Palestinians dug a one-kilometer tunnel (300 meters of it inside Israeli territory) and engaged in a battle with Israeli soldiers, killing two soldiers and taking a third one prisoner. It was a successful guerrilla operation by the Palestinians and a failure on Israel’s part. That’s what happened. The soldier is now being held by his kidnappers, and his parents hope for his release. Meanwhile, the Palestinians want something in return:a release of Palestinian prisoners.
All of these things are “normal” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They have forgotten the two dead soldiers. In addition, another soldier was killed and other soldiers might die to obtain the release of the captive soldier. Everyone realizes that the shortest road to a resolution that will not lead to further deaths is negotiations or a simple prisoner exchange. But that doesn’t happen here. Before turning to a solution like this, we first must eliminate the barrier of the rhetoric and the Israeli word-washing machine. This begins with dubbing the Palestinian operation—as the chief of staff did—as “a terrorist attack,” instead of bearing personal responsibility for the failure. By using this phrase, the chief of staff also achieved another objective: there can be no prisoner exchange because we cannot negotiate with terrorists. And it didn’t stop there, for the war of words never stops over here. The Palestinians are terrorists, but when the television airs images of Palestinians with their light weaponry facing down tanks, Apache fighter planes, and artillery batteries that shoot missiles into homes, the description seems extremely exaggerated. At this point, the media describes them as armed militants, not as combatants or guerrilla fighters, because the fighters are only on our side. If Palestinians are described as “armed militants,” it makes IDF soldiers appear unarmed and non-militant.
The dehumanization of the Palestinians is part of Israel’s autism, an illness defined by the dictionary as an abnormal psyche or a tendency to live inside oneself and the imagination. Indeed, Israel’s perception of the universe is limited to itself. Nothing save the national self interests it, especially the Palestinians. They are relegated to the dark side in Israeli life, and Palestinian national aspirations are not considered, to say nothing of their struggle. There is no room in the Israeli bubble to compare the Palestinian and Israeli struggles. For example, we cannot release Palestinian prisoners because “they have blood on their hands.” This is a given in the Israeli bubble. As for us, we do not have blood on our hands even though the Israeli army kills many times over the number of Palestinians. Perhaps the word “hands” is a hidden recognition of the courage of Palestinians who face heavy Israeli weaponry with their bare hands, but of course there is no such expression as a tank with blood-stained hands or a plane with blood on its wings.
Amir Peretz is another example of Israeli autism. He declares that Syria is the major base for terrorism and threatens al-Assad personally. If he could leave the bubble for a moment, he might remember that we occupied the Golan Heights some 40 years ago and are not prepared to give it back. We started colonizing it immediately after the 1967 war and expelled most of its inhabitants. Only an autistic person who is turned in on himself can forget that or stare it in the face with no qualms. Peretz’s statement was no less autistic because, as a real peace advocate, he has “the moral right” to punish Palestinians.
The real reason that Israel will not negotiate for the release of the soldier is its opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians, which might turn into broad contacts. It might even lead to contacts with Hamas that would, God forbid, lead to political negotiations. That is why Olmert announces that he is not prepared to bend to Hamas extortion for a prisoner exchange (as if he had negotiated with Abu Mazen). This, although the majority of the public—65% according to a Maariv poll—supports negotiating with the soldier’s kidnappers and although the soldier’s parents clearly desire this.
The government might actually be concerned about the fate of the soldier and want to bring him home, but concern and desire are not enough. In any case, the government has other, more important objectives; Gilad Shalit can wait.
If the government had good intentions, this would be a golden opportunity to open up the political horizon.
Only a na?ve person would believe that the punitive campaign in Gaza began because of Gilad Shalit. This is similar to the argument that the attempted murder of Ambassador Argov in London was the reason we invaded Lebanon, or that the fedayeen were the reason we joined France and Britain in the aggression on Egypt in 1956, or that the murder of the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo was the cause of World War I. These arguments are always used to justify operations that have been planned in advance to wait for an opportune moment to execute them. Israel’s campaign on Gaza was planned some time ago, as was the abduction of Palestinian ministers and MPs. What worries the Israeli administration is the continued fire of Qassams on Sderot, and now on Ashkelon as well. It is not the human losses that concern them—these are still extremely minimal so far—it is simply the fact of the rockets that concerns and enrages them. This is evident in the comments we hear from politicians about “wiping Gaza out” and in the articles written by journalists who join the campaign of incitement and entitle their articles “an eye for an eye.” We see it in one rabbi’s declaration that killing Palestinians is a moral action. From every direction we hear calls to cut off water and electricity to Palestinians and starve them (is this a new nutritional plan?). In fact, it seems all these urgings are unnecessary because atrocious acts have already been committed: water and electricity have been cut, bridges have bombed, and blood has been spilled like water.
The Israeli response was expected; it has been tried many times in the past as well. The most recent campaign is just another punitive attack, which is one of the worst colonial legacies used against Palestinians to impose our plans on them and convince them of the fruitlessness of resistance. It is a vindictive campaign of revenge against the Palestinian population, who are not prepared to give up their struggle against the occupation. Once more, the reason is the Israeli psyche, which seems to suffer from autism and does not deal with the Palestinian reality.
Blaming the Qassam rockets on the Palestinians plays on our self-pity and sense of victimization and once more, it ignores the Palestinian side. Official Israeli propaganda repeated at length by our sincere reporters asks: why do they continue to fire Qassams from the Gaza Strip even though we willingly left Gaza and gave “even the last millimeter” back to them? How can the Palestinians dare to violate international law and fire inside sovereign Israeli territory? And of course, why do Palestinians use their weapons against innocent civilians?
Here we have some questions. Are Palestinians to be grateful to Israel for leaving the Gaza Strip without negotiations, all the while boasting of their unilateral move? Did Israel not leave under Palestinian pressure, in order to narrow the front and increase its control over the West Bank in the face of Palestinian pressure? Is this why Palestinians should be gratefully applauding?
Did we really leave Gaza down to the last millimeter? The IDF surrounds the Gaza Strip on all sides, and from the sea and the air. No one leaves or enters without a permit from the army. Israel closes border crossings at will and is strangling the economy and the population’s livelihoods. And yet, we still show contempt for the Palestinians when our leaders say: Gaza is free, so why don’t you use this freedom to establish a new society and develop your economy?
Does anyone believe that Palestinians would agree that Gaza is any different from future Palestine? Can the residents of Gaza think that they have nothing to do with is happening in the West Bank—the assassinations, the abductions, the arrest of Palestinian leaders? Are they not allowed to at least respond to this?
Must Palestinians accept the new Israeli outlook that divides Palestine into two parts: Gaza and the West Bank?
Perhaps autistic Israelis will ask themselves why the Katyushas on Kiryat Shmona have stopped, but they have not stopped in Gaza. The answer is simple: we withdrew from the north to international borders, Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, believe that international borders are not represented by the wall that surrounds the Strip or by the Karni Crossing, but by the 1967 borders.
When we hear the Israeli propagandists, we might think that if they started firing from the West Bank, they would send greetings to the Palestinians. Didn’t Israel withdraw from there down to the last millimeter? Of course, the Palestinians may wonder about the situation that existed before the Qassam rockets started. You stole our land and our water and imposed yourselves on us, so why don’t you pay a little for forty years’ worth of exploitation, theft, and victims?
When it comes to Palestinians, we can say that killing civilians is immoral.
But that raises a question: who has killed more civilians, Palestinians or Israelis? Must we cite numbers here that show that the number of Palestinian civilian victims far exceeds Israeli civilian victims? Here, another accusation is made: they (the Palestinians) kill in cold blood, intentionally. I won’t go into detail on this issue, but it should be noted that in every war, particularly modern warfare, thousands of civilians are killed. If they are unable to give in to the occupation, what should the Palestinians do when faced with the murder of their civilians?
The US, for example, wages its wars with advanced weaponry capable of terrible destruction. Those who stand against it do not observe the rules of war, which give a huge advantage to the stronger party. In response, the US kills hundreds of thousands of civilians in its wars. When Ms. Albright, the secretary of state during the first Gulf war, was asked about the mass killing of Iraqi civilians, she said it was a “marginal” price that had to be paid. That is, they did not intend to kill civilians; it is just one of the exigencies of war. Even if we agree that they do not intentionally kill civilians, or they did not intend to do so, the result is the same. The ethical conclusion is that large-scale wars in which civilians are killed must be fought.
Turning to the Israeli reality, we find a similar situation. The army strikes military targets knowing that many civilians will be killed.
Artillery or missiles kill civilians, but accidentally. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz does not know that a one-ton bomb dropped on a densely-populated residential area will kill many civilians.
What is more moral: killing 100 civilians intentionally or killing 1,000 civilians unintentionally? After the Chief of Staff informed us that he sleeps soundly at night after dropping a one-ton bomb, it will be difficult to convince even one Palestinian that these acts are “unintentional.”
As an Israeli who hopes for peace and friendship with the Palestinian people, I have simple answer. A large-scale war is not at all ethical. The suspension of Qassam rockets and the release of the soldier are both dependent on Israel and the end of the occupation.