Briefing Paper October 2002

All we did was remove a few jeeps from the streets of Bethlehem. Our forces are encircling the city tightly.

So spoke Ariel Sharon, at one stroke demolishing any optimism that the “Gaza-Bethlehem First” agreement was of any significance while, at the same time, appeasing the adherents to the pro-settler National Religious Party which threatened to pull out of his coalition government.
Not that the signing of an agreement was ever a deterrent to Ariel Sharon from pursuing his murderous intentions. As some jeeps disappeared round a Bethlehem corner, Tulkarm Refugee Camp was guest to an onslaught from the occupation forces on 19th August. Backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, houses were raided amid intensive gunfire in this very densely populated area. One Palestinian casualty resulted from an attempt at resisting the invasion.

This was shortly followed by a death squad killing the brother of the imprisoned brother of PFLP leader, Muhammad Sa’dat. An insignificant player in the Palestinian political theatre, his murder was seen as a provocation.

Raids on Palestinian towns continued. On the 26th, Salfit was overrun, homes demolished and another half dozen added to the estimated 8 000 incarcerated in Israeli detention centres. Jenin and its ground zero refugee camp was revisited on the 27th, with more homes bulldozed. An alleged Hamas activist was arrested on the charge of masterminding attacks against Israeli troops during the original invasion.

With Israel stepping up the propaganda, as well as the military onslaught, the Palestinians were subject to a racist onslaught, this time from Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF’s new chief of staff. He branded the Palestinians as a “malignant cancer” with “terror groups” threatening Israel’s very existence and “chemotherapy” the answer. A strange situation, underlined by the comment from Saeb Erekat

How could a tormented civilian population struggling to maintain its own physical survival pose a threat to a nuclear power which is backed by the greatest power on earth?

Between the 1st August and 1st September the occupation forces had killed 39 Palestinian civilians, including 7 children and 15 teenagers. Even Israeli president, Mosh Katsav, accused the Israeli soldiers of being “trigger-happy”, commenting that soldiers were killing Palestinian civilians blithely.

In the first week of  September, the occupation continued on its murderous path, with the murder – in cold blood –  of four Palestinian labourers drawing particular attention. Brothers Hussam and Hisham Halikeh, together with two cousins, were shot dead by occupation forces after being forcibly taken from a field to the privacy of a local quarry. On the same day, 1st September,Abdel Kareem al-Saadeh, the 16 year old son of an alleged Islamic Jihad leader, was shot dead. Five people were killed in the village of Tubas when 2 missiles were fired at an alleged activis’ts car. “Collateral damage” included two teenagers standing nearby  and a 9 year old boy, a 10 year old girl resident in the house which was struck by the second missile.

The brother and sister of Ali Adjuri, alleged leader of the Al Aqsa Brigade and held responsible for organising attacks against soldiers and Israeli civilians, were deported to the Gaza Strip. Blindfolded and handcuffed, the pair were taken by a tank to Netzarim settlement and dumped in a field and ordered to move if they did not want to be shot. Denied a trial, where their guilt or innocence could be proven, the act of deportation (for 2 years – initially) was one of collective punishment and a gross violation of human rights.

Later in the week a mother and her 2 sons were literally speared to death by flechettes, small darts fired from tank missiles, while they slept outside their house in the Gaza Strip. These actions galavanised sections of the Israeli media into questioning the actions of the occupation forces.. The pernicious and unremitting aspect of the occupation continued when settlers from the Elad movement forced a Palestinian family from their house in the Jabal el-Mukaber area of East Jerusalem, with the intention of establishing yet another settler enclave.

Meanwhile, within a matter of hours of an EU peace plan being announced, Sharon had rejected it. The plan called for a “security agreement” ahead of the proposed Palestinian elections in 2003, to be followed by the establishment of  a Palestinian state with provisional borders in 2003 – with finalised borders in 2005.

Domestically, Arafat was fairing no better. At a meeting of the PLC – the first for 6 months, with 14 Gazan members not allowed to join the session because Israel refused to let them out of the Gaza Strip – the new Cabinet resigned. This was to avoid a vote of confidence which was found to be imminent when all attempts to halt a Fatah revolt within the Legislative Council failed.

And the occupation continued its deadly course. A bomb exploded at the primary school in the West Bank village of Zeist on 17th September, injuring nine children aged 5 to 8 years. A second bomb was disarmed by the occupation forces. No one claimed responsibility but  a Jewish terrorist group was believed to be  responsible.

Following the death of an Israeli policeman by a suicide bomber at Umm el-Fahem, inside Israel, the occupation forces in the form of dozens of tanks backed by helicopter gunships invaded the Gaza Strip. Houses of alleged militants were blown up, as were Palestinian workshops alleged to be bomb making factories.

The West Bank was not spared, with attacks, curfews (Nablus now under a curfew for 3 months) and destruction of  any semblance of normal life now a routine feature of life under occupation. Within Israel, earlier in September, Nehud Abu Kishak was stripped of his Israeli citizenship because he was alleged to have helped in the preparation of Hamas suicide bombings. This new tactic avoided the need to bring the accused to court and avoid the need to show proof of any crime in open court.

At this point, Sharon and his cohort had trumpeted “six weeks of calm” – meaning, forget the suffering and the humiliation of the Palestinian people under occupation – and concentrate on the absence  of suicide and resistance attacks for six weeks, since Sharon had re-occupied the West Bank. This illusory peace was totally  shattered  when a suicide bomber  killed five and wounded over 40 people on the 19th September.
This atrocity was claimed by both Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Not that this made any difference to Sharon’s perceptions. Arafat and his dismembered Palestinian Authority were, as always, to blame. Suddenly  members of Arafat’s entourage were wanted fugitives.

These people, whose names seemed to change with every fresh Sharon demand, were suddenly wanted terrorists. And Arafat’s compound would be under siege until they were given up. Not that there was much left of the compound. Bulldozers pulled down all ancillary buildings in the compound. Tanks demolished walkways and stairwells, ditches were carved around the exits. And still Arafat stayed put.

…a Palestinian gunman killed one Israeli…, a return to arms that will kill any civilian protests stone dead. Which suits Sharon. The last thing he wants is a mass movement against the occupation in the West Bank laced with genuine moves towards PA reform. This is perhaps [why] he reinvaded Arafat’s compound . . .

Middle East International 27/9/02

On 21st September, following announcements from the occupation forces that Arafat’s compound was about to be dynamited, the Palestinian people defied a five day curfew and came out on to the streets with pots and pans banging in a mass demonstration against the curfew and in solidarity with their besieged leader. This largely non-violent action was not without its risks. Five were killed and 30 wounded.

Two days later further non-violent demonstrations were met by rubber bullets, stun grenades and live ammunition. In Dura, near Hebron, the occupation forces opened fire on schoolchildren, injuring eight. Settlers went on the rampage in Hebron following the shooting dead of one settler.

Throughout this, and the Ramallah siege of Arafat’s HQ, the Gaza Strip – again –  became the focus of the occupier’s violence. On Sept 24th, the Gaza Strip was invaded, with three densely populated areas raided. Several family homes belonging to guerrillas were demolished, as well as 12 factories. Fourteen Palestinians were killed during this 48 hour period.

Then, with the US abstaining, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of
Israeli forces from Arafat’s compound. As with all other such resolutions, it was ignored – until, that was, George W Bush realised the destructive effect such  inaction could have on Arab support for his venture in Iraq. Envoys were dispatched and Sharon was forced to withdraw, leaving Sharon and his entourage to face another day – although, Israeli media reported on well rehearsed Israeli plans to send in a snatch squad to abduct  Arafat and exile him to (possibly) Libya.
a success

This was how Ariel Sharon described the criminal act, if not war crime, of using a helicopter gunship to fire a missile at a congested  Khan Younis street. Of the 16 massacred, seven were 17 years or under. Of the 100 or so wounded, 16 were between the ages of  9 & 17 years. Despite vocal Israeli claims that they were “armed militants” fighting the occupation forces, the truth decreed otherwise. The majority had arrived on the scene to witness the earlier departure of the occupation forces when the missiles slammed into them .

View all →