Uri Avnery /
Is Beit-Jala Burning?
So who won this battle?
The classic answer is: the winner is the side which remains on the
battlefield after the fighting is over. By this measure, the
Palestinians won. But this was not an ordinary battle, and this is not
an ordinary war, but rather the armed uprising of a conquered people
against the conqueror, so the rules are quite different.
It would be better to apply the test of
objectives. What was the objective of the invasion of Beit-Jala? Was it
The objective was to put an end to the
shooting at Gilo. That failed altogether. After the IDF occupied a part
of Beit-Jala, Gilo suffered machine-gun and mortar fire from Bethlehem,
which lies beyond Beit-Jala, thus making Beit-Jala irrelevant.
True, the withdrawal took place after an
understanding on a cease-fire was achieved. But everybody knows this
understanding is not worth the paper it was not written on. First,
because it was not achieved in a face-to-face meeting and was not
written down. Second, when all the Palestinian territories have turned
into a red-hot pressure-cooker, no Palestinian leader can possibly
promise a real cease-fire. A small group of fighters is sufficient to
renew the firing. And any incident – the assassination of a Palestinian
leader, the killing of Palestinians somewhere else – will be enough to
push such a group into action.
If so, why did Sharon decide to withdraw
his forces? Why did he ask his henchman, Shimon Peres, to supply a
pretext for the retreat?
Very simple: after the force "conquered"
Beit-Jala, Sharon suddenly realized that he had got himself into a trap.
By opening machine-gun and mortar fire from Bethlehem, the Palestinians
invited the IDF to enter the holy town, whose name evokes a profound
echo in the hearts of every Christian in the world. That is just what
Sharon doesn’t need: pictures of Israeli tanks in front of the Church of
Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Sharon had to choose between invading
Bethlehem and leaving Beit-Jala. He decided to withdraw in the darkness
of night. From now on he will take care not to enter the same trap again
and this will practically give the Palestinians a free hand to shoot
from Beit-Jala. The operation, like ,amy others, achieved the opposite
of its objective.
That’s generally what happens when a
colonial army tries to suppress a popular uprising. It is enough to look
at the young face of the new chief of the Fatah forces in the Bethlehem
area. The Israeli Chief-of-Staff, General Mofaz (in his triple capacity
as prosecutor, judge and executioner) "liquidated" the former chief, a
quite moderate person. His place was taken by a much bolder and more
energetic youngster. Conclusion: When one assassinates a leader, his
place does not remain empty. It will be filled by a younger, more
The invasion itself took place without a
battle, from which a stupid commander may draw the conclusion that one
can invade any place without resistance. That could prove a costly
mistake. In 1975, a Syrian armored column entered the town of Sidon
(Saida) in Lebanon in order to destroy the PLO. The column was badly hit
in the streets. The next invasion of a Palestinian town by the Israeli
army, or the one after the next, or the one after that one, will be met
by roadblocks and armed guerilla resistance. The suicide bombers, who
are trying now to blow themselves up in discotheques, will blow
themselves up under the tanks. It’s only a matter of time.
The question remains: why Gilo? Why does
this neighborhood, of all places, draw fire?
Well, for those who do not know: exactly 31
years ago, on August 30, 1970, the Israeli government expropriated 2700
dunams of private land from Beit-Jala, Beit-Tsafafa and Sharafat for
"public purposes". Only a small part of the land was ostensibly acquired
with money, generally it was acquired by counterfeiting documents or by
straw-men posing as Arabs. Some of the owners petitioned the Israeli
Supreme Court, but to no avail. The Gilo neighborhood was established on
The inhabitants of Beit-Jala consider Gilo
a settlement sitting on their land. At Camp-David there seemed to be a
chance that the Palestinians might agree to give up Gilo and the other
Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in return for all the Arab
neighborhoods in Jerusalem being returned to the future Palestinian
state. Ehud Barak aborted the idea.
An Israeli general said on television:
"Gilo is a part of our capital. Would the British have tolerated
shooting at London?" To which the answer could be: "If the British were
to annex Belfast to the London municipal area, the IRA would probably
shoot at it, too."
To discus this article:
haGalil onLine 02-09-2001