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Date: Mon, 10 Mar 97 16:53:44 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Palestinians Fight Zionist Expansion

Palestinians fight Zionist expansion

By Hilda Cuzco, in the The Militant,
Vol. 61, no. 11, 17 March 1997

Palestinians throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem held a five-hour general strike March 3 to protest Tel Aviv's decision to build a new Israeli housing project in the mostly Arab area of east Jerusalem. The work stoppage followed a series of marches and other protests by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories the last week in February.

Today's strike is a clear message that the settlement policy is unacceptable, rejected, and a policy that will explode the peace process, said Ahmad Qurie in Jerusalem. Qurie is the speaker of the Palestinian legislature, which called the strike, shutting down shops, schools, and transportation.

At a Cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli government approved February 26 the development of a Jewish settlement in the hilltop of Jabal Abu Ghneim, known as Har Homa in Hebrew, in East Jerusalem. This and other Israeli construction plans aim to surround East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital, and cut off the city from the West Bank.

Fearful of the Palestinians' indignation over his decision, Netanyahu went on the radio to argue that this was a move for peaceful coexistence and harmony between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. Netanyahu also promised to grant 3,500 building permits to Palestinians in 10 East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

This did not placate Palestinian residents, many of whom were already involved in protests. On February 25, around 300 Palestinians and Israeli peace activists carrying flags and banners marched from Bethlehem to the controversial hilltop, protesting the project. According to witnesses, the Israeli police prevented them from reaching Jerusalem. The action was sponsored by the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Lands, and supported by the Palestinian Authority. Later that day, undercover Israeli soldiers invaded the town of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, killing one Palestinian and wounded three others when confronted by protesting villagers. Reporters described seeing army reinforcements being pelted with stones by angry youth and who in turn threw concussion grenades and beat the young people.

Army reports in Israel indicate that the three plainclothed Israelis were from a covert army unit known as Duvdevan, or Cherry, that was created during the years of the Palestinian 1987-93 uprising known as the intifada. The Duvdevan is infamous for covert operations and killing suspects.

Israeli officials claimed Palestinian youth started the fighting in Hizma. But according to Palestinian residents of the village, the protests began after the undercover cops killed Mohammed Abdel Aziz Abu Hallowi, a 56-year-old retired worker, in an unprovoked attack. The wounded included Ali Abdallah Mutlak Salahedin, 46, a construction worker.

Expanded settlements are provocation

In the West Bank city of Hebron, Nidal Abu Hadid, a 30- year-old grocery store owner, said that the policies of the Israeli government are prompting confrontations similar to last year. If Netanyahu insists on building in East Jerusalem, this time there will be more bloodshed, Abu Hadid told an Associated Press reporter. Battles erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops after the prime minister decided last September to build a new entrance to a tourist tunnel along Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. The fighting lasted three days and claimed 80 lives.

On March 3 Netanyahu visited an East Jerusalem neighborhood and promised to permit the construction of new housing in the Arab parts of the city. What we are doing today is to make Jerusalem one city for Jews and Arabs alike, he said.

Since Tel Aviv seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab- Israeli war, it has annexed more than a third of the city and built 39,000 housing units designated for Jews, but none for Palestinians. Heavy restrictions on building Arab housing in Jerusalem have ensured that the number of Palestinian residents does not exceed 28 percent of the population, the same as when it was captured. The prime minister was quoted by the AP agency news on March 4 as saying, We are going to build. If it weren't for the legal restrictions, the bulldozers would have been on Har Homa yesterday and not just two weeks from now.

Should the housing project go ahead on the 457 acres that comprise the controversial hilltop, which was expropriated by the Israeli government in 1991, there will be as many as 6,500 housing units for 32,000 Jewish settlers. At the same time the Haaretz newspaper confirmed that Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai has approved a construction of 1,500 homes, and 3,000 hotel rooms in the West Bank that would link the largest Jewish settlement there with Jerusalem. Adding to the tension, David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Netanyahu, suggested the army may miss a deadline to withdraw its troops from some rural areas in the West Bank. The withdrawal had been agreed in the Hebron accords between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority reached in January.

Meanwhile, the Israeli regime continues its probes to evict Palestinians, particularly of the Bedouin tribes, from their lands in the West Bank. In Al Eizariya, a town in the West Bank, the Bedouin tribe known as the Jahalin fought eviction in February with Israeli soldiers. The police dragged scores of men, women, and children from their encampment to a hillside near a garbage dump. They were evicted to make room for expansion of an Israeli settlement in the town of Maaleh Adumim, five miles east of Jerusalem.

Under an agreement between Tel Aviv and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), rural lands of the West Bank should come under Palestinian control in the next two years. Mohammed Abu Hirsh, who headed the campaign against evictions, said that the Jahalin arrived in the West Bank after being expelled from southern Israel in the early 1950s and half the tribe fled across the Jordan River in the 1967 Mideast war. Those were expulsions in times of war, now this is an expulsion of peace, said Abu Hirsh. What kind of peace is this?

Clinton gives mild criticism of Tel Aviv

In Washington, Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat met with President William Clinton March 3, as the strike was proceeding in the occupied territories. Clinton offered a few critical words toward Tel Aviv's decision to expands the settlements. I think it builds mistrust, and I wish that it had not been made, the U.S. president said. Nevertheless, he made clear that the U.S. government, which brokered the Hebron accords, won't take sides and said it should be left to the Palestinians and Israelis to determine the final status of talks on the occupied territories.

Arafat also met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as well as Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin and the director of the Agency for International Development, Brian Atwood. All of these meetings, the big-business press reported, discussed increasing investment in the Palestinian territories.

Before his visit to the White House, Arafat had urged that protests should be peaceful and without confrontations, according to Marwan Barghouthi, secretary general of the PLO. We're not interested in violent incidents and Palestinian or Israeli casualties, but the young people are not under remote control, said Barghouthi. It depends on the Israeli side.

Earlier that week in Nablus, West Bank, a broad meeting of Palestinian groups called the Comprehensive Palestinian National Dialogue Conference was held on February 27. Groups both supporting and opposing the peace accords with Tel Aviv were present, including Arafat. The gathering was the first since the signing of the so-called Oslo accords in 1993, which set a framework for limited Palestinian control over some of the occupied territories. The objective was to reach a national unity, said Salim Zaanoun in his opening talk. Zaanoun is the chairman of the Palestine National Council, the largest decision-making body of the PLO.

The participating groups included the Islamic organization Hamas, as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both factions of the PLO. These groups oppose the accords reached between Arafat and the Israeli regime as a sell out, but are interested in having a role within in a final settlement with Tel Aviv. Jamal Mansour, a member of the Hamas delegation, said Hamas is outside the negotiations and doesn't expect much from them, but it will work to strengthen the negotiators, and will stand behind them, even though it may disagree with them.

As the Palestinian resistance heats up, Netanyahu's government has come under increasing fire from his opponents in the Israeli ruling class. Israel Radio announced February 27 that police investigators were considering indictments against several top government officials on allegations of corruption in the appointment of an unqualified lawyer as attorney general last month. Netanyahu himself has been named as a possible target. Among the allegations is that a vote in the Hebron accords was part of a deal. The Prime Minister has also been under the gun from the right-wing members of his coalition, who have accused him of backing off from settlement construction and criticized the withdrawal from Hebron and the redeployment of Israeli troops scheduled to begin March 6.