by Gila Svirsky
June 14, 2003
It was a good week for the extremists on both sides. As they perceived some hope rising last Wednesday in the seaside resort of Aqaba, they got to work: The very day after all those high falutin’ words, Sharon sent a hit team into the West Bank and knocked off two senior Hamas figures. So Hamas and allied groups made use of the weekend to kill 5 Israelis in Gaza and Hebron. Tuesday was a big one: Sharon launched Apache gunships at Rantisi, senior political leader of Hamas. Though Rantisi survived, the funerals of 2 more Hamas leaders and 6 collaterally damaged men, women, and children helped balance things out. But Rantisi wasn’t down for long and on Wednesday, a suicide bomber sneaked into downtown Jerusalem, adding 17 more bodies to the count. That evening did not find Sharon idle and, together with Thursday, he sent the boys back for 9 more killings (counting women and children) in various locations. Hamas got in one more, too.
Is this too confusing? Let’s simplify and say that 42 Israelis and Palestinians were killed these past eight days. It was a good week for the extremists and, as we speak, they are out there frothing at the mouth and fomenting hatred for each other. (“Now it’s all-out war”, says Sharon. “Now your women and babies are also targets”, says Rantisi.)
But while the extremists are having a heyday, the rest of us – you won’t be surprised to hear – just want the flow of blood to stop:
On the Palestinian side, there is broad support (63%) for the resumption of negotiations with Israel according to a poll conducted a few weeks ago by Bir Zeit University (http://home.birzeit.edu/dsp/DSPNEW/polls/poll_12/). While polls also show Palestinian support for armed conflict, this is always in the context of liberating themselves from Israeli rule. In fact, an April poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that 71% support the mutual cessation of violence
In parallel, most Israelis are fed up with being occupiers. A poll in today’s Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s most widely read newspaper (conducted by Dr. Mina Zemach) reveals that 67% of Israelis feel “the occupation is harmful to Israel”. The same large majority (67%) wants to end the policy of assassinations. In fact, an astonishing 40% believe that the attempt on Rantisi’s life was made to deliberately thwart implementation of the road map! Isn’t that an amazing allegation of disingenuousness attributed to Israeli leaders?
So we are left with the lines drawn as follows: On the one side (roughly 30%) are the Israeli and Palestinian extremists, all working hard at perpetuating the misery of the other; and on the other side (roughly 70%) are the Israeli and Palestinian victims of their fundamentalist ideologies. These are the real lines of conflict in the Middle East: the coalition of the willing – the extremists on both sides – against the coalition of the unwilling – the moderates, which include those who have to take buses (not cars) or are standing in the wrong place as the helicopters pause overhead.
Today, the second annual gay pride parade was supposed to have been held in Jerusalem. It was postponed a week because it’s hard to be gay when you are in mourning. Among the victims of the Jerusalem bus bombing were Alan, who would have marched in today’s parade; Tamar, whose grandmother and sister are Women in Black peace activists; Zippi, whose sister is one of the human rights monitors in Machsom [checkpoint] Watch; and 14 other good people, some of whom probably even believed Sharon when he said he wants peace.
Ultimately, the 30% crazies are going to lose out to the two-thirds of us who don’t want to be going to the funerals of healthy, innocent friends. In time, the moderates will eventually win out – the extremist Israelis will inevitably give up the occupied territories and the extremist Palestinians will inevitably give up their demand for driving us into the sea. What makes me furious is that we are in the majority, but our extremists, bound in a macabre alliance, are galloping together in a race toward each other’s death, and we are getting trampled in their madness. How much killing must there be before the sane majority has had enough?
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace activist living in Jerusalem. She is a founding member of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, a grouping of eight Israeli and Palestinian women's peace organisations.