Home / ISM Digest: March 23

ISM Digest: March 23

1. Soldiers Beat Palestinians and Human Rights Workers in Tel Rumeida
2. House Demolition in Halhul and House Invasion in Hebron
3. Umm Salamuna Anti-Apartheid Wall Demo on Mother’s Day & the International Day for the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination
4. The Curious Boy: A Grieving Mother’s battle with the IDF
5. Settler to activist in Hebron: Go to Aushwitz
6. Settlers attack Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Human rights Workers Detained
7. Journal: Not a Happy Mother’s Day
8. Starhawk: Four Years Ago Today

1. Soldiers Beat Palestinians and Human Rights Workers in Tel Rumeida
by ISM Hebron

On Tuesday, March 20th, at 6 pm the Israeli army took a shepherd, Gandi Badder, to their military base. They claimed that they had called him down from the hillside but he did not respond. He says he did not hear anyone call him. The army charged him for failing to respond to an army order, and held him for an hour. He was beaten and threatened with knifes. Badder claims the army threatened to slit his throat and kill him.

At 7 pm, Badder was released and the soldiers went out and ordered ten families to leave their homes and stand in the street. The army claimed that someone was throwing stones from the roof. All the Palestinians involved deny that any stones were ever thrown. At 8:30 the soldiers again claimed that stones were being thrown, even though all the Palestinians were on the street and that it was clearly not possible for them to throw stones.

The following day, Wednesday, the soldiers came back to the same houses and yelled for the Palestinians to open the door. Yousef opened the door but the soldiers proceeded to smash the window on the door.

Soldiers break window of Palestinian home

Soldiers demanded all four families in the building to leave, including women and children. One of the soldiers hit Yousef in the chest with the butt of his rifle. Three soldiers hit Idries, forced him against the wall and the Israeli soldier, named Nachir, kicked him on the leg. Idries told them that he was sick and showed them his bandages. They said, “You die !” They were very abusive to Idries, shouting, “FUCK YOUR MOTHER !”

They demanded that Yousef open the workshop door. He asked for a minute to get the key and they immediately began pounding on the door.

Two Human Rights Workers (HRW’s) arrived and started filming from Qorduba school. About 6 or 7 Palestinian men and boys were standing against a wall opposite their houses. Six soldiers were standing, holding them there. They asked the HRW’s where they were going and if someone had called them. After a few minutes they told the HRW’s to stop filming and took their camera.

Two additional HRW’s arrived from the other direction and began filming. Two soldiers started moving towards them and ordered them to stop filming. They started pushing and shoving them, shouting, “YOU DON’T FUCK WITH THE ARMY!” They pushed them against a wall, forced them to the ground and began kicking them. They cocked their rifles, pointed them at the HRW’s and demanded that they hand over the camera. The HRW’s huddled together to protect each other.

The soldiers forced them to lay face down on the ground and handcuffed them with plastic ties. They continued to kick them, slapped one of them on the back of the head and pulled his hair. While doing this they continued to abuse the HRW’s , and were shouting, “YOU DON’T FUCK WITH THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT !” During the abuse, one of the HRWs was struck on the forehead, possibly with the butt of the soldier’s gun.

HRW struck on the forehead by IOF soldier

The Israeli army took the HRWs’ passports. A few minutes later, when the HRW’s were sat against the wall, the soldiers cut the ties and told them to leave or else they would get arrested for the night. When asked for what charge the soldiers replied, “for hitting a soldier,” which was a complete fabrication. The HRW’s moved away towards Shuhada street but continued to monitor the scene.

A little while later an officer came out of the army depot and questioned them about their names and nationalities. He asked them whether everything was OK. The HRWs replied that they had just been attacked by soldiers who were continuing to harass Palestinian families. The officer asked the HRWs to accompany him back to the houses. The officer questioned the soldiers and Palestinians as to what was going on. The four HRW’s demanded that their cameras and films be returned and they were.

The officer, whose name is Itomasi (Itomar?), questioned each of the HRW’s in turn as to whether they were OK. He apologized for the behavior of the soldiers and said that he was angry with them. The officer who had been in charge of the squad came over, introduced himself as Nachir and apologized for the behavior of his men. He offered to take the HRW’s back to the army depot for coffee but they declined. Both the officers apologized to the Palestinians and tried to calm them down.

The officers claimed that the incident began because they saw a laser light from a window and suspected that there might be a gun there. Nachir pointed to the window where he claimed to have seen the laser light. It was above the large workshop door and very high from the floor, making it nearly impossible for someone to stand there.

Nachir had told the HRW’s that his men would be punished. The HRWs asked the officer how they would be punished.

Itomasi replied that they would be denied leave and detained.

2. House Demolition in Halhul and House Invasion in Hebron
by ISM Hebron

At 8am, Human Rights Workers (HRWs) received a call from Rabbis for Human Rights to say that the Israeli army had already begun a house demolition on the edge of Halhoul with a possibility that more houses would be destroyed. Three HRW’s set off for Halhoul immediately. When they arrived, they discovered that the demolition had begun at 7 am and there was not much left of the house. A large crowd of Palestinians had gathered and Israeli Border Police were keeping everyone well back from the 2 Caterpillar diggers (back hoes).

The house was still under construction and was owned by Ahmed Ibrahim Assouni Abu Yousef. He did have the correct permits from the municipality of Halhoul but the army said it was too close to the main road to Bethlehem. In fact it was more than 400 metres from the road.

The owner asked the Shabbab ( Palestinian youths) not to throw stones and for everyone to move back from the army. Human Rights Workers positioned themselves in the next house which has been threatened with demolition and filmed from there. This house is owned by Sayeed Abu Yousef. The army ordered him to stop construction a month ago. There are at least two other houses under construction which have received warnings from the army.

Palestinian youth set up a road block to slow the army from leaving. The army made no attempt to demolish any other houses this day but attempted to leave. They were showered with stones and returned fire with live ammunition, rubber bullets and a machine gun. One of the journalist’s cars got stuck on the road preventing the diggers from leaving. They had great difficulty in moving it.

Two Palestinians were injured and taken away in ambulances. One was hit twice with rubber bullets, once in the forehead, which was bleeding profusely and also in the leg. The other collapsed from shock.

Rabbis for Human Rights have lawyers working to appeal these demolition orders but in this first case it was too late.

Settlers Invade and Occupy Palestinian Home Near Ibrahimi Mosque

On their way back from the home demolition in Halhul, the Human Rights Workers arrived at the house that 200 Israeli settlers invaded the previous night, settlers whom were backed up by the Israeli army. The Palestinian home is located near the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The settlers claim they legally purchased the house but Palestinian owner Bayez Rajabe denies this.

HRW’s arrived around 11 am. There were many journalists and film crews present. Bayez Rajabe gave an interview and held up the documents which prove he is the legal owner.

A Palestinian HRW interviewed him extensively. Local Palestinian residents are very angry that the army has sealed the road in front of the occupied house so that children cannot easily get to school and worshippers cannot reach the next door mosque and cemetary. Soldiers and settlers were observed in the Muslim cemetery walking, eating and drinking disrespectfully on the graves. An elderly lady, family of the owner, yelled at the settlers to leave the cemetery and they did.


3. Umm Salamuna Anti-Apartheid Wall Demo on Mother’s Day & the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
by ISM Media team

Umm Salamuna– Tomorrow, March 21, at 1:00 PM, on Mother’s Day & the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Umm Salamuna– Tomorrow, March 21, at 1:30 PM, on Mother’s Day & the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Palestinians from the souther Bethlehem village of Umm Salamuna and neighboring villages will protest against the Israeli bulldozers which are currently razing their land for the Apartheid Wall. In honor of Mother’s Day, Palestinian and international women will march in solidarity on the frontlines during the demonstration.

Previously, villagers held a rally and blocked an Israeli settler road in protest at the Wall which will annex 700 dunums to the Israeli settlement of Efrat and destroy 270 dunums. Unless the Israeli army intervenes, the villagers plan to march from the village to the Wall and stop the bulldozers from continuing the destruction of the land. Local representatives will give speeches focusing on the effects of the destruction of their fields, trees, and land.

Palestinian, Israeli, and international solidarity activists will join in the struggle against Israel’s apartheid laws and the destruction and theft of land in this region.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21st. It was first established in 1966, following a tragic event that shocks the conscience: the massacre of young students peacefully protesting against apartheid laws, adopted by the South African government, a brutal regime that applied the theory of inequality between races, regardless of humanity’s moral and ethical advances. Proclaiming the International Day, the United Nations General Assembly called upon the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.


4. The Curious Boy: A Grieving Mother’s battle with the IDF

BY Jocelyn Hurndal from The Sunday Times
March 18, 2007

After her son’s quest for answers led to his being gunned down, Jocelyn Hurndall faced a bitter battle with the Israeli army to get at the truth

It was the last day of term when Sophie, my daughter, called me at school. “Mum,” she said, “Tom’s been shot . . . The phone keeps on ringing . . . The Foreign Office called and they’re going to phone back . . . I think they said he was shot in a place called Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.”

I had been dreading such news since my 21-year-old son had left for Iraq two months before. That was February 2003, and the Iraq war had been about to start.

I dialled a number Sophie had given me, thinking it was the Foreign Office, but it was the Sunday Times news desk. I could hear a change in the voice of the journalist at the other end as he began to grasp who he was talking to.

“Look,” he said, “I’m terribly sorry. I’ll look on Reuters for you. But just be aware — when things first come through they’re not always accurate.”

I heard the click of the computer keys.

“What’s coming up,” he said slowly, “is that peace activist Tom Hurndall has been shot, and that he’s brain dead . . . But as I said, you really mustn’t believe everything you first hear.”

Heading home, I had driven barely 200 yards when my mobile rang. It was the journalist from The Sunday Times.

“Are you all right?” he said. “Please do drive carefully. How far do you have to go? Look, I live just near you, in Tufnell Park. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

He was no longer wearing his journalist’s hat but speaking simply as one human being to another, and I could hear that he was genuinely concerned.

I tried to get hold of Anthony, my former husband, who was visiting Moscow. It was 3am Russian time before we had a desperate conversation. What had Tom been doing in the Gaza Strip? What had happened? We were determined to find out.

The first official Israeli version was that a Palestinian gunman wearing fatigues had been shooting at a watchtower and had been targeted by a member of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). But the story now coming to us was that Tom, unarmed and wearing a peaceworker’s fluorescent jacket, had been rescuing some Palestinian children from Israeli sniper fire and had been gunned down himself.

Around midnight I began phoning Israeli hospitals until finally the main hospital in Jerusalem suggested I call the Soroka in Beer-sheba. I was put through to its director.

“It’s not good news, I’m afraid,” he said. “He has a very, very serious head wound . . . He could last until tomorrow, or he could go in half an hour.”

“I’m coming. I’ll be on a plane in the morning.”

“Really,” he said, “I must emphasise how serious his condition is, Mrs Hurndall. Is it really necessary for you to come? If Tom dies your journey may be for nothing . . . And you know, he can be sent back.” I DOZED uneasily as the plane approached Tel Aviv. My head was filled with images of Tom lying injured; Tom as a baby, full of curiosity; six-year-old Tom, running naked round his grandmother’s croquet lawn in the pouring rain; Tom, single-minded and full of verve and mischief.

At 21, he was now the same age as I had been when I first went to Israel. I tried to reconcile this place where he was at death’s door with the place in which my father had developed a passionate interest and where I had spent two months of carefree work and travel.

My father had been a scientist with a mission — the generation of energy from wave power. He once told me how, when he was walking beside the Dead Sea, King Hussein of Jordan’s helicopter had landed nearby. My father had strolled over and struck up a conversation about alternative energy.

Just like Tom, I thought. Not much regard for formalities — just straight to the matter in hand. I knew, too, how painfully my father had struggled to reconcile his passionate interest in engineering with his Christian beliefs. That seemed like Tom, too — the idealism, the questioning, the independence — and the aloneness.

People didn’t always understand Tom’s thinking, and this was certainly true when he made up his mind to go to Iraq as a human shield in the war. Sophie, the first of my children, was protective of her three brothers. She had tried to dissuade him from going.

His journey to Baghdad didn’t — couldn’t — have my blessing, though I understood why he felt he must go. I was shocked, yet somehow resigned. When I hugged him as he left, all I could do was say, over and over: “Take care, Tom. Take care. Keep safe.”

We’d been here before — Tom was always challenging, always questioning. He wasn’t offering himself simply as a human shield. The reporter in him wanted to photograph and record for himself what the human shields were doing. He’d recently changed his course at Manchester Metropolitan University from criminology to photography. Tom photographed wherever he went.

We knew that he had left Iraq after it became clear that the authorities intended to use the volunteers to protect power stations rather than schools and hospitals. Tom wanted to prevent loss of life, but he wasn’t prepared to be a sitting target. The last we had heard he was helping in a refugee camp in Jordan.

MY hand was taken in a firm and reassuring grasp by a rather military-looking man with a kind and humorous expression.

“Mrs Hurndall? Tom Fitzalan-Howard. I’m the defence attaché, British embassy. Extremely good to meet you, but I’m sorry it’s in these circumstances. I hope you had a reasonable flight.”

Colonel Fitzalan-Howard, known as TFH, ushered me into a Range Rover. As we drove, we found we had acquaintances in common, including an old friend of mine now a general in the Royal Green Jackets.

I sensed that here was someone I could trust, a straight talker who was wholly unafraid to challenge immorality and untruth — someone who would want to do the right thing for the greater good and not just for his own country. As defence attaché, he said, he was the point of contact for all British diplomatic and consular matters involving the Israeli Defence Forces.

“You realise, don’t you,” he said, looking at me very directly, “that we’re not going to get anywhere with the Israelis.”

At first I didn’t understand. “All we want is to get at the truth. Doesn’t everyone?”

“It’s not quite as simple as that. They’re a hard-bitten lot. They’re not going to admit to anything. A lot of people have tried to call them to account, but I’m afraid they haven’t succeeded.”

To have this stated so starkly by someone so well informed was a shock.

“You know an Israeli soldier is not like a British soldier,” said TFH. “The concept of minimum force is central to a British soldier, who is trained, absolutely, to be accountable for his actions. The British rules of engagement are very strict on this, and they are always applied. It’s quite different with the IDF.

“For a start their soldiers are very young — conscripts mainly, though there are professional soldiers. The soldiers are invariably backed up by their commander and the chain of command.

“Jocelyn, I have to tell you” — here he spoke slowly as if for emphasis — “that the investigations are invariably a sham. This will be difficult for you and Anthony to deal with. A soldier is rarely held to account, and whatever he’s done he would never face a murder or manslaughter charge — he’d only be on a lesser charge, perhaps failing to carry out the correct drills. I really don’t want you to expect too much.”

He went on: “You also need to know that it’s only with political support at the highest level that we’ve achieved anything with any IDF investigations. Problem is that with media pressure alone they hunker down under the antisemitic charge, which they level against anyone who dares to criticise.”

This last comment hit home. The colonel’s words reminded me acutely of Tom’s Jewish friends and of the many Jewish people we knew in London. The present situation was not about race, religion, or getting sucked into any propaganda or political agenda. We wanted nothing but an objective search for truth, even if it meant believing that my pacifist son, Tom, really had dressed in army fatigues and been foolish enough to shoot at a watchtower, which was what the first absurd broadcast in Israel had stated.

I knew we were going to use every possible means to get at the truth, and I was sure the family would want to keep an open mind until we’d seen everything for ourselves. Anthony, as a lawyer, would be adamant about retaining objectivity and I knew he would not be hurried. IT was still not yet 8am when we reached the hospital and joined Anthony, who had flown in earlier and had already spoken to the doctors. We went up to the ward together.

I approached your bed and recognised your face in spite of the bandages round your dreadfully swollen head, covering your eyes . . . I was filled with terror at your absolute fragility and your uncertain future. I could not even pray.

Some of what Anthony was telling me as I stood there was hard to absorb. One senior doctor had suggested that Tom’s wound was “commensurate with a blow from a baseball bat”. Could any sane person connect these terrible injuries with a blow from a baseball bat? The notes at the foot of Tom’s bed clearly stated that he had suffered a “gunshot wound”.

Anthony had gathered that the consultant in charge had asked for an IDF doctor to visit Tom. What could all this mean? Uneasy already about the possibility of a cover-up, I began to feel the ground shifting under me. It seemed Tom was receiving the best medical care, but when it came to the medical evidence, to the politics of this situation, we both began to wonder who we could trust.

TFH said it was time to start for Rafah, which lay in the south of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. Andy Whittaker, a British diplomat, led the way in another Range Rover: it was embassy policy always to go into the occupied territories in pairs.

“You never quite know what you’ll come up against,” TFH said with a laugh. “And by that I don’t mean any threat from the Palestinians. I’m much more worried by the IDF. I’m not saying it’s anything deliberate. More to do with lack of accountability and loose rules of engagement. It’s easy to be mistaken for someone else — even in an embassy Range Rover.”

Our first sight of Rafah was a dense cluster of watchtowers on the skyline. It seemed to be a ghost town. Whole streets had been demolished We were heading for the headquarters of an organisation TFH kept referring to as the ISM. The Range Rovers pulled up on a piece of waste ground. “Park round so we’re facing outwards,” I heard TFH say.

He shepherded us up some stairs into an almost bare room where people were waiting. I found it impossible to take in their names or much of what they were saying until a tall young man told me: “I am Mohammed. I was with Tom when he was shot . . . I met him first when he came here to the ISM headquarters.”

He said ISM was the International Solidarity Movement — “a peaceful movement, though the Israeli army and the Israeli press will tell you many lies about us. We try to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes, to monitor and bring attention to what is happening here”.

Mohammed said Tom had come to Rafah to find out what was happening after hearing about the death here of Rachel Corrie, an American student run over by an army bulldozer as she tried to stop it destroying a Palestinian house.

On the day of Tom’s shooting, said Mohammed, the ISM had intended to stage a peaceful protest by pitching a tent in the square outside the Rafah mosque, which was in an Israeli security zone and scheduled for demolition. They had cancelled the demonstration because of gunfire, which came either from one of the IDF watchtowers overlooking the square or from a tank parked outside the mosque.

They could see bullets ricocheting off a building beside a mound of rubble on which a group of about 20 or 30 children were playing, apparently accustomed to the danger.

Gradually the shots hit lower and lower, flying close over the children’s heads, and when they began scuffing up the sand, most of the children ran away. Only a boy and two little girls stayed rooted to the spot, crying for help.

Tom beckoned to the boy, holding out his arms, lifted him off the mound and carried him out of range of the shooting. Then he went back for the two little girls, bent down and put his arm round one of them.

“They shot him,” said Alice, an ISM member. “Right there. When he was rescuing those two children. The IDF shot him.”

She added: “He was wearing an orange jacket. We were all wearing orange jackets. Everyone recognises that means you’re a noncombatant.”

“Do you think it could have been a mistake?” I asked.

“A mistake? You don’t make mistakes with telescopic sights like the IDF have got. You could shoot the buttons off someone’s coat with those.”

“Was there any other shooting going on? Was there crossfire?”

“None. Absolutely none. There were no Palestinian gunmen in the area that day.”

It was time to see where Tom had been shot. The Palestinian Authority’s military police drove in front of us, tightly packed into a rickety-looking Jeep or hanging perilously off the sides and back. Dressed in black and heavily armed, they looked ominous.

“They shouldn’t have come,” Mohammed said. “They make the Israelis jittery.”

We got out near a square containing a crumbling mosque. Overlooking the square we could see the IDF watchtowers. In the middle of the street was a mound of sand-covered rubble and tangled iron girders, the customary IDF barrier made from the ruins of demolished houses. This was where the children had been playing.

There was blood on the ground and on a wall nearby. Anthony and I stood silently, utterly bereft. I pray that you suffered no pain, that the shot which entered your head and shattered your quick brain did so too swiftly for you to feel anything. Alice was silent and pale. I now knew from Mohammed that she had also been with Rachel Corrie when she died.

At our hotel later TFH handed me a black plastic bin-liner. “Tom’s clothes,” he said. “You’ll need to keep them as evidence.”

I began to remove the contents: first Tom’s cotton trousers, slashed up the sides where they must have been cut off him; his T-shirt, similarly cut; his orange fluorescent noncombatant’s jacket; his black photographer’s waistcoat with its many pockets. Everything stiff with blood.

I felt in the waistcoat pockets and pulled out the familiar cigarette lighter and a packet of Camels. How many hundreds of times in the past had I pulled mud-caked clothing out of plastic bags, felt in the pockets before putting them in the washing machine? It’s what mothers do, I thought. Yet now it was not mud.

I upended the bin-liner to make sure there was nothing left, and Tom’s watch fell out. A pang of the sharpest grief shot through me. I could see it on his wrist. He was never without it. DURING our second week in Israel, the British ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, and his wife Bridget visited Tom. They had five teenage children of their own, all away at boarding school in England, and I could see that they were both deeply affected by the sight of Tom. Sherard stood at the foot of the bed with Anthony, silent and appalled.

Afterwards they invited us to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, where we relaxed a little. We told them we were getting nowhere in our attempts to meet the IDF, which had announced it was conducting an internal inquiry — a similar inquiry, we presumed, to the one that had completely exonerated the army over the death of Rachel Corrie.

Sherard’s manner was more measured and less forthright than TFH’s, but what he had to say about the IDF was hardly more encouraging.

“I’m afraid I really hold out very little hope of ever extracting a fully satisfactory account of what happened from them,” he said. “We may end up with some mild general admission of a mistake having been made. But that would be set in the context of the ISM being hostile to Israel and having no right to be there in the first place, plus the threat to the IDF in Rafah.

“However,” Sherard went on, “it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t keep up the pressure for an account of what happened.”

He spoke with obvious sincerity, yet I had an uncomfortable feeling that, as far as the Foreign Office was concerned, the pass had already been sold. It seemed to be accepted that the Israeli army was a law unto itself.

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, had metaphorically shrugged his shoulders in his first statement after Tom was shot, observing that the Foreign Office had been telling British nationals not to enter Gaza. While I recognised the need to discourage teams of people from entering the occupied territories and putting themselves and British diplomats at risk, it had seemed an inappropriate kind of statement to make directly after the shooting of a young man — and especially cold for someone with a son of almost the same age.

Bridget invited me to spend a few days at the ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv, tactfully leaving me alone for most of the time to lie in the shade on the terrace outside my room. It was here I learnt of the death of a young British cameraman called James Miller, shot by the IDF as he filmed for a television documentary on the children of Rafah. According to Haaretz, the newspaper, James and his team had been carrying a white flag.

One evening Bridget and Sherard suggested going to a local bar to hear a well-known Israeli singer. I couldn’t do it. Just as well: a young British Muslim walked into a bar a few doors away from the one we would have visited and blew himself up, killing three people.

The British government was swift in its public condemnation. Yet it had not seen fit to make a public statement or put pressure of any kind on the Israeli government over its shooting of young British citizens. We made our outraged feelings clear to Sherard.

Only then did we receive a communication from Jack Straw, offering a meeting. The Foreign Office belatedly stated, almost a month after the incident, that it was “shocked and saddened” by Tom’s shooting and was “pressing the Israeli army for an investigation”.

Towards the end of May, Sherard received a copy of the Israelis’ field report into the shooting. It concluded: “It is impossible to establish with certainty the cause of the injuries sustained by Mr Hurndall . . . It is likely that Mr Hurndall was hit by IDF fire . . . The commander of the outpost acted according to the rules of engagement for the area: an armed Palestinian fired at an IDF soldier who felt an immediate danger and therefore he shot a single bullet in response.”

The document was accompanied by a “location map” that mistook the point where Tom was shot by about 80 yards. Did they really think we would be content with this level of investigation?

At a meeting with the IDF, we were confronted with massive evasions. When Anthony suggested that the field inquiry was a “cover-up”, the word went through the meeting like an electric shock.

The mood in Israel was changing, however. At hearings of the Israeli parliament’s law committee, Michael Eitan, an MP in Ariel Sharon’s Likud party, accused IDF soldiers of “gross violations of human rights” in the occupied territories. This, from a former army officer, caused a stir and focused new interest on Tom’s case.

Reporters surrounded us at Tel Aviv airport as we left to bring Tom home to London, unconscious on a stretcher, on May 29 — seven weeks after he was shot.

A young soldier in the security section pointed to our luggage. “We need to open your bags,” he said. I felt outraged. These soldiers knew what we’d been through, and they could see that we had embassy staff with us. The young soldier picked up a black bin-liner. Inside it was another bin-liner. He peered in but quickly closed it again.

It contained Tom’s bloodstained clothes. There had been no cool place to store them and by now the smell was horrific.

“What is in that bag?” he said. “Those are clothes belonging to my son, who was shot by one of your soldiers,” I said, looking at him with burning eyes. STRAW seemed disconnected when we met him in London; but he passed us on to Baroness Symons, minister of state at the Foreign Office. This was a very different kind of encounter.

Professional but extremely approachable, she was visibly moved by the details of Tom’s story. He was now in the Royal Free, our local north London hospital.

She wrote a letter to Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, describing the evidence that Anthony had gathered about the shooting as “powerful and disturbing” and urging the need for the Israeli judge advocate general to institute a military police inquiry.

“You will know that this case continues to receive a great deal of media and parliamentary attention in the UK,” she wrote. “I know you will agree that the family deserve full answers to their questions. Our defence attaché in Tel Aviv will be presenting the Hurndalls’ evidence to the judge advocate general. I have agreed to see the family again when the judge advocate general has issued his report.” In other words — “What your army has done is still under the spotlight here, and this family is not going to go away.”

In Baroness Symons we felt we’d found a real ally, but our fight for the truth had a long way to run. And we faced a harrowing dilemma over Tom: how long could we leave him lying in limbo in a hospital bed, his eyes open but seeing nothing?

Tom, my darling, how are we ever to let you go?

5. Settler to activist in Hebron: Go to Aushwitz

By Ali Waked Ynet

Click here to see the video (can only be viewed on Internet Explorer)

(VIDEO) Volunteer from Denmark who tried to protect two Palestinian children assaulted by Jewish woman; renovation works on Palestinian house disrupted by settlers

VIDEO – “The settler spat at me, called me a Nazi and other things I couldn’t understand. She wouldn’t let me move. She pushed me and then a young boy also started pushing me.”

This report was received by Ynet from an international activist, Anna Maria, a 57-year-old from Denmark, who tried to protect two Palestinian children who were being bullied by eight children from the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

The activist who went out to break up the fight said that IDF soldiers separated the children, but then an older settler came out and attacked the activists. Maria phoned an Israeli friend who called the police.

She said that Border Guard police officers arrived on the scene, but instead of restoring the order, they arrested her for attacking the settler, who had filed a complaint against Maria.

She was taken in for questioning where she claimed the opposite, that the settler had attacked her and also had pictures to prove it.

The police took her statement and released her within a few hours. The settler will also be summoned to give a statement.

Confrontation in Hebron

In another incident, equipment was stolen from the Sharbaati house in Hebron. The equipment was being used to renovate the residence after it had been previously damaged by settlers.

The High Court of Justice ordered IDF to guard the repair works, but the settlers continue to harass the family and workers and cause more damage.

Ynet has managed to obtain a recording of an IDF soldier who was stationed in Hebron, recounting the ongoing harassment, violence and theft perpetrated by the settlers. The authorities remain indifferent.

‘Settlers keep throwing stones’

Family members said that the settlers are doing anything and everything to prevent them from rebuilding their house. “They have stolen equipment before so we have no doubt that they also took the equipment last night,” Mufid Sharbaati, the landlord, told Ynet.

Signs have even been hung in the vicinity with warnings not to continue the renovations, written in Hebrew. They also wrote, in broken Arabic: “Whoever continues building this house, will anger God and will be swallowed up in the ground.”

Sharbaati told Ynet that the trouble has been going on for 30 years. It climaxed in July 2002 when hundreds of settlers tried to lynch the family. “Instead of helping us, the army told us to shut the house down after that,” he claimed.

In December 2004 the court told the army to enable the family to repair their home, that had been demolished by then but persecution continued, the family got no assistance and they had to stop renovating.

In January 2007 the court ordered the IDF once again to guard the works and several weeks ago the workers returned to the work site.

“We’ve been working since then, but the settlers keep throwing stones, bottles and fire crackers, they destroy the work and steal equipment. Not a day has gone by in the last few weeks without at least one such incident,” said Sharbaati.

The Judaea and Samaria police district has reported that they have started an investigation.

6. Settlers attack Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Human rights Workers Detained

by ISM Hebron

Settlers attack Palestinians in Tel Rumeida, Human Rights Workers (HRWs) Detained

UPDATE 10:30 PM March 18
The two HRWs were released from Kiryat Arba at 10:05 PM

UPDATE March 20
Israel’s Ynet.com followed up on this story and video of the incident can be found by following this link. Israel’s Channel 2 also aired this story and showed the video of the settler harassment.

At approx. 17:30 today, Sunday March 18th, two Palestinians, approx. 15 years old, were walking down Shuhadda Street in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. As they walked towards the stairs near the Israeli settlement of Beit Hadassah, 8 Israeli settlers aged 10-15, started to attack the Palestinians with rocks.

Two human rights workers, From Denmark and Iceland who were monitoring the street intervened. The HRWs began filming the incident and called on the Israeli soldiers nearby for help. The soldiers left their post and took the Israeli settlers aside and the settlers stopped throwing rocks. The Palestinians continued home.

Anna Maria, a Danish human rights worker, called a volunteer of Machom Watch while the settler was threatening Anna Maria. The Machsom Watch volunteer translated what the settler was yelling in Hebrew. The volunteer said, “I felt very frightened for Anna Maria. The settler was calling Anna a “Bitch” and a “Nazi.” So I called the Kiryat Arba police for Anna and said there was a woman in danger. Otherwise the police wouldn’t have come at all.”

According to Anna Maria: “When the Israeli border police arrived they took my colleague and me to the Kiryat Arba police station for questioning.”

The HRWs were released 5 hours later.

7. Not a happy Mother’s Day
by Martinez

“No, this is not a happy Mother’s Day!” said Fatima Brijea as she pointed to the framed photograph behind me. It was her son. He was assassinated by the Israeli army. I sat in her living room sipping tea. I noticed the strength of Fatima’s hands as she poured my sweet tea. She is a farmer and has been all her life. Her greenhouses are lush with vegetables and the view from her yard is breathtaking.

Fatima’s gardens

One is rendered speechless, however, when you stroll a few kilometers away to find US sponsored Caterpillar bulldozers ripping apart Fatima’s land and others like her. Israel’s Apartheid wall, like all over the West Bank, is snaking through the land and separating farmers from their farmland, school kids from their schools, patients from their hospitals. And here, in Um Salamuna, things are starting to resemble places like Qalqilya and Bethlehem, where an 8-meter high wall, the most atrocious eye sore in the most beautiful of lands, is thieving the most precious of things from the Palestinians– their land.

Path of wall, bulldozers destroying land

So yesterday was Mother’s Day. It was also the UN International Day for the Elimination of Discrimination. It is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

And that is what was happening yesterday– peacefully protesting against Israel’s system of Apartheid, protesting peacefully against Israel’s discriminatory practices.

Women’s Demo Umm Salamuna

Fatima is the leader of the Um Salamuna Women’s Organization. Other women from the Organization marched in solidarity with other Palestinians, Israeli, and international human rights groups. The demonstrators marched towards the construction site. Agricultural memories of ancient times were disintegrating into nothingness as the bulldozers tore away at Mother Earth, scattering her ashes in all directions, carelessly, angrily.

The Mothers and the Daughter and the Sisters of the land stood there on Mother’s Day. The bulldozer halted. The Israeli soldiers, with their helmets and guns, hovered in the background. I searched their eyes for an answer. “Why do you let them do this?”

Fatima spoke to the crowd:

“Today represents our struggle. Now our land is taken by Occupation. The land of our children is taken. The land of our grandfathers– have been related for thousands of years. We want the world to see the Palestinians’ suffering. We are calling on the world to stand beside us. Stop the Occupation! Stop the Occupation!… It is not possible to transfer us from out land. We are staying! And the Israelis are staying. So let us be good neighbors for each other. Stop the Wall! Stop the violence!”

Fatima thanked the participants, the media, and all the internationals for joining in on the struggle.

Andareet, a woman from the Organization, spoke next. She thanked everyone present for being there with them and addressed:

“Even when this wall is built. Even if they build 50 walls, we are staying on our land! This wall was built by force– but we will resist with Faith. And, insha’allah, we will succeed!”

Khaled al Asa from Um Salamuna spoke as well, stating:

“Why today, on Mother’s Day, are Mothers all over the Arab world smelling nice air– but here Palestinian Mothers are smelling Israel’s gas? Mothers all over the world are in green land and Spring, so why are Palestinian Mothers participating by seeing their children arrested and their land taken?… Because of the effects of the Wall, all people across Palestine are going to suffer– socially, economically, and agriculturally… Here in Um Salamuna, it reflects that Israel does not want peace. They make the conflict deeper. They don’t want peace for their people. They’re preparing for the next revolution by taking our land!”

Beca, and international volunteer from the Palestine Solidarity Project, spoke next. She said:

“Remember on Women’s Day, Mothers, Sisters, and Daughters are losing their land. They are losing their sons, husbands, and daughters to the Occupation.We are honored to be here with you, to work in solidarity to stop this Wall.”

Not a single rock was thrown by the Palestinians at their colonizers, their Occupiers. The women decided to call off any further marching to the Wall. And as the crowd made their way up the farmland, the bulldozers started back to work at killing the Earth, making way for the continuation of over 500 miles of concrete, equipped with motion sensors and sniper towers- a huge wall, built by Israel out of racial discrimination, an Apartheid state that holds one group of people over another.

No. It was not a happy Mother’s Day.


8. Four Years Ago Today
by Starhawk

Four years ago today, I was in Nablus in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement that supports the nonviolent movement among the Palestinians. I was also supporting my friend Neta Golan, an Israeli woman and one of the founders of ISM, now married to a Palestinian, who was about to give birth. I had spent a strangely idyllic day in a small village outside Nablus, where a group of ISM volunteers had gone because we’d received a report that the Israeli army was harassing villagers. When we got there, the army had left, the cyclamen and blood-red anemones were in bloom underneath ancient olive trees, and the villagers insisted we stay for a barbecue.

We were just passing through the checkpoint on our way back to Nablus when we got a call from Rafah, in the Gaza strip. Rachel Corrie, a young ISM volunteer, had trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a home near the border. The bulldozer operator saw her, and went forward anyway, crushing her to death.

Rachel’s death was a small preview of the horrific violence that the U.S. unleashed, three days later, with the invasion of Iraq. In Nablus, we were gearing up for a possible Israeli invasion when the war began. I was working with another volunteer, Brian Avery, to coordinate the team that would maintain a human rights witness in the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus. I was also praying that Neta would not go into labor at some moment when the whole town would be under siege and we could not get to a hospital, and boning up on such midwifery knowledge as I possess. Perhaps I prayed too hard—she showed no signs of going into labor at all, and finally, in an act of great unselfishness, sent me down to Rafah to support the team there that had been with Rachel. I offered such comfort as I could to volunteers who were young enough that most had never before experienced the death of someone close to them.

It was a strange spring. I made it back to Nablus to support Neta’s birth—but the joy of that event was tinged with horror, for the night before, Brian was shot in the face in Jenin by the Israeli military in an unprovoked attack on a group of international volunteers. All during Neta’s labor, the nurses (yes, thank Goddess, we made it to the hospital!) kept turning on Al Jazeerah which was showing scenes of the U.S. bombardment of Iraq. I kept turning it off. Even in a world full of war, I wanted her child to be born in a small island of peace.

I went to Jenin to support the team that had been with Brian, and then to Haifa to visit him where he was awaiting surgery. I spent much of the next weeks traveling frenetically, often alone, through the one piece of ground on earth most difficult to travel in, where checkpoints truncate every route. The olive trees broke into leaf, and the almonds swelled into fuzzy green pods which the Palestinians eat young. They taste lemony, sharp and poignant, like the moment itself.

I visited with the Israeli Women in Black in Jerusalem, and trained ISM volunteers in Beit Sahour. A young British volunteer, Tom Hurndall, went down to Rafah straight from the training. Walking on the border, near where Rachel was killed, he saw a group of children under fire from an Israeli sniper tower. He ran beneath the rain of bullets, pulled a young boy to safety, went back again for another child. The sniper targeted him, shooting him in the head. So I went back to Rafah, that surreal town of rubble and barbed wire, ripe oranges and bullet holes, to support the team that had been with Tom

Everywhere I went, the sun shone, the flowers bloomed, and the army seemed to melt away, as if I carried some magic circle of protection. I was a long distance witness to death, a support for grief without suffering the searing personal pain that comes with the loss of a child, a parent, a lover. My own grief hit later, when I was home, and safe, and cried for weeks.

I cry now, every spring, here in California as the daffodils bloom and the plum trees flower. The beauty of spring is forever tinged, for me, with the grief and wonder and horror of that time: Neta sweating in labor while the TV news shows images of war, blood staining the wildflowers a deeper red.

I cry, and then I get I mad. Four years have gone by, and the killing still goes on—in Palestine, in Iraq, and if Bush has his way, in Iran. Ghosts haunt the green hills, shimmering like heat waves under an unnaturally hot sun: all the uncounted dead of this uncalled-for war, all those yet to die.

I’ve got a garden to plant, and a thousand things I’d rather do, but once again this spring, I’m gearing up for action. The peace marches have become boring, strident and predictable. To be absolutely honest, I hate marching around in the street chanting the same slogans I’ve been chanting for forty years. I’m going, anyway. I’m so tired of die-ins and sit-ins and predictable speeches shouted over bullhorns that I could scream if I weren’t hearing in my ears the far more bitter screams of the dying. I’m even tired of trying to drum and sing and make the protest into a creative act of magic. It’s not creative—it’s a damn protest, and I have real creative work to do: books to write, courses to teach, and rituals to plan. Nonetheless, Sunday will find me trudging along on the peace march and Monday will find me lying down on Market Street in some picturesque fashion with a group of friends and our requisite banners.

Why? So I can look myself in the mirror without flinching, and answer to those hundred thousand ghosts. But more than that, because it’s time, friends. Public opinion has turned—now we must make it mean something real. It’s time to send the Democrats back to their committee meetings saying, “Hell, I can’t even get into my office—the halls are blocked and the streets are choked with people angry about this war.” Time to send the Republicans off to their caucuses murmuring quietly “If we continue to support this disaster we’re going to lose every semblance of power or popular support we once possessed.” Time to let the rest of the world know that dissent is alive and well here in the U.S.A. Time to regenerate a movement as nature regenerates life in the spring, with the rising energy that alone can turn our interminable trudging into a dance of defiance.

You come, too. You can skip out on the boring speeches and make cynical remarks—but get your feet out on the street this weekend, somewhere. There’s a thousand different actions planned around the country—and if you don’t know where to go or what to do, check the websites below.

Act because hundreds of thousands who are now alive are marked for death if this war goes on or expands into Iran. Act because every perfumed flower and every bud that breaks into leaf this calls to us to cherish and safeguard life.