"The Jordanian government should throw out the American ambassador even before the Israeli because it is only America who can pressure Israel to stop the aggression," said Wadha Rajoub at an April 2 mobilization in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Like the majority of people living in Jordan, she is Palestinian.
In Amman, police formed a barricade across the gates of the University of Jordan to keep 500 students from leaving the campus. They ultimately had to turn water cannon on the protest to turn it back. After refusing for five days to grant a permit for the action--in keeping with a long-standing ban on Palestinian protests--the regime of King Abdullah was forced to bow before mass pressure and allow the march, which involved more than 6,000 people.
Demonstrations took place in a number of Egyptian cities in spite of assaults by police forces using water cannon and tear gas. Thousands of students rallied at Cairo University on April 1 and marched to the Israeli embassy, demanding that the government break all diplomatic ties with Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador. On April 3, Egyptian information minister Safwat el-Sherif announced that the government would suspend all ties with Israel that did not "serve the Palestinian cause"--a largely symbolic move by a regime under intense pressure from the popular masses.
In Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, several thousand students stood up to cops in riot gear brandishing truncheons during their protest in solidarity with the Palestinians.
The former prime minister of Jordan, Taher Masri, summed up the displeasure of the capitalist rulers in various countries in the region. "The Arab masses are on the move," he said. "It's a terrible situation. The regimes were beginning to stabilize, and the region was moving in the right direction. Now some regimes will suffer."
The most savage Israeli offensive
The wave of protests was sparked by the most savage Israeli offensive in the West Bank in the 18 months of heightened Palestinian resistance and Israeli repression. Israeli troops backed by heavy armor and air power now occupy Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Qalqilyah, Nablus, Salfit, and Jenin. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has set no time limits on the invasion.
In Ramallah, a city of 200,000 people and the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, tanks smashed through the walls of the compound used by Yasir Arafat, trapping him and other members of the Palestinian Authority inside. Israeli soldiers burst into room after room, gunning down Palestinian guards and officials at close range.
Accurate figures of the human toll of the Israeli incursion have not been released. In one instance, on April 2, Palestinians were forced to bury their dead in a mass grave when the morgue at the Ramallah hospital became filled to overflowing. The hospital had received 28 bodies since the offensive began four days earlier and Israeli officers refused to allow families to hold individual funerals and burials.
During a shoot-on-sight curfew that was only lifted with the April 2 surrender of some 200 Palestinians, an Israeli sniper killed Widan Sofran, a 56-year-old woman, 50 yards from the hospital where she had just had a leg cast removed.
The Sharon government claims to be targeting the organizations and individuals who have organized suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks on Israeli soldiers, tanks, settlements, and--increasingly--cities inside Israeli itself. On April 2, Israeli officers admitted to seizing some 880 Palestinians for questioning during the previous five days. In contrast to their previous sweeps in early March, which targeted only men, they have issued a call to women between the ages of 15 and 25 to submit to interrogation as well.
Media reports indicated that some 15 Israeli soldiers were wounded on April 2 alone as the occupation forces encountered resistance in all the invaded towns and cities. In the week preceding the wide-ranging assault, March 27 to April 1, at least 38 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings.
Israeli deaths have climbed rapidly as Palestinian guerrilla attacks and bombings have increased in number and sophistication. The total known death count from September 2000 to April 3 stood at 1,153 Palestinians and 404 Israelis, a ratio of less than three to one. As recently as November of last year the comparable figure was more than four to one.
White House backs the offensive
Two days after the Israeli forces rolled into Ramallah, U.S. president George Bush publicly backed the offensive, laying the responsibility at the door of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. "We are at this point," he said March 30, "because there has not been enough done to fight off terror.... And that especially applies to [Palestinian leader Yasir] Arafat.... I fully understand Israel's need to defend itself."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld linked Israel's crisis to the "war on terror"--Washington's pretext for the expansion of its military presence in Central and Southeast Asia as well as Latin America and the Middle East--in a press briefing the following day.
Some U.S. politicians and commentators, however, have expressed unease at the explosive situation and the failure of Washington to force through a cease-fire. "We are telling them that it's going to get tougher and tougher and things are in danger of getting out of hand," said a White House official.
In particular, the U.S. rulers are concerned at the loss of momentum in their drive toward a new war on Iraq. "Over the past two weeks the war on terror has taken a turn for the worse [owing to] the President's re-engagement in the Israeli-Arab conflict," complained the Wall Street Journal in a March 29 editorial entitled "Quagmire."
"All of the focus on Palestine merely diverts valuable U.S. time and attention away from al Qaeda and Iraq," continued the big-business paper. "The path to a calmer Mideast now lies not through Jerusalem but through Baghdad."
Backing up its political support for Israel's war policies over the past several decades, U.S. imperialism has massively bankrolled the Israeli government and its war machine. Today Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military and economic "aid," receiving an annual infusion of nearly $3 billion in 1998, more than any other country in the world. In the same year, the Egyptian government received more than $2 billion in U.S. funds, putting it in second place.
To date, there is no sign that the open-ended and increasingly massive Israeli offensive will be able to stifle Palestinian determination to keep fighting for their dignity and national rights. The New York Times reported that while people were stocking up on food and groceries in the expectation of Israeli attacks, "there was defiance, too. In Gaza, demonstrators set fire to effigies of Mr. Bush, Mr. Sharon and a figure representing Arab leaders, as well as a coffin labeled 'Arab League.'"
Protesters in Cairo and Amman also opposed the decision of the recent summit of Arab League nations endorsing a Saudi Arabian government proposal to "normalize" relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was the first proposal by the Arab League to normalize relations since the creation of Israel in 1948.
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