by Sam Messier and Jill Dreier
This morning the military pulled out most, but not all, of its presence from Nablus. Though still officially under curfew, many people started coming out into the streets and opening their shops. Internationals, including the two of us from Colorado, purchased several bags of food to distribute to families who were still too frightened to leave their homes during curfew.
While purchasing bread, the internationals witnessed two APC’s pull up outside the bread shop. As the shop-owner hurriedly closed up, the internationals shielded him and his customers from the soldiers and escorted the remaining customers to their nearby houses. A Molotov cocktail was thrown from an alleyway at street level. It grazed one APC, but caused no injury to the soldier inside. The soldier immediately began firing into the surrounding buildings, not just where the Molotov was tossed from but into upper floor apartments. The internationals shouted for him to stop. After a brief stand-off, the soldiers backed away and left.
Less than an hour later, the soldiers returned to this area with reinforcements, more APC’s and a tank. Internationals stood on the street between the soldiers and the Palestinian civilians, including many children on the street. Several Palestinian boys threw rocks in the direction of the tank and APC’s. Others chanted and shouted. Some of the soldiers got out of the vehicles and took aim with their guns as they stood behind corners. The tank made a show of raising and lowering its gun at us.
After about 5-10 minutes, the soldiers advanced in their vehicles. Without the media present and being a small number of people, the internationals decided to stand aside and let the vehicles pass but followed them and then worked their way between the soldiers and the Palestinian boys in a narrow street. The situation grew very tense, and the internationals made the decision to move into an alleyway where the soldiers on foot wanted to move to take up position to fire their guns. With the internationals in the alley off to the side, rocks and live fire were exchanged. The Palestinian boys ran away after the shooting started. After about 10-15 minutes, the soldiers retreated. Three internationals with first-aid training went to check to see if any Palestinians were injured, but fortunately everyone was OK. The entire event was videotaped.
After this, the internationals participated in several activities – including an investigation of occupied houses and houses under threat of demolition. Internationals also accompanied relief workers to distribute food and medicine. Earlier in the day a Palestinian relief volunteer was arrested from the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees center. The reason given was that he was wearing a medallion with the photo of a martyr around his neck.
Internationals accompanied the relief workers all afternoon as they delivered medicine to sick children and infant formula and some staple food supplies. Infant formula is not available in the shops in the old city, and the only way people can get it while under curfew is for these volunteers to deliver it. One of out deliveries was to a house being occupied by soldiers. We had to pass the formula through a small hole in the wall because the door was barricaded.
During our deliveries, we were asked to go and intervene in an arrest under progress. About two blocks away, two Palestinian men, a taxi driver and passenger (recently there are almost no taxis out and about), were handcuffed and were being placed in a military vehicle. One male international attempted to intervene but was roughly forced away by the soldiers. Next we approached the soldiers.
They told us to stop, but we kept walking with our hands out to our sides. They fired into the air. We slowed down but kept walking. They then lowered a gun to aim at us, but we continued walking. Then they started walking towards us very fast so we stopped. When they reached us they demanded that we leave. We calmly explained that the people at the other end of the street had asked us to come and inquire about these men because they were quite concerned about them. The soldiers said that they were being arrested and taken to the detention camp. By this point they had been placed inside the vehicle with the door closed. We tried to get more information, but were told that we were in no position to be asking questions of soldiers. I disagreed of course, but as they were becoming more aggressive and were only two internationals we left. I can only hope these two men are OK.
Palestinians keep asking me where I’m from. When I say the United States, they always respond with “You are welcome”. One of the relief workers told me that she thinks the people in the United States are good people, but they don’t know the truth about what is happening in Palestine. When they understand the truth, she says, she thinks they will support the Palestinian people and the occupation will end.
The truth is that after two invasions this year, the beautiful city of Nablus is littered with rubble that was once people’s homes. One school was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again since April. Mosques have been desecrated. Young boys have been shot in the head simply for throwing stones at tanks or for simply being outside when the army doesn’t want them to be. People cannot buy food or medicine because they can’t leave their homes, and relief workers need international escorts to keep from being detained and arrested.
And when they get bored or just angry, the soldiers shoot at the kites – the one beautiful symbol of freedom left in Nablus. Every single person in the old city has a story of a home vandalized, a family member injured, a friend being killed. I have stopped going into homes to photograph damage done by soldiers because it would literally consume all of our time.
Sam Messier and Jill Dreier, with the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace are in Palestine joining hundreds of internationals with the International Solidarity Movement in nonviolent direct action to end Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine. More on their trip at: www.ccmep.org/palestine.html