Four posts from a trip to Palestine organized by the International Popular Defenders for Palestine in 2002

by Richard Hugus

A Home Demolition

June 26, 2002

(from al-Quds, Palestine)

The International Popular Defenders for Palestine delegation were in the old city of Jerusalem yesterday hearing from a representative of an agricultural union of Palestine when we received news that a home demolition not far away was in progress. We left the meeting right away, with the full support of the union representative, and arrived at a high part of the city about 20 minutes away, near a playground and open space, to find a group of heavily armed IDF soldiers blocking the entrance to a group of homes, one of which they were sent to destroy.

Actually, the IDF wasn't there to do the dirty work. For this, a crew of some 40 Korean workers had been brought in. The Korean workers were sitting in a lane beyond the soldiers waiting for orders. They had already begun the breaking up of the home with sledge hammers, but had been stopped by the intervention of a community lawyer.

As witnesses and families stood by the entrance to the group of homes, we interviewed on video a woman who works for a nearby community center -- Al Luq Luq. She told us the history of the harassment by the Israelis of the family whose home had been attacked, and, pointing to the 20 soldiers standing by, said that American taxpayers are paying for the entire crime of IDF home demolition in Palestine.

The IDF, with their black automatic rifles, green uniforms, military berets, wraparound sunglasses, and arrogant attitudes, are everywhere in the old city, walking in groups, arbitrarily harrassing young Palestinian men. Those at the home demolition carried the usual rifles, but bigger guns as well, and were in constant communication over walkie-talkies.

It may have been the cameras and witnesses and the light of day showing on them that led to the IDF and the workers eventually leaving the area. Their leaving, in any case, did not mean the end of the demolition. They could come back at any time, when no one was watching. When they left, the families returned to their homes, and those of us who had come to support them were invited in to see the damage. Holes had been banged into a roof in four places, two feet in diameter, showing rooms below. The upper walls of an addition had been knocked down, leaving concrete block lying all over. In the rooms below, which we were invited to enter, we saw that the space of many people, children to elderly, was very tight – many people to a room. Poverty was evident everywhere, yet, in the midst of having their home destroyed, these Palestinians offered us a tray of cool drinks and showed us kindness and hospitality. Most of the children had been taken to other homes in terror. Those who remained were beautiful and resilient, like the Palestinian people as a whole.

In fact, it may be the kindness of the Palestinians which has allowed Israel to crush this land so heavily. One can have no doubt about the fascist nature of the Israeli occupation in Palestine, on arriving here and seeing it directly. But what begins to sink in is the "advantage" fascism from the outside world has in a land populated with a people who don't have fascism in their nature; who don't comprehend it.

It must have been the same when the European whites eradicated the indigenous population of North America. But Palestine is resisting. Resistance is in the fabric of Palestine society, in which the IDF and bullying settlers are an obscene nightmare.


Aroub Refugee Camp

June 28, 2002

The Defend Palestine delegation travelled to a UNWRA refugee camp today. The Aroub refugee camp has been in existence since 1950 and has 7,000 people, most of them unemployed. After 52 years the camp has become like a permanent village, with many small concrete houses. The only difference is that the land it occupies is leased from a private owner by the UN specifically to provide shelter to refugees.

A manager of the camp spoke to us in his office for an hour, describing how as much as possible is done to provide health care, education, and food for this many unemployed people with minimal UN funding. Israel, which is responsible for the existence of the refugees, provides zero funding to the camp. When asked what contribution Israel does makes to the camp, the manager pointed to a shelf on the wall containing various munitions, and said “lots of bullets.” On the shelf we saw U.S.-made M-16 and .50 caliber machine gun bullets, CS gas canisters, flare rounds, and a disarmed hand grenade.

According to people we spoke to, the IDF is free to enter the camp at will and to harrass, shoot at, and occupy the streets and homes of its residents, and it does so frequently. One learns quickly that the IDF can do anything it wants in occupied Palestine, and that there is no one to appeal to in the face of IDF outrages, including the UN. One such outrage was the recent occupation by the IDF of a home on the edge of the camp near the Israeli-only “Highway 60” which connects Israeli settlement from the north to the south of the country. When we passed the occupied home we noticed the blue and white Israeli flag, dirty with road dust, raised on a crooked pole, set on top of a typical two story concrete residence. The home had been turned into an IDF bunker to guard the highway for Israeli citizens (and, of course, to establish occupation, even in a refugee camp). The home’s windows had been knocked out and replaced with sandbags, and a large green camouflage mesh hung over the roof.

As we passed, staring at the bunker, two Ethiopian IDF soldiers came out of the front door to question us. When we were slow to respond, one cocked his M-16 threateningly and pointed it at us. The person from the camp guiding us could barely get words out of his mouth, but had the courage to say that this had once been his house, that it had been taken from him and that the people he was guiding were in the camp as his guests. A third, ranking soldier, an Ashkenazi in his twenties, about 5’2”, came out and consulted with the other two. The first two asked him for permission to smash our video camera, which had taken pictures of the bunker and of them as they stopped us. Seeing our U.S. passports, the ranking IDF said no. He berated our guide, and told us all to move on.

Ethiopian IDF soldier takes passport (photo by author)

This is a country where a U.S. citizen might easily be caught in the crossfire, or simply murdered by an IDF goon with an M-16, but Israel knows that the U.S. is its paymaster, and if the IDF have checked passports they will let the “Imrikan” go, and even tell him to “have a nice day.” Meanwhile, we hear the sounds of Apache helicopters firing missiles in al -Khalil (Hebron), we hear machine gun fire going on all night, we hear the F-16’s, and it seems like the strange reality so many authors have described in wartime, of mass violence mixed insanely with  everyday life.

Luckily, some Palestinians in our group who were ahead of us got away from the questioning. Had they been stopped they were liable to be arrested, or shot. Well-meaning internationals coming to Palestine, even in the most dedicated solidarity, must keep in mind the dangers they may expose their friends to in the jail that Zionism has made of Palestine.

Finally, if the U.S. tourist comes to the country of occupied Palestine, and strays away from the areas claimed, stolen, and guarded by the colonists, he will find guns he has paid for with his own tax dollars pointed at him as readily as at his Palestinian brother. Israel is a tin pot fascist state dedicated to the immiseration of an entire people. It is funded by the U.S. to create terror and, with terror, secure resources across Arabia. But the Palestinians have lived in the land and know it so much better than the newly arrived “citizens” of Israel that the brash IDF, rather than protectors of a brave new religious state, look like moronic adolescent offspring of old Mussolini, arrived for no explicable reason from some foreign planet, with an itch for violence, to oppress a fine, generous, and soft-spoken people.

A Refugee Camp in Rafah

(from Gaza, Palestine)

July 2, 2002

We travelled down the Mediterranean coast from the center of Gaza to a major Israeli checkpoint dividing the center from the south of Gaza. Our destinations were Khan Younis and Rafah, two towns close to Palestine's border with Egypt. Many people have commented on the Israeli checkpoints. They are indeed designed  to make life hard for Palestinians, and nothing else. Our car of ten was in line for three hours in the hot sun, hundreds of other cars and trucks ahead and behind, and everyone doing their best to keep their tempers. It was all for no reason. The cars and their passengers weren't being checked. They were only being made to wait.

During the wait we saw a large Israeli bulldozer and a Merkava tank going menacingly  back and forth, raising huge clouds of dust in an open field of agricultural land long since destroyed by the occupation. These wastelands are everywhere near where Israel decides to place a settlement, as "buffer zones." We were near one of the oldest Israeli settlements, set up in 1948. In the traffic jam, Palestinian vendors sold goods, from tea to chewing gum to pipe smoke. Conditions were not good for selling; they were there only because of their poverty, and the poverty was caused by the occupation. But the ability of Palestinians to adapt to this aspect of the occupation was evident.

In front of us, above the devastated land, was a two-story-high concrete silo with slit windows, guns pointing out. This tower controlled the traffic. More accurately, an Israeli soldier with a penchant for sadism controlled the traffic, which he let through arbitrarily -- a few cars now, and then none. At an Israeli-only bypass road a hundred yards to the west, however, cars were few and moving quite nicely. Some have called the elaborate separation of privilege between Palestinians and Israelis an apartheid system, but apartheid seems too mild a word. Israel is actually enforcing concentration camp conditions in large parts of the country. It does not want to use the people in the camps to serve them, as is typical in other colonial settings -- it wants to drive the people out completely. Lacking the power to accomplish this physically, Israel is conducting a war of attrition in which it starves, harasses, arrests, humiliates, shoots at, assassinates, and demolishes the homes of Palestinians in order to force them off their land. Israel's claim to the rest of the world that it acts for the sake of its own security is a patent lie. Instead, Israel uses security as a justification for a war against a defenseless people. When some inevitably react to the insults and provocations of the occupation, Israel simply uses this as an example of the need for more "security", and increases its attacks. The system and its propaganda are circular.

People in the United States whose leaders and tax dollars support Israel need to be told clearly that they are supporting a slow and calculated genocide. Israel isn't a democracy; it's a military and police state operating under the insane ideology of Zionism, supported by Western imperialism. The effect of these twin scourges is visible in the severely impoverished refugee camp which we saw in Rafah, where we learned that the IDF fires on civilians in their homes every night, killing and injuring anyone who comes into their sights, for no reason other than that they are there, and are visible from any given IDF sniper tower.

Bullet holes mark the walls of every home in the range of fire of one tower which is suspended by a crane above the Rafah camp. One resident invited us in, served us watermelon, and showed us a bullet hole six feet high in the middle of his living room wall. On the outside wall of his house were at least 300 bullet holes. All the buildings are concrete or concrete block. The bullets make holes in them the size of silver dollars. A child from a nearby house came up to us with crutches, showing two recent bullet wounds in his ankle with scars about four inches square. A woman appeared with a cast. She had broken her leg running away from an approaching tank. In an odd twist on modern warfare, we learned that the towers are sometimes unmanned and that with cameras and specially mounted guns, the killing can be done through remote control.

Scores have been killed and hundreds injured in Rafah since the second Intifada began in October 2000. What is shocking is that the world, with all its great humanitarian organizations and well-meaning people, has completely ignored this town,  and Palestine as a whole. When the UN and Red Cross should be rushing in with massive aid, and world governments should be assembling forces to immediately take away Israel's arms, the desperate people of Rafah had only us – a carfull of private individuals from the US, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands with no power among them, to come to see what they have been living through. Short of listening to their stories, and intervening here and there in the widespread crimes of the occupation, that is about all we can do. We are received as if we are foreign dignitaries because the people in the towns feel that this is what they deserve, and they are right. But we aren't foreign dignitaries. Such people are nowhere to be seen.

"The situation," as people here call it, is an outrage. For George Bush to give a speech in which he totally ignores the crimes of Israel, and blames everything on Yasser Arafat, would be something like Roosevelt responding to Nazi concentration camps by attacking leaders of a prisoner resistance movement. But Bush can't do the right thing, of course, because he and the bosses who pull his strings are solidly behind the new Nazis in control of Israel. To stop Israel, we have to stop the U.S.

Palestine Lives, Israel Degenerates

July 7, 2002

(from Al-Quds, Palestine)

On coming to Palestine, one begins to wonder about the nature of
Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. In Al Quds, or Jerusalem, it seems that
all people of all religions from around the world have successfully
arranged to make room for each other, and to live together. The old city of
Jerusalem is thousands of years old, and has existed much longer than the
Israeli state. In the old city is a Muslim Quarter in which all are
welcome, and a Christian Quarter in which all are welcome. But in the
Jewish Quarter only Zionists are welcome, and it is the only section where
one sees residents walking around with guns sticking out of their belts,
with lots of soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces protecting them. The
streets and markets, which are busy everywhere else, are quiet here. One
finds control, sterility, and fear.

Near the Damascus Gate to the old city, the IDF can usually be found
stopping young Palestinian men, arbitrarily asking for identification. The
IDF travel in groups of three or four, carrying M-16’s and backpacks with
communication equipment, and they are usually young people in their
twenties, both men and women. The harassment goes on all day long. To an
outsider it is hard to understand how the youth in their dark green
uniforms, so heavily outnumbered, and behaving so rudely, can get away with
it. The only answer seems to be guns and arrogance, and a long history of
conditioning. The same thing goes on at every checkpoint all over the West
Bank every day. Israel has simply asserted its right to control the travel
and access of the entire Palestinian population. And Palestinians, out of
fear of Israeli guns, must accept the routine.

Palestinians are not the only ones to suffer under the occupation, however.
The oppressor is reduced in subtle ways in the business of conducting state
oppression. A soldier may torture his victims by day in full power and
control, but go home and suffer nightmares in his sleep, and find himself
alienated from his family, until he becomes a haunted creature, and crazed.
Stories abound of the IDF behaving like psychopaths during the occupation
-- defecating in and defiling homes and offices, destroying furniture for
no reason, hiding bombs in toys in order to kill innocent children,
targeting small children with everything from huge tank guns to automatic
rifles, and writing graffiti wishing death to the Arab people as a whole.
Manning checkpoints is in itself an exercise in sadism.

It is almost as if, lacking arms, the best response to this monstrosity is
the very one Palestine is offering -- maintaining resistance and dignity,
while letting Israel degenerate. Just like the United States in Vietnam,
Israel, with all the massacres and atrocities that its power can afford,
seems to be doing a pretty good job destroying itself.

A man named Mahmoud, who runs a child wellness center in the Muslim Quarter
of the old city, put it well. “I spent fourteen years in Israeli prisons,”
he said, “and came out more human than when I went in.”

This is how the resistance will succeed. The land, the homes, the water,
the roads, the resources -- all the things which Zionists have stolen from
Palestine -- have come at the expense of the oppressor’s own humanity.