The wall and the theft of Palestinian lands
In the third part of her series on Palestine, Lynda Renham-Cook speaks with the Amireh family who have fought against the construction of the Ni’lin wall – and been imprisoned and shot because of it.
13 February 2011
Saeed Amireh, unlike me, does not live in freedom. Saeed, 18, lives in Palestine, in a village named Ni’lin. His home is under Occupation by Israel. I have chosen to write my third piece on Palestine about Saeed and his family. Their treatment by the Israeli army has been shockingly brutal.
The erection of the illegal apartheid wall has stolen one third of Ni’lin’s land. In 2004 the Israel Supreme court and the international court of justice sided with the villagers of Ni’lin and ruled the wall illegal.
However, this did not deter the Israeli government and in 2008 the construction of the wall continued again. It is a disgrace that this wall steals much of Ni’lin’s land.
Saeed and his family are an inspiration. They continually protest against the annexation wall. Saeed’s father is Ibrahim Amireh, one of the leaders of “The Ni’lin Popular Committee against the Wall.’ The Popular Committee non-violently resists the construction.
On the 12th January 2010, Ibrahim was arrested by the Israeli army and sentenced to 11 months and 15 days in prison and fined 9,000 shekels ($2,330) with a prohibition from joining future protests.
His family were given two months to pay the fine but they had no means to pay it. Two other members of the Popular Committee, Hassan Mousa and Zaydoon Srour, each received the same sentence. Ibrahim’s treatment during his arrest and incarceration was inhumane.
I sit and watch the news and listen to the radio and hear the commentators speak of the conflict in the Middle East. This is not a conflict; it is an occupation, pure and simple. It saddens me that so many seem to close their eyes to the horror of the situation.
In highlighting Saeed’s story and that of his family I am sharing only one of many such accounts that tell of Israel’s brutal military and their unfair and unjust treatment of Palestinians.
Writing about Palestine evokes many emotions no matter how detached one tries to be. The previous articles I wrote in this series on life in the West Bank gave a feel for what life is like in Palestine as an activist, fighting for a cause while often feeling nobody is hearing you.
I followed this with an opposite view point of a Jewish settler living in the west bank and what it feels like to live with the constant threat of terrorism. But who really is the terrorist?
Can a home that has been built on occupied territory really be named a settlement when it has no right to be there? I would argue as Saeed does, that these are colonies, not settlements.
Is the media portrayal of the Palestinian terrorist just another propagation of the Israeli government? Palestinians live under a constant state of occupation. Their dignity has been stolen as well as their land. They fight every day for freedom. Is Israel not terrorising the Palestinians, who now no longer have a country? Without a country they do not have an army, so how can this be defined a conflict?
During my interviews and correspondence with many people living in Palestine and the occupied areas, I found it very difficult not to sympathise with the Palestinians. At all times I found them to be very obliging, sincere and not at all bitter, although their sadness and feelings of loss is evident in their every word.
It has become quite apparent to me that the media coverage of the Israel-Palestine situation is unbalanced. The American activist Alison Weir who is neither Jewish or a Muslim uncovered this for herself and continually addresses the balance on her web page ‘If Americans knew’
Since September 29th 2000, 124 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,452 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis. I think it is reasonable to state that this is by far an occupation and not a conflict. This article focuses on the village Ni’lin and of an occupation but most of all an inspiring family.
Ni’lin, in the words of Saeed
Ni’lin, a village located to the west of Ramallah City in the West Bank, and just a few kilometres east of the Green line has been particularly affected by the construction of the Separation Barrier, the expansion of illegal settlements, the construction of a settler-only road and a tunnel that will inherently run through the village.
In the near future, the village will be closed off from all sides, controlling the movement of Ni’lin’s citizens through one tunnel. We are suffering in the village since 1948. Once we had 57,000 dunam (A unit of land measurement) of fertile land.
Israel has left us 7,000 dunam, they have stolen 50,000 dunam in order to build settlements and road number 446, which is an apartheid road since it can be used only by settlers, we are prohibited to enter it. Five illegal settlements have been built on our land; they surround our village from all sides.
Additionally, Israel started building the separation wall on our remaining olive orchards in May 2008, annexing additional dunams of our land. With the support of surrounding villages, as well as international and Israeli peace activists, we have been protesting against the confiscation of the land and the construction of the apartheid wall.
The army regularly invades our village and beats and arrests men and children, often in the middle of the night. We have been on curfew for four consecutive days. The authorities continue to deny us access to our land as well as working permits.
There is no doubt that Israel wants us to disappear and annex all that remains. How are we to survive these measures?”
In May 2008 nonviolent demonstrations began taking place in an effort to block the construction of the wall. By July the Israeli army had imposed a total curfew on Ni’lin. Did they have the right?
After three days, villagers from the surrounding areas join the residents of Ni’lin in a demonstration to break the curfew. The Israeli military shoot two demonstrators who survive.
Yousef Amira (17) is shot and killed during a nonviolent demonstration two days later. In December Saeed is arrested during a night raid. Later, that same month Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) and Mohammed Khawaje (20) are shot and killed during a demonstration.
By 2009 Israel had established checkpoints around Ni’lin in an effort to prevent Israeli and international activists from participating in the non-violent demonstrations. Of course it must be remembered that Israel does not own this land but are occupying it illegally, one cannot say this enough.
Saeed’s was in his final year at school when he was arrested. It was December 2008. Saeed was not released until the following April. Since then he has not studied. Israel tried to destroy his future but they cannot destroy his spirit. He was top in his grades but since his release he has worked tirelessly for the cause of Palestine. He cannot now afford to go to university.
The Amireh family
On the 12th January 2010, Ibrahim Amireh was arrested by the Israeli army and sentenced to 11 months and 15 days in prison. During his time in Prison there were 15 court hearings. The offences he was charged with were:
Being present in a declared military zone: The “military zone” is actually his olive groves, which Israel declared a military zone, once they began building the wall.
Organizing illegal and violent demonstrations: Ibrahim has always been a strong opponent to violence and has discouraged others from reacting violently whenever they have been attacked by the Israeli military.
Saeed decided to fight for his father’s release and set up a web page. Using borrowed computers he began to raise awareness, as well as funds, to get his father and other members of ‘The Popular Committee against the Wall,’ out of prison. Saeed has seen things that an 18-year-old should never have to see.
Perseverance, strength, and determination
Sometimes the Israeli soldiers just come to harass, mock and threaten us. Other times they come with dogs, unleash them inside the house, rummage through the house and cause a great deal of damage.
Due to the repeated abuse we have endured, both of my five-year-old twin brothers are terrified and suffer from nightmares. My 12- year-old sister Sammer, has been shot in her hand with live ammunition simply for participating in the protests. My 10-year-old sister Rajaa, was hit in her leg by a sound bomb when she tried to prevent snipers from climbing on our rooftop to shoot at other villagers.
Since the building of the apartheid wall on our lands, which started on the 27th May 2008, Israel has prevented us from reaching our lands. A few months ago Israel issued 50 permits for the first time for people to go on the other side of the wall to harvest the olive trees. More than 2000 people who are in need of permits in order to harvest their land were denied access to their land. My family and I are among those 2000 people.
When the people went to harvest their olive trees on the other side of the wall they had to wait for the soldiers for two hours until they came and opened the gate and the farmers were allowed in. It is an insult to our lives because before the wall was built we easily reached our land any time we wanted to.
Since the Israeli occupation constructed this wall we need to apply for permits which are very difficult to get. Those few who did get them received them only for a limited time of five days. After the farmers reached their lands, which are full of weeds and waste, they were surprised to see that the settlers and the soldiers had put Israeli flags on the olive trees and also burned many others.” – Saeed Amireh
Saeed worked hard to try and get his father released by appealing through his web page, and facebook account, using limited internet access. Mostly he would use internet cafes. I have corresponded a great deal with him and was in awe of his dedicated perseverance.
His continuing determination eventually did get his father released. Early in December Ibrahim was freed after his plight was highlighted in newspapers and on websites. Many people emailed kind words of support and staged fundraising events. The Facebook page now has more than 1,134 members, many who contributed to help release Ibrahim Amirah.
I spoke to Ibrahim and his wife following his release:
Tell us about the day you were arrested?
It was the 12th January 2010, around 1.30 in the morning. We heard loud knocking on the door. I woke up and went to answer it. I was surprised to see 10 Israeli soldier’s pointing their M16 guns at me and shouting, ‘Are you Ibrahim Amerih?” I told them yes, and then one of them started screaming in my face and telling me to go out of the house. I told him I needed to get my shoes and my jacket but they didn’t allow me to.
Violently, they took me out of the house where it was very cold. They then raided the house and started to destroy the furniture and scream at my sons, trying to make them scared. I looked around me and saw that more than fifty soldiers were surrounding my house. Why so many I thought? They handcuffed and blindfolded me and took me to the military jeep. Once at the gate of the military Jail I met with my friends Hassan Mousa and Zaydoon Srour.
We waited from 1.00 am to 7.00am. It was very cold and I was without any shoes or warm clothes. I was freezing at that time and I also sick in my heart. Just after 7.00 am they took us to be interrogated. I stayed there until 11 pm in the evening without water or food or being allowed to use the bathroom. It was very hard for me.
For more than three hours they interrogated me and then started to threaten me to force me to admit things that I hadn’t done. I refused to say things, which were not true. I know that we are under occupation, and the real face of this occupation is so bad and unjust.
They treat us as if we are animals and they look at us like we are less than the animals. In these closed places where there is no media you see their reality. They do horrible things but when in front of the media they show themselves as a democratic people. The reality is that they are very brutal criminals.
I fight the occupation with values and ethics and with all the peaceful ways I know. I fight to get justice and have it in our lives. I fight for the justice and freedom of my people and to be independent and to get back our stolen land.”
What was it like when you were released?
I cannot describe my happiness. I was so happy. You cannot imagine how it feels to be away from your wife, children and responsibilities and not know how they are or how they are coping while you are not with them.
I was worried about my family so when I was released I was so pleased to be back in my home and land and with my people, who welcomed me back with a very big party.
Freedom is a very nice and beautiful thing. I wish to taste the flavour of freedom and peace for Palestine one day.
Do you think there can ever be peace?
Yes, and I am confident about that. We hope to have the right to live on our land in freedom and peace like all other people in the world.
Our peaceful and non-violent struggle we hope will prove to the whole world that we are a peaceful people. If we can show the whole world our true cause then they will know the truth about Palestine.
If we have international support we can break the borders and make a very big popular peace army to put pressure on America to stop Israel from committing such crimes against us and end the Occupation. We can then talk about peace.
Living with a husband in Jail
For Bassma Amireh, life was very hard after her husband’s arrest. It was difficult to cope without him and even visiting him was quite arduous. Bassma would rise at four in the morning to visit her husband, as she knew there would be long waits at checkpoints before she would arrive at Negev Jail.
The trip would take her many hours and when she finally arrived she could only spend forty-five minutes with him. Most of her time was spent travelling, waiting for buses, waiting at checkpoints and then waiting at the jail. It would be 11 at night before she returned home, exhausted and hungry. I spoke with her:
How did you cope during this difficult time?
It is really so hard to describe how we all were while my husband was in the jail and how we coped. I realized that this was a big thing imposed on us and we must accept it and continue our life and face all its difficulties. Even so, it is very hard because our situation is bad and our house was raided more than 25 times.
We became closer as a family and stronger in order to face all the difficulties. I became the only responsible parent to my children because now I have to cover the place of the father too. My oldest son Sadat who is 21 started looking for work and my other son Saeed did also.
There are eight in the family so we needed to survive. Every member of the family started taking responsibility for something. We were a united family. But before I visited him we were so worried as we didn’t know what had happened to him because they took him in a very brutal way.
After two months we were allowed to see him, just my two little twins Mahmood and Mostafa aged five and me and even then only for 45 minutes.
It was so hard, those days, that I don’t want to remember it anymore.
You must be very proud of your son Saeed and all he has done to raise awareness?
Yes I am. Always he fights and never accepts that we lose. Saeed will not be broken and he has much dignity. One day, we were very disappointed and started to lose hope because the fine that was set to free my husband was so high.
Saeed came to me and told me that there is a friend ((an international friend)) who wants to help us with our situation and continue our struggle. I didn’t believe him in the beginning but later I saw everything that they did to raise money. I am so proud of my son and also grateful to all the people that helped raise the money for us.
I realized that we are not alone anymore and that the whole world is starting to know about what really goes on here now.
I don’t know how Saeed organised all this or how it all started but I saw Saeed was always busy, day and night. I know he worked so hard to achieve this great success. This is my son, as I know him and his spirit cannot be broken.
Can you tell us a little about your everyday life and what it is like living under an occupied territory?
It is a hard life and an unbearable life, but we have to deal with it and try to be normal. Here there is no security and most of the time I am so worried about my children because of the occupation forces. It is frightening when they come and go to the village often in the day.
At night there are the night raids. Our house was raided more than 25 times and when they don’t come to the house they annoy the whole village by throwing sound bombs and tear gas and live bullets at our homes. We need to feel more secure and also to feel we have some rights.
I joined the protest against the building of the annexation wall and I got shot several times. There is no way else than to accept to live under this situation, but we still do have hope for a better future full of peace and love and security and freedom one day. My daily life is-full of stress, we try to smile but it’s so hard when we have pain in our hearts hurting us. But we will never go down and we will be free one day.
It seems the Israeli army have total unchecked freedom to threaten, detain, imprison, torture and arrest Palestinians often without any charge. They openly practice violation of human rights.
These acts are carried out in the name of Jews everywhere. As a Jew this makes me responsible. I cannot condone their acts.
Read more about loss of land in Palestine.
Read more about Ni’lin and show your support.