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The truth about Israel's violence
"I've seen people who can't get to hospitals"

July 6, 2001 | Page 13

WHEN ISRAELI Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited George W. Bush in the White House last month, he insisted that the obstacle to "peace" negotiations was Palestinian violence. "Israel will not negotiate under fire and under terror," Sharon told reporters. "If we do that, we'll never reach peace."

To listen to this war criminal, you'd think that innocent Israelis made up most of the casualties in the latest round of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

The opposite is the case. Well over 90 percent of those killed, maimed and wounded since the new Palestinian Intifada began last September have been Palestinians--and a shocking number of them are children.

And throughout the carnage, the U.S. government has stood right behind its loyal ally in the Middle East.

REEMA ABU-HAMDIEH is the public relations officer for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the equivalent of the American Red Cross. In 1994, Reema lost seven members of her family when Israeli settler fanatic Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshipers at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, killing more than 50 people. Reema spoke to KEITH ROSENTHAL while on a tour of U.S. campuses.

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WHAT HAS your experience been like living in the Occupied Territories?

HORRIBLE, TO say the least. Just in the past 10 months [since Israel imposed blockades], I've been systematically prevented from going to work, and my sisters were stopped from going to school.

So many times, my sisters have been stopped in the middle of the street by Israeli soldiers and forced to stand against a wall with their hands up. It's a horrible scene. They're only 18 years old, but they've had to do that several times on the way to school.

Curfews. Sometimes no water. Sometimes the electricity is cut off. And sometimes, Israeli settlers will cut our phone lines, leaving us phoneless for whole months sometimes because Palestinians can't go to repair it. I've seen people who can't get to hospitals--people who've bled to death waiting for ambulances that never come.

SOME COMMENTATORS say that the current violence in the Occupied Territories is Sharon's fault--and that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak actually wanted peace. What do you think?

I THINK they're two faces of one coin. And I'm surprised that people don't look at the fact that Barak was the one who started bulldozing and bombing and shelling Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

For me, Sharon has always been there, and he's never hid behind a mask. He was frank about his position. He said, "I don't like the Palestinians. I want to create facts on the ground, I want more settlements, and I want to expand those settlements, and I don't like that Palestinian village, so tomorrow, I'm going to bomb it."

Barak is a different case. He says he wants to make peace with the Palestinians, and then he goes behind the scenes and bombs and confiscates more land.

For me, Sharon is open about the fact that he's thirsty for blood.

But I've also seen pictures of Barak dragging a Palestinian female martyr, and for me, that does not represent someone who's going to lead a country to peace.

All of the Israeli prime ministers throughout history have been generals in the army--it's a military state.

HOW DO you think the mainstream media in the U.S. has handled the conflict?

I WAS sickened by the media in this country. It's so biased and filled with lies. I'll never believe the news that comes on American channels because of what they have to say about my cause and my country, and it isn't true at all.

On U.S. television, they didn't show the Palestinian kid who was under bullet fire for 45 minutes until he was killed. They didn't put that on the news until it had already been all over the world, and people started talking about it.

I was so disappointed with how blind the media is here. And it's sad, because the U.S. public can't even choose for themselves--they're not even shown both sides. The media is showing the people one side and forcing them to be on that side, because for them, the Palestinians are mere statistics.

HOW DO Palestinians view Yassir Arafat?

IN THE beginning, I think a lot of people looked up to him, because he had been around for awhile, but now a lot of people feel fooled.

How could he think that the Israelis would make peace by simply signing a peace of paper? They should have used more effort than that. He's lost a lot of power in this process, I would say.

WHAT DO you think the outlook is for a solution?

I'VE BEEN disappointed so many times, and I don't want to be disappointed again. That's why I have low hopes and expectations.

For a long time now, my hopes have been shattered and killed with every Palestinian who's been killed. And my high expectations have been stepped on by United Nations resolutions and military boots.

I think one state, with one person, one vote, would be a great idea, but I know a lot of Israelis wouldn't accept that. They're racist and believe that they want a pure Jewish state. But I don't know what the solution should be. This country is too small to have two different states in it. It's too small to be divided.

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