by Zafar Bangash (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 3, Muharram, 1423)
The second intifada has developed a life of its own, as the blows delivered by Palestinian mujahideen on two consecutive days (March 20 and 21) showed, even as frantic efforts were under way to save the zionist occupiers by an American-brokered ceasefire.
On March 20 member of Islamic Jihad attacked a bus near Masmus in northern Israel, killing seven, including four Israeli soldiers, and injuring 30 others. Within 24 hours a bombing operation was carried out on Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem, killing three Israelis and wounding 60 others. This operation was carried out by a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
After a blunt warning from US secretary of state Colin Powell, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, speaking from his house arrest in Ramallah, condemned the attacks. US president George Bush also demanded that Arafat must do more to stop the “violence,” ignoring the fact that Arafat is under siege and unable to do anything.
These operations occurred after a three-week Israeli rampage through Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and Ghazzah, in which more than 200 Palestinians were killed, all of them civilians, and several hundred injured. Israel used tanks to destroy Palestinian houses in the refugee camps, and rounded up thousands of young Palestinians, humiliating and beating them.
All this was meant to crush the spirit of the intifada, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon claimed, yet Israel’s assaults had exactly the opposite effect. Despite the massive show of force Palestinians remain defiant. Most Palestinian towns and villages have been vandalised, with homes destroyed, power-lines cut, roads chewed up by tanks and water-tanks blown up. All this has occurred with the blessings of the US government, which under Bush has surpassed previous American administrations in underwriting zionist crimes.
Even as the Israeli rampage was in full swing, US vice president Dick Cheney strutted between Arab capitals from March 12 to March 21 to drum up support for another attack on Iraq, and retired army general Anthony Zinni shuttled between Israel and the Palestinian Authority trying to negotiate a ceasefire. Remarkably, the Palestinians were not cowed by the Israelis’ brutality, hitting back with the only weapons at their disposal, killing 70 Israelis in the process, most of them soldiers. It is this fearlessness and their willingness to sacrifice themselves that has led to the resurrection of the idea of expelling them from the West Bank and Ghazzah into Jordan.
According to a Tel Aviv University poll in February, 46 percent of Israelis support the idea. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, however, has warned the Israelis against such a move, saying that it would be a disaster. Speaking on Israeli television on March 15, Mubarak said: “Don’t start thinking that you can expel the Palestinians out to Jordan or anywhere else. That will be the biggest danger for Israel.”
Hanna Nasser, mayor of Bethlehem, said: “There is a conviction among the people that they will not leave the land, they will fight to the last man. They have learned from 1948.” There will be no second naqba (“catastrophe”), as Palestinians call the exodus of 1948, say Palestinians of every shade of opinion. Instead, there is growing support for the martyrdom operations. Even the UN Security Council resolution of March 13 supporting the “two-state solution” has not persuaded them to abandon their struggle.
The Palestinians continue to pay a heavy price for their determination and resolution. In the three-week Israeli mayhem, along with 200 deaths of civilians, six medical personnel were also shot dead; 70 percent of all Palestinian ambulances were destroyed, most of them crushed by tanks. This has forced even UN secretary general Kofi Annan to rebuke Israel for violating the Geneva Convention of 1949, and to describe, for the first time, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands as “illegal.” Israel’s crimes have, however, aroused scant concern among champions of human rights in the West, especially in the US, whose vice president, Dick Cheney, demanded yet again on March 20 that Arafat must “do more” to stop the “violence and terror”; no such demand has been made of Sharon, an indicted war criminal.
It is Israel’s iron fist and western connivance with such crimes that have driven Palestinians to strap bombs to their bodies and set them off. Aware that they have to rescue Israel from such punishment, American “envoy” Anthony Zinni announced on March 20 that ceasefire talks will continue until agreement is reached. Israel suspended the talks on March 21, only to announce a resumption the next day. Cheney also said that he would return to the region in a week’s time to resume the dialogue for a ceasefire, provided that Arafat stopped the “violence”.
Arab rulers have, in the mean time, expressed dismay at American plans to attack Iraq. They fear that their peoples’ reactions to two wars — one in Palestine and the other in Iraq — will be impossible to contain. Perhaps as a sop to Saudi sentiment, it was reported on March 20 that some American troops from the Sultan Airbase, Saudi Arabia, are to be relocated to al-Adid base in Qatar. The presence of American troops in the Arabian Peninsula is one of the reasons cited by Usama bin Ladin for his anti-US stance; the others are US-sponsored Israeli brutalities in Palestine and the deaths by sanctions of 1.5 million Iraqi civilians since 1991.
The two ideas — of attacking Iraq and expelling Palestinians — have scared the Arab rulers out of their few wits. American and Israeli arrogance is likely to lead them to ignore Arab sentiment on these matters. In a rare interview on March 15, Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal told Barbara Walters of ABC television that Riyadh would not allow its bases to be used for an attack on Iraq. This was also repeated by crown prince Abdullah the next day, as well as by king Fahd, when Cheney called on them in Jeddah. What the Arab rulers were actually saying was not that they opposed a US attack on Iraq but that it would have a catastrophic effect on the Arab masses, whom they might not be able to control.
This is what king Abdullah of Jordan had in mind when he said to Cheney: “To attack Baghdad now would be a disaster. The security and stability of our region would not be able to cope with it.” What this means is that the masses would react in unpredictable ways and US client regimes might be swept from power, posing an even greater challenge to Israeli and US interests in the region.
The Americans have facilitated an Israeli withdrawal from some Palestinian areas to camouflage the failure of zionist military operations. Even more worryingly for the zionist leadership, there is growing opposition within Israel to Sharon’s brutal policy, which Israelis see as a failure; most Israelis now oppose him. He was elected on his promise to obtain “peace and security” for Israel, yet his policy has clearly failed. The zionists feel much more insecure now; for now, Israel is the most unsafe place in the world for them.
Arab rulers and Arafat, however, need a fig-leaf before heading for the Arab League summit in Beirut on March 27-28 (after Crescent press time) to discuss Saudi crown prince Abdullah’s proposal to recognize Israel. By March 20 the Israeli withdrawal had been completed, but it was announced that an army of American CIA agents would descend on Palestinian-controlled areas to ensure close monitoring of Hamas and Islamic Jihad mujahideen and prevent further attacks against the zionists. Sharon, too, needs a break because a growing number of Israeli reservists are refusing to fight. This problem has been made worse by some Israeli television stations exposing the army’s brutal tactics in Palestinian refugee-camps.
Yarden Vatikay, spokesman for Israeli defence minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has said that TV reporters will not be permitted to accompany soldiers on missions. Israel’s Channel 2 had shown the murder of a woman in Bethlehem’s refugee-camp, as her terrified children looked on. Channel 2 defied Israeli censors by broadcasting the story on March 18, when the young woman was shot by Israeli soldiers after they had stormed her house. They then let her bleed to death by preventing an ambulance from reaching her, despite her distraught husband’s pleas. The Israeli government later decided not to permit camera crews to accompany soldiers into the camps.
The struggle in Palestine may be entering a crucial phase. More and more Israelis are beginning to feel that there is little they can do to protect themselves. Already many have fled the Holy Land. The New York-based local paper Village Voicehas reported that at least 300,000 Israelis are now living in New York alone. Together with Israelis in other large cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, at least a million have gone for safety to the US. At this rate soon there will be few Israelis left in Israel to defend their “promised land”.