With most observers expecting US envoy Anthony Zinni’s attempts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian cease- fire to fail, Israeli military officials have confirmed a Washington Post report that the army has contingency plans to reoccupy Palestinian towns and other PA administrative areas.
On 25 March, several Israeli cabinet ministers called for an all-out offensive against the Palestinians. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of the far right Shas party, said the army should “round up hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.” The Israeli press also recently quoted a high-ranking army officer as saying that Israel should study the Nazis’ methods in the Warsaw Ghetto and apply them to the Palestinians.
These remarks preceded the Israeli army’s rampaging incursions into several Palestinian refugee camps and towns, killing more than 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in late February and early March.
Israel’s reported threats of a decisive offensive against the Palestinians corresponded with almost daily incursions into PA- administered territories in Gaza and the West Bank, which left more than 23 Palestinians dead this week and many more wounded.
The most violent incursion took place in Rafah, on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks attacked the Brazil refugee camp three times in as many days, firing indiscriminately on makeshift shelters and demolishing homes.
Among the victims of this terror was four-year-old Reham Abu Taha who was shot in the head while sitting in her home.
The Israeli army loosely acknowledged the killing, announcing that “one Palestinian was reportedly killed during Israeli army activity in Rafah.”
In the West Bank, the Israeli army continued to kill, despite the relative calm.
In Jenin, Israeli soldiers on 22 March abducted and shot a Palestinian shepherd who was grazing his sheep outside the village of Silat-al-Dahr. The soldiers ordered 23-year-old Ayman Khawalda to accompany them to a nearby military outpost for a brief inquiry, a witness said.
Six hours later, his body was handed over to his family.
Khawalda was shot 15 times in the back, Dr Mazen Shabaro, who examined the body, said.
A third Palestinian civilian was killed at the village of Beit Ummar, 10 kilometres north of Hebron on 24 March. Witnesses report that, Israeli soldiers opened fire as Palestinians offered their condolences to the Alami family for the death of their son, Amjad Alami, a photojournalist who was killed last week by Israeli troops. Amjad’s cousin, Nedal Ibrahim Alami, 23, was hit and died shortly afterwards at the Ahli hospital in Hebron.
Meanwhile, five Israelis were killed this week in three separate incidents.
On 21 March, a young Palestinian with explosives strapped to his body blew himself up in West Jerusalem, killing himself and three other Israelis: a soldier, a settler and a civilian.
Two other settlers were killed in separate Palestinian guerrilla attacks near Ramallah and Hebron.
Also this week, a prominent Israeli writer and columnist blamed, for the first time, Israeli repression for the “suicide bomber phenomenon.”
Uri Avnery, a renowned peace activist and tireless critic of the Israeli occupation, wrote that Israel was responsible for pushing the Palestinian people to use their bodies as bombs. “When a whole people is seething with rage, it becomes a dangerous enemy, because rage doesn’t obey orders; when this rage overflows, it creates suicide bombers-human bombs fuelled by the power of anger, against whom there is no defence. The only result of the Israeli army’s attacks,” he added, “has been to make human bombs.”
“When tanks run amok in towns, crushing cars, destroying walls, tearing up roads, shooting indiscriminately and causing panic amongst a whole population, it induces rage,” Avnery explained. “When soldiers crash through a wall into the living room of a family,
terrifying them, ransacking their belongings, destroying a life-time’s hard work, and then continue into the next apartment and wreak havoc there; it induces rage.”
Avnery’s criticism came as the Israeli public were exposed to graphic scenes on television of Israeli soldiers assaulting Palestinian homes near Bethlehem.
One scene showed a Palestinian mother, Huda Hawajreh, being hit by shrapnel as Israeli soldiers blasted the door of her home. She bled to death in front of her children, while Israeli soldiers prevented an ambulance from taking her to hospital.
Another embarrassing scene showed a soldier being interviewed as he lounged around in the living room of a Palestinian home in the Ayda refugee camp near Bethlehem.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was furious. He accused the television station of “serving the interests of our enemy by screening such footage.”
Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has now forbidden television crews to accompany soldiers during operations into Palestinian centres. Ran Cohen, a Meretz party Knesset member, defended the media. “Television crews were only doing their job; it is the soldiers who were doing these things among the Palestinian civilians,” he said.
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