Dozens of international civilians traveling on a solidarity visit to Gaza yesterday were assaulted by the Israeli military as they attempted to cross the border between Israel and Palestine. The group, which was part of a larger International Solidarity Movement delegation, had been walking peacefully from one side of the checkpoint to the other, when soldiers guarding the post forcibly stopped them. With little warning, they began firing shots into the air and then descended upon the group, punching the men and body-slamming the women. At least one woman was later taken to the hospital. Members of the group were then dragged and forcefully thrown onto their tour bus. Two French civilians were detained.
Prior to the assault, the international group had been planning to spend the day in Gaza distributing humanitarian supplies and demonstrating their solidarity. They were scheduled to tour Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafah, including the refugee camps. While they were initially processed and given permission to enter, the soldiers then changed their minds and blocked the group from going. It was at that point that approximately half of the delegation decided to cross the checkpoint on foot.
The international group was comprised of women and men of all ages, from the United States, Belgium, Britain and France.
AMY GOODMAN: Dozens of international civilians traveling on a solidarity visit to Gaza yesterday were assaulted by Israeli military. The group, which was part of a larger International Solidarity Movement delegation, had been walking peacefully from one side of the checkpoint to the other, when the soldiers guarding the post forcibly stopped them. According to the travelers, with little warning, the soldiers began firing shots into the air, then descended on the group, punching the men and body-slamming the women. At least one woman was later taken to the hospital. Members of the group were then dragged and forcefully thrown onto their tour bus. Two French civilians were detained.
Prior to the assault, the international group had been planning to spend the day in Gaza distributing humanitarian supplies and demonstrating their solidarity. They were scheduled to tour Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah, including the refugee camps. While they were initially processed and given permission to enter, the soldiers then changed their minds and blocked the group from going. It was at that point, the observers say, that approximately half of the delegation decided to cross the checkpoint on foot. The international group was comprised of women and men of all ages from the U.S., from Belgium, Britain and France.
We’re going to turn first to Brian Wood, who was beaten up yesterday by the Israeli soldiers.
Welcome to The War and Peace Report, Brian.
BRIAN WOOD: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us where you are right now, and speak up?
BRIAN WOOD: Yeah. We’re in Bethlehem right now. And we’re here at our base for all the activities for the international solidarity campaign this month.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you yesterday?
BRIAN WOOD: As you said, it’s about half of the group of internationals decided to walk across Erez Crossing, after we were initially processed and allowed to enter, and then half the group entered into — they were actually inside Gaza. The other half were waiting outside Gaza, when the Israeli border police decided that nobody could enter into Gaza.
They cited a security concern that we would hear about later on the news. It seemed that they began to dramatize the situation around the checkpoint in order to justify their excuse for us not — for them not allowing us into Gaza. For example, suddenly there were Israeli soldiers around the checkpoint that began shooting. One was shooting into a nearby Palestinian town called Beit Hanoun. They also cited a mortar attack on the checkpoint while we were there as a security concern and a reason they wouldn’t let us in. However, mortars are easily heard and make very loud explosions, and not one of us heard them. And even people in our group who have background in military services in their various countries were absolutely appalled that the border police cited a mortar attack on the crossing, on the Erez Crossing, as a reason for not letting us in.
So, 35 internationals decided to walk across the checkpoint, after we were processed through and then verbally denied access. The head of the international department at Erez Crossing, Captain Joseph Levy, was the one we were negotiating with beforehand. After he saw us walking across the border, he began to chase us down and said that if we did not stop walking, he would stop us forcibly and with violence. And we continued to walk. And after a couple minutes, he began throwing people to the ground, punching people. I was punched in my face by him.
AMY GOODMAN: Was he there alone?
BRIAN WOOD: He was the main instigator of the violence against us. However, other border police were joining him, but not near to the extent that he was attacking us. Later on, he was the — he was also the same person who at least five times threatened to shoot all of us if we took even one more step further. One female in the group, from Colorado, actually was threatened at gunpoint by him when she refused to turn around. And Sarah, one of our — another member of our group, the one who was in the hospital, she was right in front of me when he threw her. She looked like a rag doll, the way he threw her. And she landed wrong on her hip and is in the hospital for back and spinal problems.
He continued to run to each person in the group and push one down, run to the next one, throw them down, run to the next one, choke them, run to the next one and push them. He was running around like a crazy man, and even other border police and civilian police were trying to restrain him and verbally telling him to stop. And he continued with all of his actions.
They confiscated all the cameras, video or still, that we had in the group, as this was going on, so that we could not film their activities. They also ended up confiscating all the video footage, and we ended up sneaking away with a few still photos of everything that happened, and we’re waiting for those to be processed.
AMY GOODMAN: So, did you ever make it into Gaza?
BRIAN WOOD: No, we were completely stopped from entering Gaza by the use of extreme violence, by shooting live ammunition all around us — at least 40 rounds were fired — and by several border police, including the head of the International Affairs Department at Erez Crossing, Captain Levy, physically assaulting all of us. I had never seen so many old women body-slammed by a young man in my entire life. I’m still dumbfounded that he did this to these women especially. And even several of the men in the group noticed that when they were walking with women, he would attack the women first, before he would attack the men. His behavior was something that none of us could imagine, none of us would have ever expected. And it’s also — it’s also an unprecedented case that the Israelis did not allow internationals into Gaza. We’ve never heard of any case like this before in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Brian Wood. He’s in Bethlehem right now. He’s with a group called the International Solidarity Movement. Georgina Reeves is also on the line with us. They attempted to get into Gaza yesterday. You’re with the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People. You negotiated with the Israelis to try to cross the border and led the delegation. Can you explain how it was that you got permission to enter Gaza, and then how it was denied and what happened?
GEORGINA REEVES: Sure. Well, we arrived in the morning a little after 9:30. There were two buses in total. Our bus arrived first.
AMY GOODMAN: Georgina, are you on a — are you on a speakerphone?
GEORGINA REEVES: No, I’m not.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, OK. It’s just echoing. So —
GEORGINA REEVES: Oh.
AMY GOODMAN: — if you can go as close to your phone as possible?
GEORGINA REEVES: OK. Is that better?
AMY GOODMAN: A little better, yeah.
GEORGINA REEVES: OK. We arrived at the crossing a little after 9:30. The bus with the American and British nationals on arrived first. The French arrived a little bit after us. We went in, were taken — the bus was taken to the VIP area, as it’s called, where our documents would be processed. Our passports were collected. Everything seemed perfectly normal. There was nothing that suggested there was going to be any difficulty with this. The French group arrived, as well. Their passports were also taken. Their passports were returned to them first, after approximately about three-quarters of an hour, and they still had our passports. So, I was going in asking how long would it be. And the same every time, no matter who I spoke to, it was, “Oh, just a few minutes. Just a few minutes. Just a few minutes.” They were processing the passports. I saw them processing them. But still, every — you know, the time got longer and longer. The French group had left. Their bus had been allowed to pass through the crossing and into Gaza.
And then, suddenly, their story kind of started to change. And as I spoke to Captain Joseph Levy, he was saying — he was being very, very nice in his attitude, but was saying, “I’m very sorry. There’s some kind of security issue in Gaza. We’re just going to have to keep your group here for a little while.” And then that changed to: “There’s a security issue. We’re going to be closing the crossing.” Then it changed to: “There’s a security issue, and we want you out the area.” Now, I kept saying that “Half of our group have gone in. What is going on?” And there was some inconsistencies in what was being said to us, because he told me that we weren’t allowed in, but we kept saying, “But you’ve allowed part of our group in. Why will you not allow us all in?” Then they decide — he said to me, “We’re going to actually return the other half of your group to you,” and sent buses out from the side we were, the Israeli side, to collect the French delegation waiting on the Gaza side for us. So they were then brought back.
In the meantime, I had managed to get our passports returned. But they had actually stamped us out of Israel, and then stamped us back in again, as if we had crossed and come back. And then they were saying that we — there was a situation, security situation, they didn’t want us in the area, and that we would have to leave. And we weren’t ready to do that. We were sort of milling around outside. And although they said, “We want you to leave. We want you to leave,” they then just left us alone. They didn’t try and pressure us to leave at that point.
Then, as Brian explained, they were citing a security issue with a mortar fire. And absolutely, if there was a mortar fired in this area, we would certainly have known about it. But they kept saying that there was danger, and we had to leave, we had to leave. At this point, the group were obviously very, very frustrated. We were very concerned. We felt that they were, you know, treating us very, very badly. And there was absolutely no reason for us not being allowed through, apart from the fact that they just didn’t want us to go through. And it was a totally arbitrary decision on their part.
So, approximately — about 35 of the group said they wanted to continue with the trip. So they decided to walk through. The remaining part of the group, who said they could return back to the Bethlehem area, got onto the bus, and the bus drove out a little away from the Erez Crossing area. So, the group started to walk forward. And a couple of us stayed behind the group just to observe what would happen.
And as Brian described, most horrific scenes of violence against completely nonviolent civilians just trying to walk through the crossing occurred. And it was so shocking, I can’t believe it still. It was quite incredible to see the behavior of the military against people just walking through. They were carrying their luggage. They posed no threat. And as Brian said, Captain Levy appeared to go absolutely balmy. He was crazy. And he was very, very violent. And we’ve had some quite bad injuries, you know, from punches and from people being dragged about. And the distance I was away, I couldn’t see completely clearly, because they tried to move us back, but I could see people being very, very, very viciously manhandled and thrown onto the bus, when they bought the bus down eventually to bring them back. The way they were putting them on the bus, I’m surprised there weren’t any broken bones.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has the Israeli military higher-ups said about what happened to all of you?
GEORGINA REEVES: Nothing. We’ve heard nothing. I mean, as you’re aware, two of the French delegation were arrested. And their group, which is part of the GIPP movement, I haven’t heard from them today.
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean, the GI —
GEORGINA REEVES: Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what that movement is.
GEORGINA REEVES: The GIPP is the Grassroots International Protection for Palestinian People, which is a similar kind of organization to the ISM, and it’s an umbrella organization. It involves various different organizations, like PNGO, which is the Palestinian Network of NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. And their group — that’s who the French people are here with. And we joined with them yesterday on a joint solidarity trip, an educational trip.
AMY GOODMAN: Mary Thomas was on the line with you, but, Brian Wood, as we wrap up this discussion, where do you head from here? How long are you planning to be in Bethlehem, in the Occupied Territories? And where do you come from?
BRIAN WOOD: I come from Colorado. I’ve been here almost a year. I plan to stay here. It goes to another year. We will continue our activities of nonviolent direct action against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. We will continue for as long as we can. As long as we’re alive, we’ll continue, whether we’re here in occupied Palestine or we’re in our respective countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Has the Israeli peace movement made any statements about what happened to you? And are you holding a news conference?
BRIAN WOOD: Yeah, the French delegation held a press conference today on [inaudible], despite intense media efforts, media —
AMY GOODMAN: This, in East Jerusalem?
BRIAN WOOD: Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: In East Jerusalem?
BRIAN WOOD: Yes, in East Jerusalem. Despite intense media efforts, very little media showed up. Unfortunately, it was mostly just local media. So, the word about this incident will not get out very far, even though it’s a very significant incident of violence and the retraction of the rights of internationals to travel to Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it will scare young people who want to be a part of these kinds of actions? We saw it a lot in Latin America, as well, American, U.S. solidarity activists going down to bear witness, and when people hear about this, it makes them afraid.
BRIAN WOOD: Yeah, we [inaudible] —
AMY GOODMAN: I don’t hear you anymore speaking on the telephone.
MARY THOMAS: Hello? Can you hear me?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, I hear you, but I don’t hear Brian.
MARY THOMAS: This is Mary Thomas.
AMY GOODMAN: Mary, we’re ending up in five seconds. But I just wanted to —
MARY THOMAS: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: You are also from Colorado?
MARY THOMAS: No, I am from Lansing, Michigan. I’m here with the Michigan Peace Teams.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks for joining us. I was just asking Brian the final question. Do you think that this kind of attack on the group will discourage other young people from other places in the world and the United States from coming to bear witness in the Occupied Territories?
MARY THOMAS: I would hope not. And I believe that because of what I’ve seen in the world organization movement, the 20-year-olds. I’ve been in peace organizations now for 20-some years, and the 20-year-olds have so much vision, courage and energy that I think things like this actually empower them more than scare them away. That has been my experience. And I’m really hopeful. A lot of us who have been longtime peace activists began to wonder if we weren’t ready to be dinosaurs and just left, you know, without anybody behind us. In the last five years with the environmental issue and the World Bank and the School of Americas, our torch is definitely being carried by the 20-year-olds. And they’re trained, and they’re committed, and I think, actually, this will inspire many more to come.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Mary Thomas of the Michigan Peace Team, Brian wood of the International Solidarity Movement from Colorado, and Georgina Reeves with the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People. You can get their contact information on our website at democracynow.org. You are listening to The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll find out about the Arab League and why they’re being forced out of their offices in New York post-9/11. Stay with us.