The atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli government since the beginning of the month have shocked, even by the measure of that country’s state-sponsored terror, by virtue of their brutality and relentlessness. For in its most aggressive attacks to date, the Israeli army has overstepped any previously acknowledged boundaries.
International opinion has been outraged by the direct and unashamed attacks on emergency medical services: in five days last week, the Israeli army killed six Palestinian medical workers. And these were just a fraction of the 122 Palestinians killed in the first 10 days of this month.
The murder of medical workers exposes the ruthless barbarity of the Israeli army, well aware that the killing of one medical worker translates into many more Palestinian deaths. Take, for example, the murder last Friday of Dr Ahmed Numan, Director of Al Yamama hospital in Bethlehem. The Israeli army shot and killed Dr Ahmed, who was making his way to the injured in Bethlehem’s Dheishah refugee camp, pursuing a persistent policy of preventing emergency care from reaching the injured.
In the Bethlehem area alone, nine Palestinians were killed that day. One of them was 36-year-old Huda Ismail, from Aida refugee camp, wounded by shrapnel in her arm and thigh. Left untreated for more than half an hour as ambulances were denied access to the camp and the wounded, Huda bled to death. Timely treatment would have saved her life.
The same is undoubtedly true of some of the 15 Palestinians killed in Tulkarem last Thursday: the Israeli army again not only refused to allow emergency services access to the injured, but also killed a PRCS ambulance worker, Ibrahim Asad, and opened fire on another ambulance, injuring two more medical workers.
Last week saw the exposure of a whole range of Israeli atrocities that have for long numbed those who witness at first hand the Israeli offensive against Palestinians. These atrocities make abundantly clear that Sharon’s government will place no limits on the barbarism it is willing to condone. The Israeli government is operating far beyond the boundaries of international law, and it is a something that can no longer be ignored or tolerated.
With the US administration now planning to send Special Envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region, Sharon is attempting to cover up his atrocities and internal failures by waiving his demand for “seven days of calm.”
The irony of this demand, of course, has always been that the demands for calm applied exclusively to the Palestinians and ignored not simply ongoing Israeli attacks against Palestinians (among them assassinations and collective punishment closures and curfews), but the very root of instability in the first place — the 35-year-long Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Military occupation is inherently violent, and violence breeds only violence.
Sharon’s call for calm would have been better directed at his own government and military, and it is precisely this that the Palestinians must insist upon now, on the eve of Zinni’s mission.
Last week demonstrated more clearly than ever that the Israeli government is operating outside the limitations of international law; its systematic violation of international codes of behaviour make it imperative that the Palestinians insist on fixed parameters before any negotiations begin.
The absolute minimum upon which we must insist are the end of the Israeli occupation of the territories, and Israel’s full compliance with UN resolutions and the implementation of international law.
Without such parameters there can be no substance to negotiations. The Israeli government must agree to end the occupation, illegal under international law, and begin operating within the boundaries of international legal standards. This is the only position from which negotiations can be viable.
For the Palestinians, it is also essential that — just like any other democratic country — those negotiating have the people’s mandate. Democratic elections are an essential prerequisite before final negotiations are conducted. Palestinians must be sure that those negotiating long-awaited peace settlements are the democratically elected (or re-elected) representatives of the people.
It seems that we are finally seeing the beginning of a decline in the fortunes of the criminal policies pursued by Sharon’s government. Having waited over 55 years for the establishment of a Palestinian state, having lived through the most oppressive colonial occupation of modern history, Palestinians will continue to insist on the need for a viable democratic state. It is now up to Israel to demonstrate that it is ready for a just peace with Palestinians. The first step towards this is that Israel itself recognises that its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories must end. The ball is in Israel’s court, and true peace is achievable if the international community plays its role.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.