Nowhere across their land are Palestinians spared the effects of Israeli aggression. From north to south, cities, towns, villages, camps — all wish to make their plight known, and all must vie for coverage by the world’s media, whose priorities are often politically motivated. The media spotlight has not yet been trained on Nablus, a city under curfew and buffeted by relentless army assault. It is long past time that we hear the voice of besieged Nablus.
For more than a year now, since April 2002, the cries of Nablus have been muted by the roar of jet bombers flying overhead and the blasts from tanks encircling and effectively laying siege to the city. At all times of the day and night, and often without warning, Israeli soldiers shell and shoot at the civilians of Nablus, who never know when or where to take cover. Children, women and men have been hunted, injured and killed.
The City under Siege is entirely cut off from the neighbouring towns and villages — and from the rest of the world. 200,000 people are trapped inside the tank fence around the city and subjected to a curfew that has been lifted for a total of 70 hours during the first 100 days. But the inhabitants of Nablus are determined to survive. They have been breaking the curfew, even though the Israeli army has been using “vicious violence (physical and psychological) to impose it, attempting to keep the population caged in their homes like animals through the use of terror and excessive military force”, according to International observers based in Nablus.
Students and schools are specifically targeted. Internationals report that schools are regularly tear gassed, and that “tanks arrive in front of the various refugee camps and schools in the city center by 6:30 a.m., when they begin firing endless rounds of ammunition, frequently large calibre rounds. The Israeli army attempts to close the schools before they even open by spending an hour or more terrorising the students and teachers with this incessant tank fire.”
The internationals witnessed one army assault on young students, between 5-15 years old, as they were going home from school: “The tank began by opening fires then proceeded to literally chase the students at high speed, shooting continuous rounds of live ammunition in the air. The children ran in all directions, young girls and boys some in tears and all in fear, their faces seized by terror, crinkled in panic.” (Source: 104 days of curfew in Nablus, Susan Barclay, 8 October 2002.)
Along with its people, Nablus’ exceptional cultural heritage is under threat from these military assaults. Classified as a World Heritage Site, Nablus and its environs have been inhabited for more than 4,000 years — as far back as the Iron Age. Just outside of the modern-day city is the site of Flavia Neapolis, one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman city, with its colonnaded streets, forum theatres and temples. It features such gems of Middle Eastern Roman architecture as the Hippodrome dating from the 2nd century A.D. and the Amphitheatre built in the following century, which covers the circular part of the hippodrome.
Later civilisations have also left their mark on Nablus, where the Old City’s remarkable Christian and Islamic monuments are of special interest. UNESCO has undertaken to restore historic Nablus with World Bank funding. In fact, the Palestinian authorities and UNESCO signed the agreement for the ãthird phaseä of the restoration programme only two days before Sharon’s provocative visit to Al Aqsa in September 2000! Had the programme gone ahead, it would have not only helped to safeguard Nablus’ cultural heritage, but also provided a resuscitating boost to the city’s economy.
We are sending this message, in solidarity with Nablus, because we believe that culture and communication have a major role to play in bringing peace to the region.
We are calling on the international community to reiterate its commitment to upholding human rights, and its commitment to Palestine, and to take notice of Nablus! International involvement is essential if the people of Nablus and their cultural heritage are to be treated in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the relevant international declarations, conventions and covenants.
The basic rules of International Humanitarian Law state that persons not taking part in hostilities are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. That they shall in all circumstances be protected and treated humanely without any adverse distinction. That armed forces do not have unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. That it is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or extensive suffering. And that neither civilian populations as such nor property shall be the object of attack. The Geneva Conventions and Protocol I are applicable in case of declared war or of any other armed conflict arising between two or more of the Parties. Even if the state of war is not recognised by one of them. These agreements also cover armed conflicts in which people are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right to self-determination.
The Charter of the United Nations holds that recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1924) and in the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), and recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict.
Cultural heritage should be safeguarded as stipulated in the Hague Convention and Protocol for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) and its Additional Protocols, and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972).
We appeal to the international community — human rights organisations, people working in the media, all those the world over who wish to see basic human rights respected and cultural heritage preserved — to turn their attention to the plight of the Nablusians and their historic city.
We appeal to the international community to mobilise support for Nablus by working jointly with local community representatives and Palestinian organisations in their efforts to counter the siege.
Immediate intervention is desperately needed to save Nablus, its people and its legacy.
Fawzia A. Reda
Fawzia A. Reda is a founder of Cultural Connexion, a non-profit organisation based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with liaisons in Amman, Nablus, Ramallah, Cairo, and Paris. Cultural Connexion aspires to promote and preserve the Arabic and Islamic arts and cultures and foster better dialogue in the West with the Arab and Muslim communities.