My First Day in Occupied Palestine

Hebron (ISM) – Today was my first full day as an ISM’er in Al-Khalil (Hebron).

A regular part of our work is to monitor Israeli checkpoints beside schools in the mornings since the teachers ask for an international presence. Often there can be problems with violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian children. Another reason ISM is there, is to count the number of school children using the checkpoint, to see how many children are suffering from this daily stress, which sadly, is part of normal life under the occupation. The data we collect is passed on to NGOs who collects data on children in the whole of Palestine. It is necessary for children living in the H2 area to pass through this checkpoint to reach their school. The Palestinian children are often subjected to intimidation and harassment as they are searched in claustrophobic rooms within the highly militarized structures. This morning i was monitoring Qeitun checkpoint with two other ISM’ers.

Around 120 children, mostly boys, passed through the checkpoint in the first half an hour. There were clearly armed Israeli solders stationed in heavily armored towers overlooking the checkpoint, creating an intimidating atmosphere. There was an older Palestinian man encouraging the children to go through the checkpoint as a few of them were nervously waiting in front of them. In the midst of our counting of children we heard shouting from around the corner and saw a group of Palestinian children being chased by heavily armed Israeli border police, although we were in H1, out of Israeli jurisdiction. A few of the children thew stones towards the invading border police and before we knew what happened a soldier lobbed a stun grenade directly at the children. This grenade exploded a few metres in front of the children standing at an entrance to a junior school. I was down the street but the loud noise really reverberated through my body and sent my heart racing. It was the first time I had experienced this kind of weapon and moments after, I was still terrified. The grenade sent the children fleeing in all directions and one of them dropped his school bag. An Israeli soldier stole his bag and took it with him. As he walked past us an ISM activist asked him “why have you taken his school bag?’, the soldier muttered “to check it”. Of course this was a lie as they did not open it and I found it infuriating that heavily armed, grown men would steal the school bag of a child as some sort of immature intimidation technique.

Image Source: ISM Palestine, Flickr, Creative Commons Israeli forces violently disperse Hebron demonstration

Image Source: ISM Palestine, Flickr, Creative Commons
Israeli forces violently disperse Hebron demonstration (FILE)

Some minutes later few stones were thrown from the top of a building, neither us or the Israeli border police could see who was throwing them, but the border police responded with yet more stun grenades. One of the soldiers was incompetently rushing to throw so many that he missed one and it bounced off the building towards him- and it sent him scampering away. By this point there were very few children left in the street and they were hundreds of meters away from the checkpoint. But the altercation had clearly infuriated the border police and they began launching scores of tear gas canisters down the street at the remaining children. We were ushered inside a school by some teachers as we were very close to where the canisters landed. It was terrifying to hear the loud pop of the canisters launching and not knowing if they were about to land on top of you. They are heavy steel cylinders and a direct hit, especially on your head, would do some serious damage- never mind the gas that stops the children breathing and burns their eyes. In all we counted at least 6 stun grenades and 16 tear gas canisters used by the Israeli border police against the unarmed Palestinian school children. The teachers in the school told us that this was a regular occurrence and asked how they could teach students with this going on as it not only disrupts lessons and scares children in the school, but it also stops many children from attending in the first place.

It is clear to me that the soldier’s actions were not in self defense, as they had heavily defended battlements in which to remain in. Instead they choose to escalate the violence by attacking the children in order to assert their dominance and intimidate the children. My experiences of Al-Khalil thus far have proven that the occupation and militarization of large parts of the city are not for the purposes of ‘security’, as the Palestinians here are friendly and welcoming to all religions and everyone. Instead the soldiers aim to harass Palestinians and disrupt their way of life as much as they can, meaning that a normal childhood and opportunity to focus on their education is impossible.

By ISM-activist; “Hugh”

video: Border Police steals Palestinians schoolbag

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