Friday, May 09, 2003

Beit Sahour

Today, Friday May 9th at 12.30 p.m., more than 20 Israeli military vehicles drew up outside the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in Beit Sahour. Dozens of border guards, soldiers, and intelligence officers poured out of these vehicles and raided those offices. They took computers, discs, papers, every piece of data they could lay their hands on. They also arrested the three women who were in the office at the time. One, a Palestinian, works for the Palestinian peace organisation “Rapprochement”, whose offices ISM share. She has since been released. The other two women, internationals both, are still being held pending their deportation. One volunteers for ISM while the other works for Human Rights Watch and is in Palestine doing research on home demolitions. She was unfortunate enough to have been visiting the ISM offices at the time of the raid. In bare numbers, the loss to the organisation is 6 desktop computers, 3 laptops and countless discs. $10,000 and more than two years work. They don’t expect to ever have the computers returned to them. George, the Palestinian coordinator in Beit Sahour, told me that the information is of no value to the Israelis, but of course the loss of their office will have a temporarily paralysing effect on the organisation in the Territories. He affirmed that they will not stop working to observe and prevent army atrocities.

How is it that ISM, an organisation with 60 people currently volunteering in the Occupied Territories has managed to invoke such fear in the Israelis? What exactly are they afraid of? In less than two years of its presence here, the movement has welcomed over 1000 internationals from all over the world. From the USA, the UK, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, amongst others. 15-20% of the volunteers have been Jewish. The average age is over 30 – many are over 50 and there have even been volunteers in their 70s. They come from all walks of life, and come to support justice. Israelis too, have worked with ISM and have faced the same levels of violence from soldiers and settlers. It is this disparate collection of concerned individuals who have caused such consternation in the corridors of power in Tel Aviv.

Daily news comes in confirming the suspicion that the Israeli authorities want no more foreign witnesses to their actions in the Occupied Palestine. Yesterday a new policy went into effect that all foreigners entering the Gaza Strip must sign a waiver to absolve the Israeli army of any responsibility should they be killed or wounded while there. In effect giving the Israelis permission to shoot them. Three foreigners have been killed or critically injured by the Israeli army in the last two months. Now if we wish to go there we have to sign a piece of paper allowing the army to kill us. Of course the vast majority of foreigners entering the Territories are UN or NGO relief workers, teachers and journalists. One wonders how long before this policy goes into effect for the West Bank too, and how many of those relief workers and university teachers will decide to leave rather than give the army carte blanche to target them.

It seems difficult to escape the conclusion that the Israeli government is scared of non-violent resistance. Scared of witnesses to their crimes. Speaking to ISM representatives in Jenin and Beit Sahour itself this evening has been fascinating. Obviously downcast by the Israeli actions, they are still able to see the positive side of this development. Yousef, the Palestinian coordinator based in Jenin, is hopeful that this may result in a positive shift in Palestinian thinking towards the option of active non-violent resistance. After all if such a small organisation can have such a big effect, and can cause such disquiet in the higher ranks of the Israeli government, it must be doing something right. “Why?” Yousef asked me this evening, “Why are they afraid of peaceful resistance? We are not fighting, we are just writing”.

60 International observers and 10 Palestinian coordinators have scared the world’s 4th most powerful army into taking draconian measures to try and stop them. It’s a testimony to the effectiveness of their work. They will keep coming.

[Published on alternet.org at http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15868 ]

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