Newsreport from Gush Shalom 1/6 2002
We just got a call from Neta Golan, who is at Nablus’ Balata Refugee Camp, right now invaded – once again.
Neta is the Israeli member in a group of some twenty international peace activists – from such countries as the United States, Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Australia, France and Japan. After having succeeded in slipping into the country – dozens of “humanitarian tourists” are being turned back at the airport – they also managed this afternoon to make their way into Nablus. Inhabitants pointed out paths through the hills, avoiding the numerous military roadblocks. At one point a tank shot a heavy burst of machine-gun fire, true in front of rather then directly at them but still a highly unpleasant experience. Just before darkness they found roundabout ways to get into Balata, were warmly welcomed by inhabitants and divided into smaller groups which went into individual houses, where they stay at present and from where they send out their reports.
Upon their arrival they found Balata inhabited almost solely by women, young children and very old men. Males between the ages of thirteen and sixty had been rounded up in the early morning, handcuffed and blindfolded and taken off to a detention center set up at Hawara on the outskirts of Nablus. Some were released but told not to come back to Balata for the next three days; others are still in detention. The number of detainees is not clear, but seems to be at least a thousand and possibly much higher. Several Balata houses were demolished – it is not known how many, nor if they were destroyed in deliberated retribution against their inhabitants or as a side-effect of tanks making their way through narrow alleys (both happened in the course of previous incursions).
At the moment, Neta and several other women – among them Starhawk, a well-known activist from the US West Coast – are in a house where there is a mentally- handicapped man. If soldiers break into the house, the internationals will try to reason with them and expplain the situation. (Encounters of soldiers with mentally-handicapped Palestinians often lead to misunderstandings, which on a number of occasions had fatal consequences.)
Another group of internationals is located at Nablus’ Rapidiya Hospital. Brian, one of them, told us of a tank and two APC’s stationed at the entrance and of ambulances being subjected to such thorough searches as to make it practically impossible to reach in time people needing medical help. The questioning of ambulance crews by the soldiers – asking detailed questions about the number of hospital stuff and the building’s layout – may indicate the army’s intention to break in. In that case, the internationals intend to involve themselves in negotiations and hope that their presence will have influence on the soldiers’ behaviour.
Meanwhile, the media is full of reports of an intensive diplomatic activity, of American and other international envoys arriving in the region. The Palestinian Authority is reportedly asked to implement a whole set of reforms, leading to democracy, tranparency and the creation of strong and unified security services. All this seems rather divorced from tonight’s reality in Nablus and Balata Camp, the reality of an occupation restored and reinforced at its most brutal.
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesperson: +972-3-5565804 / +972-56-709603