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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Nonviolent Peaceforce meeting 16 October

Internationals volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement
(www.palsolidarity.org) provide protection and support to Palestinians who
are using
nonviolent resistance to the Occupation (read the report from an ISM
volunteer below). In preparation for the expansion of the US-lead "war on
terror" to Iraq, the newly formed Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam) is now
sending teams of American and Canadian volunteers to Iraq to provide an
international presence to deter US/UK aggression. They will be sending
reports back to North Americans and Europeans about how the "regime change"
is hitting ordinary people.

Drawing on the experience of these and a host of previous inspiring and
effective initiatives, Nonviolent
Peaceforce (www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org) is establishing an international,
standing force of unarmed,
civilian peaceworkers, trained in effective techniques of nonviolent
intervention. On invitation of local groups, Nonviolent Peaceforce will
respond quickly to protect lives and the work of people struggling for peace
and justice.

Everyone interested in helping to support the Nonviolent Peaceforce is
invited to a planning meeting of

Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada
communications and outreach working group
Wednesday, 16 October, 7:00 pm
Bronson Center, 211 Bronson Ave., room 309A
(ring buzzer to get in from outside)

With the pilot project of Nonviolent Peaceforce due to be launched in July
2003, there is no shortage of things to do! All are welcome and hope to see
you there!

more information: tel 722 7215 or NPC office 564 0999


report from Jeff Guntzel (Voices in the Wilderness), a volunteer with the
International Solidarity Movement (ISM is a member organisation of
Nonviolent Peaceforce), 10 April 2002

"We left for Ramallah yesterday morning. In order to enter the city, our
little group had to avoid the Israeli checkpoint by walking (and sometimes
running) through the brush just south of the checkpoint. Once we were safely
inside the military zone, a taxi driver with whom we had made advance
arrangements drove us about a mile into Ramallah and stopped. He would not
go any further for fear of Israeli snipers who were situated in many of the
city's tall buildings. A Red Crescent ambulance driver offered to take us to
the Sheik Zayed hospital where we had arranged to meet two organizers with
the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Huwaida Arraf and her fiancÚ,
Adam Shapiro. We had heard that tanks and troops surrounding the hospital
might block our passage.

Those of you who have been following the news carefully might remember the
Sheik Zayed hospital as the site of a mass grave dug, several days earlier,
in the parking lot as a temporary burial ground for 29 Palestinians,
including one American citizen. The morgue at the hospital was full, and
there was nowhere else to put the bodies. Coming down a steep hill about
three miles from the hospital, we spotted a tank and an armored personnel
carrier (APC). These days, in Ramallah, the only vehicles on the streets are
tanks, APCs, and ambulances (I guess you could also count the mangled cars
peppering the roadside that tanks had rolled over during the invasion).
Suddenly a soldier appeared. He crouched on one knee, aimed his M-16
directly at us, and fixed his eye to his gun's sight. We stopped. The driver
began slowly backing up the hill and several more soldiers appeared some of
them taking aim and some motioning us to come closer. We all held our
passports up to let them know there were internationals in the car.

Israeli troops had been harassing, arresting, and even shooting ambulance
drivers since the start of the invasion. We had no idea what to expect. When
we got to the soldiers at the bottom of the hill we stopped again. Eight
M-16s and a tank were aimed at us. The soldier directly to my right looked
tired and scared. That scared me. Our driver was ordered out of the car and
asked a few questions in Arabic. Then we were ordered out, with all of our
bags. We laid our bags out on the ground and opened them. After a
not-so-thorough search several soldiers asked us a few questions while
others encircled us. The soldier who at first struck me as tired and scared
now just looked cautiously curious.

"Why are you here?" he asked, not quite meeting our eyes.
"We came to bring medicine and food to people under curfew," said one member
of our group.
"Don't you know there are terrorists here, it is dangerous," he replied, "do
you think you can bring peace?"
"We don't know," we said, almost in unison.
Then Kathy, my roommate and co-worker, stepped in, "We are here because we
know that our government pays for much of what is going on here and we feel
a responsibility to intervene nonviolently in this terrible situation."
"We did not ask for this, it is the Palestinian leadership, bad leaders,
they are responsible for this," replied the soldier.
"But over half of the people here are children," Kathy said, "and children
can't be bad leaders, they can only be children!"
"I know there are children here," he replied solemnly, looking off into the
distance, "but there are also terrorists. You cannot drive to the hospital,"
said the soldier.
"Then we will walk," replied Greg, another member of our group, who then
began walking towards the tank and APC that partially blocked our path.
"Stop! You cannot walk either," demanded the soldier, who then paused and
looked around. Directly in front of us was a soldier on one knee, holding
each of us briefly in his cross-hairs, one person at a time.
"Don't you understand that you make the terrorists happy when you come here
to help them?" the soldier continued.
"We are here to help the innocent people in Ramallah who are being
terrorized and killed every day," replied Kathy.
"We do not kill innocent people."
"We read Ha'aretz [an Israeli paper, printed in Hebrew and English] every
day and we know innocent people are being killed," Kathy said.
"Do you think I like this?" the soldier demanded, "I don't want to be here."
At that moment there was an enormous explosion and sustained machine gun
fire. It was coming from directly behind us, and it was really loud. Two
members of our group stepped away to smoke, and the others drifted back
towards the ambulance. Kathy and I remained with the soldier.
"Do you know what Arafat wants, he wants murder, why do you want to help a
murderer," he asked.
"Maybe there is another way to look at our presence here," I replied, "We
are here operating beneath the level of the leaders who we believe do not
want real peace. I think you and I have more in common than you have with
Sharon, or than I have with Arafat, wouldn't you agree?"
"Yes, I agree."
"So let us go to the hospital," Kathy responded.
Silence. Then the soldier spoke again, "You know, it is not just the
Palestinians who are suffering."
"We want a just peace for both sides," we responded, "We want an end to
*all* of the violence."
"It is too late," insisted the soldier, "there can be no peace now."
"It is difficult to see a way out, but..."
"Why don't you work on behalf of the Jews, why can't you be objective?"
At that moment, another soldier came up to us and began speaking in Hebrew.
Then, suddenly, we were told we could get back into the ambulance and push
ahead towards the hospital.

The hospital is actually two buildings separated by a road. It was in that
road, just yards from the hospital, that an elderly woman with a walker was
shot dead by an Israeli sniper just weeks ago. In the parking lot we saw the
mass grave we had all read about. It was empty; the killing was less
frequent 11 days into the siege, giving hospital workers the window they
needed to dispose of the bodies properly.

For our second day in Ramallah, we agreed to divide our efforts. Some of us
could accompany ambulances making house calls while the rest would defy the
curfew by walking to the office of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief
Committees (UPMRC) to assist in deliveries of food and medicine to families.
We had walked about one block when we spotted an Armored Personnel Carrier
(APC) at the intersection three blocks ahead of us. On top of the APC were a
mounted machine gun and a soldier; another soldier, bearing an M-16,
crouched in front of the APC. Both were aiming at us. We stopped. A soldier
yelled something. Adam yelled out, "I'm sorry I can't hear you." One of the
soldiers fired. "I hear your bullets," Adam replied, "We're going to deliver
food, we are all foreigners." We waited. There were shots in the distance.
The soldiers ahead of us seemed to be engaged in some sort of operation that
drew them out of the APC. They were moving around. We were a distraction. We
began walking very slowly, then stopped, and again called out our intent to
deliver food. Adam asked to speak to the commander, with whom he has spoken
before. Then he asked for some signal that we could pass. Nothing. We
resumed our slow march, white flag held high. We heard a dynamite explosion
nearby. The soldiers were blowing their way into a building. We stopped
again and Adam continued, "Soldiers, we wish to proceed, may we approach to
speak to you?". After a long silence we decided to turn back and try again
later. We worried that the soldiers would do something stupid to deal with
their "distraction." Turning around, we walked back slowly, in the direction
of yesterday's snipers.

While we were engaged in our sort-of-stand-off, Alexandra had ducked into a
refugee camp and returned with a heart medicine prescription for a
middle-aged woman who couldn't reach the hospital to fill it because of the
snipers and the soldiers. The hospital was one block away. We returned to
the hospital, got the heart medication, and decided to head back to the
refugee camp, which was just in view of our friends with the APC. We began
again, white flag waiving, and arrived at the entrance to the camp (really
indistinguishable from the rest of the neighborhood) and were pleased to see
that the soldiers had moved on. We
decided to again attempt making our way to the UPMRC offices. Just as we
were getting ready to walk on, a man approached us to ask if we could get an
ambulance to take his feverish son to the hospital. We decided to escort the
boy to the hospital since it was so close.While we were regrouping in the
parking lot, two ambulances sped into the driveway. Inside one was the body
of 28 year old Manel Sami Ibrahim, who was standing near her window when an
Israeli sniper shot her through the heart. Her husband and three children
were in the apartment.

"This," as one Palestinian relief worker said to me, "is the occupation."

We started off again for the UPMRC offices. I felt a small sense of victory
as we passed the location of the soldiers we had confronted just an hour
earlier. We turned left and headed up a hill. The streets of Ramallah were
empty and ruined. Bullet casings of all varieties littered the streets. The
Israelis had shot up banks, internet cafes, bars, clothing stores, medical
relief offices, civil service organizations, and homes. Tanks had bulldozed
power lines, dumpsters, and street signs. But the houses were full. Every
once in awhile, somebody would lean out of an upper window to say hello or
just look at us, wondering. A woman from Los Angeles came down for a quick
visit. A man planting a tree in his garden showed us the bullet casings he
had collected around his yard. It was surreal.

Occasionally, an APC would rumble by us on a nearby street, but we didn't
encounter any soldiers until the very end of our walk. It was right out of a
war movie. Two young men in fatigues with a lazy grip on their M-16s.
Clearly bored out of their minds and blasting Bob Marley's "I Shot the
Sheriff," They made us open our bags and barely even looked into them. Soon
we were on our way.

At the UPRMC offices, workers took us on a tour of the damaged building. Two
family apartments were heavily hit with damage to the ceilings, walls and
floors, which were covered with debris and broken glass. The clinic's
reception room and examining room were similarly damaged, but had also been
ransacked. A ruined copy machine had crashed to the floor. All of the
patient files had been stolen. And every window was shattered. After seeing
the damage, I was assigned to an ambulance and given a
UPMRC/Red Crescent vest to identify me as a medical relief worker. Alexandra
and I accompanied a doctor and two UPMRC volunteers on food and medicine
deliveries to various homes that had requested help. The trip through
Ramallah neighborhoods was successful and without incident.

Returning to the Sheik Zayed Hospital, we learned that IDF soldiers had shot
Arduf Mussa Khandil, a 23 year-old mentally retarded man whom we had seen on
the hospital grounds just hours earlier. Apparently he had wandered out into
a street behind the hospital. Witnesses saw 11 Israeli soldiers chasing him.
They speculated that the young man ran because he was scared when he saw
armed soldiers. He was unarmed. They shot him dead.

Scott, a member of our group, visited the morgue to confirm the details of
the day's deaths. A third body was delivered to the morgue while we were
out. It was the body of Mahmoud Farid Bawatma, who had been dead 7-15 days,
his body only recently discovered. He was shot, but the details of his death
are unclear except that the bullet had entered through his buttocks and
exited through his head. The morgue was full again and the doctors were
talking about a second mass grave. As we were leaving the hospital to
attempt a return to Jerusalem, two APCs rolled up the street and parked at
the intersection nearest the hospital. It was the same army unit that had
stopped us on our way in. Now they were telling us we couldn't leave. After
five minutes of talking and ten minutes of waiting while they struck war
poses, we were allowed to leave.

Now I am back in Jerusalem, working on getting to Jenin with Kathy and
several others. They say there has been a massacre there.

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