“Ending the violence” and the Palestinian experience
We’ve all heard that when they met at Sharm el-Sheikh on February 8, Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon agreed to “stop the violence in a historic agreement that signals the end of the Intifada.”
But most of us did not hear about Ibrahim Abu Jazar from Rafah, who was fatally wounded by Israeli troops on February 9. During the following two-and-a-half weeks, the Israeli army observed the “cease fire” by killing seven more Palestinians, three of them children. People were still waiting to see this “cease fire” in Nablus, Salfit, Hebron, and other occupied places, when it was “suddenly shattered” by the bombing deaths of four Israelis in Tel Aviv on February 25.
Even if the Israeli army had not mocked the Palestinians by repeatedly violating the “cease fire”, even if every militant in Palestine had accepted its terms, the agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh would not have stopped the violence. At best, it would have rendered it temporarily invisible to the television cameras. Gunpowder and TNT are merely symptoms of the ongoing violence in this war. They will continue to appear until the underlying disease is cured.
In 1967, the war’s modern phase began and Israel formally became an illegal occupying power. Nearly four decades later, the entire government of Israel is woven out of and into occupation, developed to exploit the full range of occupation’s belligerent possibilities.
Opportunities abound for creative strategists. The main goal is to drive off the occupied people and take their land for the Jewish people. So the secondary goal must be to harass, dehumanize, control, dispossess, and disappear the Palestinians. From requiring a permit to cross the street to razing entire villages to the ground, much has been accomplished without firing a shot. Over forty percent of the West Bank has been acquired with pen strokes and bulldozers, walls and poisons, settlements, roads, tunnels, arrests and “legal” sleight-of-hand. And these are just a few of the weapons available to today’s complete Israeli warrior.
The intentionally interminable nature of the “peace process” has given Israel time to master the art of continuing this full spectrum violence while the guns are (relatively) quiet, using “peace talks” as camouflage.
The Palestinians do not have access to these kinds of weapons. They cannot negotiate with Israel while demolishing houses in Tel Aviv. Palestinian militants cannot force an Israeli to get a permit to live in her own home. The Palestinian Authority can’t build a wall into Israel to annex the Galilee and strangle Netanya in a concrete noose. The leaders of Ramallah can’t force Jews to move out of Jerusalem, nor can they steal their houses, rule their leases illegal, or build a wall through their neighborhoods.
Palestinian soldiers and police cannot raid Israeli homes in the middle of the night and take Jewish youngsters away for “questioning”. They can’t imprison Israelis indefinitely without charge, deport them to other countries, control their borders and trade, restrict their travel with checkpoints, or threaten Israeli towns with curfews and closures. It is also impossible for Palestinians to appropriate eighty percent of Israel’s water for their own use.
Against all these shadowy and smokeless arts of Israel’s total war, the Palestinians have only their pitiful supplies of gunpowder and TNT. Leading some to think that diplomacy may be the answer. But Israel is preparing an answer for them, too.
Diplomacy as concrete
Israel’s disproportionate advantage in violence is mirrored in the diplomatic sphere. Its economic and military power and its mastery of US foreign policy yield a lot of clout. The PA is still seeking Israel’s permission to create a state.
Excepting Iraq, Israel is the number one recipient of US foreign aid. The Palestinians, whose living standards are now among the poorest in the world, receive a pittance. If the UN Security Council should ever attempt action to stop Israel’s crimes, a US veto will be right around the corner.
Israel’s leadership has been flexing its diplomatic muscle lately, staking out hard-line positions on the major issues of land and rights, just in case. PA officials complain that their Israeli counterparts are already slowing down the renewed negotiations. There appears to be a post-Sharm offensive afoot that could be called “Operation Cold Water”.
On February 15, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reminded the foreign press that Israel would annex large chunks of the West Bank “in the future”. Referring to his visit to the US last April, when George Bush gave him permission to do such things, Sharon said that he would hold the American president to his word.
In other words, if he should ever get cornered into entering final status talks with the Palestinians, Sharon will count on America’s prodigiously powerful pro-Israel lobby/Congress/media to pressure Bush into protecting his position. He’ll play the ace in the hole that has always saved Israel from any semblance of sanity or legality in US Middle East policy.
Sharon bragged that his “disengagement plan” had already produced an important first; it got a US president to formally renounce the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes in Israel. As if Bush harbored some respect for human rights that Sharon had to overcome.
On the same day, in the notoriously harmless city of Jericho, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon was holding up the first of five planned withdrawals of Israeli troops. Adding an appropriately colonial touch, Ya’alon hinted that the PA might not be able to handle its security responsibilities.
And in London, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was predicting that everything will “blow up” unless Abbas quickly dismantles the “terrorist infrastructure”. Translation: Completely disarm the Palestinian resistance. This fanciful notion, which emerges from Shalom’s mouth as a flat-out demand, is yet another looming obstacle to continued negotiations.
The government of Israel is building another wall. Instead of incarcerating the entire Gaza Strip, or carving the West Bank into prison states within Greater Israel, this third wall is intended to control the diplomatic pace and prevent any attacks of reality, justice or reconciliation during the coming “peace talks”.
This barrier will also steal land and imprison Palestinians, not with the abrupt savagery of a Caterpillar bulldozer mowing down homes, but by stealing time to evade the threat of final borders. This is a wall of mendacity, not concrete and wire, made from well-used portions of diplomatic intransigence and obstructionism, continuing “low level” military “operations”, arrests and killings throughout the territories, a West Bank campaign of new and expanding settlements, land thefts, and wall construction, and steady efforts to ethnically cleanse east Jerusalem.
Israel is methodically placing these “facts on the ground” while Mahmoud Abbas struggles for a miracle and the world continues to dream its little dream about a “new era” in the Middle East.
The peace that sells more gunpowder
On the root issues of this conflict, the ones most vital to Palestinian public opinion and self-determination and most central to international law and human rights, Israel is sending a very clear signal—no.
The “peace” that Israel proposes has nothing to do with ending the occupation. Rather, it would institutionalize the occupation in an expansive form. It would create a shriveled, demilitarized Palestinian “state”, perhaps surrounded by a segregation wall, almost certainly enveloped by Israel, which would annex West Bank settlements and retain control over Palestinian water, borders, and airspace, with “security options”. This vast prison complex would be “contiguous”, of course, although at some points such a “Palestine” might be barely a stone’s throw across. It would have to absorb what refugees it could; Israel would accept none.
In exchange for its painful sacrifices and obviously generous offer, Israel would ask only for the collective self-neutering and eventual suicide of a desiccated Palestinian nation, its hostage in perpetuity.
We have all heard that if both governments follow through and everyone works to minimize the killing, a deal might finally be achieved. But the deal the world is waiting for appears to be already broken, strewn in pieces at the base of Israel’s third wall. Its failure bodes a violence that even the television cameras will be able to see.
Other Articles by James Brooks
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