Palestinian Resistance Stuns Israel

by Sara Flounders, Co-Director, International Action Center

For decades the struggle for Palestine's liberation has played a pivotal role in the Arab people's struggle to break imperialism's stranglehold on the Middle East.

Although only a few million people, the Palestinians have been heroic in their determination to survive as a nation. This struggle against overwhelming odds despite many setbacks has revived again and again.

The courage of youths confronting Israeli tanks day after day with stones and slingshots is once again changing the equation of forces in the entire region.

As powerful as the 1987 Intifada was, the scope of the new uprising is greater. It has gone beyond the occupied territories, spreading within the 1948 borders of Israel and mobilizing people throughout the Arab world.

Millions of outraged people have mobilized support, from Lebanon to Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. The Palestinian struggle has aroused a mass movement in these countries that inspires mortal fear in the thin ruling strata. These demonstrations are increasingly targeting U.S. imperialism.

This new chapter in the Palestinian struggle began Sept. 28 when Israeli general Ariel Sharon visited Jerusalem with over a thousand troops to declare Israeli sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This calculated provocation would have been impossible without the Barak government's approval.

Barak authorized a massive Israeli military presence the following day, the Moslem day of prayers. As thousands streamed out of the mosque after prayers, the first clashes began. Now a whole generation has awakened to resistance.

Divide and rule

This new wave of resistance has brought down the whole U.S.- orchestrated plan to use coercive diplomacy and overwhelming force to impose a permanent state of dependent reservations or Bantustans on the Palestinian people.

The Oslo "peace process" provided that the Palestinian Authority would administer these impoverished and fragmented cantons. A lightly armed Palestinian police force was to collaborate with U.S. and Israeli overall control and repress any forces that attempted resistance.

Israel spent the seven years of negotiations building and reinforcing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. There are now over 170 militarized settlements for over 200,000 Israeli settlers. The number of settlers doubled during the "peace process."

The Israeli regime uses the settlements to justify a large Israeli military presence and an invasive system of super-highways connecting the expanding settlements throughout the West Bank to Israel. These highways also divide the Palestinian segments from each other and from their center in Jerusalem.

End of collaboration

The plan was a calculated effort to divide and weaken the Palestinians geographically--and even more important, politically. A key strategy of the Oslo Accords was to subvert and co-opt a section of the Palestinian movement and use it against the rest.

As part of the peace process PA President Yasser Arafat's forces were given tens of millions of dollars to combat "terrorism." This did not mean reining in the ongoing terrorism of Israeli settlers, but Palestinian police were supposed to arrest and jail all the forces committed to continuing the fight against Israel.

Now that an uprising has broken out, increased Israeli repression and terror tactics have led to increased resistance with each passing day. The U.S.-Israeli plan to shape a section of the Palestinian police into a repressive army of collaboration has collapsed.

In October, CIA Director George Tenet was shown on television seated next to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and just across from Arafat at a key meeting in Paris. But what has become of Tenet's plans to build collaboration between the armed forces of oppressor and oppressed? It has collapsed. Israel has launched a missile attack on the headquarters of Arafat's personal security forces. The PA responded by releasing all Palestinian political prisoners from jail.

On Nov. 9 Israeli troops carried out a rocket attack and assassination of Hussein Abayat, a regional commander of the Tanzim militia in the West Bank. In return, on Nov. 11 Palestinian guerrillas ambushed two armed settler-convoys, the first daylight operations by Palestinians in Israeli-run areas of the West Bank.

Morale and political unity decisive

The balance in war is not decided by weapons alone. Though U.S.- supplied Israeli weapons are far superior to the small arms of the Palestinians, protracted struggle is decided by morale, by the level of popular support and the level of political consciousness.

Israel is facing a serious crisis of morale. Political divisions are tearing the state apart. The escalating brutality and repression have demoralized many.

The whole Israeli state is built on the false promise of a secure and prosperous lifestyle, heavily subsidized by Washington. Subsidized housing, with large apartments, lush lawns, swimming pools and sports clubs attracts Israeli settlers to the militarized West Bank settlements.

But now, as Israeli violence escalates, Palestinian guerrilla fighters are responding by targeting the settlements. Settlers travel only in armed convoys. Many settlements are practically empty.

In contrast, the Palestinians are more united and cohesive than they have been in a decade. Their anger at seven years of fraudulent peace talks while settlements expanded all around them has finally exploded. Now each escalation in Israeli repression and terror tactics brings not fear but new levels of outrage and organized resistance.

Change in the whole region

The heroic Palestinian youths who day after day challenge Israeli tanks with stones and slingshots have inspired and aroused people throughout the Middle East. Millions have taken to the streets in solidarity with their struggle, denouncing not only Israel but U.S. imperialism.

In the last six weeks this shift in political climate has weakened U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and unraveled its plans.

Iraq, Syria and Iran are forging new relations. Iraq is openly challenging the no-flight zones that U.S. and British aircraft carriers and jet bombers have enforced with impunity for 10 years. Planes from many countries are flying directly to Baghdad to challenge the sanctions strangling the Iraqis. The charged political climate makes it harder for the Pentagon to threaten or to intervene aggressively.

Collapse of Israeli economy

Washington's plans to make Israel the high-tech engine of the region have collapsed. Promising business deals and trade offices have closed.

The crisis has derailed the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, a European Union-inspired process to bring "southern Mediterranean" countries into a free-trade area. Now Syria and Lebanon are threatening a boycott because of Israel's participation. The real beneficiaries of a free-trade zone are always the developed countries with the strongest economies--the U.S., Israel and the West European countries.

The tourist industry, a mainstay of the Israeli economy, has totally closed down. Flights to Tel Aviv are almost empty. The arrivals section echoes. Departing flights are booked solid with no available seats. At the airport and in every shopping or gathering area the mood is tense and security is all-pervasive.

U.S. tax dollars are once again the only real prop of the Israeli economy. Congress has promised anew infusion of both military hardware and economic subsidies.

The military clampdown is even more destructive to the fragile Palestinian economy. The enforced closing for weeks at a time of many small businesses and endless roadblocks mean that it is difficult to get to market even the olives and agricultural produce that are a mainstay for many families.

Workers can't get to their jobs. The 40,000 Palestinians who had permits to work in Israel and the 60,000 who worked there illegally are without an income.

Although this creates enormous privation and hardship for the Palestinians, it has also undermined joint business deals with Israel. World Bank and International Monetary Fund long-term investment projects that dramatically increased the dependence of the Palestinian economy on Israel are the first casualties. Accommodation is no longer an option for the thin layer of the population who benefited from collaboration.

A new era of continued resistance will revive the movement for the liberation of Palestine. It will inspire anti-imperialist struggles worldwide--and that will make it harder for the billionaire transnational corporations to use oppressed countries as a cheap labor pool.

The working-class and progressive movement here has a great stake in this struggle. Its support for the righteous demands of the Palestinians-- for full sovereignty, the right to an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem and the right for return for all refugees--is vital.


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