The fighting between Israel and the Palestinians has escalated in the last few months – observers are saying that it hasn’t been this intense for the last 2 decades. The worrisome trend that we see both sides taking is their attitude to be increasingly daring and brave in their thrusts and counter-thrusts. Last week we saw a suicide bomber, the latest in a long line of such bombers, specifically target civilians by blowing himself up near a public bus stop. We have also seen the virtual demise of the Oslo Accords when the Israeli army temporarily occupied sections of the Gaza Strip in retaliation to the mortar attacks into the neighboring Jewish community. Things are beginning to spiral out of control. The question that begs to be asked is this: who’s winning this terrible war?
Winners and losers
Wars rarely have any winners; most end up losing one way or the other, it’s just the degree that differs. For a conflict that has lasted the good part of 50 years, the Israelis and Palestinians are understandably weary and fatigued. Levels of trust, a vital ingredient to the success of any lasting peace agreement, have been fluctuating throughout this period making it extremely difficult to forge any lasting agreement. When it seemed that the end of the tunnel could be seen in 1992 with the Oslo Peace Accords, everyone was optimistic. The Accords possibly marked the best chance in 50 years for lasting peace to take hold. Then Yitzhak Rabin, the architect of the Accords, was cruelly assassinated and the Israel government has been struggling to find a suitable replacement who has the strength of will and authority to push the peace process through its final stages. Just like a chugging train approaching the summit of a steep hill, the peace process was at its most difficult point at the exact moment Rabin died. No one was able to fill the void and the train lost its upward momentum, stalling the peace process and eventually putting it into reverse. And that is where we are today: the train of peace in a reverse freefall with hardly any indication of slowing down.
In terms of actual violence traded, everyone is on an equal footing. Israeli security forces can do very little to stop the random attacks carried out by various militant groups such as Hamas, or the Hizbullah. All they can do is carry out retaliatory strikes against their bases of operations; this is itself is a fruitless task as the mobility of each group, a trait well practiced by any guerilla organization, allows quick rebuilding. So the Israelis are fighting ghosts. On the other hand, the militant groups can do very little in actual damage to the Israeli forces that hunt them down. They realized this a long time ago and this led them to turn to terror attacks against the general Israeli populace. Sadly, from the evidence before us, this long-term campaign of terror is, in some perverse and wicked manner, working.
God protect us from ourselves
The nation of Israel exists as a bastion of protection for Jews – their long history tells them that this land to call their own is their God-given right. This land is supposed to be free from corruption, pain or suffering where the people of Abraham may be able to live their existence on this earth in peace, free from persecution. From this ideal, compare it to what Israel is now, and it becomes obvious that this is not the Promised Land. Virtually everyday in some part of Israel, violence is in evidence. Strips of land that Israel handed over in accordance to the recent Camp David meetings have become base of operations for militant groups to launch their attacks. Increasingly, women and children are becoming unwitting targets; a mortar bomb launched into the communal farming area of Nir Oz is indiscriminate in who it strikes.
The Israeli government has become more and more repressive in recent months under the guidance of Ariel Sharon. Increasingly aggressive, it is now a common policy to assassinate alleged militant leaders through the use of car bombs or rigged hand phones. Essentially, the government has come to practice criminal execution without trial a policy that would not be accepted in any democratic country. Detention without trial is also common as is the use of live weapons to quell unarmed resistance. Images of the young Mohammed, shot as he cowered under his father’s arms still haunt the Israelis. For the Israelis, it is a difficult situation; they are defending their beliefs and no neutral observer would begrudge them that right.
Becoming the enemy
The problem is, by doing what they’re doing, they’re losing the war because they’re becoming the very thing that Israel was supposed to protect them from: oppressors. Through excessive violence, through attacks on unarmed students, through ritual assassination, through detention without trial – it is difficult to find a better word to describe their overall action. And this is how terrorism is winning: it is creating a generation of Israeli hawks, a generation of hatred. Even if the conflict is somehow settled in the future, the perceptions of these hawks will ensure that the Middle East society will always be a troubled one. A society where the Palestinians and Israelis hate each other is not a society worth fighting for. The ghosts of the fallen will haunt a divided land, marked by the blood of thousands.
Appearing on www.renungan.com 25 April 2001