and land. Access to land, livelihood, families, neighbours, schools, hospitals and water resources is threatened and becomes increasingly problematic. The stranglehold on Palestinian life is tightening. With every meter of Wall constructed an independent Palestinian state becomes increasingly unviable.
Internationals join Palestinians in their weekly demonstrations against the Wall, in their struggle for land. The Wall massively deviates from the Green Line, resulting in the huge loss of Palestinian land and livelihood. The peaceful demonstrations frequently result in acts of aggression from the Israeli army, intended to disperse the crowds, using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber and live ammunition. Many people have been injured and some killed in these demonstrations. To be active in this non-violent resistance to the Wall and the illegal Occupation takes courage.
There has been much suffering on both sides. I condemn all acts of violence, both those perpetrated by the Israeli military and suicide bombers. The western media is heavily biased, so you may be surprised to know that 3 times as many Palestinians as Israelis have died since the start of the 2nd Intifada in September 2000. (www.btselem.org
) Being here in Palestine is shocking and sometimes overwhelming. My understanding is continuously moving from the intellectual to the experiential. Seeing with my own eyes the things I had read about is at times unbelievable. I encourage you to see through the bias of the western media and to consider the on-going and intensifying suffering of the Palestinian people."