As the whole world is focused, and understandably so, on the aftermath of the devastating attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, the Palestinian tragedy continues to unfold. Israel’s declaration of a ceasefire on Tuesday 19 September is likely to be met with skepticism among Palestinians: it is doubtful that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will adhere to any meaningful downscaling of attacks for any length of time.
As many Palestinians anticipated, Sharon was quick to seize the opportunity presented by the distraction of the international community’s attention to launch unprecedented raids against the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Jericho and Jenin. Since 11 September, 26 Palestinians have been killed in the course of Israeli invasions and shelling of Palestinian Authority controlled areas. As has been the case for 12 months now the great majority of those killed were civilians, including three children, none of whom were involved in clashes with the Israeli army or armed settlers.
A further, and unexpected development, has been Sharon’s decisiveness in carrying out his grand plan of separation of the Occupied Territories from Israel. As long promised by the Israeli leader, preparations are underway to erect fences along the Green Line. In addition Palestinians are being jailed in their towns and villages, sealed in under curfew or total closure. The main passage between Jerusalem and the West Bank’s political and socio-economic center of Ramallah has been closed to Palestinian traffic and pedestrians for the past three days. This is not news as such, since Israel’s policy of closure has been a constant feature of the conflict since even before September 2000. However, over these past few days Israeli soldiers have been shooting with live ammunition at those Palestinians attempting to cross to Jerusalem, where more than 300,000 live and work. The Israeli army is also forbidding students access to Bir Zeit University, ten minutes away from Ramallah. The Israeli army is opening fire indiscriminately at anyone attempting to pursue their education despite the siege.
There has not been a single quiet night in the Occupied Territories since 11 September. On 12 September, 11 people were killed in Jenin during a long siege that has yet to end. On 15 September, in the early morning, the Israeli army entered Ramallah for four hours, shelling several PA outposts and civilian homes. The same day Israeli helicopters fired at least seven missiles in the Gaza Strip, three Palestinians died and more than 30 were wounded in the Israeli assault. At the time of writing, Betunia, two kilometers away from the center of Ramallah and home to 10,000 Palestinian men, women and children, is being shelled by Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships. Schools are being evacuated, and more than a dozen have been injured already, one critically. As has become custom, we will count our dead tonight.
In 64 years of occupation and as many years of Palestinian resistance against Israel’s military presence in the West Bank and Gaza, no Israeli leader seems to have fully grasped what is necessary to end such latent, and recurrent, manifestations of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Closures, isolation, buffer zones will neither solve our conflict nor will they result in success for Israel’s long and obsessive pursuit of security. Palestinian attacks have not been thwarted by the Israeli policy of closure or isolation. Occupation is violence. The closures prevents Palestinians from working, living, breathing, causing unemployment and poverty levels to rise.
Violence is occupation, exemplified by the robbery of Palestinian lands and natural resources. And violence is bound to breed more violence, born out of the Palestinian steadfastness, a spirit of resistance increasingly mixed with a deepening feeling of despair.
More than ever, the world must respond to our need for help and justice. Before it is too late, before more Palestinians and Israelis die, before Israel commits the unthinkable and irreversible.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.