With the Israeli blockade of Palestinian towns and villages remaining effectively in place and with Jewish terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians continuing unabated, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is having difficulties persuading the politically-educated Palestinian public to end the Intifada, or even stop responding in kind to extremist Jewish settlers’ attacks and vandalism.
Indeed, despite Israeli propaganda and often outright disinformation about relaxing the suffocating siege, it was clear that the “relaxation” lacked in substance and did not alleviate significantly the sad plight of over three million Palestinians who are more or less confined to their immediate places of residence.
In some instances, the Israeli army did remove concrete slabs off some roads, but no sooner had the television cameras disappeared than the Israeli army re-established the roadblocks.
In some other cases, the stationary roadblocks were simply replaced by mobile roadblocks, a ruse aimed at tricking world public opinion into believing the blockade had indeed been relaxed, while maintaining the same level of repression against the Palestinians.
In fact, the Israeli army introduced even more stringent measures in several localities, particularly in the Hebron and Tulkarm regions, apparently for no other purpose than to further torment the Palestinians and make their daily life as unbearable and harsh as possible.
For example, the Israeli army deployed a number of tanks and armored vehicles to the Tarousa Knoll, just outside Dura, 12 kilometers south-west of Hebron, cutting the town off from several surrounding villages and forcing villagers to use donkeys and mules, instead of cars, as their chief means of transportation.
Since there are no Jewish settlements in the area, the onerous presence of the Israeli soldiers only a few hundred meters from the confines of a Palestinian town of 30,000 can only mean that the Israeli army is courting trouble.
In addition to causing an atmosphere of virtual claustrophobia in shut-off Palestinian towns and villages, the effect of the Israeli blockade can be deadly.
Last week, a Palestinian man with a chronic kidney illness died at an Israeli roadblock near Nablus, having been denied access to the hospital on the other side of the roadblock. The man’s death is added to a score of Palestinians who succumbed to their illnesses at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks since the beginning of the Intifada nearly nine months ago.
If the Israeli army is entrusted with tormenting the Palestinian people at the macro level, the heavily-armed fanatic Jewish settlers are left to unleash their own virulent violence at the micro level, namely against Palestinian villages and hamlets contiguous to the estimated 150 Jewish settlements and settlement outposts dotting the West Bank.
The settlers’ violence takes two main forms: ambushing Palestinian motorists on the roads, especially the so-called bypass roads linking the settlements with Jewish metropolitan centers in Israel proper; and marauding through Palestinian villages, opening fire randomly, setting wheat fields and olive orchards on fire and vandalizing as much property as possible.
Interestingly, this senseless rampage very often takes place in full view of Israeli occupation soldiers, who apparently have orders to “let the settlers vent their anger,” which could very often mean murder.
On 14 June, the settlers opened fire on a Palestinian lorry outside Jerusalem, killing 42- year-old Awni Abdul-Raouf Al-Haddad of Hebron, a father of six. The ambush took place near the village of Hizma, only a few hundred meters from an Israeli army camp, known as “Anatut.” As usual in such circumstances, the Israeli army sought to deflect attention from the settlers, claiming that “non-Jews were probably responsible for the incident.”
The killing came less than 24 hours after a Jewish Orthodox clergyman was ambushed in a similar manner, less than a hundred meters from an Israeli roadblock outside the settlement of Ma’ali Adumim, east of Jerusalem. No arrests have been made in connection with the two incidents.
The two murders came only a few hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Likud supporters that “we should surprise them [the Arabs] on the roads and make them feel unsafe.”
Three other Palestinians, all of them children, were also killed by Israeli army soldiers in Khan Younis (Gaza Strip), leading the indignant Palestinian public to question the wisdom of maintaining a cease-fire while the big boots of the Israeli army were still pressed against the chests and necks of the Palestinian people.
The children are 12-year-old Ali Murad Abu- Sahawish, shot dead by an Israeli sniper near the Tuffah junction south of Gaza town, and Suleiman Al-Masri, also 12, killed by Israeli soldiers in Rafah at the southern tip of the strip.
A third boy, identified as 16-year-old Adel Hassan Muqanan, died on 18 June of wounds he had sustained on 16 June near the Tuffah junction. A fourth Palestinian, an elderly man aged 81, was run over by a Jewish settler on 18 June while crossing the road near Kalkilya in the northern West Bank.
In a meeting with visiting UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan on 16 June in Ramallah, Arafat asked Annan to see to it that international observers are deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “to establish who is violating the cease-fire.”
However, so long as the US rejects the idea, Annan is unlikely to push for international monitors to be deployed in the occupied territories.
Arafat warned that the American-brokered cease-fire would collapse if the international community did nothing to force Israel to abide by former US Senator George Mitchell Committee Report and CIA Director George Tenet’s work plan.
In another setback, several high-level security meetings between Israelis and the PA this week ended in failure due to adamant Israeli refusal to establish a direct linkage between the security and political aspects of the current crisis, a connection without which the PA would not have accepted the Mitchell Report in the first place.
Meanwhile, the Intifada fighters are not giving the cease-fire the benefit of the doubt. On 18 June, Palestinian guerrillas killed two Jewish settlers in two separate incidents outside a Jewish settlement in the Nablus area. A third Israeli, a high-ranking Shin Bet officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel, was killed and his bodyguard was badly injured by a repentant Arab collaborator whom the officer met at a pre- arranged rendezvous south of Jerusalem. The Palestinian was subsequently killed by a third Israeli soldier who was present at the spot. Responsibility for the three attacks was claimed by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Regiments, the military arm of Fatah.
Fatah, along with the Islamist and other nationalist organizations, has displayed a cautious posture vis–vis the cease-fire, arranged by Tenet and accepted, under duress, by Arafat.
“Let us not fool ourselves. Any negotiations with Israel would be a waste of time if not backed up by action in the field,” said Marwan Al-Barghouthi, Fatah leader in the West Bank.