Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Follow LeftTurn:

Special Offer from PM Press

Now more than ever there is a vital need for radical ideas. In the four years since its founding - and on a mere shoestring - PM Press has risen to the formidable challenge of publishing and distributing knowledge and entertainment for the struggles ahead. With over 200 releases to date, they have published an impressive and stimulating array of literature, art, music, politics, and culture.

PM Press is offering readers of Left Turn a 10% discount on every purchase. In addition, they'll donate 10% of each purchase back to Left Turn to support the crucial voices of independent journalism. Simply enter the coupon code: Left Turn when shopping online or mention it when ordering by phone or email.

Click here for their online catalog.

“They Kill Everything That’s Alive” - Dispatches from the Occupation

Kristen Schurr
Date Published: 
July 14, 2002

Al Azzeh Refugee Camp
31 March 2002

I stayed up with a wide-eyed 21-year-old boy in Al Azzeh refugee camp watching F-16s and Apaches light the night sky. He talked quietly, giving up in laughter when we couldn’t hear each other because the missiles and shells were hitting so close. His father sat in his best suit in a living room chair, with perfect posture and his Palestinian ID card in his pocket, dignified. The family, like all others in the camp of 1,000, is expecting Israeli soldiers to invade, bulldoze, round up and disappear men aged 16-50. This is a common practice of the Israeli soldiers. We were just outside the bottom level of the house where it is considered safest. The upper levels are shot at by snipers and only protected by sandbags. There is no land to build on, so new homes are built atop existing ones.

Earlier we watched Arafat on television giving a press conference inside his compound in Ramallah. At 10pm the Israeli military gave him one hour to surrender before they threatened to go in shooting. This has not yet happened and he has said he will not go alive. Television stations showed five dead, shot at point blank range inside Arafat’s compound. This family I live with, who is waiting to hear from their friends trapped inside the Church of the Nativity, stays up most of the night and sleeps during the early morning daylight hours. The shooting at nights requires them to quickly move from one room to the next, and to always be ready. They do not jump when they hear the popping of F-16s. They simply get up and move as the noise becomes louder.

Israeli snipers continued to fire into the camp throughout the day and night. They fired at Palestinians and internationals alike as we scurried across roads to get inside of the houses, which are riddled with bullet holes. I met the mother of the 14-year-old martyr girl who was shot by Israeli snipers as she opened the front door of her house inside the camp two weeks ago. Many Palestinians say all they have left is their will.

15 April 2002

Here in Nablus the Israeli military have cut the phone lines and destroyed the water supply. As in Jenin, the Israeli military not only bulldozes houses, tortures and kills Palestinians, but also targets the infrastructure, bringing more death, terror, and starvation. Access to medical care is nearly impossible for many, especially those on the east side of Nablus and those living in the refugee camps. Of the four camps in Nablus, at least two—Balata and Askar—have been without food, water, and electricity for 13 days. The camps are sealed off by Israeli soldiers and tanks. Although the press is reporting a “quieting” in Nablus, nights are sleepless due to heavy tank shelling and the unceasing mosquito buzz of Apaches and their missile-fire.

I am told that 1,500 cars have been destroyed throughout Nablus by grenades and tanks. I have seen countless cars crushed nearly beyond recognition, many burned and half smashed. The streets are clouded in dust from the crumbling and crushed buildings.

A doctor told me that they have lost their future, the children, and in the process, have lost their heritage, because all they can do is try to survive the present. A Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees doctor told me that this is the Intifada of killing. There are few patients in the hospital, not because there are few injuries or deaths, but because ambulances are not allowed by the Israeli military to aid the dead and dying. On my first night here, we tried to get to a man who had been bleeding for four hours after being shot in the head by Israeli soldiers. We were unable to reach him.

A Red Crescent ambulance driver told me that he has been arrested four times in a week just for driving his ambulance, and yesterday he and several others, including the doctor, were arrested again. He and others have similar stories of what the soldiers do to them. First the driver and passengers are forced to take off their clothes, and are then handcuffed and sometimes blindfolded. They are made to stand in the sun for between 2 and 3 hours while the soldiers shoot their guns around them. The driver showed me the bullet holes and broken windows in the ambulance as he drove off in a bulletproof vest to try to save another life. He was visibly shaken up when he returned to the UPMRC last night. He hasn’t seen his wife and two young children in thirteen days.

Throughout the city of Nablus a water truck sneaks through the streets making deliveries. Last night I spent an hour making clandestine bread deliveries out of the back of a Red Crescent ambulance.

The Old City of Nablus is in ruins. Piles of rubble from F-16 bombings, tank shellings, and bulldozing hide numerous dead. While I was in the Old City yesterday, a boy encountered an unused tank shell. It exploded and left his eyes burned shut, his body blackened, and blood pouring from his stomach. His cries revealed a voice in the process of changing. He could not have been more than 12 years old.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Nablus is no longer a military zone. There are F-16s flying overhead, last night as we made bread deliveries we ducked from tanks, getting into Nablus we had to hike through the mountains and hide from tanks behind trees, and the UPMRC clinic was shot at. Children play with the empty shells just outside the gates, and we can hear the tanks were shelling just down the street. The curfew was lifted for a few hours on the west side of Nablus yesterday. And although children were playing near the open sewage that runs down the sides of the streets, Israeli soldiers still shot from their tanks and APCs. Often in Palestine the Israelis will lift the curfew in certain parts of a town for a couple hours, but will shoot people anyway when they leave their houses.

Jenin Refugee Camp
24 April 2002

An International Relief worker briefed me yesterday on how to identify undetonated explosives and the Palestinian explosives expert I snuck into Jenin with has given me a crash course in disarming them. Three small children were hospitalized after coming across a live tank shell yesterday and one died. For an hour I heard an explosion every five minutes. There have been at least 14 serious injuries in the past couple of days due to mines, booby-traps, and discarded explosives left behind by Israeli soldiers. The relief worker described the camp as a “minefield.”

Many Palestinian families are terrified that their homes have been booby-trapped by the soldiers who occupied them during the invasion over the past two weeks. Much of the camp is a dusty rubble pile that was once many homes. People wander through the ruins, some sit and stare. The mosque, which had a kindergarten in the basement, has been desecrated and shot full of bullet holes. Most of the homes that were occupied by Israeli soldiers are still partially standing, but are ruined. In one, the mother’s lipstick was used to smear Stars of David onto the mirrors.

The soldiers blew out the door and I am told handcuffed two family members to the railing where they were beaten. In the living room there are bullet holes everywhere, including in a pile of children’s clothes, which are also partially burned. Tin cans from soldier’s food litter the floor, as does excrement and the belongings of the Palestinian family. The beds are broken and soiled. The children’s toys are dismembered and unstuffed. The mother handed my American friend the head of a doll and said, “Thanks for what you’ve done.” The Palestinians of Jenin Refugee Camp continue to resist the US-sponsored siege by marking “return to sender” on US emergency aid.

I met with a student yesterday who laughed and cried and shouted while he told me that his friend’s mother has lost her mind. He told me she watched her son die, handcuffed and blown to bits by a tank shell. He was shaking and said, “A tank against one guy with no gun.” He also congratulated me as an American. He said, “Congratulations for ruining my home, my life, for killing my mother, my brother, and five of my friends.” He looked at me and said, “And you call me a terrorist.”

Gaza City
30 April 2002

A Palestinian father, Amjad Shawa of the PNGO, tells me that his son’s first word was tahk, not baba. Tahk is shooting, baba is dad. He is devastated when he says that he cannot protect his children. The Gaza Strip, effectively a prison with 1,250,000 Palestinians who have not been allowed to enter or exit for the past month, is divided into three parts by Israeli soldiers. The 43 km trip from the north end to the south, can sometimes take two days. Thousands of Palestinians and I were lucky yesterday and made it through a checkpoint in only five hours.

It is forbidden by the Israeli soldiers for a Palestinian to walk through the checkpoint. I was crammed in the back of a truck filled with macaroni alongside six Palestinians who jumped in for the ride. I was told that to walk within 100 meters of the checkpoint is to be shot and killed. There were hundreds of cars waiting for a soldier to put the light on green, signaling the okay to pass. The light turned green just for a second once, and quickly back to red, seemingly as some sort of a joke. I heard many stories of families spending the night outside, waiting to go through a checkpoint. A mother named her baby after the checkpoint, “Hajes,” where she was forced to give birth while waiting.

An Israeli soldier apologized to me at a checkpoint once, saying “we have to do this because of the dogs.” Another time I was accused of being a suicide bomber. Israeli settler cars are allowed to pass freely, while Palestinians live and die in the humiliating position of waiting for the simple right to move throughout the Gaza Strip.

A group of seven young women, students at Al-Azher University in Gaza City, live above Khalil Abu Shammala from the human rights organization Al Dameer in Gaza City. They cannot live with their families in the south of Gaza. It is impossible to attend classes, hold a job, or be on any schedule, if one must pass through the checkpoints. The young women come from Khan-Younis, both the city and the camp, and Rafah. In Khan-Younis, two neighbors were killed just this morning. Inside the camp many buildings are rubble, and bullet holes litter homes both inside and out. While a friend’s three-year-old daughter was playing in her grandmother’s living room, an Israeli sniper fired in through the window. The bullet hole is just above an overstuffed chair.

The area of Rafah that borders with Egypt, but is blocked by an Israeli sniper tower, is shot full of bullets and heavily bombed. The soldiers threw a grenade as I took photographs. Wafa Mousa, a mother who works at PNGO, has not seen her parents or siblings since October. She tells me that she cannot take the risk of being unable to return to Gaza City where she lives with her husband and young children. She cries as she tries to talk about the fear she feels for the safety of her family in Rafah, and her children growing up under the Occupation. I was told by Ben Granby, a worker at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City, that the Israeli incursions are so frequent in places like Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia, Khan-Younis and Rafah, his organization has essentially given up documenting them. He also tells me that his research proves there is no international coverage of Palestinians killed in Rafah or anywhere in South Gaza.

Another father, who lives in Khan-Younis Refugee Camp, says he would not be surprised if his 17-year-old son blows himself up considering the constant threat of death. The camp is surrounded by sand, fences, sniper towers, gates, Israeli soldiers and settlements. Just beyond is the Mediterranean Sea, which Palestinians can catch a glimpse of, but will be shot if they get too close. A young man was shot and killed this morning in a spot where I saw a glimpse of blue over a gate and a tank. I am told that the Israeli soldiers taunt the young Palestinian boys and shoot them, beginning in the late afternoon and early evening. This is just after school gets out.

Described by Amjad Shawa as “Area C, 200 percent,” the town of Malwasi has been completely isolated since before the beginning of the current Intifada. Area C signifies complete Israeli control under which Palestinians are not allowed to create infrastructure and Israelis refuse to. The foot-only checkpoint is referred to as the Death Gate. He says that Palestinians do not require material possessions, but what they need is freedom and dignity, suggesting an addendum to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 4th and 23rd Geneva Conventions may as well read, “does not apply to Palestinians.” Even Oslo allows Palestinians 15 miles of Sea from the coast, but instead they can only use three. Palestinians in the south of Gaza are restricted from getting near it, and some Israeli settlements, I am told, dump their sewage into the Palestinian area.

Palestinians cannot dig wells deep enough to find clean water. This is reserved only for settlers. Settlements such as Fardarum and Netzarim are populated only part time and are flanked by tanks. Upwards of 50 tanks are used to guard just 14 Israeli settler families in some areas. There are 4,000 settlers in the Gaza Strip. Settlements are illegal, as is the occupation of Palestine, and the detention of Palestinians are political prisoners without charge. I was told by a 35 year old man in Khan-Younis that he suffers from back problems after spending two months in Israeli interrogation before serving eight years in Israeli prison. As I sit in the early evening with Khalil Shammala’s family, the lights go out, reminding us all who controls the prison that is Gaza.

Church of the Nativity
8 May 2002

This is maybe the sixth time I’ve tried to get food inside the Church for the Palestinians under siege. Last month we surrounded an ambulance loaded with food, water, and medical supplies, trying to walk it through the maze of tanks and soldiers that are suffocating Bethlehem. Three weeks ago we walked carrying the bags ourselves, shouting to the mass of soldiers pushing us back, “it’s only food.” But the Palestinian women of Bethlehem once again did what the Israeli soldiers have been trying to prevent and the international community has largely failed to do. They snuck food in through the south entrance. It’s the same entrance that the 74-year-old woman snuck food through while I lived in Azzeh Camp. It felt like a celebration then from the outside, and today from the inside of the door, it’s even more joyous. People inside are singing and running around, dragging pots filled with water from the well to the stove in the Basilica.

There is one area to cook, whether it’s a few noodles or leaves from the trees in the courtyard, with a stove that pulls out away from the stone wall a few feet from the Grotto. Down in the Grotto is like another world. Candles flicker on the walls lighting up ancient red and gold tapestry. The fathers swing incense and sing in low tones.

Also near the stove are lines of blankets pushed against the walls where some Palestinians too injured or weak to move remain resting. Someone will bring them food when it’s ready. On the other side of the Basilica where I sleep now, next to those who keep getting added to the list of 6 supposedly “wanted,” is one of the few who has known for a while that he wouldn’t get away safely. He doesn’t ever get out of bed. He was defending Manger Square from the Israeli tanks and soldiers when they were invading Bethlehem last month. His leg is shot and broken, with skin leaving open bone and flesh. His eyes are all pain. He has smiled at me twice. Once he offered me puff from his cigarette. His two best friends have implored me to take care of him if in fact the deal goes though where everyone leaves except the “most wanted” list. They sit with him all the time, taking turns if they go outside or making sure someone is with him, so he won’t have to lie in the dim church alone.

Ramle Prison
Tel Aviv, Israel
13 May 2002

One of his best friends became one of mine while I was inside. He was the first Palestinian to stand up for us, as internationals, to the Franciscan fathers’ lawyer who was being played as a pawn by the IDF. The lawyer was telling us to ignore the Palestine Authority. who assured us that we must stay put no matter what. The lawyer wanted us to give ourselves up to the Israelis who daily kill, torture, and humiliate Palestinians, and who imprison and deport internationals. But this man told him that the food we brought was the only reason 40 Palestinians hadn’t given themselves up days before, and that we were the only people in the world who cared and how disgusting to sell us out too. He was the man who cried with me when his best friends were exiled, the one with the bullet in his leg to Cyprus, the other to Gaza. He said, “The Israelis have broken something unbreakable.” The deal struck is another tragedy for the Palestinian people who have been ignored and sold-out time and again. He told me as we sat on the floor of the Basilica, leaning against an ancient column, “The Israelis—the government and the military—kill everything that is alive.”