Palestinians across the occupied territories marked the first anniversary of the intifada against Israel on September 28, setting off another round of fierce Israeli blood-letting that cost more than 40 lives in the next two weeks. The period was also marked by two other major significant events, the Israeli army’s re-occupation of al-Khalil (Hebron), ending the fiction that it was under Palestinian rule, and the deaths of three Palestinians – two of them children – at the hands of the Palestinian police on September 8, as they protested in Ghazzah against the US attacks on Afghanistan .
Hamas leader Shaikh Ahmed Yassin set the tone for the anniversary. Addressing thousands of people at the main stadium in Ghazzah, he said: “We have no choice but to continue the struggle. Our enemies want us to accept apartheid and come to terms with permanent military occupation. We will not. Nobody in the world would. The right to resist occupation is guaranteed by both man and God, and we will uphold this right... Our struggle is not against Jews as Jews; it is against oppression, occupation and apartheid.”
Speaking about the West’s ‘war on terrorism’, he said: “When Jewish forces murder Palestinian children in cold blood, and when Palestinian towns and villages are reduced to concentration camps, the world is silent and refuses to condemn the murder and terror. But when the victims are of a different colour, or citizens of a powerful state, then the whole world is mobilised to fight the great menace.” He had earlier condemned the attack on New York and Washington as an unacceptable crime.
On September 26, two days before the anniversary, Yasser Arafat and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres had met at Gaza and grudgingly — at American insistence — agreed a ceasefire. The very next day, however, Israel resumed its attacks on Palestinian towns and villages. The Palestine Times newsmagazine reported that six people were killed on September 27 and seven on September 28. They included a 10-year-old boy, Muhammad Tarayreh, killed in the village of Bani Naim, near al-Khalil, when Israeli troops reportedly opened fire indiscriminately in the western part of the village. Five other boys were also wounded, one of them seriously.
In al-Khalil itself, Israeli troops stationed on rooftops opened fire in the city centre on September 28. Muhammad Shareef, 25, was killed as he left the Ali Bakka masjid after juma prayers. Twenty youths were also injured, including one with serious wounds to the head and neck. In Bethlehem a teenager, Muhammad Sukkar, was killed when Israeli troops opened fire on a peaceful march, and in Ramallah another teenager was shot dead by a sniper for no apparent reason. That evening three people were killed in the Ghazzah village of Rafah when an Israeli tank fired a shell at their car.
Despite the Israeli attacks, taking place out of the gaze of the world’s media because of the concentration on international affairs in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of towns and cities across the West Bank and Ghazzah to express their determination to keep up the intifada until the whole of Palestine is liberated.
Thousands also headed for cemeteries to mourn the martyrs — more than 700 of them despite the Israelis’ switch to maiming rather than killing some months ago. Over 25,000 Palestinians have been wounded during the last year, more than 5,000 of them crippled or maimed for life. This is the result of a concentrated Israeli onslaught using tanks, artillery, aircraft, helicopter-gunships and everything in the Israeli armoury but nuclear weapons.
Nearly one thousand homes have been destroyed, either by Israeli bombing or shelling, or by deliberate demolitions by the Israeli military. Huge areas of agricultural land and fruit orchards have also been razed. According to some estimates, over 300,000 fruit trees have been destroyed.
The whole of the West Bank and Ghazzah are also subject to what the Israelis call closure, in other words total restriction on economic activity and movement. The territories are divided into 220 strips, separated by Israeli-controlled roads, the whole system being policed by 97 Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank and 32 in Ghazzah. These are used not only for ‘security’ but also for the general humiliation and harassment of Palestinians.
Ambulances carrying injured, or sick Palestinians to hospitals are regularly held up. Since the intifada began, 24 Palestinians are recorded as having died as a result of such hold-ups, including two newborn babies whose expecting mothers were delayed while going to hospital, and one such mother. A total of seven babies in the last year have been born at checkpoints as a result of delays.
Meanwhile, the expansion of zionist settlements in the territories is also continuing unabated, despite repeated promises that it will be frozen. Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres formed their coalition on the promise that no new settlements would be built, but since February 2001 a total of 25 new settlements have been established, according to the Peace Now group, and 39 existing settlements significantly extended onto neighbouring Palestinian land. Several thousand dunums of Palestinian land have also been seized for roads and military camps to connect and protect these new settlements. As this issue of Crescent went to press, ceremonies for the opening of four more new settlements were expected on the weekend of October 12-13, all authorised by the Sharon government.
These settlers, meanwhile, are armed to the teeth and have a completely free hand from the Israeli authorities to behave as they like towards Palestinians. Many of the worst atrocities of the last year have been committed by settlers attacking Palestinian towns and villages, operating under the protection of Israeli troops.
One feature of the intifada has been the growing support of the Islamic movements at the expense of Yasser Arafat’s Fateh movement. In the early months of the uprising, Fateh was evidently authorised to play a leading role in order to ensure that leadership did not pass out of the hands of Arafat and his supporters. Politically, however, he has lost support as he has continued to try to balance leading the intifada with maintaining relations with the zionists and keeping alive the possibility of relaunching the ‘peace process’.
This, coupled with the successes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad military operations, has resulted in a rise in support for the Islamic movements. As a result of the Islamic groups’ operations, the intifada has effectively changed from a popular uprising similar to the first intifada, to a guerrilla war similar to that conducted against the Israelis by the Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, which resulted in Israel’s defeat there and final withdrawal. This strategy is also widely recognised and supported by Palestinians, who take the Hizbullah success as a model of how the zionists can be defeated.
What little credibility the PNA had left was blown away when three anti-US demonstrators were killed by Palestinian policemen in Ghazzah on October 8. The other consequences remain to be seen, but it is unlikely that Arafat’s standing can survive this incident. Israel congratulated him for the shooting, but may regret the results.