Defiant Gaza

Facing Israeli Tanks in Occupied Palestine

Revolutionary Worker #1140, January 24, 2002, posted at

The second week of February saw new outrages by the Israeli occupation army as they carried out major military moves against Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. News reports described the offensive as the most sweeping Israeli operation in the Gaza in 17 months.

In September 2000, right-wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon (who became prime minister several months later), accompanied by a thousand armed soldiers and police, strode into the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, a site of key symbolic importance in the Muslim religion. This arrogant and deliberately provocative action was aimed at humiliating the Palestinian people and declaring total Israeli control over Jerusalem, a city that the Palestinians view as the historic capital of their nation. The Palestinian masses responded with the intifada-uprising-against the occupiers. And Israel has carried out a relentless and bloody campaign in an attempt to crush that resistance.

On Tuesday night, February 12, Israeli tanks, armored vehicles, and infantry units moved into three Palestinian towns and a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In the town of Beit Hanun, the Israeli forces ordered the people to stay in their homes under a curfew, as tanks moved threateningly through the muddy, unpaved streets and troops took up positions.

Israeli tanks and troops moved into more Gaza refugee camps and villages several days later. In the small village of Juhu al-Dik in southern Gaza, army bulldozers were deployed to carry out what Israeli military officials call "engineering operations"-the heartless destruction of people's homes and farmland. Israeli bulldozers have razed hundreds of homes since September 2000, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless, and have destroyed hundreds of acres of olive and fruit trees vital to people's livelihood.

During the week Israel also carried out several air strikes, using U.S.-supplied F-16 warplanes and Apache combat helicopters. The bombings and rocket attacks from the air caused widespread destruction to residential areas and government offices-including the offices of the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East. UN officials expressed outrage at Israel's use of heavy bombs near civilian areas.

At least seven Palestinians throughout the Gaza were killed by Israeli troops during this most recent offensive, and dozens of people were injured in the air strikes. More than 900 Palestinians have been killed and many thousands seriously wounded by Israeli forces in the past 17 months.

In the face of the overwhelming Israeli military force, the Palestinian people of Gaza continued to stand defiant. Calls went out in the towns and refugee camps to resist the occupying army. Youths in Beit Hanun defied the curfew, running through the streets and throwing stones at the tanks and armored troop carriers.

Israel declared that these massive military moves in Gaza were in response to the firing of several Qassam 2 rockets into Israel by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. The crude rockets, which caused no Israeli casualties or destruction of property, hardly compare with the powerful state-of-the-art missiles used by the Israeli military, including in the assassinations of Palestinian officials. But the Israeli defense minister said the Qassam 2 rockets "crosses our red lines" and warned that the firing of the rockets would be met with a "different and sustained military reply" by Israel.

Then on February 14, an antitank mine blew up an Israeli Merkava 3 tank in northern Gaza, killing three soldiers who were inside. According to news reports, a statement sent to news agencies said that the attack on the tank was a joint operation by units of Hamas and Fatah movement, in response to the Israeli attacks in Gaza.

This was the first time that an Israeli tank had been destroyed in an attack by Palestinian forces. The Israeli military boasts that the Merkava 3 is one of the best-protected tanks ever built. The New York Times noted, "A clear threat of antitank weapons could force the Israeli military to rethink its tactics. Until now, Israeli soldiers seemed invulnerable as they moved through Palestinian-controlled territory inside armored vehicles." An Israeli military spokesman said, "This is really warfare." Under the twisted logic of the occupiers, the devastating death and destruction that Israeli tanks, warplanes and helicopters rain down on Palestinians is not warfare. But when simple rockets or antitank mines reveal some vulnerabilities in their armor, these vicious but cowardly bullies cry that they are threatened by an intolerable "escalation"-and they warn of further large-scale military actions against the Palestinian people.

Influential voices within the Israeli ruling establishment are openly discussing the possibility of taking even more extreme measures against Palestinians: a permanent and direct reoccupation of areas in the West Bank and Gaza now under nominal Palestinian Authority control, walling off Jerusalem to keep all Palestinians out, or even driving all Palestinians out from the West Bank and Gaza and officially annexing these territories to Israel. Israeli premier Sharon has openly threatened to "liquidate" Yasser Arafat, the internationally recognized head of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat, meanwhile, remains under virtual house arrest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks and troops.

The U.S., Israel's main imperialist backer, says in official statements that it continues to recognize Arafat and his Palestinian Authority and that "peace negotiations" are still the goal. But the U.S. government is sending out threatening messages that Arafat's position, if not his life, is on the line unless he "does better" and cracks down more effectively on Islamic fundamentalists and on all resistance among the Palestinian masses. As the U.S. imperialists declare that they are "on a roll" and strike out around the world in an attempt to extend their global domination, Sharon portrays Israel's military actions against the Palestinians as part of the worldwide "war on terrorism." Soon after Bush made his state of the union speech, naming North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as an "axis of evil," the Israeli government began making loud allegations about supposed Iranian plans to attack Israel.

Under the U.S.-led "peace process" that started after the 1991 Gulf War, Arafat was Israel's "negotiating partner." The U.S. imperialists hoped that the promise of an eventual Palestinian mini-state would quiet the resistance of the Palestinian people. And they hoped that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, as representatives of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, would be able to do the dirty work of suppressing the masses, with less direct involvement of the Israeli occupation troops.

But by the late 1990s, there was broad recognition among the Palestinian people that the "peace process" was a trap that kept them in chains under Israeli occupation. Small, discontinuous pieces of territory were given to the Palestinian Authority-while Israel continued to firmly hold real power over the lives of the people. Israeli settlements continued to grow-stealing more land from the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip-an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C.-about 6,000 Israeli settlers, guarded by 20,000 Israeli troops, control 40 percent of the land, while more than a million Palestinians li ve in dire poverty.

The uprising that began in September 2000 is an expression of the Palestinian people's anger at the occupiers and disillusionment at the U.S. "peace process." While the U.S. and Israel continue to ratchet up pressure on Arafat, he and the Palestinian Authority are increasingly losing credibility among the masses and unable to rein in the people's resistance. At the same time, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Islamic fundamentalist forces and their reactionary programs do not offer a real way forward for the oppressed people of Palestine.

The situation in Palestine is at a crucial flashpoint. The U.S. and Israel are on a course that could touch off even greater upheaval and instability in Palestine and the whole region. The U.S. imperialists and Israel's settler-colonial rulers have made it clear they will carry out further escalation of deadly attacks in an attempt to suffocate Palestinian resistance.

But the people of Palestine have also made their stand clear: They will not give up their dreams and struggle for a liberated Palestine, no matter what their enemies throw at them.

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