Home / Journals / Letter from Balata

Letter from Balata

by an International Women’s Peace Service volunteer

Today is the day after the international day of action against the Apartheid Wall. In Jenin 35 internationals and 25 Israeli anarchists backed by dozens of locals cut down a 12 metre hole in the fence there, while the army watched in amazement.

I wish I could say that that good news is the defining event right now, but no. In Nablus and Balata camp three Palestinians have died in the last couple of days including a father of five who was doing nothing against Israel or Israelis. Last week at 38 year-old woman was shot while exiting her house in the middle of the night in the Old City; she was cooperating with Israeli orders to evacuate the street. Another man died in the hospital after being shot in the leg a few days ago.

Last night the army appeared, searched two houses in Balata, and arrested nine people in the middle of the night. In each case the guy they were looking for was not there, and in one case I was told by the family has not been for six months. The army shot up every room in the house for good measure after putting the family outside from 2:30am in the rain and cold for three hours.

M-16 were shells visible all over and holes in closets and walls.

They also poured cooking oil all over the floor of the kitchen and actually shot a hole in the main gas supply risking burning the whole house down. And the obligatory wrecking of the water resevoirs on the roof.

In another Balata house the son sought wasn’t there so soldiers contented themselves with shooting a 17-year old brother in the stomach and then arrested him and threatened to return and blow up the house if the family don’t produce the suspect by tonight, a standard empty threat.

Much of this is in response to a suicide bomber being from a nearby neighbourhood in the city proper called Rafidia.

This morning i was just getting a cup of tea to my lips when it was time to move. Jeeps all over the entrances to the camp, greeted by the shebab, the street kids with rocks. The main throughway had couple of jeeps at either end and we split the team into two groups. In the main intersection internationals began inserting themselves between the jeeps and the rockthrowers, as per usual. Soon we were joined by a massive tank that four of us made a sad attempt to blockade on the road; it was ignored and Joey was the last to jump out of the way plus 12 inches from a tread.

That was seen to be a new level of aggression hitherto unseen here. Also new was the firing of a large ballistic projectile filled with rubber bullets. Mika got hit by one of them in the elbow stepping into a soldier’s line of fire. Not hurt. 73 year old Welshman Ray, on his seventh time here, took flak from live ammo fired at point-blank into the ground. This guy is calm as Buddha. A cut shin, no worse for him.

Likewise for Kelly, who marched at one point right up to between a jeep and a tank in the middle of the large intersection and had a soldier firing his rifle right past her head while she stood her ground and argued with them. Later one of the same riflemen was playing chicken and laughing while pointing his barrel at us both when he could risk opening his door to fire our way. At that point our way included half-a-dozen kids who’d been bringing it all morning from a storefront, one of them with a slingshot. Two of the younger kids made a point of standing right behind me.

Also unprecedented was the accidental appearance of a UN delegation that was simply here to see a school or some such thing. Ray and my Swedish buddy seized the opportunity to talk to them. Apparently they were Canadian parliamentarians and were quite interested, totally supportive, and got the fuck out of there right quick, hustled away by their handlers. But they got a photo or two first before they left.

The shebab were chucking lime-based paint in bottles as well today and my Swedish buddy came away looking like a milk bar-fight casualty, as did the tank and a jeep. One kid nailed a jeep side-mirror, which is always extra points as it restricts the drivers’ surveillance capacity. The whole three hour engagement left me with a distinct feeling of over-exposure, not least of which a result of taking a sound bomb at five metres. A bloody nasty interruption second thing in the morning.

The reality of living in a prolonged zone of conflict has made these refugees into some very tough people, and its beyond me to understand their tenacity. I think its beyond the Israelis as well who’ve no other response but endless rounds of collective punishment.