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Israel's violence against Palestinians intensifies

April 13, 2001 | Page 7

ISRAEL'S SAVAGE violence against Palestinians intensified by yet another notch in early April. Israeli forces fired rockets at Palestinian police stations, knocking out power to thousands of homes in Gaza.

This followed helicopter gunship attacks in the West Bank--some with the explicit aim of assassinating Palestinian leaders. "The price we will exact from the Palestinian Authority will become intolerable," vowed Israel's Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau.

This is what life has become under Israel's new Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon hopes to use military violence to increase Israeli access to more parts of the West Bank.

On April 6, Sharon ordered his security agencies to make arrangements for Jews to be able to visit the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. Ironically, it was Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount--the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is holy to Muslims--with more than 1,000 armed security guards last September that touched off the Palestinians' new Intifada.

Israelis justify this month's escalation of violence as revenge for the shooting death of a 10-month-old baby girl who lived on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. This is hypocrisy. Of the 75 children under the age of 16 killed since the new Intifada broke out, 72 were Palestinian, and three were Israeli.

Israel's brutality has made life a living hell for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories--and will only fuel the fury that has erupted into resistance.

"People live in a state of terror"

MICHAEL BROWN and JAMIE TERRAL are human rights activists recently returned from the Occupied Territories, where they witnessed the beginnings of the new Palestinian Intifada late last year. The two are speaking out on campuses on a tour sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Partners for Peace. They spoke with GANESH LAL about their experiences.

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WHAT WERE your impressions during the first couple of weeks of the new Intifada?

Jamie: I was in Jordan when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Two days later, I came into Bethlehem, and it was at the height of the clashes. You could feel the tear gas in the air, you could hear the shooting down at Rachel's Tomb, you could see the smoke all over. Israel was responding with excessive force against a population that traditionally uses stones and slingshots and Molotov cocktails.

WHAT SORT of weapons are the Israelis using against Palestinians?

Michael: I'm no weapons expert, but I know the results from what I saw. I've picked up some of those heavy bullets. They might not technically be "dumdum" bullets, but they have the same consequences--of fragmenting on impact and knifing through the body tissue. We've seen severe injuries from the live ammunition and from the rubber-coated steel bullets--euphemistically referred to as "rubber bullets."

Israeli snipers are shooting to kill. I went to a hospital and saw young victims who had been shot in the eye. This is something new compared to the last Intifada. The number of eye injuries shows that snipers are aiming for the head.

The weapons have U.S. markings on them--the Israelis are using U.S.-made weapons. The Palestinians know that, and there's a growing anger. Not against the American people--there's an enormous amount of goodwill to the American people, which never fails to astound me--but towards the U.S. government.

Jamie: In the first Intifada, Israel hadn't withdrawn from any of the cities, so they were literally in the streets of Bethlehem and Ramallah and Gaza City with guns. But today, it's playing out differently. The Israelis have the ability to inflict much damage on the Palestinians while keeping themselves as removed as possible.

YOU GET quite a different picture from the U.S. media.

Michael: First, there's the completely misleading position of most American newspapers of saying that Barak offered so much in peace negotiations. He did offer more than others, but the fact of the matter is that it fell substantially short of the Palestinians' minimal and just demands.

But when it's conveyed again and again as this enormous concession on the Israeli side, it creates the sense that the Palestinians are being recalcitrant. Such an enormous amount of the West Bank has been carved out by the Israelis and is now considered part of Jerusalem that the Palestinians rightly insist on bringing it back to the table.

The media cynically claim that Arafat is sending children onto the streets to fight. And worse still, the Washington Post a few months ago claimed that Palestinians are monsters that don't care and are sending their children out to die.

This is utterly false. All over the hospitals, you can see mothers and fathers wailing and mourning over their children's bodies. Of course mothers care, of course the parents care for their children--like they do everywhere else in the world.

CAN YOU say something about the psychological impact of the occupation?

Jamie: I worked in the mental health department of the Red Crescent Society. There's no doubt that the people are living in a state of terror. What the children are experiencing is going to have profound effects on them for the rest of their lives.

We have seen post-traumatic stress disorder in a lot of children already, with symptoms like bed-wetting, lack of concentration, kids that are afraid to go to school. A lot of Palestinian parents are struggling emotionally with the issue of not being able to protect their children. The entire community is scarred by the violence that has been inflicted on them.

AND YET the U.S. media act surprised when Palestinians fight back.

Michael: It doesn't surprise me. In a population that's been living under occupation for so long, the youth will rise up and start fighting back, and that's really what's going on.

Teenagers, students and the youth have historically been at the forefront of the struggle for justice.

We've seen that in the U.S. in the civil rights movement, and in South Africa, during the struggle against apartheid. As a nonviolent person myself, it pains me to see all the fighting and killing. But for me, the bottom line is that people have the right to resist an occupation.

"The settlers are a ruthless group"

WE RECEIVED this report about Palestine from an Israeli socialist.

LAST WEEK, an Israeli settler child named Shalhevet Pass was killed by a bullet fired from the Palestinian village of Abu Sneineh. It was a terrible tragedy by any criterion, though not the slightest shred of proof was offered for the assertion that it was done on purpose by "a sniper who deliberately drew a bead on the baby's head," an assertion repeated countless times by Israeli politicians and commentators.

The tragedy could also have been the result of random shooting, so much of which had taken place in that area in the past six months. The Israeli side, by the way, also engages in such random shooting--and with orders of magnitude stronger firepower than anything in Palestinian hands.

This kind of random shooting resulted, for example, in the killing of 11-year-old Mahmud al-Darwish by heavy machine-gun fire that penetrated his parents' home in the Hebron suburb of Dura--a killing that took place one day and a few kilometers away from where Shalhevet Pass was killed, but that got much less media attention.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, Abu Sneineh has become a prime target. The Israeli settlers are stridently demanding that the army send in troops and conquer the whole neighborhood, however many casualties it would take.

Ariel Sharon and his Laborite allies have not (yet?) gone this far, but some "down payments" are delivered every day. The army has warned the inhabitants of Abu Sneineh to move away "for their own good," and the neighborhood is subjected to daily bombardments of tank artillery.

This evening, an Israeli TV commentator remarked casually that several Abu Sneineh houses were destroyed in the day's bombardment. The news item was followed by a long report on the international piano competition currently taking place in Tel Aviv, supposedly showing what a cultured and enlightened country we are living in.

And that is far from the end. The Hebron settlers are a very determined and ruthless group, capable of leaving that poor baby unburied for nearly a week as a grisly kind of political demonstration--capable of turning even on the very soldiers on whom the existence of their enclave depends, insulting and physically assaulting them.

They have friends in high places--especially in the present government--and they have a decades-long record of eventually getting what they want from the government, whoever is prime minister.

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