Arab families banished to desert camp in West Bank crackdown
Jericho, Israeli-occupied West Bank
It was midnight. Yacub Shumali, his wife, two daughters, and furniture were dumped by the Israeli military authorities in the snake- and scorpion-infested desert ruins of the abandoned Ein Sultan refugee camp outside Jericho.
"This is your home now," the Palestinian teacher was told by an Israeli military commander, as he stood in inky darkness beside three crumbling mudbrick huts without water, electricity, or any facilities.
As he stared at the vast surrounding shanty ghost town whose onetime 30,000 residents fled east across the nearby Jordan River during the 1967 war, he heard the officer say, "You cannot leave here without military permission."
Yakub Shumali's banishment May 15 from the Christian town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem is part of a new Israeli "strong-hand" policy in the occupied West Bank aimed at crushing escalating unrest there in recent months.
His son Tariq, 17, is accused of throwing stones at an Israeli military vehicle. He and his family deny the charge. Instead they allege that Tariq was seriously injured while subsequently being held in detention. The Israeli authorities at first insisted that the boy's injuries, attested to by Dr. Peter Qumari of Hussein Government Hospital in Bethlehem, came from falling off his bike. But military sources now say he was "also beaten."
The throwing of stones and firebombs by Palestinian youths at military -- and Israeli civilian -- vehicles on West Bank roads has become a "critical problem," according to Israeli military sources. If not checked, they say, it could block the military's freedom to move on West Bank roads.
They add that strikes, demonstrations, increasingly bold political opposition , and the massacre in Hebron of six Israeli settlers on May 2 by as-yet-uncaught Palestinian gunmen all have helped create the need for the new hard-line policy introduced at the beginning of May.
Some high Israeli security sources suggest in private that the problem is largely political, stemming from heightened national Palestinian consciousness as world attention has focused on the West Bank. They are also unhappy at the inflamatory vigilante actions of some Israeli settlers on the West Bank.
According to the Israeli press, neither the government nor the military establishment has yet passed final judgment on how strictly to apply the "strong hand." But in recent weeks a variety of measures have been taken to combat stone-throwing: Early closure of schools, heavy fines on parents of accused youths, and arrest of teachers at troubled schools, and now internal exile.
Other new measures include: the muzzling of all Palestinian mayors by cutting their phones and forbidding them to leave their towns, talk with other mayors, or talk to the press; threats to deport more political leaders after the expulsion of two leading mayors in the wake of the Hebron killings; and imposition of extensive curfews -- Hebron's has just been partially lifted after 16 days -- with attendant severe financial loss to farmers and laborers.
The debate over the "strong hand" has begun to go public. The English-language Labor Party-oriented Jerusalem Post editorialized May 19: "Collective punishment, banishment of individuals not directly linked with crimes, summary dispatch of families to deserted and desolate refugee camps near Jericho, excesses by Israeli soldiers, cannot solve what is fundamentally a political problem."
The banishment of the Shumali family -- and also the Kadi family of Nablus -- marks the first time the military government has resorted to internal exile within the West Bank. In neither case has anyone yet been convicted in court of a crime.
Sitting on the floor of a thatched hut in sweltering 90-degree heat, his family's belongings heaped in the dust outside, Yacub Shumali, the head teacher at the Swedish secondary school in Bethlehem, said that his family is plagued by mosquitoes and fearful of howling dog packs.
His home in Beit Sahur has been sealed. His daughter Ibtisam has been fired from her government teaching post. He himself has been told he cannot work, and his daughter Risalla told she cannot return to her university. "The military governor of Bethlehem told me, 'Your son stoned a military car, so we have punished you by making you leave Beit Sahur,'" he says bitterly. He, his wife, and daughters are on hunger strike.
In nearby Aqabat Jaber camp the Kadi family appears in worse shape. A laborer who commuted daily to Israel, Mohammed Kadi lived in the Ballata refugee camp in Nablus but had built a three-room concrete house there with water and electricity. He says his 19-year-old son, imprisoned for throwing stones, is mentally retarded.
One of the five children exiled with Mr. Kadi, a 2-year-old boy, appears feverish and covered with mosquito bites. One of several visitors and relatives crowded into the mud hut, a mukhtar (head man) from Kadi's camp, says sharply, "The problem is that the Israeli Army drives through the camp so, of course, the young people throw stones. If the Army would stay out there would be no trouble."
"We have no water, no lights, nothing," says Mr. Kadi. "They told me to stay here and build my home. But tomorrow or the day after I will find a car and take my wife and children home even if they shoot me. I would rather my children die by bullets than by mosquitoes or scorpions."