Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Israel’s Brutal Siege of Beit Hanoun
On Nov. 8, Israeli artillery shells screamed through the sky toward the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. The shells exploded in a complex of residential buildings, killing 18 people, 17 of whom were members of a single family. Since then, several more have died as a result of their injuries.
This latest Israeli massacre came only one day after the Israeli army (the “Israel Defense Force” or IDF) announced it was withdrawing from Beit Hanoun after a week-long siege in which at least 77 Palestinians were killed and 250 wounded (figures from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, www.pchrgaza.org).
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement expressing “regret” at the deaths and injuries from the Nov. 8 shelling—then he declared that “the military will continue as long as there will be Qassam shooting…we are not going to stop.” [Qassam is the name of the crude rockets often fired by Palestinian militants into Israel proper.]
The IDF’s explanation of the massacre in Beit Hanoun is that the newly installed memory card for the radar-guided artillery system had “malfunctioned.” Yet an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Nov. 10 stated that such a malfunction had never been previously reported in the 30 years in which the IDF has used this system, nor had it been reported in any similar systems.
The assault on Beit Hanoun began on Nov. 1 with the purported Israeli objective of stopping explosive rockets from being fired into Israeli-occupied Palestine adjacent to Gaza. Israel’s attacks over the following days were carried out with tank shells, missiles fired from helicopter gunships, and strikes said to be targeting specific Palestinians in the town—that is, assassinations—sometimes carried out with remote controlled flying drones that shoot missiles. At least 12 people have been killed in 5 such “extra-judicial executions.”
In the course of the siege, the entire Palestinian population of 40,000 was ordered to stay at home; schools, businesses and workplaces were closed; water and electricity were cut off. Border crossings between Gaza and Israel were closed, preventing Palestinians from traveling to work and transporting needed food and supplies.
The Israeli siege of Beit Hanoun is a magnified demonstration of the Israeli policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Making this clear, the IDF had blared on loudspeakers a demand for all Arab men in Beit Hanoun between the ages of 16 and 45 to gather in one of the town’s squares (New York Times, Nov. 3). The men who showed up were loaded into trucks and driven out of town, supposedly for questioning. Many were later released, but about 15 have still not been heard from.
One of the most dramatic episodes in the siege of Beit Hanoun took place on Nov. 3. As the Israeli troops rumbled through the town, the IDF declared that around 75 armed men had taken refuge in a mosque. The IDF surrounded the mosque and demanded that the men inside surrender or the mosque would be attacked. A group of unarmed Palestinian women began a demonstration against this threatened Israeli assault and the whole siege. As the women moved toward the mosque to place themselves as human shields between the Israeli tanks and the mosque, IDF soldiers opened fire, killing two women and wounding 10. But the crowd of women grew even larger, and eventually most of the men in the mosque reportedly escaped.
Behind these brutal Israeli occupiers of Palestine stand the U.S. imperialists. As a sharp expression of this, on Nov. 11 the U.S. vetoed a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would have condemned Israel’s brutality in its Gaza assaults.
The U.S. backing for the bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July and August showed how the U.S., under the Bush regime, has actually further stepped up and solidified support for Israel, which has long been an indispensable attack dog for U.S. imperialist interests. As the Israeli military carried out its carnage in Lebanon (including dropping hundreds of thousands of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs), Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “What we’re seeing here…is the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” This increased backing for Israel stems from the U.S. rulers’ need in this region for a reactionary fortress where the majority of the internal population is not a tinderbox of potential upheaval and opposition.
During the entire time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the more recent massacres in Gaza, there has been almost complete unanimity between the Bush administration and all leading Democratic Party officials of total, uncritical support for Israel. For example, during the invasion of Lebanon, Democratic House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi said, "Israel has an inherent right to defend itself, and the United States supports our ally."
As tank shells, bullets, and missiles have killed and maimed Palestinians and destroyed buildings and infrastructure in Beit Hanoun, the IDF has been on the offensive throughout Gaza and the West Bank, both areas which are supposedly under Palestinian control. Since June, Israeli troops have re-occupied most of Gaza (see “Life in Gaza: Daily Hell for the Palestinian People,” in Revolution #63, online at revcom.us). The PCHR reports that 342 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 64 children and 15 women, have been killed by Israel’s military since June 25. In the same period, at least 1186 people, including 344 children and 49 women, have been wounded by IDF gunfire.
The PCHR also reports that in the West Bank in this period, the IDF has launched 34 military incursions into various Palestinian communities. 123 people have been arrested in the West Bank. In addition, Israel continues to construct the separation wall (known widely as the “apartheid wall”) with which they plan to physically imprison the whole Palestinian population of the West Bank. On top of this, though the Israeli government ordered all Jewish settlers to leave Gaza earlier this year, the number of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank has dramatically increased. These settlements have government approval, and the separation wall is part of the land-grab process. The wall does not follow the traditionally recognized borderline between Israel and the West Bank, but instead is designed to incorporate vast new areas into Israel’s “legal” occupation of Palestine.
Simultaneously, the Palestinian people have been collectively held hostage by the demands of the U.S., the European Union and Israel that the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement in Palestine, which won the majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative elections earlier in 2006, recognize the state of Israel if funding to the Palestinian government is to be resumed by these major powers. This strangulation has meant the loss of $60 million per month in tax revenues that Israel has cut off; millions more have been denied in direct aid from foreign governments. At least 160,000 Palestinian government workers have gone unpaid since March 2006. The Palestinian people are being starved, denied the ability to work, and placed under renewed direct Israeli military occupation.
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