At this very moment (Friday, May 14), Israel army bulldozers are razing dozens of homes in the Rafah refugee camp in retaliation for the deaths of five Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Mofaz last night authorized the army to demolish hundreds of Palestinian houses at Rafah, on the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt, so as to create a “sterile” zone hundreds of meters wide. This, in addition to dozens of homes demolished or threatened with demolition in the Zeidun refugee camp in Gaza City. According to witnesses, panic-stricken residents are grabbing whatever belongings they can carry and are fleeing, some waving white flags at approaching Israeli forces.
The demolitions are being carried out as part of a campaign of collective punishment visited on the Palestinian population of Gaza after two army troop carriers were destroyed in the wake of the Israeli invasion. The demolitions are part of an ongoing war against Palestinian civilians that goes far beyond terrorist attacks. So disproportionate is the Israeli response, so indiscriminate in its attacks upon an innocent civilian population — some 1,200 houses have been demolished in Gaza the past three years — that Israeli actions can only be described as state terrorism. Attacks on non-combatant populations, collective punishment and the demolition of homes are all illegal under international law and constitute war crimes, as former Israeli government minister Yossi Sarid declared today in the Haaretz newspaper.
Nor is this a response to terrorism. The notion that Sharon intended to “disengage” from Gaza is disingenuous and misleading. He may dismantle Israeli settlements, but Sharon intends to keep full military control of Gaza, including the “sterile zone” at Rafah, keeping Gaza encircled within an electronic fence, maintaining a military and economic boycott of the sea and controlling Palestinian airspace. Rather than “disengagement,” this is merely imprisoning a million and a half Palestinians while then strengthening the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In presenting the deaths of the soldiers as a “terrorist attack,” the Israel government conceals entirely the fact that they died as part of a military force invading Palestinian towns and cities as part of a brutal 37-year Occupation by Israel that shows no signs of ending. Palestinian terror may be a symptom but it is the Occupation that is the cause. The Occupation, the Israeli peace camp stresses, constitutes the infrastructure of terror. Nor does terror come only from “the ground.” Terror, when directed against a subjugated and powerless civilian population like the Palestinians in Gaza, is equally reprehensible. The wholesale onslaught of Israeli planes, missiles, tanks, bulldozers and troops on densely populated civilian centers, the leveling of whole neighborhoods as we are witnessing at this moment, can only be called state terrorism. To add to the tragedy and injustice, the camps and neighborhoods under attack are home to Palestinians made refugees by Israel in 1948.
Indeed, the terror being visited upon the Palestinians in Gaza is part of Israeli state policy. The demolitions being carried out today are not merely a reaction to violence; they are the implementation of plans formulated by the army already in 2001, when the American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed attempting to block bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes. These actions, it should be noted, implicate the US in Israeli war crimes and violate American law. Virtually all the weapons deployed against Palestinians are American-made and purchased, from the D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes to the F-16s used to bomb Palestinian cities. Their very use against civilian populations violates the Arms Control Export Act, which prohibits the use of American arms in situations that violate fundamental human rights.
There is another dimension of this Americans should note with grave concern. The ongoing subjugation of the Palestinian people with American arms and the uncritical support of the American government – witness President Bush’s policy change recognizing the permanency of Israeli settlements and thereby burying the two-state solution forever – isolates America in the eyes of the world. In a recent UN vote calling on Israel to withdraw from Gaza, every country in the world supported withdrawal; only Israel, the US, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia opposed. This should send warning signals to the American public. The damage done to the US position in the world by the prisoner abuse scandal can only be understood against the backdrop of American support for the subjugation of another Arab Muslim population – the Palestinians – by Israel, enabled by a fully complicit and supportive US.
Israel will not know peace and security, the Palestinians will not know freedom, America will not know security and find its place in the world until the Israeli Occupation ends.
Jeff Halper, is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.