Eyewitness report from Ramallah
Forwareded by Saptarshi Ray
Tuesday, April 2, 2002
Urgent: Eyewitness report from Ramallah
Ramallah, Occupied Palestine: My name is Tzaporah Ryter. I am an American student from the University of Minnesota. I currently am in Ramallah. We are under a terrible siege and people are being massacred by both the Israeli army and armed militia groups of Israeli settlers. They are shooting outside at anything that moves. I am urgently pleading for as much outside help as possible to help save lives here.
I arrived in Ramallah last Thursday. I had come back for a visit to the Palestinian city where I had been previously living and studying. On Thursday afternoon, the Israeli army began sealing off each entrance to Ramallah and there were rumors that they planned to invade.
People were rushing back home from across checkpoints and also people were trying to flee. People were not allowed to go out and many working people -- with homes and children to return to -- were not allowed in, everyone was trying to take cover. Those traveling in began desperately searching for alternative ways and traveling in groups, but the Israelis were firing upon them and everyone was running and screaming.
Women carrying their children were trying desperately to flee from Ramallah, carrying infants and toddlers, and their young children were running along trying to reach safety. Israeli jeeps were speeding across the terrain pulling up from every direction and shooting at the women and children, and also at me, as we ran in opposite directions. They were chasing down people, hunting them like that in the fields.
When I reached Ramallah, people were panicking and trying to buy bread, rice and milk from corner stores, but most supplies were already gone. We bought what we could and went inside to wait for what was coming.
When night fell, Israeli tanks began to invade and also we saw Israeli troops coming on foot from the valley, and surrounding our house. I could hear them calling to each other in Hebrew. They were against our door and all around. They were firing everywhere a barrage of bullets and there was tank fire. We had to lay on the floor and keep silent. We stayed there, on the floor, for nearly four days in the darkness.
We knew that our circumstances were better than others because old people or infants or people with medical emergency needs had no help. It was very cold, with most families packed all in one room. Some people are without life sustaining medicines like insulin, and they are altering their doses dangerously if they have any medicine left to take. People are becoming dangerously sick from lack of food and water and heat. The fear and terror only makes things worse, but it cannot be avoided.
In the daytime, we heard them shooting people in the streets, and could hear them screaming and screaming. No ambulance was allowed through. Then their screams stopped and there was just silence.
We had a telephone and would receive calls from all over telling us what was happening. Everyone is in grave danger and Israeli soldiers were killing people everywhere. They are arresting medics and ambulance drivers, including foreign volunteer medical workers.
They keep taking doctors and medics, just now another call. Again, this time the wife of a doctor telling us her husband has been taken from the ambulance.
Large groups of people have been found in rooms, shot dead, there are blood marks where they have lined people up on their knees and shot them, with their ID cards laying on top of them. They are taking people from their homes, blindfolding them, removing their clothes, taking them away or lining them up and shooting them against the wall.
People are making phone calls and saying that these soldiers and militia have come in and are shooting people and then the line cuts off.
The numbers of these killings I fear are much greater than the numbers confirmed in the press, because the human rights offices and the media centers have been stormed, and everything is shut down. No one can move without almost certain chance of being shot by the Isreali snipers, who are everywhere.
The Israelis are demanding that all journalists leave Ramallah and today another foreign journalist was shot. They do not want any more internationals here and are deporting people. It seems quite clear that they do not want eyewitnesses which is only heightening my own fears.
The hospitals have also been surrounded and invaded and Israeli troops are taking the injured people and interrogating them. Today a woman, a patient, tried to walk out from hospital. The Israelis shot her in the neck and killed her.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health is saying that they fear the spread of diseases because of the number of unburied corpses.
The numbers are only growing in reports of the mass killings here and Israeli troops continue to round up people. People are calling frantically, missing a relative and we do not know where they have been taken, including children.
The numbers we have now exceed 600, and we are estimating between 700 and 800. All human rights groups and legal advocates are being denied any information of where the detained are being held. From what we know confirmed is that 10% of those taken so far have been children under age 18.
On the fourth day I decided to try to move. People were running out of supplies and I also was so worried about people, and had to check to see if they were okay. If I didn't, I feared panic would overtake me so badly that I really had no other choice but to try and go.
It was not safe where I was in any case and at least if I left I would still have my sanity. It was really terrifying as there are some internationals here, usually traveling in groups, and the Israelis are saying on the radio that they will arrest or shoot the internationals. They did shoot some yesterday and regardless, it's not as if snipers differentiate and they are everywhere.
My friends told me not to go, and were really scared for me, but I had to go. When I went outside, there were cars all shot up and hit by multiple bullets and shells in the middle of the road, unparked. There must have been people in them but I don't know where their bodies are. There are no reports of them, but they must exist.
I got to the corner trying to go to the bakery for bread and food for people. Some people were calling and calling with only one cup of rice left. I made it to the corner but they opened fire on my first try, and shot at me, so I had to turn back.
After that I tried again and it took me one day to make it a block because I had to start over again and again. I had to climb through the valley, and as I passed house by house, people were warning me and pointing out what path seemed safest for these two minutes. In the next two minutes, it would be something different. They really helped to keep my path safe.
Today is Day Five and they are still rounding up people like this and we hear them shooting all day long.
This afternoon the Israelis suddenly lifted the curfew, suddenly announcing that everyone had two hours to go out to get food. However, the Israeli soldiers also took food from many of the stores, looted, and there is no bread or things. People went to get whatever they could.
Even though the Israeli army said it had lifted the closure for two hours -- in which we still were not able to transfer medical supplies and still was not long enough to everything that was badly needed -- the Israelis continued shooting people in the streets indiscriminately on their way, so people were running around trying to make it to the store or find a safe route only to have to run back home again. It was an added cruelty and terror tactic in this macabre situation, a sick joke: starve people and then shoot them when they try to find food with your permission.
In an apartment building in Beitunia neighborhood where I used to live, they took 60 people who were my neighbors, including several familes, and pushed them into one room since last night. The Israelis told them that they are to be used as "human shields", as the apartment building is across from a building that they were invading.
One child needs to go to the hospital since last night and, initially, the families were able to call outside. Now, the Israelis have taken their phones.
There are reports that they are rounding up men between the ages of 14 and 45 in that neighborhood, and these civilians, from these same Palestinian families trapped in that building, were just used to walk in front of an Israeli tank as it invaded the Preventative Security Compound.
Reports also have alleged that the Israelis were saying that some could leave but shot them when they attempted to leave. The buildings there are burning, and people are trapped inside.
We keep calling to try to find people but there has been no electricity and most people's phones are dead now. I do not know what is happening to many people. The only solution to this is to try to brave the deadly streets in order to check, but its almost impossible and terrifying to leave the house at all.
Each place I come to, I am afraid to leave not only for myself but for everyone else in this horrifying position. Israeli death squads have been yanking people into the street. I also hear only shooting and shooting, with no return fire. This suggest that unarmed civilians are being gunned down mercilessly everywhere and I am so scared for everyone. I feel like maybe if I leave one place, one area or neighborhood I will never see the people again alive.
There are more explosions outside now and more shooting. Another explosion. More firing, it just doesn't stop.
This is a massacre. The foreign delegations tried to get in but were turned back, the International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to help but they are being ignored. Please help.
I am not only scared for myself and for people here, but if this cannot be stopped, I am truly scared for all of humanity, for a world in which we send men to the moon but cannot stop ethnic cleansing.
On the news in America, we see hardly anything of demonstrations. What are you doing over there?
There do not seem to be any reports of what is happening. In truth, its got to stop. Please go out to the streets, please demand a response from your representatives. Be loud, march up to the capitals, refuse to leave until the Israelis withdraw. Act now! Tell them the Israelis are murdering innocent people whose only crime is being born in their own homeland, a Palestinian under a military occupation.
Demand international protection for the Palestinian people, scream that this is an affront to humanity and that it is time that the US not only stop supporting Israel, but that the US stop its abuse of human rights within its own borders. This is about all of our struggles. For the love of God, please stop this slaughter. Please help.