Palestine Under Fire

Revolutionary Worker #1111, July 22, 2001, posted at

Since the current clashes in Palestine began last September, the Israeli occupiers have been waging a relentless and bloody military campaign against the oppressed Palestinian people. Now there are reports that the Israeli military is preparing plans for an even bigger offensive--a full-scale invasion of the Palestinian areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Reports about the invasion plan have appeared in the British journal Foreign Report, published by the Jane's Information Group, and various media sources in Israel and internationally. According to CBS News, "The plan calls for air strikes by F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, a heavy artillery bombardment, and then an attack by a combined force of 30,000 men, including paratroopers, tank brigades and infantry." Israeli war planners reportedly expect that such a military operation would last a month and kill thousands of Palestinians. Israel would seize on some event--such as a major suicide bombing--as justification to launch what they would call a retaliation.

According to news reports, Israel's goal in such an invasion would be to destroy the Palestinian Authority and its lightly armed police forces, to kill or expel Palestinian officials, and to drive Yasser Arafat back into exile. While an invasion may provoke international criticism, the Israeli generals expect to quickly establish "facts on the ground"--absolute control over the West Bank and Gaza. The Foreign Report said that Israeli generals presented this plan to Israeli premier Ariel Sharon and his cabinet on July 9.

Sharon and other Israeli officials denied that such a plan exists. But it seems fairly clear that Israel is at least considering some "contingency plans" for a big military action, if not a full-scale invasion. Sharon himself told reporters on July 13 that his cabinet had made certain "decisions" regarding escalation of military actions against Palestinians if the resistance continues. And he said, "I estimate a certain amount of time will pass and we will carry them out."

The reported plan is reminiscent of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. That invasion killed 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, devastated large areas of the country, and drove out Arafat and the PLO from Beirut into exile. And the military commander in charge of that invasion was Ariel Sharon. During the invasion, fascist militias controlled by the Israeli army massacred thousands of unarmed Palestinians and Lebanese in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside of Beirut.

There are reports of intense debate within the Sharon government over whether an all-out invasion of the West Bank and Gaza would be beneficial to or disastrous for the interests of the Zionist state. Israel's U.S. imperialist backers appear to be against this kind of military action, at least for now. But the very fact that a such a war plan--including cold-blooded calculations of thousands of Palestinian casualties--is under serious discussion points once again to the savage and criminal nature of the Israeli occupiers.

It is possible that the Israeli government is deliberately leaking word about the invasion plan in order to threaten the Palestinian people and to put pressure on Arafat to be more compliant with Israeli demands. The Israeli policy makers might be thinking that the looming shadow of a possible invasion would help dampen the fires of mass resistance. And Israel may be calculating that the threat to completely destroy the Palestinian Authority and expel its officials may force Arafat to crack down harder on the youth in the streets and various Islamist organizations.

Sharon's Brutal Policy of "Restraint"

Meanwhile--in an outrageous example of turning reality on its head--Sharon is often portrayed in the U.S. media as an advocate of "restraint" because he has not given a green light to the invasion plans. According to the Washington Post, for example, Sharon "snapped" at "hard-line ministers" who wanted an immediate military escalation against the Palestinians, and he declared, "This region is not going to war."

What has Israel's so-called policy of restraint actually meant for the masses of Palestinian people? While a full-scale invasion would mean an open and direct occupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza by Israel, the reality is that the "restrained" actions of the Israeli forces have already put the masses of Palestinian people under the direct line of fire of the Israeli guns, tanks, and jet fighters on a daily basis. As rumors swirl about an Israeli invasion, Zionist troops continue to carry out vicious attacks in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is routine practice for the Israeli military to seize on any act of resistance by Palestinians as an excuse for large-scale military attacks. Actions involving tanks, artillery, and jet bombers are put forward as "justified responses" to the throwing of stones or small-arms fire by Palestinians. On July 13, for example, Israeli tanks shelled Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, after some Israeli settlers were fired upon. A dozen Israeli tank shells exploded inside the city, killing a Palestinian security officer.

On the same day, Israeli troops carried out attacks in Hebron and other parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Hebron, Israeli troops entered Palestinian neighborhoods and opened fired with tanks and heavy machine guns. Over 20 Palestinians were injured and dozens of homes were damaged.

The current Israeli policy has also meant that many Palestinians face the cruel destruction of their homes as well as humiliating--and sometimes deadly--stops at military checkpoints.

On July 10, Israeli troops demolished 14 Palestinian houses in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Hours later, Israeli tanks and bulldozers flattened 10 homes in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Demolition of homes is one form of "collective punishment" that the Israeli occupiers carry out against Palestinians. According to human rights groups, Israel has destroyed 500 Palestinian homes since September of last year--in addition to 7,000 homes demolished since 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War. The July 10 Israeli operations were the largest number of house demolitions carried out in a single day in years.

Israeli officials claimed that the houses in Shuafat were destroyed because they were built without permits. Shuafat is a crowded refugee camp of 30,000 people; many of the refugees had fled their homes during the 1967 war or had been displaced when the state of Israel was created in 1948. There is almost no place to build new houses in Shuafat--except in the area where the July 10 demolitions took place. From their camp, residents of Shuafat can see construction of new apartments in the nearby Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev.

The U.S.-directed "peace process" between Israel and Arafat led to the creation of areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supposedly under Palestinian control. But in reality, the Israeli occupiers continue to hold the power of life and death over the Palestinian people. The so-called Palestinian areas are disjointed territory broken up by Israeli settlements (which basically act as military outposts), "security" roads open only to Israeli troops and settlers, and land under full Israeli control. Israel can surround and cut off the Palestinian areas with relative ease.

Since last fall, Israel has stepped up the "closure" of the West Bank and Gaza--sealing off Palestinian towns and cities with military checkpoints and deep trenches. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers have been prevented from traveling to their jobs inside Israel, which has been bringing in low-wage labor from other parts of the world; this has led to great economic hardships for many Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza.

The military checkpoints make it difficult for Palestinians to travel between villages and towns within the West Bank or Gaza. Even people who are rushing to get to hospitals for emergency care are stopped--and at least 17 have died since last September because of delays at the checkpoints. Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian doctor, points out, "Over 70 percent of the Palestinian population live in rural areas, which provide nothing more than the most basic medical services. Closure therefore has a serious effect on Palestinian civilians' access to vital... heath care." On July 11, Firial Idries, who was in labor, was being driven from her West Bank village to a clinic about 12 miles away. Her car was stopped for an hour by Israel troops. She gave birth while detained at the checkpoint--and the newborn died from complications of the birth.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, a graduate student from the U.S. now living in the West Bank wrote that the Israeli checkpoints are "a political tactic aimed at making Palestinians suffer in order to break their wills. As one soldier told me, Israel knows that at least 99 percent of all the people crossing the checkpoint want nothing more than to get to work or school. Nevertheless, it is a military order to fill their path with obstacles."

Israel's U.S. Imperialist Godfathers

The U.S.'s apparent opposition to Israel's invasion plan does not come out of any concern for the lives of the Palestinian people. In a recent speech, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, cautioned that getting rid of Arafat would only serve to bring to the fore other groups which would be more difficult for Israel to deal with. He warned that the only chance of "peace" is to pursue negotiations with Arafat.

For Indyk and his class, "peace" does not mean self-determination and justice for the Palestinian people; what they mean by "peace" is stability for their imperialist interests in the region. Domination of the Middle East is crucial to the U.S. position as the world's superpower. The U.S. imperialists' strategy for maintaining and strengthening their power in this region involves various elements--including backing for reactionary Arab states and direct presence of U.S. military forces in the area. But the U.S. imperialists still consider Israel to be a strategic fortress playing a key part in their plans and maneuvers in the Middle East.

Sometimes, the U.S. government issues mild criticisms of Israel for particular actions it takes--as part of efforts to maintain the pretense that the U.S. is a "neutral" party between Israel and the Palestinians. But such criticisms at most reflect secondary policy disagreements rather than a fundamental rift in the relationship. How can the U.S. be "neutral"--when it sends $3 billion in military and other forms of aid yearly to the Israeli occupiers? And there are times when the U.S. finds it in its interest to make Israel look like an out-of-control attack dog which threatens and bites as its master struggles to control the leash.

In June, the Bush administration sent the head of the CIA to work out a "ceasefire" agreement between Israeli officials and Arafat. This was advertised as a means to eventually "get back to the negotiating table." As clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians have continued, U.S. officials declare that Arafat must "control the violence" while Israel must "exercise restraint." By using such language, the U.S. is trying to portray the Palestinians as "aggressors"--while Israel is portrayed as only guilty of "overreacting" to Palestinian "provocation."

The Israeli occupiers--with U.S. imperialist backing--carried out vicious attacks and made bullying threats in an attempt to break the will and resistance of the Palestinian people. Now they are threatening a full-scale military invasion.

But the masses of Palestinian people are continuing their courageous defiance. If Israel does launch an all-out offensive, there will be even more bloodshed and suffering for the people. The Zionist war planners hope to create "facts on the ground" for Israel. But even such an invasion cannot wipe out the truth. The cause of the Palestinian people--liberation and self-determination of their oppressed nation--is just and has the support of oppressed and proletarian people around the world.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)