The resilience and courage of faithful people is a great gift to the ecumenical and inter-faith community here that believes in and tries to follow a just, merciful and compassionate God. Many are risking their lives to save others both by being in harm's way to encourage increasingly endangered and hopeless Palestinians and by speaking prophetic truth about the criminal behavior of those handling enormous firepower (mostly American made!).
Our staff and hundreds of other humanitarian workers have continued
to come to work or move through conflict areas and tight checkpoints and
closed military zones even under gunfire. And I must tell you that I am
sick and dizzy with grief over what is swirling around us.
And the massive propaganda campaign to blame victims, even the now famous
12 year old little Mohammed al Durra, or the even younger child by the
same first name that was shot in the back yesterday, is one of the
most evil things I have ever witnessed. Far more blatant war crimes than
I ever saw in South Africa. It is becoming more like Uganda
under Idi Amin! However thank God, in spite of a run, according to
a journalist friend, of heavily censored text and anti-Arab photo articles,
now even the conservative Israeli press are reporting a bit more candidly,
at least yesterday and the day before, about military and government
excesses and provocation, and the embarrassment of Ehud Barak's disingenuous
focusing on Palestinian "shooting" in Paris. I've seen the very lightly armed Palestinian "army" up close. Even Hogan's Heroes were more adroit. They certainly are less well equipped than the police in Washington, DC.
Because of the preparation for our appeal for the emergency medical, food and ambulance repair need, I was present for two hours on Tuesday at the infamous conflict zone at Netzarim junction. We got within 75 meters of where it is like Israeli howitzers are shooting sitting ducks in a still pond! Mostly the crowd was made up of young people and small children who were like moths drawn to a flame. There were absolutely no, I repeat not one, Palestinian miltary or police near this area that we could observe. They were back up the road trying (not hard enough it turns out!) to keep the curious children from converging through the dunes and orchards on that awful fortress that is there only because it is adjacent to an illegal Israeli settlement housing 60 families taking a huge tract of land in the second most crowded area in the world.
As ambulances ferried the dead and wounded we spent nearly an hour in the Red Cross/Red Crescent triage center where skilled medical staff were working under the protection of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) to stop the bleeding before the casualties were taken to hospital operating rooms or morgues. Most of the wounds were from American Apache helicopter gun ships or snipers. Several people far from the onerous fortress intersection dropped to the ground from head wounds as we observed from less than 30 meters. The only explanation is that snipers from a 1000 or more meters were picking people out of crowds from hill or roof tops. Like the evil shooters from Snipers Alley in Sarajevo.
Four of the awful gunships kept flying over the residential area spraying
it with machine gun fire and directing LOW antitank missiles at homes and
apartment buildings. The guilt and shame already being felt
was only increased when I discovered that the shell casings are clearly
marked with serial numbers indicating American sources.
Christian Peacemaker Teams
The stories of firebombs, bullets, rocks and injuries fill the newspapers.
Live ammunition is replacing rubber-coated bullets.
Officials and civilians alike are quick to say that things have rarely gotten this bad. But there are stories that continue to go unheard. Stories of regular people who don't want to go out and join the violent struggle, but who get caught in the cross-fire nonetheless. They have not been walking in the streets and chosen the wrong alley-ways. They have not even left their homes. In fact, they cannot leave their homes. Unlike in Palestinian-controlled cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah, where clashes happen on the borders and people who wish to remain uninvolved in the violence can usually make that choice, for many in Hebron the story is different. Because of the Jewish settlers in the heart of the Old City, and the 1500 Israeli soldiers who are stationed here to protect them, the scene looks very different. The 35 000 residents of the Israeli occupied part of Hebron, H2, are under full, 24-hour-a-day curfew. For some families living in H2, only blocks away from our CPT apartment, their lives have become lives under siege.
On Wednesday, with Palestinian journalist, Kawther Salam, and fellow CPTer Andrew Getman, I visited two families whose rooftops have become strategic military outposts. Approaching the first, I felt as if I were coming upon an old deserted home. The windows were boarded up with wood and tin. Broken bottles and rocks littered the walkway. Black evidence of fires streaked up the walls. But there were some differences. A face peered out from inside an enclosed bunker and a deep voice shouted, "Go away! Get out of here!" It was a soldier. We ignored his warnings and knocked on the door. The door opened and a young father stood inside holding a four-month old girl. Four other children, all boys under the age of 12 gathered around him. We were invited in. There was the faint smell of gas in the dimly lit rooms, which had all light and ventilation extinguished due to the boarded up windows. One of the boys opened the door to their nicely furnished sitting room. Rocks littered the floor, and a burned out bottle lay shattered upon the charred carpet. The four-year old held the curtains away from the windows and pointed. The glass was shattered and sharp shards covered the floor.
The father, Jihad Sede Ahmad told his story. The previous afternoon, a clash started in their area. Because of the soldiers stationed on their roof, their home became the target for stone and molotov-cocktail throwing Palestinians. Jewish settlers threw the same from the other side. The soldiers shot back. And inside, the children screamed, the baby cried, and they all ran to hide inside the bathroom. That night, the children wanted to sleep under their parents' bed.
Next door stands the beautiful home of a doctor. The previous night, Dr. Taisir Zahdeh's home was invaded by soldiers. They wanted to use his roof for another shooting post. The doctor and his wife shared their story. Three days earlier, some soldiers came knocking at the door. They wanted in, but the doctor refused. The soldiers smashed the window of the door and started yelling, demanding that they be given entry. The doctor still refused. The next night, he awoke to the noise of hammering on his metal door. He went to investigate, only to find that the soldiers had returned and were battering at the door, trying to break it down. Some settlers from Beit Haddasseh settlement were helping.
Dr. Zahdeh, remembering how his resistance to soldier's requests in 1998 resulted in his being beaten into a coma, told the soldiers that he would let them in. But when he tried his key, the lock was already too damaged. The soldiers and settlers continued beating and prying at the door. An hour later, they succeeded in opening it. Once on his roof, they proceeded to drill holes in the wall of the roof so that they could be hidden while watching and shooting through the holes. Day and night, there are soldiers going up and down the stairs, disturbing the family's sleep and frightening his four children who scream in fear.
Dr. Zahdeh recalls the horrors of having soldiers on his roof several years ago. They urinated and threw bags full of their feces over the edge of the roof onto the heads of people coming to visit. They made lots of noise and carried dirt through the house. They went to the bathroom down the pipes that carried water down from the roof for the family to use. He and his wife fear that these things will start up again, now that the soldiers are back on their roof.
These are the civilian casualties that do not get recorded. These are the bodies that don't have visible scars. These are the lives which carry the cost of military occupation in memories and nightmares of degradation and horror. There is no glory in the martyrdom of innocence for these children. And in the words of Dr. Zahdeh, "there is no end to the stories that could be told."