The Guardian May 1, 2002


Eyewitness to West Bank occupation
Funds must be frozen to end conflict

The following article is based on a phone interview by Terrie Albano, 
Associate Editor of People's Weekly World, with correspondent Judith Le 
Blanc, who is part of a 16-person delegation in the West Bank, Gaza and 
Israel. The delegation is sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. On 
April 18, Ms Le Blanc was scheduled to go to the Jenin refugee camp, where 
UN investigations into the reported massacre are to take place. "It's hard 
to fathom the intensity of the conflict", Judith Le Blanc, Communist Party 
Vice-Chair, told the World from just outside Gaza City.

The military incursion by the Israeli army in the last three weeks and the 
checkpoints have created a situation where the Palestinian people who live 
within Israel and the Occupied Territories are hampered in carrying out 
their daily lives.

"They cannot go to work, cannot go to school, many people who are ill 
cannot go to the hospital, food is in short supply", Ms Le Blanc said.

Ms Le Blanc described the situation in Bethlehem, one of the cities she has 
visited as part of the delegation of "internationals" who are in the West 
Bank, Gaza and Israel to help bring a just peace to this war-torn area 
through political solution.

That is, by ending the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands and 
the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side in peace with the 
state of Israel.

"The situation in Bethlehem for the people who live there is chaos", Le 
Blanc said. "The Israeli governement's policy has been confrontation."

People living in the neighbourhoods have been locked in their homes for 
three weeks  no food, no medicine. The level of violence is unimaginable, 
she said.

The Church of the Nativity, historically an important place for Christians, 
has been under siege by the Israeli army for the last three weeks.

Palestinian Authority officials, who had been assigned to guard the church, 
and some Hamas people are inside the church. "But in the main it is largely 
women, children, nuns and priests", said Ms Le Blanc.

Currently negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials are going 
on regarding the people in the church. They were low on water and food but 
have said they would rather starve than come out and be killed or arrested 
by the Israeli army.

"We went in with the International Solidarity Movement ... to bring food to 
the church and we were immediately surrounded by Israeli Defense Forces. We 
had a stand off with them for a few hours. We had brought food and were 
asking for a chance to meet with the people in the church", Le Blanc 
reported.

During the stand off between the 35 internationals and the Israeli army, Ms 
Le Blanc said, "people who were in their homes  about 100 metres from the 
church  came out and began grabbing the food when it was clear we 
couldn't go on any further."

"They lifted the curfew about an hour later and people came pouring out, 
not from the homes immediately surrounding the church, but people a few 
blocks away. People searching for food. It is really unbelievable what the 
bombing in that area has done", she reported.

In Gaza, Ms Le Blanc said, people have been very worried that the Israeli 
military will invade. "People are very angry and they are very scared. All 
around the city there are mounds of sand that block the road so you have to 
drive around them.

"At night everyone goes in and from 10 pm to 3 am groups put booby traps 
and bombs in those sand mounds in case the Israeli tanks should come in and 
try to invade ...", Le Blanc said.

"I was in [the] Beach refugee camp, which has a population of 75,000 people 
who were forced into that area in 1948. Many families who never left who 
have grown up in a situation of being refugees in their own land", Ms Le 
Blanc said.

"One man told me, 'I work in the university here in Gaza City, I am the 
director of personnel, I live with my family, my brothers and my parents, 
12 children in three rooms. We are not terrorists. We are people who just 
want our land back. We want a peaceful settlement. But we want a settlement 
that guarantees we can have a state that lives side-by-side with the 
Israeli state.'"

Ms Le Blanc has interviewed many from the Israeli peace movement.

"Their main aim is to influence public opinion and to try to help Israeli 
people understand that the occupied areas and this current military 
incursion hurts both peoples. They called a peace rally for an end to 
occupation and a two-state solution and 15,000 people marched", Ms Le Blanc 
said.

The rally showed that "at the grassroots ... people want peace, but peace 
in the sense that two states live together and respect each other's 
rights."

But Le Blanc warned that unless the US cuts the US$5 billion a year that 
supports the Israeli occupation the cycle of violence will spiral further. 
"The only reason the Israeli Government can do what they are doing is 
because they get money from the US to do it, she said.

"We have to strongly urge labour groups, peace and solidarity groups to put 
pressure on the Congress to freeze the money ... so this spiral can stop 
before more people die", she said.

The full audio of the interview may be heard at http://www.pww.org

* * *
People's Weekly World, paper of the Communist Party USA

Back to index page