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July 11, 2001
The Israeli Occupation. Up Close and Personal

By Thom Saffold


The Israeli Occupation
Up Close and Personal
by Thom Saffold

I just had a lesson in life under Israeli Occupation—up close and personal.

Beit Sahour is the city where, according to the Christian scripture, shepherds tending their flocks one night were visited by angels heralding the birth of the Prince of Peace. They, too, lived under a military occupation

Today, the village is filled with peaceful and peace-loving people who suffer under an occupation worse than that of Rome 2000 years ago. The only violence is the economic violence of the repressive response to the Intifada (80% of the population are at least severely under-employed), and the constant threat of violence from the Israeli military, which has a base at the western edge of the village.

Today, as so many times in the past 9 months, the threat became realized.

As I arrived back at my host’s home about 4 pm, people excitedly told me that tanks had advanced into the village to the north, and there had been an explosion. With my video camera and press pass, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the scene. He admitted he was afraid, but took me as close as he dared—and refused payment.

With no provocation (I reached that consclusion after later interviewing over 20 nearby residents), two tanks, two jeeps and an armored personell carrier invaded from Area C into Area A of Beit Sahour. Like the residential areas of most Palestinian villages and cities, Beit Sahour is divided. The Israeli military imposes control over a portion of the residential neighborhoods in these population centers with the excuse that this is needed to insure the safety of army bases or settlements.

If there is one thing that I have learned from this trip—and learned from interviews with Israeli activists and a settler spokesman, it is that Israeli society is interested only in protecting Jewish rights and lives, and do not care if this comes at the expense Palestinian rights and lives.

Area A is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. These areas are, in effect, the de facto State of Palestine and the Palestine Authority considers it their right to protect the sovereignty of those lands. Today the Israelis, in effect, invaded another country, and were, rightfully, resisted. Again, this has happened to the people of Beit Sahour and many other Palestinian communities many times.

Palestinian resistance took the form of various elements of the Palestinian Authority police coming together at the top of a hill overlooking the intrusion of Israeli troops. Armed only with Egyptian-made Kalishnikov automatic weapons supplied under provisions of the Oslo Accords, they grouped and deployed on the grounds of the Beith Sahour YMCA, which is a walled area and near the border with Area C.

By the time I arrived, I was told the Israelis had fired a tank once, but I found only the remains of an RPG—rocket propelled grenade—next to a house that had been hit. However, a tank had advanced nearly to the YMCA grounds along with an armed patrol. This was a civilian street, with houses on either side and civilians cowering in doorways and peering through windows. The Israelis were aiming their weapons and moving the tank turret around menacingly, and did so for another 20 minutes. When the Palestinians did not fire on them (I assume that’s what they were waiting or hoping for), they slowly retreated down the street. The civilians cautiously emerged from their homes to see.

I made my way down the hill and took a position near where the tanks, jeeps and APC had gathered just beyond the last houses on the street. I was between the last house and the next one up the street and was filming the soldiers when gunfire erupted FROM the Israelis. From the sound (I could not see which weapon was firing), they fired a light machine gun. Then a tank began to move, and moments later I heard the pop, pop, pop of the Palestinians’ small caliber rifles firing in return. The tank advanced up the street, but not as far as before, so I was beside it. The tank gunned its motor and moved its turret around again. Once more somebody fired from the Palestinian side. The tank fired a clip from one of its machine guns and then fired a tank round up the street.

The Palestinians did not return fire, and so the tank retreated, joined the other war machines, growled a bit more, and then, finally, the convoy left for the army base nearby.

Two houses were hit. The tank blast I witnessed tore a large hole in the wall of a home owned by a family that had just left for America that morning. It was hit just under a window, but since the house was locked, and since the Palestinian police were not deployed on top of any houses that I could see, it is hard not to conclude that the house was fired upon at random. Another home, which did have a PA police presence, was raked with machine gun fire.

So, my friends, this is a part of the Occupation that most of us know about, but is not much acknowledged in our news media. It is something that we MUST tell our friends, our workmates, our organizations, and the media.

For those of you coming in August, be reminded that you are volunteering for dangerous work, but waging peace involves risk. Talking about peace does not bring it about. Peace, like war, must be waged.

Please forward this to others, and let people know about the August campaign. We need as many volunteers as possible.

PS: Many of you have asked about what to bring in August. We are preparing a list and suggestions that should be out to you within a day.

Thom Saffold
Ann Arbor, MI USA
Free Palestine