Closure at Saida

January 27, 2005

By Donna in Saida

I am writing this by candlelight in a family living room in the Palestinian West Bank town of Saida where I am currently under military-enforced house arrest, along with 3,500 others.

The living room of my adopted home is packed full of people. Grandma with the white scarf and wise face and several of her 13 children: four cheerful sisters with their various tribes of children, three younger brothers and several cousins. They have no choice but to stay inside. If they open their front door they will be confronted by the machine gun of one of the hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers who invaded and occupied this sleepy farming town three days ago.

It is dark and cold but for the glow of the kerosene heater and two candles on the coffee table. That's because the army has cut the electricity. The women offer us coffee and a meal despite the fact that they haven't been able to shop for groceries. The shopkeepers were warned that if they open their shops their shops will be bombed.

Photo: Aaron [ISM]

This family asked that we stay with them in their home after being terrorised for several nights by the military. They figure that if internationals are present, then insha'allah (god willing), the soldiers will not smash their valuables, beat them or kill someone. But their greatest fear is that their home will be demolished, as is the fate of so many other Palestinian homes.

Tomorrow we enter the fourth day of the military operation in this town. It has thrown the lives of thousands of human beings into chaos, although I'm quite sure it hasn't made the news at home because no `white' people are involved.

I am here with three other internationals; two British women and a Canadian man. We are here to bear witness to this invasion and occupation, monitor and report the human rights abuses (of which there are many), advocate on behalf of the people, deliver food and aid and intervene in heated situations. Despite the regular threats from machine gun wielding young soldiers, we have made a decision to defy the 24-hour curfew that has imprisoned these people in their homes. They cannot go on their balcony let alone go to their jobs, to the shops in the next town or to work their land.

The invasion of this town is an act of collective punishment, which is deemed a war crime under international law. The military says they are searching for `wanted' people of which there are eight from Saida. After three days of heavy shelling, gunfire and house searches they have not managed to find any wanted men but have managed to terrorise little six-year-old Rihab, who hides under the table when she hears the soldiers come, the 75-year-old woman who begged us for bread today and Nasser, a 21-year-old student who cannot get out of the town to get to University.

So we defy the curfew, not only because it is illegal, but because human beings are locked behind doors need food, medication and many other things to survive. We are busy walking through the deserted streets where the people call to us from their windows and rooftops. We can see by their faces that they are relieved to see us. They tell us what they need and we try to find it somewhere and deliver it. One man requested that we accompany him as he fetched feed for his goats. We also enter homes to hear their stories and let them that some people are concerned for them.

I don't know how many days it will take before anyone notices that this little town is being seriously harassed by Israeli Government-sanctioned terror.

I don't know how many invasions, humiliations, deaths it's going to take before the world leaders realise that to achieve peace in the Middle East, it takes good will from both sides.

After all the rhetoric from politicians about peace following the Palestinian election, the people of Saida could be forgiven for being a little disillusioned. They have not seen any good will from their potential partners, but rather the barrel of a gun that has removed their freedom for three days now, and for how many more days, we do not know.

Back Saida ... the siege ongoing