JENIN, West Bank April 15 —
On a narrow dirt road separating this West Bank town from a
Jewish settlement, a Swede named Tobias Karlsson and four comrades
wedge themselves between a moving Israeli tank and a family of
Palestinians seeking passage on the road.
In volunteering as human shields, these and other visitors,
mostly from the United States and Europe, are taking enormous risks
and confronting the Israeli government with a public relations
Last week, Israeli troops critically wounded a British man trying
to save two children from Israeli fire. Days before, Karlsson's
friend, American Brian Avery, 24, of Albuquerque, N.M., was shot in
the face in Jenin. Another American, Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia,
Wash., died March 16 trying to block an Israeli bulldozer in
"If we're able to save just one Palestinian from Israeli gunfire,
our work will have been worth all the risks and sacrifices," said
Karlsson, 30, from Stockholm, his sandals covered in dust kicked up
by the tank.
Israeli critics say the self-declared human shields represent a
naive idealism that ignores the context that restrictions on
Palestinians are meant to keep out the suicide bombers and other
attackers who have killed about 750 Israelis in the past 2 1/2
years. The army also accuses one group of having sheltered a
Palestinian wanted for planning attacks on Israelis.
Palestinians have long complained that Israeli troops use
excessive force against civilians, and mounting casualties among
foreigners are likely to draw renewed attention to the charge. In 30
months of fighting, more than 2,200 Palestinians have been killed
most by Israeli troops.
The International Solidarity Movement, a group of Palestinians
and foreigners based in the Palestinian areas, says more volunteers
have been signing up since Corrie was killed. "Before Rachel's
death, we had one or two people filling out registrations each day,"
said George Rishmawi, a founder of the group. "Now we get about
eight per day."
The activists spend up to three months in the West Bank and Gaza,
the areas the Palestinians claim for their future state. Many live
on little more than pita sandwiches and cigarettes. Without a
salary, money raised back home has to be stretched.
"Sometimes this situation feels pretty hopeless, but this area is
ripe for change," said 40-year-old Kate Rafael from San Francisco
who grew up in a Zionist family.
The group, founded several years ago by a group of Palestinians
and Israelis gained attention last spring when Israeli troops
invaded West Bank towns to root out militants after a spate of
terror attacks. During Israel's operation, dozens of foreigners
slipped past Israeli soldiers into two besieged hot spots Yasser
Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and the church on Christ's reputed
birthplace in Bethlehem.
Israel has since deported or refused entry to dozens of foreign
volunteers. About 50 foreigners, most from the United States, are
currently in place.
Palestinians view them as saviors.
"If the world sees what the Israelis do to foreigners, they'll
understand what we go through," said Mohammed Abdullah, 40, a Jenin
The Israeli army insists it isn't deliberately killing
"We regret the loss of any civilian life whether it's Israeli,
Palestinian or a Western national," said a military spokesman, Capt.
Jacob Dallal, armed with diagrams that show blind spots on an
armored D9 bulldozer, the type that the group said killed Corrie.
The army denies the claim. "But these incidents could have been
avoided by the protesters who have acted with reprehensible
Friday's shooting of 21-year-old Tom Hurndall from Manchester,
England, was witnessed by a photographer on assignment for The
A dozen activists walked toward Israeli tanks on the outskirts of
the Rafah refugee camp, near the border with Egypt. They wanted to
set up a tent in an attempt to block Israeli military incursions and
were joined by several children, said photographer Khalil Hamra. The
Israelis troops were firing toward a group of people and children,
Hamra said. When Hurndall was tried to get two children out of the
line of fire a tank opened fire and shot him in the head, Hamra
Hurndall remained comatose and hooked up to a respirator at an
Israeli hospital Tuesday. Palestinian doctors declared him brain
In Corrie's case, the army said the bulldozer with its limited
visibility further reduced from the angle it was operating at didn't
see her. Army video, however, shows a protester in front of the
bulldozer. He said the video operator didn't tell the bulldozer
operator Corrie was there but the army was considering placing
closed circuit cameras inside the bulldozers.
Karlsson was with Avery when he was shot in the face April 5 in
After hearing shots, the pair went downstairs from their
apartment to investigate. Shortly after they walked onto the street,
an armored personnel carrier rounded a corner and fired at Avery,
tearing off part of his face, witnesses said.
Avery underwent reconstructive surgery Saturday during which
doctors took a portion of his skull to rebuild his nose, the group
said Tuesday. After two weeks of recovery, Avery will undergo
another reconstructive surgery.
The army said a gunbattle with Palestinians was going on at the
time and it was unclear who shot Avery. Witnesses from the group and
Palestinians said there were no gunmen in the area when the troops
fired at Avery.
The incident occurred days after Israeli troops raided the
group's Jenin apartment and seized a member of the militant Islamic
Jihad group who the army said had planned attacks against Israelis.
The activists denied they had knowingly sheltered a militant. They
said they let him in because they thought he was injured.
During a recent routine afternoon in Jenin, Karlsson tried to
communicate in broken Arabic with a Palestinian family that had come
to ask soldiers if they could pass along a road. The soldier barked
at Karlsson in English, saying "What do you want!," then asked for
the family's IDs.
It was a good day. No one was hurt and the Palestinians were
allowed to pass.
"The daily humiliation that Palestinians have to go through ...
is something I will never get used to," Karlsson says. "This is
where my heart is."
|Swedish peace activist Tobias
Karlsson stands in front of an Israeli armored vehicle after
negotiating with the troops to let Palestinians return to
their village near the West Bank town of Jenin Monday, April
7, 2003. (AP Photo/Darko
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