The following is excerpted from a recent e-mail sent to friends and family from PWW/Mundo reporter and Communist Party Vice Chairwoman Judith Le Blanc.

RAMALLAH – The meeting with President Arafat in the “compound” here, which had been under a 10-day seige by the Israeli army, dramatized what the Sharon regime’s goal was. They set out to ignite a conflict that would have caused an assassination of Arafat. The damage left the Palestinian National Authority headquarters destroyed.

Everyone you meet speaks of how beautiful the city once was. Now bombed buildings stand next to half built buildings with people trying to go on living under the occupation. The city has been under a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew with parts of the city closed off periodically.

The constant curfews and seizures of villages has destroyed the economy of the West Bank and Gaza strip, and 75 percent of the people are living under the poverty line. People cannot work regularly, children can’t go to school regularly and they live with an incredible sense of uncertainty. The curfews and restriction of travel have caused the deaths of many. Not only from shootings, but many die from common illnesses because they cannot reach hospitals for treatment or medicines.

Now there is a movement growing to send children to school despite curfews. Some might ask why would Palestinian families put their children in danger. They say their children want a way to resist the occupation. They have seen the people humiliated at checkpoints and they want the world to know that they want to live in peace.

One small example, on Sunday I was in a restaurant here. Families were eating, children playing in a corner on a trampoline. Suddenly and quietly, the men began to leave the tables, including our hosts. I decided to follow them up to the street. The Israeli army had blocked off one end of the street and soldiers were lining up. They were preparing to enter a home to capture a “wanted” man.

Children from the neighborhood had been playing in the street. I saw two little girls begin to cry hysterically, pointing at the soldiers. Their brothers were at the other end of the street. They were afraid to run and stood paralyzed as the soldiers got out of the trucks. I will never forget the look on their faces. I realized they live with this fear every day.

Bush’s remarks after his meeting with Sharon about the need for “reform of the PA” will give a green light to step up the military actions on the West Bank and Gaza. Bringing an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the only way for peace to be negotiated.

In our meetings here we heard about the efforts of all the political forces, including the People’s Party of Palestine, to organize for the right to vote. They say no election can be held under occupation.

In just one day, 1,200 Palestinians were arrested for traveling in restricted areas. Now estimates are that 10,000 Palestinians are being held for this kind of charge. So when Bush and Sharon demand reform, they demand it from the end of a barrel of a gun!

In the past few days I went to Haifa, Israel a northern industrial city in which Arabs and Jewish people live together. I met with students from Haifa University, which has the highest Arab student enrollment in the university system.

I also met with the deputy mayor of the city, an Arab and a communist, who told me of their struggles for education of the children of Haifa and how the military interferes in the name of security. The occupation hurts the people of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the people of Israel!

There are two Arabs out of 34 municipal council members. (Both are Communists! SMILE.) The struggle for the civil rights for Arab citizens of Israel (20 percent of the population) is inspiring. I will be writing an article on this city when I return.

I also met with leaders of the Histradut, the Israeli labor federation. They are in the midst of a national strike of 150,000 workers, public and private, for cost of living increases which the government is refusing due to the war. The labor movement is trying to make the connection that the economic crisis the working people face is due to the government cutting social programs to shift money to the military … sound familiar?! Their determination is solid, and they may expand the strike to close the ports and airport.

Today I am going to Bethlehem. Yesterday the town was shut down by the army. So I hope to enter today. In the next two days, I will be going with Israeli doctors into the West Bank on a solidarity action and also with Israelis – Jewish and Arabs – to the olive groves where settlers killed a Palestinian farmer last week. The group will form a human shield to protect the farmers during the harvest.

So I hope everybody is working hard against the war in Iraq and mobilizing for the elections to send a message to Bush.

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org

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