BY AHMAD NIMER
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel's war against the Palestinian Intifada continues to escalate. On August 27, Israeli death squads assassinated a senior Palestinian political leader in his office in a residential neighbourhood.
At approximately 11am, Israeli helicopter gunships fired two missiles at Mustafa Al-Zibri, while he sat working at his desk. Three other people were injured in the attack. Al-Zibri, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He is the most prominent Palestinian political leader to be assassinated by Israel in more than 10 years.
Abu Ali was from the West Bank town of Arabeh near Jenin and was imprisoned because of activities on the Arab national movement in 1957, when he was 19 years old. In 1968, he was one of the founders of the PFLP and was on its executive committee in charge of refugees.
He returned to the West Bank in October 1999 after 32 years in exile. Abu Ali took over the leadership of the PFLP in April 2000 after its previous leader, George Habash, retired.
Abu Ali was one of the most respected Palestinian leaders and widely known for his honesty, political acumen and devotion to the Palestinian struggle.
The news of his assassination rocked the region, with more than 50,000 people turning out for his funeral in Ramallah. All Palestinian areas observed a three-day mourning and strike in his honour.
The PFLP is the major force on the Palestinian left. It has consistently rejected the Oslo accords and has played a leading role in the current Palestinian uprising. It publicly promotes a strategy of resistance to Israel's occupation and calls for the establishment of a democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
Speaking at Birzeit University in October 1999, a few weeks after his return to Palestine, Abu Ali stated, "We will never give up the right to struggle against the occupation, in whatever form it exists, as long as it exists on the land of Palestine. We need to strengthen the Palestinian individual otherwise we will never get anything better than we have now.
"The claim that this is the best we can get is an absolute lie. Things would be better if we had clear strong, Palestinian politics. If democracy, within our society and political factions, was the norm then something better could happen...
"We cannot accept or agree to the fact that Palestinians who choose to fight the occupation can be followed, arrested or interrogated. This is not acceptable because there is an occupation and Palestinians have the right to face this occupation in whatever way they can."
In its campaign to crush the Palestinian uprising against its occupation, Israeli death squads have assassinated at least 60 Palestinian activists in the last 11 months. Ten innocent bystanders, including several children, have also been killed in these attacks. Numerous others have been seriously injured.
On September 1, Israel carried out another assassination when a bomb concealed in a car being driven by Tayseer Khatab, director of the office of the Palestinian intelligence chief, exploded in Gaza.
Israel's deputy minister of internal security, Gidon Ezra, has suggested that Israel may widen the list of Palestinians it targets for assassination and should "liquidate the family members" of targeted Palestinians.
The assassination policy has long been rooted in the political culture of the Israeli state, and in the Zionist movement before 1948. Since 1983, five of Israel's six prime ministers have served in Israeli army units that specialised in assassination.
Current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, founded Unit 101. Its task was to kill Palestinian refugees attempting to return to their homes throughout the 1950s.
The previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, was commander of the Sayaret Matkal Unit (General Staff Squad), which was responsible for the assassination of senior Palestinian leaders in the 1970s. In 1973, Barak personally assassinated the Palestinian poet and political leader, Kamal Nasser at his house in Lebanon.
US military aid
The current round of assassinations is marked by the use of high technology US-supplied weapons. Laser-guided missiles fired from Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships have been employed frequently. This was the means used to kill Abu Ali from a distance of several kilometres.
US aid to Israel runs at more than US$5 billion a year, a large proportion of which is military hardware. Many Palestinians have criticised the Palestinian Authority for taking US aid money and calling for US intervention when it is US government money that supports the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land.
Following the assassination of Abu Ali, Israel's attacks against the Palestinian population have escalated dramatically. The Israeli-imposed closure has been tightened and several villages in the West Bank are under complete curfew with residents forced to remain in their houses.
On August 28, Israeli troops and tanks entered the Palestinian town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem. At the time of writing, Beit Jala remains under occupation with residents afraid to leave their houses for fear of being shot dead by Israel's troops. On the same day, Israeli occupation forces entered 200 metres into Aida refugee camp, also near Bethlehem, where they remained for several hours. Three tanks and several armoured vehicles were used in the incursion. In the south of the Gaza Strip, a large section of the town of Rafah has been occupied by Israeli troops for over a week.
These events have raised the spectre of further incursions by Israel's forces into Palestinian areas with the aim of launching an all-out war against the Palestinian Intifada. Palestinian towns and villages are preparing for such an eventuality with sandbagged checkpoints and preparation of civilian defence plans.
In the face of tanks, US-made F-16 warplanes and machine guns, only the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and international solidarity can halt the Israeli war machine and bring an end to its devastating occupation. The time for such solidarity is now.