Speakers say Israel and Palestine both in crisis

CHICAGO – “I was witness to an enormous human crisis,” World correspondent Judith Le Blanc told a gathering here May 3. Le Blanc had just returned from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. The Israeli military occupation is “a living nightmare” for both Israelis and Palestinians, she said, and a political solution is required.

Le Blanc said both the Israeli and Palestinian economies are in crisis as a result of Sharon’s war drive. Palestinians, she said, are experiencing “economic strangulation,” with unemployment soaring to 75 or 80 percent.

She charged that the Israeli army has systematically destroyed the Palestinian infrastructure. In Ramallah, she said, Israeli forces destroyed every computer in the Ministry of Education, destroyed and flooded the Ministry of Finance, destroyed banks and ATMs and blew up the television stations. “They even tore up Burger King, Toys R Us, Nike,” she said. “The message they wanted to send is: ‘This is not a viable economy.’”

The occupation and settlements are also sinking the Israeli economy, Le Blanc said. Israeli workers are battling a privatization drive and cuts in health care and other services.

In Israel, LeBlanc met activists in a growing peace movement that is not reported in the U.S. media, including an organization of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children in suicide bombings and Israeli attacks.

Le Blanc urged Americans to press for investigation of Israeli war crimes in the Jenin refugee camp and said members of Congress should visit Jenin and see for themselves. The 2002 elections will be a referendum on Bush’s war policy, she said.

Hakim Hussein, representing the Palestine Aid Society, accused the mainstream U.S. media of being more biased than newspapers in Israel. Hussein, who was born near the Jenin refugee camp and has relatives living there, told of people coming to health clinics in Jenin with plastic bags containing their relatives’ body parts. “That’s all they could find,” he said. “They are still digging bodies out of the rubble.”

But, he said, the Palestinian people are resilient. He said the majority of Palestinians want a two-state solution to the crisis. The Palestine Aid Society is raising funds in the U.S. for health clinics in the occupied territories, and is organizing an exhibit to be placed on campuses and, they hope, in downtown Chicago.

Representing Not in My Name, a Jewish peace group that says the Israeli government does not speak for the Jewish people, Joel Finkel noted the “very courageous people in Israel” who are opposing the Sharon war policies, including the army reservists who are refusing to serve in the occupation.

“An inquiry on Jenin isn’t over if we don’t let it be over,” said Jeff Guntzel, from Voices in the Wilderness, which sent the first international group to Jenin. Guntzel, who himself just returned from the West Bank, said more international observers should go to the occupied territories.

While in Chicago, Le Blanc addressed 400 people at an Islamic Association for Palestine banquet. “The starting point for building a peace movement is the majority public opinion in Palestine, Israel and the United States that is for a two-state solution,” she told the audience.

She also spoke to listeners of an Arab-language radio program on WPNA and met with activists and journalists at the Arab Center in nearby Burbank and with Chicago-area peace and labor activists.

Susan Webb can be reached at suewebb@pww.org; John Bachtell can be reached at jbachtell@ameritech.net