Continuing Israeli oppression and Palestinian resistance
The Al-Aqsa Intifada, born out of Zionist settler oppression and brutality, and the heroic Palestinian resistance to it, continues unabated. Since the last issue of Lalkar, the death toll has reached 350, all but 38 of the dead being Palestinians, including 13 Arabs within Israel. In addition, 10,000 Palestinian civilians have been seriously injured by Israeli rifle fire, anti-tank missiles, helicopter gunship attacks (see B'Tselem [Israeli Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] website, www.btselem. org). The Israeli army of occupation continues deliberately to target the heads and legs of unarmed Palestinian civilians, even in situations which do not in the least threaten the lives of Israeli soldiers or civilians (see Boston Globe, 4 November, 2000), with children being their particular targets - 40% of Palestinians wounded by the cowardly Israeli soldiers are under 18 years of age. Half of these injuries result from the use of live ammunition (Reuters, 17 October 2000). Israeli policy and actions constitute a serious breach of the Convention on Human Rights and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They violate UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 194. In short, Israel is guilty of gross violations of international law and guilty of crimes against humanity and of genocide.
Whatever the occasion for the outbreak of the second - the Al-Aqsa - Intifada, its real cause is the denial by Zionist colonialism and its chief backer, US imperialism, of the just right of the Palestinian people to national self-determination and a state of their own. The Palestinian people have already made the most painful concessions, in that they have indicated their acceptance of a truncated state, comprising the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but constituting a mere 22% of the territory of historic Palestine, with the Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. The Zionist state, however, refuses to agree even to such a settlement so favourable to it. Palestinian reasonableness has merely served to make Zionism more than ever aggressive, intransigent and obdurate. It is clear that nothing short of an armed war of liberation on the part of the Palestinian people will knock some sense into the arrogant skulls of the Zionist nutters. Hence the continued conflict, with its daily and sickening violence perpetrated on the Palestinian masses by the Zionist forces who are armed with the most sophisticated killing machines that modern science and technology can produce - all supplied courtesy of US imperialism - but also with its heroic resistance on the part of the Palestinian masses.
To illustrate the point about US backing for Israeli brutality, on 3 October - a week, that is, after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising and the killing of dozens of Palestinians in cold blood by the Israeli army, the defence correspondent of Ha'aretz, Israel's most prestigious daily, reported "the largest purchase of military helicopters by the Israeli Air Force in a decade". Under this deal the US agreed to supply Israel with 35 Blackhawk military helicopters and spare parts worth $525 million. This followed the purchase shortly before by Israel from the US of patrol aircraft and Apache helicopters - the latest and most advanced multi-mission attack helicopters in the US armoury. All these machines - hardly the traditional instruments of crowd control - are used by the Israeli army against Palestinian civilian targets with gay abandon and impunity, backed as the Zionist state is by the mightiest military power known to history, namely, US imperialism.
Presently, three areas of disagreement stand in the way of a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These are: Zionist settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (let it be said in parenthesis that the whole of Israel is occupied territory, founded as it is on stolen Palestinian land - but that is by the by); the right of refugees to return to their homes; and finally the status of East Jerusalem. We shall deal with each of these questions in that order.
In violation of UN resolutions, Israel has constructed 170 Jewish settlements. Home to 200,000 settlers, these are militarised centres designed to maintain perpetual Zionist control of the West Bank and Gaza. In complete violation of the promise, given by the late Mr Rabin at the time of the Oslo accords, that the construction of settlements would be frozen, their construction has in fact been accelerated and the number of settlers doubled, from 100,000 at the time of Oslo to the present 200,000. "Following Ehud Barak's election", writes John Austin, M.P., "the creation of new settlements has increased with 13,600 more settlers in the last year alone. Palestinians now find themselves surrounded by vast illegal Israeli settlements connected by settler-only roads by-passing Palestinian towns and villages and cutting them off from each other, and trapping them within a system of graded identity cards reminiscent of apartheid South Africa's pass laws" ('The Palestinians deserve justice', Socialist Campaign Group News). Apart from a minority of religious fanatics, nut cases with only a tenuous connection with reality, who come to the settlements to claim their patch of land "given by God to the Jews", most others are lured by the Israeli government with spacious subsidised housing, beautifully manicured lawns, swimming pools, schools and sports facilities. These settlements in turn provide the justification for Israeli military presence and a system of roads connecting these settlements, which cut Palestinian areas off from each other and from Jerusalem, one town from another, and towns from villages, into isolated little oases reminiscent of the notorious bantustans of apartheid South Africa. Writing in Ha'aretz of 18 October, Amira Hass, a courageous and outstanding journalist, gives an accurate picture of the current situation. Since Oslo, writes Hass, Israel has security and administrative control of most of the West and a fifth of the Gaza Strip. It has managed "to double the number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge the settlements, to continue its discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the area of the West Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a network of pass roads meant for Jews only. During days of strict internal restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how carefully each road was planned: so that 200,000 Jews have freedom of movement, about three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans until they submit to Israeli demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for three weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying and deception, just as the first Intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli occupation". (This quotation, as well as the one which follows, has been taken from an article by Noam Chomsky, which appeared in People's Democracy, organ of the CPI(M) of 5 November, 2000).
Danny Rubinstein, another outstanding journalist, writing in Ha'aretz of 23 October 2000, says that:
"Readers of the Palestinian papers get the impression (and rightly so) that activity in the settlements never stops. Israel is constantly building, expanding and reinforcing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is always grabbing homes and lands in areas beyond the 1967 lines - and of course, this is all at the expense of the Palestinians, in order to limit them, push them into a corner and then out. In other words, the goal is to eventually dispossess them of their homeland and their capital, Jerusalem".
The force of Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism and brutality, and with it the tide of world opinion, especially in the Arab world, threatening as it is to destroy the imperialist-contrived status quo in the Middle East, is obliging even the most die-hard political and media defenders of Israeli Zionism to speak out against the latter's settlement policy in the Occupied Territories. Douglas Hurd, British Foreign Secretary from 1989 to 1995, in an article which appeared in the Financial Times of 14 November 2000, makes a number of points as a prelude to commenting on the question of settlements. He says Israel is "no longer invincible. True, it can always defeat regular Arab armies. But it was not the Lebanese or Syrian army that forced Israel out of South Lebanon. It was Hizbollah irregulars, highly motivated and vigorously trained." In view of the fact that the US, being completely on the Israeli side, is discredited, he advises the incoming US administration to involve the UN and the European Union, for "After all that has occurred, the US is unlikely to succeed as a patron of the new, much-needed peace process". Coming to settlements, he states:
"The key remains the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Looking back, we have all been remiss in failing to intervene effectively against the spread of these settlements. We have often criticised them as unwise and illegal; there are plenty of harsh words on the record. But the facts of American domestic politics, the guilty feelings of Europeans towards Israel and the dependence of friendly Arabs on the US have inhibited all of us from making our criticism effective. As a result the hated settlements have leapt from hillside to hillside.
"Israel was allowed to follow in the 20th century a policy comparable with that of expansionist powers in the 19th"
Moderate though the language in the above-cited remarks is, these are pretty strong words, coming as they do from a former Conservative foreign secretary of British imperialism, whose successive governments share so much responsibility for the misery heaped on the Palestinian people.
In its leading article of 15 October 2000, the Observer, a 'liberal' imperialist organ with a very long history of support for Israel - right or wrong - has this to say:
"If Palestinians were black, Israel would now be a pariah state subject to economic sanctions led by the United States. [The Observer is plainly wrong and suffers from selective amnesia, for not only the US, but all the imperialist governments and imperialist media, supported apartheid until the tide of the liberation movement frightened them into effecting a change of front]. Its development and settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of apartheid, in which the indigenous population was allowed to live in a tiny fraction of its own country, in self-administered 'bantustans', with 'whites' monopolising the supply of water and electricity. And just as the black population was allowed into South Africa's white areas in disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs - flagrantly discriminating against them in housing and education spending - would be recognised as scandalous too".
The Observer goes on to say that unless Israel can come to terms with the rights of the Palestinian people, "there is and never can be any long-term legitimacy for the Israeli state in the Middle East and it is this that threatens Israel's long-term survival", adding that "this is a moment of truth for Israel If it wants genuine and lasting peace, Israel must work to construct a legitimate Palestinian state, [and] draw back its illegal settlements "
The Observer has been 'persuaded' to speak for the Palestinian people by the resistance of the Palestinian people (who refused to be bowed or cowed by overwhelming Israeli force and brutality), by " the oil price rising ominously and immense support for the Palestinians welling up round the Arab world". In view of all this, the Observer urges the EU to declare its " independence from apparently craven American support for whatever Israel does", for " the west needs to be SEEN [emphasis added] on the side of right."
At the time of the founding of the state of Israel in May 1948, about 800,000 Arabs were expelled at gunpoint and forced to flee their homes. Populations of entire villages were exterminated as an instrument of terrorising the rest into leaving their homes. "Many Palestinians", says the Financial Times of 18 December 2000, "still have keys to the homes from which they fled or were expelled over 50 years ago" ('Settling refugee issue critical to any deal', Judy Dempsey). The UN-registered refugees, whose number has swollen from 800,000 to 3.5 million (numbers vary from 3.5 to 5 million according to different sources), have dreamed all this time about returning to their homes and they want their right to return recognised. It is sickening characteristic of the racism underpinning the Israeli state that a Jew anywhere in the world, with absolutely no connection with the Middle East, let alone Palestine, for nearly two millennia, can pack his baggage, go to Israel, demand - and be given - Israeli nationality, while people who lived in Palestine for centuries, having been expelled from their homes at the point of a bayonet, are not allowed to return. The whim of any colonising nutter from Brooklyn, or wherever else, has precedence over the historic national rights of the Palestinian people.
Since their expulsion, millions of Palestinians have eked out a miserable existence scattered throughout squalid camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the neighbouring countries - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Barak, the present Israeli prime minister, says that he acknowledges the suffering of the Palestinian people but does not want to accept any responsibility, as to do so could entitle the Palestinians expelled from their homes the automatic right to return, with all that it implies for the state of Israel and its Jewish population, many of whom "live in the homes and on the land confiscated from Palestinians after 1948. No compensation was ever paid" (Financial Times, op. cit.).
One might add, many of those living in houses and on land stolen from the Palestinians have in all probability, without their conscience being troubled in the least, been receiving compensation from Germany and other governments for the properties of Jews confiscated by the Nazi authorities.
UN General Assembly resolution 194 recognises the Palestinian people's right of return to their homes. It is characteristic that the very imperialist powers, notably the US and Britain, which have for 10 years maintained draconian and inhuman sanctions (which have claimed the lives of 1.5 million innocent Iraqi men, women and children) against Iraq, which enforce the illegal no-fly zone over parts of that country, in the name of UN resolutions, are guilty today as they have been for many decades of the most flagrant violation of the resolutions of the same body. US and British imperialism - because of their military, financial, political and diplomatic support for the racist Zionist settler state of Israel - more than any other power today stand in the way of the Palestinian refugees returning to their homes.
The plan of the Israeli government in 1948
In 1948, the Israeli government's plan, which was rooted in, and essential to, traditional goals of Zionism, was to make way for the Jews by clearing Palestine of its Palestinian population, by a combination of ethnic cleansing and 'invisible transfer'. It was hoped that the refugees would be 'crushed and die', while 'most of them would turn into human dust and the waste of society, and join the most impoverished classes in the Arab countries'. Every successive Israeli government, Labour and Likud, including the present, supposedly 'left' and 'dovish' Barak government, have closely followed this plan and tried to impose it by a combination of coercive diplomacy and brute force on the Palestinian people. The trouble, however, is that the Palestinians living in refugee camps, squalid though their existence may be, refuse to be crushed, refuse to die, and refuse to be turned into human dust and waste. They are fighting, as only the homeless and oppressed can, with ever-renewed vigour, to return to their homes - and they shall. No force in the world, however long it takes, can stop this happening. The sooner Israeli Zionism and its patrons recognise this, the better for everyone concerned. Without this there will not be a settlement. It is a sign of the times indeed that the likes of Douglas Hurd, the Observer and the Financial Times have begun to perceive the need for recognising the rights of the Palestinian people.
UN resolution 242 fully recognises Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The eastern part of the city not only is overwhelmingly populated by Palestinian Arabs, it is also home to the third most important of the holy shrines of Islam, and as such has an emotional pull for the Islamic world, especially the Arabs of the Middle East. To maintain, as successive Zionist governments have done since 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza, that Jerusalem is the "undivided eternal capital of Israel" betrays not only arrogance but also ignorance and a lack of historical sense. Lately, pressed by Palestinian resistance, the Israeli government has indicated that it might be willing to recognise some sort of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including Haram-al-Sharif, the compound harbouring the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the dome of the rock. But, in view of the Israeli insistence on keeping intact the Jewish settlements, East Jerusalem would be reduced to a set of isolated islands, cut off from each other and cut off from the Palestinian state, which in turn is allotted a similar fate under the Barak/US proposals, which they have been trying to implement with such brutality.
'Closures', whereby Palestinian areas are sealed off from each other, and 125,000 Palestinian workers, who earn their living by working in Israel, are prevented from doing so, are routinely resorted to by the Israeli government. During these 'closures', electricity, water and other services are terminated, which are in any case only ever doled out in meagre quantities. During these 'closures' the entire Palestinian population finds itself in conditions of a virtual state of siege. The purpose of the 'closures' is to strangulate the Palestinian economy, to reduce the Palestinians to penury and destitution - all with a view to forcing on them the acceptance of a settlement which reduces their territory to a collection of bantustans, whose economic survival depends on the whim and discretion of the Israeli state. Incidentally, according to Amira Hass, already cited, the policy of closures was initiated by the Rabin government "years before Hamas had planned suicide attacks [and] has been perfected over the years, especially since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority."
The 'closures', with their road blocks and checkpoints, are a serious impediment to personal and vehicular mobility between the West Bank and Gaza and between the Palestinian Authority as a whole and Israel, as well as the rest of the world, resulting not only in reduced levels of security on the roads connecting the Palestinian population centres, but also in cutting off all contact between Palestinian cities, towns and villages, and thus disrupting all productive activity and the internal circulation of goods. According to a report of the Office of the United Nations Special Co-ordination (UNSCO), dated 21 October 2000, all told, the losses suffered by the Palestinian economy from these 'closures' amount to a huge $9.8 million every day.
For the period from 28 September to 19 October, with which alone it is concerned, says the UNSCO report, " the losses to the Palestinian economy are estimated at $186.2 million These losses exceed the value of donor disbursements to the PA during the first half of the year, which were $183 million. If these losses were distributed over the normal working days the average daily loss is estimated at about $9.8 million" (The impact on the Palestinian economy of the recent confrontations, mobility restrictions and border closures, UNSCO).
The above figures are fully corroborated by the World Bank, which estimates the losses resulting from 'closures' at $9.4 million per day, of which $3.4 million a day are from the loss of remittances from Palestinians working in Israel, and over $6 million a day from the loss of tax receipts and customs fees. According to the World Bank figures, released on 5 November 2000, if the closures were to carry on, the decline in Palestine's GDP for the year 2000 would reach $630 million, and the "share of the population living below the poverty line will increase from 21 per cent to about 28.2 per cent by the end of the year", while per capita income will decrease by 11%. Were the closures to continue into the New Year, the per capita income would be reduced by 27% and the poverty rate would hit 43.7%, with Gaza "parti-cularly hit hard, with even higher poverty rates and unemployment reaching 50 per cent or more" (For World Bank figures, see Financial Times, 6 November 2000).
The above figures of economic devastation do not take into account the physical destruction of the private and public assets. The destruction of houses, buildings, vehicles and fruit orchards - destroyed either by the settler thugs, who regularly torch Palestinian vehicles and uproot Palestinian orchards, or by the Israeli thugs in uniform, using heavy weapons, including rocket fire.
Latest US-Israeli proposals
Under the latest 'peace' proposals, presented by the outgoing US president, Clinton, on 20 December to Palestinian negotiators, according to leaks in the press, Palestinians will get to establish their state on 95% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. They would also get sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem and some form of sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif compound. Some Jewish settlements would be removed and others incorporated into Israel. There would be no right of return for the refugees to their homes in Israel. Under these proposals, while the West Bank would be carved into two, and separate Arab East Jerusalem from Palestine, Gaza would remain an enclave on the Mediterranean coast. In addition, Israel would lease the Jordan valley and the coast of the Dead Sea for at least a decade to defend its eastern flank. The audacity behind these proposals is truly breathtaking. Clearly these proposals fall far short of what would be acceptable to the Palestinian people. No Palestinian leaderhip could survive the acceptance of these proposals. Clinton and Israel are busy arm-twisting the Palestinian leadership. Clinton met Yassir Arafat in Washington on 2 January 2001. The Israeli media have reported that " desperate for a breakthrough and an historical peace to mark his presidency, Mr Clinton threatened Mr Arafat that if he failed to move forward with the talks, Israel would go to war against the Palestinians [as if that has not been happening for the last 52 years] with the diplomatic support of America" (The Times, 5 January 2001).
This is not the first time Clinton has issued this threat to the Palestinians, nor is he the first president of the US to do so. Arafat has faced, and weathered, such threats before. Mr Arafat is being told now that the US proposals are the "best offer he ever is likely to get." Wasn't he told the same during the failed Camp David talks last July? He is further being told that his best hope is to conclude a deal with Barak, and that if he does not, Barak will be replaced by the hard-line Likud leader, Ariel Sharon. The truth is that the Palestinians have faced nothing but racism, brutality, and massive use of force from successive Israeli governments - Labour and Likud. What more can a Sharon administration do in the way of suppression of, and violence against, the Palestinian people that the Barak government is not already putting into practice? The Palestinian people will only achieve anything through struggle. And they will continue to struggle in the face of all threats, intimidation and overwhelming force arrayed against them. They will dismiss with contempt such extraneous and peripheral considerations as to whether or not Clinton marks the end of his presidency with a 'historic peace accord' and whether or not Barak's career will benefit from an accord.
Increasingly the Palestinian fighters for national liberation against Zionist colonialism are using more sophisticated methods of struggle, attacking Israeli soldiers and Zionist settlements. They are taking their fight into their enemy's camp. The recent bomb blasts in the northern Israeli town of Hadera, which killed two and injured 55, and in the coastal town of Natanya, which injured 40 Israelis, are clear warnings of what awaits Israeli society if it continues with the same old policy of occupation, suppression and denial of rights of the Palestinian people. It is worth noting that the second of the above two blasts (on 2 January) occurred just within five days of the first. The Palestinians are adopting, increasingly successfully, the tactics of a people's war (guerrilla tactics), which have been so successfully employed by the Hizbollah in South Lebanon, resulting in the most humiliating expulsion of the supposedly invincible Israeli army of occupation from Lebanon. The Palestinian fighters are encountering fewer problems getting their hands on guns, some of which, as usually happens in a people's war, are supplied by the enemy. According to a report by Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian of 16 December 2000, Israeli soldiers, belonging as they do to an increasingly mercenary and demoralised army of occupation, "driven by money or drugs", steal weapons from the "Israeli weapons exchanges, where soldiers deposit their guns for maintenance or repair," and sell them to Palestinian arms dealers, who in turn sell them to Palestinian freedom fighters. Then, of course, there are the daring raids by the Palestinian fighters on Israeli stores. Ms Goldenberg again:
"A few weeks ago Palestinian gunmen waltzed into an Israeli army tank depot near the West Bank city of Jericho, stripping off four heavy machine guns and drove off into the desert, Israeli military official says."
In addition, there is a steady flow of weapons across the borders from Egypt and Jordan.
It is a sign of the times that the Arab regimes feel increasingly obliged to support the Palestinian people. On Thursday 4 January, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo told Mr Arafat that the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes was 'sacred' and should not be given up at US-sponsored talks. These refugees have nowhere to go except their homes, for neither Lebanon, nor Syria, nor Jordan, will accept them permanently - they have no legal or moral obligation to do so.
The tide of fortune and history has begun to flow in favour of the Palestinian people. If they continue to show steadfastness, perseverance, single-minded determination; if they continue to maintain national unity and their nerve in the very trying times ahead, victory will be theirs - and it will be well deserved and not a day too early.