Disturbing parallels and unbearable dissonances

Independence day, Nakba day: While hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are currently at risk for infectious diseases, still lack running water, electricity, or a working sewage system, and while the IDF is still denying relief workers access to some areas (mainly around Jenin), Israel is celebrating its Independence Day. But not only Independence Day is celebrated: It was preceded by Memorial Day, in memory of Israelis who have fallen in battle from 1948 until today. And it is also Nakba [“disaster”] Day, instituted by the Palestinians to remind us that our independence is their catastrophe.

The dissonance in one’s mind is more poignant than ever before. The encounter between the heroic myths one grew up on and the grim reality is becoming unbearable. Just as unbearable are politicians’ attempts to convince the public that at present we are so mighty, that we can even change the direction of time’s arrow, and bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the way it was in the 1970s: The Israeli invasion is expected to crush not only the Palestinian economy (as it already has), but also the Palestinians’ organizational and fighting abilities, and most importantly, their national sentiments. Given that these expectations are unrealistic, violence seems the only way to achieve continued Israeli control of the occupied territories.

And violent it is: In the BBC yesterday, angry UNRWA official Peter Hansen told an interviewer of Israel’s reluctance to let relief workers pour chemicals into the broken sewers of the Jenin refugee camp (a venue which Secretary Powell did not even bother to visit). Having written about Jewish Holocaust survivors in Germany after World War II, I could not help but draw a parallel between the current circumstances and those in which UNRWA’s predecessor, UNRRA, was founded: It was created in order to help WW2 Displaced Persons, many of whom were Jews. Some of these may even be grandparents of the soldiers who are now at the Jenin camp, preventing entry to the relief workers.

Death of Oslo: The Oslo ‘process’ is dead, killed by Barak, Sharon, and Peres. Is there an alternative? Israeli leaders say they want peace talks, but refuse to acknowledge that the invasion is finishing off the last moderate leadership among the Palestinians.

Indeed, in a highly publicized move, Israel arrested Marwan Barghouti, an important leader of the younger generation. A field activist, Barghouti has been a moderate leader who for several years participated in talks and with the Israelis. Head of the PLO’s armed militia, Tanzim (organization), he has been in favor of an armed struggle against Israel since the beginning of this current uprising. Here is what he wrote in a Washington Post article last January: “And while I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbor, I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country, and to fight for my freedom.”

Barghouti’s arrest underscored Israel’s intention to eliminate any moderate Palestinian leadership, so that its government can continue with the age-old slogan “we have no one to talk to.” In a radio interview yesterday, Minister of Interior Security Uzi Landau was asked who he hoped our future negotiating partners would be. He could only name those whom he excluded — Arafat and any PLO and Tanzim (organization) leaders. He was unable to make a positive recommendation. This unwillingness to compromise, and the apparent failure of the Powell mission, leave neither a ‘political horizon’, nor anything to hope for but continued violence.

The political analysis behind Israel’s reluctance is the Ben-Gurion doctrine. Prevailing since the 1950s, it is reiterated eloquently by Gen. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael in yesterday’s Ha’aretz: Israel’s resources, he notes, are but a tiny fraction of the Arabs’; hence, we can never deal a complete, final defeat. On the other hand, the Arabs will never accept Israel as a national entity in the Middle East. Therefore, we are doomed to continued fighting, where we must win every round of war by a large margin, to maintain our ‘deterrence’. This means that the army must be forever large — currently ten times as big (relative to population size) as most modern armies of the West. The situation now, warns the general (considered a leading military intellectual by many), is serious because Israel’s deterrence has eroded due to the IDF’s ‘rushed’ exit from Lebanon, the ‘refusenik phenomenon,’ and the willingness to make ‘far reaching concessions’ to the Palestinians.

Deterrence, he argues, must be regained by a strong and uncompromising stance, and by complete reluctance to give up ‘assets.’ Israel’s current actions are entirely in line with this doctrine, leaving little to hope for.

Israel and the Jews: A safe haven?

Israel now hampers the security of Jews worldwide. The incidence of assaults on Jewish individuals and institutions is on the rise: Two Jewish women were reportedly attacked in Berlin yesterday; the Israeli ambassador to France, Ellie Barnavi (who quite callously said last week that the burning of synagogues is an ‘internal French affair’), received a death threat yesterday. It came in a letter, and the envelope also contained bullets. Even Chayim Revivo, Israel’s best soccer player ever, a hero to many thousands of Istanbul’s well-known Fenerbahce team, has been threatened in Turkey. This is very dangerous: As world Jewry is increasingly identifying itself with Israel, the world can no longer separate the two entities; resentment at Israel’s violence, sometimes coupled with anti-Jewish sentiment, results in assaults on the weakest, most vulnerable individuals among the Jews. Israel will not come to the rescue of these Jews. Its officials, rather, will gleefully note the rise of anti-Semitism, and express hope that it will bring frightened Jews as immigrants to Israel.