Q&A with ZMag’s Justin Podur in Ramallah, Palestine

For now, I think Palestinians are experiencing it as another in a series of invasions. The tanks go door
to door. The army breaks down doors with sledgehammers, arrests people,
bulldozes homes. The difference with this one, apparently, is [Israeli forces] are
going to hold what they take. It will mean an intensification of the occupation.

2002.06.20

At this writing, the Israeli
Defense Forces (IDF) have invaded Jenin and Nablus and, according to ZMag’s Justin Podur,
are amassing in the suburbs of Ramallah. Cynthia Peters spoke with him
by cell phone on Wednesday evening, June 19, 2002.

Where are you?

I am in central Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, in the Palestinian
Agricultural Research Centre (PARC) — where a lot of human rights
organizations and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have their
offices.

In previous attacks on Ramallah, the IDF has particularly
focused on this building. They come here, trash the computers, wipe out
the hard drives, beat and arrest people.

Our presence as observers makes
it less likely for them to be abusive. Other international volunteers
are stationed at Arafat’s compound.

What has the just announced Israeli policy of retaking pieces of the
West Bank meant on the ground?

In Jenin and Nablus, the IDF has supposedly set up mobile homes and brought in water trucks, which
suggests a more permanent stay.

For now, I think Palestinians are
experiencing it as another in a series of invasions. The tanks go door
to door. The army breaks down doors with sledgehammers, arrests people,
bulldozes homes.

The difference with this one, apparently, is they’re
going to hold what they take. It will mean an intensification of the
occupation. Whole areas could be under curfew. Palestinians will have
even fewer freedoms.

Is the fence (the Israeli constructed fence sealing off the
territories) real? Does it have any effect yet?

Yes, I think it’s real. I think they’re going to build it and complete
it. This fence is an odd creature because it’s something on which the
settlers and the peace movement have the same position: they both oppose
it.

The settlers don’t want it because they’ll be on the outside of it,
making them feel abandoned by Israel, though in reality, there will
probably be secured roads between the settlements and Israel.

(65% of Israelis have said they’d give up the settlements, which adds to the
tension between many mainstream Israelis and the settlers. The wall
could have the effect of heightening those tensions.)

The peace movement
doesn’t want it because it will make the West Bank even more like a
prison. Look at Gaza, where there already is a fence. It’s like one big
prison. There’s one way in and one way out. Unemployment is 67 percent.
Crossing checkpoints takes hours and hours. That’s what they would be
recreating on the West Bank.

They’ve already started building it in the
North. As it is currently planned, the fence will be outside the Green
line — stealing more Palestinian land.

What is Israel up to with respect to Arafat?

The peace activists I talk to here in Ramallah are afraid the Israelis
are going to attack him tonight. [ see “Israeli tanks surround Arafat compound,” June 24 (UPI):
http://interestalert.com/brand/siteia.shtml?Story=st/sn/06230000aaa041fd.upi&Sys=mckhan&Fid=PALESTIN&Type=News&Src=nlt&Filte ]

This time around, the speculation is that they might deport
him or arrest him. But it is unlikely Arafat will allow himself to be
arrested. And the Israelis know that.

My feeling is that Arafat is good
for Israel because he is easy to blame for the violence and they have
also won many concessions from him. He’s alive because they want him
alive.

Do peace activists want Bush to announce a US initiative/peace plan or
not?

Bush postponed his speech in which he planned to propose a provisional
Palestinian state. But what does this initiative really mean? Is it
credible? Most people here don’t think so.

Bush has offered no timetable
for Israeli withdrawal. He has not spoken of any consequences for Israel
regarding their continued occupation.

If Bush had a sincere peace
initiative, then Sharon would not be able to do what he’s doing. If Bush
were to do something credible, that would be welcome. But that would be
a full-scale policy change for the United States.

Any words for activists?

The more internationals who come here the better.

The International
Solidarity Movement (ISM: http://www.palsolidarity.org) has been planning “Freedom Summer” [ see “Direct Action for a Free Palestine: Freedom Summer begins June 25”: http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1806
]– which
was supposed to be this big, non-violent, action-oriented solidarity
campaign. They were planning on planting trees, accompanying
Palestinians across checkpoints, and helping to rebuild recently
destroyed homes.

But now Freedom Summer is looking like it will take
place in the context of the invasion. It is more likely that ISM
activists will more play the role of witnesses and human shields.

If people want to help, they should support the ISM.

Consider coming to Palestine.

Send money to the ISM. Set up speaking engagements and media interviews for returning ISM volunteers.

And people should do all the usual stuff — write letters to the media
and to elected officials, demonstrate, talk to people. Keep up with the
news via alternative media.

Sharon’s current policy — indefinite occupation until
Palestinian-sponsored violence stops — is a continuation of his
previous policy. And we’ve seen over and over again that it yields more
violence.

There will be indefinite violence until the occupation stops.
Even if the suicide bombings stopped tomorrow, there’d still be all the
violence and indignity of the occupation.

Author: Cynthia Peters and Justin Podur

News Service: ZNet

URL: http://www.zmag.org/content/Mideast/peters_podur.cfm