PALESTINE: Zionists tighten the screw

The February Sharm el-Sheikh summit between Sharon and Abbas was supposed to deliver prisoner release and Israeli troop withdrawal from Palestinian cities in exchange for a Palestinian ceasefire. The ceasefire or ‘calm-down’ had been in place since before the summit and was ratified by all the main resistance groups in the ‘Cairo Declaration’ in March. Prisoner release and troop withdrawal have however not progressed further than the initial release of 500 Palestinian prisoners on 21 February and the nominal withdrawal of Israeli troops from Jericho and Tulkarm. The Israelis refuse to move on either of these issues until Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) take further steps to disarm Hamas and the other resistance groups. BOB SHEPHERD reports.

The PA have already begun to attempt to delegitimise the resistance groups and in the process disarm them. Militants who hand in their weapons are being given jobs in the PA security forces. The PA Interior Minister, Nasser Youssef, has stated that armed street patrols by resistance groups have to stop. ‘We will allow no patrols in the Palestinian street except for those of the PA. In case dialogue with the factions fails, the PA will take the initiative and impose its control by force’. This followed Abbas’s statement that those who break the ‘calmdown’ should be punished with an ‘iron fist’. The response of Hamas was to state: ‘We would like the PA to focus more on how to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli crimes, which do not stop, than on how to ensure calm’.

The occupation continues and with it the continued killing of Palestinian youth. On 9 April three teenagers were shot and killed in Rafah in the Gaza strip. They were playing football near houses that had been demolished by the Israelis by the border with Egypt; they clearly posed no threat to any Israel soldier, but all three were deliberately killed by single shots to their upper bodies by Israeli snipers. On 4 May two young teenagers, Jamal and Uday, were shot and killed in Beit Liqya on the West Bank while protesting against the construction of the apartheid wall. Both were shot at close range, one in the chest and one in the thigh. The ambulance taking them to hospital in Ramallah was stopped and held up at the permanent Israeli checkpoint at the main entrance to the city. By the time the ambulance had been let through both boys had bled to death.

The construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank continues apace alongside continuing protests and demonstrations by Palestinians from the villages whose land is being stolen. Villagers from Beit Liqya, Saffa and Bil’in have been engaged in daily demonstrations involving hundreds of people against the construction of the wall, at the forefront of this resistance has been youngsters such as Jamal and Uday. The route of the wall will enclose Beit Liqya on three sides and annex 2,350 dunums of the village’s most fertile land. The story of Beit Liqya is the story of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land, in 1948 the village lost 2,000 dunums of land and in 1967 1,000 dunums were stolen from the village to allow the construction of an illegal Israeli ‘settlement’.

The controversy over the proposed Israeli ‘pullout’ from their 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip has obscured the continuing construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank and the corresponding theft of Palestinian land. In March the Knesset voted down calls for a national referendum on the ‘pull-out’ by a wide margin. The settlers were given till the end of July to voluntarily leave Gaza; this has now been extended for three weeks till the end of August. The Settlers Council warned that the decision could lead to a ‘civil war’ and called for ‘action in the streets’ threatening to mobilise 100,000 supporters to stop the forced withdrawal from Gaza. Up to now their threats have not materialised, with the majority of Israelis backing the ‘pull-out’. The settlers have instead increased their fascistic attacks on Palestinian farmers. Figures released by the Israeli army show that reported settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank rose by 52% in the first four months of 2005. Amnesty International reports that Israeli settlers are using poison to contaminate Palestinian farmland in the Hebron region of the West Bank. The area is under Israeli military control and they have made no effort to remove the chemicals or investigate the poisonings.

The withdrawal from Gaza is seen by Sharon and his allies as the way to legitimise their settlements in the West Bank. Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said that the withdrawal from Gaza would allow Israel to extend its borders into the West Bank and maintain Jerusalem as the unified capital of a Jewish state. ‘The settlers of the West Bank and Gaza will be able to say in years to come that they helped establish the eastern frontiers of the state of Israel’.

As reported in FRFI 184, the route of the apartheid wall will include the largest Jewish settlement block on the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumin, on the Israeli side of it. At the end of March the Israeli government announced that it had approved plans for the construction of 3,500 housing units between Ma’ale Adumin and East Jerusalem.

The strategy of the Israelis is simple, to link up and expand the Jewish settlements to the east of Jerusalem up to the apartheid wall. The effect of this will be to surround Arab East Jerusalem and cut it off from its natural hinterland, the West Bank. This will have another effect in cutting the link between Palestinian cities to the south of Jerusalem, such as Bethlehem, from cities to the north, such as Ramallah, all cross routes will be controlled by Israel. Sharon is clear: ‘the settlement blocks will remain in Israel’s hands in any final status agreement no matter the repercussions entailed’.

The lack of any real progress for the Palestinians on the question of prisoners and troop withdrawal and a corresponding disillusionment with Fatah and Abbas was reflected in the latest round of local elections. Hamas won over 35% of the vote and won control of Rafah in Gaza and Qalqilya on the West Bank, winning all the 15 seats on the city council. Samir Nassar from Qalqilya said: ‘All my life I voted for Fatah, but this time I voted for Hamas and it won the election because there is no competition. The people who ran things before were corrupt. Fatah is getting nowhere with Sharon. We will try the new people and judge how they do’.

The elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian parliament, take place on 17 July and Hamas seem set to make a big impression. The US and Israel, alongside sections of Fatah, are worried by the possible outcome and have been trying to get the election postponed; up to now Abbas is resisting the temptation knowing that any postponement would only strengthen Hamas’s position.

FRFI 185 June / July 2005


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