A Missed Opportunity

Ever since the horrific carnage in Gaza, when Israeli leaders knowingly, willfully and with malice aforethought dropped a 1,000kg bomb on a civilian apartment building killing 15 people, ten of them children, everyone has been expecting a bloody revenge against Israelis. This appears now to have come, in the form of a bomb attack at Hebrew University, an enclave in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem. Expected though it is, this latest atrocity which killed at least seven people is no less horrible and no less worthy of condemnation. Hamas has claimed responsibility for this attack according to Al-Jazeera.

Over the past week, we have heard and read many reports that the Gaza bombing also torpedoed a promising initiative in which Palestinian armed groups were to announce a moratorium on attacks against Israeli civilians. Many, inside and outside Israel have correctly blamed the government of Ariel Sharon for sabotaging this opportunity by going ahead with the Gaza attack. It seems obvious to Palestinians, to many Israelis and to a growing number of others, that Sharon has no interest in a ceasefire and that he wants the violence to continue because violence is necessary to his desire to maintain perpetual Israeli control over the West Bank.

But we must also be honest and say that the opportunity was missed by the Palestinian militant groups. If a halt to an attack on Israeli civilians was in the interests of the Palestinian people before the Gaza bombing, it was even more in their interests afterwards. Leaving aside the immorality of blowing up children and non-combatants (whether they had the luck or misfortune—depending on how you see it—to be born Israelis or Palestinians), the whole world had recoiled in horror at the Israeli government’s tactics which are in method and in effect almost indistinguishable from the ‘terrorists’ they claim to be fighting.

The leaders of the Palestinian groups that have in the past claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on Israeli civilians could and should have declared that the horror in Gaza would be the last atrocity, that they would no longer play Sharon’s game. Instead they charged headlong into Sharon’s trap, once again.

None of this ought to be construed as implying that there is any moral equivalence between the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the Israeli effort to impose a foreign military dictatorship on millions of people outside of Israel’s borders. The inherent justice of the Palestinian cause is obvious, as is the deep immorality of the occupation. Palestinians have a right, recognized by the entire world community, to resist this occupation. But resistance cannot and should not involve the deliberate murder of innocent civilians. The ends, simply put, do not justify the means.