REPORTING FROM OCCUPIED PALESTINE

Testimony: "You tell me why I am face-down on the ground"

By GHASSAN ABU IBAID*

(JENIN, November 18, 2003) -- Ghassan Abu Ibaid, 43, is a paramedic with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Jenin. He has five children and a sixth on the way. In February, he will be moving with his family to California. We interviewed him in the sitting area of the PRCS building, while the television in the background relayed news of the Maxim Restaurant bombing in Haifa that had happened only minutes earlier.

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Ghassan Abu Ibaid, PRCS Paramedic: I would like to relate to you stories that will show the kind of hatred and contempt that the Israeli army has for our people, the people of Palestine. Iíll tell you one of the stories that happened to me during the siege that was laid on the Camp in April of 2002. It happened on 8 April, four days after the incursion began when the army had finally allowed us to go in to the Camp so that we could clear some of the injured.

There were three injured people who the Israeli army had allowed us to go in for, so three ambulances went in. We started at 1:00 pm and we were finally out at 4:00 pm -- it took us three hours and this distance is only about 100 meters. Before we could pick up the wounded, the Israeli army forced us to go to the soldiers and have our ambulances searched. After we had cleared out the wounded people, we had to go back to the occupation army to be searched again.

The leg of one the wounded men that we cleared out was cut and rotten, with flies and bugs swarming all over it. His body was full of shrapnel. When I came back to the Israeli Occupation Forces they attacked me and demanded to see documentation. The kid who as with me didnít have his documentation, he only had a photocopy of his hawiya, his ID card. So they told me "This guy is wanted, this guy is Hamas." They ordered me to take off all of his clothes. I submitted to these orders and I stripped him of all of his clothes except for his underwear. Indeed, this personís body was absolutely full of shrapnel. He was absolutely unable to stand up, and yet they forced him to stand up and dragged him away. As for me, they asked me to lay on the ground face-down while they went and arrested him.

An hour and a half later I was still face down on the ground, and one of the soldiers said: "Come over here." He turned out to be an intelligence officer, and he said, "Whatís the deal with you? Why are you face-down on the ground?" I said "I donít know. I want you to tell me why I am face down on the ground." He said "Iím sorry, a mistake has happened." And he permitted my release at that point. But they still arrested the wounded man who was absolutely in need of medical attention and not prison at this point. This just shows you the maltreatment that the Israeli army constantly bestows upon the Palestinian people.

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On 10 April 2002, the 6th day of the invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, people began to flee the camp and congregate at the PRCS centre. After we ran out of food and water people were forced to leave the centre to go looking for more. Myself and several other PRCS paramedics led this march. The Occupation Forces came and began to attack all of the men in the group, as well as all of the people who were in Red Crescent uniforms. They handcuffed our hands and tied us up, and after two hours we were put into a military transport vehicle and taken to the Salem military base where we sat for four days.

After the four days, the International Committee of the Red Cross intervened, and finally we were released on the 13th or 14th of that month.

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On 8 August of this year we received a report at around four oíclock that there were people wounded in the Eastern district of Jenin. We went over, and found that there were indeed wounded people. One man had been shot in both his knees, and as I was taking this person out, the Israeli soldiers began firing at the ambulance. There were four bullets that hit the ambulance directly, and one bullet that ricocheted off of a wall and hit me right in the knee. I had to have surgery to repair the damage. This stopped me from walking for approximately one month before I finally recovered.

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Another time, in November of 2002, while we were transporting a female patient from Jenin Hospital to al Razi hospital in Jenin, an Israeli military tank came and blocked our way. Soldiers came out and arrested all of the people who were in uniform, all of the paramedics. They took us to al Jalame where we stayed for ten hours, leaving the patient in the ambulance until a French international by the name of Olivier finally got into the ambulance and took the woman to the hospital.

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Finally, one of the stories that I would like to recount happened only two days ago when I was in Jericho.

I attended to a woman from Jenin who was in Jordan for an operation to amputate her leg. When I got to the al Hamra checkpoint between Jenin and Jericho, I went to the front of the line and parked right in front of one of the Israeli soldiers who seemed to be in charge of the checkpoint. He came to me and asked why I had come to the front of the line. I said to him: "I have a patient who is very sick. She has an amputated leg. She has to get to her home as quickly as possible. I also have a paralysed child."

The commander ordered me to go to the very back of the line to be the last car. I got a feeling of such hatred and contempt from this commander. I said to him: "This woman she is sick." He said to me "I donít care, tell her to die. I have no sympathy for her." So I went to the back of the line, the last car, where I waited about an hour until I was finally able to pass through the checkpoint.

*Testimony taken by Valerie Zink and Jon Elmer -- Jenin, West Bank on 4 October 2003; Translated by Tarek Loubani.

Testimony: Paramedics under siege

By MAHMOUD HUSSIN BAJAWI*

(JENIN, 17 October 2003) -- We spoke with Mahmoud in the sleeping quarters of the Palestine Red Crescent Society station in Jenin on the afternoon of October fourth. As the old ceiling fan hummed and one of Mahmoud's colleagues slept nearby underneath a clothesline of PRCS uniforms, Mahmoud spoke with distant reflection and thoughtfulness. Biting his lip and swallowing deeply, he recalled the stories slowly between pulls on his Arabic cigarettes.

Born and raised in Jenin, Mahmoud is 35 years old and has been a PRCS paramedic for ten years. He has been arrested, beaten, humiliated and shot many times. He has 23 pieces of Israeli shrapnel embedded in his back, chest and shoulders.

Showing us pictures of his three children -- six, three and one -- he said, "every time I see them when I return home from work, I cry. I think of the three children of my colleague who was killed beside me. I haven't slept properly in one year, since he was killed. But what can I do? I love my job... to help our people -- but there is no cover from the tanks, the Apaches..."

Mahmoud Bajawi, EMT Paramedic, Jenin: It was the eleventh of July 2003. I was heading out to transport a wounded patient from the village of Yaban when an Israeli tank intercepted us at the entrance to Jenin. The soldiers came out of the tank, tied me up, threw me on the ground and arrested me. I waited there on the ground for about three hours before an Israeli patrol came and transported me to an Israeli jail.

I spent 12 days in the Israeli jail, during which I was interrogated and accused of carrying wounded Palestinian fighters. In a long discussion in the interrogation room I told them that it was my right as an ambulance medic to care for wounded Palestinian fighters, and indeed to care for any wounded Palestinian regardless of his or her activities. I told them that this right is codified in the Geneva Conventions, and in all basic international human rights norms -- in particular those that address the transportation of the wounded, whether military of civilian, during times of conflict.

After 12 days, they released me from jail, knowing that from the very beginning they had no reason to detain me.

In the past, they have also accused us of transporting weapons in our ambulances. They search the ambulances time and time again, and find no weapons. We know the real purpose of the Israeli army's activities: to delay and to impede the work of the PRCS ambulances and paramedics. These ambulances are the only vehicles that can travel during times of curfew, and transport the wounded and the dead.

Among the many other transgressions of the Israeli army against the PRCS [to impede our work] is the holding of ambulances for several hours, and firing at ambulances on more than one occasion. This state of affairs has not stopped; it continues to this very moment. For three years, since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada, these provocations by the Israeli army against our ambulances have not stopped.

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On the fourth of March 2002, there was an incursion into the city of Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp. The tanks came in on the evening of March third, and as workers of the PRCS we were prepared to receive many calls to aid the wounded and transport the martyrs [the term martyr is used to refer to anyone killed by the Israelis. People who die in conflict are considered by Islam to be "not dead", but living in paradise.]

On the morning of March fourth, there were four PRCS ambulances working in the Jenin refugee camp to transport the wounded. They worked from the morning until one in the afternoon transporting the dead, as well as dozens of wounded people. The Israeli Occupation Forces had placed the ambulances under great duress. With tanks and soldiers they impeded the ambulances from carrying the wounded out of the camp.

During that time of difficulty, one of the PRCS ambulances was bombed with high-energy incendiary grenades, resulting in the martyrdom of Dr. Khalil Suleiman [Director of the Jenin PRCS], the injury of three paramedics with very severe burns, and the complete incineration of his ambulance.

This incident happened while all of the movements of the PRCS ambulances into the Refugee Camp were supervised, authorized and coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the relevant Israeli officials.

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Three days after the martyrdom of Dr. Khalil Suleiman and the wounding of three of our colleagues -- Dr. Mahmoud Saadi, Taher Samuri, and Mohammad Alaweh -- the Israeli Occupation Forces began an incursion into Tulkarm. As usual, ambulances headed out to help those who had been wounded and those who had died, to try and transport them.

I headed out to Tulkarm in my ambulance with a colleague of mine from Jenin. Within an hour of our arrival, we began coordinating out efforts with the ICRC, and we made contact with the Israelis so that we could reach the many people who had been wounded, and the many dead.

After hearing that a car had been blown-up by an Israeli tank near the entrance to the refugee camp of Tulkarm, I headed toward the camp together with another ambulance from Tulkarm. We were stopped by an Israeli tank that tried to chase us away -- it began firing in the air with its machine gun.

At that point, we thought that they just wanted us to stop the ambulances; they were firing warning shots so that we would stop the ambulances in front of the tank to be searched. That was their normal operating procedure, that was how it had always happened in the past.

When both ambulances stopped, the tank approached us and began firing with its heavy guns at the two ambulances. My colleague, the driver of the other ambulance, Ibrahim Assad, was killed, he was martyred, and I was seriously injured.

That same day in Tulkarm, only moments before we were shot, an Israeli tank attacked and drove over a UNRWA ambulance, killing the medic inside. This is just one of the many stories and travails that ambulance drivers have been through.

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Among the many hardships faced by PRCS ambulances in transporting the wounded and the ill is the holding of ambulances. I experienced this myself with a colleague when we were trying to transport a wounded man to a hospital in Nablus from Jenin.

After we passed through two, three, four, five checkpoints on our way to Nablus (to put it in context the trip from Jenin to Nablus is only a 50 km trip), two Israeli tanks stopped us at the western entrance to Nablus after we had dropped off our patient at one of the hospitals.

The soldiers searched the ambulance and found that there was no wounded person inside. We informed them that we had transported our wounded patient to a hospital in Nablus, and that we were on our way back to Jenin. They asked us to take our clothes off, and made us lie on the ground. They began to hit us and bring dogs about us. [In Muslim culture, dogs are considered humiliating and unclean animals that should not be close to you]. They humiliated us in this way from ten at night until six the following morning.

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Another incident occurred during clashes between Palestinian children in Nablus and the Israeli army. The children were throwing stones at the Israeli army, and a group of Israeli soldiers were firing at the Palestinian children. While we were passing through the area in our ambulance, several of the soldiers began to surround the ambulance and took it over. They made us get out of the ambulance and onto the ground. We were placed right next to their position, next to the area where the soldiers had taken cover, so that the rocks being thrown by the Palestinian children would land on us.

The Israeli soldiers took our ambulance and began driving it so that they could move around more freely in a PRCS ambulance for their own purposes. They did this for about one hour before a representative for the ICRC came and demanded that the Israeli army return the ambulance.

*Translated by Mohammed Loubani

Jenin: A snapshot of an occupied land

From special correspondent JON ELMER. Photography by VALERIE ZINK

(JENIN, WEST BANK, 12 October 2003) -- At the time, I was inclined to think that the walloping the boy got from his mother for being on the street throwing stones with the older boys was as bad as anything the IDF might have dealt him. But hours later I saw what a tank's heavy-calibre mounted machinegun will do to a young child's leg -- a red gooey mass of mangled flesh bigger than a softball. I then saw what a mother looks like as she hurries with terrified panic through the hospital doors to see her son who has been shot.

The boy's walloping -- with a thin black rubber hose -- happened at about 9:30am, two hours into the daily routine of tanks patrolling the main street to enforce curfew. The boy was maybe six years-old, and seemed to know that he was in for it when his older brother followed his mother's barking orders to retrieve him from the street, draping his arm sternly around his little brother's shoulders.

This six year-old was part of the pack of boys that meet the tanks head on, each time they pass, with stones and juice bottles filled with fine white rock-dust. With a little water added, the bottles make a perfectly sized concrete projectile much more solid and easier to throw than a rock, and leave a white splattering on the tank's armour as a calling card.

Still, in real terms, it is little more than a symbolic show of force in the face of a 62-tonne tank that pulls down metal electric poles as if they were twigs, caves in entire storefronts and leaves the paved roads and boulevards as tangled piles of rubble.

With school closed because of curfew for the eighth straight day, there is no shortage of boys to take part in this activity. "What can we do," asked one mother, "tie them to their beds?"

When I saw a mother rushing past me into the hospital hours later, moaning in a horrifying tone with tears streaming down her face, I imagined that tying the boys down to their beds has crossed more than one mother's mind. Her son, 14, was shot by an APC at about 3:30pm that same day, when enforcing curfew had escalated from a single warning shot, as in the morning, to the constant spray of heavy machinegun fire at 15 rounds per second. It was inevitable that at some point one of the thousands of bullets would find its way into human flesh, the only question was which child -- and which mother.

This is the routine in Jenin, a city where the crackle of gunfire is constant, and the roar of tanks battle with the crickets for the soundtrack of the night.

Jenin is well known as the fiercest centre of resistance in the West Bank, but it is difficult to see how shooting children regularly and enforcing a suffocating and unrelenting curfew day after day eases that resistance. Intuitively, it seems obvious that such actions only serve to entrench it.

The standard justification -- though, of course, one is never necessary for Israel, which has a green light from the Americans and a slovenly silence from the "international community" -- is the suicide bombings.

The most recent bombing, in Haifa (where from, incidentally, almost all of this refugee camp was once expelled), was carried out on October fourth by a 27 year-old woman who was a lawyer from Jenin. Perhaps this reasoning works for the eight days of curfew so far in October, but what of the 21 days in September?

I spoke with a civil engineer working on the UNRWA Jenin Camp Rehabilitation Project the other day. The night before our meeting the army burst into his home and told his father that they were taking one of the men in the family. None of them had links to resistance groups, there was no particular reason, no particular target -- just one man, aged 18-35 in the home. It was his father's choice, the soldier said, "or else I choose."

The UN engineer explained the army's rationale with a story of his own arbitrary arrest several months earlier. He was manacled, blindfolded, held on his knees for hours, beaten, and taken to the infamous Salem prison where he stayed for eleven days without charge or defence. "They want us only because we are from Jenin. That's all. They even tell us this."

Yet, after almost two weeks of being constantly on the streets photographing, I have still not seen a single Palestinian gunman. Rather, it is the subtle forms of resistance, what the rest of the world might call "life", that seem to be occupying the overwhelming majority of the Israeli military's time and budget.

During the first few days of curfew, the city looked like a ghost town, the population holed up under collective house arrest. But the last few days have seen more and more people moving about.

On the main street, coffee vendors and vegetable carts have begun to reappear and people are emerging from their homes to get food and medicine, drink coffee, and just sit on the sidewalks and talk. Shops are opening one fold of their steel doors to allow a slim entrance, and a small market has even established itself less than twenty feet from the central site of the stone throwing and machine gunning.

In response, the tanks are now enforcing the curfew steadily all day, circling the city, passing up and down the main street firing their machine guns, tearing up the boulevards and spraying the sidewalks and homes with a thick diesel smokescreen that leaves the midday sunshine looking like the densest of maritime fog, taking several minutes to clear.

Before the tanks reach the main street, someone will come running up the road yelling "they're coming!" and the shopkeepers quickly seal their steel doors, the adults scurry down the alleys leaving their coffee cups where they were, the photographers get in position and the children prepare their stones.

The tanks pass, shooting hundreds of rounds and spraying clouds of smoke as the children heave their stones -- while some play a terrifying game where they mount the back of the tank and ride the enormous death machine in a way that leaves them oddly untouchable since the mounted gun cannot shoot down at itself.

By the time the clouds of smoke have cleared, the men are back in their seats drinking their coffee, the stores have opened the one fold of their steel doors and the children are crowding around the Palestinian photographers to see if their picture will be sent around the world by the Agence France Press or Associated Press. And so it goes, hour after hour.

I stood on the roof of my "hotel" (we are the only occupants) at sunset last night with the owner, watching the enormous full moon as it rose above the city, dwarfing the buildings in that surreal way that only the moon can. Off in the distance the fields and rolling hills to north were cast in an awesome twilight, the echo of gunfire and shelling and the din of tanks again challenging the crickets. It is a beautiful night, I said to him. Yes, he agreed, using the few words we shared across the language barrier, "a good night in a bad place."

See Jenin Photos by Valerie Zink at:

http://www.fromoccupiedpalestine.org/module.php?mod=image&tid=187

Testimony: Life under curfew

By NADYYA AZIZ

(JENIN, October 9, 2003) -- We met with Nadyya behind the locked steel green doors of an internet café in Jenin. She was breaking curfew in order to communicate with her children in Jordan, and connect with the outside world after five days of 24-hour curfew.

In 1969 Nadyya left Jenin, where she was born, to study English literature in Jordan. She returned to Palestine after 30 years to work as a government translator in Ramallah in the department of International Relations and moved back to Jenin in 2000 to work for the municipality.

She has been working to acquire residency since arriving back in Palestine, but the process is dependent upon the Israeli government Ė which has broken off communication with the Palestinian Authority. Because she is without residency, she cannot travel throughout Palestine, for at each checkpoint she risks deportation. For this reason, Nadyya has not seen her children Ė two sons, 29 and 25, and one daughter, 23 Ė in more than two years. She is 53 years old.

Her testimony was transcribed to the crackle of gunfire, rumble of tanks and the wail of the Palestine Red Crescent ambulance sirens Ė signalling the end of a four hour lifting of curfew, the first reprieve in five days. Curfew is in place again indefinitely.

Nadyya Aziz: I am not going to talk politics. Everyone is talking politics. I want to talk about the effect of curfew on human beings: on Palestinian individuals, Palestinian families and Palestinian society.

Where I am living, in al-Marah district, the Israeli tanks and jeeps come regularly -- at night, at dawn... They come in the early morning announcing "Mamnou'a al-tajawool!, Mamnou'a al-tajawool!" which means that curfew is imposed. You have no right to leave your home, to go anywhere. We are breaking curfew now, but on our own. The consequences are simple: if a soldier in a tank or a jeep sees you at any time you can be killed. And [the Israelis] will say that it is your fault; you didn't follow the orders. 24 hours at home. That's curfew.

During the invasion of Jenin in 2002, we lived for 19 days under curfew without water, without electricity... It was risky to even look from the window or the balcony. We heard constant shelling and helicopters. The tanks were all over the streets, everywhere. When they were at my doorstep, I said, 'Thank God the tanks are here. That means that we will not be shelled by helicopters.'

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This September there were 21 days of curfew. Students were able to study for only one week in the entire month. And today, it is the 9th of October, and the fifth day of curfew this month. They say that there will be curfew for another 10 days, maybe more. Nobody knows.

You see children in the streets now. Instead of being in school, they are in the streets, following the tanks and the jeeps. What happens to them depends on the soldier and his morality -- if he likes to shoot or not. These days are easier than last year -- last year we had many children who were killed on the streets because they were following the tanks.

Sometimes I feel that for a child who is locked in the home, he sees the tanks as a huge toy, as something to play with. To follow with stones, to put garbage on, to talk to the soldiers using dirty words -- I feel as if they are playing. Children need to play. They don't have pens and paper to use. So they play with tanks and stones.

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The concept of normal life is absent here. There is no tomorrow, because tomorrow is uncertain. Everyday when I talk with my neighbours, we say, 'Tomorrow, I will do this and this... if they lift the curfew.' Every detail of our life is controlled by the Israeli army. Everything. We feel like animals in cages. In this kind of atmosphere people become violent, and this violence is turned against ourselves most of all. Our society is not the same anymore. People quarrel with one another -- wives, husbands, children...

I talked to some people who said that those who need psychotherapy are becoming more and more. The number of people coming to receive treatment is rising, especially children. We are used to hearing tanks and shooting in Jenin, but for children, it's not the same. I know a little girl who is eight years old. When she hears any shooting she begins vomiting, she spends her time on the toilet... she doesn't speak, she doesn't eat.

Fear is accumulating. We have been living in these conditions now for about three years. The other day I met with a woman whose son was killed, leaving behind a wife who was pregnant, and now has a child with no father. I asked her how she is managing to live with this grief, this disaster. She told me that she and other mothers come together weekly in the [Jenin] Camp and they talk. They talk, and they cry: "I am a mother, I lost my son, but I have found another mother in the same circumstances as me. Her son was killed, and he also left a woman and a child. So I feel relief that there are others who are feeling the same."

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These long days of curfew are very damaging -- there are people here who work in the market, in the shops, who depend this for a living each day. When you donít work, how can you live? As for myself, I have enough money to live for another three months. I donít like to think about this because there are people who donít have enough money for tomorrow. It's a luxury to have three months of money to live on. It is shameful for me to talk this way while others cannot find money for their next meal, and have to stand in a row in front of the Red Cross and wait for their rations.

Before this intifada, the level of poverty was not like this. Now, if you walk in the city, you can see young unemployed people everywhere. Unemployment is about 70 per cent in the West Bank and Gaza strip, and poverty is about the same. It is catastrophic. Many, many Palestinians are living on the assistance of the Red Cross and other organizations. For about a year now the Red Cross has been running a program to feed over 1/2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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The concept of a normal life is absurd here. What is normal? We have forgotten normal. Even the normal roads we have forgotten. Before the intifada, there were normal roads to Nablus, to Ramallah... To go to Ramallah now you have to use long roads through mountains, walk through paths, anything. There was once normal roads, and there still are, but we have forgotten them. To go to Ramallah before took one hour. Now you have to spend five hours to reach Ramallah, if you reach Ramallah. If I am to go there, I say, "Thank God, at least I got there on the same day."

Once I went to Ramallah to see if my papers had been renewed, and when I came back to Jenin I was held for many hours by soldiers. One soldier was talking slowly, and asking many questions. I said to him, "It seems that you are bored. This I why you are talking to me. You need someone to talk to -- even us." When I tried to look him in the face he didn't do it. You know, I felt an unspoken sympathy with him. I don't really know how to express it. After that I saw a soldier on TV who was killed in Bethlehem. He had a similar face to this young man. And I cried.

To some, this is all a big game -- they are interested in continuing this bloodshed. They are killing the humanity in us, in both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. I can't talk this way to many people here, they won't understand. We are living in a mentality of revenge, violence, acting and reacting... this cycle of violence. We are suppressing the human side of us, which I think is very dangerous. And we are paying the price with people -- Palestinian and Israeli.

For some years now people here look at me as though I am from Mars. How can I feel sympathy for a soldier or an officer? Many people see only a killer. And maybe they are right, because they see only those who are holding guns, trying to kill, imposing curfew. But sometimes I see the depth of the human being -- what there is inside, as a human being. When any child in Israel or in Palestine falls down, killed, this makes me cry. I speak as a mother. And a mother is a mother, here, there, or anywhere in the world.