Between Armageddon and Peace:
Iraq and the Israeli Occupation
by Hanan Ashrawi
October 15, 2002
It is no coincidence that the most vociferous voice advocating a military attack on Iraq is that of the Israeli Likud-led government and its spin machine.
In fact, if Sharon had his druthers, the US would oblige by conducting Israel’s proxy war on its behalf against a long list of targets, including Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and even Saudi Arabia (or at least a convenient fragmentation and “regime change” there).
War mongering had become such a favorite past time of the Israeli establishment that Sharon found himself uncharacteristically asking his cohorts to tone down the rhetoric and curb their gleeful drum beating.
In addition to Iraq being viewed as a “strategic threat” to Israel, the motives are diverse. They include the weakening of the Arab world, maintaining Israel’s “strategic superiority” in the region, imposing a solution more favorable to Israel on a “defeated” Arab nation, plus the further debilitation of the captive Palestinians and their leadership.
The flip side of the coin is the current Israeli preoccupation with the question of “will he-won’t he” (i.e. Saddam Hussein) strike at Israel in the course of the war, particularly if he concludes that “all is lost” and he has “nothing more to lose.”
The “will we-won’t we” (respond) argument seems to be rhetorical, at best. Actually, the nature of the debate seems to be more in line with “when” and “how” rather than “whether or not.”
While those who are openly in favor of a preemptive strike are in the minority, particularly given the gigantic monkey wrench that this would throw into the American machinery), there are still those who would seek to join a war in progress.
To do so, they need a visible excuse such as another feeble missile strike against Israel to justify its involvement under the pretext that Israel has the right to “self defense” and that sitting idly by would be construed as weakness and hence would weaken Israel’s deterrent ability in the eyes of the Arab world.
In fact, such a strike would play straight into the hands of this government that had already threatened the use of nuclear weapons in such an instance to the extent that Iraq would cease to exist as a state.
Furthermore, a major cause for concern among American war mongers has become how to keep Israel out of the war and to keep it straining at the leash rather than stampeding into the battlefield and fulfilling doomsday projections of Armageddon.
To the Palestinians, however, the most prevalent doomsday scenario is in Israel’s exploitation of the world’s preoccupation with war to carry out its own end game in Palestine.
Anti-war Israeli, international, and Palestinian voices have repeatedly cautioned against the “final solution” of “transfer,” or the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through forced expulsions.
Given the nature of the discourse in Israel and the “legitimization” of racism and extreme measures advocated by military sources, pseudo-respectable partners in the government, and thinly-disguised “think tanks,” such a course of action may not be as unthinkable as it seems.
Neighboring Arab countries have taken this threat with sufficient seriousness as to close down their borders with Israel/Palestine, particularly Jordan and Egypt who had signed peace agreements with Israel and who would view such expulsions as a declaration of war.
Israel, however, might be contemplating a variety of additional options to complete is destruction of Palestinian reality.
These would include a further tightening of the already devastating siege by imposing long term, unrelieved curfews that would further exacerbate the economic, educational, health, and personal suffering of the Palestinians.
Expulsion might take on a more restricted and selective form by targeting “undesirable” leadership figures and/or specified populations along the lines of the “security fence.”
Further violent measures might include massive “military operations” in refugee camps, urban centers, and more isolated rural areas including vulnerable villages.
A wholesale military assault on Gaza (as opposed to the daily attacks or incursion by installments) has been on the drawing board for some time and is still being viewed as an option awaiting the opportune moment of implementation.
The pretext for such drastic “operations” does not have to be more than one incident of violence by a Palestinian individual or group, or (as some Israeli spokespersons are hoping for) a misguided show of support for Saddam by any Palestinian individual or group.
In all cases, the Palestinian people under occupation feel targeted and vulnerable should the projected war against Iraq materialize.
The collective mood however is one of staying put-digging in of heals and resisting any attempt at expulsion. Hence one can discern the resurgence of the spirit of “steadfastness” or sumoud that had characterized the earlier intifada.
Along with the conscious rejection of any panic or fear response, the Palestinians are engaged in a reevaluation of the most effective and acceptable forms of resistance, thereby generating greater support for peaceful, popular resistance and civil disobedience.
The return of a direct Israeli military occupation has also given rise to the more constructive forms of resistance including the establishment of popular/support committees and other forms of community empowerment.
These certainly would be essential in any war scenario and regardless of the course(s) of action adopted by the Israeli military forces and armed settlers.
With all that in mind, however, the most effective means of protection and of preventing Israel from resorting to any drastic measures and forms of insanity remains in the hands of the international community.
It has become imperative that European and American decision-makers finally reach the inevitable conclusion that a policy of more positive and engaged intervention is required.
Rather than piecemeal handling or selective crisis management and partial damage control, the time has come to fully engage in a comprehensive program of on-the-ground control.
“Control” is translated as forces or troops along with an army of civilian experts and professionals to carry out the dual task of peace-making/keeping and nation-building.
With Sharon on yet another visit to the US to enhance his most frequent White House visitor status, it behooves the American President to spell out a timely and unequivocal message to his guest (war criminal cum “man of peace”).
UN resolutions are adopted to be implemented; violence against civilians will not be tolerated; the last remaining military occupation cannot be allowed to last forever; there are no unilateral or military solutions to the conflict; the US “vision” of a two-state solution and the end of the June 5, 1967 occupation will be decisively carried out; Israeli military measures (including the reoccupation, incursions, assassinations, mass detentions, siege, daily killings, and all other human and economic violations) must cease; a global rule of law means full Israeli compliance.
Both Bush and Sharon must be called upon to understand that the question is not a temporary and artificial calm before the new storm in the gulf, but a comprehensive and just resolution of the underlying causes of conflict and instability that should have been addressed yesterday but definitely must be addressed today if a disastrous breakdown is to be averted.
Contrary to the scare tactics of the ideological right, the apocalypse is neither an option nor an inevitability now.
Hanan Ashrawi is a leading Palestinian spokesperson. She is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Committee and a founder of MIFTAH, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. She is the author of "This Side of Peace" (Touchstone 1996).