In my last article in the London based Arabic language paper, Asharq Al-Awsad, I mentioned that I have access to credible Israeli sources that indicate that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the implementation of an updated version of Field of Thorns Item D, so-called “lightning penetration”. The plan outlines the invasion of cities, villages and refugee camps under Palestinian Authority control. In that publication I stated that this decision was not related to any response to operations Palestinians may direct at Israel, but is an active part of Sharon’s plan to reinstate the iron fist of Israeli occupation in all areas controlled by the PA. This plan, no doubt, follows from the belief by the Israeli government that the West Bank and Gaza are part of the land of Israel.
Sharon’s gambit of retaliations relies on a “chicken and egg” portrayal of Israeli attacks-Israeli reactions to Palestinian actions caused by Israeli repressive actions in the first place. In this scenario, there can never be the “absolute calm” he deems necessary for the implementation of the Mitchell Recommendations and he is allowed to continually delay any negotiations. Thus, Sharon will be able to annex as much territory and found as many new settlements as possible in the meantime.
It is worth mentioning that despite some programmatic disagreements between the Israeli Labor and Likud parties, the differences between the two schools of Israeli thought are negligible when it comes to the basic rights of the indigenous population of Palestine.
Sharon’s tactics, much like those of his labor predecessor Ehud Barak, are based on the incremental digestion of Palestinian land accompanied by gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population. It is a straight-forward and modern expression of similar policies used by the classical colonial powers of the last century such as the brutal white settler colonists of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The League of Nations largely banned these practices in Geneva following World War II and adopted laws and conventions to support the right of all human beings to self-determination. Needless to say, with the end of South African apartheid, Israel is the only world power still freely abrogating human rights in order to colonize another people’s land.
This morning, the Israeli occupation army savagely and brutally re-occupied the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank for five hours. Israeli troops destroyed buildings and houses and terrorized civilians in an act clearly contravening international law, the Geneva Convention and the agreements signed by the PLO and Israel.
Earlier this week, the London Independent’s Robert Fisk described Monday’s brutal display by Israeli soldiers and policemen who attacked a peaceful demonstration of European, Israeli and Palestinian activists protesting the occupation of the Orient House in Jerusalem. Fisk shocked by the apparent savagery of the Israeli police, wonders why Israelis chose to reveal such barbarity in front of a watchful international community. “How can the Israelis do that to themselves?”, he asks. We can provide the response to the question Fisk is unable to answer. The officers and soldiers, trained by disciples of the classical British, French and German colonists have inherited all the tactics of torture and brutality which the latter used to capture other lands and enslave their populations.
These facts of Israel’s occupation of Palestine are largely unknown by the international community. Reporters are routinely prevented from accessing the scenes of atrocities and human rights violations by the very Israeli military which has committed them. Recently, an Egyptian television crew that attempted to cross a roadblock at Qalandia on the Ramallah-Jerusalem road were thoroughly beaten by Israeli soldiers for their journalistic effrontery. The Israeli military has received hundreds of complaints of similar treatment from the world’s press agencies and has responded to none of them. Reporters from news networks such as BBC World and CNN, on the other hand, rarely have such problems, depending completely on a diet of PR handouts from Israeli governmental sources. They are rarely motivated to visit the scenes of their news stories since an Israeli spin-doctor will most likely call them with the “official” version of the story soon enough, perhaps even before the events in question have actually occurred.
Thus, for the benefit of those who remain ignorant concerning the nature of Israeli human rights violations, I will cite the following practices:
Israeli military roadblocks and closures multiply daily and violate the right of all peoples to freedom of movement, an essential right which has repercussions on all levels of human life. Israeli closures and checkpoints have prevented ill Palestinians from reaching medical attention, with numerous consequent deaths and aggravation of injuries. Roadblocks and curfews prevent Palestinians from reaching their workplace, a fact responsible for West Bank and Gaza unemployment rates that now vary from 50 to 100%. Some families in the West Bank and Gaza have not seen one another since October 2000, still others affected by the near constant closure of some occupied areas have not seen each other for over a decade. There are no cameras to show the world the humiliating treatment Palestinians are subjected to when attempting to negotiate blockades and roadblocks. In Nablus, for example, Palestinians were made to strip naked as a precondition to crossing checkpoints.
The Israeli army continues to demolish houses and agricultural lands at an accelerated pace, violating the right of all people to land, shelter and survival. Over 120 homes have been demolished in the West Bank and Gaza in recent weeks, leaving thousands homeless. Israeli settlers and military have destroyed acres of agricultural land, uprooting at least 190,000 olive trees. Some of these trees which were planted generations ago, take years to reach maturity and are often the main means of economic subsistence for many Palestinian families.
Israel continues to use indiscriminate lethal force on civilians and in residential areas. Often Israeli soldiers target civilians, while in other instances they assassinate so-called combatants, in either case the occupation forces do not take precautions to avoid harming civilians. Israeli Apache helicopters recently assassinated 6 members of a Palestinian political organization with a missile strike that also killed two Palestinian children walking by the building at that particular moment. A few days earlier, an Israeli assassination attempt took the lives of not only the 6 targets but also two journalists at the scene. In addition, Israel continues to shell civilian neighborhoods they claim are being used as bases for armed Palestinian attacks injuring several hundred people in the process of destroying their homes.
To understand the effect of the Israeli occupation on daily Palestinian life, a typical American need only imagine it in terms of a trip to the supermarket on any US thoroughfare. On the way, you will be stopped by foreign soldiers, who may, if they so choose, arrest your son, father or brother based solely on his nationality of American. Or they may just beat him within an inch of his life. It is quite probable that you will not be allowed to pass, even if your cupboard is currently bare. Tomorrow, when you attempt to make it to the supermarket again, or work or the hospital, you must endure the same treatment.
Palestinians are peace-loving people, with a respect for life exemplified by a culture historically known for tolerance and co-existence. When murderous European inquisitions persecuted and killed by the thousands, European Christians, Muslims and Jews fled to Arab lands for asylum. Semantically, Palestinians, regardless of religion, are the original Semites of this region, just as historically, we are the biblical Canaanites. By every academic, archeological, and mythological account, even that of Western Judaism, we are the indigenous people of this land.
Thus we call upon US President George W. Bush’s to review his permissive stand on Israeli actions as antagonistic to history, peace, tolerance and international law. Perhaps the US administration is too heavily influenced by pro-Israeli lobbying groups such as AIPAC or perhaps its leaders are truly not able to understand the precarious situation in the Middle East. In any case, I advise President Bush to develop a deeper field of vision when it condemns Yasser Arafat for not doing enough to end the violence. The basic source of terrorism is the on-going Israeli occupation, which neither the Israelis, the US or the international community seem able to bring to a halt. If President Bush’s aim is to prevent terrorism as well as the killing and subjugation of Palestinians, then the implementation of UN resolutions, international law and the US republican’s own “land for peace” formula is the only solution.
Bush is not required to create a new formula for peace in the Middle East. He needs only insist that Israel comply with UN Resolution 242 and the tenets of his own country’s constitution. The latter document, like the 4th Geneva Convention, declares the right of all peoples to self-determination, freedom and democracy. To this end, Israeli colonialism must be stopped.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.