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Does Israel’s Assassination of Hamas Founder Yassin Make Israelis Safer?

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Protests and riots erupted across the Occupied Territories and the Arab world accompanied by calls for revenge following Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. We go to Gaza to hear from the former attorney general of Gaza and we speak with a university professor who has studied the timing and effects Israel’s assassination policy. [includes rush transcript]

Protests and riots erupted across the Occupied Territories and the Arab world yesterday following Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Tens of thousands of mourners flooded the streets in Gaza for the funeral procession in the largest gathering in Gaza city in a decade. Mourners carried billowing Hamas flags and vowed revenge as two Israeli helicopters flew overhead and the sky was blackened from the smoke of burning tyres.

Protesters also took to the streets in Cairo, Greece, Jordan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

The assassination, which was ordered by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, was opposed by some top Israeli officials including the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Avi Dichter who said the attack will lead to revenge attacks in the short run. This according to a report on Israel’s Channel Two TV.

The killing was widely condemned by international leaders. This is British foreign minister Jack Straw:

  • British Foreign Minister Jack Straw speaking March 22, 2004.

In France, foreign minister Dominique de Villepin also condemned the attack:

  • French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin speaking March 22, 2004.

The White House called the attack deeply troubling, but did not condemn it. Press secretary Scott Mcclellan spoke to reporters yesterday:

  • White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan speaking March 22, 2004.

After the assassination, Israel bolstered security at its embassies around the world. The Israeli army was put on high alert and sealed off the Gaza Strip, closed fortified checkpoints that cut it into three, and closed off West Bank cities.

Haaretz is reporting that at least five Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed and dozens injured, in clashes with Israeli forces during the day on Monday.

  • Steve Niva, professor of international politics at Evergreen State College in Washington state. He has written extensively on Israel’s assassination policy and Palestinian suicide bombings and is currently working on a book on the subject.
  • Fayez Abu Rahmeh, a retired lawyer and former attorney general of Gaza.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Steve Niva, who is a professor at Evergreen State College. He teaches international politics in Washington State, has written extensively on Israel’s assassination policy and Palestinian suicide bombings, and is writing a book on the subject now. Welcome to “Democracy Now!”

STEVE NIVA: Good to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It is good to have you. Can you talk about the assassination of the founder of Hamas?

STEVE NIVA: Yeah. On the one hand, it’s clearly a dangerous escalation, probably opening up a bloody new chapter in the conflict. And certainly it is going to guarantee further Israeli civilian casualties, which is why many Israelis, as you mentioned earlier, are speaking out strongly against this attack, this assassination, particularly two members of the cabinet who are involved in the decision strongly came out and opposed it. It’s also going to be a huge boost for Hamas. And it could lead to the assassination of some Israeli leaders, as a sort of tit-for-tat with this kind of attack. But I think in the broader context this has to be seen as part of a broader pattern of assassinations of high level militant leaders ordered by Ariel Sharon that appear designed to provoke a violent Palestinian response and escalate the conflict into more violence, to serve Sharon’s strategic interests.

We’ve seen this for the past two years; I’ve been tracking this for some time now. Whenever there was a cease-fire or developments that could lead towards renewed negotiations, or other kinds of political threats, Sharon has often ordered the assassination of high-level militants. I traced this pattern to July 31, 2001, when during the two-month cease-fire by Hamas, Sharon ordered the killing of Sheik Jamal Mansour in Nablus, immediately followed by several suicide bombings. November 23, 2001, two-month cease-fire by Hamas after 9-11, he ordered the assassination of Mahmoud Abu Hanood, a high-level Hamas militant, immediately followed by suicide bombings. I can give you other examples, even coming up into this year. When the “Road Map” had kicked in, and there was an attempt to create a cease-fire, to set in place a cease-fire with Hamas, Sharon ordered the assassination of Abdul Aziz Rantisi, the highest-level political figure in Hamas. That was in June of this year. There was a cease-fire and, again, several assassinations culminating in the high-level assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab, one of the highest-level Hamas political leaders. So, to me this is a pattern. The question is, why would he do it now? Why would Sharon order the assassination of Sheik Yassin now and I think there are two main reasons. One is Sharon is facing a severe domestic crisis. He’s up for corruption charges. He’s under strong pressure from his right wing, who think that he is bucking into pressure from terrorism by talking about withdrawing from Gaza. And also Palestinians have been very successful challenging this wall that Sharon is building in the past two months, and I think these political factors are mainly what has lead Sharon to undertake this dangerous and, I think, reckless gambit by assassinating Sheik Yassin.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to professor Steve Niva of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Also on the line with us on the phone from Gaza City is Fayez Abu Rahmeh, who is the former Attorney General of Gaza. Can you describe the situation there now?

FAYEZ ABU RAHMEH: The situation is very tense. It’s one of pain and sorrow for the death of Sheik Yassin. And attempting to avoid the sorrow by keeping the places closed and avoiding all sorts of [inaudible] and various other things.

AMY GOODMAN: This is not the first time that Israel attempted to assassinate the founder of Hamas. Were you surprised?

FAYEZ ABU RAHMEH: This is the first time that Israel tried to assassinate Sheik Yassin, and never before. It assassinated certain aides of him, like Abu Shabab and others. But it is the first time, and the last time Israel assassinates Sheik Yassin.

AMY GOODMAN: Perhaps I should have said that Sheik Yassin has survived other assassination attempts. Fayez Abu Rahmeh, Israel is now saying that all Palestinian militant leaders are “in its sights,” one day after the killing of the Sheik. Your response.

FAYEZ ABU RAHMEH: Yeah, I think this is very bad policy, and it frees the society out of any change, because the continuous killing will not solve any problem. It only increases the hatred and vengeance by the party.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to Ariel Sharon saying he personally authorized the attack and that, “The state of Israel this morning hit the first and foremost leader of the Palestinian terrorist murderers.” He said, “I want to make clear the war on terrorism is not over and we will continue daily everywhere.”

FAYEZ ABU RAHMEH: Mr. Sharon is a very serious believer in murder, murdering people. He ought to be with the people who seek peace and not increase the vengeance. Because the morel of killing will not get anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Fayez Abu Rahmeh, I want to thank you for joining us from Gaza City.

FAYEZ ABU RAHMEH: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Niva, professor of Evergreen State College on the line with us from Olympia, Washington, looking at the history of assassinations and Palestinian suicide bombings. Just a week ago, a suicide bombing in southern Israel in Ashdod killed 10 Israelis and what was unusual about this coming out of Gaza, the Israel and military said the suicide bombers. Often it is portrayed as a suicide bombing responded to by Israel. You’re telling a different story.

STEVE NIVA: Yeah. In fact, when you go back to the beginning of suicide bombings, in 1994 was the first Palestinian suicide bombing and traced the history of suicide bombings on out to the present. There’s been over 135 since then. What you find is a consistent pattern of Palestinian suicide bombings following two kinds of Israeli actions. One would be either an assassination of high-level militant or the other would be some kind of action that leads to a large number of Palestinian civilian casualties. Pretty consistent. It doesn’t hold for all suicide bombings, but it is pretty consistent throughout and basically what’s happened is it’s become a policy of these militant groups, and there is four that conduct most of the suicide bombings — ha mass, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa martyr’s brigade, and the PFLP, a pretty consistent policy for them to use assassinations or civilian massacres of some kind as sort of the motivation of the revenge factor for suicide bombings. So, there has been a cycle of violence. But by and large, has been a product of Israeli violence followed by Palestinian suicide bombings. This is not justify to them at all. Personally, I find them to be both morally reprehensible and politically disastrous of the Palestinian cause, sending exactly the wrong message to the Israeli society regarding the future of — a future peace between Palestinians and Israelis but nevertheless, the pattern is very clear. Israeli violence has been the main contributing factor to Palestinian suicide bombings over time.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re a professor at Olympia State College, at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. This is the college of Rachel Korrey killed just over a year ago, the Israeli military bulldozer crushed her to death, running over her twice. You know two other students as well or two others from Olympia. One was recently shot, is that right?

STEVE NIVA: Yeah. Neil Hern. I think he was just shot by rubber bullets yesterday or the day before yesterday in some civil disobedience against Israel’s wall outside of Jerusalem in the west bank.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, professor Steve Niva, Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, writing a forthcoming book on assassination policy of Israel and Palestinian suicide bombings.

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