Getting our first look around the ‘raped’ cities

After 23 days of around the clock curfew, residents of Ramallah and other West Bank towns are today for the first time, able to reclaim the streets of their invaded and destroyed, or as one resident described it - “raped” cities. For the first time locals are able to enter different buildings, access areas that had been previously out of bounds and blocked by soldiers, barbed wire fences, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and see the destruction that has been wrecked on their towns and cities.

Offices that Israeli soldiers have occupied for the last three weeks have now been vacated. One staff member from the offices of HDIP said, “it is unbelievable, we have lost all our years of research — not lost, that’s the wrong word — it has been willfully destroyed. The desks have gone, chairs, bookcases all gone or destroyed. Many of our files, publications, research, papers, and letters burnt. The computers and other electrical things have been broken - so we cannot use them now. In the office of the Palestine Monitor the only things left are the walls. Walls have also been painted with graffiti.

The same is true for the offices of Al-Haq, a leading human rights organization, and the Mattin Group, the economic, policy research and human rights center — the three organizations share the same building. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the director of HDIP invites all “journalists, consuls, and representatives to visit the HDIP offices and see one example of how Israeli soldiers have deliberately destroyed civil society organizations.”

There has been no Israeli withdrawal from the most recently invaded areas — what we are witnessing is redeployment and repositioning of tanks and troops. The Israeli military aggression continues, and Israeli troops remain in complete control of the West Bank. No one can get in to the different Palestinian areas, nor can people get out. Towns and cities are isolated from each other by soldiers and tanks on the outskirts; every region remains cut off from the others.

In Ramallah a 24-hour curfew remains in place in all the areas around the Governorate headquarters, where Arafat is currently imprisoned. This morning witnesses in Ramallah report tanks came down to the main down town area (the Manara) and opened fire in the direction of the civilian shoppers.

Currently the main access to Ramallah remains closed — declared a closed military zone, the refugee camp at Qalandiya is being invaded and attacked, as is the town of Deir Amar and the refugee camp near there.

Sources in Ramallah have expressed their concerns that Israel may try to launch an attack on the Arafat’s headquarters toady or in the next few days. The common view is that specialist soldiers would attempt to storm the compound, and either wound or kill Arafat. Approximately 25 foreigners remain in the building with him.

Beit Hanina (22 April 2002) — Today all the staff of HDIP and Palestine Monitor were able to enter their offices for the first time in three weeks and were met by the sight of indescribable damage and vandalism committed by the Israeli soldiers who used the office as an operation centre during the occupation of Ramallah. Most of the equipment of HDIP and Palestine Monitor has been destroyed and files and reports damaged or burnt. The office is in an unbelievable state of mess and destruction, however at this point it is hard to estimate the exact damage and loss.

All the computers in the office have been thrown into one big pile at the entrance, desks and chairs are broken and scattered on top of each other. The computer hard-drives have been taken out and the server is gone, together with all the printers and fax machines. Among the computers were 12 new computers, which were purchased for the establishment of a computer-training centre for youth and women. Also the soldiers have stolen a brand new digital video camera, LCDs, a projector and educational equipment.

There is clear evidence that the soldiers stayed in the office for a long period; there are mattresses and covers on the floor, dirty underwear and clothes are left in the bathrooms and on the floor and a heavy stench of garbage and rotting food left behind by the soldiers. The garbage was left everywhere mixed up with books and documents; even in desk drawers.

The office that belonged to the Palestine Monitor has been totally emptied; the desks are thrown on top of each other in one corner and all the computers are gone. Staff at the Palestine Monitor suspect that Israeli snipers used the office; the office is located on the corner of the main street of Ramallah and there is a good view of the street from the window. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti’s office has likewise been completely cleared out; the hard-drive is left twisted on the desk, books and reports are thrown on the floor and the furniture is missing.

The soldiers used the newer part of the office, which HDIP had recently rented and refurbished, as a dormitory. They slept on expensive Bedouin rugs made by a women‚s project in the Negev, which they stole from Mattin group, the organization located on the floor above HDIP, which has been equally vandalized. In addition to damage in the kitchen, holes in the walls and broken doors, there is extensive damage to the whole building particularly in the staircase.

Dr. Barghouti had arranged with volunteers to monitor the building while the soldiers were inside throughout the two and half weeks the soldiers stayed there. They managed to videotape the soldiers when they brought out boxes from the office and burnt them outside on the sidewalk.

The whole place bears witness of random vandalism: Shaving cream was sprayed in a big pile in the bathroom, Hebrew graffiti on the walls read: “Thank you for your hospitality” and “This eating area is for whores” and a pornographic videotape in Hebrew was left behind. Photos of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti have been burnt with cigarettes and bullet holes shot in his head at the photos.

The vandalism in and of itself is not surprising considering previous practice by the Israeli army but it is non-the less shocking to see the damage and devastation. In addition to HDIP and the Palestine Monitor, hundreds of other Palestinian independent organisations have been attacked and vandalised. At HDIP more than 13 years of research as well as valuable bibliographic information and databases have been lost. This is in fact an attack and assault on Palestinian intellectual life and all of this invaluable work has now to be rebuilt. The Israeli army has in short waged a war upon civil society in Palestine. This will however not break our will to rebuild what is lost and to continue our struggle for freedom and independence.