Israeli lawyer recounts aid convoy attack as activists mobilise to protect Gaza trucks

Humanitarian convoys have been the targets of armed groups in occupied West Bank

A worker clears packages from damaged aid lorries on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the occupied West Bank. AFP
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An Israeli human rights lawyer says the army and border police stood by as she was attacked by settlers who threw aid off a lorry bound for Gaza on Monday, destroying food packages destined for the famine-threatened enclave.

Sapir Sluzker Amran and her friend Neta Hamami Tabib headed to a crossing near Hebron after right-wing groups broadcast “emergency alerts”, calling on people to block lorries heading for Gaza through the occupied West Bank.

“The two of us decided to go and see what was happening and how we could organise for the future. We wanted to document what was happening,” she told The National from Tel Aviv.

Crowds of people blocked the crossing for hours and travelled between different checkpoints to halt lorries, she said, eventually returning – armed – as the lawyer and her friend worked with a Palestinian lorry driver to reload supplies, including sugar, flour, and instant noodles, on to the vehicle.

“We tried to load everything back on the lorry when they returned with more people. They were more motivated. People had guns, teenagers and families had knives, axes, all kinds of sharp objects.”

Ms Sluzker Amran said she was beaten and slapped by a settler as she sat on top of the lorry in an attempt to prevent the aid from being thrown to the ground.

Several soldiers were at the site, she added, but were “very young and didn't have a commander on the ground”.

“I asked the police to arrest [the settler] and file a police report, but they asked me to leave. After 10 minutes, I saw him coming back with a knife.”

“It was arranged in one way, chaos in another, but it was very clear that the army and the police had orders to let them do whatever they want,” she added, claiming the organisers have inside information on the routes and timings of the aid convoys.

“Some stopped, when we told them what they are doing is not Judaism,” Ms Sluzker Amran added, but most “were happy”.

There is an Israeli army base about 10 minutes away from the crossing.

“This went on for hours. They could have stopped it, but they chose not to.”

“International pressure, and pressure here, is the only way to stop it. We can't stop it with our own bodies – we don't have the resources or the power, and I don't want to fight with anyone. It's irresponsible, and just because I could handle the violence doesn't mean others can.”

Peace activists mobilise

Israeli and Palestinian activists will mobilise to escort aid lorries heading to Gaza in light of the attacks, a leading peace movement confirmed to The National on Thursday.

“We're trying to create a presence granting escorts to the convoys, on the roads and at the checkpoints, to de-escalate and protect the drivers and food on the lorries,” Alon-Lee Green, head of the Standing Together movement, an Arab-Jewish partnership, said from Tel Aviv.

The partnership, established in 2015, has been at the forefront of Israel's left-wing peace movement which, though small, is growing following Israel's assault on Gaza's southern city of Rafah, according to Mr Green.

The Order 9 group, which organised the blockades, on Thursday said it was pausing “operations”, but Standing Together members say the organisation is now operating under a different name – the Life Forum – and has organised more groups to block additional lorries headed for Gaza.

“They're very well organised – they're all coming from settlements in the West Bank. The police and soldiers stand next to them, just watching and doing nothing about it. It's completely backed by the police – we suspect it's co-ordinated,” Mr Green added.

Israel's settler movement has been emboldened by right-wing government ministers, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, both of whom live in Israeli settlements and have encouraged violence against Palestinians.

While police escorted the convoys through the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, Palestinian media reported a commercial lorry driver was severely injured on Wednesday after being mistaken for an aid driver and attacked near Al Bireh.

Attacks on Palestinian locations in the West Bank, which have increased under the current government and continued amid the war on Gaza, prompted international sanctions on individual settlers.

Speaking from Bahrain on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply troubled” by escalating violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including “a spike in illegal Israeli settlements, settler violence” and “excessive use of force” by the Israeli army.

Standing Together has previously led several civilian aid convoys but was stopped by police at Israeli border crossings.

The group will co-ordinate with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, its leader said, but acknowledged some of them are “suspicious” and afraid details of the convoys will be passed on to settler groups.

“This is a very aggressive government that again and again is choosing death over life,” added Mr Green, who took to social media to condemn the attacks on aid heading to “both innocent Gaza civilians and Israeli hostages”.

“It has no shame in neglecting and choosing to keep the hostages there just so they can go into Rafah. It's just going to continue.”

Updated: May 17, 2024, 10:49 AM