A Suffocating Curfew

Sayef Abu Kishaq did not sleep a wink all night on Friday. He is a 21-year-old volunteer in the International Solidarity Movement and a resident of the Iskar refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, in the West Bank.

Sayef Abu Kishaq did not sleep a wink all night on Friday. He is a 21-year-old volunteer in the International Solidarity Movement and a resident of the Iskar refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, in the West Bank. Slightly before midnight, the residents were startled out of their sleep when the Israeli army began to shell the camp. In the morning, Abu Kishaq started out for the organization's local office, which is situated in the heart of Nablus. He walked across the hills that surround the city, taking refuge in houses along the way when he heard a tank approaching.

At week's end the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) again tightened the supervision of the ongoing curfew on the city: Once again it is dangerous to walk the streets of Nablus. Friday marked the 10th consecutive day of full curfew in Nablus, a curfew that has not been lifted for a minute, and this week will mark 100 days since the imposition of the general curfew, which is lifted only rarely, and for only a few hours, at very short notice.

This is the lengthiest curfew that has been imposed on the largest city in the West Bank. Its 200,000 residents and a few tens of thousands more in the surrounding villages are effectively locked in their homes without a break. Are Israelis capable of imagining what this is like?

For how long is it possible to incarcerate an entire city, to force tens of thousands of people to remain indoors and prevent them from pursuing their ordinary way of life? For how long can Israel continue to abuse a civilian population in this way, citing dubious security needs as a pretext?

Such questions are rarely asked in Israel, mainly because people are not aware of, or do not want to think about, the fact that the curfew in the West Bank, and in Nablus especially, is beginning to reach suffocating proportions. The 200,000 residents of the city are apparently close to reaching the outer limits of their ability to cope with the horrific situation the IDF is forcing on them. On Friday, a few of them tried to get to the Othman Mosque on Amman Street, in the center of the city, in order to pray. For the past month, not a single worshiper has entered the mosque. Others violated the curfew and went out to demonstrate in the face of the tanks that are stationed at the barrier in front of the mosque.

Two and a half weeks ago, the commander of the Paratroops battalion in the city, Lieutenant Colonel Amir Baram, told Ha'aretz: "We will not be able to maintain the curfew indefinitely. We must not 'Hezbollize' the population. We don't want suicide to become the only source of livelihood in the city ... It's impossible to keep the residents cooped up forever." Since then two and a half weeks have gone by and the IDF is proving that it is in fact possible to lock up an entire city indefinitely.

The most beautiful city in the West Bank lies in ruins and the lives of its residents have become inhumane. The Old City of Nablus, where some of the buildings are more than a thousand years old, has been destroyed almost entirely. The Nablus Road is pockmarked with pits that the IDF dug across it in order to prevent vehicles from passing through the city streets. The municipality's Internet site, on which the last report is five months old, looks like a disaster area. It contains only lists of those who were killed (84 in the IDF's April incursion), reports about devastated sites (two mosques that were more than a thousand years old, 60 ancient buildings, 200 houses partially destroyed, 500 shops, two soap factories that were 500 years old, and even the Turkish hamam, which was struck by two missiles) and a list of the location of the roadblocks that are choking the city. Nablus paid the highest price in blood during the IDF incursions, even higher than its famous neighbor to the north, Jenin.

Nablus exacted a heavy price in blood from Israel. Many suicide bombers and other terrorists came from Nablus. However, even that fact cannot justify the harsh and prolonged collective punishment that Israel is inflicting on all the city's residents. From Defensive Shield to Determined Path and Maybe This Time - the colorful names of the IDF's operations - the lives of the residents have become increasingly impossible.

A few days ago, the IDF allowed the schools in the city to reopen, despite the curfew, after weeks in which there were no classes or makeshift classes were started in private homes. But it's not difficult to guess the feelings of parents who have to send their children to school along a street that is crawling with tanks. There is food in the stores, but who can buy anything after three months without income and two years of massive unemployment? Representatives of aid organizations report problems in getting assistance to the hungry and the indigent in the city: Their self-respect prevents them from asking for help or from accepting it in public.

The IDF has taken over a few houses in the city and turned them into fortified positions, forcing the occupants to crowd into one room and unable to leave, in some cases even when the curfew is lifted. Last week the army captured the tall Zafer Building, situated next to An-Najah University, and its 60 occupants are now forced to crowd onto three floors.

How much longer will it continue? The IDF Spokesperson did not bother replying to that question. In any event, the answer would be something along the lines of, "As long as the IDF sees fit," or "As long as security needs dictate this." And what about the lives of the 200,000 residents? No one gives a damn.