Israelis Seize Passports of 5 Americans After Arabs Hold Protest
Israeli soldiers confiscated the passports of five American travelers in the occupied West Bank and accused them of participating in a protest that troops dispersed with rubber bullets, military and other sources said Monday.
The Americans, activists on a private fact-finding tour in the occupied territories, denied the allegations. They said they were walking Sunday in Ramallah, 9 miles north of Jerusalem, when they saw a protest by Palestinian schoolgirls, moved away from it and stopped to watch.
“We’re here to observe,” said Richard Reilly, 36, a Chicago health care worker. “We didn’t want to run away from the demonstration, but we wanted to clearly distinguish ourselves from the demonstration. It wasn’t our demonstration.”
The Americans said soldiers arrived almost immediately. They said an officer approached them and ordered them to tell the schoolgirls to end the demonstration or soldiers would fire their weapons, which were loaded with rubber bullets.
“They then proceeded to act with great violence toward the students,” said Bill Doares, 33, a New York trade union activist. “They began to fire randomly around the street and randomly at people on the sidewalks.”
An army spokesman and Palestinian sources reported no injuries in Ramallah after the demonstration Sunday.
The other members of the group were a legal worker and a photographer from New York and a student from Pittsburth. They said the U.S.-based Palestine Solidarity Committee had helped them contact people in the territories for their fact-finding tour.
A spokesman for the U.S. Consulate confirmed that Israeli authorities confiscated the passports and were still holding them Monday.
Meanwhile, in a new offensive against Palestinian activists in the occupied lands, Israel closed 22 adult education programs in the West Bank on Monday, witnesses said.
The programs, which taught computer programming, mathematics, chemistry and English, were shut down by soldiers in Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian witnesses said.
The action was part of an Israeli effort to stifle the growth of a grass-roots Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories.
Monday’s closures prompted widespread protests in Nablus, where hundreds of Palestinians marched in the city’s open-air market waving outlawed Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israeli slogans, Arab witnesses said.
In the occupied Gaza Strip, meanwhile, an 18-year-old Palestinian died of wounds he received in a clash with Israeli troops last week, his relatives said. More than 250 Palestinians and three Israeli Jews have been killed in the nine-month-old uprising in the occupied territories.