|By A.D. Freudenheim||
24 August 2003
After last Tuesdays suicide bombing in Israel, for a brief moment I thought I might like to tell the Israelis that my heart says roast the Palestinians. Run them over. They are despicable. They have failed to act in their own interest even when given them the opportunity. They deserve your policy of targeted assassination. And worst of all, they cheer and light fireworks while you bury their dead.
I would like to tell Israelis that this is what my heart is saying but it would not be true. It is not what my head says, either.
The Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have to answer for many things. Failing to take action against terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad is only one small part of a bigger problem, which can probably be summed up by the phrase mixed emotions. For as much as the Palestinian people and their leaders say they want their freedom, an independent state, and to become economically and politically self-sufficient, they seem undecided about whether they would rather have independence or hold out for what they hope will be Israels ultimate destruction. How else to describe the joyous celebrations reported taking place among some Palestinian communities after this most recent suicide bombing? The Palestinians appear conflicted, with the feelings in their hearts the desire for revenge, the hatred they feel for the treatment they have received at the hands of the Israelis overruling the decisions of their heads.
Of course, when statecraft is driven by emotion, the result can only be trouble; just look at Israel, which has been so obstinate and unhelpful as well. True, in recent weeks, Israelis had begun pulling out of some occupied areas; were offering two West Bank towns to be placed under formal PA control; and had agreed to a US plan that would have allowed the PA to take the first approach in containing (if not actually arresting) the militants. The PA, previously resistant to some of these ideas, had even been convinced to go along as well. This was the tenuous state of affairs when the bomber struck. But what made the situation truly tenuous was Israels less evident lack of cooperation with the peace plan: allowing the continued growth of new settlements even as existing outposts were dismantled, the continued construction of the controversial security fence, and of course, the ongoing policy of targeted assassinations which did not pause even in the middle of peace negotiations.
Foolishness and folly are not exclusive to either side in this dispute, nor are either the head or the heart immune to its effects. Had the Palestinians adopted a Gandhian model of peaceful, non-violent protest, they likely could have expelled the Israelis years maybe decades ago; images of Palestinian protesters demanding freedom in all its forms, passively defensive rather than blatantly offensive, would have been powerful weapons all by themselves. Instead, encouraged by the extremists among them, the Palestinians have chosen a violent path that has not succeeded in achieving even a single one of their goals. Now, the emotional desire for revenge as much as the practical desire for independence seems to be the driving force among the Palestinians and their martyr brigades.
The Israelis like to think they have taken the opposite approach, choosing to believe that the obvious-seeming tactic of killing terrorists wherever they can find them will help, rather than result (as it has) in the equally-obvious generation of more terrorists among the Palestinians, and greater calls for revenge from ever-broader segments of the Palestinian population. The conservative cabal surrounding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems as emotionally-obstinate as its foes, doing their own form of cheering at the PA infighting and the hopeful sense of imminent collapse, and certainly happy with the fiery deaths the Israel Defense Forces hands out like calling cards to the Palestinians. The possibilities of taking over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, of filling this land with the overflowing milk-and-honey of Jewish settlements, and ultimately forcing the Palestinians to leave this still seems to be the Israeli dream. How else to explain the desire to continue as an occupying force against a resistant, restless, and unsatisfied population? What other reason could there be for maintaining the devastatingly-expensive financial investment in controlling these lands and the people who inhabit them?
For all the errors in judgment made by the Israelis, the Palestinians are losing the public relations war. The return to civilian-targeted mass violence is particularly foolish at a moment when the US was pushing the Israelis to make concessions, a position from which the US has now largely backed away. As devastatingly stupid yes, stupid as Israels policies towards the Palestinians have been and continue to be, the Palestinian militants murder of innocent civilians does nothing but harden hearts and close minds, making concessions elusive and victory impossible.
I started this by saying that I might like to tell the Israelis that I support their approach of targeted, retributive violence, but I cannot and I do not. The Biblical call to trade an eye for an eye in seeking justice, which looks like the operating principle for both sides of this conflict, is an unsustainable system unless everyone desires to be blind.
Copyright 2003, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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