Attacks on Jews, Israeli gov't brutal
response deal blow to working class
BY SETH GALINSKY
The spate of stabbings and other attacks on Jews in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel — encouraged by Hamas and with the acquiescence of Palestinian Authority leaders — has struck a blow against working-class solidarity and set back the fight for Palestinian national rights. It has handed the Israeli government a pretext to close political space and respond with brutal and disproportionate force, including carrying out "collective punishment" against the Palestinian population and destroying homes of Palestinian families.
From mid-September to Oct. 19 nine Jews were killed and dozens wounded in more than 30 attacks, most carried out by permanent residents of East Jerusalem. Many of the attackers were shot dead.
At the same time, Israeli troops have killed at least 17 Palestinian demonstrators and wounded hundreds during protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the last several weeks.
The Israeli government's response to the terror attacks has inflamed tensions and encouraged vigilantism against Arabs. In a widely viewed video Basaraa Abad, a 30-year-old Arab citizen of Israel, is holding a knife after attempting an attack in the Afula bus station, near Nazareth. Although she makes no move toward the police who surrounded her, they open fire, shooting her a half dozen times.
Hamas, the reactionary Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip and is the main competitor to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, lauded the attacks. "We are proud of you, the heroes of the knives," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Oct. 9, calling the attacks a new intifada or uprising
The first intifada — which began in 1987 and lasted four years — was a mass uprising in Gaza and the West Bank, led by a young generation of fighters. It reaffirmed that Palestinians would not stop fighting as long as they face national oppression and discrimination. It won support among large numbers of Israelis, but did not succeed in forging a new leadership that could provide a revolutionary alternative to groups like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and reactionary Islamist forces.
The knife attacks are the opposite, a consequence of the political bankruptcy of these organizations that claim to speak for the Palestinian people.
On Oct. 18, Habtom Zarhum, an Eritrean refugee, was shot by a security guard who allegedly thought he was part of a terrorist attack at the Beersheba bus station. While Zarhum lay bleeding, he was beaten by a mob and later died. Israeli authorities say they will investigate his death but have ruled out charging any of the vigilantes with homicide.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered checkpoints placed around Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, a form of collective punishment, despite widespread acknowledgement that most Palestinians have nothing to do with the terror attacks.
"It's not good," car wash worker Ahmed Rajabi, a Palestinian in East Jerusalem, told the New York Times, referring to a terror attack on a nearby bus Oct. 13. "We don't agree with those things."
In addition to demolishing the houses of alleged terrorists — leaving their families homeless — no new construction will be allowed at the sites. Netanyahu's cabinet called for accelerating the construction of the separation wall, which cuts through large swaths of the West Bank, making it hard for Palestinians to get to their farms and neighboring towns.
Seven Palestinians were killed and 50 wounded in Gaza Oct. 9 when Israeli soldiers fired across the border into a crowd that was throwing stones and rolling burning tires toward a guard post. The Israel military later announced it would no longer break up "riots" on the Gaza border with live ammunition, but would instead use more rubber bullets and tear gas.
Dispute over Al-Aqsa mosque
The attacks on Jews accelerated after Abbas addressed the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 30.
He accused Netanyahu of scheming to undo the arrangement where the Jordanian government and the Waqf Muslim religious authority administer East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque — one of the holiest sites in Islam — known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The agreement dates to the 1967 Six Day War, when the Israeli army captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As part of the deal, Jews visit the site only at designated times.
Netanyahu says the government has no intention of changing the status quo. But he has often looked the other way as rightist groups, including members of his cabinet, have organized provocative visits. Israeli authorities have increasingly imposed bans on Muslim worshipers under age 40, supposedly to lower the chances of violence. To ease tensions Netanyahu recently banned all members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, from visiting the site.
In the U.N. speech Abbas listed violations by the Israeli government of the rights of Palestinians, including continued building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and incarceration of 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners.
But instead of presenting a road to mobilize the Palestinian masses, take the moral high ground, and win support from working people and others inside Israel, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority would no longer be bound by previous "agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue."
When the recent bloody attacks on Jews began, Abbas refused to condemn them. Instead, he and most Palestinian-owned media have referred to the attacks as "alleged," or denied that they even took place.
The terror attacks have created an atmosphere of fear among many Jews and Arabs in Israel. Shops in the Arab town of Nazareth that cater to Jewish customers as well as tourists have been deserted. The same is true in many restaurants and stores in Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere.
In revenge some Israeli Jews have attacked Arabs. Uri Rezken, a Jewish worker, was stabbed Oct. 13 in a suburb of Haifa. "I'm working, and suddenly I feel four knife stabs in my back," he told Israel's Army Radio. "I heard a shout, 'You deserve it, you deserve it, Arab bastards!' When I turn around I see a Haredi [ultra-orthodox Jewish] man."
"If I were Arab, it still wouldn't have been OK," Rezken said. "We are all human beings, we are all equal."
Increased Arab-Jewish relations
There are more ties and relations between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel than any time since the country's foundation. It is not unusual for Jews and Arabs to work side by side in the same factories or businesses, to belong to the same labor unions and at times to socialize.
East Jerusalem, where the majority of the knife attacks have occurred, is home to 300,000 Palestinians. While they are entitled to become Israeli citizens, most have refused; instead they are permanent residents with the right to travel throughout Israel.
Nearly 80 percent of Arab families in Jerusalem live below the official Israeli poverty line, compared to 21 percent of Jewish families. Arab neighborhoods have potholed streets and inadequate water, sewage and garbage collection. Every year municipal authorities demolish dozens of Arab homes that they allege are illegally built, while allowing right wing Israeli groups to buy up property in the Muslim Quarter and the Silwan neighborhood. There are now more than 1,000 Jewish settlers there.
The West Bank, ostensibly under control of the Palestinian Authority, is more like a honeycomb of cantons, with 60 percent of the territory under direct Israeli control, 22 percent under Palestinian civil control but with Israeli cops doing the policing and 18 percent under the rule of Abbas' Palestinian Authority. According to an Israeli army official interviewed by the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, West Bank settlers "have ripped out hundreds of olive trees belonging to Arabs, ruined houses, smashed cars," while Israeli authorities turn a blind eye.