BY AHMAD NIMER
RAMALLAH — Israel's invasion of Palestinian towns and refugee camps over the last two weeks was accompanied by the largest military manoeuvres since the June 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During the month of March, 190 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops. In Jabalya refugee camp alone, north of the Gaza Strip, 17 Palestinians were killed in one day during an Israeli raid.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has used massive force during these attacks, with the intention to cause immense suffering to the Palestinian population.
The attacks began with an IDF assault on the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers surrounded the camp, which is inhabited by some 20,000 people, and refused to allow anyone to enter or leave. Red Cross and United Nations representatives were refused access. Electricity and water was cut off in areas of the camp. Israeli soldiers than lay siege to the camp with tanks, heavy artillery and snipers. Out of 3700 houses in Balata, 10 were entirely destroyed, 14 were partly destroyed and 646 were severely damaged.
Following Balata, this pattern was repeated in other areas in the north of the West Bank — Tulkarem, Jenin and their surrounding refugee camps.
In Jenin refugee camp on March 7, Dr Khalil Suleiman, director of the Emergency Ambulance Team of the Red Crescent Society, was killed as he was attempting to help a woman who had been hit by an Israeli sniper bullet. According to an eyewitness to Suleiman's death: "The ambulance was approaching very slowly and I saw Dr Suleiman sitting next to the driver, waving at the [Israeli] soldiers who were occupying a building. Seconds later, the soldiers opened fire on the car. So, I moved my head from the window, scared to get hit. I saw a flaming missile that came from the occupied building and directly hit the ambulance. I looked at Dr Suleiman and I saw his hand and stomach burning and he was screaming in the loudest voice at the soldiers, 'Ambulance, ambulance'. Then three other people jumped out of the car with fire covering their body."
According to other eyewitnesses, the ambulance burnt for an hour with Suleiman inside. Israeli soldiers prevented anyone from approaching.
Suleiman was one of Jenin's top doctors and ran one of the primary maternity centres in the area. Since the beginning of the intifada, nearly 70% of the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance fleet has been destroyed by the IDF and 17 medical personnel killed.
During the assault on Jenin refugee camp, the Jenin School for Girls had damage inflicted on it by Israeli soldiers which has been estimated will cost US$25,000 to repair.
On March 8, at 4pm, 22-year-old Mahmoud Salah was executed in cold blood by Israeli police in Jerusalem. Eyewitnesses to the killing claimed that Salah was arrested by the police, handcuffed and forced to lie on the ground. Police then removed his clothes, and shot him in the head eight or nine times. They then left him to bleed to death in the street.
These atrocities continued all over the Occupied Territories. On March 13, Israeli troops opened tank fire on Palestinian and foreign journalists reporting on the latest Israeli offensive in Ramallah and adjacent refugee camps. Italian freelance journalist Rafaele Ciriello died when he was hit in the chest and abdomen, and left to bleed for 30 minutes.
Israeli troops prevented ambulances from approaching his body until a group of Palestinians from the Qaddoura refugee camp risked their lives by carrying the wounded journalist to the Arab Care Hospital in Ramallah. Ciriello later died in hospital.
Ciriello was clearly identifiable as a journalist and was carrying cameras around his neck at the time of the attack.
Ramallah was placed under siege for three days with residents unable to leave their houses for fear of being shot by Israeli snipers on rooftops. Some 20,000 troops and 150 tanks were used in the Israeli invasion of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers occupied the centre of town as well as the two refugee camps located inside the city — al Amari and Qaddoura.
Electricity and water were cut to three out of the four Ramallah hospitals and at one point doctors dressed in their white coats moved on to the street to protest the IDF siege of the main hospital. They were shot at by soldiers in an Israeli tank. By the end of the siege 14 Palestinians had been killed in Ramallah and hundreds wounded.
Accompanying the Israeli raids, a hermetic seal has been placed on Palestinian towns and villages. Israeli troops now shoot indiscriminately at people trying to cross checkpoints. At the end of February two pregnant women were shot on consecutive days as they attempted to reach hospitals in Nablus.
In many villages essential food items are running low as trucks with supplies are prevented from entering.
The IDF attacks followed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pledge to the Knesset (Israel's parliament) that he would "hit the Palestinians hard and increase the number of casualties in order to teach them a lesson".
The increase in violence over the last month has largely been presented by the Western media as Israel "defending" itself from the threat of "blood-thirsty Palestinians", or as if it was merely a part of "cycle" of bloody "revenge" that's been continuing since the second intifada began in September 2000.
Sharon's own words, and the recent actions of the ill-named Israeli Defence Force, have shown that the Israeli government has no interest in peace.
Openly declared war
Israel has openly declared war on the Palestinians — a war in which only one side has an organised army equipped with "invincible" tanks (not so invincible after Palestinians managed to destroy one on February 14) and a massive arsenal of assorted high-tech weaponry.
In a letter sent to Sharon on March 12, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan wrote: "Judging by the means and methods employed by the IDF — F-16 fighter bombers, helicopter and naval gunships, missiles and bombs of heavy tonnage — the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare... In the process, hundreds of innocent noncombatant civilians — men, women and children — have been injured or killed, and many buildings and homes have been damaged or destroyed."
The Israeli government's response was predictable. "It is regrettable that the secretary-general's letter fails to reflect the basic fact that it is Palestinian terrorists that are deliberately targeting civilians... The appropriate object of international condemnation must therefore be the terrorist organizations, and the regimes that harbour and support them, particularly in light of the global campaign against terrorism", said a government statement released on March 20.
The violence within Israel didn't come from nowhere: there is a root cause — the continuing Israeli occupation.
There can be no peace without justice for Palestinians — the barest minimum must be the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the Occupied Territories and the dismantling of the Israeli settlements within the territories. Only once the decades-old suffering of Palestine is eased will talk of peace by the Israeli government become more than a sick joke.
A group of Palestinian intellectuals, including renowned Palestinian-American writer Edward Said, issued a statement on March 16 making the same point. "Palestinian resistance has no definition other than a national struggle to end the occupation and to achieve freedom and independence", they wrote.
"The brutal Israeli military campaign against the Palestinians has no definition other than seeking to perpetuate the occupation — the longest occupation in the 20th century and the last of all occupations in an age that celebrates human rights and recognizes peoples' rights to freedom and self-determination... However, this current government in Israel wants both occupation and peace simultaneously — that is, it wants us to acquiesce to enslavement in return for refraining from shelling us by air."
As Israeli troops were withdrawing from Ramallah and Bethlehem, the US government sent General Anthony Zinni and US Vice-President Dick Cheney to attempt to negotiate a "cease-fire".
Most Palestinians, however, see Zinni's visit as merely another attempt to force the Palestinian Authority to crack-down on the population and end the 18-month old intifada.
Despite the enormous suffering inflicted on the Palestinian population — more than 1200 killed, 20,000 injured, 4500 political prisoners and half the population living on less than US$4 per day — there is a strong determination to continue the uprising and end the occupation.
From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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