Two years of Intifada

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

On 21 September, Zionist troops tore down the Palestinian flag that flew over Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters and raised the Israeli flag in its place. This act confirmed to the world that the Oslo peace process is dead, and that the Zionist reoccupation of the West Bank is complete. Robert Clough reports.

The Zionist army re-entered Arafat’s presidential complex on Thursday 19 September. Army bulldozers started to tear down part of the headquarters: ten buildings were razed to the ground along with all prefabricated structures. Arafat has been confined to his residence along with about 200 Palestinian Authority (PA) officials. Israel is demanding their complete surrender and intends to detain up to 40 of them. The US has given a green light to the operation, only cautioning its Zionist allies to ‘be careful’ – in other words, not to kill Arafat.

The excuse for the renewed invasion of the PA headquarters was two suicide operations on 18 and 19 September, the first for six weeks, which killed nine people in all. Yet in that six weeks dozens of Palestinian civilians had been slaughtered without any protest from the rest of the world. Amongst them were:
• A 15-year-old boy shot dead in Gaza on 20 August while shopping for the new school year;
• 13-year-old Mohamed Amin Ourdeh, shot by troops in an armoured personnel carrier for allegedly breaking the curfew in Jenin and throwing stones at a tank;
• A mother, Ruwaida Al Hajin and her three sons, killed by an anti-personnel shell from an Israeli tank in Gaza on 28 August;
• A 10-year-old boy killed a few hours later by machine gun fire from an armoured personnel carrier, again in Gaza;
• A Fatah activist, Raafat Daraghmeh, two teenagers and two children, blown up by four missiles from an Apache helicopter south of Jenin on 31 August;
• Four quarry workers, abducted and summarily executed by Israeli undercover soldiers south of Hebron on 1 September;
• Two students killed by a shell from an Israeli tank on 3 September near Nablus.

Between 1 August and 1 September, the Israeli army murdered at least 39 civilians, including seven children, 15 teenagers and a woman of 86. On 7 September, a report by the Zionist army into three of those murders concluded that the soldiers involved had all followed correct procedures in response to ‘suspicious behaviour’. The only conclusion that the Palestinian people can draw is that it is always ‘correct procedure’ for Zionists to kill them in cold blood.

The Zionists and their imperialist allies had sustained their pressure on Arafat and the PA since the conclusion of Operation Determined Path in June this year. They had secured the appointment of a number of their stooges to Arafat’s cabinet, most notoriously the Minister of the Interior Al Yahya who is on record as saying that ‘throwing rocks is also a form of terrorism’. He negotiated the so-called Bethlehem-Gaza First agreement with Zionist minister Ben Eliezer, signing it on 18 August. This required a partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from both Bethlehem and Gaza whilst guaranteeing that the PA would prevent any ‘terrorist’ attacks. Hamas and Fatah rightly condemned the agreement as ‘unconditional surrender’. The troop withdrawals from Bethlehem involved a redeployment to 500 metres away; the siege of the town remained. Sharon later defended the agreement by saying ‘we have only removed two or three jeeps from the streets of Bethlehem, that is all we have done, and our forces are clamping a siege on the city preventing anyone from getting in or out’. On the same day as the agreement came into effect, the newly-appointed Israeli army chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon described the PA as ‘a malignant cancer that must be eradicated’. He went on to declare that Palestinian resistance posed an ‘existential threat’ to Israel so that the only alternative was ‘to inflict a decisive defeat on the Palestinians before the two sides can sit down around the negotiating table’.

Bethlehem-Gaza First effectively consolidated the Israeli occupation of the other six cities of the West Bank (Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Tulkarm). The Zionist army reinforced this point when hundreds of armoured personnel carriers with thousands of troops attacked Tulkarm refugee camp the day after the agreement came into effect, killing two people: Israeli ministers said the agreement would not ‘impede army operations in the West Bank’. Such operations include the closures and curfews imposed on the West Bank cities since the start of Operation Defensive Path in late June. In the three months since then, the Nablus curfew has been lifted for a total of less than four days. It means that in Nablus school children have yet to go to school four weeks after the start of term; the same is true of Jenin. Since the beginning of August, Palestinians have been unable to travel between the principal cities of the West Bank; in many cases, travel within the closed areas is forbidden. ‘We have effected a total closure on the Arabs’ said Zionist minister Ben Eliezer: ‘Nobody enters and nobody leaves. There is no movement between the towns and villages’. There is no economy to speak of on the West Bank now: the population has been reduced to dependence on food handouts as poverty rates and malnutrition have soared (see column). There have been nightly invasions of Gaza, constant demolitions of homes, the banishment of the relatives of militants from the West Bank to Gaza. The Zionist policy is one of attrition: of making life so unbearable for the Palestinian people that they give up all their ambitions for the Intifada.

However, the resistance has not ended. Within the Intifada, the debate over tactics has continued over the summer period. The main division has been between Fatah, which has proposed the unilateral cessation of operations within the 1948 borders, and Hamas, which would only agree to such a step if it was linked to Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank and an end to the assassination campaign. This debate, coupled with one about the political effectiveness of suicide operations, has been a significant reason why resistance activities have been curtailed over the summer period. However, on 3 September, a Merkava tank hit a landmine in Gaza killing its driver – the third tank to have been destroyed during the Intifada, whilst military operations against the Zionist settlements are a daily occurrence.

Alongside this has been growing pressure on the Arafat administration itself. Such pressure led to the first meeting of the Palestine Legislative Council since the start of the Intifada. 60 delegates attended: 14 were barred by the Zionists. Arafat offered nothing other than his now ritual condemnation of suicide operations. When it came to confirming the cabinet reshuffle that had taken place in June, there was uproar. People like Al Yahya and Finance Minister Al Masri are seen as no more than US-Israeli puppets, and there is widespread contempt for Arafat’s old cronies who are a byword for incompetence and corruption. When it was clear that the majority would reject the reshuffle, all 21 members of the government resigned. In an effort to regain lost popularity, Arafat then proposed municipal and presidential elections to take place on 20 January next year. There is no doubt that Israel and the US will veto them because they will endorse Arafat’s position; such a step will of course make a mockery of the sudden US-Zionist concern for democracy within the PA.

The mass support for the Intifada amongst the working class however was evident over the weekend of 21/22 September when thousands of people poured into the streets in protest at the threat to Arafat in Ramallah. In Nablus, Ramallah and Tulkarm people defied the curfew in their anger. Zionist troops responded with their guns: four were shot dead and dozens injured by gunfire. Once again, there was no condemnation from Zionism’s imperialist allies. They will not respond to any gesture either from the PA or from the resistance movements. On 6 September Sharon declared ‘Oslo doesn’t exist, Camp David doesn’t exist, Taba doesn’t exist, we are not going back to those places’; on the same day he told the state radio ‘no settlements, even the rogue ones, will be dismantled’. There was scarcely a murmur of objection from the US, or the EU, or the UN. The heroic struggle of the Palestinian people continues.


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