Once more, the deceptive “calm” was shattered on Oct. 4 by the horrifying suicide attack in Haifa, that took the lives of 19 restaurant diners, among them men, women and children, both Jews and Palestinian Israelis. “Calm”, as used by the news media in this context, does not mean that Israelis and Palestinians stopped attacking each other, but applies to Palestinian actions alone. Ongoing Israeli violence, no matter who its target, is never considered to disturb such a “calm”.
The Haifa attacker was a young woman training to become a lawyer. Why would a person who ought to have had everything to live for choose, instead, to end her life in such a cruel and devastating manner? As we learned about her victims, we also learned that she too was a victim — just a few months ago, her brother and her cousin were killed in Jenin by the Israeli occupation forces. In her mind, she may have been retaliating for the pain she saw inflicted on her family and country.
According to rules written in the blood of so many innocent people, it was Israel’s turn to exact revenge for the revenge. Within hours, Israel bombed Gaza and demolished the family house of the suicide bomber, creating new victims whose pain and suffering may, in turn, harden into a desire for yet more revenge. And so on.
To this, Israel added the novel step of bombing what it claimed was a Palestinian “terrorist” camp close to the Syrian capital, Damascus, a measure hitherto absent from Israel’s standard menu of measures after a suicide attack. But let us look at the standard list.
The moment you hear the first news of a Palestinian suicide attack, be prepared for the following in quick succession:
1) A strong condemnation of the attack from the Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat, describing the attack as harmful to Palestinian national interests. This has already been done.
2) A chorus of additional condemnation from other PNA officials, reiterating their rejection of attacks on civilians, on both sides, and calling on the international community to intervene to stop the violence and to put the “peace process back on track”. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia took care of this one.
3) An Israeli condemnation of the PNA, holding it generally, and Arafat personally, responsible for the attack, and renewing the demand that the PNA “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure”. Various Israeli ministers will also renew calls for Arafat to be expelled (and lately killed). Several Israeli officials quickly came forward to discharge these ritual duties.
4) Israel launches air raids on Palestinian refugee camps, tightens its siege on the Palestinian population and carries out arrests, assassinations and incursions. All this happened immediately after the suicide bombing.
5) Israel demolishes the house of the family of the accused bomber as an act of collective punishment. Also done.
6) A strong condemnation issues from the White House, accompanied by demands that the PNA “do more” to “crack down on terror”. President George Bush dispatched this quickly. Also expected are strong statements of condemnation from the UN and the EU (partners in the Quartet). At the time of writing, this has not yet occurred, most likely because the attack happened at the weekend, and what’s the hurry anyway? After all, these statements are nothing more than a courtesy with no practical effect, which has been extended in every previous occasion, and will certainly be required many more times in the future.
This, roughly, is the script that has been followed countless times, with no effect whatsoever on the escalating violence. Neither ritual condemnations nor Israeli repression, nor even Israel’s apartheid wall, have had one iota of success at deterring or thwarting those determined to avenge their suffering at the hands of the occupier by taking innocent Israeli lives.
By its shameful and cynical inaction, the international community is sending a double message. To Israel, it says that there is no level of escalating repression that will not be accepted, albeit with occasional token but utterly inconsequential condemnation. To extremist Palestinian factions, the message is that only by ever greater escalation and making things worse is there any hope of creating a situation so bad that the world will eventually be forced to intervene.
Israel’s deviation from this script — the attack on Syria — should be seen as a desperate and dangerous attempt to escalate the situation further. Israel certainly knows that whatever it bombs in Syria, the attack will have no practical effect on the ability of Palestinian factions to strike at Israeli civilians. The attack may also have been an attempt by Ariel Sharon to influence the debate, within the US administration and Congress, on whether to formally add Syria to the “axis of evil” and begin to move aggressively against it.
Sharon has run out of ideas for how to deal with a Palestinian population among who there are those determined to liberate themselves from occupation by any and all means. What is tragic is that Sharon has been assisted in his disastrous course by the so-called Quartet, whose “roadmap” proved to be nothing more than a tool for him to procrastinate and a cover to implement Israel’s racist and expansionist policies in the occupied territories.
Israel may hope for a Syrian escalation to save it from an existential crisis that is hurtling towards it like a runaway train. It may hope that spreading the chaos from Iraq and the occupied territories to other countries will give it a free hand. But nothing can alter the fact that a Jewish minority, no matter how well armed and ruthless, will not be able to subjugate indefinitely even an impoverished and decimated Palestinian majority any more than a nuclear-armed white-ruled South Africa was able to survive against the determination of its “backward” black majority.
Will the international community face this stark truth and tackle it head on, or will it continue to pretend it can be disguised and deferred by wringing its hands and blaming the Palestinians?
Hasan Abu Nimah is former Ambassador Permanent Representative of Jordan at the United Nations. Ali Abunimah is co-founder of EI