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This Week In Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, imemc.org, for the week of August 11 through August, 18, 2006.
Lebanese families return to their devastated villages following a UN brokered ceasefire. The Israeli army continues its attacks on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, killing six. President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh agree to form a national unity government. And Palestinian infighting leaves one dead in the Gaza Strip. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.
Anti Wall Actions
Let’s begin our weekly report with weekly actions against the wall, in the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Al Khader.
Scores of Palestinian residents of Al-Khader village near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, supported by international and Israeli peace activists marched to protest the apartheid wall that is being built on the village land.
The demonstration began at around 1:30 p.m. following the Friday prayer, with peaceful chanting from the protestors, calling on the international community to join them in the non-violent resistance against the wall, the Israeli state, and construction companies that are building the wall. A significant feature of today’s demonstration was the protestor’s idea to make kites and fly them near the construction site of the wall.
Bassam Ghneim, one of the local organizers who was in the protest said they are persistent to continue protesting until the wall is removed.
“This demonstration is organized in protest against the Apartheid wall that is being built on the land of Al-Khader village. This has become a weekly activity started three months ago. As you see, there is a large Israeli force that is preventing us from coming close to the construction site and we will continue with these protests until we are able to remove this apartheid wall that is separating us from around 20 thousand dunams of our land.”
While the kids started building the kites, the army formed a line to prevent the demonstration from proceeding forward. The children present at the demonstration contributed to the nonviolent resistance struggle by painting slogans for peace and justice on the kites.
And in Bil’in Today, August 18, the Israeli army and Border Police once again tried to prevent the weekly non-violent demonstration in Bil’in using force, despite a military court decision in August 2005 that people in Bil’in have the right to protest on their land on the village-side of the wall.
The International Solidarity Movement activists who were present at the demonstration said that before the demonstration even began, army and Border Police were already positioned within the village, that is, on the village-side of the wall.
This week’s demonstration saw a new addition to the army’s battery of weaponry used against non-violent demonstrators; the water canon. Water was fired from the canon at the demonstrators, totally unprovoked, as soon as they were within range of the massive white tank. The water was a bright blue, and it is unknown whether the blue color reflected the presence of a harmful chemical. Many demonstrators were soaked by the canon, dying their hair, clothes and skin, and most of them reported subsequent burning and irritation of the skin.
Tear gas was also used against the demonstrators as soon as the water canon was engaged, so it is unclear whether the burning was from gas being absorbed into the wet skin and clothing, or whether the water itself contained a chemical. Regardless, the message from the Israeli army was clear: non-violent protest will not be tolerated and will be met by increasing displays of force.
The theme of this week’s demonstration was the continuity of the resistance in Bil’in, and the villagers and activists steadfastly carried the message "You Cannot Break Our Spirit." The Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements has organized weekly demonstrations since January 2005 against the wall and against the illegal confiscation of 60% of their farmland, and will steadfastly continue with their weekly demonstrations despite the army’s apparent intent to forcefully prevent them.
Attack on the West Bank & the Gaza Strip
Israeli air strikes and shelling left five dead in the Gaza Strip this week, including a child, an elderly man, and a resistance fighter. Gaza’s death toll since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Summer Rains on June 25 has now reached 187. 43 children and 10 women are among the dead. 715 people have been injured, mostly civilians, including 194 children, 26 women, 4 paramedics and 4 journalists.
In Palestine, phone calls from the Israeli military have become commonplace.
Mohamed Judeh received such a call just before his home was demolished on Tuesday,
I received a call from a soldier saying "We aren’t playing with you, we aren’t joking. I am in the plane above you, leave your house now, because we are about to shell it." So my family and I went outside our house, and before we even reached our outside gate, our house was shelled by the Israeli airplane. Eleven of my family are injured…and my house is now rubble – my mother lost both of her eyes. My daughter was injured in her hand, head and abdomen. Seventeen of our neighbors were also injured by the strike. They didn’t give any reason – the soldier didn’t say why they are shelling, he just said "Leave the house now, we are going to shell it." – that’s the only thing the Occupation army tells us.
Rafah Crossing Point, the only gateway for Palestinians in Gaza to travel internationally, has been closed now for over two months. Third-party European observers normally present at the crossing point have been locked out of their jobs by Israeli troops. Israel has lifted the closure several times for short periods, but thousands remain stranded on the Egyptian side of the border, subjected to unsanitary conditions and inadequate food and water. Despite the efforts of the Red Cross, seven have died waiting to be let back into Gaza, including an eighteen-month-old baby, a fifteen-year-old boy with a heart malfunction, and an elderly man.
In the West Bank, the Israeli army invaded Askar refugee camp near Nablus, arrested three brothers from one family and demolished their home. An elderly woman died of heart attack when Israeli troops fired tear gas at her. Another resident died of wounds sustained a month earlier during an invasion into Jenin refugee camp that left two Palestinians dead and eighteen injured.
Israeli troops invaded several areas in the West Bank and injured thirteen people, among them eight children, a woman, and an Israeli peace activist who was shot in the head during a peaceful protest in Bil’in village. At least fifty residents were taken as prisoners during the invasions, including five children and two women.
Chaos is back in Gaza, and Abbas meets Haniyeh
Infighting erupted this week in Gaza when a new armed force created by Palestinian Interior Minister Sa’eed Syam clashed with armed supporters of Fatah. A child was killed and six individuals were injured. Just two days prior, a Palestinian official associated with Fatah had been killed.
Meanwhile, two journalists working for Fox News, an American and a New-Zealander, were kidnapped by unknown Palestinian group.
And President Mahmoud Abbas met with Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh this week to discuss the possibility of establishing a national unity government and a long-term truce between Palestinian factions. The formation of a national government was originally called for by the national reconciliation document penned by imprisoned political leaders in Israeli jails. Haniyeh insisted that the new government would only be formed after the blockade by Israel was lifted and the over 80 legislators and ministers abducted by Israel had been released.
Meanwhile, leaders of Palestinian factions in Gaza gave their initial conditional approval to an agreement for a truce with Israel. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine still express misgivings.
Attack on Lebanon
And finally, let’s move Lebanon, where a tentative ceasefire has been established after one month of Israeli bombing devastated the country, killing over 1200 Lebanese, nearly all of them civilians, displacing one million, or 25% of the country’s population, and destroying entire villages and the country’s infrastructure. 157 Israeli citizens were also killed many of whom were Palestinians, 118 of Israeli casualties were soldiers, and many civilians in northern Israel lived in shelters during the war.
The ceasefire came after the UN voted for resolution 1701, which called for the cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from south Lebanon, the disarmament of Hezbollah and the deployment of UN and Lebanese forces in south Lebanon. It also calls for a solution on the Shebaa Farms, an area of Lebanon that has been occupied by Israel since 1979, and for Israel to hand over the maps of the 400,000 land mines it scattered across south Lebanon during is 22-year occupation of the country.
Many in Lebanon balked at the language of resolution 1701, which called on Hezbollah to cease "all attacks" while asking Israel to stop only its "offensive military operations." However, Israel maintains that it fought this entire war defensively and has vocally reserved the right to continue bombing Lebanon, and to occupy the country, until an international force, also called for by the resolution, arrives.
Israeli military censorship of all media that has been covering the Israel-Lebanon conflict has been a major factor in the way this war is being presented to the world. Restrictions include reporting on Israeli casualties, reporting the locations of Hezbollah rocket strikes, reporting of any rockets fired by Hezbollah into the Mediterranean Sea, and the fact that all reports must be approved by the Israeli military censor’s office before they are released. This may have skewed international perceptions about the war.
International news agencies reporting from Israel all agreed to the Israeli military censor’s restrictions, and, for that reason, local reporters have argued that international audiences may not be getting the full picture. Jonathan Cook, a British journalist and political analyst in Israel:
<Actuality 41 sec>
Displaced Lebanese began to return en masse to their destroyed villages as soon as the ceasefire went into effect, despite government warnings of unexploded Israeli bombs and the Israeli military’s threats to attack moving vehicles.
Among the Israeli public, there is widespread criticism of the Israeli military’s performance in the war, regarding the attacks against civilians. Mohammad Baraka, Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament said Israel intentionally involved civilians in this war.
<Actuality 25 sec>
“The Israeli government decided to involve civilians in this war in an unprecedented way. As a matter of act, around 1 million Lebanese had to flee their homes and become refugees, and at least 1200 Lebanese civilians were killed as a result of the Israeli aggression. There is also a total damage to the infrastructure in Lebanon. Therefore, it is evident that Israel is the one who decided to target civilians in this war.”
Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said the withdrawal from Lebanon would take months. But as thousands of displaced Lebanese returned to their villages many Israeli troops had already fled. While Israel had claimed it had up to 30,000 soldiers in Lebanon, veteran reporter Robert Fisk wondered upon visiting the south if there had been more than 1,000.
Apparently, the Lebanese and Israeli territories were not the only battle field of this war. The war was also fought on the internet, with battles raging on forums, blogs and email. Nigel Parry is with the Electronic Intifada website:
Meanwhile in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad praised Hezbollah and said resistance is the only way to peace. He warned there would be no peace in the Middle East until Israel withdraws from land it occupies in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. He also criticized the United States for its involvement in Israeli wars of aggression.
Assad’s speech was strongly criticized by some Lebanese leaders, including Sa’ad Al-Hariri leader of the majority bloc in the parliament, son of the slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and Walid Junblat, a Lebanese Druze leader.
Junblat has also criticized Hezbollah for not consulting with Lebanese People before going to war with Israel.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, imemc.org. As always, thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Nicolas Bilnco & Melissa Simpson and Ghassan Bannoura