A year after the brave Intifada started following Sharon’s provocative visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Palestinians have renewed their oath to continue to confront the Israeli occupation to the end. They returned to their homes after announcing this commitment through mass demonstrations in all Palestinian villages, towns and camps. They went home to cry for all those who were martyred and wounded throughout this year by Israeli occupation bullets and shells.
And in their homes, or what was left of them, they thought of both the near and distant future, and they worried. They thought of their sons and daughter’s need for sustenance, and they worried. They slept to bury the anxiety é only to wake up to sounds of explosions, Israeli tank shells, and the sounds of bullets from Israeli machineguns firing in every direction.
The Palestinians prepared to bid farewell to more martyrs, to transport more wounded to the hospitals, and to continue in their Intifada to expel the occupation.
Sharon celebrated the first anniversary of his provocative visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif by killing 12 Palestinians, wounding more than 100 and destroying 18 houses. The toll from the first year of the Intifada was 700 Palestinian martyrs, including 174 children under the age of 18, 30 thousand wounded, including 3 thousand with permanent disabilities. American-made Israeli tanks and planes destroyed 5021 houses, leaving 40 thousand Palestinians homeless. Israel has assassinated 65 political activists, and uprooted 190 thousand fruit trees. This bloody and painful situation has prompted the European Union to discuss declaring Palestine a disaster area.
With the start of the second year of the Intifada, the Palestinians regard with skepticism the pledges Israel made during the meeting held between President Arafat and the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Thursday at Gaza International Airport é at the end of the Intifada’s first year.
The Palestinian’s skepticism stems from their knowledge that Shimon Peres does not have the authority to make deals, that he has to get approval, or disapproval, from his Prime Minister regarding all that he discussed or pledged.
The Palestinians doubt Israel’s commitment because they know, from experience, that the occupation army attacks, shells, storms and destroys, with no other reason than to continue the military aggression to subdue the Palestinian people. This is what took place the night of the Arafat-Peres meeting; Israeli tanks stormed Rafah destroying 18 houses, killing 5 Palestinians and wounding 23.
How abhorrent, that the occupation army announced, despite there being a cease-fire, that its tanks and bulldozers stormed Rafah to destroy houses that were being used as arms smuggling centers. They also announced that while the bulldozers were demolishing, Palestinians attempted to stop them, and so clashes erupted. The insolence does not stop there, Sharon made a political announcement to the effect that he does not want the results of the Arafat-Peres meeting to see the light.
Despite the Palestinians well-founded skepticism, they abided by President Arafat’s announcement of a cease-fire. They wanted to give Arab and international efforts a chance to implement the Mitchell recommendations and start final status negotiations to end the occupation.
In the shadow of this anxiety and skepticism in the Israeli intentions, and in the shadow of tension and a suffocating economic crisis, the Palestinians review the results of a whole year of sacrifice and struggle against Israeli occupation. They ask themselves, and their friends, what this Intifada, that has cost them so dearly, has achieved in its first year.
Israeli media and press have, this last week, abounded in analyses and statements from Israeli officials and army officers in order to convince Israelis and Palestinians that the Intifada, filled with great sacrifice and pain, accomplished nothing in its first year.
The answer to this question is necessary and vital to expose the schemes of the occupying enemy, and to show the Palestinians and Arabs the political momentum the Intifada has generated. But first, we need to remind everyone that the Palestinian Intifada began in response to Israeli provocation, and to the refusal of the Barak and Sharon governments to honor Israel’s commitments and the implementation of agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and committing to implementing international legitimacy resolutions.
The vicious attacks the Palestinian people have been subjected to for the last year, and are still being subjected to, were a planned Israeli decision made because Barak and Sharon thought that by using military force against unarmed Palestinians they would force them and their Authority to submit to Israeli expansionist solutions.
If this was the aim of Sharon and Barak’s military attack against the Palestinians, and it is, then the most significant achievement of the Intifada during its first year can be defined by examining the results of this barbaric Israeli attack.
It is obvious to the whole world, and to Palestinians and Israelis alike, that Barak and Sharon failed miserably in forcing the Palestinians to give up their national goals and accept the expansionist Israeli solution Sharon had offered them. This miserable Israeli failure proved to the world, and continues to prove, that the will of the Palestinian people, and its determination to reclaim its freedom, end the occupation and establish its sovereign independent state is a will that cannot be shaken by Sharon’s tanks, Apache helicopters or F-16 fighters.
From here we go on to focus on the Palestinian people’s major achievements during the first year of its Intifada. These achievements might not be visible to all at this time, but their momentum will undoubtedly lead to the Palestinian people’s triumph over the Israeli occupation.
The Israeli media machine, and the public relations companies it hired, have failed in improving Israel’s image and distorting that of the Palestinians; they failed miserably in achieving their aim. The Israeli government sought to brand the Palestinians as terrorists, and transform Israel’s world image, again, into that of the victim.
The Palestinians’ struggle, however, and the world’s awareness of some of the crimes committed by the occupation army against the Palestinians, thwarted these attempts. Some attacks carried out against Israeli civilians, that were condemned, did however provide Sharon and his propaganda machine with valuable material to attack Palestinians and brand them as terrorists.
International public opinion, as shown by the statement issued by 3,000 non-governmental organizations at the conference in Durban, South Africa, clearly condemns Israel as a state practicing racist state terrorism against the Palestinian people. The European Union and the European Parliament’s positions are very clear in condemning Israeli terrorism and demanding an end to the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, was the last to clearly express this position when he visited Palestine last week.
Sharon’s greatest failure in this field was when he tried to use the bombings in New York and Washington to link the struggle of the Palestinian people, which he refers to as terrorism, with the terrorist operations carried out against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
Things backfired even more when analysts and writers around the world linked Israel’s organized terrorism against the Palestinian people with international terrorism. It was proposed, quite seriously, that fighting international terrorism required putting an end to organized Israeli terrorism against the Palestinians. It also became clear to the major countries that unless the Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the Palestinian and Arab lands occupied in 1967, the fight against terrorism would not be complete, and would not succeed.
Sharon pledged to the Israelis that he would force his expansionist solutions on the Palestinians by military force, thinking that a military solution was the way to a calm and the way to impose political solutions. A year after the start of the Intifada, Sharon has shown his failure and his inability to achieve this pledge. The Israelis are slowly finding out that no political issue can be solved by military means. The costly and painful struggle of the Palestinian people has once again confirmed the need for a political solution.
Sharon’s insistence on handling the cease-fire and the entire security question by separating it from political discussions has failed. All international parties interested in the Middle East peace process have supported the Palestinian position insisting on implementing the Mitchell recommendations and moving to final status talks immediately.
The last confirmation of this position came from the American Secretary of State Colin Powell who clearly stated, for the first time, that the United States would endeavor to find a settlement in the Middle East based on resolutions 242 and 338, and the land for peace formula.
The fact that the American administration is taking things seriously this time is apparent from its insistence on preventing Sharon from hindering President Arafat’s meeting with Shimon Peres, and through its firm insistence on stopping the provocative Israeli attacks. This will be seen more clearly through an anticipated meeting between President Bush and President Arafat.
In this framework, we must call attention to the fact that these European and American positions did not come from out of nowhere. They came as a result of a diligent struggle, and as a result of wise positions taken by President Yasser Arafat, especially during the period of shock following the terrorist operations carried out against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Palestinians displayed their sympathy with the Americans, and expressed their condemnation of the terrorism the U.S. suffered by holding official mass activities. This thwarted Sharon’s efforts to link the Palestinian people’s struggle with this blind terrorism.
What remains to be said is that in a year of bitter struggle in the shadow of a balance of powers that leans towards Israel, the Palestinians have managed to create the circumstances that might be able to bring the struggle back to its focal point é ending the Israeli occupation.
This opportunity has become more possible in light of the United States’ attempts to build an anti-terrorism coalition. The Arab and Islamic countries’ insistence that a clause stipulating the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands be put on the agenda for fighting terrorism becomes vital.
Whether or not Sharon succeeds in internal Likud elections is of no importance to us or to the world. The developments in the Middle East cannot be tied to these elections.
It is important that we extract from these new circumstances a firm American stand to end the Israeli occupation.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.