Israel has abandoned any pretence of being interested in peace with the Palestinian people. It is using all its force – its US-supplied tanks, weapons and fighter jets – to crush a people’s resistance. Israel has inflicted decades of repression, brutality and humiliation on the Palestinian people.
It has occupied their land, bulldozed their homes, impoverished their children, and murdered those who dared to resist. Israel has killed over 1,300 Palestinians, almost 300 of them under the age of 18, since the intifada (uprising) began 18 months ago. Last month Israel slaughtered 222 Palestinians in just ten days.
Now Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has launched a bigger and more brutal assault. He has called up 20,000 more troops to inflict a new round of butchery. Israeli tanks totally sealed off the West Bank town of Ramallah, and its population of 120,000 people, last week. Israel declared the area a ‘closed military zone’ and expelled all journalists. No one knows exactly what is happening there.
But we know that every time the Israeli army has smashed its way into Palestinian towns it has murdered civilians and bulldozed people’s homes. Last week Israeli troops stormed the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles smashed through the walls of the compound, and then opened fire with rocket shells and machine guns. Arafat was forced to retreat into a windowless basement.
This is the compound that British foreign secretary Jack Straw visited just six weeks ago when he met Arafat. Sharon has kept Arafat a prisoner in the compound since December last year. Siege Sharon has repeatedly said he wished he had killed Arafat during Israel’s siege of Beirut in Lebanon in 1982.
Observer journalist Peter Beaumont, who was in Ramallah last week, described how the Israelis executed five Palestinians by shots in the head at close range. Troops then arrested five ambulance drivers, handcuffed and blindfolded them, and then used the ambulances as a human shields in their military convoy.
The responsibility for Israel’s new assault lies not only with Sharon, but also with the US and British governments which supply the money, the weapons and the support.
Drew McEwan is a teacher in the Palestinian town of Jenin in the West Bank. He sent Socialist Worker this report:
‘The Israeli troops have just surrounded Jenin. Now the streets are empty except for Israeli Defence Force soldiers and tanks. If those soldiers glimpse a Palestinian they unleash the inevitable headshot. Nobody goes out on the streets. The university secretary said as she was leaving that she is going home to die, and she is ready for that. The Israelis are around Nablus. Tanks have sealed off the city and are on the hills around it. Yahaya came home from his studies to learn that the Israeli Defence Forces had entered his village outside Nablus. They shot Yahaya in the shoulder as he went to his car to listen to the radio, and when his brother tried to take him to hospital they arrested them both. Rami, his brother, had to sit and watch as Yahaya bled to death on the cold floor of an improvised cell. ‘The streets are deserted and all the roads have been closed,’ says my friend in Nablus. We are waiting for them to come in tonight. ‘Raise your eyes to the sky with me. Raise your arms to the sky with me. Roar in anger with me. God help the Palestinians and their homeland, Palestine’.’
John McSweeney is a student at Salford University. He is in Bethlehem with an international solidarity delegation:
‘The situation is very tense. After news came in that a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown herself up in West Jerusalem the Israelis looked as if they were going to take action against the camp she came from. This is round the corner from where we are based. We took part in a solidarity visit through this refugee camp, known as Da Haisha.
I have just taken part in a protest against three Israel armoured personnel carriers, full of soldiers who invaded a refugee camp called Beit Jala last night. We peacefully protested for about an hour. One of the soldiers threw a grenade at us, but we stayed.’
Hundreds of people from across the world are currently in Palestine as part of an international solidarity delegation. Israeli troops shot live bullets at their peaceful protest on Monday of this week. The protesters posted this message on a website:
‘The whole Bethlehem area has been declared a closed military zone, and no press are allowed admittance. There are fierce gun battles raging, and Palestinian resistance fighters are being pushed toward Manger Square. The hotel where some of our delegation are staying has ten tanks stationed outside. An Al Jazeera journalist has been shot at the hotel.’
The US has given the green light to Israel’s war on the Palestinians. The US hands $3 billion in military and economic ‘aid’ to Israel every year. The US sees Israel as a ‘watchdog’ in the Middle East to protect its profits from oil.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that Israel informed the US of its plans to attack Arafat’s compound. Powell condemned ‘Palestinian terror attacks’, but he said nothing about the Israeli terror.
Imagine what kind of desperation makes somebody a suicide bomber. The last 18 months have seen Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. This has led a growing number of people to see blowing themselves up in a crowded Israeli area as the only way to hit back at their oppressors.
The Israeli state has used terror against the Palestinians since its creation in 1948. Israeli terror gangs drove 750,000 people from their homes. Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. The Palestinians have been prisoners in their own homeland for 54 years. Over four million of them are refugees. This brutality pushes more people into hitting back at Israel.
‘We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories. We established an apartheid regime’
MICHAEL BEN-YAIR, Israel’s attorney general 1993-6
Many Palestinians see Yasser Arafat as the symbol of their struggle for their homeland. Arafat rose to prominence in the Palestinian resistance movement after 1967. He returned to the Gaza Strip in 1994 to set up the Palestinian Authority after a peace deal with the Israelis.
Palestinians recognise what Israel is trying to do by attacking Arafat. ‘They are sending a message to the Palestinians,’ says one Palestinian police officer. ‘They are saying, ‘This is your leader. We can kill him’.’
Anger has exploded across the Middle East against Israel’s latest assault on the Palestinians. The Al Jazeera TV station reported that 1.5 million people protested across Egypt.
Other protests included thousands demonstrating in Lebanon and Jordan. Some 2,000 people are occupying the United Nations headquarters in Damascus, Syria.
The National Union of Teachers this week passed near unanimously a resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. It also supported the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Bernard Regan from Westminster, central London, got a standing ovation when he said, ‘This is about the occupied and the occupier, the oppressed and the oppressor. The Palestinians have been massacred. We have to stand with them.’
Israel has killed over 650 Palestinians since 11 September.
EMERGENCY protests in solidarity with the Palestinians are being organised in many city centres this weekend. Forthcoming protests include:
EDINBURGH: this Saturday, 6 April, assemble 11.30am, King Stables Road, march to the US Consulate
LONDON: Saturday 13 April, assemble 2pm, Hyde Park, for march to Trafalgar Square.
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