Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Sharon's calling card

By Graham Usher

Ariel Sharon this week added another ledger of Palestinian victims to an account that now stretches back some 48 years when, as an Israeli army commando, he attacked 45 homes in the West Bank village of Qibya, killing dozens of men, women and children. Today -- as a direct result of his decision to "demonstrate Jewish sovereignty" on Jerusalem's Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) on 28 September -- a further 59 Palestinians are dead and 1,300 wounded in the worst violence to have rocked the occupied territories in four years and arguably since June 1967.

The toll is still climbing, even if it has yet to scale the heights of the 2,500 Palestinians murdered by the Phalangists under Sharon's -- then Israel's defence minister and architect of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- watchful eye. Yet the political consequence of the "intifada of Al-Aqsa" may turn out to be as profound as Sabra and Shatila.

It was the PLO's banishment from Beirut that forced the Palestinian struggle to return home to its national soil in the occupied territories. And the upshot of Sharon's latest "message of peace" has transformed that struggle from a negotiating process to an armed uprising, encompassing not just the West Bank and Gaza but the entire Palestinian nation in what was Mandate Palestine, but is now Israel and the occupied territories.

It matters little that it was not Sharon's actual visit that released the tempest. That was met by minor scuffles on the Haram Al-Sharif itself and a few stones on East Jerusalem's main Salaheddin Street. It was rather the lethal response of the Israeli Border Police. Following Friday prayers, an angry Palestinian crowd -- still stirred up by the Sharon visit -- threw stones at Jewish worshippers at the foot of the Western Wall. The police opened up with live ammunition, killing five on the compound and injuring 200. Since then, Palestinians have taken to the streets in the name of Al-Aqsa but, increasingly, in desperate defence of their people.


DEATH OF AN ANGEL: Abdel-Azim Abdel-Haq, a resident of a village near the West Bank town of Nablus, was driving home with his 18-month-old daughter, Sarah, and 21-year-old cousin Rima. He had taken the child, who had been suffering from fever, to a nearby hospital. Nearing his village, he heard the sounds of gunfire but could not identify where the shots were coming from. Abdel-Haq drove as fast as he could while shots continued to be fired in his direction. One bullet smashed his backdoor window. He looked back to find Sarah lying next to Rima, who had fainted, blood gushing from her head. "I stopped the car and started screaming. I called out to my brothers." Sarah's uncles rushed her to a doctor, but she was dead. She had been shot in the back of the head. The impact had been so great her skull had been split in two.

Abdel-Haq blames Jewish settlers living near his village for Sarah's death. "Sarah was the most beautiful of my children. When I returned home, I used to hug her and play with her. She made me feel that life was still beautiful. Look at her now," Abdel-Haq said, pointing to the lifeless body lying in the bedroom. "Doesn't she look like an angel?"

The confrontations have been everywhere, though the most ferocious gun-battles have been around and for the Israeli enclaves at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus and the Netzarim settlement junction in Gaza. Israel has preserved both through Oslo's interminable interim agreement less for any sanctity of their sites than for the strategic position they command deep in the heart of densely populated Palestinian areas. And in defending them this week Israel used anti-tank missiles on Palestinian positions, helicopter gun-ships against residential apartments, and snipers, which accounts for why so many of the victims are critically wounded from gunshot to the head and upper body.

It has also killed children, most notoriously 12-year old Mohamed Al-Dorra from Gaza's Bureij refugee camp. Captured on film by a French television cameraman, the world saw him hunched in terror beside his father at Netzarim before being shot dead after 45 minutes of continuous Israeli fire. It took another 30 minutes -- and the death of a Palestinian medic -- before the army allowed ambulances to reach the child.

The sheer scale and brutality of the repression has convinced many Palestinians that this is not simply another case of Israel taking off the glove to punch an iron fist. It is rather a surgical military operation, long in preparation, and intended to smash Palestinian resistance once and for all. But it has not broken the resistance. It has merely widened its reach.

On 1 October Palestinians in the Galilee town of Umm Al-Fahm demonstrated against the killings at Al-Aqsa and throughout the Occupied Territories. They were met with much the same Israeli response. The police used live ammunition to quell the demonstrators, killing three and wounding scores, among them Umm Al-Fahm mayor Sheikh Raad Salah. The protests -- and the deaths -- spread rapidly to Nazareth and other Palestinian towns in Galilee, as well as the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Haifa and Acre. By Wednesday, 10 Palestinian citizens of Israel had been killed, the worst carnage in 52 years of their imposed citizenship under the Jewish state.

For them too, the resistance was driven out of self-defence. But it was also born out of an increasingly deeper identification with their Palestinianism, whose national presence, history and identity are bound up with the reality and symbol of Jerusalem. "Of course he died for Al-Aqsa," said the mother of Ahmed Ibrahim Siam, shot dead by Israeli police in Um Al-Fahm on Monday. "And by his sacrifice it will be returned to us."

It is going to be left to Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to return some sort of calm to the Occupied Territories, whether at the meeting yesterday under the auspices of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Paris or with President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm Al-Sheikh today. In Paris, the emphasis will be on brokering some kind of ceasefire in return for Palestinian demands that Israel withdraw its military siege on the Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza. In Sharm Al-Sheikh -- where Arafat and Barak are expected to talk face to face -- the aim is to "reach a comprehensive agreement on all the outstanding issues."

Given the events of the last week, that seems wholly improbable. Nor is it clear if Arafat any longer has the authority to impose a ceasefire even if he agrees to one. Only one thing is certain. And that is the idea of any Palestinian leadership accepting a "compromise" on sovereignty in East Jerusalem and especially on Haram Al-Sharif. For most Palestinians that now is impossible -- not after a week in which so many of their people have sacrificed so much, against such forces, for its sake.

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