by Zafar Bangash (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 4, Muharram, 1422)
Living up to his reputation as the “Butcher of Beirut,” Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has unleashed still more assaults on the besieged Palestinian civilians with helicopter-gunships, mortars and artillery shells in the West Bank and Ghazzah over the last two weeks. Blood-soaked Palestine has been drenched with even more blood by extra-judicial executions, kidnappings and wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes. While the zionists continue to uproot the Palestinians’ olive trees, Natan Sharansky, the former Russian dissident who is now minister of housing, announced that 700 more houses will be constructed for settlers on land stolen from the Palestinians. The people of Palestine have been besieged since the Aqsa intifada began at the end of September, and have suffered immense deprivation and terror, but Sharon’s assumption of power has worsened their plight: he has vowed to crush the intifada by state terrorism.
On April 5, three days after Mohammed Abdel Ela was martyred in a helicopter rocket attack near Rafah in Ghazzah, Iyyad Hardan was killed by a booby-trapped telephone in Jenin. Both were members of the Islamic Jihad organisation. Sharon announced proudly in Tel Aviv on April 4 that “sometimes we announce our policies and sometimes we don’t, but we do what we have to,” to a crowd of cheering zionist supporters. The assassination of leading figures of the resistance has now increased. Two members of the Tanzim — Jad Nahli and Hussam Rabiha — were kidnapped on April 6 from Um Sharayat on the outskirts of Ramallah by Israeli undercover agents. Ramallah falls within the Palestinian Authority area, but that is no bar to Israeli operations. Both were organisers of protests and rallies against Israeli occupation forces.
Sharon, whose career can be traced through rivers of blood, clearly spelled out his intentions during his election campaign, and promised to bring “peace” to the Israelis by ending “Palestinian violence.” For Palestinians, it means the peace of the grave. Sharon is starving millions of Palestinians by an economic embargo, and attacking them with helicopter gunships to terrorise them into submission. Yet while the Palestinians’ suffering is immense, the zionists are not having everything quite all their own way. At least 600 Israeli military reservists are in jail for refusing to serve in the West Bank and Ghazzah; another 2,500 have simply not reported for duty. Despite this, Sharon appears determined to go on.
This is nothing new. From its inception, zionist policy has been predicated on dispossessing the indigenous Arab population from their land in order to make room for Jewish settlers from Europe, Russia and North America. While Israel pursued a policy of mass expulsion through genocide and mass-murder, US president George W. Bush demanded that Palestinians end the “violence.” He welcomed Sharon to the White House late last month; the zionists, master manipulators of public opinion and perception, announced that two public relations firms will be hired to project the Israeli point of view. The zionists could save themselves the trouble: the American media is a willing accomplice in denigrating the Palestinians, as part of an anti-Muslim and anti-Arab campaign, while projecting Israel as a “bastion of democracy” and “openness” in a sea of lawlessness. If Palestinians are getting killed, it is their own fault for getting in the way of Israeli bullets.
The zionists have especially targeted children. The Defence for Children International/Palestine Section says in its annual report published on April 5 that a third of the Palestinian victims during the first three months of the intifada were less than 18 years old. It accused the occupiers of “executing” Palestinian children in the streets.
The report’s publication coincided with the Day of the Palestinian Child, and revealed that out of 105 Palestinian children killed by the Israelis last year, 94 were killed in the intifada (September 29-December 31). “The figures reflect the Israeli side’s ability to kill in cold blood and show that they are executing children in the streets,” Elias Rishmawi, head of the group’s administrative council, told a press conference. A total of 2,258 children were injured last year, 2,022 of them during the intifada. The report also says that 72 percent of those killed were shot in the head or chest.
The Palestinians have little more than stones and crude home-made bombs; the zionists are using missile-firing helicopter-gunships and Merkava tanks. According to the Jaffa Centre for Strategic Studies, Israel has 42 Apache and 64 Cobra gunships, all supplied by the US, like most of Israel’s other weaponry, yet Washington still claims that it is an honest broker in the Middle East. The Apache is armed with a 50-millimetre cannon and up to 16 Hellfire wire-guided missiles. It is not only under Sharon that Israel has deployed helicopter gunships; the “moderate” Ehud Barak used helicopters against Palestinian civilians as early as October 2.
While the Israeli occupation forces have continued to attack such Palestinian towns as Hebron, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, Khan Younis and Rafah, heavily-armed Israeli settlers have continued their own rampages through Palestinian areas. In Hebron, zionist settlers carried out several assaults on Palestinian residents; in one incident on April 3, they blew up a gas canister, destroying several shops.
The 200,000 settlers living in 145 West Bank and Ghazzah towns are an essential element of Israel’s expansionist policy to drive the indigenous population from their land, which has been expanded under the ‘peace process’ which supposedly offered ‘land for peace’. The 700 new houses approved for construction are around the Jabal Abu Ghneim (near Jerusalem) and the West Bank town of Nablus.
Even worse was Sharon’s statement on April 5: he has ordered the Israeli security branches to find a way to enable members of “all faiths” to ascend the Haram al-Sharif. What this means is that he is looking for a way to give zionists access to the Masjid al-Aqsa. It was Sharon’s provocative visit on September 28 last year that sparked the Aqsa intifada. He appears determined to inflame Muslim passions further. Intoxicated by Israel’s military might, he believes that he can bulldoze his way anywhere.
While nothing much can be expected from the feeble Arab regimes, whose impotence was on display during the Arab summit in Amman last month, the Muslim masses will not take such provocations for long. There is great anger everywhere against the zionists; this needs to be translated into strong, effective action against the occupiers and oppressors. The experience of the Hizbullah in dealing with the zionists in Lebanon needs to be emulated in order to confront the menace that is terrorising the Middle East, indeed the whole Muslim world.