by Tanya Reinhart
If you go in the morning to demonstrate against the US slaughter of the Afghan people, it does not make much sense to hope in the evening that the butcher will spare the Palestinians
For a whole week now, The Israeli army has been terrorizing cities and villages in the West Bank. As in the darkest days at the beginning of the present Intifada, desperate voices and reports pour through the internet, telling of massive shelling, including schools, hospitals, the university and a maternity house in Bethlehem, of curfew, houses being seized or destroyed, water tanks ruined in refugee camps. In Beit Reema, the site of Israel's latest show of horror, ambulances were not allowed in. Local residents witnessed that the wounded were left lying for 5 hours before they were allowed medical care (Ha'aretz, 10/25/01). Dr Majed Nassar of the Beit Sahour Medical Center reports on Wednesday evening (10/24) that "Today we stopped counting the dead and wounded, since the number rises hourly."
The snipers are back, aiming carefully to kill or maim for life. They are not targeting only those that Israel selected to define as "wanted". Of the 26 killed until October 23: 16 were civilians, including 4 women, a little girl, and two youths under 16 (Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, 10/24). In the town of Sanour south of Jenin City, 18 year-old Ghada was picking olives with family members, when Israeli snipers opened fire towards them. She was shot in the neck and died instantly. "She was a very kind and loving girl," her mother said. "She was very helpful at home and in the farm. Her sisters and brothers looked up to her. She had a whole life ahead of her and they murdered her in cold blood." (Palestine Media Center, 10/22).
The Israeli tanks will be forced, eventually, to pull out back to the outskirts of the cities, but this won't bring Ghada back to life. Nor would their departure arise great expectations for Hussam Jabar's family from Beit Jala. "The army had seized their house on Thursday, using a ping pong table to barricade the seven members of the family into the kitchen, and setting up machine-gun posts in the children's bedrooms." When the army started pulling out from Beit Jala, leaving his house "peppered with bullet holes from Palestinian gunmen, and strewn with the debris of some two dozen Israeli soldiers," he told Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian that "the Israeli army would soon be back. 'Do you think it makes a difference if they left? They are going back and forth. What makes you think that they have really left?' he said. 'We have an inner feeling that we are an expendable people.'" (The Guardian, UK, 10/24/01).
Indeed this has been the pattern for a long while now. The army enters the cities, sows destruction, and then "under pressure" pulls out a few hundred meters, till the next time. Each time the scale is bigger.
This time, Israel describes it as an act against terror, retaliating for the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. "We are doing precisely what the US is doing in Afghanistan" - explained Raanan Gissin, a spokesman of Sharon, to CNN on Wednesday, October 24. Sharon's Czechoslovakia analogy of October 4 (the world sacrifices Czechoslovakia -- Israel, to please Arafat -- Hitler) did not find much sympathy even in Israel. The current analogy Sharon has been developing is that Arafat equals Bin Laden, or to give this some more credibility, Arafat and the PA equal the Taliban who host Bin Laden. "Sharon, apparently deliberately echoing President George W. Bush's remarks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last month, told an emergency meeting of senior ministers that after the killing of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi, the situation is different today, and will not again be like it was yesterday." (Ha'aretz, 10/18).
The consequences of this analogy are obvious: "Israel's Security Cabinet is understood to have sent a blunt message to Mr Arafat that unless Israel's conditions for the extradition of the killers and the outlawing of all Palestinian terror organizations were adhered to within one week he 'would be treated in the way in which the US treats the Taliban.'" (The Times of London, 10/19). "We will wage all-out war on the terrorists, those who collaborate with them and those who send them," Sharon promised in his speech to the special Knesset session in memory of the assassinated minister. "As far as I am concerned, the era of Arafat is over."
Possibly, Sharon and his cabinet count on the Western world to swallow this analogy. If the standards are that the whole Afghan people can be bombarded and starved to death as a collective punishment for an act of terror, why shouldn't Israel follow the same standards?
Indeed, for almost a week, Israel has been allowed to carry its work of destruction undisturbed. Until Monday, October 23, the US and others expressed some dissatisfaction, but nothing else. This contrasts sharply with the endless international pressure on Arafat. "US Consul General in Jerusalem Ronald Schlicher met with Arafat, and demanded that he take swift action against those responsible for the assassination. European Union nations were also pressing the Palestinians to make arrests . . . U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Larsen met three times with Arafat, telling the Palestinian leader that he must order the arrests of the murderers" (Ha'aretz, 10/18), and that's how it went on the whole week.
Why didn't anybody exert the same pressure on Israel, right at the start, not to "retaliate?" In the prevailing frame of mind it is unthinkable to even ask why nobody puts pressure on Sharon to arrest the Israeli army terrorists who assassinated Palestinian political leaders. But at least he could be pressed to wait the week that Arafat was formally given in the cabinet's decision.
This may look mysterious to the many who just a long week ago attached hopes to the new "Peace Initiative" which the US has launched since the beginning of October. "The idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision," Bush declared solemnly on October 2. It was leaked that the US had already prepared a detailed plan for a peace settlement that was only frozen because of the September 11 events. We heard that a draft of a speech by Colin Powell was prepared for the event, which he will soon find the right occasion to deliver.
Only few in the Western media expressed the kind of skepticism that this was met with in the Arab media. As Michael Jansen noted in the Jordanian Times of October 5, "the timing of the Bush remark and the leak are important. They came on the eve of visits by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Washington is eager to convince these governments to permit the use of their territory for the coming offensive against Afghanistan... Once again, Arab governments are supposed to sign on to a US program of action without any concrete quid pro quo . . . Thus, a vague Bush statement and a leak by an anonymous official of the existence of a plan which is not revealed are supposed to convince the Arabs that the administration has good intentions."
The "peace initiatives" intensified around the gathering of the emergency meeting (October 9) of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which includes 56 countries whose silence or cooperation were important, at the moment, to the US. At this stage, more details were flared up in the air to make it all look concrete, and Bush's spokesman, Tony Blair, has entered the picture. Blair, who returned to London from a two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Egypt, was quite open in explaining the urgency: "One thing becoming increasingly clear to me is the need to upgrade our media and public opinion operations in the Arab and Muslim world". (The Guardian, 10/12). This PR phase culminated in a joint press-conference of Blair and Arafat on October 15.
It didn't require much creativity to generate this show. The script was ready from the days of the Gulf war. To reward the Arab world for its cooperation, the US organized the Madrid conference which marked the era of an eternal "peace process," thus allowing Israel to continue the occupation undisturbed. This round, however, the US feels much stronger, as the sole ruler of the world, and it is not obvious at all that they intend to go on with even that much.
Aluf Ben reports in Ha'aretz (10/18) that, "according to a US report," Colin Powell is leaning towards a decision to cancel his plans to deliver a speech on United States policy in the Middle East. "According to the report, policy makers in the American administration feel that there is no longer a need for a Powell speech because President George Bush has already presented his vision for the Middle East in statements over the past few weeks. With the cancellation of Powell's speech, most of the steps planned by the administration for increased involvement in the Middle East will have been removed from the agenda. . . American diplomats sent a message to Sharon this week saying that the administration has no plans to launch a Middle East diplomatic initiative in the near future, and that any steps will be coordinated with Israel in advance." (Though this appeared in Ha'aretz's web site on the day of Zeevi's assassination, it is obvious that the US report was prepared earlier.)
Whether they do produce another fake peace show or not, the US has backed Israel in all of its atrocities, always. None of these would be possible without US military aid and political backing. Had the US wanted to stop Israel now, this could be easily done at any moment -- Just freeze immediately all military aid, for starts. Instead, on Wednesday October 24, the day the headlines announced that Bush and Powell's patience with Israel is expiring, the US senate approved again $2.76 billion in assistance for Israel, more than any other country in the world. Out of this sum, $2.04 billion is special military aid (Ha'aretz web-site, 10/25). The US may slow Sharon down when he is becoming inconvenient, but they will not save the Palestinians and will not end the occupation. No appeal to Powell can change this.
It is possible to understand the hopes that many good souls attached to the new US peace promises. Despair can lead people to cling to any straw. Still, if you go in the morning to demonstrate against the US slaughter of the Afghan people, it does not make much sense to hope in the evening that the butcher will spare the Palestinians.
Hope can be found only in struggle. The times have indeed changed since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada. There is enormous opposition to the US acts throughout the world, including the Western world. And despite the constant bias of the Western media towards Israel, the opposition to Israel is growing as well.
There is lots of room for struggle. Make "Stop Israel!" a part of any "Stop the war" demonstration or leaflet. Apply all pressure you can on your local media to send correspondents to Israel and bring real coverage. Some European papers already do that, but the media in the US is far behind. The presence of the press is not just a means to find out the truth, it can also help restrain the brutality of the Israeli army.
Israel still views itself as a democracy, so resistance is still possible. There is a small, but courageous, opposition – including people who stand daily in road blocks to monitor the brutality of soldiers, smuggle aid to the villages under siege, or even stay in the attacked areas to serve as human shields. There are many ways to help their struggle - from donations to actual presence and participation. Contacts can be found through Indymedia, Israel.
The most important is, of course, to form contacts and aid the Palestinian organizations. An exciting development in the last few months has been the international solidarity movement. Individuals from all over the world come to stay at the Palestinian areas, serve as human shields and join political struggle. It is still possible to do this, though it is getting more difficult and dangerous.
Finally, there is one simple thing that anybody can do: Boycott Israel -- join, for starts, the consumers boycott which has been going on for a while in various places in Europe. It is easy to do -- just don't buy "made in Israel" products. But it is also a useful means of political activity and education. In the days of the South Africa boycott, people used to sneak in to supermarkets and paste "South Africa" stickers on the relevant products. Leafletting outside supermarkets, explaining why we boycott Israel is a good way to get the information through.
Israel is not the US. It is a small country with hardly any economy, and with a self-image completely detached from reality. It can be stopped.
Tanya Reinhart is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and the University of Utrecht