Israeli attacks: Palestine needs support

Issue 

On March 26, two Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed in a clash near Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip when the Israeli army made an incursion into the besieged territory, the March 27 Guardian said.

The March 26 Palestine Telegraph said there were also a number of Palestinian civilian casualties from random Israeli fire. Three children were critically injured.

The Israeli military casualties were the first since January 2009, when Israel withdrew from Gaza after a three-week assault that killed more than 1400 Palestinians, more than 83% of whom were civilians.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians were killed in that conflict.

Abu Obeida, a military spokesperson for the Hamas resistance movement, told the Guardian: "An Israeli army force raided 500 metres into Palestinian territory, and was confronted by our gunmen.

"This was our work, but was carried out for defence."

Israel justifies its frequent military incursions into Gaza — and the starvation siege imposed on the Palestinian territory — by citing rocket attacks fired from Gaza into Israel.

Sameh Akram Habeeb, founder of the Palestine Telegraph, told Green Left Weekly: "From 2005 to 2009, 17 Israelis were killed. From 2000 till 2008, the total of Israelis killed by these rockets was around 30."

Habeeb said this figure is negligible compared with the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupation.

Habeeb is a journalist from Gaza who has worked for the BBC and CNN. After Israel's January 2009 assault, which he reported from Gaza, he set up Palestine Telegraph because of dissatisfaction with the sanitising of Israeli atrocities that the mainstream outlets demanded.

Now based in London, he is in Australia on a speaking tour organised by Socialist Alternative. He is telling audiences about the suffering inflicted on Gaza by Israeli military aggression and the ongoing siege.

With medicine stopped from entering the territory and people unable to leave, Palestinian civilians are killed by lack of medical treatment as well as by Israel's bullets and missiles.

More than 15,000 homes were destroyed by Israel in its December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009 war. With Israel stopping the import of even basic building materials, few have been repaired and thousands of people remain homeless.

Israel's use of white phosphorous in the assault is well documented. However, Habeeb said there was evidence of a sharp rise in birth defects — likely to be the result of depleted uranium weapons.

An apparent rift has developed between Israel and its closest ally, the US, after the approval by Israel of 1600 new illegal settler house in the 1967-occupied territories on March 9.

US Vice-President Joe Biden was in the country at the time trying to convince the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to resume "peace negotiations".

There are more than 500,000 Israeli Jewish settlers in the territories in violation of international law.

The US- and European Union-funded PA has stopped demanding their removal as the basis of a peace agreement. However, a freeze on new settlement building was the one concession it demanded from Israel to resume talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later apologised to Biden for the timing of the announcement — but not for the illegal plan.

Israel has suffered a diplomatic rift with other allies after it was revealed that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad killed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room on January 20 while using cloned passports and identities stolen from British, Irish, French, German and Australian citizens.

On March 23, Britain expelled an unnamed "senior Israeli diplomat" over the incident and there is speculation that Australia may follow suit.

Some of the more rabid pro-Israel media commentators have expressed alarm over the apparent rift — Greg Sheridan, in the March 27 Australian, accused US President Barack Obama of waging an "anti-Israel jihad" — but Habeeb was sceptical.

"It is all about fooling the people", he told GLW. "Nobody is saying no to Israel.

"Maybe they are angry with Israel and taking some measures, but this will not harm the strategic relationship because [support for] Israel is part of their dogma. I hear your prime minister [Kevin Rudd] said, 'Israel is in my DNA'."

Habeeb criticised the PA's participation in negotiations for 16 years while Israel continued to prevent Palestinians' freedom of movement, expand settlements and carry out abductions, military aggression and other human rights abuses.

"Palestinians should change their strategy and not only rely on negotiations. Other strategies should be considered.

"Israel is not interested in peace: they want no statehood for the Palestinians. They might give us a small bit of land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip: without sovereignty, without airports [but] they don't want us to get our rights back.

"They don't want the refugees [expelled from what is now Israeli territory through ethnic cleansing] to return. As long as the refugees are not back, peace will not be achieved."

The planned 1600 new settler houses are in East Jerusalem. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem has intensified to such an extent that there has been speculation that there will be a third intifada (uprising).

The first intifada began in the 1980s. The second occurred from 2000 to 2004.

However, Habeeb said recent protests in East Jerusalem and the West Bank failed to gain momentum. He put this down to the collaborationist stance of the PA, whose security forces crack down on Palestinian activists on Israel's behalf.

"The intifada will come, although the PA is carrying out a big campaign to make everyone scared. It's only a matter of time, it will happen.

"But frankly, there has been a retreat since Israel started building in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is due to [repression by] the PA."

In Gaza, he said, the struggle had also become more difficult. In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlers from the territory. This allowed the imposition of the siege, and makes it possible for Israel to use more firepower against the territory — horrifically demonstrated in June 2006 and January 2009.

"In the Gaza Strip, because they don't have settlements, when there are confrontations the Israelis don't just use machine guns, they use heavy weapons, which makes people afraid."

The siege was imposed — by the US and European Union, as well as Israel — to punish Palestinians for voting for the anti-occupation Hamas-led coalition in the 2006 PA elections.

In 2007, the US helped organise a coup against the Hamas-led administration. The coup succeeded in the West Bank, but failed in Gaza. In the aftermath, the siege on Gaza was tightened.

Habeeb condemned dictatorial pro-US Arab governments who, in defiance of their own people, have put their servility to the US before solidarity with Palestine.

"Arab countries should not normalise relations with Israel", he said.

Gaza shares a border with Egypt. Without Egypt's cooperation, Israel could not keep the territory walled. In 2009, Egypt even extended the wall underground in an attempt to seal the tunnels used to import food and other necessities.

Israel's January 2009 assault increased global sympathy with the Palestinians. Habeeb said: "World opinion has changed. More people are starting to dig for the truth.

"Millions of people now support Palestine. It's a very good sign but we have to make use of it.

"People supporting Palestine need to have a strategic focus and not just have meetings and demonstrations when a big event happens in Palestine. There is always a big event in Palestine!

"Palestinians alone cannot liberate Palestine. They don't have the military capability; they don't have the human resources to fight the Israeli power.

"We need the mobilisation of other people.

"I hope Australians really look into what is going on in Palestine and try to get away from the policies of your government that is supporting Israel."

He told GLW that Palestinians don't just want a solution to the conflict — they need one. "We are tired and we need our statehood. We need the refugees to be back and all the rights for the Palestinians to be back."

[For details of Habeeb's Australian tour or phone Patrick on 0422 028113.]