Published on Saturday, November 18, 2000 in the Independent / UK
Israeli Left Rails Against Barak's Firepower
by Phil Reeves in Hares on the West Bank
With precious little evidence, Israel has justified the army's daily shooting of young Arab rioters, including children, by accusing Palestinians of using them as human shields. Now, at last, the Palestinians do have such a shield. And she is Israeli and Jewish.

For the past four nights, Neta Golan, 29, has been sleeping in Hares, one of scores of Palestinian villages on the West Bank which are under an Israeli military blockade as collective punishment for the violence of the last seven weeks.

Armed with a loud-hailer, Ms Golan, a therapist and political activist from Tel Aviv, is trying to stop Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from firing into the village in what she sees as a calculated attempt to drive its residents off the land.

Villagers Strafed
Israeli army gunfire from the Gilo neighborhood in south Jerusalem pours into the Palestinian town of Beit Jala in the West Bank late on November 15, 2000. Several people were injured and a German civilian was killed. REUTERS/Nati Shohat
Her larger aim is to galvanise the Israeli left-wing, and the outside world, into acting to stop the excessive force used by the Israeli army over the past seven weeks. More than 200 people have been killed – including four more yesterday, most of them Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers. The latest violence flared even as the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, called for restraint from his own side. Ms Golan said: "I am concerned about the world's silence and co-operation with this massacre. Maybe if people at grassroots act, governments will follow."

Ms Golan, and the villagers, say that men from a cluster of nearby settlements, built on occupied territory, gather after dark on the edge of Hares in their cars, and fire weapons into the village. She has shouted at them through her megaphone when they shot at her.

"They come at around 8pm, stand at the village's entrance, up to 60 of them from settlements all around, and honk their horns, swear, throw stones and shoot. It is not just the settlers. It is the army, too."

Hares is an unremarkable Arab village, half-built, half-collapsing homes in a scrubby rolling landscape of olive trees, interrupted by an occasional minaret. Seven weeks ago, before the troubles began, Hares enjoyed a per capita income of about £600 a month, largely because its men work as cleaners, builders, farm workers, and factory hands in nearby Israel itself or the Jewish settlements.That income has now disappeared.

But Hares' location is more precarious than many similar villages in the occupied territories. The village sits on the edge of a finger of Israeli-controlled land that delves into the northern part of the West Bank, south of Nablus. Jewish settlements have been steadily growing along it in the past decade, helped by heavy subsidies and tax breaks from the Israeli government. The signs suggest that this is territory that the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, intends to annex if he can wrest a peace deal out of Mr Arafat. Villagers are convinced that the settlers want to push them off the land before annexation, repeating in miniature the Arab exodus of 1948.

The village's water has regularly been cut off since the intifada began – not by the Israeli water company that provides it, but by Jewish settlers at night, said the mayor, Hossam Daoud.

It is the olive picking season, when scores of villagers collect a harvest to turn it into oil, partly for their own use, partly for sale. But the Israeli soldiers blockading the village's entrances will not allow the pickers out; the olives have been drying on the trees. The villagers were able to get to their trees for the first time yesterday after dozens of left-wing Israeli pro-peace activists arrived to assist them, accompanied by television cameras

Villagers say the conflict is worse than the first intifada, By the time that ended in 1993, 10 people from Hares had been injured; 22 have been wounded in the past seven weeks alone, said the mayor's office. One, Raid Daoud, 14, was shot dead.

Mr Daoud is one of a minority of Palestinians who believes that peace talks can resume, but not if Arab villages remain under blockade or attack. "It won't work," he said, "We would rather die than leave our land. We are not going to be humiliated. If the Israeli terror continues, so will the intifada."

2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.