Monday, July 3, 2006

The Kidnapping of Corporal Shalit (July 3, 2006)

The kidnapping of corporal Shalit may not be ambiguous to the author, Mr. Halkin, or the majority of Israel’s citizens. However, the Israel/ Palestinian conflict remains opaque for most of the western world, media included. And central to this confusion is the endless mantra everywhere repeated, that the violence in the Middle East is a never ending cycle, with Israel as the primary initiator.

This “cycle of violence” mantra gives further voice to that great invention of Arab and Cold War propaganda, the effective equalization of attacker and victim. For how can the stronger party be the victim, we are repeatedly persuaded - and the liberal humanitarians among us usually concur. Yet the might of the Israeli Defense Force does not target children, the elderly, the innocent - if it did, logically, it could decimate and expel all the Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank in a matter of days: case closed. Yet it continually seeks focused and directed retribution for the daily attacks across all its borders.

Well meaning liberals appeal for meaningful negotiations - just exactly with whom must Israel negotiate? Hamas won the election, still claiming its right and intention to destroy Israel by any and all violent means and recovering all lands to the Mediterranean (including, please note, Israel pre-1967, which was never occupied territory).

Palestinian supporters disingenuously claims Hamas maintained a 15-month ceasefire. This would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, it is the controlling party of the government and fields the largest extra-military army in the area. Yet over 750 rockets were fired in the last 15 months at Israeli towns and farms. Daily suicide bombers from the military wing of Hamas have been sent from the West Bank - all this is well-documented. According to these apologists, verbal disclaimers by the political wing trump hundreds of attacks by or with the tacit approval of the military wing.

It is often felt that Israel’s military response is excessive. Would those selective humanists prefer Israel to focus on pizzerias, buses and weddings, rather than deserted bridges, roads, and electricity generators?

Ultimately it is the bloodlust of the Jihadist extremists, in their all-consuming passion to rid the Middle East of Israel, that victimizes and degrades the Palestinian population. Israel, situated on less than 1% of the territory occupied by Arab nations, stands as the only true and free democracy in the Middle East - an embarrassment to those nations and a feared beacon of hope to all those wishing for freedom and equal rights.

Democracies are more than just voting booths - if elections were held free of fear, free of religious and familial coercion, free of a militarized state populated by more terrorist armies and groups than the United Nations has dictatorships, I would bet that the parents and women who inhabit the tragic landscape of Gaza and the West Bank would have accepted Israel's offer of 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza for peace; they would choose imperfect life rather than fanatical martyrdom.

Arafat was not, and Hamas is not now, in its current guise, the Palestinians' future - only the mothers are, only the children are.

End the Cycle of Retaliation
Marwan Bishara, International Herald Tribune
July 1-2, 2006

When the dust finally settles, Israel's offensive against the besieged Palestinian territories will have caused more destruction and death and left the Israeli government with the same strategic deadlock. Instead of lashing out against their neighbors, Israelis must end the vicious cycle of provocations and retaliations through meaningful negotiations.

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bases its campaign against Palestinian civilian infrastructure on three fallacies: that Israel does not initiate but retaliates to protect its citizens, in this case a kidnapped soldier; that its response is measured and not meant to harm the broader population; and that it does not negotiate with those its deems terrorists.

For one, Israel's offensive did not just start this week. The two-month-old Israeli government is responsible for the killing of 85 Palestinians, including many children, in attacks aimed at carrying out illegal extrajudicial assassinations. The Hamas government maintained a one-sided cease-fire for 15 months, but continued Israeli attacks made Palestinian retaliation only a question of time.

Since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, repeated Israeli bombardments and targeted assassinations against Palestinians have aggravated the violence and resulted in harm to more, not fewer, Israelis. In fact, most major Palestinian suicide bombings since 2001 have come in retaliation to Israeli assassinations, many of which occurred when the Palestinians were mulling over or abiding by self-imposed restraint.

To give only three examples: On July 31, 2001, Israel's assassination of the two leading Hamas militants in Nablus ended a nearly two-month Hamas cease- fire, leading to the terrible Aug. 9 Hamas suicide bombing in a Jerusalem pizzeria. On July 23, 2002, an Israeli air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza City killed a senior Hamas leader, Salah Shehada, and 15 civilians, 11 of them children, hours before a widely reported unilateral cease-fire declaration. A suicide bombing followed on Aug. 4. On June 10, 2003, Israel's attempted assassination of the senior Hamas political leader in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, which wounded him and killed four Palestinian civilians, lead to the bus bombing in Jerusalem on June 11 that killed 16 Israelis.

Although Israel's provocations don't justify suicide bombings, they demonstrate why the source of terrorism lies first and foremost in its military aggression and occupation. In this context, affected Palestinian civilians see themselves not as "collateral damage" but as victims of state terrorism.

As for the nature of Israel's "retaliation," one could hardly refer to Israel's destruction of the civic infrastructure of 1.3 million Palestinians as "measured." The Israeli Army began this week's Gaza offensive by bombing bridges, roads, electric and water supplies.

By its very nature the Israeli offensive is meant to punish, overwhelm and deter with disproportionate force regardless of the suffering of the general public. Cutting off basic services of a people is not only unjustified, it is collective punishment, which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

The asymmetry between Israeli and Palestinian fire-power mustn't be translated into asymmetry between the value of Israeli and Palestinian life. The Palestinians have captured one Israeli soldier, but Israel holds 9,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Regarding Israel's purported refusal to bargain with "terrorists," its dealings with Hezbollah paint a different picture. Among others, its bombardment of Beirut's electric generators and its all out offensive in 1996 leading to the Qana massacre, failed to deter the Lebanese resistance and eventually forced Israel to negotiate through a third party with those its deemed Islamist terrorists, and release hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from its jails in exchange for the remains of dead Israeli soldiers.

Given that 39 years of attempts by Israel to tame or intimidate the Palestinians have instead lead to their radicalization, isn't it time for Israel to change course? In such a minuscule territory, Israelis will never be secure if the Palestinians are utterly insecure.

The ongoing saga has once again demonstrated the absurdity of unilateralism as a viable and secure solution. And yet the Olmert government is using the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier to undermine the historical agreement Hamas has just reached with President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party over a unity government, de facto recognition of Israel and negotiations with Israel.

Whether you like it or not, Hamas, like Hezbollah, is mostly a byproduct of an oppressive occupation, and not the other way round. That's why refraining from excessive use of force and concentrating all efforts on a negotiated end to the occupation is paramount for security and moderation. Otherwise, Israel will only succeed in increasing Hamas's popularity and pushing it back to clandestinity and war.

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