The Palestinian Saga Part Three

It has always been difficult to fathom the meaning of occupation. But an eyewitness account by a keen observer of the goings on should be an eye-opener to anyone with an iota of conscience regarding the horrendous state of affairs in the occupied territories of Palestine. At the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine organised in July 2001 at Madrid, Spain, by the United Nations’ Division on Palestinian Rights (DPR), the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory was again one of the issues in focus. One of those who spoke at the Meeting was Jeff Halper, Co-ordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jerusalem. The Report of the Meeting, which was subsequently brought out, has summarised his speech as follows:

“Jeff Hapler…said that Israel had succeeded in making the occupation invisible…. In order to maintain control for a long period of time and to avoid international opposition, the control had to be subtle, invisible and bureaucratic, through thousands of regulations and a so-called civil administration that was actually run by the military.

“Mr. Halper described the Matrix of Control, the system imposed by Israel over the Occupied Palestinian Territory…. The Matrix was composed of three layers. One of them was military actions both in response to the intifada and in “normal times”. Those in normal times included the use of undercover units and collaborators who undermined the very fabric of Palestinian society…. The second measure was creating facts on the ground: expropriation of land, construction of more than 200 settlements, carving the Occupied Territory into areas which confined Palestinians to some 190 islands. It also included a massive system of highways; severe control on Palestinian movement; construction of industrial parks; control over aquifers; and exploitation of holy places as a pretext for maintaining a security presence. The third and the subtlest mechanism was bureaucratic or legal in nature. It entangled Palestinians in a tight web of restrictions including temporary closures of the West Bank and Gaza, a discriminatory system of work, entrance and travel permits restricting freedom of movement, and active displacement through exile, deportation and induced immigration. Land expropriation, house demolitions, schemes of transfer, a freeze on the natural development of Palestinian town and villages, restrictions on the planting of crops and their sale came under such bureaucratic controls. The advantage of the Matrix of Control was its invisibility. Since it was a low-intensity control, it was not covered by the media even though it absolutely defined Palestinian life.” [1]

The extremely trying conditions of life for the Palestinians under occupation could not have been described better. The ‘overwhelming odds’ about which Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1938 might not have been half as bad then. One can therefore well imagine the mental make-up of the Palestinians forced to live under far worse conditions now. But, as Jeff Hapler has pointed out, these exasperating conditions remain largely ‘invisible’ from the outside world. What is visible of course is the spate of mindless suicide bomb attacks by young Palestinians, who prefer to blow themselves up rather than meekly submit to the unbearable humiliations. But how many of them realise that their supreme sacrifice – by targeting in many cases unarmed Israeli civilians – does little to advance their cause? The world at large does wake up to the sound and fury of the suicide attacks only to end up labelling the Palestinians as terrorists. Strangely enough the same world takes no notice of the low-key but systematic and widespread terror being perpetrated on the Palestinians by their Zionist adversaries who are never taken to task for the same!

In monitoring the situation on the ground on a daily basis, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, on several occasions, voiced its grave concern at the severity of the Israeli military response to the outbreak of Palestinian protest. It may be recalled that the Committee was established by the UN General Assembly in 1975 [2] with the task of recommending a programme designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights as recognised by the Assembly [3]. The salient features of the latest report released by the Committee on 31 October 2001 may be summarised as follows.

Repression: ‘The Committee noted that during the year, in addition to the use of plastic, rubber-coated metal and live ammunition, the Israeli military, in their attacks against Palestinians, continued to rely on heavy and sophisticated weapons, using them in an excessively harsh and indiscriminate manner. In the course of the past several months, the Committee has noted the alarmingly frequent use by IDF [Israeli Defence Force] of helicopter gun-ships, air-to-surface and heavy anti-tank missiles, tanks and missile boats throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. On 18 May 2001, the Government of Israel changed the nature and scale of the conflict by authorizing the use of fighter aircraft against unprotected Palestinian targets…. The Committee also expressed the view that this policy was contrary to the accepted norms of international law’. [4]

Assassinations: ‘In the course of the past several months, the Israeli security apparatus has resorted to selective assassinations of Palestinian activists and political leaders. The methods used in these Government-authorized operations have varied from special undercover units and snipers to helicopter-gunship fired air-to-surface missiles and other high-tech means. In this regard, the Committee noted with special concern the public statements by some Israeli leaders openly calling for the “liquidation” of the fathers of Palestinian militants. Since December 2000, more than 50 Palestinians have been killed in targeted attacks’. [5]

Incursions: ‘Since April 2001, the Committee has observed with great concern what appeared to be an emerging pattern of Israeli incursions into areas under full Palestinian control. The Committee has stated that this type of IDF operations constituted an illegal activity and violated the letter and the spirit of the bilateral agreements signed as part of the peace process. During these massive incursions, IDF was supported by tanks, heavy armoured vehicles, helicopter gunships and bulldozers. The incursions constituted a virtual reoccupation of Palestinian lands, accompanied by the destruction of public and private property in various Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps…’ [6]

Destruction: ‘There has been an alarming increase in the demolitions of Palestinian houses and other property in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Also, most of the IDF incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas were accompanied by the indiscriminate and often massive bulldozing of Palestinian property, both public and private, under various security-related justifications. The Gaza Strip suffered the most from these massive demolitions. …In the same period [Sept.2000 to Sept.2001], 112,900 olive trees were uprooted and [hundreds of] square miles of cultivated land destroyed’. [7]

Settler Violence: ‘According to the “Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza”, during 2001, the number of settlers in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip has increased by 17,000 and has now reached nearly 227,000. …Under the protection or due to indifference on the part of IDF, settler groups often resort to the use of firearms, hit-and-run incidents, torture and beatings of Palestinians. The arsenal of their illegal and criminal activities includes the obstruction of Palestinian road traffic and setting up roadblocks, throwing stones at Palestinian cars, setting Palestinian property on fire, uprooting trees, attacking Palestinian medical crews and journalists, and burning Palestinian places of worship’. [8]

Collective Punishment: ‘The Palestinian economy, in the year of the current intifada, has experienced extreme difficulties and has shown signs of rapid disintegration as a result of the Israeli military occupation. Months of intensive violence and military confrontation as well as protracted closures and restrictions on the movement of goods and the labour force have decimated practically all sectors of the economy. …Since the beginning of the crisis in September 2000, the Israeli authorities have introduced a policy of recurrent and often prolonged closures, which is viewed as a particularly harsh form of collective punishment… The closures have caused a dramatic rise in unemployment, bringing the rates back to the 1996 levels’. [9]

Restricting Mobility: ‘Mobility has been severely restricted on the borders between the Palestinian Territory and Israel, between the West Bank and Jordan, and between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Internal closures within the West Bank and Gaza Strip have led to the establishment of a dense network of Israeli checkpoints, which, in turn, has resulted in temporary or permanent traffic disruption and road blockages’. [10]

Control of Water Supply: ‘Constant water shortages continued to have a harmful effect on Palestinian households throughout the Palestinian territory. Israeli authorities continued to exercise control over Palestinian water resources, with thousands of Palestinian families deprived of connection to water networks. Almost 200,000 Palestinians were forced to rely on alternative water sources. …Settlers have been reported to use their bulldozers to rupture Palestinian water pipelines, whereas Israeli snipers have targeted Palestinian roof water tanks…’ [11]

How should the Israeli strategy of using such oppressive means to subjugate the Palestinians in the occupied territories be described? Is there any way of describing the combination of indiscriminate repression, selective assassinations, frequent incursions, massive destruction, systematic torture and harassment, imposition of collective punishment, etc., other than to term it as fascistic? Why is the world at large shying away from describing the Israeli terror as such? Refusing to recognise the truth would not obliterate it.

Shocking Apathy

The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People has been submitting its report to the UN General Assembly every year for the last twenty-four years. But it seems to have made little difference. According to the Committee:

“The recommendations made by the Committee in its first report to the General Assembly were endorsed by the Assembly as a basis for the solution of the question of Palestine. In its subsequent reports, the Committee has continued to stress that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and the following essential principles: the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and from the other occupied Arab territories; respect for the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries; and the recognition and exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination. The Committee’s recommendations could not be implemented, and the Assembly each year renewed the Committee’s mandate and requested it to intensify efforts in pursuit of its objectives.” [12]

It is the UN Security Council, controlled by the United States and its allies, which has ensured that the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People remains unimplemented. The only inference that one could draw from this pathetic state of affairs is that as long as the United States is allowed to play such a domineering role, the UN can never fulfil the objectives for which it was founded. Without the unstinting support of the US, there is no way that Israel and the malevolent Zionists would dare to act with such abandon. If Israel has to mend its fascistic policies pressure has to be exerted on the United States and none else.

Meanwhile the first intifada that had begun on 9 December 1987 ended in 1993 through some notable diplomatic initiatives. It began with a Peace Conference of concerned parties (minus the PLO) at Madrid on 31 October 1991. The major breakthrough was achieved when on 10 September 1993, the PLO and the Government of Israel exchanged letters of mutual recognition. This was brought about through the intervention of the late Norwegian Foreign Minister, John Holst. The developments at Oslo (Norway) have been an important milestone in the journey towards the realization of a just and lasting peace in the region. Several follow-up agreements have been signed since then, the fifth one being on 23 October 1998 at Washington. The sacred date that Palestinians anxiously waited for to exercise their inalienable rights as an independent people was 4 May 1999. But the saddest part is that even three years later, Israel remains non-committed to the articles of the five agreements signed since the commencement of the peace process. Instead the Israeli leadership in its latest phase has chosen to unleash terror with a view to derailing all that was achieved so far. There is therefore a big question mark over the fate of the Oslo process. Doubts are also being expressed as to whether the entire exercise was merely intended to raise false hopes and to hoodwink the Palestinians.

Anyway the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) at its meeting held in the presence of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President, Yasser Arafat, in Gaza on 2 and 3 July 2000, has reiterated its stand vis-a-vis the key issues of the conflict. The PCC reaffirmed that: 1. It stands by its commitment regarding the right of the Palestinian refugees to return or to seek adequate compensation in accordance with UN Resolution 194 and that it would reject all attempts aimed at accommodating Palestinian refugees abroad which would deprive them of the right of return. 2. It would continue to seek complete Israeli withdrawal from all the Palestinian land occupied in June 1967, including Jerusalem, in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and based on the principle of “Land for Peace” as enunciated at the Madrid Peace Conference. 3. It would continue to seek the removal and dismantling of all Jewish settlements built in the occupied territories. 4. East Jerusalem occupied by Israel in June 1967 would be the capital of the independent Palestinian State and that Peace will never prevail without the liberation of East Jerusalem from Israeli occupation. [13]

Current Crisis

It was the highly provocative visit of the then opposition leader (and the current Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon to the Al-Haram al-Sharif compound (the third holiest site in Islam) in the Old City of Jerusalem on 28 September 2000 that set off the second intifada. What was Sharon’s objective in visiting the holy site? Did he visit it as a pilgrim, as a gesture of goodwill for speedy reconciliation between the warring sides? Or was it designed to demonstrate Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and to instigate the Palestinian believers to react to the impudent act? There is little doubt that it was a calculated ploy on the part of Sharon to provoke a sharp reaction. Another event that escalated the crisis further was the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, head of the leftist PFLP – one of the key constituents of the PLO. In a targeted killing the Israelis eliminated him by firing two missiles into his office in Ramallah on 27 August 2001. Shortly afterwards, on 17 October 2001, Rehavam Zeevi – the most right-wing minister of the Israeli cabinet – was assassinated for which the Israelis have held the PFLP responsible.

Zeevi’s assassination could not have been the reason for Israel to step up its current offensive. Nearly two weeks earlier on 5 October 2001, in the aftermath of the 11 September events, Israel had already sent in tanks and troops into areas that had been handed over to the PNA as per the Oslo accord of 1993. From then on Israeli forces have been wrecking havoc in West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is clear that, in the garb of fighting “Palestinian terrorism”, Israel was merely looking for excuses for not complying with its obligations under the Oslo accord especially concerning the rights of the Palestinian refugees and regarding withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the occupied territories. The spate of suicide bombing attacks did help the Israeli cause a great deal. According to Aijaz Ahmed (Frontline), the renewed Israeli aggression seems to have three other objectives:

“1. To beat the populace into abject submission through military assault, political repression, encirclement and starvation; 2. The permanent destruction of infrastructure as well as the Palestinian Authority as such, so that living conditions become so insufferable that sizable numbers of people would be forced to flee the occupied territories; 3. The toppling of Arafat and negotiating with local leaders so that the leaders become the equivalent of the “chiefs” in colonial Africa and are then made to manage the remaining population on the models of the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa.”

He then went on to add:

“U.S. collusion in all this is palpable. It has bestowed upon Israel $92 billion in aid, more than any country has ever gifted another country. It allows Israel to use the whole range of <U.S.-supplied> weaponry – from F-16 jets to Apache helicopters – to kill and terrorise a population that does not even have ordinary armour to defend itself.” [14]

The latest round of terror unleashed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in the town of Jenin and elsewhere during March-April 2002 only revives the bitter memories of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. The fact that Israel has refused to permit the UN Fact Finding Mission from visiting the area is ample proof that it is desperate to cover up its despicable acts at Jenin. It was the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council on 19 April 2002 [16] to depute a UN Fact Finding team to verify allegations of large scale destruction of life and property by the Israeli forces in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin in the first week of April 2002. The self-appointed champion of global human rights, the United States of America, was a party to that resolution. But the US has made no attempt to persuade Israel, its gendarme in West Asia, to comply with the UN resolution. Instead the US has been looking for ways and means to bail out Israel from facing the embarrassment of exposing its bloodied hands. In the course of the past two years, violent confrontations have left over 1500 dead and nearly 20,000 thousand wounded – many of them permanently disabled – including hundreds of children. Predictably, most of the casualties are Palestinians. [15]

The Zionists are intent on depriving the Palestinians of all their land through force and subterfuge. The Jewish population in Israel has already risen to about 5,000,000 and the free flow of Jewish immigrants meant occupation of more and more Palestinian lands! Jewish settlers are occupying West Bank and Gaza Strip (i.e., whatever is left of the land ostensibly allocated to the Palestinians under the UN Partition Plan of 1947) at an alarming rate. This precisely is the issue that is adding fuel to the fire. By 1998, 62 % of the land in West Bank and 35 % in Gaza were confiscated to serve only 155,000 Israeli settlers, while nearly 3,000,000 Palestinians were cramped into rest of the area [16]. The situation has aggravated since then. Thus, nearly 90 % of the original Palestine homeland has been taken over by the Israelis. If this trend continues, the entire Palestinian people would – in the not too distant future – be deprived of all their land and become a stateless people (already more than 50% of the Palestinians are forced to live outside Palestine, while in 1948 nearly all of them lived inside it). The Palestinian population has also gone up to over 8,000,000 today. While nearly 2,000,000 live in West Bank, over one million in Gaza Strip and about one million in Israel (and in the areas it had occupied before 1967), over 4 million of them live in Diaspora in the four corners of the world [17]. Their living conditions are such that during 2000-2001, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) had to provide ‘some 3.8 million Palestine refugees with social services, schooling and health care.’ [18]

Under the circumstances, the only possible solution to the ongoing conflict is the convening of an authoritative international conference for peace in the region as proposed by the UN General Assembly resolution 38/58C adopted on 13 December 1983. PLO has strongly supported such a conference. The EEC (presently the European Union) too on 28 February 1987 had endorsed the said UN resolution. The proposal was reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly through Resolution No. 43/176 adopted on 15 December 1988 by 138 votes to 2. While the appeal for convening of the International Conference has received overwhelming support of the international community, USA and Israel stand in total opposition to the proposal.

The same United States was quick to react when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. UN Security Council sanction was no problem and the US lost no time in assembling a 36-nation international coalition to oust Iraq to ostensibly protect the human rights of the 1,700,000 Kuwaitis. But the human rights of more than four times that many Palestinians, who are also in the same region and who are under occupation of the Israelis for the last 35 years, is of least concern to the United States! Can there be any better example of double standards? The undeniable fact is that every atrocity that the fascist Israeli regime is perpetrating against the Palestinians has the tacit support of the US Administration. The day the US Administration is forced to withdraw its support to the Zionists, a just solution to the problem will begin to take shape. Therefore, without further delay, pressure has to be brought to bear on the United States to extend support to the proposed international conference.

The Government of India’s current policy of ‘running with the hare and hunting with the hound’ also needs to be exposed. On the one hand, India has been one of the members of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a body with representatives of 25 nations, which has been doing yeoman service. On the other hand, especially in the last few years, the Government of India has been expanding strategic collaboration with the fascist regime of Israel and, thereby, turning a blind eye to the widespread repression being unleashed by that regime. Given India’s long-held principled stand on the matter, the pro-Zionist stance of the present Indian Government is a matter of national shame and deserves to be condemned in no uncertain terms.

The world at large is blissfully unaware of the enormity of the tragic situation confronting the Palestinians. It is time that the world lent its ears to the anguished cries of the Palestinian people against occupation and fascistic repression and forthrightly intervenes to peacefully resolve the long-standing dispute. All efforts should be made to ensure that the proposed international conference under the aegis of the UN – and UN alone – is held at the earliest. The desperate attempts by the US Administration to hijack the proposed International Conference, with a view to shielding Israel and whitewashing the inhuman crimes it has been committing against the Palestinian people, must be resisted sternly. In the light of the colossal indifference towards their just cause and the almost total inability on the part of the international community to ensure that justice is done, is it at all surprising that the beleaguered Palestinians are seething with rage?

N.D.Jayaprakash is a member of the Delhi Science Forum/Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in New Delhi, India. He can be reached


1. Report of the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine (Madrid, 17-18 July 2001), Division of Palestinian Rights, United Nations, Document No. 01-63718, dated 27 November 2001, paras 44 and 45

2. Resolution No. 3376 (XXX) of 10 November 1975

3. Resolution No. 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974

4. Para 19, UN General Assembly Official Records No. A/56/35, 31 October 2001

5. Para 20, ibid.

6. Para 27, ibid

7. Para 24, ibid.

8. Para 25, ibid.

9. Para 27, ibid. [In 1996 over 50 % of the Palestinians remained unemployed]

10. Ibid.

11. Para 28, ibid.

12. Para 2, ibid.

13. Ministry of Information, Palestine National Authority at

13. Aijaz Ahmed, ‘Israel’s Colonial War’, Frontline (Chennai), 1 March 2002, pp.58-59

14. UN Document No. S/RES/1405 (2002)


16. Khalid El-Sheikh, The Palestinian Catastrophe, Embassy of the State of Palestine, New Delhi, 1998, p.65

17. Ministry of Information, Palestine National Authority at

18. Para 29, UN General Assembly Official Records No. A/56/35


N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).