In The Name Of Us All

Gideon Levy

18 March 2002

Palestinian Camps

     At about 6 A.M. last Monday, an Israeli army megaphone called on all the men and male youths in Deheisheh refugee camp to come out of their homes and assemble in the area of the nearby Nassar stone quarry. It's estimated in Deheisheh that between 1,000 and 1,200 men from the camp and from the adjacent village of Artis came to the quarry, which became a stockade.

The men and boys - aged 14 and up - were blindfolded and their hands were bound. According to descriptions given by Palestinians who were there, they remained in the quarry until night, wearing only their underclothing, without food and without medicines for those who needed to take them. Late at night nearly all of them were released and only a few dozen were taken away for interrogation by the Shin Bet security service. There were no top wanted individuals among the men. 

Those who were released were ordered to return to their homes holding their hands up. For them it was a day of humiliation and torture, which they will not soon forget. Who among us can imagine enduring this kind of false mass arrest? Can we imagine our children, aged 14 and 15, being taken at dawn to a quarry, being tied up and then being humiliated for so many hours, even though they had done nothing wrong? Would we not develop a feeling of hatred and a desire for revenge against those who behaved in this way? 

Last week, thousands of Palestinian men throughout the West Bank, from Jenin to Bethlehem, were subjected to this kind of mass false arrest. How many were arrested? Who's counting? The spokesman of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said, after checking the matter, that he does not know the exact number. He only made sure the humiliation marches were photographed, so that the Israeli public could see the bound, half-naked detainees. 

But the arrests were not the worst of the blows that have befallen the Palestinian population since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that the Palestinians had to be treated roughly. "They need a bashing," Sharon asserted at the beginning of the month in the Knesset cafeteria. The result was that approximately 170 Palestinians were killed, about 10 a day on average. Among the dead, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, are 12 children and teenagers, only 11 members of the security forces, three members of medical teams including two physicians, and one foreign journalist. 

Staff of Physicians for Human Rights take desperate calls for help every day. On Tuesday, soldiers opened fire at a Red Cross ambulance after shooting at an ambulance in Tul Karm the day before, and the following day the oxygen at the hospital in Ramallah ran out and the IDF refused to allow oxygen to be brought from Jenin. Nurses were evacuated from their residences in Ramallah, physicians did not reach the hospitals in Bethlehem, medical teams did not succeed in evacuating people who were bleeding to death in the refugee camps. The maternity hospital in El Bireh was shelled. 

In Tul Karm, members of medical teams burst into tears during a visit of representatives of Physicians for Human Rights and said they were afraid to go out in order to evacuate the wounded. Tanks were stationed at the entrance to the government hospital in Ramallah, and a serious shortage of bandages and medicines was registered at the Arab Care Hospital, as in others. 

Most of the suffering was experienced by the entire population: Hundreds of thousands of residents were kept under terrifying house arrest. Many were evicted from their homes to forced to spend long days with dozens of neighbors who are half-strangers in the same apartment. There were tanks in the streets, bombers and attack helicopters in the skies, frightened children held captive in their homes, old people and the ill who were denied any type of medical assistance, no stores and in some cases no electricity or running water, and violent searches conducted by soldiers in the houses. It was all inflicted on an entire nation - collective punishment on a scale not previously known. 

Israelis had hardly any knowledge of this suffering and it seems not to have affected them. Insulated in their own suffering, with the fear of Palestinian terrorism lurking in every corner, they really don't care what happens to the other. Most Israeli physicians did not bat an eyelash in the light of the deadly attack on their colleagues; Israeli journalists did not protest the killing of their Italian colleague; and lawyers did not speak out when red lines of international rules of law in war were crossed. 

The Israeli suffering was widely described in the media, as is proper, but the Palestinian suffering, which is far more severe, was barely mentioned in the media. 

This insensitivity and this exclusive focus on ourselves and our suffering is nothing new, though in the past few weeks it has deteriorated to new depths of uncaring. There was almost no mention in Israel of the large numbers of Palestinians who were killed, and the fact that just a few minutes from Jerusalem, tens of thousands of people were held captive, bombed from the air and went hungry, was not discussed in the country's lively public discourse. 

This not only a moral issue, it is also a utilitarian one. In the past two weeks, more and more seeds of hatred against Israel have been sown. In the name of all Israelis, the IDF perpetrated deeds that are intolerable and unacceptable. The fact that the majority of Israelis didn't want to hear or see what was going on does not exempt us from responsibility. Nor does it reduce the intensity of the damage that has been caused to Israel by these pointless actions. Those who were humiliated at the quarry will exact their revenge. We will all pay the price.





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