April 25, 2002

Area Residents Return From Middle East

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Two Ithaca activists, Grace Ritter, a student at Ithaca College and Audrey Stewart, a resident of Ithaca, volunteered at Jenin, a Palestinian camp in the West Bank, on April 6. Scott Schaeffer-Duffy of the Therese Catholic Worker House of Worchester, Mass. and Jeff Guntzel and Kathy Kelly, both of Voices in the Wilderness of Chicago, Ill., also traveled with them. According to Ritter, the two worked to provide relief for Palestinian refugees.

On April 22, Ritter and Stewart parted ways, Stewart remaining in Israel while Ritter returned to attend the protests that occurred in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

“Most of the Palestinians that I talked to felt very isolated,” Ritter said in an interview with The Sun. “They felt that the rest of the world wasn’t hearing what was happening to them and didn’t really care either. There was a lot of hopelessness.”


On April 14, Ritter participated in a rally in Jenin, a refugee camp on the eastern edge of the West Bank that had been blocked off by the Israeli military, who alleged that there were terrorists in the camps. At least 2,000 people, including Israeli peace activists, Arab-Israelis and international activists attended. The rally resulted in thirty truckloads of food and medical items being admitted into Jenin.

“There were certain times that we were told by the media, international activists and the [Israeli] military that there was no way we could go to Jenin or any of that,” said Ritter. “It was an amazing experience to have the faith to get in.”

She also said she felt the conditions inside Jenin were inhumane. “Seeing eight hundred people who were refugees from a refugee camp, and generations of people who had grown up in this camp, and people were being thrown out of there, children were burying their families, it was outrageous.” Stewart had equally bleak descriptions.

“As we walked around the camp. people were finally venturing out of their houses against the curfew to begin burying the dead,” she wrote in an e-mail. “When we arrived a mass grave had been dug and people were bringing bodies in on stretchers. We saw one young boy about ten or eleven helping to carry a stretcher with his dead family member on it.”

While Ritter acknowledged the complexity of the situation, she claimed that the Israeli actions did not seem to be in the best interest of peace: “Everyone said Jenin is mostly filled with terrorists. For every one of the terrorists killed at the camp, at least five must have been created because of the hatred there.”

Ritter said this point was driven home for her with an experience she had hitchhiking. A Palestinian man and his son picked Ritter up, and the son told her what he thought of Israel. The son told her “how much he hated Israelis because they came in with tanks and killed people he knew.” His father said “This is the worst thing. I don’t want my son to grow up hating anyone.”

Ritter suggested the best solution to the creation of a separate Palestinian state: “Israel has a right to exist, but they can’t be a secure place without withdrawing from the occupied territories.”

After returning from Israel, Ritter traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the protests. She expressed amazement at the amount of support for Palestine at the rally. “I knew that there was going to be a portion of the protest devoted to Palestinian solidarity,” she explained. “When I got there, I was amazed at how many people were there to support that cause. There were reports of there being 150,000 people there, about half of whom were there to support Palestinians.”

Ritter was, however, more critical of the actions that the U.S. government has taken, which she called “too little too late.”

Reaction to the events in Israel on the Cornell campus has been mixed.

“I personally support whatever it takes for peace,” stated Mike Moschella ’02, president of Cornell Democrats. “I think that there must be more diplomacy and involvement on the United States’s behalf.”

Abby Kornfeld ’02, president of Hillel, a Jewish student group said, “I think that there is a need for a Palestinian state. However, as much as I support that, I also think that there is a need for a safe and secure Jewish state. I think Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s actions were justified.”

There will be a rally in support of Israel on noon this Monday on Ho Plaza.

Archived article by David Hillis