Monday, May 22, 2006


An Oozing Tar

Whilst images of the Israeli army invading Jericho prison were flashed around the world, another invasion was happening in the villages of Deir Ballut and Rafat (in the Salfit District of the West Bank). It did not herald the arrival of the international press or cause storms in governments worldwide. The land of Deir Ballut and Rafat, like so many other Palestinian villages, is being slowly but surely devoured by Israel. There is a quiet, creeping invasion of this land. An oozing tar seeping over Palestine.

Deir Ballut and Rafat, with a population of 4000 and 1500 respectively, are situated about 25 kilometers from Ariel, with Tel Aviv clearly visible in the distance.

Ariel, the biggest Israeli settlement, inhabited by 18,000 illegal settlers, with a further 20,000 living in surrounding settlements, was recently visited by Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting prime minister. He gave assurances that not only would the Wall be complete by the end of 2006, but also that “… Ariel block will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel under any situation” (Haaretz 14 March 2006). This planned land corridor between Tel Aviv and Ariel threatens 35,000 to 40,000 dunums
[1] of Deir Ballut's land. The planned route would bring the Wall extremely close to the village on the south side, and less than a kilometer away on the east side.

This is in addition to the 10,000 dunums of land Deir Ballut has already lost to the west of the village. Construction began two years ago for the electric fence, which is situated six kilometers inside the Green Line. This western section of the Wall was completed a few months ago. A successful court case resulted in the re-routing of the Wall, but nevertheless a huge amount of land has still been lost.

Deir Ballut and Rafat have 3000 dunums of land around the ancient, uninhibited village of Kasfa, which is now inaccessible because of the Wall.

The Rafat gate was opened for farmers for the first time since this section of the Wall was completed in January this year. IWPS was requested to accompany some people of Rafat to their land in Kasfa, west of the Wall. We had differing accounts regarding the number of days they may apply for permits to visit this land, ranging from a few days, to this whole month of ploughing. This illustrates the confusion and uncertainty that arises from such an arbitrary system.

Having been questioned by security guards and awaiting re-confirmation of permission from the Israeli military to enter, we walked with some Rafat men to their land.

In Kasfa, apart from the 3000 dunums of land, Deir Ballut and Rafat have lost ten working wells along with two or three in need of repair (but that they were prevented from doing). The area of Kasfa, west of the Wall, contains a number of archeological sites, currently being excavated by Israel. The owners of the land are concerned Kasfa will become an Israeli tourist destination. We saw the excavated remains of the ancient houses, including a mosaic, a press, water storage facilities, wells and bones from graves.

This land west of the Wall has long been threatened. Since 1982 the Israeli army has been periodically coming, telling the Palestinians to leave their land. And already the tranquillity and array of wild flowers is shattered by the Israeli stone quarry, which is destroying the hill and the former grazing pastures on Palestinian lands.

Now, the land east of the Wall, on the “Palestinian side”, is under threat. For Sami, a shepherd in the Rafat valley, the future is uncertain. He has already lost his 100 dunums of land on the west side of the Wall. Now the area east of the Wall, without olive trees, has been declared a closed military zone and on Sunday 12th March, Sami was issued a demolition order for his shack and animal pens, which are situated at least 0.5 kilometer east of the Wall. 48 hours later the army returned, but due to bad weather did not bring the bulldozers.

Translation was not necessary to understand the anger of this man. It is the second time he is facing the loss of land and livelihood, from both the west and the east side of the Wall.

Until January 2006 Sami was living in Kasfa, grazing his 350 sheep. In the end the army was coming daily to tell him to leave. The fence was closed in January and since then he has been unable to access his land. He has divided his flock and keeps 100 sheep with him in the Rafat valley. Thirty people are dependent on the income generated from the sheep (milk, meat, wool), including his wife and eight children, the youngest being seven years old.

Sami continues to graze his sheep here, but lives with the uncertainty of when the army will return. The question is not ‘if’, but ‘when’. IWPS stayed several days in Rafat, in solidarity with Sami.

Uncertainty and inaccessibility to information pervade. About 100 meters east of the Wall, a Caterpillar bulldozer was working, methodically transforming the landscape from a green, rocky hillside to levelled brown earth. The owners of the land were not informed and were unable to get any information about what Israel intends to use this land for.

In Deir Ballut, as documented in IWPS Human Rights Report no. 241, six structures (tents, shacks, animal pens) belonging to 3 families, were demolished by the army on the 15th of March, following a demolition order issued on the 13th March. As in the Rafat valley, the land without olive trees east of the Wall had been declared a closed military zone. The bulldozer left behind a bleak scene of chaos and inhumanity; broken planks of wood, rubble, tarpaulins, broken containers. Attempts to salvage their possessions were visible through the pile of mattresses stacked up. The last two months saw the area immediately neighbouring their living space turned into a rubbish dump for Israelis.

If the Wall follows the planned route, by the end of the year Deir Ballut, Rafat and the neighbouring village of Az-Zawwiyah will become isolated in an enclave between the main route of the wall and the so-called "Ariel fingers".
The only connection will be northwards to the village of Mas'ha, through a narrow tunnel passing under the settler highway connecting Ariel with Tel Aviv. The ‘Ariel fingers’ land corridor will cut thousands of Palestinian off from their land, their livelihood and their communities and further restrict freedom of movement in the Salfit district.

5th april '06
[1] One dunum equals 1/4 acre

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Palestinian Prisoners Day

Palestinian Prisoners Day

Palestinian Prisoners day was marked on April 17th. It is an opportune moment to draw attention not only to the open air prisons created by the Occupation, through closures, the Wall and locked gates (restricting freedom of movement and land access), but also to the plight of Palestinian prisoners, held in Israeli interrogation and detention facilities.

Since the beginning of the Occupation in 1967 over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli Authorities [1] which includes approximately 40% of the Palestinian male population [2], many of whom have been humiliated and subjected to ill treatment and torture. In January '06 there were 8,238 Palestinian prisoners, of which 794 were held in administrative detention without charge or trial [3].

Palestinian women are not immune from arrest. Currently, there are approximately 115 women imprisoned in Israel's prisons [4]. I recently interviewed Zahra, a well-known former prisoner, who spent 11 years in captivity. She is the mother of three children, and lives in Deir Ballut, a village here in the Salfeet district of the West Bank. In 1986 the army came to her house at midnight and blindfolded, handcuffed and arrested her in front of her children, aged 9, 5 and 2. Two months later her house was demolished by the Israeli army, an act of collective punishment violating international law (4 th Geneva Convention and Hague Regulation), which left her children homeless.

Zahra spoke of the atrocious interrogation procedure and the conditions in which she was kept. She made it clear that there was nothing unique in her experiences. Israeli authorities are committing grave human rights abuses on a daily basis, and are clearly violating international law, which prohibits the use of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment (4th Geneva Conventions, International Convention for Political and Civil Rights, Convention against Torture and Cruel and Inhuman Treatment). The practices Zahra described are well documented by a number of human rights organizations and reveal that torture is systematically practiced by the Israeli authorities [5]. Indeed more than 85% of Palestinian detainees are subjected to ill treatment and torture during interrogation. [6]

Zahra spent the first 31 days in isolation, without access to a lawyer, held in a small dark cell, with neither room to lie down or stand up. Rats and insects inhabited the cell. She was denied sanitary protection during her monthly period, and used a bucket in her cell as a toilet. Sometimes she was drenched with buckets of cold water thrown into the cell at her. At other times she was blasted with loud, distorted music. Detainees were subjected to very cold conditions inside a "refrigeration room".

Zahra was tortured physically and mentally, taken from her cell at random times of the day or night for interrogation, during which there was very rarely another woman present.
As well as being suspended from the ceiling, with handcuffs that cut into her skin, she was made to sit in uncomfortable positions for long periods with her hands and legs tied. At other times a foul smelling bag was placed over her head.

At least once she was taken to the interrogation room and made to wait the entire day, only to be taken back to her cell, clearly intended to create mental stress. On another occasion she was held in the interrogation room continuously for two days.

Threats of, as well as actual sexual violence, occurred. Zahra knew a 17 year old girl who was raped during interrogation. In the context of sexual violence being a real danger in interrogation, to be threatened with rape as a method of interrogation is mental torture. Threats were made to strip her, which holds even more significance and distress in Islamic/Muslim culture.

Zahra is clearly a strong, articulate woman. A darkness and subdued quietness descended when she spoke of the sexual violence, actual or threatened. A long silence followed. She had clearly touched on some dark, painful places and I felt deep compassion for her

Zahra spoke about women who were pregnant when they were arrested. Some miscarried. The remaining women were shackled during labour and had the humiliation of lack of privacy. Zahra shared a cell with a woman who named her daughter "Watan", meaning nation or home land.

She was transferred from the interrogation centre to Ramleh prison in Israel, where she was held with "criminal" not political prisoners, which resulted in added difficulties. From there, after a hunger strike, she was transferred to Hasharon prison, where she shared a 6 meter wide cell with five other Palestinian women. They were frequently denied hot water and received very inadequate food. On one occasion there were small pieces of glass in the food. She spoke of at least one occasion when tear gas was fired into the cell.

There were times when she went a whole year without seeing her children. At other times she saw them for half an hour every two weeks. On occasions Zahra's mother brought the children to prison, but they were then denied access.

She was released on 11th February '97 after eleven years in prison. Nine years later she has on going physical problems- back and neck pain, stomach problems and impaired distance vision.

My time with Zahra passed quickly, as we left her house the light was already fading and the moon visible. We looked west to the Wall carving up the landscape, with the lights of Tel Aviv clearly visible in the distance. I remembered her words from earlier. "Palestinian blood is cheap. We are not asking for the moon, only our rights".

The suffering of prisoners does not end on release. My interviews with a number of psychologists, including from the Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture (TRC) revealed the on going mental health problems of ex-detainees. TRC offers treatment and rehabilitation services to victims of torture and organised violence, as well as supporting their families.

Wail and Hadeel, from the recently opened Nablus branch, explained how they liaise with the PA ministry of detainees, so they can offer timely assistance to the prisoners on their release, helping them in the difficult process of re-adjusting to family and community life.

There are a range of mental health problems tortured ex detainees suffer from, the vast majority being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D), grief reaction and acute stress disorder. The heroic status given to ex-prisoners can make it very difficult for these (predominantly) men to confront and admit to the psychological and physical problems resulting from torture and the humiliating treatment suffered in prison. Likewise the heroic status of martyrs can make it difficult for families to admit to their suffering.

TRC seeks to treat and support the victims of torture, as well as advocating within the wider community. They have an advocacy and training programme which aims to create a culture which is active against retaliatory feelings, working to ensure that the victims of violence do not go on to become the perpetrators. They seek to encourage changes in attitude towards mental health issues through their work with other health, education and social service professionals, as well as training programmes with the PA.

My interviews with staff from the Ramallah branch indicated that there is still a reluctance within society to address health problems associated with torture. Arrest is an ever present danger for Palestinians in the OPT and with it the strong possibility of humiliation, ill treatment and torture. For the significant number of Palestinians who have been subject to the mass arrest campaigns [7], tortured or ill treated in detention, held without charge or trial in administrative detention [8] or tried as adults in military courts despite being children [9] their experiences remain largely invisible from the international eye

[5] PCATI ( ) documents many forms of torture and ill treatment including beating, slapping, kicking, stepping on shackles, bending the interrogee and placing them in other painful positions, intentionally tightening shackles, violent shaking, sleep deprivation and prolonged shackling behind the back. Psychological abuse includes threats to the detainee and family members, long solitary confinement and pressure to collaborate
[7] The mass arrest campaigns, during the period of March 2002 to October 2002 resulted in approximately 15,000 men being detained, sometimes entire villages being emptied of males over 15 years. In October 2002 there were over 1,050 Palestinians in administrative detention. ( )
[8] Administrative detention is indefinitely renewable under military regulations. Secret evidence is presented during military tribunals, to which neither the detainee nor the lawyer has access. Addameer reports that people are being held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, from anywhere between six months to six years. The issuing of administrative detention orders bears a direct relation to the political situation, with an increase in its use when there is an increase in protest against the Occupation.
[9] Approximately 344 Palestinian children are being held in Israeli prison/detention facilities. Under military regulations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a child over the age of 16 is considered an adult. This blatantly contradicts the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory, which defines a child up to the age of 18. Between the ages of twelve and fourteen Palestinian children can be sentenced in military courts for up to six months, and at fourteen they can be tried as adults, in violation of international law. , ,

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