This report from Ramallah was first circulated on the Internet: at the time of going to press, no foreign journalist has been allowed to report from the town.

On 8 April 2002 at 1 p.m., the curfew was lifted in Ramallah for the second time in 11 days, and for a period of four hours. It gave some a chance to hunt for bread and eggs, and others to survey the damage done to their institutions, since in the previous lifting of the curfew people could barely concentrate on hunting for but not finding bread. But once locked up again, we began to wonder what the Army did inside the buildings it broke into. As gradual reports of plunder and stealing came in, many began to fear something much worse: the destruction of the institutional and cultural infrastructure of Palestinian life.

Although we don’t know for sure how much of this type of destruction there has been, eyewitness reports indicate that it is all-encompassing. No doubt it will take months to assess the extent of the damage, once we emerge from the current circumstances. Here is what we know so far.

1. Radio and television stations. Not only did the Israeli Army occupy most of the local radio and television stations early on, but on the second day of this onslaught, I turned on to watch Watan Television’s reporting of what was happening around us and was shocked to find a pornographic film instead. It took two days for this to stop: just think of children watching in the midst of all that is happening around them.

Then we began to hear reports of what had taken place at al-Quds University’s Educational Television, which since the beginning of this state of affairs had been airing cartoons for children and short films on first aid and trauma management, as well as phone numbers and addresses to use for emergency purposes. According to the station’s technical director, the Army occupied the station and held two staff operators prisoner for several hours. When the curfew was lifted on 5 April, the director tried to get into the station, but was not allowed to do so. The owners of Al-Nasr TV and Manara, Ajyal and Angham radio stations found all their equipment – microphones, tapes, CDs, monitors, mixers etc – on the floor, totally and irreparably damaged. Even the studios of Radio Love and Peace were destroyed, apparently with sledgehammers.

2. Non-governmental organisations.

a. Al-Haq, HDIP and MATTIN. These are three non-governmental organisations specialising in human rights, health research and policy, and economic development respectively. They are situated in one building. The first report I received was from al-Haq, indicating that the Army had stormed its office as well as that of HDIP, and that one of their workers had been arrested. Later on, we realised via MATTIN researchers that all three institutions were opened up to form a big dormitory, and that the Army was using the entire area as a barracks. On the second curfew lifting, I went downtown and peeped through streets and buildings – you cannot get close – only to realise that the building is surrounded by barbed wire and tanks and totally inaccessible. The damage, we suspect, is great – even perhaps total, given the reports of what’s happened in radio and television stations as well as people’s homes when they’ve been stormed.

b. UPMRC. First, the Youth Centre, housing a computer laboratory as well as other equipment and materials intended to help young people in these trying times. On Sunday, 31 March the Israeli Army stormed the centre. They blasted open the door and went in. They broke all the internal doors, and destroyed some of the computers – we don’t know how many. We have no idea to date if they stole anything or not.

The UPMRC Optometry Centre was stormed, probably on the same day. Again the door was blasted open; the internal walls were destroyed, and all the diagnostic equipment was smashed and on the floor. The Israeli Army also took the main records computer with them. Nothing is left that is operational.

The UPMRC Technical Aids for the Disabled Centre was stormed on 1 April. This was done by blasting through one of the walls. All the computers were broken and lying on the floor.

Finally, UPMRC’s main emergency medical centre was first shelled by tanks, with the shells landing inside one of rooms, carving out the first wall into the second room, and the second wall into the third room. Then the Israeli Army stormed the building and destroyed all the equipment there, computers, photocopier etc. They also blew off the doors of other NGOs, such as the Mandela Institute, as well as a private dental clinic and computer company in the same building. One office, belonging to a lawyer, was set fire to. All equipment in these offices was destroyed.

c. Al-Mawrid Teacher Development Centre in the Arizona Building in the heart of downtown Ramallah was directly hit by a missile or bomb and totally destroyed.

d. Muwatin, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, located on Irsal Street, was not spared either. Apparently, a neighbour first reported that the Army stormed its offices and stayed for about three hours. One door was completely blown off, and the other badly damaged. By the second curfew lifting, on 9 April, a quick visit revealed paper and books lying everywhere on the floor. There was no time to assess whether anything was stolen or the extent of the damage.

We also hear that PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) and the Hydrology Group offices were stormed but I do not yet know the details.

3. Public Institutions. We don’t yet know the extent of the damage in this sector, but some reports are indicative. On 4 April, the Ministry of Education issued an appeal to the world community, indicating that the previous day more than thirty Israeli tanks forced an entry into the Ministry headquarters in Ramallah, demolishing the main gate and the main doors, although employees there were willing to give them the keys to open the doors instead. The employees were then rounded up and forced to sit under heavy rain for six hours before being released. When the soldiers left at around 9 p.m. that evening, the employees went back to horrifying damage: the Ministry’s computer Net servers were stolen, along with many floppy disks, CDs, files, dossiers and all sorts of other documents. In the finance office, the main coffer lock was detonated, damaging all papers, including vouchers, promissory notes, cash and cheque box. The general examination central office doors were all destroyed, the safes as well, many of them containing important educational documents. All records were taken or destroyed, even records of official transcripts that have been laboriously collected over years, making it impossible now to issue or certify student documents and transcripts. Even the storage rooms were invaded, with computers, televisions and video sets and other valuable teaching aids taken away. In their place were piles of rubble on the floor.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and has been compiled from reports I have received from friends and colleagues in the institutions concerned. The whole truth will take some time to emerge. This unbelievable destruction can only indicate that this war is not merely about security, but is directed at annihilating everything Palestinian.

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Vol. 24 No. 10 · 23 May 2002

On reading Rita Giacaman’s report ‘From Ramallah’ (LRB, 25 April) two questions immediately come to mind. How many times can the term ‘stormed’ be used in a description of soldiers entering various premises during a military action? And how can credence be given to a report that Israeli soldiers were responsible for broadcasting pornographic films for a period of two days during this action? What actually happened in Ramallah was that Israeli soldiers played tapes at the TV station for their own amusement. This was stopped within five minutes, as soon as the Israelis realised the films were being broadcast. The reason the inflated version of the story receives prominence is that one of the themes of anti-semitism in the Arab world is that Jews are behind worldwide pornography.

Azriel Genack
New York

N.S. Roseman, who has announced that he is cancelling his LRB subscription after reading my criticisms of the so-called Israel Defence Forces (Letters, 9 May), does not even pretend to have investigated the matter before making his decision. For his information, the news of the plunder of Palestinian Authority buildings and cultural institutions, not to mention the theft by the IDF of valuables from private homes, is increasingly being reported all over the world. The subject has now also been raised in the Israeli media, so much so that the IDF claims to be looking into the problem, as such actions cannot be related to ‘Israel’s security’. Mr Roseman should have looked at Ha’aretz before writing his response.

Rita Giacaman

I see that you have lost another subscriber. I find it extraordinary that a journal like the LRB, which I had assumed was aimed at thinking people, is subscribed to by so many people who cancel their subscriptions when confronted by articles that do not conform to their particular view of the world. You must find this discouraging. May I, therefore, inform you that my recent decision to renew my subscription was, in part at least, due to the fact that you published articles like those of Edward Said, the piece from Ramallah and the fascinating collection of essays following 11 September. My decision was confirmed this week by the articles on Chávez's departure and return in Venezuela and by Yitzhak Laor's thought-provoking piece on Jenin and the Israel Defence Forces.

Nick Moore

Vol. 24 No. 11 · 6 June 2002

Reading Rita Giacaman’s piece ‘From Ramallah’ (LRB, 25 April) reminded me of sitting at a breakfast table in the American University of Beirut in 1949 with the well-known journalist Dorothy Thompson, who had been sent by the New York Times to write six articles on the Palestinian refugee situation in southern Lebanon. At the time hundreds of Palestinians were daily being driven from their homes by the Israeli Army and fleeing to the ‘shack camps’ being erected outside Beirut. She had completed five of the articles, and the first had been printed in the New York Times the previous day. That morning at breakfast she was handed a cablegram, which she opened, read, and handed to Stephen Penrose, the president of the university, at whose table we were sitting. She then turned to the rest and said: ‘I was afraid of this.’ On the day of publication, all the major Jewish-owned businesses in New York had threatened to cancel all ads if a further article appeared. Naturally, no more did appear and the American public has been kept in the dark ever since.

Tim Andrews

Shame on you, Azriel Genack (Letters, 23 May), for accusing the whole world of anti-semitism when anyone dares to criticise Israel. On the matter of the pornographic films broadcast on Watan Television during the Israeli incursion into Ramallah and the occupation of the television station's facilities, all I can tell you is that, as the mother of a teenage boy, I was witness to two days of energetic telephone exchanges between my son and his friends on the content of what they considered salacious (and titillating) broadcasts. These consisted not of tapes, as you say, but of European sex channel programmes. Having become tired of policing the television at home, I called an Israeli journalist I know, and was told by her that she had called the Israeli military authorities several times about the offending broadcasts, but was told that the allegations were baseless. Only after a member of the Knesset pressed the military on the matter did the broadcasts stop.

Lisa Taraki

Vol. 24 No. 14 · 25 July 2002

‘Tim Andrews’ (Letters, 6 June) asserts that he was present at a breakfast in 1949 at the American University in Beirut when Dorothy Thompson was notified that her article for the New York Times on Palestine refugees in Lebanon would not be published because of pressure from Jewish-owned businesses in New York. But Dorothy Thompson wrote a column for the New York Herald Tribune, never the Times, and her syndicated column was carried by some two hundred newspapers, so the Herald Tribune was in no position to be a censor. Nor has any such conspiracy by New York Jewish businessmen ever existed – journalists and historians would have noticed. I would wager that every other ‘fact’ in Andrews’s letter is equally fictional.

Irving Kristol
Washington DC

Vol. 24 No. 9 · 9 May 2002

In your last issue you published an article called ‘From Ramallah’ (LRB, 25 April). A few weeks ago you published a tirade against Israel from Edward Said under the guise of an obituary (LRB, 13 December 2001). This current article does not even pretend to be an LRB-type contribution. What is the reason for this? It cannot be to fill a void in media coverage from the Palestinian viewpoint, nor did the article carry any higher-level information (such as proving the unlikely innocence of the various ‘educational’ centres in Ramallah). I am a Peace Now Jewish Brit and I want no more of this; so please stop sending me your suspect journal.

N.S. Roseman

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