Collective punishment and community resilience in Azzun

By EA Geoff, Northern West Bank.

Azzun, a town of nearly 9,000 people in the north west of occupied Palestine, has been subjected to prolonged periods of collective punishment for more than a decade. The collective punishment of a whole community for the actions of some individuals is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” One instance, from January this year, was reported by the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem.

Since the 1970s, Azzun has been losing land and olive trees to the building of illegal Israeli settlements and settlement roads on Palestinian land. In addition to blocking Palestinian roads and restricting movement, Israeli soldiers – who say they are looking for suspects – operate in the town at night more often than not. We are told by an official from the municipality that some 150 people from Azzun are currently in Israeli jails; young men released from them tell us that poor food, restricted exercise and solitary confinement are common. Yet they also talk of making new friends in prison, where adversity and struggle becomes a bond.

This town still has hope, though. Hope that the soldiers will refrain from their almost nightly incursions, when they let off sound bombs and smoke bombs and go into houses to arrest young men and boys. Hope that they can live a normal life at night as they try to do during the day.

Recently, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was taken to a nearby settlement police station and questioned for four hours. He wasn’t released until 9.00p.m, when he was just shown the door. There was no call to his worried parents so that they could come and collect him; no contact with any organisation that could take him home; no offer to drive him home – he was just released into a settlement hostile to him. He walked home terrified. He was lucky not to be detained in prison, or to have to plea-bargain his freedom and pay a large fine. Detentions like this are in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 37 states that every child deprived of liberty “shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family”. Israel is a signatory to this convention.

EAs carrying out protective presence in Azzun. [Photo: EAPPI/Geoff]

Ecumenical Accompaniers with EAPPI have been holding regular afternoon walks in the town and have been welcomed by local people. We cannot prevent the soldiers from making nightly incursions or blocking access but we can offer a protective presence by standing with the local people and passing their stories on. Their generosity in adversity is remarkable. We are offered many kinds of hospitality: coffee; high fives from children; free vegetables; passing cars waving at us; even a haircut in the local barbers. This resistance to occupation shows itself every day as children continue to go to school, farmers go about their business and the seemingly endless Palestinian job of taking cars apart and re building them continues.

However, for the first time in some weeks we experienced a sense of hopelessness from a group of men in the town. We often talk with these men; different languages collide and different words are exchanged but there is an understanding between us. We are challenged about what the international community is doing to end the taking of their land. We respond by saying that we will use their stories to win the hearts of our countries and ask our governments to act. Hopelessness such as this seems rare in Azzun but this is a community under great stress – determined to maintain its resilient purpose of living in the area and doing what has been done for generations. The people retain a desire to live peacefully and equitably with their neighbours. Collective punishment of this community serves no useful purpose other than to harden the resolve of people to stay and wait until that brighter future appears.

Write to your TD (in Ireland) or your MP (in the UK) asking them to put pressure on the Irish and British governments to ensure Israel complies with its international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

You can find contact details for your TD here and for your MP here.

You can also write to them asking the Irish and British governments to put pressure on Israel to cease the illegal collective punishment of Palestinian communities.