Beware the ides of March (aka How to secure an Israeli election in just ten hours)
I should have known. A stunt so frequent as to be banal. March 14-a day before Ceasar’s fabled assassination, and just 13 days before the Israeli elections.
Suddenly, seemingly out of no where, Jericho, the oldest city in the world, and the Marxist-Leninist PFLP, one of the oldest Palestinian national organizations, are dramatically thrust onto the world stage (in the PFLP's case, after a long absence and being overshadowed by Hamas).
With tanks and bulldozers and helicopter gunships, Israeli military forces besieged the Palestinian prison in the otherwise sleepy desert town-just 30 minutes after American and British observers left their posts (citing concerns that prisoners were allowed to use "cell phones"...hmmm...how "convenient" for Israel that the observers should choose to be bothered and concerned within an hour of Israel's seige)- ultimately seizing six of it’s the most wanted inmates holed up inside.
Most prominent among them- Ahmed Saadat, held in the Jericho prison in a deal that involved American and British observers, without ever standing trial. He was accused of overseeing the assassination of Israeli tourism Minister, and self-declared ethnic cleanser who referred to Palestinians as “lice” and “cancer”, Rehavam Ze'evi, in retaliation for Israel's extra-judicial assasination of its leader Abu Ali Mustafa (Mustafa al-Zibri) in August 2001.
Interestingly, Ze’evi was founder of the Moledet Party-an extremist, ultra-nationlist party that openly called for the transfer of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and for the annexation of Jordan-even after its 1994 peace deal with Israel. Yet Ze’evi served as an Israeli cabinet minister nonetheless, without so much as a peep from either the US or the EU.
To quote Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada:
“How is it that a proud, boastful ethnic cleanser like Ze'evi could sit in the Israeli cabinet with Ariel Sharon and Nobel Prize winner Shimon Peres for years and not one of those Western officials who today threaten the Palestinians with an end to all aid for electing Hamas uttered not one single word? Why is it acceptable for the US Congress to hand over billions of dollars to an Israel whose government ministers advocate ethnic cleansing? How is it that instead of demanding the arrest of the murderers of Abu Ali Mustafa and thousands of other Palestinians, Britain and the US collude with Israel to commit new crimes under international law?”
The tireless Uri Avneri attacked the siege as a pre-election ploy by Olmert, saying the 2001 Ze'evi assassination was no different than an Israeli-style "targeted killing".
According to a friend who was at the scene before herself being arrested, the military destroyed one building of Jericho muqatta with tank and Apache shells. And they made sure all the prisoners were in one internal room, in the courtyard which journalists couldn’t see. They then brought a crane and tore down the wall of the room the prisoners were in while they were in it.
To quote Abunimah again: “The ease and impunity with which the occupation forces attack Palestinians everywhere serves to remind us that these territories remain today, as they have been since 1967, under full Israeli military dictatorship.”
Abunimah goes on: “While there is silence about the attacks in Jericho, there is also silence and inaction as Israel announced that Ariel, a huge colony in the heart of the West Bank, is to be annexed, and Israel began building a new occupation forces "police station" east of Jerusalem, the first step in massively expanding the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. Israel… acts not only with impunity but with the active support of western powers who promise to starve its victims while quaking in fear at uttering a single word of criticism.”
Aljazeera carried live exclusive footage of the siege, and events were happening very fast. Angry protestors from the PFLP poured out onto Gaza’s streets. They attacked symbols of what they perceived as foreign collusion: the British Council (a cultural center) was partially burned, and the office of Amideast, which is in the building right next door to me, was briefly stormed, and its windows shattered. They called a general strike, as stores closed their doors.
Machine-gun fire ripped through the air just as Israeli drones whirred incessantly above, and Israeli artillery shells continued to pound Eastern and Northern Gaza, shaking my entire building. Plumes of black smoke from burnt tires and vehicles could be seen rising in Gaza’s skies.
All this, of course, just as Israel sealed off Gaza from all sides once again, shutting the Rafah terminal after EU observers left, and sealing off the al-Mintar commercial crossing, whose closure has already resulted in millions of dollarsin losses to the Palestinian economy.
PFLP legislator Khalida Jarrar, like most people here, expressed disbelief and anger at the attack in an interview, telling me that Palestinians need international protection, and cannot rely on agreements with Israel:
“These are political prisoners being held inside a Palestinian prison. And they attacked them with tanks and helicopters as if they were armed. This demonstrates that such agreements that are signed with the Israelis with so-called American and British monitors do not guarantee the safety and lives of the prisoners. And the Israeli occupation will continue with its policies regardless. Only by bringing an end to the occupation can we truly be protected. “