Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 March 2004
Issue No. 681
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Celebrating murder

Spilling "enemy blood", as much as the world will allow, seemed to have the prime objective of the Israeli occupation forces this week, Khaled Amayreh reports


Click to view caption
Palestinian Mariam Mustafa Daoud is dragged away from a construction site where work on the separation wall is being carried out (above) while a Palestinian man is savagely beaten by Israeli soldiers for protesting at the same site (photos: AP)

Israel this week celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday in which Jews are supposed to wear unusual costumes, get lightly drunk and ridicule their enemies. The feast is supposed to commemorate the ancient Biblical story of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who, according to the Old Testament, saved the Jewish people from destruction and convinced the King of Persia to exterminate the enemies of the Jews, including the diabolical figure Haman. This year, the Israeli army saw to it that the Purim rituals were reenacted more authentically and that as much "enemy blood" as international public opinion would allow was shed.

On 7 March, thousands of Israeli soldiers, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles and supported by several Apache helicopters, swept into the crowded Gaza refugee camps of Nuseirat and Bureij. The rampaging forces ganged up on the unprotected camps and the lightly armed activists who tried rather desperately to put up a semblance of resistance against the heavily armed attackers. The ensuing bloodbath, which lasted for seven hours, left at least 15 Palestinians dead, including four children, and up to 80 others -- mostly innocent civilians -- maimed and injured. There were no Israeli casualties.

It is not clear why the carnage was carried out on the very day Jews were celebrating Purim. Palestinians say it was not a coincidence, and many Israelis, including right-wingers who say what they mean and mean what they say, seem to concur. Israeli military officials, including Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, were quoted as saying that "our activities" in Gaza were just "a continuation of our policy". Commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip Gadi Shamni put it more succinctly: "We have no problem to continue fighting for as long as it takes."

Some Israeli commentators, like Ha'aretz correspondent Amos Harel, suggested that the real goal was to kill as many Palestinians as possible at one time. He quoted a field officer who had commanded similar raids as saying that the aim of the operation against the two refugee camps was to "deceive and kill" Palestinians. "The aim is to deceive the enemy in order to get him to react in an area where he is surrounded by our forces and is in an inferior position."

Almost all Israeli commentators implied that the Gaza raid was meant, first and foremost, to shed as much Palestinian blood as possible on the Purim holiday. The killing of mostly innocent Palestinians has become a routine and daily affair, to such an extent that it no longer catches the big headlines in the Israeli press.

For example, the cold-blooded murders by Israeli soldiers on Monday of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy named Khalid Madi, who was working in his family farm in Gaza, and of a 36-year-old Salfit grocer bearing the same name received mere mention in the Israeli media. For its part, the Israeli army claimed it was not even sure that the killings had actually taken place. An army source was quoted as confirming that soldiers fired "warning shots ... in the area", but that he was not sure whether anybody had been "hurt".

The callous wording brings to mind the way Israeli army spokesmen used to report the maiming and killing of Palestinian boys during the first Intifada (1987- 92). Army spokesmen, whose statements were unscrupulously parroted by the Israeli media, claimed "our troops shot into the air", adding that a number of Palestinian protesters were killed and injured.

The Purim connection to the latest events in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was significant this week in more than one sense. The Israeli army on 6 March raided Ramallah, clamping a tight siege on Yasser Arafat's bombed-out headquarters. Israel gave no explanation for the unprovoked and unexpected encirclement that lasted for more than 36 hours, except that it was "routine", prompting observers to interpret it as "another Purim gimmick". Similarly drunken settlers in Hebron and Jerusalem ganged up on defenseless Palestinians, beating them savagely while Israeli soldiers and border policemen simply looked on, apparently refusing to disturb the settlers' ecstasy.

Both Palestinian Authority (PA) officials and resistance groups strongly condemned the bloodbath in Gaza and the "slow-motion genocide" that is being inflicted on the Palestinians.

Describing the bloody incursion in Gaza as "a terrorist massacre", PA Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina urged the international community to "protect our people from these daily massacres". Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also voiced his exasperation and deep revulsion at the bloodbath. "How could they [Israel] blame the Palestinians for what they do when they continue to slaughter them like this?" Moussa told reporters in Cairo on 8 March. Hamas, for its part, vowed to avenge the slaughter. "This massacre will not pass without punishment," said Ismael Haniyeh, a senior leader of the militant group. "This massacre will only make our people stronger and more determined to continue the resistance."

Another spate of suicide bombings by Palestinian militant groups is precisely what the Sharon government and the manifestly hawkish military establishment seem to be hoping for, if not inviting outright. This week, Israeli press reported widely on the army's desire to kill as many Palestinians as possible, both in Gaza and the West Bank, before carrying out the purported Israeli plan to evacuate some Gaza settlements.

The rationale behind the planned killings which could take the form of "small genocides here and there" is to make sure that Israel will not repeat the "debacle" of the Spring 2000 Israeli retreat from southern Lebanon, which was widely viewed in the Arab world as a military victory for Hizbullah.

In other words, in order to reinforce its image of invincibility the Israeli army wants to make sure that Palestinians, particularly Gazans, have no time to celebrate the planned Israeli withdrawal by keeping them in a continuous state of mourning.

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