The first site targeted by the Israelis was Yasser Arafat's compound, writes Michael Jansen from Ramallah |
Night and day Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and jeeps roam the empty streets of reoccuopied West Bank cities, towns, villages and refugee camps while their inhabitants are confined to their homes by curfew. In Ramallah, where I spent the weekend, the revving roar of tank engines and creak of treads turning over was accompanied by loud bursts of heavy machinegun fire and the dull, metallic crack of explosives blowing gates and doors.
Under the rubric of hunting for militants and weapons, the Israeli army has been systematically demolishing the state structures built by the Palestinians since Yasser Arafat returned to Gaza and the West Bank in 1994 and set up the Authority.
The first site targeted here in Ramallah was the compound, "mukata", of the Palestinian President. Ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, rubble from ruined buildings and wrecked vehicles were cleared from the parking area by the Israelis. This area was clearly visible from my vantage point behind the compound where I stood while Mr Powell was inside on Sunday.
Other sites and institutions hit include police stations and posts and the offices of Mr Arafat's intelligence agencies which have been reduced to piles of stones, crumpled concrete and bent iron rods. According to Mr Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, many detained Palestinian policemen have been set free on condition that they do not to return to their jobs. In addition, files have been destroyed or seized, making it difficult if not impossible for Mr Arafat to reimpose order and curb militants.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs which deals with identity documents, work and residency permits has been looted. At the Ministry of Education computers have been removed and educational equipment has been confiscated.
At the Ministry of Finance and the Bureau of Statistics records accumulated over many years have been taken. Other institutions targeted are the Palestinian Legislative Council, offices of the Unified Palestinian Medical Relief Commitees (UPMRC), the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners and other human rights bodies. I viewed the premises of the Mandela Institute a short walk from the battered stone lions which grace the roundabout at Manara Square.
The Israeli army targeted the Palestinian Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Ramallah (as well as those in the Bethlehem area village of Beit Sahour and the northern city of Nablus, which took place yesterday).
The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre was stormed by tanks and ransacked by troops on Saturday. The centre, located in an elegant traditional Arab villa built in 1927, houses valuable documents as well as the office of Palestine's National Poet, Mr Mahmoud Darwish, who was in Damascus for a poetry reading.
Administrative and cultural facilities are not the only targets of the Israeli army.
Max's Supermarket, the largest in the south of the city, was blasted, wrecked and looted on the 11th and $11,000 stolen from its safe. Early on the morning of April 13th cars parked next to the Mandela institute were shot up and their windows smashed.