The Siege of Palestine

Revolutionary Worker #1096, March 25, 2001, posted at

In recent weeks, the state of Israel has escalated its cruel war on the Palestinian people with a new tactic--the digging of deep trenches around Palestinian communities. The Israeli military has built trenches around the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho, almost completely sealing them off. This siege warfare by Israel is having a devastating impact on the people of Palestine.

Ramallah is the center of economic and social life for rural communities in the surrounding area. A March 15 report in the Jerusalem Post revealed the effects of the Israeli siege on nearby villages, where hundreds of thousands of people live: "Shelves in grocery stores in villages around Ramallah are almost empty and there is no food available for infants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel charged yesterday... ACRI attorney Neta Amar warned that the situation in the area was severely deteriorating because of the army closure sealing off Ramallah.

"Amar said a woman from the village of Harbata died on Monday because she could not reach the hospital. A woman from Jenin suffering from cancer had to travel for two days to reach a Ramallah hospital where she was due to have an operation yesterday... The unemployment rate in the villages around Ramallah had reached 95 percent and many families did not have money to buy food... Many families cannot find or afford to buy cooking fuel and have begun using wood instead. Village schools are closed because teachers from Ramallah cannot reach them."

Jericho has been surrounded by trenches for an even longer period than Ramallah. An AFP news report described the situation in this West Bank city: "Jericho, fabled for the biblical account of the siege in which its walls came tumbling down, has been encircled for two months by a two-meter (six-foot) ditch that has effectively stopped the flow of products and raw materials in and out, beleaguering the local economy... A $25 million Jericho steel plant, which employed 120 workers, sits quiet as a tomb, its machines idle because the raw steel they forged into construction supports cannot be brought in because of the lockdown."

The siege of Ramallah includes the destruction of the road leading to Bir Zeit University just to the north of the city. On the first day of classes in the new semester, students and teachers were unable to get to Bir Zeit, which is considered the top Palestinian university. The trenches and cement blocks on the road have also meant great hardship for the people in the nearby villages, who use the road to get to hospitals, markets, and jobs in Ramallah. An instructor at the university said, "They want to make life so unpleasant for all of us so we'll all want to go somewhere else and live. This is a crime... It's about making sure the Palestinian people feel big doses of pain."

On March 12, several hundred students clashed with Israeli troops as they tried to reopen the road to Bir Zeit University. At least 40 protesters were reportedly wounded by Israeli gunfire, and one person was killed.

Deadly Lockdown

The trenches are part of the policy of "closure" that Israel has used to carry out a vicious lockdown on the Palestinians. As they gun down Palestinian protesters in the streets, the Israeli occupiers are also strangling Palestinian communities through military blockades, checkpoints, curfews, and trenches.

Palestinians cannot even travel freely from one town to another within the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Over 130,000 Palestinian workers who used to commute to jobs inside Israel are being shut out and no longer have a means of livelihood. Overall the unemployment rate has jumped to almost 50 percent. The UN World Food Program recently announced that Palestinians have become among the poorest people in the world; poverty levels have doubled in the past five months. In the name of "security," Israeli troops have bulldozed many acres of fruit and olive orchards that are an important part of the Palestinian economy.

In the Gaza, the Israeli blockade of the coast has meant fisher-people are stuck on land. Mohammed Abu Riyala, who, for 45 years, has made a living by fishing, said: "Our boats are not allowed to go out to sea. We cannot work, we cannot fish in the sea...we are just measuring the distance between our houses and the harbor."

An activist who recently went to Gaza wrote about what she saw in a report that appeared on the Indymedia web site: "I also visited two tiny encampments of women and children living in tents on the dirt. They were people who used to have homes in Khan Younis, but the Israelis decided to make a road through they bulldozed their homes and their date palms and orange groves... And the people are living in the dirt and show me a bent-up aluminum wash pan that they retrieved from where their homes had been--everything else, they said, was 'under the land.' Ê"

The Israeli troops at the military checkpoints treat Palestinians with deliberate cruelty; and people on the way to hospitals have died when they were held up at checkpoints. The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and Environment gave one example: "At 6 a.m. on Tuesday 13 March, 39-year-old farmer and father of five Na'eem Bani Jame' from Aqraba in Nablus died after being prevented from crossing the military checkpoint at Huwara intersection to reach a hospital after a heart attack... Na'eem's brothers Hassan and Ahmad attempted to take him to the hospital in a private car... They reached the Israeli checkpoint at 4:50 a.m. and asked the soldiers to let them pass. The soldiers refused, and to make matters worse they detained the men at the checkpoint. After 20 minutes, they again asked to be allowed to go, but the soldiers made them open the car doors for inspection. Another 20 minutes later, they were allowed to leave but not to cross the checkpoint, so they tried an alternate route along a long and unpaved track. They finally reached the hospital at around 6 a.m., but Bani Jame' was dead on arrival. Under normal circumstances, the road from Aqraba village to Nablus takes only 15 minutes."

Oppressors' Logic and the People's Rage

Israeli officials justified the digging of trenches around Ramallah by claiming they were targeting Palestinian "terrorists." The Sharon government declared that the siege of Ramallah and other "security measures" would be eased if the Palestinians took steps to break the "circle of violence."

This is typical logic of oppressors--blaming the oppressed for the reactionary violence that is used to suppress them. "If you just stop resisting," the oppressors say, "we wouldn't hurt you so bad or kill so many of you."

An incident on March 15 showed the outrageous lengths the Israeli occupiers go to justify their savage assaults on the Palestinian people. In the West Bank city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers threw a stun grenade into the yard of an elementary school, injuring six children. Israeli officials claimed that the children were throwing stones at Israeli cars. Other witnesses said there were no clashes of any kind in the area at the time. Three of the kids suffered burns to the head, back, and hands, while the others were treated for blisters and shock.

An Israeli army statement after the incident said, "The army sees the removal of children from the circle of violence as extremely important." The statement also declared that the army will "continue to act against anyone trying to compromise the security of Israeli citizens."

Israel's actions have been cold-blooded and deadly--but they are also compelling more Palestinians into active resistance. Bir Zeit University was one of the centers of activism during the intifada of the late 1980s, but the campus has been relatively quiet in the upsurge of struggle since last September. The closing of the road to Bir Zeit has sparked new outrage and protest. A March 14 statement from Bir Zeit faculty and staff demanded: "No to Tanks, Yes to Education and Freedom of Movement."

Among the people at the March 12 protest on the road to Bir Zeit was a 69-year-old member of the university's board of trustees. As he marched, he told reporters, "[The Israelis] want to break our bones and break our will... It's really evil."

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