“You are Israelis. What are you doing in our house? You have to leave,” commanded 2 é year old Dana Shami, according to her father, to a platoon of Israeli troops who commandeered her home in Ramallah. Born under the Palestinian Authority, she had never before seen an Israeli soldier. The soldiers stayed for two days in early April, forcing the eleven members of the Shami family into one room for the time. Apart from the family sedan, deliberately crushed by a bulldozer for no apparent military value as it sat in the driveway, the father, Mufeed, admits that the soldiers were relatively well behaved. Nevertheless, the recent Israeli invasions left a bitter mark on even the most contented members of Palestinian society.
Ramallah is the most cosmopolitan of the Palestinian cities, and the destruction wrought there stands as a evidence that Ariel Sharon did not only seek a war on terrorism as he claimed, but also a war against the future peacemakers of Palestinian society. Flashy cars once cruised around Al-Manarah square past emerging music clubs and art cafes before the latest Intifada began. Before all of its computers were smashed by Israeli soldiers, Carma Cyber Club was a hotspot for youths to surf the web into the night. While still part of the developing world by any terms, Ramallah became home to most of the well-to-do Palestinians, especially those who returned from abroad after the Oslo Peace Accords granted limited Palestinian autonomy.
Such was Mufeed’s family, naturalized American citizens who moved to Ramallah in 1997 and into an upscale house where I met them. While the despair of impoverished Palestinian refugee camps breeds hatred and distrust of the Israeli occupation, the upper class of Palestinian society has until now held little animosity. “I used to think we could live with Israelis,” Manal Shami explains. “Now I don’t want coexistence. I want total separation. Some people blow up bombs and Israel makes all of us suffer for it.”
Mufeed speaks up. “All my family has anger. We do not have hate because we were not raised to hate. But now we have anger.” He points down the road, still littered with the twisted wrecks of Volvos and Mercedes’, “It was deliberate. See how they only destroyed cars made after 1990?”
The recent Israeli re-occupation of Ramallah took a devastating toll not just among the upper eschelon. The very institutions of the intellectual class were utterly ransacked. Christina Storm, director of Lawyers Without Borders, commented that it seemed as if the Israeli government sought to embitter any and all future peacemakers in the legal arena of educated Palestinian society. While Sharon’s spokesman Raanan Gissen stated to the AP on April 21, that Israeli troops had “explicit orders to avoid unnecessary damage,” the damage to non-governmental and private organizations was extensive.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, director of the Health Development Information Policy Unit (HDIP) shows me a photograph of himself with his face burned out by Israeli soldiers who seized his office for two weeks. “This is a reflection of how hateful Sharon’s policy is,” he explains. “If this is what they do to someone like me, imagine what they do in a poor refugee camp to unknown people.” Indeed, the entire office of HDIP has been turned upside-down in a mess of broken furniture, shattered appliances and empty Israeli army ration packages. Most notably, the hard drives of every computer in this medical establishment have been removed.
The situation was no better for human rights organizations such as the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners, Al-Haq, Mattin Organization or even the Palestinian Center for Helping Resolve Community Disputes in Ramallah, Nablus and elsewhere. According to a preliminary fact sheet compiled by Dr. Rema Hammami of Bir Zeit University regarding attacks on Palestinian civil and private institutions, Israeli troops did lasting damage to the databases of almost a dozen human rights organizations and workers unions as well as to municipal record offices and even libraries. These attacks can only be construed as a policy and not a series of accidents. Petty vandalism and theft were included in these raids where safes were broken into and crucial hardware and AV equipment were stolen.
For Al-Haq alone, the lost data entails some thirteen years of legal work é much of it even critical of the Palestinian Authority é that cannot be recovered. As Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist wrote in Ha’aretz on April 27, the Israeli raids destroyed “years of information built into knowledge, time spent thinking by thousands of people working to build their civil society and their future or trying to build a private sector that would bring a sense of economic stability to their country.” With specious rationale, Sharon and the IDF continue to explain away this damage (when they even bother to) as justifiable in a search for terrorist infrastructure. But as Hass and others have questioned, why didn’t the IDF just copy the information, and worse, why steal things like property deeds, blank checks and VCRs?
The only reasonable answer is that under the cloak of a “war against terrorism,” Sharon, ever the pragmatist, took the opportunity to also destroy any vestige of a viable Palestinian society, one that could someday flourish as an independent nation. By rhetorically subsuming all Palestinian citizenry into the archetype of bloodthirsty terrorists, he has gotten away with sabotaging any future alternatives to Yassir Arafat, be they lawyers, doctors or educators, and he has forever embittered all the whole of Palestinian society.
Mufeed Shami, standing next to his crushed vehicle wishes to stress this message. He concludes, “we were full of hope for peace and a nation. But when Sharon was elected, we lost all hope.” Sharon has lived up to their fears.
Benjamin Granby is an American human rights worker living in Gaza City and volunteering for Al Mezan Center For Human Rights.