The Untold Hostage Story

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On Thursday morning, 29th December 2005, I received a short SMS from Muntasser Abdel Rahim, 26, Medical Relief Society Ambulance driver in Jenin. ‘I’m sorry to tell you the Israelis are making trouble now in Jenin Camp. They are in Motassem’s house’.

On Sunday morning, 1st January 2006, a shorter SMS came in from Muntasser – ‘Hi! The Israelis are gone from Jenin and from Motassem’s home now’.

Between those two messages, there were 78 hours of terrorism and dozens of texts and phone calls. This is what happened to the Refugee Camps of Balaata and Jenin during those hours.

While the media focussed on the ‘kidnapping’ of three Britons in Gaza, an enormous force of soldiers of the ‘Israeli’ occupation army (IOA) invaded the two camps, and the City of Jenin, occupying homes and holding families hostage and using them as human shields, as well as doing a bit of wounding and arresting as they went along.

Khalil Al-Qaisi, 18, was shot at point-blank range and critically-injured with multiple bullets into his abdomen. It is too dangerous to stay in hospital so his family have taken him to safety after 2 days, as soon as he had a chance of survival off the life support.

Why too dangerous in hospital? Because the IOA will come and abduct patients from the Intensive Care Unit or simply shoot them where they lie.

The Abdel Rahim family are well-known to me so I will concentrate on their experience which was repeated all over northern Palestine. I find the structure of what is reported extremely revealing of the propaganda-pedalling of the BBC and the UK press. On one side we had people in the hands of Palestinians: they were not in any danger for the Palestinians have never harmed a hair of our heads however much they dislike and distrust us, while the IOA have murdered several of us (Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, James Miller, Iain Hook).

On the other hand we had Palestinian families in the hands of ‘Israelis’, who have, in this Intifada alone, murdered some 4,500 innocent Palestinians, and thus in grave danger.

When the IOA occupied the Jenin camp, they burst into the home of a recently married couple, Motassem, 24 and Sanaabel, 18, with ‘savage knocking on the door’ and their usual threats of ‘open the door or we bomb it and shoot you dead’. They unplugged the land-line, took the young couple’s mobiles away and locked them in the bedroom, where they would remain until Sunday morning. In this little home there were 15 soldiers with their 20 ‘weekend’ bags packed with a veritable armoury (as Muntasser put it, they brought ‘… many guns … inergia rocket launchers and so on’). In the building are two homes: the tenants of the second were out, so the soldiers simply blew in their door and 15 of them occupied that too.

When the ‘Israeli’ soldiers occupy a home the dirt and devastation cannot be imagined without seeing it. Anything from excrement smeared on the walls, sofa urinated on, precious things smashed, insults painted over the walls, cash and valuables looted. ‘ … I cannot even think of my home as it is whenever they leave’ as my friend, Ghada, from Rafidiya said to me – they have had this experience countless times.

As they hit the house Motassem has the quick wits to phone Muntasser before his mobile is taken. He has a UPMRC Medical worker’s ID card, so Muntasser calls the Jenin Office of the Red Cross for help and asks the secretary to call whoever is in charge to try to do something, and to give him that number. She calls back eventually, did not give any number and said, ‘… they (IOA) can’t leave …’ – punkt – as they say in German. Nothing else! That was it! When Muntasser demands to speak to the person in charge he gets a priceless answer – ‘Today is a holiday – we can do nothing until Monday’. Muntasser then calls his friend, the chief of the Red Cross in Tubas who also calls the IOA commanding officer. The reply is the same! You see, they hold all the cards – well, all the weapons – and there is no one who will argue with them.

So this resourceful young man, Muntasser calls Physicians for Human Rights in ‘Israel’ to ask why are his brother and sister-in-law not allowed to leave and to request that they pressure the IOA to allow Motassem and Sanaabel, who is only 18 and terrified, to leave the house. They are absolutely no help at all and come back with the answer that ‘there is no (IOA) order to let them leave’! They were to be held to prevent the Resistance from fighting-back and attacking the soldiers in the house – in other words they were to be used as human shields.

In the early hours of Friday morning Sanaabel, who is pregnant, feels ill and she is in pain. She has not experienced this terrorism in the home before and she is weeping all the time, which is really tough for Motassem, in the horrible position of not being able to protect his wife. Motassem asks the IOA to let Sanaabel go to the hospital and he is allowed to call for help. He calls his brother Muntasser.

It is very dangerous for an Ambulance to come when the IOA are there: there have been more than 2,000 attacks on ambulance staff over the past 5 years – ranging from the murder of 25 staff to shooting and broken bones. But Muntasser is just about the bravest: when he arrives he is told to stay outside and strip so the IOA could see his ‘… body without clothes’. After they strip and search him the officer barks – ‘get out – alone – no Sanaabel!’.

After some hours, by 2.00 pm on Friday, she is very much worse, now bleeding as well: the IOA ‘let’ Motassem call and he again calls Muntasser who jumps out of the Ambulance and runs to the home – he is frantic of course. ‘Stop!’ screams a soldier, ‘do not move or I shoot you dead’. For four long minutes Muntasser plays ‘Statues’ on the spot – they mean it all right!

A soldier unlocks the door and brings the two at gun-point from the bedroom. ‘Take her. Him no’, he shouts, ‘but you must bring her back to here after doctor or we shoot him’. Motassem is now a hostage in danger.

At the Al-Raazi hospital Sanaabel has urine and blood tests and a thorough examination. After the Doctor checked everything he says she must stay in hospital at least overnight, as she is in danger of miscarrying. At this Sanaabel becomes very distressed, ‘… but they will hurt Motassem if I do not go back’ she keeps repeating, tears streaming down. There was no choice, so the Doctor writes out a paper summarising the situation and stating that she must be brought back if she became worse – for what it’s worth she could show it to the soldiers. (The usual response to such a paper is: ‘what is this? – you Palestinians are always sick!’ And they throw it away.) Muntasser reluctantly takes her back to the camp.

At 1.00pm on Saturday Muntasser receives another call and, after consulting the doctor at Al-Raazi, he collects some medication from the Pharmacy and returns yet again into the camp – still full of soldiers, tanks and other armour. When he approaches the house the soldiers, in terrified shrieks shout ‘… go back, go back, you can’t enter, you can’t enter’. It really is an extraordinary phenomenon to see the armed terrified of the unarmed – just shows what brainwashing can do to the unquestioning mind. You could almost laugh if they were not so trigger-happy.

Finally, Sanaabel got the medication – Motassem was told to come down to get it and Muntasser was told to hand it to him as far as possible from the soldiers – well, you can’t be too careful with medication can you!

Just then, at 2.00pm Saturday, a call comes in from a man in Al-Jabriat district whose 75 year-old father is having a heart attack and needs urgent medical care – ‘ … will you come?’ he said, ‘the street is occupied with Israelis’ ‘Of course, I’m coming’, answers Muntasser, already on his way, emergency lights flashing. He knows that the first half-hour after a heart attack is the most precious chance of life.

Outside the house were more soldiers to whom Muntasser, a paramedic, explains the medical scenario clearly and requests ‘permission’ to take the old man, Raja’ Abu ‘l-Hayjah, to hospital. The IOA go into a huddle, and then gave their answer: ‘we need time to give this man to you’. He is forced to wait for 10 agonised, life-threatening minutes. Most minutes are life-threatening here! Raja’ Abu ‘l-Hayjah eventually reached ICU where he remains.

At 6.00 am on Sunday the IOA left Balaata and Jenin, and the ordeal of so many families was over until the next time. Muntasser’s comment – ‘it is the New Year’s Day gift from the Israelis’.

I really believe that no one outside can imagine things which are a matter of course here. First, no international journalist writing in English lives north of Ramallah, or even comes north for more than a couple of hours, and thus none of them has even a glimmer of understanding of the situation on the ground.

Second, and most importantly, the New Year weekend highlights the difference in the treatment of two stories. The chances of help for hostages are dependent upon who’s got them! The first in which three British people were in the hands of Palestinians (God forbid!) who have never hurt anyone, gets blanket coverage for three days. The second, in which whole towns are in the hands of the Israelis – people who have killed more than 4,500 and damaged or destroyed nearly 70,000 homes, gets no coverage at all. It is an interesting contrast.

Many in Palestine believe that there is more to last week’s ‘kidnapping’ than meets the eye – they suspect that ‘Israel’ conspired with the Palestinian Authority to bribe a disaffected group of very deprived youngsters to kidnap some Brits in Gaza (and to bring about the wish of Fatah and Abu Mazen to stop the January election). ‘Israel’ knew that journalists would not be interested in what was happening in the field as they sat sipping their Gin-and-Tonics in Jerusalem and regurgitating bar-talk about the week’s sensation! They were right.

Anne Gwynne, an elected member of the International Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists (UK), writes from occupied Nablus where she has worked with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (formerly UPMRC). She can be contacted at .