Bombs and Wreaths

Once again Israelis are shocked and horrified that innocent men, women and children have been blown up by suicide bombers in the heart of Jerusalem and in the mixed Palestinian-Jewish city of Haifa. No decent person can refrain from condemning such attacks in the strongest terms. Such deeds harm not only their innocent victims — in this case also likely to include Palestinian citizens of Israel — but debase the just cause of Palestine which is one that has no need to stoop to the levels of cruelty and dehumanization that Israel has routinely used against us.

Yet I find myself starting to feel cynical and jaded even in the face of such horror and misery. As a Palestinian I find that the media asks and challenges me about views on such horrific bombings. I dutifully repeat my condemnation, and state that I oppose the targeting and killing of all innocent civilians regardless of whether they are Israelis or Palestinians.

I wonder why I am so rarely asked by the same media how I feel when Palestinians are killed. No one asked how I felt last week when five Palestinian schoolboys were killed by a bomb planted by the Israeli occupation forces in their refugee camp in Gaza. I wonder why it is not demanded of Israelis and pro-Israeli Jews who appear on TV to condemn the violence that is committed in their name against Palestinians the way I am asked to condemn violence by Palestinians against Israelis.

I watch in amazement the latest US envoy General Anthony Zinni laying a wreath in Jerusalem at the site of the bombings there in memory and mourning for yet more innocent dead. But where was the American wreath for the five boys killed in Gaza? Why do twenty-six dead Israelis make a crisis that mobilizes the whole world and saturates the media, while the targeting and killing of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians, one third of them children, and the suffocation by siege of three million more is simply background noise unworthy of attention?

In response to the attacks, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that “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 last week took the life of a senior Hamas leader, put an end to a tacit ceasefire with Hamas, and directly triggered the latest round of suicide bombings. Perhaps Rumsfeld is giving a green light for even greater atrocities that have yet to unfold. After a brief meeting with President Bush, Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon is flying back from Washington to direct the vengeance operations in person. What will it be this time? More F-16 attacks? More death squad killings? More shelling of refugee camps? More houses destroyed? More kidnappings? More torture? An even tighter blockade of the occupied territories? These are the regular items on the Israeli menu.

None of these are likely to satisfy the Israeli government’s appetite, after all, all have been tried and continue to be tried relentlessly and without mercy. Perhaps this time Sharon will order the special to fulfill his dream and either kill Yasir Arafat or at least send him back into exile. After all, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell put it this morning, this is the “moment of truth” for Arafat. (When, Mr. Powell, does Israel’s moment of truth arrive?)

My response to all of this is a big shrug. So they send 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 their occupation and their attempt to crush all opposition to it 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 hence bring it to its conclusion more rapidly.

Certainly no serious person believes that Arafat and his lieutenants, nominally controlling a few divided scraps of land in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, bombed daily by the Israeli army, 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. Rumsfeld revealed that even he doubts that Arafat can succeed when he told NBCs “Meet the Press” that Arafat “is not a particularly strong leader, and I don’t know that he has good control over the Palestinian situation.” But Zionist orthodoxy in the United States, enforced by Israel’s intransigent and powerful lobby, demands that all the ugly symptoms of 53 years of relentless and unspeakably brutal dispossession and repression of millions of people by Israel, and decades of US collusion and support for these policies, be blamed on one man. All too aware of its assigned role, the Palestinian Authority 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 PA are already in full use while none of the means that could actually improve the lives of Palestinians are granted to it by the Israeli occupier.

This morning the BBC World Service asked Mr. Rolf Mayer, a former minister in the last Apartheid government of South Africa whether from his experience he thought that the onus was on the Israeli government or the Palestinians to act to end this conflict. Mayer said that it was not until the Apartheid government— the side with the power — gave up the dream of perpetuating white rule that South Africa could move forward, and that therefore it was up to Israel — the side with the power — to decide to end its occupation. Mayer said that negotiations take place in the context of conflict and therefore the demand that all violence be stopped as a precondition for negotiations was one which would have doomed the South African peace talks to failure.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Apartheid South Africa and Israel were close military and political allies. So it is saying something when even Israel’s former Apartheid friends are telling it to see reality in a different way. And it is remarkable to think that when everyone in the world sees things clearly, only the United States government and media pretend they do not.

So last week the burden of death fell on Palestinians. This week on Israelis. The only surprise will be if in the coming week dozens more innocent people are not killed.

Mr. Zinni said he will stay in the region until he succeeds in getting a ceasefire. But if US policy is going to continue to ignore the root causes of the conflict, then I advise Mr. Zinni to do two things: start looking for a comfortable house and find a reliable supplier of wreaths.

Ali Abunimah is vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network and a well-known media analyst, Abunimah regularly writes public letters to the media, coordinates campaigns, and appears on a variety of national and international news programs as a commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada. Ali Abunimah contributed to “The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid” (Verso Books, 2001).