Last June, in a newspaper column titled “Israel’s Catastrophe,” I wrote, “The violence that has dominated the Middle East since [Arial] Sharon took office should be of no surprise. The jackboot is what Sharon promised and he has been true to his word.” I went on to argue that Sharon’s attempt to destroy the Palestinian national movement would inspire greater Palestinian resistance, undercut Israel’s support in the international community, and subvert the moral basis of its own existence.
What I wrote was not particularly startling or original. It reflected the very realistic view held by Israelis, Americans, Europeans and even some Arabs, who believe that peace in the Middle East can be achieved by a trade-off of land for peace. Israel would give up all of its settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, as well as its military occupation, and give the Palestinians sovereignty over East Jerusalem. On that basis all other issues, including the right of Palestinians to return to the homes they were driven from during Israel’s 1948 war for independence, could be negotiated.
Sharon and his apologists have consistently argued that Israel has offered such a deal and that the Palestinians rejected it. They also assert that the Palestinian goal is to destroy Israel. But, at Oslo, the Palestinians decisively accepted a two-state solution even though, in retrospect, it was a lousy deal for the Palestinians. The Palestinians got limited self-government in isolated areas of the West Bank and in Gaza. But more Israeli settlements were built and the Israeli military occupied strategic areas.
At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a proposal that many Jews, me included, believed would resolve the problem. In retrospect, it too was flawed. Most, but not all, of the settlements would be removed, and the Israeli military would still occupy important locations. Yasir Arafat rejected Barak’s offer, but negotiations continued in the Egyptian resort of Taba. Soon thereafter, Sharon, accompanied by armed Israelis, marched into the Muslim Holy Site of Haram Al-Sharif. The rest is catastrophe.
Sharon and his apologists think Israel is taking justifiable military action and has won a smashing victory. The physical infrastructure of a future Palestinian state has been destroyed and, I’m sure, some potential terrorists have been killed or captured. But Sharon has also fueled Palestinian rage and the true outcome will be more Palestinian acts of violent resistance, including suicide bombings. Sharon has further earned the dubious distinction of giving the Palestinians proprietorship of victimhood, a franchise the Israelis have worked hard to maintain for themselves.
Nation-building on the basis of victimhood is not a recipe for success, as Jews should know. Instead of martyrs, the Palestinians need a vision of opportunity and democracy, positive organizing goals that go beyond the celebration of revenge killings. Support for the Palestinian cause should not automatically translate into uncritical support for the Palestinian movement. Israel’s catastrophe is Palestine’s also. The leadership of both sides has reaped what they have sown.
Granted that the Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians is not close to being the equivalent of bin Ladin’s terrorist assault on the modernist and secular symbols and values of the Western world. Those in Israel and America who assert even a moral link between Arafat and bin Ladin merely expose the intellectual vacuity of their position. The Palestinians have a limited and a legitimate goal: resisting an oppressor and fighting for a country. But this too has to be said and condemned: the Palestinians weapon of choice in their fight for national liberation has always been war against civilians. From the early plane hijackings of the 1960s, to the murder of the Israeli Olympians at Munich, to the suicide bombings of the more recent era, the Palestinians have consistently targeted people at random, not caring who they killed, innocent men and women, children and, as happened in a recent suicide bombing in Haifa, Israeli-Arabs going about their daily business. This strategy has been disastrous for the Palestinians; it has weakened those Israelis most willing to work with them for a just two-state solution.
Gandhi was not a westerner. He used nonviolence successfully in an anti-colonial struggle. Except for a few short general strikes, the Palestinians have never used the weapons of nonviolence; e.g., demonstrations, sit-ins, serious civil disobedience. (Rock throwing is neither nonviolent nor effective). A test of good leadership is its willingness to understand the psyche of the enemy. Just as Israeli leaders have rarely cared to understand the motives and beliefs that drive Palestinians, the Palestinians have never cared to tailor their strategy to the strengths and vulnerabilities of the Israelis. Imprudently, the Palestinians have provoked the historic Jewish fear of national security and ignored the traditional Jewish concern (however abstract and unrealized) for tolerance and social justice.
Other movements of national liberation have used armed struggle. They’ve targeted police stations, military outposts, specific symbols of their concrete oppression. Unlike the Palestinians, their principal targets were not random civilians. Successful movements have kept their eye on the prize. Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress stuck to their goal of a biracial democratic state despite atrocities mounted against them even during the process of negotiation. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership often seem more focused on exacting revenge than in pursuing statehood.
Years ago, when the situation looked hopeful, I had a dream of Israelis and Palestinians dancing gracefully together cheek to cheek. A chorus of Jews and Arabs were holding hands and singing. The song was by Irving Berlin, but the lyrics were changed for the occasion.
Hebron, I’m in Hebron. And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. And I seem to find the happiness I seek. When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.
Today instead of dreams, I have nightmares. Armed Israelis and Palestinians facing off against one another. And the raucous, mocking, rocking, satirical Fugs, singing Kill! Kill! Kill for Peace! have them both on target.
Marty Jezer's books include biographies on Abbie Hoffman and Rachel Carson
and a history, The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960. He writes from Brattleboro,
Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2002 by Marty Jezer