Israeli army uses human shield in Ramallah

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 5 Apr 2002 06:06:03 +0100

RAMALLAH, West Bank: The Israeli army used Palestinians as a "human
shield" early Tuesday to approach a building housing the headquarters of
the Palestinian security service in Ramallah, a Palestinian official

Israeli soldiers forced some 60 Palestinians to walk in front of tanks
as they approached the building of Colonel Jibril Rajub's preventive
security service building, the official told AFP. 

More than 400 Palestinians were inside the building. 

The Israeli army said several Palestinians wanted for carrying out
attacks were among them. 

Source: AFP 


Farce and terror in the 'closed area' of Ramallah 

Ghost town has a climate of fear, as peace protesters put themselves in
the firing line and Bush policy shows a shift 

Journalists were ordered out of Ramallah late on Sunday night. It's an
old trick. Whenever the Israeli army wants to stop us seeing what
they're up to, out comes that most preposterous exercise in military
law-on-the-hoof: the "Closed Military Area''. 

So yesterday was a good day to do the opposite, to go look at what
Israel's army was up to. And I can well see why it didn't want reporters

A slog down a gravel-covered hillside not far from an Israeli
checkpoint, a clamber over rocks and mud and a hitched ride to the
Palestinian refugee camp of al-Amari on the edge of Ramallah told its
own story; a tale of terrified civilians and roaring tanks and kids
throwing stones at Israeli Jeeps, just as they did before Oslo and all
the other false hopes which the Americans and the Israelis and Mr Y
Arafat brought to the region. 

Rather than waging a "war on terror'' the Israeli soldiers looked as if
they had entered the wilderness of occupation, just as they did in
Lebanon back in 1982, when "Closed Military Areas'' were about as common
– and worthless – as confetti. The Palestinians hid in their homes,
shutters down, eyes peering from behind blinds, occasionally sneaking on
to a balcony to wave when they saw a Westerner in the street. A few
children could be seen running between houses. At what age, I wonder,
does war transmute itself from a game into a tragedy? 

It was a grey, cold, wet day for a "war on terror'' and the first part
of the journey followed the usual pattern of farce and fear. There were
Palestinians aplenty walking down the track to the old quarry south of
Ramallah. The Israelis know all about this little by-pass, of course,
but usually can't be bothered to control it. 

To tell the truth, it was an Israeli officer at the nearby checkpoint at
Kalandia on Easter Sunday who smilingly advised me to enter Ramallah by
this little track. And beyond a pile of boulders and dirt and concrete
blocks – long ago piled up by the Israelis – was a minibus driver who
promised a trip to the Ramallah Hotel. 

It was, of course, too good to be true. No sooner had we reached the
al-Amari refugee camp – home under occupation of the Palestinians who
originally fled their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 – than the
drivers' courage drained away. 

A woman called Nadia and her tiny son offered me a guided tour through
the camp. There were young men in the streets, tough young men in parkas
and jeans who were watching every side road and alley. And there were
children around the camp, shrieking with excitement and fear every time
an Israeli border police Jeep drove towards them. Everyone was waiting
for the Israeli raid to begin. 

It was a doctor who offered me a lift to central Ramallah, a journey we
accomplished with considerable anxiety, driving slowly down the side
roads, skidding to a halt when we caught sight of a tank barrel poking
from behind apartment blocks, forever looking upwards at the wasp-like
Apache helicopters that flew in twos over the city. Our car bumped over
the tank tracks gouged into the tarred roads. The nearer we got to the
centre, the fewer people we saw. Downtown Ramallah was a ghost town. 

So Oslo has come to this. There were the usual claims of house
vandalisation and some rather more disturbing allegations of theft by
Israeli troops – "baseless incitement whipped up by the Palestinian
Authority,'' went the Israeli reply, which might have been more
impressive had Israeli troops not stolen cars and vandalised homes
during their invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982. 

Then, for the few journalists left at the Ramallah Hotel – and a clutch
of largely French and Italian peace "activists" (earrings and
Palestinian scarves, and in one case a nose ring, being in profusion) –
came the moment of high drama and utter comedy. 

A Merkava tank, roaring like a lion, drove slowly to the front of the
hotel and then, very slowly, swivelled its barrel towards the front
door. Peaceniks charged back into the foyer, screaming at reporters to
stand in the road holding their passports above their heads. 

And that, I suppose, is what the occupation of Ramallah is all about.
All day, the streets vibrated to the sound of armour. Between apartment
blocks and villas we could watch the Merkavas clattering between trees
or veering off the highway into fields. On a hill above the city,
another tank sat hull down in the mud, its barrel pointing towards
Arafat's scorched headquarters prison. The matchstick snap of a rifle
would be followed by the bellow of a shell or the sound of a heavy
machine-gun. And then the empty world would return to birdsong and the
faint buzz of an Apache high above us. 

With little time before dusk, leaving Ramallah was even more farcical
and dramatic than entering. With a small group of French and Italian
journalists, I slogged through the afternoon sun for more than an hour
before realising we were lost. 

True to its nature, war can be a surreal creature and so there we were
by late afternoon, marching – all smiles – towards two Israeli tanks,
whose frightened crews were huddling between their vehicles, opening
their ready-to-eat ration packs. Less surreal – far more real, in fact,
– was the Merkava tank which came thrashing down a lane towards us an
hour later. There was much flourishing of European passports and timid
waving before the hatched-down beast passed us in a blue fog of spitting
stones at 30km an hour. 

Yet the Palestinian families on our six-mile journey out of town would
creep from their front doors and wave to us and offer us coffee. A child
ran across a field, chasing a horse, and a clutch of families walked
gingerly between houses, watching for the slightest glimpse of the
Israelis. One old man drove a mule up a side road with a broad smile. 

And I realised then, I think, that it was these ordinary people, the
families and the old man and the child with the horse, who are the real
resistance to the Israelis – those who refuse to be intimidated from
their equally ordinary lives. 

So if this was a "war on terror'', it was a little difficult to know who
was the more terrorised in Ramallah yesterday: the Palestinians, or the
Israeli soldiers who have gone to war for Mr Sharon. 

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