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"Palestinians won't give up the struggle"

May 3, 2002 | Page 6

HUWAIDA ARRAF is cofounder and local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement, the organization that brought dozens of international activists to the West Bank to witness Israel's brutal onslaught. A Palestinian American from Detroit, Arraf and her partner, Adam Shapiro, were in Ramallah when the invasion began--and became internationally known as one of the few independent sources of information in the West Bank.

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COULD YOU give your impressions of the scale of Israel's devastation in places like the Jenin refugee camp?

JENIN IS unimaginable--the level of destruction that has been wreaked on this refugee camp and the amount of terror that people have gone through.

The International Solidarity Movement was among the first people to sneak into Jenin refugee camp when it was still closed off, and those who went there said they were seeing people under the rubble--trying to pull people out from under the rubble of their own homes.

I've continued receiving reports from our internationals there, who have told me that even when Jenin camp opened up a little bit and people were in the streets again trying to bury their dead, women and children were walking around dazed, looking at their homes that were flattened. People say they see pieces of bone and flesh everywhere. One of our members reported to me seeing a whole midsection lying on the ground.

I don't how you term that anything short of a massacre. It was even declared that by Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN envoy, who said that he saw the body of a child who was killed, and so this wasn't going after the terrorists.

They arrested more than 4,000 men, and we don't know what's going to happen to them. Our members got into a village on the outskirts of Jenin, where some of the men who were detained were dropped off--in their underwear on the edge of the city. Many had been detained and abused for a week at minimum, and they didn't know what had happened to their families.

We had people collecting their personal stories, and they were all the same--they were bound, blindfolded, stripped of their clothes, tortured. You could see open flesh wounds even after a week, cigarette burns on these peoples' necks and backs--in addition to being kicked around, denied decent food and interrogated.

And all this is justified as Israel going after the terrorists. In Israel's mind, every Palestinian man, woman and child is a terrorist--and that's all they have to say to justify opening fire on unarmed civilians, demolishing unarmed civilians' homes.

I live in Ramallah, which has been quiet for the past week, but I'll tell you what quiet is. For almost two weeks, quiet has been hearing explosions about every hour--not knowing what's being blown up, but knowing that the Israelis are dynamiting doors and going into buildings. Everyone remains under total curfew, and if you're seen walking around during curfew, you're an open target for the snipers stationed in different buildings.

So people in their homes have almost gotten used to these explosions and hardly ask anymore what that was--because it's just another building, it's just another supermarket, it's just another home that they're entering.

About four days ago, we took a group of foreign civilians through the streets, marching under the banner of a white flag. We were delivering humanitarian aid, and we were walking down the streets, but people were only waving to us from inside their homes--because they were afraid to come outside.

We heard gunshots in the distance, and again not knowing what it was. But when we made our way to the local hospital, a 7-year-old boy had been brought in with a bullet to the shoulder. And they had picked him up where? In front of his house. He was playing in front of his house and got shot.

These things are almost impossible to put into words. But these are the things that we're seeing. In Ramallah, commercial buildings have been burned to the ground, clinics shelled, lawyers' offices turned to rubble, many of the homes, the windows broken and shattered. The first day we were actually allowed to come out of our homes and onto the streets, either you were stepping on bullets, glass or twisted metal.

There's nothing that hasn't been hit. If they're going after the "terrorist superstructure," why did they dynamite my local supermarket while no one was in there? They broke into the ministry of education and stole all kinds of files--kids' school records dating years back.

They're targeting the very infrastructure of Palestinian society. And this is on top of the civilian deaths. So it's unmistakable what kind of terror the Palestinian people have been subject to at the hands of the Israeli military.

WHAT DO you think about Israel's justification for its war on Palestinians that it's only acting in self-defense?

THERE'S A lot of violence here, and violence perpetuates violence. So we must look to the source of the violence, which is occupation. That is unmistakable and undeniable. The continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, their continued harassment and abuse of human rights of the Palestinian people, stripping them of their dignity and denying them their freedom--that is violence in itself.

Even when the media claim that there's quiet--when they use the terms "cease-fire" or "period of calm"--we who live in the Palestinian territories don't see calm. Every time you go to the edge of your own town, you see Israeli soldiers. You face abuse. You face basic violations of your dignity at the hands of Israeli soldiers.

Yesterday, for example, our van with foreign civilians was stopped by Israeli soldiers at one of the entrances into Jerusalem, and as they were checking all of our IDs and trying to justify why they were holding us up, they said, "We live with animals." I said, "Who are the animals?" And they said, "Those people on the other side." And this is, I'm afraid, the mentality of some of the people who are put at checkpoints to dominate Palestinian people.

That kind of abuse, even in periods of supposed calm, is violence in itself. And then, of course, when you see any kind of resistance--any kind of march, any kind of demand for freedom--it's violently put down by brute military force that violates international law and human rights.

That is going to breed violence, and the cycle goes on. That breeds a resistance, and there are different kinds of resistance. People are pushed to resistance that has targeted innocent civilians in Israel, which we don't agree with that at all. But we understand. We have to understand that in order to bring it to an end. The international community, if not Israel itself, has to take uncompromising steps toward ending the occupation.

AT THE same time, it seems obvious that Palestinians remain committed to resisting Israel's rule.

PEOPLE HAVE been locked in their homes, and there's a sense of fear--but also of having seen the worst that can be dished out. I haven't sensed one bit of willingness to give up or to submit.

I was among the civilians who went into Yasser Arafat's compound to protest the siege and express solidarity. There were 300-plus Palestinians inside with the president, from his advisers to security to regular workers in the president's office--all of them living with no electricity, no running water, the Israelis were surrounding the compound and firing. And they still said that no amount of Israeli terror will lead us to submit. That's something that I heard from every security guard that I talked to, right up to the president.

That doesn't mean that we're not pleading with the international community to intervene. But it does mean that no amount of terror that Israel can inflict upon the Palestinian people will lead them to submit and give up the struggle for freedom.

Because it's basically a human struggle for the basics that I think every person in the world can identify with. It's to be able to live with dignity, with respect for human rights and free of foreign domination--to be able to raise your kids and send them to school without worrying that they'll be harassed by a soldier.

WHAT DO you think people in the U.S. should do to show their solidarity?

THOSE OF us here were heartened to see all of the demonstrations and solidarity and outrage over Israel's action all over the world. The one thing we ask is that people don't tire of putting the pressure on. And not only by demonstrating, which is widely known about, but by calling your congressional representative and the White House.

The statements coming out of Congress and the administration are so blatantly pro-Israel. And they get away with it even while Israel is committing what I'm sure will be found to be war crimes. It's good to demonstrate. But small things like calling or writing or faxing your congressperson every day is a very effective thing to do. A combination of both, I think, will help change American foreign policy.

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