Palestinians and Israelis losing their lives — it is becoming a regular occurrence now, a sad cycle of violence witnessed almost daily on Canadian TV screens.
Are we right to ask if there is a way to end this? Should we demand that our new foreign minister do something more than visit opposing leaders, shake hands, and pose for photo opportunities? Should we be voicing concern that, like his precursors, he is achieving absolutely nothing of substance?
We all know that Israel enjoys immense military superiority over the Palestinian National Authority, and that its conventional — let alone nuclear — strength makes it more than a match for any combination of neighbouring Arab armies.
In addition, Israel successfully maintains a sophisticated western-focused media and political campaign against the Palestinians and their elected leaders. Among the rewards for its self-promotional tenacity, is the unprecedented and seemingly unconditional support of the U.S.
But at the core of Israel’s power lies its weakness. Overwhelming western, and particularly American, support is clearly intoxicating its leaders. At the peak of smug self-righteousness, they seem not to have realized yet that Israel’s 34-year occupation of Palestinian lands has resulted in a double generation of people who feel they have nothing left to lose.
These are generations deprived not only of their ancestral land, freedom, security, and human dignity, but also of nearly all hope for a better future in free Palestine. No one, including Israel with its military might and overwhelming American support, can dominate a people who have, literally, nothing more to lose.
Yet after all this time, Israeli leaders have yet to grasp anything of the depth of misery that Palestinian life under occupation has become. Instead, they continually turn to the simplistic, radical, and violent solutions presented by military superiority — in reality, of course, no solutions at all.
Most Israeli leaders, supported by a strong American-Jewish lobby, are trying to argue that Israel again faces an “existential threat.” Thus, they reject out of hand any idea that the present 17-month-old Intifada grew out of Palestinians’ utter despair that the Israeli occupation will ever end — or, if it does, that there will be little left of historic Palestine except for a few isolated, economically unsustainable pockets of wasteland.
Rather, the dominant Israeli leaders and their overseas supporters still believe that all Palestinians have ever wanted is to “drive the Jews into the sea,” and that for Yasser Arafat, the peace process is just a means of “dismantling Israel in stages.”
Such mentality, combined with overwhelming military power and unconditional American support, raises almost impossible barriers against achieving a peaceful end to this occupation and the hope of future healing and reconciliation between two badly wounded peoples.
Against all moral and political logic, Israel’s current leaders still believe that the real villains are the impoverished Palestinians –not heavily armed Israeli Defense Force troops, nor the even more heavily armed Jewish settlers and the fanatical, militant ideology they embody.
“Let the army win,” is the rallying-cry of Jewish settlers and their political allies. What that really means, says Zeev Schiff, of the newspaper Ha’aretz, is “the conquest of the territories under Palestinian control, the forced collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the expulsion of the Palestinian population.”
This aggressive state of mind would likely lead to a regional war, one which Israel could win hands down, militarily. But the victory would be a hollow one, for Israel would also lose the security and credibility it so desperately needs right now. Above all, it would defer for generations any prospect of Israel’s final acceptance in the region.
For that reason alone, an all-out Israeli military solution cannot succeed, regardless of how much damage is inflicted in trying to subdue the Palestinians.
In reality, both peoples are paying a heavy price for what has become an exhausting low-intensity war of attrition, waged against the background of diplomatic deadlock. Some believe it could go on for years, as it already has. Israel can presumably persist indefinitely, using such familiar tactics as direct attacks on personnel and installations, targeted harassment, intimidation, and economic blockades, all designed to weaken the Palestinians and their leaders to the point where they return — on Israel’s terms — to the negotiating table.
But who will actually weary first? Palestinians have experienced infinitely greater pain than the Israelis, but they have also developed a far greater capacity to endure it. Accustomed to poverty and deprivation, imbued with rage against Israeli oppression, and energized by the belief that their anti-colonial struggles will one day result in freedom, they are collectively uncooperative in the role of conquered subjects.
It is time now for an international — not merely American — sponsorship of historic initiatives to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the first step toward a final peace settlement. After all, Palestinians are entitled to the same international standards of justice and lasting peace as any other people.
But so far Israel has made it abundantly plain in both words and deeds that it rejects any U.N.-sponsored solution to the conflict, despite the fact that it is uniquely a child of the General Assembly’s 1947 Partition Resolution, the founding charter of its legitimacy.
Now, as the price of admission to full maturity in the international community, it should formally acknowledge that its continued existence requires the long-overdue fulfillment of a higher obligation — an internationally sponsored program of redress for the Palestinians.
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.