News from Palestine: Terrorized for Stoning Israeli Troops
- Terrorized for Stoning Israeli Troops
Al-Hasan Muhtaseb, 13, and his brother Amir,10, were returning from their aunt’s house in the West Bank town of Al-Khalil (Hebron) when they were stopped by Israeli occupation force on 27 February.
"They took my brother and I don't know where they took him," Hasan told The Observer on Sunday, March 14.
"I was sent inside the station and I never saw him after that."
The Israelis suspected the two boys were involved in throwing stones at their troops, a charge that usually brings several months in jail but carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail.
The two brothers were held separately.
Israeli soldiers covered Amir's eyes by a hat and put him in a room where there was a dog that he heard panting. He released him later the same night.
"He was in a very, very bad psychological state," his father, Fadel, 45, told the British newspaper.
"He had wet himself. He was terrified."
Al-Hasan, 13, had a worse experience.
He was blindfolded and taken to Ofer military prison.
"There were no other children," he recalls. "I was afraid."
The teenager was interrogated without a lawyer late into the night, forced to confess to throwing stones, made to sign a confession in Hebrew that he couldn't read and jailed with adults.
Three days later, he appeared before a military court, which released him on a 2,000 shekels ($350) bail.
"(But) my father told them he couldn't pay this much money," said the young boy, looking at his tearful father.
Al-Hasan was only released eight days later, after considerable legal effort by several human rights groups.
The two Palestinian kids are now incontinent and Amir has been hospitalised.
"He wakes up in the middle of the night screaming," said Fadel, his weeping father.
"We try to comfort him, but he's getting worse and worse."
For Al-Hasan, the eldest of the two boys, the nightmare is far from over.
Because of the confession he signed, Al-Hasan still faces a possible indictment for throwing stones.
According to Defense for Children International (DCI), 343 Palestinian children were being held in Israeli prisons as of the end of February.
In a report last year, the DCI said abuse and torture of these children are "widespread, systematic and institutionalized."
The Israeli group B'Tselem says Israeli security forces "severely violated" the rights of children, aged between 12 and 15, who had been taken into custody in recent months.
Fadel, the father, is terrified that his kid would meet the same fate.
"Even if he were throwing stones, he is only 13," he cries.
"They treated him like a terrorist. They claim they are democratic and human, but they are not."
Israeli fire kills Palestinian teen
Israeli forces have killed a Palestinian teenager during violent clashes in the occupied West Bank, medics have said.
Muhammad Qadus had been taking part in a demonstration on Saturday, in which stones were thrown at Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinian hospital officials said the 16-year-old was struck in the heart by a bullet fired by Israeli forces.
Qadus was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a local hospital.
Medical sources said that the Red Crescent ambulance sent to collect him was delayed by Israeli forces.
Israel fostering extremism in Gaza with blockade
Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, has warned Israel that its blockade of Gaza is "empowering extremists" in the coastal enclave.
Speaking during a tour of Gaza, Mr Ban sought to increase international pressure on Israel by deploring the scale of human suffering in the Palestinian territory and calling on Benjamin Netanyahu's government to end Jewish settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
Amid renewed calls from the United States to ease the blockade of Gaza, the secretary general urged Israel to act both out of compassion and in response to its own security needs.
Jerusalem: Key to Light ... and Darkness
A friend of mine asked me the other day how long it had been since I was allowed into Jerusalem.
"Almost ten years," I replied - save for a two-hour trip to the US consulate to collect a visa three years ago.
"It's been eight for me," he said.
Then we realised that most of the children and "youths" we report about during the recent clashes across the West Bank, which have centered on Israeli measures in the occupied City, have most likely never seen it!
Because most unmarried men under the ago of 35 can mostly only dream of obtaining an Israeli permit to visit occupied East Jerusalem, which Israeli authorities have also physically severed from the rest of its Palestinian surrounding with a sereis of walls and checkpoints.
Still, people say, it's Jerusalem, the subject of moving songs, the provocateur of passions, the summary of national history. Those youths have a deep and emotional connection to Jerusalem; bonded by a collective memory and attached through culture, heritage and, yes, religion.
Covering the dramatic clashes throughout the West Bank the past week days, these national sentiments were crystal clear. Palestinian boys and young men have been demonstrating all day for days now.
Yet despite the endless showers of tear gars, stunt grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets, their numbers were growing, not diminishing. And the clashes are growing in scale, moving away from checkpoints, and further into the alleys and streets.
That's where confrontations become personal because the Palestinian youth are so close to the Israeli soldiers, they can almost touch them.
Sheikh Jarrah's peaceful protests
Nonviolent Palestinian protest serves as a magnet for ordinary Israelis alienated by the rock-throwing seen elsewhere
News that the villages of Bil'in and Nil'in are to become closed military zones every Friday until August has been greeted with dismay by locals and activists alike. The decision is an alarming upping of the ante in the battle between the Israeli authorities and opponents of the expropriation of Palestinian land, but the cessation of weekly hostilities could turn out to be a silver lining in the cloud.
For all that the villagers' cause is just, the means employed in demonstrating their discontent regularly prove counterproductive. Antagonising soldiers by throwing rocks and other projectiles has proved costly both in terms of winning support on the Israeli street and in lives lost during clashes with troops. For all that, the IDF's response to the marchers is often wildly excessive, the local popular committees' apathy towards preventing violence emanating from their own side plays no small part in the ratcheting up of tensions each week that the rallies are held.
Supporters of the residents' struggle often contend that the Palestinians have every right to use violence to defend themselves and their land. Such theorising is all well and good, but since they are no match for the might of the IDF, employing such tactics is doomed to fail – and to bring even more pressure to bear on the villagers, as witnessed by the decision to turn the areas into closed military zones. For the army's part, the IDF spokesman asserts that the order only applies to "outside agitators", and that locals will be allowed to go about their daily routines unimpeded.
"Outside agitators" is a tag applied as much to Israeli attendees as it is to foreign activists operating in the region. Preventing allies arriving from within Israeli society is a massive blow to the Palestinian cause, since ultimately it is the Israeli electorate who need to be won over in order for the country's leaders to soften their stance towards the Palestinians. The decision to close the villages comes at a time when the Israeli left is undergoing something of a mini-revival, and demonstrates a growing fear in military and political circles that support for direct action against the occupation is swelling on both sides of the Green Line.
US steps up pressure on Israel
The United States has stepped up pressure on Israel over its plans to build more settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, despite an apology from the Israeli prime minister over the timing of the announcement.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has given Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a list of demands aimed at restoring strained relations with the US.
The report comes after Israel announced the decision to construct 1,600 new Jewish homes in occupied East Jerusalem, during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, last week.
Haaretz said Clinton issued the demands on Friday during a telephone call with the prime minister, calling for an official response on whether the announcement was a "bureaucratic mistake, or a deliberate act, carried out for political reasons".
It said Clinton also asked Netanyahu to reverse the decision to approve the new housing units, and make a "substantial gesture" towards the Palestinians to enable the renewal of peace talks.
She also called for an official Israeli declaration that talks with the Palestinians will deal with all of the conflict's core issues, including borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements, the paper reported.
Israel rejects settlement halt
Drawing on the Palestinian plight
Violence flares in East Jerusalem
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police in two areas of occupied East Jerusalem after Palestinian groups called for a "day of rage" over the reopening of a synagogue in the Old City.
Palestinians threw stones at Israeli police who responded with stun grenades in the Shuafat and Essawiyya neighbourhoods early on Tuesday.
At least 90 people were wounded in the clashes, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, with around 15 people seriously hurt by rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas inhalation and at the hands of Israeli police.
Israel security forces said about eight police officers were lightly injured in clashes that ended with up to 60 arrests.
About 3,000 police officers had been deployed in East Jerusalem and nearby villages after Hamas and other Palestinian groups called for action in response to the reopening of the Hurva synagogue.
The Hurva, considered by some people to to be one of Judaism's most sacred sites, reopened for the first time in 62 years on Monday in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.
The walled Old City is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which makes the reopening of the synagogue controversial.
Children of Gaza: Scarred, trapped, vengeful
1,000 days into the Israeli blockade and Palestinian youngsters are denied medical help, education and any hope of a decent future
By Rachel Shields
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Omsyatte adjusts her green school uniform and climbs gingerly on to a desk at the front of the classroom. The shy 12-year-old holds up a brightly coloured picture and begins to explain to her classmates what she has drawn. It is a scene played out in schools all over the world, but for one striking difference: Omsyatte's picture does not illustrate a recent family holiday, or jolly school outing, but the day an Israeli military offensive killed her nine-year-old brother and destroyed her home.
"Here is where they shot my brother Ibrahim, God bless his soul. And here is the F16 plane that threw rockets into the house and trees, and here is the tank that started to shoot," she says, to a round of applause from the other children. The exercise is designed to help the pupils at the school come to terms with the warfare that has dominated their short lives; particularly the horrors of the 2008 Israeli military offensive Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, and destroyed one in eight homes.
Like hundreds of displaced Gazans, Omsyatte's family have spent more than a year living in a tent on a site near their home. Little rebuilding work has been done during this time – with supplies unable to pass into Gaza because of the ongoing blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 – and groups of children now pick their way through piles of rubble, kicking footballs around the bombsites which used to be local landmarks.
Homelessness is just one of the issues facing the 780,000 Gazan children in the aftermath of the conflict, problems that are explored in a revealing new documentary Dispatches: Children of Gaza, to be screened tomorrow at 8pm on Channel 4. Perhaps the most disturbing of these is the emotional scars borne by children who have survived the conflict; the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme reports that the majority of children show signs of anxiety, depression and behavioural problems.
Small boys build toy rockets out of drinks bottles, and talk about the fake guns they are going to buy with their pocket money. While boys the world over are preoccupied with fighting and weapons, this takes on a more sinister significance when the game isn't Cowboys vs Indians, but Jews vs Arabs, and the children's make-believe warfare is chillingly realistic.
These games may reflect the children's desire for revenge against their neighbours, of which many speak openly. "I think we are seeing a growing desire for violence, and it saddens me," said Jezza Neumann, the Bafta-winning director of the programme. "If they could get revenge legally, or saw someone saying sorry, then perhaps they could come to terms with it, but there has been no recourse. What you're seeing now may only be the tip of the iceberg."
Mahmoud, 12, describes the day Israeli soldiers knocked on the door and shot his father dead, lying down in the dirt where his father fell in a heartbreaking reconstruction, and describes the enormous changes it wrought upon him. "Before the war, I was thinking about education, but after I started thinking about becoming a fighter," he says, his thickly lashed brown eyes staring straight into the camera. "God willing, if I can kill one Israeli it will be better than nothing."
Desperate to avenge his father's death, Mahmoud is encouraged by his uncle Ahmed, a member of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad. Sitting Mahmoud down in front of a martyrdom film, Ahmed says, "Look how he doesn't feel a thing when he is detonated" as a suicide bomber dies. Just a few hundred yards from the family's home is a training camp for Gaza's fighters – both Hamas and Islamic Jihad – where young men carrying rocket launchers are clearly visible.
While Mahmoud is desperate for revenge, his mother weeps when she considers the possibility that he may become a martyr. "It is an honour to die in the name of Allah, but I don't want to lose my son," she said.
Some believe that with Israel's tight restrictions on movement blocking conventional career options for the 1.1 million people who live there, children may feel they have no choice but to join resistance movements. Last week Palestinians in the Gaza Strip lit 1,000 candles and held a peaceful protest to mark 1,000 days of the Israeli blockade. During this time, unemployment has risen to 45 per cent, with 76 per cent of households now living in poverty.
"The children are struggling with the idea of the future," Mr Neumann said. "Many graduates in Gaza are unemployed, and they can't see a way forward because they can't get out."
Families have been fractured by the conflict, with many parents racked by guilt because they couldn't protect their children from the violence, and now cannot provide for them in the aftermath. Sitting in the tent which is now their home, Omsyatte's father weeps as he talks of his regret over the death of his son Ibrahim.
"The Israelis killed my son while he was in my arms, and I could do nothing to protect him," he says, tears streaming down his face. "I couldn't even look at him when he was taking his last breaths of life, because the soldiers were right above my head. I was too much of a coward to even hug my son. I was afraid that they would kill me. These things torment me."
Dr Ahmed Abu Tawanheena, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, says this issue is also affecting children in Gaza. "They have lost their parents twice: first, during the conflict, when they saw their parents terrified and unable to protect them from the violence. Now, under the blockade, they see their parents are still unable to provide for their basic needs, such
as shelter or food," he said. "It's a crisis which is threatening families and communities across the Gaza Strip."
For some, this crisis has had a devastating impact on family relationships, with mental health professionals and NGOs linking a rise in domestic violence with these feelings of guilt and impotence. A study by the Palestinian Women's Information and Media Centre (PWIC) in March 2009 found that 77 per cent of women in the Gaza Strip are exposed to domestic violence, while a survey by the UN Development Fund for Women (Unifem) also indicated that violence against women increased during periods of heavy conflict.
Many children are suffering the physical effects of the conflict. One of these is Mahmoud's nine-year-old sister Amal. Trapped under the rubble of her home – which was destroyed by Israeli shells – for four days before she was rescued, Amal was left with shrapnel lodged in her brain. Plagued by headaches and nosebleeds, and unable to get the medical care she needs in Gaza, Amal is lucky enough to be granted papers which allow her to travel to nearby Tel Aviv to be examined by a specialist. However, her experiences have left her so scared of Israelis that she doesn't want to go.
Crouching over a colouring book, her curly brown hair held back with pretty hair bands, she explained: "I'm scared to go to Israel. From the Jews. I'm frightened they might kill me."
Many of the children in Gaza's Shefa hospital do not have the option of leaving the strip, and the prognosis for children in the oncology ward is bleak. Chemotherapy is not available in Gaza, and many of the children on the ward have not been granted the papers they need to seek the treatment readily available to Palestinians just across the Israeli and Egyptian borders. One of these children is 10-year-old Ribhye, crippled by advanced leukaemia and unable to leave Gaza. His distraught father, sitting in a hospital room devoid of the equipment and medicine his son so desperately needs, is devastated not to have been granted leave to take Ribhye out of Gaza. "How do I get out? This border is closed, that border is closed. What do I do?" he asked.
"The mortality rate for cancer in Gaza is much higher than elsewhere," said Steve Sosebee, president of the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund. "You have to get a permit if you want to cross into Gaza and most of them are not granted. A lot of kids are dying as a result of the decisions being made by the people in charge, whether Hamas, the Egyptian government, the Israeli government."
Even the parents who have papers allowing their children to leave don't fare much better. Eight-year-old leukaemia sufferer Wissam was granted permission to cross into Egypt for treatment, but has been waiting for weeks for the border crossing to be opened. After being told that he would finally be allowed through after sitting at the border for hours, the coach full of hospital patients was turned away, and had to make the long drive back to the Nasser hospital. Wissam's father desperately tried to find out from hospital officials why the coach was turned back. "Every day the child stays here is a danger to his life," he said, his words echoing the thoughts of so many Palestinian parents.
Gaza 'human shield' case in court
Two Israeli soldiers will face charges in a court that they used a young Palestinian boy as a human shield during the country's three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008-2009.
Majed al-Rubah, 10, says soldiers forcibly took him from his family and made him carry out life-threatening tasks during military operations.
Many other Palestinians say they have gone through similiar experiences, but this is only the second time Israel has brought charges against its own soldiers.
Human-rights groups have accused Israel of committing numerous war crimes against Palestinians during the war on Gaza - in which nearly 1,400 people have died and most of the enclave was left in ruins.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Talal al Hawa, al-Rubah's neighbourhood in Gaza.
West Bank rises up in a new 'white' intifada
As Israel cracks down harshly on unarmed protesters, Donald Macintyre meets one Palestinian family whose teenage son has paid a heavy price
Friday, 12 March 2010
Ehab Barghouti would not have been at the demonstration at all if his father Asdal had had his way.
Asdal found his son, 14, on the road from their village of Beit Rima and ordered him into the car. "I told him: 'You shouldn't go, you're too young.' He told me: 'I want to resist.' I said: 'Do you want me to see you on TV?'" But when Asdal stopped at a local garage and went in to talk to the mechanic, Ehab made his escape.
A few hours later he was unconscious in intensive care in Ramallah's main hospital, a rubber-coated steel bullet having penetrated his skull. He had been standing among a crowd of youths, well inside the nearby village of Nabi Saleh, on a hillside carpeted with the first daisies and wild flowers of spring. Many of the youths were throwing stones at an unfinished house 25 metres away which had been occupied by armed Israeli Border Police some 15 minutes earlier. Shortly after 2.30pm a shot rang out, probably from the window, and Ehab dropped face down on the ground before being carried vomiting and bleeding from the wound above his right eye by four older men to relative safety back up the hill.
Even if freshly promised "proximity talks" between Israelis and Palestinians get under way, they are unlikely to halt the weekly protests that will take place after noon prayers today in some villages and tomorrow in others. The Palestinian Authority did not start the weekly protests that have now spread to more than half a dozen West Bank villages. And it is not leading them. But a supportive Palestinian cabinet statement appeared to adopt their model last month, applauding that: "Peaceful and popular efforts have regained international recognition of the just Palestinian cause and revealed the void Israeli excuses for the construction of settlements and the wall."
For something is happening in these villages nestling among the rocky hills and olive groves between Ramallah and Nablus. The Israeli military does not accept the classification of the protests as non-violent; most usually end in confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinian youths and armed police and troops. But for the six years of such protests none of the Palestinians, in contrast to the security forces, have carried weapons. If these are the first tentative stirrings of a new uprising, and it is doubtful they can be described as that yet, then they are closer to the beginnings in 1987 of the first intifada, the so-called "war of stones", than the second, with its bloody record of suicide bombings between 2000 and around 2005. Some commentators have dubbed the protests – and the apparent endorsement of them by the internationally respected Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – as the "white" intifada.
Johann Hari: Palestinians should now declare their independence
Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the US request with a big concrete slap
Could the Israeli government make it any more obvious they have no intention of sharing the Over-Promised Land with its other inhabitants?
This week the Obama administration – who give Israel $3bn a year, more than they dole out to any other nation on earth – made a meek and craven request for Israelis to simply have a pause in seizing even more land, and to sit down with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a big concrete slap: the announcement of 1,600 more homes to be built on occupied Palestinian land from which Arabs will be forcibly kept out. He has made it plain he will not loosen his grip by an inch, announcing: "Even if [Palestinian President] Abu Mazen comes along and says he's ready to sign a peace deal on the spot, we will restore settlement construction to its previous levels." No compromise. Never.
How does this look to the Palestinians? Their story is so rarely explained without disinformation that it still seems startling when it is stated plainly. Until 1948, the Palestinians were living in their own homes, on their own land – until they were suddenly driven out in a war to make way for a new state for people fleeing a monstrous European genocide. They lived huddled and dazed in the 20 per cent of their land they were allowed to keep. They hardly fought back: they wept and dreamed of return. Then in the 1967 war, even these small strips were conquered with tanks and platoons.
Day by day since then, the remaining Palestinian land has been taken and given to fundamentalist settlers who claim it was given to them by God. They watched while Israeli Prime Ministers said they didn't exist – "there are no Palestinians", announced Golda Meir – or described them as animals: Menachem Begin called them "beasts walking on two legs", while Yitzhak Shamir said they should be "crushed like grasshoppers... heads smashed against the boulders and walls." They tried peacefully resisting, launching a programme of sit-downs and civil disobedience. Yitzhak Rabin responded by ordering the occupying Israeli army to "break their bones." After decades of this treatment, they fought back with violence – some of it targeted horribly and unacceptably at Israeli civilians.
And so today – with the active support of the governments of the Western world – the Palestinians live in a permanent military headlock. They are split in two. The Gaza Strip is blockaded on all sides, its population of 1.5 million imprisoned in a cramped, collapsing concrete maze the size of the Isle of Wight. For nearly three years, the essentials of life have been slowly choked off, in a process one Israeli official described with a chuckle as "putting the Palestinians on a diet". The items blocked from coming in include pasta and children's exercise books. The UN has shown that 70 per cent of Gazans are living on less than $1 a day, and 60 per cent have no daily access to clean water. Every time I go there, I think it can't be worse, yet it is. They used to use cars. Now it's donkeys.
On the West Bank, the land-theft continues. To protect the settlers and their programme of taking Palestinian land, there is a huge military infrastructure, made up of check-points and random searches and settler-only roads. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer offers one story he witnessed that typifies and distils life on the West Bank: "One school headmaster, a dignified elder man, who passed the same checkpoint on his way to school every morning, was made to undress – not once but often – and stand naked while his students passed by. This was richly humorous [to the occupying soldiers]."
There is a solution. Everyone knows it: divide the land. There are two peoples – the Palestinians and the Israelis. Let them live in two states, with 1967 borders, with full compensation for the victims of 1948. Although it is painful to accept swathes of your own dispossession, the Palestinian leadership has supported this programme since 1978, and even Hamas – the ugly fundamentalist group – tacitly accepts it. Yet it has not been offered to the Palestinians. Every time they have sat down to negotiate, even more has been stolen from them: settler numbers doubled during the Oslo "peace process". It culminated in an offer of a series of broken Batustans controlled forever by Israel – one no Palestinian leader could accept.
And now there is an endless ratchet. Swathes of East Jerusalem are being turned into biblical heritage theme parks and settler-belts that cut the city off from the West Bank. In 2008, 4,600 Palestinians lost their residency papers and so were expelled from the city, 20 times more than the year before.
Clashes over Israel heritage sites
Israeli soldiers have used tear gas and stun grenades against stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in the West bank town of Hebron.
The unrest on Monday followed a decision by the Israeli prime minister to include a shrine in the city, and another in Bethlehem, on a list of Israeli heritage sites.
"We understand that the situation has calmed down, but a general strike is still in effect in Hebron," Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Bethlehem, said.
"The Palestinians are outraged because they consider this a statement of Israeli sovereignty over occupied Palestinian land."
Shopkeepers in Hebron had closed their stores for the day in protest at the decision Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to include the Cave of the Patriarchs on the list of about 150 sites that the government protects.
The city has long been a flashpoint between Palestinians and Israelis, with several hundred Jewish settlers living in heavily guarded enclaves among approximately 160,000 Palestinians.