Rabin hostage to the martyrs of his revenge: In one fell swoop Israel has uprooted the seeds of trust. Sarah Helm looks at damage to peace hopes

IN THE Golden Roof Restaurant in Bethlehem yesterday, on the occupied West Bank, the families of the Palestinians deported by Israel to Lebanon gathered quietly to condemn the action.

Ikram Muhtaseb, 24, a social work student, said her brother, Mohammed, 32, had been seized by Israeli soldiers in the early hours of Wednesday from the family's Bethlehem home. It was not until they heard his name on television on Friday evening that the family knew he was among the 418 Palestinians exiled because Israel suspected them of supporting the Islamic militants who kidnapped and murdered an Israeli border guard.

Ikram nervously addressed the packed room: 'In the name of God the merciful the compassionate, we salute our martyrs. We want to live a dignified life in our own homeland. Let the armed struggle be our symbol.'

Her words were greeted with solemn approval. Like most Palestinians, the families of the deportees appear to be in shock. After the deportations, curfews imposed unnatural silence on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. But it could not last.

Late yesterday, after the curfew was lifted in the Gaza Strip, hospital sources in the territory reported six Palestinians had been shot dead in the town of Khan Yunis after stoning troops.

The expulsions were a sweeping act of vengeance by the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin - and the biggest since the occupation began in 1967. Already the peace process has ground to a halt; the United Nations has condemned the act; and to the Palestinians the 418 have become martyrs, ejected by Israel and turned back by Lebanon to languish in no man's land.

The long-term effect is, however, harder to gauge. In one fell swoop Mr Rabin has uprooted the fragile seeds of trust in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis alike. In Israeli minds he has replanted the siege mentality: Israel versus the world. And in Palestinian minds he has simply fed the old hatred, reminding them he is the man who once promised to 'break their bones'.

Mr Rabin may be ruthless, but he was elected in June on platform which promised Palestinian autonomy within nine months. His reputation as Prime Minister is staked on this. He wants to go down in history as the man who made peace. He knows the mass deportations jeopardise all of this. So why did he do it?

The answer can be summed up in one word: Hamas. Hamas is the Islamic Resistance Movement in the occupied territories, and its growing power is feared. Founded in 1987 just after the start of the intifada, Hamas spread its influence quietly at first, winning support through the mosques of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. After 20 years of occupation, with little prospect of a settlement and growing disillusion with the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, which had failed to produce easy solutions, Hamas's message was heeded.

As in the rest of the Arab world, the religion of Islam offered succour to the poor. At the same time Hamas proclaimed its call for jihad - holy war. While the PLO's message blurred as the intifada faltered, Hamas offered clear objectives: the destruction of Israel, and the establishment of an Islamic state over the whole of Palestine.

Until this year, Israel had avoided clamping down on Hamas in order to fragment backing for the PLO, which it still regards as a terrorist organisation. Hamas's support has also been fuelled by the failure of the peace process to achieve concrete results. Hamas has been refusing to countenance the negotiations, accusing the PLO's mainstream group, led by Yasser Arafat, of selling out by supporting them.

At the same time, Hamas has carried out increasingly successful operations against Israeli targets through its armed wing, the el- Qassen Brigades. Its growing credibility in the Islamic world has brought new and powerful friends. In early October Hamas representatives based in Jordan were invited to meet Iranian officials in Tehran. Although the details of Iran's support are not known, there is no doubt that the organisation's new confidence is in part due to Iranian cash and political backing. Hamas also receives funding from Saudi Arabia.

It is only in the past two weeks that Hamas has spread real fear, leaving a trail of Israeli blood. First three soldiers were shot dead in Gaza and one in Hebron, by Hamas gunmen. Then came the kidnap of Nissim Toledano. On his way to work in the central Israeli town of Lod, the sergeant- major was seized by gunmen who seemingly slipped under the noses of Israeli security with devastating ease. In exchange for his freedom, Hamas demanded the release of its founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, in an Israeli jail for allegedly ordering the execution of Palestinian collaborators.

After a two-day stand-off, and a security clampdown, Toledano was found stabbed to death on Wednesday by the side of the road near Jerusalem. It is said he was tortured to death with a primitive head-clamp. Israel reeled, and Yitzhak Rabin pondered his response for 24 hours.

He could, of course, have acted within international law and avoided condemnation. He could have made arrests and brought people to trial. Instead he chose to round up more than 1,200 suspects and then expel the 418. Mr Rabin had hoped to present the country with an overnight fait accompli. But civil rights lawyers got wind of the pending deportations and protested to the Israeli Supreme Court. The court eventually sided with the Prime Minister.

Israel's case is that the action will help, not hinder, the peace process in the long term: unless Hamas is crushed, Mr Rabin believes, there can be no peace. It is likely that when he carried out the deportations, Mr Rabin calculated that international condemnation would be muted. He knows the West fears the spread of Islamic militancy as much as he does. As a government spokesman said on Thursday: 'They thanked us for bombing the Iraqi reactor 10 years afterwards - at first that too was condemned.'

So far, however, it looks as if Mr Rabin has miscalculated. Whatever the threat from Hamas, international law cannot be flouted, the UN has warned. Some good may yet emerge from the crisis, on one condition: that Mr Rabin now supplements stick with carrot. Even liberal Israelis have supported his action. But they say that having sought to crush the militants, he must now nurture the moderates. This means he must look more kindly on Hamas's political opponents, the PLO. They are the ones supporting negotiations, not threatening jihad. If the Palestinian streets are not to erupt, scuppering all hopes of peace, Mr Rabin must talk to the PLO.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone