Resistance burns bright in hunger striker’s village

26 March 2013

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Israeli forces destroy the home of Ahmad Issawi, brother of hunger striker Samer Issawi, in Issawiyeh on 1 January 2013.

(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

For the past few months, the village of Issawiyeh has been under attack. The Israeli military has tried to break the spirit of resistance in this small place, north of Jerusalem, which is home to the hunger striker Samer Issawi.

Yet the people of Issawiyeh have kept on demonstrating their solidarity with him and other Palestinian prisoners.

Issawi began refusing meals shortly after his arrest in July last year, and has been on intermittent hunger strike ever since. As his health deteriorates, the mobilization in support of his fast grows. Samer’s family have erected a protest tent in Issawiyeh. This tent has been demolished more than 20 times by Israeli troops.

Confiscations of land

Issawi’s arrest was not the only thing that prompted residents of the village to act. Long before that, the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality had been actively confiscating land owned by residents of Issawiyeh. Hundreds of dunums have been seized in the past year for the benefit of two planned projects: a “national park” and a dump for solid waste (a dunum is 1,000 square meters).

Issawiyeh is a hot spot in Jerusalem. The protests in the village have nearly always led to heavy clashes with the Israeli forces. Nightly raids and arrests have been a regular occurrence.

Grassroots Jerusalem is an organization that has been closely monitoring the behavior of Israeli troops in Issawiyeh. “After Samer’s court hearing on 18 December, we noticed an escalation in the attacks on Issawiyeh village,” said Fayrouz Sharqawi, an advocacy officer with the group. “This escalation took the form of daily raids on the village, sometimes several times a day.

Harassment

“The Israeli authorities and border police would regularly place a flying checkpoint at the entrance to the village. The police are usually accompanied by representatives of the tax authorities and other authorities to harass the residents and punish them collectively.”

Over the past three months, more than 150 people were arrested in Issawiyeh, according to Sharqawi. “The reason for the escalation could also be the appointment of a border police commander in Jerusalem,” she added.

In November of last year, Izhar Peled was appointed as the commander of the border police in Jerusalem. This followed the appointment of Yossi Pariente as the chief of Jerusalem District Police in September of 2012. Pariente replaced Niso Shaham, who resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct (“Jerusalem police chief resigns after allegations of sexual misconduct,” Al Jazeera English, 30 August 2012).

Threats

Several police officers have expressed an intent to crush the protest movement in Issawiyeh. Muhammad Abu al-Hummus, a political activist and member of Issawiyeh Follow-up Committee, told The Electronic Intifada that the threats from officers have been more explicit lately.

One officer told the committee that his objective was to carry a cup of coffee from French Hill — an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem — to Issawiyeh without spilling a drop. This implicit threat seems aimed at normalizing the raids of the occupation forces — the Israeli forces are usually confronted with stone-throwing as they raid the village.

“In one protest, an officer told me, ‘I will screw you one by one,’” Abu al-Hummus said. “During a questioning, an officer threatened me that they will cut Issawiyeh out of Jerusalem and surround it with a wall and hand it to the PA [Palestinian Authority].”

While attacks on Issawiyeh are not new, the brutality and intensity of the recent ones are unprecedented. The arrests and attacks did not only target people active in protests.

Issawiyeh is inhabited by more than 12,000 Palestinians. Since its occupation by Israel in 1967, more than 12,000 dunums have been confiscated according to a Grassroots Jerusalem report (“Issawiya Resists Collective Punishment,” 25 January).

In November 2011, the Jerusalem Municipality published a plan to build a “national park” on the lands of Issawiyeh and al-Tur villages. This plan will effectively suffocate Issawiya and prevent its expansion south. The municipality named the plan “They See Not, Nor Know 2012” (“Israel’s Parks Authority names plan to demolish Palestinian structures ‘They See Not, Nor Know’,” Haaretz, 13 November 2012).

“Last year the municipality decided to confiscate 740 dunums of land in Issawiyeh and al-Tur,” said Abu al-Hummus. “We protested the decision and conducted regular Friday prayers on the confiscated lands. After four months, the decision was halted. ”

“The residents have told us that the work continues despite the court’s order,” said Sharqawi. “The case is still in court.”

Plans for a dump in Wadi Cabina and the Qasim Valley would also involve the confiscation of 534 dunums from the villages of Issawiyeh, Shuafat and Anata.

Isolating Jerusalem

“The Israeli authorities are planning to fill the valley with solid construction waste thereby settling the land and [ultimately] establishing a national park in its place,” said Sharqawi. This plan aims to connect the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank, and the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, to Jerusalem. This would advance the Israeli project of isolating Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and prevent territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank.

The dump would also effectively cut connections between the villages of Issawiyeh, Anata and Shuafat. On 30 December last year, Adalah, a Palestinian human rights group, filed an objection in court against the plan.

“About five months ago, a new front was opened against us,” said Abu al-Hummus. “The municipality confiscated lands north of Issawiyeh for the benefit of a solid waste landfill.”

“They issued orders to prevent us from reaching our lands,” he added. “Later, they confiscated the lands under the pretense that it is neglected.”

“Issawiyeh needs more exposure,” said Sharqawi. “There is no media coverage on what is happening in Issawiyeh.”

“Protests will continue”

“It is not attractive enough to the media since it is a regular hotspot for clashes,” added Sharqawi. “It is not news for the media anymore. Residents of Issawiyeh need to see people from the neighboring villages stand with them. The occupation has distracted every village and neighborhood in Jerusalem with its own unique problem.”

“We are fighting on three fronts,” said Abu al-Hummus. “We are fighting against land confiscations north and south of the village and for the prisoner Samer Issawi.

“The occupation forces — with all their units — are trying to crush our spirit. They could not crush our movement. Our protests will continue.”

Since the end of February, Israeli troops have concentrated more on Silwan, an area in East Jerusalem, than on Issawiyeh. “But the attacks on Issawiyeh have not stopped,” said Sharqawi. “They have just decreased.”

The brutal campaign against the residents of Issawiyeh has failed to quell their resistance. There is no prospect of Israeli officers being able to carry a cup of coffee into the village without spilling it.

Maath Musleh is a Palestinian journalist and blogger based in Jerusalem and a visiting lecturer at Al-Quds Bard Honors College.