The Battle over Jenin as an Inter-ethnic War

by Baruch Kimmerling

April 29, 2002



Was or was not a massacre in Jenin is only a semantic question. What is more important that the Jenin battle and the brutal Israeli intrusion to the Palestinian territories just made more clear the character of this conflict.


Ariel Sharon is a talented, experienced statesman. He does not merely possess a talent for reading topographical maps, but one for reading political landscapes as well. He may not speak openly, very often, but he is always active; and his activities reflect a great intelligence, one that has been honed by both success and failure. Having learned from the personal disaster of having led Israel into a war of choice in 1982, he has carefully avoided repeating this mistake twenty years later.


Patiently, with great care, he is methodically building circles of hatred and abysmal exasperation amongst both Arabs and Jews. He knows how to exploit the weaknesses of a man and his passion for honor and, apparently, for power. In this way, he has neutralized the Labor Party, while silencing any semblance of a true public discourse.


His comparing Arafat to Bin Laden, a few months ago, seemed a mistake; but yet again, in retrospect, he has proven successful at "getting inside the American mind" and the Bush Administration, and has integrated his own objectives into the American world war against terrorism. Perhaps the height of his success, up until now has been the recruitment of all the Palestinian factions (Fatah and its various branches, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) to cooperate within his grand program of 2001-2. Only the majority countries that met last week in the Beirut Summit and proposed full peace with Israel for the first time in history are slowly refusing to cooperate with Sharon and his cronies. But there is no doubt that he will sway them in the near future.


Sharon is a man with a vision, a man who desires a grand place in Israeli history books, not as the hero of Sabbra and Shatila, nor even as the Israeli De Gaulle. Sharon wants to enter the heroes pantheon, continuing a lineage that includes Joshua Bin-Nun, conqueror of Canaan, King David, builder of the Israeli Empire, and David Ben-Gurion, founder of the modern Israeli state, expander of its borders, and the man who uprooted most of the Arab population from within them during the 1948 war. Ariel Sharon, who grew up and grew out of the historical Mapai party’s gardens, desires to finalize the job Ben-Gurion began -- not merely by way of the rhetoric of Revisionist Zionists, which speak of acts that go unfulfilled, but rather through the creation of the irreversible actions presently underway. Anyone claiming that Sharon has neither a clear policy nor a master plan is mistaken and mislead. Sharon has taken upon himself to complete the task Ben-Gurion began -- and no price is too high.


And now, as our fears have come true, exemplified no less by the horror of the battle over Jenin than by the prompt answer of a suicide bomber, two ethno-national units, so interwoven that they cannot be untangled, have passed through a process of dizzying regression into fanatic tribalism. The sounds of beating war drums can be heard throughout the land, calling both the hawkish tribes to gather around the campfire, to put on their war paint, and to go out into one last battle, until the final annihilation of the other hated and demonic tribe. All rational thought has been clouded by the intoxicating scent of a primordial war of vengeance. No longer is there a left and a right: "we" are all Jews. No longer is there Fatah or Hamas or the Popular Front: "we" are all Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims, a collective of martyrs at all costs.


Indeed, we and the world of 2002 are different from that of 1948. It is quite possible that what was done in 1948, and yet again, today, is rightly called "ethnic cleansing," and was vital for the existence of a Jewish state. Perhaps, after many years, when a true reconciliation comes between Jews and Arabs, it will be forgotten and forgiven, as other peoples (including the Jewish people) have learned to forget and forgive. But what is being carried out now, and will be carried out in the days and weeks to come, will come to be categorized among war crimes, unforgettable and unforgivable, neither by our partners in this land, nor by the world, and principally not by ourselves and our generations to come. As this war appears more and more successful, from the Israeli point of view, its tainted fruits will eradicate the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel, and thus, in turn, also will diminish our, the Israelis', power to survive in the long run. And no one of us can say, "I didn't know, I didn't hear," because the writing is on the wall.


Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent books are "The Invention and Decline of Israelieness" (University of California Press) and with Joel S. Migdal "Palestinians: The Making of a People" (The Free Press and Harvard University Press).