War in the Middle East

Eyewitness Dispatches: A Sickening, Bloodcurdling Horror

"The Israeli aircrafts have started firing at Aida Refugee camp" ... "The soldiers are shooting at any moving target" ... "many dead lying in the streets" ...
As one Israeli commentator pointed out this week, since the beginning of this wave of Palestinian attacks in fall 2000, more Israelis have died in car accidents than by suicide bombings. Dying at the hands of someone who hates you for your citizenship (or religion) somehow feels different.

But no matter how horrific Israel's losses have been at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- excuses the cold-blooded Israeli attacks upon the civilian population of Palestine that continue as you read this. Reports from Israel suggest Ariel Sharon's government intends to wage this "campaign" until all of Palestine has been subjected to it.

The attacks doubtless seem to many Americans like just another war -- more tragic, perhaps, because "they're always fighting over there," but basically an unsolvable mess the U.S. is only tangentially related to. We're not, of course. The United States is inextricably linked -- by weapons sales, aid programs, investment, and the eyes of the world -- to whatever Israel does. And this is no "ordinary" war; it is not even a war, because with few exceptions the "enemy" is not shooting back, is not even present. And in the course of the resulting death and destruction, Israel is violating just about every known convention for how humanity has agreed to conduct itself during its most inhumane moments.

Consider these accounts from the last 48 hours:
"The Israeli air crafts have already started firing at Aida Refugees' camp ... The Israeli soldiers do not care anymore at whom their guns are pointed."
-- George Rishmawi, Bethlehem.

"More than 150 Israeli tanks invaded Bethlehem area from all directions. Heavy shooting and shelling is regular all morning long. The Israeli army is moving towards the Church of Nativity. Bethlehem is sliced into a dozen of isolated areas. Soldiers and Apaches are shooting at any moving target."
-- Ghassan, Bethlehem

"Tonight we have heard numerous reports of 30 Palestinian policemen executed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers in a building where they sought refuge on Irssal street in Ramallah. This was after five Palestinian officers were executed by being shot to the head and then had their corpses thrown on the pavement for hours on Friday. Ambulances are prevented from reaching their destinations and two hospitals have either been broken into (Arabcare) or shot at (Nazer Maternity Hospital) ... One of the employees of the Sakakini Center had the Israeli army burst into his village (Kobar) yesterday, destroy belongings and arrest his younger brother, alongside 30 other young men from the village.

"The cleaning lady of the Center lives in a house with an outhouse for toilets. For three days the Israelis have been posted by the door to her house and preventing all exit. When the eldest today sneaked out to the outhouse, the Israelis caught him and beat him. His school teacher father tried to intervene, the Israelis beat him and arrested him.

"One of the board members of our center was arrested with all the employees of the office building where he was working late Thursday night. They were all blindfolded and had their hands tied and placed in one room for 16 hours. The Israelis destroyed some office furniture and stole hard drives from computers. They all untied themselves once they realized the Israelis had gone on to bigger prey.

"My next-door neighbor's 70+-year-old father lives near Yasser Arafat's office. The Israelis broke into his home Friday, broke everything with the butts of their rifles (TV, sinks, furniture, etc.) and then stole some money.

"There are reports also of Israeli soldiers breaking into banks and change offices and jewelry stores and stealing money and jewelry ... "
-- Adila Laidi, Director, Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, Ramallah

"Israeli tanks were waiting outside the front of the house. Israelis have been going into houses taking food and leaving. Also, they have been going into houses and taking all men ages 15 to 50. Some have been taken away. Others have been stripped and left in the street for several hours in the cold and rain.

"This morning the President of the Red Crescent Society (Red Cross) (Younis Al-Khatib) was taken from his office by Israeli soldiers, made to crawl on his hands and knees in the street in the rain, and then arrested. Many medics have been arrested. PRCS officially announced that there is no ambulance service for the sick and injured in Ramallah. Israelis will not let ambulances pass, and the medics are taken away."
-- Caroline, Ramallah, as told via phone to a Seattle friend

"Things here are shifting again slightly, but not enough. there are still large numbers of wounded in Manger Square in the centre of the old city, and many dead lying in the streets or in houses from which they cannot be removed [update this second; the family who had two members killed by a tank shell have managed to get them out]. The mosque, in which people were hiding, was shelled by tanks, and there are 150-200 holed up in the Church of the Nativity; we've just spoken to one of them and no medics have been allowed through but nuns have been attending the injured. Injured in Deheishe refugee camp have also been denied access to hospital, and we've just watched from our window as Israeli troops surrounded and searched a Red Crescent ambulance. Another ambulance was crushed by a tank this morning in Beit Kala. A group of internationals attempted to accompany an ambulance to Manger Square to get humanitarian aid to those trapped, but they were fired on; apparently the Israelis had chosen (without telling anyone) that they would use their clocks and not Palestinian time to time the curfew and thus decided to shoot at people ...

"In Ramallah, a group of 2,000 Israelis (Gush Shalom) and Arab Israelis attempting to deliver food and medical supplies were stopped and heavily teargassed. One truck of aid was allowed through, but the soldiers then emptied it and stamped on the medical supplies, leaving the food on the ground."
-- Sarah Irving, International Solidarity Movement, Bethlehem
And so they come in, account after account, endlessly detailing a systematic attack by a marauding army upon a helpless, impoverished civilian population: denying food, denying medical supplies, denying care for the wounded, stealing what they like and destroying the rest, arbitrarily arresting, beating, torturing, and even executing large numbers of people for the crime of being Palestinian and male, and specifically attacking neutrals -- not just medics, but journalists and internationals who can tell the world what Israel is doing.

All of these are violatings not just of the Geneva Convention, but just about any international law or standard relating to warfare that can be imagined. This is not an invasion, but an attack upon civilians who have already lived under Israeli military rule for 35 years. That military is now carrying out calculated actions thought by many to be unimaginable in the 21st century. For much of the world, the United States -- which, to the extent it has said anything at all, still seems to blame Yassar Arafat for this spectacle -- is equally culpable.

For the last two days, I have been trying to distill what needs to be written about these atrocities, and U.S. complicity in them; instead, the list keeps expanding. This is due, in part, to the presence of the "internationals," courageous activists from around the world bearing witness and acting as shields in the worst of the attack areas. (They will be the subject of tomorrow's column.) As it happens, I know no less than four of them. Two, in fact, are volunteers (and personal friends) with the community newspaper I help publish in Seattle, Eat the State!; they had offered ahead of time to write of their experiences for ETS!. One was in the group shot at on Monday; the other is waiting, nervously, in the Azza refugee camp near Bethlehem, having refused a U.S. embassy offer of evacuation. Another international is a former intern at Seattle Weekly, where I work.

Personally knowing people who are in the midst of this catastrophe makes a difference, but it shouldn't.

Another ETS! volunteer went on a similar delegation in January; here's what happened to his host family in Ramallah:
"Our friend Mahmoud (47 years old) and his son Majd (18 years old) were arrested and taken out of their apartment in Ramallah this morning ... All the other Palestinian males in their building were also arrested. Israeli soldiers have been going from house to house for days arresting all Palestinian males under 45 -- and apparently some that are older.

"At this writing [Tuesday] there have been at least 14 summary executions of prisoners in Ramallah, with reports of many more than that. One report describes prisoners in a large room being roughly divided into two groups, one group to be held, one group to be shot.

"Mahmoud ... was released tonight. Mahmoud is currently in too much pain to stand up. After being beaten and kicked in the back while in custody, he was released and allowed to walk home -- about seven miles ... Several older men were released with him. Mahmoud's son Majd is still in custody, along with all the other young men. It is Majd's first arrest. The family is hoping he will come home alive."
For all of the Palestinian families hoping their sons, husbands, and fathers will survive, there is something we can do. The United States still has, if it so chooses, tremendous influence over this situation. If these scenes, and countless more like them, do not fit your idea of civilized behavior -- let alone democracy -- call the White House. Call your congresspeople. Call your local talk shows, write and e-mail letters to the editor, get in touch with international aid groups. This is a horror unfolding before our eyes, and the United States, alone among international actors, has the power to make it stop; we, alone among outraged people around the world, have the power to petition a government (outside Israel) that can make it stop. Let's use it.

Geov Parrish writes frequently for AlterNet, the Seattle Weekly, In These Times and WorkingforChange.com, where this article originally appeared.