As the Whole World Watches
April 24, 2002

Maria Tomchick

Two important things happened in the Middle East last week, one on the diplomatic front and one on the ground in the West Bank.

Colin Powell's visit, which was largely a failure, was widely covered in the US press. But US media outlets blamed the failure to reach a ceasefire on the intransigence of Arafat and Sharon. Meanwhile the foreign press emphasized a great split within the US administration between Powell, who "sympathizes with the Palestinians" (in other words, he knows that no ceasefire can happen without an Israeli military withdrawal from Palestinian towns on the West Bank), and George Bush, Jr., who cut his own deal on the phone with Ariel Sharon, giving Sharon the go-ahead to do his own thing in his own time (i.e., Sharon has "a timetable," and Bush Jr. thinks that's just fine).

Powell had two goals for his visit--the ceasefire was just the first. The other goal was to set up a peace conference this summer. To that end, he was going to spend the last couple of days of his trip meeting with representatives of the US' two main Arab allies in the region: Jordan and Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, however, was so incensed by Powell's failure to win an Israeli withdrawal, that he canceled his meeting with Powell and gave no excuse, leaving the media to speculate that Mubarak was "too ill" for the meeting. Probably he was made sick to his stomach by the Bush administration's shenanigans ... or by the reports trickling out of the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin.

Last week, as Israeli tanks withdrew from Jenin, the world got its first look at what really happened there. On April 3, the Israeli Defense Forces had rolled tanks up to the outskirts of the camp and begun shelling. Helicopter gunships--American made--fired missiles and automatic weapons into the camp. For four days the bombing and shooting went on, damaging hundreds of houses and killing scores of people in the tiny, densely populated area where tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of Palestinians hundreds of houses and killing scores of people in the tiny, densely populated area where tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of Palestinians lived in houses whose walls were easily pierced by automatic weapons fire.

On the fifth day, teams of Israeli soldiers swept into the camp, ostensibly in search of "terrorists" and suicide bombers. They met resistance from a few Palestinian residents with aging Kalashnikovs and homemade bombs.

After one Israeli unit walked into an ambush where 13 IDF soldiers died, the troops pulled out and sent in tanks and armored bulldozers to indiscriminately demolish all houses in the heart of the camp, burying hundreds of people alive in their own homes. For 11 days, the IDF refused to allow Red Cross vehicles, ambulances, and search-and-rescue crews in to rescue the wounded and pick up dead bodies. No food convoys were allowed into the camp.

To really comprehend the destruction is impossible, even for people who've been inside a war zone or experienced a major disaster. In those situations, rescue teams begin their work within hours of the disaster. Aid begins to flow into the area within the first day. In Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and other towns in the West Bank, however, the people have been suffering unimaginable horrors, with no rescue or help in sight. While George Bush calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "a man of peace," the rest of the world is seeing exactly what Sharon's war against the civilian population of Palestine looks like. And it's not pretty.

We can do something about it.

Colin Powell was hamstrung by the Bush administration, which gave him nothing to bargain with. Without the threat of withdrawing US aid--even just military aid--Powell could do nothing but beg Sharon to withdraw troops from West Bank towns. In the end, Powell was simply a messenger, an errand boy, someone that Sharon could safely ignore. George Bush and Co., in turn, can safely ignore the US people as long as we remain quiet.

It's our duty to let Bush know what we think, to call, write, fax, e-mail the President, to march in the street, to talk to our friends and family members, to speak up as loudly and as often as we can, and to say: stop aiding a criminal government, stop the flow of aid to Israel, withdraw tanks and troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, support a Palestinian state, send in UN monitors, investigate the massacre at Jenin. End the violence now. Now. NOW.

The whole world is watching what we, the people of the United States, do about this. Will we disappoint them?