by Laila Juma (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 14 2003-11, Ramadan, 1424)
It is perhaps not surprising that of all the incidents of violence in Palestine over the last month, the one that attracted the most headlines worldwide was the roadside bomb that killed three US ‘security guards’ (CIA agents, according to some reports) on October 15. It was widely interpreted as the first time that American officials were deliberately targeted by the Palestinians, despite their long history of supporting Israel politically and militarily. Although all Palestinian groups denied responsibility for the attack, leaving questions about who was really responsible, there could be no mistaking the jubilation and celebrations of local Palestinians at the fact that US officials had been hit.
The sobering realization of just how much Palestinians resent and hate American support for Israel, as well as its aggressive, imperialistic and anti-Muslim policies worldwide, may have tempered the US’s response to the bombing; instead of striking out angrily and blindly, as their record might have suggested they would do, they were relatively restrained, restricting themselves to harsh words of condemnation. Having seen the courage of the Palestinian resistance to their Israeli allies, the US may have decided that they do not want to get into a direct war with Palestinian resistance groups as long as the Palestinians prefer not to get into direct conflict with them.
Commentators noted, however, not only that no Palestinian claimed the attack, but also that a roadside bomb is a rare weapon for Palestinians to use. Although it is impossible to prove, there is persistent speculation that the Israelis themselves may have been involved; certainly they had most to gain from the bombing. It diverted attention from the political aftermath of their bombing of Syria, and may have been expected to draw the US into the conflict.
It also served to distract attention from one of the largest Israeli military operations in recent years, a five-day invasion of the Rafah refugee camp in Ghazzah from October 10-14, in which eight Palestinians were killed, including two children, more than 230 homes were razed to the ground, many more seriously damaged, and thousands of Palestinians left homeless. Israeli authorities said that the operation was aimed at closing tunnels used to smuggle arms and equipment from Egypt to Ghazzah.
Rafah is a sprawling and crowded refugee camp of an estimated 90,000 people which has been an epicentre of the Palestinian uprising. Nearly 200 Rafah residents have been killed by Israeli troops in the last three years, and more than half of all Palestinian houses destroyed in Ghazzah have been in Rafah. Israelis say that their patrols are subject to daily attack in the camp; three of the 47 Israeli soldiers killed in Ghazzah during the last five years have been killed in Rafah.
Eight Palestinians were also killed in the Nusseirat refugee camp on October 20, when Israel aircraft fired two missiles at a vehicle in a crowded street. An eleven year old child was among six civilians killed, along with two Hamas members apparently targeted for assassination. It was one of several Israeli air attacks during the month, despite some Israeli pilots having refused in September to fly missions to bomb civilian areas.
The month opened with Israel threatening to expel Yassir Arafat from Palestine if he did not crack down on the mujahideen. Despite the Israelis’ own unrestrained brutality, unquestioned by the West, Palestinians maintained their operations against Israeli troops and showed no sign of surrender. Little wonder that some Israelis have begun to question whether Ariel Sharon can crush the Palestinians, or whether another approach is needed to achieve Israel’s objective of assured survival and permanent legitimacy.