Occupational Hazards

Solidarity work in Palestine

In September 2000 a new upsurge of Palestinian anger at Israel erupted in the 'Al Aqsa Intifada'. The escalation of resistance and the subsequent increase in overt Israeli military repression pushed the conflict back onto the global front pages. One response to this has been that well over a hundred Brits, many from the direct action scene, have travelled to Palestine to act in solidarity as 'human shields'. This is an interview with a recent returnee. Here we do not aim to give an understanding of the conflict itself, but instead to give some idea of what this inspiring 'on-the-ground' solidarity work has been like, along with some of its problems.

Well the first question has to be, why did you go out there?


I first became involved in anti-war activism after the September 11th attacks. In the following period it became obvious that the Americans were going to go into Iraq. The anti-war movement was showing positive growth with all sorts of people becoming involved. I then became aware of the work of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine and how Israeli dominance in the Middle East is so crucial to American strategy. ISM's work seemed something concrete you could get involved in which had a real impact on an aspect of American imperialist foreign policy, as well as getting involved in the 'human rights' side of things.

I initially went over there quite sceptical about the way that ISM worked. I wanted to see what actually happened on the ground and whether this was a valid form of activity. Having got out there, it was an interesting contrast with the sort of activism that many of us do in Britain now. In a way it's right back to the stage where you're relying on media influence and higher authorities. As an anarchist activist, working with an embassy is pretty strange. You find yourself having to telephone them in order to secure protection from the Israeli occupation forces. This is a major disruptive tactic the ISM use. It requires a shift in perspective, there are issues and contradictions with my own personal philosophy... but it must be said, it works.

Can you briefly describe what it's like in Israel and the Occupied Territories?

There's a sudden marked transition between Arabic culture in the occupied territories and Israel. To a certain extent East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian, is quite Israeli. The way people drive, what they wear, the music is Westernised. Crossing over into the West Bank or Gaza, there's a sudden change: the way people dress; the extremes of poverty. It struck me when I came out of Gaza. You leave behind a taxi service of battered Ford Escorts which are just about kept going and everything's cheap, very cheap. You then cross the border and it's Westernised: Westernised petrol stations; people paying with credit cards. There's a massive economic disparity between the two.

You notice the devastation within the Occupied Territories. Around Rafah there's rubble everywhere. In Palestine you've got 75 percent unemployment, so there are lots of people in the street. Obviously poverty is endemic. In Gaza people can grow their own food - this is one of the major things people do as there is an allotment system. But there's no work, people are running out of clothes and money. People are surviving on money they earned before the Intifada when they were able to work in the United Arab Emirates or Tel Aviv, but all that money is drying up and the economy is grinding to a halt.

It's a phenomenally lop-sided conflict where there are six Palestinians dead for every single Israeli that's been killed. It's a conflict between a population which is armed to a certain extent with AK47s, and a population which is backed by the Americans to the tune of several billion dollars a year. The Israelis totally dominate the Palestinians and the way they run their lives. I suppose I went out there with the idea that this was more of a civil war than it is.

The way I understand the conflict now, having spent some time out there, is that it is to all intents and purposes, a war of ethnic cleansing, but more subtle than that seen in the collapse of Yugoslavia. There are a variety of weapons the Israelis are using. One of them is obviously blatant physical force; helicopter gunship attacks on refugee camps, incursions, shooting youths in street clashes. Another is that Israel is doing its best to devastate any chance the Palestinians have of independent economic development. This in part is carried out through diplomacy (it was inherent in the Oslo Accords), but largely it's simply the military destroying infrastructure.

The final weapon used is psychological war. The Palestinian people live under constant threat, a fear of incursion and violent death. The role of the ISM is to resist these attacks, physically, by placing oneself as a human shield in front of the direct violence. The economic attack is difficult, but the psychological war is where I think ISM plays its greatest role. It lets the Palestinians know that internationals do know what is happening, and that to some extent their plight is being broadcast to the outside world.

It's ironic that out of the Holocaust, and the very understandable reaction to the Holocaust on the part of those survivors who went on to found Israel, you get a military state founded on an ideal of ethnic purity. All rising out of a genocide committed by the Third Reich. That was certainly one of the things that struck me about Israeli society.

Can you give us an idea of the day-to-day activities of the ISM?

The Israeli state daily bulldozes Palestinian houses in Rafah in its continuing project to bisect the city with a military wall. The void that was once homes is now a 200m free fire zone.

I worked mainly in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza strip. It's a city which has been split in half by the Israeli-Egyptian border. The Israelis are now building a huge wall right through Rafah and you have to really see this to understand what this means. This is a very old city. People have very deep roots. In building the wall, the Israelis are demolishing houses, not only for the wall, but also to clear a free fire zone 200m in front of the wall. What they do is they demolish people's houses with bulldozers; bulldozers backed up with tanks. They'll turn up at 2 am and give the family fifteen minutes to get out. They then bulldoze the house and that's it. They have actually knocked down houses and killed people before now. The family is left in a situation where the only available residence is a tent supplied by the United Nations.

Now what ISM activists do in Rafah is to sleep in threatened homes. Incursions are frequent in Rafah where the Israeli military will come in at night with tanks, seal off an area, maybe demolish some homes, arrest people, sometimes just trying to flush out the resistance, to force them to open fire. If there's an incursion, we make ourselves as clear and obvious as possible. We inform our embassies that we're there, the idea being that the embassies will contact the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and say that we are in the area and that they are risking an international incident if they kill one of us. Basically the effect is to dampen down what's going on; you can't stop it, but at least the individual family you are with have a lot more security knowing that you're there. You're not only helping that family though - you're psychologically boosting the whole neighbourhood by your presence. It's a really positive individual thing, when bullets are coming into the house, to be able to go out on the balcony and wave a white flag and say "There are internationals in this house" and have the firing stop. It does of course work on this whole racist double standard which is in place... essentially using the racist attitudes of the IOF against themselves.

Another practical example happened when I was leaving Nablus, trying to cross a checkpoint. The Occupation Forces were causing there to be a massive queue of people trying to get through the checkpoint. Remember that these checkpoints fragment the communities, cutting people off from their families and places of work, interrupting the avenues of communication within Palestinian society. What happened was that the soldiers had knocked down the only sunscreen. There were men, women and kids trying to get through the checkpoint in the blazing heat of midday and the IOF were just keeping them there. We went to stand at the back of the crowd. Women started to spill out into the road in search of shade but the soldiers came out and started shoving them back with rifles. Suddenly they saw the two of us standing there with our backpacks, and that was it. It all stopped. With friendly smiles they waved us to the front of the queue but we stood there and watched for an hour and they started processing people just like that. So there's this weird way where that sort of activism works out there in a way that it wouldn't here.

Rachel Corrie RIP

You were with Rachel Corrie when she was killed. Can you tell us what happened?

Yes, I was unfortunately a participant in the action where Rachel Corrie died. This action was routine in Rafah. The IOF will turn up without warning and, under cover of tanks, knock down a house very quickly and leave. Other times they spend the whole afternoon pushing rubble about and clearing olive groves. We'd get a phone call from someone saying that this was happening; the group would then attempt to intervene, essentially using old style EF! digger diving tactics on these bulldozers. On this occasion, two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, we went there and spent about three hours obstructing the bulldozers. It became clear to me that they didn't particularly care... they were pushing it. It did seem at times that they were backing off, but at other times being very dangerous. So it did feel like the tactics were sometimes working.

And then with Rachel, there was a bulldozer coming in a straight line towards a house, one of the houses actually that people had been sleeping in which was slated for demolition, and she moved out to confront it. As the bulldozer moved forward pushing a pile of earth in front of it, she climbed the pile of earth, very clearly visible to the driver. She slid back down the pile of earth, presumably to walk away from it. Something happened then to push her onto her face and she was run over by the blade. The bulldozer driver didn't even lift the blade, he reversed over her and reversed another 20m away. She was left just lying there and it was very obvious from the word go that something was badly wrong. She was taken away by ambulance and she died in hospital about half an hour later. This incident has obviously brought up a lot of questions about ISM and how well these human shield actions can work.

Could you say something about the resistance to the occupation coming from within the Israeli population?

There are big links being built. Netta, who's one of the founder members of ISM is an Israeli Jew and she's actually married to a Palestinian. She's really crossed a massive divide there. Israeli citizens are not even allowed into Gaza, as an example. A large number of the internationals with ISM are Jewish, coming from the US particularly, who have come to act in solidarity and say 'not in our name'. But there are Israeli peace organisations, the refuseniks, Gush Shalom, Peace Now. These organisations do co-operate with ISM but they are unfortunately a tiny minority within Israeli society. There is a group called 'Jewish Mothers Against the Occupation'; they go down in buses to the checkpoints in the West Bank on the Israeli side and harangue the soldiers in Hebrew. So there is a resistance but it's not massive.

Another issue is that ISM, probably less so now since Rachel Corrie died and Tom Hurndall's been put in a coma, could be easily infiltrated. There is no background check or anything. You'll occasionally get 'collaborator' or 'Jew' shouted at you in the street, not by many people, but there is this idea out there that internationals could be a cover for spying in the communities. Which is why as an ISMer you absolutely steer clear of finding out anything about the armed resistance. You'll possibly get people trying to tell or show you things and your response has to be, "I don't want to know... You don't know who I am". I don't want to know because we do not want to be put in the position where people think there are collaborators in the ISM. That would be very dangerous!

What is the relationship between ISM and the Palestinian Authority (PA)?

"You notice the devastation. Right round Rafah there's rubble everywhere. You've got 75 percent unemployment, so obviously poverty is pretty endemic."

There are issues about which Palestinian organisations you work with and what their ultimate aims are. The PA was put in place by the Oslo Accords as a way of running the Palestinian state. It's a Bantustan for the benefit of the Israelis. You quite often end up working with organisations like that. Really, what is waiting in the wings to take over Palestinian society is as politically suspect as the Israeli government. Although potentially it will not be as violent to its own people, there are still well corroborated reports of murder, torture and imprisonment by the PA. People are frightened of the Palestinian police and security forces. Large sections of the population have little or no faith in the PA. In the Gaza strip I got the impression that the PA were fully in control and that it was running everything, whereas in the West Bank they have far less influence. Nablus was run by a town committee, there was more autonomy. Amongst the terrible conditions, the attacks on the infrastructure etc. the town was running, all the municipal stuff was going on. It shows the potential without PA control and people are a lot less respectful of Arafat in Nablus than they are in Gaza and Rafah. So there's a potential divide there if the Palestinians ever achieve autonomy.

I have heard the PA described as Stalinists, a totalitarian system waiting in the wings. There was a definite attempt by the PA to co-opt Rachel Corrie's death for their own political agenda. One of the more distressing things in Rafah is that it's a population under siege which is not taking collective measures to defend itself. For example, if your house is demolished, the PA don't sort you out with anything. There's still a system of private landholding. It leaves a lot of people homeless with nowhere to go, there's no backup for them, except what they get through their own kinship networks. There are a lot of wealthy people in the occupied territories: you see expensive cars, there is an elite. We were taken by the PA to something like a Pizza Hut where a week's wages was spent on each of us - corrupt as fuck. Collective resistance has been actively undermined by the fact that the PA are there to reinforce existing social and economic structures.

Palestinian resistance has become increasingly aligned with Islamic fundamentalism. How does this affect the ISM?

It is an Islamic resistance now, whereas 20 to 30 years ago the socialist-based resistance was far more secular. That generation were put in a no-win situation and they failed. So now the youth have gone over to a pan-Arabic Islamic view. There is now a lot of power in the hands of Islamic Jihad. In a way it is peculiar as an international activist to be there with the background and views we're likely to have which contrast heavily with fundamentalist Islamic attitudes.

In Rafah, during the Second Intifada, one of the first things that happened, so I was told, was that all the prostitutes and drug dealers were taken out and shot in the streets. The disco and the cinemas were burnt down. So, one of the first things the Islamic groups did was to put their conservative hold on society and Rafah was already fairly conservative. There are forces there at work which are very illiberal and that sometimes generated a lot of contradictions in terms of what you were supporting and what you were doing. I think this is where ISM does well in trying to stay clear of political entanglement and to actually be involved with ordinary non-politically aligned Palestinians, although some degree of political entanglement is inevitable. You do need assistance, and various political groupings do see ISM as an advantage to themselves. The way you get around these complications is to work with individual Palestinians and report on the situation as a whole.

The Siege of The Church of the Nativity

In April of 2002, Israeli forces entered the West Bank town of Bethlehem. As the forces neared the centre of the town, approximately 150 to 200 Palestinian civilians and resistance fighters took shelter in the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be built on the site of Christ's birth. The priests within the church, from the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, and Catholic traditions, initially tried to prevent access to the church but were overwhelmed. Thus began a siege which was to last for over five weeks.

The Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) denied food and medical attention to the Palestinians within. Early unsuccessful attempts by the IOF to storm the church and routine indiscriminate sniper fire into the courtyards and windows of the church had resulted in several Palestinians inside being injured, with approximately eight fatalities. The wounded were able to leave the complex but fear of the IOF meant that only the severely wounded did so.

At the beginning of May, a group of approximately 20 International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists and affiliates succeeded in breaking IOF cordons to deliver supplies to the church. Ten of the activists including myself entered the church intending to stay for the remaining duration of the siege. We were welcomed wholeheartedly.

Approximately half the Palestinians in the church were civilians. The others either belonged to the Palestinian Authority's police and security forces or were members of resistance factions. Contrary to IOF claims, we saw no evidence that any of the Palestinians, priests, or indeed ourselves, were held against their will.

Conditions in the church were difficult but stable. The church is a large complex of churches, courtyards, offices, and priests' quarters, so space was not a problem and 'cabin fever' was to a large extent avoidable. Clean water was available; the toilet and washing facilities were sparse but well maintained and adequate. There was limited access to electricity allowing mobile phones to be charged, although the service was often turned off by the IOF. Food supplies were very low on our arrival. Food was rationed to one meal a day by a central committee, this meal consisting of half a cup of weak soup with a few lentils and pieces of pasta. Many Palestinians supplemented this with fried lemon leaves or a salty soup made of wild mustard leaves found in the courtyards. The rationing system worked well although there was some evidence of food hoarding. All the Palestinians were gaunt and weak, many were showing signs of severe malnutrition.

Nine days after we had entered, the siege eventually came to an end under the terms of an agreement brokered by US and European diplomats. Thirteen of the most wanted Palestinians would be exiled abroad, another 26 would be exiled to the Gaza strip. The remaining Palestinians would be freed after interrogation. This was widely regarded amongst the Palestinians as a failure, although relief that the siege was over was evident. All the internationals involved in the action were arrested and deported.

Our presence in the church eased the situation in a number of ways. Obviously, the delivery of food, medical aid and cigarettes was appreciated. The IOF's nightly bombardment of sound grenades ceased and sniper fire was reduced. It was clear that the morale of the Palestinians was improved by our presence, as was - we were told - the morale of their families on the outside. We were also able to use the media interest generated to draw attention to the plight of those inside and to counteract the IOF's claims about the siege. It is possible that we made the storming of the church more unlikely and had an effect on the speed and content of the agreement brokered to end the siege; however, I believe our effect on these aspects was minimal.

A major influence on the course of events was the existence of a strong support network on the outside. We were lucky to have a representative close to Arafat who was able to relay accurate information on the negotiations. We also had excellent media, moral, and legal support from individuals in Bethlehem and from networks in our home countries. Such support enabled us to weather the increasingly confusing situation towards the close of the siege as representatives of the IOF, the press, our own embassies, and the church presented us with partial and misleading information.

Is there a difference between working in Gaza and the West Bank?

All my experience is based in Gaza and the significant difference you have in Gaza compared to the West Bank is that you still have an armed population. Basically life in the West Bank is characterised by incursions, extreme violence and daily harassment. The Israeli forces are in full occupation of the West Bank. They come into the towns any time they like with virtual impunity. There the population has been progressively disarmed over the years. In Rafah, in the Gaza strip, you do have a heavily armed population - you still have a Palestinian police force that's armed, and you see Palestinian soldiers. So you have a very different situation where Israeli soldiers don't get out of their vehicles. In some ways this enhances ISM's work because one of the quickest ways of dealing with ISM activists in the West Bank is to come in and arrest and deport them, whereas they don't do that in Rafah, because they're worried the armed resistance is going to kill them. So ISM work in the West Bank largely revolves around trying to put a direct human face on to Palestinian people by confronting individual soldiers.

It's difficult to do that in Rafah. One of the tactics the Israeli army use to avoid exposing themselves on the street is they occupy a house and then blast or knock holes in the walls to the next house and then move along to the next house and occupy houses like that. They hold the families there for that reason. This is a counter-insurgency tactic which not only protects themselves but acts as part of the psychological war. The maintenance of low level terror throughout the Palestinian territories brings background stress to the people's lives.

The Desert Water War

Part of the war is about the control of water. The Gaza area is very arid with a large aquifer underneath, and the population need it to supply all their drinking water. The Gaza strip has a series of wells along the eastern side which border onto Israeli lands and hills. As the Isrealis are trying to farm the desert they have a very chemically intensive form of agriculture. As a result the aquifers are becoming more and more contaminated by surface run off. The Israeli settlements built in Gaza are directly thieving the water from the aquifer by boring their wells to 120 feet. Due to agreements made in the Oslo Accords the Gazans are only allowed to drill to 90 feet. In November 2002, the army came and bulldozed both of the main wells that supply Rafah with water and cut off water to half the population. As these wells were being rebuilt, the workers were shot at because they were right out on the edge in no-mans land, where the wells are. The Palestinian seige is implemented as much by these incremental infrastructural attacks, as it is by helicopter gunship bombardments.

What is the attitude of ISM to Palestinian violent resistance?

ISM is unequivocal about respecting the right of Palestinians to liberate themselves from the occupation in any way they see necessary. So on the armed struggle, which is a totally valid part of the Palestinian resistance, ISM has an unequivocal stance as an organisation. Within ISM, which is very diverse, there are people with a Gandhian pacifist viewpoint. While I don't think they are right, I totally respect them for being out there and putting themselves on the line. It is opening up a space for non-violent resistance to a certain extent. But there are certain specific historical circumstances in which non-violent resistance works... and today Palestine is not one of them.

In the first Intifada there was a lot more non-violent resistance. At that stage the Palestinians were in many ways the underclass of Israeli society - they were the cheap labour and when they went on strike, that had a direct impact on the Israeli economy. What has happened since - and this is really what the Oslo Accords and the current situation is about - is that Israel is going to fence the Palestinians in and eventually get rid of them. Israel is importing its own underclass, because over recent years there's been a large wave of immigration into Israel of Ethiopians, Russians and various other people with a Jewish or supposed Jewish background. They have become the replacement underclass so the Palestinians no longer have the option of non-violent resistance; their passive resistance would make no difference to how the IOF behaves towards them.

Much of the daily 'violent' resistance has to be looked at in real terms. I mean, a half brick bouncing off a vehicle designed to withstand rocket fire is a symbolic, almost non-violent act. The IOF have shown themselves time and time again quite willing to kill people for doing that. Anyone who comes away from that situation feeling that there is an avenue for genuine non-violent resistance is, I think, mistaken.

Suicide bombing only evolved in the later stages of this Intifada. It's not a historical tactic of the Palestinians. I'm still not 100 percent sure of what I think about it. I think there is a genuine issue in that the Israeli society is totally militarised - all the men do three years, the women do two, everyone is in the reserves. This underclass being imported, one of the conditions is that they serve in the forces in order to get their citizenship. This throws up the interesting issue of the stratification of Israeli society itself to the extent that it isn't the Zion which was dreamed of in the '20s and '30s. It is a phenomenally militarised society and a very stratified one. The bulldozer driver and the tank crew who were present at the incident when Rachel was killed were Russians. The Ashkanasi and Sephardic Jews who were the founders of the country - their children don't tend to end up in the combat zones, so essentially you've got one underclass being pitted against another, in the classic mould.

So you have this very militarised society and then you get on a bus in Israel and there's a good chance that two thirds of the passengers will be soldiers in uniform with weapons. So in a way that gives a lot more understanding about what this tactic's all about. I'm not saying I endorse it, or approve of it. Some of it just seems pointless folly; I mean, three Islamic Jihad militants blew themselves up on a roadblock separating Rafah from Gaza and wounded two soldiers. It seems, you know, a bit of a dead end route to go down. However, as I've said before, ISM respects the right of the Palestinians to resist the occupation in any way they deem necessary.

What is the future of ISM?

Now is a very challenging time for the ISM. In a way the bluff has been called. For a long time it was a game of "We can do this because you can't kill us", because the media backlash and the international pressure would be so intense. Rachel Corrie's death was not an accident. The driver deliberately killed Rachel, yet it probably wasn't planned from up high. Suddenly it landed in the lap of the state command; "Right, we've killed one of them now, what's going to happen?" I think they were quite encouraged by the response. There was some media attention in the US, but the US embassy turned around and fucked her off and her parents by accepting the IOF's interpretation of events. They claim a paving slab fell on her head while she was on open ground, coupled with the accusation that ISM members on the scene moved her body in order to incriminate the bulldozer driver, which is totally insane. The US embassy publicly swallowed that, so I think the IOF are quite encouraged. Having pushed it to that point, they found out that, in fact, not a lot happened. Then three weeks later Tom Hurndall, (an activist from Manchester), gets shot in a far more premeditated way, very obviously shot by a sniper from 300m away. The question is, is there enough international pressure being generated to stop it happening again? The ISM is going to have to consider how to work now if it's not as effective a human shield as it was.

Obviously it's impossible to look into the future clearly, especially in such a complex situation as Palestine. Nevertheless could you give us some of your views on the near future?

Well, this new Prime Minister, a Harvard educated millionaire, fits in well with the phenomenon of neo-liberalism. Gaza's only resource is people who are willing to work for 10 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) a day. There's 75 percent unemployment. So will Gaza become a neo-liberal colony, a sweatshop? Or will they be kept in a situation of total economic depravation in order to secure ethnic cleansing? It'll be interesting to see what happens over the next few years as a guide to the forces we are confronting; what their aims are.

The Jews are fairly unique in history in having maintained a cultural identity for 2,000 years without having a homeland. But now the Zionists are staking the whole of it on the continuance of American hegemony, which may last for another 100 years, but not forever. The reason they are able to behave as they do is because they've got the backing of a major superpower. They will have created so much hatred that should the Americans desert Israel at any stage, they would be wiped out. The nuclear option however is the dominating factor. Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and this is its insurance. Quite what life would be like in Israel if the US deserted it and they were forced to rely on the nuclear retaliation option... It doesn't bear thinking about really. But it's also very much a question of what the Palestinians do to resist the occupation. I actually met a number of Palestinians who weren't in favour of resisting the occupation, who believed that the only hope for the Palestinian people lay in a pan-Arabic struggle. They thought that really it was pointless for the Palestinians to continue to provoke the Israelis. I encountered an awful lot of resignation to what was going on, people hoping it will one day end, but seeing no way out of it. Nobody had any confidence in the new Prime Minister, the 'roadmap to peace', or any benevolent intervention in the situation. The only people I heard speaking with hope were people who hoped for some sort of pan-Islamic resistance that would crush Israel.

Are there lessons that can be learned from ISM's activities which apply to other struggles?

There are places in the world where ISM couldn't intervene. An accusation often made by the Israelis against the ISM is that there are other struggles - by picking this one we must have a particular gripe against Israel as opposed to any other state that is committing atrocities. Well, the answer to this is that Israel is trying to pretend to be a democracy. ISM can work because Israel is actually concerned to some extent about what the world thinks of it and also about the potential for resistance in the US. The US subsidy to Israel could be influenced by bad publicity. So you're in a situation where if you tried to do ISM stuff in, say, Chechnya, you would simply be killed or immediately removed from the area. That does have to be emphasised.

However where the tactic is applicable it can be very effective. Elsewhere I have seen it really work in Chiapas in Mexico, where once again people are exploiting a racist double standard. By virtue of our passports and nationalities we have a certain degree of protection from the violence some states can hand out. Where applicable, that anomaly is one of the weapons we can use in international solidarity..

http://www.palsolidarity.org/ (ISM)

Further Reading

'Behind the 21st Century Intifada' in Aufheben No. 10. http://www.geocities.com/aufheben2/: Even though we are not in total agreement, we highly recommend this historical analysis from fellow Brightonians: "Both forms of nationalism, Zionist and Palestinian, arose out of the need to recuperate and repress the combativity of the proletariat."

'Anti-Semitism and the Beirut Pogrom' by Fredy Perlman, in Anything Can Happen (ISBN 0948984228): "The problem of freedom is always present: one might learn from the pogroms to resist or flee, or be brutalised enough to become a pogromist oneself."

Nablus 2002: Life Under Curfew

For much of 2002 Nablus was under 24 hour military curfew. Palestinians were not allowed to walk in the streets, shops remained closed and the city ground to a halt. Only ambulances and a few municipal vehicles were allowed on the streets. Nablus was dotted with checkpoints while tanks and armoured jeeps patrolled the streets.

The only internationals in Nablus at this time were from the ISM and a few affiliated groups. Very occasionally a Red Cross or UN vehicle would be seen in the city. No international press were present although there was a local Al-Jazeera film crew. It was clear that we were the only international witnesses to events in Nablus under curfew. Typical ISM activities in Nablus included:

Protecting homes
Many homes were under threat as part of Israel's 'Collective Punishment' policy where the family homes of resistance fighters are demolished. ISM activists would live with the families in these homes. It was hoped that their presence would deter the IOF from demolishing the house, although it was made clear that there could be no assurances of success. If the IOF arrived intent on a demolition, ISMers would try and negotiate more time. It was clear that these families felt safer in the presence of internationals.
Maintaining a street level presence
Everyday, the mobile units would be in 'conflict' with the street children. Stones versus armoured vehicles. Live rounds were the norm. Maintaining a street presence is important as it can moderate IOF behaviour. Care was taken to choose a place which was clearly visible to the IOF, out of the line of fire, and not too near to the children as this tended to make them show off and take greater risks, especially in the presence of cameras. Earlier attempts to be more proactive by preventing the IOF from having clear line of sight were not welcomed by the children, as it interfered with their stone throwing. Also, care had to be taken not to get in between the IOF and the resistance groups who would occasionally become involved.
Checkpoint watch
This would mainly involve observing the IOF in the hope that this would make them moderate their behaviour. Occasionally people would intervene if Palestinians were refused passage, however, care had to be taken as often intervention can make the situation worse. Getting to know a group of soldiers on a checkpoint proved to be an effective tactic. They would find it harder to behave intolerably in front of us and were more often swayed by intervention.
Accompanying ambulances
Ambulances are occasionally fired on by the IOF and are often refused passage or delayed. The presence of internationals has at times had a positive effect. However, this varies over time and from region to region, so this tactic was not always used. Negative effects have been reported, such as the possibility of developing a dependence upon internationals and an increase in IOF annoyance, causing more hindrance.
Occupied house visits
The IOF would frequently occupy houses. This could last for anything from a few hours to months. In most cases the family were imprisoned in part of the house. The behaviour of the troops towards the families varied a great deal. Internationals would attempt to take food to the families and remain in contact with them. We were often denied access.
Accompanying demonstrations
Accompanying, and occasionally organising, demonstrations. Although such demonstrations have little or no effect on the IOF's behaviour, Al-Jazeera would often cover the event and the effect on the morale, particularly the children's, was noticeable. It was, for many Palestinians, the only time they felt free to walk through their streets.
Accompanying Palestinians
At times, individuals would request accompaniment to cross Nablus or specifically ask us to run errands.
Roadblock removal
Occasionally activists would act alone or at the request of Palestinians to remove a roadblock, or at least make it passable to traffic.
Media work
ISM is often successful at getting first hand reports of life in Palestine into the Western media. This is an important part of ISM's work, but there is a clear division amongst activists between those who saw it as their primary role, and those who saw it as a side effect of their other activities. This is not an academic issue as it directly affected the kinds of action considered, and also, in my opinion, caused many to be over-sensitive as to how ISM is perceived.

This site has been created as a permanent archive of Do or Die magazine. It is not maintained by the erstwhile editors of Do or Die so please do not try to contact them through us. The original Do or Die site, which has not been updated for over 7 years, is currently still available though all content from the old site is also available here.