Israel's morning class
Under what possible moral compass is blowing up schoolchildren justified?
Khaled Amayreh reports from Hebron
Last Thursday, an undercover unit of the Israeli army buried a mine in the sand that flows around Abdullah Siyam Primary School in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.
A few hours later, as Palestinian children headed to school, the mine exploded. Five school children were instantly reduced to broken flesh. The youngest was aged just six.
All came from the same extended family: Akram Naim Astal, 6, and his brother Mohamed, 13; Omar Idris Astal, 12, and his brother Anis, 10; and their cousin, Mohamed Sultan Astal, 12.
Their young bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. The limbs of one child were found 50 metres away. Some of the children could only be identified by their school bags, brightly coloured and spattered with blood, still dangling from their butchered bodies.
Initially, the Israeli army denied any guilt, alleging instead that the children had played with an old unexploded (Israeli) tank shell.
But after left-wing Israelis like Meretz leader Yossi Sarid accused the government of a cover-up, the occupation army at last admitted "indirect responsibility."
A statement issued by the army on 26 November accepted that the bomb that killed the five children had been planted by an undercover unit and that it "might have been activated" by an officer. That same army, utterly unashamed, did not even give the families space to grieve. At the funeral on Friday, Israeli soldiers sprayed the angry mourners with bullets. There, they killed another boy: 15-year-old Wael Ali Radwan from the neighbourhood of Abasan.
Not even that slowed the violence. On 23 November, near the West Bank village of Tubas, Israeli gunships poured over 10 air-to-ground Hellfire missiles on to a car carrying Hamas military leader Mahmoud Abu Hannoud, 35. Abu Hannoud, and two Hamas activists riding with him, Ayman Hashayka and his brother Ma'amun Hashayka, were instantly killed, their bodies burnt to soot.
"There were no bodies, only scattered pieces of incinerated human flesh," said a Red Crescent paramedic, who arrived at the scene soon afterwards. "I can't describe it, I've never seen a thing like this in my life." Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eleazer, termed this barbarity a "great success."
Abu Hannoud was at the head of Israel's wanted list for planning and conducting resistance attacks and assassinating scores of Israeli occupation soldiers and illegal settlers. Ben Eleazer described Abu Hannoud as a "most dangerous terrorist."
"We are proud of him, he is not dead, he is alive and well with the prophets, saints and martyrs," said Abu Hannoud's uncle. He added, "His hour was due. Almighty God chose him to be with Him on a blessed day (Friday) and in a blessed month (Ramadan). We all wish to become martyrs like him." As he spoke, a stream of people came knocking. They were there to congratulate the family, not to offer condolences.
Hamas eulogised Abu Hannoud as a "fighter for God, justice and the freedom of Palestine." Its statement said, "Another hero of Islam and Palestine has dismounted. He fought the evil enemy relentlessly until the last moment. His memory will live in all of us. He is not dead, he is a martyr. Martyrs do not die."
The Israeli occupation army had tried several times to assassinate Abu Hannoud. Their latest effort happened nearly a year ago when Israeli F-16 fighters bombed a Nablus prison where Abu Hannoud was detained by the Palestinian Authority.
That illegal raid slew 14 Palestinian policemen and prison guards, but Abu Hannoud escaped unharmed.
Two years ago, hundreds of Israeli troops, backed by helicopters, raided Abu Hannoud's village, Asira Al- Shamaliya, near Nablus, in an attempt to assassinate the Hamas leader. That time again, he escaped, killing three Israeli soldiers on the way.
Hamas has vowed to avenge Abu Hannoud's death. "We assure our people that his and other martyrs' blood will be avenged very soon," they said in a statement.
On Sunday, 25 November, Hamas guerrillas in Gaza fired a locally-made Kassam-1 rocket at the settlement of Kfar Dorom in central Gaza. The missile killed an Israeli soldier and wounded two others.
That was the first time the primitive and inaccurate rocket has caused an Israeli fatality.
The death of the soldier infuriated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. On the night of the following Friday and early Saturday morning, Israeli helicopters again raided civilian and police targets in the Gaza Strip. The gunships destroyed a police station in Gaza City and an office building in Khan Younis. This time, there were no serious injuries; the Palestinian Authority (PA) had vacated the buildings before the raids.
Following these provocations, the PA accused the Israeli government of deliberately escalating violence to scuttle the diplomatic mission of two American envoys, Anthony Zinni and William Burns, who arrived in Israel last Tuesday, in a new and promising effort to consolidate the supposed cease-fire and revive the moribund peace process.
As Sharon has barred Foreign Minister Shimon Peres from holding the talks with Zinni and Burns, replacing him with two of his own hand-picked, right-wing advisers, it seems the Israeli prime minister is utterly uninterested in seeing the latest effort succeed. But then again, peace was never his way.