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Palestinian Resistance Sparks Crisis In Tel Aviv

By Maurice Williams, The Militant,
Vol.60/No.36, 14 October 1996

Palestinian resistance to provocations by the Israeli regime, including three days of street combat between Palestinian security forces and Israeli soldiers September 25- 27, has sparked a crisis for Tel Aviv. For the first time since Israeli forces occupied the Palestinian territory of the West Bank three decades ago, they met not only a hail of stones from youth demanding their withdrawal, but an armed response from a Palestinian police force recognized by Tel Aviv. Since then demonstrations of up to 30,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv and other cities have protested the policies of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and divisions have grown among supporters of the Zionist state around the world on how to respond.

Emergency talks organized in Washington by the Clinton administration at the start of October failed to stem the conflict. Palestinian demonstrators burned U.S. flags and stoned Israeli soldiers in Hebron and other West Bank towns October 3, in response to the failure of the summit between Netanyahu and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasir Arafat to resolve any of the issues at stake. The meeting failed 100 percent, not 90 percent, but 100 percent, Hebron resident Mazen Bakri told the Associated Press. If it could have failed more than 100 percent it would have.

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank village of Saeer October 3. The day before Israeli soldiers shot dead an 11-year-old boy there for throwing stones at the occupation force.

The situation is very black and the future is darker, said Ghazi Hamad of the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. We will not keep silent and we are ready to use any means to get our rights.

We did not reach an acceptable solution. The explosion is expected at any time, added Hatem Abdel Kader, a member of the Palestinian legislative council.

Summit resolves nothing I am not asking for the moon, I am only asking for what had been agreed upon and what had been signed to be implemented accurately and honestly, Arafat said in Luxembourg before he flew to Washington for the October 1-2 talks. King Hussein of Jordan also participated in the two-day summit. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak refused Clinton's invitation and sent his foreign minister, Amr Moussa, to represent him.

At the meeting Netanyahu refused to agree to a deadline of 60 days to withdraw most of the Israeli troops from Hebron or set a definite date for resuming talks on sovereignty of Jerusalem as called for in a 1993 agreement made in Oslo, Norway. Under Israeli-PLO accords, Zionist troops were to have withdrawn from most of Hebron - a city of 100,000 Palestinians and 400 Israeli settlers - six months ago.

The Israeli prime minister also did not budge in his refusal to close an entrance to a tunnel in Jerusalem. The opening of the second entrance to the tunnel, which is near Muslim holy sites, touched off the latest unrest. The Israeli regime's closing of the borders on the West and Bank and Gaza Strip and an airport planned for the Gaza Strip was also discussed in the Washington talks.

The only thing agreed at the summit was to resume negotiations October 6 between the Israeli government and the PLO. Netanyahu praised the results, saying, The children of Israel are safer tonight.

Arafat canceled a scheduled press conference following the talks. Senior Palestinian negotiator Hassan Asfour told the press, This summit has failed because of Israeli intransigence.

The PLO leader cannot go to Washington and take part in a media event, Mustafa Natsheh, the mayor of Hebron, had warned beforehand. Palestinians are expecting him to come back with concrete results. Without results I am really afraid that the frustration felt among Palestinians will lead to a very, very dangerous situation.

After the summit, Clinton acknowledged, The problems that explode last week in violence, the problems are still there.

Gun battles erupt The gun battles erupted when Tel Aviv's occupying army fired thousands of rounds of ammunition at Palestinian demonstrators on September 25 in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

The protesters were responding to a September 24 predawn excavation - carried out with border cops armed with assault rifles - to complete a disputed tunnel along the edge of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Two of Islam's most revered mosques, al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are located at the Temple Mount and are a symbol of the Palestinian struggle to regain sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Similar explosions occurred in 1990, when Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians in a protests against Zionists' attempts to lay a symbolic cornerstone for new construction on the Temple Mount.

The Christian Science Monitor reported the latest clash was the last straw in a series of provocations by the Israeli government, including plans to build nearly 4,000 homes in Zionist settlements; an incident where Israeli forces bulldozed a Palestinian day-care center for disabled people; Netanyahu's six-month delay in troop withdrawal from Hebron; and Tel Aviv's refusal to accept any Palestinian claims on East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Israeli government maintains military rule over most of the West Bank, with the exception of six major cities that are controlled by Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Palestinians were just fed up. All we heard were empty words, said Hanan Ashwari, education minister and a member of the Palestinian legislature. The tunnel lit the fuse.

`The beginning of a new intifada' Young school girls led the way in a mass march of thousands in Ramallah September 25. Some people dived for cover when the Israeli troops fired on the demonstrators. Others rushed up to the Palestinian police and started arguing, with one civilian making a grab at the policeman's rifle. Don't just stand there. Protect us, several young Palestinians shouted.

When my men see a friend killed or injured by Israeli bullets, what do you want them to do? asked Col. Abu Salah, a 60-year-old Palestinian officer. Even if I ordered them to stop, they would probably keep shooting until they ran out of ammunition.

According to London's Financial Times, on September 27, Arafat ordered the 30,000-member Palestinian Authority security force to fire only in self-defense, while the Voice of Palestine official radio station urged peaceful protests.

Uzi Dayan, the Israeli central commander, called a state of emergency September 28 as the Zionist military sent tanks and gunships into the West Bank. Cobra helicopter gunships fired on Palestinians in several street battles. These confrontations resulted in the deaths of 56 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 15 Israeli soldiers. The street combat was reminiscent of the Palestinian intifada - uprising - of 1987-93.

Arabs in Israel, who number about 1 million, organized strikes and demonstrations in solidarity with the most recent Palestinian revolt. The Zionist assaults prompted demonstrations of 30,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv September 28 and 3,000 people in Jerusalem September 29 to protest Netanyahu's policies. For many Palestinians the resistance sparked a new confidence in their struggle against the Zionist occupation army. This is the beginning of a new intifada, declared Abdullah Zaid. We now have our own armed Palestinian police to protect us against the Israelis.

In the wake of the gun battles, the Zionist army has organized a state of siege with tanks and other armored vehicles sealing in Palestinian hamlets and major cities in one of the biggest military operations in the West Bank since the 1967 war.

Tel Aviv draws criticism The actions of the Zionist forces have drawn international criticism. In Cairo, the 22-member Arab League issued a statement declaring it is following with anger what the Israeli occupation authorities are doing to wipe out its Arab and Islamic sites.

A joint European Union statement criticized Tel Aviv for resorting to disproportionate force in particular the use of firearms, tanks, and helicopter gunships.

In addition, London's Financial Times reported that Syrian president Hafez Assad warned of a slide into war if negotiations did not resume between Tel Aviv and Damascus on the return of the Golan Heights, which Tel Aviv occupied since 1967.

Meanwhile, Madeline Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tried unsuccessfully to stall a resolution that passed in the Security Council September 29 by a vote of 14 to 0, with Washington abstaining. The resolution had been reworked to avoid condemnation of Tel Aviv's decision to open the tunnel in Jerusalem, but it did mention the high number of deaths and injuries among Palestinians.

The Financial Times editors criticized the one-sidedness of the U.S. approach and Washington's refusal to condemn foot- dragging by Netanyahu, who was needlessly provoking an explosion of Palestinian rage by his insensitive actions in Jerusalem.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who generally supports the Zionist state, admonished Netanyahu to understand if the peace process unravels, the entire structure of Arab- Israeli peace since Camp David will be eroded. Another Times commentator, A.M. Rosenthal, unequivocally defended the Israeli regime, asserting that the blame for any shooting war that may develop lies with those governments, politicians, and journalists who immediately found the Israelis guilty.

The crisis revealed divisions among government officials in Tel Aviv as well. During the height of the demonstrations, Yitzhak Mordechai, the defense minister, stated that all factors had not been taken into account with regard to the opening of the tunnel. Another official stated, Netanyahu says he will not reward the Palestinians because of the recent days. But the point is some of those rewards are actually part of the peace process.

Many Palestinians recognize the conflict is far from over. The Israeli government has spent the few weeks insulting us and laughing in the face of our leaders, said Yacub Bedawi, a 52-year-old driver. They have cheated and betrayed us and we will make them pay. They better forget any more of their tricks.