Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 Assessment of the situation
 Adam Keller, Israel
 May 24, 2002
—Reoccupation worse than pre-'93 military government—

Today, the Israeli army invaded, occupied and placed under curfew the Palestinian town of Tul Karm and its adjacent refugee camp. In a Palestinian ambush an Israeli soldier was killed and two wounded; while eight Palestinians, including a four-year old girl, were consequently wounded by a shell shot at their house from an Israeli tank. The renewed occupation of Tel-Karm is no longer big news, as it would have been a few months ago. In fact, the media takes it mostly as a piece of weary routine, given that Israeli forces have been going regularly in and out of Tul Karm and other Palestinian towns, and that even the town's own inhabitants have probably lost count of the number of consecutive times their town has been reoccupied. In fact, since the beginning of April, all West Bank Palestinians have been living under an effectively restored direct military occupation, manifested in the [propensity for] Israeli Army and security services to sweep in, at any time and at any place, and arrest whoever they want. It doesn't make too much difference whether the military is actually present in a particular town or village or that it is spread just outside, imposing a tight closure and siege and subjecting passage to the next town to selectively granted permits.

The Palestinian semi-sovereignty over several enclaves across the West Bank, which had been the heart of the Oslo process and which was supposed to widen and extend into complete statehood, has been effectively abolished with the tacit consent of the international community. In its place, a regime has been installed in many ways worse than the pre-1993 military government, which at least did not deny the Palestinians freedom of movement within the West Bank and which regarded itself as responsible for the maintenance of the Palestinian inhabitants' daily life. Its present-day successor shrugs off all such responsibility, throwing it upon a crippled Palestinian Authority which is systematically deprived of the ability to act— apart from being under a constant shrill demand to "reform" itself.

—Assassination as a pure act of provocation—

In theory, the Israeli army's self-granted powers of moving at will into Palestinian territory and arresting whoever it wants should have put an end to the practice of assassinating Palestinian leaders by missiles shot from a distance. In the past, the government justified this practice by the assertion that it had no other recourse but assassination for "terrorists hiding out in Palestinian-controlled territory where we can't reach and arrest them". Nowadays, that argument is no longer valid; nevertheless, two days ago—on Wednesday, May 22—Israeli forces in the Nablus area chose to kill by missile fire three senior members of Arafat's own Tanzim organization, who could have been captured alive easily enough. The only possible motive for that assassination was to provoke the kind of retribution Palestinian organizations habitually take when their senior members are assassinated. In fact, the expected retribution came within a few hours of the provocation: a sixteen-year old Palestinian (the youngest suicide bomber to date) blew himself up at the town of Rishon LeTzion, taking with him an Israeli boy of his own age as well as a 65-year old pensioner. The swiftness with which this attack followed upon the provocation incidentally proved once again that the tight siege of Palestinian towns—while severely disrupting the daily life of the general population—does not seriously hamper the movement of determined individuals and small bands.

—From the mouth of a military commentator—

Aside from being morally reprehensible, suicide bombings targeting random Israelis are severely damaging to the Palestinian cause itself. This is realised—and more and more often stated explicitly and outrightly—by an increasingly large part of the Palestinian leadership. Yet in the absence of any hope for an end to the occupation, young Palestinian militants are again and again tempted to react in the depth of the Israeli cities to what happens in their own cities. Even when their raids may play into Sharon's hands. Alex Fishman, whose articles in Yediot Aharonot reflect the views of dissident elements within the army's high command, formulated it as follows:

"(...) We are again entering into a bloody game of ping-pong: Israel uses the best of its accumulated intelligence to strike into the Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank; the Palestinians—to the best of their ability— blow themselves up at Israeli population centers; a situation which Israel could not indefinitely tolerate. In fact, we are paying the price for the fact that "Operation Defensive Shield" was followed by no political process of the kind which could have diminished the motivation of Palestinian Terrorism to send out these "Human Bombs". No inducement was offered to make the Palestinian Authority reduce, even in a minor way, the volume of terrorism. The only sphere in which Israel is nowadays active is that of military initiatives, which do hurt the terrorist organizations' ability but which in the absence of a political process is an invitation for continuation of the bloody ping-pong" (Yediot Aharonot, May 23).

—Major disaster barely avoided—

A few hours after the above words were published in Israel's main mass-circulation paper, a major escalation was barely avoided. A bomb exploded within the major Israeli fuel depot at Pi Glilot, which is located in a thickly-inhabited area among Tel-Aviv's northern suburbs. Fortunately, the tanker where it was placed happened to carry fuel of a kind which is not quickly ignited; in only slightly different circumstances, graphically emphasized in today's Israeli papers, nearby tanks of fuel and cooking gas could have caught fire, resulting in an inferno of fire and incalculable damage and loss of life. So far, nobody was apprehended in connection with this bomb, and no organization claimed responsibility for the attempt; but in the media its being the work of Palestinians of some faction is taken for granted; doubtlessly, had some of the doom scenarios appearing in today's papers materialized, Sharon would have accused the Palestinians and resorted to proportionally terrible acts of retribution upon the Palestinians. As it is, there is still some respite before some other major act of suicide bombing provides Sharon with the pretext he needs to launch the invasion of the Gaza Strip, which was already in advanced stages of preparation two weeks ago, and which the army at the time said was delayed rather than cancelled. Given the number of militants in the crowded refugee camps of Gaza and the amounts of explosives in their possession, an invasion there will be reminiscent of what happened in Jenin but much larger in scope...

—How terrible does it have to become?—

Meanwhile, next week CIA Chief George Tenet is expected in the region for the second time, after several weeks in which the Bush Administration lost interest in the region as soon as it went off the media spotlight. Tenet's brief—to offer some "suggestions" for "reform" to the Palestinians and set up "security cooperation" between the Israeli and Palestinian security services, seems too meagre to stop the ongoing escalation. All the more so considering the statements by General Moshe Ya'alon, Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli armed forces who is due to take over command in July, who arrogantly declared last week "We no longer need any security cooperation with the Palestinians, we take care of all security matters by ourselves". What is needed is an international intervention of a much wider scope and breadth, including the stationing of an intervention force as envisaged some months ago by UN Secretary-General Annan AND a real pressure for an end to the occupation—a step which Sharon, for all his recent pretences to "moderation" has no intention of taking. The international community may eventually take such steps, when the present countdown has run its course and terrible images from this region once again flood the screens of every TV set on earth.

Adam Keller is an Israeli peace activist and member of Gush Shalom.

From a Gush Shalom email report, May 24, 2002.