Slow progress in Gaza
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza represented an important victory for the Palestinian people. All other factors notwithstanding, there is absolutely no question that, were it not for the intense resistance that has been waged over the years by the liberation fighters in Gaza, Israel would never have withdrawn.
Nonetheless, as we and others predicted, Israel has shown no signs of giving up real control. After months of ‘negotiations’ characterised by Israeli stalling and intransigence on the questions of re-opening the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt and the passage between Gaza and the West Bank, the US decided that appearances must be kept up, and sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in to tie up the deal. Under the deal concluded on 15 November, the Rafah border would be re-opened, but would be overseen by employees of the European Union. Furthermore, the Israelis were granted the right to view all activity at the border by live video link-up (although the deal did not give them a veto over passage at the border). The Israelis would not agree to the re-opening of Gaza’s airport, and, although they agreed to start allowing bus convoys to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, they have since been stalling on this.
Despicable treatment of Palestinians continues unabated
Since withdrawing the settlers, the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force have been terrorizing the population of Gaza by sending in air force jets at night, flying extremely fast and low, creating sonic booms. These booms, caused by breaking the sound barrier, are incredibly loud, equivalent to the sound of a huge bomb. The Guardian of 3 November reported that “over the past week, Israeli jets created 28 sonic booms by flying at high speed and low altitude over the Gaza Strip, sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. During five days in late September, the air force caused 20 sonic booms.” This tactic, so despicable and torturous, has been specifically condemned by the UN, which has stated that sonic booms cause panic attacks in children (ibid). Doctors at Gaza’s Shifa hospital have said that the sonic booms are causing miscarriages, of which there has been a sudden 40% increase. The Palestinian health ministry estimates that the sonic booms have caused at least 20 miscarriages.
In an ironic twist to the tale, the Israeli military had to apologise after one sonic boom was unintentionally heard hundreds of kilometres inside Israel. “Thousands of citizens leapt in panic from their beds, and many placed worried calls to the police and the fire department. The Tel Aviv and central district police switchboards crashed” (ibid). All this as a result of a single sonic boom. Needless to say, no apologies have been issued in respect of the hundreds of sonic booms which have been used against the Gazan population.
Meanwhile, Israel’s policy of assassinations has intensified in Gaza, in spite of the withdrawal, and in spite of the ceasefire, which has now all but collapsed under the weight of Israeli aggression. ‘Captain R’ walks free
The level of the Israeli state’s respect for Palestinian life is demonstrated by the recent trial of ‘Captain R’, the Israeli army officer who fired 17 shots (the entire magazine of his automatic rifle) into an unarmed 13-year-old Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, and then said that he would have done the same if she was three years old. The Guardian of 16 November reported that “the military court cleared the soldier of illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and perverting the course of justice…” , in spite of the witness reports which state that Iman was at least 100 yards from the military post at the time of her shooting. “After soldiers first opened fire, she dropped her schoolbag which was then hit by several bullets establishing that it did not contain explosive. At that point she was no longer carrying the bag and, the tape revealed, was heading away from the army post when she was shot” . Iman’s father very rightly pointed out: “This was the cold-blooded murder of a girl. The soldier murdered her once and the court has murdered her again. What is the message? They are telling their soldiers to kill Palestinian children.”
West Bank / East Jerusalem land grab
Israel is increasingly under pressure to come to terms with the idea of a Palestinian state. The international support for a viable Palestinian state continues to grow: on 2 December, the UN General Assembly adopted, by a vote of 156-6, a resolution stressing the need for Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 (the only countries that voted against were the US, Israel, Australia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau (the latter three being tiny Pacific island states, all highly dependent on the US)).
Recognising that the ‘final status’ issues are eventually going to have to be negotiated, Israel is doing everything it possibly can to prejudice those negotiations. In the midst of a great deal of hype surrounding the Gaza ‘disengagement’, Ariel Sharon and his administration have been conducting a much quieter operation, bolstering settlements and grabbing land around East Jerusalem, which is internationally recognised as Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 and is universally considered by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.
In an interview with Aljazeera on 1 September, Palestinian Minister of State for Jerusalem Affairs, Hind Khoury, said the following: “The disengagement plan was, yes, partly successful because there were evacuations of settlers from Gaza and that’s a good thing. But it also meant increased control over Jerusalem and a Jewish city in the greater Jerusalem area. So Israel has effectively traded Gaza for East Jerusalem. As the rest of the world’s attention was diverted, Israel’s strategy has been playing itself out in East Jerusalem. What we are witnessing in East Jerusalem is that the Gaza disengagement was not meant to really start a peace process but rather to end one. And the very concept of a two-state solution is a very major risk. We can’t have available a Palestinian state with 54% of the West Bank. Israel also announced plans to make room for 25,000 more settlers in the colony of Maale Adumim, East of Jerusalem. Land confiscation orders were issued for 1600 dunums (400 acres) of Palestinian land to continue to build the wall around Maale Adumim and to link it to Jerusalem. Maale Adumim as a colony bloc is about 68sq km – much larger than the area of Tel Aviv. This is a colony that goes deep into the West Bank a depth of 14km.”
It is acknowledged even by Israeli officials that Maale Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank, and which forms one of a number of settlements that encircle Palestinian east Jerusalem, has seen a growth in its settler population over the last year which exceeds the 8,000 evacuated from Gaza and isolated outposts in the West Bank (see Harvey Morris, ‘West Bank settler growth clouds progress on peace: Expansion may dilute benefits of Gaza pull-out’, Financial Times, 1 November)
John Dugard, a South African lawyer who monitors the Palestinian territories for the UN Human Rights Commission, said pointedly: “This focus of attention on Gaza has allowed Israel to continue with the construction of the wall in Palestinian territory, the expansion of settlements and the de-Palestinization of Jerusalem with virtually no criticism.” (Associated Press, 27 September)
Furthermore, by means of aggressive tax policies and discriminatory legislation (e.g. West Bank Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis may not, under recent legislation, become Israeli citizens), Israel has been severely limiting Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem. “Israel’s strategy is to effectively take Jerusalem off the negotiating table” (Palestinian Authority press release, 12 August).
Even the British Foreign Office has produced a document (leaked in The Guardian of 25 November) that states that the Israeli government is jeopardising the peace process by attempting to put the future of East Jerusalem beyond negotiation. A separate document, drafted by British diplomats in Jerusalem and suppressed by Jack Straw in the light of EU objections, points out that “this de facto annexation of Palestinian land will be irreversible without very large-scale forced evacuations of settlers and the rerouting of the barrier … When the barrier is completed, Israel will control all access to East Jerusalem, cutting off its Palestinian satellite cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and the West Bank beyond.”
Israel is using every conniving means at its disposal to grab Palestinian land and to create for itself a safe Jewish majority whilst pushing Palestinians into high-density, fragmented ghettoes. One of the principal tools in this despicable task is the so-called ‘security wall’. As we have pointed out in previous issues, the wall has nothing to do with security. It goes deep inside Palestinian borders, with the specific intention of prejudicing final status negotiations on the borders of a Palestinian state. Indeed, the wall has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
“Palestinians have argued for years that the route of the barrier, often jutting deep inside their territory, intends to pre-empt the borders of their promised future state and grab some of their most productive land.
“Only those Palestinians who can prove ownership of the land, much of which has remained in families since the Ottoman Empire when land went undeclared to avoid higher taxes, qualify for access permits.” (‘Palestinian farmers mourn loss of land’, Agence France Presse, 5 December)
The above article cites the example of a village called Jayyus in the West Bank, which has lost 75% of its land to the other side of the wall. Whilst there is currently at least an access gate which admits permit holders onto their land on the ‘Israeli’ side (i.e. that side that the Israelis have unilaterally apportioned to themselves) for 12 hours per day, notice has been served that this will soon close, forcing locals to take a 13-km detour in order to tend their land. Local farmer Abu Azzam noted: “I’m sure 70 percent of farmers will stop accessing their farms and it will be very easy for Israel to take the land.” According to a spokeswoman for BTselem, an Israeli rights group, land which remains untended for three years (regardless of the reason) reverts to ‘state land’, i.e. to Israeli territory.
The combination of over 600 fixed checkpoints (in a tiny space of 5,640 square kilometres) and the dozens of flying checkpoints means that travelling even relatively short distance is often impossible.
The occupation extends to the trees
Destroying Palestinians’ economic livelihood in the West Bank is an important means by which Israel is attempting to gain land. A technique that they have been employing for years is the destruction of Palestinian farm land and olive groves, many of which have been in existence for hundreds of years. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that “the illegal outposts, which the government has refrained from dismantling, are home to lawbreakers who, in addition to seizing lands that do not belong to them, are in the habit of assaulting their Palestinian neighbors, and the Palestinians’ property and plantings, on the assumption that the arm of the law is too short to reach them.
“In recent years, the olive harvest season has become a time of delight for some outpost residents, and the amount of destruction that they manage to wreak – with no interference – on Palestinian olive groves is mind-boggling. In the village of Salem alone, some 180 olive trees were torched in May, while 250 trees were chopped down in July and another 200 in October. On Monday, village residents discovered a group of Israelis, whom they recognized as residents of an outpost near Elon Moreh, using an electric saw to cut down dozens more olive trees. In total, some 900 olive trees have been destroyed in Salem alone over the last half year.
“The destruction of olive trees is not just a mortal blow to the livelihood of rural Palestinians; it is primarily an evil act that reflects a desire to assail one of the most prominent symbols of the Palestinians’ hold on the land and an attempt to prove that the settlers indeed intend to inherit these lands and expel their inhabitants. But the destruction of these trees also symbolizes the apathy, not to say cruelty, of the Israeli occupation and the law enforcement agencies’ criminal disregard for the settlers actions. The harm done to the trees is just the tip of the iceberg of the ongoing abuse that the outpost residents inflict on their neighbors.”
Significance of Sharon’s manoeuvring
No-one should imagine that Sharon, in withdrawing from Gaza, has ‘gone soft’. In the words of Karma Nabulsi (research fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and a former PLO representative in Britain), “Sharon, without serious protest and much encouragement, has in the past year turned Gaza into the largest prison on earth, moved tens of thousands of settlers into the West Bank, and built an illegal wall across Palestinian land which encircles and starves Palestinian cities and farms. In fragmenting the land, he has further fragmented the Palestinian people who belong to it, both those under occupation and those in enforced exile as refugees.”
Sharon was cited in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper in August as saying: “The Americans have often asked us to sketch out the boundaries of the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and we have refrained from doing so in the hope that by the time the discussion on the settlement blocs comes, these blocs will contain a very large number of settlements and residents.” (cited in the Financial Times of 1 September)
Sharon’s policies point very clearly at a particular set of goals:
– Bolster the West Bank settlements in order to drive a barrier between the main areas of Palestinian population;
– Encircle East Jerusalem with settlements and maximise Jewish population of East Jerusalem, in order to prejudice final status negotiations on the future of Jerusalem;
– Minimise the Arab population within the state of Israel as it will be defined after the declaration of Palestinian statehood, hence mitigating the constant threat to Israel that is caused by the significantly higher birth rates amongst the Arab population;
– Create a Palestinian state that is geographically arranged in a way that will render it impotent and thoroughly dependent upon Israel’s goodwill for its survival.
Aluf Benn, writing in The Guardian of 26 November, conjectures that “strategic developments in recent years – the relentless conflict with the Palestinians, as well as the disappearance of the ‘eastern front’ after the Iraq war – led Israel to view demography, rather than topography, as their paramount security interest.
“To keep its national identity, Israel must consolidate its shrinking Jewish majority over a smaller territory. This means keeping Jerusalem and the adjacent settlement blocks, where most settlers live, in Israeli hands behind the security barrier.”
The announcement, in early December, that he would be forming a new party (Kadima – ‘Forward’) to fight the elections that are due to take place early next year was a recognition by Sharon that Likud, of which he was a co-founder, is chock-full of completely nutty zionists who are so far detached from reality that they consider Sharon’s plan as outlined above as being a totally unacceptable concession to the Palestinians and a betrayal of the Israeli people.
West bank election results indicate changing mood
Early results from the West Bank municipal elections in mid December indicated a substantial victory for the militant group Hamas. The Palestinian electoral commission said that, in the biggest city, Nablus, Hamas took 73% of the vote, while Fatah took 13%. In Jenin, Hamas won seven seats on the council to Fatah’s six seats.
Hamas’ strong showing in the West Bank – which is traditionally quite secular – indicates that the Palestinian people are tiring of the seemingly endless process of trying to persuade Israel to implement its commitments under various international treaties and plans, and of the cycle of Israeli-sabotaged ceasefires (Hamas are responsible for a large portion of attacks against Israel since the start of the second Intifada). It is clear for all to see what the Israeli strategy is, and it is looking very much like the only way forward for the Palestinian struggle is a return to arms.
US authorities are certainly clear about what they think of Hamas: the House of Representatives voted by a large majority that any Hamas participation in the government of the Palestinian Authority “will potentially undermine the ability of the United States to have a constructive relationship with or provide further assistance to the Palestinian Authority” (cited in AP Worldstream, 16 December). Further, the resolution states that the participation of Hamas in the PA government “will inevitably raise serious questions for the United States about the commitment of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership to making peace with Israel”. With startling irony, Democrat representative Tom Lantos said: “When terrorist militias participate in elections, voters are intimidated. The concepts of the will of the majority and the rights of the minority are rendered meaningless.” [One wonders whether Mr Lantos will apply this norm to the ‘elections’ in Iraq, including the one held on 15 December!]. Bearing in mind the US’ history of financing and training terrorist militias, and imposing its will on whole populations, this really is a bit much!
The European Union also joined the chorus against Hamas, with EU Commissioner Javier Solana stating that the EU may well stop aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas wins the parliamentary elections in January: “It is very difficult to conceive that the parties that do not condemn violence can be partners in the future in the political life.” (cited in ‘President Abbas Meets EU High Representative Javier Solana’, International Press Centre, www.ipc.gov.ps) Apparently no-one has pointed out to Mr Solana that at no point has the Israeli state rejected the course of violence!
It is obvious that Israel and the ‘international community’ of imperialists are desperately scared of full-scale Palestinian armed struggle re-emerging, and are doing their best to sideline the most militant sections of Palestinian politics. Ironic, bearing in mind that, in its early days, Hamas was supported by Israel as a counterbalance to the secular Fatah movement.
The imperialist hyenas and their Zionist flunkeys never tire of talking about the Palestinian Authority’s ‘democratic deficit’. When, however, the Palestinian people exercise their franchise, they are told that it is an abuse of democracy if they elect those not acceptable to imperialism and Zionism alike.
To their credit, the Palestinian Authority responded to the threats of the US and EU absolutely correctly: “Responding to Solana’s statement, the Palestinian presidency spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeina said that Hamas has the right to participate in the elections, it is the Palestinian decision, and all the international community is to respect the Palestinian choice and decisions” (op. cit.).
Fatah split ahead of parliamentary elections
On 15 December, it was announced that several Fatah members were breaking away in order to form their own list for the forthcoming parliamentary elections in January. The group, named Mustaqbal (‘The Future’), is led by Intifada veteran Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison, and includes some high profile figures, particularly from the ‘young guard’ of Palestinian politics.
We are not in a position to comment in great detail on this split. We do note that, if anything, the ‘young guard’ who have formed Mustaqbal are more given to the path of negotiation than the ‘old guard’ (seeing as the breakaway group includes such figures as Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub, both of whom are well-favoured by Israel and the ‘international community’). What is certainly true is that the common call of the breakaway group is their public criticism of the corruption and nepotism which they say characterises Fatah’s old guard – they claim to be trying to “modernise and democratise Fatah by rebelling against its leadership”.
In an interview in The Independent of December 16, Nasser Juma, a member of the new grouping, puts forward a heavily critical view of the second Intifada, indicating that the ‘future’ envisaged by the grouping consists of a greater degree of compromise rather than a greater degree of resistance: “He unequivocally condemned the recent suicide bombing in Netanya and is open in blaming Iran for being behind other Islamic Jihad attacks. More strikingly, he believes that the intifada, or at least its form, played into the hands of the Israeli right, and to Ariel Sharon’s goal of taking as much territory as was compatible with the demographic need to have an Israel with a Jewish majority.
“‘It was clear that the Israelis closed the door on us, but also – let me be frank – the Palestinian leadership under Arafat was … mistaken. They should have made a clear assessment of the question of who benefited from the intifada and that was Sharon.’
“Hamas’s strategy of suicide bombing, which helped to ‘drag’ the Fatah factions into suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, was, he believes, a catastrophe. ‘The leadership led by Arafat took us to disaster. Sometimes we ignore it but this is the fact.'”
No one in the least acquainted with the facts could possibly agree with Mr Numa’s analysis – without the threat of Palestinian arms, Israel would long ago have simply wiped the Palestinians out. It is only due to the heroic armed struggle of the Palestinians that Israel has made any concessions whatsoever. Without that, Palestinian statehood would not even be a question.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has attempted to appease the breakaway faction by also putting Marwan Barghouti at the top of the official Fatah list; however, there has been no rapprochement as yet. It remains to be seen how the Palestinian public will react to the new developments, but it is our sincere hope that they will not allow themselves to be duped into swallowing the US/Israeli line about Palestinian ‘democracy’ and ‘reforms’. Furthermore, it is very much to be hoped that the ‘young guard’ of Fatah will not allow themselves to be groomed by the Israelis as the future government of the type of Palestinian ‘state’ that Sharon and company have in mind – ie. a collection of fragmented ghettos, politically and economically under Israel’s thumb.
Palestinian democracy still not the issue
We have long said, and will continue to say, that the question of internal Palestinian democracy and reform is a scarecrow, a crude, imperialist-inspired attempt to divert attention from Israel’s brutal, illegal and insupportable occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to create divisions within the Palestinian camp.
The fact is that, even when effective rule and democratic bodies are rendered virtually impossible as a result of Israel’s military and economic stranglehold, the Palestinian National Authority and the body behind it, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, are a hundred times more democratic than the governments of other countries in the area such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We invite the reader to consider the question of why the alleged lack of Palestinian democracy is an almost daily feature in the imperialist press, while the level of democracy in states such as Kuwait or Saudi Arabia rarely gets so much as a mention? Could it perhaps be that the interests of imperialism are well represented by the governments of these latter states, whilst the PLO consistently refuse to align itself with those interests?
Palestinian democracy and governmental reform are not the issue. It is not Fatah corruption or ‘misappropriation of funds’ which has caused, or is causing, the disgraceful suffering which the Palestinian people have endured; it is the Israeli occupation, which must be ended, by any means necessary.
In an article written in early 2005, Karma Nabulsi points out: “We Palestinians need no lessons in democracy – in the past 10 years Palestinians have resisted concerted attempts to transform our institutions into agencies that represent Israeli occupation needs … If the international community wants to practise good governance, its representatives have only to listen to the Palestinian delegations’ courteously expressed requests: application of international law, the reintroduction of multilateralism, the urgent need for an international conference that addresses the final-status issues of borders, settlements, refugees, water and Jerusalem. This is the reform that is so urgently needed.”
Victory to the Intifada
Regardless of Sharon’s plotting, and regardless of splits within Fatah, the fact is that the Palestinian people simply will not accept any deal on statehood that does not incorporate all of the following:
– Israeli withdrawal from all the West Bank and Gaza Strip
– East Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state
– A negotiated resolution for Palestinian refugees based on their right of return to homes in what is now Israel.
This historic compromise, as formalised in the Oslo Agreements, is, frankly, a bitter pill for the Palestinian people, who have had to put up with massacres, land grabs, assassinations, evacuations and more for over fifty years. Nevertheless, it is a bitter pill they have agreed to swallow in the interests of achieving an independent Palestinian state. However, any less than the above is not, and will never be, acceptable to the Palestinian people.
With the Israeli state intent on continuing its policy of assassinations and land grabs, and with only a much-diluted Palestinian state of isolated ghettoes on the cards, it looks very much as though the Palestinians will have to resort once again to the only language that the Israelis seem to understand – that of armed resistance. No-one will be able to say that they have not attempted to use all the peaceful means available to them; ultimately, the Israelis have proven unwilling to honour their agreements.
“For a people to negotiate their way out of an occupation by diplomatic means alone, when the occupier is determined to hold on to their land, has no successful precedent. On the other hand, examples of successful negotiations once the occupier has accepted he must relinquish another’s country are legion. Arafat’s own much-used example was De Gaulle’s 1958 call for ‘la paix des braves’ with the Algerian armed liberation movement, the FLN. Arafat represented an important reality – peace will come when freedom is achieved for the Palestinians, and not one minute before.” (Karma Nabulsi, op cit).
As long as they refuse to submit to the will of the Zionists, and as long as they maintain the skilful combination of resistance and diplomacy that has for so long characterised their struggle, it is only a matter of time before the Palestinians win a viable, independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.