[News] Eyes that cannot see beyond Jabaliya and Samarra

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Tue Oct 5 09:01:24 EDT 2004


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The eyes that cannot see beyond Jabaliya and Samarra
Simon Tisdall
Tuesday October 05 2004
The Guardian


At first glance the violence in Jabaliya in Palestine and in the Iraqi
town of Samarra appear to be unconnected. The Israeli army's incursion
into northern Gaza looks like just another deadeningly familiar
episode in the unending conflict between Palestinians and Jews.

The US-led weekend assault on insurgents in mainly Sunni Samarra seems
to be broadly typical of the continuing turmoil in Iraq.

But peer beneath the headlines and it is clear that these ostensibly
separate events   are far from routine, and are closely linked in many
ways, directly and indirectly.

In both Jabaliya and Samarra modern armies with state-of-the-art
weaponry and unanswerable air power attacked residential areas,
causing numerous civilian casualties.

In both cases the degree of lethal force used was grossly
disproportionate to the assessed threat. Three US and two Iraqi
battalions - about 5,000 men - were sent against 200-300 insurgents in
Samarra.

In Gaza, in order to deter the sort of vicious home-made Hamas rocket
attacks that killed two children in Sderot last week, the Israelis
have deployed an estimated 2,000 soldiers and 200 tanks, and are
threatening an escalation.

In both places, enormous damage has been done to homes and
infrastructure, including basic services. The Palestinians are
appealing for international assistance for what they say is a
developing "humanitarian tragedy".

The Iraqi Red Crescent, reporting that 500 families were forced to
flee Samarra, said the Iraqi interim government had asked for
emergency aid.

Present horrors apart, Jabaliya and Samarra both offer disturbing
portents, and both have considerable political significance.

In Gaza, Israel seems intent on establishing a buffer zone on
Palestinian land, the equivalent of the wall with which it is
enclosing the West Bank and which, despite official denials, is
prospectively just as permanent.

This is linked in turn to the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's
controversial unilateral plan to evacuate most of the Gaza Strip next
year while consolidating Israel's grip on growing swaths of the West
Bank.

The US attack on Samarra, a relatively easy target, appears to be a
dress rehearsal for coming attempts to seize control of better
defended insurgent strongholds such as Falluja, Sadr City and Ramadi.

On the success of this campaign rests, to a large degree, the Bush
administration's strategy for creating a democratic post-Saddam Iraq.

And thus are the personal political fortunes of Mr Sharon and the US
president, George Bush, bound up to a critical degree in what happens
in places such as Jabaliya and Samarra.

Both men are fighting to convince sceptical electorates, and their own
parties, that they know what they are doing. When elected, Mr Sharon
promised to achieve security for Israelis. Mr Bush declared victory in
Iraq more than a year ago.

Each man has a credibility gap. To fill it, it seems ongoing civilian
carnage is not too high a price to pay.

Jabaliya and Samarra may also be seen as linked symbols of a bigger
problem. In Iraq and Palestine, two allied occupying powers - and
democracies, at that - act with questionable or no legal authority and
with evident impunity.

Resolutions and protests from the UN are ignored. European and Arab
governments wring their hands impotently. Tony Blair is reduced to
hinting at better times to come. Yet the bald fact remains: the US and
Israel behave they way they do because they can; there is simply
nobody to stop them.

And just as Israel's unbending stance, favouring force over dialogue,
threatens a spreading conflict, drawing in Syria and Lebanon, so does
an aggressive US policy, confusing power and legitimacy, intensify the
risk of an Iraqi fragmentation embroiling Iran, Turkey and other
neighbours.

Jabaliya and Samarra, officially, are distinct theatres in the wider
"war on terror".

But far from being unconnected, to many in the Arab world they look
dismayingly like integral parts of a western crusade against both
Muslims and Islam in general, to which violent resistance is the only
possible response.

On both sides of the divide this dread downward spiral creates a kind
of unseeing rage to which all are held hostage: blind in Iraq, eyeless
in Gaza.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited




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