Palestine Under the Gun

Revolutionary Worker #1146, April 14, 2002, posted at

"They fired 18 bullets through our front door. They hit my mother, Sumaya, and my brother, Jocub. My mother was 64, my brother was 37. They both fell to the floor. I called everyone I could to take them to the hospital. But there was no one to help us. They were dying. When an ambulance came, an Israeli officer refused permission for it to enter our street. So for 30 hours, we have lived with their bodies. We put the children into the bathroom so they could not see the corpses. Help us, please."

Sami Abda, in a April 3 phone call to British journalist Robert Fisk, describing the Israeli army's attack on his home in Bethlehem

"This has been an awful time for us. Dreadful, a nightmare."

Salwa Daibis, after a week under Israeli siege in Ramallah

After invading Ramallah at the end of March, the monstrous Israeli military machine has continued to rampage through the West Bank with U.S.-supplied Apache helicopter gunships and jet bombers, hundreds of tanks, and thousands of troops. By end of the first week of April, the occupation forces had taken over all the major Palestinian towns as well as many villages and refugee camps.

As the eyes of the world focused on Palestine, the Israeli authorities clamped down on media coverage of the military offensive-the biggest Israeli attack on Palestinians since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The Israeli government has banned the media from key areas, and troops have expelled, beaten or even shot at reporters. Some news networks did show the Israeli police brutally beating Israeli Palestinian protesters in front of the Knesset (parliament) in Tel Aviv. This raises a question: If the Israeli authorities are allowing this viciousness to be on camera, what are their military forces doing in areas of the West Bank where they've shut out the media completely?

Some accounts have come out from the besieged Palestinian areas, and they expose the reality behind Israel's hypocritical justification that the purpose of their invasion is to destroy the "terrorist infrastructure." The occupation troops are carrying out a cold-blooded campaign of collective punishment against an oppressed people, hoping to terrorize them into submission. And the Israeli forces are aiming to cripple, if not destroy, the political and civil infrastructures of Palestinian society.

After days of Israeli military siege, the situation in the Palestinian areas is being described by international aid agencies as a "potential humanitarian disaster." Food and water are running out, stores are closed or destroyed, the injured and sick can not get to hospitals. Curfews enforced by heavily armed soldiers are trapping families in their homes for most of the day and night.

Aid groups report that Israeli troops are deliberately stopping the delivery of food and other necessities to the people. One aid official told the BBC: "The Israeli Defense Forces are not allowing any humanitarian agencies to operate in areas under their control. Our main concern is for people who are most at risk. In Nablus, for example, the very poor have been unable to stockpile food because they simply don't have the money." A group of several hundred Israeli Palestinians and peace activists marched down the road to Ramallah in an attempt to bring help to the people. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and beat the protesters to stop the march.

Israeli troops have threatened and shot at medical personnel trying to get to the wounded. A program director for Doctors Without Borders said, "We're quite shocked and worried about these growing incidents. We have had direct attacks against our ambulances."

A report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz said, "On Arab TV could see Israeli soldiers taking over hospitals, breaking equipment, damaging medicines, and locking doctors away from their patients." There are reports of Israeli troops looting shops or going into people's homes and ripping off money and personal belongings.

In Ramallah and other towns, the tanks rumbling through the streets ruptured water mains and toppled electric pylons, causing cut-offs of water and electricity to many homes. Israeli troops wrecked the water pumping station that serves a quarter of a million people in Ramallah and nearby communities. When a Palestinian repair crew went out to the station, they were arrested by the Israeli military. The director of the Ramallah Hospital said that the hospital had almost run out of the water in its storage tanks.

It's unclear at this point what the actual casualty figures are, but the indications are that the occupation troops are killing and injuring many Palestinians. In the Ramallah morgue, the dead bodies piled up because people have been unable to hold funerals. Workers had to use a backhoe to dig what they hoped would be a temporary mass grave. Israeli military officers denounced this as a "provocation," claiming that the Palestinians could bury the dead in cemeteries during the brief lifting of curfews. The Zionists often claim that any act of Palestinian self-defense or resistance is a "provocation" that justifies more Israeli military attacks. Now, even the burying of dead bodies in temporary graves has become a Palestinian "provocation"!

A Ramallah resident said that there were brief pauses in the curfew, but she's decided not to step out into the streets, even though her family's food supply is almost gone. She had seen a 14-year-old neighbor shot down when he ventured out during one curfew break. "I don't want to die for a piece of bread," she said.

In Bethlehem, Israeli troops shot and killed Samir Salman, a Palestinian who had worked for many years at the world-famous Church of the Nativity, ringing bells and doing other tasks. A priest at the church said Salman was mentally impaired and did not understand the dangers of being out on the streets filled with Israeli troops. As we go to press, Israeli soldiers have been surrounding the church for several days. Israeli officials claimed that Palestinian "gunmen" were holding priests and others hostage inside. But those inside insisted that the Israeli claim was not true; one priest said that the people, including some wounded fighters, had come to the church seeking sanctuary from the invading army.

Some of the accounts about the situation in the West Bank are coming from U.S. and European activists who went to Palestine to be "human shields"-and found themselves under the Israeli gun along with the Palestinians. A woman from New York reported on the scene in the Al-Azzeh refugee camp outside Bethlehem: "Palestinians are forced to live in unimaginable conditions. Just to cross the street they have to duck and run, that's life here. There are no schools here, people aren't able to work, we have two or three days' worth of food left inside the camp. Israel has been continually attacking Palestinians and putting them in a humiliating position where they're supposed to beg for the most basic human rights." (From WorkingForChange website)

Adam Shapiro, originally from Brooklyn, went to Ramallah to work with aid agencies. He was among a group of international activists who managed to get past the tight cordon of Israeli troops holding Yasser Arafat hostage at the Palestinian Authority compound to deliver medical aid. Shapiro told CNN, "The Sharon government...does not apologize for raping the cities and for going in and carrying out terrorist actions, going house-to-house much like the Nazis in World War II, going house-to-house tearing holes through the walls, rough up people, killing people, assassinating people." Israel supporters delivered death threats to Shapiro's family in Brooklyn in response to Adam's activities and statements.

As they took over the towns and refugee camps, the Israeli troops ordered all teen- to middle-aged men to report for "questioning." Some were released after days in captivity, often beaten and brutalized. In many other cases, the families have not heard back from the men-they don't know where the men have been taken to, or if they're even alive. The Israeli military had reportedly detained 1,200 as of April 6-and was building a new prison in the Negev Desert.

At the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, the Israeli forces also rounded up young women-because so many teenaged women have joined armed resistance groups.

Some of those detained by the Israeli troops are being executed in cold blood. One example that was covered in the international media was the killing of five members of the Palestinian National Security forces, shot in the head from close range. According to some accounts, they were executed after being disarmed. One of the victims was reportedly the manager of the Palestinian Authority orchestra.

Following the attack on Arafat's Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, the Israeli army has gone after other aspects of the Palestinian governing structure as well as various political forces and institutions. On April 3, Israeli helicopter gunships launched an assault on the command compound of Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Authority security chief for the West Bank. The New York Times noted that Rajoub had been "a favorite of the CIA"-someone who could play a major role in "security cooperation" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the U.S.-led "peace process." On April 5, Israeli troops swept into a northern West Bank village and assassinated several leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

In Ramallah, Israeli troops invaded the building housing the offices of Al Quds Educational Television, an independent station which has at times been at odds with the Palestinian Authority and its official TV station. Daoud Kuttab, the director of the media institute at Al Quds University that runs the station, wrote: "Israeli soldiers came to the four-story Medical Professions College building, where our studios are located, and began destroying what we have worked to build. Every office in this educational facility was broken into, equipment was destroyed. Our two remaining staff members manning the broadcast were arrested and held for four hours before being released. While being held, they saw television cameras and invaluable video archives thrown from the fourth floor."

Shooting into people's homes; depriving people of food and water; attacking ambulances and medical workers; "disappearing" hundreds of people; destroying an educational TV station. The Zionist rulers of Israel call such actions "targeting the terrorist infrastructure." In Palestine and around the world, people consider and condemn these actions as crimes of an imperialist-backed occupier.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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