In early February, 10 Israelis from different grassroots organizations crossed the Qalandia checkpoint and entered besieged Ramallah, a city located in “Area A” of the Palestinian territories and therefore legally out of bounds for Israeli citizens.
They were met by a group of Palestinian representatives, including Raja Shehadeh of the human rights organization Al-Haq and Moustafa Barghouti of PNGO, the umbrella association of all Palestinian non-governmental organizations.
The purpose of the meeting was to explore new venues for cooperation following the recent Israeli elections, in which the right-wing parties won their greatest victory in history: They now control two-thirds of the seats in the Knesset.
The discussion rapidly turned to the looming war against Iraq and the effects such a war would have on the Middle East, particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the Gulf War, the international media only concentrated on Scud missiles falling on Tel-Aviv, ignoring the suffering of the occupied Palestinians. But in 1991, the Israeli government imposed a 40-day curfew on the major Palestinian cities, subjecting the population to massive collective punishment. The Palestinian economy was then in much better shape; this time around, with the majority of Palestinians living on less than $2 a day, a prolonged curfew will undoubtedly lead to widespread hunger.
Those at the Ramallah meeting fear that the Sharon government will take advantage of the war to perpetrate large-scale human rights violations. They specifically mentioned the possibility of deportation of Palestinian leaders and the uprooting and internal expulsion of whole villages from one part of the West Bank to another. The objective of such a move would be to make these areas more susceptible to Israeli annexation.
Concerns were also raised about Jewish settlers possibly exploiting the war to accelerate the expropriation of Palestinian land and destruction of their farmland. The settlers’ goal is to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure, a tactic employed to “encourage” Palestinians to leave.
The Israelis and Palestinians in Ramallah drafted a joint statement against the war, which numerous organizations on both sides have already signed. They then sent it to groups all over the world and asked that they read it aloud during the international protests against war on February 15.
The Arab and Jewish residents of the Middle East wrote:
In spite of the growing international opposition of millions of people all over the world, it has become clear that the United States intends to lead a military assault against Iraq, regardless of the expected number of civilian casualties and suffering. Indeed, the imminent war will undoubtedly have catastrophic effects on the people of Iraq, on the Middle East as a whole, and on the West Bank and Gaza Strip more specifically.The Bush administration has apparently decided to ignore the opposition mounting in the United States, Europe and Latin America. I doubt it will heed the cry of the people from the Middle East — those who will suffer most from this war.
Peoples of this region will pay the price of the war, the price of death, destruction, hatred and more war.
Based on our experience from 1991, we also fear that massive repressive measures could be launched against Palestinian civilians during this period. We urge all peace-loving people in Israel to join forces in order to pre-empt such policies, and call for international protection of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
We, Israeli and Palestinian members of civil society, are against this war, as it is not about security or justice, but about power, hegemony, control and greed. We firmly believe that security as well as freedom for the peoples of this region cannot be achieved through war, violence and death.
We call upon all people and organizations to raise their voices in opposing this war and to work jointly toward the establishment of a just, comprehensive and durable peace in the region.
Together we say: No to the War Against Iraq! Yes to a Life of Peace & Justice in the Middle East! Yes to Ending Israeli Occupation!