Mar 18, 2002
“Strike the Palestinians as hard as possible. That’s what they need: blows. It’s necessary that they understand that they’re conquered.” This is the way that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon summed up his strategy March 5, several days after setting off a chain of violence which left many dozens of people dead, this time on the Israeli side as well as on the Palestinian side.
Sharon talks like all those who advocate colonial wars, like the soldiers who think that the only end to a conflict is to make the people that they oppress “understand” that rebellion is hopeless. And like them, Sharon has learned nothing from history. A year and a half after the beginning of the second Intifada, after the provocative visit of Sharon in September 2000 to the esplanade of the Mosque of Jerusalem, events have once again shown that this policy of force leads to a bloody impasse.
The heads of the Israeli army pretended they struck a great blow by invading Palestinian camps in Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank with tanks. These military expeditions were supposed to show the “terrorists” who aimed at Israel that Israel could strike them wherever it wanted. What it really did was destroy miserable hovels.
In any case, these military operations don’t dissuade anyone. How could they? The situation continues to bring forth from among the Palestinian people hundreds and even thousands of people ready to be martyrs – to die by the bomb that they carry, provided that they can cause deaths and sow panic in the camp of the adversary.
Since the beginning of March there have been continual suicide attacks, and also the attack by an isolated sharpshooter against an army control post, which killed ten solders and Israeli settlers. The suicide attacks are horrible for the Israeli people, who are attacked at random, and also for their authors, who sacrifice themselves. But the Israeli responses aren’t less horrible. Israeli authorities think they can strike terror into a people by the intensity of the means used. They, too, attack civilians randomly – innocent men, women and children are their victims.
It seems, if we can believe the press, that Sharon’s credibility is disintegrating among the Israeli population. One year after taking office, he has shown that his policy leads to an impasse and that he doesn’t bring more security to the Israelis, all of whom today fear that they might fall victim to an attack in the street at any moment.
For years Sharon has cultivated his unyielding image. Taking the initiative to create Israeli settlements in Gaza; unleashing the war in Lebanon of 1982, which he forced his own government to accept as an accomplished fact; protecting the Lebanese militias who massacred Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; denouncing the Oslo accords as inadmissible concessions to the Palestinians – Sharon presented himself during all this time as the strong man, the one man who wouldn’t hesitate to use any means to put down the Palestinians.
Today Sharon is in power, U.S. leaders back him up, the army has a free hand to carry out its operations in the occupied territories ... but the action of his government instead looks more like someone throwing a tantrum. Sharon only has one important asset: the absence of an alternative on the side of the Labor Party leaders. Their policy allowed him to take power; they now participate in his government and in fact don’t propose another policy than that of Sharon, which is itself only the continuation in a more determined fashion of what the Labor Party carried out before.
Thus, it’s unfortunately the case that Sharon is likely to be challenged from the right. There are Israeli extreme-right groups who preach pure and simple annexation of the territories and expulsion of all Arabs, an “ethnic purification” on the scale of Palestine; they reproach Sharon for refusing to carry this out.
These partisans of outrage forget one thing: if Sharon hasn’t done it, it’s not because this long time partisan of a “greater Israel” has scruples, but because he doesn’t have the political means to do it. Despite everything, despite even the rightward trend of Israeli society during recent years, there are demonstrations of opposition, including in the Israeli army. A great part of the population continues to think that one day or another it will be necessary to get along with their neighbors, and they aren’t ready to envisage a total and prolonged war, which the pursuit of such a policy would lead to.
Before leading that war, before being able to lead a radical policy of expelling the Palestinians, Israeli leaders would have to indoctrinate the Israeli population, to silence all opposition, to install a real fascism against the Israelis themselves, to make the population accept this and, finally, to accept the consequences that such a choice would create in western public opinion, whose pressure still counts for a lot in Israel.
Sharon, despite his boasting, doesn’t have the means to do this, nor does the Israeli extreme right. But they could have the means to do so tomorrow and this is a real danger. The Israeli population isn’t threatened only by the Palestinian suicide attacks. In the long run, it’s threatened still more by the policy of its leaders and that of its army.
It’s urgent and indispensable that opposition grow in the Israeli population to this dirty war, that Israelis find a way toward the Palestinian population, and that before it’s too late, they stop this spiral, which is as dangerous and as murderous for the Israelis as it is for the Palestinians.