Forget Jenin

After Saturday May 11’s demonstration in Tel Aviv, the organizer of the rally, the Peace Now group claimed the protest was the biggest peace demonstration since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.

“This is the first time since the intifada that we have had such a massive demonstration with people in clear opposition to the government,” Peace Now spokesman Arye Arnon told AFP.

“This is radical. This turnout is on the basis that one day we will return to the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the elimination of the settlements,” Arnon said.

The leader of the main opposition Meretz party, Yossi Sarid told AFP:

It is a very important message to the Israeli government, the Arab world and the international community. There is a peace camp in Israel and it is raising its voice.”

Indeed, we got the message, as everybody did. However, though it is neither reasonable nor even honest to belittle such a demonstration of good will, I cannot help but wonder: How much the Peace camp is weighing inside the Israeli society? How come that those peaceful people were being completely marginalized by the elections that brought to power General Sharon? And who is actually more representative of the deep trends stirring the Israeli society: the Peace Now movement along with the Conscience Objectors, or the people without whose support Sharon would never have appeared again in the political spectrum?

Answering honestly these questions is quite important, because any political sensibility would never get efficiency in the reality without legitimacy. Now, legitimacy é as we all know- is the offspring of credibility. And credibility for an Israeli movement -whatever Mr. Sarid might think- is neither to be sought in the Arab world nor in the international community, but rather in the Israeli society itself.

The first priority for this political movement consists therefore in trying to convince the Israelis. For as far as we can judge, it is not normal that each time the Israeli army commits a massacre, we are reminded that there is a Peace Camp in Israel! We damn know that there are peaceful folks out there, but their demonstration in Tel Aviv does not exempt the Israeli society from its heavy responsibility in what happened during the operation called “Defensive Shield”. Where were those people when their “brave” army was butchering civilians in Jenin? And what is Jenin’s massacre if not the horrid repetition of what happened in Deir Yassin, Qubbya, Kafr Kassem, Sabra and Shatila, Qana, etc? Indeed, the Peace Camp was for nothing in all this series of blood baths, but you can observe that Sharon who planned and executed some of these horrors is also the present Prime Minister of Israel- a democratic country, as we are told! So, with all the respect for the good-willing and peace-loving people in Israel and everywhere in the world, I ask: Honestly, do you think that without taking the measures to punish the criminals who believe that a tank is equal to a cocktail-Molotov, you are going to persuade the Arabs that the Israelis want peace? Do you think that in keeping the silence over what happened in Jenin, the majority of the Palestinians and the Arabs are going to forget it? Did the Jews forget what happened to them during the Second World War at the hands of the Nazis?

You know the answers to these questions. Everybody does. Yet, the real dilemma today concerns the Peace Camp, not only in Israel, but everywhere. Because for the other camp (the military), everything is simple: they believe they can tackle efficiently any situation just in sending out soldiers or militiamen! They believe that violence can resolve any problem and grant them control and mastery over any human conditions. And since the end justifies the means, they would put the price required, and would never hesitate to shed blood. For those who think this way, the world is either white or black. It is as simple as that!

But for the Peace Camp, things are different; at least because it is not always easy to convince people that before using their muscles in face of an anguishing menace, they may and should use their brains. The difficulty of such an endeavor does not need to be underlined. Suffice it to remind people that over fifty years of this blood-shedding struggle between Israelis and Arabs are so far, not enough to stop this kind of violent action-reaction series, in order to have more a serene perspective. Meanwhile, has the Peace Camp (in Israel and the Arab world) been growing and winning audience and efficiency? Who can say? We have now at least two generations of grown up persons both in Israel and Palestine, who were born during war time and never knew what true peace means nor what a peaceful country looks like! As soon as they reach the age wherein other youth join universities, Palestinian and Israeli adolescents are hijacked by the military and go to serve the Organization or the State! Admittedly, this is also what happens in other countries. Yet, I am not objecting to the national service, but merely to the fact that in Israel and Palestine, it is not only one or three years under the flag that you would spend but rather all your lifetime! I assume everybody would concede that this is neither normal nor fair. Nonetheless, who can blame the man who, for survival and honor, takes arms to defend his home? And since almost everybody in Israel and Palestine is persuaded today that taking arms is precisely the right thing to do; and since this is apparently the prevailing frame of mind, how could we change it? This is doubtless the challenge of the Peace Camp, which has to gain credentials not only in proving that it can demonstrate in the streets, but also in acting to weigh on the policy-makers in order to change completely the situation.

The Arab Peace Camp has also proved its commitment to this process: In their last summit in Beirut, the Arabs proposed an unprecedented deal to the Israelis: to come back to the 1967’s borderlines in return for a wide acknowledgment of all the Arab states! That was a peace package that the Israelis merely snubbed, so eager they were to rush to the massacre in Jenin! Once their butchery achieved, and most of all, once it was granted “diplomatic silence” from their Western allies, they did not mind having a humanitarian demonstration in Rabin Square! After all, Israel is a “democracy”, albeit it is ruled by a war criminal!

I am sorry if I mixed things, but the mumbo-jumbo is exactly the picture the Israeli society reflects. The military establishment, which actually rules Israel from behind the curtains (and sometimes even from the stage, in day light), knows that as long as it detains power é and it never failed in that task since the foundation of the state- the Peace Camp can shout and cry its soul! In Israel, the streets are indeed for everybody, and this “everybody” includes also the army, the police, the secret services, the different militiamen and the armed settlers. Just, tell us who is not yet armed in Israel?

Curiously enough, some hours after the Israeli demonstration in Tel Aviv, 3000 people marched through a neighborhood of Brussels where most Arab embassies are dwelling, ” in order to protest against the cowardice of Arab regimes”, says the press release of the Arab-European League, before adding: “The message of the demonstration was clear: Arab regimes are an obstacle on the way to liberate Palestine and building a free and dignified future for the Arab nation”. The crowd, it is said, chanted slogans like ” liberating Palestine goes through liberating Arab capitals”, and “the strength of Israel comes from the weakness of Arab governments”.

To be sure, any comparison between the two demonstrations is pointless, but you may observe by the way that not a single demonstration crossed the streets of any Arab capital, to protest against the decision of the UNO to drop the question of sending a fact finding mission to the West Bank, as if, massacre or not, it does not matter any more!

Why this silence? Is the Arab blood so cheap?

It sounds as if, one more time, we are about to witness a collective brainwashing operation targeting the Arab mind. The same scenario that allowed Israel to get away safely even after the atrocities committed in Deir Yassin, Qubbya, Kafr Kassem, Sabra and Shatila, Qana, and several other carnages, may be applied again: the Arabs, it is assumed, would forget Jenin as they forgot other similar blood-baths executed by the Israelis! How would that work? It is not complicated: just keep talking about peace! They would jump at the occasion and forget all about the massacres!

This is of course a simplification, but I am afraid that in the present conditions, the last demonstration of the Peace Camp in Israel would be more useful to Sharon than to the peace movement, which he has never cherished.

You may notice that between two evils, the Israeli establishment always chooses what seems the least. Thus, an editorial of Ha’aretz (May 1), begins this way: ” While the government is conducting a difficult campaign to guarantee that the IDF’s good name will not be besmirched by a UN investigation of the events at the Jenin camp, it turns out that some IDF soldiers brought shame on themselves and the armyéetc”. Naturally, it costs nothing to write a kind editorial blaming the bad soldiers. It is even relieving: No shame, no bad conscience after that! “We did the necessary”! And the “necessary” consisted in exchanging a terrific UN investigation mission for an editorial in Ha’aretz! It did not even dawn on the editor that the “difficult campaign ” his government was conducting was precisely the shame and the scandal since it obstinately obstructed a justified demand of the Palestinians, the first victims of the soldiers’ brutality.

In the same context, though Sharon refrained from repressing the demonstrators of Rabin Square for obvious political reasons, the mere fact that he is still in power and unquestionably “above suspicion” after the massacre of Jenin, proves that for the majority of the Israelis, his government is still credible and legitimate. So, who are the demonstrators, but a minority? Why Sharon would bother with suppressing their demonstration? On the contrary, it may be used as a folding screen to send a message abroad: this is called unofficial diplomacy!

But If the Peace Camp does not find audience among the silent majority, thanks to whom, Sharon is still Prime Minister, where is it going to find it then? To act for changing policy is something quite different from acting as an unofficial diplomatic branch of the left (participating to the government). Now, I do neither doubt the seriousness nor the veracity of the Israelis who, at the risk of clashing with their police or their army, invaded the streets of Tel Aviv and raised anti-government slogans. I merely say that without further actions inside the Israeli society, with the purpose of reversing the tides, their demonstration and their whole movement as well, may be easily diverted for the government cause, thus becoming a key element in the previously mentioned scenario: a collective brain-washing operation targeting the Palestinian and more generally the Arab mind. The purpose is: Forget Jenin. Forget the blood bath. Have whatever deal Israel proposes!

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.