Magazine article The Spectator

Arafat's Munich

Magazine article The Spectator

Arafat's Munich

Article excerpt

Ramallah, West Bank

THE walls are painted with slogans. Posters, some of children waiting to throw rocks at armoured personnel-carriers, have gone up. Leaflets are distributed. Radio stations play propaganda. More than 200 martyrs lie buried. A new cemetery has been named for the Palestinian Hussein Abayat, who died when an Israeli helicopter fired an anti-tank missile at his car in the village of Beit Sahour. For the first time since Ariel Sharon's ill-considered Temple Mount promenade ignited this pile of fuel-- soaked rags on 28 September, the Palestinians managed on Tuesday to kill as many Israelis - two female settlers and two soldiers - as Israelis did Palestinians.

The most powerful military in the Middle East has so far maintained a kill ratio of about five to one against a mostly unarmed population that lacks both an army and a state. I would hesitate to call this a war, but it is one hell of a rebellion. Like the Vietcong who had an even worse ratio of American kills to their own dead, the Palestinians whose children throw stones and whose young men hurl Molotov cocktails are losing battles in the hope of winning a war.

Most of the action takes place at the entrances to Palestinian towns, where Israeli tanks and soldiers make inviting targets for rock-throwing kids, but a few young men have shot rifle rounds at soldiers and settlers. Israel's deputy defence minister, Ephraim Sneh, had promised that special squads would target those responsible for armed violence. His claim that his units would be `effective and smart' and that `no innocent civilians would be killed' collapsed a few days later when the army used a helicopter to kill Hussein Abayat, a local Fateh operative from Bethlehem. (Fateh is the political organisation that Yasser Arafat created in 1965 and whose armed wing, the Assifa forces, he promised to leave behind when he returned to Palestine under the Oslo Accords. It is the backbone of his pseudo-government, the Palestine Authority, as it was of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.) Israeli military commanders are blaming Tanzim al-Fateh, the Organisation of Fateh, for this second intifada. On the streets, Tanzim seems to consist in Fateh members who do not have jobs with the Palestine Authority. The uprising would probably take place without them, but without the Organisation it would be less well organised.

After ordering the helicopter assault that killed Abayat, his deputy and two 50-year-- old women who had mothered ten children between them, the Israeli West Bank commander, Major-General Yitzak Eitan, explained his objective: 'I hope it will reduce the violence and bring back reason to this area.' What might he have done to increase violence?

Eitan's clumsy assassination of Hussein Abayat brought forth from the Fateh leader in Ramallah, Marwan Barghouti, the observation: `It's a very grave escalation.' It certainly was.

I happened to be in the Fateh office in Bethlehem when news came of the helicopter assassination down the hill in Beit Sahour. The Fateh leaders there seemed to think they would be the next targets. We went to see the jeep in which the men had died - burnt and crumpled beyond recognition - and the blood of the two women who had been outside when shrapnel shredded their bodies. The mood of the crowd indicated that Fateh would have to do something to retain any credibility with the people who were bleeding.

Fateh militants promised to assassinate the Israeli army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, in retaliation. …

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