Gaza withdrawal: Zionists expand West Bank settlement

On 22 and 23 August the final colonial-settlers were evacuated from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli withdrawal from 21 colonial settlements in Gaza (and four in the West Bank) had reportedly been completed two weeks ahead of the time allocated by the Israeli army for the task. Settler opposition to the withdrawal had in reality been very limited with the threats to mobilise 100,000 in the Gaza shown to have no real substance. The confrontations between the settlers and the Israeli troops and police, in stark contrast to the brutality meted out to Palestinian protestors, were stage-managed to allow the settlers to make symbolic acts of opposition to the pull-out, knowing that they would be treated with kid gloves by the security forces. Bob Shepherd reports.

The true fascist nature of the colonial-settler opposition was shown in the weeks preceding the evacuation. At the beginning of August an Israeli soldier, who had deserted in protest, got on a bus in the predominately Arab town of Shfaram in northern Israel and opened fire, killing four Arab passengers. On 17 August an Israeli settler opened fire on Palestinian workers in Shiloh, an industrial area near Ramallah in the West Bank, killing four more Palestinians. He said he had done it to stop the withdrawal.

On 24 August, immediately after the pull-out was complete, to show that it was business as usual, an Israeli undercover squad pulled up in a car outside a café in Tulkarm on the West Bank, opened fire and killed five defenceless Palestinians sitting outside. The Palestinian response was quick with a suicide attack on Beer Sheba wounding over 50. Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), immediately condemned the attack as a ‘terrorist raid’ but all the resistance groups were united in describing it as a ‘natural’ response to the Israeli crimes of the previous weeks which had in all resulted in the deaths of 13 Palestinians.

The killing of Palestinians has continued in Gaza since the evacuation. On 6 September, five Palestinians were killed in an explosion in Gaza City. The PA immediately claimed that the deaths had been caused by the premature explosion of a Hamas bomb. Hamas strongly denied this, pointing out that Israeli helicopters were flying directly over the area when the explosion occurred. On 7 September one young Palestinian was killed and three wounded when an Israeli tank opened fire on youngsters protesting over the continued presence of Israeli troops near Khan Younis. On 9 September another young Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops, this time in Rafah.

On 12 September the Israeli army followed the settlers out of Gaza. Before leaving they completed the demolition of the settlements, leaving intact public buildings for the use of the PA. They also, against the agreement reached with the PA, left intact the synagogues in the settlements. This was clearly a crude attempt to be able to label the PA ‘anti-semitic’ when they began the demolition of the synagogue buildings.

The Gaza withdrawal is only an evacuation of the colonial-settlers. Israel will continue to control all of Gaza’s borders, its airspace and territorial waters. Israel closed down the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, with Egypt’s agreement, as their forces withdrew. The plan was for it to be closed for six months during which time it would be ‘upgraded’ with the introduction of security cameras and surveillance equipment. The response of the local people was to ignore the closure and stream across the border to meet family and friends, some of whom they had not seen for over ten years. Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees helped them by blasting holes in the border walls to allow free passage.

Israel will build a new border crossing at Kerem Shalom, a point where Gaza, Egypt and Israel all meet; this will be the point where all goods pass in and out of Gaza. The new border crossing point will allow Israel to keep control of all imports/exports into Gaza and also potentially all customs taxes. The Rafah border point will remain for pedestrians crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Israel has insisted that it be monitored by a third party, which is expected to be Britain. This will be ironic since it was British imperialism in the early twentieth century that drew the border between Gaza and Egypt artificially splitting the town of Rafah into two.

The questions of the reopening of the international airport in Gaza and the building of a new seaport have not been resolved but it is clear that, even if the PA are given the go-ahead, Israel will not allow the Palestinians full control over them. The Zionists are still preventing the basic right of free passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem
The dismantling of the 25 settlements, with a total population of 8,475, still leaves approximately 142 settlements in the West Bank with over 436,000 inhabitants. The majority of the evacuated colonial-settlers will in all probability relocate to the West Bank. In the past 12 months 12,800 settlers have moved into the West Bank, 50% more than those evacuated in the
summer.

Following the withdrawal, the Israeli government announced plans to annex Ma’ale Adumim and the other large settlement blocks around East Jerusalem. Sharon declared ‘There will be building in the settlement blocks...each government since 1967, right, left and national unity has seen strategic importance in specific areas. I will build’. He also declared that the Ariel settlement block in the heart of the West Bank would be annexed, as it was ‘a part of Israel forever’.

The apartheid separation wall around Ma’ale Adumim will stretch 14km deep into the West Bank. The Zionists plan to add 25,000 settlers to Ma’ale Adumim’s existing population of 30,000. This will:
• isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank by encircling the city with settlements and the Wall;
• put an end to its territorial continuity with the West Bank;
• tip the demographic balance of Jerusalem in favour of Israel by creating a Jewish majority and undermining the Palestinian position in any ‘final status’ talks on the future of East Jerusalem;
• virtually split the West Bank into two.

The route of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank is clearly seen by Sharon and his pragmatist Zionist allies as Israel’s de facto eastern border and the settlement blocks will expand to fill the space between the Green Line and the Wall to create ‘facts on the ground’. It is calculated that the Apartheid Wall when complete, including its route in the Jordan Valley, will annex 46% of all the
West Bank. The southern section of the Wall in the Hebron area will be completed by the end of this year.

Role of the Palestinian Authority
On 24 August the US granted over $50m of aid to the PA for reconstruction work in Gaza. One of the PA’s first acts has been to increase the pay of its security forces. The probability is that a large part of this money will be siphoned off by corrupt elements in the PA. The assassination of Mousa Arafat on 7 September was a violent example of the infighting between sections of the PA, the cause of which is rivalry over control of the ‘aid’ bonanza. The Popular Resistance Committees which had at first been accused of the killing of Arafat issued a statement on 10 September which clearly laid the blame for his death on Mohammed Dahlan, PA Civil Affairs Minister. ‘Results of internal investigation among our ranks showed that Dahlan...was the mastermind of the crime and gave the go-ahead signal to execute it.’

On 6 September there were violent clashes between PA security forces and unemployed demonstrators in Gaza City. Hamas called for restraint on both sides but said the demonstration was the natural result of the ‘abject poverty, deprivation and discriminatory conditions these workers were experiencing’. The PA is directly responsible for some of this: at the end of May it stopped monthly pensions of $150 to many families of Palestinian dead.

Imperialism is again putting pressure on the PA to confront and disarm the Resistance. Abbas is reported to have demanded that all Resistance groups should disarm after the elections next January. However Hamas has shown the support it has by staging massive rallies in Gaza since the withdrawal. Local leader Mahmoud al-Zahar told one on 13 September in Gaza City that ‘our weapons will remain in our hands until the Palestinian flag is hoisted in Jerusalem... these weapons will remain with us so we can defend our land and our children until the liberation is complete’.

FRFI 187 October / November 2005