The Fire in Palestine

Revolutionary Worker #1144, March 24, 2002, posted at

The conflict in Palestine reached new levels of intensity in early March as Israel's military forces launched their biggest military operation since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hordes of Israeli tanks and thousands of troops rolled into Palestinian towns and refugee camps, as U.S.-made F-16s and helicopters attacked from the air.

Every action of these occupying troops screamed out with injustice.

Among the targets of the Israeli offensive was the Jebaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip-- one of the most crowded places on earth, with 100,000 people, most very poor, squeezed together in an area of little more than a half square mile. The people of Jebaliya came under intense fire from Israeli tanks and combat helicopters. At least 18 Palestinians were killed and 75 wounded in this assault. Carrying a baby in her arms, 38-year-old Laila Ayoub said, "They used helicopters to fire on us while we were leaving."

As Israeli troops rampaged through Jebaliya and other areas of the West Bank and Gaza, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel was showing "restraint" because it was "not using the full strength of its air force against the refugee camps."

In some towns and refugee camps, the Israeli soldiers conducted house-to-house searches-- by smashing through the walls of one house and then through the walls of the next one. This was a vicious but cowardly tactic--this way, the troops would not have to go out into the streets and face possible gunfire from Palestinian militants.

At the Tulkarm refugee camp in the West Bank, the Israelis ordered all men to report to the local school for interrogation. Raed Awwad, a 30-year-old tailor with a physical disability, pointed to the hole that the Israeli troops had made in the cinder-block wall as they busted into his house. "They came Saturday noon and started dragging me into the street. I said I couldn't walk, I was paralyzed in the leg. They said I had to come to the school anyway. I crawled on my hands and knees, but then collapsed."

The 8,000 people who live in the Deheishe refugee camp on the West Bank were invaded in the middle of the night by Israeli troops storming in with tanks and Apache helicopter gunships. Hussein Subh, 40, described what happened: "After midnight the helicopters came, firing everywhere to scare us. Then the tanks arrived from all directions, and then there were soldiers in the center of the camp. They took over some buildings, and at 6 a.m. they broadcast through loudspeakers that all men from 16 to 45 should go to the quarry." The Israeli troops warned, "Surrender peacefully and you will be returning to your homes in good health. If not you may be hurt."

At the quarry, the 600 men from Deheishe were blindfolded and their hands cuffed. Then the Israeli soldiers wrote numbers on the arms and foreheads of the men. The Israeli army said this was a routine method of identification. But no one could miss the fact that it was chillingly reminiscent of how the Nazis in Hitler's Germany had tattooed ID numbers on prisoners in the concentration camps.

Even a member of the Israeli parliament, a survivor of the Nazi camps, was shaken by the scene at Deheishe: "It is totally unbearable for me. This is something that was done to us in Auschwitz."

Officially, the Israeli government said that the new military offensive against Palestinian areas was aimed at rooting out "terrorists." But as the massive military operation began, Sharon openly put forward the cold-blooded logic behind the brutal actions of the Israeli army: "If the Palestinians are not being beaten, there will be no negotiations. The aim is to increase the number of losses on the other side. Only after they've been battered will we be able to conduct talks."

What do these actions reveal about the nature of Israel's settler colonial state? Don't they show the fundamental injustice of Israel's dispossesion of the Palestinian people and the occupation of their land? And don't the actions of the Israeli military point to the basic justice of the Palestinian people's struggle against the cruel and heartless occupiers?

The Resilience of Palestinian Resistance

The latest offensive against Palestinian towns and refugee camps once again highlighted the overwhelming edge in sheer firepower held by Israel. Thanks to the billions of dollars in aid from the United States each year, this bloated army of occupation possesses the most high-tech and deadly weapons available, including nuclear weapons.

But the events of recent weeks have also shown an increase in guerrilla war fighting on the side of the Palestinians. While suicide bombings continue inside Israel, there have been a rising number of armed attacks in the West Bank and Gaza on Israeli troops and settlers--who are basically paramilitary forces, heavily armed and working closely with the Israeli army to enforce the state of occupation.

On February 14, for example, an antitank mine blew up an Israeli Merkava 3 tank in northern Gaza, killing three soldiers who were inside. This was the first time that an Israeli tank had been destroyed in an attack by Palestinian forces. It was a blow to the Israeli military, which had boasted that the Merkava 3 is one of the best-protected tanks ever built. Other Israeli tanks have been attacked since then.

Another armed action that shook the Israeli military was a sniper attack on a military checkpoint in the West Bank that killed seven soldiers and three settlers. These checkpoints are a hated feature of the occupation--where Israeli troops force Palestinians to go through humiliating searches and questioning to go to the hospital or visit family in a nearby town or village. The shots that took down the heavily armed soldiers and settlers apparently came from a single weapon, which was later found. Israeli news reports said the gun was decades old and was held together by nails.

While the overall casualty figures among Palestinians continue to be significantly higher than those on the Israeli side, the gap has clearly narrowed. At the start of the current intifada (uprising) in September 2000, the ratio was about 10 Palestinians killed for every one Israeli. Now, the ratio reportedly is about three to one.

These armed actions are being organized by various groups, including Islamic fundamentalists and those associated with national bourgeois forces, who see the use of arms as a way to push for better negotiating terms from Israel and its U.S. backers. But the guerrilla fighting does show the resilient spirit of resistance of the Palestinian masses in the face of a much better armed enemy. The increasingly brutal tactics of the Israeli military have simply failed to break the will of the Palestinian people or stop their struggle against the Zionist occupiers.

Adham Daoud was one of the Palestinian fighters wounded in a battle with the Israeli forces that invaded Jabaliya on March 12. He described how he and others, armed with rifles, went up against the Israeli tanks: "Four people were hit right next to me. I took a Kalishnikov rifle from one and shot a whole clip at a tank. Four fighters and I took cover behind a wall, but when I jumped into a pit to shoot, I was wounded. The tank was 20 yards away."

Such courage and fighting spirit only make it clearer that an actual revolutionary strategy for taking on--and defeating--the Zionist occupiers would have great potential to mobilize the Palestinian people and gather wide support.

As a statement recently released by the Information Bureau of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement points out: "What the Palestinian revolution lacks is not courage but leaders who believe and understand that the Palestinian masses can be organized into a vanguard force that can actually take on and defeat the imperialist-backed Zionist military juggernaut on the field of battle--and then go about doing just this. The Maoists have always sided with the uncompromising struggle of the Palestinian people to rise up, guns in hand, and defeat the Zionist occupiers, and on the ashes of the settler colonial state erect a red Palestine, a secular democratic state in which all the masses in Palestine have equal rights and together exercise genuine power." (See RW #1141 for the full statement)

The increasing guerrilla actions by Palestinians, along with the rising casualty figures, have also sharpened divisions and contradictions within Israel. As the Israeli military carried out its offensive in the West Bank and Gaza, tens of thousands marched in Tel Aviv to call on Sharon to carry out even harsher military measures against the Palestinians. At the same time, a movement of "refuseniks"-- Israeli military reservists who are publicly refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza--has been gaining ground.

These refuseniks and their supporters do not question the fundamental basis of the Zionist state--but they strongly oppose the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And their statements give an indication of how the logic of the settler colonial state has led to its troops doing inhumane things against an entire people. One resister wrote, "You are asked to do things that shouldn't be asked of you--to shoot people, to stop ambulances, to destroy homes in which you don't know if there are people inside." Another refusenik declared, "What Israel is doing now is a war crime."

The False Promise of Peace--Again

As the clashes intensified in Palestine, the U.S. came out with a "new push for peace" and a "tougher" stand against Israel. Bush's envoy to the Middle East, Gen. Anthony Zinni, was dispatched to direct talks between the Sharon government and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority. Secretary of State Colin Powell was said to have telephoned Sharon to order a withdrawal of Israeli forces from areas that are supposed to be under nominal control of the Palestinian Authority. Bush said that the U.S. had "helped engineer" a United Nations resolution which includes the wording "two states, Israel and Palestine...side by side within secure and recognized borders." And there was talk that U.S. officials were considering a "peace proposal" put forward by the Saudi crown prince.

As Zinni arrived in the region on March 15, Israeli forces reportedly began phased withdrawals from Palestinian areas--including from Ramallah, the major Palestinian political center in the West Bank, where the streets had been filled with tanks for several days. Palestinians in Ramallah and elsewhere pointed out that these withdrawals meant the Israeli tanks and troops had only retreated to nearby hills and bases--from where they could storm back into the towns and refugee camps within minutes.

These developments showed the deadly U.S.-Israeli tag team at work once again. In an often-repeated pattern, Israel goes amok against the Palestinians--and then the U.S. comes in as the "voice of restraint," slapping Israel on the wrist for "excesses" while making clear that the U.S. backs the Zionist state.

This time, Sharon had visited Bush in February. Immediately upon his return, the Israeli military began a major escalation of attacks against Palestinian areas. Israeli tanks and infantry units carried out sweeping operations in the Gaza Strip--the largest in 17 months. The silence from Washington made clear Sharon had a green light from Bush. As the U.S. prepared to send Zinni, Sharon began an even bigger offensive--aiming to "beat" and "batter" the Palestinians before any talks began.

And now, the U.S. calls on Israel to be "restrained." This deeply hypocritical maneuver is obviously connected to Vice President Dick Cheney's tour of the pro-U.S. regimes in the region. Cheney's mission: to drum up support for the U.S. imperialist juggernaut's plans for a new war on Iraq. The U.S. posturing on Palestine is designed in part to ease the way for these reactionary regimes--who have worries about the stability of their own rule--to enlist in the U.S. war plans.

These moves by the U.S. have absolutely nothing to do with the interests of the people of Palestine. The sole motivation of the U.S. rulers are the predatory interests of their global empire--and their ambitions to recast all parts of the world more firmly under their domination.

The U.S. says it is working for "peace" in the Middle East. But the path of imperialist "peace" has clearly been a false promise leading to a dead end for the Palestinian people. And, in any case, who can trust anything these imperialists say? Look at how the U.S. gave the go-ahead to Sharon's stepped-up assaults on Palestinians--and then began issuing "critical" statements about Sharon and making references to a Palestinian state. Isn't it clear these imperialists will say and do whatever serves their interests?

Through all that the imperialist-backed Zionist occupiers have thrown at them, the Palestinian people have continued their bold and just struggle. It's in this resilient and courageous spirit of the people that the real seeds of hope for a future liberated Palestine can be found.

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.)