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Testimony from Detained Human Rights Defender

by Mary, December 18th

There have been four occasions in the last two and a half months when the Israeli army and police have helped and encouraged Israeli settlers to trespass on Palestinian land. This is against Israeli law. The aim is probably to help Israeli settlers establish a bridgehead on Palestinian land so that in the future they can insist that they have been using the land.

Yesterday, at 12.30pm, I was ill and asleep when I had a call from an international human rights defender (HRD). She said that Palestinian children were being stopped returning home from school. Israeli settlers were on Palestinian land, being protected by soldiers, who said that Palestinians would not be able to pass for 5 hours. This was a particularly serious offense for a number of reasons. Three of the reasons are as follows. Firstly, there has been an Israeli court order that Palestinians must be allowed go to their homes. Secondly, the police (who admitted the first reason) would not come and help. And thirdly because the Israeli army insists that Palestinian families, who live near their base, may not use the road but must pass this way. The trespass on Palestinian land is also an offense.

So I got out of bed and went out. I asked the soldier at the crossing what was happening. He said that I knew what he thought about this but that he could do nothing. So wheezing loudly, I went up the very steep hill to Abu Hekel land where there was an army jeep and many other soldiers. The officer in the jeep was a captain and seemed of high enough rank to be some help. I said that they were breaking Israeli law and threatening the safety of Palestinian children and that it was the army who insisted that the Palestinians pass this way. It made no difference. I stood by his jeep to stop him from leaving and rang the District Coordinating Office (DCO-the Civil Administration wing of the Israeli military in the West Bank). I do not have my telephone, which was lost and found in West Jerusalem and, being deaf, could not hear well on the substitute.

Israeli settler children were being allowed on to Palestinian land but Palestinian children were being turned away. Then two young women with babies were turned back by the soldiers. I rang the DCO again. She said to call back at 2pm. I looked at my watch. It was 1pm and all the children were out of school. So, this was totally unacceptable. I tried again to get the officer to let the children through and to protect them. But to no avail. One soldier told another HRD that he would be too frightened to try to escort Palestinian children past these violent settlers!

Then the police arrived. I said that they should be protecting the Palestinian children and complying with Israeli law. Instead they decided to detain me. I said that they had a responsibility to the children. They said that they would take me to the police station and then go back. But they lied. They stayed at the police station. After four hours, I was let out into the cold even though they knew I was ill. I had to promise that for two weeks, I would not stand outside my house, go to my rubbish skip, visit neighbours across the road or up the street, go to the community centre or go to the only local shop. How petty can you get? I can scurry round the corner, where I can stand and talk to Palestinians or sympathetic soldiers or go down to the checkpoint.

The Palestinian children waited for another half hour and were finally led away by soldiers to go another way that was very rough and would take them at least twenty minutes. I do not know what happened to the mothers with babies.

On Sunday October 8th, the Israeli army invaded H1, Palestinian administered Hebron. That is, most of Hebron. They forced shops to close. Then the checkpoint for Palestinians was closed. This meant that people could not come home from work or shop for food. After much telephoning, it was opened spasmodically. Israeli settlers arrived at the checkpoint and blocked the way for Palestinians. At 3.30pm, about thirty soldiers escorted the settlers through the Palestinian only checkpoint and it was closed – until 7pm we were told. This was very bad because in Ramadan Palestinians eat at sunset. They needed to cook their food for a meal at 5.45pm. And workers needed to get home to eat it. There is another way, which is a ten minute taxi ride, which many can’t afford. The reason for the invasion was to take the Israeli settlers into a Palestinian house without permission. They wanted to see the Cave of Otneil Ben-Knaz. This was both trespass and invasion.

On Friday November 17th, about 100 Israeli settlers and their visitors went onto Abu Hekel land right next to their house. They were accompanied by two Israeli policemen, while three soldiers watched from behind a fence. They stayed for ninety minutes saying prayers and having a speaker. The family was naturally very frightened. They have been attacked by settlers on many occasions and also by soldiers. The following Friday this was repeated with forty settlers and police.

This pattern of behaviour must stop.

The first part of this testimony relates to the settler trespass in Tel Rumeida on December 17th.