“There are,” says journalist Paul Adams, “two views of how to stem the terror that stalks Israelis.”
The first view is to return to the status quo ante: Arafat as the head of a “reformed” Palestinian Authority; a “reinvigorated security force to crack down on terror”; Israel ending its raids and travel restrictions; discussions leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.
But this is a road already taken, a road that reached a dead end. It’s called the second Intifada, a struggle that rages today, with scores of Israelis, and many more Palestinians, dead. Only wishful thinking, or a bad case of historical amnesia, could lead anyone to believe this is a serious view of “how to stem the terror that stalks Israelis.”
The second view, Adams says, calls for a “muscular approach,” of “tougher measures” involving a “deeper and broader operation” than the war-crime heavy operations of the previous weeks. Which is to say, if the commission of atrocities hasn’t worked so far, then the number of atrocities, and their iniquities, must be increased.
It’s difficult to imagine tougher measures than those that have left hundreds of civilians dead, have seriously breached humanitarian law, and have subjected Israel to far-reaching and justly deserved condemnation.
Even many Israelis believe Israel has gone too far. Remarks Yaffa Yarkoni, Israel’s “Singer of the Wars”: “When I saw the Palestinians with their hands tied behind their backs, young men. I said, It is like what they did to us in the Holocaust. We are a people who have been through the Holocaust. How are we capable of doing these things?”
What would tougher measures involve? Transfer of the Palestinian population out of the occupied territories? Martin Van Crevald, a prominent Israeli military historian, warns that Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to say nothing of a sizeable part of the Israeli population, favors this approach. That it is brazen ethnic cleansing should give anyone pause.
Or would “tougher measures” mean thousands of civilians indiscriminately killed by Israeli F-16s, attack helicopters, tanks and bulldozers? Van Crevald himself advocates these measures. They will cow Palestinians into submission, he argues.
But Israel’s tough measures to date haven’t put an end to the suicide bombings. They’ve only given more Palestinians more reasons to hate Israel. And more reasons to strike back. Would harsher measures intimidate Palestinians into meek acceptance, or inflame the problem of Palestinian terrorism further?
There are other views, views that don’t promise more deaths on both sides, views that Adams and his colleagues don’t report.
There’s the view that says Palestinian terror attacks are the desperate lashing out of a people that no longer have much to lose. It’s a view that’s not without merit, no matter how little attention it receives.
Palestinian grievances are multi-fold.
For one, Palestinian refugees have been blocked from returning to the homes they were driven from, or fled, when Israel was founded in 1948. Their return would change the ethnic face of Israel, says the Israeli government. And since Israel is a Jewish state, the demographic balance of the country must never be tipped in favour of Arabs.
Conceived as a homeland for Jews, the country accords any Jew, anywhere, the right to citizenship. A Jew born and raised in Canada can immigrate to Israel, but a Palestinian born in what later became Israel, can’t return to his place of birth if he fled, or was driven from, the country.
Charles Bronfman, one of the heirs to the Seagram liquor empire, sponsors a charity called Birthright, which pays for visits to Israel by thousands of Jews around the world. Jews, in other words, are considered to have a birthright to the homes of people who once lived in Israel, while those driven out are forever denied their birthrights for who they are — Arabs. Their fate, as one Palestinian put it, is to be “piled like garbage into wretched refugee camps and exiled into oblivion.” Living in places with infamous names like Sabra and Shatilla, and Jenin, home to Israeli army-orchestrated massacres, the refugees have little good to say about Israel. Is it any surprise?
Israel’s allowing the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land has also inflamed Palestinian outrage. The settlements — a clear provocation and illegal under international law — continue to expand, and continued to grow during the so-called Oslo “peace process,” something Oslo forbade.
And Israel’s continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem has done nothing to encourage Palestinians to reach out a hand of friendship to the Jewish state. Israel, which only recently withdrew from Lebanon after occupying parts of the country illegally for over two decades, refuses to withdraw from Palestinian territory conquered in the 1967 war. “Ninety-nine percent of the people reading newspapers or watching TV news all over the world (including Arabs) have simply forgotten — if they ever knew — that Israel is an illegal occupying power,” says scholar Edward Said. “So long as there is a military occupation of Palestine by Israel, there can never be peace. Occupation with tanks, soldiers, checkpoints and settlements is violence, and it is much greater than anything Palestinians have done by way of resistance.”
The parallels with South Africa’s apartheid regime don’t help either. “The apartheid government of South Africa came to power in 1948, the same year that the State of Israel was created in Palestine,” notes Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa. “Having lived and witnessed the legacy of Zionism,” (Israel’s founding ideology), “I wonder sometimes if this shared birth year was not an accidental prophecy.”
“Both governments were born on the miserable premise of entitlement for a select group of people,” Abulhawa points out. “This entitlement, to land rights and resources, spawned laws and societies that measured human worth by human irrelevancies. In the case of South Africa, it was skin color. In the case of Israel, it is religion. In both lands, the privilege accorded to the chosen group came at the expense and detriment of the natives — the ‘un-chosen.'”
With the reasons for Palestinian militancy so readily identified, the Middle East crisis should be the most readily resolvable crisis around, says the Globe and Mail’s Rick Salutin. And the remedies are already laid out in international law. The outlines of a resolution, go like this: Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to their homes; the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is brought to an end; existing settlements are dismantled; Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders; Palestinians are allowed a viable state, with full control over borders.
So, why doesn’t it happen?
Sheltered by the United States and its Security Council veto, Israel has, for decades, been able to escape its obligations under international law. It can occupy Palestine, build settlements, and deny the right of return, plus deny civil liberties, breach humanitarian law and commit war crimes, because the United States protects Israel from Security Council redress. Had Israel been made to comply with international law, terror wouldn’t be stalking Israelis today.
Moreover, pro-Israelis would rather live with unending war than allow the ethnic face of Israel to change with an influx of Arab refugees. And they’re not willing to change laws to grant Arab Israelis equal rights and privileges. On top of that, some pro-Israelis are adamantly committed to the expansion of settlements in the occupied territory, no matter what the consequences for peace. For many, the elevation of Jews as people, even at the expense of Palestinians, is more important than peace in the Middle East. Or justice.
It doesn’t help that the United States massively subsidizes Israel’s military, the largest in the region, funneling fighter jets, attack helicopters and tanks to the militarist state. Israel uses its military to keep the lid on Palestinian anger and resentment, rather than turning down the heat.
Within this context, the bounds of discussion on solutions to the Middle East crisis are quite narrow. Will the Israelis go for it? If not, the proposal is considered not on, no matter how soundly rooted in law or morality. The inevitable consequence is that, deprived of a just, moral or legal recourse, Palestinians have few options: quiescence, which is what Israel hopes it can enforce through military terror, or the terrorism of suicide bombings, the desperate attack of people with nothing left to lose.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.