PALESTINE: Intifada under siege

FRFI 173 June / July 2003

The end of the war in Iraq has left the Zionist state in complete military ascendancy within the Middle East. Iraq has been crushed, US imperialism directly threatens both Syria and Iran. Other Arab regimes, terrified of offending their imperialist paymasters, preoccupy themselves with suppressing internal opposition to their capitulation. Wringing their hands in useless complaint, they have given the Zionists a free hand to destroy the Intifada. Sharon is about to seize the opportunity; he has been given a green light by the Bush administration. The situation facing the Palestinian people is now very grave, ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

Sharon’s strategy has become remarkably clear over the past weeks. He has now accepted Bush’s ‘roadmap to peace’, having received guarantees that Israel’s concerns will be addressed. But he will string out negotiations in order to complete the building of a wall that surrounds the main Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, effectively annexing 60% of its land mass to Israel, including the whole of the Jordan valley. Palestinians in the annexed areas will be forced into the four cantons or bantustans created by the wall. Without any proper economy, the entire Palestinian people will be reduced to a state of beggary completely dependent on external aid. Life will be made so intolerable for them that they will start to move out: a new Nakbah.

Sharon will not face any opposition from US imperialism. Over the past two and a half years of the Intifada, the Bush administration has had occasional concern that the Zionist terror campaign against the Palestinian people might provoke instability in the Middle East. No longer: the Arab regimes have proved that they are effective gendarmes against their people even during the onslaught on Iraq. Whilst the new Palestinian Authority leadership desperately seeks negotiations, Sharon will demand more and more concessions in advance, knowing that time is on his side. Meanwhile he will continue to hit at the Gaza Strip in an attempt to destroy the will of the Palestinian people.

The separation wall
The lynchpin of Sharon’s strategy is the ‘separation’ wall which he had initially opposed when the defence minister in Sharon’s first national government, the former Israeli Labour leader Ben-Elezier, proposed its construction. The initial plan for the wall was to run down the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories – the Green Line. However, it was soon changed to make inroads into the Occupied Territories to ensure that Zionist settlements remained on the Israeli side (see FRFI 170).

When finished this western leg will be 360km long; it will annex 10% of the West Bank to Israel, transferring 57 settlements with 303,000 settlers into Israel, together with 385,000 Palestinians who will be granted neither residential status nor citizenship. The first section, 114km long, is being constructed in the north and will be completed by July. Long sections are medieval in style, up to 30 feet high, with huge guard towers every 300 metres or so. It will fence in 17 villages and towns, hemming in 110,000 Palestinians. Land between the wall and the border will be a closed military zone.

Qalqilya will be completely surrounded by the 8-metre-high wall, its 48,000 population will only be able to get into and out of the town through a single checkpoint. Underneath Qalqilya is the Western Aquifer water system which provides 51% of the West Bank’s water resources. Israel will confiscate this along with 14 wells which provide 30% of the town’s water supply.

Now the Sharon government has made two key decisions about the wall. The first is to re-route the western section so that it makes even greater detours into the West Bank to include the large settlements of Ariel, Kedumim and Immanuel on the Israeli side. The second is to add an eastern section which will allow huge swathes of the Jordan valley to be annexed to Israel (see map on page 3), leaving Jericho in complete isolation.

Sharon’s view is that ‘there will never be a situation in which the Jordan valley, a vital eastern security sector for Israel, will not be in the hands of Israel. That region will be in the hands of Israel forever’ (quote by Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, 28 March 2003).

Four Palestinian bantustans will be created; Jerusalem will be annexed in its entirety and Bethlehem will be surrounded. Whilst Sharon denies the wall will be a new border, in practice its cost (estimated at a total of $2,000m for its 1,000 kilometre length) will make it an enduring fixture.

The roadmap
President Bush’s so-called roadmap to peace seeks to force the Palestinian people back to the Oslo ‘peace’ framework which has proved so disastrous for them since 1993. After much procrastination, Bush finally published the roadmap following Mahmoud Abbas’ confirmation as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on 29 April. Whilst Abbas immediately accepted it as a finished document, Sharon did not, and stated that the Zionists would not undertake any of their obligations in the plan such as stopping settlement building until the PA had disarmed the resistance and abandoned the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their dispossessed lands in Israel.

Colin Powell’s visit to the Middle East in early May failed to secure Sharon’s agreement to the plan, but the focus of Powell’s attention was as ever the Palestinian resistance: ‘We must see rapid, decisive action by the Palestinians to disarm and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure’, he said, for ‘without such action our best efforts will fail’.

Further negotiations between the Zionists and the US administration resulted in a formula whereby the US could claim there had been no changes to the roadmap, but the Zionists could equally claim that in approving the document they were not endorsing it in its entirety. As one US administration official put it: ‘The question is how to keep the concept of the roadmap while changing its substance’; the draft of the road map as released ‘might be pretty dead. But the concept of the roadmap is not dead’. In a joint statement, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice spoke of Israel’s ‘significant concerns’ about the roadmap and went on ‘The United States shares the view of the government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the roadmap’.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the US’s partisan support for Israel, the PA leadership is desperate for the US to force the Zionists into substantive negotiations, since, according to one minister, the PA ‘cannot reject (the roadmap) because it will face a catastrophe.’ Such a capitulation represents the interests of a tiny Palestinian comprador bourgeoisie which is directly dependent on Zionism and imperialism.

The fact is that US imperialism has little interest in its roadmap, and key figures in the Bush administration, such as Richard Perle and Douglas Faith in the Defence Department, believe that the West Bank and Gaza belong to Israel by biblical right. Richard Cheney is on the board of the right-wing Zionist Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; last year Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the ‘so-called occupied territories’ in a clear rejection of their internationally-recognised status.

A Zionist campaign led by the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee has resulted in 88 (out of 100) senators and 316 (out of 400) congressmen sending a letter to Bush expressing their reservations about the pressure the roadmap puts on Israel. The message is clear: Sharon will be allowed to string out negotiations over the terms of the roadmap to give the Zionists time to complete the separation wall, letting Israel annex 50-60% of the West Bank, and forcing the Palestinians there into what amount to concentration camps.

Zionist onslaught on Gaza continues
Whilst Mahmoud Abbas tries to persuade the Palestinian resistance to give up armed struggle, the Zionists continue to pound Gaza, targeting Rafah in the south in particular. There were 55 military incursions last December, 77 in January and 91 in February. The catalogue of deaths and destruction includes invasions of Al Tuffah on 18 February, which left 11 dead, and on 23 February of Beit Hanoun which resulted in six deaths. On 6 March it was Jabalya’s turn – 11 killed, and then on 17 March both Nusseirat and Beit Lahia were hit, leaving 11 dead.

When, on 20 March, Palestinian police attempted to arrest Hamas missile instructors in a field by Jabalya, the population spontaneously took the side of Hamas; in the fighting that followed one Hamas member was killed and two police jeeps were burned out. On 8 April, the onslaught continued: ten were killed in an extra-judicial assassination undertaken by helicopter gunships in Asqoula; scores were wounded.

On 11 April in Rafah, Tom Hurndall, a British activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was shot in the head as he attempted to help a young girl to safety away from Israeli fire. He is now brain-dead; the Israeli army claims he was caught in crossfire when an Israeli sniper targeted a Palestinian in camouflage firing a gun. All eye-witnesses and video evidence show this to be a lie: there was no such Palestinian, and Tom was wearing a fluorescent jacket. There has been no formal condemnation of the murder by the Foreign Office.

On 19 April, another incursion into Rafah killed five Palestinians including two children and wounded 30. On 29 April, hours before the Abbas government was confirmed, an Israeli helicopter missile attack on Gaza killed the local PFLP leader Nidal Salama and a bystander. 1 May saw more carnage as Abbas was formally sworn in: 12 were killed in Shijaiyah in Gaza in an attempt to assassinate Yusuf Abu Hein, a senior Hamas figure.

The following day, Israeli troops in an armoured personnel carrier (APC) deliberately shot dead British cameraman James Miller, again in Rafah. The Israeli army claimed that he was caught up in crossfire as they attempted to shoot someone preparing to fire a rocket. Video evidence showed that Miller was waving a white flag; his colleagues say they had been under observation for several hours, and that the only shots that were fired were from the APC.

Of 2,500 Palestinians killed since the Intifada started, 250 have died in Rafah, a third of them children. It is a free-fire zone for the Israelis, subject to constant invasion, bulldozing and house demolition, the scene of continuous machine gun and sniper fire. The Zionist army is deliberately targeting both journalists and international observers to drive them away so that it can carry out its murderous campaign without any external witnesses. The Zionists now require foreign visitors in Gaza to declare that they have ‘no association with the organisation known as ISM nor any other organisation whose aim is to disrupt IDF [army] operations’ describing this activity as ‘criminal’. The document also requires visitors to sign a declaration that ‘I am aware of the risks involved and accept that the Government of the State of Israel and its organs cannot be held responsible for death, injury and/or damage/loss of property which may be incurred as a result of military activity’. This is in clear breach of the Geneva Convention which regards human rights in occupied territories as inalienable.

Not that such considerations would deter Israeli Chief of Staff General Ayalon, who stated that ‘The activists create the negative image we have, because it certainly strengthens the Palestinian story, which, according to my understanding, is fabricated in this context…I have just given an order to remove the organisation’s [ISM] activists from the area, firstly, for their own benefit – they are endangering their own lives in a superfluous way and are also creating provocations that hinder our freedom of action on the ground. And so it’s advisable that they get out of the area’.

The reluctance of the Labour government to challenge seriously Israeli accounts of the death of either Hurndall or Miller is in stark contrast to the speed with which they moved against the family of a British suicide bomber in early May. It demonstrates how any campaign in support of the Palestinian people must challenge the Labour Party’s record of unconditional support for Zionism. With the Palestinian people under an intensifying siege, we must step up our support for the Intifada.

Victory to the Palestinian people!