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Tel Aviv Slaps `Collective Punishment' On Palestinians

By Candace Wagner, The Militant,
Vol.60/No.11, 18 March 1996

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The government of Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres has launched a campaign of collective punishment against Palestinians following four suicide bombing attacks carried out by supporters of the Palestinian group Hamas. A total of 59 people died in the explosions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Peres declared a war in every sense of the word.

On March 4, the day of the fourth bombing, Israeli troops carried out a raid on the Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron on the West Bank, confining 7,000 people to their homes in a 24-hour curfew. Palestinian men were rounded up, blindfolded, and questioned. Soldiers sealed the homes of accused bombers and threatened to arrest family members.

The following day, troops barricaded 465 West Bank communities. Some 1.2 million residents were confined to their villages.

The previous week Israeli authorities blocked Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from traveling to Israel, preventing thousands from reaching their jobs.

The bombings ended a six month suspension of violent attacks against Israel by Hamas, a bourgeois nationalist organization that opposes the Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization agreements, which grants some autonomy to Palestinian areas in the West Bank. Hamas abstained from the January 20 Palestinian elections.

The group did not actively impose a boycott, however, and allowed members to enter the race as independent candidates.

Two weeks before the election, on January 4, Hamas leader Yahya Ayyash was assassinated in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli security force was universally held responsible. Ayyash was accused by the Israeli government of being the architect of suicide bombings in Israel. More than 100,000 Palestinians attended Ayyash's funeral in protest of the assassination.

The Israeli government continues to appropriate Palestinian land for Zionist settlements, roads, and military installations. Residents of the Palestinian town of Tulkarem recently accused Tel Aviv of illegally taking 400 acres of land to build a fence around the city.

Land for agriculture is a life and death question for Palestinians now. Only 20,000 are given permits allowing them to work inside Israel. With some foreign investment a few factories have been established inside the borders of Gaza and the West Bank, providing some low-paid jobs.

Scarcity of water for the Palestinians, caused by Israeli control of water supplies in the West Bank, was not alleviated by the Israeli-PLO agreement.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli jails, including hundreds who were detained in West Bank towns just prior to the Israeli troop withdrawal stipulated by the accord. Weeks, and in some cases, days before Israeli troops withdrew from Palestinian urban centers, we began to see a startling pattern of arrests of Palestinian opposition leaders, intellectuals and influential community activists, said Linda Brayer, director of the Jerusalem-based Society of St. Yves. Most of these are being held under six-month administrative detention, not charged with any offense.

The accords do not allow for the return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees abroad. In Lebanon, home to half a million, government officials have clearly stated that the Palestinians are not welcome to remain there permanently. On the day of the Palestinian elections, Lebanese army troops surrounded and sealed the Ein el-Hilwa refugee camp, home to 75,000.

I am not alone to say that I no longer trust the PLO to address our basic needs as a people without a state, says Akram Muhamed in Tyre, Lebanon. Our own leaders have sacrificed our right of return for autonomy. We feel forgotten and abandoned.

The military wing of Hamas issued a statement March 5 calling on all military sections to halt attacks against Israel until July - unless Tel Aviv retaliates against Hamas for the recent bombings. The statement also asked Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority to prepare for serious contacts and negotiations with Israel on Hamas' behalf.

Arafat said he would outlaw the military wings of Hamas and of several other organizations. Palestinian police say they have arrested Mohammed Abu Wardeh, the suspected mastermind behind three of the last four bombings.