Jenin: The military fiasco

It has always been assumed here that any political decision can be enforced militarily, since the gap between Israel and its enemies seemed infinite. But gone now is the superior “human material” Israel was said to rely on. The IDF victory in the Jenin refugee camp was obtained only by order of battle—it was won, that is, exclusively by US made tanks, US-made bulldozers and US-made gunships.

Israel made at least three mistakes in Jenin:

It overestimated the army’s ability; it underestimated the motivation and fighting skills of the Palestinians; and most importantly (by the admission of the IDF’s top brass), the strategic decision to go into Ramallah first, in order to humiliate Arafat and crush the PA, gave the fighters in the northern parts of the West Bank time to organize, and many on Israel’s most-wanted list reached Jenin, booby-trapped large areas, and prepared for a long battle. The origin place of ‘Izz ad-Din el-Qassam, after whom the military wing of Hamas is named, Jenin has a long tradition of tough resistance. Sharon was aware of that, yet chose to begin the attack in Ramallah, an intellectual, cultural and commercial center whose military significance was nil. This choice may indicate that the government’s intention was not to eliminate “the infra-structure of terrorism,” but rather, to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

Still, no one dreamed that the Palestinians would stage such a fight, and so the IDF’s victory was obtained only through total destruction. Journalists are barred from the area (see below), but the little that has been shown of Jenin through the media points to a terrible picture.

It seems to me that the key achievement that the Palestinian fighters can boast of, in addition to their success in entering into Palestinian history as a national legend (“the new Masada” as Israeli generals now refer to Jenin), it is that they may have prevented an invasion into the Gaza Strip. They gave the Gazans time to organize, and demonstrated that they cannot be taken for granted anymore.

There are some indications that Israel will not invade Gaza—at least not now. First, we have heard of no reports of reserve units headed there. Second, the army has proposed that the fighters besieged inside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem would surrender, and be sent to safety in Gaza (this proposal was declined). Right now we can see no significant movement in Gaza: a huge prison-city, it is surrounded by troops. Yet suicide bombers can still sneak through, as did yesterday’s suicide bomber who came from Jenin by successfully sneaking through a thick layer of troops, later detonating himself in a bus, taking 8 with him. Many others are probably waiting in Gaza for an opportune moment.

The Palestinian decision, taken many years ago, to attack civilian targets was a strategic mistake, in my view. But this discussion is moot, as now it is a fact, with everyone—including the Palestinians—forced to bear the consequences. It is important to remember, however, that suicide missions are not a new concept in the Middle East. Ariel Sharon himself sent soldiers on suicide missions more than once. How he dispatched paratrooper Yehuda Kan-Dror to his death at the Mitle Straights in the Sinai in 1956 is a legend known to any Israeli who was in a youth movement in the 1950s-60s. One can only imagine how legendary the suicide-bombers have become in Palestinian society.

As Israel tears apart the fabric of Palestinian society, more and more desperate young people fall into this trap. This tendency will be further strengthened due to the worsening of Israel’s already dismal human rights record: B’Tselem —the leading human rights documentation center in Israel —is now issuing reports of mass detentions of people held in subhuman conditions, torture, and a ban on communication between detainees and the outside world (including lawyers). All of these actions contravene international law.

Is there anything we can do? I think yes, though somewhat indirectly. Many people have taken the easy route, using the bombings as an excuse for dismissing the Palestinian cause altogether. I have seen quite a few rational people lose it during the recent bombings. Pointing out the link between Israel’s human rights record and the growing waves of terrorism might bring some of these people back to the realm of reason. Yesterday’s suicide bombing near Haifa demonstrates that such attacks cannot be fought militarily with violence.

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY: CAN INTERNATIONAL PRESSUE WORK?: If there is a key to pressuring Israel, it is the economy. The situation here is deteriorating gradually: Production is lower, certain industries are nearing paralysis, the direct and indirect costs of the war are high. All this is happening in the face of virtually zero external investment, a critical element in this country’s economic growth. The government is now planning to impose new taxes, many of them regressive. As a first measure, Treasury has proposed raising bus fares. Some might see ironic “justice” in the fact that the poor bus riders, already the prime victims of many suicide attacks, are now expected in addition to bear much of the burden of the war effort.

The European Parliament recommended commercial sanctions. Israel is a US satellite not only militarily, but also economically. Pressure at all levels (local, state and federal) to impose sanctions on Israel, might—if successful—have an impact, as its consequences might be intolerable to the business community here.

Many Israelis who are willing to risk their lives will not risk their assets. People are somehow used to daily danger, but upon facing a drop in their standard of living, they rebel. Thus, a declining economy might put an end to the invasion.

Likewise, the cancellation of artistic events, science conferences, and public lectures (as artists and scientists from abroad refuse to come here) affects the elites. And once elites begin to hurt, they will no doubt exert pressure on the government.

THE LEFT: Efforts to organize, though slow, are growing more visible: civil rights organizations are taking a variety of legal steps; small groups are trying to organize; more reservists refuse services and are jailed (36 so far); small demonstrations are organized in city centers, on campuses and at roadblocks. A big rally is planned for this Saturday by Ta’ayush and other organizations, on the road to Jenin. Here is the call:

From: “Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish”

What is going on in the Jenin refugee camp? We don’t know for sure. The military is not letting the press into the camp. However, reports that are coming in paint a gruesome picture: Hundreds are killed, their bodies piling up in the houses and streets for lack of ability to transport them to graveyards; the wounded are dying in the streets, with access of medical assistance barred; the camp has been bombed from the air; houses are being demolished with their inhabitants still inside. Hundreds of families have been driven out of the camp with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others are left behind, destitute following the demolition of their homes and destruction of their property. There is a dire need of food and water.

The Supreme Court has recently denied several petitions against the demolition of houses and other IDF actions in Jenin, but we shall not be silent in the face of these atrocities! Each and every person of conscience among us has to obligation to remind the government of Israel and our fellow Israelis of the boundaries imposed by human morality.

This coming Saturday, April 13th, at 11:00 AM, we shall march in protest against these horrors, from the Megido junction to the Salem checkpoint on the road to Jenin. The trucks accompanying us will carry much needed emergency supplies for the homeless, the destitute and the expelled of Jenin.

There is a severe water shortage in the camp, and using water tanks turned out to be impractical in the circumstances. We therefore ask you to bring 1.5 litre bottles of water (refilled with tap water is fine), preferably packed in cardboard boxes. These will be loaded on a truck and delivered into the Jenin refugee camp. Other needed equipment is: clothing (decent condition only! Let’s not insult the recipients and embarrass ourselves), blankets and basic kitchen equipment. Come voice your indignation, and bring a friend. Our protest must come across loud and clear! Remember that our strength is in large numbers. Don’t forget your ID card, and bring along video or stills cameras.