Empty statements won’t stop the violence

During the month of December alone over 50 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupation forces. During the same period, seven Israeli soldiers and settlers were also killed. Many of the killed Palestinians were innocent civilians, including, as The Economist of 4 January reports, two children shot by the Israeli army within hours of each other on 29 December; a boy aged 8, during stone-throwing clashes in Tulkarem; a girl aged 9, while standing outside her shelter in Khan Younis refugee camp; and the beating to death by the Israeli border police of an 18-year-old in Hebron. Yet, such atrocities did not top the news as attacks on Israelis, particularly suicide attacks, almost always do.

On searching the media, it is possible to find sporadic expressions of mercy for the shed Palestinian blood and for the ongoing misery among the Palestinians, subjected to missile and aerial attacks. And one would also find many sanctimonious calls for ending the violence and opting for peaceful resolution of conflict instead, as if this has ever been a viable option. Mostly, the most vicious Israeli attacks against defenceless Palestinians are referred to as “heavy-handed”, unhelpful to the “peace efforts” or just excessive. But in the media, one can rarely detect the maximum-strength-type condemnations which normally and automatically follow any Palestinian attack on Israelis.

The point here is not merely the uneven, unjust, timid and hypocritical attitude of world statesmen and leaders, and the common bias of the media towards the raging conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Nor is it the open partiality to the Israeli side, at the expense of everything right and just. It is rather the sadder reality that most comments, whether condemnations or just mild bleats for pacification and restraint, on the daily attacks and daily reprisals have become totally empty, depressingly meaningless and of no effect on the deteriorating situation and the escalating violence. Such routine condemnations have simply become the easier alternative to any other form of serious and determined action for helping both sides to exit from this destructive conflict. It is also possible that the accumulated loss of faith amongst the Israeli and Palestinian victims has left them with no other option but to succumb to the deadly game of war and the desperate cycle of violence.

Last week, two simultaneous suicide attacks hit the heart of Tel Aviv, leaving twenty-three, mostly Israelis, dead and over eighty injured. This, of course, is news. Very bad news, but top headline news. And as expected, the attacks were widely and strongly condemned. They were condemned by the Palestinian Authority in very strong terms, not only because the authority normally rejects such attacks as standard procedure and as a matter of principle, particularly when targeting Israeli civilians, but because such attacks, as it is obviously known and as the Palestinian information minister has recently affirmed, play into the hands of Israeli extremists and help the Sharon election campaign by pushing more Israelis to the right.

The Tel Aviv attacks were also condemned in the strongest possible terms by President George W. Bush, who also pledged that the peace process would continue. It is most certain that there will be more condemnations to come, along with more calls for abandoning violence and returning to the negotiating table. Have we not heard that many times before?

Indeed we have, as we have fully recorded every strong condemnation that followed every previous suicide attack. Yet suicide attacks continue.

We are equally aware of the tireless efforts of the Palestinian Authority to rein in the Palestinian radicals and to convince them to abandon attacks on Israelis, because such attacks have caused enormous harm to the Palestinian cause abroad and have deprived the Palestinians of much of the world sympathy they were gradually gaining. Such efforts included extended talks in Cairo between representatives of the PA with other Palestinian factions, aimed at agreeing to suspend suicide attacks on civilians. They also included repeated calls from prominent Palestinian leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas who has been vigorously campaigning against the arming of the Intifada and calling for peaceful and passive resistance of the occupation. Unfortunately, it seems that none of these Palestinian efforts have succeeded and violence, including suicide attacks, continues.

Neither has Israel’s resort to the use of excessive force and maximum, unprecedented, brutality in trying to crush the Palestinian quest for freedom and dignified existence succeeded. Israel has tried every possible means to deal with an impossible situation. One wonders how many more options Israel is left with, and how much further its cruelty can go. If killing, starving, detaining, demolishing houses, imposing unlimited curfews, banning travel, bombing residential areas, assassinating, confiscating property, destroying farms and crops, closing schools, banning services, humiliating, destroying infrastructure, deporting, applying unjust collective punishment and violating all the legal international and human laws and rights did not succeed in ending the violence and providing the Israelis with the security their leaders promised them, what is left for Israel to do?

If it is true that the assumed drop-off in suicide attacks since the last one on 21 November in Jerusalem was simply due to the Israeli efforts to stop them, the 5 January attack proves, to the contrary, that the suicide attacks are in fact on the rise and are inversely proportional to the severe countermeasures used by the Israelis. The New York Times on 6 January, quoted Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, spokesman for the Israeli army, as supporting this deduction by saying that the Israeli forces had disrupted more than 150 attempted attacks on Israel over the past month.

The Israeli army is currently engaged in devising novel retaliatory measures to avenge the twin suicide attacks in Tel Aviv, after receiving orders from the government to intensify its actions against the Palestinians. Already there were rocket attacks on Gaza and it is almost certain that there will be many harsher measures to follow. Equally certain is the reality that the chances of success of any of the new measures will not be any better than the previous ones.

We may all condemn this time, as we have been doing in the past, the recent attack in Tel Aviv, and we may reiterate our rejection of any attacks on Israeli civilians. We may again reconfirm the damage such attacks have been causing the Palestinian image and legitimate struggle for freedom. We may draw a dreary picture of the agony and the suffering the Palestinians may have to endure as a result of the Israeli reprisals, which are often seen in many parts of the world as acts of self-defence. We may warn against the negative effect such actions may have on the Israelis and against how much radicalisation of the Israeli public they may cause. We may, in fact, be able to do all that, as well as easily establish an endless list of the irreparable damage such actions can cause. But while this may serve a moral need, it will not serve the intended purpose of ending violence.

The only way to reduce and eventually to end violence is to stop treating it as if it is a sole Palestinian responsibility and only a Palestinian trait, and that the Israeli attacks on the Palestinians are “legitimate acts of self-defence”. This should be the first step towards recognising that the real aggression is the occupation and that as long as it remains, the legitimate right of the Palestinians to fight it by proper methods should, to say the least, be understood.

The writer is former ambassador and permanent representative of Jordan to the UN.