Met with silence

Khalid Amayreh

Recent Israeli army aggressions against Palestinian charities, beauty salons and shops show unequivocally that Israel is morally lost, writes Khalid Amayreh in Nablus

If you still think there are red lines that Israel has not crossed with regard to its treatment of Palestinians, don’t be too sure. In recent days and weeks, the Israeli army has been vandalising, ransacking and confiscating Palestinian civilian institutions in the West Bank’s largest towns and cities, including Ramallah, the seat of the so-called Palestinian government.

Frustrated eyewitnesses and tearful victims spoke of “unprecedented brutality” and “Gestapo-like behaviour” as Israeli occupation forces moved throughout the central and northern West Bank to destroy what was left of the Palestinian charity sector upon which thousands of impoverished Palestinian families depend for their livelihood.

Israel had been targeting orphanages and boarding schools as well as soup kitchens and sewing workshops serving orphans in the Hebron region. The campaign of terror, with many hair- raising scenes of cruelty and moral callousness, has seriously raised the level of hostility and hatred for Israel.

Palestinian livelihood, like Palestinian lives, appears irrelevant to Israel. It is, after all, the tormentor, murderer, and perpetual oppressor of the Palestinian people.

The latest savagery occurred last week when dozens of Israeli army vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers, stormed the main business district in Nablus, 90 kilometres north of Jerusalem. Nablus is one of the cities the Palestinian Authority (PA) had declared “sovereign”, especially after the deployment of hundreds of US-trained and well armed “security forces”.

When Israeli soldiers violated the city last week, Palestinian security forces were nowhere to be seen. The invading Israeli troops stormed schools, commercial malls, sports clubs, cultural centres, a key medical centre, a TV station, beauty salons as well as numerous NGO offices, ransacking and destroying equipment. In one instance, educational aides — including human skeletons, microscopes and school furniture — were smashed and thrown into the street.

Moreover, soldiers stole computers and many electrical and electronic appliances from the targeted buildings, all declared “property of the Israeli” army. At the Afaq TV station in downtown Nablus, the Israeli army confiscated all its equipment and furniture, “then they left on the front door a military order of its closure for one year,” said station owner and director Issa Abul-Ezz in a statement sent to Al-Ahram Weekly.

The most draconian barbarity, however, targeted a commercial mall consisting of dozens of shops. The Israeli army closed the premises, warning that any Palestinian entering the multi-storey building would be arrested and imprisoned for five years.

In Ramallah, Israeli soldiers stormed the municipal council building of Al-Bireh, Ramallah’s twin-town, located a few hundred metres from the headquarters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the office of his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Israeli soldiers, with sledgehammers and welding equipment, forced open offices, confiscating computers and destroyed furniture.

Again, PA forces remained confined to their barracks “in honour of agreements and understandings” with Israel. PA officials, including Prime Minister Fayyad, have argued forcefully that all social, cultural, educational, athletic and commercial institutions targeted by Israel functioned according to the law and were involved in nothing of concern to Israel whatsoever.

“These are legitimate Palestinian institutions, and targeting them is aimed at weakening and humiliating the Palestinian Authority,” said Fayyad while inspecting the targeted buildings. He added that he would complain to the United States as well as to Tony Blair, the Quartet’s envoy to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Neither has uttered a word criticising the latest Israeli savagery.

The Israeli occupation authorities claimed the targeted institutions were owned or run by religious individuals who might be sympathetic to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement. However, the Israeli army, and its intelligence arm, Shin Bet, failed to produce any evidence whatsoever linking the institutions to acts of violence.

Ironically, it is provocative actions like these that seriously weaken the image of the PA while strengthening Hamas. Fayyad said the Israeli onslaught on Palestinian charities and other institutions would radicalise Palestinian society and deepen hatred for Israel. It is evident, however, that Israel is indifferent to the long-term effects of its vindictive actions against Palestinians. Drawing satisfaction at seeing Palestinians suffer seems to be the main Israeli motive.

The harsh onslaught on the city of Nablus, and the embarrassment this onslaught has caused to Israel’s peace partner, the PA, has drawn few reactions from an international community that appears to have lost hope of restraining Israel’s wild savagery against virtually helpless Palestinian victims.

The most outspoken response came from Louisa Morgantini, vice- president of the European Union, who called the Israeli raids “a clear violation of international law”.

“The ongoing raids, closures, and confiscations by the Israeli army against institutions, associations and evens schools in Nablus are illegal actions, representing not only a clear violation of international law and more suffering and injustice against the Palestinian population, but also a direct attack on the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government.

“Incursions, arrests, closures, sound bombs exploding during nightly invasions, and now also the order to close the Nablus mall, including 50 shops and offices, threatening anyone who enters the mall to be imprisoned for five years: these orders by the Israeli military are illegal and invalid.”

On 10 July, Fayyad toured Nablus and urged shopkeepers and residents to reopen their stores and to resist non-violently. The Israeli army responded to Fayyad’s “defiant posture” by re-entering Nablus and sealing additional premises and by renewing warnings that violators of Israeli military orders would be imprisoned and have their homes blown up.

Fayyad, infuriated and clearly embarrassed by the audacity of the Israeli raids, called on Hamas to work towards the formation of a national unity government, because “this is the only way to present a united Palestinian front in the face of the Israeli aggression.”

Israeli society, which has been drifting stridently towards Talmudic fundamentalism and jingoistic fascism, generally ignored its army’s shameful behaviour in the West Bank. There were two exceptions. First, the small but noted Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, published a statement in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz entitled “Orphans and widows”.

The statement read as follows: “As part of the actions against Hamas, the Olmert government is destroying orphanages, schools and charities in the West Bank. There are no other institutions to take their place. Orphans, widows and poor people will be thrown into the street. Will this isolate Hamas? On the contrary.”

The other exception was an article written by the non-conformist columnist Gideon Levy, also published in Haaretz. Levy spoke of the horrific oppression the Israeli army is meting out to the Palestinians. “Thus the occupation proves once again that there is no place in Palestinian lives that it cannot reach, and that it has no boundaries.”

“An army that closes a school, library, bakery and boarding school; soldiers who raid a licensed commercial television station, confiscating its equipment and threatening its closure, as happened recently at the Afaq TV station in Nablus… These operations broadcast a message loud and clear: the occupation has lost all moral inhibitions and any shred of wisdom.”

“How wretched is an army,” Levy continued, “that empties storerooms of food and clothing for the needy; how ridiculous that the army signs orders to close hairdressing salons; how pathetic is a military raid on bakeries and how cruel is an occupation that shuts down clinics on any pretexts.”

It is important to keep in mind that these views in no way reflect the collective conscience of Israel’s overtly racist society. Therein, the dominant response to the occupation’s atrocities is silence.

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