Palestine: Stories of injustices
- Published: 03 October 2011
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Palestinian people – including veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada expose the realities of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. Lynda Renham-Cook reports.
3 October 2011
As the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas made history in Palestine’s long quest for statehood, how many bulldozers were stampeding across Palestinian land?
As US and Israeli anger mounted over the formal request for entry to the UN, how many peace activists were planning to go the extra mile to show their support for Palestine?
What encourages them to go the extra mile? With thoughts of my own impending visit to Palestine next year, I spoke to those wishing to break the silence, those who have suffered in silence but have now chosen to speak albeit anonymously and those who openly support Palestine using their high profile names to highlight the shame of Israel.
In my quest for help with this article I was overwhelmed by the support offered to me. I felt very emotional when reading the stories and grateful that so many are not afraid to speak out against oppression and injustice. The following are many accounts of that.
Breaking the silence
Breaking the Silence is an organisation of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.
Below a soldier tells of vandalism and looting by Israeli soldiers:
Let's get back to houses, vandalism, instances of looting. Tell me a little bit about the feelings of people entering houses, things they do, things they took. Was there any collective act of looting where people picked up electrical appliances for the company?
No. But the thing is, everyone knew. It was okay, as it were.
Give an example so everyone will know.
Everyone knew that guys were picking up stuff. Everyone was walking around handling some prayer beads. You didn't see anyone without them. And the company commander certainly knew… I remember once the company commander saw something like that and yelled for everyone to return it all. But no one really looked into this. No one got into those things.
After coming back from the operation he told you to hand it all back?
He passed on some general order that anyone who'd taken anything should give it back. He didn't check people's bags. After that house in Bituniya there was a threat, the company commander said he'd check bags. It wasn't done. Not really.
To what extent was there looting? Who took stuff? Everyone or just a few?
Part of the guys did.
Whoever was taking stuff was regarded as heroic? Criminal?
Not a big deal.
It was common knowledge that people had picked up money here and there. What size sums?
Several hundred shekels. But there were stories of thousands too. The Arabs keep their money at home, cash, as we know. Under the floor tiles… I can't say these things with certainty, but no big deal was made of this. Much larger sums were taken. People's whole savings.
Were there guys picking up electrical appliances for their company?
What about vandalism, cases of guys treating people's property with disrespect?
There was one really horrible case, in our first entry to Abu Sneina. We were in a house for some days and had to get out, and the things was that under that officer there were two soldiers, too, in my own platoon, who were very extreme with these things. Before they left that house they simply vandalized anything they could there. They smashed floor tiles, all the lamps…
How long did you stay there?
A week maybe, some days. One of the soldiers defecated on their bed. Like really, all lines had been crossed. At the last moment, right before leaving, there was this crazy event, leaving Abu Sneina. The company commander had seen the house, by chance; he went in and saw it all. And he made them go back inside and fix everything. But they simply left. Simply left it all the way it was. There was nothing one could do about it. That's another instance.
And these were good soldiers. And the platoon commander knew about it. I mean, there's a soldier who defecated on an Arab's bed, in his own home. I mean…
These soldiers were punished, eventually?
Nothing at all. It stayed like, nothing was passed on.
Did the company commander know about it?
Not about this. The company commander knew that the house had been knocked up as it should be, he didn't know about the shitting part specifically. The platoon commander did.
As far as the company commander was concerned he knew they trashed a house, and this did was not taken further anywhere?
They were not punished.
The above Breaking the Silence testimony is reprinted here with permission.
After many hours surfing the web for a previous article I wrote on Nabka, I landed on the following blog. Its rawness and emotion shook me that I emailed the writer almost immediately. Keen to share the story, he emailed me straight back.
The following is a direct transcript from that blog. It has not been altered in any way except I have needed to shorten it. A link to the full entry can be found below. The writer uses the name Benny Adams, His friend Munib Masri was shot in the back during the May 15 border protest and had to have his spleen and kidney removed.
My contact with this blogger has been quite inspirational. He lives at Shatilah and hopes to be a doctor and work in the refugee camps.
I'll spare the details.
Bus parked far, hiked up steep rocky hill to get to centre of protest; few people crying and ambulances trying to push through a crowd of thousands.
Deadlock human traffic. Down a steep hill was the border fence. Half way down the hill stopped by a human barrier of Lebanese army. Behind them, a group of women children and men at the border fence. Every now and then gun shots, screams.
I burst through, soldier chasing after me. I was too quick and reckless for him and got away with minor damage to my foot. Passed by a makeshift area where the wounded were being prepared for transport and went to the border fence. 3 meters of rusty barbwire and barriers that led up to a 10 foot fence with electrical wires running through and barbwire across the top.
Behind that fence was an area of 10 meters then another fence even higher that was also topped with barbwire. Behind that fence was layers of really tall dense trees. Behind the trees an empty field.
Those who were strong enough to throw rocks over the fences were just hitting trees.
No weapons at all not even a slingshot.
The rocks were thrown symbolically, mirrors the tradition of hajj were Muslims throw stones at a rock that is supposed to represent the devil in honour of the experience of Abraham in the Koran. A totally symbolic act thus a peaceful protest.
(I later learned that before i had arrived that some Israeli soldiers pressed their face against the fence, taunting protesters. one was hit and the soldier standing next to him sprayed into the crowd killing and injuring men and children. Later to be used as "justification" in the media for the deaths.)
The loss of life was completely preventable and unnecessary. Israel had months to plan for a nonlethal strategy with nonlethal weapons. The IDF were not scared soldiers acting out of desperation and urgency. They were bored children killing for sport. I ceremoniously threw a couple rocks then made my way to the centre front of the crowd.
We were throwing stones at the trees, every now and then shots rang out. Half would duck, everyone look around to see who got shot. 5 seconds later blood pooling in the dirt. A call out and those closest carry him/her to the ambulance 100 meters away.
A rock on its way over was hit by a bullet and exploded two meters from my face.
Shots ring out every 5-10 minutes wounded being carried away. (People who survive their wounds will have hospital bills they couldn't even dream of affording).
A heavier officer shows up. Had a quick laugh, loaded his rifle took aim and fired.
A gun was pointed at me so I fell to the side, my ears ringing. When I got up found a 12 year old kid beside me, with a quarter size hole in his arm. Fat and muscle and then the blood oozing out.
He was on the verge of passing out but stayed conscious to look at this new hole in amazement. Someone grabbed a kafiya and began to tie it around his arm. I remembered that the knot should be tied over the wound to control bleeding so took over and knotted it appropriately while others took position to take him to the ambulance, off he went, leaving his blood behind on the ground and my shirt.
With every person shot more people wanted to be shot. The rocks couldn't reach the IDF soldiers so the only act of retaliation was to die. Two really loud bangs rang out 5 minutes between each, left my ears ringing for 3 or 4 minutes a time. Sound grenades? More shots fired, more wounded carried away.
My friend from the camp, his father killed by IDF in front of him when he was a child, lost his mind. He had a wife and two beautiful kids but he wanted to die. He ran towards the fence but 5 or 6 of us took him to the ground. He was enraged and desperate and tried to battle us off. He was shouting in Arabic, "Who do they think they are? Do they think they can just kill kids like they are nothing? Who are they to do this" his head was shaking and he was reduced to a child-like state, not asking for toys or candy, but for death.
I don't like blogging.
Talking to Mary HD
Mary HD, a singer, songwriter, actress, former fashion model, entrepreneur and charity ambassador, is a supporter of Palestine.
Mary has appeared in Hollyoaks, Clocking Off and The Parole Officer to name but a few. She has featured as a model in Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Ok Magazine, Drapers Record, Company and Glamour.
April 2009 saw Mary HD form her own company, Mary HD Entertainment Ltd, and several months later she was nominated for the, ‘Business Personality of the Year’ award, due to her brand ethos of Love, Hope, Peace and Charity. It is a philosophy that is an important part of Mary HD’s life.
Upon, her return from Palestine Mary filmed her first music video, A Better Day. Mary HD has now completed her official debut album L.H.P.C.
Mary HD recounts her personal experiences from her trip to Palestine:
I never knew much to be honest of the situation regarding Palestine until I was invited to a meeting by Amnesty International in Liverpool, back in December 2008. I was disgusted by the injustices that were shown to me on a power point presentation and the facts regarding the occupation of Palestine.
So I made a firm decision to campaign for a free Palestine. I felt in my heart that I wanted to go to there, to be educated further in order to spread awareness with the work that I do, and as part of my faith to be able to go to the Al Aqsa mosque to pray in Jerusalem, which would be a beautiful blessing to do so.
It was in March 2009, that I really looked at making it a reality. However, although I was informed of the difficulties I may face in going to Palestine, such as problematic issues at the airport, I wasn’t t aware of how much I was to experience.
Our group was made up of participants from Christian Aid, British Red Cross, Save the Children, Israeli Committee, Against House Demolitions (ICHAD) and the head of Amnesty International. As soon as I pretty much stepped off the plane, I was detained. I couldn’t believe it. I got asked a series of questions such as, ‘Why are you visiting here’? And ‘where do you plan to go?’ ‘What is your father’s name?’ ‘Your father’s father’s name?’ And so forth.
Then I was told I could go. At passport control I was stopped again and was surprised that a priest was too. Again more questions. How on earth can this go on I thought to myself. The priest gave me a sweet and informed me it wasn’t the first time he had been stopped and interrogated. I just prayed in my heart that I would be allowed to go fairly quickly.
I was questioned again, this time additional questions. They asked about the work I do. I thought of stories where people had been held for over 7 hours. I was asked ‘what is your religion’? ‘Are you Muslim?’ and ‘What do you plan to do while you are here?’
Finally, they allowed me to leave. I was part relieved, yet thinking of what else I may experience. Thankfully, my friends had all waited for me outside and I stepped onto the bus for us to make our way to Bethlehem.
My journey had now truly begun, we were told of numerous stories from the local Palestinians of their struggles (some of which is discussed further below) including; how they face the battle of passing through checkpoints daily to get to work and the many problems the segregation wall causes.
When I saw the wall for the first time, I was truly disgusted. Our group took pictures and we all felt so helpless at the situation, which the graceful Palestinians have to deal with every single day!
Another day, we were informed that we were to pass a checkpoint. I took a seat at the front of the bus and but was kindly asked to sit at the back as I was wearing a scarf that would clearly stand me out as a Muslim and may cause problems at the checkpoint. I found this slightly uncomfortable. It is just wrong! I found the checkpoints awful! People should have the complete right to freedom of movement!
Movement and freedom is highly restricted due to the ridiculous boundaries in place. Civilians who are fortunate to have jobs, must set off for work at 2 a.m.to be ready to wait in the lengthy line at the check points, in order to reach a job that starts at 8 a.m. These are just some examples of the oppression that occurs towards Palestinians. It truly is heart-breaking!
I found when wearing my New York Yankee cap when passing through a check-point I was not interrogated in any way. However, when I put my scarf back on, for example during a trip to Hebron, I was stopped at the checkpoint of which there are hundreds and my bags searched!
This is typical of the events that occur every day for the civilians, including strip searches and even worse! To have to contend with this type of discrimination on a regular basis is absolutely ludicrous!
Stories of personal experiences from local Palestinians - by Mary HD
A student I met told me of how his family’s home had been demolished. However, not just once (which is bad enough!) but four times!! It humbled me so much to see the beautiful hope and strength that he had!! The fact he still faces the very sad fact that his house could be demolished again is totally unacceptable.
I also visited 'The Defence for Children International' where we watched a documentary, about a young boy, who left his home to go to school and was then taken away by the Israeli soldiers. He was imprisoned, treated very aggressively daily by the soldiers, and raped. Both the family and the boy were treated disgracefully. The boy was tormented by other adverse conditions, such as only being allowed to go to the toilet once a day at 10pm each night. You can obtain a copy of this video entitled; Stolen Youth from www.dci-pal.org
Following his release, two years after the making of the DVD, the young boy was shot dead at a checkpoint. 700 children are detained per year, 6000 have been detained since 2000. Children are shouted at, intimidated, kicked, slapped and sexually harassed to confess things when this is actually nothing to confess to. In court, the detainee and lawyer are not shown any evidence as to why the children are detained. We were educated, that donor money comes in from Europe to pay money for Israeli propaganda, to pay also for people to actually be detained!
One particular lady I met, I will never forget. She lived with her disabled husband. As she was aiding him one evening some Israeli soldiers came barging into their home. They attacked her, threw her out of her home and threw her disabled husband off a two flight storey building! He died from a heart attack! They continued to party inside their house, getting drunk till the morning.
They then trashed the house before demolishing it completely. The lady now lives alone, in a kind of tent/hut. But she has immense faith and courage that is overwhelmingly admirable and inspiring. Regardless of the fact that she faces the possibility of spontaneous attacks from Israeli soldiers and settlers.
We listened to additional stories and heart from another family that have been attacked by settlers repeatedly and had their home trashed by Israeli soldiers trying to force them to move. They do not want to move and face the fact that any day the soldiers may return, to distress them with their outrageous request. Moreover, the soldiers burnt all of their fruit trees which they had outside their home, showing further disrespect. There are many such stories, how can we share them all?
Palestinians heavily rely on the interception of Internationals to spread awareness and do all they can to contribute in facilitating a more peaceful and just society for all to live in. The grace and strength I saw in the civilians was truly remarkable and very admirable. It is not right that anyone should experience a small fraction of what goes on in Palestine. It is better to light a candle of hope than to curse the darkness. I have faith that a better day will come, all we have to do is put in the work! Unity is faith.
Looking to the future
I asked Mary what her plans were for the future in respect of supporting Israel through her creative endeavours.
"I recorded the song, 'A Better Day' and filmed the music video for the track- Aligning it with a message of hope for peace and it also incorporates a message of forgiveness. The music video is featured on my site: www.maryhd.com.
"Also, 'Make a Difference' which has references to Palestine. Both songs feature on my album which is now complete. It is called; 'Beautifully Unexpected-L.H.P.C. Love.Hope.Peace.Charity.
"I also recorded with Hotline a rapper from the middle east, called, 'Sometimes' It’s very encouraging for those going through trauma and 'hard times ... Moreover, at the beginning of the year I set up a charitable trust, A Better Day Trust. A Better Day Trust has the same vision to empower and unite people to promote for a more loving and peaceful world to be in."
Mahmoud’s story as told to Lynda Renham-Cook
My name is Mahmoud and I am 24 years old and come from Ni'lin west of Ramallah in the West Bank. I was born here. I witnessed the first intifada, and most of the marches that took place in Ni'lin 24 years ago. I have lived without parents. My mother was very sick in hospital and transferred to the care centre of the handicapped.
The occupation soldiers arrested me for the first time in May 2006 for protesting against the apartheid wall and I was sentenced to two years in prison on false charges because they wanted me to stay in jail for a long time, I was released in May of 2008.
The land is the source of our livelihood and our only income. I have not completed my education because of the bad situation that my family face. I have been working the land, sowing farming and living on it with my brothers who stayed with me in Ni'lin. I have been shot in the stomach and the hand during protests.
In January 2010 I was arrested brutally and sent to prison. They beat me and insulted me severely and claimed false charges against me. They sent me to Ofer Prison where the Israeli military prosecutor brought counterfeit charges against me.
After 5 months in prison suffering, my friends brought me a “stronger” lawyer to defend me and he proved the charges were unfounded and demanded an immediate release. The Israeli military court accepted this demand but stated impossible conditions:
1) That I pay a financial bail amounting to 15000 shekel.
2) I’m barred to enter my town Ni’lin.
My friends paid the bail and I went to live far away from my beloved town Ni’lin. If ever I’m seen or they have known about my participation in activities against the wall, I’ll be arrested for 3 years with no sentence or any legal procedures.
We ask the international society so stand as one, and help us end this racial occupation, and acquire our freedom!! We want peace, we want to live in peace, and we want a respect to our humanity!
Images from top: Lebanese border, photo courtesy of Benny Adams; Israeli soldier, photo courtesy of Ahmad Mesleh;Mary HD, courtesy of Mary HD; Mary HD with a Palestinian woman whose home was raided by Israeli soldiers who threw her husband out of the window, photo courtesy of Mary HD.