The following article is based on a phone interview by Associate Editor Terrie Albano with correspondent Judith Le Blanc, who is in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel as part of a 16-person delegation sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. On April 18, Le Blanc was scheduled to go to the Jenin refugee camp, where U.N. investigations into the reported massacre are to take place.

“It’s hard to fathom the intensity of the conflict,” Judith Le Blanc, Communist Party vice chair, told the World from just outside Gaza City.

The military incursion by the Israeli army in the last three weeks and the checkpoints have created a situation where the Palestinian people who live within Israel and the Occupied Territories are hampered on carrying their daily lives.

“They cannot go to work, cannot go to school, many people who are ill cannot go to the hospital, food is in short supply,” Le Blanc said.

Le Blanc described the situation in Bethlehem, one of the cities she has visited as a part of a delegation of “internationals” who are in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel helping to bring a just peace to this war-torn area through political solutions, namely ending the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side in peace with the state of Israel.

“The situation in Bethlehem for the people who live there is chaos,” Le Blanc said. “The Israeli governement’s policy has been confrontation.”

People living in the neighborhoods have been locked in their homes for three weeks – no food, no medicine. The level of violence is unimaginable, she said.

The Church of the Nativity, historically an important place for Christians, has been under siege by the Israeli army for the last three weeks. Palestinain Authority officials, who had been assigned to guard the church, and some Hamas people are inside the church.

“But in the main it is largely women, children, nuns and priests,” said Le Blanc.

Currently negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials are going on regarding the people in the church. They were low on water and food but have said they would rather starve than come out and be killed or arrested by the Israeli army.

“We went in with the International Solidarity Movement … to bring food to the church and we were immediately surrounded by Israeli Defense Forces. We had a stand off with them for a few hours. We had brought food and were asking for a chance to meet with the people in the church,” Le Blanc reported.

During the stand off between the 35 internationals and the Israeli army, Le Blanc said, “people who were in their homes – about 100 meters from the church – came out and began grabbing the food when it was clear we couldn’t go on any further.”

“They lifted the curfew about an hour later and people came pouring out, not from the homes immediately surrounding the church, but people a few blocks away. People searching for food. It is really unbelievable what the bombing in that area has done,” she reported.

In Gaza, Le Blanc said, people have been very worried that the Israeli military will invade. “People are very angry and they are very scared. All around the city there are mounds of sand that block the road so you have to drive around them.

At night everyone goes in and from 10 p.m. -3 a.m. groups put booby traps and bombs in those sand mounds in case the Israeli tanks should come in and try to invade …” Le Blanc said.

“I was in [the] Beach refugee camp, which has a population of 75,000 people who were forced into that area in 1948. Many families who never left who have grown up in a situation of being refugees in their own land,” Le Blanc said.

“One man told me ‘I work in the university here in Gaza City, I am the director of personnel, I live with my family, my brothers and my parents, 12 children in three rooms. We are not terrorists. We are people who just want our land back. We want a peaceful settlement. But we want a settlement that guarantees we can have a state that lives side-by-side with the Israeli state.’”

Le Blanc has interviewed many from the Israeli peace movement.

“Their main aim is to influence public opinion and to try to help Israeli people understand that the occupied areas and this current military incursion hurts both peoples. They called a peace rally for an end to occupation and a two-state solution and 15,000 people marched,” Le Blanc said.

The rally showed that “at the grassroots that people want peace, but peace in the sense that two states live together and respect each other’s rights.”

But Le Blanc warned that unless the U.S. cuts the five billion dollars a year that supports the Israeli occupation the cycle of violence will spiral further. “The only reason the Israeli government can do what they are doing is because they get money from the U.S. to do it,” she said.

“We have to strongly urge labor groups, peace and solidarity groups to put pressure on the Congress to freeze the money … so this spiral can stop before more people die,” she said.

To hear the full audio of the interview, go to www.pww.org

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