TO HEAR candidate Hillary Clinton tell it, the worst outrage that's occurred in
the last two weeks of violence in the Mideast was the desecration of Joseph's
Tomb, a Jewish shrine on the West Bank, and the attacks on some Jewish
worshipers at the Western Wall.
According to candidate Rick Lazio, it's been Yasser Arafat's refusal to
control the angry, rampaging Palestinians. If the violence doesn't stop, Lazio
says, Congress should cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority.
According to the newspapers, Yasser Arafat is the main villain in this mess
- for letting Palestinian children out of school so they could join the riots,
and for refusing to use his voice or his security forces to stop the violence.
Assorted other delinquents include the United Nations, for condemning Israel's
excessive use of force against the Palestinians, and the Clinton administration
for not vetoing the UN resolution.
But what about Israel's gunning down of demonstrators and rioters who were
armed only with rocks and rage-with bullets, missiles and hand grenades?
Americans are appalled when a dictator in Belgrade sics the police on
anti-government protesters and when the Chinese disperse student demonstrators
with tanks. But when the Israeli government shoots down its citizens in the
street, it gets a pass. The shootings in the last two weeks were atrocities,
pure and simple.
Clearly there's no contest between the Palestinian protesters and the
Israeli military and police. The death toll, nearly 100, and almost all
Palestinians, proves that. The protesters, who include a lot of young people
and who for the most part are unarmed, were provoked by an act of arrogance, by
decades of being second-class citizens and by frustration over negotiations
that aren't going to give them what they want.
Protests like these take place all over the world. So why do we cheer the
protesters in Belgrade, but say nothing about the shooting of Palestinians in
"In 33 years of occupation, the Israelis have not learned how to respond to
Palestinian demonstrations except with the use of lethal force," says Marty
Rosenbluth, an expert on Israel and the Palestinian Authority for Amnesty
International, the human rights group. "I don't think people who throw stones
deserve to be shot under any circumstances."
According to Amnesty International observers in Israel and the Occupied
Territories, the Israeli security forces have used large quantities of live
ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, hand grenades and projectiles. In
instances where Israeli Jews went on rampages against Palestinians, however,
the security forces held their fire.
In one reported incident in Nazareth, when Jews were attacking Arabs in an
Arab neighborhood, Israeli police separated the two groups and fired on the
Arab crowd. Elsewhere, when the security forces were not called in against the
demonstrators, Amnesty International reported, the crowds dispersed, and there
were no riots.
Rosenbluth said the Israeli government has a longstanding policy of using
live ammunition against Palestinian protesters, while using non-lethal controls
such as water cannons and tear gas against Jewish protesters. His organization
has made many appeals to the Israelis over the years to end that policy, he
In no other place would the United States tolerate such heavy-handed
treatment of unarmed civilians. But U.S. politicians, shamelessly pandering for
Jewish votes and undiscriminating in their support of Israel, fail to offer
criticism even when it's due. Israel's need for security is used to explain
away the worst kind of behavior.
Of course, Yasser Arafat should have spoken out against the violence long
before now, although how much control he has over his enraged cilivians isn't
clear. He wouldn't lose any dignity, however, by telling the Palestinains that
their future depends on keeping the peace. Arafat has prolonged the
Palestinians' troubles by rejecting the most generous peace offer he is likely
to get from the Israeli government, and from the first Israeli government
that's been serious about making concessions in return for peace. But if the
Israelis want to live peacefully with the Palestinians, then shooting them in
the streets isn't the way to accomplish it. The shame is that it didn't have to
come to this, and that the United States, the great moralizer when other
countries behave badly, has given Israel a pass.
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