Qusin

This morning we arrived at Qusin, another village close the settlement of Qedumim, to help the villagers plant olive trees. When we get there Riad, one of the organisers, warns us that as we will be planting trees close to the settlement’s industrial zone, we can ‘expect the worst.’

A team from the International Solidarity Movement join us and we set off. It’s a sunny morning and the way to the fields are lined with colourful wildflowers. Although the land belongs to the villagers, they are required to get permission from the army to work on it. Today they have not.

We unload the baby trees and start work. We plant three in memory of victims of the occupation – Arafat Jaradat, Tom Hurndall and Maysara Abu Hamdeya. The army appears and parks a jeep at the side of the road by the next field. The soldiers get out but for now, just stand and watch.

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Arafat Jaradat, who died in custody in February, probably as a result of torture

Arafat Jaradat, who died in custody in February, probably as a result of torture

After we have planted a few more trees, the group splits and some villagers head to the other field, closer to where the soldiers are standing. Now the soldiers approach, although rather reluctantly. They look young and bored, and are accompanied by a settler security guard in civilian clothing armed with a semiautomatic. The settler is the only one who seems  truly scary and is, I suspect, the only one of this group that actually cares about olives trees or this patch of land.

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A soldier wrenches the tools from one of the villagers and carries them off to the jeep. As the soldiers try to stop people planting trees, a scuffle  follows in which one of the ISM volunteers is arrested and dragged away by the soldiers. A row ensues, in three different languages.

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I try asking some of the soldiers what exactly the problem is with planting trees in this area, but it soon becomes obvious that they neither know or care. I’m starting to see why the settlers have organised their own security; the Israeli army have clearly delegated the task of defending this settlement to it’s doziest unit. These look as if they are the ones who got the lowest scores in the army entrance tests. One of the soldiers is overweight, and even the commander seems barely awake. Are these the ones who tear gassed us on Friday?

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Eventually the villagers agree to return to the other field in exchange for the return of the arrested volunteer, the tools, and a promise from the army to contact the army civil administration to check whether they have permission to use their own land.

One of the ISM volunteers asks the army to return the confiscated tools

One of the ISM volunteers asks the army to return the confiscated tools

The civil administration arrives and the row continues. This is absurd. There are now around 20 or so army and police standing in a field negotiating with the village mayor, it’s hot, this is taking ages, and this is all just about planting a few trees on privately owned land, miles away from anyone’s settlement. The commander points out, to everyone’s amusement, that we can’t leave the trees here as he can’t stop the settlers from stealing them. We take photos of the army, the soldiers take photos of us.

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Eventually the mayor makes the decision to drop it, so we leave. Who knows if the trees we planted are still there?

Funeral

On Thursday we were heading to a demonstration against the closure of a Palestinian road near Tulkarem when we heard it had been cancelled due to the killing of two local youths the night before. As we were already on the way, we decided to attend their funeral.

The youths, aged 17 and 18, died after being shot by Israeli soldiers near a checkpoint. It’s hard to tell exactly what happened, but the Israeli army said the youths had thrown molotov cocktails at the military post. The first boy, Amer, died at the scene and according to witnesses, the army would not allow anyone, including an ambulance, near him for half an hour.

Around this time, his cousin Naji was noted to be missing. Volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement offered to try to find the boy, along with Axle, one of my colleagues from IWPS who was with them at the time. It was felt that the army would be more likely to allow internationals to search for the boy than Palestinians. An ambulance agreed to take them to search for him, but before they left, some local people told them he was safe and well and the search was called off.

The volunteers went to the hospital where they met Amer’s family and photographed his body in the morgue.  He had been shot in the chest.

In the early hours of the following morning, the body of  his cousin Naji was found, behind a factory, shot in the back. This accords with witness accounts which report that he was running away from the soldiers at the time.  He had bled to death.  It looks as if he was left to die, as the soldier who shot him must have realised he had been hit.

As we approached the town of Anabta, where the boys lived, large crowds were congregating. Cars full of young men drove past, flying flags representing various different political affiliations. When we arrived at the village the shops were all closed and the atmosphere was subdued. Reporters were lining the street near the mosque.  On the rooftops among the photographers, men and young boys waved the large yellow flags of Fatah. A few people looked devastated.

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The funeral procession began, with men at the front carrying the bodies of the two boys on their shoulders, and women  at the back. The men waved flags and chanted slogans as the procession headed first towards the boys’ family homes and then towards the mosque,  ending at the cemetery, where women are not allowed. Axle marched with the procession from the start and later wrote:

‘The sound of a woman’s scream when her child has been taken from her is unmistakable. It is of love raging. We walk to their houses in a large crowd hung heavy in mourning……. The mother’s wails from the depths of their souls for the baby she will see every day and never hold again… …..This sound cannot be told objectively, it cannot be reported accurately. It is a movement; it is of love pouring from a sadistically inflicted wound. It is a command for a massive healing.’

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After the funeral we were invited back to the municipality building where food was provided for the (male) mourners and us. The boys’  family homes are female space, where women gather to cry together and pay their respects. After the funeral we waited to see if there would be be any clashes between the army and youths. There wasn’t, so we went home.

Who knows what happened on Wednesday night? The boys may well have thrown molotov cocktails at the military post –  the army clearly to shot to kill, which doesn’t generally happen over more minor offences such as stone-throwing. Although it should be possible to investigate the circumstances –  there are usually CCTV cameras at checkpoints, and if molotov cocktails were thrown, there’d be physical evidence – it will probably never be independently investigated, so we may never know.