- When the Bush administration unveiled its "road
map" for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, many observers hoped
the plan would lead to genuine progress in resolving the long-standing
and bloody conflict in the Middle East.
- A retired Ohio University professor who recently visited
the Gaza Strip and West Bank, however, said the violence and oppression
seems to be as bad there as it has ever been.
- "I wanted to see for myself what was going on over
there," explained Jim Coady, a former linguistics prof who visited
the region last month. Coady also visited the region last summer, he said.
- Coady said getting into Gaza was quite a trick, as even
journalists are now finding it nearly impossible to gain access to the
area which is surrounded by a security fence. His arrangements were made
surreptitiously, and he declined to reveal what they were.
- "It's very difficult to get in," he said. "I'd
rather not reveal my methods, if I could."
- He described Gaza as a roughly triangular wedge of land,
around 10 miles at the base and 20 miles on the sides, into which are crammed
more than 1 million Palestinians. Within the strip, he said, unemployment
is more than 80 percent, and Israel controls all elecricity. The Israelis
have methodically taken control of the region's resources including water,
- "All they've left the occupants is the sand,"
he said. "These people are in a giant prison." He noted that
there are only two gates out of the territory.
- Coady also visited the West Bank, traveling to a "peace
camp" near Masha where he saw part of the huge "security fence"
the Israelis have begun building around the Palestinian territory.
- What Coady saw during his time in the region left him
with a bleak outlook for the hopes of peace. "It's the most depressing
place I've ever visited in my entire life," he said. The so-called
"security fence" now under construction -- actually, according
to Coady, a huge and impassible wall -- is going to surround thousands
of Palestinians in what will essentially be a giant concrete cell.
- Among the sites Coady visited was the place where American
activist Rachel Corrie was killed in March by an Israeli bulldozer operator,
while she stood with a bullhorn in her hand, urging the operator not to
destroy a building in the Rafah refugee camp.
- Coady said he spoke with two eyewitnesses to the event,
who told him that after the bulldozer ran Corrie down, it backed up and
drove over her body again.
- Coady also visited the site where British activist Tom
Hudnall was shot to death by a sniper from an Israeli guard tower on the
Egyptian border of the Gaza strip. "The saddest part of the story
is, there were some kids out in the street," Coady said. "The
firing started, and he went out to rescue a kid."
- According to witness accounts, the 23-year-old activist
was shot in the head while trying to pull children out of the range of
sniper fire coming from the guard tower. He had taken a young boy out of
the firing zone, and had gone back to try and rescue two young girls who
were afraid to move, when he was killed.
- Coady stressed that the name "security fence"
hardly does justice to the barrier the Israelis are erecting. "This
so-called 'security fence' is a football field wide, and on the two extreme
edges are large rolls of concertina wire," he recounted. It is also
protected by a deep V-shaped trench, he said. "If you went down (in
it), you couldn't get back up," he said.
- According to information from the Palestinian Environmental
NGOs Network, the wall is being built from the northwest to the southwest
of the West Bank. Even without possible expansions, it is expected to be
at least 220 miles long when completed. It will average 25 feet high, with
armed concrete towers, and a buffer zone of about 100 to 300 feet, for
trenches, electric fences, cameras, sensors and security patrols. If completed
with no expansions, it is expected to isolate 95,000 Palestinians, or around
4.5 percent of the West Bank population, as well as cutting off 200,000
people in East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
- "They are essentially building giant prisons for
the Palestinians," Coady said. "They really don't want to look
at these Palestinians... You should see it. It's unbelievable."
- The daily life of Palestinians, Coady said, is a steady
stream of harassment, never-ending threats of violence, and petty humiliations
at the hands of Israeli soldiers. He recalled staying with a Palestinian
family whose home was near a guard tower. From inside the house, Coady
looked out at the guard tower, and drew the guard's eye. "I'm standing
about five feet inside the kitchen, and suddenly the guard fires off a
round, just to let me know he sees me," he said.
- During the night, he heard the rumbling of tanks on patrol.
"The owners of these homes say, 'Don't go out at night -- if you even
stick your nose out, they'll kill you,'" he recalled.
- The harassment is unceasing, and according to Coady,
seems designed to make the Palestinians lives as miserable as possible
in the hopes that they'll emigrate. Though the Israeli government has said
it is getting rid of checkpoints, he said, they have simply switched from
permanent checkpoints to mobile ones. For the Palestinians who commute
to work, there is never any certainty that they'll be allowed to get to
- He cited the case of a woman who worked in Jerusalem,
about 10 minutes from her home in normal circumstances. On any given day,
however, the gate through which she must pass may be closed without explanation,
or there may be an hours-long wait. "You never know. It's just random,"
he said. "It's harassment that is mind-numbing, and it just goes on
- For the Bush "road map" to work, it was generally
believed that the Palestinians would need to stop suicide bomber attacks
and the Israelis stop the steady encroachment of settlers into Palestinian
territory, which often entails the destruction of Palestinian homes.
- Coady said that the Palestinians Authority, out of sheer
desperation, does seem to be making an effort to stop the bombings. "Oh,
definitely -- they're trying," he said. "They were ready to have
a cease-fire. What's damaging them right now is, the Israelis aren't doing
anything but pro-forma stuff. They're still building the wall, they're
still building the settlements."
- Despite the promise of the "road map," Coady
concluded, "they haven't changed a thing. It's a giant police state,
and nothing has changed for the Palestinians as far as I can see, from
when I was there last summer. It's a big shell game." Coady suggested
that the Israelis may be deliberately trying to goad the Palestinians into
increased violence, to justify going on with business as usual.
- "They want the Palestinians to start shooting again,"
he alleged. "Because all the American public hears is, 'Those Palestinians
started shooting again.'"