Home / Testing the Non-Violent Attitude in Hebron

Testing the Non-Violent Attitude in Hebron

Settler: “I will kill all the Arabs”… Soldier: “Being respectful is not a part of our duty”

1. Testing the non-violent attitude in Hebron
2. Bili’n Tractor still confiscated in an example of Israeli “Justice”
3. Demonizing the Non-violent Resistance
4. Refusing to Kneel to the Occupation
5. One arrested at demonstration against land destruction
6. Nonviolent resistance manages to stop bulldozers in Artas
7. Being Respectful is Not a Part of Our Duty
8. Israeli Forces Carry Out Targeted Assassination of Palestinian in Ramallah
9. “Ticking Bombs” –Testimonies of Torture Victims in Israel
10. Occupation and the Mind

1. Settler to Palestinian: “I will kill all the Arabs!” –Testing the non-violent attitude in Hebron
by Issa, May 21

Dear All,

I am writing this to discharge my feelings by writing to my friends who can understand me.

Today at 9:00 pm, I was walking beside the new settlement in Hebron (Palestinian building which was occupied by the settlers recently). Two settlers with guns came to me stood in my way and started photographing me. I didn’t care. This is normal with me, so I kept walking.

One from the settlers told me, “I will kill you! I will kill and all the Arabs!” The other one asked, “Where is George and Troudy!” (George and Troudy were attacked yesterday by these same settlers, causing them to receive medical attention and one to stay overnight in the hospital).

I didn’t care and I kept walking. When I arrived to the soldier’s post I called to them and I told them: “Please help me, they (the settlers) are telling me that they want to kill me!”

The settlers then lied to the the soldiers, saying that I cut their water pipes. I told the soldiers, “NO, NO, NO, NO! They told me they want to kill me, and lets go and see the water pipes.”

One soldier said: “Shaket, (Shut up in Hebrew), give me your ID!” There were five soldiers, two border police, and three regular soldiers. They said to me, “What do you have in you bag?” They forced me to take out everything from the bag and put it in the ground. I told them I work for Btselem, the Israeli center for human rights. One of the regular soldiers said, “I hate them even more than you!” When I asked why he told me again to shut up.

After they saw every thing in my bag ,they were trying to provoke my feelings and they said many bad words. They finished checking my bag so they told me now we want to search your body. So, they forced me to face the wall and to open my legs and searched me in very violent way. After that I told the soldiers “you know that I am not a terrorist, why are you doing this to me,?”

“Shut up, don’t speak,” he said. Then, they gave me my ID and told me “have a nice day.”

I think they intended to examine my nonviolent attitude. I think I got a “10 out of 10.” But I don’t know next time how much I will get.

They are doing all of this harassment daily in Hebron. For me, each day, they check me and detain me for at least 20 minutes. Some people they converted their attitude from non-violence to violence. I can understand why.

According to the Israeli law the soldiers can do this if they suspect I am a terrorist but the are sure that I am not and they know that I am usually leading Israeli tours and International delegations in the area , all the Israeli parliament members who visited Hebron I led them in the same area.

Injustice + occupation = apartheid
Soldiers = settlers = police = Racism

2. Bili’n Tractor still confiscated in an example of Israeli “Justice”
by the ISM Media Crew, 31 May 2007

For photos and video, click HERE

The Israeli Civil administration (the administrative arm of the military rule in the West Bank) is demanding 5428 shekels ($1357) to cover the expenses of towing the tractor they confiscated from Bil’in farmers, Tuesday the 29th, to the military base in the settlement of Beit El. The tractor was confiscated when it uncovered illegal infrastructure buried in the Palestinian enclave inside the Metityahu Mizrah settlement. In addition, the Israeli authorities are demanding that the tractor driver and Mohammad Khatib from the Bili’n committee against the wall and settlements, who rented the tractor, be investigated by the police and that each of them submit a signed statement that they will not use the tractor again to do work on the Palestinian land in the enclave. Until these conditions are filled, the Israeli Civil administration will continue holding the confiscated tractor in the military base.

On Tuesday 29th May 2007, residents of Bil’in, accompanied by Israeli peace activists, came to assert their right to work the land in one of the enclaves. Israeli peace activists filmed as Bil’in residents began to plough the land, using a tractor brought from Israel, as Bil’in’s tractor is not being allowed to cross the gate in the barrier, despite access for agricultural work being promised by the Supreme Court. They soon exposed a sewage pit that had been buried under dirt and debris. The plough hit a pipe leading to the pit, causing a leak. The head of security in Modiin Elite arrived on the scene, informing those present that they must immediately stop working on the enclave, saying that such work was ‘life threatening’ due to underground electricity cables which could electrocute farmers using standard agricultural tools. After this warning the workers immediately stopped work, but soon military forces arrived and declared the area a Closed Military Zone, confiscating the tractor for being used for doing development work without a permit.

From 2000 to 2006 hundreds of housing units were built in Matityahu East without permits within full knowledge and without any hindrance, from the Israeli Authorities. However, when the Palestinian owners of the land bring a tractor for agricultural purposes, within minutes, the civil administration, private security guards, police and military all work together to “enforce the law” claiming that the Palestinians are doing development work without a permit.

The High Planning Commission, a branch of the Civil Administration, submitted a new master plan for the settlement that was meant to retrospectively legitimize ‘large scale illegal building’ of Matityahu east committed by real estate companies Green Park and Kheftzeba. In this plan, regarding the land that was acknowledged as privately owned Palestinian land, it was determined that, “in every place where there was building or change in purpose in the enclave, all the structures and building debris will be removed from the area, and it will be covered in 40cm of earth … undisturbed access will be allowed to the enclave… this is a condition to be give validity to this plan”. On January 2007, despite objections raised by Bil’in villagers who pointed out, among other things, that the enclaves had not been restored nor was free access granted to them, the new master plan for the settlement of Maityahu East was approved by the high commission of planning and building in Beit El.

In 1991 Israel annexed 1,100 dunums (275 acres) of the land of Bil’in. The confiscation was justified by reference to an old Ottoman-era law allowing for confiscation of ‘unused’ land for State purposes. In the same year the villagers appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court approved the majority of the land confiscation, but acknowledged that the plots densely planted with olive trees were clearly being used. These plots were not confiscated because their use by villagers from Bil’in demonstrated their ownership . However, even though the court had explicitly recognized that these plots belong to the villagers of Bil’in, somehow these plots have subsequently become the enclaves in question.

The land was handed over to two private real estate companies, “Heftziba” and “Green Park,” after it was confiscated by the Israeli authorities. This follows a typical pattern of settlement expansion, whereby Palestinian land is first declared Israeli state property and then eventually distributed to Israelis for private use. In 2000, the Metityahu Mizrach settlement was built without permits not only on the land that was confiscated, but also on the land that the Israeli Supreme Court recognized as privately owned Palestinian land. The route of the wall in Bil’in is designed not only to protect the settlers of Matityahu Mizrah but was designed according to the master plan of the settlement to allow for its future expansion. See B’tselem Report

In January 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a temporary order in one appeal case (143/06), freezing the building and population of the Matityahu East settlement after the illegal building of 42 residential buildings – 20 of them without any building permits and 22 additional ones according to illegal building permits produced by the local committee of Modiin Elite.

The Israeli Supreme Court will hear the appeal (1526/07) this Sunday, submitted by Bil’in residents and Peace Now, against the decision of the High Commission of Planning in the civil administration to retrospectively legitimize ‘large scale illegal building’ in the settlement Matityahu East. Almost the entire settlement of Matityahu East – in which the building of 2722 residential units is planned – occupies land belonging to the village of Bil’in, west of the current route of the separation fence. The new settlement is the main reason for the route of the barrier in Bil’in. The state is requesting that the Supreme Court remove the freeze on building and allow more settlers to move in, since the plan for the settlement was approved by the high commission for planning and building in Beit El.

In addition to the 5428 shekels that is need to be paid in order to release the confiscated tractor, each day that the Israeli authorities hold the tractor, the owner is losing his main means of income. To help the Bil’in committee against the wall and settlements release the tractor and compensate the driver please consider sending a donation to the ISM noting that the money is for this purpose.

3. Demonizing the Non-violent Resistance
-IDF spokesperson’s campaign to demonize Non Violent peace activists
by the ISM Media Crew, 26 May 2007

For video, click HERE

According to the Israeli news internet site Walla on Friday, May 25, the Israeli military spokesperson claimed that the demonstration in Bil’in “ended in relative quiet.” The military spokesperson claimed that “this relative quiet stems from the fact that there were almost no leftist Israeli activists present”, since they “cause most of the friction between the demonstrators and the IDF”.

During this “relatively quiet” demonstration, soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd from a distance of 200 meters without provocation, injuring six Palestinians, including an AFP journalist, who was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet. Two activists were detained during the demonstation. The first, Mohammad Khatib, from the Bil’in popular committee against the wall and settlements, was beaten during his arrest and after he was handcuffed. The second, Israeli David Reev, was approached by a soldier who twisted David’s arm while demanding that David hand over his camera.

Abbas Momani, 33, a photographer for Agence France-Presse, was shot when Israeli soldiers fired at a group of journalists. Turkish Daily News reported that Momani stated he was outside of a Palestinian residence in Bil’in when soldiers confronted them and told them to leave. Momani said, “We explained that we would leave but that we were waiting for the army jeeps who were blocking our cars from getting out. One of the soldiers, who was barely two metres away from us, then fired.”

For full AFP story, click HERE

Is it really these leftist Israeli activists who incite “friction” and “provoke” the soldiers into throwing tear gas and sound grenades, and to shoot rubber-coated steel bullets?

Or is there another reason why the military wants to be rid of the Israeli and International activists? Israeli soldiers have stated in court that their regulations regarding opening fire differ when Israelis are present than when Palestinians demonstrate alone. If the soldiers assess that Israelis are present they are restricted from firing live ammunition on the crowd. A striking example is Beit Likya, a village neighboring Bil’in. In contrast to its neighbor, there have been no organized demonstrations against the wall and therefore no Israeli or International activists present in Beit Likya over the last two years. And yet within this time, three of the villages children were murdered, shot dead with live ammunition by a solider and a private security guard in incidents related to the Apartheid wall.

This demonization of nonviolent activists is not original or surprising. Muhatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were also labeled provocateurs and trouble makers by those that supported the racist systems that they worked against.

4. Refusing to Kneel to the Occupation
by ISM Hebron, 22 May 2007

On the morning of Tuesday, May 22. two human rights workers (HRWs) witnessed a young Palestinian man being detained at the Israeli soldier post in the Tel Rumeida district of Hebron.

The Israeli soldier at the post started to film the two HRWs with his camera-phone, directly in front of he HRWs’ faces.

One of the two soldiers was very aggressive towards the Palestinian detainee from the beginning. The soldier took the detainee’s ID and made him lift his shirt. After about 20 minutes, one of the HRWs tried to negotiate with the soldiers in order to make the process faster. The soldiers refused to talk. One of them said that he would only talk if the HRWs shut off the camera. About 5 minutes later, two sisters of the detained man came and stood with him. One of the HRWs tried to talk to the soldier but the soldier pushed him with his body and told him to go 5 meters away.

The Palestinian man refused to remain seated on the cold ground, causing the soldier to call for backup. Two more soldiers arrived and began shouting at the Palestinian man, handcuffed him, and took him to the military base in front of the Tel Rumeida settlement. The sisters of the Palestinian man tried to follow them. One of the sisters was pushed by a border policeman. The soldier that initiated the whole incident talked to the regular Israeli police that just arrived and accused one of the HRWs of having disturbed him during the arrest.

The HRWs explained to the police that they had recorded the incident. The policeman asked that if the army or the human rights workers would like to make a complaint they should go to the police station. One of the soldiers that came for backup claimed that, according to the first soldier, the Palestinian man had refused to lift his shirts of his back but this was a false accusation and the video footage proves it.

The two sisters of the detained Palestinian man said his name is Arif Salhap. The human rights workers were told by the Palestinian women that Arif refused to kneel in front of the soldier because Muslims only kneel to Allah.

Arif was released three hours later. The human rights workers informed the red cross.

5. One arrested at demonstration against land destruction
by the ISM Media Crew, May 25

For video, click HERE

Today, May 25th, the residents of the south of Bethlehem area held a large demonstration against Israel’s Apartheid Wall which separates them from Bethlehem and steals their lands. The demonstration started in the village of Umm Salamuna, where Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals held a soccer game on the path of the Wall.

From there, at least 150 activists made their way to the village of Artas to protest Israel’s land destruction. This was a non-violent demonstration, aimed at reaching the land of the Abu Swai family, which soldiers claimed today was a “closed military zone.” After Friday prayers on the land, the non-violent demonstrators attempted to cross the barricade of Israeli soldiers. The army responded with force. George, an activist from Greece, was arrested and is currently being held in an Israeli jail in Hebron.

Martinez described the incident: “The demonstrators were completely non-violent. Not a single stone was thrown. But the soldiers started to beat and kick people. I saw at least two people being choked by soldiers. Then they went after George. He wasn’t doing anything but they arrested him anyways.”

An Israeli activist heard one of the detaining officers say that George was being arrested for “assault.”

After half an hour, the demonstrators sat on the ground affront the soldiers, refusing to leave the area. The demonstrators all then began shouting, “We want George! We want George!” The army, however, placed George in a police jeep and escorted him to the Hebron police station.

Gaby Lasky, George’s lawyer, relayed the news that George had been released from Israeli police custody in Hebron. George was scheduled to appear for trial around 20:00 the following evening at the Russian compound in Jerusalem. Gaby stated that the Greek consulate was very active, which may have pressured the police to release George just five hours before he was scheduled to appear in court.

Greek consulate representatives and solidarity activists were planning to bring video evidence of George’s innocence to the court. George was being faced with trumped-up charges of “assaulting an office leading to injury” and “disrupting soldier’s work.” The video, to the contrary, shows George and other activists being assaulted by the soldiers immediately prior to George’s arrest.

Earlier this week, the struggle reached the village of Artas, near Al Hader. It happened when Israeli construction crews reached the fertile lands of the village. The reason for the planned route of the wall is for the construction of two new neighborhoods in the illegal settlement of Efrata, stretching from it’s current border to the route of the wall.

Early Sunday morning, an Israeli bulldozer destroyed an entire orchard of apricot trees in spite of attempts by villagers and other activists who slept on the land to stop it. Occupation soldiers continued their work and ate sandwiches as farmers wept at the site of their ancestral land being ripped apart. Three Palestinians were arrested the following day for continuing to protest the land destruction. They have all recently been relased.

(Video and photos of land destruction HERE)

6. IMEMC: Nonviolent resistance manages to stop bulldozers in Artas
by George Rishmawi , 24 May 2007

For photos, click HERE

The bulldozing of the land in Artas village near Bethlehem has temporary stopped after an Israeli court ruled a preemptive halt of work in the village on Wednesday and Thursday.

The court ruling was made after the villagers filed a complaint against the Israeli company which is building a sewer in the villagers land for the settlement of Efrat without their permission, Mr. Khaled Al-Azza head of the popular committee against the wall and settlements told IMEMC.

The case was raised as the villagers decided to protest the illegal land confiscation and went to the land to replant trees, uprooted by the bulldozers on Sunday morning.

Samer Jaber, coordinator of the “Stop the Bleeding of Bethlehem” campaign who has been very active in Artas case, said this is an achievement for the nonviolent resistance, although small.

On Sunday Israeli troops assaulted farmers and other Palestinians who came in solidarity with Artas village including Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Minister of Information.

The Israeli s security guards who accompany the bulldozers at work opened fire on Monday at a group of villagers who attempted to enter their land. The villagers were accompanied by a number of other Palestinian and International activists.

The guards also opened fire at the journalists who were there to cover the nonviolent protest, however, no injuries were reported.

Troops arrived and arrested three Palestinians from the village and took them to Ofer detention center pending a court hearing on Sunday. The three have been charged with throwing rocks at the security guards.

IMEMC reporter Ghassan Bannoura, who was in Artas covering the incident, confirmed that no stones were thrown at anybody. “The security guards opened unprovoked fire at the villagers and at us, no one threw any stones at them,” Bannoura said.

Israel is planning to run the Settlement sewage system through the lands of the villagers.

7. Being Respectful is Not a Part of Our Duty
by ISM Hebron, 26 May 2007

At approximately 15:00 hours on Saturday May 26, two Human Rights Workers (HRWs) were standing on Shuhada street in the Tel Rumeida district of Hebron when five Israeli settlers between the ages of 7 and 10 years old walked past making faces and shouting remarks at both HRWs. The HRW passed onto Tel Rumeida street where they met two Palestinian teenagers who continued to walk up the hill, some distance behind the settlers.

Proceeding to the top of Tel Rumeida St., HRWs witnessed that the settlers had stopped at a soldier’s guard post and pointed at the two Palestinian teenagers. The soldiers immediately approached the Palestinians. The settler children had accused the Palestinians of threatening to hurt them. Both teenagers denied the accusations and both HRWs who had been with them at the time attempted to testify to their innocence. The soldiers detained the two Palestinian teenagers and took their IDs for checks. Another senior officer, known as Nir, came onto the scene and questioned both the children and the teenagers as to what happened. He did not address the HRWs who maintained their presence and when the HRWs attempted to address the situation and explain that they had been present throughout the whole incident, they were told “not to interfere.” Eitan, a settler who is currently under investigation for harassment and the father of one of the settlers kids, arrived at the scene. Eitan proceeded to discuss with both the police and the soldiers the incident and called both HRWs “liars” for backing up the Palestinians and protesting their innocence. After approximately 40 minutes the police arrived and arrested both the teenagers.

The two teenagers were arrested for five hours and following this were forced to sign a “condition of release” to the sum of 2000 Israeli shekels each and to attend the police station at a future date. At no point were the HRWs questioned as witnesses to the event. The Palestinians were, in effect, arrested on the accusations of the settlers alone without actual evidence or proof.

At approximately 20:15, six soldiers and their commanding officer Nir invaded the roof of a house in Tel Rumeida where a group of 5 HRWs have been residing. Despite repeated attempts to engage with the soldiers to question them as to why they were on their roof and what they were doing, the 5 HRWs present were repeatedly ignored and at one point the soldiers pointed their guns at a female HRW and further aimed his gun at a Palestinian child who was on the street below. The soldiers proceeded to search around the roof area and despite the commanding officer deciding to leave after around 10 minutes, 4 of the soldiers remained on the roof without following command. The soldiers proceeded to hang about the roof, holding conversation and continually ignoring requests by the HRWs to leave the premises.

After the soldiers left they maintained a presence on the street outside the house and when a female HRW attempted to engage in a formal and respectful conversation regarding the incidence, she was told that it was a security check and that the soldiers have no obligation to engage in conversation with them or to tell them what they were doing. The soldier claimed that as they had not been violent they had therefore been respectful to all parties involved. Soldiers further claimed that they had the right to undertake their checks without warning and without consent or approval from senior authority and that “being respectful was not part of their duty.”

8. Israeli Forces Carry Out Targeted Assassination of Palestinian in Ramallah

For report by Sam Bahour, click HERE


As a human rights organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is gravely disturbed by the extrajudicial execution carried out on 29 May 2007, on Ramallah Main Street, near the city centre. A detailed report of the events will be prepared once Al-Haq has carried out further investigations. The information below is based on first hand testimony gathered by Al-Haq staff members in the immediate aftermath of the event.

At approximately 17:00 an Israeli force of about 20 soldiers, including under cover agents disguised as civilians, got out of a truck and a car on the Main Street of Ramallah and killed 22 year-old Omar Mohammed Abd al-Halim. The victim was standing outside Nazareth restaurant with another man. As a member of a Palestinian security force he was carrying a walkie-talkie and a firearm when the Israeli military forces appeared. The soldiers made no attempt to arrest Omar Mohammed Abd al-Halim. As he attempted to escape on foot he was shot in the neck by a uniformed soldier, and fell to the ground. An undercover soldier in civilian clothes then shot approximately six bullets into his body, finally kicking him to make sure that he was dead. A number of civilian bystanders were forced into Nazareth restaurant by the Israeli soldiers. In the meantime Palestinians had gathered and began to throw stones. The Israeli forces, reinforced by approximately ten military jeeps, responded with gunfire, lasting for approximately half an hour, during which eight civilians were injured.

Two ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society attempted to reach the area to provide medical assistance to the injured, but were ordered at gunpoint to stop by the Israeli forces. When the ambulances tried to proceed the Israeli soldiers opened fire and one of the ambulances was hit in the tyres. Consequently it was immobilised and could not reach the injured.

Al-Haq is deeply concerned at this and other recent extrajudicial executions of Palestinians carried out by Israeli military forces throughout the OPT. Omar Mohammed Abd al-Halim could have been arrested, rather than executed, after being wounded. The practice of targeted assassinations, officially endorsed by the Israeli executive and judicial branches, constitutes an inherent violation of the right to life and the right to a fair trial as enshrined in binding customary and conventional international law. Also, the execution of an injured person amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Additionally, under customary international humanitarian law, medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances. The term medical personnel clearly includes ambulance services. The attack on the ambulances described above clearly violates this essential rule of international law and constitutes a war crime.

Finally the conduct of the operation by the Israeli forces raises serious concerns as to the disregard for the protection accorded to civilians under international humanitarian law. The operation was carried out at 17:00 in the afternoon, a busy time of day, on a crowded street near the centre of the city. Further, Israeli undercover agents operating within a civilian population increases the risk of casualties.

9. “Ticking Bombs” –Testimonies of Torture Victims in Israel

A New Report by
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)

This report, issued by PCATI, describes the routine of torture in Israel from the point of view of its victims. Nine detailed case studies narrating the victims’ experiences from the moment of arrest, through interrogation and trial and through the routine refusal of the Ministry of Justice to investigate their complaints will provide us with a glimpse into the world of torture in Israel.

The detailed testimonies of these torture victims reveals the extent to which the practice of torture is widespread and not limited to General Security Service (GSS) interrogators. Practitioners and facilitators of torture include soldiers and their commanders, prison wardens and police officers, physicians and medical staff in hospitals, military attorneys and judges, the heads of the Ministry of Justice – the Attorney General, the State Attorney and the attorney responsible for the GSS Official in Charge of investigation Interrogees’ complaints in the (the MAVTAN) and members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, all of whom, in practice or through lack of action, through knowledge or through their silence, are accomplices to the torture described in the report. The report, in addition, reveals the bureaucratic, almost banal, environment in which torture is carried out in Israel.

The report challenges and refutes the “ticking bomb” scenario that forms the basis for the legal “the necessity defence,” which facilitates the use of torture following the High Court of Justice ruing of 1999. The testimonies that make up the core of this report, which are among the harshest cases to reach PCATI in the years 2004-2006, contradict the “ticking bomb” scenario. These testimonies illustrate the fact that any Palestinian detainee might find himself tortured during interrogation under the pretext that he is a “ticking bomb” and that today in Israel there is no effective legal control –and certainly not moral control – against of the use of torture.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel underscores that the use of torture is absolutely prohibited under International Humanitarian Law (The Fourth Geneva Convention ratified by Israel in 1951) and under international human rights law (The UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that were ratified by Israel in 1991).

The automatic immunity that the Israeli prosecution and judicial authorities grant torturers and their collaborators will not protect them. Each of the 142 member states who ratified the UN Convention against Torture or the 193 member states of the Geneva Convention (all the nations in the world) are obliged to bring to justice or extradite for the purpose of legal action, any person in their territory who is suspected of involvement in torture. The decision of the House of Lords in Britain on the matter of Chile’s former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and the legal process initiated in Germany (that was subsequently dismissed) against form US Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld, prove that this is more than a theoretical option.

In its recommendations, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, continues to call on the State of Israel to absolutely prohibit the use of torture, without exception and without “special permits”, and to pass legislation specifically outlawing and criminalizing torture. To do otherwise will cast doubt on Israel’s claims of upholding the most basic moral and democratic principles expected of members of civilized society.

10. Excerpts from: Occupation and the Mind
Exposing the damage done to the emotional health of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation
by Dr Samah Jabr, The New Internationalist, May 2007

For full report, click HERE

Ahmad, a 46-year-old man from Ramallah was doing well, until his last detention. But this time he just could not tolerate the long incarceration in a tiny cell, with complete visual and auditory deprivation. First, he lost his orientation to time. Then he became over-attentive to the movement of his gut and started thinking that he was ‘artificial’ inside his body. Later, he developed paranoid thinking, started hearing voices and seeing people in his isolated cell. Today, Ahmad is out of his detention, but still imprisoned by the idea that everyone is spying on him.

Fatima spent several years doctor-shopping for a combination of severe headaches, stomach-aches, joint pain and various dermatological complaints. There was no evidence of any organic cause. Finally, Fatima showed up at our psychiatric clinic and spoke of how all her symptoms started after she saw the skull of her murdered son, open on the stairs of her house, during the Israeli invasion of her village of Beit Rima on 24 October 2001.

Such are the cases I see in my clinic. The traumatic events of war have always been a major source of psychological damage. In Palestine the kind of war being waged needs to be understood in order to appreciate the psychological impact on this long-occupied population. The war is chronic and continuous, over the lifetime of at least two generations. It pits an ethnically, religiously and culturally foreign state against a stateless civilian population. In addition to daily oppression and exploitation, it involves periodic military operations of usually moderate intensity. These provoke occasional Palestinian fractional and individual responses. The vast majority of people are never consulted about such actions. While their opinion does not matter, it is they who must endure pre-emptive Israeli strikes or collective punishment in retaliation.

Demographic factors complicate the picture. Those living in the occupied territories make up just a third of Palestinians; the rest are scattered around the region in a Diaspora, many in refugee camps. Almost every Palestinian family has experiences of displacement or major painful separation. Even inside Palestine, people are refugees, expelled in 1948 to live in refugee camps. The massive displacement of 70 per cent of the people, and the destruction of over 400 of their villages, are referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This remains a trans-generational psychological trauma, scarring Palestinian collective memory. Very often, you will encounter young Palestinians who introduce themselves as residents of towns and villages from which their grandparents were evacuated. These places are frequently no longer on the map, either razed entirely, or now inhabited by Israelis.

Sudden blindness
During my medical school training in several Palestinian hospitals and clinics, I saw men complaining of non-specific chronic pains after they lost their jobs as labourers in Israeli areas; school children brought in for secondary bed-wetting after a horrifying night of bombardment. My memory of a woman, brought to the emergency room suffering from sudden blindness that started when she saw her child murdered as a bullet entered his eye and went out from the back of his head, remains all too vivid.

In Palestine, such cases are not registered as war injuries and are not treated properly. This realization provoked me to specialize in psychiatry. It is one of the most underdeveloped medical fields in Palestine. For a population of 3.8 million, we have 15 psychiatrists and are understaffed with nurses, psychologists and social assistants. We have an estimated three per cent of the staff we need. We have two psychiatric hospitals, in Bethlehem and Gaza, but it is difficult to get to them, due to checkpoints. There are seven outpatient community mental-health clinics. In developing countries like occupied Palestine, psychiatry is the most stigmatized and the least financially rewarding medical profession. Psychiatrists work with desperately sick patients and, in the eyes of their communities, are far removed from the glory of other medical specialties. As a result, competent and talented doctors rarely specialize in psychiatry.

Nowadays, Palestinians are pressured to surrender once and for all, when they are asked to ‘recognize’ Israel. We are asked to accept, reconcile ourselves with and bless the Israeli violation of our life. The fact that our homeland is occupied does not, by itself, mean that we are not free. We reject the occupation in our minds, as far as we can cope with it; and learn how to live in spite of it, rather being adjusted to it. But, if we recognize Israel, we are mentally occupied – and that, I claim, is incompatible with our wellbeing as individuals and a nation. Resistance to the occupation and national solidarity are very important for our psychological health. Their practice can be a protective exercise against depression and despair.

Israel has created awful facts on the ground. What remains for us of Palestine is a thought, an idea that becomes a conviction of our right to a free life and a homeland. When Palestinians are asked to ‘recognize’ Israel, we are asked to give up that thought, and to renounce everything we have and are. This will only sink us deeper into an eternal collective depression.

We shall overcome
It is hard not to wonder whether Israel’s targeting of Palestinians is deliberately designed to create a traumatized generation, passive, confused and incapable of resistance. I know enough about oppression to diagnose the non-bleeding wounds and recognize the warning signs of psychological deformity. I worry about a community forced to extract life from death and peace through war. I worry about youth who live all their lives in inhumane conditions; and about babies who open their eyes to a world of blood and guns. I am concerned about the inevitable numbness chronic exposure to violence brings. I fear also the revenge mentality – the instinctive desire to perpetuate on your oppressors the wrongs committed against yourself.