Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 June - 5 July 2006
Issue No. 801
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Ongoing chaos

Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Israeli military activities continue to destroy the lives of Palestinians, reports Erica Silverman from Nablus

"They [Israeli military] enter, they shoot innocent civilians, and cause destruction. I want the whole world to see the destruction," cried Samir Al-Harwri standing amidst piles of charred rubble and smoldering ash, all that remained of his gold shop in the marketplace of Nablus just after an Israeli incursion into the crowded city centre last Wednesday. Samir and his son watched Israeli bulldozers push six burning cars against their family business operated by three generations for 50 years. He estimates it will cost over $50,000 to repair the damage."They are trying to destroy the economy of Nablus," said Mayor Adaly Yaish, as he toured the destruction, estimating damages to the Nablus economy at half a million dollars. Israeli forces invade the city daily, said Yaish, waving between the smoking shells of vehicles. Crowds gathered, trying to assess the damage and extinguish the flames made by the major Israeli operation that received little media coverage.

Early that morning Israeli Special Forces, operating undercover as Palestinians, entered Al-Yasmeen Hotel in the centre of the market, according to hotel manager Salem Hantoli. "They forced the employees to take off their clothing, searched them, and then brought down the guests," reported Hantoli. A shaken American tourist said the unit announced they were conducting a "counter-terrorism" operation.

At midday the Special Forces were discovered near the hotel and a force of 30 jeeps invaded the city to evacuate them. Crowds of young men surrounded the jeeps hurling stones, and set one ablaze with a Molotov cocktail. According to witnesses the Israeli bulldozer piled several civilian cars on top of the burning jeep, and then pushed the cars adjacent to the shops. Within minutes the marketplace was burning. As shopkeepers tried to escape the flames Israeli forces fired sonic booms into the air. Two small children were shot in the legs, and several others injured.

Speaking from Hamas legislative offices just a few blocks from the chaos, Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, a Hamas lawmaker said, "All the aggression inside the green line is a reaction to the attacks against Palestinian civilians," as Israeli gunfire surrounded him. How resistance to the occupation should proceed is a point of contention in the continued negotiations between Fatah and Hamas over the proposed Prisoner's Document.

Earlier that day Special Forces stormed Ein Beit Alma' refugee camp, east of the city, and exchanged gunfire with Palestinian militants for several hours. 21-year-old Dawoud Katouni of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades was killed, and three others wounded in the clashes. Twelve Palestinians were arrested.

Thursday evening blood poured down the street of an upscale Ramallah neighbourhood after another Israeli special forces operation took the life of Ayman Ratib, a 25-year-old lieutenant in the Palestinian intelligence service, affiliated with Al-Aqsa. Greengrocer Ahmed La Frouk, who witnessed the attack, said five members of the unit dressed as Palestinian civilians held him and then shot Ratib to death on the street, after which a military force of 30 jeeps was deployed to evacuate the Special Forces from the city.

"PA security should defend the people and all factions against the Israeli soldiers," said Hader Jabali, a 35-year-old construction worker, who witnessed the attack. "We have the right to resist since Israel does not respect any previous agreements," charged 55-year-old bystander Maher Fawaq.

The Imam encouraged all forms of resistance against the "Israeli occupier" during Friday's speech at the main mosque in Ramallah. "All factions should confront and fight the Israeli soldiers when they storm our cities and kill Palestinians," said the Imam, who also blamed the PA security for not defending Palestinians. Ramallah steamed with anger as mourners marched from the mosque to burry the dead officer.

"The policy of Israel is to escalate the level of violence in the West Bank and Gaza to the point where there is no partner," presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh told Al Ahram Weekly. When asked if there is any contact between the Israeli army and the president's office regarding the incursions and civilian deaths, Abu Rudeineh said, "There aren't any negotiations or real contacts with Israel."

An aid to the president said the number of Israeli military operations inside Ramallah have increased dramatically over the past two months, becoming an almost daily occurrence.

"We want equality between Palestinians and Israelis. If the Israel government does not attack Palestinian civilians in the West bank and Gaza, Palestinians will not attack Israelis in Haifa and Tel Aviv," asserted senior West Bank Hamas leader Farhat Asad.

Israel claims there was no provocation for Hamas's attack against an Israeli military post near the Gaza border on Sunday morning, in which they killed two Israeli soldiers and took one hostage. However, over 20 Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks with the destruction to Palestinian cities immeasurable, giving the Hamas-led government and Palestinian civilians the impression they are under constant attack.

The economic boycott that has plunged average Palestinians into poverty contributes to the hostility. The United States State Department and Israel have taken a strict policy decision that Palestinian Authority salaries will not be paid until Hamas accepts the Quartet's (the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia) principles of eschewing armed struggle, recognising Israel and respecting all previous agreements reached between parties concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However a flurry of media coverage depicting the crumbling healthcare system and human suffering in the Palestinian territories has made paying the healthcare sector, termed as 'allowances' by the European Union commissioner, digestible to the European public. Likewise, the US and Israel have realised that a complete breakdown of the Palestinian healthcare system and infrastructure would cause their policy of economic and political isolation, ostensibly targeting the Hamas-led PA, to backfire.

Last week the EU announced that a "temporary international mechanism" to deliver direct assistance to Palestinians had been approved by the Quartet to mitigate the ensuing humanitarian crisis. The aid mechanism bypasses the PA, channeling funds directly through President Abbas. The EU will offer $126 million for the programme, but if and how the payment of PA employee salaries will be included is still being hashed out by EU and World Bank officials. The first channel covers essential supplies to the health sector through a World Bank programme. The EU may pay healthcare sector salaries the first month, then the World Bank or perhaps the World Health Organisation would take over payments thereafter. The second, already implemented, provides utilities such as fuel. The third, the establishment of a fund to meet the basic needs of the most impoverished Palestinians, is up in the air until a source is agreed upon to determine eligibility. A list of 49,000 families from the Ministry of Social Affairs could be used, but it includes the families of martyrs, potentially unacceptable to Quartet members. An independent assessment by the World Bank could take six months to a year, so officials are searching for another way that satisfies European taxpayers.

The mechanism could also be used by Israel to channel withheld Palestinian tax revenues -- the root of the humanitarian crisis. Negotiations between Israeli and World Bank officials at this juncture are unlikely.

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