The Israeli attack on Jericho and kidnap of a number of Palestinian prisoners, including the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) demonstrates once again the fiction that there is a functioning Palestinian “government” in the occupied territories. The ease and impunity with which the occupation forces attack Palestinians everywhere serves to remind us that these territories remain today, as they have been since 1967, under full Israeli military dictatorship. It is a mistake to keep referring to a “Palestinian government,” because this gives the false impression that Palestinians under occupation are in control of their destiny. Palestinian factions may, in the wake of the January elections, be negotiating to form a “government,” but this does not mean that this “government” can exercise any control or protect Palestinians from the ravages of the occupying power.
The media coverage we have seen of the events in Jericho, especially the BBC, has been appallingly shallow and misleading. Let us remember why Ahmad Sa’adat and other prisoners in the Jericho jail were wanted by the occupation authorities. Sa’adat is accused of killing Rehavam Ze’evi, the founder of the Moledet Party and an Israeli cabinet minister. The missing contextual facts are that the PFLP killed Ze’evi in retaliation for Israel’s murder of its leader Abu Ali Mustafa (Mustafa al-Zibri) in August 2001. Al-Zibri was not carrying arms or fighting, but sitting at his desk when an Israeli Apache helicopter fired a missile at him blowing him to pieces. Ze’evi was the leading advocate in Israel for the destruction of the Palestinian people, calling for their wholesale expulsion. The party he founded is running on the same platform in the current Israeli election campaign as anyone can read on its website.
In the present atmosphere, we are being told that Hamas, which has maintained a truce for more than 12 months, and which has declared its willingness to come to terms with an Israel that withdraws to the 1967 border, is beyond the pale for Europeans and Americans to talk to until it “recognizes Israel” and “renounces violence.” Why were such conditions never imposed on Israel? How is it that a proud, boastful ethnic cleanser like Ze’evi could sit in the Israeli cabinet with Ariel Sharon and Nobel Prize winner Shimon Peres for years and not one of those Western officials who today threaten the Palestinians with an end to all aid for electing Hamas uttered not one single word? Why is it acceptable for the US Congress to hand over billions of dollars to an Israel whose government ministers advocate ethnic cleansing? How is it that instead of demanding the arrest of the murderers of Abu Ali Mustafa and thousands of other Palestinians, Britain and the US collude with Israel to commit new crimes under international law?
Ahmad Sa’adat was arrested on 15 January 2002 by the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. He was being held at the PA’s headquarters in Ramallah. In May 2002, Sa’adat and six other detainees were transferred to Jericho as part of the U.S.-brokered agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that ended a 34-day Israeli military siege on Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. A force of US and British guards would oversee their captivity. Their role was simply to monitor the terms of the Ramallah agreement to report any non-compliance. The Ramallah Agreement states that any changes in the status of the detainees should be agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Unlawful apprehension of a suspect by state agents, including US and British security agents acting in the territory of another state is not a bar to the excercise of jurisdiction. Such apprehension would, of course, constitute a breach of international law and the norm of non-intervention.
Sa‘adat was never formally charged with any recognizable criminal offence or brought before a judge. The Palestinian High Court of Justice in Gaza requested the PA to bring evidence against him, but it failed to do so. On June 3, 2002, the High Court ordered the immediate release of Sa’adat. The next day, the PA decided that Sa’adat should not be released “due to Israeli threats of assassinating Sa‘adat as there was an overt announcement of that by Sharon’s spokesman”. A few months later, Israeli armed forces killed Sa’adat brothers at his family home in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers went to Mohammed Sa’adat’s home, opened fire and killed him.
While there is silence about the attacks in Jericho, there is also silence and inaction as Israel announced that Ariel, a huge colony in the heart of the West Bank, is to be annexed, and Israel began building a new occupation forces “police station” east of Jerusalem, the first step in massively expanding the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Israel, as we have seen once again, is a rogue state which acts not only with impunity but with the active support of western powers who promise to starve its victims while quaking in fear at uttering a single word of criticism. The only path for those who reject violence is to work to comprehensively isolate this wild regime as the South African apartheid regime was in its time isolated.
Ali Abunimah and Arjan El Fassed are co-founders of the Electronic Intifada.