Home / Journals / An ISM diary, July-August 2023

An ISM diary, July-August 2023

This is a diary kept by two UK-based volunteers with the ISM, Willow and Kevin, during some of their recent trip to Palestine.

Day 1 – Colonial violence

In the few days since arriving in Palestine we have already been repeatedly reminded of the extent of the violence which is perpetrated on a daily basis by Israeli colonial power. On the day we arrived, three Palestinians were killed by the occupation forces, following closely after the murder of a teenage protester two days before. Just last night, Farus Abu Samra, a 14-year-old Palestinian child, was killed in the West Bank city of Qalqilya. Occupation forces stormed a neighbourhood overnight amid heavy firing of rubber coated steel bullets and live rounds. Such raids by the Israeli military into the West Bank are now occurring regularly.

It is an honour to be here and meet so many Palestinians who have given so much for the struggle. We spent yesterday doing the ISM training in the ISM flat in Ramallah. One point that particularly resonated with us were the discussions amongst internationalists about our motivations for the trip. While many of us may do this work to make us feel good about ourselves, we always need to be aware of the risk of white saviourism, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. It is important to be honest with ourselves and others that we don’t have any solutions to this decades’ long struggle. Rather, it is a struggle fought by generations of Palestinians and we internationalists just do what little we can to support them, following what they ask of us. This is one of the great strengths of the ISM, it being Palestinian-led.

Drawing water from the well to water trees – At-Tuwani

Day 2 – Protective Presence

A large part of the ISM’s role in Palestine is providing a “protective presence”, with both the Israeli state forces and Zionist settlers being less likely to attack or harass Palestinians when internationalists are present.

In much of the West Bank this mainly involves attending demos, which typically receive enormous levels of violent repression. But where we currently are in Massafer Yata, in the south Hebron Hills, this more often involves helping farmers with their work, as settlers will otherwise regularly attack them. Indeed, it was only due to an ISM volunteer recording a brutal assault with crowbars on Hafez, a farmer and human rights activist who we were helping this morning, that he was spared a decades long prison sentence after the settlers accused him of attacking them. This podcast explains the story in full –  https://palsolidarity.org/2023/02/the-international-solidarity-movement-podcast-episode-four-peoples-resistance-in-the-south-hebron-hills/

Last night we accompanied Hafez’s young son while he was shepherding goats in a field just a few hundred meters from an illegal settlement. We then stayed in a guest house next to their family home in At-Tuwani. We heard that their herd of ten goats once had 150 animals, but theft of their land has made it impossible to keep such a large herd now. Some young men from a neighbouring village came to visit the family for dinner. The atmosphere was quite heavy as one explained that settlers and the army had just turned up at his village, raided his home and attacked family members. We have been told we’ll go to this village tonight to try to discourage such attacks.

This morning we got up early to help in the garden, drawing water from a well and tending plants. By 9am it was already extremely hot and we’re told everyone rests in the midday sun – we’re both very relieved as we’re not used to this much manual labour 😂


Day 3 – Tuba

Today we’re staying in a small village called Tuba which, like most of the villages in Masafer Yatta, is within the borders of a military firing zone. All Palestinian inhabitants here are now criminals for staying on their farms in this area which the Israeli army have “claimed” for training purposes – just one more excuse for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. The Zionist settlers, of course, are welcome to stay, despite the firing zone regulations. Under constant fear of attack, local Palestinians patrol the village all night using bright torches to monitor the hillsides. There is always an imminent and deeply disturbing risk of invasion and in recent days settlers have been very active in terrorising the community.

The journey for Palestinians between here and neighbouring At-Tuwani has been extended from 2km to 15km. Palestinians are now forbidden to drive the direct road due to the building of an illegal settlement between the villages and instead must take a very rough dirt track through the desert mountains. Children from Tuba have to be escorted by the army through the Zionist settlement to attend school in At-Tuwani. This is due to the fact that settlers also attack defenceless children. Since the army cannot be trusted in the least, internationalists must monitor them too and help with the school run, looking out for the children’s safety.


Day 4 – Israeli “justice”

The attention currently being paid in the international media to Netanyahu’s admittedly disgraceful judicial reform plan all too often ignores the fact that the Israeli judiciary has, of course, long since been intimately complicit in the colonisation of Palestine, including in the Masafer Yatta area. As this excellent article about the situation here explains “The Israeli military wants the homes of Masafer Yatta for target practice. And the country’s Supreme Court says that’s totally kosher.

[. . .]

So’ed stopped attending class after Israeli bulldozers crushed the village school. That day, So’ed told us, she helped young children, the students of lower grades, to escape through the windows. “We were in English class,” she said. “I saw a Jeep approaching through the window. The teacher stopped the class. Soldiers arrived with two bulldozers. They closed the doors on us. We were stuck in the classrooms. Then we escaped through the windows. And they destroyed the school. The destruction of the elementary school took place in November 2022 and was documented on video. Children in the first, second, and third grades can be seen in one of the classrooms, screaming and sobbing. Israeli soldiers surrounded the school, where 23 students were enrolled, and threw stun grenades at villagers who were attempting to block the path of the bulldozers.”


The filming of the school demolition that is mentioned was done by a volunteer who was at the scene providing protective presence.

It is also of note that one of those Supreme Justices being presented as arbitrators of all that is right in international media coverage about the judicial reforms formerly defended Israel successfully in the case taken against it by the family of Rachel Corrie, an ISM activist killed by a bulldozer while resisting home demolitions in 2003.


Day 5 – Khallet Aldabba

Today we are helping with work in Khallet Aldabaa. There are families here that have had their homes demolished by the state four or five times, but they always rebuild and refuse to move. This is yet another example of the Palestinian commitment to “somoud”, an Arabic word meaning “steadfastness”.

We also helped a little today with the work of a group called Comet-ME who were in the village as well. This amazing organisation works with communities across the West Bank to provide ecologically and socially sustainable infrastructure. They were installing a water tank, replacing infrastructure that is often sabotaged by settlers and the army. This is all the more important considering Israeli water company Mekorot, at the behest of the state, are currently limiting water flow to this area in the height of summer – a political punishment that is in complete contravention of international law. You can read more about Comet-ME here: https://comet-me.org/about/who-we-are/

As with other villages we have been in, many of the buildings here have very striking murals of black and white text declaring messages of defiance. These were painted by an ISM volunteer last year in collaboration with the locals. There’s even one in Irish, which I was delighted to see! (“tiocfaidh ár lá” – our day will come, a republican slogan). It’s worth having a look at them here: https://instagram.com/palestinian.brigade?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

Mural in Khallet Aldabba

Day 6 – Helicopter harassment

Today we have been listening to booming Israeli fighter jets continually flying back and forth overhead, and yesterday an army helicopter spent about twenty minutes circling the village while flying very low, kicking up huge clouds of dust. Locals said they were probably either taking surveillance photographs or just doing it to intimidate them.

All physical work here must be done by hand, which is tough going, especially in the 35-degree heat, but even the youngest villager (4 years old!) was helping fill buckets today. Machines can’t be hired to lighten the farmers’ workload as the army confiscates them, although it can take us several days to do what a machine could do in minutes.

Luckily, however, we have 4 more ISM volunteers joining us here later today, three of whom are also members of the same platformist reading group as Willow and I! (A)✊🏴🚩


Day 7 – Settler violence

In yet another shocking example of the way Palestinians are treated here, 9 illegal settlers attacked the village of Tuba yesterday at 9am. They targeted the villagers’ well, setting up a tent over it and releasing a flock of sheep onto locals’ land. The Palestinians were prevented from using the well to provide water for their animals in the summer heat. The extent of settler/state collusion was evident from the fact that the settlers were escorted by two jeeps full of police and military personnel who stated they were there to protect the settlers. An anti-Zionist Israeli activist who was one of those providing protective presence for the villagers was arrested during the altercation. The settlers remained here until around 5pm. Last night, 4 of us from ISM stayed up with a group of men from the village to keep a lookout for further attacks. Thankfully, nothing happened but the atmosphere is unsurprisingly tense in the wake of the villagers being terrorised once again, less than a week after the last instance here.

This morning, Kevin and I spoke to a Palestinian from Bethlehem who came to support the villagers and who organises with “Faz3a”, a campaign working to defend the October olive harvest from disruption by Israeli settlers and the military, who burn and chop down trees. For the duration of the harvest season, international volunteers accompany harvesters and respond when incidents involving military or settler violence arise, as they frequently do. He told us that last year many violent incidents occurred, including the destruction of ten Palestinian vehicles by settlers (two were burned, the rest thrashed) and the stabbing of a 75-year-old Israeli woman who was volunteering with Faz3a.

He said that if Palestinians were allowed free access to even half the resources of Palestine that life here would be very good for them, but of course colonial occupation prevents anything even close to this from happening. He also felt that for those outside Palestine the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” campaign is a key way to leverage power against Israel with the goal of making it a pariah state in economic, political and cultural terms.

Demo in Kafr Qaddum

Day 8 – Demos

Yesterday Willow and I, along with several other ISM-ers, attended two of the regular Friday demos –one in Kafr Qaddum near Nablus and one in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

The demo in Kafr Qaddum takes place weekly in opposition to the illegal settlement which is encroaching on the town. It invariably involves quite a high level of confrontation with the army and seven Palestinians have been murdered during the protests there over the years. Very shortly after we assembled, rubber coated steel bullets and stun grenades were being fired at us, followed by clouds of tear gas as the situation escalated. Burning barricades were built to slow the advance of the army towards us and obscure their view with black smoke which, conveniently, also tends to be carried by the prevailing wind straight into the hated settlement. Everyone we spoke to said that the presence of us internationals shouting at the soldiers in European accents notably reduced the level of violence the army employed, which is a key reason ISM tries to attend as many of these demos as our numbers allow.

One particularly interesting tactic we witnessed was the use of a car which has been modified with metal plates over the windows. A local drives it to the frontline of the demo where it serves as a mobile barricade. It is filled with tyres which both help prevent bullets passing through it and can be used on the barricades. It also delivers other supplies to those near the front. Apparently, the army has been trying to confiscate the vehicle for years but no one asides from the driver knows where it is hidden between demos!

The Sheikh Jarrah demo was attended by a mixture of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals and was much, much less militant. It nonetheless involved some confrontations with settlers who turned up to counter-protest us, as well as scuffles with heavily armed police and border patrol guards who tried to clear us off the street and managed to cut our march short. One teenage settler threw a rock at me when I tried to stop him attacking a Palestinian child about half his size – luckily I was unharmed though. The whole day provided yet another reminder of the degree to which Palestinians suffer at the hands of the occupation, as well as the importance of the protective presence that ISM can provide.