by Zafar Bangash (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 14, Rabi' al-Thani, 1438)
While protests against Israel and Zionism were dominating the UN’s World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa (see accompanying reports in this issue), little was changing for Palestinians under Israeli rule, with the Zionist army continuing its brutal crackdown. Despite Israel’s decision to maim rather than kill Palestinian protestors, in order to disguise the casualty figures, Palestinian deaths continue to rise. Among those martyred this month was Fayeq Abu Siyam, 30, who was killed by gunfire from an Israeli helicopter on September 10. The Islamic Resistance was not idle, however, killing five Israeli soldiers and injuring scores more in three separate operations on September 9.
Meanwhile, the Israelis were also forwarding their plans to colonise more of Palestine, including plans for the expulsion of Palestinians from al-Quds and the restriction of Palestinians to concentration-camp type areas in the West Bank. At the same time, the US continues its support for Israel, with leading US politicians arranging a pro-Israel demonstration in New York on September 23, to counter the numerous demonstrations in support of the Palestinians this month, the first anniversary of the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada.
With the odds heavily against them, it is easy for the Palestinians and their supporters to become despondent. The murders of Palestinians, the year-long siege of Palestinian towns and villages, the crippling of their economy and lack of water in the stifling heat, would discourage even the greatest optimist. Yet this is not a wholly accurate description of the situation in Palestine. True, it is easy to write optimistically from the comfort of one’s desk, but the Palestinians by their courageous resistance are making a difference in ways that were unthinkable a few months ago.
Significant changes are taking place in occupied Palestine. Ha’aretz, a Hebrew daily, wrote on September 5: “A group of 62 Israeli high-school seniors declared Wednesday [Sept 5] in a letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon that they would refuse to serve in the IDF because of what they termed the army’s ‘terror operations in the territories’, Israel Radio reported. The youths also called on other young Israelis to follow their example.” Ha’aretz then reported the reaction of government officials and politicians to this development. “National Religious Party lawmaker Zevulun Orlev called the letter a ‘red flag.’ He demanded that the youth’s educators ‘engage in soul-searching in order to understand how we reached a state of affairs in which our youths are so alienated from their country’.”
It is too generous to say that the Israelis are gradually rejecting the horrors being visited upon the Palestinians; the fact is that it is the zionists’ fear of death that is causing such a reaction. Already four Israeli soldiers are in jail for refusing to serve; at least 60 reservists are at large. This has come about despite Israeli soldiers being given carte blanche to kill and maim Palestinians. They are joined by armed settlers who kill Palestinian civilians after setting traps for them. Periodically even American journalists feel bound to report Israeli crimes. Jack Kelley of USA Today reported on September 4 how settlers, originally from Brooklyn, went about killing Palestinians in the West Bank town of al-Khalil (Hebron). These American-born terrorists describe the Palestinians as “Muslim filth.”
Narrating the activities of one Avi Shapiro and 12 other Jewish settlers, Kelley wrote: “As they crouched in a ditch beside the road, Shapiro, the leader of the group, gave the settlers orders: Surround any taxi, ‘open fire’ and kill as many of the ‘blood-sucking Arab’ passengers as possible.” According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group, Jewish settlers have killed at least 119 Palestinians in the West Bank and Ghazzah since the start of the intifada, yet no American newspaper or television station dares to call these acts what they are: terrorism. On the contrary, CNN has issued instructions to its correspondents to report Israeli crimes as “Palestinian deaths,” and not refer to Gilo as “Israeli occupied.” Gilo has been occupied since 1967, one of the zionists’ illegal settlements to tighten control of Jerusalem. CNN wants its correspondents to refer to it as a “Jewish neighbourhood.”
On August 27 Israeli tanks entered Beit Jala, a predominantly Christian Palestinian town near Jerusalem, in an attempt to prevent attacks on zionist settlers in Gilo. They were driven back after three days, although not before the Israelis had caused immense damage to property and places of worship. Israeli tanks withdrew on August 30 from the courtyard of Beit Jala’s Lutheran church. Israeli forces also entered the mosque next to the church. On August 31 Israeli bulldozers destroyed the adjacent wall of an Armenian monastery, and prepared new access roads to Aida refugee-camp for army vehicles.
The Israeli plan is clear. Sharon is trying to reoccupy Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Ghazzah to create new “facts on the ground”. This has been Israeli policy since its beginning, but it is coming up against some harsh realities. On August 25, three Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) penetrated an Israeli army post in Ghazzah and killed three soldiers. Seven others were wounded before two of the commandos were martyred; the third escaped. It was a heavy blow to the Israeli army’s morale. No wonder it lashed out the next day by launching a missile attack on the Ramallah office of Mustafa al-Zibri, 63-year-old secretary general of the PFLP, who was martyred in the attack. A US state department official, referring to past American criticism of what it calls “targeted killings” by Israel, said: “Our views on such attacks are well-known,” without elaborating. The Americans are the chief underwriters of zionist crimes, as the Durban conference so clearly showed that most people realise.
The struggle for Palestine will have to be fought in the Holy Land. The Palestinians are writing a new chapter with their blood. The struggle will not be easy; the deviation of Muslims from the path of Islam has gone on for so long, and is now so great, that it will take a long time for the Ummah to recover. Yet the people of Palestine have begun the process. They are no longer afraid; instead it is the zionists who are scared. This is evident from the sharp drop in the number of people who go to shopping malls in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, from the deserted cafes and restaurants and from the slump in tourists coming to Israel. Even the zionists have stopped coming: a number of youth camps that used to be held regularly by American Jews in occupied Palestine have been cancelled, much to the zionists’ chagrin. Western zionists cheer their fellows from afar, but when the going gets tough they stay away.
Equally revealing is the zionists’ failure to recruit new settlers. For more than two years they have been tempting Russian and Latvian Jews (and even non-Jews) with promises of jobs and homes. Suffering the after-effects of communism’s demise, they are easily lured, but then also easily discouraged. Nearly 40 percent of homes in the West Bank settlements are empty. No less damaging has been the impact of the intifada on the Israeli economy. Because of the Oslo accords (1993), investments poured into Israel. Now much of it has dried up and cheap Palestinian labour is also no longer available. True, this has affected the Palestinians more, because more than half of them have been without employment for nearly a year. There is great hardship among Palestinian families, who find themselves in a catch-22 situation: if they do not work, they starve; if they work, they help entrench the zionists on their own land.
The real change, however, has come in the people’s perceptions. The Palestinians are now convinced that they can stand up to the zionists. The failure of the zionists to occupy any Palestinian town or village for long is a direct consequence of this. Palestinians are now eager to court martyrdom. Once people overcome the fear of death, no earthly power can defeat them. So the Palestinians fear death no longer, and the zionists are getting panicky.
The intifada is also eroding the Israeli economy. It is true that Israel gets massive handouts from the US (US$92 billion so far), but the structure of the Israeli army still affects the economy. Israel has a standing army of some 50,000, but with the intifada military service for youths and adults has also increased. Israel requires at least 300,000 armed personnel to contain the intifada (if that is possible at all); its economy is bound to suffer, and the longer the intifada goes on, the greater the impact on Israel’s economy will be.
There is also another factor at work: all oppressors and bullies are cowards. A number of companies are now openly advertising investment opportunities abroad. This is a new development which previously was considered an act of treason. No more: thanks to the intifada, Israeli Jews are wondering how long they can live in occupied Palestine. The Islamic movement in Palestine must plan carefully and reckon accurately for that future.