As these lines are being written, the Israeli army has served eviction notices on the sellers in the Gaza Strip requiring them to leave within 48 hours or be forcibly evicted. Before we deal with the evacuation of the 7,000 settlers from all of the 21 settlements in Gaza – the reasons for this unprecedented Israeli move, the motive forces propelling it, and its ramifications for the Palestinians and the Israelis – it would be useful to outline in brief the events of the recent past, in particular the last 9 months.
In 2002, the Bush administration joined Israel in ostracising and isolating the late Yasser Arafat on the pretext that he was behind the al-Aqsa Intifada and therefore an obstacle to peace. At the same time, in the spring of 2002, the Israeli army reoccupied the West Bank in an operation code-named ‘Defensive Shield’. During his visit to the US in early 2004, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was told by the US president, George W Bush, that Israel could expect to keep the large settlements the Israeli government have illegally built on the occupied West Bank. He also extended support for Israel’s stance that Palestinians expelled at gunpoint by Zionist thugs, who have been eking out a miserable existence in refugee camps in several middle eastern countries, would not be allowed to return to their land that is now part of Israel.
None of this outrageous conduct, which infuriates the Palestinian masses and fuels the Intifada, prevents either Israel or the US administration from glibly and moronically talking about the peace process and the so-called road map. Since the publication in 2003 of this ‘road map’, 50 new outposts have sprung up in the West Bank and the settlement expansion goes on relentlessly, including the plans, approved in March this year, to add 3,500 new homes to a settlement near Jerusalem (more anon). After the signing of the Oslo Accords, under the Rabin-Peres Labour government alone, the settlements expanded by 50%. Meanwhile the apartheid wall, cutting through Palestinian land, towns and villages, destroying the livelihoods of several tens of thousands of Palestinian people and heaping misery on them, continued to be constructed, even though the International Court of Justice pronounced it illegal. The Israeli invasions of Palestinian towns and villages, the wholesale demolition of houses, as well as the targeted assassination of the leaders of the resistance, not to speak of the checkpoints and the harassment of ordinary Palestinians going about their daily business, continued remorselessly. And yet, the US government and its Israeli Zionist stooges blamed Arafat for the continuing violence and the failure of the so-called peace process.
Imperialist and Zionist hopes
Eventually, on 11 November 2004, Arafat died (rumour has it that he was poisoned by the Israelis) in a Paris hospital. The Israeli Zionists gloated over his death. The Bush administration echoed the Israeli sentiments, albeit in far more guarded and restrained tones, saying that Arafat’s death had opened “a new opportunity towards a lasting peace”, adding that it was looking “forward to working with a Palestinian leadership that is committed to fighting terror and committed to the cause of democratic reform.” Denuded of all euphemism, the above statement amounted to this: that the US administration was only prepared to work with that Palestinian leader who proved in practice his ability to put at end to the Palestinian resistance (‘terror’ if you like) and was prepared to act as a willing tool of US foreign policy in the Middle East. Arafat was obviously not fit for this role and was shunned by the US and its protégé, Israel. It was the fervent hope of US imperialism and Israeli Zionism that Arafat’s successor would prove compliant and subservient. This, however, is a simpleton’s view of the Palestinian scene, which grossly underestimates the virility of the national revolutionary war of the Palestinian people against the Zionist colonisation of their country. No leader, no matter how powerful, charismatic and skilful, can stay at the helm if he betrays the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people and their struggle for national liberation.
In January of this year, Mahmoud Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). On 8 February, he met Ariel Sharon at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and agreed on a ceasefire. “We are committed to the peace process”, he declared, adding that “the time has come for the Palestinians to achieve the independence of our people, to enjoy peace, Dialogue will replace weapons and shells.”
Sharon, for his part, promised to initiate the release of prisoners held in Israeli concentration camps, where they are routinely tortured, brutalised and humiliated. He also promised to withdraw Israeli forces from five main Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Abu Mazen secured the agreement of the main resistance movements to the ceasefire (calm-down) in the Cairo Declaration of March this year. As a matter of fact the ceasefire had been in place before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit and was merely endorsed by the armed wings of the resistance in this Cairo Declaration.
Israeli violations of the ceasefire
Although the resistance abided by the terms of the ceasefire, the Israelis treated the agreement with complete contempt and stubbornly refused to carry out their obligations under it. Apart from the token withdrawal from Jericho and Tulkarm, Israel has refused to withdraw its forces from the centres of Palestinian population. As for prisoner release, Israel has arrested more than 1,300 Palestinians since the ceasefire, with the result that today, despite the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, Israel is holding 350 more than those freed since 8 February. Before the breakdown of the ceasefire, thank to Israeli violations and provocations, Israel managed to kill more than 60 and wound more than 500 Palestinians. In the face of extreme provocation, the resistance replied in kind from time to time, killing 18 Israelis during the same period. The Israeli stealing of Palestinian land has continued unchecked since 8 February, with Israel seizing 33,000 dunums (1 dunum = 1,000 square metres) of land. All the checkpoints are in place and the movement of the Palestinian population remains unbearably restricted.
The apartheid wall
The apartheid wall has nothing to do with Israeli security, notwithstanding the contrary assertions of Zionism and its imperialist backers. It has everything to do, as is the case with Jewish settlements, with land grab. It is the brainchild of Israeli professor Arnon Soffer, who came up with the projection that by 2020, at least 60% of the population of historic Palestine would be Palestinian. The wall is aimed at making unviable – indeed impossible – a Palestinian state through the annexation of roughly 50% of the 22% of historic Palestine, leaving a mere 10% of disconnected enclaves in Palestinian hands. Further, it is Soffer’s expectation that at least 1million Palestinians, deprived of their livelihoods, will be forced to emigrate, thus helping Israel to solve the “demographic problem”, while at the same time preventing the emergence of a viable independent Palestinian state. Such are the evil, Nazi-like, designs of Zionism.
Israel uses every pretext for confiscating Palestinian land. Land not being used, which can happen owing to late arrival of rains, can be, and regularly is, confiscated. So can land containing 50% or more of stones, which is most of Palestine. Then there is land which the government wants for building roads or installing pipes for new settlements. And to cap it all, there is always the excuse of the Zionist state’s security requirements, as for instance in the case of the apartheid wall. A whole armoury of laws dating back to the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate are pressed into service for the sole purpose of expropriating the Palestinian population and expelling it from the land of its and its ancestors’ birth.
Thus the ceasefire has not prevented the construction of the apartheid wall, which is nearing completion. This wall, which places the whole of Jerusalem and part of Bethlehem on the Israeli side, cuts the West Bank in half, swallowing up 10% of its most fertile land. It literally cuts through many Palestinians’ houses and land and gobbles up large swathes of Palestinian farm land for Jewish settlements and Israeli-only infrastructure. The result is that 73,000 Palestinian farmers (the majority holding blue Jerusalem ID cards) have been cut off from their land and scores of Palestinian towns and villages are being strangled to death. For instance, 700 livelihoods were dependent on Barta’a Sharqija market town, until it was destroyed to make way for the wall.
Fortified checkpoints, with their attendant humiliations and nerve-racking delays, have turned one end of the main street in Hebron into a deserted ghostly site. A few hundred fanatical Zionists, with a fascistic mentality, terrorist the 200,000 Palestinian inhabitants, bringing the latter’s lives to a standstill. Many walls of the town are scrawled with such slogans in Hebrew as ‘Death to all Arabs’. In addition, the settlers are resorting to fascistic attacks, unchecked by the Israeli army, on Palestinian farmers, and using poison to contaminate Palestinian farmland in the area of Hebron.
Settlements, which are illegal under international law, supposed to be frozen under the Oslo Accords as well as the ‘road map’, continue to be built and expanded at a frenetic rate to create new ‘facts on the ground’ to enable Zionism to indulge in further land grabs. At the end of March this year, the Israeli government approved the construction of 3,500 homes between Ma’ale Adumin, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, with a population of 250,000, and East Jerusalem – the idea being to expand and connect settlements to the east of Jerusalem right up to the apartheid wall. The result would be to surround East Jerusalem (Arab) and isolate it from its hinterland in the West Bank. Further, it will sever the link between such towns as Bethlehem to the south of Jerusalem and Ramallah to its north.
The combined effect of the settlement expansions and the apartheid wall will be to shift Ma’ale Adumin to the Israeli side of the border. “Does anyone have even the slightest doubt that Ma’ale Adumin is an integral part of Israel?” asserts Israeli deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Zionist opulence and Palestinian squalor
The contrast between the opulent life styles of the settlers, living it up on stolen Palestinian land and water, not to speak of cheap Palestinian labour, and the miserable existence of the Palestinians, eking out their livelihoods in conditions of squalor and Israeli state terrorism has to be seen to be believed. Nick Dearden, campaigns officer for the charity War on Want, recently visited Palestine. Here is what he has to say on the question under consideration:
“We witness the stark contrast between settlements and surrounding Palestinian villages first hand in Jerusalem.
“Ma’ale Adumin settlement resembles the US suburbs of Hollywood films – the surreal perfection of the Truman show, with flower beds in the centre of the road, well-watered gardens and standard eight-bedroom houses.
“Just a mile below the hilltop settlement lie the ‘homes’ of dispossessed Bedouins who were literally loaded onto cattle trucks in 1998 and moved from the site to make way for the settlement’s expansion.
“Now, they live in corrugated metal and wooden shacks held together by food packaging. Their children hold out their hands and ask for money as soon as they see us.
“Soon the sellers won’t even have to look at the Bedouins, thanks to the wall – a symbol of the global apartheid that separates the First World from Third World.”
Turning to Gaza he says:
“Plenty of other reminders await. ‘There’s one good thing about Gaza’, jokes our guide. ‘From here, it’s only a local phone call to hell.’
“Gaza is the poorest area of Palestine. Houses, shops, schools, the port – even the buildings of the government to which this territory is supposedly about to be handed – lie in rubble.
“Kids play around open sewage and live in one-room shacks, while 4,000 Israeli settlers dot Gaza’s landscapes in oases of lush fertility, living an extravagant lifestyle that has bled Gaza of its most precious resource – water.”
He continues: “It is only when you reach Rafah – the border between Palestine and Egypt – that you realise the violence that these people have seen.” There Mr Dearden met a 21-year old journalist, whom he refers to as Mohammed to safeguard his identity as a precaution against further Israeli harassment and reprisals. Mohammed, who cannot, in his own words, “…sleep properly at night without the sound of gunshots”, shows Mr Dearden’s team: “…his horrifying collection of video cassettes – US-supplied Apache helicopters shooting peaceful demonstrators, kids with limbs hanging off, the injured scrambling for ambulances as missiles continue to rain down, a boy who’s just witnessed his 10-year old brother being killed smearing his face with the sewage running down the streets.
“We visit Mohammed’s home in Rafah refugee camp and are transported to a science fiction horror world.
“Tanks and bulldozers rumble across the rubble of 1,500 destroyed houses. Faceless soldiers scan the horizon from watchtowers. Palestinian kids play football through their ruined homes and gardens – a dangerous game, as three teenagers discovered only a week later when they were killed by soldiers after their ball went too close to the watchtower.”
But through all this misery, humiliation, violence and oppression, what stands out most is defiant resistance and dignified heroism of the Palestinian people. In Mr Dearden’s words, “Beyond the violence, poverty, humiliation and daily denial of human rights, beyond the headlines of suicide bombings, Palestinians are getting on with their lives in a way which is, in itself, heroic.” (See www.waronwant.org and the Morning Star of 30 June 2005).
The resistance hit back
Is it surprising, then, that people who are made to suffer such infamies should hit back at their oppressors and torturers who, in cold blood, subject them to such harrowing conditions of existence? Is it surprising that, in view of the fact that the ceasefire of 8 February has failed to deliver much and that despite the ceasefire Israel continues to expand settlements, construct the apartheid wall, imprison more Palestinians and kill the flower of militant Palestinian youth, the resistance should hit back? A mere one day after the 8 February ceasefire was agreed, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian near a Gaza settlement. In response, the resistance fired around 50 rounds of mortar and rocket fire at Jewish settlements in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas reacted by sacking 3 Palestinian Authority security officers and ordering his forces to act against the militants to preserve the ceasefire with Israel, prompting a Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, to declare that “We initiated calm to allow Abbas to achieve national demands and conditions but this does not mean we will stand handcuffed in the face of Zionist crimes.” He added: “The enemy must not expect we will be silent if they continue aggression. We will pursue resistance as long as occupation and aggression go on.”
In view of all this, it came as no surprise to anyone when on 12 July a suicide bomber from Islamic Jihad exploded a bomb in the town of Natanya, killing 5 Israelis and wounding 90. This was the first such attack in the 5 months since the declaration of the period of calm-down by the resistance in February. This was followed by rocket and mortar attacks on some Israeli settlements by Hamas. These attacks by the resistance came within a week of the killing of 4 Israeli Arabs in a bus by a 19-year old fanatical Israeli army deserter, Eden Natan-Zada, who was somehow allowed to keep his service rifle after quitting his unit in protest at the then-impending evacuation of the Gaza settlements. He boarded the bus in the Arab-Israeli town of Shafaram, killed four and wounded some others before being beaten to death by the angry crowd. In an attempt to distance the settlers from these brutal killings, Effi Eitam, a right-wing parliamentarian from a Gaza settlement, wrote: “Let nobody try to dare slip that rotten fruit into our camp by some coarse, mendacious generalisation”. Commenting in the daily Ma’arive: “A murderer has grown up in the state of Israel to the shame of the Jewish people”. Anyone who tried to exploit the incident, he said, would be placing a ‘ticking bomb’ under the future of the state. Mr Eitam ‘forgot’ to add that this murderer, Natan-Zada, had been born, nurtured and taught in the state of Israel which was founded on the mass murder and mass expulsion of the Palestinian people, a state which can only prolong its existence on the continued slaughter and expropriation of the Palestinian people. The founding fathers of Israel were fully aware of the genocidal nature of their enterprise and two of its prime ministers, Begin and Shamir, had personally taken part in the extensive slaughter, terrorisation and mass expulsion of the Palestinian people. Hatred for the Palestinian people is taught to Israeli children from early childhood. It is not surprising then that this society produces murderers on a vast scale. Palestinians for their part have no choice but to hit back at their colonialist occupiers in an attempt to regain their land and liberty.
Following the Natanya bombing, Israel, which has never really stopped killing Palestinian militants, intensified its targeted assassination of the leaders of the resistance. On 15 July it killed 7 resistance fighters belonging to Hamas. Two days later (17 July), a Hamas commander was shot dead by an Israeli army sniper in Khan Younis. On the same day, two Israelis were woulded in the settlement of Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in Gaza, by a mortar bomb fused by the resistance. Two days earlier (15 July), the resistance had already intensified missile attacks on Israeli targets within and beyond Gaza, launching 40 strikes with home-made rockets against settlements and areas of Israel close by.
Tension in the Palestinian camp
Israel, ever fearful of being seen to be withdrawing under Palestinian fire, demanded that the Palestinian Authority take action. In a dangerous action, which crossed the red line of Palestinians not shooting at Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority security forces on 13 July opened fire on members of Islamic Jihad, and on 14 July they fired on members of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in the north of Gaza, wounding four. On 15 July, Palestinian Authority security forces fired on Hamas supporters in Gaza City, killing two onlookers and wounding another 20. Following the shootings of Palestinians by Palestinian Authority forces, Islamic Jihad accused the latter of acting as an agency for Zionist occupation. The resistance insist that the Palestinian Authority concentrate more on protecting the Palestinian people from non-stop Israeli terror than on the one-sided observance of the ceasefire by the Palestinians. It would be foolhardy, and dangerous in the extreme, for the Palestinian Authority forces to aim their fire at the Palestinian resistance. Doubtless there is a debate, and struggle, in the Palestinian camp over the question of tactics at the present stage of their liberation struggle – over the question of peaceful negotiations or armed resistance as the best means of achieving their national goal. However, on no account must this question be settled by igniting a civil war among the Palestinian people. Any resort to such methods can only bring succour to Zionism and its imperialist paymasters.
It is precisely the fact that the resistance is concentrating its fire on its Zionist enemies that explains its popularity among the Palestinian population. In the local elections held in January this year, Hamas won 35% of the vote, securing control of Rafah in Gaza and Qilqilya on the West Bank, where it won all 15 City Council seats. In Gaza it won almost two-thirds of the seats, pushing the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party into second place. The final tally in these elections gave Hamas 75 Council seats as against 39 for Fatah, with control of 7 of the contested municipalities going to Hamas. Hamas is expected to do well in the parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for July but now postponed to January 2006. In view of its growing influence, Mr Abbas wants Hamas to join his government, but Hamas prefers to establish a national committee of the leading political factions to oversee Israel’s handover of Gaza, which Abbas has rejected thus far.
Resistance forces Israeli evacuation
It is also patently clear that if Israel has now vacated all the 31 settlements in Gaza and 4 small ones in the West Bank, this has been entirely the result of the heroic armed resistance of the Palestinian people. Israel has unleashed its vast armoury on the Palestinian population, especially in Gaza, deployed the most brutal of methods, indulged indiscriminate destruction and carnage, demolished thousands of Palestinian houses and uprooted tens of thousands of olive and citrus trees, imprisoned thousands of Palestinians and deprived vast masses of their livelihoods. And yet it has been unable to crush Palestinian resistance. In the end, Zionism could throw nothing more at the victims of its colonialism. It could either continue with more of the same bankrupt course of action or it could recognise reality and withdraw from these indefensible settlements. It has been forced to opt for withdrawal under Palestinian fire. The Palestinian resistance and the Palestinian people deserve the warmest of congratulations on this, their significant victory.
It is ironical and a measure of the fascistic mentality created by the Israeli state in the process of its expansion that the Gaza settlers, faced with eviction, compared Sharon with Hitler and the Israeli police and soldiers involved in the eviction to death camp collaborators and shouted taunts of Nazi and Gestapo at them. Sharon is indeed a Hitlerite, as indeed are the Israeli security forces, but only as regards their treatment of the Palestinians. The settlers have actually been treated with tender loving care. But this did not prevent these unhinged nutters from planting a poster alongside the burning barricades outside Neve Dekalim (the largest Gaza settlement) synagogue reading “Bush and Sharon have declared war on the God and his Bible”. They sought to put every kind of emotional pressure on the public and Israeli soldiery, handing out children’s toys to the Israeli soldiers, with one 54-year old woman even going to the length of setting fire to herself. The Israeli state alone bears the responsibility for the instability of these settlers, who were hitherto made to believe that they were carrying out God’s mission – no less – in colonising Gaza and other places, and that on their colonisation activities rested the fate and security of the Israeli state. No they are told that only by leaving their settlements can they rescue Israel from destruction. Now wonder they have literally gone mad. All the same, their madness is nothing as compared to that awaiting the settlers in the West Bank when their day of reckoning arrives, as it surely must.
Attempt to turn Gaza into a prison
No one should, however, be deluded by this victory, important though it is, into thinking that Israel is about to allow the Palestinians a free run in Gaza, let alone that Gaza will pave the way for the withdrawal from the whole of the West Bank with effortless ease. While vacating Gaza settlements, Israel intends to maintain its control over the Rafah civilian crossing between Gaza and Egypt and all other crossing points in and out of Gaza. It continues to obstruct the construction of a seaport and airport for linking Gaza to the outside world. The high-speed rail link between Gaza and the West Bank, proposed by Israel, is at least 3 years away, thus leaving these two territories with no means of connecting with each other. Israel has put every obstacle in the way of Palestinian commerce as a means of strangulating all Palestinian economic activities, with the result that it is cheaper to transport goods between the Israeli port of Ashdod and China than between Ashdod and Gaza because of lengthy delays through the Karni Cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza.
The settlers’ flourishing 1000-acre hot-house industry, valued at $200 million a year, has been touted as an instrument for revitalising the economy of Gaza. However all attempts at doing this are bound to fail unless the new Palestinian owners are guaranteed the same access to export markets as was given to the settlers.
It is clear from the above that the Israelis are intent on turning Gaza into a prison cell for its 1.3 million inhabitants, who have inherited a ruined economy, a ruined infrastructure, rubble-strewn streets and housing districts. And, to add insult to injury, they are hoping to enlist the partnership of the Palestinian Authority in implementing this wicked scheme. In fact, Israeli conduct is merely paving the way to a third Intifada. Even such a darling of Zionism and US imperialism as Mohammed Dahlan, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister, responsible for coordinating the non security aspects of the Gaza evacuation with Israel, has been forced to acknowledge all this and say that, on present showing, Israel is merely engaged in an exercise aimed at “repackaging of the occupation” in the Gaza Strip – an exercise which, far from advancing the peace process, would only prepare the conditions for yet another Palestinian uprising.
Further colonisation of the West Bank
Besides, the Zionist evacuation of Gaza is accompanied by further expansion of settlements and the strengthening of its grip in the West Bank. The disengagement from Gaza and the 4 very small West Bank settlements is merely intended by Israel to be a one-off act. It addresses none of the final settlement issues – the status of Jerusalem, the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes, the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the final borders between Israel and the State of Palestine.
In fact, Dov Weisglass, senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, with admirable, if blatant, candour declared last October that the Gaza disengagement plan “supplies the formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”. A mere 10 days ago he asserted that the US fully support Israel’s desire to keep three quarters of Zionist settlers currently in the West Bank and a similar number in east Jerusalem. Sharon made a similar assertion in Paris last month and he of course, has in his pocket a letter drafted by Weisglass and by US President Bush that in essence recognises Israel’s right to retain major Zionist settlements in the West Bank. While the attention of the world is focused on the evacuation of 7,000 Israelis from Gaza, Sharon’s government is frenetically widening the scope of colonisation of the West Bank, where expansion of settlements, combined with the completion of the apartheid wall, will push upwards of the city boundaries of Jerusalem. The Israeli government has never wavered in its calculated plan to so expand Israel’s borders as to enclose all of Jerusalem and close to half of the West Bank.
Resistance – the only solution
The Zionists delude themselves, of course, if they believe that this aggrandizement would deliver the peace and security they say they are seeking. Nothing short of some measure of justice for the Palestinians would do that. Very soon the Palestinian Authority will be confronted with the choice of going along with the Zionist plan or resisting it. Faced with this stark choice the Palestinian Authority will be forced to opt for resistance. And it will not be possible to confine such resistance to peaceful methods, for the latter are powerless against the imperialist-backed Zionist brutality and occupation. When that happens, Abu Mazen and his administration will become just as much the target of imperialist and Zionist vilification and calumny as was the late Arafat and his administration. That, however, is a cross which every Palestinian would bear with pride. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the Israeli evacuation of Gaza, it is that Israel can only be persuaded to vacate the West Bank through armed resistance as the main weapon of the Palestinian people.
VICTORY TO THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE!
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