Too Much to Atone for on Yom Kippur

From the archive (legacy material)

Anne Gwynne | Axis of Logic | 11 September 2004

At 8:30am yesterday, the newsreader on Pacifica Radio’s Morning Show told us of Shaul Mofaz’s latest announcement that “Israel has locked down the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the Jewish holiday season ends in October…from fears of Palestinian attacks.” (Direct quotation).
But what will prevent Israeli attacks? And what about the (very real) fears of Palestinians?
Unbelievable. Are we to infer that the news editor just accepts this as though it were normal? It is not normal to imprison a whole nation and keep from them every necessity of life. But it is certainly a novel way of celebrating Holy Days! And it serves the Zionist purpose very well – it reinforces the Jewishness which has been imposed upon Palestine since 1947 and is a vicious re-assertion of Jewish dominance.
As a result of the ethnic cleansing of the Christian population by the Jewish colonizers since 1948, Palestine is now largely Muslim: on Muslim Holy Days Israel celebrates by unleashing the full might of its state terror, launching deadly military assaults upon the Palestinian people.
Now, for the Jewish holy season when Jews around the world celebrate their New Year and Day of Atonement, the whole of a country, Palestine with its 3.5 million people, will be ‘hermetically sealed’ by the Israeli military under the kind of “lockdown” not experienced anywhere else on earth – it’s a concept without equal or precedent, and it is devastating to every tiny aspect of life.
The United Nations has repeatedly asked Israel for implementation of the Geneva Conventions for the protection of the civilian population in the Occupied Territories (where, in any case, Israel has no legitimacy) against the arbitrary actions of the occupying state – without a single positive response: Israel has decided that it is outside the Law.
Lockdown, the latest, extreme violation, is just a continuation of Israeli actions over 37 years and more, and grows from its policy of curfew and closure. Indeed, it is an intensification of closure, and actually combines the horrors of closure with the terror of curfew.
Let me now tell you what it means for the populace which is to be ‘locked down’.
Each heading below is a Human Right enshrined in a 100-year long body of Law and Custom (see endnote).
Freedom of Movement
Closure is not easy to explain: it is a terrible thing; it is illegal and it has been a fact of life for Palestinians for two generations. It has nothing to do with the pretext of ‘security’ and it is not an action in response to Resistance – it is a strategic instrument whose purpose is to fragment the Palestinian society. The intent is to dislocate people from their land, from their family, and from their jobs. It dislocates children and students from their education, doctors and patients from their hospitals, and the devout from their mosques. Thus its purpose is to destroy all coherence – social coherence, health coherence, political coherence, economic coherence.
Since the beginning of the Madrid and the Oslo ‘talks’, and during the duplicitous prevarications of the Clinton regime, Israel has continued to create facts on the ground which, by now, have left only 12% of historic Palestine for the Palestinians, and has continuously escalated and intensified its vicious tactic of ‘closure’ to facilitate its land grab. The Israeli army controls all movement of people and goods, paralyzing the economy with its restrictions.
Nothing and no one may enter or leave a closed area except on the say-so of a teenage soldier. No Ambulance carrying a dying child or a woman bleeding to death may move between population centers, workers cannot reach their jobs and are without earnings, doctors and nurses cannot reach their hospitals, teachers and students cannot reach schools and Universities. Those who last month were lucky enough to get some supplies of water and electricity, now find themselves without either.
Today some 754 roadblocks, trenches, earth-mounds, sewage-filled moats, gun emplacements, walls and electrified razor-wire isolate each of the 300 or so small enclaves into which they have separated Palestine (UN latest count). It’s a thoroughly evil concept.
Israel maintains this iron grip on the pretext of security. This is rubbish masquerading as truth, and visiting this kind of collective punishment upon an innocent population is absolutely illegal, with no exceptions under the law. To put it another way: Timothy McVeigh’s neighbourhood was not bombed to rubble, his family was not murdered and his state was not besieged for his crime (McVeigh was not, of course, a member of a country’s legal resistance); and, during the 33 years of ‘the Troubles’, the UK did not bomb Dublin or Belfast nor murder the families of IRA fighters, despite suffering more than 300 bombings on the mainland.
The Right to Health
Denial of Medical Access is always illegal under all International Law and it violates the Standing Orders to soldiers which the Israeli Occupation Forces are supposed to observe. However, under the closures, every day one or more patients is denied the care he needs and many more will die this week to add to the 110 adults and 33 newborns we know of who have died as a result of denial of medical care.
Ordinary, treatable conditions – heart attack, kidney failure needing dialysis, hypo-glycaemia, haemorrhage, or burst appendix – here can be a death sentence, for delay means death.
Sometimes a brave medic, such as Feras al-Bakri who, over several months allowed me to ride in his ambulance to see the daily crimes for myself can, with his fluent Hebrew, persuade the largely-monoglot IOF soldiers to ‘allow’ an injured or seriously sick patient access to the Ambulance. But without transport, the transfer will involve carrying the injured or sick patient across one mile of land from home to waiting ambulance and, mercifully, to the hospital – well not quite, for that may not be the end of the ordeal. These sadistic ‘soldiers’ can decide to keep you waiting for an hour or more whilst your patient becomes critical, before ‘allowing’ you to go. Or they may simply change their mind and send the patient home. Or they might break the legs or arms of the driver, or beat him up and trample him in the mud, or injure him with a bullet (Feras has suffered all of these more than once).
Whenever there is sealing off of Palestine, the sadistic violence from the soldiers increases exponentially. More doctors and medical staff will be beaten and humiliated by being stripped of every stitch of clothing and then forced either to unload the ambulance before dozens of people, bark like dogs, insult Islam, sing songs glorifying Israel or crawl through the checkpoint while the Israeli thugs laugh uproariously and dance around waving their guns above their heads.
This is a professional army? This is security? No, all this is just to cruelly cause death and compromised health as part of the long-term plan of genocide.
The Right to Free Movement
Under closure there is no movement, free or otherwise. You cannot visit a daughter in another village or help your aged parents in a nearby town. You cannot go to al-Aqsa Mosque to pray or cross the bridge to Jordan for al-Hajj , the great pilgrimage. You cannot go to Jerusalem 45 miles away, you cannot shop in Ramallah for items not available in the village store, nor can you go to another village for your marriage ceremony. Neither can anyone outside the roadblock come to your wedding: several marriages have been solemnized at Huwarra roadblock. On occasion the soldiers are filled with so much hatred that they will separate a husband and wife if they are from neighbouring villages. You can not attend the funeral of your parent or your child whom the IOF may have killed in another village, nor can you bring the body home for burial. You can not go to a specialist hospital for treatment and you cannot receive a friend from another place. Even, or perhaps especially, the Palestinian Police are daily prevented from attending at their place of work by being refused at the roadblocks and they, together with businessmen, lawyers and civil servants are obliged to stay in Nablus for a month at a time, missing their families terribly in the evenings. Farmers cannot take their world-famous and prized olive oil, or any other cash-crop, to the marketplace, or livestock to the butcher. And Palestine is the only place on earth whose inhabitants are not permitted to drive to anywhere in their own land.
The worst thing I think is at the moment of closure, when you can find yourself trapped, unable to move forward to home or back to where you came from, and you can also be detained at the roadblock for hours or days or summarily be ordered to go ‘back’ to a town where you didn’t come from and where you don’t live. After 10 hours you are ordered to ‘… go back to Jerusalem’, when you live in Nablus. Anyway, there is no transport because we are under closure!
Under the horrific lockdown which is now announced, many more mothers with a new-born baby on one arm and a bag on the other, will have to walk home from hospital only to be told at Beit Fouriq to ‘go back to Nablus’ which is not home. Farmers with panniers of Palestinian Olive Oil on their little donkey, will have to stand by helplessly and watch the precious, life-giving oil cascade down into the soil after an IOF soldier shoots holes in the panniers, and grandparents with small children and animals will be refused entry to their villages and have nowhere else to go at nightfall with marauding, trigger-happy soldiers everywhere.
At this point, when you find yourself under lockdown, alone on a mountain-top or in a city street, it is pretty terrifying because – well, just try and take this in – I know the situation is almost too bizarre to comprehend, really: although you are told by the IOF to “…walk or I shoot you dead,” or “…no, you not go to Nablus,” or “… go back, it is closed military zone” – you cannot do any of these things because it is forbidden to move at all, you cannot go anywhere! You just hope that they are too busy terrorizing the lines of people to take aim at you.
It is quite unprecedented and barbaric brutality. You can be shot or beaten if you attempt to remonstrate with them about the utter illogicality of the whole thing. This has one purpose – simply to destroy economic life, and to wipe-out the potential of the future Palestinian state.
The Right to Education
Since October 2000, children and students have had their education severely disrupted by the endless sealing-off of buildings and institutions with, for example, lakes of sewage as happened to Bir Zeit University, the wholesale shelling and bombing of schools, and endless orders to close. Palestine has lost more than one-third of its schooldays so far, and during the “Jewish holiday season” now all schools, universities and colleges may be closed and children will run the risk of being shot and killed or injured, arrested and imprisoned. Some 400 children are incarcerated now and over 700 have been murdered.
Transfer your thoughts to the US or UK and just imagine the outcry if some rampaging, psychotic gunmen in Washington or London were targeting children and teachers and had murdered 700, injuring over 10,000 in the process. In the UK it would be probably argued that such gunmen were psychotic and therefore they ‘couldn’t help it and need treatment’. But what is the excuse when these gunmen, who commit hundreds of thousands of crimes in Palestine, are soldiers of the world’s fourth-largest and most modern military, of the self-styled ‘only democracy in the region’?
The right to education will be denied to thousands more over the next weeks and some will die: it is outrageous that a child can be shot through the little school bag on his back as he walks to school down a country lane or along a city street – in his own land – and no one is, in the current US jargon, ‘brought to book’ for the crimes. Not only is no one ever charged, but the world stands by and does nothing.
The Curfew
To enhance the cruelty of ‘closure’ the Israelis add another of their horrors – the curfew. I guess that to many readers, especially in the US, curfew doesn’t sound too bad does it? Isn’t it a sort-of ‘family thing’ where parents who are ‘being cruel to be kind’ put their children under some kind of restriction which they term ‘curfew’ for a transgression – a child might have to be in at, say, 9 pm every night for a week. I wonder what the penalty is for non-compliance! I doubt it can match the Israeli one.
Like all the Israeli actions, the curfew is not only brutal and sadistic but it is, you’ve guessed it, illegal and arbitrarily imposed upon a street, a town, or a village, on the whole countryside or, upon the whole of occupied Palestine. Just try, please, to understand what is being done here. Imagine your street, village or neighborhood completely deserted, shops closed, no taxis or cars, no schools open, hospitals ringed by tanks and APC’s so no possibility of taking a desperately-sick child to the doctor. You are all frozen at a moment in time like a snapshot. Do not open a door, or look out of the window – snipers are with every Israeli platoon, scanning for prey, especially children. In the Old City in February we watched a boy and his grandfather as they bled to death, shot at their window.
You are ‘frozen’ and ‘forbidden’ for as long as the Zionists say so. People will not be able to get food, unless the Ambulance crews work all night bringing bread, flour, milk, baby formula and vital medicines. Even the drinking water will have been turned off so the ambulances must bring that too.
Under curfew, you will not be able to go to work even in the next street, open your shop or drive your taxi. No income for anyone, as long as the curfew lasts. Not only can you not get medical attention, you will not be allowed to the bedside of a dying child in hospital, and worse, you will not be allowed to bury the little body. From the moment of its imposition everything stops and you have to stay where you are at that moment. If you are between checkpoints – that’s too bad – you cannot move back to where you came from nor go on to your destination and you spend the night in no-man’s land.
In Palestine, curfew is a matter of life and death, especially for children, who don’t carry a radio or a mobile phone to receive news of the curfew. This is the penalty here: anyone seen by soldiers on the street during curfew will be shot. This has happened to dozens of children and it was particularly poignant in Beit Lahim (Bethlehem) at Christmas when several children were murdered this way. You can be watching children running to safety, and in a moment they are bleeding on the road. What is extraordinary is that the military can justify this murder on the grounds that there is curfew. A child is killed because he is on the street at a forbidden moment. Can anyone feel that this penalty is proportionate?
The response to any protest at their actions is rote-learned – a shrug, a sneer and a snarled – ‘Not my problem’.
The hermetically-sealed lockdown which is now the declared intention of the Jews of Israel – until the end of their holiday season – will be an extension and intensification of curfew and closure.
Lockdown combines all the terrorism of closure and curfew into a new horror. Not only is every person hermetically sealed into the smallest unit, the home, within Palestine, but the country itself is hermetically sealed off from the world. It means that no one from outside can enter the country for any reason. For example, no Palestinian who is normally resident in Palestine can return home; no one may come from Jordan, to visit a friend or a relative no matter how urgent the cause. It has never happened before, anywhere.
The 100 day nightmare which Nablus suffered in the summer left people thin and very hungry, but the families emerged intact, affectionate and united, stronger than ever and without any sign of the violence which plagues our societies at the first sign of trouble. With no sign of hand-wringing, whingeing, or victim-hood, but with dignity and determination, they are ready to face with continuing courage the worst the Israelis can do.
The beautiful land of Palestine is now a ‘ghost-country’ and most of its cities are ‘ghost-cities’.
I remember sending a live broadcast to ‘Flashpoints’ one evening after a terrible day of carnage, when we were under a protracted lockdown. I asked people just to listen to the sounds of life in this great city. There was nothing. There was not a sound in a city of 189,000 good people. I don’t mean it was quiet, I mean there was not a sound. Nowhere else on earth does this kind of unbridled hatred and sadistic violence not only go unchecked and unpunished on the orders of a government elected by 80% of the voters but, much more sinister, nowhere else on earth would the UN allow it to happen.
I hope that readers will now have some idea of what the newsreader’s casual words actually mean for real people on the ground, who have suffered more than seems humanly possible, more than any other people in history, under 57 years of sustained and relentless terror since 1947.
Palestine under lockdown is, indeed, suffering unimaginable pain and misery. And it is going to get worse. Yet, despite the high level of stress people are extraordinarily resilient in the face of the terror and families face the deprivation with strength and mutual love. How do they do it and how can we account for this special courage which is beyond human endurance? What is its wellspring?
And how can we answer this question – “What kind of a people can announce that they will be celebrating their season of Holy Days by imposing misery, starvation and death on three and a half million people, unleashing greater terror than usual on so many? What kind of monster will look back at them from the mirror?
If you have understood something of the suffering, then I beg you to call or e-mail your government representative. Do not hesitate to contact the ‘Triumvirate of Terror’ – Bush/Kerry, Blair, and Sharon – and/or write a short note to a newspaper or radio station, especially the BBC, NPR, and Pacifica, protesting at the casual words which are used to report Israeli terror. Their reporting looks very like complicity and approval to ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ – the British legal phrase meaning any reasonable person.
Anne Gwynne is a 65-year-old grandmother and retired bank manager from Wales. She has worked with the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus, from where she has reported for Pacifica Radio’s Flashpoints program. Anne can be reached at
Some of the International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws Applying:
The Hague Regulations – 1907
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
The Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions – 1949
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – 1966
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – 1966
The Convention on the Rights of the Child – 1989
Customary International Law, recognised by all States as applying to everyone –
Some examples of UN Resolutions concerning Israel’s violations of International Law
1988 – Res/53/54; 1999 – Res/54/77; 2000 – Res/55/131; 2001 – Res/56/60.