By GERRY FOLEY
International revulsion at the Israeli army’s terrorizing of the West Bank Palestinian towns, and in particular its destruction of the Jenin refugee camp, has created a new political situation for the Zionist state.
The last vestiges of the image of Israel as the refuge of a persecuted people have been largely blown away by the missile blasts from U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships hitting defenseless concentrations of Palestinian refugees. At the same time, the liberal or even left image of the Zionist state has evaporated as the defense of Israel is more and more assumed by the right and even the extreme right in the United States.
The ranking House Republican, Texas right-winger Dick Armey, even came out on a TV talk show in favor of removing the remaining Palestinian population from the West Bank and full annexation of the territory to the state of Israel. Armey was quoted in the May 4 issue of the British Guardian as saying, “I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.”
However, if the most truculent defense of Zionist repression has come from the right, virtually the entire U.S. political establishment has lined up behind Israel. Thus, both houses of Congress have voted for motions declaring that “the U.S. and Israel are now engaged in a common struggle against terrorism.”
On the other hand, the weekend of April 20 was marked by the first mass demonstrations in U.S. history in support of the Palestinians-around 30,000 in San Francisco and 100,000 in Washington, D.C. Up until now, Zionist influence in liberal and labor organizations has been sufficient to prevent large united-front protests against the murderous actions of the Israeli settler state.
The damning images and testimonies of Israeli terror against whole civilian populations have set in motion a mass movement in defense of human and democratic rights comparable to the movement against the imperialist war in Vietnam in the 1960s.
In Western Europe the mass protests have been even larger and broader than in the United States, and in the Arab world they represent a vast upsurge that is frightening even the corrupt reactionary caste that rules Saudi Arabia.
The most visible atrocities were in the refugee camp of Jenin, where Human Rights Watch found and published concrete evidence of war crimes by the Israeli army. The New York Times attempted to play down this report by stressing that HRW had found no proof of a “massacre” of Palestinians but only of some excesses. By contrast, the British Guardian headlined the accusation of war crimes.
And a more complete report was given in the Italian Il Manifesto of April 4. The left daily paper noted that the HRW report said the Israeli troops had completely destroyed 140 houses, most of them multifamily units, and badly damaged another 200, leaving about 4000 people-a fourth of the population of the camp-without shelter.
HRW was able to confirm 52 dead, a figure the authors of the report expected to grow as more bodies are found. Nearly half of them, 22, were civilians-including children, old people, and physically handicapped. For example, Jamal Fayd, a 37-year-old paralyzed man, was buried under the ruins of a house by Israeli soldiers who refused to allow his family time to get him out.
The report detailed many cases where the Israeli forces used civilians as human shields-for example, forcing a 65-year-old woman to stay atop a roof in front of an Israeli army unit during a helicopter bombardment.
The most egregious violation of international law revealed by the report was that “many of the civilian deaths documented were owing to deliberate or illegal executions.” That is, the Israeli troops deliberately murdered residents of the camps, obviously for the purpose of terrorizing the population.
In its May 3 issue, the British daily Independent gave some dramatic details: “The most serious evidence in the report is the testimony of a 16-year-old identified as Ibrahim Z., who says he witnessed Israeli soldiers execute Jamal al-Sabbagh, an unarmed civilian.
“Ibrahim told HRW he was in a group of Palestinian men detained by Israeli soldiers. The soldiers ordered Mr. al-Sabbagh to put his bag on the ground. The report quotes Ibrahim: ‘He did. They told us to take off our trousers. While we were taking our trousers off, they shot him.’
“According to the witness, the soldiers fired two bullets, one at him and one at Mr. al-Sabbagh. They missed Ibrahim, who says Palestinians were then ordered to take Mr. al-Sabbagh’s body to the hospital.”
Moreover, the Israeli forces prevented any medical aid from going to the the camp residents for 11 days. The report noted that at least two persons had died as a result. It also noted that if the Israelis argued that they had to stop Palestinian medical aid from going in for security reasons, they were obligated by international law to provide medical aid themselves.
That could certainly be no great problem for such a huge military machine. But they did not. They simply let people suffer and die, again obviously to terrorize the entire population.
This spectacle shocked the world. But the British Guardian reported in its April 27 edition that the sort of outrages that were committed in Jenin were repeated on a vast scale on the West Bank: “‘Jenin is not so different from any of the other attacks,’ said Peter Bouckaert, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘The focus of the international community has been on events in Jenin, but equally serious violations took place in Ramallah, particularly, and in Nablus.'”
The Guardian noted: “Human rights organizations have not even begun to investigate the raids on the smaller West Bank towns and villages such as Dura. The scale of the offensive, the biggest since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, is too forbidding, as is its use of a military curfew to deny international organizations access.”
In the case of the village of Dura, the first human rights worker reached it only after it had been under military curfew for 17 days.
The paper noted four cases of local residents being killed by aerial bombardment as they walked about in the normal course of their lives. It reported the callous and brutal treatment of a local wounded man, Farooq Said Ahmed: “The army allowed an ambulance through 10 hours later, by which time his jeans were so soaked in his own blood that he considered wringing them out.
“It took three hours to reach the hospital, he said. Twice soldiers shot at the ambulance, and twice they stopped it, unloading him on his stretcher, prodding his injured leg until he yelled in pain, and flipping him over on his face to check for weapons on both occasions.”
The Guardian’s report concluded: “Nothing that happened in Dura is extraordinary in the context of the past month.”
In the May 4 issue of The Independent , Robert Fisk pointed out that the Israeli incursion into Nablus the day before was the first one that had not been linked propagandistically to retaliation for Palestinian attacks, indicating that from now on the Zionist forces will attack Palestinian territory any time they choose under the vague pretext of averting future terrorist actions.
The Israeli army has not yet attacked the Gaza strip, the Palestinian territory that the Zionists covet the least. It is a small strip of desert crowded by more than a million and a quarter Palestinians, mainly refugees.
There are only 6000 Zionist settlers there, as opposed to 400,000 on the West Bank (although the settlers occupy most of the desirable agricultural land and the Israeli premier, Ariel Sharon, recently referred to a settlement that came under attack as being as much Israel as Tel Aviv.)
However, the Palestinians fear that an Israeli attack is imminent. And their situation is increasingly desperate, as even the Zionist daily Jerusalem Post was obliged to recognize in its May 2 issue: “Over 80 percent of the 1.3 million Gazan Palestinians live under the poverty level and their per-capita income has returned to the level it was in 1968, about $400 a year.
“According to the IDF [Israeli Defense Force], the Palestinian Authority’s institutions are in ‘complete chaos.'”
The conditions are hardly better on the West Bank. The Palestinian economy has been ruined. The Palestinian Authority and the state services it provided have been shattered. The population is desperate.
And yet, the U.S. authorities, which claim to be an arbiter seeking to accomplish peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, insist that the onus is on the Palestinian Authority head, Yasir Arafat, to “stop the terror”-that is, they demand that he attack the fighters resisting the Israeli assaults. That is something that he physically and politically cannot do.
At this point, the question arises: What is the real purpose of all the talk and the initiatives being floated for a diplomatic settlement, since the Zionists are clearly not prepared to give the Palestinians any significant concessions and the Palestinians cannot continue living as they have been.
The only answer is that these moves are essentially a cover-up for an operation designed to crush the Palestinian nation completely and perhaps completely drive it from its historic land, as right-wing politicians in the U.S. like Dick Armey now openly say.
The Palestinians and the Arabs in general find it increasingly difficult to believe that the Israelis could really be defying the United States. They know that the Zionist state is a creature of Washington.
Secretary of State Colin Powell never had any intention of forcing the Israelis to withdraw from the Palestinian areas. His purpose in his trip to the Middle East was to play Pontius Pilate, to try to wash the hands of American imperialism in the eyes of the Arab people. It seems that he was unsuccessful.
Thus, the political cost of the Israeli offensive against the Palestinians and the general imperialist assault on the resistance of the oppressed peoples in the Middle East is proving very high for the U.S. and its allies.
It is the job of the anti-imperialist movement worldwide, including in the imperialist countries themselves, to make it even higher until the murderous system begins to break down-and with it the capitalist system that spawned it and maintains it.
The following demands are pertinent:
· For a democratic, secular Palestine-with equality for all!
· For the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes!
· Dismantle the settlements!
· End U.S. aid to apartheid Israel!