Butchers and bulldozers

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The sense of déjé vu cannot be ignored. Sharon’s trouncing of Barak has induced the uncanny feeling that we are witnessing an almost exact replay of the Peres/Netanyahu episode.

Then as now: Peres, with a view to teaching the Arabs yet another lesson in realism, and to pander to the long-term shift to the right in Israeli society, launches the Grapes of Wrath onslaught on south Lebanon. The atrocity of Qana is committed and furiously defended by the “dovish” prime minister: It’s the Arabs who should be held responsible for the indiscriminate massacre of Arab civilians, children and adults, men and women. The hostage-takers’ argument finds readily receptive ears in the Western media, with Robert Fisk and a few others dissenting. Nevertheless, after the usual expressions of official Arab outrage, the Arabs desperately campaign for Peres in early Israeli elections. (“Netanyahu would wreck the peace process, spell war and devastation in the region.”) Israel’s Palestinian citizens display a mind, and a sense of dignity, of their own. They punish Peres at the polls. Peres leads into Netanyahu. The Arabs, with a sense of misgiving, a summit conference, the usual appeals to the revival of Arab solidarity and a couple of vaguely-worded warnings to the “hawkish” premier, decide to give him a chance to reveal his true intentions towards peace. Campaign rhetoric, we are told, should not be taken very seriously and, after all, “we are dealing with a state, not a prime minister.” The Americans and Europeans urge self-restraint.

It’s not just more of the same, however. True, Robert Fisk continues to find himself in that lonely wilderness of human reason and conscience, in the midst of a media jungle where heartless ignorance reigns supreme. Otherwise, despite the eerie resemblance between them, the difference between the Peres/Netanyahu and Barak/Sharon episodes is as great as that between the process and its fulfillment. The difference between a train station and the end of the line is not, after all, just one of scale.

The journey lasted over a quarter of a century, but the point we were trying to escape from was there, waiting for us at the end. There was no escaping the colonial and racist nature of the Zionist project and state; 1948 is back, and it has a face. There is something gruesomely fitting in that this face should be Sharon’s, a man alternately described as “the butcher” and “the bulldozer.” Butchery and bulldozers was how it all began.

To wait on the pleasure of the “King of Israel” is demeaning, and to engage in ominous reading of signs and portents of future devastation at his hands is futile. Both spell impotence, as does our inevitable penchant for empty swaggering and braggadocio. “Three hundred million guns await you, Sharon,” screamed the banner headline of an “independent” Egyptian newspaper this week. If only to avoid the sheer boredom of endless repetition, we must attempt to think in a new way of a new strategy.

Which just might bring us to the subject of guns — not the fantastical 300 million guns from which Sharon has supposedly been cowering in fear ever since he was hit with the apocalyptic headline a few days ago, but the few real guns in Palestinian hands, with which they have been fighting an extremely unequal battle against what is arguably one of the most sophisticated, and brutal, fighting machines anywhere in the world. Are they useful in the context of a strategy of liberation? With an eye on the next parliament, Egyptian editors can afford to send fanciful hosts into battle, grandly hailing the hundreds of thousands of martyrs they are so willing to offer to the Arab and Muslim nations’ greater glory. The Palestinians, fighting tooth and nail for their survival, can ill afford to partake of such spurious luxury. The sordid and dehumanised indifference that certain Arab political figures and intellectuals show rhetorically for the lives of their own peoples, Israel puts into effect in reality.

The question is pertinent in an immediate sense, since the armed character of the Intifada has been assuming greater weight in past weeks. Although the suicidal act of a lone bus driver in Tel Aviv could hardly qualify as armed struggle, it underlines the Intifada’s increasingly desperate tendency to move away from popular protest actions towards individual acts of violence.

It is not, in my view, a good development.

But let me first make one thing absolutely clear. For Palestinians to resort to violence against their Israeli tormentors is the most natural thing in the world; it is knee-jerk and, yes, totally human. A couple of weeks ago, Ha’aretz carried in graphic detail the story of a Palestinian family’s heartrending struggle to take their sick child to hospital. The girl needed an appendectomy, a 20-minute procedure that the most inexperienced of hospital interns could perform. Their little girl in horrible agony, the family rushed from one Israeli checkpoint to the other, begging for their daughter’s life, and being subjected, at each stop, to the heartless sneering of the soldier boys of the self-appointed master race. Their towns and villages were “closed.” The girl died in excruciating pain.

I have a nine-year-old son who is as precious to me as I have no doubt the little girl was to members of her family. I’ve given this a lot of thought: let anyone harm him the way this Palestinian girl was harmed, and I would want to find someone to kill.

You don’t want Palestinian violence, get out of their land. It’s as simple and as blatant as that.

It is beside the point, however. Desperation and anger, and the totally human need to hit back at one’s oppressors do not, on their own, make for successful resistance. And absolutely nothing justifies the harming of a child, be she Jewish, Arab or of any other religious, ethnic or national group on this planet.

Mr. Hani Shukrallah is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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