From Gush Shalom
Just two days after Madrid the sickening images are once again coming from closer to home, with the news of a suicide bombing at the Israeli port of Ashdod. Once again the cycle of bloodshed is rolling on. (And, once again a day of mass, unarmed Palestinian resistance was overshadowed by the acts of two young desperados.) For the players on both sides of the lethal ping-pong, casualties are instrumentalized into ammunition, into a licence to kill the other side's men, women, old and young.
Nearly two months have passed since Ariel Sharon made the startling announcement of his intention to evacuate the Gaza Strip - and commentators, as well as the general public, are still puzzled about his true intentions.
One thing, however, is already crystal clear: the announced plans for withdrawal from Gaza do not entail an end to the daily violence and bloodshed in and around the Strip. On the contrary: in the past month, the armed forces of Israel actually intensified the rate of their aerial assassinations and large-scale armed incursions into Gaza City as well as Rafah and other towns.
Some commentators regard this as a prestige game: "The generals are determined not to let withdrawal from Gaza seem a military defeat"; others see Sharon using every means to distract attention from the burgeoning corruption scandals touching himself and his sons - the subject of an ongoing, intensive police investigation.
Whatever the underlying motives, the price in human life and suffering is extremely high.
In a single Israeli raid into the Gazan refugee camps in early March 15 Palestinians (including several children) were killed within a few hours; the following days saw a continuing death toll of "just a few" every day, which got hardly any mention in the media. On 14 March came the Palestinian retaliation.
For the first time since the outbreak of hostilities three and half years ago, two young Gazan refugees managed to break out of the fence surrounding the Strip and make their way to the port of Ashdod, a short distance to the north, where they blew themselves up and took 10 Israelis with them - and the death toll might have been much higher, had the blast come closer to the highly combustible chemicals stored in large quantities at the port.
Israeli counter-retaliation will only add more to the toll of innocent lives cut short, and further fuel the cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation. And the long-delayed meeting of Sharon with his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qurei has now been put off yet again, and with it the faint hopes of a new cease-fire.
Meanwhile, all this served to distract attention from a highly significant development: the dramatic increase in mass, unarmed Palestinian acts of resistance, specifically in the West Bank villages which stand to lose their land to Sharon's "Separation Wall". In village after village, hundreds of people stand together to block the bulldozers. Israeli peace activists are a welcome part of such protests, as are internationals.
One report: "We stood four hours, and were treated to repeated barrages of tear gas.
"The soldiers were extremely trigger-happy, though they had no pretext. Nobody threw stones, there was nothing but men and women, young and old, trying to defend their olive groves with their bare hands. Twelve were wounded and needed medical treatment, and the others just stood their ground."
Of course, a single suicide bomber gets enormously more air time on the international media than a dozen mass unarmed actions
In the midst of all this, 16 March is coming around - the anniversary of Rachel Corrie, American International Solidarity Movement activist, being crushed to death at Rafah while trying to stop an Israeli military bulldozer destroying a Palestinian house. There will be several events of commemoration and protest at the ongoing bloodshed and oppression.
Purim: carnival for Jews, harassment for Arabs
By Nina Mayorek and Victoria Buch, Machsom-Watch
We should like to describe how the Purim holiday is "celebrated" at the checkpoints
On Saturday morning 6 March we drove under the rain towards the Nablus checkpoints on Road 60, through the West Bank. Between the villages Luban-A-Sharkiye and Sawiye we suddenly encountered an endless queue of Palestinian vehicles - buses, minibuses and private cars, with hundreds of people who had been stranded there for hours. They were stopped by a temporary ("flying") military checkpoint. The queue did not move, since the soldiers decided that the queue is insufficiently orderly. No particular disorder was in evidence, just miserable people waiting in cars under the rain.
We made endless phone calls to army officials, human rights organizations, journalists, even to members of the Knesset. Zahava Galon did her best to help. Finally, very slow movement began - one vehicle passed every 10-15 minutes.
Only a few soldiers of a sizeable group dealt with the Palestinians. One of the soldiers was giggling periodically. They chatted with each other, drank coffee to warm up, and looked like young people trapped in the cold, in an unreal situation. Palestinian men were requested to leave buses and minibuses, stand in a row under the pouring rain, and hand in their IDs. The IDs were checked for a match with terror suspects.
The great military plan seemed to be as follows: A bomber will approach the checkpoint, wait for several hours for his turn, and finally hand in his ID to the soldier. Mind you, the place is in the middle of nowhere, and there was no difficulty to leave the queue. Many discouraged people were in fact leaving. Everybody was cold, wet and shivering - Palestinians, soldiers, and ourselves.
Before us, an impossible and hysterical Israeli security effort was made to protect its citizens in the country without borders. Suddenly the sky became clear and an answer appeared as to who generated this absurd situation. We got a clear view of the red roofs of the settler homes on a neighboring mountain-top. Their inhabitants consider it legitimate to deprive Palestinians of their basic human rights, and to deprive us, peace-seeking Israelis, of a normal life in a truly secure country.
We waited for three hours till the last Palestinian bus passed. During the wait, one of us entered each bus, explained who we are, and described our efforts to improve the situation. We met many nice people who, like us, were longing for normal human relationships between the two peoples. We were thanked for help.
- Machsom-Watch is a women's organisation, monitoring military checkpoints in the Occupied Territories.
Despite attempts by the army to portray the refusenik movement as "marginal", the number jailed for refusing to take part in the systematic oppression of the Palestinians, is on the rise. At least three women are now in Military Prison 400 for refusing to serve in the army: Laura Milo, Inbal Gelbert and Veronica Kravtzov.
The five jailed male draft resisters were transferred to civilian prisons last week. Help us, and the prisoners, in our struggle to free them and the Palestinians from the jail of the Occupation!
- Email the refuseniks: firstname.lastname@example.org
- More information: email@example.com; Gush Shalom, PO Box 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033; www.gush-shalom.org
Protest at the Israeli Embassy
Free the refuseniks! Israel out of the occupied territories!
Monday 22 March and Monday 5 April
5.30-7pm, Kensington High Street/Kensington Court, London.
Called by Committee for Two States