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From shooting schoolchildren to threatening Arafat...
Israel's war to crush the Palestinians

By Eric Ruder | September 17, 2004 | Page 12

NO MATTER how brutal Israel's war on the Palestinians becomes, it's never brutal enough to make Washington blink. Just since early September, Israeli forces have carried out a series of invasions, house demolitions and air strikes in Gaza; two Israeli cabinet members threatened Yasser Arafat with imminent expulsion; and Israeli officials threatened to attack Syria.

"Israel will find the time and method to expel Arafat," stated Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Two days later, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that the day "is closer than ever" when the Israelis "will remove" the Palestinian leader. But while Israel looks for an "appropriate" time to exile the democratically elected Arafat, wreaking destruction on the 1.2 million Palestinians living in the occupied territory of Gaza takes priority.

On September 7, gunfire from Israeli forces conducting raids in Gaza struck a 10-year-old Palestinian girl sitting at her desk in a United Nations-run school in the Khan Younis refugee camp--the third such incident in 18 months. "The kind of live firing into refugee camps that is so indiscriminate that it makes classrooms dangerous for 10-year old children is totally unacceptable," fumed Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

But this is standard operating procedure in a country where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--for decades the most hawkish political figure in mainstream Israeli politics and a war criminal by any definition--finds himself fending off critics on his right who denounce his proposal to unilaterally withdraw Israeli troops and settlements from Gaza.

The point of the Gaza withdrawal isn't justice. It is to free up Israel to annex large portions of the West Bank--a plan that the Bush administration has already endorsed. In fact, the right's denunciation of Sharon have diverted attention from the scheme of Israel's Agriculture Minister Israel Katz to further expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank by expropriating 8,000 acres of land in the Jordan Valley.

So far, none of this--not the shooting of children, not death threats to an elected leader--has provoked anything other than expressions of wholehearted support from U.S. politicians, especially George Bush and John Kerry. Actually, Kerry hopes to stand out by criticizing the Bush administration for not taking a harder line on Arafat.

"[Bush administration officials] haven't even engaged in a legitimate effort to try to really transform the ability of Israel to find a legitimate entity to negotiate with," Kerry told Time magazine. "The only thing they do is rattle the saber."

Israel justified its latest round of raids, closures and targeted killings by claiming that this is an evenhanded response to a suicide bombing in Beersheba last month that killed 16 Israelis and wounded many more. The resistance group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the bombing was retaliation for the assassination nearly six months ago of the two highest ranking Hamas leaders, Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

The fact that so much time passed before Hamas mounted a response to the killing of its two leading figures suggests that Israel's assault on the group and its network has diminished its resources. But those six months also show that Israel is waging a far more vicious, bloody and deadly war than Hamas was ever capable of.

"The Washington Times was just one paper...that said the attack 'ended a six-month lull in violence,'" wrote Ali Abunimah, cofounder of the Electronic Intifada Web site. "It seems futile to try to explain how these last six months of 'relative calm' have been anything but for the Palestinians living under military occupation. How, during this lull in violence, almost 400 Palestinians have been killed, 71 in extra-judicial assassination attacks...

"At least 23 of the 71 killed in assassinations were not Hamas leaders, they were not Al Aqsa Brigades or associated with any of the groups targeted for resisting the illegal occupation. They were women and children, innocent bystanders like those killed on the buses, but whose deaths do not share the same weight in the international media."

"More than 73 Palestinian children have been killed since March. Thirteen year old Saber Abu Libdeh was killed by a bullet through his heart, brother and sister Ahmed and Asma al-Mughair were shot on the roof of their home, 5-year-old Ruwan Abu Zaid was shot by a sniper in her neck and her face as she walked hand in hand with her two year old sister..." These atrocities are only one face of Israel's "total war" on the Palestinian people--a war that the U.S. government has backed to the hilt.

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