by SNEHAL SHINGAVI | July 20, 2001 | Page 7
ISRAELI TANKS pounded Palestinian homes in the West Bank city of Hebron in mid-July even as U.S. government officials continued to urge "both sides" to "curb violence."
This hollow U.S. refrain came as efforts to maintain a June "cease-fire" plan collapsed and Israeli political and military leaders increasingly talked about invading and smashing the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Throughout June and July, a parade of U.S. officials and negotiators--including former Sen. George Mitchell, the CIA's George Tenet, outgoing U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk and Secretary of State Colin Powellincreased pressure on PA leader Yassir Arafat to "rein in" Palestinian militants. But the U.S. did nothing to rein in Israel.
The July 12 exchange between the Israeli military and Palestinians in Hebron made a mockery of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's claim that Israel is showing "restraint" under the U.S.-brokered deal.
Witnesses said Israeli tanks shelled Palestinian buildings, setting one on fire, in the heaviest outbreak of military activity in months. The bombardment destroyed a Palestinian police post, wounding two officers. Three other Palestinians were wounded in the attack, and the Israelis cut off Hebron's electric power. "The city is shaking," a witness said.
Since agreeing to a cease-fire on June 13, Israel has refused to honor any negotiations until Palestinian "violence" ends. But in the meanwhile, Israel has continued using tanks and bulldozers to destroy Palestinian homes. And Palestinian casualties continue to mount--with more than 550 killed since the beginning of the uprising in September 2000.
Rafah, a dusty, shell-scarred town on Gaza's border with Egypt, has been particularly hard hit.
At 3 a.m. on June 23, bulldozers and tanks rolled into Rafah, crushing 20 houses and leaving 110 people homeless. They returned on July 10 to demolish 14 more.
And on July 7, 11-year-old Khalil Mughrabi literally had his brains blown out by Israeli soldiers as he played soccer with his friends. Soldiers shot and wounded two other boys--10 and 13 years oldwho tried to haul their friend out of the line of fire.
With no relief from Israeli attacks or from a devastated economy, Palestinians in Gaza have grown increasingly desperate--precisely the climate that has fueled renewed suicide bombings.
The militant Islamic group Hamas threatened to unleash 10 suicide bombers against Israel in revenge for Mughrabi's death. "They are ready at any moment to get revenge on the Israeli killers," members chanted at the funeral.
Yet while their relentless violence pushed the situation to this point, Israeli officials are now openly discussing an all-out military invasion of the West Bank and Gaza aimed at crushing the PA and killing Arafat.
The British journal Jane's Foreign Report revealed plans by the Israeli military to send 30,000 troops into Palestinian areas if another large-scale suicide bombing takes place.
"Usually, Israel is used to very short wars," Israeli Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin told the Washington Post. "If everyone in Israel comes to a conclusion that the elimination of Arafat is the only way to stop violence, then we will be forced to do so."
Of course, Israel is far from the helpless victim that it claims to be. It has the strongest military in the region, armed with the most sophisticated weapons anywhere. If Israel goes to war, a largely unarmed Palestinian population would face tanks, F-16s, helicopter gunships and more--all made in the USA.
We have to demand that the U.S. cut off aid to Israel--and that Israel end the occupation.