Savage Occupiers and the Anger in Palestine

Revolutionary Worker #1074, October 15, 2000

Since September 28, the whole world has witnessed once again the savage actions of the Israeli occupiers of Palestine. Israeli troops-armed to the teeth thanks to their main backers, the U.S. imperialists-have been firing repeatedly at crowds of Palestinian protesters. As of October 8, more than 90 Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been wounded.

This is not the first time that Israel has gone on a murder spree since the beginning of the "peace process." In 1996, Israeli forces killed over 75 Palestinians in a few weeks. What is new about the current surge of reactionary violence by the settler-state of Israel is the use of heavy weaponry. In addition to rubber bullets and live ammunition, Israeli troops are using tanks, combat helicopters, and missiles. There have been some instances of small-arms fire from the Palestinian side, but the main targets of the Israeli firepower have been rock-throwing youths.

This is a one-sided battle-and one horrifying scene, caught on live TV footage, sharply emphasized this point. On Saturday, September 30, 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durah and his father, Jamal, were on their way home in the Gaza Strip when they were pinned down by Israeli gunfire. They tried to shield themselves behind a small concrete barrier, but Muhammad was hit in the stomach by an Israeli bullet. As Jamal shouted that his son was dying and needed help, he himself was seriously wounded by a volley of gunfire. To add to the outrage, a local ambulance driver, Bassam al-Bilbeisi, who was trying to come to the aid of Muhammad and Jamal, was also killed by Israeli soldiers.

On October 8, Israeli Prime Minister Zhud Barak issued an "ultimatum": if the Palestinians do not stop the clashes with the Israeli forces within 48 hours then he will order the army and security forces "to do everything in their power" to put a stop to the upsurge of protest. This was a threat to further unleash the Israeli troops to carry out even more murder and reactionary violence.

Palestinian blood is flowing in the Gaza, the West Bank, inside Israel itself, and on the Israel-Lebanon border. Who can deny that the brutality of the Israeli troops are actions of an unjust army-an army of oppressors and occupiers?

Clashes throughout Palestine

On September 28, Ariel Sharon, one of the top right-wing leaders in Israel, made a deliberately provocative visit to Haram al-Sharif, a compound in the center of the city of Jerusalem that is of major importance in Islamic religious beliefs. Sharon is deeply hated by Palestinians and other Arab people-because of his key role in Israel's brutal invasion of Lebanon and the massacre of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in the early 1980s. Sharon's visit was seen as an arrogant declaration of Israel's intention to keep control over Jerusalem (Al Quds in Arabic), which Palestinians consider a political and cultural center of their nation.

Angered by Sharon's action, thousands of Palestinians began throwing rocks at the Israeli troops. Five protesters were injured by rubber-coated metal bullets. The next day, Friday, Israel stationed thousands of troops around Haram al-Sharif. As they were confronted by masses of Palestinians, the troops first used rubber bullets and tear gas-and then began firing live ammunition. Six people were killed and over 200 were injured in Jerusalem that day.

There were other confrontations that same Friday in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Over the following days, what some news reports called "explosive street fighting" spread to other areas.

The Netzarim crossroads where Muhammad al-Durah was killed has been the scene of repeated and fierce clashes. The junction is located next to an Israeli settlement and an army post. On October 2, hundreds of youth attacked the army post with rocks and Molotov cocktails. The Israelis counterattacked with automatic weapons and armor-piercing missiles from a military chopper. In another battle at Netzarim two days later, the Israeli troops shot a 9-year-old kid who was throwing stones at the fortified army post.

As the fighting raged, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared, "Our security forces exercise utmost self-restraint." Army spokesmen claimed that their soldiers are trained to aim at feet and legs when firing at crowds. But the casualties suffered by the Palestinians show the ugly truth. Doctors report that many of those injured or killed have been hit on the upper body or head by Israeli bullets. The St. John's Eye Hospital in Jerusalem has treated numerous cases of people hit in the eye with rubber bullets. People have been hit with "dum-dum" bullets, which explode inside the victim's body. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that almost half of those injured in the clashes have been under the age of 18 and that many children have been killed. At least 18 Red Crescent ambulance drivers have been hit by Israeli gunfire.

The unrest has also spread among Palestinians living within the borders of the Zionist state of Israel. Large protests have broken out in Acre, Jaffa, Nazareth and other Israeli cities. On October 1, stone-throwing youth shut down a major highway near the town of Umm al Fahm. The New York Times described the scene: "Signs of rage were everywhere. Burnt-out hulks of cars and street lights toppled by rioters lined the side of the road. Inside Umm al Fahm, a bank was vandalized and the local post office, a symbol of government authority, was ripped apart, its equipment destroyed and mail trucks smashed." Israeli police have also fired on these protests within Israel, killing several Palestinians.

On October 7, hundreds of Palestinian refugees protested at Lebanon's southern border with Israel. When the protesters threw stones over the border fence at the Israeli soldiers, the troops fired back with automatic rifles. One protester was killed and at least 14 wounded.

That same day, the Hezbollah-an Islamic guerrilla force in southern Lebanon backed by Syria and Iran-carried out armed attacks against Israeli border posts. The Hezbollah announced that they had captured three Israeli soldiers during the attack. Barak immediately threatened "forceful action" in response to the capture.

Apartheid in Palestine

Ariel Sharon's visit was clearly the spark that lit the upsurge of rage and protest throughout Palestine. But anger and frustration had already been very deep and intense among the youth in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. A Palestinian man attending one of the many funerals in recent days said, "Sharon was the match. But there was already gasoline poured all over the situation."

Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority have promised time and time again that the "interim agreement" he signed with Israel-and the "final agreement" to be negotiated with the help of the U.S.-would bring real changes for the people. Arafat has claimed that this "peace process" would put an end to the brutality and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli troops and settlers, bring jobs and economic improvements, and result in a Palestinian state.

But in reality, the masses of Palestinian people have only seen their lives get worse. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Allegra Pacheco, an Israeli lawyer who represents Palestinians, wrote: "On the harsh ground of everyday reality in Gaza and the West Bank, the false optimism of [the peace process] quickly faded when the Palestinians realized that the interim agreement had not significantly changed the conditions of the Israeli occupation. Since 1994, Palestinians have seen the influx of 50,000 new Jewish settlers into the West Bank and Gaza, the paving of more than 400 kilometers of roads on confiscated land, demolition of more than 800 Palestinian homes, a threefold increase in unemployment in the territories and a 21 percent decline in their gross domestic product, the arrest of 13,000 Palestinians, and complete curtailment of freedom of movement."

And more Palestinians are realizing that the situation will not fundamentally change even if the U.S.-brokered negotiations result at some point in some entity called a "state." Such a negotiated "state" will be divided into several parts by fortified Israeli settlement blocs and bypass roads. Its borders will be subject to "enclosures" and incursions by the Israeli armed forces. It will have no control of vital resources like water. In short, this supposed "state" will only create a reality of apartheid for the Palestinian nation.

Anger has also been building among the Palestinians living inside Israel. These Palestinians-about 20 percent of the Israeli population-are officially "citizens" of Israel. When the West Bank and the Gaza exploded in the intifada (uprising) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Palestinians within Israel were relatively quiet. But Palestinians in Israel, especially the youth, are increasingly fed up with the blatant discrimination they face and the ghettos that many have to live in. Sharon's provocation and the actions of the Israeli military in the West Bank and Gaza threw a match on this rising anger. Rifat Turk, a former soccer star and a Palestinian in Israel, wrote in a letter to a newspaper: "Even if you are a person who has spent your whole life trying to act in moderation, you discover at times like this that under your skin, with a power that surprises even you, a great rage resides."

The Maneuvers of Israel and the U.S.

As his troops gunned down Palestinian after Palestinian, Israel's Barak blamed the bloodshed on the Palestinians themselves. But Barak and the Israeli leadership knew perfectly well that Sharon's visit to Haram al-Sharif would touch off intense Palestinian reaction. Sharon's visit obviously was no surprise to the government and military authorities: he was accompanied by a security detail of 1,000 Israeli soldiers. And when the Palestinians poured out into the streets in protest, the massive and cold-blooded response of the Israeli troops was based on orders from high levels of the government.

Throughout this whole situation, the Zionist rulers have acted in a vicious and deliberate manner to advance their reactionary interests within the "peace process"-especially on the question of control over Jerusalem. And the rampage by the Israeli military is intended as a message to the Palestinian people: resistance will be met with overwhelming armed force.

Behind Israel stands the master of cynical maneuvers, the U.S. imperialists. The U.S. puts itself forward as the fair-minded "mediator" whose only interest is in "peace" between the Israelis and Palestinians and in the whole region. In reality, the only thing the U.S. rulers are interested in is pursuing their own imperialist agenda and interests. When they talk about "peace," they mean the imposition of their imperialist domination over this region and its oppressed peoples. With somber expression, U.S. officials talk of their "regret" over the "violence" now going on. But, in fact, it's their "peace process" that has stoked so much frustration and explosive rage among the Palestinian masses. And the Israeli weapons that have killed so many are paid for by billions in U.S. aid each year.

Complex Politics in Palestine

Amid the righteous resistance of the masses, Arafat is promoting the class interests of those he represents, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed Palestinian nation. Arafat and the established Palestinian leadership are committed to the "peace process" and the path of collaboration with the Zionist state and U.S. imperialism. But Arafat is also attempting to use the people's outrage and protest as a negotiating tool for better terms. He is supported by reactionary Arab regimes, especially Egypt's Mubarak, which also have a stake in a U.S.-dominated "peace" in the Middle East.

During the current clashes, the Palestinian police and militias, which operate under Arafat's direction, have sometimes fired their weapons-rifles and small guns-at Israeli forces. But news reports indicate that the use of arms by the Palestinian forces so far has been sparing and tightly controlled. Often, Arafat's police forces have acted to rein in the stone-throwing youth and "defuse" tense situations. However, there have been times when the Palestinian police could not contain the youth-or decided to stand aside and let the stones fly. Arafat may be attempting to ride the tiger of mass resistance to his goal of a mini-state-but this is a dangerous road that he is on..

A section of the Palestinian masses are influenced by groups opposed to Arafat, like the Islamist organization Hamas. Some protesters have been seen ripping up Arafat's pictures and raising Hamas flags. Hamas criticizes the blatantly capitulationist aspects of Arafat's program, and its rhetoric of struggle against the Zionist state has attracted some youth who see no other alternative. But Hamas' own program is not revolutionary, and its ideology is feudal and reactionary. As the magazine A World to Win has pointed out: "Certain Islamic forces claim to be fighting for the complete liberation of Palestine but say nothing about the imperialist powers behind the Zionist state and in fact seek support from the reactionary states of the region.... It is impossible to separate the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national liberation from the overall worldwide struggle against imperialism and all reaction. Any attempt to make such a separation cannot help but lead to the kind of shameful humiliation and betrayal that Arafat personifies today."

The clashes in Palestine have powerfully highlighted the just cause of the Palestinian people and the utter injustice of the Israeli occupation. And these events also give glimpses of the determined spirit of resistance among the masses, especially among the new generation in the streets. This spirit, fused with a revolutionary line and leadership, could become a powerful force against the oppressor Israeli state and U.S. imperialism.

In the dusty alleys near the Deheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank, a 17-year-old youth took a break from fighting the Israeli troops. He said he always regretted that he was too young to take part in the "first intifada"-he was only four when that uprising began. He talked about why he is out on the street, risking his life to confront the Israeli soldiers: "I was raised with stories of how they kicked us off our land. Still, in 1993, when they made the peace, I was glad. I was naïve. This peace is one big lie. That's why I come out here every day.... You want to express your anger. You know your stone might not hit an Israeli soldier or might not even hurt him. But you want to feel you've done something for your homeland."

A Palestinian cop standing near the young man and his friends said that these "shebab" (guys) had refused orders to go home. "Unfortunately," said the cop, "they don't listen to us, because they want to make their own revolution."

The 17-year-old rebel replied, "We don't listen, it's true. The Israelis think that Arafat controls us like puppets. But we are a force of our own."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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