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This Week In Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.imemc.org, for August 25th through September 1st, 2006.
In its ongoing attacks against the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army killed at least thirty civilians. The Palestinian financial crisis escalates as hundreds of unpaid PA employees warn of an open strike over overdue salaries, while Israel keeps holding the Palestinian legislators and Cabinet Ministers. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.
Weekly Update on Actions Against the Separation Wall
Let's begin our weekly report with this week's peaceful protests against the Separation Wall in the West Bank villages of Bil’in, Bethlehem and Al Khader.
Friday afternoon, the non-violent Bil’in demonstration began as it has every week for over a year and half, with around 150 Palestinians, Israelis and internationals, proceeding towards the illegal wall constructed within the legal boundaries of Bil’in's land. This week, the theme was protesting the United Nations not implementing the diction of the High Court of Justice, which ruled the Israeli Wall an illegal construction.
After the demonstrators marched towards the gate in the wall, they met a group of Israeli soldiers on the main road just a few hundred meters from the center of Bil'in, with a large tank capable of shooting liquid at high pressure.
According to eyewitnesses, Israeli troops announced through a loudspeaker that the area was a closed military zone, and began to spray the demonstrators with a mix of blue chemicals and water.
Afterwards, a line of Israeli soldiers pushed the demonstrators with their shields. One Palestinian was detained in the process and "de-arrested" by a group of Palestinians and Israelis after he was taken to the jeep.
Troops then escalated their violence and started to fire bean-bag bullets, wounding 2 Palestinians, 3 Israeli, and one international, peace activists.
Other weapons were also used, as Bil’in seems to be a testing ground for new types of weapons. One Palestinian and one Israeli were also hit with a sponge bullet, which places needles within the skin and sucks out blood. Additionally, another Palestinian was hit with a rubber bullet during today's demonstration. There were no serious injuries.
On Thursday, the Israeli army and police dismantled two structures in accordance with a court ruling issued on July 20th, to remove these two structures, which were built by settlers over a year ago. Abdullah Abu Rahme, a local organizer in Bil'in says that the removal of the structures is not sufficient.
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“The area had been planted with ancient olive trees. The court decision says that the land should go back to its previous state, demolishing the construction, removing the rubble, placing red sand and replanting it with olive trees. But even if the land was returned, this is still a huge tragedy for the owners. There are massive monetary losses, and the land is not as it was before, there are losses and damage that the owners themselves have to bear.”
Scores of local residents from the village of Al Khader, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, along with many international activists, marched on Friday, against the construction of the wall on their lands.
Right after the Friday prayers finished, people gathered and marched through the village to the construction site, five minutes away, to the east of the village. The crowd was met by Israeli soldiers and Israeli border police. Some of the demonstrators, mainly from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), managed to remove the razor wire installed to prevent the residents from entering their lands, on which the wall is being built.
Emily, an American peace activist from the International Solidarity Movement was at the scene:
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The demonstration was peaceful, the participants raised the Palestinian flag and slogans against the wall, the soldiers tried to provoke the crowed, although none of their attempts were successful.
The people moved away peacefully after two hours. Some kids tried to throw stones at the soldiers, but the local organizers stopped them. The demonstration then dispersed, and promised to come back next week.
Rachel Tomb action
Prior to the action in Al-Khader, a group of Palestinians and internationals held a protest at a small kiosk [café/small restaurant] trapped on the confiscated side of the wall in the Rachel Tomb area, at the northern entrance of Bethlehem city.
The protest was also an action of solidarity with 60-year-old Khalil Musallam, who owns the kiosk, which is the only source of income for him and his family.
The army installed a gate on Tuesday August 29th, completely closing the only passage the man uses to get to his kiosk.
The army did not allow the group to go through the gate to go to the kiosk and buy from him, however, after negotiations, they agreed that the man enter alone and bring the food out to the group.
The wall annexes the northern entrance of Bethlehem on the Israeli side and links it with Jerusalem through a road that Palestinians will not be allowed to use.
The Gaza Strip
This week, the Israeli army killed 35 civilians, 28 of them in the Gaza Strip. They included three children, a mentally disabled man, and a woman who died of wounds sustained last week. Also killed were four members of the newly formed executive force. Twenty of them were killed during a five-day invasion into Al Sheja'yah neighborhood in the north. Gaza’s death toll since the beginning of Operation Summer Rain is now 217, including 46 children. 755 have been injured, most of them civilians, 203 of them children. Four paramedics and six journalists have also been injured.
On Thursday, a group of unknown gunmen killed a leader in the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees in his car. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
After being held hostage for two weeks, the two Fox news reporters have been freed. They were released this Saturday, after being held by a previously unknown Palestinian group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigade. The group had originally threatened to kill the reporters unless the US released all its Muslim prisoners. Upon his release, one of the reporters, 60-year-old Steve Centanni said, ''I hope that this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover the story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful and kindhearted. The world needs to know more about them.''
In an ongoing attack in al-Shujeiyya neighborhood in eastern Gaza, an Israeli missile was fired at a Reuters armored jeep early on Sunday morning, seriously wounding two journalists. Although the Israeli military's spokesperson said the vehicle had not been identified by the soldiers as a press vehicle, it was clearly marked as "Press", according to the Bureau Chief of Reuters. Zuhair Saqallah, correspondent with Dubai TV, works with the injured journalists:
“Fadil Shana'ah, cameraman of Reuters, and, Sabah Meida, a cameraman of Dubai TV, were in the armored jeep of Reuters, with clear markings saying PRESS, FOREIGN PRESS, REUTERS on all sides and on top, written in large letters – it's very clear that it's press. They pulled up to the scene of the Israeli invasion, and found themselves in a dangerous spot – they backed away to about 500 meters from the tanks. After 2 to 3 minutes, a missile was fired by an Israeli plane directly at their car, penetrating the armor.
The West Bank
In the West Bank, the Israeli army killed seven civilians, including a child and an elderly man, and injured 14, of whom six were children. Three more children were attacked by Israeli settlers. The Israeli army also arrested 52 civilians. Six were children.
Two resistance fighters were killed when Israeli special units entered Balata refugee camp and opened fire. The targeted fighters escaped the bullets but were killed by an Apache missile. A third one was killed by Israeli special units in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
In another invasion into Nablus, the Israeli army surrounded and opened fire on several buildings, trapping twenty families inside, as the army partially demolished one of the buildings.
Bashar, the owner of the building that was partially destroyed, describes the invasion:
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“We do not know anything, the soldier claim there are two wanted Palestinians and they were calling on them to turn themselves in. However, there was no one there. So we told them, if you want to use us as human shields and search the building, go ahead, and if you find anybody, destroy the building on our heads. The soldiers said, no, even if we found no one, we want to demolish the building. So, the only purpose for them being there was to demolish the building. So, at 2 am, they started shooting at the residential areas demanding the residents to evacuate their homes.”
During the same invasion, a fifteen-year-old boy was killed and at least twenty were injured in clashes between stone-throwing children and the Israeli soldiers.
Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society describes the situation:
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“Clashes erupted with the occupation army, during which 18 Palestinians were wounded, most of them were below the age of 16. All of them were wounded by live ammunition, and some received more than one bullet. One was shot in the abdomen and the chest, yet he was declared dead shortly upon arriving to the hospital, as his injury was fatal.”
In a separate invasion into the old city of Nablus, the Israeli army killed a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and injured six more. Husam Jaradat, a leader of the Al Quds Brigade in Jenin, died of wounds sustained a week earlier in an assassination attempt by Israeli special units. He had been wanted by Israel for some time and had escaped five assassinations attempts before succumbing to the sixth.
Financial Crisis Escalates as PA Employees Take to the Streets
In his tour of the Middle East, Kofi Annan continued from Beirut to Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and urged Israel to stop killing Palestinians. He expressed his support to the formation of a Palestinian coalition government as the only way to lift the EU and US enforced sanctions.
Hundreds of the 165,000 government workers, who haven’t been paid since those sanctions were imposed, took to the streets this week. Some of them have received part of their salary from the EU, through the office of President Mahmoud Abbas.
At one point, Abbas met with the protestors. He urged them to return to work and let the government resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to illegally detain one third of the Palestinian parliament and cabinet ministers.
On Thursday, the Israeli military court of Ofer, near the West Bank city of Ramallah extended the detention of several Palestinian officials taken prisoner by the Israeli army over the last two months. The Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Dr. Aziz Dweik, and 18 other ministers’ trial was adjourned until September 12th.
Lebanon after the cease fire
On his first stop of the Middle East tour, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan toured the southern suburb of Beirut. He was joined by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and other Lebanese officials. The group surveyed the flattened neighborhoods and visited the UN peacekeeping forces in south Lebanon. He demanded the government put pressure on Hezbollah to release the two captured Israeli soldiers, but his demand was rejected out of hand by both main political parties, who insisted Israel come to the negotiating table.
In Israel, Annan met with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, and demanded he lift the air and sea blockade on Lebanon. Olmert refused, saying he would keep troops there until there were 15,000 UN troops in south Lebanon, as called for by UN resolution 1701. Some of these forces arrived in Lebanon this week, mainly from EU countries, as well as Malaysia and Turkey. Israel at first rejected the troops from Muslim countries, but later acquiesced.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, www.imemc.org. As always, thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is James Brownsell, Dina Awwad and Ghassan Bannoura.