Ramallah: IDF fanning flames of war
WHEN the statesmen talk about peace, the common people know they can expect war, is an old saying. With Israeli and Arab, as well as Western, leaders putting out signals about peace just recently, the Israeli Defence(sic) Forces (IDF) has carried out a major provocative raid on Ramallah, the functioning centre of Palestinian authority amid the occupied territories.
The mid-day raid brought death to four people in the town's main square. It has been condemned by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom as "an aggressive and dangerous provocation".
It came two weeks after Palestininian president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was invited to the official residence of the Prime Minister of Israel, after years of being boycotted. "There, in front of the cameras, Olmert embraced him and kissed him warmly on both cheeks. Abbas looked stunned, and froze.
Somehow the scene was reminiscent of another incident of politically-inspired physical contact: the embarassing occurrence at the Camp David meeting, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak pushed Yasser Arafat forcefully into the room where Bill Clinton stood waiting.
In both instances it was a gesture that was intended to look like paying respect to the Palestinian leader, but both were actually acts of violence that - seemingly - testified to ignorance of the customs of the other people and of their delicate situation. Actually, the aim was quite different.
"According to the New Testament, Judas Iscariot kissed Jesus in order to point him out to those who had come to arrest him. In appearance - an act of love and friendship. In effect - a death sentence".
(Uri Avnery, 6.1.2007, Kiss of Death).
If Olmert was serious he could have started the release of Palestinian prisoners, who include elected MPs and ministers. But he did not. Not even mothers, elderly or sick people, who could have been freed on humanitarian grounds. As Israeli veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery notes: "He did indeed announce (for the umpteenth time) that the roadblocks would be 'eased', but the Palestinians report that they have not felt any change. Perhaps, here and there, the endless queue at some of the roadblocks has become a little shorter. Also, Olmert gave back a fifth of the Palestinian tax money withheld (or embezzled) by the Israeli government. To the Palestinians, this looked like another shameful failure for their President: he went to Canossa and received meaningless promises that were not kept".
Olmert may have gone through motions to give Bush something to claim as progress. But as Avnery observes, "there is also a more cynical explanation. If one humiliates Abbas, one strengthens Hamas. Palestinian support for Abbas depends on one single factor: his ability to get from the US and Israel things Hamas cannot. The Americans and the Israelis love him, so - the argument goes - they will give him what is needed: the mass release of prisoners, an end to the targeted killings, the removal of the monstrous roadblocks, the opening of the passage between the West Bank and Gaza, the start of serious negotiations for peace. But if Abbas cannot deliver any of these - what remains but the methods of Hamas?"
"The business of the prisoners provides a good example. Nothing troubles the Palestinians more than this: almost every Palestinian clan has people in prison. Every family is affected: a father, a brother, a son, sometimes a daughter. Every night, the Israeli army 'arrests' another dozen or so. How to get them free?
Hamas has a proven remedy: to capture Israelis (in the Israeli and international media, Israelis are "kidnapped" while Palestinians are "arrested"). For the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Olmert will release many prisoners. Israelis, according to Palestinian experience, understand only the language of force.
"Some of Olmert's advisors had a brilliant idea: to give Abbas hundreds of prisoners as a gift, just for nothing. That would reinforce the position of the Palestinian president and prove to the Palestinians that they can get more from us this way than by violence. It would deal a sharp blow to the Hamas government, whose overthrow is a prime aim of the governments both of Israel and the USA.
"Out of the question, cried another group of Olmert's spin doctors. How will the Israeli media react if prisoners are released before Shalit comes home?
The trouble is that Shalit is held by Hamas and its allies, and not by Abbas. If it is forbidden to release prisoners before the return of Shalit, then all the cards are in the hands of Hamas. In that case, perhaps it makes sense to speak with Hamas? Unthinkable! The result: no strengthening of Abbas, no dialogue with Hamas, no nothing. THAT IS an old Israeli tradition: when there are two alternatives, we choose the third: not to do anything."
(Avnery, A Kiss of Death.)
But it is actually worse. While doing nothing to strengthen Abbas politically, the Israeli forces which used to bomb Palestinian police stations, and trumphantly seized weapons bound for Arafat's forces, have facilitated a shipment of arms for Abbas' security force, from Egypt. Olmert and his generals must be rubbing their hands at the prospect of Palestinian civil war.
Not content with that, they have launched the Ramallah raid. This provocation came as Olmert was meeting the Egyptian president, and was under pressure to respond positively to public peace overtures from Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad. Opening talks could mean indicating readiness to return the occupied Golan Heights and allow Syrian refugees to return there. But Olmert argued that talking with Syria now would mean letting down Bush and Washington. Then he demanded Assad break links with Iran and Hizbollah. In other words, throw away his negotiating cards before the talks begin!
According to Avnery, senior Israeli army commanders are calling for Israel to invade Syria, reducing that country to ruins and chaos as America has done in Iraq (and this just as Israeli political analysts have concluded that the end of Saddam Husein's regime in this way has made the Middle East far more unstable and dangerous than it was before!) Having made a mess of their savage blitzkreig on Lebanon the military commanders, like an addicted gambler, want to repeat their madness with another, bigger, throw - staking all on alliance with the neo cons in Washington still pushing for war on Iran.
So while Olmert is doing nothing to make his peace promises seem real, his armed forces are doing something to provoke an outburst of anger and fan the flames of ongoing war. Here is the comment from Gush Shalom:
The deadly raid in Ramallah is an aggressive and dangerous provocation. This is not the way to build a cease-fire, nor anyway helpful to advance peace.
At the very hour when the Prime Minister of the State of Israel held with the President of Egypt a meeting, which is supposed to bring us back on the route to peace, somebody had decided to send soldiers, bulldozers and helicopter gunships to conduct a deadly midday raid into Ramallah.
The largest Israeli force to enter this city in the past four years conducted a prolonged gun battle in Ramallah’s main square, in front of international TV crews, and killed four Palestinian inhabitants. It was an act of heavy-handed aggression which immediately wiped out Olmert’s so-called “gestures” to President Abu Mazen (none of which, incidentally, was carried out).
Either somebody deliberately intended to create a deadly provocation, or it was an unbelievable show of stupidity and incompetence. In both cases, the dire result is the same, as is the conclusion: this is not the way to build a ceasefire, and certainly not the way to advance towards peace. If the deadly IDF raids into the West Bank cities are not stopped, there will also be no quiet in Sderot and on the Gaza Strip border, and all of us will sink deeper into the abyss of hatred and bloodshed.
For further information: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom spokesperson email@example.com