Destruction of hope goal of Israeli rampage
By ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER
The invasion of the Occupied Territories of Palestine by the Israeli Defense Forces in March and April has been organized as a rampage aimed at destroying the infrastructures of public and private life. The accounting of the damage has only begun, since some of the Palestinian ministries are still occupied by the military (as of this writing). The picture that is emerging is one of systematic vandalism, particularly of information and communication systems.
In the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the buildings of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestine Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Health, the Chamber of Commerce and the offices of numerous municipalities, such as Ramallah and Al-Bireh, computers, printers, copiers, video and fax machines have been systematically destroyed. The doors of the buildings have been blown open with explosives. The phone systems have been destroyed. Files have been dumped out and destroyed or file cabinets blown up. The vital records on land and housing ownership, educational transcripts and financial records have been systematically wiped out.
The destruction gives evidence of much gratuitous vandalism and looting beyond this evident effort to wipe out information systems. Furniture has been slashed or broken up, graffiti sprayed on walls, toilets stopped up and fecal matter flooded on the floors, pictures and hangings broken or slashed, windows broken. Any money found in safes has been stolen. In the Al-Bireh Municipal Library computers were destroyed, books and papers strewn on the floor and a number of books and journals taken.
This looting and destruction has extended to many vital nongovernmental institutions. Thus the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners (which documents names and situations of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons), the Al-Haq Human Rights Organization (which documents violations of human rights by the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority) and several local YMCA offices were invaded, their computers, copiers, furniture and files destroyed. Private television and radio stations have also been vandalized. At the Ajyal and Angham FM radio stations two studios were smashed by sledgehammers, Internet streaming and editing computers were destroyed, 10 kilowatt and 3 kilowatt transmitters and the entire music and program library were destroyed. At the Al-Quds educational television station, connected with Al-Quds University, the studio and operations center were completely destroyed, losing their entire contents, including state-of-the-art equipment. Similar destruction has occurred in the Al-Nasr television and the Manara radio stations.
There has also been extensive looting in stores and private homes. Curfews have been lifted for a few hours every three days allowing Palestinians to leave their homes for food and other necessities. Often Palestinians find their food shops looted. Thus the Max Supermarket in the Masyoun neighborhood of Ramallah has been looted several times by the soldiers. Food was taken, explosives detonated in the building and the safe forced open and the cash inside (the equivalent of $12,500) taken. Soldiers have gone house to house blowing open doors, breaking furniture and windows, stealing money and jewelry, and even food, and urinating on rugs. No one, even the elderly and children, are safe. (The information contained in this article was compiled by a research team in Ramallah, distributed through the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia.)
A whole population is being systematically traumatized. One can hardly imagine what this will mean for children growing up in this environment. My friend Jean Zaru, who lives in Ramallah, has told me that her 6-year-old granddaughter insists on sleeping in her clothes, with her backpack beside her, in case they have to flee in the night. For a while she continually drew pictures of a house with a rocket heading down on it, but missing it. Now she has stopped drawing.
What is the purpose of this rampage? Surely such a campaign of destruction has been sanctioned by the military command. It is not simply evidence of soldiers out of control. The apparent purpose is to so dismantle the institutions of daily life and means of education, documentation and communication so that Palestinians will be compelled to leave their homelands, convinced that there is no hope for the future. But any experience with Palestinian determination not to be expelled from their lands over the last 34 years, since Israel occupied this area in 1967, should make it evident that such an effort will not succeed. Some of the dwindling middle class may flee, but the growing number of the poor will continue to hang on, having no alternative. The result, far from eliminating the threat of terrorism, as is the announced purpose, will further increase the motivation for some to engage in desperate acts of suicide bombing as the only possible gesture of retaliation.
Clearly the Israeli government and much of its people have become incapable of imagining the only real solution to such a cycle of violence: justice and dignity for the Palestinian people that gives them some hope for a better future. Will the rest of the world stand idly while this criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing continues to unfold? The United States, the major world power that has the capacity to curb the Israelis and force them to take a different direction, appears unwilling to do so, and blocks any efforts of others to intervene. Efforts to pass United Nations resolutions to send peacekeepers to protect the Palestinian population have been repeatedly blocked by the United States.
There needs to be a massive outcry from American citizens to demand a change in this American policy, as well as concerted actions from nations in other sectors of the world, especially from Europe and the Arab world. A world consensus of the unacceptability of the Israeli effort to eliminate the Palestinians and deny them an autonomous homeland has to emerge in an effective way. Are we finally willing to act to prevent another massacre of a people?
Rosemary Radford Ruether is a professor of theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill.
National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2002