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Palestinians face savage new attacks
Stop Israel's drive to war

December 7, 2001 | Page 12

ERIC RUDER reports on Israel's offensive in retaliation for three Palestinian suicide bombings.

"THIS IS only the beginning." That's how Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the helicopter gunship assault launched December 3 against Yasser Arafat's military headquarters in Gaza City.

Military officials also ordered missile strikes against targets in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Bethlehem--and vowed more attacks to come as Socialist Worker went to press.

The Israeli strikes were in retaliation for three suicide bombings last weekend that left 25 Israelis dead and nearly 200 injured. In a national address on Israeli television, Sharon consciously echoed rhetoric used by George W. Bush to justify the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

"Sharon has tonight declared war," said Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat. "I urge Bush…to interfere and stop Sharon before it's too late." But the White House did nothing of the sort.

Gone were calls for "both sides" to come together for negotiations--the strategy that Washington has pursued recently in an effort to keep Arab countries part of the "coalition against terror." Instead, U.S. officials gave a green light for all-out war.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves to declare that Arafat was like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban combined--since Arafat both directed terrorism against Israel and simultaneously harbored terrorist organizations such as Hamas.

Missing from any of the commentary was the fact that Hamas said it carried out the attacks in retaliation for the Israeli assassination of a Hamas military leader in November. Instead, across the spectrum, Israeli politicians smeared Arafat as the "terrorist mastermind" who orchestrated the suicide bombings.

In reality, the attacks are the most recent sign that Arafat's influence is crumbling. The arrests of Hamas militants have added credence to the group's claims that Arafat is nothing more than "Israel's jailer."

Since the Israeli strikes, "in militant strongholds like Jenin in the West Bank and Gaza City, one or two arrests have met a violent response," the New York Times reported. "Palestinians have rioted against Palestinian police."

After seven years of pursuing a "peace process" with Israel, Arafat stands exposed as unable to deliver any improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians. These deteriorating living conditions, plus Israel's relentless repression, have deepened the anger and despair of Palestinians, leading some youth to conclude that the only way to strike back is with suicide bombs.

But Israeli officials continue to pretend that Arafat is directing the attacks because this explanation helps to divert attention from the real cause of the conflict--Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and the racism and violence used by Israeli forces to stay in control.

"Israel continues to use torture [officially permitted by the Israeli Supreme Court], collective punishment, annexation and destruction of occupied territory, denial of food and medical supplies, arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment, execution without fair legal process, forced exile and the daily humiliation of security to manage Palestinians living under Israeli military rule," wrote Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a board member of the Jewish Peace Fellowship.

In September 2000, Palestinian anger boiled over into a new Intifada--an uprising sparked by a deliberately provocative visit to a Muslim holy site by Sharon, with 1,000 armed security guards. Since then, Israel has sealed off key Palestinian territories for months at a time, strangling the Palestinian economy and pushing unemployment to 45 percent in some areas.

Travel for Palestinians is nearly impossible--even for ambulances trying to get people to hospitals to treat medical emergencies. More than 740 Palestinians have been killed, and an incredible 16,000 have been maimed or injured since the uprising began.

"With no shooting from the Palestinian side, and often little or no use of tear gas to disperse the protests, Israeli soldiers have repeatedly fired live ammunition into unarmed crowds," concluded the Village Voice after an investigation earlier this year.

This Israeli reign of terror is the real source of the violence--and the U.S. government stands fully behind it.

Sharon's promise of more attacks will only add to the nightmare of injustice that Palestinians face. We have to speak out against Israel's terror--and the U.S. government that backs it with billions in aid every year.

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