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Bombers ready for revenge kill: Hamas
GAZA, AUGUST 20: THE military wing of the Muslim militant group Hamas said on Monday that it had suicide bombers in Israel waiting for orders to avenge the killing in the Gaza Strip of a Palestinian activist and his two children.
Samir Abu Zeid, identified as the ‘‘general’’ of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Movement’s military wing, was killed with his seven-year-old daughter and six-year-old son early on Monday. Abu Zeid’s group also vowed revenge.
‘‘We have mujahideen (fighters) inside the Zionist entity awaiting the signal to explode like an earthquake and turn the Zionists to pieces,’’ a member of Hamas’s military wing, Izz el-Din al-Qassam, shouted over loudspeakers before Abu Zeid’s funeral.
Hamas is responsible for scores of suicide bombings in Israel, the most recent one in Jerusalem on August 9 in which 15 people and the suicide bomber were killed.
Palestinians said an Israeli missile hit Abu Zeid’s home near the Gaza Strip’s border with the Jewish state. The Israeli Army said the man, described by some Palestinians as a master bomb-maker, was killed while making an explosive device.
Earlier, the Army said Abu Zeid was killed when a Palestinian mortar round hit his home.
Abu Zeid’s friends and neighbours gathered on Monday around the remains of his one-storey house, the metal fence mangled. ‘‘I heard a huge explosion like I never heard before,’’ said Marwan Mussallam, 30, a neighbour. ‘‘I saw dismembered bodies, scattered hands and legs with the parts of the bodies far from each other. We collected bodies of the father, the son and the daughter. It was the ugliest scene I have seen in my life.’’
The deaths of Abu Zeid and his children came at the end of a day of almost non-stop fighting, including an Israeli missile strike, Palestinian mortar fire, and the killing of three other Palestinians.
Witnesses and hospital officials said Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem arrested and beat a Palestinian man, Jamil Shaath. They said he was in serious condition after soldiers beat him in the face with a rock.
The Army said it was checking the report.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel’s ‘‘main effort’’ was to launch ceasefire talks, but declined to respond to Israeli media reports that he would offer Palestinian President Yasser Arafat a phased truce plan.
‘‘We did not ask for this war and we have every interest in the world to end it. I think the Palestinians also have an interest in doing so. I think they are discovering more and more that it is leading them nowhere,’’ he told Army Radio.
A Palestinian official said on Sunday that Peres had contacted a high-level official in the Palestinian Authority with the aim of launching ceasefire negotiations. (Reuters)
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 20, 2001
'These are the worst days of our lives'
Many Israelis believe Ariel Sharon is not tough enough, while two thirds of Palestinians support suicide bomb attacks, leaving little hope for peace, writes Brian Whitaker
Monday August 20, 2001
Two very different generations of the Palestinian resistance came together in Ramallah on Saturday for a double funeral. As midday prayers ended at the Great Mosque of al-Bireh, the first body was carried out: a young man wrapped in a Palestinian flag, his face uncovered. They loaded him onto a truck draped with the green banners of Islam and his friends jumped in beside him.
"Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" ["God is greatest"] they cried, sounding almost triumphant.
Nasser abu Zaidiya, barely in his 20s, had been assassinated by an Israeli hit squad that suspected him of killing a settler. As the funeral truck revved its engine, a man with a loud hailer led the chanting and youths with sharp haircuts did a war dance.
"Al-Aqsa's door is made of iron," they shouted defiantly, then roared off, escorting their martyr on his way to paradise.
Next came the body of 67-year-old Suleiman al-Najab in a large and imposing casket. A member of the PLO executive committee and a leader of what used to be called the Communist party but is now known as the Palestinian People's party, he had died in the United States, where he was being treated for cancer.
The procession set off at a snail's pace, to drums and the wail of bagpipes. It was the nearest thing to a state funeral that Ramallah can muster. Senior Palestinian officials followed the cortege, arms linked in lines that stretched the full width of the street.
They halted at the gates of the Palestinian Authority's compound, where Yasser Arafat took the salute. A band played the Last Post and two volleys of shots filled the air.
Arafat was visibly moved by the occasion, and one official confided later that the president had burst into tears on hearing of Suleiman's death. "It's the first time I've seen our president cry," he said.
I had not visited Ramallah for a couple of months and was struck by how much has degenerated in such a short space of time - but also by the divergent moods among Palestinians.
To some, this is not just the second intifada but the "final intifada", which will bring inevitable victory and a Palestinian (or possibly Islamic) state. To others, it's the second "nakba" - a catastrophe as bad as 1948. The words you hear everywhere are "anger" and "frustration".
Bassim is a Palestinian in his 40s. I have known him for a couple of years and he is normally a calm person, but this time, the moment we met, his troubles poured out.
These are the worst days of his life, he said. "I have asked old men too, and they cannot remember a worse time. We are losing and losing and losing. There are no signs at all that say we're going to win. We are the losers."
His greatest fear is that the Sharon government's threat to destroy the Palestinian Authority by force is already being carried out by stealth: the West Bank and Gaza, he said, are crumbling and could turn into something resembling the civil wars seen in Lebanon or even Somalia.
That would not only be a disaster for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis too.
The warning signs are that government and the law are breaking down. No department of the Palestinian Authority is functioning properly - even officials admit they are doing less than 50% of what they should be doing.
Meanwhile, gun ownership is proliferating. "The Palestinian Authority doesn't know who has weapons, and neither do the Israelis."
The statistic that everyone overlooks, Bassim said, is not the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis, or vice versa, but the 20 Palestinians killed by other Palestinians since the intifada began.
These deaths were mostly the result of blood feuds, where families have used the absence of law enforcement to settle old scores. The Palestinian police, with many of their stations destroyed, are powerless to investigate.
A few weeks ago, eight people were killed in the space of two hours during a feud between two Gaza families - one connected to the Preventive Security and the other to General Intelligence. The only person with sufficient authority to sort it out was Yasser Arafat, who had to cut short a visit to Dubai.
In Ramallah, the ministry of local government has just moved to new premises - the previous ones having been bombed. Some of the office furniture is still in flat-pack boxes, awaiting assembly.
Ahmad Ghnaim, the deputy minister, played a leading role in the first intifada, and later in persuading the PLO to engage in the peace process.
"When the first intifada started," he said, "[Yitzhak] Rabin was the Israeli defence minister. He said he would stop it in two weeks, but it didn't stop. Then he said he would stop it in two months, but it went on for seven years. When they discovered it was impossible to stop it they started talking about a political solution. The Israelis in the street took the most important decision."
It will be the same, Ghnaim believes, with this intifada.
"When we convince the Israeli people that there is no military solution, and that there is no political solution by the Israeli way, they will have to accept UN resolutions.
"We don't want to destroy Israel. We are working to assist the Israeli people to accept the idea of peace, and the price of peace. They need a mechanism to change their minds and the mechanism is the intifada. This is the logic of the intifada, and we feel that we will succeed."
The big question is by what means it will succeed. If violence is to be used, what kinds of violence? Ghnaim argues that the United States in particular is confused on the issue of violence.
"They are trying to mix two concepts: violence and struggle for independence. Under international law we have the right to fight and to struggle against the occupation," he said.
"If the US and the human community don't want the Palestinian people to follow international law, that means we are out of the international community - and if so, nobody has the right to ask us what we're doing here."
But there is also confusion among the 14 parties, including the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that make up the Palestinian leadership. For the last five months they have been debating ways of improving the political plan for the intifada.
Fatah's aim in this is to secure a clear declaration of the intifada's goals: to end Israeli occupation of the territories conquered in 1967, and to persuade Israel to accept the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Fatah is also seeking a consensus on halting military activities and bombings inside Israel's 1967 boundaries. According to Fatah sources, all parties had reached the point of agreeing to discuss this when Israel brought everything to a halt by stepping up its assassination policy.
The test that Fatah wants to apply to resistance activities is: do they assist the Palestinian people or not?
In the case of suicide bombs, Fatah's own answer is that they do not assist (though it does not condemn them outright). They alienate international opinion, they increase Israeli hostility towards the Palestinian people as a whole, and they send the wrong message - implying that the Palestinians have a claim to Israeli territory.
But the answer is not so clear to everyone. Suicide bombings are immensely popular with the Palestinian public; according to the most recent opinion poll, about 70% support them.
They are also the only form of resistance that seems to have a serious impact on the Israelis. The first Israeli poll after the two most recent bombings showed dissatisfaction with their prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had risen 11 points to 42%, while 70% of Israeli voters believe he will fail to end "violence and terrorism on the part of Palestinians" - an increase of 29 points.
This might suggest that Israelis are beginning to conclude - as the Palestinians hope they will - that there can be no military solution. But the worrying thing is that 51% of Israelis think Sharon is failing simply because he has not been tough enough.
Suicide bombs, horrible as they are, also address the ordinary Palestinian's feelings of powerlessness and frustration. While the leaders appeal ineffectually for international observers to be sent to the region, lone individuals go out and do something that scares the pants off the enemy.
Suicide bombs are perhaps also a substitute for the kind of struggle that engages the masses. Over the last few weeks, as part of an international solidarity campaign, small groups of Americans and Europeans have been arriving in the occupied territories, bringing with them western ideas of mass protest and non-violent struggle.
Instinct tells them that this is a moral struggle, requiring moral methods. Some are living in Beit Jalla as "human shields" against a possible Israeli attack. They have also joined protests in Jerusalem outside Orient House, the Palestinian headquarters building which was seized by the Israelis.
Many of the Internationals, as they are known, have been taken aback to find that avenues for protest that are taken for granted in the west are closed to the Palestinians.
Suppose that instead of bombing the Jerusalem pizzeria, several thousand Palestinians had decided to sit down peacefully in the road outside it, bringing the city's traffic to a halt. It could never happen, people say, because of the restrictions on Palestinians' movement.
Last week, there were demonstrations most days outside Orient House. One of the biggest was attended by 300-400 people: large numbers of Jewish peace activists, plus the Internationals, but surprisingly few Palestinians.
"It's very difficult for non-violence to work here," Angie Zelter, a British International said. "There's so much frustration and anger. People feel so dispossessed and very scared. The intimidation and terror is on such a scale that people are afraid to put their heads above the parapet."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 20, 2001.