Flashpoint in Palestine and the
Ugly Designs of the U.S. Empire

Revolutionary Worker #1131, December 16, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

As December began--and as the U.S. continued the bombings and ground invasion in Afghanistan--the conflict in Palestine took a sharp and intense turn. Following several suicide bombings inside Israel, the Israeli military launched heavy, wide-ranging attacks in Palestinian areas. F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopter gunships--supplied to Israel by the U.S.--fired missiles at targets in various Palestinian cities. And throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli occupation forces tightened the suffocating noose of military clampdowns and checkpoints against the Palestinian people.

These events can only be understood in the context of the relentless offensive that Israel has been carrying out against the Palestinian people since September 2000--when right-wing leader Ariel Sharon, now Israeli premier, made a deliberately provocative visit to a Muslim site in Jerusalem and touched off widespread Palestinian outrage and protest.

A particular target of the Israeli air strikes was the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Yasir Arafat. One missile in Ramallah hit not far from an office where Arafat was reportedly working. Other bombs destroyed helicopters used by Arafat and damaged Palestinian Authority offices and police stations. And Israeli bombs also hit civilian areas--among those killed was a teenager in Gaza City who was walking to school when missiles hit. Israeli bulldozers tore up the runway at the Gaza airport, the only airport nominally under Palestinian Authority control (although Israel strictly controls its use).

Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon declared that these major military operations were a "justified" response to the early December suicide bombings. He characterized the Israeli actions as being part of the U.S.-led international "war on terror."

The Islamic group Hamas had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings. But Sharon insisted that Arafat was to blame for every action against Israel, and he demanded that Arafat take immediate steps to crush Hamas and another fundamentalist organization, the Islamic Jihad. The Israeli government drew up a list of over 30 Palestinians who it claimed were top "terrorists" and told Arafat to arrest them. The list was given to Arafat by the U.S., which said it backed Sharon's demand that Arafat "dismantle" the Palestinian Islamic groups.

Arafat declared a state of emergency and began mass arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members. Within a few days, his police forces had jailed close to 200 people. A top Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was placed under house arrest. Israeli officials accused Arafat of still doing "too little"--of not arresting enough top leaders. Arafat, in turn, complained to the U.S. that his police were hampered by Israeli military attacks.

Demands by the U.S. and Israel that Arafat crack down on groups like Hamas are not new. But now, these demands are being put forward as an ultimatum: Arafat must act quickly to the satisfaction of the U.S. and Israel--or he will face dire consequences.

As we go to press, the U.S. government says in official statements that they don't intend to force Arafat out. But heavy messages are being delivered that Arafat's position, if not his life, is on the line. Sharon was in the U.S. for discussions at the White House when the suicide bombings went off. Sharon immediately returned to Israel and ordered the military strikes. During the "peace process" of the past 10 years, U.S. officials usually issued a token call for "restraint" when Israel launched major military actions against Palestinians--while continuing their basic backing of Israel. This time, there was no talk of "restraint." White House spokesman Fleisher said, "The president's point of view is that Israel is a sovereign government. Israel has the right to defend itself." This amounted to a green light for the military actions by Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Powell also warned that this was Arafat's "moment of truth." Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, wrote in the New York Times that if Arafat doesn't act immediately, the U.S. should "suspend our relations with him and the Palestinian Authority." And the missile that landed near Arafat was clearly a warning that Israel could target him for assassination--as it has done with many other Palestinian officials, including Abu Ali Mustafa, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was killed in an Israeli missile attack on September 15 in Ramallah.

Under the U.S.-led "peace process" that started after the 1991 Gulf War, Arafat had been Israel's negotiating "partner." And he heads the administration of the "self-rule" areas that had been considered the basis for a possible future Palestinian "mini-state." That Israel, with U.S. approval, is now delivering a do-or-die ultimatum to Arafat is a very serious development--and it could have major repercussions in the region and beyond.

Just a couple of months ago, top Bush administration officials were making what were described as "conciliatory" statements on the Palestine question--including claiming that they have "always" been for a "viable state" for Palestinians. But now, with the U.S. declaring itself close to victory in Afghanistan, the U.S. imperialists seem to feel they are "on a roll" and are making a move in Palestine--warning that any resistance against Israel and any opposition to U.S. interests will be considered a target of their "war on terrorism." The U.S. government also included the question of Palestine in the domestic "war on terrorism" by accusing the Holy Land Foundation, a major Muslim charity organization, of raising money for Hamas. The charity was shut down and its assets frozen.

At the same time, some influential voices within the U.S. ruling class--along with important forces in Israel as well as pro-U.S. Arab regimes like Egypt--are warning that removing Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority or dismantling the Authority altogether would be very damaging to all their interests. They fear that such a move would ignite even greater anger and mass opposition among the Palestinian people and more widely in the region.

The situation in Palestine is at a dangerous flashpoint. The Palestinian masses face the escalation of deadly attacks from the U.S.-backed forces of Israel. And the U.S. imperialists and Israeli rulers seem to have embarked on a course that could touch off even greater upheaval and instability.

Basic Problem in Palestine: The Unjust Occupation

Sharon's attempts to blame Arafat for "everything that happens here" and to justify the Israeli military actions as "self-defense" are deeply hypocritical on many levels. Hamas declared publicly that the early December bombings were retaliation for the Israeli assassination of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, one of the top Hamas leaders in the West Bank, in November. Abu Hanoud was the latest in the series of Palestinian officials killed by Israeli assassination teams. Sharon and the Israeli government knew perfectly well that killing Abu Hanoud would result in a response by Hamas. For Sharon to act "shocked" when that response came is total hypocrisy.

Sharon is a master of reactionary provocation. In September 2000--a few months before he became premier--he visited Haram al-Sharif, a site in central Jerusalem that is of major importance in Islamic beliefs. He was guarded by a thousand Israeli troops and police. The visit was an arrogant declaration of Israel's intention to keep control of all of Jerusalem, considered by the Palestinian people as the political and cultural center of their nation. The visit was calculated to touch off a massive outpouring of Palestinian protest, which was then used by Israel as an excuse for violent attacks on Palestinian masses and stepped-up repression.

Sharon is a leading figure in Israel's right wing, which has opposed the "peace process" as "capitulation" and called for Israel to exert tighter control over the West Bank and Gaza; some of these forces openly advocate driving out all Palestinians from those territories and annexing the land directly to the state of Israel. Now, after provoking a Hamas response by assassinating one of their top leaders, Sharon is using "war on terror" as justification for the military offensive against Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

It should be noted that when Hamas first began in the 1970s and 1980s, it was boosted by the Israeli rulers themselves as a counter-weight to the secular forces within the Palestinian resistance. This was a period when U.S. imperialism was building up Islamic forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere in opposition to the national liberation movements as well as against Soviet imperialist rivals.

So what we have is a dynamic that is painful for the people and marked with the handprints of the U.S.: A reactionary fundamentalist group--which had received U.S. and Israeli backing through the Saudi government--is provoked into actions that Israel is now seizing on as an excuse for more violent rampages. Arafat--who has collaborated with the U.S. and Israel in an attempt to quiet the Palestinian resistance with false promises of "peace negotiations"--now finds himself the target of Israeli missiles fired with a green light from the U.S. This situation is intolerable for the masses in Palestine--and it cries out for a genuine revolutionary solution.

Sharon and the U.S. imperialists claim that the central problem in Palestine is "violence." By this, they don't mean the massive state violence carried out by Israel--with its huge and modern military supplied and funded by the U.S.--against the Palestinian people. Last month, when five Palestinian boys in Gaza were blown up by land mines planted by the Israeli army, Israeli officials first lied about it--and then said it was an "unfortunate accident." Needless to say, the U.S. does not accuse Israel of "terrorism" for these killings--and hundreds of other Palestinians gunned down and bombed in cold blood by Israeli forces since September 2000. Meanwhile, any opposition and resistance by the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupiers is labeled "terrorism" that must be eliminated.

The truth is: The central, defining point behind the conflict in Palestine is the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Israeli oppressors. This is a deeply just struggle for liberation from the colonial occupiers and recovery of their lost land. The state of Israel was established in 1948, with support of the U.S. and other major powers, on land stolen from the Palestinians. Israel was born in ethnic cleansing--hundreds of Palestinian villages were wiped off the map, and more than 800,000 Palestinians were driven into exile. Israel has continued to grab up more territory through wars of aggression--and is still expanding through the building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Today, Palestinians in towns and refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza face constant threat of bombs coming down from the sky--fired by Israeli tanks, jets, helicopters, gunboats, and artillery. Palestinians have seen Israeli bulldozers crush their homes and uproot their fruit and olive orchards. Palestinian communities are broken up into small fragments surrounded by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Palestinian life is strangled by rings of roadblocks, checkpoints and trenches. A family visit or even a trip to the emergency room is a harrowing and humiliating experience of searches and harassment at the hands of the occupying troops.

In the face of this merciless brutality, the Palestinian people continue to courageously resist. The youth, with rocks and slingshots, daringly confront the Israeli tanks and troops in the streets of Palestine.

The Palestinian resistance has inspired oppressed people around the world and especially throughout the Middle East. And it has fueled widespread hatred of Israel and its U.S. backers, as well as the reactionary pro-U.S. regimes in the region.

The U.S. ruling class sees the domination of the whole Middle East region as critical for their international empire. After the 1991 war against Iraq, the U.S. greatly increased direct military presence in the region. And it has developed close ties with Egypt and other reactionary Arab states. But Israel continues to be a strategic fortress for U.S. imperialist designs in the Middle East.

Through the 1990s, the U.S. tried to extinguish the flame of Palestinian resistance through the "peace process." The Palestinian people were offered the false hope of a "mini-state"--which in fact meant nothing more than living in South African-style "tribal homelands" or American-style Indian reservations.

Now, U.S. imperialism's moves in Palestine are part of its worldwide "war on terrorism." The details of the U.S. plans are still unclear. But as the U.S. green light for Israel's current military offensive shows, these ugly plans will definitely mean more reactionary violence, oppression, and injustice for the people of Palestine.

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