Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
5 - 11 October 2000
Issue No. 502
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For they shall inherit the earth

By Khaled Amayreh

Bloody confrontations and sporadic gun-battles between Palestinian protesters and heavily-armed and often trigger-happy Israeli soldiers continue to rage throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip with no signs of abatement as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press.

Late Tuesday night Israeli helicopter gunships began to pound Palestinian police positions and headquarters in Rafah and other parts of the Gaza Strip, causing numerous casualties and inflicting heavy damage.

According to hospital sources, 10 Palestinians were killed on Tuesday, bringing the death toll of Palestinians since 29 September, to over 67. As many as 3,000 have been injured, with many having sustained serious gunshot wounds in the upper body, especially in the head and chest.

In the onslaught, the Israeli occupation army stepped up the use of helicopter gunships, anti-tank missiles and heavy machine-guns against Palestinian protesters and police.

On Monday, Israeli attack helicopters, using precision rockets, bombed two multi-storey residential buildings, killing and injuring many residents, and prompting the local authorities to evacuate 300 families from the Brazil Camp for safety. A third building, also in Gaza, used as a dormitory for security personnel was also bombed resulting in over 50 casualties, among them two fatalities.

Attack helicopters strafed Palestinian demonstrators in Nablus and Ramallah with heavy machine guns on 2 and 3 October, killing several demonstrators and maiming many.

Violent protests in all Palestinian cities continued, almost unabated, despite the announcement of a vaguely-worded cease-fire understanding between the two sides early Tuesday.

However, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials dismissed the cease-fire announcement as Israeli propaganda.

"The very word cease-fire is used by Israelis in a misleading manner. A cease-fire is reached when there is war and fighting between two armies. Here there is only one side shooting, it is the Israeli army, and it is shooting at unarmed protesters and demonstrators," remarked Mohamed Dahlan, Chief of the Gaza branch of the Preventive Security Force.

Dahlan stressed that the Palestinians want to see an end to the violence. He added, however, that this depends on the Israeli government which he said was trying to impose its dictates on the Palestinians.

"They are negotiating with us through the use of LAW anti-tank missiles, helicopter gunships and heavy machine guns," complained chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

In Israel proper, Israeli police, later joined by army troops, imposed on Tuesday a virtual blockade of major Arab towns and villages.

The draconian measure followed fierce confrontations between Palestinian youths voicing their indignation over right-wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque a week ago. Battles broke out in virtually all Arab towns and villages from Kafr Kanna in the north to Rahat in the south.

Large-scale protests, to which police responded with unprecedented brutality, took place in the towns and villages of Nazareth, Um Al-Fahm, Tira, Arraba, Sakhnin, Kafr Manda and even some so-called mixed towns such as Akka.

The most violent clashes with the police took place in the town of Um Al-Fahm on Monday, when over 10,000 Palestinians took to the streets, blocking the main Wadi-Ara highway, a major traffic artery linking central Israel with the coastal plains.

Soon, protesters clashed with the apparently trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. These soldiers, said Sheikh Raad Salah, mayor of Um Al-Fahm and head of the Islamist movement in Israel, dealt with the Palestinians "like the Gestapo once dealt with Jews in Germany."

"Their unbelievably harsh repression of our peaceful march amply demonstrates that they view us as enemies, not citizens of the Israeli state as they claim."


"When I read the word 'cross-fire,' I reach for my pen. In the Middle East, it almost always means that the Israelis have killed an innocent person."
Robert Fisk, The Independent, 2 October

Salah contended that the police, probably under direct orders from northern police commander Alik Ron, sought to assassinate him.

Indeed, a police sniper standing on a rooftop near the town's main entrance fired a rubber-coated steel bullet at Salah, who was standing in the midst of a huge multitude of protesters, hitting him squarely in the face and causing him to faint temporarily.

When the Sheikh was hit, word spread that he was seriously injured, perhaps mortally.

Predictably this triggered the wrath of the already angry crowd, which began hurling stones at hundreds of Israeli regular and border policemen who responded first with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, and later with live ammunition, according to eyewitnesses. Two people were killed and two others sustained critical gunshot injuries in the head.

They succumbed to their wounds 24 hours later. At least 50 people were injured in this confrontation alone.

In Nazareth, the town's Muslim and Christian inhabitants put on a show of unity as they marched together to the city centre, shouting slogans against "the carnage of our people" in the West Bank and Gaza and reasserting inter-communal unity in the face of Israeli provocation.

At least one protester was killed, generating further anger towards the police and the Barak government.

Similar, but more violent protests, took place on Monday in Sakhnin, where two Palestinians were killed by police fire, and in Arraba, where two other people were shot dead by trigger-happy policemen.

Israel's violent repression of Palestinian protests in Israel and the PA self-rule enclaves is apparently aimed at preventing the current revolt from evolving into a full-fledged uprising, resembling the Palestinian Intifada that lasted from 1987 to 1992.

However, in light of the spread of the protests and the deepening of Palestinian bitterness and grievances, it seems that this is exactly what Israel may be getting at the end of the day, a full-fledged intifada.

"Our wounds will take a long time to heal, and it is inconceivable and unacceptable that our leadership will resume business as usual with those murderers and blood-suckers," said a high-ranking Preventive Security officer in the Hebron area.

The officer's feelings seem to echo those of the vast majority of Palestinians, including the known supporters of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Indeed, such feelings are intensified by Israeli atrocities, such as the sadistic and premeditated murder of 12-year-old Mohamed Al-Dorri, the terrified child who sought desperately to escape Israeli soldiers' bullets by taking cover in his father's arms, the shooting of his father, and then the fatal shooting of the ambulance driver, Bassam Balbisi, who tried to take them to hospital.

According to the PA minister of health, Riadh Al-Zanoun, over 30 per cent of Palestinian casualties were children below the age of 17, and most of the wounds they sustained were in the upper body, which suggests that Israeli soldiers were shooting to kill.

The youngest Palestinian child to be murdered by Israeli troops so far is Sara Abdel-Azim of Salfit. The 18-month-old baby was returning from hospital with her father near Salfit in the central part of the West Bank when Israeli soldiers wearing skull-caps opened fire at the parked car, which had apparently developed an engine problem. Sara was killed instantly and one of her relatives in the car was injured. The Israeli army said it was investigating the incident.

Palestinians said that Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque was made in utter defiance of Muslim sensibilities and despite warnings by Muslim and even some Jewish leaders that the move might set off protests leading to violence and bloodshed.

However, it is widely believed that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and his acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami more or less connived with Sharon in this matter.

Indeed, both Barak and Ben Ami refrained from condemning the visit. As for Sharon himself, he retreated to his farm in the Negev, probably relishing the river of Palestinian blood his visit has let loose, as he did before when Israel gave its tacit approval for the killing of thousands of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.

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