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THe nature of curfews


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'Curfew' in Palestine


Nablus. The streets are empty, the market stalls packed away, the schools closed. The only sound of life comes from families calling out greetings from their windows as we pass - and the distant loudspeaker of an Israeli military jeep announcing "Maanate Jawoul" - Curfew.

Curfew in the Occupied Territories is rather different from the dusk-till-dawn affair I expected before going out. Here, curfew is continuous - 24 h, 7 days per week, everybody is restricted to their home, until curfew is lifted again. Curfew tends to be imposed when the Israeli mititary invades towns or villages - sometimes for 3 hours, sometimes for 54 days (the situation in Nablus as I write this). Palestinians caught breaking curfew will be arrested - if they are lucky. The unlucky will be shot - sometimes fatally, usually not.

So how do people survive?

Approximately once a week, the military will announce a temporary curfew lift for a few hours. Everybody rushes out to get to the bank, buy essentials, visit the hospital, etc. In 54 days of curfew in Nablus, there have been 32 hours of curfew lifts.

Also, Palestinians are sick of curfew and are prepared to take bigger risks. If there are no military vehicles in the vicinity, many will risk venturing outside to visit family or pop in to a local store (if the store-owner is prepared to open up). In incredible acts of defiance, the children, fed up with being stuck inside, will go outside to play football and fly kites. However, they remain constantly at risk from the snipers in the military bases on the hills above the city.

Long-term effects

Curfew as a weapon of war is particular horrendous in its non-discriminatory, all-pervasive nature. Everybody is subject to it - even the exemptions granted to ambulance crews are subject to the whims of individual soldiers.

Some of the most obvious casualties of curfew are health and education. Some people die in medical emergencies when they cannot reach hospitals, but many more suffer from long-term lack of access to medical services. Many are also not able to feed themselves properly anymore. Conservative estimates by the American Agency for International Development ahow one in five children under five to be suffering dangerouslevels of malnutrition. 50% of the population is forced o borrow money and 17% to sell assets, to but basic food. Education has also been hard-hit recently. With students missing most of the summer term and unable to write their annual exams, many have been set back a year.

The economic and social effects are in a way both the most stark and the most subtle. With no way of knowing when curfew will lift or for how long, it has beome impossible to plan for the future. There is little point ordering new stock or investing in a business if you don't know if it will ever arrive or when you can open up shop. You can't plan your marriage or a visit to your aunt down the road. You can't decide what to cook on Saturday or whether to study in Nablus or Ramallah. A constant refrain is "In Palestine, you cannot plan anything."

Together with the closure (restrictions on travels) imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, curfew has had both a deep societal and sociological impact. With no incentive to take initiative, entrepreneurs and small businessmen have gradually disappeared. As Palestinians increasingly become dependant on cheques from relatives abroad and handouts from neighbouring Arab countries, local production dwindles and imports from Israel increase. The continuous curfew & closure has meant that even when curfew is lifted, there is very little work. Husam, a friend in the Old City of Nablus, asked "What can we do? We cannot work, we cannot study. So we sit around, play cards, do nothing." Men with nothing to do become increasingly lethargic - or prepare for the next Israeli penetration into the Old City by trying to make bombs out of fertiliser.

"What we do - this is not 'living'. We cannot play, pray, work, study, marry. And they say we are the terrorists. This is the terror - 24 hour, 7 day a week, everywhere. Nobody even knows this is a weapon. But it is killing us all, in our bodies and our minds - slowly & quietly. There are no explosions and no blood - this is why the world doesn't see it. And when we scream [hand gestures for suicide bomb], nobody understands why."

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