Israel’s widely reported “unilateral cease-fire” was non-existent from day one

On 22 May 2001, Israel announced it was implementing a “unilateral cease-fire”. On 28 May 2001, the first Associated Press story appeared with the related spin-word, [Israeli] “restraint”.

On 26 June 2001, during Sharon’s visit to the United States, he lamented the ‘breakdown’ of the cease-fire, blaming Palestinians for the continued violence:

“We don’t have any cease-fire,” Sharon told Jewish leaders at a reception Monday in New York. There have been 15 Palestinian attacks since Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire and “that cannot go on,” he said.

— from “Sharon looking to Bush for help,” Associated Press, 26 June 2001

While it is true that Palestinian militants have continued to attack Israeli settlers and, on 1 June 2001, a suicide bomber attacked a crowd outside a Tel Aviv disco killing 21, there has been no genuine cease-fire by the Israeli occupation army at any point since the phrase and its accompanying media-friendly adjective, “restraint”, was first used.

Journalist Phil Reeves from The Independent, wrote that:

“Israel’s government publicity machine has successfully promoted the view that the violence is committed only by the Palestinians. In reality, violations of the truce have come from both sides.”

— from “Three more killings put CIA-brokered truce under pressure,” by Phil Reeves, The Independent, 19 June 2001.

This has been the case since the beginning of the “cease-fire”. On 10 June 2001, 20 days after it was declared, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza noted that:

“Since a statement issued by the Israeli authorities on May 22, 2001, proclaiming a cease-fire in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, ten Palestinians, including eight civilians, have been killed and more than 100 have been injured by live bullets and by shrapnel from artillery shells fired by the Israeli occupation forces. In addition, three Palestinian civilians have been killed by settlers who have intensified their attacks on Palestinian civilians and property in recent days.”

— from “Three Palestinian women killed by Israeli shelling,” Press Release, Ref: 31/2001, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 10 June 2001.

What Israelis are saying about the “cease-fire”

On 20 June 2001, the Israeli Cabinet met to discuss the “cease-fire” and decided to proceed with the political assassinations of Palestinian activists while “reaffirm[ing] the cease-fire”. Israel TV political correspondent Qeren Neubach reported later that:

“A senior inner cabinet member told us a short while ago that the inner cabinet decision on preventive actions - namely, liquidations - lifted some fetters off Israel. What it means is that we may see pinpointed preventive operations carried out in the near future, as they were in the past - but not in the past two weeks*.”

— from Channel 1, Jerusalem, in Hebrew, 16:30GMT, 20 Jun 2001.

* Actually, since 7 June 2001, there were two assassination attempts on Palestinian activists, on 11 and 20 June.

The following day — 21 June 2001 — Sharon, pandering to extreme right-wing critics from the Jewish settlers, openly and unambiguously admitted that there was no “restraint” being practiced by the Israeli troops:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday that the use of the word “restraint” in describing IDF policy in the territories is inaccurate as the IDF has wide freedom of movement to defend roads there and to carry out operations against those who harm Israelis or are planning to do so.

Sharon was speaking at the Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Metzudat Ze’ev, during a meeting with party activists from Rosh Ha’ayin, Kiryat Haim and Kiryat Motzkin.

In a signal to his critics on the right, who are pressuring him to use more force in dealing with the Palestinians, the prime minister said that, “the responsibility is on my shoulders and I need to consider the full picture. It would be a mistake to act according to slogans.”

Sharon repeated his call that “there is no restraint” to journalists later Thursday.

— from “Sharon: ‘Restraint’ not true reflection IDF policy in territories,” by Natan Guttman, Amnon Barzilai, Ha’aretz correspondents, and agencies, 21 June 2001.

The following day, Sharon similarly qualified his understanding of “restraint”:

“I think there’s a misunderstanding on the issue of restraint,” a testy Sharon told Israel TV on Friday. “There’s no limit today on the implementation of … the right of self-defense.”

— from “U.S. is behind new restraint by Sharon, Israel’s warrior,” by Ron Kampeas, Associated Press, 25 June 2001.

Despite Israeli admissions, framing events as “Israeli restraint” is endemic

Despite this admission — and the post-May 22nd “cease-fire” chronology found elsewhere on The Electronic Intifada website that testifies to an unbroken pattern of Israeli violence and continuing military occupation — the international media has adopted this false framing of reality, promoting the myth of Israeli “restraint”. The first two examples below show this occuring in the body text of reports as opposed to quotations of Israeli spokepersons, which would be acceptable. The third example, a direct quote from US President George W. Bush, shows how this perception has permeated the US political arena:

Sharon has refrained from massive retaliatory attacks against the Palestinians since ordering a general cease-fire in late May, despite a string of deadly events including a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 people. — from “Sharon says Israeli army free to act as hardliners grow restless,” Agence France Presse, 21 June 2001.

Despite his hardline reputation, Sharon will get a red-carpet welcome in Washington for holding fire in the face of some of the worst Palestinian violence ever, including a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 people.

— from “Israel’s Sharon off to US with policy of ‘restraint’ in the balance,” by Jacques Pinto, Agence France Presse, 24 June 2001.

President Bush is urging Israel to show “continued restraint” while putting forth greater effort to stabilize a cease-fire with the Palestinians. [….] “The president’s point is that all parties have to continue to make a 100 percent effort to implement the cease-fire,” Fleischer said. “The president is pleased with the restraint that Israel has shown in the face of recent events. He’s going to urge continued restraint.”

— from “Sharon sets tough conditions for resuming peace talks,” by Sonya Ross, Associated Press, 26 June 2001.

The reality on the ground

Since the “unilateral cease-fire” was declared (22 May 2001) and the “restraint” buzzword started appearing (28 May 2001), Israeli actions on the ground have clearly not been restricted to acts of “self-defence”, as Sharon put it.

In the first week of the “unilateral cease-fire”, during the period 24-31 May 2001, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza reported that:

Israeli occupation forces continued to use excessive force against Palestinian civilians. Such actions contradict statements made by the Israeli government regarding a cease-fire, which began on Tuesday, May 22 2001. According to information gathered during PCHR field observations, this “cease-fire” was characterized by the following:

  1. Shelling of Palestinian residential areas and civilian facilities by Israeli tanks and from military sites;
  2. Firing of heavy and medium caliber bullets at Palestinian civilians, civilian houses and civilian facilities;
  3. Shelling of Palestinian security sites;
  4. Encroachment by Israeli occupation forces into areas under the full control of the Palestinian National Authority in order to raze areas of agricultural land and demolish civilian facilities;
  5. Razing of areas of Palestinian agricultural land near settlements and along the border of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation forces;
  6. Continuation of a total siege on the Occupied Palestinian Territories and isolation of Palestinian cities and villages from one another.

Source: Weekly Report No. 22, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 31 May 2001.

Related links:
For a detailed, day-by-day breakdown of what transpired during the first 50 days of Israel’s ceasefire, see our special section: