Briefing Paper April 2001
The election of Ariel Sharon was the logical conclusion of a creeping coup d’etat he started in September 2000. In a normal healthy society he would have been consigned to political oblivion many years ago. But because Israel is a society where army generals are revered, extolled, and recycled, it was quite natural for Sharon to ascend to the highest office in the land. . . . . Although he enjoys absolutely no respect or admiration across the region, Ariel Sharon’s election to the premiership must be seen as a significant development. It is important because he represents and symbolises a school of thought that is obsolete, inhuman and diabolical.
Return Review, March 2001
With few people, with a knowledge of Sharon, prepared to dispute the above observations and with the international community keeping typically mute with regard to their concerns over the possible direction of the Israeli state, and its impact on an increasingly desperate Palestinian population under occupation, Ariel Sharon was handed the reins of power.
His first action was to attend to the needs of his American constituency in an attempt to negate any possible downturn in US support for Israel. Concurrently he set about cobbling together a cabinet ranging from those on the extreme racist right to the first Palestinian/Israeli Arab ever to sit on a Knesset Cabinet.
The election of Sharon to power coincided with the rise of spontaneous armed resistance in the occupied territories, with random attacks by armed guerillas on Israeli civilians – not just settlers and soldiers -and the killing of alleged collaborators. With the exception of education and health, the authority of the Palestinian Authority was virtually nonexistent. Over an above the inability to control the armed elements which were surfacing, the PNA was unable to assist those affected by the Israeli sieges, seizure of land and the chronic poverty suffered by an increasing number. One strain of thought argued that with Israel not caring if the PNA collapsed or not, and Arafat not caring if the Israelis succeeded in bringing this about then Arafat was basically telling the Israelis, ‘You created this shit. You clear it up. I’m not going to do your dirty work any more.’
Khalil Shiqaqi, Palestinian analyst (MEI 23/2/2001)
At the first meeting since the start of the intifada on Sept 29, the 6th session of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) convened on 10 March with Yasser Arafat offering to resume peace talks on the basis of UN Res 242, 338 and 194. The meeting, attended by 66 out of 88 members of the PLC (the occupation authorities refused the others travelling permits) coincided with newly elected Sharon demanding an end to the intifada for a return to negotiations. The Palestinian response was articulated by Fatah’s Marawan Barghouti, ‘We are ready to stop the Intifada tomorrow if Israeli is willing to withdraw from the Palestinian territories. But not to stop the Intifada for lifting the siege.’
Business as usual
On the 5th the shooting dead of an Israeli soldier near Rafah, resulted in the bombardment of residential areas in Rafah, the closure of the crossing point and of Gaza Airport. On top of this, the residents of 4 major refugee camps continued to suffer a power cut due to Israeli refusal to effect essential repairs. The election of Sharon to power on the 6th was met by two “days of rage” in occupied Palestine – with a botched car bomb attack in West Jerusalem and the killing of a settler outside Jerusalem being met by an increased stranglehold in the territories, trenches being dug to further cut off Palestinian population centres and tanks sent to the border with Lebanon. The following day over 30 Palestinians were injured in confrontations. The occupation forces carried out night time bombardment of residential areas in al Bireh, Hebron and Gaza – causing extensive damage and wounding several people.
Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip bore the brunt, with the occupation forces devastating yet more land to keep the refugee camp further away from the Neve Dekhalim settlement. Thirty Palestinian homes were left ablaze, over 100 Palestinians were hospitalised including 40 suffering from a previously unknown virulent, if not toxic, strain of tear gas.
On the 9th, 22 Palestinian families in the Mowasi area in the Gaza Strip were given 24 hours to quit their homes. The order was backed up a heavy troop presence backed by bulldozers. The pretext was the need for the occupation authorities to build a road connecting a military base to the settlement of Tel Ridan.
On the 13th Israeli helicopters targeted and assassinated Mas’ud Ayyad, a colonel in Arafat’s presidential guard. The next day a Palestinian naval officer was killed by Israeli forces outside Tulkarem. On the same day a “trusty” Palestinian bus driver rammed his vehicle into a crowded bus stop, south of Tel Aviv leaving 8 Israelis (4 women soldiers included) dead. The occupation authorities then reimposed a total blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, prevented Palestinian VIP travel and halted the import of cooking fuel into the Palestinian areas. There then followed clashes and shelling of Bethlehem (following the death of a settler), bombardment of Beit Jala, Aida refugee camp, al Khader, al Bireh.
On the 18th, 30 Palestinians were injured in clashes in Hebron. Bombardment of residential areas followed. On the Hebron-Jerusalem road the home of one resident of the village of Beit Ummar was demolished. Another suffered the same fate in nearby Arroub refugee camp. The following day a missile caused terror amongs the pupils of a school for blind children in al Bireh. In the ensuing panic, children were falling over each other. Hamas activist, Mahmoud Madani, was targeted and killed by the occupation forces. Hundreds of occupation troops raided the Jerusalem village of Shufat and arrested seven Palestinian youths. No explanation was given. It was reported that Jarzeem Mountain was being transformed into a military outpost which would dominate the Nablus area. Rich in archaeological remains and heritage, particularly in relation to the Samarians who have lived there for thousands of years, the whole area was being disfigured by land being levelled and a moat being constructed.
Settler Yoram Skolnick who, seven years ago shot dead Mousa Abu Subha as he lay bound and blindfolded in an Israeli jeep, was released from prison. Former Israeli President, Ezer Weizman, had already commuted the sentence twice – to 15 then to 11 years. The High Court then rejected a petition from an Israeli human rights group that the release should be halted.
During the last week of February, the Gaza Strip was once again bisected, cutting off the north from the south, with tanks at Gaza City. One commentator spoke of Gaza being back in the Stone Age with residents being forced to walk along the beach to by-pass Israeli blockades, with donkey and cart being a favoured medium of transport. Deir al Balah and Beit Lahi were bombarded, destroying the HQ of the Palestinian security forces.
On the 23rd, Raed Mousa,21, from al Khader was shot dead during clashes. The PLO offices in al Bireh were under fire. Nablus came under a blockade. On the 25th two settlers were shot and injured near Ramallah. The response was to place the nearby villages of Birzeit, Atara and Bano Zeid under siege.
At the end of the month the results of an opinion poll carried out in the West bank and Gaza Strip made interesting reading. 73% noted a decline in their incomes since the intifada started last September. 75% admitted to suffering “psychological and emotional difficulties” with 69% of the children experiencing emotional trauma” If presidential elections had to take place only 28% would vote for Arafat (125 for Sheikh Yasin, the leader of Hamas). 53 % supported suicide and other attacks against civilians in Israeli cities. There was evidence of a flow of support towards the Islamist bodies such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
With Israel openly vowing to “crush” the intifada in order to “restore personal security to the Israeli people” and those under occupation equally determined to keep going until “liberation and independence” the cycle of resistance, violence and retaliation continued.
On the 4th a suicide bomber killed himself and three Israelis (with scores injured) in the heart of the Israeli town of Netanya. This followed the death of seven Palestinian civilians, including a woman and a child, days earlier by Israeli snipers. The previous day 43 year old Aida Musa was shot dead by indiscriminate sniper fire as she returned from the shops. The shooting came from the settlement of Pisagot near Ramallah. Another Palestinian, from Jenin, was shot dead on the 5th, bringing the number killed by the occupation forces since Sharon was elected to power to 25. This was followed by a settler leader urging the assassination of Yasser Arafat “because he is our enemy. . and in war enemies must be killed” This blatant call for the murder of Arafat attracted little condemnation from Israeli politicians or commentators.
Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah was prevented from entering the village of Ein Areek, near Ramallah, from celebrating mass. It was never revealed whether this attempt by a priest to offer spiritual comfort to members of his congregation is now subsumed under Sharon’s cry of “terrorism”. It was, however, clear that the Patriarch’s diplomatic passport issued by the Vatican, his VIP status issued by the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, was one of the many casualties of the occupation forces contempt for the rights of others.
On the morning of the 8th, residents of Ramallah wakened to the sight of tanks on a hilltop overlooking their town. The newly rebuilt (only possible with aid from donor countries) main road into the town had two deep trenches cut across it. This act of destruction not only, effectively, placed Ramallah under siege but it cut off 33 villages from their only connection with the outside world. In the process the 8 000 students of Birzeit University were cut off from their studies. Hitherto the students from the University had remained faithful to their studies, with few participating in the intifada. Whether this act will serve to radicalise them (perhaps this was even part of the raison d’etre of isolating the University) only time will tell.
Amnesty International reported sharply deteriorating conditions of Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody, with numbers now totalling 2 000 (a 25% increase since the start of the intifada). Prisons have been extended using tents to receive about 600 new prisoners, including many children. Raids on homes have used excessive violence with armed force, dogs and helicopters in regular use. Terrified residents have had their furniture destroyed. Those arrested are usually forced to strip while family members are forced outside in to the Palestinian winter and regularly beaten. Interrogation techniques regularly ignore the Israeli Supreme Court injunction of 1999 which bans torture. Interrogation sessions are extremely long – 50 days is not unknown – with access to lawyers denied for weeks on end. Family visits have to meet strict criteria which often means that such visits do not take place.
By mid-February losses to the Palestinian economy were estimated at over $3 billion. A halt on trade has drastically reduced revenue from tax and customs. Heavy losses were reported in the garment, gold trading, furnitur, car and home appliances sectors. Restrictions on entry of raw materials has led to a decline in manufacturing. Fines for breach of contracts and late delivery were mounting daily. Total cost of tres destroyed was estimated at $83 million. In October, alone, 30% of agricultural produce was spoiled due to occupation practices at checkpoints or by inability to transport the crops to market. The inability to tend the fields, spray crops etc, the forced grounding of fishing boats due to occupation restrictions and on people failing to reach their place of work all had their affect.
Tourism and related sectors was heaviest hit. In Bethlehem the Solomon Pools Convention and Exhibition Centre under construction as part of the Bethlehem 2000 Project and funded by a variety of international contributors was badly damaged by the fire power of the occupation forcs. Hardly a military target, even by Israeli definitions of the word, this attack on the economic infrastructure of an emerging and, it has to be noted, competing state was repeated elsewhere with dire economic consequences.
Work on Gaza Harbour was forced to stop. Apart from lost employment opportunities, daily compensation costs of $420 000 could be levied by the construction companies. Likewise the 30% US owned Palestine Electric Company faces demands of $1million from its US partner for every month behind schedule. In addition, Israel refuses to release generation equipment held at Ashdod and storage fees are being demanded. In Jenin scores of factories/workshops in the car repair, wood, stone and tile sectors have been forced to close down. The pharmaceutical industry has been adversely affected by the decline in consumer purchase power and the proximity of some factories to armed clashes “hot spots”.
The European Union had sent a delegation to examine PNA budget planning. It was observed the the EU, which is a substantial contributor to keeping the PNA afloat, cannot bankroll the Authority indefinitely, in the absence of properly managed budgets.View all →