[Reader-list] Fwd: Second Palestine Report

Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri jyotirmoy.chaudhuri at gmail.com
Sat Aug 12 22:06:57 IST 2006

Hi All,

Some random stories and info:

1) “Taxi!”
I’m waiting at a cabstand.  I meet Jack.  He looks about 45.  We laugh about how he, a Palestinian, has a Western name and I, an American have an Arabic name.  Early on he asks, “Do you know anything about lymphoma?”  I don’t, why does he want to know.  He has lymphoma.  A cab comes.  We’re traveling to the same part of town and share it.  Jack’s wife has multiple sclerosis.  She’s in a wheelchair.  They have two kids, 15 and 11.  Three times he’s applied for and gotten medical permits to take his wife to see specialists in Jerusalem.  He wants to see a Jerusalem specialist himself.  But he doesn’t have the physical strength anymore to stand hours in line in the sun to apply for a permit at the IDF command center.  And in the last 5 years most permits are denied anyway.  Plus he doesn’t have money for medical care.  He pays for the cab and won’t let me pay.  I insist.  After much cajoling, he takes my money.  His parting words are that he expects to be in a cemetery shortly.

In 2001, 25% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories lived in poverty.  The UN definition of poverty is living under US $2.20/day per person.  In 2006, 75% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live in poverty.  

In the West Bank, people must travel to Jerusalem for specialty medical care.  My interview with the Director of the local Palestinian office that serves as liaison to the Israeli Army (the IDF) for permits indicates that for the last 6 months about 95% of medical permits to enter Israel are denied (in the past 50-70% were granted).  When permits are granted, they are time limited (e.g., from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. on a specific date).  To apply, an Israeli hospital (that has never seen you) has to fax the IDF information on your case and justify why you need care in Israel.  Information from a Palestinian hospital (where you have actually been seen) is not acceptable.  To travel to Jerusalem, the sick have to wait in the sun at checkpoints, sometimes for hours.  Sometimes the soldiers don’t let them through even with a permit.  And sometimes the lines are so long that the permit expires during the waiting.  Or by the time they get through, getting to Jerusalem and back before the expiration time is impossible.  No matter the reason, if you don’t use your permit, you have to reapply from scratch for another one.

2) “Charles”
Another day I interview Charles, brother of a 24-year-old Palestinian prisoner.  Charles’s brother is 4 years into a 396-year sentence in an Israeli prison.  The brother was a member of the armed resistance and committed violent acts against the occupation.  The family is Catholic and Charles’s brother was in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem during the siege a few years ago.  Charles isn’t allowed to visit his brother because Israel doesn’t allow brothers of prisoners to visit if the brother is between the ages of 16 and 35.  Charles is 30.  He hasn’t seen his brother in 4 years.  Their parents are dead.  The only family member allowed to visit is their 87-year-old grandmother who walks with a cane.  Each visit involves a 12-hour journey and some walking.  This journey is becoming impossible for her.  She has seen her grandson 4 times so far for 20 minutes each visit.  At the last visit the prison authorities allowed her to take photos.  I look at the photos.  They are sweet and sad.  Later, almost parenthetically, Charles happens to mention that a few years ago he was standing in front of his house when the IDF arrived and asked who owned the house.  Worried, he said the owners were abroad.  The IDF sent him to the top of the street to tell people not to come down the street.  While he did this, they blew up his house.  The next year the UN rebuilt the house.  My interview with him is in the rebuilt house.  Later I see a UN plaque on the outside wall saying building funds were donated by Canada but not mentioning why the house needed rebuilding.

I read about a girl of 15 who pushed and then ran away from a male soldier who wanted to body search her as she entered a mosque.  He shot her.  This put her in a coma.  After she came out of the coma, she was sentenced to 2 years in prison.

There are about 10,000 Palestinians prisoners in Israeli prisons.  They are not petty criminals.  They are political prisoners who have acted in resistance against the occupation, some violently, many non-violently.  Many committed “crimes” we would not consider crimes (e.g., holding a Palestinian flag, being in a nonviolent demonstration, being in any political party).  A few have been in prison 30+ years.  About 4% of prisoners are children (i.e., 450 kids).  Israel arrests children 12 and over.  It charges and convicts children 14 and over.  Being tortured in prison is standard.  Random mass arrests of men are common (e.g., all males between ages 16 and 40 in a particular village).  Almost every man I meet has been arrested or in prison.  Often people are released from jail after many days and don’t ever learn why they were arrested.  There is a military order called “administrative detention” that allows Palestinians to be held 6 months without the prisoner or his lawyer being told the charge (only the judge and prosecutor know the charge).  This military order allows infinite 6-month extensions of the detention.  There are about 600 prisoners held this way now.  Some have been in prison for 8 years.  

To visit a prisoner, you must be a first degree relative (except for brothers who are restricted as noted above).  First, you apply for a permit to enter Israel.  The Red Cross serves as liaison to the IDF for this.  The Red Cross staff person I interviewed told me that about 40% of permit applicants are denied for reasons of “security” and another 10% to 15% are denied because of IDF difficulty establishing kinship (i.e., the info isn’t on their computers).  The journey to see a prisoner can take 5 to 12 hours/each way because of movement restrictions in the Occupied Territories.  Many visitors are strip searched at each checkpoint along the way and then again at the prison itself.  Visits with prisoners are 30 minutes long.  To get there, first visitors take Palestinian transportation to the Green Line and then get on an Israeli bus.  Israeli police or military escorts accompany visitor buses from the Green Line (1967 border) to the prison.  Because of these restrictions, prisoners have few visitors.

3) “Jenin”
In Jenin I meet Ibrahim, a sensitive, smart, sweet young man of 22.  He’s a university student, the oldest in a family of 7 kids.  He’s our host for our stay in Jenin.  He looks after us in the most loving and caring way.  I like him.  He’s real and deep and he’s in touch with what he feels.  The conditions of his life have not taken away his humanity.  One night over fruit and conversation, he tells us about a time his village was under curfew for 15 days without a break.  He was 18 then.  There was no electricity because the IDF had cut it for cover to move around at night.  The villagers were out of food.  The mayor of the village pleaded by cell phone with the IDF commander for a break in curfew so people could get food.  The commander refused.  Soon after, Ibrahim was moving quietly from house to house at night to get food and take it to people.  Neighbors were helping him (saying things like, “Go away, the soldiers are right there,” “Come now,” “Move quickly this way,” etc.).  As he was making deliveries, a sniper saw him and began shooting.  He dropped his bag and ran as fast as he could.  He remembers the feeling of the wind rushing against his face.  For a moment he thought of stopping and letting himself just get shot.  By the end of the story, he was crying in this painful, quiet way.  He told us other stories too, one about being used as a human shield by two soldiers who invaded his dorm and kept a gun in his back as they walked him over to another dorm.  This is his life.

We are walking down the hill into Jenin Refugee Camp.  About 14,000 people live in the camp.  In 2002 the camp was under siege by the IDF for weeks.  The first part involved shelling and shooting out the roof water tanks so people ran out of water fast as they hid in as many layers of concrete as they could find in their homes.  The second part involved IDF invasion with troops and bulldozers and then hand-to-hand killing, demolition of 400 homes, and serious damage to another 200.  What happened in Jenin is considered a massacre by the international community but not by the governments of Israel and the U.S.  On the hill walking down into the camp, we pass a man in his 50’s who chats with us briefly.  Later, our host tells us this man has six children.  Three are in Israeli prisons.  Two were killed by the IDF in the 2002 invasion.  His sixth child is wanted by the IDF and is now in hiding.  This is his life.

Later that day I meet a university student whose family used to live in one of the 400 houses in the camp demolished by bulldozers in the invasion.  Unlike many, she was not killed in her house during this mass demolition by giant bulldozers without adequate warning to residents.  Walking around the camp, the buildings that are still there are just covered in bullet marks and other damage from the invasion.  A local tells our host (who grew up there) that IDF were just there a few weeks previously dressed in civilian clothes.  Then they opened fire, killed three, wounded 11, and fled.  Our host tells us this is why people are avoiding our group---they don’t know if we mean them harm and just look harmless.  

Our host tells us that his niece, who is 3 and lives in the camp, runs into a corner and starts shaking whenever she hears a helicopter overhead.  

4) “Security”
I see a beautiful antique urn in a shop window in the Old City of Jerusalem and walk into the shop to ask about it.  The shopkeeper Ziad and I hit it off and he starts hanging out with us.  Ziad works with a foundation that brings Western doctors to the West Bank to perform specialized surgeries on children.  A 3-year-old girl in Gaza needed a back operation that the doctors in Gaza weren’t trained to do.  The Swiss doctor was willing to perform the surgery in Israel or Egypt.  Ziad arranged things and tried to get permits for the child and one family member to travel into Israel.  Permit denied.  And then into Egypt.  Permit Denied.  The reason: “Security.”  

Ziad also told me about a young boy who had the first in a series of eye operations.  When the surgeon called to schedule the next operation, Ziad tried to locate the boy and his family and learned they’d all been killed in an IDF invasion of their refugee camp home.

You encounter the word “security” a lot here.  Just about everything done by the IDF is done for reasons of “security.”  This includes land confiscations, curfews, closures of towns and villages, group arrests, denial of entry into West Bank towns, denial of entry for Palestinians into Israel, the uprooting of olive trees, all the movement restrictions, the permit system, restrictions on visits to prisoners.  The list goes on and on

5) “Family Values”
I meet Rebecca, an Israeli activist married to a Palestinian and living in the West Bank.  They have two toddlers.  To visit their grandmother, Rebecca’s children need a hard-to-get permit to enter Israel.  So Grandma comes to them.  She has to get IDF permission to do this as Israelis are not allowed in the West Bank but it’s easier for her than for the grandkids.  Rebecca herself cannot travel around the West Bank because she is an Israeli and isn’t supposed to be there.  So, to visit paternal family, her husband and the children take a servis van through the checkpoints.  But Rebecca has to walk through remote countryside and over mountains to avoid checkpoints and soldiers.  And then she has to do the same thing to get back home.  This involves hours and hours of walking.

Ayesha, my translator, is one of the 50,000 Palestinians who don’t have a Palestinian ID card at all.  You need one of these to go anywhere at all because of the checkpoints and the random soldier checks.  People don’t ever leave home without theirs.  Officially, Ayesha doesn’t exist.  She can’t travel at all outside of Bethlehem without doing it by walking through remote countryside or trying to convince soldiers to let her through without the ID she claims she forgot at home (a very dangerous game that risks arrest).  Her six siblings are all in the same situation as she is.

6) “Why is it good to study History?”
I’m waiting for the secretary to come in and unlock the office at the university where I’m doing research.  I’m sitting on a bench outside in the cool morning air.  I strike up a conversation with a young blonde next to me.  She’s styling in a skirt, long hair, and high heels.  She looks like she could be from anywhere in the world.  Her name is Melissa.  She’s 18 and here to take a university entrance exam.  We chat about getting together in Jerusalem that weekend.  I ask her where she lives there.  She says unfortunately she lives right behind the Wailing Wall (one of Judaism’s holiest sites) in East Jerusalem.  I ask what’s unfortunate about that.  She says that on Friday evenings, she and her family, especially her mother who wears hijab, can’t go out onto their street because religious Jewish men going to the Wailing Wall attack them on their way to prayer because they are Palestinian.

Later that week, I hear I’d just missed a demonstration of rightwing religious fundamentalists chanting slogans like, “Kill the Arabs” and “Arabs to the Gas Chambers.”  They walked through the Old City protected by a contingent of IDF.

The thing about all the above stories is that they are so typical.  You hear things like this over and over.  Everyone has a million stories like these.  These stories are not exceptional.  They are the norm.  These kinds of experiences are parts of everyday life for the people I meet on the street, people I meet in shops, people I interview, just about everyone.  

I’m really starting to get that above and beyond everything else, this is a situation of human rights abuses by an occupying army.

7) “The Endgame”
At the airport in Tel Aviv, I’m in a shop buying a paper and snack.  At the counter, a map of Israel is for sale.  I open it and see that the borders of Israel include all of the West Bank and Gaza.  There is no West Bank on the map at all.  Much of what is the West Bank is labeled “Judea” and “Samaria.”  There are tiny little zones within Judea and Samaria that have stripes on them.  You can hardly see these zones.  I look at the legend.  It tells me these miniscule striped areas are “Autonomous Areas.”  I think of how the Chinese call Tibet an “Autonomous Region.”  And I think of Native American reservations in the west of the U.S.

Thanks for reading and my best to you all,
Ruppat Rani

Ruppat Rani is the pseudonym of a U.S.-based psychologist currently in the West Bank.  She is a member of an education and solidarity mission.  The goal of the mission is to return to the U.S. to raise public awareness about life under military occupation so that Americans will lobby their government to end its suport of Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Please distribute this email as widely as possible, but do not reveal Ruppat Rani's true identity to others so  that she can return to the West Bank in the future without difficulty from the Israeli authorities.  It is through direct first-person reports such as this that the world can learn about what life is actually like in the Occupied Territories for the Palestinians.

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