Intense Curfew in Saida

January 27th - Saida, Palestine

International Solidarity Movement

Saida is entering its fourth day under curfew, with no let up and no end in sight.

It was at seven o’clock on Tuesday morning that the curfew was announced. The
military trucks and police jeeps were revving loudly up Saida’s narrow, gravelly
roads. Many vehicles were gathering around the house we were in. The ISM-ers in the
house went straight out onto the porch, and all five foreigners became very visible
to the troops gathering outside. Soon there were fewer vehicles parked near the
house, and then none.

A beautiful house further up the hill was occupied shortly after that, and two of
the ISM volunteers headed there to show support to the family inside, gained entry
and were there for the next 30 hours or so.

Curfew is a mass house arrest. People are forbidden to enter or exit their homes for
the duration of the curfew. It is announced through loud speakers that blare across
the town from the tops of jeeps and trucks, and no endtime for it is given. In Saida
these megaphones replaced the muezzins: there was no collective worship since the
curfew, despite the fact that many pilgrims were returning from the Haj to Mecca –
houses’ gates were being decorated with palms to welcome those returning – they
would be waiting longer than they had expected.

While the house up the hill was being occupied with approximately 50 soldiers
settling in the lower floor, the military operation in the village began. House to
house searches were begun through most of the houses in the village, with the worst
treatment seemingly meted out to the houses of the men who are wanted (there are
eight who are described to us as wanted dead or alive – men accused of terrorism,
and by implication of killing or intending to kill Israelis). In these homes
crockery and glassware were smashed, furniture broken, walls in cellars and
outhouses hacked through with sledgehammers, and worst of all – wells blown up.
Collecting water in run-off tanks, and boreholes is common practice – when the well
is destroyed, it cannot be used. To replace a well can cost up to 5000 shekels and
three months. In the meantime, neighbours help out. We asked one man both of whose
boreholes had been blown up whether he would be seeking compensation from the
Israeli authorities. He
laughed. The issue is whether they will blow the new ones up, he said.

Later on the first morning the electricity failed. Our hearts sank. By mid afternoon
power from the local generator had been restored. The mayor said the troops had been
in touch with him about it that day – they need the power themselves.

On the second day, three of us ISMers broke curfew. People looked out from their
roofs and through their window grills: do they want anything from the shops, we
asked. No request for help of that kind was asked for – rather people wanted us to
get the curfew lifted. So in the afternoon we went up the hill to the occupied house
to appeal to the commander. It was clear that to the senior officer we tried to
approach we were a form of large fly, and he treated us as such, brushing us off
with a wave of his hand. “Can we have just a minute?” “I won’t give you one minute,
I won’t give you one second.” And he ordered us to be escorted back to the house we
were staying in. He showed up shortly thereafter with a couple of his men and
addressed our hosts angrily – Yours is the only house that’s open, he remonstrated
as if it were our flies. “I want this door closed, he declared, and no faces in the
doorway, or I shall post a guard on your porch.”

So much for our care for the villagers wishes. So much for the army’s ethics,
published on their website, always to be decent and polite in carrying out their
duties.

The sunny afternoon was punctuated with enormous explosion reverberations. We are
told that these were wells and caves being exploded. From the town the search had
fanned out into the fields and hills surrounding this highest of villages in the
Tulkarm region. This was all part of a West-Bank wide mission, we are told, to round
up wanted men, named by the IDO – “The rubbish collection.”

In the evening we smuggled ourselves to the mayor’s house. He had just returned from
a mercy trip facilitated by the army – to buy bread in the neighbouring village and
distribute it in Saida. He was hospitable, as is everyone we meet. He served us
sweet tea, and opined that the Israeli army’s actions are designed to frighten the
local people. The army did not give him the courtesy of letting him on their plans,
their intentions or the duration of their stay. “The people can’t go to work so they
will lose their salaries. Many people are farmers and people cannot get to their
land,” he said.

At that point, one of the men in the room said – when you’re ready to leave, I have
feed I need to get back to my goats, will you accompany me? Outside he mounted a
large bag on his shoulder, and one of us heaved the other on his shoulder and hefted
the loads down to the goatshed near the man’s dwelling. His gratitude was palpable,
but we were sorry we couldn’t stay to drink tea and acknowledge his appreciation. It
was dark by then, and the soldiers would have been jumpy.

The whole purpose of this mission should be called in to question by one factor;
Israel’s massive separation wall. This wall, illegal by ruling of international
law, has been completed throughout the entire northern part of the West Bank, and
all the surrounding regions of Saida. Seeing as the stated use of this wall for the
Israelis is security, Israel should therefore have fulfilled their security
interests in this area. A mission on the scale that we’re seeing in Saida is not
only inhumane, but completely unnecessary.