Saturday, 20 April. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

No doubt, the Palestinian operation in Jerusalem on March 6 has been the talk of the hour. Following a bloody two week episode in Gaza where at least 127 people have been killed, an armed Palestinian broke into a right-wing Jewish seminary in west Jerusalem and gunned down eight of its students.

According to local media sources, 25-year old ‘Ala Abu Dheim entered the Mercaz Harav Talmudic school in west Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe from the library and opened fire with a Kalashnikov automatic and a hand gun. Eight students were killed and nine others injured before an Israeli security guard shot Abu Dheim twice in the head, killing him.

The operation, the first major Palestinian attack in Jerusalem since 2004, was obviously thought out extremely well given the venue. The Mercaz Harav Yeshiva is reportedly the most right-wing educational institution in Israel, established by staunch Zionists who are active supporters of the settlement movement. Several leaders of the infamous Gush Emmunim settlement movement graduated from the school to then become passionate advocates of West Bank settlements.

Besides the fact that eight Israelis are now dead, most of them teenagers, Israel is in panic mode over the fact that Abu Dheim did not infiltrate from Palestinian Authority territories but from the heart of east Jerusalem. From the neighborhood of Jabal Al Mukkaber, Abu Dheim was reportedly arrested by Israeli security forces four months ago and endured two months of grueling Israeli interrogation on suspicion that he had ties with Hizbullah. He was subsequently released after the interrogators failed to extract a confession from him.

This is not where the Hizbullah connection ends, however. Following the attack, a group calling itself Ahrar Al Jalil (The Galilee’s Liberated) claimed responsibility for the operation. Rumors circulated that the group carried out the attack in retaliation for the assassination of Hizbullah strongman Imad Mughniya last month in Damascus, which the Lebanese resistance group pinned on Israel.

However, nothing has been confirmed, with Hamas also initially taking responsibility for the operation but later pulling back, saying it would only be official when its military wing, the Izzedin Al Qassam Brigades issued a statement confirming their involvement.

Israel, meanwhile, sprung immediately into action, clamping down a closure on the Palestinian territories and tightening security in and around Jerusalem. Security was particularly tight on Friday, a day after the attack and the Muslim holy day. Hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers were deployed in Jerusalem, especially in its Old City at the entrances to the Aqsa Mosque Compound. Men under 45 years of age were banned entry into the mosque for prayer and several barricades were set up throughout the streets.

The closure, which effectively bans Palestinians with Israeli issued permits to enter Jerusalem has yet to be lifted, with Israel saying it would only be loosened upon “security considerations.”

Israeli police and border guards also immediately raided Abu Dheim’s home in Jabal Al Mukkaber and arrested several of his family members.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter proposed a more radical solution on March 7, saying Palestinian residents of Jerusalem “whose hearts were with Ramallah” should be expelled to the Palestinian territories.

Palestinian officials and citizens were mixed in their reactions to the operation, with President Abbas saying he condemned the killing of civilians from both sides. Hamas officials in Gaza, however, said the operation was a “natural response” to the Gaza massacre and that those killed were hardly civilians who served in the Israeli army and were advocates of the settlement movement. When news of the operation broke in Gaza on the evening of February 6, residents reportedly cheered, saying the Jerusalem attack was to avenge the killings in Gaza.

Israeli right wingers did not hold back either. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Jewish seminarians gathered outside the yeshiva after the attack, yelling “Death to the Arabs.”

The United States, unsurprisingly, quickly condemned the attack, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling it “an act of terror and depravity”. Rice, who met with both Palestinian and Israeli officials on March 5, said at the time that the US felt there was still an opportunity to reach an agreement by the end of 2008.

Following the Jerusalem attack, the United States drafted a statement in the UN Security Council to discuss the operation. “The members of the Security Council condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place in Jerusalem March 6, 2008 which resulted in the death and injury of dozens of Israeli civilians," said the draft statement.

However, the statement was not passed unanimously when Libya objected to the wording and insisted Israeli acts be condemned as well. This did not sit well with Israel and a snide banter ensued between the two parties. “Unfortunately, this is what happens when the Security Council is infiltrated by terrorists,” Israeli ambassador to the UN said.

“We don’t need a certificate of good conduct from the Israeli terrorist regime,” responded deputy ambassador Ibrahim Al Dabbashi.

Unfortunately, the eight Israelis killed in Jerusalem have occupied ten times the media space as the 20 Palestinians killed over the past week in Gaza, supposedly after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza. On March 6, four people were killed in Khan Younis including three from the Islamic Jihad’s Al Quds Brigades. One Israeli soldier was also killed in a roadside bomb near the Kissofim Crossing, which the Brigades carried out.

On March 4, another four people were killed in the Khan Younis district when Israeli troops invaded Al Qarara. Twenty-day old Amira Abu Aser was among the victims when Israeli air missiles hit her home. Eight others were injured.

Two days earlier, on March 2, 11 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip and 30 injured in Jabaliya. Fourteen-year old Mahmoud Barham was killed in an air raid as were Thabet Daduna and Luay Abed Rabbo, who according to eyewitnesses managed to crawl into their houses after being injured but later bled to death when ambulances were not allowed to reach them. A brother and sister, Iyad and Jacqueline Abu Shbak also died during an air raid, which hit their home. The siblings were 14 and 17, respectively.

That day, 15-year old Mahmoud Musalema was also killed in Beit Awwa, a Hebron-area village during a protest against the Gaza invasion.

With a total of 127 killed in a two-week span, it seems hardly reasonable for anyone to claim a “victory.” Still, on March 3, Hamas officials said the Israeli withdrawal was a sign of its “failed war” in the Strip. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri also warned Israel of further invasions, saying more dead women and children would elicit a “harsh response.”

Meanwhile, on March 6, Palestinian medical sources in Gaza confirmed that the Israeli siege on the Strip had claimed its 106th victim. A Palestinian man on dialysis who was in need of medical attention abroad was denied a permit to leave the Strip and consequently died of kidney failure.

Egypt, for its part, has opened the Rafah Crossing to allow injured Palestinians into its territories and hospitals. Since the start of Israel’s military offensive “Hot Winter”, Egypt has taken in 200 wounded Palestinians.

Egyptian officials also convinced Israeli authorities to briefly open the Karem Shalom Crossing and have dispatched 23 trucks with medical and food supplies to the people of Gaza.

Egypt is also mediating with Palestinian factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials. Egyptian officials met with leaders from the two movements on March 6 in Al Areesh and Egyptian intelligence official Omar Suleiman is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.

Hamas says it is still open to a ceasefire with Israel. On March 7, Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum said that while Hamas may agree to halt its attacks, “any truce must be mutual and Israel must end its aggression and siege.”

On March 5, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mirrored a similar sentiment. During an Israeli security cabinet meeting, Olmert said Israel would not invade the Gaza Strip if the rocket attacks stopped. As long as they continued, however, Israel would not hesitate to attack.

President Abbas, who suspended negotiations with the Israelis after their invasion of Gaza, expressed through his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeineh that the Palestinians intended to resume the peace process but that Israeli actions contradict negotiations.

Abbas also reiterated his opinion that negotiations are the only strategic option for the Palestinians, calling for an end to Israeli military operations and settlement expansion so that these negotiations could bear fruit.

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