Palestine - Zionists renege on ceasefire agreement

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protest in Ramallah on the West Bank in July against the Israel onslaught on Gaza

As we go to press, Israel has already reneged on the terms of a ceasefire agreement it signed with Palestinian representatives on 26 August. Under the terms of the agreement, Israel was supposed to reopen its border crossings to allow building material into Gaza for the massive reconstruction needed. This has not happened. The fishing limit for Gaza fishermen was to be extended to six miles; the Union of Gaza Fishermen stated that Israeli gunboats had ‘been firing at fishermen every day since the ceasefire agreement was signed’. The Zionists are doing what they always do when faced with a setback: delay and obstruct. They now want to restrict the scope of a second round of talks to security questions rather than topics decided on in the first round such as the opening up of a seaport and airport for Gaza and prisoner release. Bob Shepherd reports.

On 26 August, after 50 days of bombarding Gaza by land, sea and air, Israel agreed a permanent ceasefire with Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. The onslaught on Gaza has left nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and over 11,000 injured. Despite the carnage, the Zionists failed to achieve any of their shifting war aims. They had not been able to stop the rocket attacks, there is no evidence that they had located or destroyed the network of defensive tunnels which, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, spread like a spider’s web under Israel itself, and they had not been able to destroy the military infrastructure of the resistance in Gaza. Most importantly, the Zionists had been unable to shift the balance of Palestinian power away from Hamas and the resistance towards Mahmoud Abbas and his pro-imperialist Palestinian Authority (PA).

Among the nearly 2,200 Palestinian dead were 581 children; of those injured 3,400 were children, 1,000 of whom will be left with permanent disabilities. The onslaught has created around 1,500 orphans. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) around 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged leaving more than 108,000 people homeless. At the height of the blitzkrieg over 500,000 people were forced to flee their homes and move into UN shelters or other accommodation where tens of thousands remain. Shelter Cluster, an NGO associated with the UN, predicted it would take 20 years to rebuild Gaza even if there were no blockade.

Gaza’s power plant was bombed and put out of action on 29 July, leaving Gaza with only six hours’ electricity a day. Water and sewage networks were targeted so that only 10% of the population has a daily water supply and then only for six hours a day. 50% of Gaza’s population can only get water once every four days. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, 161 mosques were destroyed or damaged, as were eight hospitals – six of which were put out of action – 46 NGO offices and 50 fishing boats. The Ministry of Education has reported 26 schools destroyed and 122 damaged. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that about 42,000 acres of Gaza farmland has been contaminated with explosive remnants, and half of Gaza’s poultry stock has been lost.

In the days leading up to the ceasefire Israel targeted high-rise blocks in Gaza City, destroying the 16-storey Little Italy complex and the 15-storey Basha Tower; these were home to middle class families and contained many shops and offices. In Rafah, a major shopping centre built in 1998 with Norwegian and Dutch backing was destroyed just days before the truce.

The Zionists targeted UNRWA centres to which they had instructed Palestinians to flee; direct hits were recorded on six UNRWA-administered schools. The UN Secretary General issued a statement after the shelling of its Jabalia School on 29 July which killed 15 people condemning that act and describing it as ‘a serious violation of international law’. The statement read: ‘Last night children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a designated UN shelter in Gaza’, and continued:

‘Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge…The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times, to ensure its protection.’

Among the clinical facilities hit were rehabilitation centres for the disabled. Sawsan Al Khalili, the secretary of the General Federation for the Disabled said, ‘The occupation targeted nine institutions concerned with the affairs of the disabled in the Gaza Strip and some of them are completely destroyed now, including Al Wafa Hospital for Rehabilitation.’

Both the US and British governments defended the Israeli onslaught. Any minor criticism they made of its ferocity was qualified by asserting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks. This was also the position taken by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband who said:

‘I have seen for myself the fear in Israel from the unjustified and appalling rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza. I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks.’

Miliband opposed Israel’s land invasion, not through any sympathy for the position of the Palestinian people, but because it might add fuel to the resistance:

‘as a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel’s invasion of Gaza…we know what happens next. More loss of life, more Palestinian suffering, more hatred and more recruits to the ranks of terrorist groups like Hamas.’

Israel remains an important ally for imperialism in the Middle East. However it needed to be brought back under control so that the US and Britain could persuade Arab states to join their coalition against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. In addition, the massive protests and world-wide condemnation led by Latin American countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela had rocked the imperialists. They had to force the Zionists to stand back.

The ceasefire agreement and the Palestinian Authority

The ceasefire agreement which would allow reconstruction material, food, medical aid and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza was brokered by the Egyptian military dictatorship of General Al Sisi, another imperialist ally. A conference scheduled for the end of September to consider questions such as the rebuilding of Gaza airport and a new seaport together with the release of prisoners has been postponed until the end of October. Israel is intent on delaying any second round of talks for as long as possible, and continuing its blockade of Gaza. Netanyahu has declared that talks will be solely about Israel’s security interests and the disarming of the Palestinian resistance:

‘When Gaza is demilitarised and abandons the goal of destroying Israel, we are open to considering anything…The real issue is whether we can ensure Israel’s vital security interests, and enable the reconstruction of Gaza and humanitarian assistance under our security requirements. That, I think, will be the focus of what will be discussed, and certainly the focus of our current policies.’

Although Egypt is allowing foreign passport holders and some selected individuals to pass through the Rafah crossing, it refuses to open it fully unless PA security forces take control of the Gaza side. This is an attempt to promote the position of the collaborationists and undermine that of Hamas. With the formation of a new Palestinian National Unity Government on 3 June, the PA is now theoretically in charge of both West Bank and Gaza security, and the Egyptians seek to exploit this. During July, PA security forces broke up demonstrations on the West Bank in support of Gaza. It was only in August following the massive displays of support across the world for Gaza that the PA allowed such demonstrations to take place; these were attacked by Zionist troops who killed dozens of protestors.

The attempt to isolate and defeat the Palestinian resistance forces has failed, while the status of Abbas and the PA has fallen to new lows. The fact that the Zionists could not achieve their aims, combined with its significant military losses – 66 soldiers killed and over 500 injured – is seen by many Palestinians as a justification of resistance. As Jamil Mizher, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and leader of its branch in Gaza states,

‘One of the most important achievements of our people in the recent Zionist aggression is the failure of the occupation to achieve any of its stated goals, such as ending the firing of rockets – resistance factions launched missiles until the last minute; failing to disarm the resistance; failing to destroy the tunnels; failing to undermine Palestinian national unity. This comes in addition to the popular embrace of the resistance…it is resistance, unity and steadfastness of our people that can achieve victory over this criminal enemy…The path of Oslo, negotiations and security coordination must be left forever.’

Repression and settlement expansion in the West Bank

Five days into the ceasefire Israel announced the confiscation of the single largest bundle of Palestinian land for over 30 years in the West Bank. Around 1,000 acres of privately-owned Palestinian land south of Bethlehem has been stolen for settlement expansion. This is in addition to the announcement in mid-June of plans for the construction of over 1,470 new settler homes across the West Bank. According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Israel has demolished 359 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank so far this year.

At the beginning of September Israel published its ‘Nwemia plans’ which, according to UNRWA, could see up to 12,000 Palestinian Bedouins forcibly evicted from their homes in the West Bank and transferred to an area near Jericho by a massive refuse dump. The threatened Bedouin communities are originally refugees from the Negev in southern Israel; they oppose their eviction and are demanding their right to return to live in their ancestral home. Then on 23 September in a raid on Hebron, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians they claimed were connected with the disappearance of the three young Israeli settlers in June. A Hamas spokesperson condemned the role of the PA in the killings saying, ‘this assassination couldn’t have succeeded without security co-ordination in the West Bank’.

The Zionists want to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to do as it wishes, knowing that it will face no real opposition from Abbas and the PA. The difference now is that the resistance in Gaza is pointing out a new path for the youth in the West Bank. As a spokesperson for the prisoners’ rights group Adameer said: ‘Israel thinks they will be able to suppress resistance but it has the opposite effect. It will encourage Palestinians to continue protesting.’

Victory to the Palestinian People!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014