- Created: Thursday, 30 April 2009 14:47
- Written by Bob Shepherd
In response to Hamas’s overwhelming victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections of 25 January, Israel, Britain and the US have engaged in a joint military and economic offensive to punish the Palestinian people. The storming of the Jericho prison on 14 March by Israeli forces exposed the depth of the military collaboration, and the EU and US threats to withhold aid payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA) whilst the Zionists retain customs taxes that they owe the PA, illustrates their economic co-operation. Bob Shepherd reports.
The purpose of the Israeli attack on the Jericho prison was to capture the unarmed Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The attack began 15 minutes after the British government withdrew its monitors from the prison. The PA was holding Ahmad Sa’adat in Jericho at the insistence of the Zionists who accused him of organising the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, the then Israeli tourist minister, in October 2001. Zeevi’s assassination was a response to the murder of PFLP General Secretary Abu Ali Mustapha the previous August. In a clear attempt to destroy the political leadership of the Intifada, an Apache helicopter had fired a missile into his Ramallah office, killing him as he sat at his desk. Zeevi had been selected for retaliation because of his extreme fascist and racist views. He was a vociferous supporter of the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from ‘Greater Israel’ – that is from the West Bank as much as from within existing Israeli borders, and was renowned for using virulently racist terms such as ‘insects’ when referring to the Palestinians.
Sa’adat was detained in January 2002 and in February the PA arrested four members of the PFLP cell that had supposedly killed Zeevi. They were tried by a PA kangaroo court, sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and were then held in Arafat’s compound, the Muqata, in Ramallah. The Zionists refused to accept this, and at the end of March, laid siege to the Muqata demanding that Sa’adat and his comrades be surrendered to them. After a month, under pressure from the US and Britain, Arafat capitulated and agreed a deal to end the siege, the so-called Ramallah Protocol. This required Sa’adat, his four comrades and Fuad Shubaki, a PA official accused of organising the smuggling of weapons into Palestine, to be imprisoned in Jericho under the supervision of British and US monitors. The presence of these monitors was itself a breach of the Geneva Convention, but this did not deter the Labour government one bit.
On 3 June 2002 the Palestinian High Court ruled that there was no evidence linking Sa’adat to the assassination and ordered his immediate release. The Israeli government responded that ‘if he is not brought to justice, we will bring justice to him’ - a clear threat to assassinate him if he were freed. The PA used this as an excuse to continue holding him; however, following his election to the PLC as one of three PFLP representatives, Hamas announced that they would release him as well as his comrades. The response of the Labour government was to demonstrate that they would undermine any attempt by Hamas to defend victims of Israeli terror. On 8 March, the British and US government sent a joint letter to the PA stating that they would consider withdrawing their monitors since ‘the pending handover of governmental power to a political party that has repeatedly called for the release of the Jericho detainees also calls into question the political sustainability of the monitoring mission’. As Zionist forces surrounded the gaol and started to bombard it, Jack Straw repeatedly denied any British collusion with the Israeli army. This was of course a lie: the possible withdrawal had been openly signalled and the Zionists would know immediately it happened because the monitors would have to go through their checkpoints. As it was, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the press that ‘the Americans and British informed us of their pullout from the gaol a week ago’. The Palestinian people were not deceived by Straw’s lies, and crowds attacked and ransacked offices of the British Council in Gaza and Ramallah, and of the HSBC in Ramallah.
Starving the Palestinians
The new democratically elected PLC met for the first time on 18 February. Because the Zionists refuse to allow Palestinians free passage between the West Bank and Gaza it was forced to meet in two different locations, Ramallah and Gaza. As Hamas made clear it would not capitulate to demands that it recognise Israel or renounce armed struggle, the following day the Israeli Cabinet announced it was stopping the payment of customs taxes to the PA. Israel collects these taxes (on the import of goods into PA territory, all of which have to pass through Israeli customs posts) on behalf of the PA and under the Oslo Agreement cannot withhold them.
The revenues amount to about £29.5m a month, and are used primarily to pay the wages of the 137,000 employees of the PA: hundreds of thousands more depend on this income for their food and shelter. Hence the impact could be catastrophic, with 50% of Palestinians already forced to live on less than the $2 a day poverty line. The impact was immediate: PA employees did not receive their February wages until 15 March. The aim of the Israelis is clearly to starve the Palestinians into submission; as Zionist government advisor Dov Weissglas told the Cabinet ‘the Palestinians will get a lot thinner but won’t die’. The aim is to turn Palestinian people against Hamas; it will not succeed since the election victory was a rejection of PA collaboration and not merely of PA corruption as the imperialists would have us believe.
In the absence of a viable domestic economy, the PA depends not only on these tax revenues but also on the aid it receives from the EU and the US. Following a meeting of the so-called Middle East Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN) at the end of January, UN Secretary Kofi Annan announced that ‘all members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the roadmap’. Hamas’s response was one of defiance: ‘The Quartet should have demanded an end to Israeli occupation and aggression...not demanded that the victim should recognise the occupation and stand handcuffed in the face of the aggression.’
At the end of February the EU announced it would pay £94.5m in emergency aid to the Palestinians although only £11.9m would go directly to the PA. The first part of this was paid in mid-March. Jack Straw declared that the EU ‘doesn’t want to punish the Palestinian people for their votes at all...On the other hand the Palestinian people need to say to any Hamas government that democracy involves responsibilities and above all a responsibility not to get involved in violence’. This is sheer hypocrisy given the continuing Zionist terror.
It is not just withholding money: the economic pressure includes continued closing of border crossings. In the Gaza Strip, Karni, the main border crossing for the import and export of goods and food, has been shut for most of this year. ‘The bakeries are rationing bread,’ said John Ging, director of UN operations in Gaza. ‘People queue and they’re given a coupon and a rationed amount...The shelves are quite empty. There’s no sugar, oil, milk, the basics. The shops are really depleted on those essential items.’ Food is running out as the world’s most powerful nations unite to crush an impoverished people.
Zionist annexations continue
Meanwhile on the West Bank Israel continues unchecked with its expansion of settlements and the construction of the Apartheid Wall. The latest stage involves the consolidation of the Zionists’ grip on the Jordan valley. Israel is encouraging settlers to move into the valley and is making it more and more difficult for Palestinians either to enter or travel through it. The plan is for the Wall to be constructed through the Valley completely enclosing Palestinians in the West Bank. Zionist intentions are quite naked: Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon’s replacement as head of the Kadima Party has said, ‘it is impossible to abandon control of the eastern border of Israel’. Israel is publicly deemed to include the West Bank with the exception of the Palestinian cantons or bantustans.
As the Israeli election on 28 March drew close Kadima set out its plans for the West Bank. Shaul Mofaz, Israeli Defence Minister declared, ‘When we talk of Israel’s permanent or future borders it includes the Jordan Valley, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Kedumin-Karnei Shomron and Rehan-Shaked’. This area accounts for over 20% of the West Bank. Olmert announced that if Kadima won the election Israel would put down permanent borders within four years, separating itself off from the ‘decisive majority’ of Palestinians in the West Bank. He stated that the land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, known as E1, would be built up. ‘It’s entirely clear that the territorial continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim will be a built-up continuity. This is clear both to the Palestinians and the Americans.’ There has been no condemnation from either the US or the British Labour government for this proposed land-grab. In this context it is vital that we step up our solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Victory to the Intifada!
Israel’s military attacks and incursions into the West Bank continue unabated. On 19 February Zionists launched Operation Northern Lights, a mass invasion and occupation of the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. Within five days they had killed seven people in the camp and two in Nablus. The Israelis also targeted ambulance staff and medical volunteers. On 23 February one ambulance driver was shot in the arm and leg and a medical volunteer was shot in the head. On 6 March an Israeli aircraft launched a missile attack on a car in Gaza City. Two occupants, militants of Islamic Jihad, were killed, as well as three children standing on the pavement. On 17 March the Israelis shot and killed a nine-year-old girl sitting in the back of a taxi in Jenin.
Between the elections on 25 January and the attack on the Jericho prison, the Zionists had murdered over 50 Palestinians without a single Zionist death. No condemnation from the Labour government has been forthcoming.
A report released by Defence For Children International lists 230 children arrested by the Israeli Occupation Forces in the months of January and February.
More British collusion
A week before the attack on Jericho the Foreign Office announced it was appointing Daniel Bethlehem, as head of its Legal Department. Bethlehem is former senior advisor to Sharon; it was he who told Sharon to refuse to allow a UN inquiry team access to the Jenin refugee camp following the April 2002 massacre. Bethlehem also took the lead for the Israeli government at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004 to defend the building of the Apartheid Wall. Defending the appointment of this Zionist, the Foreign Office said ‘Our view is that Mr Bethlehem has had a distinguished career in international politics’!
More evidence has now come out detailing how successive British governments, both Conservative and Labour, broke international law and aided the development of Israel’s nuclear programme. Conservative governments in the late 1950s sold heavy water to Israel; the 1964 Labour government then sold plutonium and other material essential for the development of a nuclear bomb. Tony Benn was Minister for Technology from 1966 and therefore in charge of the nuclear industry. He was also a member of Labour Friends of Israel. He now denies all knowledge of the assistance Britain was giving to the development of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Given that he also denies that he knew anything about the illegal import of uranium from the Rossing mine in South African-occupied Namibia, he clearly must have been asleep throughout this time.
FRFI 190 April / May 2006