Saturday, October 31, 2009

Harvesting in death zone, with a song

Eva Bartlett | Inter Press Service
30 October 2009
On a quiet October morning, Fida Zaneen, 19, sings a traditional love song as she pulls olives from trees in Beit Hanoun’s border region during the annual olive harvest.
“My grandmother taught me the folk songs. They were popular all over Palestine many decades ago.”
Saber Zaneen, 44, and Khalil Nassir, 45, alternately belt out traditional harvest songs as they, too, strip the limbs of the green and black fruit in the northern Gaza region.
Keeping Palestinian culture alive is one of the mandates of Local Initiative, a Beit Hanoun-based volunteer group comprising many youths and women, and of which Fida Zaneen is a member. At group events, participants often sport traditional robes and Palestinian kuffiyehs, and dance dabke to hand-drums and singing from the group.
Formed in September 2007, Local Initiative has a number of other mandates: promoting volunteerism; reaching out to marginalised families living in the regions along the Green Line border between Israel and Gaza; giving psycho- social support to children scarred by Israeli military attacks and shooting; financially assisting children with martyred parents; and improving the role of women and youth in society.
Saber Zaneen, one of the original seven founders and now the general coordinator, elaborates on the group’s objectives.
“The border areas are very dangerous and difficult areas for families and farmers to live and work in, due to Israeli shooting and shelling at any Palestinians in the area. We are trying to support those people who choose to remain on their land.” Farmers in the north and eastern Beit Hanoun buffer zone region have reason to feel threatened: of the eight Palestinians killed and over 33 injured in the buffer zone since the Jan. 18 ceasefire, three of the killed (all children) and 12 of the injured (including six children) were attacked in the northern and eastern border regions.
The region, dubbed the “buffer zone”, is an Israeli-imposed no-go zone which encompasses approximately 30 percent of Gaza’s most fertile agricultural land, ranging from off-limits land between 300 metres wide to up to two kilometres wide in some areas. According to Israeli authorities, anyone entering that area is subject to being shot by the Israeli army.
It is in the knowledge that farmers struggle not only to access their land but also to bring water to it, that Local Initiative volunteers accompany farmers to do the simplest of things: water their land, check on their bees, re-plant Israeli-bulldozed trees.
“During the war, Israeli soldiers destroyed almost all of the water wells and pumps in this area,” says Zaneen of the razed land east of Beit Hanoun. “We sometimes accompany farmers to bring water to their land. We’d like to see the wells and pumps repaired and farmers working their land without fear of being shot.”
Local Initiative uses direct action against what they see as Israel’s policies of collective punishment of Gaza’s Palestinians. To highlight the issues and increase solidarity among buffer zone inhabitants, the group leads non- violent demonstrations and holds events in the buffer zone region.
Some of the demonstrations have been near the Erez checkpoint, along with other NGOs and local groups, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza, imposed since shortly after Hamas was elected in early 2006, but tightening more and more severely since June 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza.
Zaneen speaks of the impetus to set up the group. “It was after the Israeli army had on two different days shelled groups of children in Beit Hanoun in 2007. I saw tiny body parts all over the ground. It was the hardest thing I’d seen.”
The first incident Zaneen refers to occurred on Aug. 21 2007 when Abdul Khader Ashoor, 13, and Fadi Kafarna, 11, were targeted by an Israeli missile. Testimony given by a child injured in the shelling to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) notes that the boys were going to pick fruit in an area where a homemade rocket launcher stand stood when they were struck by the missile.
Eight days later, three children from the Abu Ghazala family were likewise killed by an Israeli ground to ground missile. PCHR reports that Mahmoud, 8, Sara, 9, and Yehya, 12, were herding sheep roughly two kilometres from the border fence when hit by the missile and that, while 40m from a homemade rocket launching stand, there were no resistance activists in the area at the time.
In September 2007, after recruiting concerned Beit Hanoun residents, the seven volunteers met for the first time as Local Initiative. Since then, the group has blossomed, now comprising roughly 20 female volunteers and 30 males. The ages range from teenage to parents.
Fida Zaneen studies engineering at university. She is fluent in English and often acts as translator for visiting international delegations and journalists, at the same time joining in the non-violent demonstrations.
Ibrahim Kaloub, 17, one of the younger volunteers, documents their activities. A compilation video shows psycho-social activities with clowns visiting the border region families, demonstrations in the “buffer zone”, celebrating Palestinian Land Day, harvesting olives in 2008, and Israeli tanks and military bulldozer incursions along the border regions.
During the first ten days of October, Local Initiative volunteers assisted in the olive harvest on five border area farms. Mohammed Zaneen lives to the east of Beit Hanoun. Over the years of numerous Israeli invasions, the family has lost their ten dunams (one dunam is 1,000 square metres) of olive trees to Israeli bulldozers, leaving just 18 trees as their source of olives and oil.
Zaneen says that in eight days of harvest work, they harvested over 100 trees in border areas north and east of Beit Hanoun, but that the harvest was a meagre one. He cites natural biennial decreases in olive production as one reason for this year’s poor harvest, but says the most significant factor was the Israeli bulldozing of hundreds of olive trees in the border areas – an estimated 90 percent of the trees – during the Israeli massacre of Gaza last winter.
With the choking siege on Gaza, unemployment couples with soaring prices to render simple existence a daily challenge for the 90 percent of Gaza’s population who live in extreme poverty.
Zaneen knows the region and is acutely aware of the most impoverished families, including children orphaned by one or both parents. In dire cases, he seeks financial aid from local and international supporters.
Khalil Nassir, 45, is another of the original founders. During the Israeli winter massacre of Gaza, Nassir volunteered as a medic in the region.
Mahmoud Billih, 17, is always in the front line of any demonstration. He, too, has been a Local Initiative member since the beginning.
He recalls the day Local Initiative and international activists brought a martyr’s corpse from the buffer zone east of Beit Hanoun. “This was a very important act. His family had no idea if he was alive of not. When his father was able to lay his son to rest, he too could rest.”
Gassem Kafarni, 23, an engineer, and another of the original members remembers: “Saber (Zaneen) said, ‘we need volunteers who are willing to risk their lives while helping families live on their land.’ I was willing.”
Kafarni speaks of the families Local Initiative used to visit, before their homes were destroyed during the last Israeli massacre.
“We used to visit around 13 families who lived in very hard conditions. They all lived close to the border fence and had many problems from the Israeli soldiers. No other groups visited them; they were given the UN dry food aid but otherwise were completely ignored. We’d go, bring the children toys, and play games with them. They were always very happy for our visits. But now their houses are gone.”
Shabaan Garmut, 60, is among the families who had a home next to the border fence. “There was always Israeli soldier shooting,” says Kafarni. “Eventually Garmut told his family to go live elsewhere, for their safety. But he stayed in the house.”
Kafarni says that the Israeli soldiers would prevent Garmut from reaching his water well, thereby preventing him from watering his three dunams of olive and lemon trees.
“We organised solidarity marches to his land, brought many journalists filming live so that the Israeli soldiers would not shoot too closely. We also brought new trees and planted them to replace trees the Israelis had bulldozed.”
With the Israeli massacre of Gaza, Garmut’s house was destroyed and his land razed.
Saber Zaneen says that approximately 80 houses were demolished in the buffer zone area to the north and east of Beit Hannoun – rendering at least 400 residents homeless.
Following the attacks, the Initiative organised short-term emergency medical training courses for farmers and civilians in the border regions, to better enable them to work and live on the land, but prepared for Israeli attacks.
The volunteers also engage in activities for traumatised children. In June 2009, Local Initiative held a ‘let me play freely’ day of kite-flying in the border region, involving also children with special needs and physically challenged children. Amal Nassir, 21, is a social worker and one of the original seven founders. “I’m not afraid to go in the border areas,” she says, despite the reality of Israeli soldiers’ shooting. “The hardest thing for me is to hear the children speak of their experiences and suffering during the last war.”
For Fida Zaneen and Nassir, being female does not limit their participation. “We are equal; we can do any of the work the men are doing, nothing is off- limits,” says Nassir.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shot after photographing the Gaza sea

Electronic Intifada: 28 October 2009

Ashraf Abu Suleiman (Eva Bartlett)
On 4 October, Ashraf Abu Suleiman, a 16-year-old from Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, went to the northwest coast town of Sudaniya to visit an ill school friend. The teen then went to the sea, where he rolled up the legs of his pants, waded into the water and enjoyed the late summer morning. He took some photos of the sea and of the area around him, intending to play with the photos later on Photoshop, a hobby he and his father share.
Minutes later, Ashraf was running in blind terror as Israeli soldiers in a gunboat off the coast began shooting at Palestinian fishermen. He was hit by an Israeli soldier’s bullet which bore through his neck and grazed his vertebrae, fracturing C-4 and C-5, leaving him bleeding on the ground and unable to stand up.
“They were shooting at Palestinian fishermen in hassakas [small fishing vessels],” he said of the Israeli soldiers in the gunboat. “Some of the bullets were hitting near where I stood. I started to run north. I didn’t think about where to run, I just ran.”
He estimates he ran for a few minutes, soon approaching the northern border before an Israeli soldier’s voice shouted over a megaphone for him to stop. Seeing an Israeli military vehicle in the distance ahead, Ashraf was afraid that the soldiers north of him would start shooting. He kept running, hoping to take cover behind a low hill nearby.
Then he was grounded, one of the bullets hitting him in the neck.
The Ma’an news agency reported, “an Israeli military spokeswoman says soldiers identified a ’suspicious Palestinian man’ approaching the border fence, and fired warning shots in the air. After the Palestinian ignored warning shots, the spokeswoman said, the army fired at and lightly injured him.”
At least eight Palestinians have been killed and at least 33 injured in the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” along Gaza’s border since the 18 January ceasefire. Three of the killed and 12 of the injured were minors, including many children.
The “buffer zone” was imposed by Israeli authorities about a decade ago, initially at 150 meters and now while Israeli authorities say the no-go zone runs 300 metres from the boundary between Gaza and Israel, it ranges up to two kilometers in some areas. The buffer zone renders off-limits approximately 30 percent of Gaza’s most fertile agricultural land, as well as the land adjacent to it. Israeli authorities warn that anyone entering that area is subject to being shot by the Israeli army.
“I don’t know how close I was, maybe less than 400 meters from the fence,” Ashraf said.
Three Israeli soldiers approached him on foot, Ashraf explained. “An Israeli soldier kicked me in the mouth and told me to stand up. I couldn’t, my legs wouldn’t move.”
According to Ashraf, an Israeli soldier dragged him by his arms over the rough ground. After another kick to the face, he was put on a stretcher and carried across the northern border to a waiting Israeli jeep.
After they checked his identity via computer, Ashraf said that the Israeli soldiers told him: “You’re 16 years and one month old. You’re a student.” Although the soldiers realized that he was harmless, they continued to treat him with contempt.
“They put me in a jeep and we drove for a while, maybe 20 minutes, I don’t know exactly. Then they transferred me to an Apache helicopter and flew me to a military base near Erez. I don’t know the name but I know it wasn’t so far from Erez. There was a small clinic there where they gave me a little first aid,” he said, recalling that this treatment was at least 30 minutes after his injury.
“They put some gauze and bandaging on my neck wound,” Ashraf said. He then was made to wait as a Palestinian medic negotiated his return to a Gaza hospital.
Hassam Ghrenam, a Palestine Red Crescent Society medic and ambulance driver, had approval to cross into Israel for two medical cases unrelated to Ashraf. While on the Israeli side, Ghrenam saw Ashraf and requested to take him back to Gaza.
Ashraf explained that Ghrenam wanted to bring three other men, to transfer him carefully as medical procedure dictates. The Israeli soldiers refused the request and Ashraf had to wait for more than an hour until the soldiers finally relented.
“There were maybe 30 Israeli soldiers around us. The ambulance driver kept saying, ‘he’s critical, very critical, take him to Israel,’ but the soldiers just pointed their guns at him and did nothing,” Ashraf explained.
Ghrenam noted that there was blood and signs that Ashraf was beaten or kicked in the face. According to Ghrenam, “The Israelis only put a bandage on his wound, no neck collar, no proper treatment. I immediately put a neck collar on him. Injuries to the neck and spinal cord can lead to paralysis.”
At the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, Ghrenam passed Ashraf to a waiting Red Crescent ambulance which immediately transferred the youth to Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital. He is now in the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital, and doctors and Ashraf’s parents wait to see whether his fractured vertebrae will heal well enough so he can walk again.
Ashraf’s father is not optimistic. “Every day we wait I feel like his life is withering. I’m worried about his future.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PCHR weekly report 1-7/10/2009: 1 child wounded, 1 incursion, 1 missile fired

excerpt from PCHR weekly report  No. 39/2009 01 - 07 Oct. 2009

Friday, 02 October 2009 

At approximately 17:00, an IOF drone fired a missile at a space area in the west of Beit Lahia town in the northern Gaza Strip.  No casualties or damage were reported.

Sunday, 04 October 2009 

At approximately 10:00, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northwest of Beit Lahia town fired at Ashraf Bassam Abu Suleiman, 16, from Jabalya refugee camp, wounding him with a bullet to the neck.  They then took him into Israel.  In the evening, they handed him to the Palestinian liaison near Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing.  He was transferred to the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where medical sources described his wound as serious.  According to the Palestinian liaison, the child told him that he was at the beach when he chased and threw stones at a dog, so IOF troops thought he was throwing stones towards them and fired at him.  

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 

At approximately 16:00, IOF moved nearly 500 meters into al-Shoja'eya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City.  They leveled areas of land, which they had razed during the offensive against the Gaza Strip in January.  No casualties were reported.  


Agricultural Work Committees confront occupation attacks on Gaza farmers

from PFLP website

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees launched a popular campaign of support and solidarity with farmers on the Gaza borders on Thursday, October 8, 2009, with a march and sit-in in Beit Hanoun and on the lands of farmers whose lands have been classified as "buffer zones" by the occupier.

Hundreds of farmers gathered at 10:00 AM at the UAWC office in Beit Hanoun, condemning the occupation for the so-called "buffer zone" and demanding international action to pressure the occupation to abolish this so-called "buffer zone," threatening farmers' much-needed and vital access to their lands.

Saad Eddin Ziadah spoke on behalf of the UAWC, saluting the steadfastness of the farmers and residents of the border areas of Gaza and demanding protection of citizens and farmers and that Israel end its threats and attacks against Palestinian people and land.

He called upon Palestinian, Arab and international institutions to raise the issue of the buffer zone and the suffering that it causes to farmers in Gaza in all Palestinian, Arab and international forums, to put pressure on the occupation and expose its crimes against farmers in Gaza. Finally, he called for national unity and reconciliation to provide support for our people in confronting the occupier and its crimes.

Zaki al-Masri spoke on behalf of the farmers' committees, describing the suffering of farmers in the border areas and the need for solidarity to raise this issue widely, in order to enable them to use and cultivate their land, the primary source of income for the farmers. He said that the farmers will never give up their rights to their land, despite the planes and tanks of the Israeli occupation.

He said that this bitter reality continues because of Arab and international official silence about these crimes, and forces farmers to demand an end to this silence, which provides implicit support to the occupation and its crimes. He demanded that Palestinian farmers' right to live in their land safely and securely must be protected, and called upon all human rights organizations in the world to confront these Zionist occupation crimes against our people.

The campaign plans to march every Thursday to the "buffer zone" to demonstrate solidarity with the people of the border, as part of a project to protect the right to life and the right to farm in Gaza.
Picture 104_1.jpg

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gaza boy shot by Israeli forces

Published Sunday 04/10/2009 (updated) 06/10/2009 09:57

Gaza – Ma’an – A young boy was shot by Israeli forces on his family’s farm near the Israeli border in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday, medical officials said.

According to Muawiya Hassanein, the director of Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Ministry of Health in Gaza, Ashraf Abu Suleiman was shot in the spine.

Hassanein also said Israeli forces denied ambulances access to the area to take the child to hospital. Instead, the forces detained him for two hours, he said. The boy was transferred to a hospital after this detention, the official said.

Asked about the incident, an Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma’an that during an army operation, soldiers identified a “suspicious Palestinian man” approaching the border fence, and fired warning shots in the air. After the Palestinian ignored warning shots, the spokeswoman said, the army fired at and lightly injured him.

According to the Israeli military, Abu Suleiman was transferred to the Israeli side of the border for initial medical treatment and then returned to Gaza.

The Israeli army maintains an “exclusion zone” of up to several hundred meters wide inside Palestinian territory along the border. Palestinians who venture into the area are routinely shot.

Early on Sunday morning, Israeli warplanes launched three airstrikes on smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip, the fourth such attack in as many days.

IOA troops arrest Palestinian boy after shooting him, settlers steal olives
[ 05/10/2009 - 04:41 PM ]

BEIT LAHIA, (PIC)-- The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) fired at a Palestinian boy to the west of Beit Lahia city, north of the Gaza Strip, and took him away after wounding him, locals reported.
A group of fishermen at sea watched an IOF special unit while targeting the child before detaining him.
Muawiya Hassanein, the director of ambulance and emergency in the Palestinian health ministry, said that the IOF soldiers took away the 14-year-old boy for treatment in an Israeli medical center.
He expected the child to be in a critical condition or to die of his wounds.
Meanwhile, Jewish settlers on Sunday assaulted a farmer in Jinsafout village, Qalqilia district, and stole the olives that he harvested, claiming that the land was theirs!

scenes from another Beit Hanoun olive harvest

In Gaza

*figs, not quite ripe
*olive bucket
*Local Inititative volunteer
*Local Inititative volunteer
*shade hut built from Israeli-bulldozed Palestinian trees
*The lovely wood is from an Israeli-bulldozed Jumeiza tree. Although these trees may exist elsewhere, I’ve only ever seen them in Palestine
*although over 1km from the Green Line border between Gaza and Israel, the farmers on this land were worried enough about being shot at that they requested accompaniment
*the makings of a fire for tea

beit hanoun olive harvest

In Gaza

A day of olive picking in Gaza’s north. A day of traditional Palestinian songs, and teasing, olive stains, and stories of lost olive trees and bulldozed homes. We, a number of Palestinian and international volunteers [ISM and other], are participating is because of the danger of Israeli soldiers opening fire on the harvesters –the trees are roughly 1 km from the northern border wall, and while Israeli officials say their Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” extends only 300m, experience has shown that farmers and civilians near that arbitrary line are subject to lethal shooting.

The Palestinian contingent is the lively “Local Initiative” group from Beit Hanoun. On most accompaniments, I’ve seen a couple of men in their 30s and 40s, likewise women, and the rest are high school or university age males and females.
One of the coordinators, Khalil, is slightly crazy, as are all good, inspiring folks. While waiting for the group to congregate, we sit roadside beneath the shade of orange trees. He’s pilfered some oranges, but the trees’ owner is sitting across the street and brings his chair over to join us.
Khalil is a bit of everything. During the winter Israeli massacre, he was a volunteer medic in Beit Hanoun. Post-massacre, he’s resumed his full-time volunteering with the Initiative. During Palestinian Land Day celebrations, he was vocal and active, leading chants, songs and Dabke. Likewise during a demonstration in the east Beit Hanoun border region, protesting the Israeli army’s continued shooting at and of civilians (minus the Dabke that day, but he led prayers instead).
And, it turns out, he teaches sign language. So waiting under the orange trees, we learned Palestine (a shoulder brushing movement which seems to have originated from the way Yasser Arafat drooped his kuffiyeh over his shoulder); Bahrain (a wavy movement mimicking waves; Bahar is ‘sea’ in Arabic, tho the Bahrain and similarity to ‘bahar’ could be coincidental); Nablus is the action of washing hands (famous for its olive oil soap); and he goes on teaching, but I’m a slow student.
At the land, we meet the owner, an elderly Palestinian who has lost most of his ancient olive trees to Israeli bulldozers and attacks. There are a meagre 10 or so which we harvest today.
Saber Zaneen, the main coordinator of the Local Initiative, and as crazy and intelligent as Khalil, leads the songs. He knows many a traditional song, pulls them out of his kuffiyeh for the right occasion. Today he’s had to refresh his memory, has the lyrics of a folk song on olive harvesting printed out to help his memory.

The land owner interrupts us for more coffee and a variety of sticky, nutty Palestinian sweets.
I’m led away to scour the bean crops, given a handful of fresh, sweet beans, and break a bit to photograph harvesters at work and play.
Abu Alaa Suheilam, having served coffee from a graceful old urn, sits down next to me to speak of his losses.
“We had five houses over there, near the border fence,” he points to at least one visible pile of rubble about 1 km away from us.
I note that today is relatively calm, certainly compared to other accompaniments. But we are further away and great in number.
“I came here after the war to see our land,” Abu Alaa continues. “They began shooting right away,” he says of the Israeli soldiers.
“My father died during the war. We had left our home and were staying with our relatives. When my father heard our houses were destroyed, he had a heart attack from the loss.”
The 30 dunams (1 dunam=1000 square metres) that make up their land have been off-limits for the last 7 years, he says. His story mirrors that of farmers and civilians in and near the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” [in theory 300m but in practise up to 2 km in areas] who speak of being forced off their land at gunpoint and of losing ancient olive and fruit trees to the Israeli military bulldozers in their repeated invasions.
Further down the row of trees, Fida is singing softly as she picks, her voice a tender lilt. “It’s a song my grandmother taught me. A traditional Palestinian song,” she says. “We have songs for almost every subject,” she continues, going on to explain the love song she’s rendering. In university, vivacious, intelligent, adept at English, and charming, Fida is one of the many female volunteers in the group.
It is pleasant work, and despite the expectation of shooting from the Israeli soldiers border-side, we work comfortably. I recall 2007 harvests, under attack by slingshot wielding Israeli settlers one time, forced off the land by Israeli soldiers acquiescing to the mass of settlers that had streamed down a hill (some with clubs and guns in hand).
And although I know the answer, I always wonder: why does the simplest act have to be so damn hard?
We pack up and pack into a minibus, sitting on top of one another. Saber and Khalil lead the songs again, some light teasing of myself and other volunteers, but all in good fun.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Israeli ordnance explodes, injuring Gaza children

Published yesterday (updated) 02/10/2009 09:05
Gaza – Ma’an – Two children were injured when ordnance left behind by the Israeli military exploded in Al-Bureij Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, a medical official said.

Muawiya Hasanein, the director of Emergency Services in the Health Ministry in Gaza, said that one child was moderately injured while other was only slightly wounded. The two were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a United Nations school in Block 12 of the camp, he said.