August 2, 2003
Disciplining Palestinians: arbitrary arrests, military incursions, and the shooting of water tanks.
Over the past few days, life in the small village of Jayyous has become increasingly difficult. Not only do the villagers have to deal with daily problems, such as a separating wall meandering through their lands preventing free travel; not only do they have to be concerned about the armed civilian Israeli guards who use the access gate to illegally intimidate, detain, and beat them; and not only do they suffer from the general misery caused by the longest running military occupation of the last 50 years which results in constant road closures, curfews, road blocks, massive human right violations, and the annexation of land; but lately, they have also had to deal with the incursions of Israeli border police (not to be confused with police who monitor internationally recognized state borders).
In the early evening of July 29th, three Israeli border police officers entered the village through the southern part of the separating wall. As they proceeded up the road toward the center of town, they took aim and shot bullets through people's water tanks. The water tanks sit on top of people's homes and when the police began shooting, people fled and remained indoors until the shooting ended. Approaching or confronting these armed representatives of Israel would have been extremely dangerous. So people waited until they left -- about one hour later. Fourteen water tanks were damaged . No reason was given for the incursion into the village or the shooting of the tanks. Some people in the village said that it may have been a response to the villagers' continued protest over the separating wall, or the recent actions of bringing international media attention on the isolation of one family on the other side of the wall.
The next day Jayyous experienced a repeat of this. This time they arrived before noon and drove a jeep into the center of the village. They proceeded to shoot another half a dozen water tanks. One of the tanks happened to be on the ISM house.
Later in the evening, two teenage shepherds were arrested on their own land by these "border police." The land unfortunately falls on the other side of the separating wall. And while they have been given "permission" to continue using their land, both the Israeli soldiers and the border police have recently claimed that the wall is the new "green line". They were arrested for supposedly being in a closed military zone (a common excuse which the military and police use at will). The two were brought to a military base outside of Qalqilya to be interrogated.
Friends of the two came to the ISM house in Jayyous for assistance. They were very concerned that the two shepherds would receive the fate of so many others: that of being held indefinitely, without bail, trial, or access to friends or family, lost in the Israeli "legal" system. A few hours later, however, representatives of the village learned that the two were released. The family sent friends from a neighboring village of Qalqilya to pick them up but the military refused to release them. They said that the car retrieving them up would have to come from Jayyous itself. The two fathers of the boys, asked Joe P. and myself to accompany them to the base to pick them up. This was requested for two reasons: to assist in negotiating with the military if they become threatening, and also merely to be in the car with them for protection getting there. It is very dangerous for Palestinians to be driving in the Palestinian West Bank after the sun goes down.
We left Jayyous around midnight to retrieve them. Because there were no other cars on the road, and because the fathers were deeply concerned about their sons waiting outside a military base by themselves, they drove very fast through the darkness on the dusty, heavily pot-holed roads. Though Qalqilya is only about 5 miles away, Palestinians are no longer allowed to use the main road. They are forced to drive the much longer route which takes about 35 minutes.
The driver stopped the car in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The only thing I could see was the dirt road disappearing into the distance and the separating wall extending in both directions with the exception of a hole in the dirt road in front of us. The driver jumped out of the car and Joe and I followed. We walked slowly into the darkness and then saw two figures in the distance. It was the two shepherds, and they approached us. The fathers rushed them into the car seemingly in a hurry to get them out of there in case the soldiers changed their mind or wanted to interrogate them too. I asked one of the boys "are you alright"? He remained silent and merely shook his head in the affirmative. I believed that this indicated that he was hurt. Unfortunately, as human rights organizations such as Amnesty international have often charged, it is common practice for the state of Israel to beat uncharged individuals.
Around 1:20 a.m. we returned to Jayyous. One of the shepherds was dropped off at his house where his mother awaited outside for him. It was quite touching to witness the reunion between the mother and her son. She hugged and kissed him and cried, probably from the mixture of joy and sadness. We then went around the corner to drop off the other young man. There he was greeted by about 20 friends and family members. He got out of the car with some difficulty from the beatings he endured and was similarly showered by hugs and kisses. The crowd also thanked Joe and me for helping them retrieve the boys.
On a sad note, we later learned that the two shepherds would no longer return to their farm land. They had been warned by the military that they were now forbidden to return. Though they have the legal right to return, the fact that they have been threatened with arrest is reason enough for them. Such intimidation, supposedly illegal in the Israeli legal system, continues unchecked and unpunished. One wonders whether such "invisible" practices of intimidation and violence serve a larger purpose.
July 31. The water tank shooting continued. Another day when the Israeli border police entered the village and shot at water tanks.
A reason has yet to be given by the Israeli authorities for why they have been invading Jayyous or why they have been shooting at people's water tanks. Were they attempting to discipline the village for their continued defiance in opposing the separating wall?
It is perplexing to understand these forms of daily terror targeted against a peaceful village -- a village which has a history of engaging only in non-violent protests. It is further difficult to understand why the police shot at people's water tanks. One wonders whether it is for what water symbolizes: a resource critical to the sustenance of life. Is it a reminder to Palestinians that they have little or no control over this essential resource? Whether it is in their land or on their roofs? A short and simple answer to this was given by our neighbor Mahmoud: "It is simply life under the occupation".