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 Letter to Ruchama
 Rita Giacaman, Palestine
 April 8, 2002
 
Dear Ruchama,

On April 8th, 2002 at 1p.m., the curfew was lifted in Ramallah for the second time in 11 days, and for a period of 4 hours. It gave some a chance to hunt for bread and eggs, and others to quickly survey the damage to their institutions, since in the previous lifting of the curfew people could barely concentrate on hunting for but not finding bread. But once locked up again, a slow realization came about . . . wonder what they did inside the buildings they broke into.

With gradual reports of plunder, stealing and breaking emerging, you can imagine that many began to worry, then fear a much worse realization: destruction of the institutional and cultural infrastructure of Palestinian life. This realization, alas, is now being confirmed. For many, much of their laborious work in institution building has been ruined.

Although we do not know the level and extent of this type of destruction, eyewitness reports indicate that it is all-encompassing. No doubt, it will take months to assess the extent of this damage, once we emerge out of the current circumstances. And clearly, being under curfew and with mere phone contacts, we only know of some cases, those that we happen to have access to or pertain to people we know. Here is what we know so far:

1. Radio and television stations: Not only did the Israeli army occupy most of the local radio and television stations early on, but they used one of the stations at least, WATAN, to air pornographic films. That day, probably on the second day of this onslaught, I turned on the television to see Watan Television Station's courageous reporting of what is happening around us. I was shocked by a pornographic film instead. Called everybody and everyone, as did everybody else who saw that. And it took I think two days for this to stop . . . just think of children watching in the midst of all that is happening around them. And then we began to hear reports of what has taken place at al-Quds University's Educational Television, which normally broadcasts educational materials, but since the beginning of this state of affairs, had begun airing cartoons for children and short films on first aid and trauma management, as well as phone numbers and addresses to use for emergency purposes in these trying times. According to the technical director of this station and another filmmaker friend, the army occupied the station and held two staff operators for many hours before they were released. When the curfew was lifted on April 5th, he tried his best to get into the station, but was not allowed in by the army. On the way back, his worst fears were magnified: al-Nasr TV, Manara, Ajyal, and Angham radio station owners all reported the same horror. They were able to get into their stations and found all the equipment on the floor, totally and irreparably damaged. Microphones, tapes, CD's, monitors, mixers etc. all spread and smashed into shambles. Even Radio Love and Peace studios, ironically, were found totally destroyed, apparently using highly effective sledgehammers or something of this sort.

2. Non-governmental organizations working on economic and social development research, policy and human rights:

a. Al-Haq, HDIP and MATTIN: these are three non-governmental organizations specializing in human rights, health research and policy and economic research development respectively. They are situated in one building. The first report I received was from al-Haq, indicating that they [the IDF] had stormed their office as well as that of HDIP, and that they had arrested one of their workers. Later on, we realized via MATTIN researchers that all three institutions were opened up, forming a big dormitory, and that the army was using the entire area as a barracks.

On the second curfew lifting I went downtown and peeped through streets and building to see, as you cannot get close, only to realize that the building is surrounded with barbed wires and tanks, totally inaccessible even for people to inspect the damage in there, and leaving you with a horrific imagination of what could have happened inside, as the Israeli army is still using the offices as a downtown station. We suspect that the damage must be great, or total, based on reports of what happened in radio and television stations as well as people's homes when they are stormed.

b. UPMRC. First, the Youth Center, housing a computer laboratory as well as other equipment and materials that are intended to help youth in these trying times. On Sunday the 31st of March the Israeli army stormed the center. They detonated the door and went in. They broke all the internal doors, and destroyed some of the computers, we do not know how many. We have no idea to date if they stole anything or not.

Then, the UPMRC Optometry Center: the centre was stormed probably also on the same day. Again the door was detonated, and even the internal walls were destroyed, and everything was brokenócomputers, microscopes, and all of the diagnostic equipment was smashed and on the floor. The Israeli army also took with them the main records computer. There is nothing there that is operational.

And, the UPMRC Technical Aids for the Disabled Centre: stormed on the first of April. Stormed by exploding one of the walls, as they could not open the main door, tried to detonate the door but did not succeed. All computers were broken and down on the floor, glass broken, even parts of walls were down.

And finally, UPMRC's main emergency medical center, first shelled by tanks, with shells landing inside one of rooms, carving out the first wall into the second room, and then again the second wall into the third room. Then they stormed the building and destroyed all the equipment there, computers, photocopier etc. The Israeli army also detonated the doors of other NGO's located in the building, such as the Mandela Institute, as well a private dental clinic and computer company located in the same building. One office, belonging to a private lawyer was partially burned down. All equipment in these offices was destroyed.

c. Al-Mawrid Teacher Development Center in the Arizona Building in the heart of downtown Ramallah: this center was directly hit by a missile or bomb, which landed in the window and caused a fire, which has led to the total destruction of the premises.

d. Muwatin, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, located on Irsal Street, was not spared either. Apparently, the neighbor first reported that the army stormed into these offices and stayed there for about three hours. One door was completely blown off, and the other badly damaged. By the second curfew lifting, on April 9th, a quick visit revealed destruction, and paper everywhere on floors, books on floors. There was no time however to assess whether anything was stolen nor the extent of the damage. We also hear that PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) and the Hydrology Group offices were also stormed but I do not yet know the details.

3. Public Institutions: we have not begun to realize the extent of the damage in this sector, but some reports are indicative. On April 4th, the Ministry of Education issued an appeal to the world community indicating that on April 3rd, more than 30 Israeli tanks made a forceful entry into the Ministry headquarters in Ramallah, demolishing the main gate and the main doors, although employees there were willing to give them the keys to open the doors instead. The employees were then captured and forced to sit under heavy rain for six hours, then released. When the soldiers left at around 9 p.m. that evening, the employees went back to horrifying damage: the Ministry's computer net servers were stolen, along with many floppy disks, CD's, files, dossiers, and all sorts of other documents. In the finance office, the main coffer lock was detonated, damaging all papers, including vouchers, promissory notes, cash and check box. The general examination central office doors were all detonated and destroyed, all iron cupboards as well, many of which containing very important educational documents. All records were taken or destroyed, even records of official transcripts that have been laboriously developed over years, and making it impossible now to issue or certify student documents and transcripts. Even the storage rooms were invaded, with computers, televisions and video sets and other valuable teaching aids taken away, their worth estimated as millions of dollars. Apparently, the piles of rubble on the floor made for a terrifying scene.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and has been compiled from reports I have received from friends and colleagues in the institutions concerned. The whole truth will take some time to emerge.

This unbelievable destruction can only indicate that this unilateral war is not merely about security, but is mainly directed against annihilating everything Palestinian.

Rita

Rita Giacaman is a professor of public health at Birzeit University, the West Bank's leading university, as well as the leading scholar of the Palestinian women's movement. Her letter is to Ruchama Marton, an Israeli physician who founded and runs the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights. Both were early supporters of a two-state solution.