The ink on the agreement signed by Israeli defence minister Benny Ben-Eliezer with the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not even dry when the agreement was sabotaged. Ben-Eliezer said that it would be put on hold for several weeks because there was still a “potential” for Palestinian violence in the West Bank. The “Ghazzah-Bethlehem First” was hammered out in secret negotiations for several weeks and finalized on August 18. Under the terms of the agreement, Israel would withdraw its forces from Ghazzah and Bethlehem in return for Arafat’s security forces accepting responsibility for cracking down on the Palestinians. When the PA could provide security (to Israel, of course, no one else), additional Israeli troops would be withdrawn. In describing the agreement as “merely relocating two jeeps in Bethlehem,” Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, was much closer to the mark than the over-optimistic statements made by Arafat’s men.
Other Israeli right-wing politicians, led by the Religious Parties, also denounced the agreement; they will only be satisfied with a complete Palestinian surrender. At the other end of the spectrum, Palestinian groups have also denounced it as divisive and aimed at starting conflict within their ranks. Imam Abu Amreh, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad in Ghazzah, declared: “This agreement does not represent anybody except those who signed it. This is a new conspiracy against our people. This proposition will turn into a Palestinian internal conflict.”
Israel was supposed to withdraw its troops from all West Bank towns in return for the PA resuming its “policing duties”: essentially doing Israel’s dirty work of cracking down on the Palestinians. Israel, however, has continued its attacks on the Palestinians, as its raids into Ghazzah on August 25 and in Jenin and Ramallah the next day, show. Abdel Salam Abu Heijah, a leader of Hamas in Jenin, who lost one arm during clashes with Israeli forces in April, was arrested on August 26 and taken away. Ben-Eliezer also announced on August 25 that Israeli troops would not withdraw from al-Khalil (Hebron) for another six weeks.
At the end of March Israeli troops invaded and reoccupied all the main Palestinian towns in the West Bank after a number of successful martyrdom operations; Ghazzah’s overcrowded refugee-camps were spared because Israel feared the enormous casualties that would probably have resulted. Although it was not formally occupied, Ghazzah was ringed by tanks, and jet fighters and helicopter gunships were used to attack civilians. The worst such attack was on the house of Saleh Shehadeh, head of the Izzeddin al-Qasim Brigade, on July 22: Israeli planes dropped a one-tonne bomb in the middle of the night, demolishing an entire apartment block and severely damaging two other houses; 15 people died, nine of them children, in what Sharon said was one of Israel’s “most successful operations.” Nearly 140 were injured.
In another ominous development, seven Palestinians living inside the pre-1948 borders were arrested after allegations that they had helped to plan the attack on August 4 on a bus at the Meridor junction in which nine people died, almost all of them soldiers. All seven, who belong to the Bakri clan of Ba’ana village, denied any involvement; their relatives expressed disbelief that they could be involved. The seven were arrested much earlier but the announcement was made on August 26. The more than one million Palestinians who live inside the 1948 borders in “Israel proper”, are treated as fourth-class citizens; although they work and live in Israel and pay taxes, they are denied most of the basic rights given to Jews.
On August 25, meanwhile, Israeli radio reported that a military investigation had found that looting of Palestinian property by Israeli soldiers during the large-scale invasions of Palestinian towns last spring had been more widespread than previously suspected. This is what Palestinians had said at the time, but their statements were dismissed as propaganda, even by the western media. During the Israeli invasion, journalists and human-rights groups heard numerous reports of theft by soldiers, and several reservists admitted that they had taken “souvenirs,” including money, jewellery, appliances and other property, while searching Palestinian houses.
But the army had maintained that these incidents were isolated. Eventually lieutenant colonel Ilan Katz, Israel’s deputy chief military prosecutor, admitted that seven soldiers have been convicted of looting and that five others await trial. The military spokesman has also said that the military police are investigating 35 other cases. A recently discharged soldier, whose name was not given, has said that some commanding officers knew and were involved, and that all squad leaders took part in the looting. Israel also perpetrated a bloodbath of civilians, especially in Jenin, but refused to allow an international inquiry. Last month the UN issued a timid report, exonerating Israel of responsibility, without so much as setting foot in Jenin to see the evidence.
Frustrated that their policies have not prevented the Palestinians from continuing their attacks on Israeli targets, Israel has enacted a policy of collective punishments é demolition of homes, destroying other property, collective sieges, denial of electricity and so on é in the West Bank and Ghazzah. There are calls for these inhuman and barbaric practices to be extended to Palestinians living inside Israel as well. Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai has demanded that “Israeli Arab” suspects be stripped of their citizenship, so depriving them of legal advantages enjoyed by citizens. Israeli politicians have also called for demolition of their houses, in the manner of the policy in force in the West Bank. Gidon Ezra, Israel’s deputy internal security minister, said on August 25 that an inquiry into police handling of a demonstration by Israeli Arabs last October, in which 13 Palestinians were killed, should be suspended because it was “constraining” the police.
Israel is now considering plans to put some Israeli Arab villages on the West Bank side of a fence that Israel has begun to erect between Israel and the West Bank. Only a short stretch has been constructed so far, and the line of the rest has not been decided yet.
In the 23 months of the intifada, Israeli occupation forces and illegal settlers have killed more than 2,000 Palestinians; another 15,000 have been injured, and hundreds of homes have been demolished. Palestinian towns and villages have been placed under extended curfews (these are continuing at the time of writing) and effectively the entire population has been besieged. The two million Palestinians in the West Bank get only 10 percent of the area’s water, while 200,000 illegal settlers consume the other 90 percent: they fill their swimming pools while the dispossessed Palestinians do not even have enough water to drink.
The situation is the same in Ghazzah. The Israeli occupation army has destroyed more than 70 percent of all Palestinian ambulances, and many medical staff and personnel have been shot and killed for no more than trying to reach the wounded. Israel, too, has suffered significantly more casualties than during the first intifada (1987-1993). At least 600 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have been killed so far in the al-Aqsa intifada, but the Palestinian casualties are far higher. A third of all Palestinian casualties are children, which equals all Israeli casualties to date.
The Palestinians have paid a heavy price in life and property, and by it they have won significant moral and political victories. They have demolished the myth of Israel as the victim; in fact, the intifada has shown that Israel is the real aggressor and outlaw. Apart from the US, there are very few places in the world where anybody believes zionist propaganda any more. Even in the US most people have stopped believing the drivel that is dished out on television and in the newspapers.
The fact that the Palestinians have not been cowed, despite Israel’s massive superiority in weapons and its sophisticated propaganda machine, is itself a victory for the Palestinians. The intifada has also demoralized the occupiers of Palestine. The talk of population transfers (a euphemism for “ethnic cleansing”), is reflective of the zionists’ desperation and a hint of their inevitable defeat.