West Bank update

Writing an update of the situation in the West Bank today requires few changes to the updates of the previous ten days; names of villages, numbers of wounded, and the names of the dead appear to be the only difference.

Invasions, Attacks & Re-Occupation

In the past nine days almost all of the towns and cities in the West Bank that were under Palestinian control have been brutally and viciously reoccupied. The cities of Ramallah, Al Bireh, Jenin , Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Nablus, Tulkaram and Qalqiliya, have all been attacked and occupied. Other smaller towns such as Yatta, Kafr Al-Ein and Beit Rima have also been subjected to violent re-occupation.

In every city the story is similar; scores of Israeli troops invade with tanks under cover of Apache helicopters, bombarding civilian neighbourhoods, imposing curfews, going from house to house using Palestinians as human shields, searching and looting homes, offices and other buildings, in some cases occupying homes confining all family members to one room for days on end, in other cases destroying property and leaving. It is estimated that between 4,000-5,000 people have been arbitrarily detained and arrested by Israeli soldiers as they prowl the streets, 1,650 in Ramallah alone (Adameer).

Then there is the killing - Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz said today that 200 Palestinians have been killed in the assaults, with 1,500 people injured. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Medical Relief Committees believes the number of deaths could be higher with the discovery of more bodies every day.

The attacks have been horrendous for all the Palestinians, but the attacks conducted against the inhabitants of the refugee camps have been relentless and most brutal. The United Nations refugee camps in the West Bank are home to approximately 600,000 thousand people, dispossessed of their land with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, refugees who should have some form of international protection as due to those with refugee status. However, the camps and the refugees inside them are bearing the brunt of the Israeli army’s attacks; for three days and nights the Jenin refugee camp has been under a violent military onslaught.

Palestinian utilities have also come under sustained attack, with soldiers tearing up phone lines and destroying electricity and water supplies. The citizens of Ramallah were without water for six days, many still have no electricity or telephones. Attempting to repair the destruction is also fraught with danger. Mr. Ali Hamouda, the head of the electricity company in Ramallah was eventually, after many telephone calls, and a great deal of negotiating, given a permit to repair the electricity supply, but he explains “when we went out, with the permits and permission and everything we could possibly need, the soldiers on the streets stopped us, and detained us for an hour, and then proceeded to arrest the workers”. The same occurred when repairmen tried to fix a water pump in Ramallah – except they were shot at before they were detained.

Prevention of Medical Treatment

Another characteristic of the continuing Israeli invasion and occupation is the unremitting assault on the medical teams, and the prevention of access to medical treatment for the sick and wounded. Hospitals and medical clinics in all the cities remain blocked by tanks preventing the ambulances from getting either in or out. Dr. Barghouti estimates that there have been at least 100 attacks on personnel trying to provide medical care.

Ambulance staff have been shot at, arrested, detained, and attacked by soldiers; hospitals and clinics have also come under attack. Patients attempting to access medical care have also been attacked as was the case at Al Razi hospital in Jenin when doctors and medics watched on helplessly as 28-year-old Nidal Al Haj bled to death inside the hospital yard, unable to reach the building.

Currently in the old city of Nablus 65 people lie wounded in field hospitals set up as an alternative to the inaccessible hospitals, 10 of those are critically injured but are unable to be moved. 16 corpses lie in the same building as the wounded – they too cannot be moved. In Jenin the situation is, if at all possible, worse, as no first aid stations have been set up; the wounded lie where they fall in the streets as people are too afraid to retrieve them, and if they are removed they are treated in homes.

Closed Military Zones

Enforced Press Blackout and Lack of International Witnesses

The Israeli military is enforcing a closed military zone throughout the West Bank, in the areas they are attacking, in an attempt to prevent the presence of media and foreigners who would report, or witness the events.

A number of journalists have been attacked in the territories, with the soldiers enforcing a violent form of press censorship. Delegations of foreigners such as the Greek ‘Doctors of the World’ have been refused entry to Israel, and immediately deported to their own countries. Today a Canadian MP, Svend Robinson, was refused entrance to Ramallah, and on Thursday an international human rights lawyer and professor of law and politics was refused permission to fly to Israel from Cairo. Mr. Judeh from GIPP reported that in the past week alone, approximately 100 European peace activists were stopped in Ben Gurion airport and deported. In addition to preventing foreigners from reaching the Palestinian cities, a number of foreigners have been arrested and deported from, or after being in, Palestinian areas.

There can be only one reason for this – and that is so the Israeli military can control and limit what news is coming out of Palestinian areas, to restrict peoples knowledge of the events currently taking place, and more worryingly to clear the area so that the Israeli army can act against the Palestinians as they wish.

The aforementioned events are not occurring in a vacuum – rather they are taking place when the American and other foreign governments are calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the newly re-occupied areas. This is typical of Sharon and his behaviour since he has been Prime Minister of Israel. Whenever there has been a chance to end the conflict, whenever there has been a non-violent option to end the crisis, Sharon has destroyed it. And now instead of listening to the international voices of reason and withdrawing from the Palestinian towns and cities, he is expanding Israeli occupation further.

The most important issue to remember is the Palestinians have repeatedly called for a ceasefire, and Sharon has rejected their calls, preferring to provoke with his policy of extra judicial executions, houses demolitions, construction of new settlements and the expansion of old, the draconian siege; all used to punish Palestinians and provoke individuals to react so he could act as he wished – to destroy the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, and to destroy any chance of a two state solution with the creation of a just, viable and independent Palestinian state inside the 1967 borders.

We need also to focus right now on who exactly is attacking whom. In response to the worlds call to withdraw, the Israeli attacks intensify; in response to the worlds call to allow the freedom of movement for medical teams and the sick and wounded the army is responding by opening fire on ambulances, condemning the wounded to a death from lack of medical treatment. In response to the worlds calls to avert a humanitarian crisis Sharon is ordering the levelling of more refugees homes, killing more people and destroying access to water and electricity.

It appears the only thing Palestinians can do is wait, and appeal to the world to take concrete steps to put a stop to this man and the Israeli aggression that is, by the day, worsening.