Special Report: Bodies and Bulldozers. Human Shields in Gaza.
'The Battle of Tel Zorab' by ISM, 'US Shield Shot in Head by Israeli Troops' by Brian's friends, 'Bulldozers Push the Envelope in Mas'ha Mas'ha' by Tom Wallace, and 'Urge Congress to Investigate Rachel Corrie's Death'
May 8, 2003
The Battle of Tel Zorab
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
(April 8, 2003) -Yesterday in Rafah, 11 ISM activists from England, Scotland, the US and Italy engaged in a major confrontation with the Occupying Israeli Army operating in the south of the Gaza Strip. This was the first action the team has undertaken to prevent home demolitions since the murder of their comrade Rachel Corrie in a similar incident on March 16. (See "The Murder of Rachel Corrie," March 28, 2003, Around the Bend, The-Edge.)
|When Israel uses bulldozers to destroy homes, they become weapons of mass destruction. These machines are made in the US by Caterpiller. Credit:www.sustaincampaign.org/|
At 5 PM, the activists received word that armored bulldozers were demolishing Palestinian homes in the Tel Zorab area. They gathered their equipment (fluorescent clothing, megaphones and banners) and piled into a large taxi.
A large group of Palestinians were peering around the corners of buildings to watch the bulldozers at work - carefully avoiding exposing themselves to fire from the tank that accompanied the bulldozers or the military towers from which snipers dominate Rafah's border areas. Unfurling their banners, to the cheers of the Palestinians, the group approached the area of the where the bulldozers were operating.
The activists found two bulldozers working to tear down a Palestinian home. The bulldozers were accompanied by a tank, which, upon seeing the activists, immediately began firing its machinegun into the air and at the rubble of a building that had already been destroyed.
Leaving a couple of activists behind to film and monitor the situation, the remainder advanced cautiously as the tank continued to fire into the air and at nearby buildings so that on a few occasions the activists were showered with shrapnel. Undaunted, the activists continued their advance upon the war machines until they came close enough for the tank's crew to hurl sound grenades at them.
At this point, the activists called the ISM Media Office, which alerted their respective consulates. During the course of the confrontation the British Consulate was called twice and responded by alerting the Israelis that there were British nationals in the area. Later, when the situation escalated, the consulate demanded that their status as unarmed peace activists be respected.
The Duty Officer at the US Consulate was hostile but told the Media Coordinator that he would phone the US activists at Tel Zorab. When the conflict escalated and the US activists told me that they had not been contacted, I phoned the US Consular Agent in Haifa who informed me that, if they were being shot at by Israelis, then it was the Israelis with whom they had an issue and that I should phone them.
When I told him that it was his job to protect US nationals, insisted that he was under no obligation to phone. He did agree to talk to them if they phoned him. When the American activists contacted him (he stated) that he would do nothing to help them and would not even inform the Israeli military of their presence in this area. The reason he gave was that the activists had forfeited their rights as US citizens to consular protection by ignoring State Department travel advice against going to the Occupied Territories.
When the activists began to block one of the bulldozers, the driver got out the vehicle and told them to leave the area since this was his land, not theirs. The activists replied that they were civilians in a civilian area and it was he, as a soldier, who had no business being there. The driver then got back in his vehicle and attempted to resume his work but was blocked by four activists who stood in his path.
A battle of nerves took place as the bulldozer drove very close to the activists who stood their ground. This happened several times until the driver gave up and pulled back so the tank could fire its machinegun over their heads. One of the tank crew opened a hatch and threw a tear-gas canister. Unfortunately for the soldiers, he misjudged the wind and the gas blew back into their tank.
Meanwhile, the bulldozer had approached the house it was trying to destroy from another direction but was blocked by four other activists who stood in its path, with their backs towards the partially destroyed house.
An Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) arrived on the scene and the activists positioned themselves so that they could withdraw towards the Palestinian areas. (Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip are generally terrified of the Palestinian resistance fighters and almost never venture out of their armored vehicles. Many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have lived all their lives under occupation with tanks roaming their streets yet have never seen an Israeli soldier.)
After the tank created a smokescreen, several soldiers in full combat gear rushed out of the APC and towards the activists who quickly withdrew. The soldiers ran back into the APC without capturing anyone. At this point, an enormous explosion occurred as a rocket was fired from the Zorab tower into an abandoned Palestinian home.
The APC began firing its machinegun at the activists' feet as another bulldozer tried to resume work. It was blocked by another group of activists. Again, the driver approached within inches of the activists. The driver then began blowing his horn in a musical manner, wrote down his phone number and held it to the windscreen while pointing at one of the female activists.
Shortly thereafter, the soldiers in the APC rushed out to arrest the activists but failed as the activists withdrew towards the Palestinians. When the soldiers withdrew, the activists resumed their positions.
One of the crew climbed out of the tank and tried to tackle one of the Italian activists but only succeeded in partially pulling off his trousers. As the soldier fled back into tank, its machinegun fired into the windows of some Palestinian houses to cover him. (At no point were there any members of the Palestinian resistance in the area.)
At about 7 PM, it began to get dark and the APCs began to withdraw. Another rocket fired from Zorab tower hit a nearby house and showered the activists with rocks.
The activists then left the area to be welcomed by the Palestinian spectators who cheered them and shook their hands.
US Shield Shot in Head by Israeli Troops
Another Attempt to Kill an ISM Peace Activist
Reported by Brian's friends in Jenin
(April 6, 2003) - Today at about 6:30 PM, Brian Avery, 24, of New Mexico was shot in the face by a burst of machine gun fire from an Israeli Armored Personnel Carrier. The circumstances surrounding his injury are as follows:
Today the Israeli army of occupation operating in the Jenin area imposed its second day of curfew on the people of the city. Groups of young men and boys continued their resistance to the curfew by venturing into the streets to throw stones at tanks and other military vehicles.
At about 6.30 PM, Brian and another International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist heard the sound of gunfire coming from the center of the city, about two blocks away from ISM's Jenin office.
They arrived at a major crossroad where they saw two armored personnel carriers advancing towards them at low speed. There were no Palestinians on the streets in the area, armed or otherwise.
At the sight of the armored vehicles, both activists stood still and raised their hands above their heads. When the first armored personnel carrier was 50 meters from them, it fired a burst of machine-gun fire (an estimated 15 rounds) at the ground in front of them so that they were sprayed by a shower of broken bullets and stones.
Tobias, Brian's companion, leapt aside. He had fled about three steps when he looked back to see Brian lying face down on the road in a pool of blood.
Tobias and Brian were then joined by four other ISM activists who had arrived at the scene of the shooting by a different route. All six rushed to help Brian as the armored vehicles rolled past without stopping. Brian was conscious, but when he raised himself from the ground, they saw that his left cheek had been almost totally shot off.
The activists phoned for an ambulance, which took him to the Martyr Doctor Khalil Suleiman Hospital in Jenin where he was treated for shrapnel wounds to his face, including bone fractures below the eyes, lacerations of the tongue and lacerations of his left cheek.
A specialist was called in to examine his injuries and recommended that he be transferred immediately to a hospital in Afula in Israel. But his departure was delayed because the Israeli military refused to grant his ambulance safe passage for more than an hour.
From Afula, Brian was transported to a hospital in Haifa by helicopter. Under the Israeli Army's own rules of engagement, soldiers are not permitted to fire warning shots with mounted weapons. They may fire warning shots with light hand-held weapons and must aim away from the people they are warning.
When he was shot, Brian was wearing a fluorescent red vest with a reflective white cross on its back and front.
Bulldozers Push the Envelope in Mas'ha Mas'ha
By Tom Wallace / ISM
(April 9, 2003) - Anna could hear the contractor instructing the bulldozer driver to bulldoze the camp in general and Anna in particular. I wonder if the driver who killed Rachel got an order like that. After all, he was a soldier and is supposed to just carry out orders. According to the driver himself, "I only stop if I'm ordered to stop."
Instead of bulldozing either Anna or the camp, the driver today in Mas'ha came within inches. Anna and the camp held it's ground. The driver began swearing at Anna and took down 12 extra trees as punishment for the activists' interference.
Anna is one of many International activists who have joined Palestinians and Israelis to say no to the "wall" being built by Israel. The Israeli's refer to it as a "security wall," the Palestinians and Internationals, refer to it as the "apartheid wall" A peace camp has been set up in Mas'ha to stop the wall.
The Israeli government justifies the building of the wall as a means of securing its people from the threat of Palestinian terrorism. If this were the case, the logical place to erect it would be along the Green Line separating Israel from the Occupied West Bank. Instead, the wall is being built well inside the West Bank in what is clearly an attempt to grab as much Palestinian land as possible for Jewish settlements. It also strangles many towns and villages by cutting the people off from their land. Their only option then becomes evacuation.
Tom Wallace ISM Media Coordinator for Beit Sahour in Occupied Palestine.
Urge Congress to Investigate Rachel Corrie's Death
The US Congress is currently considering a bill calling on the US government to conduct a "full, fair and expeditious investigation" into the death of American volunteer Rachel Corrie who was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah.
To date, Washington has only called upon the Israelis to conduct an investigation, in spite of the Israeli military's record of using such "investigations" to white-wash similar incidents. The following representatives are on record as supporting the bill:
Brian Baird (WA-3,) Neil Abercrombie, Neil (HI) Earl Blumenauer (OR), Lois Capps (CA), Norman D. Dicks (WA), John D. Dingell (MI), Jennifer Dunn (WA), Anna Eshoo (CA), Michael Honda (CA) Jay Inslee (WA), Rick Larsen, Rick (WA-2), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Jim McDermott (WA), Nick Rahall, II (WV), Adam Smith (WA), and David Wu (OR).
What You Can Do: Ask your representatives to support an independent investigation. Congressional phone and fax numbers are available from www.congress.org or the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or (800) 839-5276. For emails, go to: www.cflweb.org/congress_merge_.htm. For more information: ISM Media Coordinator Beit Sahour, Occupied Palestine. www.palsolidarity.org
For more information contact: