Peace activists put their bodies on the line against Israeli army invasion
April 2002

Hundreds of peace activists and international observers are interposing themselves between the Israeli army and its intended targets as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of invasion, occupation, and siege of Palestinian controlled areas continues under the glare of international condemnation.

The international observers and the press have been teargassed, attacked, and shot at as they attempt to protest or report on Israeli army actions.

Forty protesters successfully joined Yassir Arafat and his staff in the Palestinian National Authority offices in Ramallah as the Israeli army surrounded and partially demolished the buildings. "We thought that as long as there were internationals here, there would be no vicious Israeli attack," said Claude Leostic, from Brest, France, in a New York Times telephone interview from the besieged office. "And we've been right so far. We're here as a deterrent against shelling and missile attacks." Later, ten of the international protesters who left the office were arrested by Israeli Defense Forces and expelled, including French anti-globalization leader Jos, Bov,. Thirty remain, to the consternation of the Israeli Army.

Neta Golan, an Israeli peace advocate who is also at Arafat's office, told the Times, "We're hoping that our presence on the front line with the Palestinians will make the soldiers more cautious about shooting without reason," Ms. Golan said. "The death of Europeans or an Israeli would cause a stir that Palestinian deaths are not causing."

Israel's invasion and reoccupation of so far six cities and countless villages in the West Bank and Gaza have drawn international condemnation, including a U.N. resolution which called for both sides "to move immediately to a meaningful cease-fire" and for "the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah." The U.S., which voted for the resolution, said that Israel would not be required to act until the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire. U.N. President Kofi Annan disagreed, saying there was no requirement that one side act before the other.

This is more evidence that the Bush administration has provided support Israeli actions, despite the widespread reports of civilian casualties, indiscriminate roundups of civilians, summary executions, wholesale destruction of the infrastructure of Palestinian towns, and attacks on journalists attempting to cover these actions. According to the Washington Post on April 2, "Bush cast the latest Middle East crisis in the context of wider American concerns about terrorism and endorsed Sharon's definition of the dispute as a war on terrorists. This keeps the administration firmly in line with Israel as it continues to besiege Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters and move additional forces into West Bank cities."

Administration officials act as though they have no influence on Israel. "I hope this will end quickly, but I can't predict when the Israelis will make the judgment that they can withdraw," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on NBC's "Today."

The U.S. provides billions in foreign aid annually to Israel (around 20% of all U.S. foreign aid) of which 80% must be used on armaments. This included at least $3.6 billion in weapons provided after the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh peace agreement (Sept. 1999) and leading up to the Al-Aksa Intifada (Sept. 2000). (Institute for Southern Studies.)

Referring to the newest attacks, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The Israelis didn't seek a green light. We did not provide them one. Israel is a democratic government, democratically-elected officials, and a sovereign nation, and Israel makes the decisions that Israel makes."

Over 375 Israeli reservists have refused to participate in actions in the West Bank and Gaza, facing jail time. The letter the reservists signed states: "We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people." The Green Line is the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Over 100 reservists started the protest in February, but that number has almost quadrupled in the present situation. "The principles and motives that six-and-a-half years ago led me to ... serve as a regular conscript in the Israel Defense Forces, and later as a reservist, are the same principles and motives that have prompted me, now, to refuse to serve in the occupied territories and play a part in carrying out immoral actions," Corporal (res.) David Pearlman told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on March 29th.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has denounced the gunfire directed at many reporters, whose vehicles or clothing were clearly marked "press." They have also denounced the Israeli army's ban on journalists in Ramallah and other areas under invasion.

International protesters were shot at by Israeli Army on April 1, according to this eyewitness report by Nicholas Blincoe published April 4, 2002 in the Guardian of London:

"I was unlucky to be in Bethlehem when history was being made. Anyone coming fresh to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories must feel bewildered by competing versions of events. It is useful to have facts. This is one: on Monday, live ammunition was used against international protesters for the first time by Israel's armed forces.

"I was climbing to the summit of Beit Jala, a small Christian Arab town stretched across two hillsides, overlooking Bethlehem. The illegal settlement of Gilo is visible everywhere here. Because of its position, Beit Jala was the favored route when Israeli forces invaded Bethlehem last month. No house in the town is without its bullet holes or shell holes.

"The reason I was climbing Beit Jala, among 150 foreign protesters, is that Israeli tanks had taken up position there again, signaling their imminent invasion. Our non-violent action was intended to show that Bethlehem was filled with peaceful foreign nationals. A second aim was to visit families cut off by the Israeli advance.

"When we reached the first of two Israeli armored personnel vehicles, we stopped and our negotiators stepped forward. Both are British nationals: the writer Lilian Pizzichini and a Glaswegian technology consultant named Kunle Ibidun. They were unable to state our intentions because the soldier in the vehicle's turret opened fire with his rifle.

"His shots were aimed in front of us. They could be called warning shots. But the bullets fractured on impact and his first five bullets injured four people: Kunle himself, a young Japanese woman from Bradford, an Australian woman from Hebden Bridge and Chris Dunham, a Londoner. As we backed down the hill, an elderly Englishman received shrapnel fragments in his face and an American was wounded in the leg. As I write, the Australian is still in hospital and the Japanese woman is returning home for treatment.

"I came to Bethlehem to accompany my wife as she made a documentary about the West Bank-based International Solidarity Movement. The ISM has become well known in recent days, after the Canadian Jewish activist Neta Golan and others succeeded in entering Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah. But its purpose is to support nonviolent direct action in the occupied territories. Palestinians face extreme violence when they demonstrate. It comes not just from Israeli soldiers, who are fairly disciplined and can be expected to operate under direct orders (the soldier who fired at us appeared to be listening to instructions on his radio headset). There are also the notoriously violent Israeli Border Police and the settlers' movement. This is why internationals are needed: to increase the chances of successful nonviolent actions and lessen the risk of violence against the Palestinians.

"It would be preferable if the Palestinians could pursue nonviolent direct action. In whose interest is an increase in violence? I write this, listening to the Israeli tanks shelling the Deheisha refugee camp 400m away, watching news reports of the burning mosque in Manger Square and an attack on a local priest. I am unable to leave the house. My fellow protesters are split between two refugee camps and a local hotel. The hotel has had its power cut off: presumably an attempt to drive away the foreign media, who are also there. The press and TV are banned from Ramallah and my wife's cameraman and a BBC crew received the worst of the live fire in yesterday's demonstration (although none, fortunately, was wounded). The overwhelming impression is that the Israeli army wishes to behave in any way it chooses, unseen by outsiders.

"I was in Bethlehem once before when history was being made: Christmas 1995, when Yasser Arafat gave a speech from the roof of the Nativity Church in Manger Square. The agreement he had signed with Yitzhak Rabin was then termed the "peace of the brave". At that time, Ariel Sharon was already on record as saying he would rip up this agreement.

"The Palestinians long ago recognized Israel's right to exist within the international borders it had in 1949. The Likud party, now led by Sharon, has never made a reciprocal statement. The Palestinians believe Sharon will do everything in his power to make sure that the door is left open for an Israel that stretches to the Jordan River. I now believe this, too. Members of his coalition argue openly for the forcible expulsion of the Palestinians. Perhaps the first candidate will be Arafat himself."

Meanwhile, desperate emailed messages continue to come from the invaded areas. The destruction of infrastructure, including electricity and phone service, has made it difficult for a fuller picture to emerge. On Tuesday, April 2, the following eyewitness report came from Ramallah:

"My name is Tzaporah Ryter. I am an American student from the University of Minnesota. We are under a terrible siege and people are being massacred by both the Israeli army and armed militia groups of Israeli settlers. They are shooting outside at anything that moves. I am urgently pleading for as much outside help as possible to help save lives here.

"I arrived in Ramallah last Thursday [March 29]. I had come back for a visit to the Palestinian city where I had been previously living and studying. On Thursday afternoon, the Israeli army began sealing off each entrance to Ramallah and there were rumors that they planned to invade. People were rushing back home from across checkpoints and also people were trying to flee. People were not allowed to go out and many working people - with homes and children to return to-were not allowed in, everyone was trying to take cover. Those traveling in began desperately searching for alternative ways and traveling in groups, but the Israelis were firing upon them and everyone was running and screaming.

"Women carrying their children were trying desperately to flee from Ramallah, carrying infants and toddlers, and their young children were running along in the rain through the fields, slipping and falling on the rocks, trying to reach safety. Israeli jeeps were speeding across the terrain pulling up from every direction and shooting at the women and children, and also at me, as we ran in opposite directions. They were chasing down people, hunting them like that in the fields.

"When I reached Ramallah, people were panicking and trying to buy bread, rice and milk from corner stores, but most supplies were already gone. We bought what we could and went inside to wait for what was coming. When night fell, Israeli tanks began to invade and also we saw Israeli troops coming on foot from the valley, and surrounding our house. I could hear them calling to each other in Hebrew. They were against our door and all around. They were firing everywhere a barrage of bullets and there was tank fire. We had to lay on the floor and keep silent. We stayed there, on the floor, for nearly four days in the darkness.

"We knew that our circumstances were better than others because old people or infants or people with medical emergency needs had no help. It was very cold, with most families packed all in one room. Some people are without life sustaining medicines like insulin, and they are altering their doses dangerously if they have any medicine left to take. People are becoming dangerously sick from lack of food and water and heat. The fear and terror only makes things worse, but it cannot be avoided.

"In the daytime, we heard them shooting people in the streets, and could hear them screaming and screaming. No ambulance was allowed through. Then their screams stopped and there was just silence. We had a telephone and would receive calls from all over telling us what was happening. Everyone is in grave danger and Israeli soldiers were killing people everywhere. They are arresting medics and ambulance drivers, including foreign volunteer medical workers. They keep taking doctors and medics, just now another call.

"Again, this time the wife of a doctor telling us her husband has been taken from the ambulance. Large groups of people have been found in rooms, shot dead, there are blood marks where they have lined people up on their knees and shot them, with their ID cards laying on top of them. They are taking people from their homes, blindfolding them, removing their clothes, taking them away or lining them up and shooting them against the wall.

"People are making phone calls and saying that these soldiers and militia have come in and are shooting people and then the line cuts off. The numbers of these killings I fear are much greater than the numbers confirmed in the press, because the human rights offices and the media centers have been stormed, and everything is shut down. No one can move without almost certain chance of being shot by the Israeli snipers, who are everywhere.

"The Israelis are demanding that all journalists leave Ramallah and today another foreign journalist was shot. They do not want any more internationals here and are deporting people. It seems quite clear that they do not want eyewitnesses which is only heightening my own fears. The hospitals have also been surrounded and invaded and Israeli troops are taking the injured people and interrogating them. Today a woman, a patient, tried to walk out from hospital. The Israelis shot her in the neck and killed her.

"The Palestinian Ministry of Health is saying that they fear the spread of diseases because of the number of unburied corpses. The numbers are only growing in reports of the mass killings here and Israeli troops continue to round up people. People are calling frantically, missing a relative and we do not know where they have been taken, including children. ...

"On the fourth day I decided to try to move. People were running out of supplies and I also was so worried about people, and had to check to see if they were okay. If I didn't, I feared panic would overtake me so badly that I really had no other choice but to try and go. It was not safe where I was in any case and at least if I left I would still have my sanity. It was really terrifying as there are some internationals here, usually traveling in groups, and the Israelis are saying on the radio that they will arrest or shoot the internationals. They did shoot some yesterday and regardless, it's not as if snipers differentiate and they are everywhere. My friends told me not to go, and were really scared for me, but I had to go. When I went outside, there were cars all shot up and hit by multiple bullets and shells in the middle of the road, unparked. There must have been people in them but I don't know where their bodies are. There are no reports of them, but they must exist.

"I got to the corner trying to go to the bakery for bread and food for people. Some people were calling and calling with only one cup of rice left. I made it to the corner but they opened fire on my first try, and shot at me, so I had to turn back. After that I tried again and it took me one day to make it a block because I had to start over again and again. I had to climb through the valley, and as I passed house by house, people were warning me and pointing out what path seemed safest for these two minutes. In the next two minutes, it would be something different. They really helped to keep my path safe.

"Today is Day Five...This afternoon the Israelis suddenly lifted the curfew, suddenly announcing that everyone had two hours to go out to get food.

"However, the Israeli soldiers also took food from many of the stores, looted, and there is no bread or things. People went to get whatever they could. Even though the Israeli army said it had lifted the closure for two hours - in which we still were not able to transfer medical supplies and still was not long enough to everything that was badly needed - the Israelis continued shooting people in the streets indiscriminately on their way, so people were running around trying to make it to the store or find a safe route only to have to run back home again. It was an added cruelty and terror tactic in this macabre situation, a sick joke: starve people and then shoot them when they try to find food with your permission.

"In an apartment building in Beitunia neighborhood where I used to live, they took 60 people who were my neighbors, including several familes, and pushed them into one room since last night. The Israelis told them that they are to be used as 'human shields,' as the apartment building is across from a building that they were invading.

"There are reports that they are rounding up men between the ages of 14 and 45 in that neighborhood, and these civilians, from these same Palestinian families trapped in that building, were just used to walk in front of an Israeli tank as it invaded the Preventative Security Compound. Reports also have alleged that the Israelis were saying that some could leave but shot them when they attempted to leave. The buildings there are burning, and people are trapped inside. ...

"Each place I come to, I am afraid to leave not only for myself but for everyone else in this horrifying position. Israeli death squads have been yanking people into the street. I also hear only shooting and shooting, with no return fire. More firing, it just doesn't stop. This is a massacre. The foreign delegations tried to get in but were turned back, the International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to help but they are being ignored. Please help. I am not only scared for myself and for people here, but if this cannot be stopped, I am truly scared for all of humanity, for a world in which we send men to the moon but cannot stop ethnic cleansing.

"On the news in America, we see hardly anything of demonstrations. What are you doing over there? ... This is about all of our struggles. For the love of God, please stop this slaughter. Please help."

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