Tuesday, August 31, 2004

5th Che-Leila Youth Brigades Delegation Reports from Palestine

For More Background on the Che-Leila Brigades and the Kenyan connection, please visit this earlier KDP posting profiling Jaamit Durrani, one of the 5 young people that are part of this year's delegation.

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 16 August 2004 23:04
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] DAY ONE - Sunday 15th August


Dear friends,

The fifth Che-Leila Youth Brigades delegation, 5 young people from Britain, arrived safely in East Jerusalem, Palestine today, via the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. On arrival at Tel Aviv we were all stopped and interrogated by Israeli security about our intentions. Israel's policy on letting people into the country is dualistic: tourism is one of the main sources of economic income, but they hate foreigners poking around the Occupied Territories and exposing the realities of their occupation. Dermot was taken aside and questioned as soon as we climbed down the plane steps. The only one of us who was more thoroughly questioned was Jaamit – and we have no doubt that this was on account of his brown skin and Muslim surname. Thankfully we had come ready to deal with Israeli security checks as part of our preparation for the delegation (which also included studying the history of Palestine, the Pan-Islamic movement and Arabic lessons). But any discomfort we experienced is nothing compared to the humiliation faced by Palestinians every day at checkpoints and security checks.

We were picked up at the airport by our friend Mahmoud, who had come to study at Sussex University after meeting one of our previous CLYB delegations to the West Bank. As we drove from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem, the wealth in the Israeli capital stared out at us in the form of shiny tall buildings, well-maintained roads and luxury cars. Israel is a highly developed, modern city with good infrastructure, education, healthcare and welfare. Yet despite its wealth and standard of living, Israel receives more development aid than the whole continent of Africa put together. It's not hard to realize that this money is very effectively 'developing' the Israeli military might used to oppress the Palestinian population.

On the main road through the Kastle Valley, Mahmoud told us the story of how in 1948, this was the site of a great battle when the Zionist militia (the Haganah, led by Menechem Begin, who later became Israeli prime minister), made its first moves to transgress the UN agreed borders and invade Palestine, and were ambushed by Palestinian resistance fighters. The Palestinians won this battle, although as the situation today illustrates so clearly, Israel won the war as a whole. We could see shells of tanks around us, apparently left there by Israel as mementos, so proud of its military might.

Further along the road, we caught our first glimpse of the settlements, and despite having heard so much about them, we were still awed by their size. Jerusalem is surrounded by a number of substantial settlements, which can easily be mistaken for fortresses. They are situated high in the hills, menacingly looking out over the small Palestinian villages below. They are clean, well designed, functional units, pre-built in large numbers so that when more immigration from the Jewish Diaspora is encouraged, they can be filled, and the slow creeping occupation that accompanies the more violent oppression can continue.

Next we drove past Biddo, a small village next to which a large settlement has been built. In order to 'protect' the settlers from the Palestinian villagers, the Apartheid Wall that is being built along the length of the West Bank to further segregate the Palestinians, cuts Biddo off from the rest of the West Bank. Biddo has been the scene of a range of peaceful demonstrations over the last six months, all responded to brutally by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) with tear gas and rubber bullets, and none of it reported in the Western media. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has been taking part in these peaceful demonstrations over the last months, trying to offer support and some kind of protection with their international passports ( Click Here).

On arrival in Al-Quds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem), Mahmoud tells us news of the stabbing of an Israeli policeman: a 51 year old man, just released from prison, had been questioned at a checkpoint (the West Bank is dotted with military checkpoints inhibiting the flow of Palestinians: sometimes people have to wait for hours just to get to work, turning a 20 minute trip to the next village into an untenable task). Local papers say he was humiliated by the soldiers and police, and stabbed the policeman. The policeman was taken to hospital and has survived; the man was shot dead on the spot.

We have also heard news from Mahmoud's brother that a group of over 1,700 political prisoners in Israeli jails have started a hunger strike today. They have issued 10 or 12 demands regarding the conditions of the prisons (Israeli prisons are notorious for bad conditions, particularly for political prisoners). The response from an Israeli government official was that they would rather let them all starve to death than meet their demands. We will keep you updated on this situation, which is currently a top story on Al-Jazeera and in the newspapers.

Until tomorrow we will be staying with Mahmoud's family here in East Jerusalem. The family has been forced to leave their home and land in North Jerusalem to a smaller house, because of the inaccessibility that the checkpoints had created to get to work in central Jerusalem. We have been touched by the hospitality and warmth shown to us by them, who have welcomed us in their home, looked after us and fed us with mountains of delicious Palestinian food!

What we have seen so far though is only a small taste of what we will see over the next ten days as we travel the West Bank. We will be seeing first hand the realities, cruelties and injustices of life under Israeli occupation, but also learning with humility from the experience of the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and self-determination. We will, of course, keep you posted.

In solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades

Al-Quds, Falesteen, 2004

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 20 August 2004 18:02
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] DAY TWO REPORT

[sorry about the delay in sending reports, we have had problems accessing computer and internet facilities so we are trying to catch up! please be patient...]


Greetings once again from Al-Quds (Jerusalem). Today has been a relatively calm day– it'll probably be the only one in our packed schedule. In the morning we met with Nidal, an inspirational Palestinian woman journalist/filmmaker who helped to make John Pilger's excellent film "Palestine is Still the Issue". She spoke at length and with great passion about many things to do with the Israeli occupation and its effects on people's lives. A lot of it were things we had already heard or read about before, but to hear it from the mouth of a Palestinian and feel the emotional and human side of it was something else. There were stories such as a woman having to give birth at the checkpoint because the soldiers would not let her through. Another woman from westbank wanting to visit her sick mother in gaza, having to travel for 15 days through Jordan and Egypt instead of the two hour direct drive it would be if there were no checkpoints, only to be refused entry into Gaza anyway. And another story about how a baby had to be passed over the Wall to her family because there was no way through the checkpoint. She described how the occupation "steals the people's control of their destinies" by making EVERYTHING an uncertainty in day-to-day life. How the rest of the world doesn’t care about what happens in Palestine, partly because their opinions are shaped by the western media to make people think it's the Palestinians who are the terrorists, and not the Israeli occupiers. The interview was a good intro to what we have to come.

Jerusalem is divided into West (part of Israel) and East (which was "granted" to the Palestinians under the Oslo Peace Process of nineteen ninety-five. It's not a fifty-fifty split of the city, more like East is a quarter to a third of the city, and West is the rest. The contrast between the two is blatant – West is a prosperous European-style city with posh buildings, nightclubs and department stores, and East is like any town in a third-world Arab country, with run-down houses, bumpy roads and small, family-run shops. These two worlds sit side by side with each other, only meeting because Arabs from East Jerusalem have to go to West for work, or the other way round when tourists come to East Jerusalem for the holy sites.

Life for Palestinians in Jerusalem is quite different to most of the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation is not visible in the sense of tanks, aerial bombardments and house demolitions as it is in Nablus, Jenin or Gaza - here it has a more hidden face. But nevertheless it is clear that Israel's plan is to take over every remaining part of Jerusalem they do not already "own" bit by bit. A major factor in this is the housing situation. Israel offers large amounts of money and American citizenship to East Jerusalem residents to try and lure them out of the area.

Alongside this, Palestinians are required to ask permission from the Israelis if they want to build anything on their own land, or make repairs to an existing house, which is usually denied. So construction has to be done in secret by night and on the Jewish Sabbath, when there is less Israel presence. Meanwhile Israelis will buy single rooms in Palestinian housing compounds and immediately start construction to expand their room into a house. At present, forty percent of East Jerusalem is actually populated by Israeli settlers. According to our friends here, in ten to fifteen years, if the current trend continues there will be more Israelis than Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Do not be mistaken in thinking that this is a simple case of Israelis moving in next to Palestinians as neighbours; it is clear that the gradual creep into East Jerusalem is effectively a plan to annex completely the Palestinian side of Jerusalem into the Israeli state. Construction of settlements around Jerusalem is also rife, which is stealing land from the nearby villages, trying to extend the borders of Jerusalem to include the settlements, and completely isolates the Palestinians in surrounding villages from accessing Jerusalem as they used to.

The level of surveillance of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is frightening. The entire town is covered by a massive network of CCTV cameras, used by the Israeli intelligence to gather information about Palestinians, to arrest any potential political activists, and to protect the Israeli settlers. Armed Israeli police and small groups of soldiers (mainly Arab and Ethiopian Jews) patrol the city, free to question and check the identity card of anybody they see. (Incidentally it is clear that neither the cameras nor the police are there to protect the Palestinian people – our friend Mahmoud told us of how when his cousin was stabbed to death, he asked the police for the CCTV footage to identify the killers and they refused, saying the cameras are not there for Palestinians, only for Israelis). Detailed records are kept of every Palestinian according to the number on their ID card – as Mahmoud explained, “they know my name, what time I get up and leave for work, who my family members are, how many times I have left Jerusalem, everything.” Also the city is littered with spies and Israeli intelligence agents (we spotted a couple of not-so-discreet agents listening to our political conversation in the park) to gather info about potential activists. As a result Palestinians in Jerusalem are often scared to talk about the situation in public, they are forbidden to display Palestinian flags in public, and some are even afraid to leave their homes.

Another aspect is the attempt to make East Jerusalem’s residents lives a misery on a day-to-day basis. The example of the Israeli Ministry of Interior is the most sickening that we encountered. Palestinians have to come here to apply for everything from registry of birth, marriage or death, application to build a house, permission to travel even within the West Bank, permission to move house… (the list goes on). The bureaucracy is deliberately made extremely slow and tedious by the Israelis in order to say to the Palestinians, “you are not welcome here”. So Palestinians have to queue for many hours in order to be seen by the Ministry. This system is made worse by groups of youth who queue up from seven or eight pm the night before in order to sell their place in the queue to people the next day for a few hundred shekels. In fact they sell the same place in the queue to ten different people, so by the morning the queue is massive, with the first places going to the highest bidder (the poorer Palestinians, who simply cannot afford this bribe, suffer of course). Mahmoud explained how when he was coming to Britain to study, he queued up at the Ministry from eight pm through to four pm the next day (when the Ministry closed), and then until eight a.m. the following day without being seen, before finally giving in and buying a place in the queue. The Israeli authorities are well aware of this practice and are quite happy to let it happen, and Palestinians have no choice but to accept it because there is no real organised force in East Jerusalem (as there are elsewhere) that can stand up to the gangs that carry it out.

This brings me on to my last point: the sad thing about East Jerusalem is it is very difficult for resistance movements to exist and operate openly in the city, as there are in most of the towns, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. It’s sad because the lack of resistance means that Israel is able to completely control East Jerusalem, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be Palestinian territory, and they are free to carry on their expansion freely. What the resistance can provide is not only the organisation of Palestinians to defend themselves from further Israeli incursions and land grabbing (and the morale boost that that brings), but also social programmes (education, healthcare, advice centres etc) to deal with the issues facing the Palestinian communities. Most people we spoke to are quite frustrated about the lack of resistance here and are quite demoralised about the future for East Jerusalem. It’s alarming to think that the home of the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s 3rd holiest site and where the Second Intifada began, is slowly being stolen by the aggressive colonial project of Zionism. But I am certain that Palestinans will never allow their beloved Al-Aqsa to be taken from them. The path of the future for Al-Quds remains to be seen.

I must add that despite the intense repression that exists in Jerusalem, the Palestinians who live there lever let it dampen their spirits or make them despairing. The people we have met here are the most friendly, welcoming people with warm hearts, a strong sense of pride, and an unshakeable spirit and culture of defiance and independence. We are honoured to be among them.

In solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades

Al-Quds, Falesteen, 2004

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 20 August 2004 18:06
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] DAY THREE REPORT


Kat and Jaamit started the day early with a visit to the awe-inspiring Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Mosque is famous for being the site of the start of the second Intifada after Sharon, in a deliberate attempt to provoke the Palestinian people, marched two hundred soldiers into the third holiest site in Islam. This was the last straw for the Palestinians who had suffered so much due to the intensification of the brutal military occupation.

Kat and Jaamit joined the rest of the group at the Jerusalem Hotel where we were picked up by the Alternative Tourism Group and taken to Hebron (or Al-Khalil in Arabic). Hebron is made up of Hebron One and Hebron Two. Hebron One is a bustling Palestinian market town of roughly two hundred thousand Palestinians. Their lives are turned upside down by the presence of four hundred settlers in Hebron Two. As we approached Hebron Two the noise of the bustling streets turned to an eerie deserted silence, this was due to the ways in which the Israelis have done everything possible to make Palestinian life unbearable.

At the first checkpoint we came to we saw a Palestinian mans bike being confiscated for no apparent reason. As we continued towards the Al-Khalil Mosque we saw one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen. The settlers had built houses right on top of the existing Palestinian houses in the old city, from which they threw things out on top of the Palestinians below. This forced the Palestinians to put chicken wire between their ground floor houses and the settlements built literally right on top of them. We saw bleach bottles, bricks, rusty pots, decaying food and general rubbish in the mesh, we were also told of how the settlers throw their waste water out on top of the Palestinians. Our group has a general understanding of the degrading situations Palestinians are forced to live under but faced with the absolutely humiliating conditions forced upon the Palestinians all of us were appalled. Further efforts at provocation and humiliation came with the loud Israeli music from the settlements, the racist graffiti and the Israeli flags flying all around Hebron Two.

We continued through the old city towards the Al-Khalil Mosque and were stopped three times, having our passports checked, bags checked and walking through two metal detectors before reaching the Mosque. Our journey to the Mosque was comparatively easy due to our passports. Palestinians are treated like animals every time they wish to pray in the Mosque, being passed from one checkpoint to another and being forced to wait for an indefinite period of time. All this security was due to the fact that the Mosque, which is shared by both Muslims and Jews, was the site of Palestine’s first suicide attack in nineteen ninety-four. This attack was carried out by a French Israeli settler called Goldstein. Goldstein (who was a doctor) walked into the Mosque while the Muslims were praying and attacked them with grenades and guns from behind, murdering twenty-nine unarmed praying Palestinians. As the Palestinians fled the Israeli soldiers outside the Mosque continued shooting at them. It was obvious that there would be an escalation in security but to put two checkpoints on the Muslim entrance to the mosque manned by the very people who continued the massacre and no checkpoint on the Jewish side is just an insult. The conditions in Hebron were absolutely disgusting - it was amazing that the resistance there had not taken a more violent stance. Instead they try to resist the occupation by continuing their lives in spite of the occupation.

We left Hebron feeling sickened at how four hundred illegal settlers were destroying the lives of the people in the world’s second oldest city.

After lunch we went to Beit Sahour where we witnessed the Israeli policy of divide and conquer. An Israeli road separated one set of Palestinian houses to another by cutting straight through them. Palestinians are not allowed to use these roads and are only allowed to cross them by a gate manned by Israeli soldiers, open only from six a.m. to one p.m., and even then only at the soldiers’ will. The treatment of the Palestinians like animals is an attempt to break the will and aspirations of the people making their lives impossible.

Another road we saw was the military road connecting the illegal settlements surrounding Beit Sahour. This road winds round in an almost circular fashion, confiscating vital fertile Palestinian land, again making life as difficult as possible. It must be incredibly infuriating to be able to see your land and your family but not to have any contact with them. After seeing these Israeli attempts to separate the Palestinian people from each other and their land with the use of heavily fortified roads, we were faced with an even more blatant attempt to destroy communities with the monstrous nine meter high concrete Apartheid Wall. None of us were able to imagine the scale of the wall. When we first approached it from the road, it was so huge we thought it was a block of flats. The wall and the checkpoints have literally turned the West Bank into one giant prison, violating Palestinian rights of freedom and movement, and making their life almost unbearable. One example was the family we stayed with that night, who told us how they hadn’t seen their daughter in years due to the restriction of movement. When looking at the Wall, I felt physically sick, at the fact that the wall was being built in the first place; the fact that it goes deep into Palestinian territory, stealing their land; and the contempt the Western media show to the Palestinians by daring to call it a “fence”! If the media refuse to tell us the truth about this, what else aren’t they telling us?

We continued our trip with a meeting with Dr. Majid Nassar of the Union of Health Work Committees, an NGO providing holistic healthcare, organizing medical centres, primary healthcare (e.g. school health programmes) and community development programmes (e.g. community development plans), and a whole range of other programmes. The aim of this is to serve the needs of the Palestinian people in the face of brutal Israeli oppression.

As we came back from this meeting, we were talking of the prison society that the Palestinians are living in, where families are separated and vital agricultural land is stolen, and houses are demolished. Our guide and his brothers have been in Israeli prisons a total of twenty-five times, many of which were due to “administrative detention”. This is similar to internment in Ireland, where one Israeli official has the power to issue a warrant for arrest, passes judgement and sentences any Palestinian they feel like. Administrative detention means people are imprisoned in infamous Israeli prisons where they are subjected to torture, without a proper charge, without a trial, without evidence, without access to legal representation, and without their families being told where they are being held.

We went through a range of motions that day, mostly centred around sadness and anger; I can only imagine what I would feel if I had to live with this every day. But we also felt grateful for the incredible hospitality and high spirits of the people we have met.

That night we stayed with a Christian family who were keen to make it clear that this is not a problem of religion. The Palestinians are a very mixed people who stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, who live, die, work, cry and fight together.

In solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades

Beit Sahour, Falesteen, 2004

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 21 August 2004 15:17
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] Day Four 18th of August 2004

Day Four: 18 August 2004

Early in the morning we drove to the YMCA in Beit Sahour (one of the villages surrounding Bethlehem) where we joined the Palestinian Progressive Youth Union (PPYU) youth camp. The PPYU is an organization that, since 1996, has addressed the needs of youth in Palestine suffering from the Israeli Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, providing cultural, educational and social opportunities. Che-Leila Youth Brigades has built strong links with the organization over the last years. We have invited 2 young activists from Gaza, staying in total for over 4 months, who have traveled with us all over the UK, raising awareness of the situation of the Palestinian people. The camp will last for 1 week in total, including cultural and historical tours, sporting events and political meetings and discussions, aimed to install pride in the youth about the Palestinian culture and history.

Over 145 young people were participating in he camp, aged between 10 and 19. They came from all over the West Bank, from Jerusalem to Deheshah refugee camp. (nobody from Gaza can enter the West Bank since the Israelis have stepped up the intensity of the occupation). We were welcomed here with the same hospitality we had become accustomed to in Palestine: as we walked through the campsite, we were greeted warmly by everyone in English and Arabic.

Our first activity of the day was to visit the town of Bethlehem. On the bus we met an 18 year old girl from Jerusalem, who volunteered her services as a translator and we soon became friends. We visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (the birthplace of Christ), where Ayman (our guide) explained the political history of Bethlehem and gave information about the various occupying forces (including, unsurprisingly, Britain) that have controlled the area over the centuries up until the current Israeli occupation. We were soon taken under the wing of a 10 year old named Camillia. Articulate, intelligent and kind, we all soon fell for her charms. We would be very sad to leave her at the end of our visit.

Soon many other of the boys and girls joined us and absorbed us into their different groups, where, again, we were made to feel very at home. We were told about the 48-day siege of the city of Bethlehem, which occurred in April 2002. This saw 200 Palestinians seeking refuge in the Church from the invading Israeli tanks and soldiers who claimed to be looking for resistance fighters. In reality none of the Palestinians were armed. We saw evidence of the siege in the form of bullet holes all over the church. The siege demonstrated the Israeli military's use of sophisticated methods. This included hot air balloons used for surveillance of the Palestinians within the Church, the installation of lifts with armoured boxes containing snipers as well as the playing of tapes of disturbing voices over loudspeakers as a form of torture, not only for those trapped in the church, but for all the people in the town. The siege ended with 9 Palestinians dead and many more wounded.

Following the tour of the Church we took a walk around Bethlehem. Here, as in every other town we have visited so far, we saw political graffiti condemning the Israeli occupation and supporting all the different resistance movements, as well as many posters of martyrs. It is so clear when in Palestine that the resistance is supported by every single Palestinian, contrary to the reports of the British media, which claim that it is carried out by a small group of “extremists”.

In the afternoon we accompanied Ahmed, the manger of Jaddal Youth Centre in Bethlehem and one of the main organisers of the youth camp, to their offices. Here we made our small contribution to the Palestinian struggle by donating the US$800 we had raised from the kind donations of friends and family.

Back at the camp, the evening program consisted of cultural and social events around the campfire where Palestinian music was played and traditional singing and dancing took place. Again we were included in everything. We joked, laughed and danced with all the Shebab (youth) and, after excellent tutelage, Kat even tried her hand at a little traditional Palestinian dancing, known as Dabkah.

Toward the end of the evening we interviewed some of the youth. We were surprised by the level of politicisation of children of such a young age; this is a direct result of the occupation. They told us about the effect the occupation has on them and their families. The Occupation has penetrated every aspect of their childhood, even coming to this camp was a huge effort. Some of them had had to take an alternative route or smuggle themselves in to get to the camp in order to avoid the checkpoints as they would not have been allowed through since they are not permitted to travel. One boy told us he had been forced to walk for hours through rough, mountainous terrain to avoid the checkpoint. By doing this alone, he was risking his life. If the Israeli Occupation had not existed, the journey would have taken him no more than 15 minutes by car.

Many children told us they had family members killed and imprisoned. All were articulate and clear about their support for the Intifada. Their opportunity to experience any form of childhood had destroyed by the Israeli Occupation; it had forced them to leave their life as a child behind and become part of the Intifada. All resisted every day, just by coming to school despite curfews or trying to maintain a decent standard of living.

Israel may want to break the will of the Palestinian people, but the spirit of these children reinforced our belief that, one day, Palestine will be free.

“Our humanity is stronger than all their weaponry”

In Solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades,

Bethlehem, Falesteen, 2004

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 23 August 2004 11:10
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] DAY 5: Thursday 18th August

[NB this report is quite long, but contains lots of useful info about the situation for child prisoners in Palestine, well worth reading.]

Thursday 19th August: Day 5

We left the PPYU youth camp in the morning and took a bus to Ramallah, capital city of the West Bank. Our friend and guide Ayman informed us he would not be coming with us – his ID papers, issued by the Israeli government, does not allow him to leave the Bethlehem area and go to Ramallah, which without checkpoints would be less than half an hour away. Instead we hired an Arab-Israeli driver, who possessed the valuable Israeli ID and number plates.

We had to pass 3 checkpoints between Bethlehem and Ramallah, the last one the infamous Qalandia checkpoint. Qalandia is a large checkpoint with a clear view of the separation wall. Because there is always a big queue of Palestinians trying to get to their work and families, a small marketplace had popped up. Political graffiti covers the concrete barriers around the checkpoint, with slogans such as 'We want peace' and 'Sharon you will see, one day Palestine will be free'. Today, as every day, we saw big queues of people waiting in the baking morning sun.

We arrived in Ramallah, where our first meeting was with an NGO called Defence for Children International (DCI). Whereas many NGO's can have an arrogant approach and are seen to spend a lot of money on bureaucracy and high wages for foreigners, it soon became clear to us that this organization suffered from none of these ailments. It is run by Palestinians who know only too well the plight of their people and what needs to be done to effectively resolve the situation.

The legal situation in Palestine is dire, with the Israeli army and government showing a flagrant disregard for the civil and human rights of the Palestinian population. DCI provides free legal advice for Palestinian children under the age of 18 (having represented almost 65% of children in prison since 1992), as well as documenting the many violations of the 4 basic rights it focuses on: the right to life, health, education and freedom. At this point in time, more than 375 children are in Israeli jails, and over 2800 children have been detained, often for lengthy periods, since the beginning of the 1st Intifada.

As mentioned in a previous report, Israel has a policy of administrative detention, administered by the military and not the judicial system. The military can order for any arrest 'in the name of Israeli security', a term we encounter everywhere as transparent cover-up for war crimes but this can be extended at any point in time, without the rulings of a court, to an indefinite period of time. Often days before a prisoner's release, they are issued with another 6 month sentence.

The framework for this administrative detention (essentially imprisonment without trial) is laid out in 1600 military orders, determined by only 1 high ranking military official. All Jewish settlers in the West Bank are exempt, being rewarded by the Israeli government for their illegal occupation. Not only does this system fly in the face of common-sense justice, it is also illegal under The Hague Convention, which states that it is illegal for a military administration to interfere with legal judgment during an occupation.

Since the start of the 2nd Intifada (the word means literally, 'the shaking off'), Palestinians have been punished for their just decision to fight for their rights in many ways, including now not even being judged according the military orders, but according to the political situation and the mood of the military.

Shortly after the beginning of our meeting we met Daoud Al-Darawi, a children's human rights lawyer. He too had been targeted by administrative detention, and was imprisoned and severely tortured.

The racist policy of Israel becomes even clearer in its treatment of Palestinian children. According to Military Order 132, a Palestinian child is considered younger than 16, while an Israeli is younger than 18. We heard the case of a 17 year old sentenced for 22 years. Also, of the Israeli children awaiting trial, only 5% are held in detention centres, while 95% of Palestinian children awaiting trial are held in detention.

Children suffer heavily from Israel's illegal policy of collective punishment. As a result of house demolitions, blanket arrests and curfews, 85-90% of Palestinian children suffer from post-traumatic disorders, causing problems in their education and affecting their hope for the future. As unemployment figures have risen as a result of the intensification of military oppression (checkpoints, curfews and land confiscation), so too has child labour increased. Before the 2nd Intifada, there were 22,000 child labourers. By 2004, this figure has risen to 43,000. As a direct effect of the lengthy curfews imposed by the Israeli military, Palestinians have been forced to spend their savings, and now children have to work to help provide the basic necessities such as food.

Many children work at checkpoints, where they often suffer violence, beatings and abuse from the Israeli soldiers. The number of children working in Israel, smuggling and working in child prostitution has also increased.

Israel's attempts to cause internal conflict by intentionally exposing child collaborators have had an effect on the situation. Children are tricked into giving confessions which might not be true this situation is not helped by the fact that the confession papers are in Hebrew, which many Palestinians don’t understand.

Children can even be arrested for dreaming about fighting against Israeli occupation. Imagine living your whole life under occupation, many members of your family killed or imprisoned, not being able to see your best friend who lives 10 minutes away, because a 9 meter concrete wall cuts you off. Imagine having no hope for the future, no dreams of an ordinary life. Can you blame a young child for dreaming that one day he will help free his country?

At the end of the meeting, the organizers of DCI asked us to make it clear to the people in Britain, that really all Palestinians were fighting for were their basic human and civil rights, denied every day and ignored by the international community. They asked us to pass on this message to the people of Britain, and to remind everybody of the historical and current role the British government plays in the oppression of the Palestinians. We need to work, in any way we can, to pressure the Israeli government to live up to the promises they made when they signed the Geneva Convention and other international legal agreements.

This afternoon Jaamit and Dermot went to meet with Dr Adel Samara, a distinguished Palestinian academic and on the editorial board of www.kanaanonline.org. The interview focused on the role and development of Political Islam, Arab Nationalism and the Left in the Arab nation. It will be transcribed in the near future and copies will be made available.

The rest of us went to meet with the Director of Adameer, the Prisoners Support Association. This meeting proved to be of particular importance as the prisoners' hunger strike, which had started the day we arrived in Palestine, has continued and increased in numbers. From the 1700 prisoners who started 5 days ago, the number of people participating in the jails has risen to 3800.

Adameer aims to work within communities to raise awareness about issues surrounding arrests, to lobby for international support and also carries out prison visits. This last aspect is more important than it initially seems. We were later told by an ex-prisoner that the only other organization allowed access to the prisoners was the Red Cross. They used to visit every month, now only once a year. Considering the stories of widespread torture and terrible conditions we have heard everywhere, and Israel's horrific human rights record, a visit once a year will never detect the full scale of the beatings, abuse and torture.

There are over 3500 political prisoners alone in Israeli jails- people who have been arrested for their political activities struggling for a viable situation for Palestinian people. For the last 2 years, the conditions of the prisoners have been steadily deteriorating. The prisoners have been campaigning for the same amount of time writing letters, collecting petitions etc. but they have not even received a response from the prison authorities. The hunger strike is a testament of their desperate situation now.

Their demands are basic and include an end to the lengthy periods of isolation, decent quality and quantity of food (we heard of how 4 prisoners were made to survive on only 200 grams of yoghurt a day), and family visits. This last point seems to be the most important one. We heard many stories of how prisoners hadn't seen their family for years, and if they did the conditions were humiliating. Prisoners can only receive visits from family members (not friends) and then only from people under the age of 16 and over the age of 45. Anybody wishing to visit has to apply for a permit a month in advance, and then they are often told they are not granted 'for security reasons'. So we heard of an 80 year old mother who had not been able to visit her son in years because she was a security risk.

If families do gain permission, they are thoroughly strip-searched. All prisoners wishing to receive visits are strip-searched in front of each other in a big room. Any physical contact during visits is strictly forbidden and has recently been made impossible as prisoners and visitors are separated by a glass screen and a metal fence. Sometimes there are holes in the glass to speak through, and sometimes telephones are used, which often don't work, so even speaking becomes difficult.

The Israeli government's response to the hunger strike has been chilling. In a press conference Itzak Henegbi, the Israeli Minister of Interior said that they in no way would meet any demand of the prisoners and that they would have no problems letting them die. The head of the internal security, Shin Beit, said the Israeli's would let them die like the British let the Irish die. To hear these statements coming from the official spokespersons of the Israeli government is incomprehensible. And again, we see our responsibilities as British people towards the Palestinians: their situation is not independent of ours.

Israel has further shown its inhumanity by taking away all the facilities of the prisoners on the first day. They now sit hungry in a bare cell, without television and radio. The guards have even taken away the plastic cups they use to drink the water and their salt (the only subsistence they are permitted to take) has been taken away. The have put hunger strikers in isolation and further tried to break the strike by showing falsified pictures of the political leadership of the hunger strike eating. On the second day, guards were given high-ranking military orders to barbeque meat outside the prisoners' cells. It is now the 5th day of the hunger strike, and prisoners are yet to receive any kind of medical check up.

After our meeting, we were taken to a tent in the centre of Ramallah, erected in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their families. On the way we saw more political graffiti on the walls: "The world close their eyes but we see all the crimes. Israel is the terrorist'. Like in Ramallah, tents have been set up all over the West Bank and Gaza. As we walked into the tent, that was covered with posters of people on hunger strike and Palestinians who in the past had given their lives to free their country. We also saw big banners in English: 'Silence is Shame: We hold the world responsible for making an international committee to convict Israel for its monstrous crimes against our heroic prisoners.'

As we walked further into the tent, we checked if it was ok to film and take pictures. Immediately, mothers, fathers, young children, spouses and siblings crowded round us holding photo's of their loved ones, desperate for us to document the stories and faces of their loved ones, and for us to recognize the humanity of the people in prison: they aren't just numbers these are people with families who love them and miss them.

Since our arrival, the Palestinians have been keen to point out the responsibility of the British people to help resolve their situation. From the initial British occupation, to the British push to found Israel, to the lack of political will shown by the British government to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people, to the constant supply of military support and weapons, we all have a responsibility to fight for the Palestinian cause.

It has become clear that the Palestinians are doing all they can, and they feel that it is us in Britain who need to be explaining the reality of the situation: these people are not terrorists, but simply people fighting for their right to survive.

It is inspiring to see how all the Palestinians stand in support of the prisoners and recognize their struggle as yet another form of resistance against the illegal occupation of the Palestinians land.

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 23 August 2004 11:12
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports] DAY 6 REPORT : Friday 20th August

DAY 6: Friday 20 August, Ramallah.

As we left the place where we were staying to head into town, we saw a house which had been hit by an Apache helicopter during the April 2002 incursions and had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Ramallah town centre is usually pretty quiet on a Friday, being the Islamic day of rest, but today there was a demonstration to show solidarity with the political prisoners in Israeli jails, some of whom are now on their sixth day of hunger strike. Similar demonstrations have been taking place in cities across Palestine. The hunger strike is a historic phase of the second Intifada, which is reinforcing further unity and solidarity amongst the Palestinians. The issues of political prisoners is also a very important side of the occupation; everyone we have met here has family members who are or have at some time been in prison.

Because of the demonstration in Ramallah, the Israelis closed Qalandia checkpoint, so our friend Mahmoud was unable to join us from Jerusalem. However we were able to meet with Che-Leila activist Beth, who had taken part in the second delegation to Palestine in 2002, and will now stay with us for the rest of the week.

The demonstration was a display of unity of the different political forces (united under the National and Islamic Forces), including Islamists, nationalists and communists. It was led by the mothers of prisoners who carried pictures of their sons. One of them had seven sons: one killed by the Israelis and the other six who were in prison on the grounds of political activism. The mothers were joined by the people coming out of the mosques after Friday prayers.

After the march, we made our way to the tent set up to support the political prisoners, where hundreds of people gathered to hear speeches. The unity of the various religious groups in Palestine was evident from speeches made by a Christian and a Muslim sheikh.

We took an interview with a man who had been in prison for fourteen years because he had fought for Fateh. During this time he took part in and led a number of hunger strikes. He was released from prison in 1989 and has since been jailed for a further two years. Today he is a minister of the Palestinian Legislative Council. We also met a young woman who is participating in the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners, one of whom is her husband. He was arrested three weeks after they were married and has so far been in prison for two years. The charge against him was that he was a political activist working to regain the independence of Palestine. The woman has now been striking for three days. One of the demands of the prisoners is to be able to have the right to family visits. She told us that the majority of mothers of the Palestinian prisoners are refused permission to visit their sons because the Israeli authorities tell them that they have no relation to them. This is an example of the Israelis attempts to force the Palestinians into submission.

This afternoon we had a meeting at the Palestinian Progressive Youth Union (PPYU)'s offices where we had a general discussion about the current hunger strike. We also talked about the PPYU as an organisation and its work with the shebab (youth) and discussed and compared the Union with groups in the UK.

Tomorrow we travel to Jenin where we will be visiting the refugee camp; the site of the large-scale Israeli invasion, house demolitions and massacre of April 2002.

In Solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades

Ramallah, Falesteen, 2004

From: CheLeila CheLeila [clyb_gb@yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 27 August 2004 10:05
To: palestinereports@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [palestinereports]


[Dear friends,

here is the report for day 7. i can only apologise for the lack of regular reports, we have been hand writing them all every day but have had very little access to computers. we are returning to the uk today and will catch up with the remaining 4 reports in the next few days, as well as a general review of our thoughts, feelings and conclusions from the delegation. we have learned and seen so much here, and met so many inspiring people - we are all sad to leave them behind but we know they will remain strong and brave in the face of the occupation.

please see below the report for Jenin refugee camp. to follow are reports from Qalqilya, Nablus (currently under seige and curfew), and Bir Zeit university.


Jaamit, CLYB]

DAY 7 : Saturday 21st August

Early in the morning our group travelled from Ramallah to Jenin along one of the worst, most potholed dusty roads we had ever seen. We couldn't help but compare this to the well-maintained, newly-built tarmac access roads built specially for Jewish settlers only, through Palestinian farmland and surrounded by electrified fences, at a cost of $1 million per kilometre of road.

Once in Jenin we met with our guide, Omar, yet another kind and warm Palestinian who took us under his wing and adopted us as his family members for a day. He took us from the busy, dusty town centre to Jenin refugee camp on the outskirts, a UN-built village made to accommodate 13,000 refugees fleeing persecution from Israel's two big mass "transfers" of Palestinians, in 1948 and 1967.

The first thing we did was to meet with representatives from a medical centre in the camp that specializes in the rehabilitation of disabled people. Disabilities are very widespread and an important problem in <> because so many people, young and old, have been left injured and disabled as a result of the First and Second Intifada. During the 1st Intifada, Israeli soldiers were under orders from the prime minister Shimon Peres to break the bones of any Palestinians who were throwing stones or taking part in strikes. For the 2nd Intifada, the soldiers have been using live ammunition rather than rubber bullets, to put down all forms of resistance. The centre specializes in dealing with bullet wounds.

There are 4 medical centres in the Jenin region run by the same NGO, which offer such services for the people as:

-Cerebral palsy project (works with 330 children)
-Occupational therapy
-Speech therapy
-Special education
-Training for mothers of children with disabilities (aimed at empowering them to help themselves without the need for a specialist, because of the constant restrictions of movement, eg during curfew).
-House improvement project
-Psychological Play Therapy for children affected by the violence of the occupation
-Artificial limbs project, which is very important for Palestinians because many of them have lost a limb during the 1st or 2nd Intifada.

The medical centre in Jenin Camp was set up in 2003, because at that time the camp was under regular curfew and had been closed off, so it was impossible for the residents to go to another centre for treatment, or for ambulances or doctors to enter or leave. The health workers at the centre told us they desperately need links with other organizations around the world which can provide much-needed funds. They also stressed to us that the best thing we can do not just for them but for all Palestinian people, is to try and tell people the truth about what is happening, to fight against the lies from the media that omits telling the reality of occupation and calls the Palestinian people terrorists. We presented them with a small token of 800 shekels (£100) that we had fundraised before the delegation, and told them about our work in <> of doing speaking tours around the country, email reports and photo exhibitions.

After our meeting at the medical centre, Omar took us on a tour around the refugee camp, telling us the story of what happened here two years ago, in April 2002, when the Israeli army invaded the camp with 300 tanks, 30 D-9 military bulldozers, Apache helicopters which were firing rockets from above, and an immense total of 13,000 soldiers (the same number as the entire population of the refugee camp). The first thing the soldiers did when they invaded was to blow up all the water supplies to the camp, and marched into the hospital where the general ordered the closure of the Emergency Room, saying "if we see any nurses, doctors or ambulance men working here, we'll kill them". As we walked around the camp, we tried to imagine the horror of what it must have been like to be in Jenin camp at the time of the invasion. Omar showed us "ground zero", the area in the centre of the camp where 485 houses were completely destroyed through shelling and bulldozing, killing many Palestinians under the rubble, often those too weak or old to leave the house. Around ground zero a further 1300 houses were partially demolished. In total 56 people were killed, 220 wounded, and 2 bodies are still missing.

At the time of the invasion, Omar was driving an ambulance and trying to enter Jenin camp to give medical aid to the injured. But the Israelis let nobody through for 14 days, which meant that many people died from blood loss or lack of treatment. When he was finally allowed to enter (after the Israeli army had left), Omar recalled with tears in his eyes how he wandered through the rubble with other friends from the camp, searching for corpses and injured people in need of help. He remembers shouting to his friends and neighbours that he didn’t even recognise where he was standing because everything had been destroyed. Bit by bit the members of the community identified which pile of bloodstained rubble had belonged to which family. I cannot express in this email the sadness and rage we felt as we stood in Jenin refugee camp staring at bullet holes and tank tracks, while Omar told us story after story of finding the dead bodies of friends and family members. One particularly disturbing story was about Jamal, who was Omar's good friend from school. Jamal had been ordered by the invading Israelis to put his hands up and stand near the side of his house. He did so, and then the soldiers shot him dead. His body lay there for days, and every time the tanks would pass they would drive over his body, cutting his corpse into smaller and smaller pieces. When Omar found him he was barely able to identify him, and from a man who weighed 70kg, he could only find about 10-15kg worth of his body parts and meat to put in the body bag.

The massacre in Jenin is a horrible, sad story, and was more or less presented as such on the international media at the time (for a change the western media could not justify ignoring Israeli war crimes). But there is a side of the story we got from the people of Jenin that we never heard in the media. As we looked over the refugee camp from the mountains late in the evening, Omar asked us how big we had thought Jenin camp was when we had heard about the invasion on TV. All of us had assumed it was a large place for it to need such a huge military attack from <>. But in reality Jenin camp is TINY, not bigger than the area surrounding my local high street. The amazing fact is that despite this, the resistance fighters in Jenin were able to hold of 3 different battalions of the Israeli army for 14 days before they were able to enter the camp. In the end, Ariel Sharon and his defence minister had to come down in person with the 3rd wave of attack. Their aim was to destroy the entire camp and kill everyone that stood in their way if necessary, because Jenin camp represents a stronghold for the Palestinian resistance (it is the home of Zakariah Zubeidi, the 27-year-old leader of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade), but they failed. Once they got in, the mighty Israeli army killed 56 people, 25 of which were fighters, while the resistance managed to kill 23 Israeli soldiers. This was an amazing feat for a handful of fighters armed with a scattering of rusty Kalashnikov rifles and M-16 machine guns, against the 4th largest army in the world!

Despite the tragedy, despite the suffering in Jenin, what Palestinians take most of all from that is pride from the heroes who defended their community, and an important lesson and experience for the Palestinian struggle for liberation of how it can be possible to defeat even the largest and fiercest enemy.

Later in the day we went with Omar to visit the graveyard of martyrs who have been killed during both Intifadas from Jenin. It was a very humbling experience to see these graves, to see the respect given by the Palestinians to people who have given their lives fighting for freedom. There were martyrs who had been fighters, and those who had simply been killed by the Occupation. All martyrs from the different political parties lay side by side in a sign of equal respect. Two years on from the massacre of Jenin, as most of the houses in Ground Zero have been rebuilt, the memories of the martyrs are the seeds that have been planted in the Palestinian consciousness that will ensure their victory in removing this blood-soaked occupation off their backs one day. In the meantime, we will never forget Jenin.

In solidarity,

Che-Leila Youth Brigades

Jenin, Falesteen, 2004

1 comment:

Moggz said...

This article is fantastic and very moving. I am so very glad to have found it.

Would it be okay for me to re-publish these e-mails or sections of them on other Internet sites with a link back to this article as the source?

I think it is of great importance that more westeners read this and other first hand accounts like it.

Ignorance is a very dangerous thing.