CHICAGO -- Once again the world has had to confront the horror of innocent men, women and children killed by suicide bombers in the heart of Jerusalem and in Haifa. No decent person can refrain from condemning such attacks in the strongest terms. Such deeds harm not only their innocent victims, which in this case probably included Palestinian citizens of Israel, but also the just cause of Palestine.
As a Palestinian I am often challenged by the press on my views about such horrific bombings. I emphatically repeat my condemnation and state that I oppose the targeting and killing of innocent civilians regardless of whether they are Israelis or Palestinians.
Yet I wonder why no one asked how I felt when five Palestinian schoolboys were killed by a bomb planted by the Israeli occupation forces in a refugee camp in Gaza less than two weeks ago — or why Israelis and pro-Israel spokesmen, who are called for comment by the same radio and television stations that call me, are rarely asked to condemn the violence that is committed in their name.
I watched in sadness the latest American envoy to the Middle East, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, laying a wreath in Jerusalem at the site of the bombings. But where was the American wreath for the five boys killed in Gaza? Why are the targeting and killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including more than 150 children, and the suffocation by siege of three million Palestinians so often considered mere background noise to Israel's drama?
In response to the suicide attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "The only way to defend against terrorists is to go after the terrorists." This can only be understood as an endorsement of Israel's policy of extrajudicial executions, which on Nov. 23 took the life of a senior Hamas leader and set off the latest round of suicide bombings. The retaliation by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel — bombing Gaza and the West Bank — is the beginning of a new stage of war. What other punishments will be imposed on the Palestinians? More shelling of refugee camps? More houses destroyed? More kidnappings? More torture? An even tighter blockade?
None of these strategies are likely to end the violence; after all, all have been used relentlessly and without mercy. Perhaps this time Mr. Sharon will order the special forces to either kill Yasir Arafat or send him back into exile.
My response to all of this is a big shrug. So they send Yasir Arafat back to Tunis or assassinate him — the occupation will still be there. The Israelis will be the losers because they will no longer have the decrepit old man, their bin Laden, to blame for all their problems. They will come face to face with the fact that it is the occupation that is the fuel of the conflict. Palestinians will be neither better off nor worse off. Some even think that a return to direct military occupation without the intermediary of the Palestinian Authority can only sharpen the confrontation and bring about a conclusion — however miserable — more rapidly.
Certainly no serious person believes that Mr. Arafat and his lieutenants, nominally controlling a few divided scraps of land in the West Bank and Gaza, can through coercion, arrests and torture do what Israel with all its might has failed to do: bring about an unconditional end to all resistance against the occupation or attacks on Israeli civilians.
Mr. Rumsfeld revealed that even he doubts that Mr. Arafat can succeed when he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Mr. Arafat "is not a particularly strong leader" and added, "I don't know that he has good control over the Palestinian situation." But the view of the Bush administration, reinforced by Israel's intransigent lobby, blames one man for all the ugly symptoms of 53 years of repression of millions of people in Palestine — policies supported for decades by the United States. All too aware of his assigned role, Mr. Arafat has declared a state of emergency. This amounts to little in practice since all the means of repression and arbitrary rule at the disposal of the Palestinian Authority are already in full use while none of the means that could actually improve the lives of Palestinians are granted to it by Israel.
The burden of death has fallen on Palestinians as it has fallen on Israelis. The only surprise will come if dozens more innocent people are not killed in the coming weeks.
Mr. Zinni said he will stay in the region until he succeeds in getting a cease-fire. But if American policy avoids dealing directly with the root causes of the conflict, he should plan to be in the Mideast war zone a long time.
Ali Abunimah is vice president of the Arab American Action Network.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company