F-16s against old rifles

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Around noon on 18 May, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, famous for his war crimes in Lebanon, met with his “inner security cabinet,” which included Nobel Peace Prizewinner Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer. The three decided to target several Palestinian towns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, using F-16 fighter-bombers, considered “Israel’s long strategic arm.” 

Israeli officials hinted that the devastating strike on Old Nablus prison was aimed at “liquidating” Mahmoud Abu-Hannoud, a Hamas activist who had killed two Israeli soldiers during their unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him in his village, Asira Shamailya, near Nablus. Abu-Hannoud was in the targeted building but miraculously escaped death, suffering only minor scratches and cuts. 

“What kind of state sends F-16 fighter jets to chase a single individual?” wondered Abu-Hannoud’s father, who criticized the Palestinian Authority (PA) for keeping his son in jail. The PA claimed that Abu-Hannoud was being kept in jail for his own protection from further Israeli attempts to kill him. 

The bombing was no less than a massacre, clearly intended to cause maximum Palestinian bloodshed. Indeed, a few minutes before the airstrike on Nablus prison, which also houses a police squad responsible for maintaining law and order, Israeli occupation troops, stationed on a hilltop overlooking the building, showered the area with machinegun fire, apparently aiming to keep as many people as possible confined inside the building so that they would be killed in the subsequent bombing. 

In Ramallah, F-16 jets attacked two Force-17 posts, leaving one dead and six injured, one of whom died two days later. In Gaza, the planes dropped laser-guided bombs on the Ansar security post, in the vicinity of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters, reducing it to rubble. 

Israeli officials initially bragged about the use of their awesome air power against an essentially unarmed population, saying the Palestinians “should realize how powerful we are and what we are capable of doing.” 

“Israel will go to any extent to defend Israelis,” a defiant Sharon boasted, in a tone reminiscent of his gleeful mood following the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. His government sought to justify the use of fighter jets by claiming that it was the “appropriate response” to the suicide bomb-attack in the coastal town of Netanya on Friday 18 May. 

The attack, carried out by a 20-year-old member of Hamas’s military wing from the town of Tulkarm, was itself in retaliation for the callous murder of five Palestinian civilian policemen at a guard-post south of Ramallah by Israeli occupation troops on 14 May, as well as the killing by an Israeli artillery shell of four-month-old Iman Hijo in the Gaza Strip on 7 May. 

The suicide bomber, later identified as Mahmoud Marmash, said in a pre-recorded message released after the attack that he was reacting to Israel’s overwhelming oppression of Palestinians. In his passionate statement, Marmash said he was deeply shocked by the killing of Hijo and the cold-blooded murder of the five policemen. 

Five Israelis were killed in the Netanya bombing, but the psychological fallout on Israel’s Jewish population was much graver. Indeed, according to an opinion poll conducted by the mass-circulation Hebrew-language newspaper Yedeot Ahronot, nearly two-thirds of Israeli adults said they were more worried about their personal security now than they were when Sharon came to power three months ago. This is roughly the same percentage of Israelis who elected Sharon on 6 February in the hope that he would restore security and “fight terror.” 

The bombing in Netanya and the continued Palestinian resistance to Israel’s brutal onslaught demonstrate that Sharon has failed to fulfil his election campaign promises to end Palestinian “violence,” which explains his present overkill policy. It is widely expected that he will continue to target defenseless Palestinian civilians and lightly armed Palestinian policemen in order to mask his failure to stop the uprising and restore “security.” It is also an effort to appease right-wing extremists, particularly the settlers and their supporters, who ostensibly will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt as long as he continues to torment Palestinians. 

An indication of that came on 20 May with the assassination attempt on Col. Jebril Rajoub, preventive security chief in the West Bank. Israeli tanks stationed in the settlement of Psigot fired several shells at Rajoub’s villa in Al-Bira, injuring five of his bodyguards and badly damaging the luxurious house. 

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer claimed the shelling was not intentional, but a high-ranking officer in the Israeli army said the army would bombard the place again “whenever it deemed that necessary.” 

Israel will have to depend on Rajoub to revive Palestinian security coordination with Israel and to rein in opponents of the Oslo Accords. Following the shelling which nearly cost him his life, Rajoub described Israeli political and military leaders as a “band of street criminals and gangsters.”

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