Khalid Amayreh is an American-educated Palestinian journalist based in the West Bank. He lives with his family in the Occupied Palestinian town of Dura. Here is an autobiographical article.
My Personal Experience with the Israeli occupation
When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, I was nine years old. This means that for the past 34 years, I have been "living" in the "Israeli era," or, to put more accurately, under Israel's dehumanizing military occupation.
Three years before I was born, three of my four paternal uncles, Hussein 27, Mahmoud 25, and Yosef 23, were killed by Israeli soldiers. They were simple shepherds who were grazing their herds near the village of Al-burj near the so-called armistice line, 20 km south West of the West Bank town of Hebron. With my three uncles, three other relatives, including a woman, were also shot dead.
In fact, the Israelis not only killed three men of my family but also confiscated the three hundred sheep upon which my family's livelihood depended to a large extent. This calamity condemned us to a life of misery and poverty for many years to come. Thus, my family had to live in a cave for 22 years. The misery, the suffering, the abject-poverty were conspicuous in all aspects of our life. Until today, the Israeli government neither expressed guilt for the crime, nor compensated us for our stolen property. Of course, our loss didn't stop at three uncles killed on one day and 300 sheep arrogated by the Israeli government. Much more was taken away from us six years earlier, in 1948, our land in al-Za'ak, Um-Hartain, our home, everything.
Under Jordan rule, the most important thing the Jordanian authorities cared about was loyalty to the king and his family. Connections with the King and his Mukhabarat (or intelligence apparatus) meant that you've got done. Shouting "Ya'ish Jalalat al Malik" (long live the king), would give you an automatic certificate of good conduct. No wonder, it was a corrupt regime based on sycophancy, favoritism, nepotism, graft and corruption. The King was the law, and the law didn't exist.
The Jordanian regime never really made genuine efforts or preparations to repulse a possible Israeli onslaught. The most immediate priority for the Jordanian regime seemed to make sure that Palestinians didn't possess firearms. A Palestinian would get a six-month prison sentence if a bullet cartridge were found in his possession. Like the Israelis would do later, the Jordanians enlisted the "makhatir" (clan notables) to inform on every gesture of opposition or dissatisfaction with the King's rule within their respective areas. This cronyism and police state structure gave rise to more corruption.
Those free-minded Palestinians who insisted on voicing their conscience were dumped into the notorious El-Jafer prison in eastern Jordan where they were often tortured to death. I know of at least one person in my town Dura who was tortured to death for his political views.
So, we had to bear two burdens, despotism and repression from the Jordanian regime and frequent, across-border attacks from Israel. I can't forget Israeli Mirages flying over my head in 1966 as they dropped their Napalm bombs on civilians in the village of El-Sammou.
In 1967, I was ten years old. I can remember when we were told to raise the white flags when the Israeli army surrounded our village, Kharsa, west of Hebron. We were told we would be shot and killed if we didn't raise the white flag aloft. The Jordanian soldiers left in disgrace and headed eastward, some put on traditional women clothes to disguise themselves.
At the beginning, the Israelis launched what one may call a charm-campaign. Some people prematurely began making positive remarks about the Israelis such as "Oh, they are better than the Jordanians, they are civilized!" But that feeling was premature and didn't last long, as the occupation army began adopting stringent measures against us.
Soon enough, the Israelis began confiscating the land and building settlements. They also would demolish homes as a reprisal for guerilla attacks. In our culture, if you want to express extreme ill will toward somebody, you say "Yikhrib Beitak" may your home be destroyed.
The Israelis sought to take full advantage of this weak link in our social psychology. They demolished thousands of houses. The demolition has never ceased. Home demolition would leave deep psychological scars in peoples memories and hearts. Children would return from school only to see their homes being destroyed by bulldozers driven by soldiers wearing helmets with the Star of David on them. That Star of David, which we are told is originally a religious symbol, symbolized hate and evil. Even today, I couldn't imagine a more hateful sign.
Phobias, deep stress, neurosis, and depression are among the disorders children of demolished homes would suffer.
I personally witnessed several demolitions when I was 11. The operation would begin by declaring the village where the doomed house is located a closed military zone.
Then, all men from age 14 to age 70 are asked to assemble at the playground of the local school, with their heads bowed down. Very often the soldiers would shoot over peoples' heads to terrorize them. Civility was always absent, and in these days, there was no Jazeera or CNN to cover Israel's shameful acts, so they felt at liberty doing as they saw fit.
Then, the commanding officer would give the doomed family half an hour to get all their belongings out. (These days they don't give even five minutes).
The scene of young children comforting younger children is devastating. The distraught housewives would struggle to get her utensils and whatever meager appliances out lest they be crushed. A child would hasten to get his favorite toy, or an enlarged picture of his late grandfather before it is too late. Then the commanding officer would give the go ahead and the house would become rubble.
Afterwards, the Red Cross would bring a tent, as a temporary shelter, or the tormented family would simply make an enclosure and sleep under the trees. These were indelible images of misery, an ugly testimony to Israel's Nazi-like savagery.
Born into a very poor family, I started working in Beir Shiva when I was fourteen as a construction worker and then assistant plasterer (Maggish). I was able to learn Hebrew as well as the Moroccan dialect spoken by many Jews who had migrated from North Africa. Like Palestinians, most Moroccan Jews worked in the construction sector. Some were street sweepers as well.
On some occasions, the people I worked for would not give me my wages. I worked for such famous construction company as Rasco, Solel Bonei, Hevrat Ovdeim. I still retain my old Israeli work card.
We were continually humiliated at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks at the A'rad intersections on the way to Beir Shiva. A Jewish officer would beat one of us savagely without a convincing reason. I made many Jewish friends then, but the psychological barrier remained intact. I did intermix with some Tunisian and Moroccan Jews in Arad, Beir Shiva and Dimona.
In 1974, I took part in anti-occupation demonstration in Dura (then I was an 11th grade high school student). The soldiers cornered me in one of the narrow streets of the small town, and beat me savagely on the head with the butts of their rifles. I was nearly killed. I hated them, as I never posed a threat to their lives. They displayed no humanity and I was only shouting "Falastin Arabiyya" "Palestine is Arab."
In 1975, after I passed the high school diploma exam, I went back to the construction sites in Beir Shiva. My family was too poor to send me to college. For sometime, the construction site in Beir sheva was my college. There I worked for a contractor named Shimon, a Tunisian Jew. It was hard and very hot, but I did manage to make enough money to travel to Amman. There I was able to get a student visa from the US embassy.
In July 1976, I traveled to the US with only 200 US dollars in my pocket. There I studied at Seminole and Oscar Rose Junior College in Oklahoma, then on to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where I obtained a BA in journalism. Then in 1982, I obtained a Master degree from the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. I really wanted to be an engineer, but seeing how the Zionists were turning the black into white, the white into black, the big lie into a "truth" glorified by millions, I decided to switch to journalism.
I began writing letters to the editor, letters that would invite rabid and nervous replies from Zionist students on campus. Then the Zionists would make threats and use other intimidation tactics. A survivor of poverty, misery, and violence, I didn't give a damn about their threats. I continued to cause them a lot of headache till my very last day in the US.
I was very active in the student campus movement in the States. I was ambivalent about the US. On the one hand I was impressed by the democracy and freedom of speech, on the other I was frustrated by the country's wanton support of Israel's oppressive policies. That feeling is still very much alive in me. Only the frustration and indignation have increased.
My letters to the editor can be found in such papers as "the Oklahoma Daily" and "the Daily Egyptians" under the name Khalid Suleiman. Occasionally, I used other names to elude the Zionists.
In 1983, I returned to the West Bank.
However, there is a little story that happened to me on my way back to Hebron. While traveling from Istanbul to Cairo, I thought I should travel directly to the Ben Gurion airport (without having to travel to Amman first as usual) and then by car to the West Bank. The El AL officer at the Cairo Airport assured me that everything would be ok, and I would be able to travel to Hebron very smoothly. It was not.
When we landed at Ben Gurion, I was immediately arrested. The Shin Beth interrogated me for five hours on my studies back in the states, my friends, the associations I was affiliated with, etc.
Then, I was told that the Israeli interior minister of that time, Yosef Burg (father of present Knesset speaker Abraham Burg) issued an order barring my entry into the country (my country). The order stated that I should be deported back to Egypt within 24 hours.
To make things worse, the police confiscated my papers, including the vital green "travel permit" issued by the Israeli military government and renewed by the Israeli consulate in Dallas. Without the permit, I would not be able to return to Hebron. Was it that Burg wanted to banish me from my country forever as had been done to millions of Palestinians?
It was nearly 7:00 pm, and the soldiers took me to the old British barracks where they told me to stay till the next morning. Three female soldiers stayed next to me, and they were making all sorts of jokes about me. They apparently didn't know I knew Hebrew. I was given an orange; I didn't eat it.
The next morning, airport officials forced me onto an Air Sinai plane and within two hours I was in Cairo again.
There, like a professional hijacker, I slipped into the Jordanian Royal Airways hall, convinced a Palestinian clerk to let me in. He did. On my way to Amman from Cairo, I was overwhelmed by anxiety. The Israeli authorities had stamped my Jordanian passport at the Ben Gurion airport, which meant that if the Jordanians found out that I had been in Tel Aviv, they most likely would throw me into jail for "dealing with the enemy."
Luckily the Jordanian Passport official at Amman International airport was so busy that he didn't examine the stamps on my passport. Good for me.
Then I faced the problem of my confiscated travel permit. I had to be smart, otherwise I would stay a refugee for the rest of my life.
So I went to the Main office of the Red Cross in Amman and told them that I had lost my Israeli travel permit in New York. (A good lie.) Well, the RC issued me a special VIP document in lieu of the one confiscated by the Israelis. Then I headed westward to the Allenby Bridge. There, luckily, I was admitted rather respectfully, apparently with the Israelis not aware of what had happened to me 48 hours earlier at Ben Gurion Airport.
In 1984, I began my journalistic career. Slowly, the Israeli would soon be getting fed up with my ideas and writings. Then the Mukhabarat (Shabak) would summon me once a month on the average. They would ask me to become a collaborator. I would tell them "do you think that somebody like me would become a collaborator?"
The way the Shabak (the Shin Beth) behaved convinced me that the Israeli state classified the Palestinians into two categories, collaborators and terrorists, nothing in between.
The place where the interrogation took place was crowded with Palestinians being tortured. I would hear people screaming. I personally know at least six people who died of torture in one year. One of them, Abdul Samad Herezat, was a personal friend of mine. He died as a result of the "the shaking technique."
The Israelis used a variety of torture methods against Palestinian inmates, including hooding, savage beating, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, suffocation, and many other forms of physical and psychological pressure. Israeli doctors would help administer the torture. Sometimes, they would bring an inmate's wife or sister and threaten to rape her in front of him. They would not rape the woman, but only threaten to do so in order to extract confessions from the inmate.
During the first intifada (1987-93), the Israeli army used really dirty tactics of collective punishment against the entire population. They would confine people inside their homes for 30 consecutive days, and if one ventured to get out, he would be shot dead.
It was like hibernation, and many ill people would succumb to their illnesses, being barred from leaving their homes. In Hebron, the curfew lasted for three months after the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in 1994. They were like 90 days in hell.
I remember that in March 1994, Israeli president Ezer Weisman visited Hebron to offer condolences to the Palestinians. I was asked by my editor to cover the visit, which required that I apply for a travel permit at the Adorayem military camp in order to be able to travel the 10 kilometers to Hebron. I was stunned when the officer in command told me "sorry you can't go."
I retorted "but there are many journalists there." Then he said, "Yes, they are Jewish journalists, and you are not a Jew."
Earlier, the Israeli Shabak officer closed my AL-Qods press office in downtown Hebron and instructed all Arabic newspapers in the West Bank not to publish my reports. Indeed, my fax machine was confiscated and they would not give me a telephone line. Imagine I was only able to receive a telephone line in 1995 after the installment of the Palestinian Authority.
Today, I am confined to my hometown of Dura, near Hebron. I can't travel outside, I can't travel abroad, and I can't even travel to the next village. The Israeli Shin Beth still controls our lives. Today a Shin Beth officer, Captain Eitan, called me and asked me about the PA latest crackdown on Hamas. His massage was "we are watching you."
In short, the Israeli occupation is perpetual misery, torment, persecution, enslavement, and dehumanization. I feel frustrated because I can't communicate to you the full extent of this enduring evil. It transcends reality.