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Jul-25-2019 02:08printcomments

International Peace Activists Physically Abused by Israeli Soldiers

This is what the Israeli demolition of a Palestinian home looks like. Brutal.

ISM volunteer abused
Strangulation marks around her neck are a harsh reminder of the beating the peaceful human rights activist took at the hands of Israeli occupying forces. Photo courtesy: Bethany Riels

(OCCUPIED PALESTINE) - EDITOR: This is the full story of ISM activists being brutalized while trying to peacefully prevent demolition of homes in Wadi Alhummus. Bethany Riels was inside one of the houses with her friends, and shares her experience and suffering.

I have been in Palestine volunteering with a human rights group for the last month, keeping a low profile because I didn't want to risk being banned from coming another time by Israel. But after the events I witnessed yesterday, I no longer care.

At 3am yesterday morning, hundreds of Israeli soldiers were sent to a Palestinian neighbourhood called Wadi al-Hummus near East Jerusalem to demolish three buildings - the homes of Ismail, Ghaleb and an unfinished block where 350 people had bought apartment spaces for their future homes.

Israel's reason for destroying these homes? Because they were 'too close' to their illegal separation wall.

I was staying in Ismail's house with his friends and family and seven other internationals taking part in a peaceful sit-in to try and delay the demolition.

We watched for hours from a balcony as Israeli soldiers rigged the unfinished block with dynamite. Bus loads of soldiers numbering 900 in total continued to arrive with demolition equipment. At this point we realised that this was it, they were coming to destroy EVERYTHING including the house we were in.

At 5am I saw dozens of soldiers in riot gear running next to the house. I screamed that they were coming so me and three friends ran to the bathroom where we chained ourselves together and sat, heads bent over our knees in a difficult position for soldiers to pry us apart. Through the closed door we heard soldiers roaring, beating down the door.

I kept my head down, too scared to look up. All we could hear were the sounds of the soldiers, the Palestinians shouting 'Allah Akhbar,' followed by sound grenades again and again. A soldier then burst threw the door of the bathroom and shouted at us in Hebrew. They threw a tear gas canister into the small closed space and closed the door. I started to cough, and then choke, the gas was everywhere and I couldn't breathe.

As we suffocated, the soldier slammed open the door again and dragged my friends out. It sounds strange but I almost forgot I had the ability to open my eyes. I kept them squeezed shut only registering what was happening by the sounds.

I held onto my friend who was still in there with me. But then I was yanked forwards by my kaffiyeh - a solder had grabbed it and was pulling me out of the bathroom by my neck. I was suffocating this time not only from the gas but by the soldier strangling me. I started screaming with anger.

I'd never experienced this kind of hateful and unnecessary brutality in my life. How and why were they doing this? When i started screaming the soldier got on top of me and pressed his knee into my neck. I continued screaming and grabbed out, still with my eyes closed.

I heard screaming from my friends too, I remember thinking that the stairs were next and maybe B had been seriously injured on them. I was then pulled out of the living room by my hair. I heard the soldiers around me laugh as I was being dragged out screaming. Next thing I felt a soldier grab a fistful of my hair, dragging me across the room by just my hair.

The pain was excruciating but anything was better than the strangulation. I was pulled down two flights of stairs but continued to hold onto the railings at the bottom, I didn't want to give up the action. This was until Chris tapped me on the shoulder and said "Beth we have to go, we have to leave." This was the first moment I opened my eyes.

I saw blood all over the floor, I thought someone has been killed. They yelled at us to leave but Chris didn't know where his wife was, he was shouting "Where is my wife? Where is my wife?"

I screamed "B!" and the screaming again enraged the soldiers who pushed us out the door. Chris grabbed onto the soldier as he fell, bringing him down with him. The soldier started to beat him while Gabi was on the ground screaming in anger and pain after being pepper sprayed repeatedly.

There was no one filming in the house, no one showing the world the brutality of the Israeli military against unarmed civilians. They had blocked off all the roads to prevent any media coming in for this very reason.

As we left I saw the Palestinian friends and family of Ismail bloodied and wide-eyed. My activist friends were outside too, red-eyed from the tear gas.

For the next hour, the soldiers walked us for a mile away from the site, laughing at us and stepping on our feet. We asked them "Why are you doing this?" "Will you tell your mum what you did today?" They were smug and proud of themselves. For them, demolishing peoples' homes and brutalising people is fun.

As we walked I saw Ismail. He was heartbroken. I said I was sorry but what good are words when everything you've been working towards for years is crushed under the occupation?

I found out later that 12 of the Palestinians had been hospitalised - two from rubber-coated steel bullet wounds fired at close range. Chris's rib was fractured, B's knuckle was fractured too and her other hand suffered severe tissue damage, Gabi was rushed to hospital with agonizing pepper spray burns. I have a hideous strangulation wound across my neck.

But I want to stress that our injuries are nothing. Nothing compared to the violence the Israeli state carries out every single day against the Palestinian people.

They act with total impunity - shooting children, imprisoning people for years without trial, demolishing homes, water wells, olive trees - anything and everything to make life impossible for Palestinians.

Their homes are razed to the ground every week, for whatever reason, from not having an impossible-to-get building permit to being too close to a wall that's illegal under international law. [Illegal] Settlers on the other hand are free to build whatever and wherever they please, even without permits.

If you are a 'friend' of Israel, like our new PM Boris f-ing Johnson, then you are also a friend of apartheid. You are a friend of a state that kills men, women and children with impunity. And you are a friend of a perpetrator of ongoing and unrelenting ethnic cleansing.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a humanitarian group focused on assisting the Palestinian cause in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. ISM is dedicated to the use of nonviolent protests and methods only. The organization calls on civilians from around the world to participate in acts of nonviolent protests against the Israeli military in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


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