This morning as I sat inside my empty classroom; all the students too shocked, too angry, too afraid to have class, I nearly started crying. On my way back to the office at the Arab American University of Jenin in the West Bank, I ran into Amal, the cleaning lady. She is normally in a bubbly mood but today was despondent, which was ironic as her name means ‘hope’ in Arabic.
I greeted her and then just listened as she tearfully recounted a litany of people killed or maimed by Israeli soldiers in the last few days - most recently the early morning assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. She seemed especially sad this morning, but not because she was a Hamas activist or Yassin supporter, but a mother with 7 daughters.
“What will happen to my children?” she implored, “I don’t want land or a state or anything, I just want my children to live a normal life!” She knew that after the killing of Yassin and 6 other people this morning, on top of the 6 or so yesterday and the countless before them, that there had come a moment of truth; an ominous quiet before a coming storm that was as black and menacing as any before experienced.
The fact that in Palestine today there will be no learning, no construction, no laughter, is not just about Ahmed Yassin’s death. It’s not about terror or security or the rational military policy of Israeli deterrence that you hear about on CNN. Not all Palestinians supported the Hamas spiritual leader or agreed with his methods of resistance, many did not, but all Palestinians are grieving today. Not because they miss him, but because they know what will happen next, and even worse, what will happen after that.
Ariel Sharon knows as well, as should all Israelis: the escalation in the conflict caused by this act could very well serve as a pretext for Israel to execute a military solution to the problem that has plagued it since the beginning: the Palestinians.
Either by destabilizing Hamas so as to pacify the Gaza Strip before they pull out and annex the almost half of the West Bank outside the ‘Security’ Wall, or by provoking Hamas into a wave of suicide bombings that will create a situation under which the demographics of the West Bank may be changed in their favor, Sharon aims at a thorough campaign of ‘politicide,’ to borrow the term used by Noam Chomsky, of the Palestinian issue once and for all.
It is not far-fetched. It has been in process incrementally for some time. This Wall is already planned to contain many Palestinians in isolated holding pens, and the rest are being marginalized economically to such an extent as to leave them no option but Jordan.
Ethnic cleansing has happened a lot in history, and is traditionally the preferred method of solving ethnic, political, and irredentist conflicts by military leaders. The climate is right: If the ‘leader of the free world,’ the United States, can attack and occupy a country as far away as Iraq, then surely a respectable democracy like Israel (the only democracy in the Middle East), should be able to drive out a million or so Palestinians, and imprison the rest. All they need are the right conditions, the right justification: A justification that is in the making as of the assassination this morning and that will continue shortly after with the events that are to follow.
That is why Amal was sad this morning. Because she knows, as all Palestinian mothers know, that if the apocalyptic ‘final decisive battle’ mentality of nihilistic leaders on both sides is realized, then there is no chance for her daughters to live a normal life, a happy life, or even a long life. And it is not fair.
Ashley Souther is an American university professor living and working at the Arab American University in Jenin in the northern West Bank, teaching classes in Peace and Conflict.