For all his bravado and a massive use of brutal force, Sharon is no nearer extinguishing the raging inferno of the Palestinian Intifada at the end of a whole year in office than was his predecessor, Ehud Barak. His bankrupt policies having failed utterly, his government was left with the simple choice of either coming to terms with reality and negotiating a more or less honourable and just settlement with the Palestinian people, or go down the familiar road of further intensification of oppression of the Palestinian people. Predictably, the Sharon government opted for the latter bankrupt and self-defeating policy.
By the end of February, having failed to stem the advancing tide of the liberation struggle, with its frequent attacks on Israeli targets, both in the occupied territories and Israel, and consumed with impotent rage, the Sharon government embarked on an altogether new level of savage brutality and let loose its army on a killing spree. On 28 February, the Israeli army forced its way into Jenin, killing more than 30 and wounding more than 300 in a matter of two days. The Palestinian resistance answered this brutality the following day by an attack on an orthodox quarter of Jerusalem, which killed nine Israelis. A day later, a lone Fatah gunman killed 7 Israeli soldiers and three settlers at a checkpoint with a rather antiquated rifle. The Zionist fury over the ability of the resistance to hit back knew no bounds. Sharon, announcing a policy of retaliation, chillingly said that the “…aim is to increase the number of losses on the other side. Only after they’ve been battered will we be able to conduct talks.” Like a mad bull in a rage, they charged in all directions, hitting out at Palestinian targets, mainly civilian, with warplanes, tanks, attack helicopters and every other weapon in their deadly arsenal, killing 3 in Ramallah on 5 March, 10 the following day, 38 on March 7, and a huge 56 on 8 March. The Israeli invasions of Palestinian towns and refugee camps followed the familiar pattern, with the Israeli army ordering Palestinians between the ages of 16 and 40 to come out of their homes and surrender, those who surrendered were duly shackled, blindfolded and, in a manner reminiscent of the Nazis, had marks and numbers stamped on their bodies1, taken to army bases or settlements, where they were denied food for up to three days and questioned under conditions of torture and terror. A detainee, who had been held at the army base at Ofer, related his terrifying experience thus: “If you stood up, you would be shot. If you turned your head to the left or right, you would be shot. If you looked at a soldier you would be shot.” After these harrowing experiences, the Israeli army released many in the early hours of the morning to negotiate their way home through army checkpoints and bloodthirsty settlers.
The above use of brutal force was unable to silence the resistance. On 2 March, a suicide bomber killed 10 Israelis in Jerusalem; on 5 March 5 Israelis were killed in shooting and bomb attacks; and on 7 March a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Zionist settlement in the West Bank injuring 9 settlers while a bombing was narrowly averted near the centre of Jerusalem.
Israel responded, adding to its earlier outrages, by a full-scale invasion of Ramallah. On 12 March, 20,000 Israeli troops, supported by 250 tanks, armoured vehicles, apache helicopters and bulldozers, smashed their way into Ramallah, the headquarters of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (PA), killing innocent people, wreaking vengeance and destruction. Over a dozen people were killed and hospitals and schools hit. Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, too, was invaded, resulting in 25 dead and several scores injured. In the two weeks following 28 February, nearly 200 Palestinians had been slaughtered and more than 3,000 men detained. The Israeli offensive prompted a quick response from the resistance. Gunmen, dressed in Israeli army uniform, attacked vehicles near the Lebanese border, killing six Israelis, thus proving their ability to strike at targets previously thought beyond the line of confrontation.
A particular feature of Zionist brutality, which was to reach its apogee, as we shall soon see, during the March-April assault on Jenin, is to bar the entry of journalists (in an attempt to prevent the news of zionist atrocities reaching the outside world) and medical rescue teams to treat the injured (so as to cause maximum loss of life). In view of all this, one cannot fail to be impressed by the sick sense of humour of David Gold, an Israeli government spokesman, who boasted of the alleged restraint shown by Israel in not using “… the full strength of its air force against the refugee camps.” After the Jenin massacre, which followed soon thereafter, even the likes of David Gold would have extreme difficulty making such an assertion.
The response of the resistance was swift and devastating. On 14 March, exactly a month after the destruction of the first Israeli tank near Natzarim refugee camp in Gaza, a second Merkava tank was blown up close to Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, an incident which shook the zionist civil and military establishment to its core. On 17 March, one Israeli was killed and 15 wounded when a Palestinian liberation fighter sprayed bullets into a crowd of Israelis at a busy junction in Kfar Saba, a central Israeli town near Tel Aviv. On 20-21 March, a suicide bomber killed 7 Israelis in a bus in the northern Israeli town of Umm-Al Fahm while three were killed in Jerusalem. On 27 March while four settlers were killed in an attack by Hamas on a settlement, another 21 were killed by a bomber, also belonging to Hamas, at a hotel in the seaside town of Natanya during a Passover gathering. On 30 March, 16 Israelis were killed and 40 wounded when a Hamas bomber blew himself up at a crowded restaurant at lunchtime in the northern Israeli port of Haifa; two hours later, a second bomber detonated a device, killing himself and wounding four others at the West Bank settlement of Erfat – it was the fifth suicide bombing in as many days.
The strength of the resistance, and its ability to strike back against their zionist tormentors, has surprised and convinced most Israelis that there is no military solution to the conflict. As a result, support for Ariel Sharon has been declining. An independent Israeli political analyst, Joseph Alpher, had this to say as the latest Israeli invasion of Palestinian towns and villages, which began on 29 March, was under way:
“The strategy is not going to work. We have seen repeatedly that humiliating and isolating Arafat along with humiliating and reoccupying hundreds of thousands of Palestinians does not bring about a reduction of terrorism [resistance – Lalkar]. It creates the groundwork for additional terrorists.” Mr Alpher went on to characterise the latest operation as a “knee-jerk, aggressive move” which he likened to an attempt “…to drain the ocean with a spoon,” adding that it was “pointless and pathetic” (quoted in the Financial Times, 1 April).
One cannot fail to contrast the sober assessment of an Israeli political analyst with the following mad ravings of the dim-witted incumbent of the White House:
“All the leaders in the world must stand up against terror, must do everything in their power to cut off the funding to terrorist organisations, to prevent terrorist organisations from finding safe haven.
“And that especially applies to Chairman Arafat. I believe he can do a lot more to prevent attacks, such as the one that just occurred in Tel Aviv.”
And this at a time when Yasser Arafat, confined to a single second-floor room of his headquarters, which has been reduced to rubble by Israeli artillery, was facing Israeli state terrorism barely a few metres away from the guns of the Israeli tanks and when literally millions of his people were being subjected to the most systematic campaign of death, destruction and terror by the Israeli armed forces! The absence of a sense of occasion, the loss of humanity and sense of justice, and the cynicism displayed by the US president in his above utterance are truly of Hitlerian proportions.
While the Arab leaders, meeting in Beirut during the last week of March, were busy launching the Saudi peace plan for normalisation of relations with Israel in return for her vacating the territories conquered in the June 1967 war, namely the Gaza strip, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Syrian Golan Heights, Israel launched its latest invasion of Palestinian towns and villages. All the major towns under the control of the PA, with the sole exception of Jericho, have been subjected to invasion, destruction and mass killings. In every one of these places, the Israeli soldiers have left a trail of destruction – mangled cars, smashed water pipes and telephone poles, even spray-painting the Star of David on homes, and streets and homes littered with hundreds of dead, dying and wounded. Although it is the same story from Gaza to Ramallah, Bethlehem to Nablus, and Turkasam to Qalqilya, Jenin has been made a special target for destruction and it was there that the mass murder of the Palestinian was consummated by the blood-thirsty wolves of the Israeli army.
On 2nd of April, the Israeli army commenced its assault on Jenin, an overcrowded refugee camp which is home to those originally expelled from their homes at gunpoint in 1948 by murderous zionist gangs such as the Stern and the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both of whom subsequently became the prime ministers of this ‘great’ and ‘peace-loving’ ‘democracy’. While helicopters fired, the tanks rolled into the camp, with the bulldozers destroying houses without as much as a warning. Israeli soldiers used innocent Palestinian civilians as human shields in house to house fighting. Consequent upon the combined Israeli air and ground attacks, according to the Israeli army’s own admission “hundreds” of Palestinians perished. The Israeli army used refrigerator trucks for retrieving bodies which were then taken to the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley for burial in mass graves. Thousands of Palestinians were rounded up and taken for questioning to various concentration camps. While helicopters, fighter planes and tanks carried out bombardments of this highly concentrated population centre, ground troops declared Jenin, as they had done elsewhere, a closed military zone, which is “illegal and a violation of existing agreements”, said Terje Larsen, UN Middle East special envoy. The purpose behind declaring such zones was to prevent journalists from informing the rest of the world on the infamies committed by the Israeli army’s banditry. The Red Cross was denied access until 15 April. The Israeli army was doubtless guilty of widespread violation of human rights and a total departure from civilised standards; thousands of innocent civilians were deprived of food and water, with electricity and telephone lines disconnected; bodies piled up in morgues with the people not allowed even to bury their dead friends and relatives; ambulances were not allowed access to the wounded and ambulance drivers were often shot at by the Israeli army.
For two weeks Jenin had been turned into a veritable slaughterhouse. A Times reporter, on entering the camp on 15 April, declared: “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo have I seen such destruction, such disrespect for human life” (Times 16 April)
The genocide and massacre over, the Israeli army pulled out on 19 April. The Palestinians returned to the heaps of rubble which were once their home. Reporters and representatives of aid agencies and human rights organisations were appalled at the sight, which resembled an earthquake zone, with hundreds of houses demolished, thousands rendered homeless, infrastructure destroyed, and the stench of rotting bodies under the rubble simply overpowering and nauseating. What the Israelis left behind was a humanitarian crisis of horrendous proportions. UN’s special envoy, Mr Larsen, the first senior international envoy to visit the camp, said that the conditions he witnessed in the camp were “horrific and shocking beyond belief”. He encountered scenes of catastrophic destruction as bereaved relatives used hands and shovels to search for their loved ones under the debris of bulldozed buildings. “No object can justify producing such suffering for the population” said Mr Larsen, adding that “whatever the purpose was, the effect is collective punishment of a whole society”. He went on to condemn the Israeli denial to international humanitarian organisations of access to the camp as “utterly unacceptable” and “at best problematic from an international and humanitarian point of view” (see FT 19 April). Mr Larsen’s honest characterisation of the actions of the zionist authorities was in stark contrast with the praise showered by the chief-executive of US imperialism, George W Bush, on Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, as a “man of peace”. He also gave his backing to the continuing siege of the Ramallah compound of Yasser Arafat and the preconditions the Israeli government had for ending it.
From the foregoing account of the Israeli atrocities, it would be wrong to conclude that the Palestinians were simply the passive victims of the latest Zionist outrages. Far from it. The Palestinians fought heroically against the invading army of aggression, which came under heavy fire from the forces of resistance. On 9 April, 13 Israeli aggressor troops were killed by a suicide bomber in the camp. The following day (10 April), the liberation movement struck within Israel, when a suicide bomber killed eight Israelis on a crowded bus in Haifa, thus demonstrating Israel’s inability to stop such attacks through the latter’s invasion of Palestinian areas and large scale massacres of Palestinians. Three days later (13 April), another suicide bomber killed six Israelis outside a Jerusalem market. Unable to put an end to resistance, the Zionist army simply went berserk and inflicted wanton death and destruction on its Palestinian victims. All the same, and notwithstanding the punishment taken by the Palestinians, the Sharon government’s desperate and senseless actions stand no more chance of being successful than the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, which he master-minded in his capacity of Israel’s then Defence Minister, and whose final outcome was, not the intended extermination of the PLO, but Israel’s humiliating defeat and expulsion from Lebanon after a bloody twenty years of warfare. By its actions, Israel has laid the basis for its own bitter defeat. “By its treatment of the Palestinians, Israel nurtures the very despair and hatred that are the root cause of terrorism [resistance – Lalkar]” (FT 16 April). By their heroic resistance in the face of such overwhelming force, the Palestinian people have helped to re-christen Jenin into Jeningrad, turning it from being a squalid refugee camp into a legend.
Let it be emphasised that the carnage in Jenin took place with the full connivance of US imperialism. On 4 April, Bush had demanded the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the PA areas. However, instead of insisting on Israeli compliance with this demand, Bush quickly turned the heat on moderate Arab states, asking them that they condemn the suicide bombers as murderers rather than regard them as martyrs. While giving backing to a UN resolution demanding an Israeli withdrawal and a ceasefire, Bush sought to justify Israeli actions while blaming Yasser Arafat for the continuing crisis. His Secretary of State, Colin Powell, travelled to Jerusalem by the longest and slowest route in order to allow Israel ample time in which to inflict the maximum damage on the PA and the Palestinian people. On reaching Rabat, the Moroccan capital, he was bluntly asked by the Moroccan monarch why his first stop was not Jerusalem. This question was repeated at every stop on his itinerary. While in Israel, he visited the scene of a suicide bombing, which killed six Israelis in Jerusalem, without bothering to pay a visit to Jenin where Israelis, according to their own admission killed hundreds of Palestinians. The worst of the carnage committed by the Israeli army at Jenin took place during Powell’s visit to Jerusalem; it is as though he had arrived to supervise and oversee the slaughter of the Palestinians.
The truth is that the US is totally insincere in its often expressed desire to find a just solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict and establish peace. Although from time to time, under pressure from the Arab masses, and in order to protect its own interests in the region, it is obliged to voice verbal support for the rights of the Palestinian people – even to the extent of supporting recently a UN resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, these are merely temporary expedients meant to mobilise Arab states in America’s so called “war on terrorism” or in its planned attack on Iraq in order to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. But the Arab masses are not fooled. In his eleven nation tour of the region in March, the US Vice-President Cheney got nowhere in drumming up support for the planned US attack on Iraq. Even moderate and pliant Saudi and Egyptian regimes told him bluntly that the problem in the Middle East was not Saddam Hussein but Israel; that nothing was as important as securing the rights of the Palestinian people and removing sanctions on Iraq, which have so devastated the lives of innocent Iraqis.
Israeli repression, and the US’ continued support for it, are isolating Israeli and the US alike. Israel is losing the war notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinians have not got a single tank to match Israel’s 3,900 tanks, a single helicopter to match Israel’s 275, a single fighter plane to match Israel’s 435 such machines, and a single artillery piece to match Israel’s 9,600. What the Palestinians do have, and what the Israelis have not, is moral superiority, dauntless courage, unbelievable perseverance, limitless steadfastness and ability to put up with extreme hardship. In an article, in which he criticised the policy of the Sharon government, and the support given to it by the Bush administration, Richard Cohen, writing in the International Herald Tribune, correctly observed thus: “… let us also question the wisdom, even the sanity, of Sharon, who daily doubles his bets as he plays a losing hand. He meets violence with violence, but no end is in sight. Israel and … Palestine are at war, and Israel is losing. It cannot afford to live in terror. If nothing else, people will pack and leave.” (8 March)
The Israeli/US policy has caused a backlash in Europe. European public opinion no longer supports Israel and the zionist establishment is increasingly reliant on the race card to drum up support even among the Jewish community for Israel as “Ariel Sharon pushes zionism towards fascism, in its modern ethnic cleansing form”, to borrow the words of Nick Cohen in The Observer of 14 April. London, Rome, Paris and many other cities across Europe have seen huge pro-Palestinian rallies, in some cases, as in London, 100,000-strong. British foreign secretary Jack Straw, who can hardly be suspected of harbouring soft liberal sentiments, has called for an inquiry into Israeli actions in Jenin. On 3 April, the Vatican summoned the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See and accused Israel of imposing “unjust conditions and humiliations” upon the Palestinian people. In the Middle East the masses are incensed and the moderate Arab regimes are under extreme pressure from their populations, whose sympathies are with the Palestinian and Iraqi people. On 7 April the Moroccan capital, Rabat, was gripped by the largest ever pro-Palestinian demonstration. To placate the public mood, even the Moroccan prime minister, Abdel Rahman Youssefi, was obliged to join this million-strong gathering. On the same day an equal number staged a demonstration in Syria in support of the Palestinians and to protest against Israeli and US policies. Two days earlier (5 April), demonstrators at a 20,000-strong demonstration stoned the US embassy in Bahrain, hoisting a Palestinian flag on the embassy building. Be it remembered that Bahrain is home to the US’ Fifth Fleet and a very important link in the US’ chain of military bases for the control of the Middle East and its oil wealth. Also on 5 April, Saudi Arabia, where demonstrations are banned, witnessed a militant anti-Israeli and anti-US demonstration in which the US embassy was attacked and 80 demonstrators injured. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia and many other countries also were scenes of similar mass demonstrations. Everywhere at these demonstrations the masses are demanding the severance of all ties with Israel and use of the oil embargo against it and the US. Not for a long time has the Middle East witnessed such militant and simultaneous expressions of anger against US imperialism and its surrogate Israel. It is a sign of the times that the state-controlled television in Egypt has been obliged to broadcast film footage comparing Zionism to Nazism, and stating that Israel had embarked upon the imposition of a final solution against the Palestinians. Further, on 3 April, Egypt suspended all official contact with Israel except that which helps to “serve the Palestinian cause.”
The Israeli/US policies have forced such bitter enemies as Iraq on the one hand and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on the other to take tentative steps towards some form of reconciliation – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah even embraced Izzat Ibrahim, Saddam Hussein’s envoy to the Arab Summit in Beirut.
In the middle of April, and this is saying something, a senior cleric in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest shrine, called on Arab leaders to forget about peace initiatives (a clear reference to the Saudi peace plan). His statement was followed by a call by 126 Saudi scholars on 22 April, in which they urged Arab rulers to take a firm stance against Israel and the US, describing them as part of the “axis of evil.” To cap it all, the Saudi ambassador to London, Ghazi Algosaibi, published a poem in the middle of April in which he showered praise on the first Palestinian female suicide bomber, Wafa Idris. Even the Turkish Prime Minister, Bülent Ecevit, who knows a thing or two about the subject, has denounced Israeli actions as “genocide”.
As for Israel, its international isolation increases by the day; its economy contracted by nearly 3% of the GDP for the first time last year; the unemployment rate has climbed to 10% of the workforce; the tourist industry has been hit badly, with the number of tourists declining from 2.5 million in 2000 to just over 1 million in 2001. Divisions within the zionist camp are widening fast, with the most lunatic sections of the right wing advocating “the transfer” (expulsion) of the entire Palestinian population from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, while the relatively saner sections demand an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories including settlements. More than 50% of the Israeli population support a withdrawal from all settlements. The settlement project in the Jordan Valley is starting to collapse. Consequent upon some devastating blows delivered by the resistance, Israeli towns and shopping streets, which are usually bustling with people, have become ghost towns, with an overwhelming presence of the army and countless checkpoints, thus demonstrating the correctness of Marx’s observation that no nation can be free if it oppresses another nation. Israelis will never be free as long as they continue to oppress the Palestinian people. Not surprisingly, the Israeli population is in a state of despair and despondency. The demoralisation in the army, only just recovering from its defeat in Lebanon, is spreading, with hundreds of reservists refusing to serve in the occupied territories. Israel’s foremost military historian, Martin van Creveld, predicts a defeat for Israel – “and perhaps civil war at home.” He says that the might of the Israeli army in this battle is “99% irrelevant”, for its morale is sapping die to the burden of repressing millions of people. He says that ” utter defeat” is the certain reward of armies fighting nationally motivated movements, and a similar fate awaits Israel.
“Fighting a weak opponent is difficult for a strong, sophisticated army
“If you do it once, it is a crime, but at least it is over. We are committing an endless series of crimes, day by day, night by night, against the unarmed, against the young, against the pregnant. Even when the Palestinians are armed, they are still just poor fellows. Armies collapse when they can no longer look themselves in the face.” (quoted in the Telegraph, 1 March 2002)
He is further of the view that the rising strain on the army will be instrumental in raising tensions between the left and right in Israel and pose the threat of a civil war, The only solution in his opinion is to build a wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, and putting an end to the dream of the Israeli Right to settle the whole of the Biblical land of Israel. Failing this, he says, “our state is doomed.”
Israel began its invasion of the occupied territories with the sole purpose of destroying the PA, completely isolating Yasser Arafat by capturing and exiling him, and destroying the liberation movement’s ability to strike at its zionist oppressors. On all counts, it has failed. The PA’s physical infrastructure is in ruins but the PA as such is far from being destroyed, Arafat stood his ground, preferring martyrdom to capture or exile. On 31 March, he declared that he would rather be “one of the Palestinian martyrs” than be captured or exiled. During his confinement Arafat was visited by stream of international dignitaries, including representatives of US imperialism – Generals Zinni and Powell. He was joined by 40 courageous volunteers from the US and Europe, who acted as human shields for Mr Arafat and about 50 other Palestinians stayed inside what remained of his headquarters during the most difficult days of the siege.
In the end, realising that those besieging had actually become the besieged, on 29 April Sharon, back facing wrath from his right-wing allies and under severe US pressure, was forced to lift the six-month long siege on Arafat. Under the terms of a deal, six Palestinians wanted by Israel, four of them found guilty by a Palestinian military court at the end of April for the killing of Reveham Zeevi, the late Israeli tourism minister, have been transferred to the custody of US and British wardens inside the PA territory, in return for which Mr Arafat is freed from virtual house arrest. Equally, under a compromise formula, the Israeli authorities were obliged to lift the siege from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in which 100 Palestinians, some of them on Israel’s ‘most wanted’ list, had taken refuge since 3 April. Under the agreement, 17 have been forced into exile while others have been freed unconditionally. As for the wider liberation movement, it kept striking hard at zionist targets during the Israeli army’s latest invasion but it has also struck since then. On 7 May the resistance struck at a snooker club in Rishon Letzionm killing 16 Israelis, thus demonstrating the utter futility of the Israeli campaign, whose declared object it was to put an end to precisely the kind of attack that took place on 7 May.
All that this Israeli campaign has achieved is to turn Israel and its chief banker, the US, into the moral lepers of the world before the bar of world opinion, leaving them isolated and discredit their terrorist campaigns – present and future – fought in the name of “war against terrorism.” The whole world can now clearly perceive that the real terrorists are none other than Israel and the US.
While the Human Rights Commission has condemned Israel for its “mass killings of Palestinians” and “gross violations” of humanitarian law, and affirmed the “legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist”, the US government has frustrated a UN fact-finding team into the Israeli army’s conduct at Jenin, even though the US voted for the resolution setting up the mission in the first place. This cannot fail to expose further still the hypocrisy of US imperialism which continues to wage its filthy war against the Iraqi people in the name of UN resolutions, while it protects Israeli Zionism, which has made a profession of flouting UN decisions. No wonder, then, that the declaration of the Beirut summit of Arab leaders categorically rejected US plans to attack Iraq, stating that such plans were a “threat to the national security of all Arab states.”
Fate leads the willing and drags the unwilling, runs a Latin saying. The Israelis will find no peace until they have accepted the just national rights of the Palestinian people. They can accept it willingly, even at this belated stage, or they will be dragged into such acceptance.
(1) The policy of numbering backfired and the army had to suspend it after a protest led by Yosef Lapid, a member of the Israeli parliament and a Holocaust survivor.