Eyewitness: In Arafat's compound

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2003 - 5:56

Israeli socialists Adam Keller and Beate Zilversmidt explain why they have joined a "human shield" at Yasser Arafat's presidential compound in the West Bank

Saturday [4 October] was suddenly shattered by the shockwaves of the terrible event in Haifa. A suicide bombing claimed the life of 19 people, with whole families wiped out as they sat at the tables of a restaurant jointly owned - and visited - by Jews and Arabs. Six of those killed were Palestinians, as were many of the wounded.
After about two hours Health Minister Danny Naveh spoke on the radio, urging the government to "seize this opportunity to get rid of Arafat".

He did not even bother to pretend that Arafat had anything to do with the bombing, for which responsibility was claimed by Islamic Jihad.

Naveh's lead was followed by a whole host of similar pronouncements by ministers, Knesset Members and officials.

For us, that meant the urgent need to shake off shock and lethargy and mobilise in very short order a group to immediately set off for Ramallah.

Together with the Gush Shalomers came some young anarchists who have little use for Arafat or any other president but were convinced to oppose a move aimed at crushing the Palestinian people as a whole.

Meanwhile the International Solidarity Movement was rallying its volunteers scattered in various West Bank towns and villages.

At 9.30pm there were some 30 activists at the dimly lit rendezvous point outside Ramallah: Israelis from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, Californians, Canadians, British, Danes, a single IcelanderÂ…

In the event, getting past the military roadblocks proved almost absurdly easy. A short drive, and there we were - at the gates of Arafat's presidential compound, whose Arabic name 'Muqata'a' has become well-known to Hebrew speakers.

Just a few minutes after sneaking past soldiers we were in the midst of an impromptu press conference. "We are here as human shields to protect President Arafat", Uri Avnery was later quoted in [the Israeli daily] Ha'aretz.

"If Sharon decides to kill Arafat, this would be an unprecedented historic catastrophe for the people of Israel."

The Israeli and international human shielders decided to stay on in the compound throughout Yom Kippur [6 October], a time when there is a complete Israeli media blackout, which in the past was more than once the occasion of nasty surprises. Palestinians - not members of the compound's staff - joined us.

In the event the "nasty surprise" was the Israeli air raid on an alleged Islamic Jihad camp in Syria, which the US government let pass with the comment that the next step they wanted in Israel-Palestine was a clampdown by the Palestinian authority on the Islamists.

The conflict in Israel-Palestine continues to spiral downwards, pauperising, battering and demoralising the Palestinian people. To maintain a light of hope, what we need is a powerful international movement of solidarity with brave Palestinian and Israeli protesters in places like Ramallah, and for the principle of the right of the Palestinians to their own state with the same rights as Israel.

This account is abridged from www.gush-shalom.org.

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