The nettle that must be grasped

A 23 May 2002 alert from Amnesty International (Killing of Israeli civilians) notes that, “since 29 September 2000, 311 Israeli civilians including 53 children have been killed in suicide bomb and other attacks carried out by members of Palestinian armed groups and individuals.”

Amnesty, the alert continues, “strongly condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians which violates fundamental principles of international law. AI calls on Palestinian groups and individuals to immediately cease such attacks. AI also calls on the Palestinian and Israeli authorities to bring to justice people within their jurisdiction who ordered and facilitated these attacks in accordance with international human rights standards.”

People should respond en masse to this particular Amnesty alert. It is time that Hamas and Islamic Jihad understand that the citizens of the world consider attacks against civilians to be an illegitimate tactic that undermines legitimate Palestinian resistance to Israeli military occupation, which is their right according to international law.

Both of these organisations have engaged in much admirable charitable and educational work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on behalf of Palestinians. Both organisations are an integral part of Palestinian social and religious life and have greatly aided Palestinian society to endure 35 years of military occupation.

Both have also demonstrated a simultaneous disdain for human life in defiance of universally-held monotheistic religious principles which clearly and unequivocally state that God is the creator of all human beings. No fatwa (religious ruling) that plays with the semantics of ‘what is a civilian?’ can reasonably erase such a foundational understanding from any religious or philosophical world view.

While self defence and defence of one’s homeland are entirely legitimate responses to military occupation, there can be no justification whatsoever for attacking those who are indirectly involved with the continued violence associated with one century of colonisation. Both Palestinians and internationals have been among the victims of suicide bombings perpetrated by Palestinian groups.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and — to a lesser degree — the Palestinian movement as a whole have historically shown minimal interest in engaging the citizens of the world through compelling, well-reasoned arguments advancing the justness of their cause.

As such they — along with other groups around the world — have by-passed a fundamental requirement of justice in their haste to carry out judgement and exact what they see as punishment and, in doing so, have shamefully borne false witness to the nature of Muslims, Islam, Arabs, and Palestinians by communicating a disturbing lack of concern for human life.

This is true whether the topic is the civilians targeted by attacks or the bombers themselves, who are manipulated and exploited, recruited out of the abyss of despair that life in Palestine has become. If God indeed shows the bombers mercy, it will surely be because of the boundless mercy of God — again a common feature of the three monotheistic faiths of the region — and not because of God’s admiration of the violence they have carried out against Israeli civilians, themselves largely blinded by a propagandistic and militaristic society, itself the consequence of unresolved trauma resulting from the Nazi genocide of Jews in Europe during WWII.

The dangerous status quo of despair that exists in Palestinian society today — so deep and dark that it has spawned the monstrous phenomenon of the secular suicide bomber — is primarily the responsibility of Israel, whose actions post-Oslo plainly demonstrate that an extension of military occupation rather than Palestinian independence was its intent during the peace process.

No clearer evidence of this exists than the continued Israeli confiscation and settlement of Palestinian land, which allowed Israel to double the number of settlers on Palestinian land in the West Bank to 200,000 in defiance of international law and common sense pertaining to how one makes peace with those it has violently dispossessed. This abyss is also in part the responsibility of these same Palestinian groups that have embraced violence while shying away from meaningful attempts to educate the international community about the justice and necessity of a Palestinian homeland.

While all these different actors share different levels of culpability that have led to the current, utterly unacceptable status quo, all share some measure of responsibility. No one is innocent. America and Israel themselves bear decades of responsibility for the encouragement of political violence in Israel. US weapons have perpetuated the conflict and Israel’s own religious fundamentalists, the pioneers of the confiscation of Palestinian land in defiance of international law, have deliberately incited violence against their Palestinian neighbours in an attempt to drive them out. Currently outnumbered by a ratio of 10 to 1, their harassment has only succeeded in escalating the conflict.

For its part, Israel in particular needs to recognise that its continued policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders and other massive human rights violations and war crimes against Palestinians can hardly be continued while claiming that it genuinely seeks peace.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other armed Palestinian groups — including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the militias associated with Fatah Tanziim, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — should also take note that their attacks against Israeli civilians have given Israel a green light for the further oppression of the Palestinian people without fear of any real international opprobrium.

A May 23rd editorial in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s highest circulation newspaper, praised ‘Operation Defensive Shield’, Israel’s rampage of destruction through Palestinian towns, and called for more “vigorous, effective, relentless and focused military action”.

There is no wisdom in any approach that legitimises Israel’s attacks against Palestinian civil society. As Mouin Rabbani puts it in his essay in the excellent book, ‘The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid’*, this is “an error Hezbollah would never have made.”

In any discussion of political violence and terrorism, it should finally and pointedly be noted that the Israeli military occupation inherently involves violence against Palestinian civilians and as such is a form of terrorism that also needs to be equally addressed. For this failure, the international community bears much responsibility. As the vastly more powerful party in the conflict, the moral and pragmatic imperative is for Israel to take all possible steps to end the conflict and effect reconciliation with the Palestinian people whom it has been at war with for decades. Since the handshake on the White House Lawn, evidence suggesting this is the case has been demonstrably absent for anyone browsing human rights reports from Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights monitoring organisations.

The miserly Camp David offers of a larger version of Oslo’s bantustan model originate from the same Israeli lack of seriousness about peace. The citizens of the world are slowly figuring this out. The world is becoming increasingly hostile to Israel as the result of events such as those which took place in Jenin — and elsewhere in the occupied territories — where no amount of semantic bickering about whether there was a “massacre” can erase the far graver evidence of war crimes.

The peace nettle — which means a death to Israeli right wing dreams — either has to be voluntary grasped by Israel and its uncritical supporters now or they will be made to grasp it later. The first option leaves the tinderbox of reconciliation ready for a spark of goodwill. The second option adds decades to that inevitable process.

Nigel Parry is one of the cofounders of the Electronic Intifada.

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Suicide Bombings

    * The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s
    edited by Roane Carey, Verso 2001.