- Created: Thursday, 30 April 2009 15:00
- Written by Bob Shepherd
In mid-July the Israeli government massed its troops and armour on the borders of the Gaza Strip threatening an all-out invasion, in the words of Sharon, to ‘crush the Palestinian terror groups’. This show of strength was intended to reassure Israeli public opinion following an increase in actions by the Palestinian resistance, and was accompanied by a threat to the Palestinian Authority (PA) demanding it clamp down on the resistance. BOB SHEPHERD reports.
Since the 8 February summit at Sharm el-Sheik between Sharon and Abbas and the acceptance of the ceasefire/calmdown by the Palestinian resistance, the world’s media has focused on the proposed pull-out of Israeli settlers from Gaza, now scheduled to take place at the end of August. For ordinary Palestinians, though, Sharm el-Sheik has not changed their lives much: the Israeli occupation remains, the steady killing of Palestinian youth continues and there are more Palestinians in Israeli gaols now, even after the release of two groups of prisoners. The construction of the Apartheid Wall proceeds and on 11 July the Israeli government agreed its final route around Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad’s response to this relentless and expanding occupation was a suicide attack in Netanya on 12 July, killing five Israelis. Meanwhile the resistance escalated missile attacks on Israeli settlements both inside and outside the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government demanded that the PA immediately intervene against Jihad and Hamas. For Israel, the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza must not be seen to be a retreat under fire from Palestinian resistance forces.
PA confronts the resistance
The PA took no time to follow the bidding of Israel. On 13 July PA security forces opened fire on fighters from Islamic Jihad and on 14 July PA police attacked a group of fighters from the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in the north of Gaza, wounding four of them. The next day they again fired on Hamas militants and supporters in Gaza City killing two people, one a 14-year-old girl, and wounding about 20 others. At the same time Israel resumed its policy of targeted killings of Palestinian militants. Helicopter gun-ships launched air-to-ground missiles that destroyed a car north of Ramallah killing three Hamas supporters and in a second attack, killed five more Hamas militants in Gaza. On 17 July a Qassam commander was assassinated by an Israeli sniper in Khan Younis, Gaza, whilst Mahmoud Abbas declared on TV that ‘from now on we will not allow the phenomena of arms in the streets’.
In response, Islamic Jihad accused the PA’s security apparatus of serving as an agency of the Israeli occupation forces. Over the preceding weeks Israel had arrested a number of Islamic Jihad supporters; on 15 July PA forces arrested three members of the movement in the West Bank: ‘At a time when we were expecting the PA to release our detainees in its gaols, we were surprised with a frantic campaign against Islamic Jihad cadres, this time with PA hands who arrested three of the movement’s members in Salfeet and Qalqilya districts in the West Bank’.
Abbas and his allies in the PA are willing tools of imperialism in attempting to neutralise the resistance. They are desperate for a successful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and for the PA to be the dominant force left running the area. They want to be able to portray their political strategy of compromise and subservience to the interests of Zionism and imperialism as the only way to gain freedom. They do not want the resistance to be able to claim that Israeli withdrawal is a result of sustained armed confrontation and action. It is though, a forlorn hope, as the mass of the poor and oppressed Palestinians know it is only through the sacrifice and struggle of the resistance that the settlements are going.
On 13 July, in response to the Netanya attack, Israeli troops stormed Tulkarm in the West Bank, killing a Palestinian policeman in the process. Tulkarm and Jericho were the only two Palestinian cities from which the Zionists had supposedly withdrawn its troops. Israeli troops imposed a curfew on the town and its surrounding villages and launched house to house searches. On 15 July they killed a 13-year-old boy as local youth defied the curfew and resisted the invading troops with stones and bottles. During this same period Israeli troops swept through a number of West Bank towns and villages including Nablus, areas of Bethlehem and Salfeet where they ordered the Palestinian police to take off their uniforms and stay indoors. Islamic Jihad declared although it still supported the calmdown, ‘every Israeli violation must be confronted with a Palestinian response, otherwise we will lose our momentum’.
Jack Straw intervenes
At the beginning of June, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had met Abbas and other leaders of the PA in Ramallah. His message to them was the same as that which Blair had delivered to the London conference on Palestine in March: the PA had to rein in Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups and prevent any resumption of armed actions. Straw went on to claim that the creation of a Palestinian state was in the hands of the Palestinians, whatever the intentions of the Israeli government: ‘If the Palestinians are to provide security...there will be a dynamic toward the next two stages of the road map...If they are able to deliver the security required and reconstruction and political reform with our help, then they will create a dynamic toward the two states we want to see.’ Turning reality on its head he perversely declared that ‘no Israeli government could obviously stand idly by’ if there was a breakdown of the ceasefire and a resumption of violence.
For the Palestinian people the ceasefire/calmdown has not for one day stopped the violence of regular Israeli incursions and their assaults on ordinary people. It hasn’t stopped the checkpoints or the continued construction of the Apartheid Wall and the stealing of ever more land. For instance a report detailing the events of one week, 7-13 June, recorded 14 attacks by armed settlers on Palestinians and their property. It also documented 113 instances of Israeli troops closing roads, crossing points and Apartheid Wall gates in addition to establishing 93 mobile roadblocks.
Since the ceasefire/calmdown was declared at the Sharm el-Sheik summit on 8 February:
• 61 Palestinians have been killed
by Israeli forces and 515 injured up to 16 July. In the same period 18 Israelis were killed by Palestinian actions, including five at Netanya (Palestinian Red Crescent);
• Zionists have seized approximately 33,803 dunums of arable land up to 15 June (1 dunum = 1,000sq metres, Palestinian Ministry of Interior).
• 1,249 Palestinians were arrested during Israeli army raids in the period between 1 March and 30 June, 349 more than the Israelis had released under the Sharm el-Sheik summit agreement.
For Straw and British imperialism the problem is not the occupying power, Israel, which acts in their interests in the Middle East, it is the just struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation. In the perverted logic of Straw the onus for progress towards freedom for Palestine is not on the violent occupiers who have the third strongest military force in the world but on the occupied to show they deserve a few crumbs of freedom.
Apartheid wall construction continues
On 11 July the Israeli government agreed the final route of the Apartheid Wall in the Jerusalem area and set 1 September as the deadline for its completion. The route of the wall will cut off and isolate Palestinian communities, such as Anata, that are historically part of East Jerusalem, from the city. The Israeli government accepts that the wall will isolate 55,000 Palestinians, the majority holding the blue Jerusalem ID card. The true figure could be as high as 100,000. Israel says it will build new public service centres such as hospitals and post offices on the Palestinian side of the wall to substitute for the ones on the Israeli side that used to serve these communities. This is a further step in the Zionist plan to rid Jerusalem of the majority of its Palestinian citizens. In May the Zionist Jerusalem Municipality announced plans to demolish 88 buildings in the Silwan district of East Jerusalem, home to more than 1,000 Palestinians.
After the completion of the Jerusalem section of the wall the Israeli government will ask for tenders to build 700 homes in the settlements that flank the east and south of the city, Ma’ale Adumin and Gush Etzion. This is in addition to the 3,500 already approved to be built in Ma’ale Adumin (see FRFI 185).
The enlargement of strategic settlement blocks and the continuing construction of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank expose the true nature of the withdrawal from Gaza. At the end of June the Israeli Agriculture Ministry announced it had drawn up plans to more than double the number of settlers in the strategic Jordan Valley area of the West Bank over the next two years. Their numbers will rise from just over 6,000 now to over 14,000. Settlers from the Gaza Strip are to be given big financial incentives to encourage them to move to the area.
The Zionist plans are clear: withdrawal from Gaza on one hand and expansion and consolidation of Zionist control in the West Bank on the other. In the process they need to crush Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. However, this will not be a simple task even if they have PA support. Already a Hamas spokesman has declared ‘I’m sure we will have to reassess our commitment to the ceasefire if Israel continues to murder our people. There is no such thing as a one-sided ceasefire’ and Mushir Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told reporters that an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip would cause more violence: ‘They should understand that by this serious escalation they have opened the gates of hell, and if they enter Gaza we are not going to stand by silently.’ The Palestinian people will not give up their struggle for freedom.
FRFI 186 August / September 2005