The election of  Mahmoud Abbas as new Palestinian Prime Minister with wide powers is not only a defeat for Chairman Arafat who wanted a Prime Minister with limited authority. By removing an important obstacle according to the U.S., it should also lead to Palestinian statehood and put a stop to a systematic and brutal policy of intimidation of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government. These policies -which have increased in intensity since the last Intifada- have had a serious negative impact on Palestinians' health and quality of life, and will have serious consequences for the moral character of the State of Israel itself.

Systematic home demolitions, severe travel restrictions, curfews and blockading of towns are cruel occupation policies aimed at intimidating Palestinians and making them leave their lands. Since the start of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands over 10,000 homes have been demolished, only 500 of which have been of people accused of security offenses.

Israeli soldiers are now demolishing whole towns and subdivisions. This is the case of Nazlat Issa in the West Bank and Raffah in Gaza. Demolitions are also carried out in Israel itself, such as a housing development in the Palestinian town of Kufer Kassem, which was raised last week. The only accusation against the homeowners is that they lacked a building permit, which is unattainable.

In many cases, several homes have been rebuilt with the help of Israelis appalled at the behavior of their own government only to be destroyed again, sometimes three or four times. As Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has stated, "The bulldozer has become as much a symbol of Israel's Occupation as the rifle and the tank."  In addition, the Israeli government has spent over three billion dollars in the construction of highways and security roads -which cannot be used by the Palestinians. As a result, the occupied territories have turned into virtual prisons for the ordinary Palestinians.

To make their life even more difficult, since 1967 over 500,000 olive trees -the main source of income for thousands of families-- have been uprooted by the Israeli army. Presently, 80 percent of the West Bank water goes into Israel and the settlements. Palestinians cannot drill for water without Israeli permission and they are not even allowed to build reservoirs to collect rain water. These systematic policies of intimidation have resulted in that,  in the last two years of the Intifada, between 150,000 and 250,000 Palestinians have been terrorized into leaving their homes.

Palestinian children's health status has been particularly affected, particularly following the Al Aqsa Intifada which started in September 2000. Children have not only suffered the direct effects of Israel Defence Forces (IDF)'s violence but they have also been affected by collective punishment measures and by the continuing occupation of Palestinian towns. UNICEF has repeatedly called for the full co-operation of Israeli authorities in ending the curfews and guaranteeing women and children safe access to water, food, health and education.

According to the Palestine section of Defence for Children International, over 310 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces from September 2000 until the end of July 2002, over 7,000 have been injured, and more than 1,400 children have been arrested during this last Intifada.  Not only Palestinian children are victims. Last October, Amnesty International warned that both Israeli and Palestinian children bear the brunt of the conflict and stated, "Both the Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian armed groups  show an utter disregard for the lives of children and other civilians." More than 70 Israeli children have died in the current Intifada, mostly through suicide bombings. Israeli women have been particularly active in denouncing abuses against Palestinians.  Gila Svirsky, from the Coalition of Women for Peace recently stated, "The Israeli government brutal policies only create more bitterness and desire for revenge. How do we get the message across to Israelis that the government is undermining our security in the territories with each act of humiliation and cruelty? How do we convey to them that we are behaving in some ways like the persecutors of Jews have behaved from time immemorial?" 

Dr. César Chelala, an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights, writes extensively on foreign affairs and human rights issues.