Hebron hærges

Gush Shalom

Promenade Of Death

by Adam Keller

Nov. 18, 2002, Tel-Aviv

Last week an apprehension – now a sad reality. A bit more than a week ago, the Israeli army in Jenin assassinated Eyad Sawalha, a major leader of the Islamic Jihad. As usual, “the successful liquidiation of an arch-terrorist” was celebrated by the Israeli press in banner headlines. As usual, the assassinated leader’s followers vowed “a dire revenge”. There was no need to have great expertise, or access to classified information in order to take that threat seriously. One just needed to remember the history of the past decade, particularly of the past two years, and the devastating effects which assassinations of this kind had again and again. And knowing Ariel Sharon’s penchant for ordering assassinations exactly at times when the backlash would serve his political and miltary purposes, one cannot but wonder at Sharon’s motive for conspicuously striking at the Islamic Jihad – a small, close-knit, ultra-radical organization – at precisely the time when Fatah and Hamas, the two major forces on the Palestinian political scene are holding talks at Cairo under Egyptian and European auspices, with the declared aim of agreeing on terms for a cease fire with Israel.

The above is conjecture, which cannot be proven. But the undoubted fact is that Islamic Jihad did launch its revenge attack last Friday – an ambush of Israeli military forces at Hebron, on the opposite side of the West Bank to where Sawalha was killed. This revenge left twelve Israeli soldiers, officers and settler militiamen dead, and many others wounded. Today’s papers show another fact: whether or not anybody intended that result, after the Hebron attack the mainstream Israeli public opinion is even more sceptical about the Cairo talks, or any other Palestinian move towards a cease fire, than it already was.

And so, the cycle of revenge upon revenge upon revenge moves further on. Once again, after a short and very partial respite, the ancient city of Hebron is under full Israeli occupation.

Once again, curfew keeps its 150,000 Palestinian inhabitants imprisoned in their homes, while religious-nationalist settlers are free to roam the streets and destroy Palestinian cars and property. Prime Minister Sharon and the newly-installed Defense Minster Mofaz instructed the army to exact “heavy retaliations” for the Friday killings. Already, military bulldozers are at work destroying fields and olive grove around the scene of the deadly ambush, and three houses were blown up in the same area – apparently without any inquiry as to whether or not their inhabitants had been in any way implicated in the attack. Elsewhere in the city, six more houses were destroyed – some on the charge that they had been the homes of the now-dead Islamic Jihad fighters who ambushed the soldiers; other houses – because allegedly, other members of the same organization, now dead or in hiding, used to live there.

Is the rendering homeless of at least a hundred persons, many of them children, truly an effective measure against the recurrence of such attacks upon Israel’s occupation forces? And what of the aarmy’s decision to shut down Hebron’s District Coordinating Office, where since Oslo Israeli and Palestinians officers used to meet and try to solve currently recurring problems? The DCO’s Palestinian officers were rudely turned out and their computers and papers confiscated.. They were told never to come back – the group of Palestinian officials who, more than anyone else, tried over the past seven years to make the Oslo framework work, who under often impossible conditions tried to sort out complicated problems by way of dialogue with their Israeli colleagues. Such efforts on the Palestinian side are, obviously, no longer appreciated or wanted by those who now hold power in Israel.

Meanwhile, the media in this country finds it extremely difficult to give a clear definition to what happened on Friday night. The terms “massacre”, “terrorist attack”, “ambush” and “battle” are all heard, sometimes within the same news broadcast or article. By all objective criteria, “massacre” it was not-unless one was to accept the consistent pacifist argument that all wars and all battles are murder and massacre. Still, it is deeply disturbing for the people of Israel – especially after being repeatedly told that the Palestinians are “near collapse” – to come to terms with what happened on Friday: three Palestinian fighters withstood for hours a far superior Israeli force, and before being finally overwhelmed and killed they managed to kill twelve Israeli soldiers and officers, including a colonel.

In part, this bloody outcome resulted from the brave but foolhardy behaviour of the Israeli troops. Repeatedly they charged head-on, in the open, against the fire of hidden opponents – a conduct which the world’s armed forces learned at a terrible price to avoid, at least since the First World War. But it is not entirely surprising that an army which got used to lording over helpless civilians and breaking any resistance by the massive use of tanks, helicopter gunships and hightech electronic gadgets would get a bit rusty on elementary tactics…

Meanwhile, the settlers seem unperturbed by such issues. Their main aim is to use this latest incident – as they used all violent incidents in the past twenty years – as a pretext to further extend their armed enclaves in the heart of Hebron at the expense of the land and homes of their reluctant Palestinian neighbors. Already last night, more than a thousand vengeful settlers held a turbulent rally on the site where three Palestinian homes had been bulldozed and Palestinian olive trees uprooted, declaring their intention to establish a new settlement “neighborhood” on this spot so as to achieve “territorial continuity” between the settlement enclaves inside Hebron and the larger settlement of Kiryat Arba just outside. Prime Minister Sharon, who visited the site today, warmly endorsed the idea, frankly speaking of the Friday attack as “an opportunity which must not be missed” to “create accomplished facts”.

Yitchak Levy of the National Religious Party, Minister of Tourism in a country to which virtually no tourists come in the past two years, already announced that his ministry will finance the construction of a “Kiryat Arba – Hebron Promenade”…

This evening, we joined a Peace Now vigil outside the Defence Ministry, to protest that mad idea, that abuse of bloodshed as a pretext for an act which can only lead to further bloodshed. To call fro withdrawal and the dismantling of settlements at Hebron in particular and in the Occupied territories in general. The idea is to continue with these vigils every day at 6.00 PM, for the rest of this week. Not that anybody can entertain any illusion: Sharon, if re-elected in January – as the opinion polls at present give him a good chance to be – will for sure construct the settlers’ promenade of death and other costly follies.

Gush Shalom

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