EAST JERUSALEM – Last night, April 16, helicopters were heard overhead as Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) entered neighborhoods here and curfews continued in Ramallah and Bethlehem. Heavy shelling near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and heavy restrictions on travel for Palestinians were visible.

As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell returned to Ramallah for a second meeting with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, Palestinian and Israeli people are searching for a way out of the crisis that, in the past two weeks, has gripped the attention of the world.

Powell left Ramallah without a ceasefire agreement April 17, saying that no cease-fire can be reached without the Sharon government withdrawing the troops from the West Bank and that “the other side cannot respond while the incursion continues.”

At the Kalandia IDF checkpoint, set up a week ago as part of the Sharon government’s military invasion of the West Bank, groups of Palestinians were gathered as they tried to return to Ramallah and refugee camps.

A Palestinian man told the World that he had used a dirt road out of the refugee camp to get to East Jerusalem and was caught by the IDF and beaten up, leaving his right hand injured. Now they were refusing to allow him to return to his family.

The Israeli government has not only stepped up its military operations in the West Bank but has also increased the daily harassment and travel restrictions on Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and a professor at Ben Gurion University, told the World, “A majority of Palestinian men cannot get into the city. Even Palestinians who have legal residence in Jerusalem have no access to the rest of Israel.”

Halper continued to describe what Palestinians face in economic terms, “Seventy percent of Palestinians in Jerusalem live below the poverty level. There are 25,000 less housing units than needed. If a Palestinian family moves out of East Jerusalem for housing they lose their residency. One-third of the city is Palestinian and pay taxes, but only one-eighth of the municipal budget is allocated for services in their neighborhoods.”

Husam Jubran, a West Bank non-violence activist, told the World, “People who enter Jerusalem want to go to work to feed their families. Even if they face arrest no matter what, they will do what they have to do to get into the city to work.”

Last night, April 16, at an alternative Independence Day ceremony organized by Yushgvul, the military resisters organization founded during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon over 1,000 Israelis rallied for an end to the war and the occupation of the West Bank and about their concerns about the conditions of Israeli life due to the siege. The rally was across from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office.

Ram Rahat, from Yushgvul, told the World, “There are presently 36 in prison for refusing to serve in the West Bank. Ninety-two have served since the beginning of this Intifada. Many more are refusing but are just transferred to another area.”

The first women to serve a prison sentence, along with other war resisters, writers and peace activists spoke. Yigal Bruner from Yedudit Elkana, an Israeli-Arab coexistence group, told the crowd, “I prefer to light a beacon when Israel is a non-occupying society – not now.”

Several hundred “internationals” are reported to be in East Jerusalem and the West Bank trying to draw international attention to the crisis here. Adam Shapiro, an organizer for the International Solidarity Movement, received worldwide media attention for entering the Palestinian National Authority headquarters while it was under attack by the IDF two weeks ago.

“For the first time on a concerted level you are hearing people reporting on the ground back to the media outlets in the U.S. reaching greater numbers of what’s really happening here from eyewitnesses,” Shapiro told the World.

“That information is forcing a change, first of all, in how the media presents the story. The words we are saying have to be matched by pictures,” he said. “We are credible witnesses. It’s empowering the media here covering the story, to show things that they see also, but often get edited out of their stories.”

This coverage, he said, is causing people to take to the streets not just in the United States but around the world at a greater level than ever before. “I think that will have an effect on [U.S.] foreign policy as we educate people more …” (To hear the full interview with Adam Shapiro go to www.pww.org)