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Israeli Bulldozers Won't Win Peace
Published on Tuesday, July 17, 2001 in the Boston Globe
Israeli Bulldozers Won't Win Peace
by James Carroll
 
THE EXPECTATION of peace in the Middle East was based on the hopes, on one side, that Palestinians had at last accepted the fact of Israel's existence and would cease demonizing Jews and, on the other, that Israelis had come to recognize the legitimate grievances of a dispossessed people, however the dispossession came about.

Palestinians were taken to be prepared to reframe their ambitions in the context of Israel's security needs, and Israel declared its readiness to withdraw from almost all of the land it had occupied in 1967.

When the peace negotiations broke down, finally, over the issue of the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to reclaim ancestral properties within Israel, the old anxiety that the existence of the Jewish state itself was at risk had to resurface.

This anxiety had come to seem paranoid during the years of the peace process, but now it seems normal again. And when the essential existence of Israel becomes the issue, with throngs of Arabs calling for the Jewish state's destruction, Israelis of all stripes, and the friends of Israel, have an absolute obligation to weigh in powerfully for Israel. The outcome of the 1948 war, as Israelis rightly insist, is not to be debated any more.

But if Israel is not going away, neither are the Palestinians. The challenge for both parties in this period of heightened antagonism is to make sure long-term self-interest dominates the short-term satisfaction of passionate expression.

Israel must protect itself from terrorist attacks, but not in ways that make terrorist attacks more likely. Palestinians must assert national aspiration, but not in ways that assume the annihilation of another nation.

The present moment belongs to the war parties, but majorities of both peoples have long since understood that some kind of peaceful accommodation with the other defines the only future worth having. Can Israelis of the peace party, as well as friends of Israel, including non-Jewish friends of Israel, presume to call for the things that make for peace at a time when the currents toward war are so strong? But when else should such voices be raised, if not then?

Many Palestinian young people have been killed by Israeli security forces, but young innocents are not deliberately targeted by Israel. Hamas, on the other hand, has adopted exactly the strategy of blowing up civilians, making any assertion of moral equivalence between the two sides false.

Compared to the fierce emotions that have been raised in Israel by the murderous campaign of the suicide-bombers, and compared to the levels of anti-Palestinian violence that the most extreme Israeli hawks are calling for, responses of the Israeli government have been restrained.

But it can look otherwise from the other side, and at this moment, above all, it is from the point of view of the other side that one must learn to look.

Last week Israeli bulldozers, escorted by soldiers, demolished 14 Palestinian houses in Arab East Jerusalem. The next day the same thing happened on an even larger scale in the Gaza Strip, in a part of a refugee camp, the government explained, from which shots had been fired at soldiers. But the demolition of Palestinian houses has long seemed a classic instance of a short term strategy that in the long term is bound to backfire.

And in these cases last week it did. Israel's failure to draw firm distinctions between the Palestinian fighters and the broad population only makes it harder for the population to see Israel as anything but an enemy. And it is wrong to punish a group of people for the acts of those who hide among them.

The houses destroyed in Jerusalem were being built without permits, the government explained, but such permits are not available, and Arab expansion in that particular neighborhood threatens no Israeli interest.

In both Jerusalem and Gaza, parents were trying to rescue their families from the squalor of refugee camps, a stabilizing impulse Israel should support. However justified, the demolitions could only seem vindictive.

During the years of the peace process it became clear that most Palestinian parents want for their children exactly what Israeli parents want, and that commonality must be taken back from the propagandists. (As, for example, by The Parents' Circle, a group of bereaved parents from both sides working together for healing.) Such commonality is the only base on which to build a future. Israel should avoid actions that inevitably drive such parents - and their children - into the arms of the haters and the killers.

In Gaza, a father of five told an AP reporter, ''I spent all my savings to build this house, and now I am homeless.'' And in Jerusalem a father of seven stood next to the wreckage of his house. ''I'm exploding,'' he told a New York Times reporter. ''I'm going to join Hamas and blow myself up.'' And then he added, ''Write that down.''

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company

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