The assassination of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin as he returned to his home after fajr prayers on March 22, 2004 (Safar 1, 1425) was a shock but not a surprise. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had declared him to be at the top of the list for assassination, and he had survived an attempt on his life in September last year, when Israeli fighter aircraft fired several missiles at the building in which he was staying...
The assassination of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin as he returned to his home after fajr prayers on March 22, 2004 (Safar 1, 1425) was a shock but not a surprise. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had declared him to be at the top of the list for assassination, and he had survived an attempt on his life in September last year, when Israeli fighter aircraft fired several missiles at the building in which he was staying. Despite this, Shaikh Yassin refused to take more than minimal precautions, and predicted several times that he would be martyred at the hands of the Israelis. This time, the missiles were fired from a helicopter. Seven others were martyred with Shaikh Yassin, including one of his three sons and two bodyguards who had been pushing his wheelchair as he emerged from the Mujamma al-Islamia mosque just 200 metres from his home.
Even the Israelis, however, may have been surprised at the sheer depth of emotion that poured out in Ghazzah, the rest of Palestine and across the world for the martyrdom of a paraplegic 67-year-old who was revered more than any other leader in Palestine.
Abdul Aziz Rantisi, who was elected leader of Hamas in Ghazzah following Shaikh Yassin’s death, expressed the feeling of all Palestinians when he said "They kill our leaders, it is a war against Islam. I say to the Muslim nation, they have to wake from their sleep and they have to shake the ground of these zionists and the Americans who stand behind them. Yassin is a man in a nation and a nation in a man. The retaliation of this nation with be of the size of this man."
Hamas also made clear that they regard the US are jointly responsible for the assassination. In a statement, Hamas said that "The zionists did not carry out this operation without the consent of the American government, and it must share responsibility for this crime." Yasser Arafat, the president of Palestine, declared three days of mourning.
Shaikh Yassin’s assassination was personally organised by Sharon. Israeli sources, many of which are shocked by the attack and fearful of the Palestinian response, revealed that he oversaw the operation from his ranch, having given formal authorisation for it the previous week, on the pretext that Yassin was responsible for the martyrdom operation in the port of Ashdod on March 14, in which 10 Israelis were killed as the bombers tried to destroy fuel storage tanks.
It needs to be understood, however, in the context of Sharon’s policy of promoting conflict with the Palestinians in order to justify his genocidal plan for the ethnic cleansing of large parts of the West Bank that their annexation by Israel. Part of this plan calls for Israel’s withdrawal from Ghazzah, which they recognised they cannot hold because of the number of Palestinians in a small area, the relatively small number of settlers there, and – above all – the particularly stubborn resistance from local Palestinians, mainly led by Hamas. Sharon announced in December his intention to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from Ghazzah unilaterally. Since then he has steadily stepped up attacks on Hamas and other targets in Ghazzah in order to try to do as much damage to the Palestinian infrastructure in Ghazzah before Israel’s retreat. The assassination of Shaikh Yassin can be seen as part of this strategy.
Prior to Shaikh Yassin’s martyrdom, Ghazzah had already seen an escalation of Israeli attacks. The previous day, March 21, five Palestinians, four of them civilians, had been killed in a pre-dawn military attack on Abassan, a village near the southern-Ghazzah refugee camp of Khan Younis. On March 17, four people had been killed by helicopter gunships in Ghazzah. On March 16, seven Palestinians had been killed and several houses destroyed, also in Ghazzah. On March 13, two young Palestinians were killed east of Ghazzah.
On March 7, 14 Palestinians, including four children, had been killed when Israeli helicopters and tanks attacked the Nusseirat and El-Bureij refugee camps. At least 72 Palestinians were wounded. This operation was timed to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Purim, when Jews traditionally taunt their enemies.
Although the martyrdom attack on the port of Ashdod was, therefore, clearly not the main reason for the decision to attack Shaikh Yassin, it was nonetheless a severe blow to Sharon and Israel. The attackers were evidently trying to destroy fuel installations at the port, suggesting a new strategy of attacking strategic and economic targets. Even worse, they had crossed into 1948 Palestine from Ghazzah, despite the fact that the border is supposed to be sealed by the sort of electronic security fence that the Israelis are also building to redefine the border with the West Bank. Some sources have suggested that the bombers were assisted by Israeli settlers or soldiers who accepted payment to carry arms and explosives through the security fence for them.
Meanwhile, Sharon is also pressing on with his "security fence", which is in fact the first step of a plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ and annex a large part of the West Bank. The route of the fence – actually a wall – incorporates most of the illegal Jewish settlements into Israel, while leaving the one-and-a-half million Palestinians in a massive ghetto – little more than a concentration camp – made up of just 42 percent of the West Bank.
Even this does not exhaust Sharon’s predatory aims. Anyone who believes that separation under such unjust conditions will bring an end to violence has not heeded the subtext of the government’s own statements and that of its supporters. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the assassination of Shaikh Yassin, explaining that "It is highly possible that we will have to carry out many operations in the Palestinian Authority areas."
In effect, separation would only be an initial annexation of Palestinian territories behind a vast militarised wall. This land will be permanently settled by Zionist fanatics, while a war of attrition continues against the Palestinians who remain trapped. In the end, moreover, nothing will satisfy Sharon but the expulsion of the Palestinians to neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are continuing to suffer under what John Dugard, the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Repporteur recently characterised as a "reign of terror inflicted upon innocent Palestinians [by Israeli attacks] on densely populated towns, the destruction of homes and their random firing in built-up areas–not to mention the methodical harassment, intimidation and humiliation of civilians at checkpoints.