BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Israeli government has instituted a virtual state of siege against Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, citing as its pretext a July 30 suicide bomb attack by two young Palestinians at a Jerusalem market, which killed 15 people.
Israeli soldiers closed the borders into West Bank towns and villages, sealing many entrances with piles of concrete blocks. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers have been prevented from getting to their jobs. The closing halted the delivery of virtually all goods from Israel into Palestinian- controlled areas. Among those not allowed to leave are individuals who are critically ill.
Israeli warships erected a naval blockade around the coastline of the Gaza Strip, preventing Palestinian fisherman from carrying out their livelihood. Not even newspapers were allowed to enter the Gaza Strip and its border crossing to Egypt was shut down. In addition, Israeli aircraft flew sorties over the area with a military helicopter hovering over Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat's headquarters in Gaza City. "We are in a big, unjust prison," said Fraij al-Khairy, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of civil affairs.
Since the beginning of the year, repeated demonstrations by Palestinian youth and workers demanding Tel Aviv live up to its commitments under various accords and protesting the expansion of Zionist settlements have provoked a crisis for the Israeli regime.
Conducting daily raids throughout the West Bank, Israeli police have arrested 145 Palestinians as of August 4 on suspicion of "terrorist activity." Many are first blindfolded and then taken into custody. Soldiers have been arbitrarily searching homes and confiscating anything they deem might "incite violence." Israeli cops raided the Palestinian village of Dahariya, near Hebron, seizing members of two families whose sons the authorities consider missing for the past year. They also shut down a Palestinian office in Jerusalem and demolished a number of houses supposedly built without permits by Arabs in East Jerusalem.
Arafat denounced "the collective punishment that the Israeli government has imposed on the Palestinian people and Palestinian Authority." In further comments to reporters, he stated, "To tell you the truth, what is happening is a blow against the corpse of the peace process, and it is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people."
In light of the latest developments, 16 of 18 members of the Authority's cabinet tendered their resignations. Several days earlier a panel of Palestinian legislators who investigated corruption in the Palestinian government had urged Arafat to dismiss his entire cabinet and that legal action be taken against several of its ministers.
The U.S. House of Representatives quickly adopted a nonbinding resolution calling upon Arafat to bring "extremists" to justice. President William Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, also put the onus on the Palestinians. In comments to CBS-TV, he demanded that Arafat do more to fight terrorism and safeguard the security of Israel.
In violation of the 1993 Oslo accords, Tel Aviv on August 3 suspended reimbursement of taxes and other fees that it owes to the Palestinian Authority. The money accounts for nearly two-thirds of the authority's annual income. The funds add up to nearly $500 million that Israeli authorities collect each year from Palestinians who work or buy goods in Israel. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also threatened to jam Palestinian broadcasts that Zionist officials consider "inciteful" and to dispatch its military forces into cities whose control had been turned over to the Palestinian Authority.
"We are not chickens who will stand back and let them do what they want," stated Col. Firas Ameleh, chief of police in the Palestinian-controlled city of Ramallah. "The only way Israel will reenter Ramallah is when we are all martyrs." So far the Israeli government has held back from undertaking military raids into Palestinian-controlled cities.
Netanyahu announced that Israeli authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Brig. Gen. Ghazi Jabali, the Gaza- based chief of the Palestinian national police. They claim that Jabali had given orders to shoot Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. However, no public evidence of these alleged crimes has been presented. "They cannot arrest me and if they come here to Gaza or to any place where I am, they will not return," stated Jabali. In another development, the Association of Contractors and Builders in Israel said that the building sector will no longer employ Palestinian laborers, even if they are licensed to work in Israel. The group's members employ 20,000 Palestinians, mostly day laborers who rely on jobs in Israel for their livelihood.
Brian Williams is a member of United Steelworkers of
America Local 2609.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home