Missile Strikes, Suicide Bombings

Today’s headlines tell us that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have declared that the temporary truce with Israel is at an end in the wake of Israel’s attack in Gaza City which assassinated a leading figure of Hamas. The headlines tell us that Israel is responding in force to the suicide bombing in Jerusalem last week by assassinating Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, killing and injuring numerous bystanders in the process. More than anything, the headlines tell us that the razor-thin strand of hope brought to a few people by the Roadmap has now disappeared and it is quite likely that we are looking at a renewed period of bloodshed on both sides in the immediate future.
What is behind those headlines? We might start by examining what the newspapers have called the “relative calm” before the Jerusalem bombing. During the six weeks preceding the August 12 suicide bombings that killed 2 Israelis, 17 Palestinians were killed and 59 injured by Israeli soldiers. (see: http://www.fair.org/press-releases/relative-calm.html) Indeed, this might be seen by some as “relative calm”. This does represent a quieter six-week period than most in the past three years. Still, the overriding point is inescapable—in popular representation, “relative calm” means that no Israelis are killed. The so-called calm did not include relief for the Palestinians. Any way you might care to argue this point, the fact is that these Palestinian deaths were omitted from most stories covering the suicide bombings on August 12 and the larger one on the 19th. While it would be difficult to fathom the ethical reasoning that would allow these deaths to justify attacks on civilians, it is still obvious that reporting them is a necessary bit of context for the ensuing events.
Still, the truce was holding, albeit by a rather thin thread, until the suicide bombing on the 19th. Both that incident and the twin bombings on the 12th were preceded by assassination operations by Israel and were said to have been carried out in response. With one more assassination operation, Hamas apparently had the justification it needed for the dastardly action it took in Jerusalem on the 19th. But let us be clear—the bombing followed a period that was not at all “calm” for the Palestinians. And the Sharon government cannot escape their own responsibility for this attack. They cannot hide behind the fact that nothing justifies such a deed. While that may be true, it is equally true that Israel was well aware that these actions would provoke Hamas or another group into an action like this one. Indeed, as far back as November of 2001, Alex Fishman, the military correspondent of Yediot Akhronot and a rather conservative Israeli voice, pointed out that Israeli assassination operations during periods where Hamas was pulling back on its suicide bombings were obviously designed to provoke the militant Palestinian groups into renewing their murderous actions. Fishman referred at that time to assassination of a top Hamas leader while Hamas had made a “gentleman’s agreement” with the PA to suspend attacks within Israel. Would we see the current operations in any different light?
The bombing in Jerusalem was an intolerable and inhuman act. The bus which was attacked was filled with families and many children. Seven children were among the dead and dozens were injured. The occupation, for all its violence, its murder, its degradation and dispossession, cannot justify such an act, any more than such acts justify the suffering Israel inflicts on the Palestinians. Innocents continue to suffer for the violence of their leaders, whether those leaders command the Israeli military or the Palestinian paramilitaries. Yet those two groups are actually in something of a symbiotic relationship, each giving the other just what it wants. Each suicide bombing or military incursion gives the other side just what it needs to continue its own program of violence, keeping any sort of calm, any sort of progress toward a better future not only out of reach but out of sight. In this, Hamas and the Sharon government are partners. The Jerusalem bombing was an act as wicked and despicable as any that have occurred in this conflict, but it was also an act knowingly provoked by the assassination operations. And in its wake, we saw how interested Israel is in promoting its latest “partner for peace”, Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Prime Minister. The immediate decision of the Israeli cabinet was that no matter what the Palestinian Authority did, Israel was going to respond in force, and would conduct its operations in the Territories. One could not help but get the impression that the Sharon Government, fearful that the unpopular Abu Mazen would be more willing to act directly against Hamas than Yasir Arafat had been, decided to launch the Israeli strike before the Palestinian Prime Minister could possibly do anything. With the Israeli actions, even if the PA decides to act forcefully against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they will be severely hampered by Palestinian public opinion, which will have to wonder how it is that their government aids Israel in its quest to avenge Israeli innocents when that same Israeli force has been killing Palestinian civilians. And, by taking unilateral action Israel balks any effort by the PA to undermine the constant Israeli claim that the PA tolerates or even abets the violent efforts of the Palestinian militant groups. By acting quickly, Israel limits Abu Mazen’s already limited options even further, and any effort he does make will not make a serious dent in Israeli or American views.
Both Abu Mazen and Yasir Arafat have declared their willingness to act against Hamas if Israel stops its current attacks. Despite Israeli declarations of “giving the PA time” to act against Hamas, the assassination operations have continued unabated. Bystanders, including women, children and the elderly, have been killed and injured by the score. In that atmosphere, no government could possibly give in to the Israeli demands; the populace would be outraged and the fears voiced by Abu Mazen and echoed by Arafat of igniting a Palestinian civil war could well be realized. Under these circumstances, it is not reasonable to expect action from the PA. What’s more, while Hamas leaders are currently meeting with Abu Mazen to discuss a resumption of the truce, the ongoing Israeli attacks remove the incentive for Hamas to actually agree to that resumption, and removes from Abu Mazen a major negotiating tool.
And so it continues with no legitimate hope in sight. The United States continues to ensure that no other outside agency (including the rest of the Quartet, the UN, EU and Russian Federation) will involve itself in the conflict, while the US itself does little more than grunt as the conflict moves deeper into quagmire, hope, already distant, receding with each day. To move forward, two things need to happen. The international community must step in on the ground of Israel/Palestine. Only a truly international force can maintain the needed buffer between the two groups. The European Union and, most especially, the United Nations must find a way to push past the American obstruction and insert itself between the forces of war on both sides of this conflict. With the US finding itself under increasing attack in Iraq, and with the Bush Administration seemingly much more concerned about installing a government in Baghdad which will send many more petrodollars to the United States than it is about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, other world bodies may find the leverage to force their way into the international peacekeeping role that has been so obviously and so badly needed for three years.
Second, and more crucially, we can see that the Israelis cannot control what the Palestinians do and the Palestinians cannot control what the Israelis do. It is up to the people of Palestine, the people of Israel and the people of the United States to demand an end to killing. It is difficult for Palestinians, who are daily enduring the bitterness of occupation, to raise their voices against those in their own midst who commit atrocities. Yet it must happen. And it can if Israelis raise their voices and demand that their government stop putting their own lives in increased jeopardy through their willfully provocative policies and actions. It must ring loud and clear in Tel Aviv that the occupation must end, and end on terms that are reasonable for both Israelis and Palestinians. And this can happen if we here in the United States pressure our government to stop kowtowing to the minority of Americans who advocate war and hatred in the Middle East. It is high time that the American political scene featured forces that represent what most Americans want to see in the Middle East—fairness for both sides, hope for the future, an end to terrorism of all kinds, an end to Israeli settlements and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, a shared Jerusalem and a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee question. Jewish Voice for Peace is building such a political force (elsewhere in this newsletter, you can find out how to join us, or go to our web site at www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org) and we have many allies. When that voice is heard in Washington, it will echo in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah.
When Americans can force their government to listen to the majority of the people rather than the few represented by the various pro-Israel Jewish groups, major arms dealers and the Christian Right (the tripod that makes up the power behind AIPAC), Israeli leaders like Sharon will no longer be able to blithely throw away lives (more Palestinian lives, but many Israeli lives as well) with their provocative policies. This means a whole different politics in the Middle East, one where the people of Israel and the people of Palestine will be free to choose their futures, free to act, not out of fear, but out of determination to improve their own lives and that of their neighborhood, as all of us do. It is the Israelis that can stop the IDF and the Palestinians that can stop Hamas. Only together do the two peoples have a future.

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