UK paper justifies Arab rioting and burning of synagouges in Gaza - Notes that IDF general faced arrest in UK for 'war crimes'
September 14, 2005
Synagogues burn as Palestinians retake Gaza
Half a century of frustration erupted in chaotic euphoria yesterday as thousands of joyful Palestinians flooded into the abandoned Jewish settlements of Gaza in a riot of dancing, looting, and score-settling.
Within minutes of the Israel army's pre-dawn withdrawal from Gaza, a markedly less orderly horde of Palestinians swarmed over the ruins of the settlements.
The skies were yet to be lit by the rising sun when the first flames from burning synagogues could be seen, set alight by Palestinians incensed by years when the Israeli army ruthlessly defended the settlements. But the only explosions over Gaza yesterday came from fireworks lit in celebration by the crowds on a day of unprecedented Palestinian celebration.
Many came from the refugee ghettoes of Gaza where Palestinians have lived in overcrowded squalor since being driven from their homes in 1948 at the creation of the Jewish state.
There was a strong sense of score-settling as they celebrated the departure of their unwelcome neighbours. Among the advancing horde there were old and young, secular and religious, but they were as one in their desire to celebrate a historic day for the Middle East.
Gaza's problems remain formidable, but for a moment yesterday they were forgotten in an unprecedented display of Palestinian national pride.
The day began early as the Israeli army completed its pull-out in the small hours, ending a military occupation that began when its troops seized Gaza from the Egyptian army in the 1967 war.
The last Israeli soldier to leave was the divisional commander who stopped only to lock the gate in the security fence erected around Gaza by the Israeli authorities.
His departure signalled the start of the Palestinian advance, as Gazans dared to venture into territory where just a few hours earlier they would have been shot dead by Israeli security forces.
Rasmiya Najjar, 50, lost her three brothers, Mousa, Muhammad and Ali, in the fight against the Israelis and was in tears as she joined the celebrations. "I have never imagined that I would enter this settlement and walk on its land," she said as she took her first tentative steps inside the former Jewish enclave of Neve Dekalim.
The Palestinian security forces said they would stop civilians from entering the 21 abandoned Jewish settlements but the soldiers and police did nothing to stop the advance. They stood back as Palestinians surged into the settlements. Some of the soldiers even took part, helping the crowds climb on to the few public buildings left standing by the Israelis.
The synagogues were the first objects of attention for the crowds. The Israeli authorities had forlornly attached signs saying "Holy Sites" in Arabic to try to protect the 26 places of Jewish worship. But this was not enough to stop the angry crowds who surged into the buildings, ripping out light fittings, window frames and anything of value. The departing Israelis had already removed everything of religious significance.
"The Palestinian Authority cannot impose its will on the people,"said one of the crowd, Abu Mustafa, as the Neve Dekalim synagogue was sacked. "The people want to destroy everything linked with the occupation."
There was some grumbling from senior Israeli government figures at what they described as desecration, but in the eyes of the Palestinian crowds it was just payback for years of Israeli occupation.
There was a strong presence of Islamic militants from groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Their flags and standards could be seen across the "liberated" settlements.
"This is the victory of Islam, the invaders have been defeated," read Islamic graffiti scrawled on the outer wall of one synagogue.
Small bands of masked, armed militants paraded with their weapons down streets they had viewed until recently as military targets. Islamic religious music could be heard pounding out of cars being driven through the streets.
Alongside the radical groups were criminal elements who used yesterday as a day of pillage. They filled donkey carts and trailers with tiles, old pipes, anything of value they could loot from the ruins. The Palestinian ghettoes of Gaza are poor and what had been left as rubbish by the Israelis provided rich pickings for people used to acute poverty.
But there were many Palestinians who simply wanted to visit places that had been so near and yet so far. Crowds of Palestinians went to the beach, beaches where Israeli Jews had enjoyed exclusive rights. Five Palestinians drowned as they swam, swept away by powerful currents, and a man was believed to have been killed by warning fire from Egyptian border forces when a Palestinian crowd surged across the frontier in the village of Rafah.
• A former Israeli army general, who came close to being arrested at Heathrow airport on charges of committing war crimes against Palestinians, said yesterday that it was unfair for soldiers to be persecuted for carrying out their military duty.
Doron Almog, who commanded Israeli troops in Gaza, was tipped off by sources at the Israeli Embassy in London that Scotland Yard officers were waiting for him on Sunday. Israel has asked Britain for clarification on the case.