It is high time to reiterate the favourite media question é “Is Arafat Unable, or Rather Unwilling to Stop Terrorism” é but with a different protagonist. Prime Minister Sharon has now been in office for about 15 months. He has been enjoying total and unprecedented freedom, both nationally and internationally, to fight Palestinian terrorism however he likes, using all measures at hand and blatantly ignoring all moral and legal considerations. In spite of that, Palestinian terrorism is alive and killing.
So is Sharon unable é or rather unwilling to stop terrorism? Last week’s events in Gaza irrefutably prove that the Israeli leader is not only unwilling to see Palestinian terrorism stopped; Sharon would also do anything to ensure and encourage terrorism against his own people.
The Gaza Massacre
All experts unanimously agree: terrorism cannot be stopped by military means alone. Politics and diplomacy are essential, both bilaterally and on the Palestinian side. Even devoted supporters of the Israeli occupation admit that a “political horizon” is necessary. The term is revealing: “horizon” is the place you never get to, and that’s the most generous offer made to the Palestinians: a “horizon” never to be reached, a “vision” never to be realised. In short, the very goods that Shimon Peres has been selling so efficiently to the Palestinians and to the world over the past decade. Israel’s Foreign Minister indeed met with Palestinian officials in the last weeks, in what was described as the most serious talks between the sides for many months.
Much more importantly, reliable reports say that, on the 22nd of July, “the heads of Tanzim, convened at Jenin, approved the text of a communique calling unilaterally for an end to fighting by Tanzim, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A few hours before, Muhammad Dahlan [influential former head of Palestinian Security in the Gaza Strip] met with [Hamas Leader] Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in which meeting Yassin accepted the principles of the cease-fire communique” (Yedioth Achronot, 24.7.02). For weeks, Israel has been following deliberations inside the Tanzim on the idea of declaring a unilateral cease-fire; Israel was also officially briefed by the European Union, which, together with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supported the initiative.
So after 21 months of violence, a ray of hope could be observed. A chance for cease-fire, for a cessation of violence. Unilaterally even, without any demands from occupying side. Israel’s reaction was immediate and swift. “One and a half hours after the Tanzim leadership approved the document at its Jenin gathering, Israel carried out the assassination of Salah Shehadeh, in the course of which dozens of civilians were killed and wounded as well. In this way, Israel apparently destroyed the chance to test the viability of a cease-fire” (ibid.).
Though this be madness, yet there is Method in it. Time and again, Israeli assassinations (as well as other offensive measures) abruptly ended prolonged periods of hope. In November 2001, the assassination of the Hamas activist Mahmoud Abu Hanoud was carried out just when the Hamas was respecting for two months its agreement with Arafat not to attack inside Israel. In January 2002, the assassination of Raed Karmi ended a few weeks of relative quiet in the territories. The same pattern repeated itself this time too. The operation was no mistake; the decision to use a bomb instead of missiles, the more usual means used by Israel for its extra-judiciary killings, was undoubtedly deliberate. And whoever gave the order to drop, in the middle of the night, a 1.000 kg bomb on a residential house in one of the most densely populated strips on earth, knew very well what he was doing. It was a premeditated act of state terrorism, a cold-blooded massacre. 14 innocent civilians, 9 of them children, were killed to ensure the continuation of Palestinian terrorism, in which many more innocent civilians will be killed.
It has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that Sharon does not want to stop terrorism, but rather to perpetuate it. The very moment political negotiations seemed to be serious, the very moment Palestinians intended to stop terrorism, Israel dropped a bomb. Whether Sharon should be sent to the Hague or rather to Guantanamo is one question; a more important one is: why has he done it?
Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, Politicide
What is Israel’s interest in terrorism? Remember its vision for the occupied territories. Israel has never made a secret of it. Whether it was Ehud Barak, who claimed that UN resolution 242 did not apply to the West Bank and Gaza, or Ariel Sharon, who said he would never discuss evacuating a Jewish settlement, Israel’s intentions have always been quite clear: keeping a maximal share of the occupied territories, with a minimal number of Palestinians.
The almost-total dispossession of Palestinian land and water, achieved during the Oslo years, has not satisfied Israel’s colonial appetite. It wants more: the Palestinians should not be there at all. They should either be killed, or deported, or annihilated as an independent political and social entity. These three, partly overlapping options can be termed genocide, ethnic cleansing, and politicide respectively. Politicide é a term suggested by Israel’s leading sociologist Baruch Kimmerling é has been implemented extensively since last April (“Operation Defensive Shield”). The Palestinian national, public, cultural and academic infrastructure has been destroyed: Israeli soldiers systematically demolished everything, from the Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah, through the database of the Palestinian Bureau of Statistic, down to the last hard-disk of a doctor’s clinic broken into. Israel’s present policy continues along these lines.
The other two options é genocide and ethnic cleansing é are waiting for the right opportunity, which has not arrived yet. But the recent movement of the idea of “transfer” (i.e. mass deportation) into main-stream Israeli discourse, together with the warnings of so-called “mega-attacks” (a new term introduced in the last weeks), are preparing the hearts for such measures.
The Benefits of Terrorism
Here is where terrorism comes in. Israel cannot carry out these atrocious plans without effective propaganda. Terrorism has always been an excellent excuse, even more so since September 11th. The plans were there long before, as documented painstakingly by Israeli analyst Tanya Reinhart. They have nothing to do with terrorism: they are aimed at entrenching the Israeli occupation, making it irreversible and reducing the Palestinians to ashes. But every terror attack enables Israel to implement the next steps in its premeditated plans, and to sell it to the world as “self-defence”, “retaliation”, “prevention” etc. No wonder, then, that none of these plans actually stops terrorism: they are not meant to. And since terrorism gives the best legitimation for carrying them out, stopping terrorism would be, from Israel’s point of view, counter-productive.
Palestinian terrorism thus serves Israel’s interests on both an international and a national level. Internationally, Israel’s propaganda machine efficiently exploits every terror attack to strengthen Israel’s image as a victim, and to obscure and justify the proceeding oppression of the Palestinians. Moreover, the Israeli use of terrorism has now been adopted by the American administration, that keeps sending Israel money é $200 million last week é for “fighting terrorism” (note that Israel may spend it as it wishes!); and, as the Washington Post put it (28.7.02), “the United States should not pressure Sharon’s government while Palestinian violence continues.”
Nationally, as Spinoza observed back in the 17th century, people in adversity “know not where to turn, but beg and pray for counsel from every passer-by. No plan is then too futile, too absurd, or too fatuous for their adoption; the most frivolous causes will raise them to hope, or plunge them into despair.” Keeping the Israeli people constantly exposed to fatal violence (and to “terror alerts”, true or false) is the best way to ensure national coherence. Understandably terrified, most Israelis indeed back the most futile, absurd and fatuous é not to say immoral é operations of their government, misled to believe that its goal is securing their lives rather than perpetuating a murderous occupation that most Israelis do not want.
So Sharon has a vested interest to keep Palestinian terrorism at a high level. As long as he is in power, and as long as the Bush administration actually rewards Israel for Palestinian violence, terrorism will persist. This does not relieve Palestinians of their moral responsibility; but, on the list of states supporting terrorism, Israel, as well as the United States, deserve a good place.
Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears monthly at Antiwar.com.