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Palestinians resist attacks, war moves by Tel Aviv
BY PATRICK O'NEILL
Thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, took to the streets this past week to protest the assassination of Mustafa Zibri, a central leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, by Israeli military forces August 27. And despite repeated invasions of towns in the West Bank and Gaza by tanks and helicopter gunships, the Palestinian people have shown their continued determination to fight for their self-determination.
The occupation of the town of Beit Jala and the assassination Zibri in the last week of August signaled the Israeli rulers' continuing drive to crush the Palestinian people's struggle for national rights. This war drive is accompanied by a propaganda offensive designed to brand Palestinians as "terrorists" and potential suicide bombers. Meanwhile, talk of top-level "peace" negotiations has been virtually dropped.
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The use of helicopter gunships in the August 27 assassination of Mustafa Zibri was typical of the several dozen such targeted killings since the unrest escalated more than 11 months ago. The gunships fired missiles into the office of the 63-year-old leader, killing him and wounding five others. Zibri was a prominent and long-standing figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The New York Times commented that, given Zibri's seniority and standing within the Palestinian movement, the attack amounted to "an unmistakable expansion of Israel's policy of tracking and killing suspected militants." Thousands of people turned out for Zibri's funeral procession.
Later that same day, Israeli troops stormed into Beit Jala and seized a number of buildings allegedly used by Palestinians shooting at the nearby area of Gilo, in south Jerusalem. The soldiers burst into a Lutheran church compound and private houses, searched people, and assumed firing positions. Army commanders put no time limit on the occupation, saying that they would stay until the Palestinian guns were "silenced."
"The Palestinian Authority did not do its job in this area," said Brig. Gen. Gershon Yitzhak, the commander of the Israeli army in the West Bank, justifying the brutal invasion. "Therefore, after restraining ourselves for a very long period of time, we were forced to penetrate Beit Jala." One Palestinian security officer was killed, while telephone and electricity cables were knocked over. Residents described soldiers smashing down the front doors to their houses, threatening people, and confiscating cell phones and identity cards. "We weren't free to move in our own house," said Bishara Haroufi. Israeli peace activist Neta Golan, reported that "inhabitants in the occupied zone are under curfew, with electricity cut off and essential supplies running out."
Following an agreement by Palestinian officials to put a stop to any firing from the town, the military departed, leaving two tanks stationed nearby. When asked if the Israeli armed forces were prepared to return, defense minister and Labor Party parliamentarian Binyamin Ben-Eliezer answered, "Absolutely."
Palestinians in Beit Jala celebrated as the troops withdrew. "We feel that we proved that as long as there is occupation, there will be resistance," said Raji Zeidan, the mayor of the town.
Tactical turning point
The August 29 Times described the occupation of Beit Jala as a "turning point in a tactic that itself is relatively new: thrusts into autonomous Palestinian areas that are supposed to be fully under the control of [Yasir] Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. These forays became standard policy a few weeks ago...but until now the targets tended to be police headquarters and other official buildings that the army knew had been evacuated. And the raids were in-and-out operations lasting only a few hours."
Simultaneous with the Beit Jala operation, Israeli troops lunged into the Rafah refugee camp in the south of the Gaza Strip, knocking down 15 buildings and wounding 12 people.
In leading the sharp escalation of Tel Aviv's military attacks, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon officially rejected any proposals for high-level negotiations until the Palestinian Authority brings all "violence"--that is, resistance to Israeli domination--to an end. Sharon plans to "wear down the Palestinians," reported the August 27 Washington Post, "through a combination of lightning armored raids into Palestinian-controlled cities, commando operations, assassinations, retaliatory airstrikes and blockades of towns and villages."
According to the Associated Press, Israeli justice minister Meir Sheetreet warned in early September that "the Israeli army could quickly retake all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip if the violence continues."
The widespread international sympathy for the Palestinian struggle was registered among many at the September United Nations conference against racism, held in Durban, South Africa. Despite intensive arm-twisting by Washington, delegates refused to remove the question of Israel's dispossession of and decades-long denial of self determination to the Palestinian people. Unable to stop the conference discussion, Washington and Tel Aviv had to pack their bags and flee the proceedings.
Reacting to these signs of solidarity and statements denouncing Israeli government violence against the Palestinian population, journalist Sever Plotzker wrote in the popular Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, that "the road--ideologically, not practically speaking--from Durban to [Nazi concentration camp] Bergen-Belsen is shorter than many people think....From this standpoint, there is no difference between Nazi ideology and the ideology of Durban."
Pro–Tel Aviv voices in the U.S.
Conservative capitalist pundits in the United States continue to drum up support for Israeli policies. National Journal editor Michael Kelly joined the issue in his Washington Post columns of August 15 and 29. Arguing that Sharon's policy is "re-strained" compared to the "unbridled attack" (in the words of a Post news item) that is also under consideration by the Israeli rulers, Kelly offered unqualified support to Tel Aviv.
"When you get down to it," he wrote, "why, exactly, should Israel continue to exercise restraint? Why shouldn't it go right ahead and escalate the violence? The only point to waging war is to win. Israel...can win only by fighting the war on its terms, unleashing an overwhelming force...to destroy, kill, capture and expel the armed Palestinian forces that have declared war on Israel.
"So far, Israel has indeed chosen to practice restraint," wrote Kelly in conclusion. "But, at this point, it has every moral right to abandon that policy and to engage in the war on terms more advantageous to military victory."
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