4/1/02: 100+ Internationals Peacefully March into Beit Jala....Moments after this photo was taken the Israeli military fired live ammunition injuring 8 people, including 2 journalists. Photo Credit: Italy IndyMedia
MOVING SOLIDARITY TO PALESTINE
Late March was a particularly bad week for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued in its brutality, driving young men and now women to strike back at Israel by becoming human bombs and killing mostly civilians. Israel, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (under investigation in Belgium as a major war criminal) retaliated by sending troops and tanks into several cities, notably Ramallah.
The peculiarly pro-Israeli bent of American news media is obvious. "Five suicide bombings in five days, with 44 Israelis killed" is a typical headline heard on the day this is written (April 1). Palestinian casualties are reported secondarily, usually in a tone that denotes that such deaths are to be expected.
On the television networks, talk shows, and even NPR, panels made up of Jewish and Gentile apologists for Israel pontificate, while authentic Palestinian voices are rarely heard, let alone members of an international citizens’ effort to bring peace through justice.
Sounding like an acolyte of George W. Bush, Prime Minister Sharon is now trumpeting a "war on terrorism" that will last indefinitely. This means, apparently, a complete occupation of the West Bank, which means a complete rollback of every aspect of every attempt at peace for the past decade. It also amounts to a complete war against the Palestinian people, and, many Israelis charge, a war against peace itself.
This Israeli war is very asymmetrical. Despite the impression Americans often receive from our corporate-owned news media, as well as the normal understanding of war, this is not a conflict between equal forces, or even unequal forces. The conflict is between Israel, with one of the very top militaries in the world and armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated of American weaponry plus nuclear bombs, and an essentially civilian population armed with a relative handful of assault rifles, a few mortars, and explosives for suicide bombs. The Palestinian people have no tanks, no warplanes, no attack helicopters, but they face a ruthless Israeli army that does have those and other weapons and is not afraid to use them.
And while the suicide bombs that regularly kill Israeli civilians are surely terrorist weapons, Americans tend to be blind to the state terrorism perpetrated by Israel. Closures and curfews of entire cities and regions for days or weeks at a time, demolition of homes, attacks on civilian neighborhoods, roadblocks and checkpoints enforced to harass rather than provide security, so-called "extra-judicial killings," and collective punishment are examples of this state terrorism. They are also war crimes under international laws such as the Fourth Geneva Convention.
At least a thousand Israeli reserve soldiers have concluded that they can no longer support or participate in such terrorist acts and war crimes. Although Israeli men are required to serve in the army for a period of time every year, these "refuseniks" are risking jail and ridicule by refusing to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "We are not afraid," they say, "and we willingly would defend Israel’s borders against aggressors, but what our government calls us to do in the West Bank and Gaza does not improve Israel’s security, but undercuts it. Our occupation oppresses Palestinians and creates a breeding ground for hatred and resistance which produces suicide bombers."
Over 350 soldiers have signed a document outlining their opposition to the Occupation, which they have posted online at www.seruv.org.il/defaulteng.asp.
Meanwhile, Sharon has plenty of troops willing to follow his orders, and has announced plans to call up 20,000 more for his war on the possibility of peace.
He has these past few days sent tanks and troops into towns and cities like Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Hebron. Ramallah, however, has been the hardest hit.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass lives in Ramallah, and opposes her government’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Writing in Ha’aretz, April 2, she reports that of Ramallah’s 70,000 residents, at least 25,000 people "are without water after pipe lines and electricity lines were ruptured by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tank movement in the city." In addition, most of the people living around Yasser Arafat’s besieged compound are without electricity because tanks have been breaking electric lines as they menace the city.
"Meanwhile," she continues, "the army is preventing Ramallah residents from burying their dead, and the Ramallah Hospital morgue, capable of storing 17 bodies, is overflowing, with 25 bodies awaiting burial as of last night … As in Jewish tradition, Islamic tradition requires immediate burial after death."
Israeli soldiers have been ordered to conduct house-to-house searches, often destroying property, and to detain men and teens on a mass scale.
For Palestinians who still had electricity and tried to escape the violence by watching television on Saturday, they were treated to pornographic movies, courtesy of the IDF. After taking over a building housing broadcast facilities, Israeli soldiers pumped European porn onto the normal Palestinian channels instead of regular programming.
Ha’aretz reported that an Israeli spokesman initially denied the report, but was forced to admit that the incident did, in fact, happen. Army sources told Ha’aretz that "the soldiers accidentally broadcast something and they didn’t know the ‘whole of Ramallah is watching it.’"
More seriously, Israeli soldiers summarily executed five Palestinians in an office building in Ramallah. The bodies were found on Saturday by Maher Shalabi, a correspondent for Dubai TV. Shalabi had been in his office on one of the upper floors and heard shots. When he felt it was safe, he investigated and discovered the bodies all in one room and lying next to each other. Their faces showed signs of having been beaten, and they were each killed by gunshots to the head, Tony Soprano-style. Israeli spokesmen said that the five men had been killed after firing and throwing grenades at Israeli soldiers. However, the building had been sealed off the night before, trapping Shalabi and many others, including the deceased. A picture of the scene shows blood splattered on the wall.
Israel always claims that its troops only fire upon people who are endangering them, and that they almost always "show restraint."
The experience of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) over the last weekend of March, and the first day of April shows that such "restraint" is usually only a cruel myth.
The ISM was founded more or less by an Israeli Jew named Neta Golan and a Palestinian American graduate of the University of Michigan named Huwaida Arraf, with the help of others, in the winter of 2001. It was originally designed to attract international citizens, many of whom worked in the area, to provide protection for Palestinians engaged in peaceful demonstrations and protests from attacks by the IDF or Israeli settlers.
In late spring, this reporter worked with Huwaida and Neta to organize a campaign of militant nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience modeled after the civil rights campaigns of the American Civil Rights Movement. Campaigns were mounted in August and December of last year, and continued on a smaller scale through January, February and March. Over 200 people from several European and other nations and the United States have already arrived for an April campaign which started early—in late March—because of the brutality of Sharon’s retaliation.
Most of the volunteers of the ISM served as human shields, staying with Palestinians in their homes, in hopes that their presence would protect their hosts from some of the Israeli shelling.
Some, like Neta and Huwaida, and her Jewish American fiancé Adam Shapiro, volunteered as human shields for Palestinian ambulance drivers, who have become targets of Israeli soldiers. In the process, they become medics because there were too many injuries for the real ones to handle. They also had occasion to take away bodies as the death toll mounted.
The American media, which largely ignored the earlier ISM campaigns, has paid some attention to Adam and Huwaida. Adam has been interviewed on NPR, the Today Show, and MSNBC, as well as newspapers. Many Americans also saw footage of ISM volunteers braving their way through Israeli soldiers to enter Yassir Arafat’s compound to stand in solidarity with the people there.
However, the American news media largely ignored a peaceful demonstration in Beit Jala involving ISM volunteers and Palestinians that resulted in an unprovoked attack by soldiers shooting live ammunition at the demonstrators.
About 100 demonstrators, including Palestinians and internationals marched near a church in the center of the West Bank town of Beit Jala, carrying a sign saying "We want peace not war." Suddenly, according to eyewitness Gary Anderson, six of them were wounded by ricocheting bullets which were fired at their feet by Israeli soldiers. A Palestinian cameraman working for the Associated Press was also wounded, as well as another journalist who had been covering the march. Two of the wounded are Americans. Anderson is from Colorado.
At least one international, an Australian, Kate Irving, underwent emergency surgery in a Bethlehem hospital to remove shrapnel from her abdomen.
The wounded ISM marchers are:
- British citizens Aisa Kiysue, Kunle Ibidun, and Chris Dunham.
- Australian citizen Kate Irving (currently undergoing surgery)
- American citizens Zaid Khalil and Paul Larudee
The hospital staff reported that most were hit in the back of the head or face; one was hit in the upper thigh and knees, and one in the abdomen. The Palestinian journalists were hit in the chest, although one report said that one was hit in the leg.
Pictures, video and audio recording of the shootings is available at the website of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, www.ccmep.org.
Irish volunteer, Caoimhe Butterly, spoke for the internationals on Sunday by saying: "I urge all Irish citizens, government officials and diplomats to show courage in standing up against the brutal aggression used by the Israeli military against the Palestinian people and the war policies of the Israeli government. The Palestinian people desperately need our help and protection—I have witnessed the execution-style killings and the house-to-house searches and destruction the military has carried out in refugee camps and in cities. Only international action and the voices of people working for peace and justice can overcome these criminal Israeli actions."
Meanwhile, Neta Golan, who is still in the Palestinian Authority headquarters as this goes to press, spoke for a growing number of Israelis: "State terrorism and [private] terrorism are two sides of the same coin of occupation. One cannot exist without the other and neither would exist without their foundation, which is occupation. I call on all Israelis to raise their voices and act out against occupation—to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to live free."
The Israeli government is retaliating against peaceful demonstrators and journalists with more than bullets. It has declared Ramallah a "closed military area" and has ordered all foreigners, particularly journalists, to leave. Apparently it wants no witnesses.
Palestinians are calling for more international citizens to come to Palestine as volunteers. Most support the suicide bombings, only because they see no other way of fighting back against the occupation which oppresses them, and welcome a nonviolent alternative. Since the United States subsidizes the oppression with billions of dollars each year, they especially want Americans to join the ISM now and in the months to come.
In the past several hours, over 20 Americans have expressed interest in doing just that. When this reporter called Adam Shapiro to relay that information, he and the other ISM volunteers in Ramallah had just endured a night of continuing shelling. His voice was weak and he was obviously exhausted. He said that reinforcements were desperately needed, but that Israel was now blocking a group of Spaniards from entering the country. When his interviews were mentioned, he reported that although his parents were very supportive of him, they had been receiving death threats because of his activism.
"It’s really dangerous," he said, "and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not coming. But if people don’t make a stand against what’s happening here, then it won’t be good for Israelis or Palestinians or anybody."
Ann Arbor resident Betsy Barlow is attending a conference in East Jerusalem, and as this was written, reported through e-mail that ISM volunteers were in the Bethlehem Star hotel, which was being bombarded by the Israeli army. Three of them had been wounded, one seriously, and a few minutes before she wrote, another journalist was shot just outside the hotel.R
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