Who Violated the Hudna?
by Gideon Levy
August 19, 2003
The next terror strike is on its way. You don't need to be an expert on terror, or a compulsive gambler, to foresee that Islamic Jihad will try very soon to avenge the death of Mohammed Sider, the head of the organization's military wing in Hebron.
Experience teaches that virtually every such assassination breeds a terror attack. This week, in response to the slaying of Hamas men Hamis Abu-Salam and Faiz A-Sadar at Nablus' Askar refugee camp - assassinations accompanied by the killing of two innocent men, Fazi Al-Alami and Mahmoud a-Tak - reprisals were not long in coming. These came as two suicide attacks, at Ariel and at Rosh Ha'ayin.
Much as Israel claims that the Palestinians are violating the truce and regrouping in order to perpetrate savage acts of terror, its pleading can't alter the facts: up until Israel renewed its assassinations campaign, there were no suicide bombings, and the two attacks last week were direct responses to the Askar refugee camp slayings.
Is this fact on the minds of the assassinations' planners each time they plot another operation? How can anyone seriously contend that the assassinations contribute to Israeli security since each one leads directly to the killing of Israeli civilians? Since 2000, Israel has in such operations liquidated 136 Palestinians, along with dozens of innocent victims, and terror has yet to be extinguished. Dozens of Israelis have been killed in retaliation, and yet Israel continues to wield this dubious weapon, which abrogates international law and is ineffective.
Successors arise to replace the slain men, and the motivation to kill Israelis increases. Moreover, to a large extent, thirst for vengeance motivates the assassinations; and, as Amram Mitzna has put it, they are executed by those who "think from the gut, not from the brain."
These are not ordinary days. Under a cease-fire, assassinations are a far more grievous offense. Instead of the rules of the game being adjusted in harmony with the truce, and security officials overcoming the lust for revenge in order to give the truce some prospect of success, Israel has played by the old rules, ones it invented and under which almost anything goes.
Today, the assassinations do not only provoke more bloodshed: they threaten to derail the road map as a whole, and, because this prospect is so obvious, it can plausibly be suspected that the government's aim is, precisely, to forestall the renewed diplomatic process.
The Palestinians, who are not doing enough to battle terror, also bear responsibility for shortening the hudna's lease on life. Yet Israel's share of the responsibility is much greater, and not only because it is the stronger side and the conqueror. From the start - before this last wave of assassinations - Israel grimaced as it went about fulfilling its obligations under the road map; it acted stingily, as though being forced against its will. The prime minister, the defense minister, the army chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet security service competed to see who might come up with the bleakest forecast; and now their pessimistic prophecy has come true.
A second look at the road map reveals a vast gap between the obligations assumed by the two sides, and their fulfillment. As in the case of the Oslo process, the problem isn't the plan, but rather its application. We were supposed to reach the road map's second stage, which includes the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, long ago; instead, we have yet to carry out most of the first stage's steps. Meantime, while the Palestinians can point to a significant improvement in the lives of Israelis thanks to the hudna, virtually all steps taken by Israel in presumed reciprocity were showcase gestures. To put it simply: the lives of Israelis have improved since the hudna, but the Palestinians' lives have not.
For Israel, popular Palestinian discontent stemming from this disparity will be destructive. Israel hasn't made a single move that would send a signal to the Palestinians of a changed approach. Neither the prisoners' release nor alleviation of security restrictions, neither the dismantling of outpost settlements nor the removal of checkpoints, has sent a real signal.
The road map equates two processes, the cessation of terror and normalization of life for Palestinians. In this equation, the decline in terror has been far more significant than normalization for the Palestinians, which basically hasn't happened.
Apart from the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip (a pull-out that was not complete), Israel has not done anything to alleviate the Palestinians' suffering. Is demolition of homes prohibited by the road map? Gibberish. Israel has even wrecked the homes of kidnappers of cab driver Eliyahu Gorel, who escaped unharmed. The media might have released reports about the opening of roads in the territories, but nothing happened on the ground, as could be seen last week by a visit to the Jenin-Yabad road, an artery whose "opening" occurred only on television. Similarly, Israel's sole aim with the prisoner releases was to dupe the Palestinians and the Americans. A step presented as a goodwill gesture, and which provoked an endless number of inane arguments in Israeli society, was actually a slap in the face to Palestinians, and especially to Prime Minister Abu Mazen. With a "prisoner release" of this character, it's no wonder that Palestinian feelings of humiliation and frustration rose up.
The hudna will soon come to an end. Israel will blame the Palestinians; the Palestinians will blame Israel; and both sides will try to pluck the right heartstrings of the U.S. government, and also sacrifice their own blood in another violent, pointless round of fighting. A moment before this happens, we Israelis should confess to the disturbing truth: yet again there was hope for change, and Israel's government and security system did nothing to promote it. Instead, they sabotaged the prospects for peace.
Gideon Levy is a columnist with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, where this article first appeared (www.haaretzdaily.com/)