Palestina visit april 14 - 28, 2002
Message April 15, 2002
Activists from Amsterdam in Palestine
An initiative was launched from the Autonoom Centre in Amsterdam to form a delegation of five activists to visit Palestine between 14 - 28 April. The delegation members try to report back daily to the media and other interested parties via their support group in Amsterdam. What follows is their first written report, following an account of their impressions from the vicinity of Jenin in the current affairs programme NOVA.
Arrival Sunday night 14 April 2002
After an extra security check on Eilat Airport we flew in to the airport of Tel Aviv. Fortunately, getting into the country was not difficult and an acquaintance was waiting for us. We arrived in Sakhnin, a Palestinian village in Galilee in the north of Israel at 23.00 hours.
On the motorway we were immediately confronted with expressions of nationalism in the form of Israeli flags on cars and lampposts. The scores of trucks for tank transports we passed were the only visible signs of the war raging a few kilometres down the road.
Palestinian villages in Israel
We are staying in Sakhnin, a Palestinian village of some 25.000 inhabitants in the north of Israel. Like other Palestinian villages, this village too is surrounded by Israeli settlements. Through the introduction of new regulations, more and more tracts of land and property were expropriated from the Palestinians over the years, and often Israeli settlements were erected on the land thus acquired. There is virtually no contact between the inhabitants of the Palestinian villages and the inhabitants of the settlements. The infrastructure in the Palestinian villages is poor and maintenance is long overdue, while the infrastructure in the Israeli settlements is perfect. An excellent example is the street lighting in Sakhnin in comparison with street lighting in the settlements. The Israeli government has drawn a new boundary between Sakhnin and the adjoining settlement. The house where we are staying has been issued with a demolishing order. The boundary crosses straight through houses. A legal battle is now being fought, after a large group of people managed to stall demolition. In fact, one might say that the settlement policy in the occupied territories also holds the Palestinian villages within Israel in its grip, albeit in a somewhat more detailed form.
Collection of goods
Breakfast is somewhat drowned out by fighter jets, people are saying that they are flying in the direction of the Lebanese border. We leave for the centre of Sakhnin, where we visit the central collection point of goods for Palestine. Over the past few days EUR 25.000 has been collected in Sakhnin. Everyone contributes to the collection and the transport of medication, water, food and clothing to Palestinians in the occupied territories. We interview one of the volunteers with this local collection project: the principal of a secondary school. The night before, four trucks left for Bethlehem. Later that day we were told that they had arrived safely at their destination, in contrast with the information that a large number of trucks trying to reach Jenin during a large demonstration on Saturday were torched by the Israeli army. We visit the new accommodation of a women’s centre in Sakhnin. Only last week 400 women carried out a demonstrative roadblock at the settlement nearby.
Jenin and surrounding area
Later that Monday afternoon we tried to reach Jenin, but were stopped at a checkpoint. Initially one of us had a reasonably relaxed conversation with the young Israeli soldiers to try and get to Jenin, but the atmosphere quickly became more tense. Eventually the soldiers proceeded to check the identity of our chauffeur and our guide, the only two Palestinians in the group. We were not allowed into Jenin, decided not to make too much of a fuss about this and left to visit an acquaintance in a Palestinian village on the Israeli side of the green line. This man, who, sometime ago, was held in Israeli prison, told us that from here they had been witnessing the attack on Jenin all week. From the roof of a house under construction he showed us how the refugee camp was shelled from various sides: from a military camp in an adjoining forest, from a nearby hill and from helicopters, for seven days at all hours during the day or night. On the spot he arranged a contact in Salem by means of his ‘billiphone’ - the colloquial term for a cell phone.
From Salem we wanted to try to cross the so-called green boundary. This green boundary is the nickname for the boundary between the current state of Israel and the territories occupied by Israel. The reason is that this boundary is a stretch of greenery patrolled by the Israelis and dotted with a heavily armed checkpoint or military basis every few kilometres. The village is situated on the hill, just inside the Israeli side of the green boundary, here following the bed of a small valley. A few kilometres away, on the other side of this valley, one can see a number of villages located in the occupied territories. The Israeli army patrols a road right next to the village. For some time now, the villagers have been trying to collect as much food, clothing and blankets as they can for their neighbours on the other side. There is a need for everything there. Not only were many people killed or hurt, thousands lost their homes, the electricity was cut off and there is no food. The army refuses to allow any form of assistance. Therefore, the villagers are forced to carry the relief supplies in small quantities across the valley on foot. They do this all the time, even though it is dangerous, as a number of roads patrolled by the Israelis need to be crossed.
Just when we were planning to leave, we were passed by an Israeli jeep. One of us happened to be filming. The soldiers wanted to see his passport and admonished him that it is forbidden to filming in the direction of the West Bank. They threatened to take his camera away from him should they see him filming or crossing the road one more time. Two days before they shot at too little boys walking along the path. Nonetheless, three of us decided to chance it half an hour later. We followed the path and on the other side there was a taxi waiting. Here, everything is seized as an opportunity to make money, taking foreigners (mostly journalists) to locations on the West Bank included.
In Romina we visited a school housing mainly male refugees from Jenin. We could discern Jenin a little bit further down the road. Many of these refugees are in fact deportees. In some cases wearing just their underwear, they were dumped here by the Israeli army. We interviewed three people. The first man told us that two of his brothers had been killed by the Israeli army. They came out of their house to surrender, not carrying any weapons, and were shot on the spot. He also told us that Jenin was shelled with hundreds of missiles for several days. After that, without checking whether there were wounded left in the houses, bulldozers came to demolish everything else. This tallies with a statement issued today by the Red Cross, which states that the Red Cross has received many telephone calls regarding seriously injured people who were buried beneath the rubble, and who in all probability have perished because aid workers were not allowed into Jenin. The man also recounted how tanks drove over the bodies of dead people and that several corpses were torched. At some point the Israeli soldiers announced that the Red Cross had arrived. When the people came out of their houses, they were shot at. This man’s father, wife and children are missing. A second man told us that his wife and children also went missing seven days ago. The third person we interviewed was a woman. At some point she fled with two children, one of her own and one of her brother’s. Her other two children were lost in the general panic. Since her flight six days ago she has had no word of her husband, her brother and the two children. While on the run, she saw scores of bodies lying in the street. There is nothing left of the neighbourhood where she used to live. They all talked about the large number of bodies which were loaded into trucks and carted off by the Israeli soldiers.
[End of message 1]