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Palestinians: Israel out
of occupied territories!
Calls for 'a war and a wall' aid
Tel Aviv's assaults
BY GREG MCCARTAN
Israeli soldier stops Palestinian family at roadblock in the West Bank, one of more than 120 such checkpoints in the occupied territories. On August 22 Israel launched two rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip, killing at least five Palestinians and wounding seven.
Despite announcements of a planned round of talks between Israeli officials and representatives of the Palestinian Authority, the drive to war by Tel Aviv shows no signs of abating. Calls for "a short war and a high wall"--a decisive military assault by the Israeli government against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip followed by the construction of a wall to seal off the two areas--in opinion columns this past week backed the accelarated war drive by Israel.
Referring to the talks between Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and top Palestinian official Yasir Arafat, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the government doesn't "have exaggerated expectations" and is not "overly optimistic about a hopeful ending to this meeting." Turning reality on its head, he said negotiations will fail because Arafat's "strategy is not to come to a peaceful settlement with Israel."
With such a framework, the "peace talks" for Tel Aviv are part of the preparation for war, giving it the appearance of having done everything possible to scale down tensions with an uncompromising opponent--an approach that parallels Washington's buildup to the allied assault on Iraq in 1990–91.
German foreign minister Joschka Fischer is brokering the latest round of negotiations. The talks, if they are to happen, will not take place for at least a week.
Washington, which has declared support for Berlin's initiative, displayed its anti-Palestinian stance during an August 20 session of the United Nations Security Council. The acting U.S. ambassador, James Cunningham, described calls by Middle Eastern governments for intervention to stop the deteriorating situation as "unworkable ideas that will not change the reality on the ground."
On the military front, the character of the planned assaults on Palestinian areas in the West Bank was revealed following a much-publicized massing of an Israeli invasion force near Bethlehem August 15.
Sharon used the excuse of some small arms fire by Palestinians to prepare a lightning takeover of nearby Beit Jalla using tanks and paratroopers. The operation, code-named "An eye to Zion," was canceled, reportedly due to pressure from Washington. But the Sunday Times revealed that the invasion was delayed while in full swing because of a dispute between military commanders over whether or not to send the force in time to make the evening news or later under cover of darkness. As the generals were debating, Arafat made a phone call--monitored, like all such calls, by the Israeli government--and urged the firing be stopped. Tel Aviv was thus denied the pretext for proceeding with the military strike.
Lightning and massive attack
"There is only one way this war will stop," wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer August 16. "The scenario would go like this: A lightning and massive Israeli attack on every element of Arafat's police state infrastructure--the headquarters and commanders of his eight (!) security services, his police stations, weapons depots, training camps, communications and propaganda facilities (radio, TV, government-controlled newspapers)--with a simultaneous attack on the headquarters and leadership of Arafat's Hamas and Islamic Jihad allies. Arafat has given Israel war; he will now receive it."
Columns including the same proposal were written by Michael Kelly, editor of the conservative National Journal; columnist George Will; Graham Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, whose piece was published in the Los Angeles Times; Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and others.
Krauthammer counseled that "Israel does not reoccupy Palestinian cities. Israeli troops stay only the few days necessary to 1) begin building a wall of separation between Palestinian and Israeli territory and 2) evacuate the more far-flung Israeli settlements. With a new border consolidated, Israel withdraws." He said that because "there already is a wall separating Gaza from Israel," Tel Aviv has been able to effectively control its border. Israelis should then "wait for a Palestinian generation that will sign a peace treaty that it intends to live by. That really accepts a Jewish state as its neighbor, that really forswears violence."
Placing the blame on the Palestinian people for the violence, rather than on the Israeli state, with its denial of self-determination and a homeland for the Palestinians, has become stock-in-trade of the war preparations.
Some voices seek to portray the ongoing Israeli assaults and looming war as one aimed only at the Palestinian leadership. National Review Online contributing editor Michael Ledeen wrote August 21 that there "is no hope of a durable peace with a tyrannical and corrupt Palestine. Arafat and his cronies are as corrupt and autocratic as any of the Middle East nasties, which is one reason they like him and support him." Ledeen added, "Israel needs not only military tactics to destroy the terror network, but also political weapons to begin the destruction of the Arafat-led tyranny," including appeals to the "Palestinian people themselves."
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has won wide backing within the country's population for the accelerating war drive. The Washington Post's Lee Hockstader noted in an article on the government policy of assassinating Palestinians that with "the exception of a dovish minority and a handful of human rights groups, there is little domestic criticism in Israel of a policy that has killed about 40 Palestinians since last fall, at least 13 of them innocent bystanders." In a poll published in the Ma'ariv newspaper, some three-quarters of Israelis said they endorsed the government's handling of the conflict or stated that it does not go far enough. Nearly all were in favor of an all-out assault on the Palestinian Authority.
An Israeli army general said they know that "using helicopters to kill Hamas leaders will lead to a certain escalation for a while." Referring to the deaths of Israelis, he added: "We know the price and we consider it very carefully."
Torture, killings, sealing off Gaza
The conditions imposed on the Palestinian people by Israeli imperialism continue to worsen as the war preparations proceed.
A new report on the effect of Israeli closures of the Gaza Strip and West Bank states that one-third of all Palestinians were living below the poverty level at the end of 2000, compared with 21 percent just three months earlier. The number of work permits held by Palestinians fell from 52,000 to 4,000 in the same period, and most who held permits were not using them, according to the UN-sponsored study. Gross domestic product fell by 8.2 percent in 2000, and the Palestinian Authority's deficit was $371 million, or 22 percent of total expenditures.
The Washington Post reported August 19 that the 1 million people in the Gaza Strip have now endured 11 months of closure. "Military positions ring the Gaza Strip, and overlook it from settlement blocs still controlled by Israel," wrote Daniel Williams. "Snipers hidden in towers and in a house on the short Egyptian border keep Palestinians at bay. Gunboats shoot at fishermen who venture more than two miles off the coast."
"Israel has closed off Gaza not only from itself, but from the rest of the world. The airport is closed, no road links Gaza with the West Bank or the Arab world to the east and north, and the crossing to Egypt is routinely blocked by Israeli soldiers," Williams reported.
Unemployment has risen from 50 percent in December to 64 percent in June, and more than half of all Gaza families saw their incomes decline by at least 50 percent during the same months. "Large parts of industry stand idle," Williams wrote, "tens of thousands of laborers are barred from jobs inside Israel and checkpoints and blockades hinder trade among towns within the Gaza Strip."
Use of torture to extract confessions
Alongside the Israeli government policy of assassinating those it deems leaders of the struggle--along with friends, family members, and bystanders--reports are emerging of more widespread police torture of detainees, many of them in their teens. Fifteen-year-old Ibrahim Zaul tells how he was arrested by police, blindfolded, spat upon, threatened with death, beaten with truncheons and rifle butts, doused with freezing cold water, and forced to stand with a heavy weight hung around his neck. The torture continued until he confessed to having thrown stones at Israeli troops. He was convicted on the basis of that confession, and served four months in prison.
Torture was routine procedure by Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, for many years. The practice was formally ruled illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999. However, the brutality against the Palestinian population continues, including at checkpoints that regulate the movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Last week six Israeli soldiers were arrested on suspicion of beating and humiliating passengers in a taxi for two hours, including clubbing one person into unconsciousness.
More than 520 Palestinians and 150 Israelis have been killed over the past 11 months. The Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees says that 89 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians and 32 percent were children. Virtually all were hit in the upper part of the body.
'Two sides of the same coin'
The war drive is also affecting the minority of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, who enjoy better economic and social conditions, including rights not accorded residents of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The case of Azmy Bishara, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament facing threats to his life and legal investigation, including a possible treason trial, has put their situation under the spotlight.
In a August 8 newspaper column, Bi-sha-ra's brother Marwan, wrote that during a recent speech Azmy "warned against Ariel Sharon's drive toward war. Instead, he suggested supporting popular resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to spare us all a regional war." A distorted version of the speech was featured in the press, leading to the threats of charges. "One parliamentarian suggested putting my brother in front of a firing squad," reported Marwan.
"As the indigenous population and as citizens of Israel, we were born under the shadow of a military administration. We have always been suspected as a potential enemy within," he wrote. "We have discovered early on that real civil equality and collective rights for the 1 million Palestinians in Israel cannot be achieved within the framework of a state that defines itself as the state of the Jewish people, one that subjects our people on the other side of the hills to military occupation. The rights of the Palestinians to equality in Israel and their right for self-determination on all the territories occupied in 1967, are two sides of the same coin."
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