Briefing Paper July 2003

Palestine’s War of Independence

… at Aqaba, Abbas duly rehearsed the script dictated to him by the Americans. That he did so was a measure of his weakness and inexperience as a politician; that the Americans believed they could get away with it was an indicator of their ignorance of the realities, sensibilities and balance of power that prevailed in the West Bank and Gaza.         

Middle East International 13/06/03

At the end of the June Aqaba summit, with no consultation with the various factions, prime minister Abbas announced that the “armed intifada must end” while denouncing “terrorism against Israelis wherever they might be”. No mention of legitimate resistance against a particularly brutal military occupation. There was no mention of the basic Palestinian terms for peace viz Israel’s full withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a ‘just’ settlement of the refugee issue on the basis of UN resolutions. In its place was a commitment to “use peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis.”

With typical Israeli non-committal double-speak, a pledge was given by Sharon to “renew direct negotiations according to the steps in the road map as adopted by the Israeli government” – no mention of accepting the road map. He confirmed the removal of a dozen or so “unauthorised” (usually empty or sparsely populated) settlement outposts as opposed to the dozens authorised by Sharon. There was no mention of Israel’s obligations under the road map to freeze settlement construction, including the monstrosity of a wall currently weaving its way across the West Bank although, he acknowledged “the importance of territorial contiguity in the West Bank for a viable Palestinian state” – a statement which can be used to justify any form of truncated state.

The Palestinian response was initially summed up by Yasser Arafat with his comment that Palestinians had achieved “nothing tangible”. Rejection was the response from the cross-factional constituency represented by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. However, the response from the various factions was led by Hamas. Abbas’ Aqaba speech was denounced as “a serious retreat” from the national consensus. Abbas was heavily criticised for equating armed resistance with “terrorism” and public opposition to the road map as “incitement”. High- lighted was Abbas’ failure to mention Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, the right of return for over 4 million refugees and the release of prisoners. And then, there was Abbas’ failure to acknowledge Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Zionist occupiers when he proclaimed his acknowledgement of “Jewish suffering throughout history.”

Shortly after this, the Hamas political spokesman, Abdel Rantisi survived an attempt on his life. One of many murderous acts of the occupier guaranteed to keep both Sharon and Hamas to the forefront of the murder and mayhem in Israel and occupied Palestine.

“Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, its leadership has generally preferred using force for solving problems . . .peace was not necessarily always at the top of Israel’s aspirations and concerns, and…war was not necessarily at the top of its neighbours’ preferences. Moreover, at certain stages . . . Israel preferred war over other possible alternatives… In the years 1949 – 1973 it seems that Israel feared peace more than war. The heretical position challenges the Israeli ethos according to which Israel has always aspired for peace, and that it was its neighbours who refused to take the road for peace and instead chose the path of war…

Wars Don’t Just Happen

Motan Golani (Between the Lines June 2003)

Dear Generals

You have bombarded. Shelled. Liquidate. Tortured. Demolished homes. Uprooted plantations. Expropriated. Starved out. Arrested. Imprisoned. Exiled. Expelled. Conquered towns. Occupied neighbourhoods. Taken over villages. Imposed curfews. Closures. Blockades.                                       You have tried everything. You have nothing left. You are bankrupt.

Go home.

Gush Shalom ad in “Haaretz” 23/05/03

The Roots of Terror-in the 1940s

“Jewish extremists planned to set up “IRA-style” cells in London with instructions to assassinate politicians including the Foreign Secretary to help achieve a Jewish state, MI5 papers released today show British agents in Jerusalem warned that the organisations – the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Group – were plotting to send teams to London to stage assassinations and bombings.

In a memo to Sir David Petrie, the first director general of MI5, one official wrote: “They [Irgun and Stern] have been training selected members for the purpose of proceeding overseas and assassinating prominent British personalities. Special reference has been made several times to Mr Bevin in this connection.”

Cahal Milmo, Independent 22/05/03

Violence v Security measures (or, spot the biased reporting)

A US envoy stated yesterday that if the Middle East peace initiative is to succeed, both the Israeli and Palestinian sides must take steps to ensure that peace in the region is achieved. For the Palestinians, he said that all violence should be terminated and for the Israelis he stated that security measures against Palestinians should be relaxed (International Herald Tribune).

We have never seen anything like this

24 hours after Powell’s visit to obtain support for the Road Map, the Gaza Strip experienced it worst ever clampdown. United Nations officials reported that a ban on the entry of foreigners to Gaza was disrupting efforts to provide aid to registered Palestinian refugees, who make up most of the population of Gaza. “We have never seen anything like this,” said Paul McCann, an official for the UN’s relief agency.

The Scotsman May 13, 2003

Why Friends of Israel Should See Gaza

Several of the boys in the class had witnessed the Israeli incursion six days earlier, in which 12 people were killed. The target had been a Hamas militant, but he and his brothers had refused to surrender, and they and several of their neighbours (including a two-year old boy) had died in the subsequent fire-fight.

One of the dead brothers had been a respected teacher at the school, and his portrait decorated the notice boards. Almost all the children had some experience of violence or coercion. They had been stopped at checkpoints, watched helicopters fire rockets, seen the wreckage of cars in the aftermath of attacks, looked on at the resulting funeral processions, lost relatives. They might have been the nephew of the farmer maimed on his donkey cart last week, after he got too close to the limousine that was carrying the Hamas man. Or they were the grandson of the unfortunate bystander who stopped a tank round. Possibly their cousins owned the house blown up by the IDF this week because it stood alongside one that housed an Islamic jihad activist. Some of this Israeli action is aimed theoretically at stopping terrorist attacks (like the recent bombing in Tel Aviv); some at protecting the 3,000-odd settlers whose pointless and (for Israel) hugely expensive scattered colonies in Gaza cause so much trouble. The result is that, while Israel claims to be hitting at the “terrorist infrastructure”, the consequence last week was a two-mile funeral procession through Gaza City, in which mourners chanted “no to Abu Mazen”, the new pro-roadmap Palestinian prime minister. In Gaza, as in the other Palestinian territories, the space for moderation gets smaller with every minor humiliation and every death.

You don’t have to be a peace activist to understand that this is a kind of madness. If ordinary Israelis and their friends in other countries were to spend even a few hours in Gaza, or talking to people on the West Bank, then it is difficult to imagine them supporting the policies of the present Israeli government. They might instead see that the seeds of the present intifada were sown in the way the last intifada was handled. At random, I met several Palestinian men who had, as youngsters, been imprisoned and tortured in the 80s. It is hard to talk to them about peace. And tomorrow’s harvest will (if nothing stops it) become the killing of one group of the flawless young people I encountered last week by the other.

David Aaronovitch The Guardian May 13, 2003

The Terror on the Other Side is Just as Faceless

“Please, come inside,” says the man with the faint smile, opening the iron door in one of the very narrow alleys of

Yibne, a refugee camp neighbourhood in Rafah. But after stepping through the open doorway, it’s difficult to say if his “please, come inside,” was said in the spirit of hospitality or was meant ironically, because inside the house, the interior walls were demolished and through the partially demolished outer walls, one sees a large pile of rubble – all that remains of the two houses next door.

“House” is a misleading term. In Rafah, as in other camps, the usual refugee house is made of thin sheets of tin, sometimes plastered, about the thickness of carton, a yard surrounded by a number of rooms with asbestos roofs laid over a couple of beams. The temporary nature of the tin and asbestos is in stark contrast to the doors, made of iron, often decorated with flowers shaped in relief in the metal, and creating a sense of permanence. Here and there people have managed to save a bit and replace the typical home with a cement one, a couple of stories tall, for the entire family. Those houses are usually left unpainted, and their naked greyness emphasizes how the original refugee houses are tiny and temporary.

On April 19, a force of several dozen tanks, armoured personnel carriers and huge bulldozers, accompanied by helicopters that did not fire anything – this time – took over a small quadrant of streets and alleys in the camp. Five days after that Saturday, after a painful, angry funeral for the five people killed in the attack, people were still shocked as they walked around and over the ruins left by the retreating Israel Defence Forces.

The Yibne camp of 125 dunams has some 11,000 inhabitants. The IDF force surrounded less than a fifth of the camp.

Thirteen buildings, homes to 23 families, 116 people, were totally destroyed in the operation, according to UNWRA. Another seven houses – 12 families, 60 people – were so badly damaged from nearby blasts or shells, that they cannot be repaired. The IDF said three buildings were demolished and another 10 damaged by gunfire. Some 150 buildings – 186 families, 1,035 people – were partially damaged, and can be repaired: bullet-pocketed solar heaters, broken windows, collapsed ceilings, cracked walls, torn electric cables. Five days later, people still want to explain why the attack was so shocking for them, why they regard it as the most severe blow ever against this city that knows well death, shooting, raids, flechettes, house demolitions, and the constant destruction of greenery for destruction’s sake.

The first surprise was the early hour. It was about 10 P.M. when the convoy of vehicles (the Palestinians said there were 47 all together), gathered at Tel Zuarun, northwest of the city. People are used to the tanks coming in much later at night. Secondly, it was the first time the army penetrated deep inside the camp, between Yibne and Shabura, about five kilometers away from the north-western entrance to Rafah city, and about 400-500 metres from the border with Egypt. People say up till then the tanks and bulldozers had operated on the margins of the camps, in the neighbourhoods along the border. That’s where they destroy the houses, blow up the tunnels, and that’s where people, armed or not, are killed by IDF fire. This time the tanks rolled almost all the way to the centre of Rafah, where the refugee camps are larger than the city. Third, for some days, there had been the feeling among the Palestinian public, and particularly in Rafah, that as a gesture of goodwill to the newly formed Abu Mazen government, Israel would avoid particularly severe raids. The number of tanks on that Saturday night, the largest number ever seen at one time in Rafah, squashed that illusion. Fourth, all of Rafah was busy that night watching two Egyptian football teams at play, and then analysing the results, Zamalek against Ahli. Football is the game in Rafah. The Egyptian leagues are practically the home league. And Ahli is the favourite team in Gaza in general and Rafah particularly, and especially among the refugees. It’s from a poor neighbourhood; Zamalek is from a relatively prosperous Cairo neighbourhood.

Zamalek won that night, but next time it will be Ahli, people managed to say, comforting each other over the results just as the tanks began growling from afar and the first panicky phone calls began coming from Tel Sultan, reporting the tanks’ progress up Abu Bachar Sadik Street.

Seeking Safety

The tanks rolled on, and people visiting friends or relatives to watch the televised game began running home, while others, particularly the political activists, ex-convicts and relatives of wanted men, left their homes and escaped into the narrow alleyways of Shabura, where the tanks find it difficult to penetrate. Taxi drivers ran to their cars and drove away from the centre. Shop owners in the market, still open for late-night shopping, left their shops and escaped. They would find their merchandise in place the next day. Nobody looted. Meanwhile, children huddled into the corners of rooms farthest from the street.

The members of the popular resistance committees from all the factions began gathering in the Yibne area. One ran to get his Kalashnikov, another to get another magazine of ammo, and others to get the homemade bombs prepared for just such an eventuality. The electricity was cut almost immediately and the entire area plunged into darkness as the growling tanks approached, heralded by the first sounds of shooting, intensifying as the convoy drew nearer. One activist was running with his baby in the street, and T., a mother of two, opened her door and he handed off the baby, nearly throwing it inside, asking for the woman to protect it. Until he gets back. If he gets back. She didn’t know his name. The baby didn’t know her. During the entire night, the bullets whistled around the house and some broke through the walls and came into the house. Her oldest children, girls, hid under a blanket. Quietly, once in a while, T. went to check they weren’t hurt. But the baby who didn’t know her cried all night.

From the main road, the tanks turned into two narrow streets, each barely wide enough for a tank. One tank pushed two cars forward, crushing them against the Ashur family’s tin wall, two of 14 vehicles destroyed that night, including one Red Crescent ambulance. The walls collapsed, the ceiling, too. On the parallel street, another tank shoved aside large cement blocks the resistance committees had put at the corners as tank traps. One collapsed on a tin house and crushed it completely, while the family huddled in the corner. Another tank, or perhaps the one that crushed the cars, stopped in front of the Abu Obeid house. Mofid Abu Obeid’s children were sleeping next door, in their grandfather’s three-story cement house, still under construction. Their mother was visiting her family in Shabura that night, on the other side of the main road. Their father was with friends watching the game. Meanwhile, the tanks broke the two large iron doors on the first floor. The soldiers ordered everyone inside to come out. There was the panic of gathering up the children, the women, the elderly, the grandfather, all scrambling down the stairs and out into the dark street, straight to the huge armoured vehicle.

In the panic, Walid, 9, who was carrying Mohammed, 2, got lost looking for the adults. Walid handed the baby to his grandfather, who insisted on standing in the doorway and not leaving. And then Walid came out, confused, lost in the dark street beside the tank treads, wanting to find the rest of his family, which had found shelter in a neighbour’s house. His father would say later that the soldiers put the boy in the tank and drive him a little way down the street, where they let him out. Their mother meanwhile was running from Shabura to Yibne, to be with her children. She nearly managed to reach her street when she was hit from gunfire in her stomach. An hour later she was finally evacuated and hospitalized in serious condition. She was one of three Palestinians wounded that night from gunfire. Then the soldiers blew up Mofid Abu Obeid’s tin house, and two others next door. The IDF said it destroyed a tunnel used by Hamas underneath the house as well as another smaller tunnel.

Abu Shamallah’s House

At the same time, tanks and other APCs, with one or two bulldozers, moved west, onto Salah a Din Street. Around

10:30, they began converging on Mohammed Abu Shamallah’s house. He’s a 30-year-old in the Hamas militia, the Iz a Din al-Kassam Brigades, wanted by the IDF on suspicion of involvement in the murder of an army officer in Rafah in 1994. Two of his brothers fled the house when they heard the tanks were moving on Yibne. They were afraid they’d be held as hostages. The others remained with their wives, children and elderly mother, who has diabetes and needs a cane to walk. “Umm Halil, come out and turn yourself in,” a voice was heard in the night, calling on her personally to come out. Umm Halil said later, “They shouted, `Hello, Hello, Abu Shamallah family, have the little ones come out and the men with the guns come out and hand over their weapons,’ and I said, `Here, I’m coming out, coming out,’ and they shouted `give up, give up.’ They didn’t let us take anything out of the house, just as we entered it, we left it, not a single teacup remained whole, and for six hours they were in the house and outside there were tanks, many tanks, so we came out with our hands up in the air.” One of her daughters-in-law held the twins, 3-year-olds, and came out of the house. “A soldier pointed his rifle at me,” she says, shocked from rage and fear for her children, “and told me to put the children down next to the tank and raise my hands. I put them down, they were crying, and raised my hands. They looked so tiny next to that huge thing.”

The asphalt of the road was heating up from the engines. The children who came out barefoot or lost a sandal or shoe ended up with burnt feet, said the woman. Go, said the soldiers, or made clear their intentions using their hands and rifles to signal the frightened people. The young mother lined up the children in front of her, one next to the other. “If a soldier shoots me, I thought, at least I’ll get killed, not the children.” Thirty-two people live in the house, built from savings, for the mother, who was widowed in 1977, and for her children and her grandchildren. The army said munitions were found inside. Another one of Umm Halil’s sons remained inside his apartment, paralyzed with fear, unable to move. His children went down the stairs to tell the soldiers there was still someone inside, but one of the soldiers pointed a rifle at them in the darkness and told them to stay in the apartment, in the building opposite the house meant for demolition. That’s where they stayed all night as the soldiers prepared the explosives for the demolition. That’s where they were, when 10 metres away, the Abu Shamallah house was blown up, collapsed, and destroyed the eastern wall of their apartment.

The Kishta family, which lived in a tin house next door, also didn’t manage to evacuate their home. A huge bulldozer brushed up against their iron door, which opens to a courtyard surrounded by a wall. The iron door was twisted, its lock was stuck. They couldn’t get out. “We banged on the door, we didn’t know what was happening outside, we just heard soldiers calling to Abu Shamallah to come out, and from the noise of the tanks and shouting, nobody heard us,” says one of the daughters. She got up on a table in the kitchen, opened the window and peeked outside. She shouted to the soldiers there were children inside and an elderly woman who had to be carried out. The soldier, she says, shouted at her to get back inside “or you’ll be killed,” she says.

“Get us out,” she continued shouting. “We’ll die in here.” And the soldier, she says, shouted back at her, “Get back inside, inside, so you die at home.” She pushed her brother’s children to underneath the iron staircase that goes from the courtyard to the roof. And that’s where they huddled, shaking as the shooting intensified; the voices came and went, the shouting, and then the explosion. With the explosion, the Kishta home collapsed. Their only luxury, a computer, was destroyed along with everything else. The tanks left later on. People don’t remember if it was 2:30 or 3:30That’s when they found the dead soldier, killed by a Palestinian gunman in the narrow alley between the Kishta house and the Abu Shamallah’s house. He was Lior Ziv, the IDF spokesman’s cameraman.

No Rooms Available

The Abu Shamallah family spent four days trying to find a house to rent. Very few empty houses or connecting rooms remain in the poorest city in the Palestinian territories (along with Khan Yunis), most having been rented in the last two years to the refugees from other demolished houses. With every new demolition, it becomes more difficult to find alternative housing. There are houses that were damaged in previous demolitions, repaired, and then destroyed completely in new demolition operations. Halil Abu Shamallah, an official in the Palestinian Communications Ministry, finally found a top-floor apartment in a building on the same street. He moved in some mattresses he was given by an Islamic charity, and what was left of the children’s clothes, found in the rubble. UNWRA supplies that were supposed to come from Gaza City didn’t show up. For Passover, the army cut off the road from north to south in Gaza. From the northwest window of the apartment, one can see a tank about a kilometre-and-a-half or maybe two, away. Half a kilometre away there’s an army post with an Israeli flag, and from the southwest window, one can see another army post with a flag, and the wall that the IDF engineering corps built along the border road. Some of the windows in the new apartment are broken. There are bullet holes in the walls. Just looking out the window is frightening. But only such an apartment, exposed to gunfire like all the taller buildings in Rafah and Khan Yunis, was available for the family to rent. Amira Hass Haaretz, Feature (Israel) May 5, 2003

Israeli Supreme Court Okays Internationally-Prohibited Flechette Shells

The Flechette round consists of thousands of small metal darts, each four centimetres in length. Having been shot from a tank, the round explodes in the air and tiny darts scatter over a 300 by 100 metre area

Israel’s Supreme Court has given the occupation army the green light to use internationally- outlawed flechette rounds, which disperse thousands of tiny razor sharp darts that explode from a projectile over a range of hundreds of metres to rip flesh apart. The Israeli high court rejected an appeal by Physicians for Human Rights, an Israeli advocacy group, filed in October 2002, against the Israeli occupation army and the ‘Defence’ minister, asking the court to ban the use of flechette tank shells against Palestinians. The group said the use of such shells is in fact in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and accordingly should be banned.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights PCHR, who filed the petition with the Israeli group, Flechette rounds are prohibited from use in accordance with the principles of international law, as they cause unnecessary suffering and indiscriminate damage, adding that the use of such weaponry “demonstrates a complete disregard for the life and health of Palestinian [civilians].” The Flechette round consists of thousands of small metal darts, each four centimetres in length. Having been shot from a tank, the round explodes in the air and tiny darts scatter over a 300 by 100 meter area. Physicians for Human rights also emphasized that flechette tank shells have killed ten innocent Palestinian civilians since the Intifada for independence erupted 20 months ago.

The court rejected the appeal, saying it could not dictate to the occupation army what kind of weaponry it could use in its battle against so-called “terrorism”. The judges sarcastically ruled that “if we bowed to your demand today, we would be asked tomorrow to ban the army from using tear gas and sound bombs.” For its turn, the occupation army claimed it has used this illegal weapon “selectively.”

… The Israeli occupation army first used it in the occupied zone in Southern Lebanon in areas labelled by the army itself as “death zones.” Palestine Media Centre (April 15 2003)

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