In a chilling reminder of sights common during the Serbs' war against the Muslims of Bosnia-Hercegovina a decade ago, Israeli troops rounded up all males aged from 15-45 in the Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem on March 11, forcing them to strip to the waist before handcuffing and blindfolding them, standing them for hours in the sun, and then force-marching them into an empty factory for interrogation.
With the eyes and cameras of the world's press watching, the Israelis' implicit threat was not carried out. But after days of the fiercest Israeli attacks on Palestinian towns and refugee camps since the beginning of the intifada, in which more than 200 Palestinians were martyred in less than two weeks, the round-up, coming after the Israelis invaded and occupied the camp that morning, raised tensions to a new level.
The next night a similar invasion of the Jabalya refugee camp in Ghazzah was met by determined Palestinian resistance. While Israeli tanks and helicopters fired missiles and heavy machine-guns into houses, and troops moved into buildings on the edge of the camp, Palestinian policemen and youth resisted. Early indications C as Crescent goes to press C suggest that at least 14 have been martyred, and the number is likely to rise.
The attacks on the Deheishe and Jabalya camps are a continuation of an aggressive Israeli strategy whose avowed intention is to subdue the Palestinian resistance through sheer force and violence. They follow days of similar attacks on other refugee camps and Palestinian towns throughout Palestine, including Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Nour Ash-Shams, Rafah, Balata, Jenin, Aida, Khaza' and Nablus. The invasions, by Israeli troops supported by Minerva tanks and Apache helicopters, are designed to cause maximum damage. Approach roads and entrances are deliberately destroyed in order to prevent access for emergency services.
As usual, many of those killed are non-combatants, including children. It is impossible to list all the Israeli atrocities, but some spring to mind, including the destruction of two civilian vehicles by tanks in al-Bireh, in which a mother and five children were killed. Their deaths brought the number of Palestinian children killed in the intifada to 211 so far. 6,500 children have been recorded as injured.
In another incident, Khalid Suliman, a well-known Jenin doctor, was shot down as he travelled to treat an injured woman. His ambulance was attacked by Israeli troops, despite his having obtained Israeli permission for the journey. Another ambulance that tried to reach him was also fired upon. Suliman bled to death lying untreated in the road. The driver of the ambulance was also martyred. In another incident, a Palestinian ambulance was reportedly seized by Israeli troops and used for a military operation against Palestinian fighters.
The latest Israeli onslaught is partly a response to Palestinian military operations. Palestinian operations have included a sniper attack on a military checkpoint in which 10 soldiers were killed, and a daring operation against a military training camp in southern Ghazzah, in which a lone Hamas mujahid infiltrated the camp and killed 5 officer trainees before being martyred.
It is also an expression of Ariel Sharon's oft-stated determination to crush the Palestinians by force, but it is becoming clear to the West and the more sensible Israelis that that is not possible. American envoy Anthony Zinni is expected back in Israel on March 13 (after Crescent press time) and will attempt to impose some sort of temporary settlement, possibly based on the Saudi peace proposal (see Crescent, March 1, 2002).
The imprisonment of Yasser Arafat was lifted on March 10 after the arrest of the man whom Israel accuse of the murder of Israeli tourist minister Rahba'am Ze'evi. The West clearly knows that he is the only Palestinian they can talk with. They must also know that he cannot deliver so long as the Palestinian people remain determined not to to surrender.