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Israel Escalates Assaults on Palestine

Israel Escalates Assaults on Palestine, the Holy Land and Its Leaders as "Earthquake in April" Looks at the Past in Preparation for the Future

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

"Gradually I began to smell the scent of blood, crime, massacre, occupation, tyranny, tanks, bulldozers, armored vehicles, soldier's boots, Apaches, Merkavas, generals, mobilization, Mofaz, Sharon, and Ben-Eliezer. How can there be hatred so intense that all of these gather in old Nablus?" - Nazmi Al-Ju'beh, "Earthquake in April"

Today the above quote by Nazmi Al-Ju'beh resonates as both history and prophesy as Israel flexes the full force of its might and muscle throughout the Terra Sancta, the Holy Land. The quote may also presage the beginning of a new escalation in violence in light of the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Israel's vow to continue killing Palestine's leaders. The quote appears in Al-Ju'beh's essay, Nablus, Nero, and other Names, in response to the spring 2002 reoccupation by Israeli forces. The essay was written for inclusion in a book of essays and photographs, "Earthquake in April" published by RIWAQ-Centre for Architectural Conservation and The Institute of Jerusalem Studies. Al-Ju'beh is the co-director of Riwaq.

Today, once again, armored personnel carriers accompanied by military bulldozers advance into the West Bank and Gaza, as outbursts of heavy shooting accompany the leveling of shops and homes. Palestinian property is ground into dust as raw sewage and precious water are spewed and mixed onto the streets. Collective punishment for suicide bombings and tunnels allegedly used to smuggle weapons have left thousands homeless and scores of innocent Palestinians killed and wounded in Rafah, Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, and at other sites large and small throughout the Palestinian territories.

Medical personnel are prevented from helping victims as the way is made for further advancements of the Apartheid Wall and razor wire, electrified fence. Conditions for starvation are being put into place as farmers are blocked from their farmlands and a million olive trees destroyed, and outside help such as the convoy of food sent by Edinburgh, Scotland are prohibited from reaching Palestine. Dehydration is causing renal disfunction and other medical problems as Israel destoys Palestine's reservoirs, wells, roof top water tanks and water and sewage infrastructure. Peace protestors are randomly shot by the IDF and resident-victims are further hemmed in as Ariel Sharon talks of a pull-out from Gaza while planing for an all-out war. These actions are not occurring randomly; they are well-planned and executed by Israel as surely as Nazi Germany once plotted its heinous agenda.

In a speech delivered some time ago before an audience at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Yasir Arafat affirmed his commitment to a solution despite "all the difficulties, and the troubles we are facing, we will continue, we will continue, we will continue." The date was March 5, 1997, when many still believed in the possibility of peace.

"Because it is the Terra Sancta, the Holy Land," Arafat stated, "It is not only for Palestinians, but for the Israelis, for all Jews, for all Christians, for all Muslims. This is the Terra Sancta, the Holy Land, Palestine."

Five years later, in 2002, the crush of tanks and bulldozers nearly leveled the Palestinian Authority Headquarters in Ramallah as Israeli Air Force incursions over the its territorial infrastructure leveled courts, jails and other administrative buildings throughout Palestine, with equipment and records damaged or destroyed. Meanwhile America and Israel continue to cynically insist that Yasir Arafat stop the violence and restore peace.

But it has been obvious for far too long that due to American backed Israeli incursions Arafat has been in "reduced circumstances" and in no position to control the streets. Today, an ailing Arafat who has been confined to his ravaged outpost for two years, waits for his nemesis believing he is next on Ariel Sharon's hit list as the Israeli Prime Minister warns he will continue the war on terrorism "on a daily basis and everywhere." And though Palestine may unite due to Yassin's killing, instead it may be on the the brink of a civil war. But either way, as Israel wages war on a virtually unarmed population, Palestinians will continue to resist with any means possible. Under international law, Palestine does have a right to resist Israel's brutal and illegal incursions.

Clearly with the heritage of much of the world at stake, something must be done, but what? For a start, people throughout the world, and especially those in Israel and America who fund this new-age holocaust, should take a hard look at the evidence then acknowledge that escalating the war on Palestine could very well lead to World War III.

A good place to examine the scene of Israel's ever mounting crimes against humanity is found in the pages of "Earthquake in April". This important work takes you on an expedition to the widespread damage and destruction caused by the Israeli Armed Forces in its re-occupation of the Palestinian towns of Nablus, Bethlehem, Ramallah and the refugee camp at Jenin that began on March 29, 2002 and continued throughout April, and has continued at varying intervals up to the present mayhem spilling over into today's headlines.

Editors Suad Amiry, the director of Riwaq, and one of the center's senior architects, Mouhannad Hadid have created a gut wrenching tour de force in photographs and essays that enters the heart of the reader and reverberates in your soul. The centerpiece of the book is a visual and narrative excursion into the war-torn 3,000 year "Old City" of Nablus, which had stood largely intact until US financed tanks, apache helicopters and machine guns began a rampage in 2002 on this ancient home of the Good Samaritan and its inhabitants, a rampage that reached new heights of devastation in recent months.

Gripping pictures of wanton destruction stand in stark contrast to Nazmi Al-Ju'beh's nostalgic account of the Nablus wall and gate that were designed by their Canaanite forefathers, and the temple built many times over by the Samaritans. The Romans had left their fingerprints on every step of the amphitheater, the Justinians and Crusaders had each built a church. Nablus is world-renown for its 17th century soap factories, the Al-Sumara bath, the textile market, Jacob's well, Yousef's tomb, and the ancient and venerable Al-Khadra mosque. It is a city crowded with "curiosities, stories, fables and grandmother's tales."

"Poor Nablus," Al-Jub'beh laments, "It didn't realize that the enemies of civilization, and indeed life itself, still patrol our alleyways with bulldozers and armored vehicles, searching for anything that reminds them of us."

Where visuals would be too ghastly, Naseer Arafat narrates what rescuers discovered in the aftermath as they searched for friends, relatives and neighbors. "On the eleventh day of the attack the curfew was lifted for two hours. During this short period we began to discover what had taken place?" Arafat describes the corpses of eight family members piled on top of each other near the main door of their home. They had been unable to open the door and make their escape as their house and all its contents toppled on top of them.

According to Arafat, among the Old City's more than 2,500 houses there was not a single home without a sad story, a damaged section, burned furniture, or broken glass. "The entire community had been traumatized by the Israeli invasion, and I began to go numb as I realized the scale of the tragedy," he stated.

German photographer Mattias Koensgen graphically illustrates and narrates Bethlehem's devastation from fire and tanks and the bullets that riddled the Church of the Nativity where armed Palestinians sought refuge as Israeli soldiers attacked. The site of Christ's birthplace had been renovated for the Millennium 2000 celebration. "Now the cleansed sandstone stood in stark contrast to the demolished buildings, cut-off corners, flattened lamp posts and carcasses of cars crushed against the walls of its narrow streets," he commented.

Koensgen's access to the areas under siege was challenged by Israeli attempts to restrict movement by cutting off the main roads. They had bulldozed wide trenches at the entrances to towns and imposed curfews in many towns and villages. But he was still able to travel by 'service taxi' and on foot using rough agricultural roads, though not without attempts by Israeli soldiers to drive him back. In Jenin, the sheer size of the destruction to the impoverished refugee camp was overwhelming.

"There were no walls left to reflect my voice; every sound was swallowed by the porous surface of the crushed buildings," Koensgen said.

Later in Ramallah, along with the attempted demolition of Yasser Arafat's besieged compound, the devastation to the city's municipal and cultural buildings and television stations, what struck Koensgen was the number of wrecked cars in the streets. "It seemed as if somebody had made a game of flattening them and thrusting them aside like soda cans," he said.

Co-editor of the book, Mouhannad Hadid, examines the emotional impact of the closure, siege and curfew where the prison has shrunk and is now restricted to your home, where "moving outside your house is added to the list of actions that are forbidden. The sole exception is when occupation soldiers force you to leave your home under gunpoint, whether you are naked or half dressed, and in either case you are lucky to be alive."

In 1927, the town of Nablus was convulsed by an earthquake, which resulted in the destruction of many of its historical buildings. The earthquake became a watershed in the collective memories of residents. But as Jafar Ibrahim Tukan comments regarding the Israeli assault, "What earthquake was this that shook my memories? Glass, windows, and doors all smashed, chandeliers used as targets for guns, filth and human waste."

Along with documenting the relentless attack on what the world considers to be its priceless cultural and religious heritage, "Earthquake in April", serves as a tribute to Palestinian determination not only to survive, but also to protect the Terra Sancta, the Holy Land that is their birthright.

But to insure the protection of this sacred region, Palestine needs the assistance of Americans and Israelis, the worldwide Jewish community, and citizens throughout the Middle East and the world. Collectively, we must raise our voices and demand that the 37-year occupation by Israel end. The United States must join the rest of the world in support of replacing the IDF with UN Peacekeeping Forces in Palestine. In addition, the incursion of illegal Israeli settlements that displace Palestinians and ravish the landscape must be prohibited, and the Apartheid Wall and electrified razor wire fence be dismantled along with the checkpoints and roadblocks, and the Israeli-only roads opened to all. Until these conditions are met, the chances for Peace on Earth in the Terra Sancta, the Holy Land are remote at best.

NOTE: "Earthquake in April" is published in both English and Arabic and contains eighty-five photographs contributed by Rula Halawani, Mia Grondahl, Matthias Koensgen, Mouhannad Hadid and Khaldun Bshara.

Essays were contributed by poet Fadwa Tuqan, novelist Sahar Khalifeh, architect Jafar Tukan, historian Mohammad Ezzat Darwazeh, writer Malik Masri, as well as Nazmi Jubeh, Khaldun Bshara, Mouhannad Hadid, Naseer Arafat, Matthias Koensgen and Riwaq director and book editor, Suad Amiry.

"Earthquake in April" may be obtained by contacting - The book cost (Paper) $18.00) and (Cloth) $25.00.


- Genevieve Cora Fraser is a poet, playwright and journalist as well as an environmental and human rights activist.

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