Briefing Paper July 2002
Palestine’s War of Independence
Right now , I’ve seen no evidence of mass graves [in Jenin] and I’ve seen no evidence that would suggest that a massacre took place. Clearly, people died in Jenin, people who were terrorists died in Jenin and in the prosecution of that battle innocent lives may well have been lost
[Colin Powell testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations]
Essentially, any man with a gun defending his home in a refugee camp is now reduced by Powell to being a terrorist.
Middle East International 3 May 2002
Does Sharon have an end-game ? Is there a strategy? Well, anyone who trawls the various articles which e mail their way through the ether, in ever copious amounts, starts to see a glimmer of Sharon’s purpose. And, there are no doubt those who would regard this glimmer as glaringly obvious.
Helped along by one reply from my own Westminster parliamentary representative – who views the events in occupied
Palestine in terms of “terrorism”, not territory, who seems to think that the UK media is biased in favour of the Palestinian – I think we can say that Sharon has had a degree of success in having the Palestinian legitimate struggle resurrected as a terrorist entity. In addition, where previously it was Israel’s right-wing lunatic fringe that called for the “transfer” of Palestinians from their land, this call for ethnic cleansing has become respectable, if not fashionable, amongst the mainstream Israeli politicians and their supporters.
Israel left a story in every Palestinian home.
Ibtisam Khalili, Nablus
Previously the report of an F-16 fighter plane attacking civilian areas was greeted by the international community with indignation and disbelief. Now it is now the norm. Along with tanks, Apache helicopters, missiles and bulldozers.
At the beginning of May, Sharon’s dogs of war were poised to enter the Gaza Strip and do a repeat performance of the military skills, so much admired by the majority of the Israeli public, the consequences of which were to be found in Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus (by the time Israel’s “Defence Forces” reached Nablus, the world’s media had already become inured to the apparent insatiable appetite of the occupiers for killing and destruction – so Nablus rarely featured.). And what was the reaction of the world to a possible blood-bath in the ghettoised Gaza Strip? A flurry of diplomatic activity, threats of international sanctions against Israel, condemnation of Israel? Certainly not. The inevitable was accepted as being the inevitable. It was only a matter of time.
And if Palestinian civilians died in the onslaught, who were to blame? The Palestinians of course. Just as in Beirut in 1982, the Israeli attacking forces blamed the civilian casualties on the Palestinian fighters basing themselves in the populated areas, so the blame was put on the fighters in the West Bank towns, villages and refugee camps.
If, the Israeli mantra intoned, the fighters fought in the villages and the camps then blame them for the casualties. Little matter that the fighters were of the people, fighting for their own homes. Little matter that the years following Oslo had ghettoised the Palestinian population thus forcing them to defend themselves from within population centres.
When it came to Yasser Arafat under siege in Ramallah and the those under siege in Bethlehems’ Church of the Nativity, Britain and the EU found it easier to side with Sharon, breach international law, rather than make an effort to enforce it.
The 24 hour “security courts” of the Palestinian Authority have long been criticised by governments and human rights bodies. Yet, with the judicial infrastructure in Arafat’s besieged compound reduced to a half-dead mobile phone, the results of this one kangarro court saw the four alleged killers of Israel’s tourism minister, together with the political head of the PFLP, whisked off to Jericho under the watchful eye of British jailers.
Sharon’s Zionist agenda was further enforced when the Palestinian fighters trapped in the Church of the Nativity were exiled from their family, homes and land – either to the Gaza Strip or various Eurpean destination. Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, attempted a fig leaf of legitimacy when he claimed that they had “voluntarily” agreed to submit to this piece of ethnic cleansing. This despite the fact that the whole world was witness to the hostility and coercion to which they were subjected.
Then, by the end of May, events in occupied Palestine had all but disappeared from the news with even the civilian carnage reaped by suicide bombers soon relegated to third or fourth item in the news, or relegated to the inner pages. However Sharon and his occupying forces were not resting. With no prior announcement, the West Bank was split into 8 cantons (the Gaza Strip was split into four parts ), with passes required by the Palestinians under occupation to gain exit from one Batustan and entrance into another. Transporting of goods promised to be a nightmare with goods for one canton,off-loaded on to another vehicle before being allowed to continue to the final destination. The humiliation, uncertainty and extreme danger at checkpoints promised to be a continuing feature of Palestinian life. Would you get to work, to hospital, to school? Over and above this individual towns and villages continued to be cut off by trenches, earth mounds, carved-up roads. Would the water trucks get through to the outlying villages, how long would it take to complete a normal 10 minute journey?
And, the incursions of the occupation forces – with their tanks and helicopter gunships – into towns and villages continued, sometimes more than once a day, with no attempt to distinguish between the areas A,B and C. The results of the Oslo Accords were now well and truly defunct.
Death, injury and destruction, laced with fear and terror as to what the next day would bring, continued to be the lot of the Palestinian under occupation. Land continued to be confiscated, houses demolished to further the dreams and desires of the occupier. And, in an attempt to satisfy the security demands of the settlers, to isolate the occupied from the occupier, a programme of wall building and fencev erection was instituted -ethnic cleansing by attrition
As one observer commented, Sharon’s strategy was one of ethnic cleansing by attrition. Make life so unbearable that you want to leave. Day-to-day survival, hand-to-mouth existence mean that “esoteric” concerns such as Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return rarely feature – or so the occupier hopes.
At the political level the occupied and the occupier appeared to be in conjunction with the demand for greater accountability from Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. For long enough many Palestinians had called for a root and branch overall of the Palestinian Authority, those in the vanguard calling for reforms included elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. They were never successful, in part, it can be argued, because it suited the the United States and Israel for the status quo to continue. After all, the CIA were already ensconced within the workings of the Authority, there was security cooperation between the occupiers and the Palestinian entity.
However, with the occupier and the US trying to avoid dealing with Arafat, it was now respectable to call for reform within the Palestinian Authority. Whether this will mean genuine reforms or merely an attempt to install a Palestinian Quisling who Israel and the US hope will do their bidding remains to be seen.
This all coincided with much talk of a peace talks. What type of peace envisaged remains to be seen. Certainly, with Ariel Sharon at the helm, not one which encompasses the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.
However, when the Likud Party faithful rejected Ariel Sharon and his austerity budget, when they rejected any notion of a Palestinian State, Sharon was made to look like a moderate!! The Israeli political scene is indeed a fickle affair, not that this comment only applies to Israel and its political machinations. The European Union contributed in its own way. This happened when the EU acted as a facilitator to bring an end to Arafat’s isolation and the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In the case of the former, the four alleged killers of the Israeli tourism minister, the head of the PFLP and the individual alleged to be central to an alleged arms smuggling operation were all incarcerated in Jericho, under the guard of UK nationals and others. Given that the four were tried under the Palestinian Authority’s much criticised security court (with a half dead mobile phone the only item of judicial infrastructure), that the other two had not even be “tried” – the only conclusion possible is that it its rush to appease the occupier, the UK government was only too keen to ignore basic human rights.
As regards the removing the fighters in the Church of the Nativity from their families, sending them into exile (the Gaza Strip or Europe), this act not only contravenes many an international convention, but denies Palestinian history and experience – no Palestinian leaves his or her land voluntarily. That Jack Straw, the UK foreign secretary, should argue that the fighters “voluntarily” went into exile is an insult to those throughout the world who witnessed the coercion and pressure evident throughout the siege. The EU was, yet again, appeasing the occupier and collaborating in an act of ethnic cleansing – which has always been central to Sharon’s agenda.
The withdrawal of the occupation forces did not last for long. With the failure of “Operation Defensive Shield” and the renewed suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians, Israeli occupation forces re-entered Palestinian population centres at will – accompanied by tanks, bulldozers, helicopter gunships. They would enter areas, leave, then enter again within a few hours. Each time the civilian population was curfewed, terrorised with a trail of death and injury. Then, in the third week of June, another suicide bomb blast led to a change in strategy. Re-occupy and remain in selected areas every time an attack is carried out – although it was stressed that the Israeli authorities were not planning to take the responsibility of running the Palestinian day-to-day affairs by re-constituting the now defunct “Civil Administration.” In Jenin, the favoured location for constant occupation and re-occupation, four young children, the youngest 6 years, out playing on their bikes during what was thought to be a break in the curfew, were shredded by tank fire. Many observers attributed this act of murder as an act of revenge on the part of the Middle East’s much vaunted democracy.
In the last week of June, President Bush made his long awaited public statement of intent with regard to Palestine. Those who follow the pronouncements of Ariel Sharon could have scripted Bush’s speech. The problem was, of course, not an illegal occupation, not even terrorism per se. It was Arafat. The Palestinian people must get rid of Arafat. While the Palestinian people have long been critical of Arafat’s stewardship, any replacement for Arafat would be expected to offer a strategy which would bring about liberation. Not, as Bush and Sharon wanted, a Palestinian Quisling government. To its credit, the UK distanced itself from Bush’s stance, acknowledging that the Palestinian people have a right to choose their own representative.
Then, as June was drawing to a close, Arafat announced that elections would take place in January. Just how the democratic process would function with the West Bank, for example, split into over 260 sub-enclaves with razor wire barriers, walls, ditches totally disrupting any semblance of normal life, was not explained.
the plan aims to transform the West bank into a mass prison with Israel controlling the borders and dividing the West Bank into cantons or what is called “population centres” totally isolated from one another under Israeli control and siege”
Hanan Ashrawi, The Jerusalem Times(24/5/02)
On the 5th, in contravention of an earlier Israeli court ruling, Israeli bulldozers accompanied by tanks and troops, razed vast tracts of land between Khan Younis and Rafah in the Gaza Strip, This is in preparation for the construction of a bridge for the benefit the Gush Katif settlement. 200 hectares of Palestinian land are under threat. On the 6th, bulldozers of the West Jerusalem municipality demolished two buildings in Silwan, East Jerusalem, belonging to the Abed Ghanem and Abu Sbeih families – under the watchful eye of the occupation forces.
Into the second week, construction of the wall between Bethlehem and south Jerusalem continued (with an IDF road adjacent). A wall designed to separate Jerusalem from Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, estimated at 4km long, continued. A two and a half barbed wire fence, to the north of Bethlehem was completed. The Land Defence
Committee of Ramallah claimed that 5000 hectares of land belonging to the residents of al Bireh, Ramallah and Nablus districts had, with help of the occupation forces, been seized. This, together with a start on the construction of a fence to separate Ramallah from Nablus, will link the settlements of Shilo, Ma’ale Libona and Ariel – a further step in the cantonisation of Palestinian land.
On the 20th, work started on the construction of a 6 metre high wall around Qalqilia. This monstrosity will separate this West Bank city from surrounding areas, with the aim of preventing the use of back roads to leave or enter the city. Two days later, 30 year old Mahmoud Al Diti, leader of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, two of his friends and a passerby were blown to bits as they sat on the cemetry wall of Balata refugee camp, nablus. One source said the missile came from a helicopter gunship. In a stark reminder of the reality of occupation, another source said it came from a military site established at the top of nearby Mount Jerzim, which overlooks Balata. Revenge was quick to follow with a suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Rishon Letzion.
Further house demolition took place on the 21st. This time in the al Ashqareya neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, East Jerulaem. Three Palestinian family homes were demolished, even although fines had already been paid in lieu of demolition.
Reports of the ill treatment and torture of an estimated 6000 Palestinian detainees were recorded by human rights organisations. Overcrowded, filthy conditions, no access to health care, to lawyers or family featured. Torture included sleep deprivation for hours on end, the use of the shabeh (an awkwardly constructed chair to which the victim is firmly strapped, once aagain for hours on end) – all practices which have been outlawed, in theory, by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Every revolution has its fighters, thinkers and profiteers. Our fighters have been killed, our thinkers assassinated, and all we have left are the profiteers
A Palestinian resistance fighter, quoted in “Shameless in Gaza”
by David HirstView all →