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4 April 2002 Edition

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Defend Palestine

Ariel Sharon has defied the United Nations and any notion of common sense with his full scale military invasion of Palestinian territory, a move made in defiance of the United Nations and guaranteed to exacerbate an already critical situation in the Middle East.

As we go to print, hundreds of Palestinian fighters are reportedly seeking sanctuary in Christian churches in Bethlehem from invading Israeli forces. Many of their comrades are dead, others injured or arrested along with every other Palestinian male who can be found. Palestinian towns and refugee camps have been sealed off from the outside world, as Israeli forces get on with their invasion away from the prying eyes of international journalists and human rights activists. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains under siege in his Ramallah headquarters, surrounded by his closest aides and human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly, a courageous young Irish woman who has decided to stay as a human shield to protect the Palestinian leader from Israeli attack.

Butterly is familiar to An Phoblacht. She reported for us from Chiapas, Mexico, two years ago, when Zapatista prisoners were on hunger strike calling for the release of political prisoners. She is no stranger to difficult situations or to the struggle for justice and we commend her courage. Two of her friends are currently fasting while chained to a tree outside the Israeli embassy in Dublin, drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and to the danger Butterly faces.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has expressed support for the beleaguered Palestinians and their leader. He has pointed out that the daily violence is making the task of building a sustainable peace in the Middle East all the more difficult. "Ariel Sharon's time in power has been marked by repressive actions akin to the worst years of British oppression in Ireland," he said.

As the situation deteriorates by the hour, one central fact remains. There will be no peace in the Middle East until the rights of the Palestinian people to nationhood are respected. Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla, has shown this past week that all he has to offer is death, destruction and a guarantee of ongoing conflict.

If there is to be any chance of peace, wiser heads in Israel must prevail.

 

Israel's step too far


BY SOLEDAD GALIANA



Not even the United Nations seems capable of stopping Ariel Sharon's policy of war. The Israeli prime minister has not only ignored, but defied, the UN resolution calling on the Israeli Army to pull out of Ramallah and other Palestinian cities, even thought this motion was endorsed by Israel's ally, the United States.

The Israeli Army has tightened its hold on the West Bank town of Ramallah, rounding up hundreds of men and keeping Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat confined to his three-storey office building. Sharon's strategy has been clear from the beginning of his mandate. Discrediting Arafat and deeming him responsible for the suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, the Israeli prime minister has preempted any possible negotiations aimed to put an end to the Middle East crisis.

In a television address on Monday, Sharon promised "an uncompromising war" to crush a "terror" campaign he said was directed by Arafat. "We must fight this terrorism, in an uncompromising war to uproot these savages, to dismantle their infrastructure, because there is no compromise with terrorists," Sharon said. But Sharon's campaign has served to increase the number of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

Tanks have taken on the streets of the main cities of those territories under Palestinian Authority control. Israeli soldiers are digging in around the bunker where he and the closest members of his government are sheltering from the Israeli attack. There are also reports of extra-judicial executions - eight members of Arafat's elite police on Saturday 30 March (all with gunshot to their heads or necks) and 30 men, women and children on Sunday 31 March.

Sharon does not want witnesses. The Israeli government has banned international observers and media in the reoccupied territories. Thirteen foreign peace activists who walked by Israeli troops surrounding Yasser Arafat's West Bank office and visited the besieged Palestinian leader on Sunday 31 March were later arrested.

In Ramallah, five foreign peace activists and a Palestinian television cameraman were injured by shrapnel when Israeli soldiers opened fire at their feet during a march on Monday 1 April, officials and witnesses said. Firing started when about 100 demonstrators, including Palestinians and foreigners, marched near a church in the centre of the West Bank town of Beit Jala, carrying a sign saying 'We want peace not war,' witnesses said. The director of Beit Jala hospital, Dr Peter Qumri, confirmed five marchers had been wounded. He said one woman was undergoing an operation to remove shrapnel from her abdomen. A Palestinian cameraman working for the Associated Press was also wounded in the leg.

One young Irish human rights activist, Caoimhe Butterley, made headliens when it was revealed that she is in Yasser Arafat's bunker, where she was later joined by some other activists ready to serve as a human shield against any Israeli attack. Butterley penned an article for An Phoblacht from Mexico almost two years ago.

Now it seems that another Irish woman, Mary Kelly, is also in the area, in a refugee camp outside Bethlehem surrounded by Israeli tanks. She and Caoimhe, together with hundreds of international observers, are risking their lives as the Israeli government has banned their presence in Palestine.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity group took to the streets at the weekend, staging a series of urgent demonstrations against the slaughter of Palestinian people. On Saturday 30 March, a protest outside the Central Bank in Dublin turned into a march to Leinster House. On Monday 1 April, they marched from the US embassy to the Israeli embassy. Tom Hyland, spokesperson for the group, explained that the demonstrations were called "to allow the Palestinian community to express its outrage for what is happening, particularly in Ramallah, and the imprisonment of their president Yasser Arafat".

Hyland, a human rights activist well known for his role in the East Timor Campaign, suspects the motives behind the Israeli attack: "I believe that Sharon's end game is to push Palestinians over into Jordan and to create a greater Israel."

Hyland says that Israel's latest operation will only increase violence in the region, and that the only way to stop the cycle of violence is to recognise the causes of conflict, such as the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli military and the continued building of Israeli settlements.

Hyland feels that "UN resolutions do not make any difference. We had resolution 242 in place for many years now. I do not think that resolutions in themselves achieve anything. It is a positive development that the US has not vetoed the last one. I think what is necessary is a reinforcement resolution that would set a deadline for the Israeli Army to withdraw from Palestine, take down its illegal settlements and if not for some sanctions to be placed against the Israeli government."

Directly outside the United States' embassy in Ballsbridge, a Dr Abdullah spoke on behalf of the Palestinian community in Dublin, calling on the US people "to stop what Bush and Sharon are doing. Our president is trapped and he should be left free. You are allowing a mass murderer, Sharon, to kill my people and entrap my president... You are witnessing ethnic cleansing and you share the responsibility of it, and we know that Sharon is a war criminal, but Bush is going to become another war criminal."

A group of friends of Caoimhe Butterly were part of the demonstration. They handed a letter to the US Ambassador in Ireland and announced the beginning of a five-day solidarity fast.

Caoimhe's friends asked the Irish government to use its influence at the UN Security Council "to protect the lives of International observers, pressing on the Israeli and the US governments to guarantee the safeguard of International observers and to stop their illegal actions against international law that protects Palestine, Palestine-occupied territories and their citizens".

On Monday at 3pm, two of Caoimhe's friends, Venus and Natascha, climbed a tree outside the Israeli embassy in Dublin, where they chained themselves to branches to highlight the plight of the Palestinians and the danger posed to their friend's safety by Israel's actions.




Adams offers support for Arafat


In a statement issued on Saturday 30 March, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams condemned Israeli attacks on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. He said that Sinn Féin had been in touch with the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, Dr Ali Halimeh, to express its concerns for the safety of Yasser Arafat. Adams said:

"People throughout the world watched with deep concern yesterday as the Israeli Army again violated Palestinian sovereignty by entering Ramallah and stroming Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

"The daily violence is making the task of building a sustainable peace in the Middle East all the more difficult. Ariel Sharon's time in power has been marked by repressive actions akin to the worst years of British oppression in Ireland. The suicide attacks against Israeli civilians are reprehensible, but so too is the invasion by Israel of Palestinian territory, the attacks against Palestinians and their homes and the deliberate targeting of Palestinian leaders.

"I welcome the emergency resolution from the UN Security Council calling for a meaningful bilateral ceasefire and for the Isrealis to withdraw from Palestinian territories. Calm voices need to be heard at this time. If both nations are to avoid further suffering, there needs to be a swift return to the historic compromise between Peres and Arafat marked by the Oslo Agreement."

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