9 August 2003:

Six weeks in to the delayed schedule of the Quartet's Road Map and the Israeli security forces are enjoying a lapse in attempted assassinations of its citizens. How should a conscript army react to the prospect of encroaching peace ? What tactical changes in military operations should this apparent yield to government policy bring about ? Which confidence-building measures could the fourth most powerful army in the world offer besieged Palestinian communities ?

1st Sect Photo: ISM Media

Nothing at all, of course, since peace is the last thing that would benefit the territorial expansionism favoured by the Sharon administration. These are seasoned players in prolonging political enmity in the Middle East and the behaviour-type can be found at several key moments over the past years. Recall the colonial growth in the Palestinian territories during phases of the Oslo accords, or the pretextual air bombardments of Lebanon preparing for the 1982 invasion, to cite just two.

An explicit objective is to incite conflict amongst Palestinian social organisations on the grounds that these comprise terrorist 'infrastructure'. This is an Israeli concept, slurring together the residual popular polity in the occupied lands and militant attempts at self-defence. But, unhelpfully, Ha'aretz has reported that senior military officers do not believe Hamas is preoccupied with organising future suicide missions. So to justify its claims, Israel has to promote itself as victim, and hence the need to be attacked without apparent provocation.

If Israel can achieve a Palestinian revocation of their 'hudna' (which Sharon maintains Israel is not party to) by perpetuating a strategy of reckless assassinations and civil destruction, then the performance gap between its Road Map obligations and its illegal conduct throughout the Palestinian territories can be spun off the political agenda. If it fails to corrode the cease-fire, no matter, since incrementing the misery in Palestinian townships brings the moment of their collapse that much closer.

Without such an explanatory framework, how to account for the chronicle of excessive military violence, impervious to initiatives for peace ? Habits die hard: in the early morning of Saturday 8 August 2003, seven tanks, three jeeps, a helicopter, bulldozer and dozens of soldiers invaded the Askar Refugee Camp in Nablus to 'arrest' a 'suspect'. An eyewitness gave the following account of what happened in Askar that morning:

"At 2:30 in the morning I heard a lot of people moving in the streets of the camp. Then I discovered that these people are soldiers or special forces after I heard some Hebrew words. 20 minutes later strong gunfire started, suddenly a lot of tanks, jeeps and one helicopter started to arrive to the area followed by a bulldozer. The gunfire continued. I started to hear the bombs from time to time, during all this time I didn't leave my bed. After 4:30, the jeeps started to impose the curfew. After that, I received a call from my father asking me to leave my place and to join the family.

His fears were: in case the army started to search from house to house, having me by myself in the house would give them the chance to do what ever they want to me, as we do have long list of people who [have] been beaten by the occupation forces taking the chances that no witnesses [were] around. I joined my family went up to the roof to have a clear vision about what's going on, the gunfire, bombs continued, then I heard strong bombing followed with a lot of smoke.

After calling the neighbors to figure out what's happening, I had been told that the house of the Dwaikat family was shelled by tanks, and they destroyed the fourth and the third floor.

The jeeps kept driving [through] the streets imposing the curfew. By six in the morning, the people started to break the curfew going out [on] to the streets. Then confrontations started between the kids, youth, men, women, and the Army, and the army opened fire using live ammunition for the purpose of killing us. Around 10:00 am I heard huge bombing. Then it was clear that they bombed the entire building. The confrontations kept going on, and the bulldozer started to work to be sure that no one was still alive after bombing the building.

Around 11:30 am, the army left the camp. It was very clear there was no need for releasing the curfew as everybody was outside. I went out to see the area where the operation happened. We [had] been told that the army took the body of the martyr Khamis abu Salim, 22 years old, whilst the people were trying to get some stuff out from under the destroyed house, they found the body of the martyr Fayez Al Sadar 28 years old. All the people carried him on their shoulders toward the ambulance, everybody went home preparing himself for next day demonstration for the two martyrs. 3 hours later, 2 of the 9 who were injured in the confrontations died; Fawzi Al Alami 45 years old, and Mohammad al Tek 17 years old, and by this new news everybody started to recalculate tomorrows demonstration with four bodies instead of two . . ."

Two of the Palestinian victims were Hamas members and the military wing of the organisation responded with a threat to avenge the assault. Shrewdly, a political spokesman for Hamas has indicated off-the-record that the cease-fire will continue. But where is the goodwill in Israel to make the material concessions necessary to support plausible dialogue ?