Arab Education, Palestinian Children and the Source of Violence in the Middle East
By E. C. Cole
Since the signing of the Oslo accords in Washington in 1993, political violence has been used as a bargaining tool by the Palestinians over and over again, as a lever to achieve additional concessions from the Israeli government. At first, during the term of the late Prime Minister Rabin, from 1993 to 1996, the violence usually took the form of Islamic Jihad or Hamas terrorist activities. The motto of Israeli government was "we shall pursue peace as if there were no terrorism."
Terrorist acts not only did not threaten Palestinian national interests, but in addition, some Israelis ministers even openly declared that the terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip showed that Israel had no choice but to withdraw unilaterally. The message to the Arabs was clear: terrorism and political activity can work together to bring about more Israeli political concessions. Because of this, Arafat does not use his military capabilities since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority to crush the military wing and infrastructure of Hamas. He wanted to preserve their capability to renew violence against Israel.
The concessions that former Prime Minister Netanyahu made during the peace process were the withdrawal from Hebron, and the signing of the Wye agreements. These concessions occurred only after the outbreak of two well-orchestrated "popular" uprisings. The first of these was in September 1996, after the opening of the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem. The second was in 1997, after the Israeli government decided to establish a Jewish neighborhood in Har Homa in Jerusalem. By making concession after and only after Palestinian riots, Netanyahu sent a clear message to the Palestinians: Israeli concessions can be won through violence.
When Prime Minister Barak went to Camp David with all the intention of signing a final peace treaty with the Palestinians. He was ready to make many concessions to the Palestinians that were unconceivable in the eyes of the average Israeli citizen. He ready to establish a Palestinian state on more than 93 percent of the West Bank and Gaza strip, he was ready even to divide the Israeli capital, Jerusalem, into two capitals-one Israeli and the other Palestinian.
More so, Barak agreed to withdrawal from the Jordan Valley, a step which all previous Israeli governments, both Likud and Labor, had long regarded as endangering the very existence of Israel. This is because, without the buffer zone of the Jordan Valley, the most densely populated part of Israel is a strip only 14 miles wide. Had Arafat agreed to Barak's proposals, this narrow strip would have been squeezed between the newborn Palestinian State and the Mediterranean Sea. In case of a war, it could easily be sealed off to split Israel in two. The only way to prevent the invasion of the Arab armies into the Palestinian State in case of war would be for Israel to retain military control of the Jordan Valley, an area with very few Palestinian inhabitants. This was seen as gross mistake on the part of Arafat, since he could have taken the land offer and then bargained for even more.
But this was not the most rediculous of Barak's proposed concessions. He also offered to grant 100,000 Palestinians "the right of return." These refugees would live in Israel, rather than in the new Palestinian State, and would be given Israeli citizenship. What this means is that, in accordance with the natural birthrate in the Palestinian family, in another generation these newcomers would number approximately 500,000 people, and, together with the 17 percent of Palestinians already living in Israel, would endanger the State's Jewish majority. Is it any wonder then that Barak was soundly defeated in the last election?
All of this was not only a real threat to the existence of Israel from the Israeli point of view, but also could be seen as contrary to the foundation of the Oslo accords, which clearly demand concessions from the both sides equally. From statements made by several Palestinians leaders, Arafat included, it was clear from the beginning that in return for the creation of a Palestinian State the Palestinians would not demand the return of refugees to Israel, but would instead agree that they become citizens of the new Palestinian state. Thus, according to the original terms of the Oslo Accord, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would officially end with existence of two independent states in the Holy-Land-one Palestinian, and the other Jewish.
The late Israeli foreign minister Abba-Eban used to say: "The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Arafat refused the Israeli concessions at Camp David, remembering perhaps that Palestinian violence always gave him more concessions from Israel. Therefore he chose to initiate the so-called "Intifada El-Aqsa" armed uprising, a step planned long before Camp-David. Arafat was right again. Barak was not only prepared to give him more concessions after the Intifada broke out, but he was also ready to continue negotiating with Arafat while violence and terrorism were being carried out against Israelis on a daily basis. And this time it was not Hamas violence doing the Palestinian Authority's dirty work. Rather, it was violence initiated and controlled by Arafat himself through his own Fatah organization.
However, Arafat made one mistake. He apparently did not anticipate that the Intifada would lead to the fall of Barak's government. In the recent election, the Israeli people granted Ariel Sharon an overwhelming majority, not only to protest the concessions that Barak was ready to give the Palestinians, but also as a declaration of their disappointment with the Palestinians and with Arafat. The common saying in Israel, heard everywhere these days is, "we have no partner for peace" and "Arafat is a partner for terror."
Now a half a year into the latest intifada, it is possible to discern emerging patterns and trends in Palestinian terrorism. The contemporary version of the "armed struggle" contains a degree of continuity from the pre-Oslo days, but also a number of innovations. First and foremost is the resolve of both Fatah and Hamas to run their squads within a doctrinal framework, rather than an organizational one. In other words, a situation is developing - and being directed from the top - in which the terror cells have more freedom than at any time in the past regarding timing of attacks and choice of targets, so long as they don't deviate from the general parameters of the confrontation.
Arafat and those around him learned long ago that the Israeli security services easily penetrate the centralized, hierarchical apparatuses that have been responsible for terror in the past. So in order to contend with their chronic transparency, they are now switching to a system of decentralization and compartmentalization, which in effect grants the relatively low echelons a large measure of independence. One of the results has been the establishment of joint squads of Hamas, Fatah and other militants for the purpose of laying ambushes and carrying out attacks. The operatives act in response to guidelines they infer from the climate created by the leadership and from open political messages.
In Hamas, for example, the role of the leadership-in-exile in Damascus has been radically downsized. The cells in the territories do not need the counsel or encouragement of Musa Abu-Marzuk or Khaled Mash'al, but at most, need help with smuggling weapons by sea from Imad al-Alami, the chief operations officer. The military wing of Hamas has adopted the format of disorganized organization.
The same is true of Fatah. The party militia, the Tanzim, has divided into eight almost autonomous districts in the West Bank, each one acting militarily according to its own interpretation of the atmosphere and at its own convenience, within the course outlined by Arafat. At most, there is probably a degree of coordination between the heads of the Tanzim. But there is certainly no discipline of ranks or orderly chain of command.
The Palestinian Authority's security arms are operating on the same basis. The commander of Arafat's elite Force 17 unit in Ramallah, Mahmud Damra, has been running a campaign of terror north of Jerusalem, without waiting for instructions from the commander in chief of the presidential guard, Col. Faisal Abu-Sharah, who has been busy with attacks of his own in Gaza. That applies to other security agencies as well.
Arafat has formulated several new goals in the terror domain:
1. To produce a balance of deterrence whereby the Palestinians will respond to any Israeli strike in Zone A, the territories under full PA control, with a series of strikes within Israel proper, or with escalated firing on settlements.
2. The development of an underground weapons industry is in full swing. So far it has managed to improvise 81mm mortars from pipes. Down the road, the Palestinians hope to manufacture other types of weapons and ammunition prohibited under the Oslo Accords, principally Katyushas.
3. Feverish efforts are underway to improve the quality of Palestinian-made explosive devices. In the West Bank, most of the bombs are the products of home laboratories, and their blast force is relatively small, if still deadly. The aim is to get to the point of manufacturing bombs based on standard explosives, but compounded in a way that will allow them to penetrate armored vehicles.
4. There is a desire to provide a "popular cover" for terror acts in the form of violent demonstrations of youths opposite army positions. Arafat seeks to present the upswing in terror as a response to an Israeli "offensive." The PA is expected to attempt to gain a degree of international legitimization for its "armed resistance of occupation."
Hovering over all of this is the fact that a whole new generation of terror-combatants is being raised and educated from among those who were just children during the first intifada, and within a few months, they will close the gaps in their know-how. The disciples of "engineer" Yihya Ayyash who have been released from the PA prisons, and the graduates of Fatah's Western Sector, the old terrorist apparatus of the PLO, who today serve in key positions in the PA, will raise a new gallery of terrorists, even without getting their own hands dirty. And when the inevitable happens, and the blasts and bombs become more sophisticated, the impact will be several times more brutal than what we've seen so far.
The Tanzim was established in 1995 by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Fatah leadership, with the intention of creating a force that could serve as:
The purpose of the Tanzim was to establish "non-formal" armed Palestinian militia-free from the obligations of the Oslo agreements, which bound the Palestinian Authority security forces.
The Tanzim has headquarters and branches in every neighborhood in the urban areas, and in villages and refugee camps throughout the Palestinian Autonomy. The organization's strongest branches operate in the Palestinian universities, such as Bir Zeit, An-Najah and Bethlehem University. During summer holidays, the organization runs summer camps for young people, where they are taught to handle weapons and to carry out military and sabotage missions.
The Tanzim has tens of thousands of members, from school boys to adults, including many university students. Many of the organization's commanders and members are "Intifada graduates," who were imprisoned in Israel during the last Intifada. The organization is led by a Tanzim supreme committee, comprised of former Intifada commanders. The acknowledged leader of the Tanzim is Marwan Bargouti, a citizen of Ramallah, who is also a member of the Palestinian Legislative council.
The Tanzim has a large arsenal of weapons, from pistols to machine guns, as well as the capability to manufacture explosive devices. Most of the Tanzim weapons were donated by the Palestinian Authority, while many others were purchased from various sources.
The Tanzim is an organ of the Fatah party, and as a party-affiliated organization has close links to the Palestinian Authority. Arafat maintains ongoing links with the Tanzim commanders and uses the organization as an armed wing of the Fatah. As an informal militia, the Tanzim can operate independently, thus circumventing the limits and obligations imposed on the Palestinian Police by the agreements with Israel. The Tanzim gets its finances and weaponry from the Palestinian Authority-sometimes directly from Arafat-as well as its operational and political guidelines.
Many Tanzim members also operate in the framework of various Palestinian security apparatuses. The Tanzim thus provides Arafat with a very useful tool in the confrontation with Israel-a deniable para-military force, which can attack Israel without the risk of a political backlash. The nebulous links between the Tanzim and the Arafat's Palestinian Authority, have led some observers to the erroneous conclusion that Arafat has only limited control over the organization, if indeed he controls it at all. By fostering such a misconception, Arafat can maintain a policy of "talking and shooting" at the same time, while blaming "uncontrolled elements on both sides" for the ongoing violence.
According to reliable sources the Tanzim is the leading player in the Intifada, initiating mass public demonstrations and riots, as well guerilla and terror attacks against Israeli targets. The organization has been responsible for a number of terrorist and guerilla actions, including: shooting attacks on the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem and the nearby Psagot settlement and shooting attacks and planting of explosives in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The concept of the Israelis is to make the PA responsible for the actions in the autonomous areas. This means a crack down on Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the Tanzim. Arafat, supposedly was armed to implement this end, however he has yet to seriously persue this route. He finds that those Arab extremist organizations are extremely benificial for his goals of reducing the Israelis to their knees.
The Israelis must realize that Arabs understand only force. They view negotiations as a sign of weakness. If the Israelis could conquer the Arabs, why do they want to negotiate? The Israeli government must swiftly realize that they have been taken for a ride. Arafat has never kept any promise and has no intention of doing the bidding of his Israeli masters.
from the December 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine