Eyewitness Accounts From Ramallah

Eyewitness acccounts of the Israeli invasion are pouring in from Ramallah and Bethlehem every day. The following reports and testimonies are being circulated on listservs and indymedia sites.

April 3, 2002

From the Electronic Intifada.com

Reports on Demonstration at the Kalandia Checkpoint:

Posted by Diaa Hadid, Ittijah: Union of Arab Community Based Associations

Kalandia checkpoint -- Today, between 5,000 and 6,000 people -- Israeli peace activists, Palestinians in Israel and Palestinian MK's in the Israeli Knesset -- marched to the Kalandia checkpoint, with several aims:

1. To ensure that urgently needed aid people here had collected -- medicines and food -- would enter Ramallah.

2. For the Palestinians, to try to enter Ramallah, breaking the military closure around the city and protesting against the curfew and occupation;

3. To protest America's open support for the clearly illegal occupation, and re-assault in the West Bank.

We marched to Kalandia with women leading, straight to the checkpoint, which is currently a big set of plastic and concrete blocks blocking off the main road into Ramallah, heavily guarded by armed Israeli soldiers and police.

We began to push against the blocks. I was in the front line. The soldiers and police reacted by letting off sound bombs over our heads, which caused people to panic. Tear gas bombs were thrown at us. "Tear gas" causes a temporary inability to breath, then immense pain as the gas enters your lungs and eyes. With that, people dispersed, running for cover. From nowhere, onions were passed out. A few minutes later, people re-gathered. We marched to the checkpoint blocks again.

The truck passed through into Ramallah after much bargaining and pleading. By accident, one young Palestinian woman found herself on the other side of the checkpoint. She returned to us by climbing over the checkpoint. The soldiers and police began to argue with her (after she arrived to the other side of the checkpoint, our side). A policeman lost his temper and began to beat her, the green light for the police to throw more tear gas at the crowd, dispersing us again.

The police were indiscriminately beating people - friends running away were smashed with batons, the police pushed an old man before me. The press was affected by the tear gas. It seemed that they had been specifically targeted. They were clearly marked with "TV" - it's impossible that the police didn't't see that.

We ran away and re-gathered. The police began to organize themselves. They pushed aside their plastic barriers and began to chase us, throwing tear gas into the crowds and beating us with batons. We kept regrouping, chanting, waving Palestinian flags, standing in groups with our hands linked, refusing to be beaten into submission, refusing to use force. Police would stand behind us, beating us with their batons, abusing us, especially the Druze police, who kept abusing us in Arabic. If we reacted, they would beat us. If we ran, they would chase after us, throwing tear gas and beating us.

One young man was caught. Around 5-6 policemen stood around him, beating him, kicking him, smashing their batons upon him. Then he was arrested.

Towards the end of the protest, we stood at traffic lights, closer to Beit Hanina. Again, chanting, grouping up, waving Palestinian flags. The police surrounded us, throwing more tear gas and beating who ever they could catch. We took refuge behind cars, in the grassy, muddy field below the road, anywhere we could. It was a war zone, but only one side was armed.

We kept searching for each other, seeking familiar faces, to reassure ourselves. In pauses between teargas, sound bombs and violent police, we were hugging, sometimes crying. As we walked back to our buses, we could count the toll: around 30 injured, including three Palestinian MK's in the Knesset - Issam Makhoul, Ahmad Tibi and Mohammad Barakeh. Two young men arrested. One young man has his finger torn off when a tear-gas bomb exploded next to his hand. A woman had her head stitched up after the police smashed her over the head with his baton.

On the bus, we received a phone call that the medicines and food convey reached the NGO's. Some of the older Palestinian women on the bus began to weep.

Posted by activist Arjan El Fassed:

Dahiya al-Barid, Occupied Palestine - I need water. I was just caught in teargas. We were at a demonstration before the checkpoint (the one that was previously known as the Ram-checkpoint). Thousands of protesters, Palestinians (a huge number from "inside"), Israeli's, Italians, French, Dutch, Belgians, Swiss, and other foreigners, and a lot of international media (probably because they are prevented from covering Israel's assaults on Palestinian cities) were present. The whole street was packed with people, calling for the end of occupation, international protection, freedom, justice, "libra Palestina" (the Italians wrote this on a former Israeli road sign warning people to "prepare documents for inspection"), and an immediate end to human rights violations. Among the protesters were many Palestinian and Israeli human rights and peace activists, members of the Knesset, student organisations and others. More and more busses arrived, I saw some friends from Haifa, and other friends I didn't see in a long time, due to the pressing situation.

Israeli Border Police, known for their brutal response to demonstrations, with clubs in their hands, and Israeli soldiers were preventing people from passing. The march was supposed to reach Qalandia checkpoint in the direction of Ramallah. Trucks of food and medical supplies destined for the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and women's organisations were supposed to be reaching Ramallah.

Suddenly, we heard the sounds of blasts, white smoke, which made me conclude: "teargas!" People started running back, even while more protesters arrived.

We walked in a side road from where you could see the demonstration and the checkpoint clearly. Two armored personnel carriers were blocking the road on the other side of the checkpoint. An Israeli soldier on one of the carriers, behind a 500mm heavy machinegun was following persons aiming his machinegun on them.

More blasts, more teargas, I hear Israeli women shouting: "fascists, fascists!" People start running, more blasts, white smoke and tears. I felt it in my throat, tears follow, I was afraid for my asthma. Annet and I walked up to the direction of the Ne've Yacov colony, which is next to Dahiya al-Barid, where we live. From there up the hill, you can walk pass the checkpoint and come down to the other side, which we did. More sounds of teargas, people running in various directions. Back at the office, I went on the roof, I could see the Israeli soldiers, hear the blasts and see white smoke up to Beit Hanina, people running in various directions.

Hanan, one of our lawyers, just came back from the demonstration. With a tissue in her hand she tells me that she helped someone who was choking and entered a home, telling the residents that she escaped for the teargas. A number of protesters have been injured through teargas inhalation.

Later Safwat entered the office. "They beat the shit out of some protesters!" he says. He still catching some air, while talking about what he had seen. I saw an Israeli policeman pushing down an old woman who climbed up a hill. She fell a couple of meters down. I saw a member of an Israeli special unit dragging a guy out of the group and just start beating him. When other protesters started to interfere, more Israeli soldiers started to beat the crowd. Some Knesset members got injured and there have been several arrests of Palestinians.

From LAW

Israeli Crackdown on Media

Israel has started to expell several foreign correspondents and journalists from various Palestinian cities. In the past 18 months, and in the past week in particular, Israeli forces have attacked reporters, cameramen and photographers, press offices have been raided, journalists have been detained and are prevented from performing their jobs.

For example, on April 2, 2002, Andre Durand, a journalist who works for Agence France Press, together with 'Ata Awisat, who is a reporter for Gama News, were stopped by Israeli soldiers in Beitunia. After two hours, Durand was released, but Awisat was still being held. On April 1, 2002, Abas al-Moumani, a photojournalist, who also works for Agence France Presse, was driving his car, which has been clearly marked with "TV", at Manari, the main square in the center of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers opened fire at his car and a live bullet hit the mirror inside the car. The driver was not hurt. The car was stopped and Israeli soldiers confiscated Moumani's camera. They forced him to put his hands behind his head and left him standing for three hours, after which they returned his camera and ordered him to leave the area.

That same day, April 1, 2002, Israeli forces, in Ramallah, fired on an armored vehicle used by NBC. The car was clearly marked as a vehicle used by the foreign press. That same day, a BBC correspondent and her crew were shot at while covering a peaceful protest in Beit Jala.

In Bethlehem on April 2, an Israeli soldier fired one round toward the car of Reuters photographer Magnus Johansson, which was clearly identified as a press vehicle. Johansson heard soldiers shouting at him. When he got out of the car, he was ordered back in. The shot was fired as he attempted to drive away.

In Bethlehem on April 1, Palestinian militants threatened journalists working for The Associated Press, Reuters, and Palestine TV and forced them to hand over footage, shot the night before, of the body of an alleged Palestinian collaborator who had been shot in a parking lot.

The lack of coverage of Israeli actions in various Palestinian areas is very dangerous. In addition to difficulties faced by human rights monitors and defenders, Israel's restrictions on the press, is a dangerous escalation and should concern international bodies and governments.

Articles 50 and 51 of the 'Protocols Additional to the 1949 Geneva Convention' emphasise the protection of civilians in time of war including journalists, since they are part of the civilian population:

"The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians."

"The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations."

Article 79 of the 'Protocols Additional to the 1949 Geneva Convention' stipulates:

"Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1. They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians."

LAW Society views the Israeli measures against journalists as a policy of silencing the press by attacking and harassing journalists in order to prevent them from documenting human rights violations and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, i.e. war crimes.

Israeli Forces Enter Jenin:

At 4.30 this morning, Israeli forces with tanks, armored personnel carriers, entered the Palestinian town Jenin, firing indiscriminately with heavy ammunition at residential buildings, killing Fadwa al-Jamal (24), who was shot inside her home by an Israeli sniper; Hani Abu Irmali (16), also shot inside his home; Walid Masharka (24), killed during Israeli shelling of Jenin refugee camp. An Apache helicopter, hovering above Jenin refugee camp, fired heavy ammunition and hit and killed Ziad Zbeidi (23). Dozens of Palestinians have been injured.

According to fieldresearchers from LAW, many of the injured have not been evacuated. Paramedics and ambulances are prevented from evacuating the wounded. Ambulances have been targetted by the Israeli forces and many residential buildings have been partly destroyed and some severely damaged, due to indiscriminately shelling with no military purpose.

Israeli forces have been reinforced and continue their military assault on Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and the refugee camps of Dheishe, Aida and 'Azza, which were raided yesterday.

Yesterday morning, at 10 o'clock, 64-years old Sumaya Abed and her son Khaled Abed were killed inside their home in the old city of Bethlehem. Since yesterday (and until this moment), the bodies have not been evacuated. Ambulances and medical personnel, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been prevented access by the Israeli forces, despite the desperate humanitarian situation. Nine children remain in the bathroom of the home as to not watch the horrible scene. These children are not allowed to leave the home or being evacuated. One hour ago, a local cameraman, accompanied by a journalist have visisted the home.

So far, ten Palestinians have been killed in Bethlehem, including two today. In Manger Square, Israeli forces have killed Omar Shehadeh Salahat (39) and Awad Musa al-Malhi (31). Both have been shot in the upper parts of their body. Eyewitnesses in Bethlehem have reported that no one has been immune from Israeli fire, including at places of worship, churches and mosques. Bodies of many injured residents are in the streets, waiting to be evacuated.

In view of the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Qalqiliya, Jenin, Tulkarem, and Nablus, LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment urgently requests the intervention of the international community, in particular the member states of the European Union and the United States of America, in order to receive guarantees from Israel that access to medical treatment and humanitarian aid to all those who need it is not obstructed and that attacks on hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel cease immediately.

One of the most basic principles of international humanitarian law refers to the obligation of states to ensure access to medical treatment to any injured person, including evacuation if need be; protection of civilian hospitals and their staff; medical transportation and the consignment of medical supplies and equipment.

Moreover, LAW urges the international community to investigate and prosecute any instances of attacks on ambulances, medical staff and institutions, which have led to death or serious injury, in order to determine whether they were deliberate. Any such deliberate attacks amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are thus war crimes.

From Palestinian Activist Sam Bahour:

I just got off the phone with my brother-in-law. This is what he said:

-- Taken at 10:30 am Friday, after being told to exit his home. They were gathered at local school ground that Israeli army is using as military post.

-- At around 11:30 am Friday, they were put in buses and taken on the Pesgot settlement by-pass road, via French Hill in Jerusalem to the Israeli military camp on the West side of Ramallah (Betouna).

- They were dropped off in a dried up human sewage hole adjacent to the miliary base. They remained there until the next morning in the outdoors with absolutely no shelter, food, etc. It was and still is very rainy and cold here.

-- At around 11 am Saturday, they were taken into the military base, ten at a time, to be interviewed and pictured. Each were pictured (as they do in the movies) with their ID # on a carton under their chin.

-- They were then distributed to 3 sections, each with 2 tents. He estimates that there are over 700 Palestinians being held. As the number of prisoners increased they added a tent to each section.

-- Every 5 prisoners were given 380 x 180 cm sponges to sleep on the second night. With the rain these become soaked.

-- Tents were dirty, leaking, and a mess. He said he would have preferred to stay outside.

-- On the second night, each five prisoners were given a wooden pallet to put under the now soaked sponges.

-- He says that people have not slept for days.

-- Each tent was given one meal for 130-160 people which comprised of: 6 tomatoes, 15 apples, 15 cucumbers, bread (which he said was leftover from Passover), and uncooked frozen chicken snekzles. This was distributed to 150-160 people! As the prisoners complained. they started to bring two meals per day of the same.

-- When the Israelis decided to release the Palestinian prisoners, 66 names were called. This was Tuesday night at 11 pm. They took two sets of 13 from the 66 and put them in a bus and sent them off. The rest returned handcuffed to the open dried-up sewer pit, not knowing their status at the time.

-- Every section had access to three outdoor toilet units, like the ones used at construction sites. This was to be used by around 150 people.

-- He says these toilets were a total mess when they arrived -- overflowing and really bad sight.

-- The prisoners requested to speak to a commander in charge to request a pipe or something to open the drains and when he came hours later he said the following and I quote: "You know the difference between me and you? I'm a human. Go open them with your hands."

-- After staying outdoors all last night, handcuffed, they were blindfolded and loaded in buses at 11 am today, wednesday morning, and dropped off at the Kalandia checkpoint, a closed military zone.

- Mohammad asked the soldier at the bus that his personal items were not returned (mobile, wallet, etc and most importantly his ID card, which if not on a person when stopped by an Israeli patrol means immediate going back to an Israeli jail).

-- The soldier told him his question was a good one but he had no idea and Mohammad should go home.

-- The 40 or so that were let off this bus had nowhere to go. They ran into the Kalandia refugee camp. We are trying to get the Red Cross and UNRWA to send them a bus to get home.

These are the first accounts of what is happening!!!!!!!!!!! Someone tell BUSH!

Read earlier reports filed by eyewitnesses and activists.

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