The Israeli war against the Palestinian people reached new heights on May 18, when Israel used F-16 fighter aircraft supplied by the US to attack targets in Nablus and Ramallah. A total of 10 people were killed in the two attacks. Later in the day, F-16s also attacked Tulkarem in the West Bank, and parts of Ghazzah. The next day, Israeli air attacks on Palestinians continued with helicopter gunships, which have been used regularly since the beginning of the intifada and have been responsible for some of the zionists’ worst atrocities.
The use of aircraft was criticised by UN secretary general Kofi Annan, EU officials and other Western observers as “disproportionate”, the strongest criticism that Israel has yet faced from western officials.
Palestinian sources dismissed these criticisms, saying that being killed by aircraft was no different from being killed by helicopters, tanks, artillery shells, surface-to-surface missiles and assassination squads, all of which the Israelis have used against Palestinians in recent months without being censured by the West.
The air attacks were merely the first of a new wave of Israeli military operations against Palestinians in which at least 17 Palestinians were killed. They are continuing as we go to press, despite the announcement of a ‘ceasefire’ by the Israeli premier Ariel Sharon on May 22. Over 520 Palestinians have now been martyred since the uprising began. 81 Israelis, mostly soldiers and settlers, have died in the same period.
The Israeli air attacks followed a Hamas martyrdom mission against an Israeli target in the coastal town of Netanya, in which four Israelis were killed. A Hamas spokesman in Ramallah was quoted by the Islamic Association of Palestine as saying that “This operation is meant to tell the zionists that their genocidal oppression against us is a two-way street, and the Palestinians cannot accept a situation where only Palestinian mothers grieve and only Palestinian funerals take place.”
Hamas leader Shaikh Ahmed Yassin dismissed descriptions of the bombing as ‘terrorism’. “The Zionists are killing our children, destroying our homes, uprooting our trees, confiscating our land and laying siege to our towns and villages and refugee camps, simply because we want to be free from their grip... this is the real terrorism, their terror is the cause, our resistance is the effect,” he was quoted as saying.
The martyr-bomber was identified as Mahmouf Ahmed Marmash, a member of the Hamas military wing, the Izzedin Al-Kassem Brigades.
The Israeli declaration of a ceasefire was a ploy designed to seize the political initiative following the publication on May 21 of the report of the Mitchell Commission into the al-Aqsa intifada and the subsequent Israeli war on the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Ghazzah. Even as the ceasefire was announced, however, and widely welcomed as a chance for peace in the West, Israeli troops and tanks were attacking the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Rafah and Khan Younis south of Ghazzah, as well as other villages. 35 Palestinians were reported injured in the attacks, 10 of them seriously.
The Mitchell Report, whose main point have been known for some time, had originally been commissioned as part of the West’s attempt to subvert the intifada and restart the ‘peace process’. By the time of its publication, it was already clear to all parties that it was too late for that. Nonetheless, its findings make interesting reading.
Throughout, it seeks to minimise the Israelis’ culpability and create the impression of an equal conflict. The report finds that Ariel Sharon’s invasion of the Haram al-Sharif on September 28 was not the cause of the uprising, instead blaming it on “the subsequent failure of either party to exercise restraint”. This sharing of the responsibility is a ludicrous finding, not least in view of the fact that nearly 100 Palestinian protestors had been killed by Israeli troops before the first Israeli died.
The report also proposes a three-step process towards peace: an end to violence, followed by confidence-building measures, and then a resumption of negotiations. It also calls for an immediate freeze on settlement building by the Israelis, a recognition that this is a major grievance of the Palestinians.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority initially accepted the plan. However, the Israelis soon said that any reduction in settlement building would be dependent on a cessation of violence by the Palestinians. This was quickly followed by the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, which was swiftly shown to be a sham, although it was widely taken at face value by Western observers and media.
However, the Israelis are clearly rattled by the refusal of the Palestinians to bow before their massive firepower, and Sharon, having expressed his anger, has proven ill-equipped to lead the Israelis to a restoration of the ‘peace process’. This is recognised as the best way forward for the zionists, as it would secure recognition of the zionist state and legitimise their existence, but the Israelis are unable to accept even the small price, mainly in political maturity, that they would have to pay for it. Every time there is any sort of political proposal, the Israelis destroy it by continuing their operations, confirming Palestinian views that they are impossible to deal with.
The Israeli confusion has been reflected in contradictory comments on the way forward by different government officials. While foreign minister Shimon Peres — a Noble peace prize winner — was justifying the use of the F-16 aircraft, other government officials were criticising the step, saying that it was deliberately provocative and would take Israel no closer to the solution to the problem.
There was a similar difference of opinion on the question of settlements. While Sharon and Peres were taking a hard line, war minister Benyamin Benalizer said that Israel should freeze all settlement activity for four months in the hope of persuading the Palestinians to end the intifada and return to the negotiating table. What he did not say, of course, was that the Israelis have supposedly ended settlement activities several times already in the course of the ‘peace process’, and yet the number of settlers has more than doubled during that period.
That is just one reason for the Palestinians to be wary of any Israeli promises and American attempts to lure them back to the ‘peace process’. Their concern regarding the future of the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem also remains unabated.
Ysrael Meir Lau, Israel’s chief rabbi, said in a radio interview on May 20 that the Chief Rabbinate is preparing plans for the seizure and demolition of “Islamic shrines and monuments” in Jerusalem for the purpose of erecting synagogues in their place. He did not explicitly admit that it was intended to seize the Haram al-Sharif, but said that the destruction of the two key masajid at the Haram, the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid al-Aqsa, may be necessary for the building of the synagogue.