Protests greet latest occupation atrocities

TEL AVIV – The reports from occupied Ramallah speak for themselves. The live reports I receive by phone or e-mail from friends and colleagues in Ramallah, Bir-Zeit, Tulkarm and other Palestinian cities are dreadful. And then, another suicide bomber blasts himself to pieces and takes with him 14 Israelis, injuring some 40 more at a main Haifa thoroughfare.

Such incidents are now almost daily events in Israel and the occupied territories. The Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers or snipers are also victims of Sharon’s war crime policy.

Rumors tell of dozens of Palestinian prisoners arbitrarily executed by the Israeli forces. Israeli army spokespersons allege that only gunmen have been killed in gun battles. But medics of the International Red Cross and United Nations officials have proven that the weapons of the executed Palestinians showed no signs of being fired.

All Palestinian males aged 16 to 60 had to assemble in several places, where Israeli “security” personnel select those taken into custody as suspected “terrorists.” Electricity, telephone lines and water supply have been cut in most of the city’s neighborhoods. Food is becoming scarce for the city’s 200,000 inhabitants.

But there is another side to the story, almost ignored in the mass media: The many protest actions by the Israeli peace camp. For the first time in Israeli history, a large group of “refuseniks” – reserve officers and men who refuse to serve in the occupied territories and to take part in the inhuman oppression of the Palestinian neighbor nation – demonstrated March 29 in front of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s residence in Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the group, Amit Meshiah, remarked that the number of signers of the open letter to the defense minister and the army chief-of-staff, originally 53, has now grown to 357. Adding the veteran “refuseniks” of the Yesh-Gvul movement, the number is now more than one thousand. Some 20 of the 357 new “refuseniks” are presently serving jail terms in military prisons.

On the evening of March 30, more than 500 Israelis demonstrated in front of the Defense Ministry office in Tel Aviv, while Sharon’s cabinet was in session. The vigil was called by the Gush-Shalom peace bloc, the Women for Peace Coalition and the Ta’ayush movement of solidarity with the Palestinians. When groups of protesters sat down on the usually heavily traveled Kaplan Street in front of the war ministry’s main gate, police brutally attacked them. Many demonstrators and one police officer were injured. After the vigil, most participants marched to the police headquarters and forced the release of an Arab demonstrator arrested during the demonstration.

At the same time in Tel Aviv, over a thousand peace activists protested in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, organized by the Peace Coalition (Peace-Now and others). March 29 saw a protest rally of many hundreds in downtown Haifa, called by the democratic Hadash Front, which demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Israel from all the territories occupied since 1967, as well as the evacuation of all the Jewish settlements established there.

Now, the Israeli occupation army has declared Ramallah to be a closed military area, and ordered all non-resident foreign journalists to leave town. The Israeli Foreign Press Association has published a sharp protest note, sent to the Defense Ministry and the Government Press Office.

A group of well-known Palestinian and Israeli public figures have issued a call for world public opinion makers “to break the conspiracy of silence over the true face of the war the Sharon government and army are waging against the Palestinian people,” as well as over the protest movement in Israel. Among the Palestinian signers are Dr. Hannan Ashrawi, Dr. Mustafa Bargouti, Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi. Among the Israeli co-signers are Prof. Baruch Kimmerling, Prof. Avi Oz and Prof. Yehuda Shenhav.

As appraised by a number of Israeli media analysts, President Yasir Arafat’s prestige has risen to new heights among the Palestinian public and in the whole Arab world. All Palestinians are united as never before in hailing Arafat as their leader and legally elected president. Many, also in Israel, estimate that the whole aggressive onslaught upon the Palestinians will boomerang against Sharon and his war criminal associates.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org