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28 November 2002 Edition

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Government urged to assist in return to dialogue

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has described the shooting dead of a UN official and three Palestinian refugees and the wounding of Irish human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly by the Israeli Army in Jenin as an outrage. He said it was long past time for the United Nations to intervene.

"Last week's wounding of Caoimhe Butterly brought home to Irish people the daily experience of ordinary Palestinians over the last number of years," he said. "The UN has a responsibility to take the Israeli government to task and to end the silence of the international community in relation to this and many other attacks.

"The daily violence in the Middle East is a source of great distress. The suicide attacks, the killing of civilians, the invasion by Israel of Palestinian territory and the deliberate targeting for assassination of Palestinian leaders should end.

"It is imperative that Israel engages in genuine negotiation and dialogue with the Palestinian people and there is a clear role for the international community to help in such a process.

"I am calling on the Irish government to use its influence on the international stage, particularly the United Nations and the European Union, to assist in a return to dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

 

Not an unusual day in Jenin

 

Statement from Caoimhe Butterly in Jenin Hospital, Palestine



Friday 22 November


"In today's reinvasion of Jenin Refugee Camp, the Israeli Occupation Forces made the bottom section of the camp into a closed military zone in the morning, using about twelve tanks, ten jeeps, and at least two Apache helicopter gunships.

I had been trying to get between the unarmed children and the tanks, when I received a call from a friend who wanted me to evacuate her sick daughter as the Army would not let any ambulances through. I went with a friend who is a Palestinian journalist, and we were immediately arrested, along with another international volunteer, and taken to a place where about 20 Palestinian men were being held. They were blindfolded, handcuffed, stripped to their trousers or underwear, and beaten severely.

After I was detained for two hours and interrogated briefly, the Israeli soldiers said that I was free to go. I asked permission to remain with the men, hoping to minimise the violence, but the soldiers refused, saying it was not allowed. When I refused to leave, I was forcibly dragged away, pulled down the road, and told that if I returned to the area I would be shot.

I went back the way I had come, past the United Nations compound. There I spoke briefly with Iain Hook, Project Manager of UNRWA [United Nations Relief Works Agency] in Jenin, who said he was trying to negotiate with the soldiers for women and children to go home. He came out of the UN compound waving a blue UN flag, and the soldiers' only response was to broadcast with their microphone in English, "We don't care if you are the United Nations or who you are. F*** off and go home!" They were trying to go home.

Iain said that things were not going well. He insisted that he wanted to provide safe passage for his 40 Palestinian workers and himself using legal means, ie. official coordination with the Army. Some worried parents had begun to knock a hole in the wall at the back of the compound to evacuate children who were there for a vaccination programme. We accompanied some of the children home.

After this, I headed again to the sick girl's house. On the way I met a group of children who told me that a ten-year-old friend of mine, Muhammad Bilalo, had been killed and three children had been wounded by tank fire, one of whom sustained brain damage. So I went to where the children were gathered, and the tanks were firing on them erratically. I walked down the road between the children and the tanks until I was 50 metres from the tank, where I tried to dialogue with the soldiers. I implored them not to shoot live ammunition at unarmed children. At that point, they stopped their shooting. A few moments later, an APC drove up to the tank [an armoured personnel carrier, like a tank with all the armour except a cannon]. I could see their faces very clearly and I imagine they could see mine also.

I had seen both of these tanks earlier in the day. A soldier raised his upper body and his gun out of the hatch of the second vehicle and began shooting. At first he shot into the air, and most of the children dispersed, running into an alley on the left side of the street. About three small children remained, however, and I tried physically to get them to the alley, dragging and pushing them. I looked back over my shoulder and could see the soldier in the APC pointing his gun at me from about one hundred meters.

Near the entrance to the alley, I was shot in the thigh. When I fell they continued shooting in my direction. I crawled part of the way up the alley, and then some of the youngsters dragged me up the rest of the way. No ambulances were allowed into the camp, so I was carried on a makeshift stretcher to where a Red Crescent ambulance could reach me near the entrance of the camp. While I was in the Emergency Room of Jenin Hospital, Iain Hook of UNRWA was brought in. He died a few minutes later.

We have been told that when he was shot, the Israeli Army prohibited a clearly marked UN ambulance from evacuating him and transporting him for nearly an hour, during which time he lost much blood. Finally the ambulance crew evacuated him by taking him out by the back wall that employees had broken down earlier.

Having been present in the Camp all morning, I can testify that any Palestinian fighters had stopped shooting a good two hours before either of us was wounded. When I passed the UN compound in the morning, it was surrounded by Israeli Army snipers and soldiers who were shooting erratically into the Camp. Two people were killed and six wounded. All but one were shot by tank fire outside what the Army deemed a closed military zone. I was not caught up in any kind of crossfire as the Israeli Occupation Forces are falsely stating, and I don't believe that Iain was either.

The massacre has not stopped. Human rights violations and war crimes seen so blatantly across the world in April of this year continue daily in Jenin.

Yesterday, with the casual killings that marked it, was not an unusual day in Jenin. It has become a potentially suicidal act to engage in the most basic acts of survival. The Israeli Occupation Forces engage again and again in a shoot-to-kill policy without regard as to whether its targets are civilians or armed fighters. Israelis have been shown in April that they can get away with a massacre, and that all the international condemnation in the world cannot get one ambulance in to evacuate a wounded person.

Thus the lack of accountability on Israel's part has become bolder as the events witnessed yesterday become almost standard. These are not military campaigns.

They are acts of terror designed to humiliate, brutalise, and bully Palestinians into subjugation. They are being denied not only the right to resist, but to exist."

 

Irish peace activists targeted by Israelis


Last week, Irish peace activist in Palestine, Caoimhe Butterly, was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier, who purposely aimed at her while she was trying to shield a group of children. A UN aid worker, Iain Hook, was shot and fatally injured.
In the last two weeks, a few Irish solidarity activists have come back from Palestine, having witnessed and experienced what Palestinians have to go through every day. They travelled to help with the olive harvest but had to confront continuous attacks by the army and settlers and the construction of a "peace wall" - which is being built between six and eight kilometres inside the occupied territories, robbing Palestinian communities of their arable land, their fruit trees and more important, water.

One of these Irish activists is Ray O'Reilly, who still bears the marks of Israeli military response to peaceful resistance on his head, shoulder and arm. O'Reilly was involved with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign but until he travelled to the Middle East, what was happening in Palestine was for him only another cause to espouse. However, his contact with the Palestinian population and the harsh realities of Israeli occupation will not be easily forgotten.



How was your reception by the Palestinians?



The reception by the Palestinians was unbelievable. Here in Ireland we heard about "Ireland of the Welcomes", and how friendly Irish people are. Really, if you want to meet friendship and humanity in its purest form, go to Palestine and meet Palestinian people. When they say "my house is your house", they mean it. They feed you, they look after you and they appreciate the smallest thing you do for them. People often ask in moments of despair "what can I do to help you?" and they will answer, "you are here, that's what is important".

From my point of view, it was a privilege, a honour to stay there, to stand alongside them, to take the kicks and blows and the rifle-butts, the live rounds and all that.


What did your work entail?



I went there to help with the olive harvest, which takes place from October to February. Mostly I understood I would act as part of an international human shield to protect farmers from attacks by the border police, by the soldiers and by the settlers, and that it would keep them from being shot or wounded and keep them safe in their own olive groves. But as things developed, it became a struggle against the building of this perimeter fence inside the perimeter wall. It was a struggle to try to slow down the annexation of the land, water, olive groves, citrus orchards, etc.


How did the Israeli Army and the settlers behave?



We had two or three encounters with the settlers. If I could draw an analogy, and maybe many people will disagree with me, they fill the role of the unionist-loyalist people we have in the North, who are descendents of settlers. They adopted the same attitude; the Israeli settlers are stealing the land of the indigenous population, the Palestinian people.

The soldiers showed gross lack of discipline. They just shot on a whim. Any sort of opposition would attract live rounds, rubber coated bullets, tear gas, sound grenades...


Were you attacked while collecting the olives?



There was an incursion by settlers where I was, but it was a small thing, and we were visited by the soldiers on a couple of times. I and an American activist, Lisa - who spoke Hebrew - played the role of negotiators. But when we move to Jayyus things were very bad because we tried to slow down these diggers that the army was using to clear the land. What they would do is to come at 8 o'clock in the morning; they dig up the olive trees, and they bulldoze everything in their way on a stretch 250 metres wide, so you lose your land and your trees in one go.

That was very difficult, because the soldiers would react in the same way every day. We would try to stop them and they would use live rounds, tear gas... the usual.


How do you think the Palestinian population stand all that pressure?



They are courageous people. They will express their opposition against the building of this fence and they will stand up to it every day. Each day was a rerun of the previous one.

The people stand up to the soldiers, but they know that they do not have many friends in the world at government level. The US and the British are so pro-Israeli now that they are prepared to put up with anything the Israelis do.


Do you think the Palestinians still believe in the possibility of a peace process?



That is a difficult question to answer. They are near despair, but they are a bit like the Irish, they have a great sense of hope and they have, much more than any other nation I have met, an unbelievable impulse for democracy. Even the way they run their local municipalities is an example of democracy. And that is the lie about Israel being the only democratic state in the Middle East.


What is the feeling in relation to the international community?



They are very disappointed with the European Union. They say that as a counterbalance to the US it has not been of any help. The EU makes statement after statement, very much as our minister of Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, who said that if Israel does not withdraw he will make another statement. That's a joke.

It is only the internationalists who are there to help them. Yasser Arafat said three weeks ago in a speech that he would like to pay tribute to the brave internationalists - American, British, German, Spanish, Swish, Irish - who "are putting the United Nations to shame; they are doing what the United Nations should be doing".


And after being there for five weeks, did your impression of Palestine change?



The image we had of Palestine before going was informed by the established media, and what you find is completely different. Much of what is going on is not reported. Endless curfews, where people are imprisoned in their own houses, in their own villages; children denied access to school for two three days a wee;, people denied access to medical attention... Palestinians have no human rights. Israelis view the Palestinians as less than human and when they deal with people they consider less than human, they can do what they like.


Are international observers now targets for the Israeli army?



They are now shooting at internationalists. This may frighten some people from going there. Caoimhe has been working there for nearly ten months, and she was injured by shrapnel before, but this was a deliberate leg shot to take her out of action. My feeling is that they are changing their policy to get rid of internationalists.

In my case, we were rushing at the soldiers to try and stop them from shooting when I got whacked on the head. It was nothing compared to the injuries others suffered. I hit my shoulder and got a bullet burn on my arm. I was just lucky.

After that, my face was on the television all over the Arab world on at least three occasions. My plea was to the international family, to please, wake up and realise what is happening in Palestine.

We should put pressure on our government and on the international family to do something about it. What the Palestinians need is an international United Nations force to move in between Palestine and Israel, and to make of Palestine a United Nations protectorate so at least people will have an opportunity to survive.

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