by Ash Pulcifer
March 8, 2003
Yesterday's suicide attack on a crowded bus in Israel was unfortunately quite predictable. It was predictable because for the past two months, Palestinian militants have refrained from launching suicide attacks, but the Israeli government has not responded in kind. Instead, the Israeli government continued its repressive policies perpetuated upon the Palestinians, killing many innocent people; for example, just last Monday the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) caused the death of a pregnant 33-year old Palestinian woman and her unborn child. As is often the case, the IDF blew up a militant's home and the explosion also caused destruction of the house next door, where this woman was killed by falling masonry. So now, after two months of violence against Palestinian innocents, another bomb has gone off and there are 15 more broken Israeli families and 50 more whose loved ones were injured in yesterday's Haifa blast.
For the past two months, Palestinian circles have questioned the results of suicide attacks inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. This began two months of "relative calm." There was the occasional, but deadly, Kassam rocket fired out of the Gaza Strip, but the most devastating attacks toward Israeli civilians subsided. Yet in this period of "relative calm," the developments in the Gaza Strip were anything but "calm."
Despite every indicator pointing in the opposite direction, the Sharon government and the Israelis who support it fail to see that constant invasions of the Gaza Strip do nothing to reduce terrorism. Each time the IDF carries out an operation in the Gaza Strip, they kill more innocent civilians. Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel charges that civilian casualties "run to about 30 percent of the total" when the IDF swarms into the territories. By killing so many civilians, Israel is not reducing the anger and hatred toward its occupation; what Israel is doing is increasing the amount of hatred toward Israelis, and making it much easier for civilians to be recruited as militants who would willingly give their lives to cause some sort of damage to Israel and the innocent Jews who represent it.
It is not hard to see why an individual who loses his family to the IDF would take up arms against anything that seems to be responsible for his hatred. Given the superiority of the Israeli military, often this hate is directed at innocent Israelis. There is also no incentive (other than moral concerns that dissipate in the face of anger) to attack the Israeli military instead of civilians: the reprisals from Israel are the same. When recently Palestinian militants targeted Israeli soldiers and successfully blew up an Israeli tank, Palestinian civilians suffered the same reprisals from the IDF as they would have if these militants instead killed civilians. Therefore, many militants choose to attack whichever is an easier target and this results in the deaths of Israeli civilians. The first suicide attack in Israel did not take place until the early '90s and the Palestinians are loath to go back to the days before this. During the two decades after the 1967 occupation, many Palestinians felt helpless against the brutalizing occupation. Now they finally feel as if they have an outlet for their hatred.
But the use of violence works both ways. Israelis who lose family members and friends to suicide attacks become more supportive of Sharon's violent policies, and unleash their hatred through their support of IDF offensives into the Palestinian territories. Since many members of the Israeli Defense Forces have also lost loved ones from Palestinian attacks, it makes it easier for them to cause untold destruction to innocent Palestinian lives as is evident through Israel's illegal policy of forcible transfer and collective punishment. As Amnesty International states, "Members of the IDF who commit grave human rights violations and war crimes, such as killing children and other unarmed civilians, recklessly shooting and shelling densely populated residential areas or blowing up houses on top of people and leaving them to die under the rubble are not brought to justice and held accountable for their acts."
Israelis and Palestinians hate to hear the term "cycle of violence" because it incriminates both sides equally. But a cycle of violence is exactly what is occurring. Already, the Sharon government is planning its retaliation against the latest attack, and they will receive wide support from Israel's population because everyone feels that some sort of action must be taken in response. Yet all Israel's retaliation will do is create more Palestinian suffering and thus produce more Palestinian militants eager to rise up and strike at the heart of Israel.
This cycle of violence will continue until one side takes the bold initiative in offering an olive branch. Considering that the Israeli state is much more organized and politically advanced than the undeclared Palestinian one, Tel Aviv must take the first and hard step toward reconciliation. As long as Sharon stays in power, however, olive trees will continue to be destroyed and, as time progresses, there may be no more olive branches left to give.