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Arafat faces mounting pressure from Israel and the U.S.
Israel lashes out

December 14, 2001 | Page 5

ERIC RUDER reports on Israel's savage war on the Palestinians.

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CASUALTIES CONTINUE to mount as Israel steps up its war on Palestinians following three suicide bombings at the beginning of December. In less than a week, more than 100 Palestinians--most of them children--were injured, and two killed.

Two bombs dropped on Yasser Arafat's security compound in Gaza City tore through a four-story building and left a massive crater, marking the center of a "circle of destruction" that "spread for several hundred [yards], ripping olive trees from their roots and steel shutters off shop fronts," wrote Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Arafat had to plead with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "cool down" the attacks so that his Palestinian Authority (PA) regime could comply with three Israeli ultimatums--destroy the infrastructure of the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, pursue and arrest alleged militants on a list supplied by Israel, and either prosecute them or hand them over to Israel for prosecution.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration--which at the end of November was posing as a neutral broker of peace--is keeping up a relentless barrage of criticism against Arafat.

Arafat had already ordered the arrests of 180 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members as Socialist Worker went to press. But Sharon made it clear that he wasn't letting up. "I promised Bush I wouldn't touch Arafat, but I can get close to him," he gloated to his cabinet.

Israel justifies its attacks as retaliation for the suicide bombings organized by Hamas, and the mainstream media have gone along with the story. But no one ever mentions the event two weeks earlier that provoked the suicide bombings--Israel's so-called "targeted killing" of Hamas military leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, one of 70 assassinations of Palestinian leaders carried out in recent months.

Instead, they repeat the absurd claim of top Israeli officials that Arafat has personally directed a terror campaign against Israel--and that he can stop further attacks whenever he wants. The truth is exactly the opposite.

Even before the Hamas bombings, a front-page story in Israel's largest daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot pointed out that Israel's targeting of Hanoud was bound to provoke a response. But Israeli government officials understood that with the risk to Israeli civilians came a reward for them--the pretext for a large-scale offensive that could drive Arafat into a corner and put intense pressure on Hamas.

So far, the strategy is playing out exactly as planned. When Arafat ordered PA police to place Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin under house arrest in Gaza, hundreds of Hamas supporters turned out to protest.

In the subsequent clash, PA police shot one Hamas supporter in the back and injured two more. This is an ominous sign for Arafat, whose popularity has collapsed to 20 percent--while Hamas' support has grown.

"[Arafat] will be condemned by his own people if he acts at the bidding of the Israelis and comes down too hard against Arab militants," wrote the United Arab Emirates Gulf News. "Such condemnation could ultimately lead to Arafat losing all support of his people--something which is diminishing anyway for his failure to resolve political and economic issues. This could lead to his departure, which is, of course, what Israeli hawks would very much welcome. Alternatively, should Arafat not act in accordance with Israeli wishes--which are getting the full support of the American government--then Israel 'reserves the right' to act as judge, jury and executioner on any Palestinian it sees fit to exterminate."

Arafat does Israel's dirty work

FOR DECADES, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization were revered as the acknowledged leaders of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Throughout the Arab world, the Palestinian cause remains very popular. But Arafat and the PA security apparatus that he presides over are increasingly despised. Rather than promoting Palestinian liberation, they appear to be more and more committed to doing Israel's dirty work in repressing Palestinians.

Arafat has been traveling down this road for more than a decade. With many of the Arab governments that used to back the Palestinians scrambling to curry favor with Washington following the collapse of the ex-USSR--and with the stark example of American military might mobilized to crush Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War--Arafat decided to enter into "peace" negotiations with Israel.

But the Oslo agreement never amounted to much more than accepting Israel's effective control of all of historic Palestine--while Arafat and the PA took on the job of policing Palestinians.

What's more, Arafat and those in his inner circle have become very wealthy. Through their monopoly control over the import of food and fuel, the PA elite has enriched itself--while spiraling prices have bankrupted small businesses and driven hundreds of thousands into conditions of abject poverty.

Arafat's hope for a settlement in the negotiations depended on getting the U.S. government to pressure the Israelis. But this was always a pipe dream, given the U.S.'s longtime commitment to Israel as its main ally in the oil-rich Middle East.

That's why anyone in the U.S. who cares about peace and justice must call for the U.S. to get out of the Middle East--and for an end to the billions in U.S. military and economic aid that flows to Israel every year.

The injustice at the heart of the conflict

IN THE 1948 war that established the state of Israel, Zionist militias drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinians off their land. Ever since, Israeli forces have used violence and terror to maintain their hold. But this fact has been buried under decades of Israeli myth-making designed to conceal the bloody origins of the country.

Still, during the past decade, a small number of mainstream Israeli historians have begun to admit what they tried for decades to cover up. For example, Aryeh Yitzhaki is a professor at Bar- Ilan University in Tel Aviv. In the 1960s, he served as director of the official archives of the Israeli Defense Forces.

"The time has come," Yitzhaki writes, "for a generation has passed, and it is now possible to face the ocean of lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes."

According to Yitzhaki, 10 major massacres--involving 50 or more murders--and hundreds of smaller ones were committed in the course of the 1948 war. More than 700,000 Palestinians fled for their lives.

"For many Israelis, it was easier to find consolation in the lie that the Arabs left the country under orders from their leaders," Yitzhaki wrote. "This is an absolute fabrication. The fundamental cause of their flight was their fear from Israeli retribution, and this fear was not at all imaginary."

Set against these facts, the "peace process" begun in 1993 to settle the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is exposed as a sham. Only a small part of the land that Israel stole from the Palestinians was ever up for discussion. Even the supposedly "unprecedented" offer of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak--made at Camp David in July 2000--would have returned only 21 percent of Palestine to Palestinian control.

Meanwhile, Israeli settlements and security highways would crisscross PA territory, cutting it into isolated pieces and ultimately leaving Israeli forces with the power to shut down travel and the flow of goods at will.

The heart of the conflict has always been Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. Without justice, Palestinians will continue to use whatever means they can to strike back.

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