September 28 marked the sixth anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem (the Noble Sanctuary for Muslims and Temple Mount for Jews and Christians) that caused the eruption of the al-Aqsa Intifada still raging today with Palestinians on the painful receiving end of most of it. From that time till now, the Israeli Defenses Forces (IDF) committed unending and egregious war crimes and breaches of international law against defenseless Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the West Bank. Instead of abating, the assaults have intensified over the past year. They especially escalated dramatically after the June 25 incident at an Israeli military post near Kerem Shalom crossing, southeast of Rafah, resulting in the killing of two IDF soldiers, injuring several others and capturing a third still held. The clash followed a series of bloody June Israeli attacks on Gaza including the widely reported beach shelling that killed eight Palestinians and injured 32 others including 13 children.
The IDF "Operation Summer Rain" response was just another deadly chapter in how Israel is allowed to get away with any excuse it uses to attack the defenseless Palestinians. Beginning in late June, that assault was swift, brutal, disproportionate to the minor incident that took place, and is still ongoing over three months later unabated. Israel followed its attack and re-invasion of Gaza by closing all border crossings and sealing off the territory to restrict movement in and out including for humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine. The IDF also began shelling northern Gaza with hundreds of rounds of artillery shells daily; it launched round-the-clock attacks by F-16 fighter jets and helicopter gunships firing air-to-surface missiles and dropping one-ton bombs on civilian targets; it conducted mock air raids; and it had its aircraft break the sound barrier over Gaza at low altitudes inflicting eardrum shattering sonic booms to terrify the population. The terror tactics traumatized children the most.
In addition, the IDF targeted and destroyed Palestinian government buildings including the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Economy as well as the office of the Palestinian Prime Minister who was forced into hiding to prevent being targeted for extra-judicial assassination. Other facilities were destroyed as well including a number of educational institutions, the electricity generation plant providing nearly half of Gaza's electrical power, other electricity networks and transmitters, the main water pipe for the Nusairat and al-Boreij refugee camps, six bridges linking Gaza City with the central Gaza Strip, many roads, and the government compound in Nablus. The IDF also destroyed hundreds of donums (each one about 1,000 square meters) of agricultural land and hundreds of houses in indiscriminate-like acts of banditry against vulnerable civilians helpless to stop it and to make it easier later to seize more Palestinian land for settler developments or whatever other purposes the Israelis want to use it for.
In addition, Israel has tried to destroy the democratically elected Hamas-led government by seizing and arresting 31 of its Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members including the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Secretary. Later the Deputy Speaker was released. Also, eight ministers including the Deputy Prime Minister, were arrested. Three of them, including the Deputy Prime Minister were later released, but the others are still in administrative custody. They're being held in detention along with about 10,000 other Palestinians arrested forcibly. Most of them are being held administratively and indefinitely without charge and are subjected to abuse and torture according to Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights monitoring group B'Tselem.
Israel's assault against the Palestinians in June didn't just erupt because of a minor border incident. Israeli General Yoav Galant, in charge of Gaza, revealed in a candid interview he gave it was planned earlier, and the IDF had been preparing for it by training for a large-scale incursion and reoccupation of the Strip. It all stems from the Palestinians having made an unacceptable choice in the legislative elections held in January, 2006. They were expected to return the supine and subservient Fatah-led government to power led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and traitor to his own people for having sold out to Israeli and US interests years ago for the special privileges he gets in return. Fatah lost because the people were so fed up with years of institutionalized corruption under its rule, they voted it out and democratically elected a majority Hamas-led government they had far more faith in. This was intolerable to the Israelis, the Bush administration and the European Union (EU) that refused to recognize the new leadership. They responded by cutting off all international aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and supported Israel's refusal to hand over what it owes the PA from the taxes it collects from the Palestinian people. The plan was to starve the government and people into submission, and it did it by creating a severe economic crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) preventing salaries from being paid and causing a state of extreme deprivation that's grown worse throughout the year and especially after the late June resumption of open and intense conflict.
In total, according to PCHR reports, over the past year, 504 Palestinians have been killed including 93 children and 14 women, 138 of them by targeted extra-judicial executions against 90 targeted persons that also killed 48 others. Covering the entire six years of the al-Aqsa Intifada, PCHR reports 3859 Palestinians have been killed including 585 by extra-judicial assassinations that targeted 376 persons and killed 209 others nearby including 71 children.
Over the past year, the IDF intensified its operations in the OPT, especially in Gaza from which the Israelis staged a media event withdrawal (under its "disengagement plan") in August and September, 2005 evacuating 8,500 settlers from 21 settlements. In fact, no withdrawal took place. The Gaza Jews were merely resettled on other seized Palestinian land in the West Bank, and the IDF just redeployed away from the settlements they were guarding to new positions on the border. Gaza continues to be sealed off, it remains the world's largest open-air prison, and the IDF freely reenters the Strip on any pretext as it did there and in the West Bank with brute force after June 25. The beleaguered Palestinians know no peace or relief as the IDF continues assaulting them daily inflicting an intolerable amount of pain and suffering on them.
This is part of Israel's long-standing imperial and racist policy of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing to destroy the Palestinian identity and prevent the people from ever having a viable sovereign state of their own under a government of their own free choice. Israel's plan is to make life in Palestine so intolerable, the people there will choose to leave voluntarily to seek refuge wherever they can find it in other Arab states. Israel could then seize their land and advance toward its eventual goal of a greater "Eretz Israel" Zionists believe belong to them that includes the ancient lands of "Judea" and "Summaria," the West Bank biblical parts of Israel the Palestinians claim as their homeland. Despite the overwhelming oppression and hardships inflicted on them, the Palestinians have resisted for decades and courageously defended their rights - but at a great cost in lives lost, land seized, homes and other facilities destroyed and continuing human misery some independent observers believe is as great as or even greater than anywhere else in the world.
An Account of the Last Six Years Under Occupation
The PCHR documents how bad things have been just in the last six years since the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada. IDF daily attacks over that period included the following:
-- Mass killings and home and property demolitions
-- Frequent extra-judicial assassinations of targeted Palestinian resistance and political leaders