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Black flags over Palestine

Gordon Barthos


ABIR AMAR knifed Hananel Jerafi in the back this week, in Hebron in the West Bank.

Amar is a 20-year-old Palestinian woman. She was just freed from prison, after doing two years for trying to knife an Israeli cop. Jerafi is a
19-year-old Israeli settler. A religious student.

They're kids, really. In better times they'd be neighbours. He'll live.

Indeed, the knifing hardly rated a mention in the newspapers.

Not with Israeli tank commanders dramatically pumping shells into Palestinian apartment blocks on the outskirts of Jerusalem as families watch TV, to deter Palestinian snipers. And troops assassinating activists.

But the Hebron incident was a reminder that Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon may have a hard time hammering Palestinians from a safe distance.Things are up close and personal as Palestinians step up their five-month mini-war against occupation.

"What we are talking about is a war in every sense of the word," Israeli army chief Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday. He should know.
He can see the black flags of anarchy being raised across the occupied areas. Despite the pressure, Palestinians show no sign of backing down. Far from it. "Everybody says 'stop the violence,'" Hanan Ashrawi told American journalists this week. "I think there is one sure way of stopping the violence: Remove Israeli tanks, Israeli gunships, Israeli checkpoints from Palestinian territory, lift the state of siege.... We are not on Israel's land. Israel is on Palestinian land."

Jerusalem residents now spend wakeful nights listening to shelling and gunfire in the suburbs.

Palestinian sniping, mortar fire, anti-tank missiles, roadside bombs and grenade attacks have become routine. There was shooting this week in Beit Jala, Maale Adumim, Nablus, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Dura, Erez, Homesh, Quadim, Tulkarm, Einav, Nebi Tzalah, Psagot, El Khader, Shadma, Neve Dekalim, the Netzarim Junction, Sdom, Jenin, Hareth Sheikh, Rafiah, Masri Jarar and other places. Both sides have stopped trying to keep track.

As The Star's Mideast bureau chief Sandro Contenta reports, the military is hitting back with rockets, tank fire and sniper attacks. And targeting activists. Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Madani became the 15th or 20th to be killed. The death toll has surged past 400. That includes 350 Arabs, 100 of them children, and 60 Israelis, half of them civilians. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been injured.

Sharon is under heavy pressure from settlers to "let the army be the army." That means okaying heavier shelling, and more shoot-on-sight orders. But the Palestinian Authority elected under the 1993 Mideast peace accords is cracking under the existing military and economic pressure. "Within Palestinian society now there is chaos," says Nader Said, an academic at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

If Sharon cranks up the heat civil society may collapse, ushering in not peace and quiet, but anarchy and terror.

All this underscores a simple fact: In the absence of a credible peace process, Sharon has no good options, no matter how carefully he assembles a government or how skilfully he tackles the security crisis. But he hasn't got a peace plan, either. That is the tragedy of this impasse.
Palestinians speculate that Yasser Arafat may flee to Baghdad if things worsen, to direct the struggle from afar as he did from Tunis for many years. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But people wouldn't be surprised. Palestine Liberation Organization activists are now taking over the streets, along with Hamas and Hezbollah. Moderate Palestinian Authority officials are being sidelined, and undercut. Not since the 1970s have people been so radicalized.

Most Palestinians now favour suicide bombings against Israeli targets, and not just in the occupied areas. That anger is fueled by desperation. United Nations special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen reports that Arafat's government is broke. It can't pay bills. Israel's military blockade has cost the Palestinian economy $1.5 billion (U.S.), a quarter of its projected $6 billion total in 2000. Arab leaders voice support for the Palestinian ``martyrs,'' and wring their hands, but have delivered only a third of $1.2 billion in promised aid.

Today Palestinians are even poorer than Iraqis, who command global sympathy. The 3 million Palestinians currently scrape by on $4.50 a day per capita, compared to $7 for Iraqis. Nearly a million live on less than $2 a day, the global benchmark for extreme poverty. They have little left to lose. "Hunger breeds hatred, hatred breeds violence, and violence breeds extremism," Roed-Larsen said, appealing for donor funds. He predicts "chaos and anarchy,"' as conditions worsen. Lt.-Gen. Mofaz doesn't need persuading. He knows. So does Hananel Jerafi.
Toronto Star, 23 février 2001.


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