It is not Israeli actions which have surprised the international peace observers currently holed up within Arafat’s presidential compound. It is the inaction of the international community that most shocks us. Inside the pock-marked building surrounded by Israeli tanks and snipers, there is one question on everyone’s mind: how many international laws does Israel need to break before the UN demands a full and immediate withdrawal?
The list of violations is reaching unprecedented levels, even for a conflict with a long history of ugly behavior on both sides. International law absolutely forbids the building of the settlements, but 34 new settlements have been constructed in this year alone. Collective punishment is illegal. But Israel has now escalated from interrupting food shipments to completely shutting off water to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, endangering the lives of 120,000 people. The shelling of innocuous Palestinian civilian structures such as power plants, schools, and sewage facilities, is occuring at an alarming rate. Unarmed civilians are being killed practically on a daily basis.
There are also growing reports of Israeli troops raiding hospitals and firing on ambulances and journalists. These are grave breaches of international convention. The recent experience of American newspaper correspondent, Anthony Shadid, is hardly uncommon. First, he was shot while in a zone under full Israeli control. The area was quiet and there was no crossfire in which to be caught. Shadid was wearing the required signs on his back and front indicating that he was with the official press as he walked away from an interview in our building. Soon after Shadid arrived to the hospital, Israeli troops raided it with machine guns drawn. He was subsequently transferred for further medical treatment, and his ambulance came under fire by Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint.
Israel is making a mockery of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the founding legal document of international human rights law, and by its tacit acceptance, the UN is severely eroding its credibility in the region and beyond.
Those of us inside the presidential compound need help desperately. But not half as much as those on the outside who are facing the full brunt of the mass round-ups and house-to-house raids. The situation can not deteriorate much further. Medical supplies have run out. Food is scarce.
Pressure from abroad is essential, even when only on a person-by-person basis. Boycotts and letter writing work. The presence of international "human shields" throughout the Occupied Territories has been very important in limiting the indiscriminate nature of Israeli military actions. But nothing short of a UN demand for a full withdrawal to the 1967 UN recognized borders will succeed in restoring calm and opening the way for peace negotiations. Only then can there be discussion of the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees. Simply pulling the troops out of the recently invaded regions will not suffice.
It is not just the Palestinians and foreigners within the compound who have been calling for a full withdrawal. Even sectors within the Israeli military have put forward this option as the only chance for peace and security for the Israeli people. In a formal "Letter of Refusal" to Sharon, several hundred Israeli soldiers, most with combat experience, advocated a full withdrawal and have stated their unwillingness to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
But Sharon does not want to listen. And in the meantime we in the compound are left, not without fear, wondering whether the international community will allow the permanent expansion of the already illegal occupation and the exile if not assasination of the Palestinian leader.
Neta Golan, an Israeli, is among the 40 international peace observers occupying Arafat's besieged office. Ian Urbina is Associate Editor of Middle East Report, a foreign policy magazine in Washington DC. Copyright © Neta Golan and Ian Urbina 2002. Reprinted for fair use only
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