PALESTINE: Intifada under siege

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

The decision of the Palestinian resistance organisations to agree to a temporary and conditional truce with the Zionist state marks a new phase in the Intifada, one which holds potential danger for the Palestinian people. On the one hand, it may allow a regroupment of the resistance and the further isolation of the treacherous Palestinian Authority (PA) government of Mahmoud Abbas. On the other, it may provide an opportunity for Abbas with his imperialist and Zionist supporters to split the liberation movement and railroad through the Bush ‘roadmap’. One thing is certain: the Zionists have not responded to the ceasefire in any meaningful way; they continue to build settlements, seize land for the apartheid wall on the West Bank, and hold thousands of political prisoners. Robert Clough reports.

The PA and the resistance forces had been negotiating a ceasefire for many months. Each time they were close to agreement the Zionists would organise some act of provocation. This time was to be no exception. The backdrop was the Aqaba summit in the first week in June where President Bush sought to lend authority to his roadmap by meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas himself was only too keen to demonstrate his and the PA’s commitment to the roadmap. His speech on 4 June, with its call for the abandonment of the Intifada and his reference to terrorism, incensed all wings of the resistance. Abdel-Aziz Al Rantisi of Hamas declared that Abbas ‘through giving up the right of resistance and calling it terrorism, gave the green light to Sharon and his army’. The Al Aqsa Brigades wing of Fatah denounced Abbas’ failure to demand the release of political prisoners, particularly that of Marwan Barghouti, or to call for an end to the siege of Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters. The following Sunday Abbas was supposed to meet Hamas leaders in Gaza; in the end he did not go because his safety could not be guaranteed.

Zionist intent was demonstrated immediately following the end of the summit when occupation forces assassinated two Hamas leaders near Tulkarm on 7 June. The following day, fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Brigades jointly attacked an Israeli military post in Gaza, killing four soldiers. The three freedom fighters also died in the gun battle. On 10 June, Zionist helicopter gunships fired rockets at a car in which Hamas leader Al Rantisi was travelling in Gaza. Although Al Rantisi escaped with minor injuries, three civilians were killed. Later that day another Zionist rocket attack on Jabilaya in Gaza killed three members of the same family including a 16-year-old girl. The following day Hamas responded as everyone expected: a suicide attack in Jerusalem killed 17. Zionist missile attacks on Gaza followed: 11 were killed on 11 June, including Hamas leader Tito Massoud, and eight more on 12 June, including another Hamas leader, Yasser Taha, together with his wife and three-year-old daughter. The same day the Zionist cabinet announced it would target Hamas political leaders. Announcing that it would respond in kind, Hamas spokesperson Ismael Haniyah said that the Zionists ‘have been fighting Hamas for many years and Hamas has grown stronger and stronger… we will strike against the occupation as long as it continues to exist on our national soil’. Meanwhile the US weighed in on the side of the Zionists. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer declared that ‘the issue is not Israel, the issue is not the Palestinian Authority, the issue is the terrorists who are killing in an attempt to stop the peace process. The issue is Hamas, the terrorists are Hamas’. However, this statement ignored the seven assassination attempts on Hamas leaders in a five-day period, and the death of more than 40 Palestinian civilians in the week after the Al Aqaba summit.

With the Zionists demanding that the PA take action to ‘dismantle’ Hamas and thereby initiate civil war amongst the Palestinian people, negotiations on a ceasefire took on a renewed importance. Whilst the PA demanded that any ceasefire by the resistance be unconditional, the resistance organisations were not prepared to follow this path to surrender. As Al Rantisi put it, ‘Israel and her guardian ally, the US, are trying to impose on us a ceasefire that is worse than a surrender. We won’t accept that. They want us to stop the resistance, but make no clear commitment to stopping Jewish terror and Nazi-like brutality against our people’. Meanwhile Zionist provocation followed provocation. On 25 June, Sharon told his ministers to ignore the settlement freeze stipulated by the roadmap: ‘It is possible to build in the settlements, but people should not talk about it, and dance around every time a building permit is given. They should build without talking’. At the same meeting the cabinet rejected attempts to obtain a ceasefire saying that Abbas should ‘accept the responsibility to carry out serious counter-terrorist actions against the terrorist organisations’. Two days earlier, a Zionist death squad had assassinated Hamas leader Al Qawasmeh in Hebron and arrested 130 in a sweep through the city. Meanwhile Zionist ‘goodwill’ gestures had been shown to be completely bogus. An agreement to dismantle ten settlement outposts was met with a great fanfare: within days they had all been re-established and others built besides.

Yet the resistance finally agreed to a ceasefire on 29 June. Why was this? Firstly, the resistance acknowledged the very difficult international situation following the end of the onslaught on Iraq. Hamas states: ‘What happened in Iraq sends a clear American message to the Arab and Palestinian arenas namely that whoever stands in the face of American policy and determination will be wiped out…the message also warns resistance factions that there is no use in persisting in resistance and confronting the Zionist-American project in the region and Palestine and that there is no longer any real backer to those factions’. This means that ‘through imposing the roadmap, the American administration with the participation of the Zionist entity wish to invest in the Arab weakness and ineffectiveness in a bid to halt Palestinian resistance and quell the Al Aqsa Intifada’. Secondly, the Palestinian comprador bourgeoisie is determined, with US and Zionist support, to eliminate the resistance altogether. Hamas, in common with the rest of the resistance, has no illusions as to the character of the Mahmoud Abbas government. Yet the resistance has avoided as far as possible direct confrontation with the PA, aware of how this could develop into civil war and disaster for the Palestinian people. Instead, the resistance has decided to put Abbas on the spot: either deliver what the roadmap promises will follow with the end of violence, or step aside.

A ceasefire was therefore inevitable and, despite its rhetoric, this time the Zionists decided not to obstruct it and to allow Marwan Barghouti to broker negotiations from gaol between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Brigades on the one hand, and the PA on the other. On 29 June, Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to a three months’ truce conditional on an end to all Zionist aggression, including incursions and assassinations. Their demands also included an end to the siege of Arafat, the release of all political prisoners, a halt to the encroachment on Islamic and Christian holy sites, and an end to housing demolition and land destruction. Fatah declared a six months’ truce the following day, additionally demanding an immediate halt to settlement construction and the building of the separation wall. The PFLP decided not to be party to the truce but announced it would not breach the consensus.

Since the ceasefire
As the resistance expected, the ceasefire has exposed once again the treachery of the Zionists and the PA. Firstly, there has been no end to Zionist closures of the major cities on the West Bank. Land seizures continue, as does settlement activity. The bulldozers – 50 of them at any one time – continue to build the separation wall. There has been no significant release of political prisoners (see box). Marwan Barghouti has just received an extra six months’ solitary confinement. Arafat remains under siege: on 12 July, the Zionist Chief of Staff Moshe Yalon said that Arafat should either be killed or banished. Other incidents in breach of the ceasefire include:

• 1 July: Israeli troops entered Tulkarm and killed Nimr Al Jayoushi; two days later they assassinated Mahmoud Shawwar in Qalandiya;
• 4 July: An invasion of Jenin resulted in several arrests. The next day, approximately 100 dunums of agricultural land were confiscated from the residents of Bakka Ash-Sharkiya and a curfew was imposed on Hebron. North of Jenin, in Marj Bin Amer, Israeli troops destroyed a water network in addition to razing arable land;
• 7 July: Seven men were arrested during an invasion into Qabatiya. Troops also invaded Ramallah and arrested two people, and two more in Harbatha Al Misbah near Ramallah;
• 8 July: In Hebron settlers, protected by soldiers, took over a house and confiscated five dunums of Palestinian land for settlement expansion;
• 9 July: Burkin near Jenin was invaded and in the ensuing shooting a Palestinian was killed and others arrested. In Jenin four international peace activists were arrested in a demonstration against the confiscation of more Palestinian land in the area;
• 10 July: Six people were arrested in Nablus; six more were arrested in Durra near Hebron.
• 12 & 13 July: Two Palestinian women were wounded by gunfire in Khan Yunis in separate incidents;
• 20 July: Israeli occupation forces confiscated 283 dunum of land south-east of Khan Yunis and effectively annexed it to the Morag settlement.

The focus of resistance activity has been to secure the release of the nearly 6,000 political prisoners who are currently held by the Zionists. The PA has been forced to take up their cause by huge demonstrations that have taken place in both Gaza and the West Bank – yet its efforts to secure any concessions from the Zionists have proved fruitless. Although the media made great play of the release of 121 prisoners on 3 June before the Aqaba summit, 100 of them were administrative detainees whose detention orders had less than 19 days to run, and a further 20 had been held without charge or detention order. This meant that only one political prisoner was released! Although the Zionists say they will release a further 350, 215 of them are on illegal detention orders, and no prisoners are included whom the Zionists claim have ‘Jewish blood on their hands’. Zionist Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Palestinian prisoners to be drowned in the Dead Sea: none of his colleagues rebuked him for this. On 7 July, 900 prisoners supported an appeal to the PA not to accept any distinction between those who had shed Zionist blood and those who hadn’t: ‘How about the thousands of Israelis who murdered Palestinians, including women and children? Is Jewish blood more precious than our blood?’ They also demanded to be recognised as prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, emboldened by the truce, PA security minister Mohammed Dahlan is offering $6,000 for each rifle surrendered by the resistance and a similar amount as bounty to freedom fighters who join the PA security forces. He has received $50m from the US and EU for this purpose. In addition, the PA has started to search for and seize resistance weapons. This is leading to further confrontations. Two members of PA ‘death squads’ were badly injured in a clash with Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) volunteers in Gaza. The incident followed an attack on Mohammed Al-Simiri, a member of the Qassam Brigades who was shot in the leg and then beaten up; he has since lost an arm. Hamas this time was able to prevent a more violent confrontation between PRC and PA security forces. On 18 July, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades kidnapped the PA governor of Jenin, Haider Ershaid, after accusing him of sending ‘gangsters’ to assassinate one of their members. A Fatah statement the previous week had accused Ershaid of corruption and of stealing money allocated to martyrs’ families. This political divide was also evident in Bethlehem, where the Fatah movement attacked the rector of the Al Quds University, Sirri Nesseiba, who has proposed in a paper co-written with a former Zionist intelligence official that the right of return for Palestinian refugees be renounced as part of a final settlement. On 25 July, Palestinian prisoners from all parts of the resistance condemned a statement by Fatah leader Sufyan Abu Zaida who agreed on Zionist television that Palestinian prisoners who had blood on their hands should not be released.

In early July the PA conducted a poll which found that 91% of Palestinians expect the Zionists to undermine the truce; nearly a quarter of those surveyed were against it anyway, more than those who thought it would be a success. With the PA failing to get the Zionists to deliver, the truce is already in difficulty less than a month after its declaration. On 15 July, Abu Haid, an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza declared ‘We are still exercising patience and allowing a chance but we could not continue enduring on a unilateral basis. We did not table our initiative to extricate Israel from its security, military and economic ordeals…we tell the Zionists that if they wish to safeguard their citizens’ lives then they have to accept our conditions and the first and foremost is freedom for our prisoners’. The Hamas and Al Aqsa Brigades position is no different: ‘We will not allow ourselves to be deceived again. We learned many lessons from the bitter experience of the Oslo years. We shall not fall into the same trap twice’ said Al Rantisi, also in mid July. The future of the ceasefire remains very uncertain, and the possibility of confrontation between the liberation movement and the PA is very real. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! stands with those who continue to fight the Zionist occupation.
Free all political prisoners!
End the land seizures, End the closures!
Victory to the Intifada!

PFLP on the two-state solution

On 20 May 2003, the radical US journal Fightback! published an interview with the general secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Ahmad Saadat. Saadat is illegally held in Jericho in joint US-British custody. In the course of the interview Saadat spoke of the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the impossibility of a two-state solution:

‘The right of return for the Palestinian refugees is a legitimate and central Palestinian right, and the most important part of the Palestinian liberation scheme. When the PFLP insists on its commitment to the right of return, it simply insists on its commitment to the Palestinian national agenda that was approved in numerous meetings of the Palestine National Council.

Furthermore, the upholding of the right of return is not, as some intellectuals and academics have argued, an impractical position, representing an inability to understand political realities and the composition of local, regional and international forces.

On the contrary, this commitment to the right of return is the by-product of a scientific and objective assessment and reading of the historical struggle between the Palestinian national liberation movement and the Zionist colonial movement. Any solution that ignores the right of return as a basis for a permanent peace between the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers who forcibly expelled the indigenous people of Palestine and colonised the land may produce short periods of quiet and calm, but will not eliminate the objective conditions that produce the conflict between our people and the Zionist movement. (…)

Some have argued that the current reality is pushing towards a two-state solution – an Israeli state next to a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Of course, this solution involves ignoring the right of return, or replacing it with reparations.

We in the PFLP argue that forcing such a solution on the Palestinian people will not end the struggle. The two-state solution that is based on the racist notion of "a national, homogeneous Jewish state" totally disregards the fact that over 1.3 million Palestinians — 20% of the entire population — live inside "Israel". This will continue to permit the causes of conflict to remain inside Israel. Therefore, the solution based on two states is a myth.

Our people's quest, like any other people, is a democratic and free society. This democratic state — the only state form that can produce social and economic development — cannot be led or dominated by the parasitic and comprador bourgeoisie, but by a unity of the popular forces that share structural interests in national independence, return to the homeland, popular democracy and economic development. This is, simply, our view in the PFLP, and the view of the national, democratic liberation movement’.

Fightback! magazine is available at <>

Palestinian political prisoners

According to official Zionist figures, as of 8 July:
• 5,892 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli prisons or detention camps. Of these, 351 are children under the age of 18, some 35 are under 14, 75 are women, and 433 have been held since before the Oslo agreements.
• To date, only 1,461 have been put on trial, whilst 786 are under administrative detention. This means that they have not been charged with any crime – illegal under international law. Detention orders may last up to six months and can be renewed without limitation. Hence Khalid Jaradat has been held continuously in this way for 12 years.
• Approximately one in five Palestinians have been detained at one time or another; 8,500 were arrested alone during February-March 2002. 2,000 children have been detained since the start of the Intifada.

Victory to the Palestinian people!


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