In 2002, acting under pressure from the United States and Israel, Ahmed Sa’adat, the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and four others were arrested by the Palestinian Authority, accused of being involved in the killing of Israeli tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in January 2002. This arrest was undertaken as part of an agreement between Israel and the PA and sponsored by the US and UK.
In exchange for lifting the military siege on late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat’s compound, the Palestinian Authority gave in to Israel’s demand that the five be transferred to a prison in Jericho, to be guarded by the Palestinian Authority and monitored by U.S. and British military personnel.
During his lifetime, Ze’evi had been a constant thorn in the side for Palestinians. He gained the nickname “Gandhi” because of the long Arab dress he used to wear when he was young and thin and this moniker was reinforced during his time in the Israeli army as an ironic tribute to his far-from-Gandhi-like politics and character. He established his political movement “Moledet” in 1988. His movement’s program consisted mainly in the transfer of Palestinian people from the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip to neighbouring Arab countries. Ze’evi made it quite clear that he supported forced transfer, famously comparing Palestinians to “lice” and “cancer”.
Ze’evi also opposed Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreements and even went so far as to call for Israel to occupy Jordan on more than one occasion, even after they had signed a formal peace treaty with Israel. He withdrew from the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir because he was greatly disappointed by the Madrid Conference of 1991.
On Wednesday, 17 October 2001, he was shot dead by four gunmen. The PFLP later claimed responsibility for the killing, stating it was in revenge for the assassination by Israel of the then Secretary General of PFLP, Abu Ali Mustafa the previous year.
Recently, some negotiations to release Ahmad Sa’adat took place between the PFLP and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas said that nobody could secure the safety of Sa’adat and if the PFLP wanted to take this responsibility, he would not oppose the idea, especially since the Palestinian Supreme Court had ordered his release in 2002. The PFLP refused this request and insisted that the whole agreement had been wrong from the beginning and the PA should take the primary responsibility it holds for its citizens in a more serious manner.
Following these initial negotiations, Israel, and most probably in co-ordination with the Americans and the British, decided to invade the prison in Jericho to kidnap Sa’adat and his comrades. A US spokesperson announced on a major media channel that the responsibility lies jointly with Israel, the US, the UK and the PA, while Luisa Morgantini, MEP and President of the European Parliament Development Commission said in a press release:
“The Americans and British must take responsibility for their actions. The decision to abandon Jericho prison is a serious violation of the undertakings that were made and calls to mind the role of Sharon in the Sabra and Chatila massacre”.
There are many reasons for the raid on Jericho prison. One of them is the Israeli election. Palestinians know from experience that before every election Israel becomes more brutal. The latest poll conducted by Ha’aretz shows a serious increase in the support for Kadima and its leader Ehud Olmert.
Another reason is to send Hamas a message: They will not be accepted and the agreements between Israel and the previous PA are no longer valid.
The arrival of Israeli tanks just twenty minutes after the withdrawal of the British and American guards from the prison shows that Israel is not the only one sending this message. This comes as yet another slap of blatant contradiction in the face, as the EU and the US have been consistently demanding that Hamas respect all previous agreements with Israel.
The invasion of the prison and the kidnapping of Ahmed Sa’adat and others on 14 March proves once again that Israel is, for all intents and purposes, a country above the law. The scenes of Palestinian policemen and other civilians (NB. prisoners are unarmed civilians) forced to come out half-naked, with their hands raised above their heads emphasize the will of Israel to insult the dignity of Palestinian people.
It proves also that Israel works with complete impunity, cover and support from the US and UK. It is no wonder that Palestinians doubt these countries’ ability to broker any peace negotiation between Palestine and Israel in an honest fashion.
Hamas’ political program for forming the government and especially the point of not recognising Israel could prove to be correct. The so-called “international community” is calling for Hamas to immediately recognise Israel’s right to exist, but again double standards and confusion are at play here. Firstly the demand is totally unilateral and secondly the implications of this move are unclear. Does the international community want Hamas to recognise Israel in the way it does – as a state above the law, legitimised to carry out any action with impunity?
I believe that if Palestinians were in a position to hold Israel accountable in an effective manner for its actions as a result of recognising Israel, then any Palestinian government would concede to this. And yet, another question begs an answer: if the international community is the one that already recognises Israel, then should it not, as a natural consequence, be obliged to recognise the absolute atrocities perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people; Jericho being just the latest example?
Indeed almost the whole world “recognises” Israel as a state party but Israel has never complied with international law and has never been forced to do so. Instead it has relied on consistent blind support from the US and some other countries. The legendary peace process which Israel was a part of was just a smokescreen for its true aim: to make Palestine devoid of its people. Israel managed to co-opt the language of peace to gain more territories and continue its aggressive policies against the Palestinians.
Although it saddens me to say this, the time has come for everyone to take the wool from their eyes and call a spade a spade: Israel does not want peace. This fact is not dependent on whatever government is in power, but rather is related to an entrenched Zionist ideology advocated by all governments in power so far, which is exclusive and racist and does not recognise the right of Palestinians on their homeland.
Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians because any peace agreement will inevitably lead to concessions and this will jeopardise their aim of having a purely Jewish state on all of historical Palestine. When will the international community pluck up the courage to admit that Israel is waging a unilateral war on mostly Palestinian civilians? If they really believe this is not a war, then why not limit their actions to the few militants that carry out sporadic resistance attacks?
If it is a war, then why don’t they stick to legitimate rules of war? This “war”, conveniently intensified prior to national elections, and within the framework of a unilateral truce that has been respected by Hamas since March 2005, will inevitably lead to more bloodshed and more instability in the region. Is this what the “international community” advocates? Is this what it wants? Has the time not come for the so-called “international community” to take their responsibility in a more serious way and to stop the Israeli aggression? Should it wait until the slow genocide of Palestinians is complete? As on many other occasions, the “international community” will wake up late to start crying crocodile tears and pledge that this will not happen again.
Meanwhile, many people’s attention has been deflected by some Palestinians’ reactions to the Jericho attack. I openly condemn these irrational assaults on foreigners and international institutions and my sympathy extends to those individuals and institutions targeted. This is not helpful and will harm our cause more. While inexcusable, I would welcome more reflection by the outside world on why this is happening. Palestinians are angry, humiliated and deeply hurt by what happened on Tuesday in Jericho. They are robbed of any means with which to protest officially against this latest aggression from Israel.
The few Palestinians responsible probably believe that by kidnapping foreigners or smashing the windows of a British bank, they are transmitting a message of protest to the “international community” And why to respect the “international community”? It is the same community that divided Palestine and then did not care to finish what they started, when it offered to “help” the Palestinians in building their state on what was left of their homeland. It is the same community that sponsored Oslo and did not respect it or, at least, did not ensure that it was respected. It is the same community that supports Israeli atrocities and is afraid of criticising them. This is the hypocrisy of this community and the hypocrisy of its slogans.
A blind eye is turned to breaches of agreements or international law against Arabs and Muslims but when it comes to others, the so-called “international community” will stand strong.
This double standard does not help any effort to bridge the gaps between East and West. How can Palestinians understand the attitude of the Bush administration in accepting, receiving and welcoming all Arab leaders, none of which were elected democratically by its people, yet at the same time boycotting the only democratically elected Arab leaders in Palestine: first, Arafat and now Hamas?
What message does this send to our children who are educated to believe in the values of democracy, subsidised in many instances by USAID? It proves that the language of democracy is a tool for whoever has the power to define but what really matters is the protection of interests by any means necessary.
This can and should not continue this way. Israel must be stopped. The Israeli government cannot remain unpunished. The breaking-off of diplomatic ties and the suspension of Israel from all international institutions and agreements should ensue immediately. A wider call for sanctions, boycott and divestment inside Israel must also be pushed. Israel should not be allowed to use Palestinians as an object for their election campaigns. If Ahmad Sa’adat added six seats to Kadima, I wonder what next tricks Olmert has up his sleeve to gain more seats? Nothing is inconceivable for Israel, after receiving the “green light” for something on the scale of Jericho, especially if the “international community” will continue to be silent and non-responsive.
Some may read this and think that the “international community” (in all its legitimacy and power) cannot be held responsible for what happens here. If this is the tendency in thinking, then please can someone tell me what it can be used for? What benefit do we have from a set of international regulations and mechanisms and a body with enough political leverage to implement them if this leverage is not applied? The international front against Hitler came much too late and only after the open persecution of millions of innocent people, Jewish and others alike. As Edmond Burke, 18th century member of British Parliament once stated “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I would modify that quote to state that the “only thing necessary thing for the triumph of evil is for righteous and capable men and women not to do what they could do to stop it”.
Rifat Odeh Kassis is a Palestinian human rights activist en president of Defense for Children International.