On his third day in the occupied West Bank, Jo Roach was dragged from a home and forced to sit on the ground while six Israeli soldiers pointed rifles at his head.
"I thought it was over," said Roach, a producer at UER radio station. "I said to myself, `This is it. I've made a few friends in my life, chased a few women, and it's all over.' I kept thinking, `What the hell am I doing here? Why did I come?' "Roach was one of 15 people, including five other journalists, who toured the West Bank and Gaza Strip June 14 through July 4.
The trip, organized by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was intended to monitor and document human rights conditions in the territories, where there has been heavy rioting since December. It was also intended to counter the Israeli government's efforts to keep the foreign press out of the area.
"Basically, I witnessed day-to-day, run-of-the-mill harassment. Roadblocks, curfews, brutalization, beatings . . . I saw a little girl get her eye poked out. I saw soldiers invade a school and drag off third-graders," he said.
Roach pulled out a handful of rubber bullets with lead centers he said had been shot at him. He said the country is full of violence, and detailed abuses by Israeli troops he witnessed or heard about.
There is no logic involved, he said. "They just want to intimidate and terrorize the Palestinians until they give up and move away."
He said a 104-year-old woman was beaten as she tried to save a group of children from being tortured, an 18-year-old youth was shot to death, a baby suffocated after his home was invaded with tear gas, an 8-year-old boy's hands and fingers were crushed by the butt of a rifle.
"The soldiers are inescapable. They exercise their authority everywhere. If you looked out the window, you would see (military vehicles) driving by about every 10 minutes."
Roach estimated that there are as many as 25,000 troops in the areas and the Israelis could muster an army of 100,000 on a moment's notice.
Other than having his life threatened and being interrogated by soldiers, Roach said he was not harmed during his visit. "The soldiers wanted to know who I was and if I was helping in the uprising, but that was all."
Some of the families Roach stayed with, however, weren't so lucky. He said the home the soldiers dragged him from on his third day was later ravaged and the family members beaten, apparently in retaliation for being his hosts.
Roach recorded his experiences with a tape recorder he kept in his backpack. He hid the tapes in his dirty laundry.
During his trip, Roach said he learned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is racial, not religious. He said there are no conflicts between the Moslems and Christians, the problem is the Jews consider themselves to be a superior race. He said less than 3 percent of the population supports the radical terrorist groups.
Roach said the Palestinians protest the Israeli occupation "symbolically" by throwing rocks at soldiers or forming roadblocks. He said they have set up committees to oversee education, security, medical aid, food and shelter - services that have been reduced or eliminated during the conflict.
"That's what the Israelis consider to be the real danger, the popular committees. People reasserting their right to basic human rights, to be free to not pay taxes to an authority that represses them and to express themselves on their own land. The Israelis respond by literally cracking heads," he said.
Roach and the other delegates are calling for the end of military aid to the Israelis and for the United States to exert pressure on the Israeli government to stop the human rights violations.