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Palestine: Israel ratchets up repression, settlement building

November 19, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
By Tim Dobson
A demonstration in Ramallah, West Bank, for Palestinian unity, March 16.

About 2000 mainly young Palestinians rallied in Gaza City on March 14. Waving Palestinian flags, they called on Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to end their divisions, for democratic elections for the Palestinian Authority (PA), and for the end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege on Gaza.

Thousands more marching across Gaza the next day and 8000 people protested in Ramallah in the West Bank for the same demands.

After Hamas won PA elections in 2006, Fatah organised a coup with Israeli and Western assistance. Fatah won control of the West Bank, but Hamas held on in Gaza.

The call for national unity came after Israel stepped up its building of illegal settlements throughout the occupied West Bank — and its repression of Palestinians.

The new repressive drive has been justified as a response to the killing of an Israeli family, which included two children and an infant, living in one of the illegal settlements.

It is not known who killed the family, but this hasn’t stopped the Israeli government using the incident to further brutalise the Palestinian population.

The Palestine Chronicle said on March 16 that Israli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “announced that his government would in retaliation build 500 new houses in three other Israeli-occupied settlements in the West Bank”.

Awarta, the closest Palestinian village to the settlement where the settler family killings took place, was immediately placed under curfew for five days by the Israeli occupiers.

A March 16 article said: “Food supplies are running low, ambulances have been detained for hours at checkpoints and hundreds of young men have been held, interrogated and beaten up, some requiring hospitalisation, in the Palestinian village of Awarta in the northern West Bank.”

The article quoted a local who said: “About 300 of the village’s young men were blindfolded, handcuffed, arrested and taken for interrogation at the local school where they were beaten.”

Ma’an News Agency said on March 16: “Israeli officials immediately branded the murder of the Fogel family in the Itamar settlement a terrorist attack, sparking waves of settler violence and accusations from Palestinians that Israeli soldiers were doing little to stop the tide.”

Palestinian Liberation Organisation secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters that the PLO “rejected the attempts to take advantage” of the killings, and called for “Israeli public opinion not to be dragged by attempts of its government to slander the Palestinians”.

The “unity” marches that begin on March 14 have widely been seen as the Palestinian response to the uprisings that have swept the Arab world since the beginning of the year, with the Egyptian revolution having the biggest impact.

AFP said on March 6 that Hamas political bureau chairperson Khaled Mashaal told Sudanese television: “Today we are witnessing Cairo returning to its natural state, after it disappeared from that state for a long time … The people in Egypt and Tunisia have given us back our lives.”

Mashaal called for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah but said such unity had to be based on a “refusal to negotiate with Israel”.

In response to the mass political pressure, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas announced he planned to visit Gaza to meet with Hamas.

Fatah’s credibility among Palestinians was further damaged this year with the release of the Palestinian Papers that showed the complicity of its leaders in Israeli crimes. It was also damaged by the public support the Fatah-led PA gave to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Abbas said new elections would be held within six months and claimed he would not be seeking re-election.

So far, Hamas has rejected new parliamentary elections, stating that reconciliation must occur before elections are held.

On March 17, Bloomberg quoted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, who said: “This is what the people want. Tunis and Egypt are contagious and Palestine is no exception.

“We used to be the pioneers for uprising and revolt and now we are the followers.”

Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh responded to the street protests by saying: “We can discuss all issues and obstacles with dialogue and meet the demands of the people.”

One of the participants in the protests for national unity, Rawan Abu-Shahla, wrote in a March 14 article: “The division among Palestinians must end. It has weakened our cause and instead of remaining the internationally-renowned symbol of a righteous and lawful struggle that it has always been, it has deteriorated into an illusion of authority and positions, allowing our occupier and real oppressor, Israel, to violate us.

“Israel continues to kidnap and imprison more innocent Palestinians without fair trials, to invade our territories, wreck our homes, uproot our trees, steal our heritage, bomb our cities and besiege the Gaza Strip for five consecutive years.

“Israel continues to violate UN resolutions without anyone holding it accountable. And with the lack of a proper Palestinian leadership, there will be no stopping Israel from doing what it wants.”

Israel does not appear happy at the threat of Palestinian unity. The Palestine Telegraph said on March 16: “Israeli soldiers attacked protesters with sound bombs, tears gases, and rubber bullets to disperse them.”

On March 15, Uruguay became the latest South American country to recognise Palestine as an independent state.

In recent months, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru recognised Palestine as an independent state.

Cuba had already recognised the Palestinian state in 1988, while Venezuela did so in 2009.

From GLW issue 873

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