Green Left: Sharon escalates war on Palestinians
Sharon escalates war on Palestinians
BY AHMED NIMER of http://www.greenleft.org.au
RAMALLAH — As the intifada enters its 11th month, the scale of devastation wrought by Israel's war against the Palestinian people has reached levels unparalleled in the 33-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Since the beginning of the year, 141 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers. More than one third of those killed were youths under the age of 18. The total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of the intifada has reached 600 — more than two each day.
On July 30, six activists of Palestinian president Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation were killed in an explosion in a garage near the West Bank's Al-Fara refugee camp, triggered, say Palestinian Authority (PA) security officials, by three Israeli-laid booby-trapped devices.
The next day two more Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip: Hamouda Madhoun, an Islamic Jihad activist, shot dead by the Israeli army at Gaza's Muntar crossing into Israel, and a PA police officer, Mohamed Al-Hani, killed on patrol in the same place.
On the following day in the West Bank city of Nablus, Israel launched three missiles at an apartment block that housed the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Media and Research Centre, a building situated in the heart of a residential area.
Eight Palestinians were killed in the attack, including five Hamas members and two children who were standing on the street outside the building. Twenty-four people were wounded, four so badly that their chances of recovery are “slim”, according to Nablus hospital sources.
Two days later, Israel launched two missiles from US-made Apache helicopters at a car passing through a residential area of Ramallah. The missiles wounded a leading Fatah activist in the car and narrowly missed Fatah's leader in Ramallah, Marwan Bargouthi.
All these attacks are signs of Israel's current strategy against the Palestinian intifada — to assassinate middle-level cadres in organisations active against Israel, particularly Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some elements of Fatah's armed wing. Since the beginning of the intifada, over 60 Palestinians have been assassinated by Israeli forces.
Following the publication of the Mitchell Report in late May, which sought to force both Israel and the PA back to the negotiating table, official Palestinian sources supported more talks and a cessation of hostilities.
Israel realised, however, that the impetus for the intifada came from the Palestinian street and not the Palestinian Authority, and that the Palestinian population was unlikely to accept a return to negotiations without real political gains.
Following a flurry of diplomatic activity, the most high-profile of which was the visit of CIA director George Tenet to the region, Israel placed enormous pressure on the PA to halt the intifada, by arresting activists deemed to be organising it.
But several half-hearted arrests by the PA were met with a clear rejection by ordinary Palestinians. On July 21, the PA's Military Intelligence force arrested four members of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, a grassroots militia made up of armed cadre from Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
In response to the arrests, several hundred supporters marched on the Military Intelligence HQ in Gaza City, and a four-hour street battle ensued between Palestinians from all factions and the authority which claims to represent them.
Opinion polls indicate that a vast majority of the population support continuing the intifada, including armed operations against the Israeli occupation forces.
Faced with Palestinian determination and the clear inability of the PA to take significant action, Israel instead chose to step up its campaign of assassinations and arrests.
The missile attack on the Palestine Media and Research Centre in Nablus indicates a new turn in the Israeli assassination policy, as the intended victims of the attack, Jamal Mansour and Jamal Salim, were acknowledged political leaders of Hamas — and not involved in military activities against the Israeli state.
A massive expression of anger followed the assassination: a two-day commercial strike was strictly observed across the West Bank and over 120,000 residents of Nablus participated in the funerals of those killed.
Israel has since published a “hit-list” of seven men in a thinly veiled threat to kill them should the PA refuse to arrest them. Hundreds of Palestinians, including the seven men, from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah, have been underground for several months because of the threat to their life.
Concurrent with the assassination policy, Israel has escalated its campaign of arrests of Palestinians. Around 3000 Palestinians are incarcerated in Israeli jails as political prisoners, many of them youth accused of involvement in stone-throwing demonstrations, for which they have been sentenced to six months' prison or more.
According to a recent report by the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem, the use of torture against Palestinian youth is widespread. An affidavit from 17-year-old Isma'il Sabatin, who was left hanging in the air with his legs up and his head down, stated, “They removed the chair from under me and left me hanging in the air, with my handcuffed hands holding onto the pipe and the weight of my body hanging in the air, drawing my hands downwards”.
All family visits to Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons have been banned since the beginning of the intifada and in July Israel also banned lawyer visits. The detainees are clearly hostages, held as leverage to demand an end to the uprising.
Simultaneously, Israel continues to strengthen its blockade of Palestinian villages and towns. Travelling between areas now takes several hours — the usual 30-minute trip between Ramallah and Jerusalem can now take up to three hours. In smaller villages the situation is worse, with aid workers reporting that food is scarce and that even the delivery of rice is greeted with celebration.
According to the latest statistics, around 70% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are living below the poverty line (US$2/day), up from 30% prior to the intifada.
On a daily basis, the villages and towns of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are subject to shelling and heavy artillery fire from Israeli tanks and helicopters, destroying infrastructure and killing dozens of civilians.
The current situation has reached a form of deadly stalemate, raising questions about the strategy of the intifada and the possible direction events may take. Although the vast majority of Palestinians favour continuing the struggle against the Israeli occupation, the two major strategies evident on the ground seem inadequate in offering a way forward.
On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority is pushing for a resumption of negotiations based on the findings of the Mitchell Report and the failed Oslo Accords.
Their strategy is to call for international “monitors” which they hope to achieve by playing off Europe and the US against one another. The majority of the Palestinian population is against the resumption of negotiations along the Oslo lines, as the current intifada is largely a result of the failure of negotiations to achieve any form of real justice.
The second strategy, which is widely supported, involves the prioritisation of the armed struggle.
While such actions have largely been undertaken by groups outside the PA, such as the Islamic Jihad who claimed responsibility for the August 9 bombing of a restaurant in Jerusalem, even elements within the ruling Fatah movement support the escalation of the military component of the struggle.
Following the assassinations in Nablus, Husam Khader, a popular local Fatah leader, blasted the the PA leadership for failing to provide “real protection of our people who are being killed and maimed round-the-clock”.
Khader stated in an interview with Arab satellite television: “We have 70,000 guns in storage under PA disposal, my question to Abu Ammar [Arafat] is why we don't use them to defend ourselves ... Should we wait until they [the Israelis] liquidate half our people.”
However the militarisation of the intifada has lessened its mass, grassroots character, reducing the role of the population to waiting expectantly for guerilla attacks against Israeli targets and then bracing for the inevitable Israeli response.
The leaders of the armed militias responsible for these attacks explain that they must make the West Bank and Gaza Strip “ungovernable”, and that ordinary Israelis must feel fear in the same way that Palestinians do on a daily basis.
However, it is also clear that Israel's strategy of arrest and assassination is becoming more effective in preventing armed actions. If Israel is successful in disabling the armed wing of the intifada, then a return to negotiations seems likely.
In recent weeks, calls for massive Israeli military attacks against Palestinian areas, with the aim of toppling the Palestinian Authority, have been heard from within the Israeli government. Several major news agencies have reported a “secret” military plan that outlined an invasion of Palestinian Authority areas.
At the same time, some elements from the Israeli Labor Party have raised the question of renewing political negotiations with the Palestinian leadership before a complete halt to the intifada — a precondition set by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
While Sharon is well-known for his warlike stance, it is unlikely that a full-scale military conflict with the Palestinians would suit Israeli interests at this time.
It seems the US is also against such a course of action, as it fears the popular response throughout the Arab world, particularly in Jordan and Egypt where demonstrations have been banned by nervous regimes.
However, as long as the current stalemate continues, the likelihood of an escalation of military conflict increases. The possibility of a short-term Israeli invasion of Palestinian-populated areas with the aim of killing and arresting key intifada activists is not impossible.
Israel's war against the Palestinian people is moving ahead full-steam, and international solidarity with the Palestinian people that demands an end to the Israeli occupation is an urgent necessity.
- republished from http://www.greenleft.org.au with permission.