Sharon’s government falls: no respite for the Palestinians

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

On 5 November General Sharon, war criminal and mass murderer, dissolved the government which he had boasted would end the Intifada. Having scheduled elections for 28 January, he appointed a caretaker government which included the recently retired Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz as Defence Minister, and Benyamin Netanyahu as Foreign Minister. Labour had precipitated the collapse of Sharon’s coalition by withdrawing its ministers from his cabinet. No principle was involved: merely a complaint that subsidies to illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories were running at five times the level of those to poorer Jewish households in Israel proper. Robert Clough reports.

Given its complicity in every war crime the Sharon government committed, the Israeli Labour Party has now tried to distance itself from Sharon’s Likud Party by electing a new leader. Avram Mitzna, who defeated Benjamin Ben Eliezer overwhelmingly in a poll of party members, is yet another former army general, a ‘chip off the oldest block in Israeli politics’ (Graham Usher in Al Ahram). This did not stop The Guardian from describing him as a ‘dove’. He says he would re-open negotiations with the Palestinians regardless of who is leader, with the Camp David agreement as the starting point. ‘If it becomes apparent they [the Palestinians] are not ready [for compromise], as the people responsible for the security of the State of Israel, we will determine the security border. The political border will [have to] wait until there’s someone to talk to’ (speaking to Ha’aretz, 19 November). As with every other Israeli political leader, he is absolutely clear that the Palestinian people, having compromised to the extent of giving up 78% of historical Palestine, will have to compromise further on the 22% that remains.

The apartheid wall
The nature of that ‘compromise’ is evident from a wall that the Zionists are building along the West Bank. When it is finished it will be 360 km long; it will annex 10% of the West Bank to Israel, transferring 57 settlements with 303,000 settlers into Israel together with 385,000 Palestinians who will be granted neither residential status nor citizenship.

The first section, 114 km long, is being constructed in the north. Long sections are medieval in style, up to 30 feet high, with huge guard towers every 300 metres or so. It runs to the east of the pre-1967 border and when complete will involve the annexation of 1.6% of the West Bank to Israel. It will fence in 17 villages and towns, hemming in 110,000 Palestinians. Land between the wall and the border will be a closed military zone. With a network of subsidiary walls it will create four discrete cantons cut off from the West Bank. One of these cantons will include the town of Tulkarm which will be illegally annexed and separated from Israel by a massive trench. Qalqilya will be completely surrounded by the 8-metre-high wall, its 48,000 population will only be able to get into and out of the town through a single checkpoint. Underneath Qalqilya is the Western Aquifer water system which provides 51% of the West Bank’s water resources. Israel will confiscate this along with 14 wells which provide 30% of the town’s water supply. Gone too will be 1,700 acres out of 2,500 acres of some of the most fertile land of the West Bank on which Qalqilya depends. The building of the fence has involved the destruction of huge swathes of Palestinian farmland; its route is subject to constant change, most recently to annex Kokhav Yair settlement, home to both Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz.

Not even apartheid South Africa created such a monstrosity to surround its bantustans. In its racist oppression of the Palestinian people, in its determination to subject them to absolute control, Zionism is proving even more oppressive than its former military ally. Around Jerusalem there are plans to create a complex set of walls which will be constructed in such a way as to annex 7% of the West Bank with 39 settlements and 270,000 settlers. In an effort to minimise the transfer of the Palestinian population to Israel it is likely that an area around Calandia camp will be completely enclosed and deemed part of any Palestinian state that may be established in the future.

Israeli terror continues…
The past two months have seen no let up in the terror campaign against the Palestinian people. On 19 November, Mustafa Barghouti stated that of the 2,017 Palestinian people killed since the start of the Intifada, 85% were civilians. Of these, 179 were killed in assassination attacks, 65 of them bystanders; 377 of the dead were children. ‘99% of the total number of victims were shot in the upper part of their bodies’. A month earlier, Israeli radio had announced that stone throwers would be shot on sight: unofficial policy had become official. This gives Israeli soldiers carte blanche to shoot school children for throwing stones at tanks: several have been murdered in this way over the last few weeks, including 13-year-old Amer Al Qudsi on 20 November and 8-year-old Jihad Al Faqeh on 25 November.

On 7 October, an invasion of Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza left 16 dead, all civilians. 13 were killed when an Apache helicopter fired missiles into a large crowd. Before that, troops had shot a 52-year-old mother dead in front of her seven children, and then shot dead a neighbour who had tried to come to her assistance. Later tanks shelled and machine-gunned the nearby hospital, killing one more. Sharon later described the attack as ‘important and successful’. Ten days later tank shells killed eight civilians including two small children in Rafah camp. Over a five-week period, 65 civilians were killed in Rafah and Khan Younis. On 19 November an Israeli army undercover unit in Tulkarm was discovered and stoned by some youths: a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead. The unit then went on to seize a Fatah activist and, having determined his identity, execute him in cold blood. As the unit withdrew it killed three more civilians. Three days later troops stormed into Jenin refugee camp and killed a British UN worker and a 13-year-old boy. The Briton, Ian John Hawk, was aiding in the reconstruction of the camp and had been negotiating the withdrawal of UN workers over his mobile phone when he was shot. An Irish activist, Caoimhe Butterly, later said ‘He came out of the UN compound waving a blue UN flag, and the soldiers’ only response was to broadcast with their microphone in English “We don’t care if you are the United Nations or who you are. Fuck off and go home”.’ Israeli troops shot Butterly herself in the thigh later that day as she tried to shepherd three Palestinian children away from them. Hawk died of blood loss as Israeli troops delayed a Palestinian ambulance from reaching him.

…but resistance continues

On 21 October, Islamic Jihad bombed a bus in northern Israel killing 14 soldiers. The two guerrillas involved were killed when they rammed the bus with a jeep filled with high explosives. ‘We have no choice but to defend ourselves’ a Jihad spokesperson stated. ‘The world was utterly silent in the face of recent Israeli massacres in Rafah and Khan Younis. Does the world think that the lives of Palestinian civilians are worthless?’ Some three weeks later, on 15 November, in a well-planned attack Jihad guerrillas killed nine soldiers and three settler security guards in Hebron. The Israeli government called it a ‘massacre’ of ‘defenceless worshippers’, even when it became known that none of the worshippers alleged to have been the targets was hit let alone killed.

Meanwhile discussions between Hamas and Fatah over the aims and tactics of the resistance continue. Hamas has said it will discontinue suicide attacks provided the Israeli army discontinues its policy of targeting and killing Palestinian civilians and its campaign of assassinating militants. This has not prevented Mustafa Barghouti from disgracefully claiming that ‘Hamas has the same interest as Sharon – they don’t want an agreement, they don’t want to see progress, they feed off each other.’ However, armed struggle is the right of the Palestinian people: there is no equivalence between the violence of the oppressed and the oppressors.