by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti
International Herald Tribune
RAMALLAH, West Bank:
As we enter the 41st year of Israel’s military occupation, one of the more sinister policies inflicted upon us is what Israel calls ‘targeted killings.’
Israel applies no death penalty, except against Palestinians living under Israeli military government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There, suspected opponents of Israel’s occupation are routinely executed without charge, judge or jury. Innocents who happen to be in the vicinity of Israel’s ‘target’ just as often suffer summary execution.
In April, 17-year-old Bushra Breghish was pacing her bedroom, studying for an exam. An Israeli sniper, from a squad dispatched to arrest her brother, shot her through the forehead, killing her instantly. All she held in her hands was a book.
Last week in Ramallah’s central square, in broad daylight, Israeli undercover forces shot a fleeing 22-year-old, Omar Abu Daher, in the leg. After he fell, and was entirely vulnerable to arrest, an Israeli assassin shot him in the back of the head from close range, then kicked his body, apparently to confirm the kill.
The deaths of these young Palestinians are not rare, nor were they unintentional. They were the victims of an openly acknowledged policy.
For decades, Israel murdered Palestinian leaders abroad, following the macabre calculations of its political scientists and intelligence experts that even a small number of assassinations could retard, if not foil, our national movement.
Israel claimed to target those guilty of committing or planning acts of violence. In reality, Palestinian political leaders, poets, journalists and other professionals and artists were also killed.
Israel began ‘targeted killings’ in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s, and expanded this practice during the first Palestinian intifada, which occurred from 1987-1993.
Palestinian youths faced Israeli tanks with little more than slogans and stones. Israel condemned their ‘targets’ based on mere suspicion. They have since signed the death warrants of hundreds more, including bystanders like young Bushra studying for final exams.
Since September 2000, more than 400 Palestinians have been murdered in extrajudicial executions. Nearly half were innocent bystanders and at least 44 were children. These extrajudicial executions are war crimes.
The Palestinian unity government has offered to end all forms of violence, provided Israel reciprocates and ends its violence against Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Our own security forces are challenged, and we face acute internal political differences. But we are committed to halting all attacks - including by Qassam rockets - as long as Israel respects its obligations under international law and stops murdering Palestinians.
We have no hope of succeeding in this goal if Israel will not meet us half way. Palestinians would rightly reject a government that protected Israeli lives while failing to protect Palestinians, who have been slaughtered at 30 times the rate of Israelis over the last 17 months.
Israel has responded with escalating attacks against Gaza and extrajudicial killings in the West Bank. Is its political objective something other than peace? Israel’s assassinations over the past seven years have repeatedly shattered unilateral truces by Palestinians and scuttled any prospect of negotiations.
Why has Israel consistently re-kindled violence? Is it possible that our willingness to negotiate our differences is more dangerous than any military threat our beleaguered population could ever muster against the sixth most powerful military in the world?
Could it be that Israel seeks to finish the systematic dispossession of Palestinians begun in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven or fled in fear from their homes and homeland? Does goading Palestinians into violence permit Israel to dodge peace negotiations, and provide it cover to continue its confiscation of Palestinian land and construction of Jewish settlements in the lands it seized in 1967?
After all, ‘security’ was the initial justification for Israel’s settlements, and ‘military necessity’ was the pretext for the seizures of our lands.
‘Security’ rationalizes the segregated road system Israel has constructed in the West Bank, whisking Jewish Israeli settlers wherever they wish to go, while Palestinians negotiate a decrepit one.
‘Security’ is allegedly served by the 500-plus Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints that dot our territory, restricting travel and smothering our economy, and by the ‘separation fence’ that Israel has built, penning our communities into small Bantustans that function like open-air prisons.
‘Security’ is why Israel says it will never give up the Jordan Valley, nearly 30 percent of the West Bank.
In fact, security for both Israelis and Palestinians is mutually interdependent, not mutually exclusive. Israel cannot have security while denying it to Palestinians. When Israel is willing to renounce violence, it will discover how ready we have been as a partner for peace.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is Minister of Communication for the Palestinian Authority. He is also the founder of medical organizations which provide health services to more than 1.5 million Palestinians each year.