The month of May witnessed two large invasions of Rafah, home to 90,000 people. In the first of these invasions, from 13 to 15 May, 39 Palestinians were butchered. During this invasion, the zionists, with their characteristic bestiality, demolished more than 100 houses, rendering 1,000 of their victims homeless. The murderous Israeli army needed no legal support for its actions, all the same the way for wholesale demolitions and destruction was cleared when, on 16 May, the Israeli Supreme Court decided that the army could continue the demolition of Palestinian homes to protect soldiers’ lives.
During the second invasion, which lasted from 17 to 19 May, 42 Palestinians were killed. Of these, 10 were massacred on 19 May in a missile attack on a peaceful demonstration – four were children. In a manner, reminiscent of the Hitlerites, Israeli forces demanded that all men over 16 assemble in a local school, with the purpose of rounding up the Palestinian youth and subjecting them to interrogation, torture, abuse and detention. Consequent upon the second invasion, a further 100 houses were demolished.
All in all, the two invasions left more than 80 Palestinians dead, hundreds wounded, upwards of 200 houses demolished and 2,500 people rendered homeless. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA), which prepared stores of food and water and put up tents to house the displaced, says that 12,600 Palestinians from Rafah have become homeless since the start of the second (al-Aqsa) intifada in 2000. In its report, released on 18 May, Amnesty International condemned the Israeli policy of house demolitions. It added that Israel demolishes an average of two Palestinian homes every day, with the result that more than 3,000 homes had been destroyed during the last three and a half years.
However, oblivious to all international condemnation, and fully confident of the backing of US imperialism for each one of its outrages, Israel is planning to widen the Philadelphi Road corridor, separating Gaza from Egypt, through further wholesale demolitions – all in the name of security and stopping the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza. In many cases, the demolitions have nothing to do with arms smuggling. Tel Sultan is far from the border, but that has not prevented Israel from destroying scores of its houses and killing its civilians. Even Yuval Dvir, an Israeli reserve colonel who helped to create the original buffer zone in the 1980s, says the plan would not enhance security. “We are following our guts and not our brains,” he told Israel Army Radio.
Unable to put down the Palestinian resistance against occupation, knowing that they can never succeed in extinguishing the raging fires of the Palestinian national liberation struggle, the Israeli authorities are resorting to ever more cruel methods – wholesale demolitions, massacres of innocent people and revenge killings. They have committed every heinous crime possible; they have murdered many political leaders of the resistance, including the leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, who was killed on 22 March in an Israeli missile attack, and his successor, Abdel-Aziz Al Rantissi, barely a month later on 17 April. But to no avail. Each Israeli outrage, each atrocity, simply serves to fortify Palestinian determination and their desire for unity against their common enemy and the hated occupation. Tens of thousands of Palestinians turned out for the funerals of Sheik Yassin and Al Rantissi in an outpouring of grief and anger, and as a mark of respect for their departed leaders. A 24-strong armed guard of honour from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades from President Arafat’s Fatah movement presented condolences at Sheikh Yassin’s funeral, with one of its members saying: “We are brothers in resistance to Israel … we do not distinguish between factions now. We are one nation.” Identifying US imperialism as the chief sponsor of murderous zionism, another mourner said: “America is the father of terror, they are the number one enemy of the people.”
The latest outrages were a product of the zionist rage at the ability of the Palestinian resistance to hit very hard the forces of occupation. On 11 May, early in the morning, the resistance detonated a huge bomb under an Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC), killing six zionist troops. The following day, the resistance blew up another APC, killing five zionist soldiers. On 14 May, four more soldiers were shot dead by the resistance. In the midst of, and following, the Israeli onslaught, the resistance continued to fire rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot, sending a clear message to the Israelis that they can expect to have no peace and security as long as the Palestinians have none and continue to suffer under the heel of brutal zionist occupation. One of these rockets landed close to Sharon while he was visiting a bereaved Israeli family.
US imperialism backs Israel
Such was the ferocity of the zionist attack, and so inhumane its treatment of the Palestinians – all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects the rights of civilians under occupation – that even the UN Security Council was obliged in its resolution of 19 May to condemn Israeli operations in the southern Gaza strip. In a 14-0 vote, with the US abstaining, the Security Council condemned the civilian deaths and the demolition of homes in Rafah. In a rare, if mild rebuke, a White House statement said: “While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security.”
A day earlier, Condoleezza Rice, US national security advisor, had merely said that the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli forces was “a subject of conversation and a subject of concern”, and that “some of [Israel’s] activities don’t create the best atmosphere for movement forward towards a two-state solution”. She ‘forgot’ to add that her own administration, through its own endorsement of Sharon’s Gaza ‘disengagement’ plan, which envisages Israel keeping the zionist settlements in the West Bank, with 230,000 illegal settlers, and denying to the Palestinians the right to return to their homes, from which they were expelled at gunpoint by zionist murder gangs in 1948, has made a huge contribution to obstructing the creation of “… the best atmosphere for movement forward towards a two-state solution”.
The above mild criticism of Israel by the US, and its abstention on the Security Council resolution in condemnation of Israel, means nothing in view of the unreserved and effusive support given by US imperialism to Israel as America’s chief ally in the Middle East in “the fight for freedom”. Describing the recent developments in Gaza as “troubling” (this is as far as the US rebuke of Israel goes), George W Bush, as he addressed, on 17 May, the most powerful pro-Israeli lobby – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – made a passionate defence of Israel’s right to defend itself and spoke of America and Israel’s “shared values”. He went on: “By defending the freedom and prosperity and security of Israel, you’re also serving the cause of America”.
Israel continues to flout a raft of UN resolutions, including the Security Council Resolution 242 demanding that Israel withdraw from all territory captured in the six-day war in 1967, and the General Assembly resolution 194 insisting on the right of return of the Palestinians to their own homes. Both these resolutions have now been flouted by the Bush administration through its endorsement of Sharon’s so-called disengagement from Gaza plan. The Security Council Resolution of 19 May is certain to join the long list of resolutions flouted by the zionist state with impunity, sure in the knowledge that it has the complete backing of US imperialism, which has the temerity to wage a predatory war against Iraq for the latter’s alleged violation of resolutions of the very same body – the UN – the flouting of whose decisions by Israel it endorses and whom it protects from the consequences of these flagrant violations.
If the US sees Israel as its ally in “the fight for freedom”, that is, its most reliable tool for aggression against the Arab peoples, especially the Palestinian people; for their part, the peoples of the Middle East see themselves as fighting the same war on two fronts – against US imperialist occupation in Iraq and zionist occupation in Palestine. After months of violent resistance against US occupation in Iraq, the relentless Israeli attacks, and Palestinian resistance to these attacks, in the Gaza, and the most dramatic US support for Sharon’s attempts at annexation of more Palestinian land and rejection of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return, the two crises have merged in the minds of the Arab masses, who have a growing realisation that they are fighting the same enemy in different sectors of the battlefield in this war for the control of the Middle East. The issue has become crystal clear: Is the Middle East to be under the domination of imperialism or the Arab peoples, to whom does it belong? Messrs Bush and Sharon are to be congratulated for making the link between Iraq and Palestine so clear by their outrageous statements and their abominable actions.
Background to the Rafah invasions
Unable to defeat the resistance, Israel is forced to confront the question of vacating the zionist settlements, whose 7,500 settlers it finds increasingly costly and impossible to defend in the midst of 1.3m hostile Palestinians. Sharon, who only a year ago asserted that settlers in the town of Netzarim in the Gaza were just as important to the security of Israel as the inhabitants of Tel Aviv, is the man chosen by destiny to come forward with the Gaza disengagement plan. However, in doing so, he wants to preserve the essence of occupation by strengthening Israeli control of the West Bank settlements, reinforcing Israeli control of the borders of Gaza after the planned evacuation of the settlers, and deny even the semblance of victory to the resistance. The zionist authorities have a mortal fear of the spectacle of settlers leaving Gaza under fire from the resistance.
Israeli attacks on the Hamas leadership are intended to deny it the opportunity to claim, and correctly so, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a victory and to prevent it from filling the political vacuum following a probable Israeli withdrawal. The Sharon plan, with its evacuation of the 7,500 settlers, far from ending the occupation of Gaza, will continue it in a new form. Under it, Israel will continue to control all access to and from Gaza and keep troops on the Philadelphi road that separates it from Egypt. Gazan air and sea space is to remain under Israeli control and continue to be patrolled by the Israeli air force and navy. In addition, Israel arrogates to itself the right to enter the territory at will in pursuit of the Palestinian resistance. And, Israel wants to hand over the administration of evacuated settlements to an international body as a sort of a proxy continuation of the occupation. “The plan will turn Gaza into a huge jail,” observed Mr Sufian Abu Zaida, a leading member of the Fatah movement. In fact, it will turn Gaza into a South African style Bantu enclave rather than an integral part of a sovereign Palestinian state. By making the lives of an entire nation impossible, Israel makes destruction of the entire zionist state a pressing minimum demand of the Palestinian people.
As for the West Bank, Israel will keep six Jewish settlements – Maale Adumin (30,000 settlers), Ariel (18,000), Kiryat Arba (4,000), Hebron enclave (500), Givat Zeev (10,000) and Gush Etzion (30,000) – with a total settler population of 92,500. Meanwhile, the apartheid wall, separating Israel from the West Bank and carving the remaining Palestinian territory into tiny, unsustainable Bantustans, continues to be built. When complete, it will enclose 80 percent of the zionist settlers and isolate 230,000 Palestinians from neighbouring villages and towns, cutting them off from their livelihood by encroaching on their farms and impoverishing them to the point where they must starve or leave. While the Israelis’ pretext for building the wall was its alleged concern for the security of its citizens and a precaution against the threat of suicide bombers, Palestinians justly claim that the route for the wall was deliberately chosen to annex further land in the occupied territories. These two measures – the retention of the settlements and the construction of the wall – are tantamount to the de facto annexation of half of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians to rot in the enclave of Gaza and isolated Bantustans in parts of the West Bank, constituting a mere 10 percent of historic Palestine, whose borders will be controlled by Israel and whose remaining land will have been rendered uninhabitable. In sum, it constitutes a total denial of the national rights of the Palestinian people to have an integrated, independent and a sovereign state of their own on any part of Palestine.
Commenting upon the 2 May rejection of Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan by his Likud party, the Financial Times observed that what the Likud activists rejected was by no means a formula for peace, for “… despite much Israeli, US and British sophistry about the Gaza withdrawal being a way station on the road map, in its present form it forecloses on a viable future Palestinian state – at the same times as Mr Sharon’s so-called defence barrier is enclosing Palestinians into an archipelago of cantons”. (‘Sharon loses a trick to his party’, 5 May) The Financial Times correctly adds that “policy is the problem, not the Likud vote”.
In a rare victory for the Palestinians, on 9 July the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a condemnation of the construction by Israel of the wall in the West Bank, stating its intrusion into occupied territory was in breach of international law leading as it would to the annexation of Palestinian land.
“The court considers that the construction of the wall and its associate regime creates a ‘fait accompli’ on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterisation by Israel, it would be tantamount to de-facto annexation,” the ruling said.
The 15-judge panel of the ICJ urged the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to “consider what further action is required to bring an end to the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall”, adding that parts of the wall should be demolished and Palestinians affected paid reparations by Israel.
While Yassir Arafat thanked the ICJ for an “excellent” verdict, Israel made its contempt for international legality all but clear through the following words of Raanan Gissin, senior advisor to Sharon: “I believe that after all the rancour dies, this resolution will find its place in the garbage can of history.”
On 20 July the General Assembly of the UN passed a resolution by a majority of 150 to six requiring Israel to demolish the wall. In response to this resolution, which on this occasion got the support of all the members of the EU, the zionist government has responded by characterising it as “the tyranny of the majority”, which allegedly fails to understand the justice of Israel building this wall.
In view of the US support for Israel, it is most unlikely that the Security Council will back the ICJ judgement with a resolution of its own, while the General Assembly resolution just passed will be ignored by Israel with US support.
Sharon’s plan unravels
Man proposes and God disposes, runs an old saying. For all the backing of US imperialism, Sharon’s plan is falling apart. Only three months ago, Sharon was riding on the crest of a wave. On 14 April, he stood next to Bush, while the latter endorsed his “historic and courageous” disengagement plan, with its colonisation of large swathes of West Bank territory and the rejection of the Palestinians’ right to return. Emboldened by Bush’s backing, Sharon, upon his return to Israel, sanctioned the murder of Hamas leader Al Rantissi.
Since then, the combined forces of the resistance and his own zionist camp have rendered Sharon’s Washington victory meaningless. His ruling Likud party rejected the Gaza disengagement plan by a margin of 59.5 percent against 39.7 percent on 2 May. The fanatical settlers, who claim to represent “the enduring vigour of zionism”, condemned Sharon, saying he “… is not only an enemy, he is the most dangerous enemy of Israel”. Notwithstanding the loss of life and property suffered by the Palestinians, their stubborn resistance served to add to Sharon’s difficulties.
As a result, the zionist camp is gripped by confusion, panic, disarray and turmoil. They don’t have a clue what they are going to do with Gaza. Are they going to pull out or stay in? What are they supposed to be fighting for anyway? On 15 May, the Israeli peace movement staged a 150,000-strong demonstration demanding that Sharon implement his plan for the evacuation of Gaza. This demonstration coincided with the publication of opinion polls, revealing that 70 percent of all Israelis support the pull out from Gaza.
Sharon is being pulled in two opposing directions. While the fundamentalist, truly nutty, wing of zionism is fighting a last-ditch battle against any pull out and clamouring for a greater Israel ethnically cleansed of all Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of Israelis want to wash their hands of Gaza – the sooner the better. The Shinui party has even threatened to leave the coalition if Sharon does not implement his plan.
Finding himself in this impossible situation, and overcome by impotent rage at the audacity of the resistance blowing up Israeli APCs on two consecutive days, Sharon unleashed the might of the Israeli army on the Palestinian resistance. In doing so he lifted a rock only to drop it on his own feet – enraging the Palestinians further still, alienating world public opinion, and revealing further the truly fascistic and hideous face of zionism and the Israeli state.
Zionist enterprise in doubt
The revulsion against the Israeli occupation, and the cruelties practised by zionism as a natural sequel to it, is by no means confined to the Palestinians and the wider world. It is beginning to affect even the higher echelons of zionism. On 23 May, Yosef Lapid, Israeli justice minister, and a holocaust survivor, sparked controversy when he quite correctly likened the demolition of homes in Gaza to Nazi atrocities during the Second World War. “I saw on television an old woman picking through the rubble of her house in Rafah, looking for her medicine, and she reminded me of my grandmother who was expelled from her home during the Holocaust,” Mr Lapid was quoted as saying in cabinet. Sharon rebuked Lapid, calling the latter’s remarks “unacceptable” and “intolerable”. Lapid had also said that Israeli policies could lead to charges of war crimes.
Even more importantly, an article by Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, appeared in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, in which he expresses his extreme disillusionment with the zionist enterprise itself and his doubts about its long-term viability. The following is an edited version of this poignant piece which, for all its length, is worth reproducing.
“Generation after generation, we feed the refugee consciousness, reconstruct the pain of displacement and expose another generation to the powerless rage of the displaced. Afterwards we face, frightened and threatened, the ‘return’ – the life’s hope of every refugee and a stain on the settler’s conscience.
“Something basic has gone awry. If commanders, the sons of the fighters of 1948, send the grandchildren of the fighters for independence to ‘widen the route’ – which means the expulsion of the grandchildren of the refugees of 1948 – on the pretext of existential threat, then there was something defective in the founding fathers’ vision.
“If, after half a century, their enterprise still faces existential threat, this can only mean that they condemned it to eternal enmity, and there is no community that can for years on end survive a violent war for its existence.
“And if this is merely a pretext (and Operation Rainbow in Rafah was an instinctive reaction that evolved into second nature), we must reflect deeply and sadly on our responsibility for the enterprise that at its start embodied so many exalted ideals.
“Is there some ‘original sin’ that lies at the foundation of the zionist enterprise? Those who initiated the Rafah operation, and those executing it, should know that one of the outcomes of their actions will inevitably be the raising of questions about this heresy.
“And the attackers adopt the same tactics, spread rumours and fire warning shots; and when the residents flee out of fear, the attackers claim that they are not responsible for the flight, but then destroy the homes for, ‘after all, they are empty and deserted’.
“Laundered language and sterile military terms camouflage a primitive desire for vengeance and uninhibited militancy. Slogans such as ‘combat heritage’, ‘righteousness of our path’, and ‘the most moral army in the world’, immunise the soldiers and their commanders from the humanitarian tragedy they are creating.
“The political echelon, supposed to guide the army according to ethical criteria, reveals even crueller tendencies than the army. All they are interested in is Israel’s ‘image’ and condemning the ‘hostile media’.
“S Yizhar has already said these harsh sentences about us all: ‘To be deceived open-eyed, and to on the spot join the big, common throng of liars – composed of ignorance, expedient apathy and simple unashamed selfishness – and to exchange one big truth for the clever shrug of the shoulder of a veteran criminal’. He said this in May 1949, in reference to the incident at Khirbet Khiza’a, some of whose former residents live in one of the Rafah refugee camps.
“The community of those seeking vengeance, and who crave ‘the appropriate response’, will no doubt respond with anger and abuse: ‘How can you show empathy for base murderers, desert savages led by a corrupt gang of chieftains?’
“But there is a sneaking suspicion that this, too, is ‘combat heritage’ – exploitation of the murderousness of the Palestinians to ‘punish’ them, uproot them from their homes, ‘bare’ their fields and then ‘redeem’ the abandoned land for the needs of Israelis. Generation after generation, we cause them to abandon their homes, settle in them and afterwards, when the opportunity arises, take over their sanctuaries as well, and drive them away from there.
“The sights of Rafah are too difficult to bear – trails of refugees alongside carts laden with bedding and the meagre contents of their homes; children dragging suitcases larger than themselves; women, draped in black, kneeling in mourning on piles of rubble.
“And in the memories of some of us, whose number is dwindling, arise similar scenes that have been a part of our lives, as a sort of refrain that stabs at the heart and gnaws at the conscience, time after time, for over half a century – the procession of refugees from Lod to Ramallah in the heat of July 1948; the convoys of banished residents of Yalu and Beit Nuba, Emmaus and Qalqilyah, in June 1967; the refugees of Jericho climbing on the ruins of the Allenby bridge after the six-day war.
“And, perhaps most shocking of all, the grandfathers and fathers of the Rafah refugees, abandoning the houses in Yibna, in which they were born, in fear of the approaching Israeli army on 5 June 1948. ‘At dawn,’ reported the AP correspondent, ‘it was possible to see the civilians fleeing … in the direction of the coast, without the intervention of the Israeli attackers.’
“Some 56 years have passed, and they are again fleeing in fear of the Israeli attackers.”
A more poignant depiction of the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of zionism, a more vivid description of the infamies of zionism, would be hard to find. If those associated so closely with the zionists enterprise have become disillusioned to the extent that Mr Benvenisti has, one may be sure that the days of this historical abortion, the zionist state of Israel, are numbered.