It is absolutely correct to state that Prime Minister Sharon re-deployed his troops into PA-controlled towns in the West Bank not because he is a cold-hearted sadist who enjoys listening to reports of more Palestinians getting mangled by the all-mighty IDF, but rather because he had other, more practical intentions in mind. Not only does he wants to weaken the now famous “terrorist infrastructure”, but he wants to break the will of all Palestinians who persevere in resisting the Israeli occupation thru other means rather than terrorism. It is clear, as the politician he is, he wants to stamp a clear message into the Palestinian psyche: no matter what you do, Israel still retains sovereignty over the occupied territories. Nevertheless, as a retired General and former Defense Minister, besides other honorary titles as “The Butcher of Sabra and Shatila”, he understands how using brute military strength provides a quicker, yet more negative, fix to the current impasse than negotiating his country out of the terrible mess it is in. Does the murder of innocent Israeli civilians justify Sharon’s tactics for “uprooting terror”? Let me give you a hint: the concept of viewing guiltless Palestinians die as collateral damage is not allowed into the answer.
Israelis do make a grave mistake in equating America’s War on Terrorism with their own crisis with the Palestinians. Fundamentally, both conflicts are different in regards to their goals and the context they develop in. It would be overkill to re-state the reasons of why America is currently involved in Afghanistan and other parts of the World; also such discussion merits a different forum. In contrast, the dynamic between Israel and Palestine is one of a nation’s struggle for freedom after 35 years of military occupation. Although attacks on innocent civilians (terrorism) are tactics used by both sides, the context of the crisis is completely different. Afghanis, then under the Taliban, together with Al-Qaida were not struggling for their independence. They were not suffering military occupation, a nasty experience they already went through, long gone along with the Soviet Union. Israel claims their actions, search and destroy operations in essence, are merely to arrest terrorists although it is merely a faзade for prolonging an occupation that makes no moral or strategic sense at all. Even more interesting is the fact that Israel is responsible for the very reason these terrorist groups still, as of today, exist in Palestine: 35 years of continuous humiliation, punishment and banishment of a whole nation. Notice that the reason there is widespread support of these groups is directly related to the very disillusionment that Palestinian commoners experience after a life of poverty and repression. These militant Palestinians do not attack without reason, they act because they despise the very same state that has pushed them to the current tragedy they are stuck with. They are struggling for independence, although some of them have perpetrated despicable crimes against innocent civilians. What PM Sharon is doing is not new at all, it is merely a repetition of what Israel has been doing in the occupied territories every since 1967.
Do remember that Israel’s war of Independence (from Britain, I suppose, which was in the process of terminating its colonial mandate anyways) was fought by the terrorist organizations Irgun and Stern Gang, along with Haganah militia. They emptied whole Palestinian villages, massacred 250 Palestinians in Deir Yassin (check Benny Morris on this one, he is a good Israeli historian), bombed the King David Hotel, constantly took British hostages and murdered them, robbed banks, planted bombs in synagogues in North Africa (to incite more Jews to emigrate to Palestine”) among others. If Israelis want to obtain a better understanding on the Palestinian struggle for independence, they should look back on their own history as how their state was born.
Perhaps Israel is not to carry with all the blame of the lamentable outcome of the crisis. Mr. Arafat is a corrupt leader who has, in coordination with Israel, further disgraced his own people even after the now forgotten Oslo accords. He has misused the money lent by the International Community by favoring his closest lieutenants and establishing a huge “security” apparatus to spy on his own people at per-requested by Israel. He has made a mockery of the rule of law that the PA’s Legislative Council has tried to establish in the small bantustans of the PA’s administrative area. He is not a leader of the Palestinians, but a crime lord who forfeited the Palestinian cause and misused it for his own personal benefit. For him, he would even negotiate his keffiyah away only if it meant that Israel and the USA would further guarantee him that he will continue to be recognized as the speaker and leader of the Palestinian people. He is very responsible for what Palestine is now facing, along with Israel. Nevertheless, this will never de-legitimize the morality of allowing for the independence of the Palestinian people.
So Israelis want to end the occupation that have for so long devastated a whole nation, incited crimes against humanity, violated individual and collective rights, bred terrorism against themselves, destroyed the nascent Palestinian economy and drained Israel’s own economical and human resources? Well, Israel has had the chance to retire ever since the end of 1967’s Six Day War, the same way they retired from the Sinai after Egypt reached a peace agreement with them back in 1979. Nobody is keeping them anchored there, not even the Palestinians want them to stay there for dinner! Have they not retired for security concerns? The official answer, as given by various “informative bulletins” of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, is that because of security reasons, complete withdrawal of the occupied territories is not feasible. Then again, maintaining sovereignty over 2.9 million people hostile to Israel’s intentions for 35 years sounds more like a security hazard than any external threats to itself. Is it that by keeping a physical barrier between Jordan and Israel, the latter will be safer from an attack by Syria or Egypt? (Which, after all, have proved more hostile in the past to Israel than Jordan, not to forget that Egypt and Jordan are already at peace with Israel.) Besides, the Arab League already offered normalization of relationships and peace with Israel back in the Beirut Conference this past March in exchange for withdrawal from the occupied territories and allow for the formation of a Palestinian State.
What about Israeli offers for an alternative? Oslo was not good enough but to demonstrate Arafat’s terrible clumsiness at negotiating. Ehud Barak’s offer back in 2000 for a Palestinian “state” (notice the lower case used) was ridiculous, bordering in the pathetic. Sharon’s idea of creating buffer zones between the Green Line and the West Bank is nothing new; the house arrest of Palestine has been in place since 1967. Israel can, and must do better than that if it wants to fare better.
Israel has not lost a single war since it’s tragic inception (750,000 refugees created in 1948 alone), it has the unconditional logistical and military support from the USA and yet it needs more land to enhance security? It is hard to draw the line where real security concerns end and the ideological realm of Zionism’s concept of “Eretz Yisrael” begins (As reflected by the illegal settlement activity. Check the last clause of article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention). It takes no military expert to realize that such inflated concerns are laughable. If Israel wants real security, they must retire from the occupied territories, allow the Palestinians to fulfill their quest for complete sovereignty and independence, finally establish clearly defined borders with Palestine (heavily patrolled or militarized, your choice, as long as it happens within Israel) and accept publicly their own share of responsibility, as “the Jewish State”, for the catastrophe brought upon Palestinians and other Arabs since 1948.
If Israelis want to leave their homes at night and feel safe, then they should file such concerns with their local police department. Crime prevention is an internal matter to be managed by the proper authorities, not by the peoples of a neighboring nation. If Israel wants to fight that other kind of crime: terrorism, and win, then they must realize that maintaining the status quo is not helpful. Israel must withdraw, and Palestine must formalize its existence as a state.
Will Palestine turn into a “fortress of terror”, as referred to by Israelis, if it becomes independent? I cannot help but giggle at such claim. Palestinians, after independence, will be very busy celebrating and dealing with matters of state building to be thinking about “Israel’s destruction”. These people that Israel has been so successful in portraying as savage indians bent in killing are also human beings who think about prosperity and dream of a bright future. The flames of a rebellion turn into smoke after the wood is consumed. The same way the Irgun and Stern Gang disbanded after 1948, so will Palestinian resistance groups after independence. It is true that extremism exists all over the World, and it will probably continue to filter among certain Palestinians after independence the same way Jewish extremists like Rabbi Kahane and many others have permeated Israeli society every since its conception. Nevertheless, why use a name as “fortress of terror” to refer to a nation? Such arcane imagery is reserved for fiction books such as Harry Potter or probably Stephen King’s novels, not political realities.
Fernando Zambrana San Juan, Puerto Rico
Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta's posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he 'had something urgent to tell me', after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital.