A People on Lockdown

Revolutionary Worker #1093, March 4, 2001, posted at

A worn pair of sneakers, a single sock, a book bag, a soccer ball. These are some of the objects included in an exhibit called "100 Martyrs--100 Lives" at the Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah, West Bank. These common everyday items represent the lives of the first 100 Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli military after the current uprising began last September.

The sneakers belonged to 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra who, along with his father, was trapped in a deadly hail of Israeli gunfire while walking home in the Gaza Strip. A videotape caught the Israeli bullets killing Mohammed, and then his father. The sock was recovered by the widow of 25-year-old Bilal Affaneh after he was shot by Israeli forces in Jerusalem.

These and other objects are in clear plastic boxes wrapped up with twine. Above the boxes are photographs of those who were killed. Samir Salameh, an artist and the curator of the exhibit, explained: "The clear boxes are like windows into their souls. The objects are banal, but they are made precious by those who died. They are wrapped because the people gave their lives like a present to their country."

The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops since September is now approaching 400. Adila Laidi, the director of the cultural center, said she feared that so many were dying at the hands of the Israelis that the casualties were becoming "dismissable statistics." That's why the center mounted the memorial. Halimeh Nabrissi, the aunt of 21-year-old Ahmad Nabrissi who was shot by Israeli troops in October, said, "This way the families know that their sons are still alive in the minds of the people, that the people value what they have done, and that they didn't die in vain."

Maiming a Generation of Youth

Isa Abu Abdullah, 19, was among stone-throwing demonstrators who confronted an Israeli tank in the Gaza in November. He went down when a bullet tore into his left calf--six more bullets hit him while he was on the ground. Isa was sent to a hospital in Jordan for a surgery to save his leg. He is among thousands of people seriously wounded in Israeli shootings who are now in hospitals in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.

In the article "Shoot to Maim" in the Village Voice (2/21/01), Lamis Andoni and Sandy Tolan report: "Thousands of Palestinian young men and boys may become permanently crippled from bullet wounds suffered during the last five months of stone-throwing protests against Israeli rule.... The high rate of crippling injuries are in large part due to the fragmenting bullets fired by M16s. The American-made Colt weapons, introduced during the Vietnam War as lightweight field rifles capable of inflicting maximum damage on the enemy, are being used increasingly by the Israeli Defense Forces against civilian demonstrators. The M16 ammunition often breaks into tiny pieces after penetration, ripping up muscles and nerves and causing multiple internal injuries, much like those of the internationally banned dumdum bullets."

In the first weeks of the current uprising, many of the Palestinian injuries involved bullet wounds to the head and upper body. When there was international outrage at this cold-blooded "shoot to kill" policy, the Israeli military shifted tactics. The rate of head and chest injuries fell--but the number of devastating wounds to the leg and abdomen soared. Dr. Robert Kirschner of the Physicians for Human Rights described the targeting of legs and abdomen as a "form of torture": "There's no question in my mind that this was a very conscious military decision to use this weapon to wound people as a form of intimidation of the population. And as a result, probably several thousand young Palestinian men will end up with permanent disabilities."

In an attempt to justify the brutal shooting of unarmed protesters, Israeli officials claim that rocks and Molotov cocktails can pose a lethal threat to their troops. But a report by Amnesty International in October refuted this excuse: "The Israeli security services were almost invariably well-defended, located at a distance from demonstrators in good cover, in blockhouses, behind wire or well-protected by riot shields. Certainly stones--or even petrol bombs--cannot be said to have endangered the lives of Israeli security services in any of the instances examined by Amnesty International."

Strangling a Whole Nation

"On a day-to-day basis, I and all the people who live here are in a terrible situation. We live in a village surrounded by Israeli settlements. It has no entrances or exits that we control. The Israelis are still pulling down trees and preventing people from getting to their produce. The harvest is in the fields, but we are unable to go and collect it. I can't even go to the olive press."

Sleiman Mahmoud Shimlawi, a farmer
in the West Bank village of Haris

As they gun down Palestinian protesters in the streets, the Israeli occupiers are strangling Palestinian communities through military blockades and curfews. The West Bank and Gaza as a whole have been placed under "closure." This means that 130,000 Palestinian workers who used to commute daily to jobs inside Israel are being shut out and no longer have means to support their families. Palestinian factories and businesses find it difficult or impossible to get needed supplies or ship out products.

Furthermore, Israeli blockades of specific areas have divided up the West Bank into even smaller pieces, so that Palestinians cannot even travel from one town to another within the West Bank. People in rural areas find it especially hard to travel--even for medical emergencies. There are documented cases of people with heart attacks and other emergencies who died when their ambulances were stopped at Israeli military checkpoints. Even within Gaza, a much smaller area than the West Bank, Israeli checkpoints have divided the Palestinian area into smaller fragments.

The Israeli closures are a form of collective punishment against the nation of Palestine. Three million Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza have been placed under a gigantic lockdown.

A key aspect of the Zionist occupation of Palestine is the dependence of the Palestinian economy on Israel. Foreign trade is a large part of the Palestinian economy. Most of that trade is with Israel, and much of the trade with the rest of the world goes through Israeli ports. The closures have almost completely shut down Palestinian trade activity.

A January 2001 report by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group said that Israeli troops have uprooted 25,000 olive and fruit trees. Some of the olive groves destroyed by the Israeli military are hundreds of years old. The report also noted that Israel has destroyed nearly 100 Palestinian public buildings, including schools, medical clinics, municipal offices, and electric power infrastructure.

According to the United Nations, the Palestinian economy has suffered losses totaling more than $1.15 billion since September. About one-third of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are now living in official poverty--a 50 percent increase within a few months.

A Chicago Tribune report described the effects of the Israeli closure on the Palestinian village of Jawarma in the Gaza: "The people of Jawarma feel they are being subjected to a slow death. Tomatoes blacken on the vines of the area's greenhouses because farmers cannot move produce to market. Peppers, squash, and peas shrivel in fields turned over by Israeli bulldozers. Savings accounts are disappearing. Residents fear their children will go hungry. This month Israeli army bulldozers cleared acres of palm trees, olive groves, vegetable fields in Mawasi, a string of hamlets including Jawarma, on the Mediterranean Sea."

A Policy of State Assassinations

On December 31 Siham Thabet--a Palestinian official close to Yasser Arafat--was walking out of his home in the West Bank when he was gunned down. The shooters were Israeli troops. Thabet did not have any weapons on him when he was killed.

Thabet is one of at least a dozen Palestinian officials who have been targeted and killed by the Israeli military in the last five months, including a top bodyguard for Arafat. The first such incident was in November, when Israeli helicopter gunships fired a rocket at a car in Bethlehem and killed a militia commander. Two women just walking down the street were also killed in this attack.

The Israeli government openly admits that it has ordered these hits. They say the killings are justified because the Palestinian officials were involved in or planning attacks on Israel. But imagine if the tables were turned and high-level Israeli government officials or military officers became the targets of armed Palestinian attacks. The Israelis no doubt would accuse Palestinians of "terrorism"--and carry out bloody retaliation, including collective punishment against the Palestinian masses.

In a report released on February 21, Amnesty International USA called Israel's killings of Palestinian officials a "policy of state assassinations." The deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA said, "There is clear cause for concern that U.S.-made weapons are being used in attacks on Palestinians, since the U.S. is the major supplier of arms to Israel."

The murderous lockdown, the shooting of rock-throwers, assassinations, and other savage actions of the Israeli state point to a basic truth: the Zionist occupation of Palestine is deeply and totally unjust. And behind the Israeli oppressors stand their major backers--the U.S. imperialist godfathers.

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