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The terror of Israel's war on Palestinians

April 2, 2004 | Page 6-7

ISRAEL'S ASSASSINATION of the leader of Hamas in late March provoked an outpouring of protests in Gaza and the West Bank by Palestinians enraged by this latest atrocity. Around the world, governments condemned the missile strike that killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin along with seven others. But true to form, the U.S. government vetoed a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution condemning Israel's attack.

ERIC RUDER looks at the political issues raised by Israel's new stage in its war on Palestinians.

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ASSASSINATIONS BY Israel are not new, nor are they the only--or most deadly--form of terror that Israel uses. "Israel's 'targeted killings'--as it likes to refer to its firing of missiles from combat helicopters and aircraft into crowded civilian areas--are a blatant form of state terrorism," writes Nigel Parry of

"According to [the Palestinian Center for Human Rights], between September 29, 2000 and March 3, 2004, Israel killed 337 Palestinians in 'targeted killings.' "Of this number, as many as 134 of those killed (or 40 percent) were civilian bystanders, including many women and children."

The majority of those killed and injured [during the assassination of Yassin] were worshippers coming out of a mosque. "Surely there can be no mistaking the obvious premeditated intent behind firing rockets from a combat helicopter into crowds of worshippers exiting a holy site in a densely-populated civilian neighborhood? This is nothing less than Israel's version of a bus bombing, and the civilian casualties prove it."

Then there's Israel's strangulation of the Palestinian economy that has plunged all of Palestinian society into desperate poverty. And the demolition--using bulldozers and tanks--of homes belonging not to suspected militants, but their families.

There are the house-to-house searches, during which soldiers break through the front doors of Palestinian homes in the middle of the night and drag children into the streets to watch their parents harassed, assaulted and humiliated. There are the checkpoints that deny or delay passage of ambulances carrying pregnant women, the elderly and people injured in traffic accidents.

For decades, Israel has built up and refined its brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza--turning the exercise of state-sponsored terror into a fine art. Though these facts are simply missing from the U.S. corporate media, they do peek through in Israeli political discussion--for the simple reason that they cannot be ignored.

Though some Israelis still cling to the Zionist myth that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land," even high-ranking Israeli government officials admit the truth. "The Intifada is the Palestinian people's war of national liberation," wrote former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair in 2001 in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

"We enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities...We established an apartheid regime."

In fact, Israel's entire history--including the years leading up to its establishment in 1948--were marked by violence and terror directed against the Palestinians. How else to clear Palestine--"a land without a people"--of its inhabitants? The reality is that Israel's use of terror--and the strength of its political and financial backers--has far outstripped the Palestinian side, in both its scale and ferocity.

And as far as "terrorist masterminds" are concerned, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has few equals in the Middle East. Sharon has spent his entire career carrying out military atrocities that were previously unthinkable. One of his earliest "successes" was the assault on the Jordanian village of Qibya, designed to avenge the killing of a mother and two children in an Israeli town.

"Sharon's order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants," writes Israeli historian Avi Shlaim. "The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during the morning after the attack. The village had been reduced to rubble: 45 houses had been blown up, and 69 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed."

Then came the "pacification" of Gaza after the 1967 war, also overseen by Sharon, when Israel came to occupy the rest of historic Palestine. During just one month of that operation, Sharon ordered the destruction of 2,000 homes and the assassination of more than 100 resistance leaders.

In 1982, Sharon oversaw a massacre of 2,000 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut, Lebanon. In 2000, after staging a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that was designed to provoke a response, Sharon got that response--in the form of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

Seeking to capitalize on this and the opportunities provided by September 11 and the U.S. "war on terror," Sharon and his advisers have raised the specter of a military operation to "ethnically cleanse" all Palestinians from Palestine. In the meanwhile, though, they have carried out the same program in slow motion--with a war on all of Palestinian society.

"Guardian of the West's empire"

JOHN PILGER is an antiwar journalist, activist and filmmaker. His recent article in Britain's New Statesman magazine, called "The Unmentionable Source of Terrorism," lays out the case that Israel's terror is incomparably greater than the violence of Palestinians. Here, we print a brief excerpt.

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THE CURRENT threat of attacks in countries whose governments have close alliances with Washington is the latest stage in a long struggle against the empires of the West, their rapacious crusades and domination. The motivation of those who plant bombs in railway carriages derives directly from this truth.

What is different today is that the weak have learned how to attack the strong, and the Western crusaders' most recent colonial terrorism (as many as 55,000 Iraqis killed) exposes "us" to retaliation. The source of much of this danger is Israel. A creation, then guardian of the West's empire in the Middle East, the Zionist state remains the cause of more regional grievance and sheer terror than all the Muslim states combined.

Read the melancholy Palestinian Monitor on the Internet; it chronicles the equivalent of Madrid's horror week after week, month after month, in occupied Palestine. No front pages in the West acknowledge this enduring bloodbath, let alone mourn its victims.

Moreover, the Israeli army, a terrorist organization by any reasonable measure, is protected and rewarded in the West. In its current human rights report, [Britain's] Foreign Office criticizes Israel for its "worrying disregard for human rights" and "the impact that the continuing Israeli occupation and the associated military occupations have had on the lives of ordinary Palestinians."

Yet the Blair government has secretly authorized the sale of vast quantities of arms and terror equipment to Israel. These include leg-irons, electric shock belts and chemical and biological agents.

No matter that Israel has defied more UN resolutions than any other state since the founding of the world body. Last October, the UN General Assembly voted by 144 to four to condemn the wall that Israel has cut through the heart of the West Bank, annexing the best agricultural land, including the aquifer system that provides most of the Palestinians' water. Israel, as usual, ignored the world.

Israel is the guard dog of America's plans for the Middle East. The former CIA analysts Kathleen and Bill Christison have described how "two strains of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism have dovetailed into an agenda for a vast imperial project to restructure the Middle East, all further reinforced by the happy coincidence of great oil resources up for grabs and a president and vice-president heavily invested in oil."

Roots of the resistance

ISRAELI OFFICIALS say that without repressive measures like checkpoints and house-to-house searches, Israel's streets can't be kept secure from the suicide bombings. But this turns the logic of what's happening in Palestine on its head--suggesting that the Israeli military has imposed its occupation because of Palestinian suicide bombings.

In fact, the truth is precisely reversed. Israel's occupation produces the anger--and despair--that has led to the suicide attacks. Throughout history, the resistance of an oppressed people against an overwhelmingly superior military foe has again and again taken the form of desperate attacks against any and all targets.

Though such arguments are considered outside the acceptable boundaries of mainstream political discussion in the U.S., even Israelis can't deny the reality. "Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism," wrote Avraham Burg, the speaker of Israel's parliament from 1999 to 2003, last fall.

"They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below--from the wells of hatred and anger, from the 'infrastructures' of injustice and moral corruption."

Palestinian suicide bombings aren't the product of a bloodthirsty drive to take human lives--or the result of deep-seated anti-Semitism. The roots of Palestinian resistance--even if the forms it takes are in some cases counterproductive--are anchored in the day-to-day knowledge that Palestinian society is under assault, that the occupiers of Palestine crave the land while they detest the people.

Though Sharon's government talks of opposing terror, the decision to assassinate Sheik Yassin will inevitably provoke a Palestinian response--so inevitably that it must be asked why Sharon invited these attacks now. After all, the organization that Yassin headed, Hamas, has become a relatively moderate force--despite all the talk of Israeli officials that Hamas is an "implacable foe" dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

"For the past decade, Yassin had been making proposals which marked big shifts toward a pragmatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict," writes Ghada Ageel, a Gaza resident and graduate student. "Since the second Intifada erupted in September 2000, Yassin had proposed several cease-fires in return for Israel withdrawing from the territories it occupied in 1967 and ending military action against Palestinians. Yassin declared that Hamas accepted a two-state solution, Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side."

In truth, this is what terrifies Sharon and the other reactionaries in his right-wing Likud Party. When both of the leading factions among Palestinians agree to the basic conditions of the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace--which on the surface calls for an end to terror in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza--then Sharon will be faced with no other option but to make concessions. But if Sharon can provoke a response from the Palestinians, then the war against Palestinian resistance and Palestinian society can be "justified."

Now, Sharon hopes to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza--and annex the large Israeli settlements in the West Bank that border on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But Sharon wants to leave Gaza on his terms--an ungovernable pile of rubble--and Yassin threatened that outcome.

"Three weeks before his death, Yassin had announced a plan for Hamas, Yasser Arafat's Fatah and other factions to unite in administering Gaza in the event of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal as proposed by Sharon," writes Ageel. "This was not in Sharon's interest at all. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once said he wished to see Gaza drown in the sea; Sharon wants Gaza to drown in the blood of a civil war between Hamas and Fatah."

The irony is that Yassin co-founded the Islamic Association--later named Hamas--in 1978 with Israel's blessing. Israel hoped that Hamas would undercut Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose widespread support was based on a secular and radical political appeal.

Now, with Arafat compromised by his many concessions and marginalized militarily and politically by Israel's siege of his Ramallah compound, Hamas inspires the respect and allegiance of those seeking to resist Israel's occupation. Many don't agree with Hamas' conservative Islamist politics. But they see the group as willing to resist Israel and U.S. imperialism--rather than make further concessions.

Yassin's assassination has only served to crank up the fire under the cauldron of Palestinian rage.

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