The Daily Life of Kawther Salam
..: Speech at the University of Barcelona :..
March 28, 2006
The following is the text of a speech I delivered before the class of Professor Fina Birules at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Barcelona in Spain, on March 28, 2006. A session of questions followed.
It is a great pleasure to be here in the University of Barcelona with you today, for a speech organized by Faculty of Philosophy. I want particularly to express my sincere appreciation to you and to the faculty of Philosophy at Barcelona University for this invitation.
In the next few minutes, I will give you a brief report about my experience working as a journalist in the area of the conflict under the Israeli occupation.
I became a political refugee in Austria as a direct result of my work as a journalist in the conflict area during the last 23 years. But, while I will talk today about my own experience, I am not an exception.
In fact, it is the case that journalism is a profession of troubles everywhere. When journalists carry out their mission in society and do their work, when they expose the violations of human rights, the corruption, the scandals in the official organizations, governments and other powerful groups, they will, as a rule, attract problems to themselves. In this respect it is not different to be a journalist in a dictatorship than in a democracy.
It was my fate to be a woman, a defender of Human Rights, a peace activist and a journalist in the area of the conflict, and to work under the Israeli occupation and their inhuman military laws, in the middle of the conservative Arab men society where the rights of women are always violated. It is very difficult for a woman to work as a journalist and to be on the front line face to face with men and the occupation.
In 1984 I start working as a journalist, exposing scandals in the sectors of education and health in my homeland. I still remember the troubles which came to my family as a result of my journalistic work. The first investigation I was published at the Al-Fajr Daily Newspaper in Jerusalem. It was about torturing and beating of students of preparatory and secondary school by their teachers. The student Shaher Amero was left with a cut ear after the teacher bit him because he did not succeed in the mathematics exercises during class. Another student, Ali, from another Islamic charitable school, was hospitalized with a ruptured liver after the teacher stepped on his abdomen because he misbehaved between classes.
In my report I wrote of a total of 51 victims of torture and mistreatment by different teachers in different schools in Hebron. The title of my report was “Teachers must be prepared and Qualified before teaching in Schools”. After it was published, a big delegation from the General Education office visited my family and demanded from them to force me to publish an apology to the director of the Education Office, a member of the most influential family in Hebron, in the same newspaper. I did not apologize.
The next day, the teachers threatened my father and me. I asked them to follow legal steps and to file a complaint against me, and made clear that I would not apologize even if the Minister and his father begged me to do that. Torture and abuse of students at school by their teachers is still common in Arab and other poor countries.
The severity and frequency of my problems increased with the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, when I started exposing the criminal behavior and the violation of the human rights by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and investigating several cases of Israeli sexual harassment against Palestinian women detained at the Israeli jails. Some of these documented cases of sexual harassment with further information’s could be found on my website.
During the peace time I used to work in Hebron, which is considered as one of the most dangerous areas for the journalists. Hebron itself is a city with 132,000 Palestinian inhabitants, is surrounded to the north, east and south by contiguous Area C which is under full Israeli control, with settlements, by-pass roads and checkpoints strangulating the city.
For the sake of about 400 armed Jewish settlers, mostly American, from the Kahana terror movement, the City of Hebron was divided in two zones: 92.000 Palestinian Hebronites came under Palestinian jurisdiction in Area H1, and 40.000 Palestinian Hebronites came under direct Israeli occupation authority in Area H2, where I lived. To protect these 400 Jewish extremists, there are about 5.000 Israeli soldiers permanently stationed in Hebron.
The Jewish settlers of Hebron are fanatic extremists, even by the Israeli standards. They regularly ransack Palestinian shops, cut electricity lines and water pipes, damage cars and attack schoolchildren daily. Their harassment always increases on Friday and Saturday, the Jewish weekend.
Jewish Rabbi Rav Leor, who lives in Kiryat Arba, one of the biggest Jewish settlements at the entrance of Hebron, instructs the Jewish settlers in religious precepts. Rabbi Leor said several times in front of the media, that most rabbinic authorities “of the past and the present accept the opinion that the lives of non-Jews don't enjoy the same sanctity as the lives of Jews”, “the extermination of non-Jews”, he states, “is an established principle in Jewish theology”. In 1994, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist from New York, massacred 29 worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, hundreds were injured in the subsequent shooting by the military. Rabbi Leor fully supported this massacre.
In 1997, during the peace time, the Israeli military occupied the rooftop of my house in Hebron. On December 31 2000, they killed my neighbor Nayef Abu Dahood, who lived in the first floor of my house. Mr. Abu Dahood had argued with the soldiers stationed on the rooftop to stop cursing and harassing his wife, calling her a whore. The soldiers had gone into their bedroom at the morning, one of the soldiers showed her his penis and said that “this is better than what you get from your husband”. The soldiers reacted very angry to his arguing and murdered him.
Naziha Abu Dahood, my neighbor, ran away and collapsed on the street after this incident. She was then transferred to a hospital in Jordan for psychological treatment.
The daily confrontation between me and the Israeli soldiers and settlers increased in the public streets, at home, and during work time. They called me bitch, witch and they insulted me in shameful ways. At home the soldiers continually threw their feces and urine on my hanged cloths. You can find more descriptions (and photos) of this disgusting behavior on my website.
The soldiers did not like to see me working and reporting in the city. Several times, the Israeli military arrested me without reason. Hebron has always been a dangerous place for journalists.
Many journalists were shot, other journalists were beaten or jailed for months without charges, threatened, harassed and expelled. The Israeli soldiers used to arrest us during the hot actions between the criminal settlers and the Palestinians. The soldiers usually destroyed our equipment, cameras and films, and arrested us so we would not see and report what they were doing.
The height of the conflict between the Israeli soldiers and me exploded after I filmed the Israeli soldiers filling their empty bottles with their urine and ordered Palestinian children and families to drink. Some soldiers mixed real coca cola with Urine and offered small children to drink.
I filed over 300 complaints for harassment (and sexual abuses) against the Israeli military at the Israeli police station since 1997 - 2000. The director at the Israeli Police station, Efi Ardity, commented about my work and complaints. He said they were not a U.N. mission to divide between the Jewish and the Palestinians in Hebron. He said they were here to preserve the presence of the Jewish settlers and to protect their interests, whatever they did.
I succeeded in obtaining a copy of these complaints and I hope that I can bring a criminal case against the Israeli criminal actions at the International Criminal Court in The Hague or other appropriate justice venue.
The Israeli Police investigated me several times because of what I had published in the newspapers, because under the military law journalists have no freedom of speech. Bringing the truth to the public is considered as a crime by the Israeli police. Colonel Amnon Cohen threatened to kill me after I published a story about his soldiers destroying a Palestinian farm as revenge against its owner.
The daily confrontation between me and the occupation was not the only problem caused by my journalistic work. I also faced many problems with the Palestinian Authority and the Major of the city of Hebron after I exposed some of his corruption scandals. I almost died after the son of major Al-Natsheh tossed me down the stairs of the municipality. I had published an article about their part in the death of 29 women working in a factory which operated on the base of undue permissions granted by the major and the minister of commerce.
I also faced problems with the religious extremists from Hamas, with the people from Fatah, from president Arafat´s office, and others. The whole list of the people and factions with whom I had conflicts would go beyond the scope of this speech.
During the previous years, the whole city of Hebron has come under the military occupation, converted into a big, closed, jail. All the entrances to the old city of Hebron are closed by a military order, the Israeli military forces fixed metal plates and iron gates to the entrances. This new measure left the people who live in the city without access. The closure of the city with iron gates is a clear case of genocide. The Palestinian citizens of the old city are now locked into their houses.
In the occupied territories the law is permanently being violated: there is violation of the International Law, violation of uncounted UN resolutions, violation of the Geneva Conventions, violation of the most basic humanitarian principles, and even violation of the laws of Israel. 85 percent of Palestinians in Hebron live under the poverty line. There is real starvation of children. The people live under continuous curfew, often for several weeks at once. Schools are closed, shops are closed, homes doors and windows are blocked by iron. The people live through daily military raids, mass arrests, and torture. During “normal” times, the city is declared as a military zone under curfew at 6 pm.
What is being enforced in Hebron and the occupied territories is the occupation law, which gives foundation to tyranny and wholesale injustice which the native Palestinian population has had to suffer and endure during over 39 years of the so-called "peace"-time.
Israel issued a military order to demolish 22 buildings in the old city east of the Abraham Mosque in 2002, in order to build a new road for the Jewish worshipers from the illegal settlement Kiryat Arba. In August 2004 these buildings were demolished and the supposed worshiper road was created. But the Israelis were still not satisfied: On Tuesday, the 6th of December 2005, they began blocking doors and windows of Palestinian houses overlooking that road, which was created on the ruins of historical buildings in order to connect the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement with the Abraham Mosque.
Closing the doors and windows of the Palestinians while they are living in these houses is a violation of the Human Rights and a clear case of genocide.
From March to May, 2001, 1.289 schools were closed in the occupied territories.
Public services such as water have deteriorated rapidly during the Intifada. In Hebron, 80% of children suffer of typhoidea fever and illnesses related to amoeba infections.
In Hebron, each housing quarter was receiving water for three hours every 60 days, while the Jewish settlement were stealing the Palestinian water. This situation cause acute shortage of water, and as a result typhoid fever and Amoeba contamination related sickness were spreading in the southern area of Hebron even before the Intifada as a result of the use of contaminated water.
Before the Intifada started, Israeli controlled Area H2 Hebron was under curfew for 123 day, 1500 Palestinian shops had been closed in the city of Hebron by military orders, and over 300 criminal complaints against the settlers and the army stealing their shops during the curfew were presented at the local Israeli police unit by Hebronite people.
Hundreds of the Palestinians houses in Hebron, under the occupation control, were prohibited from being rebuilt by military orders. Some families were forced to leave their houses by the military and police forces.
Half a million Palestinian children have been prevented from receiving required vaccinations due to the closure and the Israeli invasions.
There are 140 known death cases of Palestinians due to kidney diseases, cancer and pregnancies, at the Israeli checkpoints. Before the Intifada, there are at least 14 known cases of women who gave birth at the checkpoints, and 8 of these births resulted in the death of the newborn infants.
Halemeh Al Alol from Halhol delivered and lost her infant at the Israeli border at the entrance of Hebron in 1999, after the Israeli soldiers prohibited her to enter the Hebron area under control of the Palestinian Authority and reach the hospital.
But everybody should understand that anyone living under the occupational terror will eventually learn to be terrorist. The suicide bombers come as a result of the occupation, the frustrating situation, and as a personal revenge of what the military occupation did to their families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Any young person who has their brothers killed, the father arrested and possibly his families house demolished by the occupiers will not find any other way to express his anger than to kill himself, hopefully taking some of the enemies with him in the act. The suicide bombers will not inform their family of their decision most of times.
The Palestinians are fighting in a way that will bring peace, justice, freedom and independence. The Israeli government is fighting in a way that will continue the occupation, the violation of human rights, building Jewish settlements. The Palestinians are not fighting to crush Israel, but they are fighting so that they will not crushed by the occupation.
I do not understand why the US and Europa continue supporting the terror perpetrated by the occupiers and the corruption of the Israeli society with their support, while the solution to the conflict is very simple: Just stop the occupation and building the settlements.
Seven years before the last Intifada broke out, the Palestinians in the occupied territories were living under the military law which incorporates the worst aspects of the British Mandate Law, the Turkish Law from the times of the Ottoman Empire, and the Israeli Military law, which are often void of any considerations whatsoever for justice and humanitarian aspects.
First, under a ruling by the Israeli supreme court, it is legal to use torture, "all sorts of torture" in Israel. In fact, this is what has happened in hundreds of cases: Palestinians have been tortured by the Israeli authorities.
September 6, 2000, I made a research into the violations of human rights under the occupational military law. I visited the military court in Adoraym just outside of Hebron. At the entrance of this court I found that the lawyers for the defendants were standing behind blocked doors in uncomfortable conditions. They were made to stand among foul smelling garbage and under the harsh sun, without any shelter.
In order to send a message to the courtroom, which was at hundreds of meters of distance from them, the lawyers had to yell out loud whenever they wanted to intervene for their clients. When I saw this situation, my feeling of injustice and humiliation were intense. I suggested that the lawyers hold loudspeakers to call the court workers next time. One lawyer responded to my suggestion "We have protested several times, but nobody listens to us. We have to do our duties, otherwise our client will lose".
After over half an hour of shouting and calling the court workers, four soldiers came. They ordered the lawyers to open their pant zippers and take off their shoes and hand over any piece of metal. They then started to search the lawyer's pockets by hand and using electronic machines.
The harsh way in which I noticed the Palestinian lawyers were treated outside the court reflected the situation inside the courtroom, including the general disregard for the notion of the human rights of the defendants.
Inside the courtroom a session was being held for several reasons, but I was there to find out the real facts behind the filing of 71 complaints of sexual harassment by a settler woman against Palestinian youths.
In Hebron a young man needs only walk in the area under control of the Israeli occupation authorities and look in a "normal" way at a Jewish woman to find himself in a military court accused of sexual harassment. These charges are but another way of causing troubles for the Palestinians and forcing them to stop using the central Al-Shuhada street on their way to and from home. This street has been completely closed for Palestinians.
On that day, the court authorities decided, behind closed doors, to delay the trial session in the case about sexual harassment which I was following. The reason for the delay was my presence in the court room.
When I asked the attorney general how they had made their decision without holding an official session – this is the legal way of making decisions in the court - he went inside and closed the door behind him.
After not too much time, the police brought three Palestinians from the court jail into the court room.
The prisoners identified me, and one of them said "Please write about the victims of the military law. For 17 trial sessions the judge has held me without any charge. They have kept me in jail for 18 months under bad conditions. No food, no tea or coffee, no medicine, no break. They are killing us for no reason. My lawyer is not respected by the court authorities; he is not allowed to argue by the court authorities. He is only allowed to share the session and give an approval of the results, for the sake of conferring to the court a seal of legitimacy. I requested from the judge to let me have an Israeli lawyer so he can argue with them that it is my right. But the judge does not listen to my demands". The police interrupted this conversation, and shouted at the prisoner.
What I observed in the military court of justice can not be called justice. It is colonial tyranny, a violation of the human laws, and even so, a violation of the Israeli military law itself.
On 2002, on my return from Ireland, the Israeli occupation denied me the right to enter my home in Hebron; they refused the renewal of Israeli press card, blocked my house, and threw me out of Hebron to make the fanatic American Jewish settlers happy. They said that I had damaged the Israeli State reputation in Ireland according to a report which they received from Israeli Ambassador.
I wonder what damage I made on the Israel State. In Ireland I was one of fifteen organizers the International conference defending the defenders of the Human rights. Delegates from over 120 countries took part with us in this conference, including the U.S and Afghanistan. The ambassadors of these countries were invited too. During the conference I exposed a story of raping a young child, Sawsan Abu Turki on the first day of her jailing. I demanded from U.N. high Commissioner Ms. Marry Robinson to investigate this case.
Sawsan Abu Turki from Hebron was 9 years old when she was attacked by Israeli soldiers on her way home. The Israeli soldiers stopped the child on her way home. At a checkpoint, one of the soldiers allowed Sawsan to pass; the next one said "no" and ordered her to return. The child refused to return. The soldier pushed her to the ground and started kicking her and hitting her head with the butt of his rifle. Sawsan was transferred to the hospital in a state of coma. The child spent 5 days in the hospital under pain and continuous headache in the hospital. When she was released, she still had headache and suffered melancholy, and she was not capable of going to school or learning any more. She just remembered the incident with the soldiers all the time, for over one year.
On September the 6th, 2001, I saw Sawsan on the old Market of Hebron. She was not wearing her school dress. After a while I received a call: "Sawsan tried to kill a soldier in the old Market". Sawsan's friends confirmed that she had left school with her clothes on. Her father was astonished as he heard the news, he wondered where she had obtained the knife she had carried.
The eye witnesses from the old market said that Sawsan had thrown a knife at a military patrol on tour in the old market and then ran to hide herself in the closest shop.
On the first day of her arrest, Sawsan was raped twice by the Israeli police. She was forbidden from receiving visits. During her trial at Beit Il military court she had her hand tied and was placed behind bars. The child was indicted and tried at court for attempting to murder an Israeli soldier.
I carried the story of Sawsans rape by the Israeli police to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. The story of her psychological case, which I publicized through the media, forced the judge to grant her a conditional release for 15 thousand shekel (about 4 thousand dollar) until further proceedings and a definitive decision had been reached at the Beit Il military court.
The illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has been violating the basic human rights of Palestinian children. All violations perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians over the last decades, ranging from torture to illegal killings to expulsion, prevention of the access of medical treatment, discrimination, destruction of the homes and livelihoods of Palestinian families, have all had a disproportionate effect on the children of Palestine.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees the fundamental rights of all children. The state of Israel willingly signed and ratified this agreement in October, 1991. Since this time, Israel has not only failed to comply with the conventions provisions, but has consistently and systematically violated the rights of Palestinian children in every way.
Let me ask if there is any balance under the U.S foreign policy toward the Middle East? Do both nations, Israelis and Palestinians, have equal rights under the new U.S. global order? Is the current situation in Israel the same as the current situation in the West Bank? Do the U.S. have the power, or the will, to force Israel to respect the U.N. resolutions? Do the U.S. and Israel really want peace in Palestine and the Middle East ? Does anyone, anywhere in the world, like to continue living under the occupation for 36 years, or as a refugee for over 55 years? Without looking very far, it becomes obvious that the answers to all these questions are negative.
I read the previous American report about human rights violations. It did not include one sentence about the violation of the human rights of Palestinians. The report also dismissed the violation of the Human Rights committed by the Americans themselves in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and other places in the world.
Actually, the U.S wants to change the map and the political history of the conflict in the Middle East. The new global order is based on contradicting standards. The story of terror action, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi and the increased hate against Muslims are all instigated by the American C.I.A. The U.S government wants to cover the real disaster which they brought to themselves by occupying Iraq, so they always they invent the story of terror and Al-Qaeda. I don't think that such a stupid man like Osama bin Laden is “fighting” the powerful U.S. without permission from the C.I.A. Osama bin Laden is not a small needle lost in the desert. The U.S has all they need to catch Osama bin Laden if they want him, if he really exists.
Finally, living permanently under the occupation and Intifada has brought our people and the Israelis a real disaster. Palestinians women make up the officially least killed demographic group after Israeli children. Are Palestinian women therefore the adult winners in this conflict? No. women also lose their lives in another on-going and cruel war between Palestinians and Israeli Jews, which is also a struggle between patriarchy and women's rights. But women usually lose their lives much more slowly. In a much less noticeable and very different way, this is seldom shown in official or even unofficial statistics.
The Palestinian society has returned 50 years back. The social pathologies are increasing. Killing women and young girls has increased. Over 60 young girls were killed in Palestinian cities because of issues of family honor last year.
These cold murders are justified by their own families, brother, father or mother or relatives, or sometimes even the extremist religious gunmen, because they were talking with a man in the university, drinking cup of coffee with a friend, or falling in love with a friend, or because they were forced to sleep out of their house because of the Israeli borders...
The age of marriage in Palestine is between 14 – 18 years. During the Intifada the girls were obliged to leave schools and marry at this early age. This problem increased the cases of beatings and divorce between their young husband, and caused negative consequences for the women, as divorced women live a restricted life in our society.
The new generation of Palestinians who suffered the Intifada is affected by deep psychological stress. They are a hopeless generation affected by hate, revenge, illiteracy and violence. This will affect us for the next fifty years.
In Israel at the same time, the civil society suffers of the presence of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Many families have lost their children, mothers, fathers… due to suicide bombings. The poor people also suffer in Israel be cause of cuttings in the social security budget to serve the building of new settlements, and the unemployment statistics in Israel have worsened.