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Internationals and Palestinians:
An Appeal from under the Siege
 
4 Apr. 2002, Ramallah

This document serves as an update to the Appeal sent on March 30 from members of the international and Palestinian community trapped in the siege of Ramallah. All aspects of the general situation described in that document still prevail, and what follows are only some of the more recent developments. This document focuses on the situation in Ramallah only, as we have been unable to collect any systematic information from other occupied Palestinian cities (six now, in addition to numerous villages). However, reports we are receiving from friends and colleagues in these places indicate a similar situation to the one in Ramallah --and in some of the more isolated areas the level of Israeli violence seems to be even higher, due to the lack of media coverage and international presence.

Background: On early Friday morning, 29 March 2002, tens of thousands of Israeli troops re-invaded the city of Ramallah in tanks and armored personnel carriers and remain to this time. The Israeli forces continue to occupy Ramallah completely. President Arafat is besieged in his own compound with dwindling food and medical supplies. There are no indications when the re-occupation will be over.

Continued Curfew: All of Ramallah's 250,000 inhabitants remain under 24-hour curfew. They are under the threat of being shot on sight should they leave their homes for any reason. Tuesday morning, for example, a woman who left her home to take her young son to the hospital was shot dead in her car by an Israeli sniper. On Wednesday, a number of foreigners in Al-Bireh were shot at even though they were announcing via megaphone that they were unarmed and trying to get supplies from their office. These are only two examples of many.

Ambulances, doctors and humanitarian agencies are still unable to move. Wounded are in need of medical attention. Doctors have been asked to remove many bodies from downtown buildings, but they cannot reach the buildings due to tank positions and continued firing. The bodies have been decomposing and there is fear of an epidemic breaking out. There is no current capacity to respond to an outbreak if it occurs.

Tuesday afternoon, after five and a half days of total curfew during which the population could not leave their homes to obtain food, water or any needed medical supplies or treatment, the Israeli forces announced a lifting of the curfew in some areas for two hours to allow a few shops to open so that people could get provisions. Due to the demand, the shops that did manage to open had to ration their goods to a limited amount per family. The announcement of the lifting of the curfew was made in some areas while in others people left their homes at their own risk. As people ventured into the streets, however, Israeli snipers continued to open fire, terrifying those in the streets and causing injuries. We managed to confirm two injuries, one a 14-year old boy who is still in hospital. There are unconfirmed reports of others, but it is impossible to receive a comprehensive idea of events in the current situation. The curfew was re-imposed at 6:00pm, now for an indefinite period of time.

The Israeli army informed diplomatic missions that internationals in Ramallah would be allowed to leave the city through the two checkpoints during this two hour period: Qalandia and the DCO. However, individuals were expected to make their own way to the checkpoints. A miniscule number managed to evacuate, as many do not have cars (either because they do not own cars or because their cars were destroyed by Israeli tanks on the streets). Even those with cars did not feel at all safe attempting to travel under continued gunfire. In fact, anyone reaching a checkpoint came under direct Israeli fire. For this reason, and for reasons of solidarity, most of Ramallah's international community remains in the city.

Terrorisation of the Population: Ramallah is constantly filled with the sounds of heavy caliber gunfire, tank shell explosions and helicopter gun ships circling above, even when the general situation is calm and there is no Palestinian resistance. This is taking a heavy toll everyone's nerves, and children are particularly affected. All families live under the constant fear of having their homes invaded (or re-invaded) by Israeli troops.

Early morning Tuesday, the Israeli forces started an offensive against the Preventive Security headquarters, with 400 desperate and terrified policemen, women and children inside. The non-stop, intense attack involved the use of Apache helicopters and tanks from about 1:30 am throughout the morning, and sporadically until noon. The sounds of non-stop helicopter machinegun and pounding rocket fire, as well as repeated tank shells could be heard all around Ramallah for the entire night. In areas throughout Ramallah, windows and mirrors continued to shake during the onslaught. Residents in the Beit Hanina neighborhood in Jerusalem also couldn't sleep from the sounds of the intensity of the attack. The electricity was cut off in some neighborhoods, making it difficult for residents to know where the attacks were occurring, creating a sense of panic.

Shortage of Water Supplies: The water situation in Ramallah has become dire. The water supply to Ramallah Hospital has been completely cut off. Some areas of the city have also lost their water supply and residents are forced to collect rainwater. This is extremely dangerous to the public health situation, as safe drinking water becomes unavailable and general hygiene deteriorates.

The four water pumps in the Beitunia area (responsible for providing water for a large part of Ramallah) were severely damaged in the shelling and the subsequent Israeli occupation of the pumping station. Two of the water pumps can be fixed. The other two pumps are thoroughly damaged and cannot be fixed without spare parts. Needless to say, such spare parts are not available.

The water company repair teams are not allowed free access to the pumps. In some instances, these teams have been shot at by the occupying forces. The teams have been able to gain some access when accompanied by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) personnel. The ICRC, however, are understaffed.

Even if the pumps are repaired, the water pipe network has been extensively damaged in the bombing and also needs repairs. The water company is attempting to fix some, but its staff regularly comes under Israeli fire.

Lack of Electricity: Of the nine electricity-feeding stations in Ramallah, six are inoperative. Attempts to fix the damaged ones are facing the same constraints as the efforts to fix the water infrastructure - i.e., any attempt by workers to repair the damage is met by Israeli gunfire

In addition, a large number of electrical poles are damaged, and are inaccessible to repair crews due to the curfew.

Israeli Forces Using Human Shields: Israeli soldiers are still occupying a large number of private residences and detaining the residents (often in large numbers) collectively in single rooms. This includes foreign nationals. Often these detainees are not allowed to speak to each other for periods of hours or days. We also have confirmed reports of Palestinian children being forced to stand in the windows of their homes to protect the Israeli intruders from any possible Palestinian sniper fire.

A doctor at the Arab care Medical Hospital was held at gunpoint in front of Israeli soldiers as they searched the hospital on three separate occasions. When the doctor asked them not to contaminate the surgery, he was physically roughed-up.

Some 60 civilians were arrested Tuesday night and were to be used during the attack on the Preventive Security headquarters. The civilians were put in front of the Israeli forces to prevent the Palestinians from shooting back at the advancing tanks, until they were finally removed and detained in a single room.

No Access to the City: Diplomatic missions are being barred daily from entering Ramallah. An EU convoy composed of Consul-Generals was turned back on Tuesday.

A UN convoy carrying medical and food supplies to the Ramallah Hospital was repeatedly fired on by Israeli forces and one UN staff member was arrested and is still detained. Fortunately, the convoy managed to get through. However, no other international relief efforts have been allowed passage into the city.

Food Resources Limited: During the lifting of the curfew on Tuesday, only a small number of shops could open. It was not possible to move from one area of town to another as tanks were stationed on main roads and intersections, and many shopkeepers could not open their shops. Some of the shops were looted by Israeli soldiers and were out of many supplies. There were long queues in front of shops that could open, and some basic provisions ran out. As a result, there remains a large shortage of basic provisions, especially for infants.

Even if the curfew is lifted again, provisions in shops are now limited or non-existent since they are not being allowed to be replenished. No food supplies have been allowed to enter the city.

Prisoners Being Taken: Israeli forces continue taking Palestinians prisoner in house-to-house attacks and collective roundups. All males between the ages of 16 and 40 are subject to arrest for no reason other than their age and sex. Until Monday night, the number of prisoners was 700 according to Israeli figures. It is impossible to ascertain the exact number. The ICRC still does not have access to these prisoners to ensure adherence to international law, and specifically the Geneva Conventions. Reports indicate that these prisoners are being held in deplorable conditions.

Some prisoners are being released. They are being dropped either at the center of Ramallah or at distant checkpoints, and are expected to make their own way to their homes under the curfew and the shoot-on-sight policy. Many are forced to take refuge in abandoned buildings where they have no provisions, or among families in these neighborhoods, where they have to share these families already meager supplies.

Arrests have also targeted medical and relief workers. We have confirmed reports of five medical workers arrested from the Palestinian Red Crescent hospital, as well as a human rights worker from the al-Haq organization. As of writing this update, we have seen armored personnel carriers approaching the Red Crescent headquarters, heard explosions and now are hearing reports that it is being raided.

Gratuitous Vandalism and Destruction: There are numerous reports of soldiers stealing from residents and gratuitously destroying property. In one such confirmed instance, soldiers stole gold from a family's apartment, took 400 shekels (approx. $100) and destroyed packaged food and furniture. Another confirmed report involved a group of Israeli soldiers occupying the apartment of a lone female resident - they ransacked the premises, harassed her verbally, helped themselves to her dwindling food supply and crushed her car with their tank when leaving.

There are a number of reports of soldiers making sexually inappropriate comments to Palestinian and foreign women during house raids and when driving by to enforce curfews.

Disproportionate and Unnecessary Use of Violence: Israeli tank shells and machine-gun fire continue to be heard constantly throughout Ramallah, even though there is generally little or no Palestinian resistance.

Explosives are being used to knock down doors, and anti-aircraft guns have been repeatedly used against buildings with people inside. ……….

We, the besieged people of Ramallah, continue to appeal to all people of good conscience around the world to mobilize immediately and not allow the continuation of the siege to breed complacency.

We appeal to the people of Israel, in whose name these actions are being taken, to make their voices heard. This is the time for you to tell Palestinians that they still have partners for peace. Your silence now is the death warrant for the prospects of peace.

We urgently appeal for food and drinking water, and for the general access of all humanitarian agencies. The situation is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster.

We appeal for the safety of all individuals.

We appeal for the immediate and total withdrawal of the occupying forces from all Palestinian towns and villages.

We appeal for medical supplies and access to medical treatment, electricity, water, phone lines and other necessary facilities.

We appeal for freedom of movement within the city and outside access to the city.

We appeal for the immediate end to vandalism, looting, humiliation, and gratuitous violence and destruction.

We appeal for access of humanitarian agencies, including the ICRC, to all detainees, prisoners and hostages, including Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, to ensure their well-being.

WE APPEAL FOR THE SIEGE TO BE LIFTED.

This appeal has been made to you by Palestinians, as well as nationals of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Jordan and other nationalities.

Due to fear of retribution, the names and contact information of those authoring this appeal have not been included. For their contact information, please contact Michael (972-52-266-208).

International Committee of the Red Cross: Jer. (972-2) 582-8845, Tel Aviv (972-3) 524-5286

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA): (972-2) 589-0401

 
 
 
 
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