From Ramallah

Rita Giacaman

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.