Published on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 in the Portland Press Herald (Maine)
Attack on Refugee Camp Shows How Israel Fights
by Victoria Mares-Hershey
Politics being made on the heads of people is what we have seen in Jenin, a refugee camp of 13,000 people in a space about 500 yards by 600 yards, churned into rubble by a thousand well-equipped Israeli soldiers in pursuit of about 200 Palestinian gunmen.
As the world debated and discussed whether Sharon was a predator or "man of peace," and just after Secretary of State Colin Powell had returned home empty-handed, Jenin's reality jumped into American faces from front pages around the world.
We must give up choosing sides and examine this destruction, as the American public examined its stand on the Vietnam War after seeing a young girl in an Associated Press photo stripped naked by napalm and running in terror over 30 years ago.
If we do not turn a critical eye on all players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including ourselves, we might as well be playing a war game on a pinball machine, with human pinballs.
The total destruction of the two-story cinderblock homes that belonged to thousands of refugees who can now be counted as "homeless" was accomplished with what a New York Times report called a "stark mismatch of arms." The media account of this episode is like reading about a modern army testing its billions of dollars of high-tech weaponry and equipment on a football field.
Cobra helicopters, able to fire TOW missiles designed to destroy tanks, fired through the walls of houses. The media counted scores of tanks mounted with machine guns, and bulldozers to raze civilian homes. Airborne cameras hovered over battles while officers used more technology to translate what they saw into combat strategy. The resistance they met from Palestinians armed with rifles, homemade explosives and tin-can warning systems was, the Israelis say, unexpected.
The determination, the deep anger, the fear, the generations of mental conditioning to hate, that must go into launching all of that fury into a complex of human families is unimaginable. The determination to survive an attempted decimation of so many people, to fight it by hand, to hate the people who wage it, must have to be measured in mega-units.
What is Yasser Arafat, besieged in Ramallah, going to tell the families pulling children, siblings, grandparents, men and women who were really only unarmed civilians, and human parts from under stone or actually scraping them up off the roads. That they have not been terrorized beyond belief? That they should not think about fighting back?
What does Ariel Sharon tell the families who bury victims of suicide bombers and dead Israeli soldiers? He has sent his army not only to make war on Palestinian warriors, but on Palestinians. The two old warriors, Arafat and Sharon, have drunk from the same well.
Back on Feb. 11, Marwan Bishara wrote in the conservative Paris newspaper, Le Figaro, that, "Israel has demanded that the Palestinian Authority stop the 'terrorist production line.' But where does this production line begin? For Israel, it begins when the terrorists are ready to die. For the Palestinians, it begins when they have lost hope."
Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. senior envoy and coordinator for the Mideast, called the devastation that he found when he was let into the West Bank refugee camp as "horrific beyond belief." Relief workers who had seen earthquakes and wars recoiled at what they found.
The Bush administration seemed to turn immediately, sheltering itself from any alliance with Israeli actions in Jenin. The United States sponsored a U.N. resolution for an international fact-finding mission to Jenin which passed. Even so, as Bush called for both Sharon and Arafat to choose peace, he told Americans not to expect too much from administration efforts.
We cannot rationalize Jenin or even Ramallah where a search and destroy mission, according to BBC News, resulted earlier this month in the destruction of all land records, all statistics, school exam records, even equipment in an eye clinic.
Whatever it takes, we must participate in getting Sharon off his powder keg and to a peace table that is not his or Arafat's. Neither Sharon nor an Israeli-Palestinian popularity contest run by armchair-warrior politicians should be able to pull us into the politics of annihilation in the Middle East.
Victoria Mares-Hershey is director of development at Portland West. She also chairs the Maine State Refugee Advisory Council and is a founder and the director of the Institute for Practical Democracy, Inc.
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