As early as 1996, three years after the signing of the Oslo ‘peace’ Accords, Israeli military leaders drew up contingency plans for the re-conquest of the West Bank and the destruction of the Palestinian Authority. They called their plan “Field of Thorns” and in the spring of 2002 Sharon’s government began effectively to carry it out under the name “Operation Defensive Shield”. This series of military operations nullified the administrative distinctions for joint and separate rule over segments of the West Bank (Areas A, B, & C) that were established under the Oslo agreement, and dealt a near deathblow to the leadership of the PA. In the name of security the IDF also caused irreparable damage to Palestinian popular and democratic civil society fostered by numerous NGOs, educational and political institutions. Soldiers ransacked offices, destroyed computer hard drives, stole, and in some cases burned, decades’ worth of statistical, sociological information stored in paper files and on software disks. In some cases they wrecked the offices and headquarters of these organizations, including Palestinian TV and Radio stations, so thoroughly that even the most hardened citizens were left stunned.
The obliteration of the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002, the siege of Arafat in his compound, which continues to this day –along with the recent US-sanctioned decision to expel or murder him–and the ongoing construction of the Apartheid Wall throughout the West Bank attest symbolically and literally to the success of the vision behind “Field of Thorns” and “Operation Defensive Shield”, a vision long fostered by the ideological forerunners and compatriots of Ariel Sharon, both in the Likkud and Labor parties of Israel.
Today attention in Israel is focused on the War against Hamas, a pretext for doing to the Gaza Strip –already a massive ghetto– what was done to the West Bank, and for completing the greater task already in progress, namely the de facto annexation of the Occupied Territories. Israel will proclaim as its national security right exclusive rule over the land and resources of these territories and to full control over their internal and external borders without the burden of caring for the Palestinian inhabitants. International humanitarian aid agencies will go on paying for this “deluxe” occupation as more and more Palestinians are forced to leave or to accept greater impoverishment and exploitation. Those wishing to deny this creeping policy of ethnic cleansing and apartheid through legalized starvation, strangulation, killings, and neglect will step up the propaganda already rampant in the west portraying the victims as the perpetrators of terror.
In the densely populated and narrow Gaza Strip the process of re-consolidating Israeli control promises to be bloody and difficult necessitating tactics such as the fostering of a civil war, orchestrated by the IDF and its self-appointed Palestinian intermediaries on whom Israel can pin the blame. Ahmad Qureia, however, like his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas, is destined for failure. While he ducks out of sight to form his new cabinet one has to wonder what quixotic musings he must be entertaining in order to believe that his role as Israeli-stamped Prime Minister will do anything more than lend Sharon a hand in bulldozing his way towards a Greater Israel. It is sobering to see just how ready Qureia is to be used as another human tool in the imperial designs of Washington and its Israeli agent. And to what end? Does Qureia believe his fate will be better than Arafat’s? He will be ordered to run a military-authoritarian regime whose primary task will be to guarantee a democracy-free Palestinian satellite of Israel. Failure to stamp out any and all resistance to this regime will only result in his demise as well.
All the ruminations and lip service to the “Road Map” have nothing to do with fostering peace and everything to do with sanctioning the Bush-Sharon axis. Every mechanism for insuring the gradual death of Palestinian nationhood is in place: settlement expansion, daily invasions into and destruction of Palestinian land, persistent curfews, divisive and humiliating roadblocks and checkpoints that divide families, friends, and communities from each other. The pervasive policies of impoverishment, dispossession and division have had the effect of de-nationalizing a people –not in consciousness but in practice — as Palestinians are forced backwards into an anti-modern world where it takes days or weeks to accomplish what others can do in the space of a morning. And these are the people lucky enough to have survived the lethal role of the Israeli military or its notorious desert prisons.
September 29th 2003 will nevertheless mark the 3rd anniversary of the al-Aqsa Intifada, a somber occasion for anyone who hoped that the uprising might herald revolutionary change and the pursuit of justice. Instead as headlines carry news that more Israeli civilians have died in atrocious suicide bombings, we are kept from knowing that four times as many Palestinians have died at the hands of Israelis in legal acts of terror since the uprising began and that 80% of the Palestinian dead were unarmed civilians. Our politicians, news media and educators keep us from understanding that resistance to occupation is a right and that those who refuse to accept the unbearable circumstances in which they are forced to live and work represent the last hope for an acceptable future.
We watch footage of Israeli tanks rolling into refugee camps, of Apache helicopter gun ships firing missiles into cars on crowded streets in order to “eliminate terrorists”, see Israeli soldiers in full military gear ordering civilians around with their machine guns, watch F-16 airplanes flying low over cities to bomb homes and businesses on the intelligence that “militants” are present, but when Palestinians are caught smuggling weapons through makeshift tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border, or known to have fired home-made grenades and rockets into illegal settlements and nearby towns, or when children and teenagers have the audacity to hurl stones and Molotov cocktails at passing armored personnel carriers the reaction is indignation.
Since when, I have to ask myself, has it been acceptable for only one side of a conflict to have weapons? Since when has “self-defense” been defined as the actions of a military superpower against the very people it oppresses and seeks to destroy? Since when is it legitimate to murder with impunity those decreed guilty without due process and the hapless bystanders in that path of death? Since when should it pass without international condemnation that hundreds of homes are demolished and families torn apart, that the livelihood of a village is destroyed or confiscated in the name of security, and in order to steal the natural resources of the land for illegal settlers or the Jewish citizens of Israel? Since when is it understandable that a people in exile for 2000 years has the right to return “home”, but that a people in exile for 55 years should relinquish that right? How long will we rail against the use of violence by those who are subjected to it repeatedly and in every conceivable form every day of their lives?
Dark as the prognosis is, we should not abandon the struggle for liberation or forget the date marking its most recent incarnation in Palestine. Conscience alone dictates to many of us the need for non-violent resistance, and pragmatism suggests it may be the only way to prevent Palestinians from committing national suicide, still non-violence is no easy prescription for the people who are resisting US-backed Israeli terror in Palestine. While Israel has no qualms about crushing Palestinians militarily for every single act of violent resistance and terror they commit, it is equally clear that Israel has no qualms about killing the non-violent resistors as well for the sake of its racist-national goals. The struggle for Palestine has gone far beyond a quarrel over land and property rights: Men, women, and children face the claws of bulldozers, the dynamite of demolition units, the bullets of soldiers and settlers, the shells of tanks, missiles and bombs, simply because they exist. Once it was outrageous that children throwing stones should be shot dead by trigger-happy young men. Now it is acceptable for soldiers to fire on children playing too close to a wall or people idling at a checkpoint, walking down a road, or sitting in their own homes.
Where violence is standard practice even against the unarmed and non-confrontational, non-violent and violent acts of resistance are equally suicidal. Unless the government of the United States holds Israel to account for every act of desecration and murder it commits, few Palestinians will be able to rationalize resistance through civil disobedience. It is therefore the duty of the international community, and in particular of the people of the United States, to convince the people of Palestine that non-violent resistance will work; that not only will their deaths not be in vain but that they should not die at all for having the audacity to resist injustice. It is up to us to show them that we will not shut our eyes as Washington and Jerusalem exceed the limits of state terror and ethnic cleansing. Our silence in the face of these policies annihilates their hope.
We must therefore recognize that tactics such as the present “War against Hamas” is but another excuse to destroy Palestine. It is another pretext for Sharon to use overwhelming force against an imprisoned population. It is setting the stage for a full-scale invasion of Gaza probably this fall. With Israeli tanks encircling each of the towns and refugee camps of the Strip, access to the centers of resistance will be easier and more lethal. Gaza will share the fate of the West Bank, or worse. Israel can prop up another puppet regime, with thugs like the US-hand-picked Mohammed Dahlan, to do its dirty work for it; or it may simply bypass the need for a “Palestinian” authority altogether. After all, there is a good reason why plans such as “Field of Thorns” targeted the PA: Once the moderate, collaborating leadership has been eliminated, few will object to full-scale attacks on the “extremist” Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. After all, Sharon has already declared the proxy PA regime ineffective in “dismantling the terrorist infrastructure” (read Islamist resistance). Doing away with the “Authority” that is supposed to be combating terror for it will give Israel the free hand it has long wanted to go into the cities and refugee camps of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to carry out another “Lebanon” on the civilians and the remaining organized resistance.
It should be noted that the destruction of Hamas, the most popular of the opposition groups in Palestine today, will have two certain outcomes: the increase in popular support for an “Islamic” resistance to the United States and Israel, and the further erosion of democratic civil society in Palestine and elsewhere.
These outcomes will advance Sharon’s vision, a vision shared on a grander scale by people like George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and many others. We can see its reflection in the current US actions in Iraq, and its intentions for Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We as individual citizens have a choice to make: Like the Palestinians, we can collaborate or we can resist.
Jennifer Loewenstein is an activist and co-founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. She lived for two summers in the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp of south Beirut Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip during the spring and summer of 2002 where she worked at the Mezan Center for Human Rights. She has worked as a freelance journalist and has spoken extensively in the US about her experiences. Jennifer teaches Professional Communications at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]