The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, April 24, 2002  


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have declared an end -- a partial pull-back really -- to his country's three week invasion of the occupied territories on the West Bank, but Palestinian Authority officials returning to their offices in Ramallah were stunned to see the extent of the vicious destruction inflicted on P.A. buildings in that city.

"Israeli soldiers apparently destroyed numerous Palestinian Authority offices during their weekend pullout from the West Bank, hobbling crucial civic functions such as education and public works," writes T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times. "In ministry after ministry, computers, photocopiers and other electronic machines were heaped in piles, destroyed by explosions and fire. Important files were missing. Telephones were smashed. Pictures were ripped from the walls."

" 'The main reason for all the destruction is to kill the spirit of the Palestinian people and show the power and force of the Israelis,' Azam Ahmad, the minister of public works, said as he walked through his shattered office. 'They want to take us back many years in history so we will lose hope, but we are a people who have learned to endure.' "

The Israeli Defense Force concedes it searched the P.A.'s ministerial offices, Miller reports, "but denied any attempt to deliberately cripple public services. They also denied using explosives to destroy computers or documents." The IDF "acknowledged taking documents from some of the offices for intelligence purposes but denied claims of unnecessary destruction."

The United Nations will meet in Oslo this week to collect funds to help the Palestinians rebuild their civil infrastructure. Since the 1993 Oslo agreements, donor nations have contributed more than $3 billion to support the development of Palestinian government and nonprofit organizations, writes Miller. "But still more money will be needed in the wake of the widespread destruction left behind by the Israeli invasion, which began March 29. Tanks tore up streets. Schools, hospitals, homes and stores were hit by rockets, shells and bullets. Electricity poles collapsed. Water mains were destroyed."

Hardly any agency was spared -- apparently only the ministries of planning and youth and sports were not attacked. U.N. officials said "it would take at least a week to reach a final tally, since Israeli soldiers continued blocking entry into some areas," Miller writes.

Acting Education Minister Naim abu Hommos told Miller that 47 Palestinian schools were destroyed during the IDF's incursion and that 150 soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers broke into the his ministry's building on April 3 and April 14. "He said that employees had offered to open doors with their keys but that soldiers sometimes ignored them and forced their way in. In the ministry's treasury department, ceiling tiles were scattered on the floor. Some files were pulled off the shelves. And, Abu Hommos said, more than $8,000 in petty cash was missing," writes Miller.

"Damage to the Ministry of Public Works was even more puzzling. One room on the top floor seemed to have been blasted by a helicopter rocket," Miller reports. "The outside window was blackened, while a conference room inside was completely charred. Down the hall on the fourth floor, the minister's offices were simply vandalized. Couches and chairs were slashed, the stuffing spilling out. A map of the region had the West Bank torn out. Even the minister's personal toilet was shattered."

The IDF's foray into the P.A.'s offices has all the characteristics of vindictiveness and viciousness, all the markings of an attempt to destroy the nascent authority of the P.A., and to demoralize and dehumanize the Palestinian people. Disrupting terrorism was the stated goal, a noble one at that, though the invasion was a dubious means of doing so, but the evidence mounts that Sharon had something else in mind: decimating the P.A., rendering Arafat powerless, and attacking the very identity of the Palestinians.

All of this was done in the hope of finding a hand-picked group of Palestinians with whom Sharon would be willing to "negotiate," by which we are certain he means imposing Israel's will on the already degraded and subjugated Palestinian people.

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