April 7, Ramallah
As the Israeli army continues the second week of its military reoccupation of the Palestinian-controlled towns of the West Bank, a group of internationals is playing a role of solidarity and protection in the occupied areas. Some 500 activists affiliated with the umbrella group Grassroots International Protection for the Palestinian People are now in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, some of them risking their lives.
“We are helping with the ambulances,” says 50-year-old physics professor Alberto Clarizia from Naples. “The Red Cross, it is a shame. It is really incapable of doing anything. If there is any area where there are soldiers, they say it is impossible, and they turn back.”
Clarizia and other Italians, French, Belgians, Americans and even one Israeli ride with local Red Crescent ambulances to deliver food and medicine to Palestinians in Ramallah, where the residents have been under curfew, some without electricity and tens of thousands without water, since the start of the Israeli incursion.
“We stay with the driver, and when we get stopped, we show our foreign passport and then we are allowed through,” relates Clarizia. He stood in solidarity with Palestinian families who were forced to bury their dead temporarily in a parking lot, until they can travel to the cemetery. “That was really difficult to watch,” he says, clearly moved.
Some fifty of the internationals made world headlines on March 31, when they marched with Palestinian doctors through the Israeli military cordon around Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s compound and into the two rooms where Arafat and his advisers have been holed up. CNN correspondent Michael Holmes jumped into the group, saying that a soldier looked at him and then shrugged as the group walked through an entrance that had been the scene of fighting only minutes earlier. Warning shots were fired by Israeli troops, but no other action was taken.
A buoyed Arafat met the group and gave interviews in person for the first time in two days. When several activists, including Frenchman José Bové, the now-infamous challenger of McDonald’s, tried to leave the compound, they were arrested and deported. Other members of the group remain inside with Arafat, without water and with dwindling food, but as a considerable barrier for anyone planning to eject the Palestinian leader. That, they say, is exactly what they want.