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Middle East: medical practitioner reports from Ramallah on extent of destruction caused by Israeli troops.



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JOHN HIGHFIELD: As Peter Cave told us earlier, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has been telling US television networks that Israel cannot guarantee that Mr Arafat might have the right of return to the West Bank if he chooses to travel abroad now he’s been released. The Israeli leader said Mr Arafat would then wage further terror on Israel from abroad if he goes away, and he hinted that the Palestinian leader might not be allowed to return at all. Mr Sharon also lashed out at the United Nations, accusing it of being very biased towards the Palestinians and overlooking Israel’s concern.

 

There is certainly substantial evidence that the Palestinians are now getting a lot of international support, particularly from Europe and other places like Australia. Earlier this morning, for instance, I spoke to an Australian who is in Yasser Arafat’s compound. I spoke to Peter Breckinridge in Ramallah.

 

PETER BRECKINRIDGE: Most people have been held up here for about a month. I was only here for 11 days. There is a wonderful sense of spirit here in the Palestinian people and this is what Sharon was trying to break. He’s destroyed everything else in this country but he hasn’t destroyed that. These people just want a country, you know, the international community can support the Palestinian state 100 per cent—and that means America controlling Israel. The vibrance here—there is so much joy so it is a wonderful moment for them to be free.

 

JOHN HIGHFIELD: It is just the start though, isn’t it, of a very long process of getting things even just back to normal for everyday life?

 

PETER BRECKINRIDGE: Well, exactly, it is going to take years. All the infrastructure here has been destroyed. Everyone—friends, relatives, everyone is grieving. I am actually standing here now looking at candles lit on the ground where a soldier was killed by the Israelis. Looking at this tragedy—it is a tragedy; it’s horrendous. They just want a state. They want a state to live in. They want to live side by side by Israel, to visit their friends in Israel, and they do have a lot of friends. They are not angry. They don’t hate Israelis—they hate the Israeli regime; they are very angry about that.

 

JOHN HIGHFIELD: When you say that they don’t hate the Israelis and they want to live alongside them, obviously there are militants within the Palestinian groupings that do hate Israel and they do want to attack. We’ve seen the suicide bombers and so on.

 

PETER BRECKINRIDGE: There are extreme circumstances that people live under with so much tragedy and death and humiliation for so many years. Yes, some people have become more of the extreme side. But this is a message for the world, this is a message to Israel that they can’t keep treating people like this, that they must do something, they must create a Palestinian state. Sharon is not a man of peace and he’s done everything to start this intifada. He has broken all the agreements. The Israelis have broken all the agreements. They got rid of Rabin who was the last real man of peace. Extremists, whatever you want to call them, they are only a small minority but, I tell you, they will get bigger and they will get stronger if a Palestinian state isn’t created. And so they should resist and that gives them their strength and the world needs to know what is going on here and not believe the lies of the Israeli government, which basically Sharon does not want to give up this land. This is the point and this is why he instigated for this intifada to start. He set war on the Palestinians. He dismantled any agreement they had. He doesn’t want to make peace with them. He doesn’t want the creation of a Palestinian state and that really needs to be acknowledged.

 

JOHN HIGHFIELD: I can hear people cheering behind you there. They are obviously quite exuberant.

 

PETER BRECKINRIDGE: Yes, they are and they have been singing and clapping—smiling faces and Palestinian flags. Such beautiful, giving people; just incredible for me to see this.

 

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Peter Breckinridge is an Australian medical practitioner, and he was speaking to us from Ramallah, just outside Yasser Arafat’s compound, as people celebrated as the Israeli tanks started to move away.