BALTIMORE – Judith Le Blanc, correspondent of the People’s Weekly World and vice chair of the Communist Party USA, spoke about her April visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories at Stony Run Friends Meeting House here May 31. About 45 attended the discussion sponsored by the Communist Party of Maryland and the Baltimore Peace Action Network.

Le Blanc was part of a 16-person delegation sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The delegation met with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Israeli Knesset members, trade unionists and peace activists in Israel and Palestine. They visited Bethlehem, Gaza City, Jenin refugee camp and Israel. She also joined the International Solidarity Movement to deliver food and medicine to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which was under siege by Israeli Defense Forces.

Le Blanc discussed the devastation in Palestine caused by Israeli military actions during the past 20 months – $361 million of damage to infrastructure has acerbated already serious economic conditions.

Le Blanc noted that the economic consequences in Israel have also been severe. Unemployment is high, factories have shut down, new investments are constrained by the military situation and privatization damaged the public sector. According to Le Blanc, the cost of the past two months of military incursions, along with the long-term costs of maintaining the Israeli settlements in Palestine, have sunk the Israeli economy “deeper and deeper into recession.”

However, there is resistance in both Israel and Palestine to the policies of the government of Ariel Sharon. Le Blanc reported that families in Ramallah had set up “mini-schools” so that children could continue to learn during the curfews.

Le Blanc visited the Beach refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. A family invited the delegation into their hoime and said, “We are not terrorists. We are fighting for a homeland … we will not give up without a fight.”

In Israel, resistance to the policies of Sharon takes various forms. But, according to Le Blanc, “we do not hear these voices in the U.S.” Twenty percent of the Israeli Knesset oppose the Sharon military policies. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have refused to take part in the military incursions in the Palestinian Territories.

Le Blanc emphasized the important role of activists in the U.S. She said it is important for U.S. activists to support the recent efforts of the AFL-CIO and the National Council of Churches calling for a peaceful solution. It is also important to make elected officials accountable. Le Blanc emphasized the need for a “grassroots movement for a democratic foreign policy in the United States.”