Just as Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat was trying to restore a semblance of calm to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli occupation army embarked on a new spate of assassinations and indiscriminate killings, targeting Intifada activists as well as ordinary Palestinian civilians. The latest killing, coinciding with ongoing diplomatic efforts to reduce the level of violence and revive the moribund peace process, came on Monday 30 April with the assassination of two Intifada activists in Gaza and Ramallah.
The first attack took place shortly after 12 noon when a hovering Israeli helicopter gunship apparently detonated, via remote-control, a booby-trapped car outside the home of two Palestinian families in the Rimal neighbourhood of downtown Gaza. The powerful blast reduced the building to rubble, instantly killing Hamdi Al-Madhoun, 18, and Mohamed Abu Khalid, 17, and seriously injuring Afaf Abu Khalid and Abdul-Karim Madhoun.
Israel claimed that Al-Madhoun was active in the Izzedin Al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas. Both the PA and Hamas immediately blamed Israeli intelligence services and army and Hamas vowed to avenge the killing “sooner rather than later.”
The second explosion occurred shortly after midnight in the heart of Ramallah, only 300 meters from Arafat’s headquarters, where he was meeting with top aides.
According to PA intelligence chief Amin Al-Hindi, the powerful blast destroyed a two-story building, killing Fatah activist Hasan Al-Qadi, three-year-old Malak Barakat and seven-year-old Shahid Barakat. A woman and her two-year-old child were injured in the blast. The Israeli army initially issued a routine disclaimer, denying any involvement in the two explosions, but later tacitly admitted responsibility, saying it “felt sorry for the death of the civilians.”
The latest round of assassinations is characterized by a greater indifference on Israel’s part to inflicting death on innocent civilians, including children. This suggests that right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is reverting to the type of murderous tactics he employed in Beirut against PLO leaders in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were mercilessly killed in raids aimed at “terrorist targets.”
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who often emulates his boss’s bellicosity, sought to downplay the killing of Palestinian civilians, saying, “It is not an established policy.” This appears more than a little disingenuous, however, in light of earlier statements by Ben-Eliezer and other Israeli officials suggesting that the Sharon regime would go to any length to “crush violence.”
Indeed, there seems to be no restriction on tactics designed to inflict as many casualties as possible on the Palestinian population. On 25 April, for example, the Israeli army placed a powerful bomb inside an especially made carving in a concrete slab near the Salahuddin Gate, at the Palestine-Egypt border. As four Palestinian civil guardsmen walked towards the concrete slab, seeking to defuse the bomb, Israeli soldiers watching through binoculars 300 meters away detonated the bomb, killing the four men and injuring three others, one seriously.
On Sunday, 29 April, Israeli forces stationed at the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem opened fire on a car carrying a Palestinian family of four. Imad Qaraqui, 31, his pregnant wife, their five-year-old son Haitham and cousin Ziyad Qaraqui, 27, were travelling home past the Palestinian Security checkpoint when Israeli forces, stationed 100 metres away at Rachel’s tomb, opened fire on the car. Imad, hit in the face and chest, was killed instantly. His son Haitham was shot in the eye, which he eventually lost. Ziyad was hit in the chest and shoulder.
This is the second incident in a month where Israeli forces have fired on a civilian car carrying children in Bethlehem. On 2 April, four-year-old Jessica Aboud Safar was seriously injured when Israeli tanks stationed on the outskirts of Bethlehem began shelling the Paradise Hotel, Aida Refugee Camp and the town of Beit Jala.
The overkill policy, carried out by Sharon and Ben-Eliezer on the ground and defended by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in the capitals of the world, seems to have three goals: crushing the Intifada, demoralizing the Palestinian people and eventually pushing Arafat to accept Sharon’s terms for resuming peace talks.
The Palestinian people, however, are not ready to surrender, with many convinced that the Intifada is just beginning to yield political results. Indeed, Israelis, too, are paying a price for the Intifada and that price is constantly mounting in human, political and economic terms.
An Israeli settler was killed near Ramallah on 1 May when the car he was driving came under fire by Palestinian guerrillas. An Israeli soldier was killed north of the Arab Israeli town of Um Al-Fahem on 28 April. The two deaths bring to 75 the number of Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers killed since the outbreak of the Intifada. While the figure is minute when compared to the death toll among Palestinians, which is approaching 500, Israeli society is showing signs of disenchantment and exasperation with Sharon’s inability to restore calm and security.
These sentiments are likely to deepen if more attacks are carried out by Palestinians inside Israel — highly probable given the latest Israeli terrorist attacks in Ramallah and Gaza. The near collapse of the Israeli tourism industry, the subsequent layoff of thousands of workers and stagnation in other sectors of the economy all increase the Intifada’s onerous effects on Israeli society.