Revolutionary Worker #1145, April 7, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
On March 29, the Palestinian people of Ramallah faced the second invasion within a month by occupation forces, as 150 Israeli tanks rumbled into the West Bank town. Crushing cars and anything else in their way, many of the tanks headed to the offices of the Palestinian Authority (PA) located in a walled compound. The Israeli troops forced their way into the compound, smashing gaping holes in the walls as they fired tank shells and machine guns. Soon the Israeli military had control of the compound, and PA head Yasser Arafat was holed up in a second-floor office--the electricity cut off, a cell phone his only means of communication to the outside world.
Since December, Arafat has been held a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, prevented from traveling outside of the town by Israeli troops. But this latest assault signaled a new and very heavy intensification of Israeli military moves against the Palestinian areas. As we go to press, Israel continues to hold Arafat hostage -- and it is unclear how things will develop. What is certain is that the new Israeli offensive in the West Bank and Gaza will mean further death and destruction for the Palestinian people-- more people cut down in the streets by overwhelming Israeli firepower, more houses razed to the ground by Israeli military bulldozers, more fly-by murders by U.S.-supplied jet fighters and helicopter gunships.
The scene in Ramallah--the tank invasion of a town and the siege of the PA headquarters-- pointed to the essence of the two sides of conflict in Palestine: occupier vs. occupied, justice vs. injustice, Zionism and imperialism vs. the oppressed people of Palestine. The Israeli action put a glaring spotlight on the real power relations that exist in Palestine. For years, Arafat has worked with the U.S. and Israel in their "peace process" and is basically recognized as a "head of state" by governments around the world. Yet, in Ramallah, Israel deployed its massive military--bristling with powerful high-tech weapons thanks to U.S. aid--to swoop down on the PA offices in a lightning strike and utterly humiliate Arafat in front of the world. It was a naked power move to deliver a gangster-like message: We are the ones in charge here, we're the ones that occupy this land, and we hold your fate in our hands.
There is another message that Israel's Zionist rulers are delivering: If there are to be any "truces" or "peace agreements," it will be on terms dictated by Israel and the U.S. to the Palestinians. Just a few days before the invasion of Ramallah, Israel had prevented Arafat from attending a summit of the Arab League in Beirut, Lebanon. Sharon treated Arafat like a schoolboy, saying that Arafat had not "done enough" to shut down armed Palestinian groups, and refused to guarantee that Arafat would be allowed to return if he traveled to the summit. The U.S. also scolded Arafat for "not doing enough" to shut down the resistance and denied him a chance for a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney. At the same time, Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, General Zinni, demanded that the Palestinians agree to a ceasefire which did not even mention the Palestinian state.
The Arab League summit endorsed a proposal from the Saudi crown prince which offered official recognition of the state of Israel by Arab League members--in return for Israel's withdrawal from areas seized in the 1967 war, establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as the capital; and a solution to the situation of Palestinian refugees. Israeli officials called the proposal a "non-starter." And by the weekend, they were backing up that stand with tanks aimed right at Arafat.
The immediate justification used by Israeli officials for this invasion was that they were responding to a series of recent Palestinian suicide bombings, especially one in the Mediterranean coast city of Netanya that killed more than 20 people attending a Passover celebration. But according to reports in the media, Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and his generals had been discussing possible "broad military action" against the PA a week before the recent suicide bombings.
The Sharon government declared that the invasion of Ramallah and Arafat's headquarters was only the start of major military operations in the West Bank and Gaza that will go on "without a time limit." In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces divided this small area--which is already like a huge prison packed with poor people--into three smaller zones. And hundreds of Palestinians were reportedly being rounded up for "questioning" by Israeli troops. Earlier in March, Israeli forces had attacked Palestinian refugee camps and towns throughout the West Bank and Gaza in the biggest Israeli military operation since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Now, Israel has launched an even more massive and brutal assault on the Palestinian people.
As the Israeli troops seized control of the PA compound in Ramallah, Colin Powell emerged from a National Security Council meeting to speak to the press. The news footage from Ramallah showed dozens of Israeli tanks surrounding the compound and heavily armed troops swarming over the area, leaving Arafat trapped and helpless. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Powell blamed Arafat for bringing on this current "crisis" by not doing enough to stop "terrorism." Powell said he "understood" the Israeli response and praised Sharon for showing "flexibility" in negotiations in recent weeks. But at the same time, Powell declared that Arafat continues to be "central" to the "process" of working out an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
The juxtaposition of Powell's words and the images coming out of Ramallah was almost surreal. What twist of logic is involved in Powell's insisting that Arafat must "do more" while the U.S. supports Israel's moves to seriously weaken, if not shatter, the Palestinian Authority? But what Powell said also reveals some realities about the situation in Palestine and the role and maneuvers of the U.S. imperialists.
Powell's defense of Israeli actions as an "understandable" response to Palestinian "terrorism" is typical of how U.S. officials--and the U.S. mainstream media--treat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. may at times criticize Israel for "overreacting" or shed crocodile tears about Palestinian civilians "caught in the crossfire." But the U.S. almost always describes Israeli actions as justified "retaliation" for Palestinian actions.
A chart that recently appeared in the Chicago Tribune tracked the Palestinian and Israeli casualties in the current conflict. The chart begins with the intifada (Palestinian uprising) in September 2000, as if all the blood that has been spilled since then can be traced back--and blamed--on the Palestinian side. Again, this is typical of how the U.S. government and media discuss the events in Palestine.
But in reality, the Palestinian protests that began in September 2000 were in response to a move by Ariel Sharon, who employed his highly honed skill at reactionary provocation by visiting Haram al-Sharif, a religious site in central Jerusalem that is of major importance in Islam. At the time, he was not a government official--he would become premier several months later. But he was accompanied by a huge security escort of a thousand Israeli soldiers and police. Sharon made a deliberate, calculated move that was certain to touch off widespread outrage among the masses of Palestinian people--who were already deeply angry at the continued oppression and poverty they suffered as the U.S.-backed "peace process" dragged on. And when the Palestinian people did rise up in righteous resistance, the Israeli military used this as justification to gun down people and put the West Bank and Gaza under lockdown. The political fallout in Israel from these developments brought Sharon to power.
This pattern of Israeli provocation and brutality has been repeated many times since September 2000. The Israeli government has an open policy of assassinating leaders of Palestinian organizations, and the Israeli military has "eliminated" a number of Palestinian officials-- sometimes gunning them down on city streets and killing bystanders in the process. Sharon and other Israeli officials know full well that such killings provoke retaliatory actions. But their hypocritical and cold-blooded method is clear: when such retaliations do come, the Israeli officials act "shocked" and then order their military to carry out more deadly assaults on Palestinians.
The Zionist rulers and their U.S. backers often point to the reactionary nature of Islamic fundamentalist groups like Hamas as another justification for Israeli military actions. But the truth is that Israel had a hand in the growth of Hamas in the 1980s, when the Zionists wanted to counter the secular leadership of the Palestinian resistance. Israel was following in the footsteps of the U.S., which during the same period built up Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere in opposition to national liberation movements and against Soviet imperialist rivals.
Now Israel and its U.S. backers are moving against these same fundamentalist forces. They demand that Arafat use his PA police to shut down these forces. And when Arafat is unable to do so, Israel uses this as another excuse to strike out viciously against the Palestinian people.
Israel especially points to suicide bombings as acts that justify labeling the Palestinian resistance as "terrorism" that needs to be crushed. And the U.S. accuses Arafat of "not doing enough" to stop such bombings. But why is it that hundreds of Palestinian youth are willing to give up their lives in such actions? The British paper Guardian quoted an al-Aksa Martyr Brigades leader who said that 200 young women in Bethlehem alone have joined units of female suicide bombers. These youths have heard their parents and grandparents talk about how the Zionists violently dispossessed them of their land and forced them to become refugees. They have seen the occupying troops gun down rock-throwing kids, tear down people's homes, uproot precious fruit orchards, and carry out countless other crimes. The realities of life under occupation have kindled in these youth a desperate determination to fight against the occupiers. The Islamic fundamentalist groups and secular militias associated with national bourgeois forces have their own political agendas in organizing suicide squads. But in the absence of an actual revolutionary strategy for taking on and defeating the occupiers, many youth have taken up this way of hitting back against the enemy.
The Zionists and their U.S. backers ask, Why doesn't Arafat do more to stop this flow of suicide bombers? But what about the deadly flow of jet fighters, helicopters, and billions of dollars in military aid from the U.S., without which Israel would not be able to maintain their brutal occupation of Palestine for a day? It is this unjust occupation that is the real fuel for the fury among the youth of Palestine.
Echoing the "war on terrorism" talk of the U.S. imperialists, Sharon declared that Israel's new military offensive is aimed at destroying "structures of terror" in Palestine. Powell basically endorsed this justification; the New York Times noted that with his statement on Israel's move on Ramallah, "Powell made clear that combating terrorism remains the centerpiece of the Bush administration foreign policy."
Given this basic U.S. support for the Israeli actions, why did Powell say that Arafat still plays a "central" role in the "political process" in Palestine?
The U.S. imperialists are making a cold calculation that their interests are best served by working out some kind of a "peace settlement" between Israel and the Palestinian national bourgeoisie--or at least dangling the possibility of such a settlement. They hope that the idea of a possible agreement will douse the fire of Palestinian resistance as well as anti-U.S. sentiments that could threaten pro-U.S. regimes in the region. But the events in Ramallah have made the nature of this "peace process"--and Arafat's assigned role in it--very clear: he will either accept the terms of the United States or be crushed.
The Bush administration has recently started talking about a "vision" of a Palestinian state at some point. And they signaled interest in the Saudi "land-for-peace" proposal--in particular the part about formal Arab recognition of Israel. But the U.S. officials are not talking about a genuinely independent state that is free from imperialist and Zionist domination. What they envision--at most--is a mini-state in the shadows of the Zionist state, at the mercy of outside forces economically and militarily.
In short, the U.S. "vision" is of an entire people locked into a giant ghetto (or several ghettos) in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, who will not present a threat to U.S. interests in the region. Clearly, this "vision" has absolutely nothing to do with justice and liberation for the oppressed Palestinian people.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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