Palestinian activist remarks on dangers, security

The political science department hosted Palestinian activist Zleikha Muhtaseb on Nov. 13 as part of its politics forum series. Muhtaseb, an interviewer and translator for human rights groups from Hebron, a West Bank city on the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shared anecdotes and stories from the region, but deflected tough questions about security and terrorist concerns.

Muhtaseb spoke of the dangers in the region from what she called the Israeli occupation. In the last five years, during an “infatada” or violent action, the Israeli Defense Force implemented a curfew in the region. This meant that Palestinians were forced to remain indoors 24 hours a day or else face action.

The curfew, Muhtaseb said, has hit the children the hardest. In 2001, for example, she said there was no school in the city for six months. In response, locals set up schools on roofs to teach the area children.

Muhtaseb also said that there were many psychological problems seen in the area’s children. Some wet their beds, while others became angry and intensely violent.

Muhtaseb and others challenged the curfew and demanded that the defense force allow children to go to school during the day.

She told a story of one child at a checkpoint that stood in front of soldiers for two hours, demanding to go to school, before he was finally let through.

Through this and other actions, Muhtaseb said, locals were able to reach an understanding with military commanders to allow children to go to school in spite of the curfew.

Muhtaseb said the curfews also impacted adults. During the time of the curfew, there was a spike in domestic violence in Palestinian homes, which she attributed to a lack of work.

Many men were unable to get to work on time because they could not get through checkpoints and were fired by employers, she said. She cited figures of 55 to 60 percent unemployment in Hebron as hurting the local economy and driving up family tension.

Muhtaseb said the ever-present Israeli soldiers were a strain on local families, as soldiers took over houses and other areas for military purposes. She told the story of one family whose house was taken over as an observation post. The family was forced into one room while the Israeli soldiers used rest of the house. “We have soldiers in our streets just about every five minutes,” she said.

Muhtaseb also accused Israeli soldiers of following a double standard for violence in the city. “When Palestinians are attacked, the Israeli soldiers pretend they are blind,” she said. “But when Israeli settlers are attacked, the army cracks down.”

She also criticized what she characterized as a small number of settlers around Hebron controlling the lives of the many more Palestinians inside of Hebron. “There are 500 settlers controlling the lives of 100,000 Palestinians,” she said.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture, one individual asked how active Islamic Jihad and HAMAS, two militant Palestinian organizations, were in the region. Muhtaseb said the two did a lot of good charity work, and did not answer how active they were in the violence in the city.

Muhtaseb said in response to another question that the Israeli government created the security concerns in the region, and that if the Israelis left the Palestinians alone, there would be no security problems.

She did emphasize, however, that she was nonviolent in her struggle against the Israelis. “It doesn’t mean I have to be violent to be against it,” Muhtaseb said.