Abu Holi Checkpoint, Mas'Ha, Rafah

Published: Tue 22 Apr 2003 08:13 AM
Abu Holi Checkpoint, Mas'Ha, Rafah
1. ISM Activists open Abu Holi checkpoint 2. Mas'ha Peace Camp 3. ISMers in Rafah visit children shot by IOF
ISM Activists open Abu Holi checkpoint Rafah April 19,2003 Three ISM members based in Rafah - Alison from Scotland, Francesco from Italy and Raph from London -- arrived at Abu Holi checkpoint, the main ingress to Khan Yunis and Rafah from the north, at 3:30 this afternoon.
We were greeted by a queue of 25 vehicles and a crowd of people. Those at the head of the queue told us they had been waiting since 7:00 AM in the morning.
The atmosphere was one of patient frustration, nobody knowing whether there might be a brief opening to allow them through.
The Gaza strip is currently enduring its fourth day of closure as ordered by the Israeli occupation to mark the Jewish holiday of freedom, Passover.
The effects of closure are to even further isolate the Gaza strip from the outside and to divide it into three sectors between which movement is not permitted. Israel has justified its action as a response to a resistance attack on the edge of the Gaza strip at the main crossing point for goods between Israel and Gaza. The draconian, disproportionate and arbitrary nature of this response clearly makes it an act of collective punishment in contravention of the Geneva Convention.
Palestinians present became aware of us and moved forward with us to the head of the line of vehicles. This small crowd at the front clearly made the hidden soldiers nervous and a voice came over the loudspeaker of the tower warning us all to move backwards or that we would be shot.
We took this threat seriously and stepped back a few yards to call the British Embassy and consider what to do. The embassy advised us to leave.
As we could not be sure that our shouting into the wind was audible, we decided that Alison and Raph would slowly and deliberately approach the tower and attempt to communicate the desire of the Palestinians to pass through the checkpoint. Francesco was to wait behind and observe. We intended to make a case for those with particular needs, be they medical or social.
Alison and Raph linked arms and walked in as unthreatening a manner as possible about 10m up the road. We then stopped to shout that we were internationals from the UK who wished to talk to them. As we got no response we walked forward another 10m and shouted again. The loudspeaker told us to go back (in Arabic). We were then asked to show our papers and we waved our passports in the air. We continued to shout that we were peaceful internationals who wished to talk and then were told in English to wait. We sat down in the road for about 10 minutes.
A jeep then pulled out from the tower area and parked behind the drums. The tower told us to approach. Alison and I got up, linked arms again and went towards the jeep. Once we were next to it, four soldiers got out and we were called over. Two soldiers took up a firing stance behind blocks on either side of the road and we talked with the other two.
The soldiers asked in English where we were from and we showed our passports. We made our request that the checkpoint be opened for a short period for all to pass, or that if they were not willing to allow this, the sick, old and young be allowed through.
The officer said that the checkpoint was closed and no one could go through, these were his orders. One of the two snipers, probably a Russian, said (in Hebrew to his colleague) that he wanted to go home and wanted peace.
This was relayed to us in English by his co-sniper who said he wanted peace but the Palestinians did not. We said the Palestinians too wanted peace. The second sniper warned us that we were in danger from the Palestinians. In the interests of our objective I did not comment. The officer then suggested the checkpoint would open at 3am.
In response to our concern for the humanitarian cases present he indicated that the Israeli military liaison officer would come to the scene. They instructed us to go back.
The Palestinians were eager to hear our report on what was said and we decided to wait for the DCO. The white jeep finally appeared after about 20 minutes and Alison and I again linked arms, walked to the checkpoint itself and engaged the two soldiers.
The main speaker was eager to see our passports, he asked if we were just tourists as per our visas (we said yes) and explained that all humanitarian cases required coordination with the Palestinian liaison. We explained our concerns and the soldier indicated the possibility of a 30 minute opening after a man and sick child had been brought through from the Gaza side of the checkpoint. He made no promises but said he would check with his senior officer.
We returned and the news seemed well received by the Palestinians. The white jeep drove off. After some 20 minutes, the original four soldiers came out and removed the barbed wire across the opposite lane and moved the barrels from our lane.
This caused much cheering and hooting of horns from the Palestinians with us. People rushed to their cars, only to see the soldiers return the barrels. Finally, the other side did open. Everybody rushed to their vehicles in great excitement.
Once the traffic had gone through, the white jeep came back and our convoy was ordered forward. The first vehicle edged towards the checkpoint, a young man jumped out of the back to move the barrels and we watched as everybody sped past, smiling, clapping and waving. Our sense of exhilaration lasted only until the taxi ride home when we heard the news from Nablus of the killing of a journalist.
Mas'ha Peace Camp
Rafah April 19, 2003 Mas'ha Peace Camp was set up three weeks ago by local Palestinian farmers, activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), International Women's Peace Service (IWPS), and activists from various Israeli peace groups.
The Palestinian farmers are land owners whose land is being expropriated by Israel through the erection of an apartheid wall. The Mas'ha locals made a call to internationals and two weeks later, internationals from the ISM and IWPS and Israeli peace activists arrived.
The Israeli government claims that this wall is for security but when you look closer, you realize that this couldn't be further from the truth. Mas'ha village is isolated and located close to the 1967 'Green Line'. Relations between Israelis and Palestinians were traditionally good, with Israelis and Palestinians shopping together in the well-known local market.
During both the first and second intifada there was no resistance to the occupation from Mas'ha. Clearly, there was no security threat from the people of Mas'ha. However, the Israeli's want to build the new apartheid wall through the middle of Mas'ha, separating the villagers from their farm land, which would fall on the 'Israeli' side of the wall.
When looking at maps of the area where the wall will be built, between illegal Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages, it is clear that the wall is planned to wind round the settlements, thus annexing this land to Israel and expropriating an additional 10% of the West Bank from the Palestinians and contravening UN Resolution 242.
It is easy to conclude therefore, that in the case of Mas'ha, the wall is not for security reasons, but rather, it will further Israel's land interests.
The implications of this wall are enormous. The people of Mas'ha rely on the sale of their olives and other crops for their income. Without the land upon which thousands of olive trees are being either destroyed or taken, the villagers of Mas'ha rely on work within Israel - something that is considered an embarrassment to the resourcefulness of the Mas'ha people.
However, since the start of the second intifada, it has been deemed illegal for Palestinians to work in Israel, cutting off this source of income too, although some Palestinians risk short term work in Israel. Presently, the villagers rely on charity from Israeli organizations and again, this is humiliating for the Palestinian people and not a permanent solution.
In order to protect the Palestinian locals from Israeli army aggression, the peace camp is no longer actively trying to stop the bulldozers from continuing with their work. Instead, the camp acts as an information point to locals, internationals and Israeli peace activists.
The locals are not really aware about what Israeli army is doing to Mas'ha, so locals visit the camp to get more information about the land being annexed and to drink tea with the internationals and Israeli peace activists. In fact, the camp is a place of relationship building, where all nationalities, including Israeli's and Palestinians live together under the stars, while trying to stop the wall.
Last Sunday there was a demonstration and an information centre with maps and pictures set up in the camp, which the media visited. Clearly the most frequent visitors are the Israeli soldiers. They come to the camp an average of three times per day, sometimes asking the people at the camp if they need anything, other times, trying to push them about. During the night, people staying at the camp work in shifts.
They keep watch for soldiers, and for the violent nationalistic Israeli settlers, who often carry Uzi's with them, even whilst conducting normal daily activities. At the moment, the land has been cleared and the wall is ready to be erected using stone quarried from the land at the site where the wall will be constructed. When looking over the mountain from the peace camp, you can see the Israeli settlements encircling Mas'ha and its' olive farmland.
We hope that the peace camp will continue to flourish, and that the people who pass through will tell the story of Mas'ha's plight to the world.
We further hope that the world will do something about it! Raph Cohen Rafah
ISMers in Rafah visit children shot by IOF.
Rafah April 18, On Friday 18/4 several activists with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah went to the Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip to visit children. They had been injured the previous evening on Thursday by unprovoked Israeli fire from a tank in the Yibna area at approx 6pm. We had heard very loud rounds of fire at the time from several hundred meters away.
The details follows:
1) Ahmed Ismail Radwaan, 17, shot with a 250mm bullet in the side, close to his heart. Fragments still in his body and he is expected to be transferred to the Europe hospital in Khan Yunis for further scans and an operation.
Ahmed, whom I recognised, was playing football in the street. He was in good spirits in the hospital. He did not wish his face be photographed. (photo attached).
2) Alaa Mohammed Omar, 8, shot with an M16 bullet in the shoulder, narrowly missing the spine. Alaa was flying akite in the street at the time. He seemed in comfortable condition. (2 photos attached).
3) Jasmeen Jamal Yousef, 8. She was hit by a fragment of bullet shrapnel in the forehead while playing outside her house. Her father was shot in the knee six months ago and complained that he could not run to his daughter. Her brother was also shot earlier in the intifada. Her condition is good.
Once again the IOF is directing unprovoked and extreme violence at the children and civilians of Yibna. This is a near daily occurrence. British ISMer Tom Hurndall was shot within meters of these shootings.

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