July 21, 2002

Previous Episode’s summary (for those too lazy to read it):

Deir-El-Hattab is a poor, small and quiet village on the eastern outskirts of Nablus. Since the current Intifada began, all its residents are unemployed. The author became acquainted with the village, after he failed in his attempt to save the live of toddler Tabarak Odeh, who was murdered by denial of medical treatment. Since then, he maintains daily phone contact with the Odeh family.

 

 

Exactly a month ago, IDF forces invaded the city of Nablus again, and the entire West Bank has been placed under curfew. At the time of the invasion, the food delivered by peace organizations to the village on June 4th has long since run out. People continued to scratch out their existence, in whatever way they could find. Now they were again imprisoned at home. The days are hot (30-40 degrees Celsius by day, 85-100 Fahrenheit), and no one has air conditioning.

About a week after the curfew began, an army bulldozer came and dug a ditch across the road connecting Nablus to the villages of Deir-El-Hattab, Azmout and Salim (see in more detail on Editors Word from July 4th). Thus, these villages have joined the growing list of Palestinian villages and towns, physically cut off from the world of modern transportation.

An interesting situation: people are locked up at home and cannot procure food. (Actually, people do get out for a breath of fresh air when the army is not around. But you gotta be careful: here’s what happened somewhere else in a similar situation) Even when, once in several days, the curfew is lifted for a few hours and they can get out, they must walk for hours to town (the village grocery only has flour, rice and snacks), with whatever money they have (after two years of eating their savings). In town, they are shoved by hysterical and angry crowds wherever they go  - to the bank, to the market, to shops. For a little food for one’s kids, one has to fight like a wounded beast. The result, as my friend describes it: people look stoned, as if someone hit on their head with a baseball bat.

On July 7 around noon, my friend called me to my place of work, and described what he saw from the roof of his home. That day, there was a break in the curfew, but for some reason it was abruptly ended after two hours. Since the walk from village to town takes at least an hour, and no Palestinian cars are allowed – there were still many dozens of villagers on their way home, by foot, when the curfew ended. Then, two APC’s arrived on the road, and started shooting at them.

In my role as “enemy of the People”, “traitor” and “inciter”, I have managed to acquire working contacts with one or two people in “upper echelons”, who are still willing to help in such cases. I stopped my friend and immediately called one of them. During the next few hours I had a surrealist experience: while I try to concentrate on the computer screen, solving mathematical problems for the benefit of my employer, I doubled as a relay station, transferring from the scene to the senior official bits of information that sounded like a sports telecast: the APC’s rode on and there’s no shooting now; they’re back, they’re shooting again (I heard the shots live on the phone); the Palestinians ran away from the road and they are scattered across the field; the soldiers are getting off the APC, lying on the road and aiming at them – the Palestinians hide behind rocks, and anyone who tries to get up is shot at. Kafr Qasm 2, live in my ear.

Fortunately, it seems that the soldiers were only ‘joking’ and shot only to “scare” the villagers (or, perhaps, they were bad shots); the pressure from above apparently helped too. In any case, no one got hurt. A week later (July 13) I had a replay: my friend’s brother called me on the way back from Nablus. Hundreds of villagers were trapped between the city and the Hawwara checkpoint, and between the checkpoint and the villages. They were surrounded by APC’s from all sides, and the soldiers were throwing shock grenades at them. Why? Unclear. It was a declared break in the curfew.

The answer came a couple of days later. A soldier (officer? Plain soldier? King of the World to the Palestinians these days) told some villagers who contacted him, that Palestinians are not allowed on the paved roads. Not by car, not by foot. You can move through the mountains as much as you like, but don’t get near the road. This undeclared policy may help explain what happened to Tania Nasir from Bir Zeit on July 6.

What happens to the few who still move on the road – for example, professional drivers? They are being stopped everywhere, given tickets and their papers are taken away from them (hello, can you hear me? Israeli soldiers are giving traffic tickets to Palestinians in the Territories again). The passengers are not spared either; their details are checked on the computer via radio contact. A passenger who has a traffic ticket from Israel, is arrested on the spot, and his family has to pay the fine as ransom.

It is the Samaritans’ finest hour. This tiny community living on Mount Grizim south of Nablus, has had the fortune to receive blue ID cards [granting rights of Israeli residents]. The value of these ID’s is priceless now. The Good Samaritan arrives at the family home, takes the fine plus NIS 150 as commission, drives on to Ariel or Ma’ale Efraim (large settlements), pays the fine (in case you’ve forgotten, a ‘regular’ Palestinian is under curfew and cannot perform such miracles), and the captive person or license is released. The Samaritans are not so popular nowadays, but they are needed. Besides the Samaritans, there is now a whole system of illicit agents and transactions, of which I must not tell any details in order not to harm it. There must be such a system, because if the Palestinian population had abided by the Army decrees and policies inflicted upon it in the past few months, it would have been literally dying of starvation by now.

In the meanwhile, the water supply of Deir-El-Hattab has been cut off for five days. The village relies upon the infrastructure of Israeli settlements. They have been told that the trench-digging of roads by the army has broken the pipes. I wonder if the settlement of Elon More, one mile up the hill, also suffered without water for five days. Fortunately, all families in the village have a water tank on the roof. When this ran out after three days, they went to a neighbor who still has a cistern.

Finally, my friend Jaber Odeh wishes to let you know, that most of Deir-El-Hattab’s people still want peace with Israel and pray for its arrival.

I must add a final word of my own: the reality evident from this testimonies adds up to many similar testimonies from other places. Sadly, they point to a deliberate process of almost-unprecedented deterioration. The army tries to eradicate the humanity of the Palestinians, and in the act loses – completely – its own humanity. And the world looks the other way, because Bush has already given his verdict.

This situation is almost unprecedented. Very sadly, and please forgive me all the insulted readers, I must say that there is one clear and inescapable precedent. I’ve learned enough about it in school, and read even more of my own free will. I am quite familiar with the details, and very familiar with the general processes and with the different types of realities at different stages, in different regions. The reality experienced by the Palestinians in the West Bank, Summer 2002, is too similar to the reality experienced by the Jews of Poland, from the Fall of 1939 to the Spring of 1941.

 

Assaf Oron