Regional Programs > Israel
& Palestine > Next Story
Ellen Cantarow, USA
April 6, 2002
I am Jewish. I am a writer. From 1979 to 1989 I reported for The Village
Voice, Mother Jones, Inquiry and other US publications from Israel and the West Bank. During those years I witnessed on the ground the rapid growth of Israel's settlements and the seizure of Palestinian land and water for them: today over half the West Bank's resources now are in Israel's hands. (About a third of Gaza's resources have suffered the same fate.)
I conducted in-depth interviews with ultra-right-wing settlers and
settler-leaders whose cry was: "Let them bow their heads, or let Israel
expel them." I interviewed Palestinian villagers who had suffered settler
vigilante actions and read accounts of these by Israeli-Jewish reporters of
conscience in Ha'aretz and other Israeli papers.
These vigilante actions ran the whole gamut: wanton destruction of property and crops, rampages through villages with cries of "Death to the Arabs" and smashing of car windows, casual in-the-street humiliation of Palestinian civilians, beatings, murder. Within Israel I witnessed the increasing polarization of Israeli society by the occupation; the growing, virulent racism of new generations.
Take, for instance, the Moroccan Jews in Kiryat Shemona, members of Menachem Begin's voting base about whom I wrote for The Village Voice in 1982 and who most commonly told me, "The only good Arab is a dead Arab."
Throughout Israel's 34 years of occupation, collective punishment for the alleged acts of individuals have been the order of the day—for example,
23-hour-a-day curfews lasting for weeks on end; the bulldozing of homes.
(During the time I was reporting, stone-throwing and street demonstrations were what brought collective punishment. Suicide bombing is a post-Oslo phenomenon triggered by the doubling of settlement population after the accords were signed and by the dawning realization that Oslo consolidated a South African-style plan for permanent Bantustanization of the West Bank.)
On the political front, while I was writing, in 1980, a group of mayors
elected democratically (Israel allowed this process a single time) was
targeted for assassination by ultra-right-wing Israeli-Jewish thugs. Two
were permanently maimed when their booby-trapped cars exploded under them. The perpetrators were found but not punished. Israel's alarm that the mayors all proved to be PLO supporters rather than docile pawns meant, of course, that there was never again another such election.
Israel tried desperately, during the time I was reporting, to circumvent the PLO by installing a quisling government apparatus throughout the West Bank, the "Village Leagues." It also began funding Hamas in the vain belief that a religious group would miraculously not work against colonial subjugation as did the PLO. Both ventures crashed, of course—the latter with the results we observe today in the extreme polarization of Palestinian political life.
On all my stays in the West Bank I personally witnessed the casual, daily humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints; the casual landscape and social scenery of apartheid (the most obvious and continual manifestations were the checkpoints with differing treatment of Palestinians on the one hand; Israeli Jews and internationals on the other, and the different color of license plates—blue for Palestinians, yellow for Israelis).
I interviewed villagers whose homes had been blown up and/or bulldozed by Israeli soldiers. I heard accounts by men and women jailed, abused, and tortured in Israel's prisons (on the subject of torture London's Times issued a well-documented report in the early 80s: the practice is an established fact acknowledged by Israel's B'tselem and foreign human rights organizations.
Torture is ongoing as I write: The Financial Times April 6 reported, "The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem yesterday petitioned the High Court after receiving reports of torture at the Ofer detention center near Ramallah.") Throughout the 80s I spoke with Palestinian officials, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, all of whom gave personal testimony about ongoing, deliberate acts that, under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention articles governing occupation, were clearly illegal.
About all of the foregoing the Hebrew press was quite open while the US
press was almost invariably silent.
We now arrive at the current nightmare. What is underway is collective
punishment of the sort I and other journalists have documented for decades,
ratcheted up a thousand fold in full-blown war atrocities committed
throughout the West Bank and almost certainly beginning in Gaza, from which I received an American relief worker's e-mail this morning.
For the past week my computer has delivered to me daily—even hourly—accounts of war crimes from Ramallah and other Palestinian cities by
Palestinian doctors, lawyers, authors, and students, and by internationals.
The desperate e-mailers plead with me and others to call our congress people and senators, to write letters to the press, to organize publicly.
They describe ambulances shot at and stopped from arriving at their
destinations; hospitals invaded and medical personnel prevented at gunpoint
from carrying out their responsibilities; people bleeding to death while
soldiers block, at gunpoint and in tanks, their safe passage to medical
relief; corpses rotting in hospital corridors (numerous e-mails warn of the
threat of imminent epidemics); relatives forbidden to carry out decent
burials (one group of the slain had to be buried in a Ramallah parking lot);
civilians shot if they venture out their doors; massive looting and vandalizing of homes; cultural institutions invaded and files destroyed; electrical systems for water pumps destroyed so that whole urban areas have their water supplies cut off; internationals and Palestinian press members wounded by Israeli gun-fire.
April 6, as I write: today's most urgent e-mail described a spreading
catastrophe: "Deliberately Created Humanitarian Crisis Reaches Intolerable
Point April 6th, 2001, 11AM." I read that six field hospitals report
scores of people in serious-to-critical condition, doctors are forced to
operate with minimal equipment.
In one such improvised center, a mosque, corpses rot in the operating room while Israeli snipers fire on anyone trying to enter or leave. Another
section of this particular cry for help tells me that Apache helicopters in
Jenin have "attacked and seriously damaged around 50 houses in the western side of the camp, 20 people are reported injured, bleeding in the street. Reports from the inhabitants are that there are 15 dead bodies in different locations, but again ambulances came under attack when trying to gain access to these bodies, this time with ammunition from the helicopters."
Still another section reads: "Yatta near Hebron also came under sustained Israeli attack from 3AM this morning. Dozens of tanks surrounded the town and opened fire on the inhabitants. The hospital reported two Palestinians were killed while in their homes—Jamal Hamad Karaysh, 22, live ammunition to his head, and Nader Jamil Al Khadder, 21, live ammunition to his chest. The hospital buried them in the cemetery, immediately and without a funeral, as they were afraid that after the Israeli army completely invades the town a health crisis could erupt—similar to the crisis in the other West Bank towns where bodies sit in hospitals and homes decomposing, as they cannot be buried."
Like Nero, President Bush has fiddled while Rome burns and has issued too little too late. What is needed is an immediate order for withdrawal and a
threat of economic sanction (this is what President Eisenhower did in the
Suez Crisis of 1956, resolving it immediately). What is needed is for Colin
Powell to be on the ground now, not a week from now or this coming Sunday.
Sharon, the Milosevic twin ordering these atrocities, is the self-same war criminal who commanded the infamous Unit 101 which killed 99 defenseless civilians at Kibyeh in October, 1953; who in August, 1977 ordered the destruction of 2000 Gaza homes and expulsion from them of 16,000 civilians during an Israeli "pacification" onslaught in the strip; who oversaw the IDF while it enabled the Phalangist massacre of over a thousand Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps Sabra and Shatila in 1982 (for this he was forced to resign as Defense Minister by his own government.) Sharon, a past-master at Machiavellian provocation, triggered the second intifada when, with an escort of 1000 soldiers, he "visited" Al Aksa mosque in September, 2000—the visit was followed next day by the shooting of Palestinian demonstrators at the mosque by Israeli troops. Sharon's aim as Housing Minister in the 1970s, as Defense Minister during Israel's invasion of Lebanon, and now as Israel's Prime Minister, is permanent colonization of the territories, permanent expansion of Israel's borders, permanent retention and expansion of the settlements. It is clear that this project not only destroys Palestinian society, but also Israel's economy and its political and moral fabric; as well as the stability of the entire region.
As a Jew old enough to remember a childhood just after World War II I am filled with a mix of grief, helplessness, despair and anger as Israel,
pretending to act in my name and using the Holocaust to exonerate its
crimes, proceeds with a clear effort to obliterate the economy, the social,
political and cultural institutions, and the entire infrastructure of the
Palestinian people. Those who do not speak out against the abominations
of these horrors are complicit by their silence. Those who exonerate Israel for committing them are guilty by association.
From Znet, April 6, 2002.