As I sit here writing on October 30, 2000, I hear voices outside — a rare occurrence these days. Our apartment is in H2, the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron. In 1997, an interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) split Hebron in two. 100,000 Palestinians live in H1, administered by the PA. Today the curfew imposed on October 1 — a 24 hour-a-day house arrest for the 40,000 Palestinians living in H2 — was lifted, supposedly for good. (The curfew was reimposed on October 31. At press time it had not been lifted.) “Or at least until the army changes their minds,” explained one of our friends. In H2, as many as 2,000 Israeli soldiers guard about 400 Jewish settlers.
A few days into this new intifada, two of my teammates went to hear the story of a family whose home had been occupied by soldiers. The family’s home is near the border that divides H1 from H2. The soldiers use the roof, and a bedroom window, as vantage points to shoot down into the clashes between soldiers and Palestinians. When asked whether his family had enough food, the father replied, “Food? Food isn’t the problem. The problem is the soldiers on our roof! They shoot all night and the children can’t sleep and are afraid. No one should have to live like this!” Soldiers have told us they are “restrained” in their shooting, but one night from our window, a friend and I watched round after round bombard a single house for an hour.
Last week, another teammate went to visit a house where the father had been killed in the shooting the night before. He had left the kitchen, where his family huddled, to answer the phone. An exploding bullet hit him in the head. The three daughters told my teammate that they had cleaned the room for several hours afterwards, scrubbing away the blood and bits of flesh.
These shots had come from the Usama bin Munqidh school, which has been occupied by the Israeli military since the beginning of October. This school was built on a hilltop in southeast Hebron after a school in the old city was confiscated by Israeli settlers and turned into a yeshiva. The school on the hill was named after the one in the old city. Before this school was occupied, the Palestinian Ministry of Education estimated that there was a shortage of 42 classrooms in H2.
We went to the school to investigate a report that tanks were kept on the school grounds. As we approached the school, a soldier posted on the roof forbade us from coming nearer. “I will shoot you if you cross that line,” he threatened, pointing to a break in the pavement. A family living next to the school invited us to come on their roof and from there we saw the tanks.
When the curfew continued for five days without being lifted, families called to us from their windows that they needed food. I telephoned the IDF brigade commander, Noam Tivon, and asked him to lift the curfew so that people could go out and buy food. I then called some of CPT’s Israeli contacts, active in peace and human rights work, to request that they do the same. The next day we heard a commotion in front of the apartment and went to check it out. Several Palestinian Hebron municipal observers were attempting to distribute sour cream and marmalade to families living near us but the soldiers wouldn’t allow them to pass. We tried calling the brigade commander to ask him to allow the municipality to distribute the food, but the first phone call was cut off, and succeeding phone calls were not answered. Finally, we took the food and distributed it ourselves. The following day the curfew was lifted for
three hours and families were able to buy food.
One Saturday we went to observe a demonstration. Palestinian youths threw rocks at soldiers who fired rubber-coated steel bullets back. The team spoke with many young men who were enraged by the situation and hostile toward the American members of the team. One young man said he had studied nonviolence and conflict resolution in Germany. He had believed that non-violence was the way to go in resisting the Israeli occupation, but no longer. He pointed out that in India, the British could leave for their own country after Gandhi’s campaigns, but the Israelis believe that the West Bank and Gaza are their country.
On October 17, we went to the village of Halhul, north of Hebron, to investigate reports that the army had bulldozed a road just eight hours before the agreement was reached in Sharm al-Sheikh. We found that a kilometer of a secondary road had been torn up, preventing vehicular traffic and access to houses and lands. We were told that the army had bulldozed it to install water lines for a nearby settlement. Then people pointed us in the direction of a bulldozer trying to fill in a hole. The hole — 15 feet wide and about eight feet deep — spans the entirety of the main road that connects Halhul with Route 60, the road to Jerusalem. The hole is a permanent blockade keeping Palestinians from accessing the main road out of their village. It will block access long after the closure is lifted.
When the “ceasefire” understandings were reached in Sharm al-Sheikh on October 17, I went out on the streets to find out what people thought about them. I asked one soldier if he had heard that Barak and Arafat had reached an agreement. He replied, “So what? Is this the first agreement they’ve signed?” An 11 year-old Palestinian boy commented, “It is better to die in battle than to die like this [under occupation].”
The day after Sharm al-Sheikh, we went to the Palestinian neighborhood of Harat al-Sheikh where the shooting had been focused the night before. We saw the holes, a foot in diameter, left by rockets as they blasted through metal doors into two shops. We saw the broken windows and bullet holes in the sides of houses surrounding the shops. As a man in a taxi commented that day, “Sharm al-Sheikh. Not in Harat al-Sheikh.”